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What Are Some Effects of Specific Abused Substances?

May 1st, 2007 · No Comments

Nicotine is an addictive stimulant found in cigarettes and other forms of tobacco. Tobacco smoke increases a user’s risk of cancer, emphysema, bronchial disorders, and cardiovascular disease. The mortality rate associated with tobacco addiction is staggering. Tobacco use killed approximately 100 million people during the 20th century and, if current smoking trends continue, the cumulative death toll for this century has been projected to reach 1 billion.

Marijuana is the most commonly abused illicit substance. This drug impairs short-term memory and learning, the ability to focus attention, and coordination. Marijuana also increases heart rate, can harm the lungs, and can cause psychosis in those at risk.

Alcohol consumption can damage the brain and most body organs. Areas of the brain that are especially vulnerable to alcohol-related damage are the cerebral cortex (largely responsible for our higher brain functions, including problem solving and decision making), the hippocampus (important for memory and learning), and the cerebellum (important for movement coordination).

Inhalants are volatile substances found in many household products, such as oven cleaners, gasoline, spray paints, and other aerosols, that induce mind-altering effects. Inhalants are extremely toxic and can damage the heart, kidneys, lungs, and brain. Even a healthy person can suffer heart failure and death within minutes of a single session of prolonged sniffing of an inhalant.

Cocaine is a short-acting stimulant, which can lead abusers to “binge” (to take the drug many times in a single session). Cocaine abuse can lead to severe medical consequences related to the heart, and the respiratory, nervous, and digestive systems.

Amphetamines, including methamphetamine, are powerful stimulants that can produce feelings of euphoria and alertness. Methamphetamine’s effects are particularly long lasting and harmful to the brain. Amphetamines can cause high body temperature and can lead to serious heart problems and seizures.

Ecstasy (MDMA) produces both stimulant and mind-altering effects. It can increase body temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, and heart wall stress. Ecstasy may also be toxic to nerve cells.

LSD is one of the most potent hallucinogenic, or perception-altering, drugs. Its effects are unpredictable, and abusers may see vivid colors and images, hear sounds, and feel sensations that seem real but do not exist. Abusers also may have traumatic experiences and emotions that can last for many hours. Some short-term effects can include increased body temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure; sweating; loss of appetite; sleeplessness; dry mouth; and tremors.

Heroin is a powerful opiate drug that produces euphoria and feelings of relaxation. It slows respiration and can increase risk of serious infectious diseases, especially when taken intravenously. Other opioid drugs include morphine, OxyContin, Vicodin, and Percodan, which have legitimate medical uses; however, their nonmedical use or abuse can result in the same harmful consequences as abusing heroin.

Prescription medications are increasingly being abused or used for nonmedical purposes. This practice cannot only be addictive, but in some cases also lethal. Commonly abused classes of prescription drugs include painkillers, sedatives, and stimulants. Among the most disturbing aspects of this emerging trend is its prevalence among teenagers and young adults, and the common misperception that because these medications are prescribed by physicians, they are safe even when used illicitly.

Steroids, which can also be prescribed for certain medical conditions, are abused to increase muscle mass and to improve athletic performance or physical appearance. Serious consequences of steriod abuse can include severe acne, heart disease, liver problems, stroke, infectious diseases, depression, and suicide.

Drug combinations. A particularly dangerous and not uncommon practice is the combining of two or more drugs. The practice ranges from the co-administration of legal drugs, like alcohol and nicotine, to the dangerous random mixing of prescription drugs, to street drugs and the deadly combination of heroin or cocaine with fentanyl (an opioid pain medication). Whatever the context, it is critical to realize that because of drug-drug interactions, such practices often pose significantly higher risks than the already harmful individual drugs.

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Tags: Drug Abuse

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