Find the latest information on health risks related to marijuana and other drugs.
MARIJUANA - The concentration of THC in marijuana varies greatly, ranging from 1% to 9%. THC is a fat soluble substance and can remain in the lungs, liver, reproductive organs and brain tissue for up to 3 weeks. Smoking or ingesting marijuana can relax a person and elevate his or her mood. This can be followed by drowsiness and sedation. Other effects include heightened sensory awareness, euphoria, altered perceptions and feeling hungry ("the munchies"). High concentrations of THC may produce a more hallucinogenic response. The effects of marijuana may vary based on expectations of the user, social setting, prior experience of the user, genetic vulnerability of the user (marijuana use may aggravate underlying mental health issues), and method of use (inhaled or ingested). Discomforts associated with smoking marijuana include dry mouth, dry eyes, increased heart rate, and visible signs of intoxication such as bloodshot eyes and puffy eyelids. Other problems include impaired memory and ability to learn, difficulty thinking and problem solving, anxiety attacks or feelings of paranoia, impaired muscle coordination and judgment, increased susceptibility to infections, and dangerous impairment of driving skills. Combining marijuana and other drugs, including alcohol and prescription drugs, can cause unwanted reactions and/or increase the impact of both substances. Marijuana has addictive properties and about 10-14% of users will become dependent. Tolerance to marijuana develops rapidly. Physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms from marijuana include irritability, restlessness, insomnia, nausea, and intense dreams. Warning signs of dependence are more frequent use, needing more and more to get the same effect, spending time thinking about using marijuana, spending more money than you have on it, missing class or failing to finish assignments because of marijuana, making new friends who do it and neglecting old friends who don't, and finding it's hard to be happy without it.
SYNTHETIC MARIJUANA, BATH SALTS, K2, SPICE, LAZY CAKES, HERBAL INCENSE - These are various psychoactive herbal and chemical products that mimic the effects of marijuana or other drugs. Since these products are largely created by individual sellers, it's anyone's guess what ingredients are the mix. That's why side effects, including heart palpitations, high blood pressure, hallucinations, seizures and breathing problems, are difficult to predict. The toxicity of active ingredients-- not to mention the unknown ingredients in these products-- is not well studied. In addition to the variable composition, these synthetic compounds are expensive, harsh on your lungs to smoke, may interact with other prescription or over the counter drugs in unpredictable and dangerous ways, do not mix well with alcohol, and often produce a very short "high" lasting no more than 30 minutes.
HALLUCINOGENS: This category includes phencyclidine (PCP or "angel dust"), ecstasy and other amphetamine variants which have mind-altering effects. Perception and cognition are impaired and muscular coordination decreases. Speech is blocked and incoherent. Chronic users of PCP may have memory problems and speech difficulties lasting 6 months to a year after prolonged daily use. Depression, anxiety, and violent behavior also occur. High psychological dependence on the drug may result in taking large doses of PCP. Large doses produce convulsions, comas, and heart and lung failure. Lysergic acid dyethylamine (L.S.D. or "acid"), mescaline and psilocybin (mushrooms) cause illusions, hallucinations and altered perception of time and space. Physical effects include dilated pupils, elevated body temperature, increased heart rate and blood pressure, decreased appetite, insomnia and tremors. Psychological reactions include panic, confusion, paranoia, anxiety and loss of control. Flashbacks, or delayed effects, can occur even after use has ceased.
COCAINE: Cocaine prompts the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter responsible for pleasure and movement, and inhibits the reabsorption of it, over stimulating the brain. Users report feelings of euphoria, hyper-stimulation, confidence, and alertness. Cocaine's pleasurable effects begin to wear off quickly leading to withdrawal symptoms including irritability, anxiety, restlessness, physical pain, insomnia, depression, paranoia, or aggression. Cocaine is extremely addictive and is considered one of the most powerful reinforcing drugs. Cocaine raises blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration, increasing the risk of respiratory arrest, stroke, seizures, heart attacks, and death.
STIMULANTS: Amphetamines and other stimulants include ecstasy and "meth," as well as prescription drugs such as Adderall and Ritalin. The physical effects produced are elevated heart and respiratory rates, increased blood pressure, insomnia, and loss of appetite. Sweating, headaches, blurred vision, dizziness, and anxiety may also result from use. High dosage can cause rapid or irregular heartbeat, tremors, loss of motor skills and even physical collapse. Long-term use of higher doses can produce amphetamine psychosis which includes hallucinations, delusions and paranoia. Prescription stimulant drugs, dubbed "academic steroids," are used by some college students in an attempt to enhance their academic performance. These drugs are often prescribed to treat ADD/ADHD, and should be used only as prescribed and with ongoing medical supervision. It is against federal law to use these medications without an authorized prescription from a physician. Students who share or sell their prescription drugs are abusing a medical privilege, breaking the law, and face severe penalties if caught.
DEPRESSANTS: Barbiturates and benzodiazepines are two of the most commonly prescribed groups of depressant drugs. Barbiturates include Phenobarbital, Seconal and Amytal; benzodiazepines include Ativan, Dalmane, Librium, Xanax, Valium, Halcion and Restoril. These drugs are used for medical purposes to relieve anxiety and to induce sleep. Physical and psychological dependence can occur if the drugs are used for longer periods of time or at higher doses than prescribed. Benzodiazepine use can cause slurred speech, disorientation, and lack of coordination. If taken with alcohol, use can lead to coma and possible death.
NARCOTICS: Narcotics include heroin, methadone, morphine, codeine, OxyContin, Vicodin, Fentanyl and opium. Dextromethorphan in cough syrup is closely related. After an initial feeling of euphoria, narcotic use causes drowsiness, nausea, and vomiting. Effects of overdose include slow and shallow breathing, clammy skin, convulsions, coma and possible death. Physical and psychological dependence is high, and withdrawal symptoms include watery eyes, runny nose, loss of appetite, irritability, tremors, panic, abdominal cramps and diarrhea, nausea, chills, and sweating. Use of contaminated syringes/needles to inject drugs may result in serious blood borne infections such as HIV-AIDS and hepatitis. This family of drugs is the most frequent cause of drug-associated death from suppression of the life supporting functions of the brain, heart and lungs.
Ecstasy (MDMA): Known as the "fun drug" or the "hug drug" has a reputation as a benign drug that makes you feel good. You feel confident. You have energy. You feel sensual; being touched is more pleasurable than usual. A drug that makes you feel this good couldn't be bad for you, could it? Let's examine the facts: more and more long-term users are showing serious, and permanent, cognitive deficits. Ecstasy is a Schedule I drug. This means there is no accepted medical benefit of the drug. Ecstasy is a synthetic psychoactive drug with both stimulant and hallucinogenic properties. Since "E" is a stimulant, it increases body temperature. Dancing for an hour at a hot crowded party can seriously overheat someone using E. Overheating and dehydration are the most common reasons why Ecstasy users end up in the ER. Temperature of Ecstasy users has risen as high as 109° F. This can lead to muscle breakdown, kidney and heart failure and even DEATH. Even drinking water while dancing on Ecstasy can be hazardous. Guzzling too much water causes sodium levels to drop so much that the water is absorbed into the brain cells causing them to swell--which can be fatal. "Rolling" or being high on ecstasy generally lasts 3-6 hours. The drug interferes with the brain's release of serotonin which regulates your mood. This can cause depression, sleep problems, severe anxiety and paranoia--these symptoms can show up weeks or months after using E. Research shows that MDMA damages the parts of the brain used for learning and memory. Several studies have confirmed that users struggle to process and learn new information. The longer E was used and the higher the doses, the worse the memory impairment. This damage may be irreversible. Ecstasy causes the breakdown of neurons containing dopamine. This neurological damage is similar to that seen in Parkinson's Disease, which results in a lack of coordination and tremors. Since ecstasy is not legally manufactured you never know the actual dosage in a pill or whether it is laced with something else toxic, like PCP, speed, cocaine or LSD. That's scary. Ecstasy can be psychologically addictive, and tolerance develops quickly. There are some definite physical effects to know about: muscle tension, teeth grinding which causes enamel to be worn down leading to tooth decay, nausea, blurred vision, chills/sweating, dehydration, and reduced appetite. Use can result in heart failure or heat stroke. Not everyone is using ecstasy. Only 6% of college students have used ecstasy in the past year.