In years gone by a so called “War on Drugs” took place in many countries. The war, like most wars, was misguided and had more innocent casualties than it could have possibly intended. Although in this war the casualties were more often than not people simply trying to use drugs rather than what were stated to be the intended targets, large scale drug sellers and importers. It’s a sad state of affairs in many countries when you analyse how many individuals are imprisoned for small scale drug possession, particularly given how prevalent serious overcrowding is in such jails.
Sadder still though are cases like we saw recently of a group of people seeing immediate negative effects of taking an unknown substance. Some escaped the worst of the possible side effects, but one young man was not so lucky.
So rather than condemn or talk down to those who wish to use drugs we think it is much more important to inform individuals on safe drug use, so that situations like those recently seen in Cork can be avoided. While it goes without saying that drug use is never without risk, it is moronic to assume that this fact will deter most people who wish to experiment with drugs from doing so. As such here is a simple guide to knowing your drugs, their effects and side effects as well as other resources related to drug use. It goes without saying that all drugs, along with everything else in life, can lead to addiction.
An entry level drug for many, cannabis is most commonly referred to as weed. Typically smoked either
out of a rolled cigarette called a joint or using a pipe or water pipe, weed can also be baked into edibles or used to make butter. Many countries have begun to decriminalise or federally control the sale of cannabis legally with rumblings of similar actions coming in Ireland.
Effects: Cannabis is likely the most popular drug in the world behind alcohol, tobacco and caffeine. It’s used mostly for its induction of a state of relaxation and a mild high compared to other substances. It’s also known to cause hunger in some users. Highs last around 3 hours generally with very large doses lasting up to 24 hours.
Side Effects: Cannabinoids can possibly weaken the immune system making it difficult for the body to fight off illnesses and as with any time of smoking long term use may lead to lung cancer. People with underlying seizure disorders may be adversely affected by cannabis.
Cocaine comes generally in one of two forms. The white powder form was popularised in popular culture by appearances and use in movies like Blow and by high power business executives, odds are you may have seen someone cutting a line in a nightclub bathroom at least once. The other form is the rock form of cocaine, crack is generally smoked where powder is generally inhaled through the nose.
Effects: All forms of cocaine have a near instantaneous effect with snorting or smoking the substance causing it to quickly hit the bloodstream and make its way to the brain. Here it interferes with neurotransmitters and creates a signature euphoric feeling, including an elevated mood and increase in energy and alertness.
Side Effects: The sudden burst of energy and elevated mood associated with taking cocaine is met not long after (30 to 120 minutes later) with a come down involving irritability, anxiety, restlessness and sometimes paranoia. Due to its effects on the brain cocaine can cause stroke or seizure, even in those without underlying risk factors including young people. As much as cocaine effects the brain it also effects the rest of the body negatively, with elevated heart rate and blood pressure sometimes causing abnormal heart rhythms or heart attacks. It can also cause intestinal problems such as ulcers, can damage kidneys and long term effects can permanently damage sexual function.
Usually coming in tablet form MDMA is a popular party drug (although also has use in new age spiritual practises) in many countries. Sometimes referred to as yokes in Ireland, ecstasy tablets often come stamped with various types of logo that vary regionally or by supplier with logos from kids tv shows having become popular as of late.
Effects: The effects of ecstasy usually hit between 30 and 60 minutes after ingestion and create a sense of euphoria as well as increased sociability, amplification of emotions and empathy, a sense of inner peace and enhanced physical sensations including sexual contact. Mild hallucinations may also occur in the form of enhanced colours and sound which make the drug popular at clubs.
Side Effects: Dehydration and hyperthermia are common short term effects of ecstasy ingestion with excess water ingestion post drug ingestion sometimes causing hyponatremia (low sodium due to lack of replenished electrolytes). Grinding of teeth is another common side effect along with increased heart rate, blood pressure, insomnia, erectile dysfunction and diarrhoea. The come down which can last up to a week may lead to further insomnia, memory impairment, restlessness, depression and other negative psychological effects. Long term effects can include brain lesions and cognitive impairments.
Originally used medically as an anaesthetic, ketamine has grown in popularity in recent decades. Although medically it comes in liquid form for injection, recreationally it may come in powder, liquid or tablet form. By weight/volume ketamine is much more potent than similar amounts of cocaine or some other drugs and as such less should be taken.
Effects: Shortly after ingestion, around 20 minutes if taken as a pill or quicker if injected, ketamine results in a rush similar to ecstasy, with music and lights seeming more intense. As an anaesthetic the drug blocks nerve paths without interrupting respiratory or other bodily functions meaning users may not be able to feel injuries sustained while on the drug as well as numbing existing pain.
Side Effects: As an anaesthetic ketamine may cause some users to black out or even an experience an out of body experience known as a K hole, effects of ketamine can be unpredictable meaning more than other drugs it should not be taken with other substances including alcohol. As with most drugs mentioned here a come down may involve depression, other negative mental effects and long term use may result in memory impairment as well as surfacing underlying mental problems such as schizophrenia. Use may also result in cardiovascular failure as with any anaesthetic.
Generally injected heroin may also come in a powder freebase form which can be smokable. Highly addictive heroin is a derivative of opium with an understandably bad reputation.
Effects: Taking only seconds to act on the body if injected heroin causes a near instant euphoric high while it takes longer with a less intense high if smoked via a pipe or in foil.
Side Effects: Due to the relatively quick tolerance build up the body has to heroin users typically end up injecting larger and larger volumes to chase the high. This often results in death due to respiratory failure as users begin to overdose. Other long term effects of opioids like heroin include constipation with the main side effect being the dependence a user develops for the drug. However the use of needles means injection related complications are problematic including the spread of HIV or hepatitis due to needle sharing or the creation of abscesses due to improper needle use.
Magic mushrooms as they are sometimes called are one of the few drugs that are naturally occurring/produced in Ireland. The strain of fungus have a natural psychedelic effect when ingested either raw, dried, when cooked or even stewed.
Effects: Between 30 and 120 minutes after ingestion a range of effects are purported to be felt by users. Seemingly the reaction is dependent on a user’s head space upon ingestion with trips including distortion of sound and vision, time seemingly dilating, euphoria, deep sleep with vivid dreams, an out of body experience or even powerful hallucinations.
Side Effects: One of the main concerns when taking mushrooms is that the actual mushrooms being ingested are the correct type. Many mushrooms can be toxic to humans. Magic mushrooms may cause nausea, vomiting or diarrhoea in the short term with long term effects being more psychological than physical. Flashbacks, paranoia and anxiety can result from a bad trip on mushrooms.
Another popular psychotropic drug LSD is short for lysergic acid diethylamide. LSD generally comes as a small strip of paper to be placed on the tongue for ingestion. Over the years LSD has had many attempted applications including in treating psychiatric disorders or in bizarre mind control experiments by the CIA.
Effects: As with other psychotropic drugs like mushrooms the effects of LSD can vary wildly by person, with a trip being negative or positive depending on the person. The sensory experiences caused by LSD generally have a longer lasting effect than mushrooms
Side Effects: Again psychotropic drugs can leave a longer psychological effect than physical with drugs of this type being able to trigger underlying psychological disorders. A bad trip can also lead to long term flashbacks and altered psychological state.
Synthetic or designer drugs are created to be analogues of existing drugs and cause similar effects. However due to the number of these drugs being created, the lack of information about them, the difficulty in naming them and a number of other reasons these drugs can be extremely unpredictable and dangerous. The recent incident in Cork was due to a designer drug with other incidents gaining media attention around the world including a number of “zombie” like incidents. These drugs were commonly sold through head shops but due to the attention in recent years most countries have taken drastic actions to limit the sale and distribution of the substances.
Effects: Due to the wide variety of these drugs it’s impossible to say with certainty what any one of them will cause a user to feel, ether intentionally or unintentionally. Side effects can therefore vary wildly from the most minor to organ failure or death.
Despite the variety in drug types and even variations within the same drug type certain pieces of advice are applicable for anyone intending to ingest controlled substances, illegal or otherwise.
- Do not use drugs alone, especially for your first time using a drug. Should anything go wrong being around people could save your life
- Don’t take drugs that you don’t know. Even if you do know the drugs a quick internet search to ensure you know it’s effects and dosage are advisable
- People have different tolerances for different drugs, never just take a dosage that a friend may be using especially if they’re a regular user
- Don’t take drugs from people you don’t know, at least your friends probably won’t try to poison you
- Ensure the environment you are using drugs in is known to you, safe and comfortable. A bad trip is never going to be fun
- Do not mix drugs, prescription or otherwise. Drugs can have adverse side effects when mixed that they don’t have on their own
- If taking prescription drugs, even the pill, double think about when you are using drugs. If you wake up late after a night on the dance floor it may be easier to forget needed medication than usual
- Pay attention to the news when planning to take drugs, bad batches or strains will be reported in the mainstream media and can save your life
- Drugs can worsen or bring to light underlying psychological issues, if you have a family history of these types of issues drugs are even more dangerous for you than most people
- Never share needles. Ever. There are around 34 needle exchange services in the country currently, seek these out for safe fresh needles.
www.drugs.ie contains a range of information about drug services and information on drugs
1800 459 459 or email@example.com are free and confidential support services with questions around drugs or substance use as well as HIV and sexual health
www.na-ireland.org is the website for Narcotics Anonymous Ireland for those suffering from substance addiction