Other illegal drugs and your health

It can be hard to judge how much of an illegal drug has been taken as they are uncontrolled, so quality and strength vary from one batch to another.

Drug dependence

People who use a drug regularly can develop dependence and tolerance to it. This means they need to take larger amounts of the drug to get the same effect. Dependence on a drug can be psychological, physical or both. People who are dependent on the drug find that using the drug becomes more important than other activities in their life. They crave the drug and find it difficult to stop using it.

People who are psychologically dependent on a drug may find they feel the urge to use it when they are in specific surroundings, such as socialising. 

Physical dependence happens when a person's body adapts to a drug and gets used to functioning with the drug present.

Cannabis

Read cannabis and your health.

Cocaine

Cocaine produces an intense rush, with the purity and the amount of the drug taken determining its intensity. Users feel a sense of euphoria, alertness, arousal and increased confidence.

When using cocaine, the rush experienced is actually the receptors in the brain being flooded with a neuro-chemical called dopamine. Because cocaine is tapping into the brain's 'reward systems', users begin to crave more of it to experience the same pleasure again. This is the reason many users find the drug to be so addictive.

The consequences of using cocaine can include:

  • depression
  • nasal and sinus congestion
  • cardiomyopathy - a serious disease in which the heart muscle becomes inflamed
  • cocaine psychosis
  • violent or erratic behaviour
  • eating and sleeping disorders
  • impaired sexual performance
  • ulceration of the mucous membrane of the nose
  • damage to the nasal septum
  • cardiac arrest
  • convulsions
  • kidney failure
  • stroke
  • seizures.

Ecstasy (MDMA)

Ecstasy usually produces a euphoric rush, usually within 20 minutes of swallowing it, which can last up to eight hours. Users may feel more alert, energetic and affectionate. Ecstasy also suppresses appetite.

The stimulants in ecstasy speed up the activity in the central nervous system.

There are usually three phases experienced when taking ecstasy:

  • coming up - you may experience tightening of muscles, especially the jaw, dilated pupils, visual distortions, nausea or vomiting, strong pulse, increased temperature, confusion and panic
  • plateauing - you may experience feeling happy, more awake, relaxed, open, confidence, talkative and have decreased urine output and increased thirst
  • coming down - you can feel physically exhausted, depressed, anxious, paranoid, irritable, unable to sleep and the comedown will be more intense if you have taken other drugs, including alcohol.

Consequences of using ecstasy can include:

  • chronic sleep problems
  • cracked teeth through grinding
  • high blood pressure
  • dehydration
  • anxiety
  • decreased emotional control
  • lethargy
  • severe depression
  • memory impairment
  • nerve cell damage
  • serotonin syndrome
  • death from heart failure.

GHB

Gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB) is a depressant drug that contains sedative and, at sufficient doses, anaesthetic properties (so can knock you out). Mildly salty in flavour, it is colourless and odourless.

GHB has been called the 'date-rape drug' because it can leave users with amnesia, impaired movement and impaired speech. It can be easily camouflaged in drinks as it is difficult to taste.

It is also called liquid ecstasy as it has stimulating, euphoric and aphrodisiac qualities. But it is not related to MDMA at all.

Other names include fantasy, grievous bodily harm (GBH), liquid E, G.

The consquences of using GHB can include:

  • extreme drowsiness/grogginess
  • hallucinations
  • difficulty focusing eyes
  • vomiting
  • impaired movement and speech
  • reduced muscle tone
  • disorientation
  • convulsions/seizures
  • coma
  • respiratory distress
  • slowed heart rate
  • lowered blood pressure
  • amnesia
  • death.

Heroin

Heroin produces a rush minutes after taking it, leading to a feeling of warmth and contentment. In larger doses it can cause the user to feel drowsy and very relaxed.

Heroin is also known to greatly reduce physical and psychological pain when taken.

A central nervous system depressant, heroin slows down the brain functions and, in particular, the control of breathing, which can slow down or even stop. At the same time blood pressure and body temperature drops and the heartbeat can become irregular. 

LSD

The effects of LSD are unpredictable. Usually, the first effects of the drug are felt 30 to 90 minutes after taking it. The user may experience changes in mood, feel several different emotions at once, or swing rapidly from one emotion to another. If taken in large doses the drug produces delusions and visual hallucinations. The physical effects include dilated pupils, higher body temperature and sweating, nausea and loss of appetite, increased blood sugar, heart rate and blood pressure, sleeplessness, dry mouth and tremors.

The user may also suffer impaired depth and time perceptions, with distorted perception of the size and shape of objects, movements, colour, sound, touch and own body image. Sensations may seem to cross over, giving the feeling of hearing colours and seeing sounds. These changes can be frightening and can cause panic. Some LSD users also experience severe, terrifying thoughts and feelings, fear of losing control, fear of insanity and death.

Under the influence of LSD the ability to make sensible judgements and see common dangers is impaired, making the user susceptible to personal injury, which can be fatal.

After an LSD trip, the user can suffer acute anxiety or depression, and may also experience flashbacks, which are recurrences of the effects of LSD days or even months after taking the last dose. A flashback occurs suddenly, often without warning, usually in people who use hallucinogens chronically or have an underlying personality problem. Healthy people who use LSD can also sometimes have flashbacks.

LSD users may also experience long-lasting psychoses, such as schizophrenia or severe depression.

Methamphetamine

Methamphetamine is a stimulant that comes in a range of forms, including powder (speed), paste, liquid, tablets and crystalline (Ice). Ice is the purest and most potent form.

The effects vary depending on a range of factors including the amount used, how it is used, purity of the drug, frequency of use and the situation it is used in.

Symptoms

If you use methamphetamine, you may experience:

  • feelings of pleasure and confidence
  • increased alertness and energy, talkative
  • repeating simple actions like itching and scratching
  • dilated and enlarged pupils and dry mouth
  • teeth grinding, jaw clenching and excessive sweating
  • fast heart rate and breathing
  • reduced appetite
  • increased sex drive, reduced inhibitions and unsafe sexual behaviour
  • restlessness and agitation
  • aggressiveness, paranoia and psychosis.

Long term, heavy or dependent users may experience psychosis, paranoia, hallucinations and mood swings. Problems can be compounded by mental health, physical, psychological and social issues.

People who inject methamphetamine can experience problems relating to injection such as collapsed veins, abscesses and the spread of blood-borne viruses like hepatitis B and C or HIV.

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Last updated: 28 November 2017