Drugs are chemicals or chemical compounds that alter or affect some functions of the human body or mind. These include some substances that are legal and others that are illegal. In addition, there are also drugs that are legal when used in accordance with a doctor’s prescription but illegal when used in a recreational manner. Other drugs, such as nicotine and alcohol, are legal to use in a recreational fashion but are still potentially dangerous. The four major classes of drugs include narcotics, stimulants, depressants, and hallucinogens. This drug fact sheet will help you better understand drugs and their dangerous effects.
The common definition of narcotics is any kind of drug that is illegal or used in an illegal manner. However, the actual definition of narcotics comes from the Greek term “to make numb” and refers to drugs that alleviate pain, have mood-altering properties, and induce sleep or otherwise dull a person’s senses. Heroin, morphine, opiates, hydromorphone, Oxycodone, and methadone are all classified as narcotics.
Heroin causes feelings of euphoria and relaxation; however, its short-term effects upon the body include slowed respiration and weakness of the muscles. Long-term effects include physical addiction, collapsed veins, and liver damage. Morphine is a pain-killing drug that doctors can prescribe. Its immediate potential effects upon the body include slowed respiration, constipation, dizziness, and drowsiness. Long-term use can lead to addiction, a greater risk of infection due to damage caused to the immune system, reduced sex drive, reduced testosterone in men, and interference with a woman’s menstrual cycle. Methadone is a drug used to fight pain and sometimes counteract dependence upon opioid drugs like heroin or morphine. Potential side effects include diarrhea or constipation, nausea and vomiting, rapid heartbeat or even cardiac arrhythmia, low blood pressure, memory loss, seizures, or, in the worst cases, sudden death. Opium is an ancient, addictive drug that first appeared during Mesopotamian times, and its short-term effects include the numbing of pain, euphoria, and a sedated, sleepy state. Reduced awareness, slowed respiration, nausea, and constipation are other, more unwanted side effects of this drug.
Stimulant drugs are substances that increase a person’s mental acuity and their physical performance for a brief time. Commonly known as “uppers,” these drugs can make a person more alert and raise their endurance levels. Substances classified as stimulants include cocaine, amphetamines and methamphetamines, Ecstasy (MDMA), nicotine (which is found in tobacco), and caffeine. Cocaine’s effects include euphoria, increased awareness and energy, and delusions of supremacy, along with paranoia, anxiety, rapid speech, and violent behavior. In the long term, usage of this drug can lead to ulcers, lung damage, heart problems such as arrhythmia, kidney failure, or strokes. The effects of using amphetamines and methamphetamines are similar and potentially include an irregular heart rate, hallucinations, restlessness, an inability to sleep, loss of appetite, and elevated blood pressure. Methamphetamines can also result in damage to one’s teeth, also known as “meth mouth,” psychosis, delusions, and violent behavior. Ecstasy usage can raise a person’s blood pressure and heart rate, which is potentially fatal for those with heart disease problems. It can also cause elevated body temperature, memory loss, and muscle tension, and it can impair one’s judgment and cognitive abilities. Ecstasy is also called a “date rape” drug because it lowers a person’s inhibitions and raises their sexual desire. Permanent problems with memory failure are a potential long-term effect, as is addiction. Nicotine is a legal drug and stimulant that exists in tobacco and other nightshade-type plants. Side effects of this commonly used drug include high blood pressure, muscular pain, constricted arteries, diarrhea, headaches, and irritability. Long-term usage can result in insulin resistance, change in taste due to damage to taste buds, and addiction. Nicotine is often found in cigarettes, which bring a variety of other problems due to the other chemicals included in their manufacture. The most common stimulant drug is caffeine, a legal substance found in coffee and other foods and drinks. It increases one’s energy levels and raises the body’s metabolism, temporarily reduces fatigue, and also increases awareness. Negative potential side effects include an irregular heartbeat, dehydration, irritability, high blood pressure, tremors in the hands, insomnia, and anxiety. Caffeine is also potentially addictive.
- Amphetamines (PDF)
- Brain Buzz: Effects of Caffeine, Nicotine, Alcohol, and Drugs on Learning
Depressants do the exact opposite of stimulants in that they inhibit the body’s nervous system. They reduce a person’s alertness and work to slow the body down, causing relaxation and anesthesia. Drugs that fall into this category include alcohol, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, GHB, and Rohypnol. Alcohol is a common depressant that typically comes in liquid form, such as wine, beer, and whiskey. Alcohol usage has a variety of effects that depend upon how much a person consumes. These include euphoria, stupor, impaired judgment, reduced levels of anxiety and attention span, slurred speech, elevated self-confidence and social tendencies, slowed reflexes, lack of bladder control, vomiting, and lapses of consciousness. Long-term effects include cancer, permanent damage to the liver and pancreas, reduced memory function, psychosis, depression, and addiction, or alcoholism. Barbiturates are similar to alcohol in that they can cause impaired coordination and judgment, slowed breathing, reduced blood pressure, loss of concentration, mental confusion, ataxia, and, in the long term, addiction. Benzodiazepines are used to fight anxiety and panic disorders, among other things, and usage can bring effects such as euphoria, loss of inhibitions, and sedation. It also results in drowsiness and impaired alertness, concentration, and coordination. Erectile dysfunction, suicidal thoughts, and liver damage are other negative side effects that can occur. Gamma-hydroxybutyric acid, or GHB, is a depressant that is commonly used in the rave party scene. Its effects include euphoria, sleepiness, elevated libido and reduced inhibitions, diarrhea, loss of bladder control, and memory lapses. It is also commonly referred to by law enforcement as a rape drug. It also interacts dangerously with alcohol and can cause a person to stop breathing. Rohypnol is a highly addictive drug that hospitals originally used for the purpose of sedating patients. It can cause amnesia, and as a result, rapists use it on their victims, leading to its classification as a rape drug, and it is also commonly used by thieves to sedate people to rob them. Impaired inhibitions, violent behavior, vomiting, slowed breathing, and low blood pressure are side effects.
- Alcohol Effects on the Body
- GHB: Gamma Hydroxy Butyrate or Gamma Hydroxybutyric Acid
- Rohypnol Fact Sheet (PDF)
Hallucinogens work by altering a person’s perception of reality and making the mind see or experience something that does not actually exist. Substances classified in this group include LSD, PCP, mescaline, psilocybin and psilocin, and ketamine. Lysergic acid diethylamide, or LSD, is a non-addictive form of hallucinogen that can cause flashbacks, tremors, sudden emotional changes, paranoid delusions, and psychosis, the latter of which may become chronic in nature. Phencyclidine, or PCP, was originally an anesthetic but is now an illegal recreational drug. Its effects range from euphoria to suicidal tendencies and can sometimes make users feel invulnerable. Convulsions can occur when used in large doses. Mescaline, also known as peyote, comes from the cactus of the same name and is used as part of meditation trances and to achieve an altered state of consciousness. A rapid heart rate, headaches, and vomiting are among the side effects of this drug. Psilocybin and psilocin are hallucinogens similar to LSD that are found in various types of mushrooms. Also called “shrooms” or “magic mushrooms,” their effects upon users include euphoria, panic attacks, psychosis, and flashbacks to previous hallucinations. Ketamine is a sedative and pain-killing drug that has also become the subject of recreational use. People who use the drug tend to feel detached from their bodies and the world itself. They may also experience lucid dreams and delirium. Potential side effects include high or low blood pressure, an irregular heart rate, anorexia, vomiting, slowed breathing, and mental issues similar to schizophrenia. Because ketamine can also cause blackouts and loss of memory while the drug is still in the body, it is also sometimes used by criminals as a rape drug.