1,4-Butanediol (BD): Danger!

1,4-Butanediol: An Overview

Its chemical formula is C4H10O2. You can purchase it on the Internet. It is in industrial cleaners. It is used in polyurethane to make car bumpers. It is used to make Spandex. It is also an abused recreational drug that has been linked to two deaths and six severe illnesses. "It" is 1,4-Butanediol (BD).


Once ingested, BD (and a similar chemical, GBL) turns into gamma hydroxybutyrate, GHB. GHB, the so-called "date-rape" drug, received national attention when two teenage girls died after it was slipped into their sodas. As a result of this case, GHB was declared a restricted drug (classified Schedule I) in March 2000. There is now a 20-year maximum jail term for the illegal manufacture or trafficking of GHB.

GHB is illegal, but BD is not. This is like banning peanut butter but leaving peanuts on the grocery store shelves. As a first step toward banning BD, the US Food and Drug Administration declared BD a Class 1 Health Hazard in 1999. Since then, manufacturers have been asked to recall products containing BD (or GBL). These include Blue Nitro, Borametz, Serenity, BioMetabolic P.M., and Zen. As evidence mounts that BD is as dangerous as GHB, Congress will consider making BD a Schedule I drug. In the meantime, the National Institute on Drug Abuse has teamed with several organizations to launch a $54 million-dollar campaign to educate the public about the dangers of GHB and other club drugs. BD is available legally in large quantities for industrial uses; one recommendation has been to color the clear liquid BLUE so that it cannot be slipped undetected into someone's drink.

How BD affects Your Body

BD affects the central nervous system in a way similar to alcohol. It relaxes people and makes them sleepy. It also slows central nervous system functions, causing a reduced breathing rate and slowed reflexes. As with alcohol, too much BD can cause a person to lose consciousness, lose control of his bladder or bowels, experience seizures or fall into a coma. Many car accidents have been caused by people who have taken BD or GHB. BD is also addictive and when it is discontinued after regular use, people may have withdrawal symptoms such as feelings of anxiety, severe sweating, tremors and muscle aches, and audio or visual hallucinations.

ER Visits Illuminate BD Toxicity

Deborah Zvosec, PhD, and a team of researchers examined emergency room patients who had ingested BD and cataloged the symptoms associated with BD toxicity. The study was published in the January 11, 2001 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. This is the first study on the toxic effects of BD. The researchers verified that the patients had ingested BD by using a technique called gas chromatography-mass spectrometry, which measured the level of BD in various body fluids. This analysis provided the researchers with information about the dose of BD each patient had taken. The patients' vital statistics, such as heart rate, blood pressure, amount of oxygen in the blood, respiratory rate and rating on a coma scale were recorded. Based on this and other studies on GHB, the authors state that BD and GHB affect the neurotransmitters dopamine and GABA. GHB can affect brain blood flow and glucose metabolism, temperature regulation and sleep patterns.

Patients seen by Dr. Zvosec had taken the chemical either for recreational use (for the "buzz"), to enhance their physique (bodybuilding), or to treat depression or insomnia (inability to sleep). Symptoms of overdose included combativeness (wanting to pick fights), vomiting, slowed breathing -- and death in two of the cases. Apparently, the dose required to get a "high" is VERY close to that of a toxic dose. In other words, to get high, you have to take an amount that is so toxic you may lose consciousness, choke on your vomit and slip into a coma. The authors of the study conclude: "1,4-butanediol is toxic, addictive, and potentially lethal."

First-Aid for BD or GHB Ingestion:

  • If CONSCIOUS, give the person lots of water and/or induce vomiting (only if the person is conscious), then seek medical attention.
  • If the person is NOT CONSCIOUS, call 9-1-1 immediately.

Did you know?


  • The US Drug Enforcement Agency has identified 71 deaths associated with GHB.

  • An estimated 500,000 metric tons of BD were used worldwide in 1996. It is used in many products, including moisturizers, legal drugs and glue-remover.

Further reading:

  1. "Banned dietary supplement still causing deaths, study says" - CNN, January 11, 2001.

GO TO: Alcohol Amphetamines Caffeine Cocaine
Heroin Inhalants LSD Marijuana
Nicotine Ecstasy Rohypnol 1,4-Butanediol
GHB Barbiturates PCP Hallucinogenic Mushrooms

BACK TO: Table of Contents Drugs Effects on the Nervous System

Send E-mail
Get Newsletter
Search Pages

Donate to
Neuroscience for Kids

Page prepared by Ellen Kuwana, Neuroscience For Kids, Staff Writer - Last modified on May 16, 2005