Drugs

Stimulants

Amphetamines

Commonly called “speed” or “uppers,” amphetamines arouse the central nervous system, increasing heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature. They were originally introduced as prescription drugs to combat health problems like obesity and narcolepsy, but now most amphetamines are produced and sold illegally. Like other stimulants, amphetamines increase alertness and attention, decrease appetite, and produce a feeling of well-being. Highly addictive, amphetamines can produce physical and psychological dependence. Those who use amphetamines repeatedly, or in high doses, run the risk of nausea, paranoia, restlessness, tremors, dizziness, hyperthermia, and heart failure.

Methamphetamine is one of the stronger forms of this group, and can produce anxiety and hallucinations. It’s popular because it is easily produced in bathrooms and kitchens, is cheaper than cocaine, and produces a high that can last up to eight hours. The drug is mixed with other substances, which may be poisonous, and makes it hard to tell how much methamphetamine the user is really ingesting. It has various street names, depending on the way it is used. When swallowed or sniffed, it’s commonly called “crystal;” when injected it’s called “crank;” and when smoked it’s referred to as “ice” or “glass.”

Cocaine

Manufactured from coca leaves, cocaine is an intensely addictive stimulant. While South American populations have used coca leaves for centuries in social and religious settings to ward off hunger and fatigue, cocaine in the US is generally sold as a fine, white, crystalline powder. The coca leaf can be rolled into cigarettes or cigars and smoked, or infused in liquid and consumed like tea. To prepare cocaine for drug trafficking, coca leaves are dried and put in a pit with chemicals designed to extract the cocaine alkaloid.

Once snorted, cocaine affects the brain by blocking the reabsorption of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is responsible for movement and pleasure. Increased levels of dopamine overstimulate neurons in the brain, creating a “high.” Within 20 minutes of snorting cocaine, users report feeling a sense of euphoria and power, and a loss of inhibition. The drug usually wears off after about 30 minutes, at which point users complain of an intense “down” feeling, fueling desires to take the drug again.

What are the effects of cocaine?

People use cocaine to experience the immediate euphoric rush, which is accompanied by feelings of confidence, motivation to work, and increased sex drive. However, while the user experiences initial pleasure, the body faces danger by elevated heart rate, blood pressure, and respiratory rate. This stress on your circulatory system could lead to strokes, seizures, headaches, blurred vision, and fever. Cocaine also decreases appetite, promoting malnutrition in the long-term addict.

After the initial pleasurable effects of cocaine, the user will likely suffer paranoia, depression, and irritability. Extended, regular use will cause strong psychological dependence, insomnia, agitation, and depression.

What happens if I take cocaine while drinking?

Mixing alcohol and cocaine can be deadly for a couple of reasons. First of all, you won’t be able to gauge how much you’re drinking because the cocaine masks the depressive effects of alcohol. Once the high wears off, you will immediately feel the alcohol in your system. Second, the alcohol and cocaine create a lethal mix in the liver, cocaethylene. This compound can cause sudden death.

Ecstasy

Ecstasy, made up of MDMA, is considered a “designer drug” because its chemical structure is allied to both amphetamines and mescaline. With stimulant and hallucinogenic properties, ecstasy is like a psychedelic amphetamine. Under the influence of ecstasy, users are likely to experience sweating, teeth clenching, nausea, chills, blurred vision, tremors and palpitations. Because ecstasy is a stimulant, it elevates heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature. The combination of environmental factors frequently associated with ecstasy (tightly packed crowds, dancing, etc.) and elevated body temperature poses a major risk for dehydration. In fact, it’s not unusual for ecstasy users to die from dehydration. As a hallucinogen, MDMA causes illusions, disorientation, impaired coordination, and confusion. Long-term use of the drug can lead to physical tolerance and psychological addiction, intense depression, and anxiety.

What makes ecstasy even more dangerous is the number of pills sold as ecstasy that are not pure MDMA. These unknown substances can be extremely dangerous, sometimes lethal. Unless you know the ecstasy tablet is pure MDMA, the signs and symptoms associated with its use may not be accurate. Advocating ecstasy as a “feel good” drug, supporters claim it produces intensely positive feelings by eliminating anxiety and encouraging relaxation. Taken orally in tablet or capsule form, its effects last about four to six hours. Someone who overdoses will suffer faintness, rapid heartbeat, high blood pressure, muscle cramping, panic attacks, and possibly loss of consciousness or seizures. Coming down from a high produced by ecstasy, users report suffering from sleep problems, anxiety, paranoia, and depression.

MDMA elevates mood by increasing serotonin levels. This depletion of the brain’s store of serotonin is what leads to depression after use of ecstasy. Even popping another pill won’t provide immediate relief because there is no serotonin left for the brain to release. MDMA not only affects your mood, but also your intelligence. Research shows that ecstasy damages the parts of the brain used for learning and memory. Even one use can lead to short-term memory loss.

Ritalin

Often prescribed to treat children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Ritalin increases the user’s focus and attention by increasing levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that controls mood and emotion. It’s a more potent stimulant than caffeine, but not as strong as amphetamines. Ritalin is often stolen and abused for its stimulant effects, which include appetite suppression, wakefulness, increased focus, and euphoria. You may recognize Ritalin use because the drug causes sweating, dry mouth, flushed skin, and a talkative mood. In addition to the symptoms associated with cocaine and amphetamine use, Ritalin may cause nervousness, irritability, insomnia, headaches, and high blood pressure. 

Benzodiazepines

“Benzos” are doctor-prescribed drugs used to reduce anxiety, promote relaxation, and induce sleep. There are fifteen benzodiazepines currently marketed in the U.S., most often prescribed in tablet or capsule form. Some examples include Xanax, Valium, and Librium. In general, benzodiazepines act as sedatives in low doses, anti-depressants in moderate doses, and hypnotics in high doses. The drugs are used illegally as “downers” to combat the effects of stimulants such as cocaine, speed, and ecstasy, and to counteract the effects of depressants like heroine and alcohol.

Benzodiazepine users experience forgetfulness, confusion, and drowsiness, so driving or operating heavy machinery under the influence of such drugs is not a good idea. High doses can cause physical addiction. If you’ve used benzos for more than 3 weeks, it’s best to reduce use gradually because withdrawal symptoms can be severe. Such symptoms include anxiety, agitation, insomnia, headaches, sweating, and nausea.

Mushrooms

Psilocybin mushrooms, also known as “shrooms,” are hallucinogenic Schedule I drugs, which means they have a high potential for abuse and have no accepted medical purpose. They can be boiled in water to make tea, or added to food to mask the bitter taste. Once ingested, physical effects of psilocybin appear within 20 minutes, and last about 6 hours. Mushrooms produce changes in audio, visual, and tactile senses by disrupting the interaction of nerve cells and the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain. Large doses cause hallucinations and an inability to distinguish fantasy and reality, sometimes resulting in panic attacks. Other effects may include nausea, vomiting, muscle weakness, drowsiness, sweating, and loss of coordination. Shrooms are used at raves and dance clubs, which is odd because the drug tends to make users less inclined to dance. Although there is no evidence of physical addiction among users, it’s possible to build tolerance to psilocybin by using it continuously over a short period of time.