The information given below can help to educate parents and caregivers to many of the most commonly used illegal drugs.  However it is important to realise that the substances that are the most frequently used by young teenagers are likely to be:

Alcohol,  nicotine and cannabis.  These substances are easily obtained by young people and are the least expensive of the other drugs listed below.



Many parents believe that it is ok to let their under-age children to use alcohol in the home.  This is not a good idea since it encourages youngsters to believe that they need alcohol to have a good time and that it is normal for everyone to drink at any time.  Adults should take care not to come home after a stressful day and declare “I need a drink” !  The message heard by younger family members is ‘if I have problems or I am feeling stressed alcohol will improve matters’……..


Alcohol is water soluble so is excreted from the body fairly quickly. (unlike substances like cannabis which are fat soluble and stay in the body for long periods of times – this also results in a ‘build-up’ if the drug is used frequently.)  The effects of alcohol start within 5-10 minutes and are well known.  Initially small amounts lead to feelings of relaxation and of less inhibition – more use equals slurred speech, slower reactions, clumsiness, staggering and loss of balance.  Driving skills are severely affected.   Very heavy use of alcohol can lead to blackouts,  accidents, coma and even death.


Regular alcohol use can lead to dependence – both physical and psychological and in many cases requires long term treatment for users to attain sobriety.  Anyone with a strong alcohol dependency may need hospitalisation in order to stop as sudden withdrawal can lead to convulsions.


It is known that harms from alcohol use – especially dependency – are related to particular genetic make up.  Parents need to warn children that if they themselves have had a past problem with alcohol, of if Uncle Harry or Grandma Mabel was a heavy drinker,  then it would be wise for the children to either remain teetotal or to drink alcohol very sparingly.  In any case anyone using alcohol should always  have two or three days each week without any alcohol at all. Try to teach your youngsters that they can have a good time without the need to get drunk,  warn them of the dangers, suggest they offer to be the named non-drinking driver – discuss with them how boring and pathetic others appear when drunk !



These drugs are known as “uppers”, speed or stimulants . Additionally, they are actually divided up into a very large class of stimulants which includes amphetamines, dextro-amphetamines, and methamphetamines.


Even so, all amphetamines have effects that are  similar .   Stimulants evoke a sense of well-being and high energy. They release social inhibitions, and give the user the feeling of cleverness, increased competence, and power.


The effects of the drugs on the central nervous system are similar to effects of cocaine, but they tend to last longer (4 to 6 hours, depending on dose and potency).


Taking amphetamines is easy for the users – they can be ingested orally, smoked, or snorted. Injecting or smoking causes a more immediate reaction and sensation – a rush – that lasts only a few minutes. It’s described as being more intense and extremely pleasurable.


Oral, or intranasal, use produces a milder form of the euphoria, but not a rush. Because injection and snorting are painful, many users take these drugs orally, though the taste is bitter.


One of the most toxic forms of amphetamines is smokeable methamphetamine. It’s a translucent rock-like drug which is highly addictive and toxic.


Chronic use of this form of the drug and, in many respects any amphetamine, produces a psychosis that resembled clinical schizophrenia. Patients who are admitted to rehab often suffer from paranoia, picking at the skin, auditory and visual hallucinations, and other similar symptoms, like:


  • impaired sexual performance
  • irritability
  • anxiety
  • increased blood pressure
  • depression
  • aggression
  • convulsions
  • dilated pupils and blurred vision
  • dizziness
  • sleeplessness
  • loss of appetite and malnutrition
  • increased body temperature
  • nerve cell damage
  • severe weight loss
  • sores on the body, grey tone to skin
  • exaggerated body movements
  • dramatic and prolonged changes in sleeping, eating, and sex habits
  • fast and excited speech
  • decreased attention span, restlessness, and anxiety
  • social isolation at work, home, or among friends
  • delusional behaviour


Extremely violent and erratic behaviour is frequently seen among chronic abusers of amphetamines.


Slang terms for amphetamines include:

  • Black beauties
  • White bennies
  • Dexies
  • Beans
  • Crank
  • Meth
  • Crystal
  • Crystal meth
  • Speed
  • Ice








The number of habitual cocaine users has declined by 75% since 1986, but it’s still a popular drug for many people. Cocaine is a drug that’s made from the leaves of the coca plant. It’s a powerful brain stimulant and extremely addictive.

It’s typically distributed on the street in two forms: cocaine hydrochloride and “crack.”

Cocaine hydrochloride is a fine powder that can be snorted or dissolved in water and then injected. Crack cocaine is cocaine hydrochloride that’s been processed , the chips, chunks, or rocks that form during the process can be smoked.


Like amphetamines, cocaine is highly addictive. And, when crack cocaine or injectable cocaine reaches the brain, it brings on an intense and immediate “high.” Snorted cocaine produces a slower “high” which is not as intense. Either way, the drug produces a surge in energy and a feeling of intense pleasure. It also gives the user an increased sense of confidence.

The effects of powder cocaine will last roughly 20 minutes. Crack’s “high” lasts only 12 minutes.

Those who use cocaine heavily may experience various symptoms like:

  • paranoia
  • aggression
  • insomnia
  • depression


Unfortunately, because cocaine’s effects are so short, users often have to go on “coke binges” to avoid “coke crash” – withdrawal symptoms that include:

  • fatigue
  • depression
  • irritability


Other negative effects of chronic cocaine use include:

  • central nervous system stimulation and overstimulation
  • pupil dilation
  • elevated blood pressure
  • elevated heart rate
  • increased respiratory rate
  • increased body temperature
  • stuffy or runny nose
  • irritation of the nasal mucous membrane
  • AIDS, hepatitis and other diseases contracted from dirty or shared needles and other equipment
  • loss of appetite
  • tactile hallucinations
  • seizures
  • cardiac arrest or respiratory failure
  • constricted peripheral blood vessels
  • anxiety
  • foetal development problems (from pregnant women using)


Designer Drugs

“Party drugs” or “rave drugs” are often associated with designer drugs. Designer drugs are modified restricted drugs (drugs that are normally only available with a prescription or whose purchase is limited by a pharmacy, even when it is sold “over the counter”).


They are made by “underground chemists”. A designer drug is usually created by changing the molecular structure of an already-existing drug, thereby creating a new substance.


An example of this would be Ecstasy. Street names for these types of drugs vary according to the time, place or the manufacturer or chemist.


Because they are created in labs by unlicensed and untrained amateur chemists, they can be extremely dangerous. Often, there is little, or no, standardization or testing done on dosing, efficacy, tolerances, or toxicity.


In fact, most of the time, designer drugs are more dangerous and potent than the original drug that it’s based on. And, these drugs can be derived from fentanyl or methamphetamine, making them highly addictive.


The pharmaceutical drug, fentanyl, was originally created for use as an anaesthetic during surgeries. Methamphetamine is a type of amphetamine (a stimulant) which is highly addictive.


Unfortunately, because the drugs are completely uncontrolled they have been associated with unintentional deaths . Most often, they are designed to duplicate the euphoric effects of heroin.


The Fentanyl-based designer drugs have limited effects, with “highs” lasting just 30 to 90 minutes. And, these drugs are often injected, increasing their efficacy substantially. This also has the effect of intensifying the “high” experienced, which is why many users inject them.


But, these drugs can also be snorted or smoked, which is done to avoid the risk of getting HIV via infected needles.


Regardless, Fentanyl-derived drugs are extremely dangerous, and can result in respiratory paralysis suddenly and immediately after drug administration. In many instances, users who overdose on the drugs die with the needles still in their arm.


Side effects for designer drugs vary, and depend on the underlying chemical composition and what the drug is based off. For example, drugs based on methamphetamines will have side effects similar to amphetamine use. Fentanyl-derived drugs will have side effects related to this class of drug.




Ecstasy began as a designer drug and has become more mainstream over time. It’s chemical or technical name is methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA). It’s a synthetic drug that acts both as a stimulant and as a hallucinogen.


Users sometimes take it for the sense of well-being it gives them, the sensory distortions they experience while on the drug, or to stay awake through an all-night rave. The drug stimulates the central nervous system and produces hallucinogenic effects.


The drug is one of a few that has been shown to cause brain damage in animals, even after just one use. It depletes a very important chemical in the brain, called serotonin, which affects mood and behaviour r. Serotonin also regulates sleep and wake cycles, eating habits, thinking processes and aggressive behaviour along with sexual function and sensitivity to pain.


Use of ecstasy can reduce serotonin levels in the brains of rats by 90 percent for at least 2 weeks.


Another risk users face is serious dehydration and exhaustion from the combination of the drug and activities often associated with it, like intense dancing. Some users die of heat stroke.


Because the drug is derived from methamphetamine, it has similar side effects as amphetamines, but also may cause additional symptoms, like:

  • psychiatric disturbances
  • extreme or mild panic
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • paranoid thinking
  • muscle tension
  • nausea
  • blurred vision
  • fainting
  • chills
  • sweating
  • increased heart rate
  • increased blood pressure
  • tremor
  • hallucinations
  • reduced appetite
  • sleep problems



Herbal Ecstasy

Herbal ecstasy is used to describe a combination of herbs that are, in and of themselves, legal, inexpensive, and marketed as giving the user a natural “high.”


The natural “high” comes from consuming roughly 4 pills.


Sometimes, the packaging includes names like “Herbal Ecstacy,” (sic) “Cloud 9,” and “Ultimate Xphoria.” Additionally, sellers promise increased energy, inner “visions,” and sometimes “sexual sensations” or “cosmic consciousness.”


Users often feel relaxed, energetic, but tingly. These sensations are caused by the caffeine in the product along with the ephedra. Combined, these two ingredients are responsible for the high most people feel.


Because ephedra has been used in China for over 2,000 years to treat respiratory problems, most users believe that it’s safe without any adverse effects.


The active compound in ephedra is ephedrine, which is a chemical used in pharmaceutical-based decongestants and some asthma medications.


However, at increased dosages, the FDA has received reports of adverse reactions, including:

  • liver failure
  • elevated blood pressure
  • strokes
  • death


An increase in blood pressure may result from excessive caffeine intake, and death could occur in certain individuals who overdose on it





Heroin is derived from morphine. It’s obtained from opium, specifically, the poppy.


Today’s heroin is 40 percent pure, and can be up to 70 percent pure. Compare this with heroin available in 1980, which was typically 4 percent pure. It’s not surprising that heroin is a very addictive drug.


It’s also a depressant or “downer” because it affects the brain’s pleasure systems, interfering with the user’s ability to perceive pain. It’s for this reason that heroin addicts don’t feel pain, or feel reduced sensation of pain, while on the drug. It can be used in a variety of ways, including:

  • Injected into a vein (“mainlining”)
  • Injected into a muscle
  • Smoked in a water or standard pipe
  • Smoked in a marijuana joint or regular cigarette
  • Inhaled as smoke through a straw (“chasing the dragon”)
  • Inhaled into the nasal cavity as powder


Heroin is a fast-acting drug when injected or smoked. When it is injected, it will reach the brain within 15 to 30 seconds.


When smoked, it reaches the brain in 7 seconds. The “high” that’s experienced is intense pleasure. Users quickly develop tolerance and need more of the drug to get the same effects.


Effects of the drug may cause:

  • slowed and slurred speech
  • slow gait
  • constricted pupils, droopy eyelids, impaired night vision
  • dry skin, itching, skin infections
  • vomiting (at first use, and later at high doses)
  • constipation
  • “nodding off” (at very high doses)
  • decreased sexual pleasure, indifference to sex
  • sedation proceeding to coma
  • respiratory depression
  • HIV infection from injection (from sharing contaminated needles)
  • impaired immune system
  • addiction
  • reduced appetite
  • slow, irregular, heart rate
  • irregular blood pressure
  • menstrual irregularity
  • death from overdose


Quitting is not easy for heroin users. In fact, it can be unsafe for them to simply quit “cold turkey” and it is always advisable for those wanting to quit to get support from a local drugs agency who are there to advise.  The side effects are serious, and can include:

  • Intense drug cravings
  • Extreme sweating
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Feelings of heaviness of the body
  • Extreme pain in muscles and bones
  • Cramping in the arms and legs
  • Crying jags
  • Insomnia
  • Cold sweats
  • Runny nose
  • Fever
  • Diarrhoea
  • Death


Other negative consequences from continued use of heroin include:

  • Collapsed veins
  • Infections of the heart lining and valves
  • Skin infections like abscesses and cellulitis
  • High risk of getting HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C (from contaminated needles and other equipment)
  • Lung diseases, like pneumonia and tuberculosis
  • Miscarriage



Inhaled Household Products

Inhalants are used in everyday household products, including cleaners and cleansers. Unfortunately, they are also used by some individuals to get high. More than 1,000 household products on the market today can be misused as inhalants, and they’re the most frequently used drug among children with more than one in five Year 8  pupils having used them at least once in the past.


Airplane glue, nail polish remover, cleaning fluids, hair spray, petrol, propellant in aerosol cans, spray paint, fabric protector, cooking spray, and correction fluid.


Users typically sniff, snort, bag (put the fumes inside of a plastic bag to inhale), or “huff,” (soak a rag or sock with the inhalant and breath it in through the fabric) to get high.


Inhalants slow down the body’s functions. Users feel stimulated, disoriented, out-of-control, giddy, light-headed, and sometimes display violent behaviour. Inhalant abuse can cause severe damage to the brain and nervous system.


It can also impair mental and physical functioning – sometimes permanently. That’s because inhalants starve the body of oxygen. If severe enough, they can lead to sudden sniffing death (SSD), even if used only once. Users can also suffocate themselves if they are bagging the inhalant. A heavy user may find, over time, that they need more and more of the inhalant to get high. These users are at risk for serious brain damage.


Signs that someone is using, symptoms, and negative effects, of this type of drug use include:

  • headache, muscle weakness, abdominal pain
  • severe mood swings and violent behavior
  • numbness and tingling of the hands and feet
  • decrease or loss of sense of smell
  • liver, lung, and kidney damage
  • brain damage
  • dangerous chemical imbalances in the body
  • fatigue and lack of coordination
  • loss of appetite
  • decrease in heart and respiratory rates
  • hepatitis or brain damage from long-term use
  • weight loss
  • permanent damage to the nervous system
  • seizure
  • coma
  • death
  • red, glassy or watery eyes
  • slow, thick slurred speech
  • disorientation
  • general drunken appearance
  • nausea
  • chemical odour on the body or clothes
  • chemical odour in the room
  • staggering gait and un-coordination
  • inflamed nose, nosebleeds, and rashes around the nose and mouth




LSD is one of the more common hallucinogens on the market. It was discovered in 1938 by Dr. Albert Hofmann, and remains one of the most potent mood-changing chemicals ever known.


It’s made from lysergic acid, found in ergot, which is a fungus that grows on rye and other grains.  LSD is commonly known as “acid” on the street, and is sold in tablets, capsules, or occasionally in liquid form.


It is a colourless, odourless, drug and has a slightly bitter taste. Most users ingest it orally. Usually LSD is sold as “blotter acid,” where the drug is imprinted on small, colourful sheets of paper.  The effects can last from 3 to 12 hours.


Users taking acid often refer to the “high” as a “trip,” with acute adverse reactions as a “bad trip.” Users may experience panic, confusion, suspicion, anxiety, and loss of control. Flashbacks can occur years after the user has stopped taking the drug.


Most users of LSD voluntarily decrease or stop its use over time and it is not considered to be an addicting drug because it does not produce compulsive drug-seeking behaviour like many other drugs.


Potential negative side-effects include:

  • potentially devastating psychiatric effects
  • elevated body temperature
  • elevated blood pressure
  • suppressed appetite
  • sleeplessness
  • tremors
  • chronic recurring hallucinations (flashbacks)



Cannabis (Marijuana)

Cannabis is a green, brown, or grey mixture of dried, shredded flowers or leaves of the hemp plant. It is the most commonly used illegal drug throughout the world.  Young people will often have  totally incorrect information about this substance since there is a world- wide campaign to legalise it for medical and  recreational use with claims that it is harmless. Those who used in or remembered the 60’s will be shocked to learn that the THC content of the cannabis currently being used is no longer 1-5% – but is between 10 and 30%.   This is the equivalent of saying one Aspirin is good for you – but 30??


Most users make a cigarette-like device with loose cannabis, called a “joint,” but it can also be smoked in a water pipe, called a “bong.” Some users mix the drug into food (‘brownies’)or use it to brew a tea. Hash users smoke it in a pipe or mix it with tobacco and smoke it similar to how a cigarette is smoked. Parents often notice small ‘burn’ holes in clothing or bedding – a real give-away as cannabis burns very hot and small ash particles cause these small holes.  When ‘high’ users are often very giggly – and exhibit signs of ‘thinking through treacle’ –it takes them longer to process what has been said…..

example “Did you tell Mary we were meeting here?”

response “ er  – Mary ? uhm …oh Mary… yes… I think I did”.


Other methods of use include rolling the cannabis into a cigar, called a “blunt.” When it’s smoked this way, it’s sometimes combined with a 40 oz bottle of malt liquor. Combined, it’s referred to as a “B-40.”


All forms of cannabis contain THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol), and are considered psychoactive drugs. All told, there are about 420 chemicals in a cannabis plant, but THC is the one that affects the brain the most. Up to date research shows that heavy use can disrupt brain development and shrinks the hippocampus reducing the amount of white matter by as much as 80%.  This can create a loss of 8 IQ points – at a time when adolescents are in school and college.  Health problems include chronic bronchitis and respiratory illness.  The risk of a heart attack is elevated four times within the hour after smoking.  It is associated with  poor memory, increased risks of mental illness, including schizophrenia, paranoia, psychosis and depression.



When smoked, cannabis is damaging to the lungs and pulmonary system. The smoke contains some of the same carcinogens and toxic particulates as tobacco, sometimes in higher concentrations. Long-term users of cannabis may develop psychological dependence and require more of the drug to get the same effect.


Negative consequences of the drug include:

  • increased heart rate
  • bloodshot eyes
  • dry mouth and throat
  • impaired or reduced short-term memory
  • impaired or reduced comprehension
  • altered sense of time
  • reduced ability to perform tasks requiring concentration and coordination
  • altered motivation and cognition
  • paranoia
  • psychological dependence
  • impairments in learning and memory, perception, and judgment – difficulty speaking, listening effectively, thinking, retaining knowledge, problem solving, and forming concepts
  • intense anxiety or panic attacks




Often called ‘magic mushrooms’ and found in open land near woods in many places. Some types of mushrooms that are naturally-occurring contain hallucinogenic chemicals. Specifically, psilocybin and psilocin. These mushrooms are generally grown in Mexico and Central America, and have been used in native rituals for thousands of years.


When dried, the mushrooms have roughly 0.4% psilocybin and only trace amounts of psilocin. Users ingest 4-8 milligrams of the active hallucinogenic chemicals (2 grams of dried mushrooms) to get an effect similar to LSD, but much milder, which lasts roughly six hours.


The mushrooms have a bitter taste, and can be eaten or brewed into a tea. However, the effects are not very predictable, with potency varying by batch, amount ingested, and even the user’s “high” can vary based on the user’s expectations, mood, surroundings, and general frame of mind while using.


When ingested, the drug typically causes nausea prior to the desired hallucinogenic effect. The high from using mushrooms is mild and usually is limited to distorted perceptions, like distorted sensation of touch, smell, sight, and sound.




Far fewer people now use nicotine than in previous years.  around 28% of adults smoke cigarettes.   Sadly though young people do still use cigarettes even though many health campaigns have emphasised the harmfulness of this very addictive drug.  There are so many illnesses caused by the use of nicotine and many thousands of people die from diseases related to their smoking habits.


Just some of the problems are:

  • heart disease
  • cancer of the lung and other cancers
  • chronic bronchitis, emphysema and other lung diseases.
  • Peptic ulcers
  • Low birthweight babies
  • Early menopause
  • Increased risk of osteoporosis
  • aortic aneurysm
  • reduced appetite
  • rise in blood pressure and heart rate
  • Impotency
  • Earlier skin aging – more wrinkles at an early age



Passive smoking has also been shown to affect those around the smoker – particularly babies and younger children.  Cigarette smoke contains two of the gases associated with the greenhouse effect – carbon dioxide and methane – and thus contribute massively to global warming.


Parents, especially if smokers themselves, should share with the family how they wished they had never started – and should make every effort to become non-smokers.  Never allow smoking in the house for anyone !  Emphasise to the young people how smoking will make them look older, may affect their fertility, may make men impotent, will make their clothes and body smell of nicotine, will cost them lots of money  –  in fact will make them not look ‘cool and glamorous’ – but will make them look like losers.




Phencyclidine, or PCP, is a white powder that’s bitter, with a chemical taste. It’s listed as an illicit drug and is sold as a tablet, capsule, and in raw powder form. It’s either snorted, smoked, or eaten.


When it is smoked, PCP is applied to a leafy material, like mint or parsley. When mixed with other drugs, like marijuana, it’s called “crystal supergrass” or “killer joints.”


PCP is often done unknowingly by users because it’s secretly added to other drugs like marijuana LSD, and methamphetamine. The effects last about 2 hours, though may continue throughout the day. Users may experience negative side effects for up to two to three days.


Some of these effects include:

  • agitation
  • delusions
  • irrational behaviour


When users “get high” from this drug, they may experience:

  • hallucinations
  • “out of body” experiences
  • impaired motor coordination
  • inability to feel physical pain
  • death from respiratory arrest
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • disorientation
  • fear, panic and paranoia
  • aggressive behaviour and violence


On the street, it is often sold as “angel dust,” “ozone,” “wack” and “rocket fuel.”