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Drug Information


The key to effective prevention is knowledge. This guide is designed to educate families, employers, and educators on the vast array of abused drugs now commonplace in our communities. Some of these drugs, such as inhalants, can be found in any supermarket or hardware store. Prescription drugs have legitimate medical applications, but are being increasingly diverted for illicit purposes. Other “hardcore” drugs, such as crack cocaine, are now commonplace in many schools, work sites, and homes across North America.

In this section, detailed information includes:

  • more than 50 abused drugs
  • street and pharmaceutical drug names
  • short-term and long-term effects
  • photos of drugs
  • photos of drug paraphernalia
  • links to drug-specific books, websites, and videos
  • recommended reading specific to particular drugs, and
  • first aid for a drug overdose.

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When Drug Use Becomes Drug Dependence

When drugs are used solely to create intensely pleasurable feelings or to numb psychological pain, it is called drug use. Tolerance to the drugs’ effects occurs with long-term use and users must take higher doses to achieve the same or similar effects as experienced initially.

Prolonged drug abuse can also lead to physical dependence, psychological dependence, or both. Physical dependence means that the absence of the drug creates discomfort (withdrawal) until more of the drug is administered. Psychological dependence refers to a perceived “need” or “craving” for a drug. While physical dependence is typically treated in a few days, treatment for psychological dependence requires a much longer time frame.

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Drug Categories Explained

There are four categories of drugs: hallucinogens, depressants, stimulants, and anabolic steroids. All controlled substances have the potential to be misused. With the exception of anabolic steroids, controlled substances are used to alter mood, thought, and feeling through their effect on the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord).

Drugs are distinguished by their effect on the central nervous system (depressants or stimulants), their primary ingredient (the poppy plant for opioids, testosterone for steroids), and how they are used (inhalants). Individual drugs within a class can have differing medical uses, effect duration, or methods of ingestion (oral, injected, smoked, or snorted). However, drugs within a particular class typically share similar effects, overdose risk, and withdrawal symptoms.

Although considered a hallucinogen, the prevalence and unique features of cannabis warrant a separate section. Inhalants are not controlled substances because of their widespread use for a number of legitimate purposes, but are discussed in this guide due to their abuse potential. Families and educators may want to pay particular attention to inhalants since most users are youth.

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Prevalence of Drug Abuse in Canada

Of Canadians 15 years or older, a 2011 survey revealed that alcohol is, by far, the drug of choice with 78% reporting alcohol use in the past year. Of past-year drinkers, 17% are considered high-risk drinkers. Cannabis is the most widely used illicit drug followed in order by LSD and hallucinogens, cocaine and crack, speed, and heroin.” Rates of past-year use of cannabis decreased in 2011 from 2004 from 14.1% to 9.1%. Cocaine and crack use also decreased from 1.9% in 2004 to .9% in 2011. Rates of past-year use for all other substances (including steroids and inhalants) remained below 1 percent. (Source: CADUMS, 2011).

In Canada, tobacco is the leading preventable cause of death.

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For printed resources on the topic of drug information, refer to the specific drug or other more specific topics such as addiction treatment, addiction prevention, etc.

General Information on Drugs

The A-Z Encyclopedia of Alcohol and Drug Abuse (2002) contains 30,000 entries, medical facts, chemical names, slang, history, economics, famous persons, film, music, scientific research, epidemiology, treatment and prevention. Thomas Nordegren.

Alcoholism, Drug Addiction, and the Road to Recovery: Life on the Edge (2002) enables readers with little or no background in science or health care to understand the complex issues surrounding drug use. Includes information on methods for dealing with dependency on alcohol and other drugs. Barry Stimmel.

Buzzed: The Straight Facts About the Most Abused Used and Abused Drugs from Alcohol to Ecstasy (2003) is written for the general public and explains how drugs work and the consequences of their use. Cynthia Kuhn, Scott Swartwelder, Wilkie Wilson.

From Chocolate to Morphine: Everything You Need to Know About Mind-Altering Drugs (1999) cover a wide range of available substances, from coffee to marijuana, from antihistamines to psychedelics, from steroids to the new “smart drugs.” Andrew Weil, Winifred Rosen.

Cocaine, Marijuana, Designer Drugs: Chemistry, Pharmacology, and Behavior. (1989) presents a comprehensive review of the chemical, clinical, pharmacological, medical and social aspects of the chemicals that are widely abused. The contributing authors represent expertise in clinical medicine, pharmacy, chemistry, pharmacology, social work and psychiatry. Kinfe K Redda, Charles A. Walker, Gene Barnett.

Concepts of Chemical Dependency (2001) offers detailed coverage of the most commonly abused chemicals and their effects, covering a single facet of a drug or alcohol problem in each focused chapter. Harold E. Doweiko.

Dangerous Drugs: An Easy-to-Use Reference for Parents and Professionals (2003) is the latest guide on drugs in your community. Includes observable indications of use; effects on mind, body, and behaviour; and addictive and overdose potential. Carol Falkowski.

Drugs Across the Spectrum (2005) reviews both legal and illegal drugs in an easy reference format. Presents the latest information on designer and club drugs, newer drugs such as Oxycontin, and performance-enhancers such as THG. Ray Goldberg.

Handbook of Substance Abuse: Neurobehavioral Pharmacology (1998) surveys eleven classes of drugs from the perspectives of neurological, behavioural, and clinical pharmacology. Designed to serve as a companion text to the DSM-IV manual. Ralph E. Tarter, Robert T. Ammerman, Peggy J. Ott.

Illegal Drugs: A Complete Guide to Their History, Chemistry, Use and Abuse (2003) is a comprehensive reference for information on every drug currently prohibited by law in the United States including their histories, chemical properties, effects, medical uses, associated health problems, as well as addiction and treatment information. Paul M. Gahlinger.

Mind-Altering Drugs: The Science of Subjective Experience (2005) is the first book to bring together chapters from leading researchers that present diverse, empirically-based insights into the subjective experiences of drugs and their links to addictive potential. Mitchell Earleywine.

Mind Drugs (6th Ed.) (1998) is written by experts in several specific areas, and completely updates current knowledge about the most common mind drugs, including those legal for adults: alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine. There are chapters on uppers, downers, and marijuana, as well as LSD. Throughout the book there is an emphasis on teens’ need for information in order to make intelligent choices. Margaret O. Hyde.

The Natural Mind: An Investigation of Drugs and the Higher  (1971) posing the question “Why do people take drugs?” Weil suggests that the desire to alter consciousness periodically is an innate, normal human drive. The author’s message is that we must rethink basic conceptions about drugs and consciousness in order to solve the drug problem is as urgent now as ever. Andrew Weil.

Substance Abuse: A Comprehensive Textbook (4th Ed.) (2004) is a 1,400 page text on substance abuse and addictive behaviours. Joyce H. Lowinson, Pedro Ruiz, Robert B. Millman.

Substance Abuse: From Principles to Practice (1999) is designed as a “one-stop shopping” tool for anyone interested in or affected by this problem. It provides detailed discussions that include the history, chemistry, biology, epidemiology, and salient characteristics of the most important substances of abuse. David M. McDowell, Henry I. Spitz.

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History of Drugs and Alcohol

Altering American Consciousness: The History of Alcohol and Drug Use in America (2004) explores the changing perception and use of drugs in American culture. Caroline Jean Acker, Sarah W. Tracy.

Can’t Find My Way Home: America in the Great Stoned Age, 1945-2000 (2004) is a historical review of how drugs have entered the American mainstream. Includes information on Timothy Leary. Martin Torgoff

Consuming Habits: Drugs in History and Anthropology (1995) suggests that psychoactive substances are integral to the construction of culture, and a rich analytical category for the study of historical and cultural processes. This collection of original essays explores psychoactive substances from enlightening historical and anthropological perspectives. Jordan Goodman, Paul E. Lovejoy, Andrew Sherratt.

Forces of Habit: Drugs and the Making of the Modern World (2001) is a world history of drugs from ganja smoking in ancient India to vodka swilling in modern Russia. Argues that the globalization of increasingly potent drugs—a development the author calls “the psychoactive revolution”—constitutes “one of the signal events in world history.” David T. Courtwright.

The Pursuit of Oblivion: A Global History of Narcotics (2004) is a depiction of the people and events that have shaped the history of narcotics. Tells the story of addicts and users across five centuries: monarchs, politicians, great writers and composers, exhausted laborers, pop stars, etc. Richard Davenport-Hines.

The Road of Excess: A History of Writers on Drugs (2002) from the antiquity of Homer to yesterday’s Naked Lunch, literature and drugs have had a long association. Marcus Boon.

Substance Use & Abuse: Cultural & Historical Perspectives (2003) provides an inclusive explanation of the human desire to take drugs. Explores the cultural and historical variables that contribute to drug use. Russil Durrant, Jo Thakker.

Testimonial of Drug Addiction

Long Day’s Journey Into Night (1956) is an autobiographical tale of Eugene O’Neill’s mother, Mary Tyrone and her life of opium addiction from 1912 to 1940. Eugene O’Neill, Harold Bloom.


Websites Specific to Drug Abuse & Addiction Information

Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse
Center for Substance Abuse Prevention (CSAP) Home Page
Center for Substance Abuse Research (CESAR)
Drug Information Portal National Library of Medicine
Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
National Institute on Drug Abuse
Partnership for a Drug-Free America
SAMHSA’s National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information
United Nations International Drug Control Programme

General Information on Drugs

Exploding Drug Myths (March 2007) includes 53 myths of addiction by a leading addiction research group. University of Texas at Austin.

Guide to Pronunciations for Tobacco Products, Alcohol & Drugs is a comprehensive list of pronunciations that includes commercial, brand and street names. National Survey on Drug Use & Health. Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

Straight Facts About Drugs and Drug Abuse (2000) is a comprehensive booklet available on alcohol and drugs in Canada. Health Canada. Cat. No. H39-65/2000E.

Impaired Driving and Drugs

Drugs and Driving FAQs (2005) is intended to provide current, objective and empirically-based information to guide discussions on the effectiveness of measures to detect and reduce the incidence of drug-impaired driving. Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse (CCSA).

Screening and Drugs

Screening is the process of determining whether you may require professional help for a particular problem.

“Do I have a drug problem?” ¹ is an online test you can take to determine if you have a problem with drugs.

If you are looking for more addiction tests for you or a significant other, see the Addiction Tests section. If you are a clinician see the Addiction Screening Brief Intervention and Assessment Facts section.

(1) Source: Join Together, a project of Boston University School of Public Health

Withdrawal and Drug Information

“Red Card” is an information card designed for medical professionals that shows withdrawal symptoms for substance abusers. Harvard Medical School Division on Addictions/Cambridge Health Alliance.

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Recent YouTube Videos


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