Major drugs, their effects & legal status

The Facts

Here are descriptions of the major drugs used, their effect and consequences of long term use as well as their legal status in the UK.

If you are struggling with use of any one or combination of the below substances then contact Home Counties for assessment and support.

Amphetamines

Speed, Billy or Whiz

Amphetamine is a synthetic stimulant. It comes in powder form (sometimes pill form) and is usually white, yellowish or a pink colour. It is snorted, injected or ingested and it takes effect after about half an hour.

But as the body’s energy levels reduce the user is prone to feelings of anxiety, irritability, restlessness and dizziness. Amphetamines also increase weight loss and are often used for this effect.

Users can develop tolerance to amphetamines with increased use, withdrawal is primarily emotional, but users may experience a mild physical withdrawal including feelings of depression, lethargy and extreme hunger.

Amphetamines are illegal and is currently a class B drug in the UK.

  • feelings of wakefulness
  • alertness
  • increased confidence
  • sociability
  • physical or mental activity

Benzodiazepines

Valium, Diazepam

Benzodiazepines are prescription only medicines under the Medicines Act. They can be abused and bought illegally on the black market. This can be dangerous as there are no guarantees concerning strength and quality.

They are usually prescribed for short term treatment of anxiety and sleep problems. When taken at low doses tolerance does not develop to a great extent, but when people use large amounts their tolerance can develop rapidly and there is a danger of dosage increase and resulting addictive behaviours.

Withdrawal symptoms can last from several days to several weeks, and in some extreme cases, months. A medically assisted detox is strongly recommended along with therapeutic intervention.

Benzodiazepines are illegal unless they are prescribed by a GP and they are currently a class C drug in the UK.

  • anxiety
  • cravings
  • insomnia
  • panic
  • hallucinations
  • heightened sensory awareness
  • depression
  • seizures (if withdrawal too abrupt)

Cannabis

Marijuana, Cheese, Dope, Pot, Puff, Weed

Cannabis is mostly smoked with tobacco in joints but can be smoked pure in bongs or pipes. It is available in the form of resin, dried and chopped leaves and – rarely in the UK – oil. The main active compound in cannabis is THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). This is perhaps the most commonly used drug in the UK.

The effects of the drug are varied (dependant on the individual and the strength of the drug) These effects will vary depending on the person, the environment and the potency and amount of the drug used. Cannabis use is strongly linked to various mental health conditions such as schizophrenia and depression. Withdrawal is largely emotional with anxiety related physical manifestations.

Cannabis is illegal and is currently a class B drug in the UK.

  • euphoria
  • laughter
  • vivid sensations
  • imagery and hallucinations
  • persistent ideas
  • paranoria

Cocaine

Charlie, Chang, White, Gear, Coke, Snow

Cocaine is commonly found in the form of a white crystalline powder, and is usually snorted but is can be made into a solution and injected (although this is rare).

As a stimulant the effects of cocaine are closely related to amphetamines and crack in that they create physical and mental arousal by stimulating the nervous system. When cocaine is snorted the effect is almost immediate and then peaks and fades within 15 – 30 minutes. This often results in users repeating their use almost every 20 minutes or so in order to maintain the desired effect. This can lead to strong addictive and compulsive behaviours as well have a hugely detrimental financial impact.

The snorting of cocaine can lead to mucosal constriction and eventually perforation of the nasal septum. Long term cocaine use can impact the heart and lead to issues in the area. When combined with alcohol it can be especially dangerous in terms of sudden heart attack. Withdrawal is largely emotional with anxiety related physical manifestations.

Cocaine is illegal and is currently a class A drug in the UK.

  • feelings of wakefulness
  • alertness
  • increased confidence
  • sociability
  • physical or mental activity

Crack

Freebase, Rocks, Stone, White, Light

Crack is a smokable crystallised form cocaine although the effects are even more stronger and more short lived. They take effect immediately and last for about 10 minutes.

Crack is usually smoked and the resulting effects can lead to particularly aggressive and paranoid behaviours. Crack is highly addictive and can lead to strong addictive and compulsive behaviours as well have a hugely detrimental financial impact. Often used in tandem with heroin, these substances are often combined for injection which is known as snowballing.

Heavy and regular use can cause feelings of nausea, restlessness, insomnia, over-excitability and weight loss. Withdrawal is largely emotional with anxiety related physical manifestations.

Crack is illegal and is currently a class A drug in the UK.

  • feelings of wellbeing
  • exhilaration
  • increased confidence
  • loss of appetite
  • indifference to pain & fatigue
  • hallucinations
  • paranoria

Ecstacy/MDMA

XTC, Molly, Mandy, Pills

Ecstasy mainly comes in tablet form but can come in capsules or powder depending on the source and purity. The tablets can come in a number of different colours and often display a logo (such as the Mitsubishi logo, this changes regularly and there are too many forms to categorise). It is usually swallowed but is sometimes snorted; its effects are experienced after 20 – 45 minutes and can last for 3 – 12 hours, again depending on quality and purity.

Ecstasy directly acts on the central nervous system and increases brain activity. The pupils become dilated, the jaw tightens and there is often brief nausea, sweating, dry mouth and throat. The blood pressure and heart rate increases and sweating is common.

Ecstasy affects the body’s temperature regulation, with excessive dancing this can lead to overheating and dehydration – and in some cases death. It can lead to long term depression and anxiety. No withdrawal effects.

Ecstasy is illegal and is currently a class A drug in the UK.

  • extreme euphoria
  • mild hallucinations
  • increased empathy
  • increased energy
  • increased connection and communication with others

Heroin

Skag, Smack, Gear, Brown, Dark, Junk

Heroin is one of a group of drugs called opiates that are derived from the naturally occurring opium poppy. It usually comes as an off white or brown powder. A number of synthetic opiates are also manufactured for medical use and are open to abuse due to their similar effects to heroin, these include: Methadone and Subutex are prescribed as substitute drugs in the treatment of heroin addiction.

Heroin is usually smoked (‘chasing the dragon’), snorted or prepared for injection (can be combined with crack in “snowballs”). Heroin is a powerful pain killer and has euphoric qualities. The combined effects make heroin a very effective escapist drug and is highly addictive as a result.

At higher doses, the user may become heavily sedated, be sleepy, unable to talk, and appear to fall asleep for a few minutes at a time. This is referred to as ‘gauching’, ‘gouging’ or ‘nodding.’

Opiates are physically addictive and results in an unpleasant withdrawal process (often called “cold turkey” or “rattling”). These symptoms may begin within 6 to 24 hours of discontinuation and last for weeks after. A medically assisted detox is strongly recommended.

All opiates unless prescribed are illegal and are currently Class A drugs in the UK.

  • sense of wellbeing
  • feeling warm & content
  • drowsy & untroubled
  • sense of calm
  • feeling of pleasure
  • absence of worry, anxiety or pain
  • sweating
  • malaise
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • general feeling of heaviness
  • excessive yawning or
  • sneezing
  • insomnia
  • cold sweats
  • chills
  • severe muscle and bone
  • aches
  • nausea and vomiting
  • diarrhoea
  • cramps
  • fever

Alcohol

Booze, Drink, Bevvy

Alcohol comes in a wide range of drinks with different alcoholic strengths, colours and tastes. Alcohol often has labels with useful information, such as how many units are in the drink. All labels are required by law to display the strength of the drink (alcohol by volume, or ABV). Legal in the UK (over 18) but still addictive with many problems arising from its misuse.

In some cases people can gradually lose control of their alcohol intake. Losing control of drinking can be seen as alcohol dependence which can increase health and social risks.

Dependence on alcohol can be subtle and may go unnoticed initially. Alcohol tolerance increases the more alcohol is consumed and the regularity increases. This results in more being required to have the same effect.

People who are more dependent on alcohol, may have withdrawal symptoms if they stop drinking suddenly and these can be severe and dangerous. In some cases (albeit fairly rare) the withdrawal symptoms can be fatal. Due to this it is strongly recommended that a medically assisted detox is used.

Long term heavy drinking can result in alcohol-related liver disease. Because the liver has no nerves, people are often unaware that they are developing liver disease until it’s quite advanced. A first outward sign might be jaundice, when the skin or whites of the eyes turn yellow. If someone develops jaundice, it’s important that they seek medical care and therapeutic support.

  • reduced feelings of anxiety and inhibitions
  • feeling more sociable and able to chat
  • mild euphoria
  • exaggeration of whatever mood you’re in when you start drinking
  • slurred speech
  • lack of co-ordination
  • blurred vision
  • increased sex drive
  • increased aggression
  • increased vulnerability to environmental factors
  • increased vulnerability to others
  • sweating
  • nausea and retching
  • shaking
  • high levels of anxiety
  • hallucinations
  • seizures

Katamine

Techno Smack, Ket, Special K, Vitamin K

Ketamine is a hallucinogenic dissociative normally sold on the street as a grainy white powder, although it can come in a clear liquid form that can be injected or “cooked up” into powder. It has medical uses as an anaesthetic.

Taking too much ketamine results in losing the ability to move (known as a K – hole). Which feels like the mind and body have separated– which can be a very intense and scary experience.

People who become addicted to ketamine will keep taking it – whether they’re aware of the health risks or not.

There are no physical withdrawal symptoms with ketamine although there is a psychological withdrawal process

Ketamine is illegal and is currently Class B in the UK.

  • dream-like and detached
  • chilled, relaxed and happy
  • confused and nauseated
  • can alter the perception of time and space and cause intense hallucinations (both auditory and visual)
  • can act as a painkiller
  • agitation
  • panic attacks
  • damage to short- and long-term memory
  • depression
  • scarring on the bladder which in extreme cases has led to the bladder being removed
  • abdominal pain, sometimes called ‘K cramps’

Helpful links

What Is Addiction
Drug & Alcohol Support
Alcohol Addiction
Cannabis Addiction
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