Drugs and Health Risks

  1.  Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. Short-term effects of excessive alcohol intake may include impaired judgment and coordination, distorted vision, slurred speech, nausea, and blackouts. Death from alcohol poisoning begins to be a possibility if the blood alcohol level reaches .30. The long-term health risks of heavy drinking include hypertension, stroke, cirrhosis of the liver, heart problems, brain and nerve damage, sexual dysfunction, and stomach ailments.
  2. Tobacco contains nicotine, which is both a stimulant and a sedative to the central nervous system. It is known to be a very addictive substance. Smokers become physically and psychologically dependent. The long-term health risks of smoking cigarettes include emphysema, heart disease, stroke, and cancer of the mouth, larynx, pharynx, esophagus, lungs, pancreas, cervix, uterus, and bladder.
  3. Marijuana contains THC (Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol), which accounts for most of its psychoactive or mind altering effects. The short-term effects of using marijuana include sleepiness, memory and concentration problems, impaired motor coordination, increased heart rate, dry mouth and throat, and decreased social inhibitions. The long-term effects of using marijuana include impairments of cognitive function and neuropsychological performance, increased frequency of acute bronchitis, increased incidence of pneumonia in immunocompromised patients, coughs and wheezing, predisposition to pulmonary infections, inhibition in the secretion of gonadotropins from the pituitary gland, and psychosis and schizophrenia among those predisposed to these conditions. Fake or synthetic marijuana products have been  sold illegally in recent years by names such as “Blaze”, “Spice”, “K2 Summit”, “Genie”, “Solar Flare”, and “Fire n Ice”. These products contain dried plant material and various chemical additives that are believed to mimic the effects of marijuana. Those who smoke these products may experience adverse effects such as agitation, anxiety attacks, an extremely elevated heart rate, increased blood pressure, vomiting, tremors, disorientation, and seizures. The long-term effects of habitual use of these products are currently unknown.
  4. Stimulants increase the activity of the central nervous system. Examples of stimulants include amphetamines, methamphetamines, cocaine, and crack.  Prescription medications for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are also often stimulants. Improper use of stimulants (other than when used as prescribed by a doctor) can lead to short-term elevations in mood, self- confidence, energy, heart rate, and blood pressure. Potential difficulties associated with more powerful stimulants such as these include possible physical addiction, psychoses, hostility, paranoia, and/or other mental health problems. Additional health risks include seizures and cardiac arrest.
  5. Hallucinogens are substances that distort perception of reality. The most well-known hallucinogens are lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), MDMA (known as Ecstasy or Molly), Ketamine, phencyclidine hydrochloride (PCP), as well as psilocybin mushrooms and peyote. Under the influence of these drugs, the senses of direction, distance, and time become disoriented, and hallucinations can also be experienced. They can produce unpredictable, erratic, and violent behavior in users that sometimes lead to serious injury and death. Hallucinogens also may induce or cause a worsening of latent mental health disorders, such as anxiety, depression, and psychosis.  Rarely, users can experience cardiac arrest (MDMA) or flashbacks (LSD). 
  6. Sedatives/Tranquilizers are drugs used to reduce anxiety and tension. In some cases, they are misused prescription medications used to relieve symptoms of anxiety or to aid with sleep.  Like alcohol, these drugs are central nervous system depressants. Examples include benzodiazepines such as Ativan, Klonopin, Valium, and Xanax, as well as barbiturates such as Amytal, Nembutal, and Seconal. GHB and Rohypnol, date rape drugs, also fall into this category. Although specific effects may vary according to the particular drug, these drugs typically induce a state of relaxation and drowsiness. Improper use of sedatives (other than when used as prescribed by a doctor) can lead dizziness, slurred speech, impaired coordination, and amnesia. Health hazards include risk for addiction and coma and/or death from overdose.
  7. Opioids are painkillers or analgesics. These drugs include the misuse and abuse of prescription opioids such as hydrocodone (e.g., Vicodin, Lortab), oxycodone (e.g., OxyContin, Percocet), morphine (e.g., Kadian, Avinza), and codeine, and the illegal opioid, heroin.  These drugs interfere with the nervous system’s transmission of the nerve signals we perceive as pain. Most painkillers also stimulate portions of the brain associated with pleasure. In large doses, they induce drowsiness, mental clouding, lethargy, and even sleep. They are highly addictive. As people use opioids regularly, they develop tolerance and they may not be able to maintain the source for the drugs. This can cause them to turn to dealers and even switch from prescription drugs to less expensive and more risky substitutes like heroin. Overdose risks include convulsions, coma, and death due to its effect of depressing the central nervous system, which can slow or stop the heart and lungs. Mixing with alcohol greatly increases this risk.
  8. Anabolic steroids are synthetic derivatives of the male hormone testosterone. These derivatives of testosterone promote the growth of skeletal muscle and increase lean body mass. Major side effects of anabolic steroid use include liver damage, cardiovascular problems, high blood pressure, and increased risk for strokes. Aggression and extreme mood swings as well as other psychiatric side effects may result from their abuse.
  9. Cold and Cough Medicines contain active ingredients that are psychoactive when used at higher-than-recommended dosages. The main ingredient that leads to misuse is Dextromethorphan, a cough suppressant and expectorant found in many OTC cough and cold medicines. It may produce euphoria and dissociative effects or even hallucinations when misused.  Abuse can impair motor function, and lead to numbness, nausea or vomiting, increased heart rate and blood pressure, and at high doses, extreme agitation, increased body temperature, and a buildup of acid in body fluids. High doses of acetaminophen, a pain reliever commonly found in these medications, can cause liver damage. On rare occasions, hypoxic brain damage—caused by severe respiratory depression and a lack of oxygen to the brain—has occurred.

*Note: For pregnant women, substance use can result in impaired fetal growth and development, birth defects, withdrawal after birth, and it increases the risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth, or other serious problems.

*Combined Drug Interactions: It is difficult to speak in generalities about the effects of multiple drug use, as this depends greatly on the types of drugs that are involved.  Of all of the dangers, an overdose is the most severe.  Other potential effects of polysubstance abuse can involve negative effects of both drugs being abused, as well as harmful interactive effects.