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Biology > Effects of Drugs

Below is a list of drugs that can lead to addiction. Although many traditional drugs lessons have been removed from school science lessons, human biology schemes of work may often refer to some of these drugs. The information contained here may be useful for wall displays or reference material.

Heroin/Methadone - Class A

Penalties:

Possession: 7 years and a fine
Supply: Life imprisonment and a fine

Effects:

Pure heroin comes as a white powder, but because of the range of substances with which it can be cut, street heroin can be anything from brownish white to brown.

It can be smoked, snorted or dissolved in water and injected. Heroin is not instantly addictive but over time the desired effects reduce so much that users have to take more and more just to get the same effects and then take even more just to feel 'normal'.

Effects on the brain cause 'cravings' and strong psychological and physical dependence. Excessive doses can lead to coma and even death from respiratory failure. There is a risk of death due to inhaling vomit, as heroin stops the body's cough reflex from working properly.

Similar effects and risks are caused by opium.

Methadone and subutex (buprenorphine) are used as substitutes for heroin in the treatment of heroin addiction. Methadone makes the pupils in the eye look like pinheads and makes users constipated. Some people are sick the first time they take drugs like methadone and if you are a woman they can stop you having regular periods.

Cocaine/Crack - Class A

Penalties:

Possession: 7 years and a fine
Supply: Life imprisonment and a fine

Effects:

Cocaine (coke) is a white powder that is usually divided into lines on a smooth surface and snorted up the nose with a rolled up banknote or a straw. It can be smoked and is sometimes made into a solution and injected.

Taking cocaine raises body temperature, makes the heart beat faster and staves off feelings of hunger. The hit from coke does not last long (20-30 minutes). When the effects start to wear off there is a strong temptation to take more.

Coke is very addictive. Evidence also suggests possible long-term changes to the nervous system.

Crack is a smokeable form of cocaine that is made into small lumps or rocks. It is called crack because it makes a crackling sound when being burnt. It is a stimulant with short-lived effects and is addictive. Also it's much stronger than cocaine because all the impurities are taken out when the rocks are made (i.e. cooked) - also it can be injected and due to it's anaesthetising effects users may miss their veins and not be aware of this which can lead to abscesses.

Ecstasy (E) - Class A

Penalties:

Possession: 7 years and a fine
Supply: Life imprisonment and a fine

Effects:

Pure ecstasy is a white crystalline powder known to chemists as MDMA. Ecstasy sold on the street is usually in tablet form.

Es come in all sorts of colours and some of them have pictures or logos stamped into them. They are usually swallowed, although some people do snort them.

Ecstasy dilates the pupils, produces a tingling feeling, tightens the jaw muscles, raises the body temperature and makes the heart beat faster. Short-term effects can include anxiety, panic attacks, confused episodes, first time epileptic fits and paranoia.

Current evidence suggests that long term use can cause depression, personality change and memory loss.

LSD - Class A

Penalties:

Possession: 7 years and a fine
Supply: Life imprisonment and a fine

Effects:

LSD is a hallucinogenic drug originally derived from ergot, a fungus found growing wild on rye and other grasses. It is commonly called acid and the experience from it is known as a trip.

There is no evidence to suggest LSD does any long-term damage to the body or long-term psychological damage but if you have mental health issues, acid can make them worse.

People have also been known to harm themselves and others during a bad trip.

Magic Mushrooms - Class A

Penalties:

Possession: 7 years and a fine
Supply: Life imprisonment and a fine

Effects:

Magic Mushrooms are mushrooms that grow in the wild and produce similar effects to LSD when you eat them. There are two main types and they are both very different.

Eating the wrong kind of mushroom can make you seriously ill and even kill you.

Amphetamines (Speed) - (Class B - illegal to have, give away or sell. Prepared for injection, speed becomes a Class A)

Penalties - Class B:

Possession: 5 years and a fine
Supply: 14 years and a fine

Penalties - Class A:

Possession: 7 years and a fine
Supply: Life imprisonment and a fine

Effects:

Speed is the street name for Amphetamine. It is Britain's least pure illegal drug and is often taken along with ecstasy.

Like coke it is a stimulant that people take to keep them awake and alert. The more speed you take the greater chance you'll need to take more to get the same buzz.

Speed users have died from overdose. Speed can lead to anxiety, depression, irritability and aggression as well as mental illness such as psychosis and paranoid feelings.

Cannabis - Class B

Penalties:

Possession: 5 years and a fine
Supply: 14 years and a fine

Effects:

Cannabis is the most widely used illegal drug in Britain. It is a naturally occurring drug made from parts of the cannabis plant.

It is a mild hallucinogen and often gives sedative like effects that make some people feel relaxed and others feel sick. It is widely available and comes in many different forms.

Much like a cigarette, the effects are immediate and last from about an hour to a few hours. Even hardcore smokers can get anxious and panicky and cannabis has a negative impact on the short-term memory.

Eating or drinking the drug delays the effects and can make them stronger and longer lasting.

Cannabis can cause a disease called cannabis psychosis, likened to a mild form of schizophrenia.

GHB - Class C

Penalties:

Possession: 2 years and a fine
Supply: 5 years and a fine

Effects:

GHB is usually sold as an odourless liquid in small bottles or capsules. It is very dangerous and can be fatal when mixed with alcohol or other drugs.

It is hard to tell the difference between a dose that gives a pleasant buzz and an overdose that could kill.

Too many hits could cause sickness, stiff muscles, fits and collapse and no one knows what GHB could do to you 20 years down the line.

Anabolic Steroids - Class C

Penalties:

Possession: 2 years and a fine
Supply: 5 years and a fine

Effects:

Anabolic steroids are similar to, and include, the male hormone testosterone. They are meant to be used to treat anaemia and muscle weakness after surgery.

teroids are not physically addictive but a user can quickly become psychologically dependent. After stopping, withdrawal can include lethargy and depression.

Poppers - (not illegal to possess but can be illegal to supply)

Effects:

Poppers are small bottles filled with liquid chemicals called alkyl nitrites. They dilate the blood vessels and allow more blood to get to the heart

They are usually sniffed straight from the bottle and deliver a short, sharp high. Poppers are toxic and can kill you if you swallow them.

Taking poppers is a dangerous idea for anyone with chest or heart problems, anaemia or glaucoma.

Alcohol

Effects:

Dependence on alcohol can creep up on an individual and tolerance increases with use. Alcohol leads to all kinds of problems in Britain from violent crime to domestic violence and car related deaths.

It takes the body an hour to process one unit of alcohol. One too many can lead to effects such as slurring of words, loss of balance and vomiting.

Serious overindulgence can lead to alcohol poisoning. Long-term use of alcohol has been linked with illnesses like liver damage and heart disease.

Tobacco

Effects:

Tobacco comes from the leaves of the tobacco plant. It contains a drug called nicotine, which is highly addictive. It is nicotine that gives smokers their 'hit'.

Nicotine is a highly addictive drug and smokers can get hooked very quickly. It can take years and a huge effort to kick the habit.

Not many people are able to remain occasional smokers. Long-term addiction could leave you with cancer, emphysema or heart disease.