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Recreational Drugs

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If you got bad news, you wanna kick them blues -- cocaine

When your day is done and you wanna run -- cocaine

She don’t lie, she don’t lie, she don’t lie -- cocaine.

(Popular rock number Cocaine, by Eric Clapton)

Just imagine – it is estimated that 200 million people across the world use drugs at least once a year, of which half use them at least once a month. Feted in our popular literature, music and culture but reviled by the Church, schools, parents and law enforcers -- Recreational Drugs are everywhere.

Defined loosely as drugs used for enjoyment rather than for work, medical or spiritual purposes, Recreational Drugs include also include alcohol and tobacco. The term, however, is not used for the use of drugs for utilitarian purposes, such as the relief of fatigue or insomnia, or the control of appetite, or for performance enhancement. Recreational Drugs are basically used for pleasure, and therein lies their seduction.

Their effects on the body and mind are varied, but unfortunately, never very good. A drug that makes you feel good, and is good for health too, just does not exist.

Contents

Did You Know?

  • Alcohol is more lethal than many other commonly abused substances!
  • Robert Louis Stephenson wrote The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde during a six-day cocaine-binge!
  • The English poet Coleridge's famous visionary poem Kubla Khan was a transcription of one of his opium dreams.
  • Cocaine used to be a popular ingredient in wines, notably the Vin Mariani. Architect Frédérick-Auguste Bartholdi remarked that if only he had drunk Vin Mariani earlier in his life, then he would have engineered the Statue of Liberty a few hundred meters higher!

Why People `Do’ Drugs

They are bad for you.

They ruin your health.

They make you dependant physically and mentally.

Still people find it tough to say no to drugs. Few people in modern societies can say honestly that they got hooked to drugs because they were unaware of their ill-effects. There is, however, a certain seduction about drugs, which is only enhanced by their danger. Here are some of the reasons users give for `doing’ drugs –

  • They can change our awareness, alter our consciousness.
  • They are an easy, quick route to euphoria – a state which is not so commonly achieved in our daily lives.
  • They aid religious practices. Look at our religious history, and you’ll find that through the ages, people have used drugs like Marijuana and alcohol to transcend their sense of separateness and feel more at one with nature.
  • They help treat disease, for many drugs such as opiates dull pain. One eminent physician in the early 1900s was known to have called morphine God's own medicine.
  • They aid and enhance social interactions as they help users to feel more confident and lose their inhibitions.
  • They stimulate artistic creativity and performance.
  • They stand for rebellion. As drugs are so tabooed, their usage is a way for rebellious teens to thumb their noses at the establishment.

Types

Here’s a brief list of Recreational Drugs, in alphabetical order.

Alcohol is the most widely abused drug in the world today. While some of it is edible, many forms of alcohol (wood, industrial and solvent alcohols) are deadly. Cheap country liquor is often contaminated with these poisonous alcohols, and has caused many deaths.

Alcohol is also deadly when mixed with barbiturates, tranquilizers (such as Valium), and heroin. It is especially damaging to the liver.

Amphetamines or Speed -- "Faster, faster, until the thrill of speed overcomes the fear of death."(Hunter S Thompson). Laevoamphetamine (Benzedrine), dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine) and methamphetamine (Methedrine) are collectively referred to as Amphetamines. Potent psychomotor stimulants, they may be sniffed, swallowed, snorted or injected. Amphetamines induce exhilarating feelings of power, strength, energy, self-assertion, focus and enhanced motivation. The euphoria might last for several hours, as these chemicals are not readily broken down by the body. Their effects on health are immense: More than any other illegal drug, the consumption of Speed is associated with violence and anti-social behavior. Occasional light and infrequent use is probably relatively harmless – but habitual use may lead to behavioral and mood changes, depression, increased cardiovascular strain, and outright "amphetamine psychosis”.

Caffeine occurs naturally in coffee, tea, chocolate and Yerba Mate and is also found in some OTC drugs, soft drinks and sports drinks. In small quantities, it stimulates the central nervous system and may help certain kinds of headache. Combining caffeine with sugar and fat may make it more addictive, and it is toxic when consumed in excess.

Some of the negative side effects of Caffeine Addiction include headaches, heart palpitations, anxiety, and insomnia. It irritates the stomach and bladder (women are especially at risk), and may increase the risk of heart attacks. Tea is less irritating to the stomach and contains less caffeine.

It is easy to develop a bad relationship with Cocaine(also known as Crack or Coke) . It is a highly addictive stimulant, extracted from the leaves of the South American shrub Erythroxylon coca. Cocaine induces sexual interest, self-confidence, conversational prowess, intensified consciousness and a general euphoria. It may be taken orally or snorted through the nose.

Sadly, the wonderful euphoria Cocaine generates is usually followed by a crash. This involves anxiety, depression, irritability, extreme fatigue and possibly paranoia. As the user’s dependence on the drug grows, his/her physical health may deteriorate. Heavy users experience stereotyped compulsive and repetitive patterns of behaviour, and horrible tactile hallucinations of insects crawling underneath the skin. A syndrome called toxic paranoid psychosis may also result.

Cannabis or Marijuana (also known as pot) -- No one knows, when he places a marijuana cigarette to his lips, whether he will become a joyous reveller in a musical heaven, a mad insensate, a calm philosopher, or a murderer..." (Harry J Anslinger, Commissioner of the US Bureau of Narcotics 1930-1962)

Cannabis is probably the most widely used recreational drugs in the world, smoked in America’s college campuses as well as the faraway atolls of Micronesia. Extensively used in India, where it is known as bhang or ganja, it has been described in old religious texts as one of a number of herbs that 'release us from anxiety'. Cannabis is a strange drug – its effects depend largely on the user's expectations. It is not generally considered physically addictive and its ill effects are pretty much restricted to impaired short term memory. It may be eaten or smoked in a cigarette. There has been a demand in countries like UK and New Zealand for legalizing Cannabis on the grounds that it promotes creativity and has few side effects – but to no avail so far.

Ecstasy (MDMA or X) is a popular party drug which is a derivative of Amphetamine (Speed). As its name suggests, this too is a short term mood elevator. Users say Ecstasy induces an increased capacity for concentration, greater energy, a positive mood, openness of communication and a greater sense of intimacy with people around them. It is also said that Ecstasy suppresses the need to eat drink and sleep, allowing club scene users to endure all night and some times two or three day parties. Ecstasy is distributed mostly in pill or capsule form.

However, the other effects of Ecstasy are less than ecstatic – long term use causes visual hallucinations, anxiety, feelings of loss of control, panic, loss of reality, poor concentration, insomnia, irritability and depression. Physical effects can include dry mouth, involuntary jaw movements, jaw clenching, teeth grinding, restlessness, tremors, headaches and dizziness. Lab research suggests the possibility of permanent brain damage, but the evidence is not conclusive. Ecstasy should not be mixed with alcohol or other depressants.

Heroin (Morphine or Opium)became popular in the early 1800s as the leading pain killing drug of its time. They were often rubbed or dusted on to wounded soldiers, and got tens of thousands of war veterans addicted. It is extremely addictive and toxic, but has the ability to dull pain effectively.

Heroin is able to create very high tolerance thresholds in the body. So much so that the addict can consume three to four times the lethal dose limit for the normal population. This makes heroin detoxification all the more dangerous and physically painful for the heroin addict. Addicts display frightening withdrawal symptoms within 48 to 72 hours of the last dose – these include dilated pupils, panic, chills, muscle cramps, nausea and profuse sweating. People who have been through them often describe their symptoms as the “worse case of the flu” they have ever had. Heroin and alcohol should not be mixed. Tolerance to heroin may be site-dependent. When using it in a new setting, tolerance is reduced, and a fatal overdose may result.

Ketamine is a dissociative anesthetic which is hallucinogenic in lower doses. While it can be taken orally, Ketamine is usually injected intramuscularly. In lower doses, users report a mild, dreamy feeling and numbness in the extremities. Higher doses result in out-of-body experiences, often referred as entering a "K-hole" (this is quite similar to a near death experience). Many users find the experience spiritually significant, while others find it frightening.

In higher doses, Ketamine depresses consciousness and breathing. It should never be combined with downers like alcohol, Valium or GHB. Frequent use can cause disruptions in consciousness and lead to neuroses or other mental disorders. Ketamine can also cause a tremendous psychological dependence.

LSD or Lysergic Acid Diethylamide was made popular by the Beatles, and is a hallucinogenic or psychedelic drug that greatly intensifies and changes the way sensory information is interpreted by the mind. Its effects last eight to twelve hours, and users may be fatigued the next day. Tolerance to LSD develops very quickly. The LSD experience is usually described as a "trip" because it is like a journey to another place. It has four phases –

  • The Onset - Approximately 30 minutes after ingestion, colors appear sharper, moving objects leave "trails" behind them, and flat surfaces may appear to "breathe."
  • The Plateau - Over the second hour, the effects become more intense. Imaginary visions can appear from nowhere--from shapes in smoke, to lines on the palms of the hand.
  • The Peak - Time is slowed almost to a standstill. Users may feel like they are in a different world, or a movie. For some this is profound and mystical, but it can be very frightening for others.
  • The Comedown - 5 or 6 hours after taking the drug the sensations begin to subside. After 8 hours, the trip is usually over, although residual effects may last until after sleep.

If it sounds like fun, take a look at what it does to the body.

  • It may trigger underlying mental problems, producing delusions, paranoia and schizophrenia-like symptoms.
  • It may evoke extreme anxiety or panic attacks, not only during consumption, but for some time after (flashbacks).
  • LSD can impair judgement.
  • Rarely, LSD has caused a long-lasting perceptual disorder known as Post Hallucinogenic Perceptual Disorder (HPPD).

Nitrous Oxide-- "I am sure the air in heaven must be this wonder working gas of delight…”(poet Robert Southey on Nitrous Oxide). Nitrous Oxide or Laughing Gas has long been used as an anesthetic and in food preparation. While it is banned as a drug, it is easily available for food preservation. It is often inhaled through balloons, and produces giddiness, a dreamy or floating sensation, and a mild, pain-free state. It also relieves anxiety and indirectly blocks pain. The high is, however, followed by a low -- nausea, sleepiness, lack of coordination, disorientation, and loss of appetite ensue. Also, if the drug is used for a long time, it can result in a condition called neuropathy, where nerve fibers are permanently damaged, causing such problems as weakness, tingling, and a loss of feeling. Excessive or prolonged use may damage bone marrow and the nervous system, and addiction or dependence may occur. The largest danger is losing balance and falling.

Nightshades such as Jimsonweed and Datura have been long used as they result in vivid hallucinations. They have unpleasant side effects, including extreme thirst and anxiety. The hallucinations may cause users to perform dangerous acts. Also, their lethal dose is often way too close to the dose required for hallucinogenic effects.

Tobacco is one of the world’s most popular and most addictive recreational drugs. Smoked in cigarettes, cigars and pipes, it is also sniffed in the form of snuff and chewed as chewing tobacco. Its active principle Nicotine is a stimulant and raises the pulse rate and blood pressure.

Tobacco is highly addictive. Regular use can result in physical dependency with long-lasting withdrawal symptoms that range from depression and irritability to restlessness and anxiety. Here are some common problems that plague smokers --

  • Coughing, as well as other chest and breathing problems afflict some smokers.
  • Bad breath and discolored teeth are also common among people who smoke regularly.
  • Regular smokers have a much greater risk of developing lung cancer and other forms of cancer, as well as heart disease, circulatory problems and bronchitis.
  • Smoking during pregnancy can harm an unborn child, resulting in low birth weight and other complications.
  • Second-hand smoke can also be hazardous to one's health, especially to children and people with asthma or other chest problems

Note: To view a classification of recreational drugs based on their potential for abuse, go to http://www.a1b2c3.com/drugs/gen009.htm

Modes of Ingesting Recreational Drugs

All these drugs are psychoactive substances, which means they affect not just the body but also the mind. However, one factor determines how diifferent users will react to the same dose of any given drug – the route of consumption. This determines how the substance is absorbed by the body. The more directly the drug is placed in the body, the less chance the body has to detoxify it and eliminate it. The common routes of consumption, ranging from the least toxic to the most toxic are –

  • Eating or drinking a substance
  • Snorting it up from the nostrils.
  • Inhaling or smoking it.
  • Injecting it intravenously.

For example, smoking methamphetamine (as is done with the increasingly popular illicit drug "crystal meth") is more dangerous than ingesting it. And chewing tobacco is less harmful than smoking it.

For a more complete analysis of relative risks associated with different drugs, go to http://www.dancesafe.org/documents/druginfo/risk.php

Simple Safety Tips

  • Don’t use drugs while driving. When using drugs in a social setting, try to have a ‘designated driver.’
  • Don’t use recreational drugs alone. If you have an accident or overdose, friends can help.
  • Don’t use drugs to help you do your job. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you really need that black coffee to wake up, or smoke some grass to get your creative juices flowing.
  • Don’t use drugs while pregnant, especially during the first few months.
  • Be honest and open with your doctors about what drugs you use, as the medicines they prescribe could interact with the recreational drugs you use.
  • Never mix drugs. Especially concentrated drugs-mixed drinks, caffeine pills, cocaine, heroin, and prescription drugs.
  • Don’t be afraid to get help! If someone has overdosed in front of you, seek emergency help even if the drug used is illegal.
  • Don’t share needles or straws. They can spread AIDS, Hepatitis, and other diseases by bringing those diseases directly into your bloodstream.

References

  • Drug Guide
  • Drugs Forum
  • American Scientist
  • Drug Library

See Also