Education is key in recognizing dependencies and addiction risks. Familiarizing yourself with the types of drugs and their effects and repercussions brings awareness to families and friends concerned with the addictions of friends and loved ones.
Drugs and Substances (Listed Alphabetically)
Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. Ethanol (ethyl alcohol) is the beverage alcohol. A standard drink generally consists of one and a half ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits, one twelve-ounce bottle of beer or wine cooler, or one five-ounce glass of wine. All three contain roughly the same amount of absolute alcohol: one-half ounce. Effects of use include feelings of intoxication, sensory alteration, anxiety reduction, and possible increased heart rate. Fatal overdose is possible due to respiratory arrest or aspiration of vomit, causing suffocation. Alcohol is the most widely used drug in the United States. Underage drinking is a serious social problem. Alcohol abuse can lead to alcohol dependence/addiction depending on a variety of factors.
Cocaine is a central nervous system stimulant. Cocaine hydrochloride, the white crystal powder, is usually snorted up the nose. It may also be injected intravenously. Effects of use include increased mental alertness, increased physical energy, elevated mood/euphoria, loss of appetite, extreme weight loss with prolonged use, insomnia, paranoia, increased heart rate and elevated blood pressure. The effects of snorted cocaine last for 15-30 minutes. Fatal overdose is possible from heart attack, respiratory arrest or stroke. Cocaine is also used in combination with other illicit drugs. Most often cocaine is combined with heroin and injected, which is known as a “speedball.”
Crack cocaine is made up of small hard chunks of cocaine base. Crack is heated in a pipe and its vapors are inhaled. Because the vapors are absorbed through the lungs, the drug reaches the brain within seconds, delivering a strong surge, known to the user as a “rush.” With injection, cocaine reaches the brain in about fifteen to thirty seconds, and with snorting within three to five minutes. The faster the absorption of the drug, the more intense the initial blast of euphoria. The more rewarding the rush, the greater the craving. The greater the craving, the more likely users are to develop chronic abuse patterns and addiction. For these reasons, some regard crack as more addictive than other types of cocaine, although crack’s perceived addictiveness is primarily a function of how quickly cocaine reaches the brain by smoking rather than snorting.
The opium poppy is the key ingredient for all narcotics. Opium is used to make heroin. It most often looks like a black or brown block of tar-like substance. Opium is smoked. Short-term effects: Opium can cause euphoria, followed by a sense of well-being and a calm drowsiness or sedation. Breathing slows, potentially to the point of unconsciousness and death with large doses. Use of opium with other substances that depress the central nervous system, such as alcohol, antihistamines, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, or general anesthetics, increases the risk of life-threatening respiratory depression. Effects of long-term use include physical and psychological dependence, addiction and physical tolerance, mood swings, severe constipation, menstrual irregularities, lung damage, skin infections, seizures, unconsciousness, and coma.
Heroin is a highly addictive drug derived from morphine, which is obtained from the opium poppy. Heroin is the most widely abused illicit narcotic in the United States. Heroin may be injected, sniffed, snorted, or smoked. Injection continues to be the predominant method of heroin use among addicted users seeking treatment. Injecting heroin intravenously is known as “mainlining” or “shooting up.” Being under the influence of heroin is often referred to as being “on the nod”. Smoking heroin is known as “chasing the dragon”. Heroin is sometimes used in combination with other illicit drugs. The most common combination is known as a “speedball”, which is heroin combined with cocaine.
Opiate is a general term for drugs derived from the opium poppy. Narcotic refers to those poppy-derived drugs as well as similar synthetic medications used for pain relief. Prescription narcotics used medically for pain relief include codeine (Tylenol with codeine), hydrocodone (Vicodin), hydromorphone (Dilaudid), oxycodone (OxyContin, Percodan, Percocet), propoxhene (Darvon), meperidine (Demerol), and morphine (MS-Contin). Prescription narcotics are administered orally, injected, or taken as suppositories.
OxyContin (oxycodone HCI controlled-release) is the brand name for an opioid analgesic (pain reliever) – a narcotic. It is available by prescription only and is used to treat moderate to severe pain when around-the-clock analgesic is needed for an extended period of time. The most serious risk associated with opioids, including OxyContin, is respiratory depression. Common opioid side effects are constipation, nausea, sedation, dizziness, vomiting, headache, dry mouth, sweating, and weakness. Taking a large single dose of an opioid could cause severe respiratory depression that can lead to death. Chronic use of opioids can result in tolerance for the drugs, which means that users must take higher doses to achieve the same initial effects. Long-term use also can lead to physical dependence and addiction – the body adapts to the presence of the drug, and withdrawal symptoms occur if use is reduced or stopped. Properly managed medical use of pain relievers is safe and rarely causes clinical addiction, defined as compulsive, often uncontrollable use of drugs. Taken exactly as prescribed, opioids can be used to manage pain effectively.
Hydrocodone is a legal opiate prescribed for pain that has qualities similar to morphine. There are over 200 medications that contain hydrocodone. Vicodin (hydrocodone with acetaminophen), is one of the most commonly abused forms of hydrocodone. Its analgesic potency is from two to eight times that of morphine, but it is shorter acting and produces more sedation than morphine. Much sought after by narcotic addicts, hydromorphone is usually obtained by the abuser through fraudulent prescriptions or theft. The tablets are often dissolved and injected as a substitute for heroin. Brands names for hydrocodone products include Lorcet, Lortab, Tussionex, Tylox, Vicodin, Hydromorphone (Dilaudid).
Methadone is used in the treatment of narcotic addiction. For many years methadone, itself a narcotic, has been used as a medication in the treatment of heroin addiction. It blocks the effects of heroin without itself producing a “high”, reduces craving, and suppresses withdrawal for more than twenty-four hours. It is typically used in outpatient settings. Some patients receive it indefinitely (known as methadone maintenance), while others eventually choose abstinence. Methadone is sometimes diverted from its legitimate use, sold on the illegal market, and used as a drug of abuse.
Marijuana, the most frequently used illegal drug in this country, is a product of the hemp plant, Cannabis sativa. The main active chemical in marijuana, also present in other forms of cannabis, is THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol). Of the roughly 400 chemicals found in the cannabis plant, THC affects the brain the most. Short-term effects of marijuana include problems with memory and learning, distorted perception (sights, sounds, time, touch), trouble with thinking and problem solving, loss of motor coordination, increased heart rate, and anxiety. Long-term effects: Marijuana smoke contains some of the same cancer-causing compounds as tobacco, sometimes in higher concentrations. Studies show that someone who smokes five joints per week may be taking in as many cancer-causing chemicals as someone who smokes a full pack of cigarettes every day.
Hashish consists of the THC-rich resinous material of the cannabis plant, which is collected, dried, and then compressed into a variety of forms, such as balls, cakes, or cookie-like sheets. Pieces are then broken off, placed in pipes, and smoked. Effects of hashish include intense euphoria, peacefulness, empathy and sympathy.
Hash oil is used by illicit drug users and dealers. It is produced by extracting the cannabinoids from plant material with a solvent. The color and odor of the resulting extract will vary, depending on the type of solvent used. In terms of its psychoactive effect, a drop or two of this liquid on a cigarette is equal to a single “joint” of marijuana. Hash oil is usually mixed with tobacco or marijuana and smoked.
PCP is an illicit anesthetic drug that produces hallucinogen-like effects and bizarre behavior. It is known as angel dust. Marijuana joints, or “blunts,” and crack cocaine will be dipped into PCP. PCP in large doses produces a profoundly altered state. A user’s sense of consciousness, identity, memory, and environment, which are usually interrelated, falls apart. The user feels detached from the physical environment and at times stares blankly, paralyzed to the point of being unable to move or speak. The duration of effects varies by dose, but they can last up to a few days. Neither tolerance nor withdrawal has been observed.
LSD is the most potent hallucinogen known to man. General effects of LSD use include varying degrees of illusions and hallucinations. The user’s sense of time and self changes and sensations may seem to “cross over”, giving the user the feeling of hearing colors and seeing sounds. These changes can be frightening and can cause panic. LSD is not considered an addictive drug since it does not produce compulsive drug-seeking behavior. However, like many of the addictive drugs, LSD produces tolerance, so some users who take the drug repeatedly must take progressively higher doses to achieve the state of intoxication that they had previously achieved. This is an extremely dangerous practice, given the unpredictability of LSD. The effects of LSD depend on the amount taken, the user’s personality, mood, and expectations and the surroundings in which the drug is used.
MDMA is a synthetic drug with both hallucinogenic and stimulant qualities. It is sometimes referred to as a “designer drug” – in this case meaning it is a synthetic compound of two or more drugs (i.e. methamphetamine, methylenedioxyamphetamine, and mescaline). This drug was once only popular within the rave culture and in dance clubs, but has now become widely available. Known as the “hug drug” or “feel good” drug, it reduces inhibitions, eliminates anxiety, and produces feelings of empathy for others. It also suppresses the need to eat, drink, or sleep. This enables club-scene users to endure all-night and sometimes 2- to 3-day parties.
The peyote cactus contains a psychoactive substance called mescaline (mescaline can also be produced synthetically) that is found in small crowns (“buttons”) located on the top of the plant. These buttons are soaked in water to obtain a hallucinogenic liquid, or dried and chewed. Peyote is used in some Native American religious ceremonies.
Mushrooms are native to Mexico and Central America and can also be cultivated indoors. They are eaten dried or fresh or combined with marijuana in a joint and smoked. The effects are less pronounced than those from mescaline and LSD. In low doses, the effects are more akin to visual distortions of light and geometry than to full-blown, psychedelic hallucinations.
Ketamine (“Special K”), like PCP, is a depersonalizing, dissociative, anesthetic drug with hallucinogenic properties. Ketamine is promoted as a shorter trip than LSD or PCP. It is typically sold at nightclubs and raves. Liquid ketamine is used legally in veterinary surgery. As a drug of abuse, is it usually stolen, and the liquid is changed into a powder, which is snorted, sprinkled on marijuana or tobacco and smoked, or mixed in beverages. It is sometimes pressed into tablets and taken orally.
Amphetamine is a general category of stimulants that includes amphetamine, dextroamphetamine, and methamphetamine. The three types are so similar in terms of chemical composition and effects that most users cannot distinguish the difference.
Methamphetamine is synthetically produced in clandestine labs and closely resembles amphetamine in molecular structure and effects. Methamphetamine is also known as “meth,” “crank,” “crystal,” “crystal meth,” and “speed.” Methamphetamine is a white powder that is snorted, smoked, or injected intravenously. It can also be pressed into pills and taken orally. Methamphetamine for smoking, known as “glass” or “ice,” is used by inhaling the vapors. The effects of methamphetamine may last eight to twelve hours. Chronic users go on binges lasting days at a time.
Availability of Yaba tablets is limited in the United States; however, Southeast Asia, particularly Thailand, has been overwhelmed by this “crazy medicine”. These tablets are manufactured with varying amounts of caffeine and methamphetamine. The tablets are flavored, taste like candy, and are marketed to a young audience usually at raves or parties where ecstasy has been widely established.
Dextromethorphan is a cough suppressant commonly found in over-the-counter cough products. Individuals intoxicated on dextromethorphan can experience hallucinations and altered time perception. Cases of overdose and death have occurred.
Solvents - gasoline, kerosene, glues, cements, nail polish remover, lighter fluid, paint thinners, degreasers, dry cleaning fluid, markers, correction fluid.
Gases - propellants used in butane lighters; any aerosols such as spray paints, hair spray, fabric protector, refrigerants; and medical anesthetic gases such as nitrous oxide, ether, or chloroform.
Volatile Nitrates - Amyl nitrite, a cloth-covered vial that is snapped in half to release the vapor; and butyl and isobutyl nitrite, both sold over-the-counter as room deodorizers.
Effects of use include blurred vision, euphoria with hallucinations, reduced muscle coordination, nausea, intense headache oxygen deprivation, irregular heartbeat and increased heart rate. Fatal overdose is possible from Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome or suffocation.
Barbiturates (Seconal, Phenobarbital, Nembutal)
Barbiturates are drugs that act as central nervous system depressants. They produce a wide spectrum of effects, from mild sedation to total anesthesia. Recreational users report that a barbiturate high gives them feelings of relaxed contentment and euphoria. The main risk of acute barbiturate abuse is respiratory depression. Physical and psychological dependence may also develop with repeated use. Other effects of barbiturate intoxication include drowsiness,lateral and vertical nystagmus, slurred speech and ataxia, decreased anxiety, a loss of inhibitions. Barbiturates are also used to alleviate the adverse or withdrawal effects of illicit drug misuse. Drug users tend to prefer short-acting and intermediate-acting barbiturates. The most commonly abused are amobarbital (Amytal), pentobarbital (Nembutal), and secobarbital (Seconal). A combination of amobarbital and secobarbital (called Tuinal) is also highly abused. Short-acting and intermediate-acting barbiturates are usually prescribed as sedatives and sleeping pills. These pills begin acting fifteen to forty minutes after they are swallowed, and their effects last from five to six hours. Veterinarians use pentobarbital to anesthetize animals before surgery; in large doses, it can be used to euthanize animals.
Benzodiazepines (Valium, Librium, Klonopin, Ativan, Xanax)
Use of benzodiazepines results in sedative, hypnotic (sleep-inducing) and anti-anxiety, anticonvulsant, muscle relaxant and amnesic action. These properties make benzodiazepines useful in treating anxiety, insomnia, agitation, seizures, muscle spasms, alcohol withdrawal and as a pre-medication for medical or dental procedures. Benzodiazepines are categorized as either short-, intermediate- or long-acting. Short- and intermediate-acting benzodiazepines are preferred for the treatment of insomnia; longer-acting benzodiazepines are recommended for the treatment of anxiety. The American Psychiatric Association does not recommend benzodiazepines for persons with depressive symptoms or a history of substance abuse. The main problem of the chronic use of benzodiazepines is the development of tolerance and dependence. Tolerance manifests itself as diminished pharmacological effect and develops relatively quickly to the sedative, hypnotic, anticonvulsant and muscle relaxant actions of benzodiazepines.
Rohypnol – a long-acting benzodiazepine which is up to ten times stronger than Valium. Rohypnol produces amnesia-like effects. People under its influence experience a state similar to an alcoholic blackout: they are conscious, walking and talking, but later have no recall of what transpired. Some people use Rohypnol and GHB as drugs of abuse to produce a drunken-like state. Worse, the drugs are also used in a predatory way to sedate people in order to harm or sexually assault them.
GHB – is used in other countries in the treatment of sleep disorders but is not approved for medical use in the United States. It is used in drug-assisted rapes and also promoted as an alleged muscle-stimulating growth hormone, sleep aid, and aphrodisiac. GHB has become a drug of abuse primarily among adolescents and young adults in their twenties. It is a white powder that is dissolved in beverages, or a liquid sold in small bottles or vials. Users describe it as euphoric, restful, and refreshing. Tolerance and dependence are possible.
The primarily addictive component in tobacco is nicotine. A cigarette delivers nicotine to the brain and stimulates the nervous system. Nicotine is readily absorbed through the mucosal linings of the mouth, nose, and lungs and reaches the brain very quickly, within ten seconds. While smokers of cigars, pipes and users of smokeless tobacco do not inhale, the nicotine is absorbed through the mucosal membranes of the mouth. Nicotine is addictive and acts on the same pleasure centers of the brain as other drugs such as heroin and cocaine do. The behavioral and pharmacologic conditions that define nicotine addiction are similar to those that define addiction to other substances as well. Tolerance to nicotine quickly develops, and users soon need more to achieve the desired effect. This tolerance, in turn, leads to increased dependence and addiction.
National Institute of Drug Abuse
Drug Enforcement Administration