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Commonly Abused Drugs

Alcohol
Alcohol is a legal depressant.  Alcohol consumption reduces mental ability, slows reaction time and coordination, along with reducing judgment. These impacts can lead to accidents, injuries and even cause death from alcohol poisoning.  According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, alcohol can take a serious toll on your body.  It affects the brain function, mood and behavior.  The heart, liver, and pancreas are negatively impacted and there is a risk of developing certain cancers over time.

Bath Salts (Spice)
Synthetic cathinones, more commonly known as “bath salts,” are drugs that contain one or more synthetic (human-made) chemicals related to cathinone and have nothing to do with bathing.  Cathinone is a stimulant found in the khat plant.  Synthetic cathinones are marketed as cheap substitutes for meth and cocaine, and products sold as Molly (MDMA) often contain synthetic cathinones instead.  Synthetic cathinones can cause nosebleeds, paranoia, increased sociability and sex drive, hallucinations or panic attacks.  Synthetic cathinones can be addictive and intoxication from them can result in death.

Hallucinogens (Ketamine, LSD, Mescaline, Peyote, PCP, Psilocybin, Salvia, DMT, and Ayahuasca)
Hallucinogens and dissociative drugs with street names like acid, angel dust, and vitamin K distort the way a user perceives time, motion, colors, sounds, and self.  These drugs can disrupt a person’s ability to think and communicate rationally, or even recognize reality which sometimes results in bizarre or dangerous behavior.  Emotions swing wildly and real-world sensations appear unreal and sometimes frightening.  Dissociative drugs like PCP, ketamine, dextromethorphan, and Salvia divinorum may make users feel out of control and disconnected from their own body and surroundings.  Dissociative drugs are associated with psychotic-like episodes long after the drug was taken.  Health effects include respiratory depression, heart rate abnormalities, and a withdrawal syndrome.

Heroin
Heroin is an opioid drug made from morphine, a natural substance extracted from the seed pod of various opium poppy plants. The opiate produces a “downer” effect, rapidly inducing feelings of relaxation and euphoria. The user can experience sudden changes in behavior or actions and shortness of breath.  The user can have a droopy appearance, poor hygiene and personal grooming.  An overdose of this highly addictive drug can result in a coma or death from respiratory failure or cardiovascular collapse.  Health effects include heart problems, infectious diseases from sharing needles, chronic pneumonia, blood clots, liver disease, and seizures.

Inhalants
Inhalants are substances such as commercial and household products that are concentrated and inhaled or “huffed” to get high.  Some commonly abused inhalants include spray paint, markers, glue and cleaning fluids.  Signs of abuse include nausea, sneezing or coughing, nosebleeds, poor coordination and loss of appetite.  Health effects include brain damage, hepatitis, muscle fatigue, nervous system damage and weight loss.

Marijuana (Cannabis, Hashish, Pot, Weed, Grass)
The active ingredient in marijuana is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) which comes from the dried flowers of Cannabis sativa. Marijuana can be smoked, consumed in tea or mixed into foods, or in vaporizers. Using marijuana can make one feel high, silly, relaxed, sleepy, hungry, and happy or nervous and scared.  It may change the senses of sight, hearing and taste. It can make it hard to think clearly and reduce short-term memory, comprehension and coordination.   Users can lack motivation and have a higher risk of respiratory and sinus infections along with a weakened immune system.

MDMA (Ecstasy or Molly)
3,4-methylenedioxy-methamphetamine (MDA) is commonly known as ecstasy or Molly and is a psychoactive drug that alters mood and perception and is used primarily as a recreational drug.  It is chemically similar to both stimulants and hallucinogens, producing feelings of increased energy, pleasure, emotional warmth, and distorted sensory and time perception.  Health effects can include nausea, muscle cramping, blurred vision, chills, and involuntary teeth clenching or sweating.

Prescription and Over-the-Counter Drugs (OTC)
The most commonly abused OTC drugs are opiate pain killers, anti-anxiety medications, sedatives, and stimulants.  Oxycodone (oxy, cotton, or percs) brand names of OxyContin or Percocet, a pain medication, are often abused as is hydrocodone (Vicodin, also called Vikes or Vikings).   The drugs cause a rush of good feelings and then often cause vomiting.  They make you sleepy.

The most commonly abused OTC drugs are cough and cold remedies containing dextromethorphan (DXM). 

Side effects from these drugs include excessive mood swings or hostility, increase/decrease in sleep, poor decision making, appearing to be high, unusually energetic, or sedated.  Health effects include depression, low blood pressure, constipation and poor coordination (from opioid pain killers).  Drowsiness, dizziness and confusion (from sedatives and anti-anxiety medications), and weight loss, insomnia, high blood pressure, and irregular heartbeat (from stimulants).  DXM abuse can result in rapid heartbeat, stomach pain and impaired physical coordination.

Salvia Divinorum
Salvia divinorum is a dissociative drug that is an herb in the mint family native to southern Mexico.  Dissociative drugs are hallucinogens that cause the user to feel detached from reality.  In the short term salvia can cause intense hallucinations, altered visual perception, mood and body sensations, mood swings and feelings of detachment from one’s body.  It is not known if salvia is addictive or the long-term effects of its use.

Steroids (Anabolic)
Anabolic steroids are synthetic variations of the male sex hormone testosterone.  The proper term for these compounds is anabolic-androgenic steroids.  “Anabolic” refers to muscle building and “androgenic” refers to increased male sex characteristics.  Health care providers can prescribe steroids to treat hormonal issues or other diseases.  However, some athletes or bodybuilders abuse the drugs to boost performance or improve physical appearance.  Some people abuse steroids by cycling, stacking, and pyramiding them to avoid unwanted side effects.   Anabolic steroids do not trigger the rapid release of dopamine in the brain so there is no “high”.  Long-term steroid abuse can affect brain pathways and chemicals including dopamine, serotonin, and opioid systems that are affected by other drugs.  This may affect mood and behavior.  Short-term side effects may include paranoid jealousy, extreme irritability, delusions and impaired judgment.  Long-term effects can include kidney problems or failure, liver damage, enlarged heart, high blood pressure, and changes in blood cholesterol, all of which increase the risk of stroke and heart attack, even in young people.  Even though anabolic steroids do not cause the same high as other drugs, they can lead to addiction.

Stimulant (Cocaine, Crack)
Cocaine is a powerfully addictive drug made from the leaves of the coca plant native to South America.  Cocaine leads to physical and physiological dependence.  Users display dilated pupils, hallucinations and insomnia, along with mood swings.  Elevated heart rate and blood pressure with frantic activity followed by fatigue are common.  Health effects include weakened immune system, respiratory and heart problems and death.

Stimulant (Meth, Speed)
Stimulants such as methamphetamine (meth) and speed stimulate the central nervous system and excite the body, and are sometimes called “uppers.”  Stimulant effects can be very pleasurable and may include intense feelings of happiness, increased energy, sociability and self-esteem, increased sexual desire and performance, easier breathing and suppressed appetite. The user starts with a rush of good feelings, but then turns edgy, overly excited, angry or afraid.  Thoughts are rapid and the person may feel too hot. Signs of abuse include mood changes, poor concentration and reduced mental function.  Health effects include elevated heart rate and breathing.  High blood pressure, headaches and blurred vision are common.  Tremors, weight loss, physical collapse, dental disease and tooth decay (also known as “meth mouth”) are prevalent.  Meth users often scratch their skin causing sores.  Improper use of stimulants (other than prescribed by a doctor) can lead to hostility, paranoia, and even psychotic symptoms.

Synthetic Cannabinoids (K2, Spice, Synthetic Marijuana)
Synthetic cannabinoids refer to a growing number of man-made mind-altering chemicals that are either sprayed on dried, shredded plant material so they can be smoked (herbal incense) or sold as liquids to be vaporized and inhaled in e-cigarettes and other devices (liquid incense).  These chemicals are called cannabinoids because they are related to chemicals found in the marijuana plant and can be addictive.  Psychotic effects include extreme anxiety, confusion, paranoia, hallucinations—sensations and images that seem real though they are not.  Other effects include elevated mood, relaxation and altered perception.  Health effects include rapid heart rate, vomiting, violent behavior and suicidal thoughts.  Synthetic cannabinoids can raise blood pressure and cause reduced blood supply to the heart, as well as kidney damage and seizures.  Use of the drugs can lead to death.   

Tobacco
The tobacco plant is grown for its leaves which are dried and fermented before use.  Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States.  The smoke from combustible tobacco products contains more than 7000 chemicals, and nicotine is the primary component that drives tobacco addiction.  Cigarette smoking is the most popular method of using tobacco; and other tobacco products include cigars, cigarillos, hookahs or water pipes, smokeless tobacco like snuff or chewing tobacco or powder tobacco which is inhaled through the nose.

Tobacco is associated with multiple types of cancer—foremost is lung cancer which is the leading cause of cancer death for both men and women.  Smoking also causes lung diseases such as chronic bronchitis and emphysema, and is the most significant risk factor for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).  Smoking also substantially increases the risk of heart disease, including stroke, heart attack, vascular disease, and aneurysm.  (National Institute on Drug Abuse)