This section deals with critical health issues related to the most commonly used and lethal illicit drugs. If you are concerned about someone you know who may be affected by drug abuse, we urge you to consider supporting them to seek medical advice.

Drug Facts - did you know?

  • Did you know that inhalation of cleaning products, correction fluid and aerosol sprays can cause permanent brain damage?
  • Did you know that smoking marijuana is addictive
  • Did you know that smoking can make your asthma worse
  • Did you know that the average time it takes to excrete marijuana through urine is anywhere between 3 and 57 days
  • Did you know that marijuana cigarettes have more tar than tobacco, placing cannabis users at an increased risk of respiratory illnesses such as lung cancer and chronic bronchitis
  • Young people who have used marijuana 3 times or more by 18 years old are more likely to have a psychiatric disorder by 26 years old
  • Men who smoke may suffer impotence

Of great concern is the increase in use of illicit drugs that have become popular among teens and young adults at dance clubs and "raves." These drugs, include MDMA/Ecstasy (methylenedioxymethamphetamine), GHB (gamma hydroxybutyrate), and ketamine (ketamine hydrochloride).

MDMA is a synthetic, psychoactive drug chemically similar to the stimulant methamphetamine and the hallucinogen mescaline.

GHB, is either an odorless, colorless liquid for as a white powder material, is taken orally, and is frequently combined with alcohol. It is often associated with ‘date rape’.

The abuse of ketamine induces hallucinations. Both liquid and powder form of ketamine is injected, consumed in drinks, or added to smokable materials.

Dangers and Health Issues and other stuff

MDMA interferes with the body's ability to regulate temperature, sometimes leading to a sharp increase in body temperature (hyperthermia), resulting in liver, kidney, and cardiovascular system failure, and death. MDMA users also risk increases in heart rate and blood pressure, and symptoms such as muscle tension, involuntary teeth clenching, nausea, blurred vision, faintness, and chills or sweating. Psychological effects of MDMA use can include confusion, depression, sleep problems, drug craving, and severe anxiety. Additionally, these problems can occur during as well as sometimes days or weeks after using the drug.

GHB, and ketamine are all central nervous system depressants.GHB has been shown to produce drowsiness, nausea, unconsciousness, seizures, severe respiratory depression, and coma. Additionally, GHB has increasingly become involved in poisonings, overdoses, date rapes, and fatalities.

The use of ketamine produces effects similar to PCP and LSD, causing distorted perceptions of sight and sound and making the user feel disconnected and out of control. The overt hallucinatory effects of ketamine are relatively short-acting, lasting approximately one hour or less. However, the user's senses, judgment, and coordination may be affected for up to 24 hours after the initial use of the drug. Use of this drug can also bring about respiratory depression, heart rate abnormalities, and a withdrawal syndrome.

Cannabis is a term that refers to marijuana and other drugs made from the same plant. Marijuana is a green, brown, or gray mixture of dried, shredded leaves, stems, seeds, and flowers of the hemp plant (Cannabis sativa). Other forms of cannabis include sinsemilla, hashish, and hash oil. All forms of cannabis are mind-altering (psychoactive) drugs.

The main active chemical in marijuana is THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol). Short-term effects of marijuana use include problems with memory and learning, distorted perception, difficulty in thinking and problem solving, loss of coordination, increased heart rate, and anxiety.

Marijuana is usually smoked as a cigarette (called a joint) or in a pipe or bong.

Marijuana abuse is associated with many detrimental health effects. These effects can include frequent respiratory infections, impaired memory and learning, increased heart rate, anxiety, panic attacks and tolerance. Marijuana meets the criteria for an addictive drug and animal studies suggest marijuana causes physical dependence and some people report withdrawal symptoms.

Someone who smokes marijuana regularly may have many of the same respiratory problems that tobacco smokers do, such as daily cough and phlegm production, more frequent acute chest illnesses, a heightened risk of lung infections, and a greater tendency toward obstructed airways. Cancer of the respiratory tract and lungs may also be promoted by marijuana smoke. Marijuana has the potential to promote cancer of the lungs and other parts of the respiratory tract because marijuana smoke contains 50 percent to 70 percent more carcinogenic hydrocarbons than does tobacco smoke.

Marijuana's damage to short-term memory seems to occur because THC alters the way in which information is processed by the hippocampus, a brain area responsible for memory formation

According to the 2004 National Household Survey on Drugs, cannabis is the most commonly used illicit drug in Australia. It has many health and safety issues and can no longer be called ‘safe’.

Did you know that:

  • Babies born to mothers who use marijuana during pregnancy have eleven times the risk of getting childhood leukemia. These children are the innocent victims of their parents marijuana use. Based on research by Dr. L. Robison in the publication Cancer and Dr. J. Buckley in Cannabis: Physiopathology, Epidemiology, Detection.
  • Marijuana smoke produces airway injury, acute and chronic bronchitis, lung inflammation, and decreased pulmonary defences against infection. Smoking one marijuana cigarette leads to airway deposition of four times as much cancer-causing tar as does tobacco smoke. Based on research by Dr. D. Tashkin as reported in the Western Journal of Medicine.
  • Cases of cancer, including cancer of the mouth, tongue, larynx, jaw, head, neck, and lungs have been reported in young marijuana smokers that would not occur in tobacco smokers until much later in life. Based on research by reported in Otolaryngology, Head & Neck Surgery, the Journal of the American Medical Association and Southern Medical Journal.
  • Marijuana has long been known to trigger attacks of mental illness, such as bipolar (manic-depressive) psychosis and schizophrenia. It has been shown that marijuana users are six times more likely to develop schizophrenia than are non-users. Based on research by of Dr. S. Andreasson published in Britain's The Lancet.
  • The use of marijuana leads to the use of other drugs. Of those who use marijuana 3 to 10 times, 20% go on to use cocaine. Of those who use marijuana one hundred or more times, 75% go on to use cocaine. Based on research by as reported in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.
  • Marijuana causes both dependence and addiction. Addictive use is defined by compulsive repeated use in spite of adverse consequences. Marijuana's effects include tolerance leading to dependence and inability to cease use. Based on research by of Dr. Mark Gold published in his book Marijuana.
  • It's not just alcohol that caused impaired accidents. A roadside study of reckless drivers who were not impaired by
    alcohol, showed that 45% of these drivers tested positive for marijuana. Based on research by of Dr. Dan Brookoff, published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
  • The effects of marijuana persist much longer than the effects of alcohol. Using a computerised flight simulator, an experiment on pilots showed that their ability to land a plane was still impaired 24 hours after smoking one marijuana cigarette. Based on research by of Dr. V. Leirer in Aviation, Space & Environmental Medicine.
  • Children exposed to marijuana prenatally have increased behavioural problems, and they have decreased visual perception, language comprehension, attention span and memory. These children are the innocent victims of their parents marijuana use. Based on research by of Dr. Peter Fried of the Ottawa Prenatal Prospective Study
  • In males marijuana use diminishes testosterone production and lowers sperm count. In females, marijuana use disrupts hormone cycles. Marijuana is mutagenic, fetotoxic (poisonous to the foetus) and impairs RNA and DNA synthesis. Based on research by of Dr. Mark Gold in his book Marijuana and Drs. Latour and Nahas in the Medical Journal of Australia.
  • Cases of cancer from marijuana use are now well documented. In one California study 90% of young cancer patients are marijuana smokers compared with 40% of young people in California as a whole. Based on research by Dr. P. Donald in Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery .
  • In a survey of one hundred and fifty marijuana using students, 59% surveyed report they sometimes forget what a conversation is about before it has ended. 41% report that if they read while stoned they remembered less of what they had read hours later. Based on research by of Dr. Richard Schwartz, Vienna Pediatric Associates in Psychiatric Annals.
  • Long-term use of marijuana may cause irreversible memory problems. Marijuana users find it more difficult to separate irrelevant information from the relevant, their reaction times are longer and electrical activity of the brain is slowed. Based on research by from Macquarie University, Sydney in conjunction with Australia's National Drug & Alcohol Research Centre.
  • There are significant negative effects of prenatal marijuana exposure on the performance of children in standard
    intelligence tests. On average children exposed prenatally to marijuana will have a lower IQ compared to children who are not exposed. Based on research by of Dr. Day et al, in Neurotoxicology and Teratology.
  • Fetal Marijuana Symptoms are similar to Fetal Alcohol Syndrome are two diseases children are born with that are totally preventable. One of the leading specialists in cellular heredity, Dr. Akira Morishima of Columbia University, has said that in his 20 years of research on human cells he has never found any other drug, including heroin, which comes close to the DNA damage caused by marijuana.
  • Saying nobody ever died from smoking marijuana is like saying nobody ever died from smoking tobacco. Marijuana contains the same cancer causing chemicals as tobacco. Marijuana contains acetone, hydrogen cyanide, ammonia, carbon monoxide, benzene, benzo pyrene, nitrosamines and many other cancer causing pollutants. Based on research by of G. Huber in Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behaviour.
  • Marijuana causes many mental disorders, including acute toxic psychosis, panic attacks, flashbacks, delusions, depersonalisation, hallucinations, paranoia, depression and "uncontrollable feelings of aggression". Based on research by of Dr. Richard Schwartz, Vienna Pediatrics Associates in Pediatric Clinics of North America.

Symptoms of use (for concerned parents):

Dr Ingrid Lantner, a pediatrician and an expert on marijuana use among teenagers, notes these common symptoms of the chronic marijuana-using youngster: red eyes (often "handled" with eye drops, which can be a clue to pot use)... constant fatigue... uncalled for irritability and edginess (the "don't hassle me!" syndrome)... caring less about everything ("the drop-out syndrome") with a resultant drop in school grades... abrupt and unexplained mood changes... increasing friction with peers and family... feelings of paranoia... impaired ability to concentrate and loss of short term memory... flat, expressionless speech... lack of interest in grooming and appearance... increases difficulty in fighting off common infections... cough, asthmatic wheezing, chest pains... skin rashes... irregular menstrual cycle... distorted time sense (when asked to raise a hand in 60 seconds or less... and, of course, impaired driving ability.

It is important for parents to realise that, unlike the alcohol user, most pot-smoking youngsters are able to "come down" from a high and act normally when parents are around. Thus many parents of chronic pot-smoking youngsters may remain unaware of this fact for several years.

Also, in the words of Dr. Dean Parmelee, director of the Adolesence In-patient Services at Charles River Hospital, a teaching affiliate of Boston University School of Medicine:

"Some youngsters show some symptoms of chronic marijuana use; some show other symptoms. And some bright youngsters with outgoing personalities seem to be able to maintain their grades and activities for a few years-although gradually all users, youngsters and adults, compromise their potential, their activities and their lifestyles".

In other words, your teenagers may have no apparent symptoms of marijuana impairment. Except in one area. Driving. No matter how well they tolerate, adjust to or compensate for their pot use in other areas, over 70 research studies show that pot-induced driving impairments remain. And they are dose related. The more one smokes and the more potent the pot, the worse the driving impairments.

Heroin is a highly addictive drug and is the most rapidly acting of the opiates. Heroin is processed from morphine, extracted from the seed pod of certain varieties of poppy plants.

Most illicit heroin is a powder varying in color from white to dark brown. It is injected and brings with it high risk of infection, including HIV and Hepatitis C.

Health effects:

The short-term effects of heroin abuse appear soon after taking the drug. After the initial feeling, the user experiences an alternately wakeful and drowsy state. Due to the depression of the central nervous system, mental functioning becomes clouded. Additionally, breathing may be slowed to the point of respiratory failure.

After repeatedly using heroin for a period of time, the long-term effects of the substance begin to appear in the user. Chronic users may develop collapsed veins, infection of the heart lining and valves, abscesses, and liver disease. Additionally, pulmonary complications, including various types of pneumonia, may also result in the user.

One of the most significant effects of heroin use is addiction. With regular heroin use, tolerance to the drug develops. Once this happens, the abuser must use more heroin to achieve the same intensity or effect that they are seeking. As higher doses of the drug are used over time, physical dependence and addiction to the drug develop.

Within a few hours after the last administration of heroin, withdrawal may occur. This withdrawal produces effects such as drug craving, restlessness, muscle and bone pain, and vomiting. Major withdrawal symptoms peak between 48 and 72 hours after the last dose and subside after about a week. In addition to the effects of the drug itself, users who inject heroin also put themselves at risk for contracting HIV, hepatitis C (HCV), and other infectious diseases.

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