Drug Facts

Here you will find information on some of the more commonly used drugs that people ask us about. We’ve included information about how drugs are used, their effects, some of the risks connected with their use, and some of the physical symptoms of using the drugs.

Please note that there is no guarantee with any illicit drugs that they contain what they say they contain without testing. Effects and risks can vary greatly depending on both dosage of the intended active ingredient and the effects of other ingredients that may be mixed in.

Click any of the links below or at the side for more information.

You can also download and print a copy of this information here.

For more information on the different categories of drugs and their effects, you can visit the Drugs Wheel

Cannabis
Cocaine
Heroin
Benzodiazepines
Ecstasy
NPS – New Psychoactive Substances
Methadone
Prescription drugs
Over-the-counter drugs
Drug overdose information

Cannabis

Other names: weed, grass, hash, dope, wacky backy, pot, marijuana
Class B Drug
Category: Cannabinoid

How long to take effect? Almost instantly depending on how it is taken.

How long does it stay in your body? A few days after use or up to 56 days after stopping long-term use.

How can it be taken? Cannabis can be smoked in a joint, pipe, bong or from a vaporiser. It can also be eaten.

What does it look like? Cannabis can come as a compressed block of resin in various shades of brown. It can also be an herbal blend with dried leaves and bud in various shades of green. There are also oil suspensions of cannabis or it can be in a concentrated resin called shatter which normally looks like hard honey.

Signs of use:

  • Lacking motivation
  • A strong, musky smell
  • Bloodshot and tired eyes
  • Dry mouth
  • Increased hunger – usually for snack foods
  • Giggly/laughing

What does cannabis do? Cannabis can affect all five senses. It alters your perception and the way you see, hear, feel, smell, or touch things in the world. Colours can appear brighter and music can sound better. Taking cannabis can also make you feel relaxed and chilled out, or anxious and paranoid. It can also make you feel hungry or nauseous and sick. In larger amounts or with more frequent use you may regularly feel withdrawn, tired or anxious.

Risks of using cannabis: Mixing cannabis with alcohol can make you feel sick, particularly if you drink before taking it. It can cause you to freak out and have feelings of anxiety, suspicion, and paranoia. Cannabis can affect the way the brain works, and regular use can increase the chance of developing mental health issues, particularly if mental health issues are genetic. Frequent use of cannabis can cause memory loss, dizziness, and sickness.

Risk reduction for cannabis:

  • Avoid mixing with alcohol and other drugs
  • Avoid smoking with tobacco – this adds a further 4000 chemicals into the body
  • Use short puffs when inhaling – longer inhales can damage your lungs
  • Use a pipe, bong or vaporiser but make sure to measure doses before taking

Be considerate of other people who may be around you when smoking cannabis

Cocaine

cocaine

Other names: coke, base, freebase, Charlie, blow, white, ching, snow, rocks
Class A Drug
Category: Stimulant

How long to take effect? 30 seconds – 2 minutes

How long does it stay in your body? Up to 7 days after use

How can it be taken? Cocaine is usually snorted but it can be swallowed in a cigarette paper (called bombs) or injected into a vein.

What does it look like? Cocaine usually comes as a white crystallised powder.

Signs of use:

  • Agitated
  • Dilated pupils
  • Dry mouth
  • Regular nose bleeds
  • Sniffing/blowing nose
  • Decreased appetite

What does cocaine do? Cocaine causes the body to speed up. It increases heart rate, breathing rate, and increases your core body temperature. It can make you feel energetic and confident. It can also make you feel fidgety, euphoric, talkative, mentally alert and temporarily decreases the need for food and sleep. It can cause restlessness, irritability, anxiety, panic attacks, and paranoia.

Risks of using cocaine: Large amounts of cocaine may intensify the high but can also lead to bizarre, erratic and violent behaviour. This can lead to medical complications including disturbances in heart rhythm, heart attacks, strokes, and seizures. Injecting cocaine is riskier than snorting and can increase the risk of contracting blood-borne viruses like HIV, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C.

If you take cocaine you may feel a need to redose often. This leads to increased damage and increased risk of dependence. Taking cocaine with alcohol can also reduce your awareness of how drunk you are, meaning you may drink more and cause more harm to yourself.

Risk reduction for cocaine:

  • Avoid mixing with alcohol, this forms another drug called cocaethylene which is more toxic
  • Avoid mixing with other drugs
  • If snorting or injecting – don’t share any equipment and avoid using banknotes
  • Only take a small dose, especially if using for the first time
  • Eat and sleep well before and after taking cocaine to replace energy and nutrients lost

You can overdose on cocaine – read about overdose signs and symptoms.

Heroin

heroin

Other names: smack, kit, gear
Class A Drug
Category: Opioid

How long to take effect? Anywhere between 10 seconds to 5 minutes.

How long does it stay in your body? 3 to 5 hours after use.

How can it be taken? Heroin can be smoked usually by burning it on tinfoil, snorted, or injected.

What does it look like? Heroin typically comes as an off-white or light to dark brown powder.

Signs of use:

  • ‘Pinprick’ pupils
  • Slowed or slurred speech
  • Drowsy or relaxed
  • Itchy skin
  • Pale and sweaty skin

What does heroin do? A small dose of heroin gives a feeling of warmth and wellbeing. Bigger doses can make you sleepy and relaxed. The first dose of heroin can bring about dizziness and vomiting. Heroin slows down the way the body works and is a very strong painkiller.

Risks of using heroin: The effects of heroin can last for several hours, so it is important to be careful using any other alcohol or drugs. If you take heroin regularly, you may build some tolerance to it. If you stop heroin for a few days this tolerance will go away. If you then take the same dose as before you are at a high risk of an overdose.

Sharing injecting equipment can put you at risk of blood-borne viruses such as HIV, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C. There is a risk of death if you inhale/choke on vomit in your sleep. Heroin sedates and stops you coughing properly which means vomit can remain in your airways so you can’t breathe.

Risk reduction for heroin:

  • Avoid mixing with alcohol as overdose is a high risk
  • Avoid mixing with other drugs as overdose is a high risk
  • Smoke or snort heroin, do not inject as it can damage your veins and arteries which can lead to gangrene
  • Smoking is less risky to injecting
  • Avoid taking it alone. Have people around you with Naloxone and who can call an ambulance.

You can overdose on heroin – read about signs and symptoms.

Benzodiazepines

benzodiazepines

Other names: benzos, jellies, blues, vallies, moggies, eggs
Class C Drug if not prescribed to you by a doctor
Category: Depressant

How long to take effect? Between 45 to 60 minutes.

How long does it stay in your body? 3 to 7 days.

How can it be taken? Benzodiazepines are usually swallowed.

What does it look like? Benzodiazepines come as tablets or capsules in various sizes, shapes, and colours.

Signs of use:

  • Slowed or slurred speech
  • Potentially argumentative or aggressive
  • Confusion
  • Drowsiness

What do benzodiazepines do? Benzodiazepines slow down heart rate, breathing rate and lowers your core body temperature. It can affect your vision and coordination. They can also cause drowsiness and long periods of sleep. You may experience slurred speech, lowered inhibitions, slower reaction times and dizziness.

Benzodiazepines are usually used to relieve tension, anxiety, stress, or to help with disturbed sleep.

Risks of using benzodiazepines: Taking benzodiazepines can make you forgetful. They can change your behaviour, make you aggressive, give you panic attacks and make you sick. You may have difficulty concentrating, headaches, nausea, vomiting, anxiety, depression, tremors, and fits. There is also a chance you can experience short-term memory loss and develop a dependency after only a few weeks of use.

Risk reduction for benzodiazepines:

  • Only take benzodiazepines if they are prescribed to you by a qualified doctor
  • Avoid mixing with other drugs – especially alcohol as it can cause blackouts
  • Watch your drink when you are out as some benzodiazepines are used to spike drinks
  • Sleep on your side to avoid choking if you throw up
  • Withdrawal symptoms can happen after short periods of use – do not take for more than 4-6 weeks

You can overdose on benzodiazepines – read about signs and symptoms.

Ecstasy

ecstasy

Other names: e’s, eccies, disco biscuits, sweeties, swedgers, pills, MDMA
Class A Drug
Category: Empathogen

How long to take effect? Up to 45 minutes.

How long does it stay in your body? Up to 4 days.

How can it be taken? Ecstasy is usually swallowed.

What does it look like? Ecstasy comes as pills which usually have a distinct logo on them and come in a variety of colours, shapes, and sizes.

Signs of use:

  • Dilated pupils
  • Chatty and enthusiastic
  • Swinging or rigid jaw
  • Decreased appetite
  • Dry mouth
  • Sweating

What does ecstasy do? Ecstasy increases heart rate, breathing rate and increases your core body temperature. It can make you feel euphoric, energetic, talkative, fidgety, mentally alert and it temporarily reduces the need for food and sleep. Ecstasy makes you feel strong love and affection for the people around you. While waiting for ecstasy to take effect, there may be feelings of anxiety or sickness. Ecstasy can cause restlessness and dilation of your pupils. Most people buy ecstasy pills that they expect to contain the chemical MDMA.

Risks of using ecstasy: Taking ecstasy can make you angry, confused and suffer panic attacks. There is no set amount of MDMA in pills so there can be a huge difference in each batch. An increase of energy and dancing for long periods of time in a hot atmosphere increases the chance of overheating and dehydration, which in some cases can lead to death.

Using ecstasy regularly can disturb sleeping patterns, cause psychological dependence and cause paranoia and depression. It is vital that you stay hydrated if taking ecstasy.

Ecstasy pills containing MDMA can last 4-6 hours and when the effects wear off, the comedown can last 3-4 days which may leave you feeling low and irritable.

Risk reduction for ecstasy:

  • Not all ecstasy pills are the same – get them tested before swallowing
  • Only take ¼ of ½ tablet to test its strength and effects – wait 2 hours before taking another dose
  • Avoid mixing with other drugs
  • Avoid mixing with alcohol as this makes you more dehydrated
  • Try to drink no more than one pint of water per hour – do not drink over a pint as this is also dangerous

You can overdose on ecstasy – read about signs and symptoms.

NPS – New Psychoactive Substances

nps-drugs

Other names: spice, black mamba, ‘legal highs’ (they are illegal), and many various other names
Class A, B, and C – covered by Misuse of Drugs Act and Psychoactive Substances Act
Category: Varies

How long to take effect? Almost instantly depending on how you take them.

How long does it stay in your body? A few days after use.

How can it be taken? Usually smoked.

What does it look like? NPS usually comes as a powder, pill or herbal form in colourful packets.

Signs of use: Signs can vary depending on the category of drug that the NPS is trying to mimic.

What does NPS do? NPS drugs are made from assorted chemicals, extracts, or herbs which mimic the effects of some drugs such as LSD, cocaine, MDMA, and cannabis. Little is known about the short and long term effects due to the drugs constantly changing and because NPS is such a broad category, the effects are diverse.

The goal of NPS is to mimic the effects of other drugs, they are more exaggerated and unpredictable.

Taking NPS gives an intense but short-lived high, enhanced sensations, feelings of heaviness, nausea, anxiety, paranoia and heart palpitations.

Risks of using NPS: NPS are untested and unregulated. They are extremely dangerous because they can literally contain anything. There are reports of an increase in severe mental health issues including ‘detachment from reality’, suicidal thoughts and depression.

Physical withdrawal from NPS includes seizures, shakes, sweating, and paranoia. Psychological withdrawal symptoms include depression, anxiety, paranoia, and aggression.

Risk reduction for NPS:

  • Avoid injecting, instead snort or swallow as injecting can damage veins
  • If you choose to inject avoid sharing any injecting equipment
  • Avoid mixing with other drugs or alcohol
  • Only use a small amount of the drug, especially if using it for the first time
  • Control doses by measuring amounts

You can overdose on NPS drugs – read about signs and symptoms.

Methadone

methadone

Other names: mixture, linctus, meth
Class A Drug
Category: Opioid

How long to take effect? 30-60 minutes if drank.

How long does it stay in your body? Up to 48 hours.

How can it be taken? Usually swallowed.

What does it look like? Methadone usually comes as a bright green liquid.

Signs of use:

  • Slowed/slurred speech
  • Sweet smell from breath
  • Drowsy/relaxed

What does methadone do? Methadone is generally prescribed by doctors as a substitute for heroin or other opiates. It has similar effects to heroin but does not have the same kind of buzz or high as heroin. Methadone can reduce physical and psychological pain. It can make you have feelings of warmth, relaxation, and detachment. It can also relieve feelings of anxiety.

Risks of using methadone: Methadone has similar effects to heroin which means you can become addicted. Similar to other drugs, you can go through withdrawal from methadone if use is stopped suddenly. Withdrawal effects include upset stomach, sweating, nausea, vomiting, paranoia, and delusions.

Methadone can also be bought – known commonly as ‘street methadone’. This is not controlled or measured by pharmacists and can potentially be lethal.

Risk reduction for methadone:

  • Only take methadone if it is prescribed to you by a doctor who can monitor your dosage
  • Avoid mixing with other drugs or alcohol, this can have serious consequences
  • Strength of street methadone will vary and it is not tested
  • Only use a small amount, especially if using for the first time

You can overdose on methadone – read about signs and symptoms.

Prescription drugs

prescription-drugs

What prescription drugs can a person become addicted to?

  • Opiates that are often prescribed by a doctor to treat pain such as Co-Codemol
  • Central nervous system depressants to treat anxiety and sleep disorders such as Diazepam
  • Antidepressants such as Citalopram and Mirtazapine
  • Stimulants to treat ADHD such as Dexamphetamine

When does it become an addiction? If you become physically and/or psychologically dependent on a prescription drug, it may mean there is a problem. Dependency is a feeling of not being able to do without a drug and a desperate need to get the drug and take it to ease the feelings that come from not taking it.

What are the signs of dependency on prescription drugs?

  • Needing to take more of the drug to get the appropriate effect
  • Asking your doctor for repeat prescriptions early
  • Difficulty in trying to cut down or stopping drug use
  • Feeling guilty about using the drugs
  • Problems with work, finance or legal issues
  • Being secretive about using the drugs
  • Arguments or disagreements with family about the drugs
  • Taking other medications to ease the side effects
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when stopping/reducing the drug or between doses

What are the dangers of prescription drugs? There are many dangers of taking prescription drugs. They all depend on the type and dose.

  • Sedation – usually associated with short-term use of the drug
  • Lack of coordination – usually a short-term effect
  • An altered state of consciousness – usually a short-term effect
  • Nausea (short-term) and diarrhoea (short-term) and constipation (long-term)
  • Depressed respiration
  • Changes in blood pressure or heart rate (both short and long-term)
  • Changes in appetite (usually short-term)
  • Tolerance and dependence of drug (long-term)
  • Withdrawal-like symptoms (long-term but different with each drug) such as anxiety, depression, seizures, tremors, and insomnia

What to do when you recognise a problem:

In yourself

  • Let friends, family, or someone you trust know that you have a problem
  • Don’t delay and be honest about everything
  • Tell your doctor as soon as you can
  • Ask your doctor to help you find the right support

In someone else

  • Offer support and offer to find help (you can contact us 08080 10 10 11 / helpline@sfad.org.uk)
  • Be honest in a caring way
  • Offer the person ongoing support

Over-the-counter drugs

over-the-counter-drugs

What over-the-counter drugs can people become addicted to? Mainly codeine-based analgesics such as:

  • Ibuprofen and codeine (Nurofen Plus)
  • Paracetamol and codeine (Solpadine)
  • Some cough medicines also contain codeine (Benylin)

When does taking over-the-counter drugs become a problem? If taken regularly over a period of time, codeine can create a physical dependence that will result in withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking it. It is possible to create a psychological dependence such as when the drug is seen as a coping strategy to lower anxiety.

What are the signs of over-the-counter drugs dependency to look out for? The most common signs are taking more than the recommended dose and using the drug without actually needing to take it.

What are the dangers of over-the-counter drugs? Dangers include potential damage to the digestive system, liver, and kidneys. You can take an overdose from over-the-counter drugs.

What do you do when you recognise a problem? Talk about it to your friends and family and get help from your doctor.

Drug overdose information

drug-overdose

Taking too much of a drug can cause an overdose and the person will need immediate help.

There are different signs and symptoms of an overdose for different types of drug.

If you cannot get a response from someone, do not assume they are asleep. Unusual or deep snoring is a common sign of overdose. Taking action as soon as possible can save a life.

Major things to avoid in a suspected overdose from any drug:

  • Do not walk the person around
  • Do not give the person anything to eat or drink to try and make them sick
  • Do not put them in a cold bath
  • Do not give them any more drugs or alcohol
  • Do not leave them alone

If you cannot get a response or if the person is unconscious, remember to always put them into the recovery position.

Even if the person wakes up from a suspected overdose, always make sure an ambulance has been called.

Opioid Overdose

Signs of an opioid (heroin, methadone, etc.) overdose:

  • No response to talking, shaking, or noises
  • Shallow breathing or not breathing at all
  • The person will not wake up
  • Unusual snoring and/or gurgling noises
  • Blue/grey lips and/or fingertips
  • Floppy arms and legs

How to respond to an opioid overdose:

  • Call an ambulance and tell the operator your location and stay on the line
  • Take care of yourself and watch out for needles around you
  • Try to get a response from the person
  • If there is no response, put them in the recovery position
  • Give CPR if the person isn’t breathing
  • Use Naloxone if you have it
  • Tell the paramedics as much information as possible such as what drug was taken, when it was taken and how much was taken if you know

Depressant Overdose

Signs of a depressant (benzodiazepines, Xanax, etc.) overdose:

  • Vomiting
  • Unresponsive but awake (not alert but has eyes open)
  • Limp body
  • Pale/clammy face
  • Blue fingernails and/or lips
  • Shallow or erratic breathing or not breathing at all
  • Slow or erratic pulse
  • Choking or gurgling sounds
  • Loss of consciousness

How to respond to a depressant overdose:

  • Call an ambulance and tell the operator your location and stay on the line
  • Give CPR if the person isn’t breathing
  • Make sure the person is getting air – open the windows, tilt their head back, loosen any tight clothing
  • If the person is unconscious or wants to lie down, put them into the recovery position
  • Tell the paramedics as much information as possible such as what drug has been taken, what was taken and how much was taken if you know

Stimulant Overdose

Signs of a stimulant (cocaine, ecstasy, ketamine, etc.) overdose:

  • Hot, flushed or sweaty skin
  • The person has a headache and/or chest pain
  • The person is unsteady of their feet
  • Rigid muscles, tremors or spasms
  • Uncontrolled movements or seizures
  • Has difficulty breathing
  • The person may be experiencing psychotic symptoms with no previous issues
  • Severe agitation or panic
  • Alerted mental state such as confusion or disorientation

How to respond to a stimulant overdose:

  • Call an ambulance and tell the operator your location and stay on the line
  • Take the person to a quiet and safe place away from too much light and heat
  • If the person is confused or panicking try to reassure them
  • If they are overheating, try and cool them down by loosening tight clothing and putting a wet towel on the back of their neck or under their arms
  • If there is no response or they are unconscious, put them in the recovery position
  • If muscle spasms or seizures happen, make sure there is nothing where you are that could cause an injury
  • Tell the paramedics as much information as possible such as what drug was taken, when it was taken and how much was taken if you know

Further information

We use cookies. By browsing our site you agree to our use of cookies.

Accept