Bodybuilders do some weird shit in the name of vanity. Between injecting potentially lethal synthetic oil into their muscles and smearing hemorrhoid cream on their abs before a competition, nothing should come as a surprise... right? How about taking roofies in order to improve their workouts?
Gamma-hydroxybutyric acid (also known as “liquid ecstasy” or “GHB”) is most commonly known for being a vile date-rape drug. But for years, bodybuilders have taken GHB for its purported ability to increase GH (growth hormone) and allow them to train harder. Even John Stamos got busted for driving under the influence of GHB, which he was supposedly taking to “lean out body mass.” Before you follow Uncle Jesse in search of never-ending pumps, let’s take a look at what the hell is going on here.
What is GHB?
GHB is a compound that can be found naturally in humans at low concentrations. While no one knows exactly what it’s there for, we do know that at high-enough doses, GHB encourages the release of both dopamine and opiates in the brain. The resulting (or at least intended) effect is a sense of mild euphoria, diminished social anxiety, and a hopped-up libido. Basically, imagine being drunk, without the hangover the next day.
But as with anything fun in life, GHB (ab)use comes with its drawbacks -- and probably more than your average controlled substance. When taken alone, there’s a serious risk of seizures, comas, and central nervous system depression. But when mixed with other substances, the risk of overdose is far higher.
The reason GHB can be particularly dangerous is its unpredictability. Purity concerns aside, a high dosage of GHB can completely arrest your body’s ability to process the drug, thereby amplifying its effect exponentially. So what might be enough to generate a mild buzz in one, can easily be a lethal dose for another.
Why bodybuilders use GHB
The main reason that bodybuilders use GHB has to do with something called growth hormone. Increasing growth hormone may yield some nifty side effects (increased muscle mass and decreased fat mass included) and past studies have demonstrated a potential link between GHB intake and an acute increase in GH. So the answer is clear, right? Taking GHB means levels of swoleosis so high that you won’t be able to fit through most doorways.
But not so fast.
You’ll notice that the link between GHB and GH above is described as an “acute” increase, which is very different from chronic increase. The former occurs in a short amount of time and may not yield much difference in the long run.
To demonstrate this example, consider that chronically elevated levels of the hormone insulin are associated with insulin resistance and diabetes. Milk acutely raises the hormone insulin much higher than one would expect given its carbohydrate content, but you don’t see milk drinkers catching a bout of the good ol’ diabetes any time the wind blows. Similarly, consuming alcohol after a workout acutely raises testosterone, but if that had a tangible, long-term impact on testosterone, I’d personally be twice as jacked as I am now.
What do the experts think?
We asked the folks at Examine.com about their thoughts on GHB, and they tend to agree that it’s not a viable long-term strategy for building muscle. According to researcher Kurtis Frank, “GHB does show an acute increase in GH, but so did creatine and arginine (and we know they do not impact GH meaningfully). Considering that GHB is a sedative and sleep is associated with an increase in GH, it is unlikely that GHB has any significant effect on GH."
The moral of the story is this: your body is a complex system, and not a simple algebra equation. It may be tempting to think you understand how hormones work, and, as a result, use supplements to tweak things to your liking or develop a paranoia that everything is going to kill you. If you’re trying to get fit, it’s better to learn the basics of exercise and nutrition at a macro level, rather than tinker with the nuts and bolts.