Drugs are substances of natural or synthetic origin which can be used to alter someone’s emotional state, perception, body functioning or behavior. Antibiotics are drugs which help us to fight infections; this kind of drug is seen as positive and medically helpful. Coffee and tea contain Caffeine; use of this stimulant drug is widely accepted in society. Generally, drugs which are taken for pleasure are psychoactive, that is drugs which alter the psychological state of the user. The term “Substance Misuse” is employed to describe the use of drugs illegally, or without medical supervision. Many people who misuse drugs do so occasionally, not on a daily basis. People who are addicted to the substances that they use are in the minority. Drugs that are misused generally fall into one of the five categories below. The substances in bold print are examined in more detail in other information sheets. Please ask for these if you would like to know more.
Substances that stimulate the Central Nervous System, including Amphetamines, Amyl Nitrite, Cocaine and Crack.
Substances that depress the Central Nervous System, this category includes Alcohol, Barbiturates and Benzodiazepines like Temazepam.
Powerful pain killers that may be an opium derivative or synthetically produced. Includes Morphine, Diamorphine (Heroin), Methadone, Pethidine and Buprenorphine (Temgesic).
Substances that alter perception, hallucinogens have also been known as Psychedelics. This category includes LSD, Psilocybin (Magic Mushrooms), Cannabis and Ecstasy, a hallucinogenic stimulant.
MIXED EFFECT SUBSTANCES
Most substances actually have a variety of effects. Some substances are difficult to place in one of the above categories, for example Solvents, Propellants (in aerosols), and GHB. These substances will generally either stimulate or depress the activity of the Central Nervous System, and will also have some hallucinogenic affect.
The media often ignore issues regarding drugs and their users, or report stories using stereotypical images of the “drug addict”. Many aspects of the government’s campaigns to help people avoid trouble with drugs centre around fear (“Heroin screws you up”) rather than education. This can make it very difficult to engage in open and honest discussion about drug issues, and has led to mistaken beliefs and misinformation circulating within society. Some common myths are “smoking Cannabis leads to Heroin addiction”, “if you smoke free based Cocaine (Crack) once you are hooked”, “everybody at raves uses Ecstasy”, that “outside every school gate there is a drug “pusher””. All of these statements are false, and have grown from fear and misconception, and a lack of freely available information about drugs and their use in society. All the drugs listed above either currently or at some time have been used therapeutically, within the medical field. For many people who use drugs illegally, the drugs they buy are the medication that makes them feel better, and they will continue to use drugs until they discover other ways of taking control of their lives.
As said before, the drugs that are used in a non-medical setting are generally psychoactive, substances which can affect the psychological state of the user. The first time that someone uses a drug, they do not know what the substance will do, how they will feel or what changes there will be to their perception, and the experience will be guided by what the person believes will happen whilst affected. A lot will depend on the user’s emotional state, the environment that they are in and who they are with. Contrary to popular belief, the initial use of any substance is not always an enjoyable experience, and can be the only time that a person uses that drug. If someone continues to use, it is because they have made a decision that what the drug had to offer them was an experience which they interpreted as “good“. Everybody’s experience of a drug is different; there are similarities and recognizable aspects of each experience, but the perceptual changes that happen are individual.
Other names :Spliff, Grass, Weed, Marijuana, Dope, Ganja, Hash(ish), Smoke, Joint, Pot, Puff, Blow.
Cannabis has been used for many years as an aid to relaxation, and was first introduced in the middle of the nineteenth century in this country as a medical aid for delirium tremens, period pains, insomnia and headaches. Before prohibition in 1925, products derived from the plant Cannabis Sativa or Hemp were widely used in industry. Seeds were used in bird food, Cannabis oil was used in paints and varnishes, and Hemp fibres were used instead of cotton for making rope and coarse cloth. The plant from which the leaves, buds and resin are collected originated in Asia, but has now been introduced throughout Europe and America as it grows well in any temperate climate. The main psychoactive ingredient of Cannabis in any form is delta 9 tetrahydrocannabinol, shortened to THC (for obvious reasons!). Modern drug companies produce drugs derived from THC or using synthesized THC, which isolate wanted effects whilst trying to keep the “high” which Cannabis users seek to a minimum. Such drugs are Nabilone, Levonantradol and Dronabinol (synthetic). These drugs are prescribed to suppress nausea and for pain relief, and to enhance appetite for people who have AIDS related infections.
Cannabis can be smoked (on its own or with tobacco) or eaten. Cannabis Oil is sometimes used, which is simply spread on a normal cigarette, but by far the most common form of cannabis used is cannabis resin. This comes in a variety of forms (for example a flat press) and is usually chocolate brown in color with a hard consistency. The resin is heated (to soften it) and then a small amount is mixed with tobacco and rolled into a cigarette. If the dried leaves and buds are used (“grass”) then this is often smoked on its own, without using tobacco. Cannabis can also be smoked through a pipe or a bong (a pipe in which the smoke is pulled through water first to cool it down). Pipes are often home-made, using whatever equipment is available.
If Cannabis is eaten the effects can often be confusing – it is usually between 5-10 minutes before the effects of the drug can be felt when smoking, but up to an hour or more when eaten. Sometimes the user can suddenly find themselves more “stoned” than they had expected, and may panic. Once eaten, the amount of Cannabis consumed cannot be regulated as it can when smoking.
A lot depends upon the user’s mental state before smoking, the environment and the user’s expectations. Cannabis causes perceptual changes which make the user more aware of other peoples’ feelings, enhance the enjoyment of music and give a general feeling of euphoria. It can also make the user feel agitated if they are in a situation which is not pleasant – if they are with strangers or trying to hide the fact that they are using – which is often referred to as a paranoia. In extreme moments, the user can feel that everything said around them is directed at them in a malicious and hurtful way. Using Cannabis with other drugs such as alcohol can make the user feel dizzy and disoriented.
A change of environment – turning the music off, having a glass of water, turning a light on or having a breath of fresh air will often make you feel better quickly. If you’re feeling low, using Cannabis will not make you feel better. It is more likely that you will sit and think about what is going on than forget about it.
Cannabis causes a number of physical changes – these are the things that any commercial drug based around THC is trying to isolate. It can produce an increased pulse rate, a decrease in blood pressure, the alleviation of excess pressure in the eye, an opening of the airway leading to the lungs and suppression of the vomit reflex. It can also produce bloodshot eyes, dry mouth, dizziness and an increased appetite. Sometimes short term memory loss (i.e… the last couple of minutes) can occur, although this passes as the effects of the drug wear off. To fatally overdose on Cannabis it is estimated that you would need to eat about one and a half pounds of resin in one sitting. Cannabis is not physically addictive.
Whether cannabis use leads to long term health problems or not is unknown. There has been little research in this country, and research undertaken in other countries is clearly affected by other environmental factors, hence inconclusive. If Cannabis is smoked regularly, then respiratory complaints similar to those linked with cigarette smoking are likely to occur. If a Cannabis user does have an unpleasant experience when using the drug it is often the result of a high dose coupled with inexperience – perhaps after eating a large amount (i.e… more than a sixteenth of an ounce) and then panicking when the drug takes effect, or when Cannabis is used with another drug such as alcohol. Cannabis is fat soluble, and so someone who regularly uses a large amount of the drug may store some of it in their body. It can take up to thirty days for this to be fully metabolized and for the body to be clear of the drug.
Cannabis is a hallucinogen. Hallucinogens have been linked to mental health problems – the hallucinogenic experience may trigger a psychotic episode for someone with a pre-existing mental health condition (which they may or may not know about). Someone using cannabis may experience occasional paranoia (best described as irrational fear) whilst intoxicated, particularly likely if they feel unsafe (using the drug with people they don’t know or mistrust, for example). There has been a lot of discussion about the potentially beneficial medical uses of this substance, and its place in modern medicine. However, there is still little research into new Cannabis based products because of the difficulties in obtaining research licences and the political issues around the legalization of Cannabis.
The information contained on this page, is for you if you are concerned about someone close to you, and their relationship with alcohol. Many other people share this experience with you. You may be the partner, parent or adult child of the drinker, or a close friend.
This page explores some common problems, what you can do, and where you can go for support. It will not take away any problems you may be experiencing, although it may help you to identify a number of different ways to resolve current difficulties. Throughout this page, a key concept is that the person who is experiencing problems with their drinking is choosing to drink (although they may not feel that a choice is involved).
Alcohol is used in many social environments. It changes the way we feel, can reduce inhibition and can help us to feel less anxious (or more confident) around other people. Drinking is often associated with enjoyment and celebration, but we also use it when we feel worried or unhappy, to blank-out feelings we would prefer not to experience.
Alcohol use can become habitual; people can start to rely on the substance to enjoy themselves or to deal with an unchanging situation, stress or unwelcome feelings. The drinker may follow set behavior patterns, sometimes drinking daily.
Drinking in this way has the potential for dependent alcohol use. This happens when the body becomes used to working with a level of alcohol in the bloodstream. If the alcohol is withdrawn, unpleasant (and sometimes dangerous) symptoms develop; the person becomes physically ill, and may need medical help.
Self-help groups like Al-anon (for the families of drinkers) can be very useful. A doctor may be able to help with medical advice and referral to other services.
It is important that the communication and support is ongoing, particularly once the initial ‘honeymoon‘ period has worn off, and the rewarding ‘new‘ behaviors have become routine. Some drinkers find it takes several attempts to make changes permanent. If the person you are concerned about does suddenly drink again, or starts to engage in patterns of drinking that you have identified as ‘problematic‘ try not to see this as a ‘failure‘.
This is a process that many people go through in their recovery. It is important to try to support the drinker through any difficulties they may be experiencing (bearing in mind your own needs).
Talking (and listening) can help you both to identify what has happened. If an intervention is made at an early stage the person can be helped to re-establish their recovery that much more quickly. Once a person changes their drinking, many other aspects of their life will change. There may be obvious benefits to finances and health, but some changes may be less rewarding.
Your relationship with the drinker will change as their relationship with other people (including you) develop. There may be difficulties or stresses which alcohol has been masking. There may be issues for you when handing responsibility back to the drinker – will they be responsible? Can you trust them? How will their new independence affect you?
Firstly, you need to take care of yourself. If you are exhausted, stressed or anxious you are likely to become ill. You are not alone with this. Many people are affected by another’s drinking. You can find support from groups such as Al-anon (support groups for relatives of people experiencing problematic alcohol use), or from a counsellor (who may or may not ‘specialize’ in alcohol-related work), or from family and friends.
Most people who share their experiences with others find support, and discover that there are different options available to them. You are not responsible for the other person’s drinking, but you are responsible for your reactions to their behavior. You need to be clear about what you will and won’t accept. It will be valuable for you to think through how you might respond to difficult incidents (like arguments, a ‘binge‘ or violence) before they occur. There is nothing that says you have to be around behavior that you find difficult to deal with. If you believe the other person is unlikely to change, you may want to consider moving away from them.
We cannot stop someone else drinking, but we can encourage and help them to make changes by helping them to see the choices that are available. The first step for you may be to talk to the person you are worried about openly and honestly, explaining to them the problems their drinking is causing. Communicating directly rather than hinting (for example by leaving information where it will be found) is very important. Choose a time when the other person is sober, and you’re both reasonably calm. Try not to blame or accuse, or to engage in arguments. Listen to the other person. They will have feelings about their drinking, and will have some idea of how it helps them.
You need to make your own boundaries clear. What behaviors won’t you accept? What action(s) will you take if these boundaries are ignored? If other family members can agree to support you then it will be less confusing for the drinker.
The drinker may feel more able to change if they can see the effects their drinking is having. Sometimes, families will unconsciously support the drinker in their behavior, for example by hiding the drinking from other family, friends or colleagues, by drinking with them or by avoiding social situations that will involve alcohol. Often the drinker’s responsibilities will be taken on by other family members.
Amyl Nitrite was first produced in 1857. It is a highly volatile flammable liquid, which evaporates at room temperature. The substance was originally used (from 1867) as a treatment for angina. It is still occasionally used for this purpose, although other forms of treatment are more usual. The name ‘poppers‘ comes from the way the substance used to be packaged – in small glass capsules, which were cracked open to release the vapor (the capsules popped when they were opened). Nitrites are now sold in small bottles, and are usually Butyl Nitrite, a substance similar to Amyl Nitrite but less potent. Amyl and Butyl Nitrite are part of the chemical group called Alkyl Nitrites.
Once opened, the Amyl or Butyl Nitrite evaporates and the vapor is inhaled. These products are usually described by the manufacturers as ‘room odourisers‘ with an implicit suggestion that the bottle should be opened, and the vapor allowed to fill a room.
The effects of this drug can be felt around fifteen seconds after you have inhaled. Most people experience a rush of light-headedness and some dizziness, followed by relaxation and a general feeling of well-being. Sometimes you may feel flushed, or may lose some control of your body function – as well as feeling dizzy, you may actually fall over. The effects are very short lived, usually lasting for up to three minutes.
These nitrites cause blood vessels to enlarge, lowering blood pressure and increasing the rate at which your heart pumps. The other main effect is as a muscle relaxant; poppers have been popular within the gay scene for a number of years for this reason.
Anybody who suffers from circulatory problems or from low blood pressure should be particularly wary of this substance, which acts as a stimulant to the system. Nitrites are known to be potent inhibitors of the human immune system, and there is currently some debate about the role these substances have with regard to AIDS. Researchers based at the US National Institute on Drug Abuse have been studying the physiological effects of nitrites, and their research results suggest that use of this drug can cause ‘sustained alterations to the human immune system’, and may be connected to the development of cancers such as Karposi’s Sarcoma.
Other names :Speed, Billy Whizz, Pink champagne.
What are they?
Amphetamines are powerful central nervous stimulants. Most street speed contains amphetamine sulphate. Other amphetamines include dexamphetamine and methamphetamine, both less common and more powerful stimulants.
Speed is usually sold as a white powder.
What does it do?
Most people experience increased confidence, talkativeness and sociability, euphoria, increased energy, loss of appetite and insomnia. these effects last for four to six hours. As the drug wears off and the person comes down from the effects, these feelings are replaced by a low matching the high given by the drug.
Common after effects are low energy, hunger and tiredness. If someone uses amphetamine regularly or takes a high dose they are likely to feel anxious, irritable and sometimes paranoid. Large doses of amphetamine are known to cause amphetamine psychosis. This is clinically very similar to other psychoses – like paranoid schizophrenia. People suffering from amphetamine psychosis often feel that there’s a conspiracy, people are out to get them, they’ve done something wrong and that everyone else knows all about it. This can be extremely frightening, but will usually wear off as the speed wears off.
What does it do to my body?
Amphetamines stimulate the central nervous system. Common reactions include dilated pupils, dry mouth, loss of appetite, an increase in body temperature and insomnia. Higher doses can cause stomach upset, sweating, jaw tension, a disturbed heart rhythm, flushing and cold hands and feet. Less common are increased blood pressure, palpitations and tremors.
What are the risks?
Regular use of amphetamines will interrupt sleep patterns and eating habits, and can lead to extreme paranoid delusions. Someone who feels upset or anxious who uses speed will find that their feelings are intensified as they come down from the effects of the drug. Someone who is speeding and drinking alcohol will not feel the full effects of the alcohol until the speed starts to wear off. They will still get drunk, but they’ll be wide awake and drunk. They’ll still find it more difficult to make rational decisions than normal.
Illegal amphetamines are cut or adulterated with other substances. Some speed has been confiscated by the police with a purity as low as 2%. Most speed will be 5% to 10% pure. Someone paying £10 for a wrap of speed is spending 50 pence on speed and £9.50 on everything else that’s in it. Amphetamines increase metabolic rate, and will use up stores of nutrients in the body.
Someone using speed will recover more quickly afterwards if they replace essential nutrients like Vitamin C and Calcium, and rest properly. Using speed causes an increase in heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature. At high doses it is possible for your heart to go into arrhythmia – it starts jumping about all over the place. Body temperature can soar, causing overheating. Taking speed with other stimulants like E increases these risks.
Amphetamine use can affect sexual behavior. Libido (how horny you feel) may increase or decrease. Male orgasm and ejaculation are inhibited. Sex can last for a long time. Make sure that you have plenty of condoms, just in case. Most people who suffer from amphetamine psychosis find that it wears off as the drug does. As they come down, they can distinguish between their delusions and what’s really happening. Regular use can cause long-term or even permanent psychological problems. Amphetamines don’t cause physical dependence but there is a risk of psychological dependence. Chopping out a line on Monday to ‘sort your head out’ after a heavy weekend will only make Tuesday even more difficult to cope with.
Other names : Booze, Drink.
Alcohol is a depressant drug – it slows down the action of the central nervous system. Common experiences include dis-inhibition, relaxation, talkativeness and sociability. Higher doses can lead to loss of control (slurred speech, blurred vision and wobbly legs) and even loss of consciousness.
Alcohol use slows reaction times, so some activities (for example Driving, cycling, swimming or crossing roads) will become more risky. Alcohol use can affect someone’s ability to make rational decisions; it has been linked to sexual risk taking and the transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. Regular use of alcohol can lead to tolerance (needing to take more alcohol to get the same effect) and physical dependance (someone who is dependant becomes ill if they don’t take alcohol). Alcohol use has been linked to lots of social problems, including domestic violence and violent crime. The loss of inhibitions can lead to aggressive behavior. It might also lead to relationship problems – being drunk isn’t much of an excuse if you say something to a friend you regret the next day.
Taking a large dose of alcohol can cause memory loss, so you might not even remember what you said or why. Long-term use of alcohol is known to cause many physical illnesses including liver damage, stomach cancer and heart disease. Alcohol causes the body to lose heat to the environment – the blood vessels dilate, bringing them closer to the surface of the skin.
Alcohol should never be given to someone to ‘warm them up’ (it will make them feel warmer, but their body will actually cool down). Alcohol will also reduce a persons sensitivity to pain. It’s possible to suffer injuries and not realize until the alcohol wears off – burns, cuts, bruises and even frostbite might go unnoticed. Alcohol causes dehydration, so taking alcohol with other drugs that dehydrate (like speed and ecstasy) is potentially very risky.
A large dose of alcohol will cause overdose leading to loss of consciousness and possibly even death. For a non-tolerant person (someone not drinking regularly) about 30 units (a bottle of spirits) would end in a trip to hospital and could be fatal. If someone is drunk, the only thing that will help them to sober up is time. The body breaks down alcohol at the rate of one unit per hour – it’s metabolized by the liver, which only works at one speed. Giving someone black coffee, speed or a cold shower to sober them up won’t make their liver work any faster. They’ll still be drunk – their judgement will be all over the place – but they’ll be wide awake. Taking alcohol with other drugs that have depressant effects (like heroin, methadone and some prescribed medicines like temazepam, diazepam or Valium and antihistamines) will increase the potential for overdose. If you are with someone who has been drinking and loses consciousness, make sure they are in the recovery position and try to stay with them. Even if they don’t overdose, they could vomit while they are unconscious and choke. Calling for an ambulance will ensure that they receive medical attention should they need it.
The Health Education Authority (HEA) indicates that 3-4 units a day for a man and 2-3 units a day for a woman are relatively safe benchmarks for drinking. People who regularly drink more than this increase the risks of suffering alcohol-related illnesses. If you drink, having several alcohol-free days each week will reduce the risk of harm. The HEA suggests that pregnant women should not drink more than 1-2 units of alcohol a week. One unit = half a pint of beer, lager or cider, one glass of wine or one 25 ml measure of spirits. Many of the alcoholic colas, lemonades and other fizzy drinks available contain as much alcohol by volume as beer or cider.