60% of those who use illegal drugs are 15 to 24 years old.
Source – CCSA – Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction – A Drug Prevention Strategy for Canada’s Youth
Early drug use sets in motion a pattern of behaviour that can result in destructive personal and social consequences.
Why are illegal drugs so dangerous? When people talk about the “opioid or drug crisis” they usually mean illegal or street drugs. It’s not safe for anyone to take illegal drugs because, depending on the drug, they can have negative or unexpected effects on the mind and body – and some of them can be the cause of accidental or fatal overdose.
What makes a drug illegal? Drugs are illegal if the government has included them in their laws on controlled substances.
Illegal drugs can be harmful for anyone, but they are particularly hazardous for young people whose brains and bodies are still developing.
Illegal drugs can damage the brain, heart, and other important organs. They can affect our emotions and the way we feel, they may cause people to do things they wouldn’t normally do. While using drugs, a person is less able to do well in school, sports, and other activities. It’s often harder to think clearly and make good decisions for a person who is using drugs.
Depending on the drug, there may be long-term effects from using, including substance use disorder and addiction. When people use drugs they may do risky or dangerous things that could hurt them or other people. A person of any age can accidentally overdose when using drugs, whether they are someone experimenting for the first time, or someone who is using street drugs regularly.
Illegal drugs are not all the same. Different drugs have different dangers associated with them. These drugs cause different experiences and reactions for different people. How a drug will affect a person can depend on many things like age, body type, or mental state. Just because someone else has tried it and had a certain feeling, does not mean it will be the same for everyone.
Sedatives – opioids, heroin, tranquilizers – have a sedative effect that slows down the way the body and brain function. They can have a numbing effect that produces drowsiness if a lot is taken. Sedatives can cause an accidental overdose.
Stimulants – amphetamine, cocaine, crack, and ecstasy – have a stimulant effect giving a rush of energy and making people more alert.
Hallucinogenics – LSD and magic mushrooms and to a lesser extent cannabis and ecstasy – tend to alter the way the user feels, sees, hears, tastes, or smells.
We’ve provided more information on each illegal drug below.
The fentanyl risk in Canada
The non-medical use of fentanyl is having a tragic impact on people who use substances, their families, and communities across Canada.
As a medication, fentanyl is a synthetic opiate, a prescription-grade drug used primarily by cancer patients in severe pain in a patch form.
A lot of the illegal drugs bought off the street risk being tainted with fentanyl, which between 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine. Heroin, cocaine, oxycodone, and many other drugs found on the street can be cut with fentanyl, in powder, liquid, or pill form, rendering them even more toxic. You can’t see it, smell it or taste it.
Learn more about the fentanyl risk on our Fentanyl pages.
Cocaine is a powerfully addictive drug. Individuals who have tried cocaine have described the experience as a strong high that gave them a feeling of supremacy. However, once someone starts taking cocaine, one cannot predict or control the extent to which he or she will continue to use the drug.
The major ways of taking cocaine are sniffing or snorting, injecting, and smoking (including free-base and crack cocaine). Health risks exist regardless of whether cocaine is inhaled (snorted), injected, or smoked. However, it appears that compulsive cocaine use may develop even more rapidly if the substance is smoked rather than snorted. Smoking allows extremely high doses of cocaine to reach the brain very quickly and results in an intense and immediate high. The injecting drug user is also at risk for acquiring or transmitting HIV infection/AIDS if needles or other injection equipment are shared.
Physical effects. Physical effects of cocaine use include constricted peripheral blood vessels, dilated pupils, and increased body temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure. Some cocaine users report feelings of restlessness, irritability, and anxiety, both while using and between periods of use. An appreciable tolerance to the high may be developed, and many addicts report that they seek but fail to achieve as much pleasure as they did from their first exposure.
Paranoia and aggression. High doses of cocaine and/or prolonged use can trigger paranoia. Smoking crack cocaine can produce particularly aggressive paranoid behaviour in users. When addicted individuals stop using cocaine, they may become depressed. This depression causes users to continue to use the drug to alleviate their depression.
Long-term effects. Prolonged cocaine snorting can result in ulceration of the mucous membrane of the nose and can damage the nasal septum enough to cause it to collapse. Cocaine-related deaths are often a result of cardiac arrest or seizures followed by respiratory arrest.
Added Danger. When people mix cocaine and alcohol, they are compounding the danger each drug poses and unknowingly causing a complex chemical interaction within their bodies. Researchers have found that the human liver combines cocaine and alcohol to manufacture a third substance, cocaethylene, which intensifies cocaine’s euphoric effects and possibly increases the risk of sudden death.
“Cocaine Burnt a Hole Through my Nose”
“How Does Cocaine Affect the Brain?”
Crack cocaine or “freebase” are smokeable forms of cocaine which look like crystals or rocks. These forms of cocaine are made by chemically changing cocaine powder.
Also known as: angie, blow, C, Charlie, coke, crack, flake, freebase, hard, Henry, nose candy, rock, snow, stardust
Crack cocaine, often nicknamed “crack”, is believed to have been created and made popular during the early 1980s . Because of the dangers for manufacturers of using ether to produce pure freebase cocaine, producers began to omit the step of removing the freebase precipitate from the ammonia mixture. Typically, filtration processes are also omitted. Baking soda is now most often used as a base rather than ammonia for reasons of lowered odor and toxicity; however, any weak base can be used to make crack cocaine. When commonly “cooked” the ratio is 1:1 to 2:3 parts cocaine/bicarbonate.
There are many unwanted and dangerous effects associated with using cocaine. A person on cocaine may feel agitated and nervous. Cocaine can also produce euphoria (“high”) and can make a person feel mentally alert, energetic and talkative. The senses of sight, sound, and touch are heightened. A person may feel more calm and in control. However, all of these effects do not last long. When the “high” wears off, the person may feel anxious or depressed and have intense cravings for the drug. Some people stay “high” by using the drug for hours or days.
Short-term use of cocaine can produce many other effects:
- postponement of physical and mental fatigue
- reduced appetite
- increased blood pressure and heart rate
- exaggerated reflexes
- rapid breathing
- dilation of pupils
- dry mouth
- paranoid thinking
In addition, a person could potentially experience:
- severe agitation
- paranoid psychosis
- nausea and vomiting
- elevated body temperature and cold sweat
- tremors (shaking) and muscle twitching
An overdose of cocaine can be lethal. Death may occur as a result of an abnormal heartbeat (arrhythmia), stroke, seizures or respiratory arrest (breathing stops). There is no specific antidote that can reverse the effects of the drug. If you think that a person has overdosed, contact emergency services immediately.
Taking large amounts of cocaine for a long time can have many unwanted effects. People using cocaine may become depressed, have mood swings, or become restless and excitable. Their behaviour may be erratic, bizarre, or violent.
Some people become psychotic and can experience:
Heavy users may have trouble sleeping, may change between feelings of intense hunger and a lack of interest in food. Users may experience impotence (sexual dysfunction). Other medical complications include high blood pressure and irregular heartbeat.
A regular cocaine snorting habit is evident by a red, chapped, runny nose. A person may lose his/her sense of smell and develop sinus infections. The wall that separates the nostrils may develop a hole and bleed often.
Smoking crack cocaine can cause chest pain and breathing difficulties (crack lung).
Cocaine users often develop social problems. They may become preoccupied with buying, preparing, and using the drug. School and job performance may suffer.
Sharing drug supplies, such as needles, pipes, straws, and spoons, can spread viruses. These include HIV, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C.
Can cocaine/crack cocaine harm a developing fetus and newborn babies?
Cocaine use during pregnancy may increase the risk of miscarriage and premature delivery. Babies may be born underweight. Babies born to cocaine users may:
- be irritable
- feed poorly
- not sleep well for several weeks after they are born
Is Cocaine Addictive?
Yes, cocaine is addictive. With repeated use, tolerance to the effects of cocaine can develop. Regular cocaine users can also develop psychological dependence which is characterized by intense cravings for the drug even when the user knows there are significant consequences.
Regular users of cocaine who suddenly stop using the drug may experience the following symptoms:
- extended and restless sleep
- suicidal thoughts
- intense craving for the drug
Date Rape Drugs
Gamma-hydroxybutyric acid or GHB, is a compound that was initially used by body builders to stimulate muscle growth. In recent years it has become popular as a recreational drug among club kids and partygoers.
GHB and Rohypnol® are central nervous system depressants. Both drugs emerged in the early 1990’s as “drug-assisted assault” drugs. In the news, these drugs are more commonly known as the date rape drugs.
GHB is odourless and nearly tasteless. Users report that it induces a state of relaxation. The effects can be felt within 5 to 20 minutes after ingestion and the high can last up to four hours.
GHB has reportedly been used in cases of sexual assault and rape. Because GHB is odourless and tasteless, it can be slipped into someone’s drink without detection.
This illegal “designer” drug is often used in combination with other drugs, such as Ecstasy. GHB is synthesized from a chemical used to clean electrical circuit boards, and is available in clear liquid, white powder, tablet and capsule form.
GHB users risk many negative physical effects including vomiting, liver failure, potentially fatal respiratory problems, and tremors and seizures, which can result in comas. Any GHB-induced illness should be taken seriously and the user taken to the emergency room.
It is illegal to possess, traffic, import or produce GHB in Canada.
Rohypnol ( Roofies )
Rohypnol® (roofies) and GHB are central nervous system depressants. Both drugs emerged in the early 1990s as “drug-assisted assault” drugs. In the news, these drugs are more commonly known as the date rape drug and rophies, roach, rope.
People may unknowingly be given the drug which, when mixed with alcohol, can incapacitate and prevent a victim from resisting sexual assault. Also, Rohypnol® may be lethal when mixed with alcohol and/or other depressants.
Rohypnol® produces sedative-hypnotic effects including muscle relaxation and amnesia. In Miami, one of the first sites of Rohypnol® use, poison control centers reported an increase in withdrawal seizures among people addicted to Rohypnol®.
Another very similar drug is clonazepam, marketed in the U.S. as Klonopin® and in Mexico as Rivotril®. It is sometimes used to enhance the effects of heroin and other opiates.
Why is this important for you to know as a parent? Whether your teen goes to a party or on a trip with friends, it is important that they are aware of roofies and GHB, how these drugs are used and how your teen can protect themself. While often associated with alcoholic beverages, they can also be slipped into a non-alcoholic drink.
Here is some important advice you can share with your teen:
- Don’t drink anything that you did not see poured, open yourself or that someone else gave you (other than a waiter), no matter how good-looking they are.
- Always watch your drink. If you leave it unattended for ANY amount of time, dump it and get a fresh drink.
- Roofies and GHB may have a bitter taste when dissolved in a drink; be alert for a strange taste.
- When placed in a light-colored drink, the newer roofies will turn the beverage blue. Dump it immediately and be especially alert.
- Travel in groups. Three or more people is best. Friends should take care of friends and be observant of any strange behaviour, such as slurred speech and lack of alertness.
- If you think you have been drugged, ask for help IMMEDIATELY (preferably not from a stranger) and get yourself to a public place if you are not currently in one. You may have only a few minutes of alert behaviour.
- If you think a friend has been drugged, do not leave them alone. Seek help immediately.
MDMA, or methylenedioxymethamphetamine, called “Ecstasy”, “Molly”, “XTC” or “Adam” on the street, is a synthetic, psychoactive (mind-altering) drug with hallucinogenic and amphetamine-like properties. Its chemical structure is similar to two other synthetic drugs, MDA and methamphetamine, which are known to cause brain damage.
Beliefs about MDMA are reminiscent of similar claims made about LSD in the 1950s and 1960s, which proved to be untrue. According to its proponents, MDMA can make people trust each other and can break down barriers between therapists and patients, lovers, and family members.
Physical and psychological symptoms. Many problems users encounter with MDMA are similar to those found with the use of amphetamines and cocaine.
Psychological difficulties, including confusion, depression, sleep problems, drug craving, severe anxiety, and paranoia during and sometimes weeks after taking MDMA (in some cases, psychotic episodes have been reported).
Physical symptoms such as muscle tension, involuntary teeth clenching, nausea, blurred vision, rapid eye movement, faintness, and chills or sweating.
Increases in heart rate and blood pressure, a special risk for people with circulatory or heart disease.
Recent research findings also link MDMA use to long-term damage to those parts of the brain critical to thought and memory. It is believed that the drug causes damage to the neurons that use the chemical serotonin to communicate with other neurons.
MDMA is also related in structure and effects to methamphetamine, which has been shown to cause degeneration of neurons containing the neurotransmitter dopamine. Damage to dopamine-containing neurons is the underlying cause of the motor disturbances seen in Parkinson’s disease. Symptoms of this disease begin with lack of coordination and tremors, and can eventually result in a form of paralysis.
“What’s in an Ecstasy Tablet?”
Ketamine hydrochloride, or “Special K,” is a powerful hallucinogen widely used as an animal tranquilizer by veterinarians.
Liquid Ketamine was developed in the early 1960s as an anesthetic for surgeries, and was used on the battlefields of Vietnam as an anesthetic. Powdered Ketamine emerged as a recreational drug in the 1970s, and was known as “Vitamin K” in the 1980s. It resurfaced in the 1990s rave scene as “Special K.”
Users sometimes call the high caused by Special K, “K hole,” and describe profound hallucinations that include visual distortions and a lost sense of time, sense, and identity. The high can last from a half-hour to 2 hours. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration reports that overt effects can last an hour but the drug can still affect the body for up to 24 hours.
Use of Special K can result in profound physical and mental problems including delirium, amnesia, impaired motor function and potentially fatal respiratory problems.
Special K is a powder. The drug is usually snorted but is sometimes sprinkled on tobacco or cannabis and smoked. Special K is frequently used in combination with other drugs, such as ecstasy, heroin or cocaine.
LSD, aka “acid,” is odorless, colorless, and has a slightly bitter taste and is usually taken by mouth. Often LSD is added to absorbent paper, such as blotter paper, and divided into small, decorated squares, with each square representing one dose.
Physical and Psychological short-term effects.
The effects of LSD are unpredictable. They depend on the amount taken; the user’s personality, mood, and expectations; and the surroundings in which the drug is used. Usually, the user feels the first effects of the drug 30 to 90 minutes after taking it. The physical effects include dilated pupils, higher body temperature, increased heart rate, and blood pressure, sweating, loss of appetite, sleeplessness, dry mouth, and tremors.
Sensations and feelings change much more dramatically than the physical signs. The user may feel several different emotions at once or swing rapidly from one emotion to another. If taken in a large enough dose, the drug produces delusions and visual hallucinations. The user’s sense of time and self changes. Sensations may seem to “cross over,” giving the user the feeling of hearing colors and seeing sounds. These changes can be frightening and can cause panic.
LSD trips are long – typically they begin to clear after about 12 hours. Some users experience severe, terrifying thoughts and feelings, fear of losing control, fear of insanity and death, and despair while using LSD. In some cases, fatal accidents have occurred during states of LSD intoxication.
Many LSD users experience flashbacks, recurrence of certain aspects of a person’s experience, without the user having taken the drug again. A flashback occurs suddenly, often without warning, and may occur within a few days or more than a year after LSD use. Flashbacks usually occur in people who use hallucinogens chronically or have an underlying personality problem; however, otherwise healthy people who use LSD occasionally may also have flashbacks. Bad trips and flashbacks are only part of the risks of LSD use. LSD users may manifest relatively long-lasting psychoses, such as schizophrenia or severe depression. It is difficult to determine the extent and mechanism of the LSD involvement in these illnesses.
PCP – Angel Dust
PCP – Angel Dust
Description of PCP
PCP is a white crystalline powder that is readily soluble in water or alcohol. It has a distinctive bitter chemical taste. Available in tablets, capsules, liquids, crystals, pastes, and coloured powders. Frequently passed off as LSD or other drugs, it can be snorted, smoked, or eaten. When smoked, PCP is often used with a leafy material such as mint, parsley, oregano, tobacco, or cannabis. PCP may be used unknowingly since it is often used as an additive in other drugs.
Commercial and Street Names for PCP: Phencyclidine, Angel dust, elephant, hog, rocket fuel (killer weed or supergrass (PCP mixed with marijuana).
Effects of PCP
PCP is a “dissociative drug,” meaning it distorts perceptions of sight and sound and produces feelings of detachment from the environment and self. Most first-time users experience a “bad trip” and stop. Low dose effects include shallow breathing, flushing, and profuse sweating. High dose effects are nausea, vomiting, blurred vision, flicking up and down of the eyes, drooling, loss of balance, and dizziness. Speech is often sparse and garbled. Accidental death can result from drug-induced confusion. Long-term effects include addiction, memory loss, difficulties with speech and thinking, depression, and weight loss. Symptoms can persist up to a year after cessation of PCP use. Mood disorders also have been reported. Flashbacks may occur.
Psilocybin is a hallucinogen that occurs naturally in certain species of mushrooms. Hallucinogens alter a person’s perceptions such as seeing, hearing or feeling things that are not really there. It may be sold on the street as dried whole mushrooms or as a brown powder. The active component is sometimes made in illegal labs and sold on the street as a white powder or tablets, or capsules.
The mushrooms are often eaten raw or cooked. They may be steeped in hot water to make a mushroom “tea” or mixed with fruit juice to make “fungus delight.” Less often they may be sniffed, snorted, or injected.
Also Known As: magic, magic mushrooms, mushrooms, shrooms, mushies, fungus, fungus delight
How does Psilocybin Affect the Body?
After taking mushrooms, the psilocybin is absorbed into the bloodstream. The speed with which it reaches the brain varies depending on how they are taken. The effects of psilocybin are generally felt within a few minutes of drinking the tea or 30 minutes after eating mushrooms. They last for about three to six hours. Some people may experience hallucinations for up to four days.
Psilocybin can cause a person to feel anxious and experience panic attacks. Users may experience hallucinations and a loss of touch with reality. Psilocybin can also produce distorted visual perceptions. Some people may think that they can “see” music or “hear” colours.
Short-term use of psilocybin can produce many other effects:
- dilated pupils (causes blurred vision)
- nausea and vomiting
- dry mouth
- numbness, particularly facial numbness (paresthesia)
- exaggerated reflexes
- sweating and increased body temperature followed by chills and shivering
- muscle weakness and twitching
- increased blood pressure and heart rate
In addition, a person could potentially experience:
- confusion and disorientation
- severe agitation
- loss of coordination
- loss of urinary control
After the effects of the mushrooms wear off a user may feel very tired, depressed and lethargic for a few days.
Overdose with magic mushrooms alone has not been directly associated with death.
The effects of long-term psilocybin use have not been studied. Some people have had prolonged psychosis that resembles paranoid schizophrenia. Psychosis is a loss of touch with reality. It is a mental disorder that affects the personality.
Can Psilocybin Harm a Developing Fetus?
The effects of psilocybin on the developing fetus are unknown.
Is Psilocybin Addictive?
There is no evidence that addiction, physical or psychological dependence develops with continued use of psilocybin. However, people can become tolerant to the effects of psilocybin with regular use. Complete tolerance, where no amount of psilocybin can produce the desired effects, can develop within several days. The user must stop using for days to regain sensitivity.