homepage logo

Identifying Drugs Helps Combat Abuse

By Staff | Dec 9, 2009

(Editor’s note: This is the first in a three-part series explaining commonly used drugs, their side effects, and dangers.)

Drug abuse isn’t a new problem in the world, but looking at recent news, it is becoming a prominent problem in the local area. The subject has raised many questions by the community: Are our children not being educated about drugs? Are parents ignoring the warning signs? Who is responsible for teaching young people the dangers of drugs? Are we punishing offenders harshly enough? What makes people abuse drugs? What is the solution? Although many, if not all, of these questions can’t be answered just yet, this three-part drug series attempts to shed some light on the questions of what drugs are most commonly being abused and what measures can be made to deter drug abuse around us.

Although drug abuse is something people of any age suffer, the focus in recent history is on preventing young people from causing harm or death to themselves or those around them through the misuse of drugs. This drug series cites the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the West Virginia University Extension to further educate readers on the harsh effects of common drugs.

Marijuana is the most commonly abused illicit drug in the United States. It is a dry, shredded green and brown mix of flowers, stems, seeds, and leaves derived from the hemp plant Cannabis sativa. The main active chemical in marijuana is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol; THC for short. Street names include weed, pot, tea, grass, dope, joint, and reefer.

Marijuana is usually smoked as a cigarette (joint) or in a pipe, but can also be mixed in food or brewed as a tea. As a more concentrated, resinous form it is called hashish and as a sticky black liquid it is known as hash oil. Marijuana smoke has a pungent and distinctive, usually sweet-and-sour odor.

Not surprisingly, marijuana intoxication can cause distorted perceptions, impaired coordination, difficulty in thinking and problem solving, and problems with learning and memory. Research has shown that marijuana’s adverse impact on learning and memory can last for days or weeks after the acute effects of the drug wear off. As a result, someone who smokes marijuana every day may be functioning at a suboptimal intellectual level all of the time.

Research on the long-term effects of marijuana abuse indicates some changes in the brain similar to those seen after long-term abuse of other major drugs. A number of studies have shown an association between chronic marijuana use and increased rates of anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, and schizophrenia. At the present time, the strongest evidence links marijuana use and schizophrenia and related disorders

Numerous studies have shown marijuana smoke to contain carcinogens and to be an irritant to the lungs. In fact, marijuana smoke contains 5070 percent more carcinogenic hydrocarbons than does tobacco smoke.

Signs of use include becoming talkative, loud, unsteady, and drowsy.

Cocaine is another very common drug whose street names include soft, coke, snow, nose candy, flake, and White Lady. Three routes of administration are commonly used for cocaine: snorting, injecting, and smoking. All three methods of cocaine abuse can lead to addiction and other severe health problems, including increasing the risk of contracting HIV and other infectious diseases. Baking soda and heat are used to change cocaine into crack. When heated, it makes a cracking sound. It looks like small lumps or shavings of soap and goes under the names rock, freebase, readyrock, 205, hard, and 40’s.

With repeated use, cocaine can cause long-term changes in the brain’s reward system and in other brain systems as well, which may eventually lead to addiction. With repeated use, tolerance to the cocaine high also often develops. Many cocaine abusers report that they seek but fail to achieve as much pleasure as they did from their first exposure. Some users will increase their dose in an attempt to intensify and prolong the euphoria, but this can also increase the risk of adverse psychological or physiological effects.

Cocaine constricts blood vessels, dilates pupils, and increases body temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure. It can also cause headaches and gastrointestinal complications such as abdominal pain and nausea. Because cocaine tends to decrease appetite, chronic users can become malnourished as well.

Cocaine abusers can also experience severe paranoia in which they lose touch with reality and experience auditory hallucinations.

Regardless of the route or frequency of use, cocaine abusers can experience acute cardiovascular or cerebrovascular emergencies, such as a heart attack or stroke, which may cause sudden death. Cocaine-related deaths are often a result of cardiac arrest or seizure followed by respiratory arrest.

Signs of cocaine use include having a runny nose and dilated eyes (where pupils become large).

Heroin is an opiate drug that is synthesized from morphine, a naturally occurring substance extracted from the seed pod of the Asian opium poppy plant. Heroin usually appears as a white or brown powder or as a black sticky substance, known as “black tar heroin.” Street names include gumball, black tar, smack, horse, brown sugar, junk, stamps.

Heroin can be injected, snorted/sniffed, or smoked-routes of administration that rapidly deliver the drug to the brain.

Heroin enters the brain, where it is converted to morphine and binds to receptors known as opioid receptors. These receptors are located in many areas of the brain (and in the body), especially those involved in the perception of pain and in reward. Opioid receptors are also located in the brain stem-important for automatic processes critical for life, such as breathing, blood pressure, and arousal. Heroin overdoses frequently involve a suppression of respiration.

With regular heroin use, tolerance develops, in which the user’s physiological and psychological response to the drug decreases and more heroin is needed to achieve the same intensity of effect. Heroin users are at high risk for addiction-it is estimated that about 23 percent of individuals who use heroin become dependent on it.

Heroin abuse is associated with serious health conditions, including fatal overdose, spontaneous abortion, and-particularly in users who inject the drug-infectious diseases, including HIV/AIDS and hepatitis. Chronic users may develop collapsed veins, infection of the heart lining and valves, abscesses, and liver or kidney disease. Pulmonary complications, including various types of pneumonia, may result from the poor health of the abuser as well as from heroin’s depressing effects on respiration. In addition to the effects of the drug itself, street heroin often contains toxic contaminants or additives that can clog the blood vessels leading to the lungs, liver, kidneys, or brain, causing permanent damage to vital organs.

Although heroin withdrawal is considered less dangerous than alcohol or barbiturate withdrawal, sudden withdrawal by heavily dependent users who are in poor health is occasionally fatal. In addition, heroin craving can persist years after drug cessation, particularly upon exposure to triggers such as stress or people, places, and things associated with drug use.

Signs of heroin use include pinpoint pupils, medicinal breath, and cold, moist skin.

For more information on drug abuse of this kind, visit www.nida.nih.gov/ index.html or talk to a health care professional. Or call a drug abuse hotline: National Drug Abuse Hotline at 1-800-662-HELP (1-800-662-4357), National Institute on Drug Abuse & Alcoholism at 1-888-644-6432, Drug Help National Helplines at 1-800-378-4435, Cocaine Help Line at 1-800-COCAINE (1-800-262-2463), 24 Hour Cocaine Hotline at 1-800-992-9239, or Marijuana Anonymous at 1-800-766-6779.

For those interested in working to combat drug use in the local area, Citizens Against Prescription Drug Abuse will meet on Dec. 14, 6 p.m., in the large conference room in the New Martinsville City Building. Wetzel County citizens are encouraged to attend to help identify topics concerning the abuse of prescription drugs in our communities. For further information contact Lucille Blum at 304-455-9120.