Drug Facts

Defining Drug Addiction

Drug cravings and other compulsive behaviors are the essence of drug addiction. They are extremely difficult to control, much more difficult than any physical dependence. They are the principal target symptoms for most drug treatment programs. For an addict, there is no motivation more powerful than drug cravings. As the movie “Trainspotting” showed us so well, the addict’s entire life becomes centered on getting and using the drug. Virtually nothing seems to outweigh drug craving as a motivator. People have committed all kinds of crimes and even abandoned their children just to get drugs.

Facts on different kinds of drugs


Cocaine is a powerfully addictive stimulant drug. The powdered, hydrochloride salt form of cocaine can be snorted or dissolved in water and injected. Crack is cocaine that has not been neutralized by an acid to make the hydrochloride salt. This form of cocaine comes in a rock crystal that can be heated and its vapours smoked. The term “crack” refers to the crackling sound heard when it is heated. Regardless of how cocaine is used or how frequently, a user can experience acute cardiovascular or cerebrovascular emergencies, such as a heart attack or stroke, which could result in sudden death. Cocaine-related deaths are often a result of cardiac arrest or seizure followed by respiratory arrest.  Cocaine is a strong central nervous system stimulant that interferes with the re-absorption process of dopamine, a chemical messenger associated with pleasure and movement. The build-up of dopamine causes continuous stimulation of receiving neurons, which is associated with the euphoria commonly reported by cocaine abusers.  Physical effects of cocaine use include constricted blood vessels, dilated pupils, and increased temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure.  The faster the absorption, the more intense the high. On the other hand, the faster the absorption, the shorter the duration of action. The high from snorting may last 15 to 30 minutes, while that from smoking may last 5 to 10 minutes. Increased use can reduce the period of time a user feels high and increases the risk of addiction.  Some users of cocaine report feelings of restlessness, irritability, and anxiety. A tolerance to the high may develop – many addicts report that they seek but fail to achieve as much pleasure as they did from their first exposure. Some users will increase their doses to intensify and prolong the euphoric effects. While tolerance to the high can occur, users can also become more sensitive to cocaine’s anaesthetic and convulsant effects without increasing the dose taken. This increased sensitivity may explain some deaths occurring after apparently low doses of cocaine. Other complications associated with cocaine use include disturbances in heart rhythm and heart attacks, chest pain and respiratory failure, strokes, seizures and headaches, and gastrointestinal complications such as abdominal pain and nausea. Because cocaine has a tendency to decrease appetite, many chronic users can become malnourished.  In other words, the path to this drug only leads to death.


Marijuana is a green, brown or gray mixture of dried, shredded leaves, stems, seeds and flowers of the hemp plant Cannabis sativa. There are over 200 street names for marijuana including pot, herb, dope, reefer, grass, weed, ganja, Mary Jane and chronic.  Sinsemilla, hashish and hash oil are stronger forms of marijuana.  It is usually smoked as a cigarette (called a joint or a nail) or in a pipe or bong. In recent years, marijuana has appeared in blunts, which are cigars that have been emptied of tobacco and refilled with marijuana.  The main active chemical in marijuana is THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol). Marijuana’s effects on the user depend on the strength or potency of the THC it contains. The short-term effects of marijuana use include problems with memory and learning; distorted perception and judgment (sights, sounds, time, touch); difficulty in thinking and problem solving; loss of coordination; and increased heart rate, anxiety, and panic attacks.  People who smoke marijuana often have the same respiratory problems as cigarette smokers. These individuals may have daily cough and phlegm, symptoms of chronic bronchitis, and more frequent chest colds. They are also at greater risk of getting lung infections like pneumonia. Marijuana contains some of the same, and sometimes even more, of the cancer-causing chemicals found in cigarette smoke.  Learning and attention skills are impaired among people who use marijuana heavily. Longitudinal research on marijuana use among young people below college age indicates those who use marijuana have lower achievement than the non-users, more acceptance of deviant behavior, more delinquent behavior and aggression, greater rebelliousness and more associations with delinquent and drug-using friends.

MDMA, called “Adam,” “ecstasy,” or “XTC” on the street, is a synthetic, psychoactive (mind-altering) drug with hallucinogenic and amphetamine-like properties. Its chemical structure is similar to two other synthetic drugs, MDA and methamphetamine, which are known to cause brain damage.  The psychological symptoms of ecstasy are:  confusion, depression, sleep problems, drug craving, severe anxiety, and paranoia during and sometimes weeks after taking MDMA (in some cases, psychotic episodes have been reported). The physical symptoms include muscle tension, involuntary teeth clenching, nausea, blurred vision, rapid eye movement, faintness, and chills or sweating.  It also increases in heart rate and blood pressure, a special risk for people with circulatory or heart disease.  Recent research findings also link MDMA use to long-term damage to those parts of the brain critical to thought and memory. It is believed that the drug causes damage to the neurons that use the chemical serotonin to communicate with other neurons.  MDMA is also related in structure and effects to methamphetamine, which has been shown to cause degeneration of neurons containing the neurotransmitter dopamine. Damage to dopamine containing neurons is the underlying cause of the motor disturbances seen in Parkinson’s disease. Symptoms of this disease begin with lack of coordination and tremors, and can eventually result in a form of paralysis.


Cigarettes, cigars, and spit/pipe tobacco are made from dried tobacco leaves. There are approximately 4,000 different types of chemicals which have been found in tobacco and among these more than 60 chemicals are known to cause cancer (carcinogens).

Many substances are added to cigarettes by manufacturers to improve the flavor or to make smoking more pleasant. Some of the compounds found in tobacco smoke include ammonia, nicotine, tar, and carbon monoxide. Using tobacco can damage a woman’s reproductive health and hurt babies. Tobacco use is linked with reduced fertility and a higher risk of miscarriage, early delivery (premature birth), and stillbirth. It is also a cause of low birth-weight in infants. It has been linked to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Nicotine is highly addictive and keeps the smoker craving more. The tar in cigarettes increases a smoker’s risk of lung cancer, emphysema, and bronchial disorders. The carbon monoxide in smoke increases the chance of cardiovascular diseases. Pregnant smokers have a higher risk of miscarriage or low birth weight babies. Secondhand smoke causes lung cancer in adults and greatly increases the risk of respiratory illnesses in children.

Cancer caused by smoking

Cigarette smoking accounts for at least 30% of all cancer deaths. It is linked with an increased risk of the following cancers:

  • Lung
  • Larynx (voice box)
  • Oral cavity (mouth, tongue, and lips)
  • Pharynx (throat)
  • Esophagus (tube connecting the throat to the stomach)
  • Stomach
  • Pancreas
  • Cervix
  • Kidney
  • Bladder
  • Acute myeloid leukemia

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in both men and women, and is one of the hardest cancers to treat. Lung cancer is a disease that can often be prevented. Some religions that promote non-smoking, such as Mormons and Seventh-day Adventists, have much lower rates of lung cancer and other smoking-related cancers.

Smoking can make pneumonia and asthma worse. It has been linked to other health problems, including gum disease, cataracts, bone thinning, hip fractures, and peptic ulcers. Some studies have also linked smoking to macular degeneration, an eye disease that can cause blindness.

Smoking can cause or worsen poor blood flow in the arms and legs (peripheral vascular disease or PVD.) Surgery to improve the blood flow often doesn’t work in people who keep smoking.

Some studies have found that male smokers may be more likely to be sexually impotent (have erectile dysfunction).

The smoke from cigarettes (called secondhand smoke or environmental tobacco smoke) can also have harmful health effects on those exposed to it. Adults and children can have health problems from breathing secondhand smoke.


Alcohol is a psychoactive drug that acts as a depressant.  An elevated blood alcohol level is considered to be legal drunkenness because it reduces attention and slows reaction speed. Alcohol can be addictive leading to a state of addiction known as alcoholism.
Alcoholism or alcohol dependence is a disabling addictive disorder .  It is illustrated by compulsive and uncontrolled consumption of alcohol despite its negative effects on the drinker’s health, relationships, and social standing.  It is the recurring presence of tolerance, withdrawal, and excessive alcohol use.  The drinker’s inability to control such compulsive drinking indicates that the person might be an alcoholic.

Long-term alcohol abuse produces physiological changes in the brain such as tolerance and physical dependence, which in turn causes the alcoholic’s compulsive inability to stop drinking and result in alcohol withdrawal syndrome upon discontinuation of alcohol consumption.  Alcohol harms almost every organ in the body, including the brain; because of the cumulative toxic effects of chronic alcohol abuse, the alcoholic risks suffering a range of medical and psychiatric disorders.  Alcoholism has profound social consequences for alcoholics and their families but is medically defined as a treatable disease.

Physical symptoms

Long term alcohol abuse can cause a number of physical symptoms, including cirrhosis (chronic liver disease) pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas),epilepsypolyneuropathy (a neurological disease affecting the peripheral nerves in the body), alcoholic dementia, heart disease, nutritional deficiencies, and sexual dysfunction, and can eventually be fatal. Other physical effects include an increased risk of developing cardiovascular diseasemalabsorptionalcoholic liver disease, and cancer. Damage to the central nervous system and peripheral nervous system can occur from sustained alcohol consumption.

Women develop long-term complications of alcoholism more rapidly than do men.  For example  brain, heart, and liver damage and an increased risk of breast cancer. Additionally, in pregnant women, alcohol can cause fetal alcohol syndrome; women have a higher mortality rate from alcoholism than men.

Psychiatric symptoms

Long term misuse of alcohol can also cause a wide range of mental health problems for example, severe cognitive problems.  An estimated 10 percent of all dementia cases are related to alcohol consumption, making it the second leading cause of dementia.  Excessive alcohol use causes damage to brain function, and psychological health can be increasingly affected over time. (Professor Georgy Bakalkin (8 July 2008). “Alcoholism-associated molecular adaptations in brain neurocognitive circuits”. eurekalert.org. http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2008-07/econ-ma070808.php. Retrieved 14 February 2009.)

Psychiatric disorders are common in alcoholics with the most prevalent psychiatric symptoms being anxiety and depression disorders. Psychiatric symptoms usually initially worsen during alcohol withdrawal, but typically improve or disappear with continued abstinence. Also psychosis, confusion, and organic brain syndrome may be caused by alcohol misuse.

Crystal Meth

“Crystal Meth” is one of the street names used for methamphetamine.  It is also known as “speed,” “meth” or “chalk.” In its smoked form, it can be referred to as “ice,” “crystal,” “crank,” and “glass.” Methamphetamine belongs to a family of drugs called amphetamines– powerful stimulants that speed up the central nervous system. The drug can be made easily with relatively inexpensive over-the-counter ingredients. Methamphetamine is a drug with high potential for widespread abuse.

When methamphetamine is injected or taken by mouth, the effects may last 6 to 8 hours. When it is smoked, the effects can last 10 to 12 hours. As with other amphetamines, users experience increased wakefulness, decreased appetite and a sense of well being when they take the drug. Often people that use methamphetamines use it in a “binge and crash pattern” which can have harmful effects on the person’s health and can lead to dependence on the drug.

Crystal Meth can be smoked, snorted, taken orally, or injected. Depending on how it is taken, the drug can alter mood differently:

Smoking or injecting Crystal Meth can produce effects within seconds.
With smoking or IV methamphetamine use, there is an intense rush or “flash” that lasts only a few minutes, which is described as being extremely enjoyable.
Snorting or oral ingestion produces euphoria– a high, but not intense as with smoking or injection.

The rush and the high are believed to be due to the release of high levels of dopamine, a brain chemical that is responsible for pleasure.

Date Rape Drugs

More and more girls and women report they were sexually assaulted using a “date-rape drug”. Date-rape drugs can:

  • Change your normal self-control or inhibitions (for example, you do things or act in ways you normally would choose not to)
  • Decrease your level of consciousness (for example, you feel sleepy, lethargic, faint and dizzy)
  • Cause memory loss or confusion

These drugs can make it easier for a person to sexually assault you by controlling or overpowering you. There are several kinds of drugs used as date-rape drugs:

  • Sedating drugs
  • Alcohol
  • Benzodiazepines (for example Lorazepam “Ativan”, alprazolam ”Xanax”, etc.)
  • GHB (also known as Easy Lay, Liquid Ecstasy, Gib, natural sleep-500, or somatomax)
  • Ketamine (also known as Special K, Kit Kat, vetalar, or ketaset )
  • Stimulants, such as cocaine
  • Socializers
  • Amphetamines (Ecstasy – also known as E, or MDMA)
  • Marijuana

Date-rape drugs can be slipped into a drink (which may or may not be alcohol) at a bar, party or other social event. Once dissolved, the drink itself can mask any colour or odour, so it cannot be seen or tasted. The drugs can lead you to do things you normally wouldn’t. Or they can make you feel so relaxed or lose consciousness so that you are helpless to sexual assault. They may also damage your memory.


‘Cheese’ is a relatively new drug concoction that is made from a mixture of heroin and cold medication (Tylenol PM).

The name ‘cheese’ is supposedly derived from the fact that the product resembles Parmesan cheese.

To produce ‘cheese’, cold medication is grounded up and mixed with black-tar heroin. Thirty dollars worth of heroin can yield forty to fifty hits of cheese, and the cost of making the cheese is only about two-dollars for each dose. This makes the drug affordable for drug users, and quite profitable for the mixers of the deadly product.

Cheese is cheap, addictive, often deadly, and has spread like wildfire in the Dallas area. Among the many obvious problems with this new drug, there is the problem that the amount of heroin in cheese is relatively small – it can be as little as three percent – so it is difficult to detect in field tests. There is also the problem that the amount of heroin in cheese is inconsistent. One hit can contain 3% and the next can contain 9 or 10% – which is deadly.

And, unfortunately, ‘cheese’ has a couple of aspects that appeal to young children. First of all, the name is amusing. ‘Cheese’. Second of all, it is relatively inexpensive when compared to the price of other illegal drugs. As a result of these appealing aspects of cheese, really young children – as young as eleven-years-old in at least one case – are trying out this deadly new drug. And while these children may survive their first – or second or third – encounter with the drug, the next encounter might be with a batch that contains a deadly high concentration of heroin.

Young people who use drugs are more likely to engage  in violent  behaviour, steal, abuse other drugs and join gangs.