Substances of Abuse


Cannabis Sativa is the plant that produces marijuana, which is the most widely used/abused drug in the U.S. It is cultivated by extracting the dried leaves and flowering tops of the female plant, which contain psychoactive chemicals; the main one being tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). This chemical is a hallucinogen that produces euphoria, distortion and sedation. Alcohol is cross tolerant with this drug. When abstinent from either marijuana or alcohol, the consumption of the other drug increases.

Effects of Marijuana

If one is an occasional user, they may experience psychedelic effects. It affects auditory and visual stimuli and sensory perceptions. It increases appetite, mood swings, and dreamlike euphoria. Marijuana intoxication may produce paranoia, anxiety, panic attacks, and episodes of depression. Users may likely become socially withdrawn, experience persecution, depersonalization, and body distortions.


Chronic users may experience loss of energy, loss of motivation in occupational, educational and social settings. They may likely lack ambition, present with low frustration, impaired intellectual functions, loss of short term memory, and impaired judgment. Physically, a chronic user will experience poor coordination and reflexes which affect driving ability. Frequent users may experience apathy, no ambition and are referred to as "burn-outs" because of their affect.

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Cocaine is a stimulant that had its start in the 1880s as a medical anesthetic that constricts blood vessels and limits bleeding in surgery.

When cocaine is injected, the needle releases the drug directly into the bloodstream giving the user a quick high. Cocaine can also be snorted, in which it is inhaled through the nasal tissues and absorbed into the bloodstream. When smoked, cocaine vapor or smoke is inhaled and absorbed into the bloodstream.

Crack is cocaine is processed with ammonia or baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) and water to create hydrochloride. Once heated, the hydrochloride is then removed, leaving a smokable product.


After snorting, the effects of cocaine last between 15 and 30 minutes, because of the slow onset. Whereas, smoking cocaine results in a more intense high that only lasts 5 to 10 minutes. Cocaine produces euphoric effects by building up dopamine in the brain, causing the continuous stimulation of neurons.

Cocaine is a strong addictive drug. Tolerance develops as the user "chases the high" and uses more and more to re-capture the initial euphoria. The euphoria builds up the dopamine in the brain, which continuously stimulates neurons.

Biological Effects

Medical problems that occur from cocaine use are heart attacks, problems with heart rhythms, respiratory failure, strokes, seizures, headaches, abdominal pain, and nausea. Other symptoms of cocaine use are blurry eyesight, fever, muscle spasms, convulsions, abdominal pain, and nausea. This drug increases body temperature and blood pressure which, in a small number of cases, may lead to instant death. For those who choose to snort cocaine, there is a risk of loss of smell, nose bleeds, problems swallowing, and chronic nose running.

Cocaine and Alcohol - A Lethal Combination

Cocaine and alcohol, when used together forms a toxin - cocaethylene. This toxin increases the length of the high, but also causes more deaths.


Scientific research has shown evidence that babies born to cocaine-addicted mothers are often premature, have low birth weights, smaller heads, and are shorter in length. "Crack babies" suffer from problems with behavior, concentration, and have limited social skills.

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Amphetamines were developed by the Japanese in 1893, and introduced in the US in 1931, as nasal decongestant and later as an appetite suppressant. During World War II, it was used by Japan's soldiers to fight fatigue. It was banned in Japan, in the 1950s, and the labs moved to South Korea, which is still a major international supplier.

In current medicine, they are used only as a treatment for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and narcolepsy. The effects are similar to cocaine; however, instead lasting for 30-40 minutes like cocaine, the effects last for 3-6 hours. The period of euphoria, distorted thinking, and impaired behavior is longer, which leads to using depressants, such as alcohol, to decrease stimulation. Amphetamines are sold in powder, pill, or liquid form and can be injected, smoked, or taken orally. There is no significant difference between legal and illegal forms of amphetamines.

Methamphetamine can also be synthesized into a crystalline smokable form, which is called ice amphetamine. Ice amphetamine lasts for 12 to 24 hours, with one pull on the pipe causing intense stimulation and "rush". With tolerance, a person can work for 10 to 20 hours without being disoriented; however, without tolerance a person may feel severe agitation, anxiety, hallucinations, and delusions of persecution. As the drug effects wear off, a person may go into a severe depression and lethargy, which brings cravings for more of the drug.

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An hallucinogen is a drug that causes sensory perception with no basis in reality and without stimulation of the sensory organs. The drug works by stimulating the sensory areas of the brain affecting vision, hearing, taste, and touch. When using hallucinogens, one may hear, see, smell, or feel things that may not exist; sometimes being aware they are hallucinations and sometimes believing they are real. These drugs are referred to as mind revealing, but they produce combinations of distortions of thinking, feeling, and perception.


Perceptual distortions can take the form of visual imagery, heightened auditory perceptions, and distortions of time and place. Emotional distortions may include apprehension, anxiety, panic, and may also produce ecstasy, joy, and calming. On the other hand, these emotions may also cause mood swings and produce anger and rage. Thought distortions consist of fantasy, obsessions with thinking and loose associations, grandiosity, and delusions. There are also boundary distortions that may depersonalize the user causing confusion between one's internal and external world, as well as body and facial distortions. Some cultures believe that hallucinogens heighten perceptions and spirituality; enhance empathy, intimacy, and communication; and facilitate the loss of defenses.

Hallucinogenic Phases

Sensory Phase - First Phase - Begins after ingestion and may last for up to 5 hours depending on the type of hallucinogen. It is characterized by distorted sensory perceptions. One may experience distortions of vision, touch, hearing, smell, and taste.

Recollective Phase - Second phase - Produces rich colors and visual imagery so intense it may continue into an illusion. Mood swings, both position and negative, are prevalent during this phase.

Heightened Phase - Third phase - Philosophical and personal perceptions are changed and the meaning of life becomes important. This manifests in distortions of personal beliefs and may result in person conflicts.

"Bad Trips"

Hallucinogens may cause experiences that present like schizophrenia, delirium, mania, depression, and distortions in thinking, emotions, and perception. Panic attacks may also occur. This "bad trip" may be caused by environmental, psychiatric, and emotional issues. It may be the result of preexisting psychological problems, insecurities, dosage, frequency of use, mood/stress levels, and unawareness of how the drug works. If one is unprepared for the intensity of the distortions, they may likely have a "bad trip".

A "bad trip" could have a lasting affect on the user; they may have difficulty returning to reality. Some may be caught in the experience and are fearful of leaving it. The higher the dosage, the more intense and dissociative the experience.


Tolerance occurs quickly and if an individual wants to duplicate the intensity of the experience, they may have to wait weeks between episodes. Hallucinogens do not produce euphoria, only sensory distortions. They do not promote physical tolerance and, therefore, do not produce withdrawal symptoms.

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Heroin is an addictive drug and is the most abused and the fastest acting of the opiate class of drugs. Processed from morphine, it is extracted from the seed pod of certain varieties of poppy plants.

A white powder, pure heroin has a bitter taste and is seldom sold on the streets. Street heroin has an off-white to dark brown color, based on the manufacturing process and the additives, unless it is "black tar" heroin.

"Black Tar", produced in Mexico, is dark brown or black and has the consistency of hot tar. It is available in the southwestern states and is the most addictive form of heroin.

The routes of administration for heroin are intravenous, intramuscular (not optimal), snorted, and/or smoked. The most effective high comes from intravenous use, especially if the drug is of a lower purity. The problem with this type of administration is that addicts share needles, which spread disease. And, if the drug has a higher purity, they are more prone to overdose.

Heroin is highly addictive no matter what route of administration is chosen.

Biological Issues

Intravenous users feel the "rush" in about 7 - 8 seconds, intramuscular in 5 - 8 minutes, and snorted in about 10 -15 minutes. They also feel warm, have dry mouth, and have difficulty with motor control (muscles feel too heavy to lift). The central nervous system becomes depressed, which affects cognitions and slows down breathing to the point where they could experience respiratory failure.

The avid, long-term heroin user may present with collapsed veins, liver disease, abscesses, heart lining and valve infections, and pneumonia.

Addiction is prevalent in heroin users as they build a tolerance to the drug. As tolerance increases, it take more of the drug to become functional; a heroin addict has difficult feeling "high" after a while. When the addict does not have the drug and/or runs out of money to get the drug, they suffer from intense flu-like symptoms, called withdrawal.

As heroin addicts go through withdrawal, the physical effects lessen; however, the psychological affect continues. The user suffers cravings and has drug dreams. Heroin is a difficult drug to stop using.

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Inhalants can be derived from chemicals that create fumes or vapors. They can also be obtained in a gas state and inhaled for the purpose of intoxication. Volitile, solvents, volatile nitrates, and anesthetic gases are inhalant classes. The most common being volatile solvents; chemicals that create psychoactive vapors. Primary inhalants are paint thinners and spot removers. This type of solvent is produced from petroleum and natural gas. Paint, glues, automotive fuels, aerosol spray cans, and pressure propellants are household products and examples of volatile solvents.

Volatile nitrates include Amynitrate, butyl nitrate, and isobutyle nitrate increase blood flow as they dilate the blood vessels, thus producing a mild euphoria. They create a psychoactive vapor and are found in liquid form.

Anesthetic gases include ether and nitrous oxide. They produce euphoria and anesthetize the body. These gases are also found in household products that include correction fluid, cooking sprays, Dustoff, and spot removers. Also included in this list is acetone found in nail polish remover, model or airplane cement, scotchguard and other fabric protectors, and Freon.

Route of Administration

Inhalants can be administered based on liquid or gas state. Liquids or aerosol sprays can be soaked onto a cloth and placed on the mouth and nose; also they can be put or sprayed into a plastic bag that will also cover the mouth and nose. Butane can be inhaled from disposable lighters, Freon can be used from air conditioner units or cars.


Solvents produce intoxication that is more intense than alcohol. It reduces inhibitions and be a brief stimulant. Users become assaultive, belligerent, impulsive, violent and sexually aggressive. Symptoms include slurred speech, lack of coordination, and drowsiness. These users become lethargic, slow reflexes, numbness, weightlessness, and distortions in time and visual perceptions. Users have a flushed face, personality changes and appear nervous and moody.

Intoxication occurs within minutes and lasts about an hour.

Physical and Psychological Effects

Chronic users experience central nervous system depression, which results in physical weakness and lack of coordination. Inhalants may produce severe depression of the respiratory system that may cause damage to the lungs and airways. They experience headaches, nausea, dizziness, confusion, and with increased dosages may induce sleep, comma, cardiac arrest, brain damage and even death.

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