So, apart from the similar-sounding name, what evidence is there that BHB produced by the liver by people on a very low-carb diet has euphoric, GHB-like effects in the brain?
Fasting for the original ‘natural high’
The first case of euphoria directly attributed to ketosis was reported by Walter Bloom, who pioneered therapeutic fasts for obesity in the 1950s. After several days without food, his patients lost their appetite, felt remarkably well, and experienced a mild intoxication: ‘not dissimilar to the effects of ethanol.’
Bloom speculated that acetoacetate had caused the inexplicable jubilation.
Other people have observed similar effects, including three Scottish doctors whose patients fasted for up to 249 days in the 1960s. After several days without food, their appetites subsided and all patients felt an increased sense of well-being which: ‘in some amounted to frank euphoria.’
Unfortunately, no studies of the euphoria reported by low-carb dieters have been conducted, as far as we know.
So, researchers don’t know the exact cause of these feelings. Acetoacetate, acetone and BHB, or any of their metabolites, may all be involved, as well as the effects of low blood sugar, which can cause euphoria and giddiness.
A good place to start might be to image brain activity in people on a very low-carb diet and compare activity with people on a normal, non-calorie restricted diet. The aim would be to see if brain imaging of people on a very low-carb diet has similar effects on brain activity seen when people take GHB.
And if you’re thinking of going on a very low-carb diet to get that high, beware. Side effects include loss of calcium from bones, increased risk of kidney stones and growth retardation.