Illegal Substances/Drugs Resource Guide
People resort to using drugs for reasons that range from peer pressure to curiosity or enjoyment. For some people, the use of illegal substances is social and infrequent, while others abuse or become addicted to them. Regardless of the reasons why one uses drugs or the frequency of that use, it has become a serious problem that affects people in every city, county, and state in the country. In 2007, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that almost 20 million Americans use illegal drugs. Drug use, both legal and illegal, can result in potentially severe consequences. Legal consequences of drug use depend on where a person is caught using or holding them, but one can generally expect to be arrested and fined or sentenced to serve time in prison. The severity of legal consequences also depends on how frequently the individual is caught in possession of illegal substances, the exact type of drugs in question, how much they have on them, and whether they are using, selling, or both. Other, more personal consequences of drug use may include the loss of one’s job, friends, or family.
Substances that affect the cannabinoid receptors in the brain are classified as cannabinoids. The most well-known cannabinoid is cannabis or marijuana. This recreational drug can be eaten or smoked, and its effects last up to six hours. Usage of marijuana is associated with a sense of euphoria, altered consciousness, and a stronger libido. Some of the negative effects include hallucinations, a reduction of motor skills, dry mouth, and a partial loss of short-term memory. Long-term effects can include psychosis, depression, suicidal thoughts, and anxiety. Marijuana is frequently used for medicinal purposes, such as alleviating pain and lessening nausea due to chemotherapy, and its legal status varies by state.
- Drug Fact Sheet: Marijuana (PDF)
- Medline Plus: Marijuana
- General Information About Marijuana
- FAQs: Recreational Marijuana
Drugs classified as opioids affect the brain’s opioid receptors. They are made from the opium poppy plant and include morphine, heroin, Vicodin, OxyContin, hydrocodone, and methadone. Opiates can be taken in a variety of ways, from snorting to injection. Legal versions of these drugs, such as Vicodin and OxyContin, are used to fight pain and some cases of chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder. Illegal versions of these drugs are used for the euphoric high that they create. Short term side-effects of opiates include drowsiness, itching, vomiting, constipation, and dry mouth. They can also cause decreased cognitive function, immune system deficiencies, higher sensitivity to pain, reduced pulmonary function, a reduced libido, and depression. The risk of addiction and overdose is high with opioids and can result in a coma, respiratory depression, and death.
Stimulants and Depressants
Drugs that increase the activity levels of the body’s basic processes are called stimulants or uppers. Substances that do the opposite are classified as downers or depressants. Cocaine and amphetamines (including methamphetamine) are examples of illegal stimulant drugs. People who use these drugs use them to achieve a sense of euphoria, reduced need to sleep, increased alertness, vigor, and libido, and improvement in their ability to focus. The negative side effects vary but can include paranoia, high blood pressure, psychosis, and suicidal thoughts. Drugs in this category can cause hypertension, heart failure or stroke, seizures, hyperthermia, brain damage, and death. Nicotine is a legal stimulant found in cigarettes and tobacco, and like all other drugs of its class, it is addictive and can result in physical dependence, although its risk of overdose is significantly lower than that of other drugs. It can be chewed, smoked, or absorbed through the skin.
Depressants are frequently available in liquid, tablet, or capsule form. Often, they are legally prescribed, but the risk of addiction is high and many begin to use them in an illegal manner. People get depressants by prescription from their doctor, with stolen prescriptions, by visiting multiple doctors for written prescriptions, or by purchasing them from street sources. Common depressants include benzodiazepines such as Xanax and Valium and barbiturates such as phenobarbital. Short-term problems that one may experience when taking depressants include lowered blood pressure, fatigue, slurred speech, slow pulse, and depression. Over the long term, people run the risk of sexual problems and addiction. Those who attempt to stop the drug will generally experience withdrawal symptoms that include nausea, insomnia, elevated body temperature, and convulsions. People who continue to use this type of drug also put themselves at higher risk for diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure. In addition, they also face death by overdose or the risk of falling into a coma.
Club drugs are commonly associated with night clubs and bars. They are frequently used by young adults, and teens may have access to them at parties. Two well-known club drugs are Ecstasy and Rohypnol. Ecstasy, which contains the drug MDMA, is both a stimulant and a hallucinogen that comes in tablet, powder, liquid, or capsule form. Short-term side effects include lowered inhibitions and anxiety, increased blood pressure, and an elevated body temperature. Long-term health effects include depression, aggression, and decreased sex drive. Rohypnol is a benzodiazepine that sedates unsuspecting victims so that they are incapacitated and unable to defend themselves from sexual assault. People who take or are given the drug may black out and experience amnesia, slower reactions, and an impairment in their mental abilities. When it is combined with alcohol, people who use the drug may fall unconscious or even die. This common date-rape drug comes in pill form but can be dissolved or snorted.
Hallucinogens and Dissociative Drugs
Drugs that cause people to see images that do not exist or view reality in a distorted way are called hallucinogens. In addition, they can also cause users to hear and feel things that others do not. Hallucinogens can be separated into two types: dissociative drugs and classic hallucinogens. Examples of dissociative drugs are PCP and ketamine. Ketamine is a liquid that can be injected or turned into a powder that users put into pills or snort. PCP can be purchased as a liquid, capsule, tablet, or powder. Users take it by snorting, injecting, swallowing, or smoking it. Classic hallucinogens include peyote, LSD, and “magic mushrooms” or psilocybin. In addition to hallucinations, these drugs also cause side effects such as dizziness, confusion, nausea, increased blood pressure, and memory loss. When taken in high doses and with alcohol, they can lead to death via respiratory arrest.
- Common Hallucinogens and Dissociative Drugs
- Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drugs: Hallucinogens
Other Types of Drugs
Other drugs that people abuse and become addicted to include over-the-counter medications such as cough and cold medicines. Abusing cough and cold medicines containing dextromethorphan can cause euphoria, an increased heart rate, nausea, confusion, and changes in one’s visual perception.
Anabolic steroids are another drug that people sometimes abuse. People often begin using these drugs to improve their physical appearance or to perform better as an athlete. Steroids are also taken to improve sexual performance. One can swallow steroid tablets or capsules, apply steroid gel, cream, or patches to the skin, or use an injectable solution. Potential side effects include damage to one’s kidneys, an enlarged heart, high blood pressure, impaired judgment, mood swings, and aggression. Steroids can also cause one to have a heart attack or stroke.
- Drug Fact Sheet (PDF)