Illegal drugs are an unfortunate presence in society. They can and frequently do have a terrible impact on the lives of youth who use and abuse them. In the United States, the number of teens who use illegal drugs outside of marijuana is as high as one in every six teens. Of the drugs that are used by teens, tobacco and marijuana fall just behind alcohol. Using drugs during one’s teen years may seem like fun, but it can have a devastating impact on one’s health and future. The first step to avoiding drugs is knowing the drug facts about what they are and what they do when they are used.
Marijuana or cannabis is a popular drug that is often used for recreational purposes. Also approved in some states for use medicinally, marijuana is a mix of dried flowers and leaves that come from the plant called Cannabis sativa. On the street, marijuana is often referred to as “weed,” “pot,” “ganja,” or any one of more than 200 other street names. It contains a psychoactive chemical, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), that triggers a hormone called dopamine. Dopamine releases chemicals that make people feel good. People use marijuana because it not only makes them feel good for a time, but it also may make them feel relaxed and mellow. It can also help increase one’s appetite, and in some cases, it may make an individual paranoid or anxious.
Tobacco is the dried, aged leaves of the tobacco plant Nicotiana tabacum. It contains a drug called nicotine, which is a stimulant. On the street, tobacco goes by several names, including “cigs,” “butts,” and “cancer sticks.” In addition to the drug nicotine, the smoke from tobacco contains in excess of 4,000 other chemicals. Of those chemicals, approximately 43 can cause cancer. Tobacco helps relax the user and may give them a mild sense of euphoria. It is stimulating initially, followed by reduced brain and nervous system activity. People who smoke cigarettes may also experience coughing from irritation caused by smoke, dizziness, decreased blood flow to the extremities, and lowered skin temperature. In higher doses, it can cause confusion, lower one’s blood pressure and respiration, and may even cause a person to stop breathing altogether. Long-term use can result in lung or throat cancer and eventual death.
Cocaine is a central nervous system CNS stimulant that is either smoked, snorted, or injected. When people use cocaine, which is called “coke,” “blow,” or “snow,” on the street, the drug does several things. It releases dopamine in the brain and prevents its re-absorption. As a result, the brain is over-stimulated and people experience feelings of euphoria, alertness, and confidence. People also feel hyper-stimulated after taking the drug. After the initial pleasurable response begins to fade, and as the drug wears off, the person taking the drug often suffers from irritability, insomnia, aggression, or restlessness. Over the long term, cocaine can cause people to experience sexual dysfunction, headaches, problems with their lungs and breathing, psychosis, and even cardiovascular problems.
Heroin is a highly addictive drug that is known by several names on the street, including “smack,” “dope,” and “Dr. Feelgood.” It is an opioid that people primarily use by injecting it; however, there are some people who attempt to avoid needles by either snorting or smoking heroin. When people take heroin, they experience a sense of euphoria. In addition, the user may have dryness of the mouth and their skin may have a warm feeling. Following the rush, most often, people slip into a relaxed and drowsy state, and the drug makes their heartbeat and breathing slow. Because it is highly addictive, the body begins to crave more of the drug as it wears off a few hours after it is taken. If the person does not get more of the drug, they may begin to vomit, have diarrhea, or other withdrawal symptoms.
MDMA stands for 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine. It is a man-made drug that is most commonly known as “Ecstasy,” although other popular street names include “XTC” and “Adam.” MDMA is considered a psychoactive drug, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. It has the properties of both a hallucinogen and a stimulant. When it is used, the drug releases and increases dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. These cause feelings of euphoria, heightens empathy, raises one’s enjoyment of touch, increases energy, and gives a distorted perception of time.
Methamphetamine, which goes by the aliases “meth,” “crystal,” or “ice” on the street, is a stimulant that is highly addictive. People who use the drug do so by snorting, smoking, or injecting it. People who want a fast response from the drug most often inject or smoke it, as this delivery method quickly goes to the brain. Once in the brain, it rapidly increases the release of the chemical dopamine, which causes a rush of euphoria. Over the long term, abuse of methamphetamine may cause one to suffer from confusion, insomnia, hallucinations, paranoia, and changes in mood. The drug can also change one’s appearance by causing weight loss, sores on the body, and dental problems known as “meth mouth.”
Prescription drugs are any drugs that are given by a doctor through a prescription that must be filled by a pharmacist. They are meant to treat an individual’s specific heath problem. These are legal drugs; however, when used by people for whom they were not intended, they are illegal and pose numerous health problems. Teens who abuse prescription drugs often take them from the medicine cabinets, purses, and homes of relatives or friends of the family. Often, the misconception is that if they are legal, then they are safer than street drugs. Commonly abused prescription drugs include narcotics such as Oxycontin, which goes by the names “hillbilly heroin,” or “oxy.” This type of drug causes euphoria and also drowsiness and slowed breathing. Abused prescription stimulants cause users to become excited, euphoric, and highly alert. They also increase blood pressure and cause insomnia and loss of appetite. Prescription stimulants may include amphetamines such as Adderall that go by the street name of “crank” or “bennies.” Prescription depressants include sleeping pills and benzodiazepines such as Valium or Xanax, or “downers” and “benzos.”
- Prescription for Disaster: How Teens Abuse Medicine (PDF)
- Prescription Drugs Abuse Among Teens (PDF)
- Study: Prescription Drug Abuse by Teens Up Sharply