Illegal Drugs and Their Effects
Healthy Living

Illegal Drugs and Their Effects

This tear-out guide to the illegal drugs, what they look like, and their effect on users. It would be hard to find a secondary school where students have not experienced illegal drugs, say police reports.

The types of drugs vary. Sometimes the kids experiment with a once-only puff of marihuana. And sometimes they pilfer sedatives, such as Valium or Mandrax, from medicine cupboards at home.

Now and again, the drug is heroin.

What do you know about illegal drugs?

Do you know that a piece of seemingly innocent blotting paper smaller than a piece of confetti is, when impregnated with LSD, enough to give your child a “trip”?

Could you recognize a marihuana plant growing in your tomato patch?

Even if you don’t know anyone using illegal drugs this still concerns you.

For drug educationalists trying to inform and guide the community on the use and abuse of drugs, one of their hardest tasks is helping people to know when somebody close to them is involved. To do this they must overcome the apathy of Americans to the drug problem.

Cannabis (marihuana)

MARIHUANA is the leaves, flowers, and stems of the Cannabis sativa plant. HASHISH, the resinous material obtained from the flowering tops of the female plant, is the most potent cannabis preparation. It comes in either a liquid (oil) form or a solid block; both are dark brown. MARIHUANA otherwise comes in the form of Buddha sticks, in solid compressed blocks or loose. (All these latter forms are the dried marihuana plant.)

MARIHUANA may be smoked or swallowed but its effect is experienced most quickly with smoking. (Marihuana cigarettes are called “joints” or “reefers”.)

WHEN smoked, marihuana is usually effective within 10 to 20 minutes. When swallowed absorption is slower and effects are not apparent until up to one hour later. The effects usually last two to four hours.

The initial stimulation fades to relaxation accompanied by a feeling of well-being, talkativeness, laughter, sensations of floating, a seemingly increased aesthetic appreciation, and increased ability to communicate.

Physical effects are decreased muscular coordination, clumsiness, dry mouth, dizziness, bloodshot eyes, coughing, hunger, occasionally nausea and vomiting, increased urination, and sometimes diarrhea. (Marihuana is also thought to be responsible for a considerable number of road accidents owing to the distortion of time, speed and space.)

LITTLE is known. Consistent use may lead to general fatigue, sleepiness and apathy, and sometimes loss of ambition. Another common occurrence is a loss of memory for recent events. Research also suggests it may have more serious long-term physical effects if used heavily.

Hallucinogens (LSD-type drugs)

HALLUCINOGENS and psychedelics (known by users as “mind-blowing” drugs) are capable of producing an abnormal awareness or distorted perception of surrounding things. They include LSD (“acid”), STP, DMT, Mescaline, and Psilocybin (mushrooms known as “magic mushrooms”) which can, in extremely small doses, produce an intense effect.

THESE drugs are usually available in the form of small white, blue, or orange tablets (called “microdots” or “dots”). An amount as big as a pin-head is enough to produce a profound effect. They are also impregnated into small pieces of blotting paper (“tickets”). One of these is enough, again, to produce a profound effect when swallowed.

They create illusions and hallucinations, colored lights, psychedelic patterns, geometric designs. The senses can also become confused so users “hear smells” and “taste colors.” There may also be a seeming awareness of internal organs, abrupt changes of mood, and states of severe anxiety. Physical effects include pupil dilation and sweating.

LITTLE is known. Chromosomal damage has been reported by some scientists but the evidence is still in the balance. They may precipitate psychiatric disturbances, depression, and “flash-back” experiences – such as a further “trip” without having taken another dose.

Narcotics (opium and its derivatives)

FROM the opium poppy plant comes the classic narcotic, OPIUM, although its main active constituent, MORPHINE, is now more commonly used. From morphine, chemists have made a number of drugs, some extremely potent like HEROIN, and others much less dangerous like CODEINE. (The amount of codeine used in pain-killing preparations is too small to be dangerous, although people can come to depend on codeine if they take too much over a long period.)

A number of synthetic compounds with morphine-like effects include PETHIDINE, METHADONE, NORMETHADONE, DEXTROMORAMIDE, and HYDROCODONE.

THE purest heroin is a white fluffy powder (resembling icing sugar) which is normally injected after being mixed with water. It also comes in less pure forms which are mushroom-colored crystals (known as “rocks”) that are smoked or injected. Morphine also comes in a white powder and is injected (called “Mainlining”). Crude preparations of opium which come in small reddish-brown solid blocks are usually smoked or inhaled.

NARCOTICS reduce physical and psychological sensitivity resulting in a loss of contact with reality. They produce a sense of extreme excitement and reduced fear, tension and anxiety, and reduced physical activity. Other effects are contracted pupils, constipation, nausea, and vomiting in some individuals. High doses used without medical supervision may cause unconsciousness and sometimes death.

WITHDRAWAL symptoms range from mild yawning, perspiration, tremors, loss of appetite, and insomnia to severe diarrhea, vomiting, muscle pain, and weight loss. The commonest cause of death among people using narcotics is an overdose of the drug.

With tolerance, the drug-dependent will require larger and larger doses to achieve an effect. This becomes expensive and addicts of long-standing often turn to crime to maintain their habits. (Babies born to pregnant women who continue to abuse narcotics during their pregnancy may be physically affected by the drug during fetal life and after birth may develop withdrawal symptoms.)

Others Stimulants (“Uppers” or “speed”)

DRUG experts say that there are now so many restrictions on prescribing stimulants that they have virtually disappeared from the teenage drug scene. Only one – COCAINE – is still detected being used illegally although far less than in previous years.

Cocaine is a white powder and is usually injected. Dependents will inject two to three grains of it every 10-15 minutes and may take between 20 to 60 grains of the drug over 24 hours. There is no physical dependence on this drug but the main dangers lie in violent stimulation and in paranoid feelings.

Other tablets popular with teenagers and children today that are available on prescription and widely abused are: Valium, Mandrax (“Mandies”), and Librium. These can be very dangerous if used without medical supervision.


THERE are many plants growing in Australia which can have an exciting but possibly deadly effect if eaten, even in small amounts. Doctors warn people never to experiment with any flowers and plants.

ONE OF the harsh realities of taking illegal drugs is that it is a criminal act.

If a person is convicted of an offense involving illegal drugs he or she will face a prison sentence or a severe fine and will have a criminal record that may affect both personal and working future.

But drug dependence is a disease that requires treatment rather than punishment.

There is no cure-all for a drug-dependent person. Each case needs to be treated individually by people who are trained and qualified to help.

If you need advice with a drug problem, contact your State Health Department. If the department is unable to help it will be able to refer you to someone who can.

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