Drugs can be categorised in many ways, hard or soft, uppers or downers,
addictive or non addictive, most harmful or least harmful, legal or illegal.
A category that is often useful is to divide drugs into their effects. Put
most simply these are:
they increase the activity of the central nervous system. Examples are
caffeine, tobacco, ephedrine, amphetamines, ecstasy, cocaine, 'crack',
poppers, anabolic steroids.
they reduce the activity of the central nervous system. Examples are alcohol,
solvents, minor tranquillisers (e.g. Valium), Codeine, Gees Linctus,
pethidine, distalgesic, heroin.
they alter perceptions of reality and may result in hallucinations (seeing
something that is not there). Examples are cannabis, magic mushrooms and LSD.
Types of drug problems
All drugs can create problems, either for the drug user or for
other people affected by the actions of the drug user. These problems
may be categorised as being either physical, psychological, social
or legal. With some drugs the user may become psychologically
dependent - this means they feel life is impossible unless they
continue to use the drug. With some drugs the user may become
physically dependent - this means their body experiences unpleasant
physical symptoms if they suddenly stop using the drug. With some
drugs the user may become both psychologically and physically
For some students alcohol consumption increases without them
realising - this can result in financial problems, hangovers, an
inability to concentrate on their studies, morning lectures are
missed and they find themselves having to fit their lifestyle around
their alcohol use. Some of these students may even experience health
problems, such as early gastric and liver damage. Regular drinking
of large amounts of alcohol by pregnant women can harm the foetus.
Alcohol can also cause depression. Both physical and psychological
dependence may occur with high levels of use.
Alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream and starts to take effect
within five to ten minutes. Effects may last from one to several
hours depending on dose. The effects can vary according to body
size and whether food is in the stomach and how much the person
is used to drinking. After the equivalent of drinking two pints
of beer most people feel less inhibited and relaxed. Jovial and
merry feelings can occur and getting drunk is a relatively common
event especially in student circles!
The first negative effect most people will experience with alcohol
is a hangover consisting of one, or a variety of symptoms, including
a headache caused by dehydration (alcohol affects the pituitary
gland that controls the flow of water released by the body though
urine). A sick and raw feeling of the stomach can occur. Whilst
under the influence of alcohol, accidents can happen and alcohol
should not be taken before, or while operating machinery or driving
(even if you drank the night before). Larger doses of alcohol
may lead to depressive and violent behaviour. The sex drive
may increase but performance may suffer, one form being 'brewers
Alcohol and other drugs
It is not a good idea to take alcohol with other drugs as it can
exaggerate the effect of those drugs. There are risks of overdosing,
becoming unconscious and choking on one's vomit which can result
in death. It is worth remembering that many drug related deaths
occur through mixing alcohol with other drugs.
Alkyl Nitrates (Poppers) are a group of chemicals which include Amyl Nitrate,
Butyl Nitrate, and Isobutyl Nitrate. They generally come in small bottles
with screw tops or plug tops, as a clear yellow liquid with a sweet smell
when fresh. They are available in sex shops, clubs and bars, and sold under
the brand names of Rush, T.N.T Ram etc.
There have not been any reports of addiitional adverse consequences resulting
from long term use. Alkyl Nitrates are medicinal products and are controlled by
the Medicines Act 1968. Possession is not an offence, but is illegal for anybody
except doctors and chemists to produce or supply them.
It is mostly used as a dance enhancer on the club circuit but can
also be used as a muscle relaxant and sexual stimulant. It is usually
sniffed directly from the bottle and once inhaled, effects last
for 2-5 minutes. The effect is a head rush similar to hyperventilation
as the blood vessels dilate, heart rate increases and blood rushes
to the brain.
Reduced blood pressure which could lead to unconsciousness and
heart attacks have been recorded. Users often experience weakness,
headaches, nausea and vomiting. The effects are increased if mixed
with other drugs. Regular use can lead to skin complaints,
sometimes accompanied by swelling of the nasal passages. This substance
is highly dangerous if swallowed and can lead to death. Nitrates
have not been reported as causing any dependence. There have been
no reports of additional adverse consequences resulting from long
Anabolic steroids (Durabolin, Stanozol, Dianabol) are derived
from hormones which occur naturally in the body and are responsible
for the development and function of the reproductive organs. These
anabolic steroids promote the build up of muscle tissue and are
used by some athletes and body builders. Most synthetic anabolic
steroids on the market are derived from human testosterone, however
some are intended for use on animals and should not be consumed
by humans. In the long term - psychological dependence will occur
with some users. Anabolic steriods are class C controlled drugs.
Users report that steroids help them recover more easily from
strenuous exercise. It has also controversially been claimed that
steroids enhance athletic performance.
Research indicates that the use of anabolic steroids results in
aggression, stunted growth in young people, increased blood pressure
and abnormalities in body development.
Benzodiazepines (Valium, Temazepam, Librium, Mogadon, Rohypnol)
are one of the most commonly prescribed drugs for sleeping and anxiety
problems. They are available as pills and capsules and are taken
orally, but are also injected.
Generally "Benzos" have replaced barbituates (barbs) because of
the dangers in overdosing. Benzodiazipines are Class C controlled
drugs and may be prescribed. Otherwise it is illegal to supply
or produce them. Similarly it is illegal to allow premises to
be used for their supply or production. It is an offence to possess
Temazepam or Rohypnol without a prescription. Otherwise it is
legal to possess other benzodiazepines without a prescription
(if they are in the form of a medicinal product).
*Rohypnol's pharmaceutical name is Flunitrazepam. It comes in
the form of a purple diamond shaped tablet. One side has a score
on it, the other has Rohypnol written on it. It is essentially
a sleeping pill - the effect is increased with alcohol, the more
alcohol consumed the greater the effect as a result it can make
people very confused. Royhpnol's effects can last for 6-10 hours.
There have been many reports of Rohypnol being used to 'spike'
They reduce feelings of tension and increase feelings of calmness.
The body soon develops a tolerance to them, so a person has to
take more to achieve the same effect. Both physical and psychological
dependence can occur.
Caffeine in its purest form is a white powder. It is found in
coffee, tea and many soft drinks (such as colas) and over the
counter pain killers. Coffee contains the most caffeine especially
when percolated. Most adults consume 440mg of caffeine per day.
Pain killers which contain caffeine usually have 50 mg per tablet,
it is possible to double ones daily dose if these are consumed
on top of a daily caffeine intake.
Caffeine is not subject to any LEGAL restrictions. In the long
term - psychological dependence will occur. There are no long
term physical effects from using caffeine.
Caffeine stimulates the nervous system, counters tiredness, and
helps prevent boredom.
Short term effects - large doses of caffeine impair performance
especially where attention to detail or delicate tasks are required.
Anxiety, increased heart rate and blood pressure can occur with
moderate doses. Larger doses can cause anxiety and restlessness,
chronic insomnia and heart palpitations. Withdrawal symptoms include
fatigue, lack of alertness, drowsiness and irritability. Although
physical and psychological dependence may occur, medical assistance
is not required.
Cannabis (Blow, Puff, Dope, Hash, Grass) is the most commonly
used illegal drug in Northern Ireland. It is usually smoked in
the form of resin, a brown solid mass which is crumbled and mixed
with tobacco to form a joint or spliff. Alternatively cannabis
can be taken orally whether raw or mixed in cakes, fudge etc.
Cannabis can also come in its original leaf form (grass) and as
an oil. Cannabis leaf and resin is now a class C controlled drug.
It is illegal to possess, supply, produce or cultivate cannabis.
Similarly, it is illegal to allow premises to be used for the
supply or production or smoking of cannabis.
Like tobacco, long term regular smoking can lead to bronchitis
and other lung diseases such as lung cancer. Physical dependence
does not occur, although psychological dependence may. Traces
of cannabis can stay in the body for at least a month. This could
be an issue if a user has to take a pre-employment medical examination.
The effects of cannabis can vary from person to person, some users
may feel more talkative, more relaxed, experience a sense of well
being and being 'stoned' (heightened perception) often mentally
distancing themselves from their surroundings. Mild hallucinations
and strong feelings of affection may occur. Skunk is a new strain
of cannabis that is extremely potent causing very strong hallucinogenic
Cannabis may bring to the surface some emotional problems which
may lead to more severe mental health problems. Heavy users may
become de-motivated in life which can result in lack of interest
in academic matters. Users may begin to change their lifestyle
to fit around taking cannabis and lose interest in their friends,
family and social affairs.
When smoked cannabis contains carcinogenic chemicals. If a joint
is made using cannibis and tobacco this will cause even more damage
to the lungs. The most common bad reactions to cannabis are anxiety,
paranoia, panic attacks, mood swings, sleeping problems, short
term memory loss and reduced concentration which can be dangerous
if operating machinery or driving. Furthermore cannabis can result
in a craving for food which could lead to noticeable weight gain
with continuous use.
Cocaine and Crack:~
Cocaine (Charlie, Snow, Coke) comes in the form of a white powder
made from the coca shrub that can be eaten, smoked, sniffed or
injected. Crack (Rock, Stone & Wash) is derived from cocaine hydrochloride.
It too is white but in the form of crystals or rocks the size
of raisins that are smoked. Cocaine and crack are class A controlled
drugs. Cocaine may be prescribed in certain circumstances. Otherwise
they are illegal to possess, supply or produce, (unless authorised
to do so). Similarly it is illegal to allow premises to be used
for their supply or production. Withdrawal is very difficult.
Regular users can experience the high being replaced with tiredness,
depression, sickness, restlessness and weight loss. The lining
of the nose can be damaged from sniffing the drug.
The user can feel invincible and confident due to a powerful buzz.
Animated and intense talking, feelings of well being and strength
are common, as well as a preoccupation with the effect of the
drug. The intense high lasts 10 - 15 minutes. The remaining effects
disappearing within an hour. As a result the user may need repeated
doses to maintain the high. The user may feel a constant need
for more to obtain the same effect.
Short term effects include anxiety, hallucinations and feelings
of persecution, and the sensation of bugs under the skin followed
by tiredness, hunger and depression. Users may become psychologically
dependent. Strong psychological dependence may occur with Crack
users. Its short lived effect can lead to a habit which is very
expensive to maintain.
Ecstasy or E is the name for tablets or capsules which contain the
drug (MDMA) Methylenedioxylmethylamphetamine. Ecstasy may be sold
under a variety of names such as Snowballs, Doves, New Yorkers,
Burgers etc. each tablet having slightly different effects. Ecstasy
is mainly taken orally, however, it can also be snorted or, more
Ecstasy has been linked to deaths concerning young people. Regular
use depletes an essential brain chemical, serotonin which can lead
to depression. Ecstasy is a class 'A' controlled drug. It cannot
be prescribed and is illegal to possess, supply or produce. Similarly
it is illegal to allow premises to be used for its supply or production.
Ecstasy starts to take effect after approximately 30 minutes and
could last for several hours. If there is no effect after 30 minutes
another dose should not be taken. Different users are affected in
different ways, some experiencing an urge to dance or be affectionate
with people around them. Users may experience a feeling known as
'coming up' where the drug sends rushes all over the body and brain
producing a feeling of 'Ecstasy'. This may include a tingling feeling
in the spine and an overall feeling of joy. Slight hallucinations
may also occur. Do be aware Ecstasy makes some people more likely
to end up having sex when on the drug, so be prepared and carry
and use a condom if the occasion arises.
Ecstasy acts like a stimulant so those with heart conditions, respiratory
conditions and/or epilepsy should definitely not take it. Aches,
pains, muscle stiffness, spasms and twitching, cramps, vomiting,
stomach ache, dizziness, panic attacks and depression, temporary
paranoia and insomnia can all be after effects of taking Ecstasy.
Continuous dancing in hot venues may result in dehydration. This
can be avoided by drinking up to a maximum of one pint of water
(or other still soft drinks) per hour. Physical dependence does
not occur, but psychological dependence is possible.
Heroin (or H, Smack, Junk, Gear, Brown) is a depressant drug derived
from the opium poppy, and is used medically for controlling extremely
severe pain. However, the heroin which is sold illegally is cut
with impurities like talcum powder, glucose and flour to increase
the bulk and increase profit. It comes in the form of white or light
brown powder and is sold in small paper wrappers. Heroin can be
sniffed, smoked or the powder can be dissolved in water and injected,
any drug is dangerous when injected and death from overdose is possible.
Injecting with unclean shared needles can be hazardous to the user's
health because of the danger of transmitting HIV, Hepatitis & other
Heroin depresses brain activity including reflexes like coughing,
breathing and heart rate. The drug takes effect almost immediately
and the effects can last several hours depending on the dose. Contentment,
relief from stress and a warm pleasant drowsiness may all be felt
by the user. Heroin is a class A controlled drug. In its medicinal
form heroin may be prescribed in certain circumstances. Otherwise
it is illegal to possess, supply or produce.
Similarly it is illegal to allow premises to be used for the supply
or production of heroin. When used regularly the effects cause highs
followed by 'withdrawal' (sweating, jitters, diarrhoea, vomiting,
cramps). If taken frequently the user starts to increase the dose
to get the same effect. Psychological and physical dependence often
occurs, it can take years to get free of heroin. Regular use leads
to poor health due to bad diet and chaotic lifestyle. Women user's
menstrual cycle may become disrupted.
Short term effects - for the non regular user there can be immediate
unpleasant effects like nausea and vomiting, which will often deter
someone from using the drug again. Overdosing on heroin can cause
unconsciousness and may result in death from breathing failure or
Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (Acid, Trips, Tabs) is a hallucinogen
which usually comes in the form of impregnated paper squares, which
may have colourful designs on them. LSD squares or "tabs" are taken
orally. The main danger may be to people who have or are unaware
they have a mental illness, as the drug can bring this on. LSD in
any event may trigger a psychotic response. Users may also experience
a "flashback" where the trip is relived possibly years after. Physical
dependence does not occur, but psychological dependence is possible.
After taking LSD the user may experience intense and changeable
emotions and the senses behave in unexpected ways e.g. visions and
an "understanding"of the universe etc. Users may experience heightened
self awareness and a feeling of being outside one's body. The effect
(or trip) lasts up to 8 - 12 hours, depending on dose. Experiences
will vary from visions of joy and beauty to heightened awareness
of sound and colour.
Bad experiences or trips are not uncommon and can last 8-12 hours.
Short term effects - LSD is not physically addictive. Effects depend
to some extent on the users mood and may include dizziness, depression,
disorientation and sometimes panic. It is normal to feel tired,
drained of energy and confused for some time afterwards.
LSD is a class "A" controlled drug. It cannot be prescribed. It
is illegal to possess, supply or produce. Similarly it is illegal
to allow premises to be used for its supply or production.
Hallucinogenic mushrooms (magic mushrooms) grow in many parts of
the country, they contain substances called psilocin and psilocybin.
Magic mushrooms come in various forms and strengths, therefore there
is no set amount to be eaten as results will vary. The main danger
may be people who have or are unaware they have a mental illness,
as the drug can bring on symptoms of the illness. Hallucinogenic
mushrooms may in any event also trigger a psychotic response. Users
may also experience a "flashback" where the trip is relived some
time after taking any mushrooms. Physical dependence does not occur,
but psychological dependence is possible. Some mushrooms may contain
worms which can be passed on to the user.
There are no restrictions on possessing, supplying or cultivating
magic mushrooms if they are in their natural raw state. However,
they become illegal if dried, processed or prepared in any way as
this has been held by the courts to result in the preparation of
psilocybin or psilocin which are class A controlled drugs.
Experiences will vary from visions of joy and beauty to a heightened
awareness of sound and colour.
Bad experiences are not uncommon and may also be experienced in
a "flashback." A danger comes from picking the wrong kind of mushrooms,
which may be poisonous and can be fatal if ingested. If there are
any doubts about the identity of any mushrooms they should not be
consumed. Poisoning can take up to 40 hours to develop. Anyone feeling
ill after taking mushrooms within this period should consult a doctor
immediately. If possible, samples of the mushrooms consumed and
any vomit should be taken to the doctor to help identification of
the poison consumed. Effects or symptoms may include dizziness,
depression, disorientation and sometimes panic.
Solvents are chemicals found in things like glue, paint, aerosols,
Tippex and butane gas and are generally sniffed or inhaled. When
inhaled some of them have effects similar to alcohol. The possession
of solvents is legal, however the use for intoxication may be
a potential reason for putting those under 18 in care. Otherwise
the only restriction is that it is an offence to supply solvents
to someone under 18 if the supplier believes they are likely to
use them to achieve intoxication.
The user may feel giddy and light headed, drowsy and in some cases
Short term effects - breathing and heart rate are depressed and
repeated or deep inhalation can cause disorientation, loss of
control and unconsciousness. Effects disappear within a few minutes
to half an hour after sniffing. Afterwards the user may experience
a mild hangover (headaches, poor concentration) for about a day.
Sniffing carries the risk of death through choking on vomit. About
100 deaths occur every year in the UK usually due to freezing
of the lungs or suffocation. As with alcohol, accidental death
by injury can occur.
Long term effects of heavy use over several
years may result in lasting damage to the brain, affecting control
of movement. Long term damage to the kidneys and liver can also
occur. Long term users will have the hangover symptoms of paleness,
tiredness, forgetfulness and lack of concentration. Performance
and function may be affected and, weight loss, depression and
trembling may occur but these will disappear when the sniffing
has stopped. Psychological dependence may occur, and there have
been reports of physical dependence.
There is no standardised quality of amphetamine or any other illegal
drug. It may be cut with a variety of impurities such as talcum
powder and, as a result it is rarely more than 5% pure when sold
on the streets. The drug comes in the form of a coloured or off
white powder and is packaged in a 'wrap' made from an envelope of
folded paper. It can be taken by snorting, swallowing, drunk e.g
with juice or by injecting. It is usually sold by the gram.
Amphetamine Sulphate is a class B controlled drug, (class 'A' if
designed for injection, also referred to as whizz, berwick, speed,
sulphate). Some amphetamines are prescribed. Otherwise it is illegal
to possess, supply or produce. Similarly it is illegal to allow
premises to be used for the supply or production of amphetamines.
Amphetamines cause the user to feel more confident, talkative and
cheerful. Concentration is increased but this is usually only with
single repetitive tasks. It is also used in clubs as a dance stimulant.
Short term effects - include an increase in breathing & heart rate,
dilation of the pupils and suppression of appetite. Because amphetamine
is cut with a variety of impurities it is particularly dangerous
to inject. To the user their thinking may seem clearer but to the
non user, they may appear to have 'verbal diarrhoea' or be over
fidgety. After the effects have worn off, the user may feel tired,
anxious, irritable and restless. High doses can produce panic and
Long term effects include tiredness
due to lack of sleep, food and lowered resistance to disease. There
may also be delusions, hallucinations, paranoia and amphetamine
psychosis (severe mental disorder). Amphetamines do not produce
physical dependence, but users may become psychologically dependent
and upon stopping may experience intense depression.
Tobacco can be consumed in the form of cigarettes, cigars, pipes,
chewing, or sniffed in the form of snuff. Approximately 30% of people
aged 16 and over regularly smoke. Most tobacco is smoked in the
form of cigarettes. Selling any tobacco product to those under 16
is illegal and can result in a fine of up to £1000. There is no
restriction on the possession and smoking of tobacco, though there
are bans on most forms of public transport and in some public places.
The commercial manufacture of tobacco requires a licence, but anyone
can grow tobacco for their own use.
Tobacco contributes to at least 2,500 deaths each year in Northern
Ireland: one in every six deaths here. A quarter of young male smokers
will die 'before their time' due to smoking related diseases. Smoking
tobacco can cause irreversible damage to the lungs, however if no
irreversible damage has occurred, then the lungs will repair and
clean themselves leading to normal health and life span.
Cigarette smoke contains various substances such as nicotine, tar,
carbon monoxide and other gases. Some of these substances are absorbed
by the lungs. Nicotine is the active addictive ingredient of cigarette
smoking as it builds up in the body. As a consequence the user may
be left wanting more after only a short time. One or two cigarettes
will increase blood pressure and heart rate. The appetite will be
suppressed and the skin's temperature will lower. Smokers can use
cigarettes to relieve tension, boredom, and tiredness. First time
users may feel dizzy and slightly sick.
A regular smoker is at risk from heart disease, lung cancer, blood
clots, heart attacks, bronchitis and many, many more serious diseases.
When the smoker stops they may experience withdrawal effects such
as restlessness, irritability, and depression. Physical and psychological
dependence often occurs with regular use. During pregnancy smoking
should be avoided as it leads to an increased risk of miscarriage
and smaller baby weight.
Despite the fact that we are against tobacco, we are tolerant to cigarettes vendors who sell tobacco for adult people of legal age.
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