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Media Guide

Other Commonly Used Addictive Drugs

Alcohol

Alcohol consumption can damage the brain and most body organs, including the heart, liver, and pancreas. It also increases the risk of some cancers, weakens the immune system, puts fetal development at risk, and causes deadly vehicle accidents. Areas of the brain that are especially vulnerable to alcohol-related damage are the cerebral cortex (largely responsible for our higher brain functions, including problem-solving and decisionmaking), the hippocampus (important for memory and learning), and the cerebellum (important for movement coordination).

More information can be found on the Web site of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism at www.niaaa.nih.gov.

Amphetamines/ Methamphetamine

Amphetamines, including methamphetamine, are powerful stimulants that can produce feelings of euphoria and alertness. Methamphetamine is a white, odorless, bitter-tasting crystalline powder that easily dissolves in water or alcohol and is taken orally, intra-nasally (snorting the powder), by needle injection, or by smoking. Methamphetamine’s effects are particularly long lasting and harmful to the brain. Amphetamines can cause high body temperature and can lead to serious heart problems and seizures.

Regular methamphetamine use significantly changes how the brain functions. Noninvasive human brain imaging studies have shown alterations in the activity of the dopamine system that are associated with reduced motor skills and impaired verbal learning, which may account for many of the emotional and cognitive problems observed in regular methamphetamine users.

More information on methamphetamine can be found at www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/methamphetamine.

Anabolic Steroids

Anabolic steroids refer to synthetic variants of the male sex hormone testosterone. The proper term for these compounds is anabolic-androgenic steroids (abbreviated AAS—“anabolic” referring to muscle building and “androgenic” referring to increased male sexual characteristics. Steroids can be prescribed for certain medical conditions; however, they are often abused to increase muscle mass and to improve athletic performance or physical appearance. Anabolic steroids are usually either taken orally or injected into the muscles, although some are applied to the skin as a cream or gel. Doses taken by abusers may be 10 to 100 times higher than doses prescribed to treat medical conditions.

Anabolic steroids work very differently from other addictive drugs, and they do not have the same acute effects on the brain. However, long-term steroid use can affect some of the same brain pathways and chemicals—including dopamine, serotonin, and opioid systems—that are affected by other drugs. They thereby may have a significant impact on mood and behavior.

Other serious consequences of steroid abuse can include heart disease, liver problems, stroke, infectious diseases, depression, and suicide. Less serious side effects include severe acne and changes in sex characteristics, like shrinking of the testicles in men and growth of facial hair in women. More information on steroids can be found at www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/steroids-anabolic.

Bath Salts

The term “bath salts” refers to an emerging family of drugs containing one or more synthetic chemicals related to cathinone, an amphetamine-like stimulant found naturally in the khat plant. Reports of severe intoxication and dangerous health effects associated with the use of bath salts have made these drugs a serious and growing public health and safety issue. Some users experience paranoia, agitation, hallucinatory delirium, and psychotic and violent behavior. Deaths have also been reported.

These synthetic cathinone products—marketed as “bath salts” to evade detection by authorities—should not be confused with products such as Epsom salts for bathing. Bath salts typically take the form of a white or brown crystalline powder and are sold in small plastic or foil packages labeled “not for human consumption.” More information can be found at www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/bath-salts-synthetic-cathinones.

Cocaine

Cocaine is a short-acting stimulant, which can lead users to “binge”—take the drug many times in a single session. Cocaine use can lead to severe medical consequences related to the heart and the respiratory, nervous, and digestive systems. Cocaine users can also experience severe paranoia, in which they lose touch with reality.

The powdered form of cocaine is either inhaled through the nose (snorted), where it is absorbed through the nasal tissue, or dissolved in water and injected into the bloodstream. Crack is a form of cocaine that has been processed to make a rock crystal (also called “freebase cocaine”) that can be smoked. The crystal is heated to produce vapors that are absorbed into the bloodstream through the lungs. (The term “crack” refers to the crackling sound produced by the rock as it is heated.)

More information can be found at www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/cocaine.

Hallucinogens

The effects of hallucinogens—perception-altering drugs—are highly variable and unreliable, producing different effects in different people at different times. This is mainly due to differences in the amounts and chemistries of active compounds within the drugs. Because of their unpredictable nature, the use of hallucinogens can be particularly dangerous. Examples of hallucinogens include:

  • MDMA (Ecstasy, “Molly”) (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine) produces both stimulant and mind-altering effects. It can increase body temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, and heart-wall stress. Ecstasy may also be toxic to nerve cells. It is taken orally, usually as a capsule or tablet. Its effects last approximately 3 to 6 hours, although it is not uncommon for users to take a second dose of the drug as the effects of the first dose begin to fade. Ecstasy is commonly taken in combination with alcohol and other drugs.

    Molly—slang for “molecular”—refers to the pure crystalline powder form of ecstasy. Users may seek out Molly to avoid the adulterants or substitutes known to be commonly found in ecstasy, but those who purchase what they think is pure ecstasy may actually be exposing themselves to the same risks, since Molly often contains toxic additives. In fact, Molly is often nothing more than repackaged ecstasy.

    More information can be found at www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/mdma-ecstasy.
  • LSD is one of the most potent hallucinogenic drugs. Its effects are unpredictable, and users may see vivid colors and images, hear sounds, and feel sensations that seem real but do not exist. Users also may have traumatic experiences and emotions that can last for many hours. Some short-term effects can include increased body temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure; sweating; loss of appetite; sleeplessness; dry mouth; and tremors.
  • PCP (phencyclidine) was developed in the 1950s as an intravenous anesthetic. Its legitimate use has since been discontinued due to serious adverse effects.
  • Psilocybin is obtained from certain types of mushrooms that are found in tropical and subtropical regions of South America, Mexico, and the United States. These mushrooms typically contain less than 0.5 percent psilocybin plus trace amounts of psilocin, another hallucinogenic substance. More information can be found at www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/hallucinogens-lsd-peyote-psilocybin-pcp.

Heroin

Heroin is a powerful opioid drug that produces euphoria and feelings of relaxation. It slows respiration and can increase the risk of serious infectious diseases, especially when taken intravenously. Regular heroin use changes the functioning of the brain, causing tolerance and dependence. Other opioid drugs include morphine, OxyContin®, Vicodin®, and Percodan®, which have legitimate medical uses; however, using them in ways other than prescribed (or using them without a prescription) can result in the same harmful consequences as heroin use.

More information about heroin can be found at www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/heroin.

Inhalants

Inhalants are volatile substances found in many household products (such as oven cleaners, gasoline, spray paints, and other aerosols) that induce mind-altering effects. Inhalants are extremely toxic and can damage the heart, kidneys, lungs, and brain. Even a healthy person can suffer heart failure and death within minutes of a single session of the prolonged sniffing of an inhalant.

People tend to abuse different inhalant products at different ages. New younger users (ages 12–15) most commonly abuse glue, shoe polish, spray paints, gasoline, and lighter fluid. First-time older users (ages 16–17) most commonly abuse nitrous oxide, or “whippets.” Adults most commonly abuse a class of inhalants known as nitrites (such as amyl nitrites, or “poppers”).

More information on inhalants can be found at www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/inhalants.

Ketamine, Rohypnol, and GHB

Ketamine, Rohypnol®, and GHB have come to be known as “date rape” drugs because they can cause someone to lose their memory of an assault. Rohypnol® and GHB can easily be added to beverages and ingested unknowingly. Any of these drugs can also cause someone to lose consciousness. Ketamine and GHB are predominantly central nervous system (CNS) depressants, whereas Rohypnol® is a benzodiazepine. More information can be found at www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/club-drugs.

Nicotine

Nicotine is an addictive stimulant found in cigarettes and other forms of tobacco. Tobacco smoke increases a user’s risk of cancer, emphysema, bronchial disorders, and cardiovascular disease. Smoking rates have decreased in the United States in recent years, yet the mortality rate associated with tobacco addiction is still staggering, with more than 480,000 premature deaths in the United States each year—about 1 in every 5 deaths.5 Tobacco use killed approximately 100 million people during the 20th century and, if current smoking trends continue, the cumulative death toll for this century is projected to reach 1 billion.8 More information can be found at www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/tobacco-addiction-nicotine.

8. WHO Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic, 2008: The MPOWER package. Geneva, World Health Organization, 2008

This page was last updated October 2016

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NIDA. (2016, October 1). Media Guide. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/media-guide

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