Drug Facts

Drug Facts: What Are They?

Alcohol

Also known as: Booze, Brew, Liquor, and Sauce

Alcohol use disorders (AUDs) are medical conditions that doctors diagnose when someone’s drinking causes them distress or harm. 

Anabolic Steroids

Steroids word cloud collage, health concept background©Shutterstock/Dizain

Also known as: Anabolic-androgenic Steroids, Juice, and Roids

Common brand names: Androsterone, Deca-durabolin, Dianabol, Equipoise, Oxandrin, and Winstrol 

Anabolic steroids are manmade medications related to testosterone (male sex hormone). Doctors use anabolic steroids to treat hormone problems in men, delayed puberty, and muscle loss from some diseases.

Bodybuilders and athletes may misuse anabolic steroids to build muscles and improve athletic performance, often taking doses much higher than would be prescribed for a medical condition. Using them this way is not legal—or safe, and can have long term consequences.

Anabolic steroids are only one type of steroid. Other types of steroids include cortisol, estrogen, and progesterone. These are different chemicals and do not have the same effects.

How Anabolic Steroids Are Misused

When people take steroids without a doctor’s prescription or in ways other than as prescribed, they are abusing steroids.

Some people who abuse steroids take pills; others use needles to inject steroids into their muscles.

Bath Salts

Bath Salts poured out of a bottlePhoto by DEA

Also known as: Bloom, Cloud Nine, Flakka, Scarface, Vanilla Sky, and White Lightning

“Bath salts” is the name given to synthetic cathinones, a class of drugs that have one or more man-made chemicals related to cathinone. Cathinone is a stimulant found naturally in the khat plant, grown in East Africa and southern Arabia. Chemically, cathinones are similar to amphetamines such as methamphetamine and to MDMA (Ecstasy or Molly). Common man-made cathinones found in bath salts include 3,4-methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV), mephedrone (Drone, Meph, or Meow Meow), and methylone, but there are many others. These man-made cathinones can be much stronger than the natural product and can be very dangerous.

Bath salts are usually white or brown crystal-like powder and are sold in small plastic or foil packages labeled “Not for Human Consumption.” Sometimes labeled as “plant food”—or, more recently, as “jewelry cleaner” or “phone screen cleaner”—they are sold online and in drug product stores. These names or descriptions have nothing to do with the product. It’s a way for the drug makers to avoid detection by the Drug Enforcement Administration or local police.

The man-made cathinone products sold as “bath salts” should not be confused with products such as Epsom salts (the original bath salts) that people add to bathwater to help ease stress and relax muscles. Epsom salts are made of a mineral mixture of magnesium and sulfate.

How Bath Salts Are Used

Use of “bath salts” (the drugs) sometimes causes severe intoxication (a person seems very drunk or “out of it”) and dangerous health effects. There are also reports of people becoming psychotic (losing touch with reality) and violent. Although it is rare, there have been several cases where bath salts have been the direct cause of death.

In addition, people who believe they are taking drugs such as MDMA (Molly or Ecstasy) may be getting “bath salts” instead. Methylone, a common chemical in bath salts, has been substituted for MDMA in capsules sold as Molly in some areas.

Bath salts can be swallowed, snorted through the nose, inhaled, or injected with a needle. Snorting or injecting is the most harmful. 

Banning Bath Salts

At the end of the last decade, bath salts began to be gain in popularity in the United States and Europe as “legal highs.” In October 2011, the Drug Enforcement Administration put an emergency ban on three common man-made cathinones until officials knew more about them. In July 2012, President Barack Obama signed legislation permanently banning two of them—mephedrone and MDPV, along with several other man-made drugs often sold as marijuana substitutes (like Spice).

Although the law also bans chemically similar versions of the named drugs, manufacturers have responded by making new drugs different enough from the banned substances to get around the law.

Cocaine

Photo of little baggies containing cocaine powder.©Shutterstock/Africa Studio

Also known as: Blow, Bump, C, Candy, Charlie, Coca, Coke, Flake, Rock, Snow, and Toot

Cocaine is an addictive stimulant drug made from the leaves of the coca plant native to South America. Cocaine comes in two forms:

  • Powder cocaine is a white powder (which scientists call a hydrochloride salt). Street dealers often mix cocaine with other substances like cornstarch, talcum powder, or sugar. They also mix cocaine with active drugs like procaine, a local anesthetic (a chemical that causes you not to feel pain in a specific area of the body), and with other stimulants like amphetamines.
  • Crack is a form of cocaine that has been processed to make a rock crystal that people smoke. The term “crack” refers to the cracking sound the rocks make when they are heated. 

How Cocaine is Used

There are a few different ways that cocaine can enter the body: through the nose by snorting, and directly into the blood stream by injecting it or through the gums. The crystal of crack is heated in a glass pipe to produce vapors that are absorbed into the blood through the lungs.

Cough and Cold Medicine (DXM and Codeine Syrup)

Cough syrup-close up©Shutterstock/Africa Studio

Also known as: Candy, Dex, Drank, Lean, Robo, Robotripping, Skittles, Triple C, Tussin, and Velvet

Millions of Americans take cough and cold medicines each year to help with symptoms of colds, and when taken as instructed, these medicines can be safe and effective. However, several cough and cold medicines contain ingredients that are psychoactive (mind-altering) when taken in higher-than-recommended dosages, and some people misuse them. These products also contain other ingredients that can add to the risks. Many of these medicines are bought “over the counter” (OTC), meaning you do not need a prescription to have them. 

Two commonly misused cough and cold medicines are:

  • Cough syrups and capsules containing dextromethorphan (DXM). These OTC cough medicines are safe for stopping coughs during a cold if you take them as directed. Taking more than the recommended amount can produce euphoria (a relaxed pleasurable feeling) but also dissociative effects (like you are detached from your body).
  • Promethazine-codeine cough syrup. These prescription medications contain an opioid drug called codeine, which stops coughs, but when taken in higher doses produces a "buzz" or "high."

Read more about prescription drugs and what happens to the brain and body when someone misuses them.

How Cough and Cold Medicines Are Misused

Cough and cold medicines are usually sold in liquid syrup, capsule, or pill form. They may also come in a powder. Drinking promethazine-codeine cough syrup mixed with soda (a combination called syrup, sizzurp, purple drank, barre, or lean) was referenced frequently in some popular music beginning in the late 1990s and has become increasingly popular among youth in several areas of the country.

Young people are often more likely to misuse cough and cold medicines containing DXM than some other drugs because these medicines can be purchased without a prescription. 

Heroin

heroin powderPhoto by DEA

Also known as: Black tar, H, Horse, Junk, Ska, and Smack

Heroin is a highly addictive drug made from morphine, a psychoactive (mind-altering) substance that is extracted from the resin of the seed pod of  the opium poppy plant. Heroin’s color and look depend on how it is made and what else it may be mixed with. It can be white or brown powder or a black, sticky substance called “black tar heroin.”

Heroin is part of a class of drugs called opioids. Other opioids include some prescription pain relievers, such as codeine, oxycodone (OxyContin), and hydrocodone (e.g. Vicodin). These drugs are chemically similar to endorphins, which are opioid chemicals that the body makes naturally to relieve pain (such as after exercise).

Heroin use and overdose deaths have dramatically increased over the last decade. This increase is related to the growing number of people misusing prescription opioid pain relievers like OxyContin and Vicodin; many who become addicted to those drugs switch to heroin because it produces similar effects but is cheaper and easier to get. 

In fact, nearly 80 percent of people who use heroin report having first misused prescription opioids.1 However, only a small portion of people who misuse pain relievers switch to heroin. Both heroin and opioid pill use can lead to addiction and overdose. 

How Heroin is Used

Heroin is mixed with water and injected with a needle. It can also be sniffed, smoked, or snorted. Users sometimes combine it with other drugs, such as alcohol or cocaine (a “speedball”), which can be particularly dangerous and raise the risk of overdose.

To learn more about the different types of opioids, visit our Prescription Opioids Drug Facts page.

1 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. CBHSQ Report. Trends in Heroin Use in the United States: 2002 to 2013. Rockville, MD, April 2015. Available at: http://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/report_1943/ShortReport-1943.html.

Inhalants

Spray paint cans covered in paint©Shutterstock/dimbar76

Also known as: Bold (nitrites), Laughing gas (nitrous oxide), Poppers (amyl nitrite and butyl nitrite), Rush (nitrites), Snappers (amyl nitrite), Whippets (fluorinated hydrocarbons)

Inhalants are chemicals found in ordinary household or workplace products that people inhale on purpose to get “high.” Because many inhalants can be found around the house, people often don’t realize that inhaling their fumes, even just once, can be very harmful to the brain and body and can lead to death. In fact, the chemicals found in these products can change the way the brain works and cause other problems in the body.

Although different inhalants cause different effects, they generally fall into one of four categories.

Volatile solvents are liquids that become a gas at room temperature. They are found in:

  • paint thinner, nail polish remover, degreaser, dry-cleaning fluid, gasoline, and contact cement
  • some art or office supplies, such as correction fluid, felt-tip marker fluid, and electronic contact cleaner

Aerosols are sprays that contain propellants and solvents. They include:

  • spray paint, hair spray, deodorant spray, vegetable oil sprays, and fabric protector spray

Gases may be in household or commercial products, or used in the medical field to provide pain relief. They are found in:

  • butane lighters, propane tanks, whipped cream dispensers, and refrigerant gases
  • anesthesia, including ether, chloroform, halothane, and nitrous oxide (commonly called “laughing gas”).

Nitrites are a class of inhalants used mainly to enhance sexual experiences. Organic nitrites include amyl, butyl, and cyclohexyl nitrites and other related compounds. Amyl nitrite was used in the past by doctors to help with chest pain and is sometimes used today to diagnose heart problems. Nitrites are now banned (prohibited by the Consumer Product Safety Commission) but can still be found, sold in small bottles labeled as “video head cleaner,” “room odorizer,” “leather cleaner,” or “liquid aroma.”

How Inhalants Are Used

People who use inhalants breathe in the fumes through their nose or mouth, usually by "sniffing," "snorting," "bagging," or "huffing." It's called different names depending on the substance and equipment used. 

Marijuana

Some people smoke marijuana in hand-rolled cigarettes called joints. Many use glass pipes, water pipes called bongs, or marijuana cigars called blunts (often made by slicing open cigars and replacing some or all of the tobacco with marijuana). To avoid inhaling smoke, some people are using vaporizers. These devices pull the active ingredients (including THC) from the marijuana into the vapor. A person then inhales the vapor, not the smoke. Some vaporizers use a marijuana liquid extract. Marijuana can also be brewed as tea or cooked into food, sometimes called edibles—such as brownies, cookies, or candy.

These concentrated extracts made from the marijuana plant should not be confused with “synthetic marijuana,” sometimes called “K2,” “Spice,” or “herbal incense.” These synthetic drugs are man-made chemicals similar to THC but often much stronger and very dangerous. Unlike marijuana, their use sometimes directly results in overdose deaths. Learn more about "synthetic marijuana”.

MDMA (Ecstasy or Molly)

MDMA Molecule©Shutterstock/zerbon

Also known as: Adam, Beans, Clarity, E, Ecstasy, Hug, Love drug, Lover's speed, Molly, X, and XTC

MDMA, short for 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine, is most commonly known as Ecstasy or Molly. It is a man-made drug that produces energizing effects similar to the stimulants called amphetamines, as well as psychedelic effects, similar to the hallucinogens mescaline and LSD. MDMA is known as a “club drug” because of its popularity in the nightclub scene, at “raves” (all-night dance parties), and music festivals or concerts. MDMA’s effects generally last from 3 to 6 hours.

MDMA is a Schedule I substance, which means that the U.S. Government has determined that it has no medical benefit and a high potential for abuse. Researchers, however, continue to investigate the possible medical benefits, for example, with patients that have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and terminal cancer patients with anxiety. However, those patients are under strict medical supervision. 

How MDMA (Ecstasy/Molly) is Used

Most people who use MDMA take it in a pill, tablet, or capsule. The pills can be different colors and sometimes have cartoon-like images on them. Some people take more than one pill at a time, called “bumping.” The popular term “Molly” (slang for molecular) refers to the pure crystalline powder form of MDMA, usually sold in capsules. But this is mostly a marketing gimmick—testing on "Molly" seized by police shows a variety of other ingredients.

In fact, researchers and law enforcement have found that much of the Ecstasy sold today contains other harmful and possibly deadly drugs in addition to MDMA. In some recent cases, drugs sold as MDMA actually contain no MDMA at all.  Frequently, MDMA is mixed with or replaced by synthetic cathinones, the chemicals in “bath salts. Some MDMA pills, tablets, and capsules have also been found to contain caffeine, dextromethorphan (found in some cough syrups), amphetamines, PCP, or cocaine.

Methamphetamine (Meth)

Crystal MethamphetaminePhoto by DEA Crystal Methamphetamine

Also known as: Chalk, Meth, Speed, and Tina; or for crystal meth, Crank, Fire, Glass, Go fast, and Ice

Methamphetamine—known as “meth”—is a very addictive stimulant drug. Stimulants are a class of drugs that can boost mood, increase feelings of well-being, increase energy, and make you more alert. But they also have dangerous effects like raising heart rate and blood pressure, and use can lead to addiction.

Methamphetamine is a manmade, white, bitter-tasting powder. Sometimes it's made into a white pill or a shiny, white or clear rock called a crystal. Meth is made in the United States and often in Mexico—in "superlabs"—big illegal laboratories that make the drug in large quantities. But it is also made in small labs using cheap, over-the-counter ingredients such as pseudoephedrine, which is common in cold medicines. Other chemicals, some of them toxic, are also involved in making methamphetamine.

Methamphetamine is classified as a Schedule II drug, meaning it has high potential for abuse and is available only through a prescription that cannot be refilled. It is prescribed by doctors in limited doses in rare cases for certain medical conditions.

How Methampetamine is Used

Methamphetamine is swallowed, snorted, injected with a needle, or smoked. “Crystal meth” is a large, usually clear crystal that is smoked in a glass pipe. Smoking or injecting the drug delivers it very quickly to the brain, where it produces an immediate and intense high. Because the feeling doesn’t last long, users often take the drug repeatedly, in a “binge and crash” pattern.

Prescription Depressant Medications

Pile of blue prescription pills©Shutterstock/evkaz

Also known as: A-minus, Barbs, Candy, Downers, Phennies, Red Birds, Reds, Sleeping Pills, Tooies, Tranks, Yellows, Yellow Jackets, Yellows, and Zombie Pills

Depressants, sometimes referred to as central nervous system (CNS) depressants or tranquilizers, slow down (or “depress”) the normal activity that goes on in the brain and spinal cord. Doctors often prescribe them for people who are anxious or can't sleep.

When prescription depressants are taken as prescribed by a doctor, they can be relatively safe and helpful. However, dependence and addiction are still potential risks. These risks increase when these drugs are misused. Taking the drugs to get “high” can cause serious, and even dangerous, problems.

Depressants can be divided into three primary groups: barbiturates, benzodiazepines, and sleep medications.

Depressants
Type Conditions They Treat
Barbiturates
  • Mephobarbital (Mebaral)
  • Sodium pentobarbital (Nembutal)
  • Seizure disorders
  • Anxiety and tension
Benzodiazepines
  • Diazepam (Valium)
  • Alprazolam (Xanax)
  • Estazolam (ProSom)
  • Clonazepam (Klonopin)
  • Lorazepam (Ativan)
  • Acute stress reactions
  • Panic attacks
  • Convulsions
  • Sleep disorders
Sleep Medications
  • Zolpidem (Ambien)
  • Zaleplon (Sonata)
  • Eszopiclone (Lunesta)
  • Sleep disorders

How Prescription Depressants Are Misused

Depressants usually come in pill or capsule form. People misuse depressants by taking them in a way that is not intended, such as:

  • Taking someone else’s prescription depressant medication.
  • Taking a depressant medication in a way other than prescribed by their doctor.
  • Taking a depressant for fun or to get high.
  • Taking a depressant with other drugs or to counteract the effects of other drugs, such as stimulants.
  • Mixing them with other substances, like alcohol or prescription opioids.

Read more about prescription drugs and what happens to the brain and body when someone misuses them.

Prescription Drugs

A pile of prescription drugs.©Shutterstock/Nenov Brothers Images

Also known as:

Opioids: Happy Pills, Hillbilly Heroin, OC, Oxy, Oxycotton, Percs, and Vikes

Depressants: A-minus, Barbs, Candy, Downers, Phennies, Reds, Red Birds, Seeping Pills, Tooies, Tranks, Yellow Jackets, Yellows, and Zombie Pills

Stimulants: Bennies, Black Beauties, Hearts, Roses, Skippy, The Smart Drug, Speed, and Vitamin R, and Uppers

Prescription drug misuse has become a large public health problem, because misuse can lead to addiction, and even overdose deaths. For teens, it is a growing problem:

  • After marijuana and alcohol, prescription drugs are the most commonly misused substances by Americans age 14 and older.
  • Teens misuse prescription drugs for a number of reasons, such as to get high, to stop pain, or because they think it will help them with school work.
  • Many teens get prescription drugs they misuse from friends and relatives, sometimes without the person knowing.
  • Boys and girls tend to misuse some types of prescription drugs for different reasons. For example, boys are more likely to misuse prescription stimulants to get high, while girls tend to misuse them to stay alert or to lose weight. 

What Makes Prescription Drugs Unsafe

Prescription drugs are often strong medications, which is why they require a prescription in the first place. Every medication has some risk for harmful effects, sometimes serious ones. Doctors consider the potential benefits and risks to each patient before prescribing medications and take into account a lot of different factors, described below. When they are misused, they can be just as dangerous as drugs that are made illegally.

  • Personal information. Before prescribing a drug, health providers take into account a person's weight, how long they've been prescribed the medication, other medical conditions, and what other medications they are taking. Someone misusing prescription drugs may overload their system or put themselves at risk for dangerous drug interactions that can cause seizures, coma, or even death.
  • Form and dose. Doctors know how long it takes for a pill or capsule to dissolve in the stomach, release drugs to the blood, and reach the brain. When misused, prescription drugs may be taken in larger amounts or in ways that change the way the drug works in the body and brain, putting the person at greater risk for an overdose. For example, when people who misuse OxyContin crush and inhale the pills, a dose that normally works over the course of 12 hours hits the central nervous system all at once. This effect increases the risk for addiction and overdose.
  • Side effects. Prescription drugs are designed to treat a specific illness or condition, but they often affect the body in other ways, some of which can be uncomfortable and in some cases, dangerous. These are called side effects. For example, opioid pain relievers can help with pain, but they can also cause constipation and sleepiness. Stimulants, such as Adderall, increase a person’s ability to pay attention, but they also raise blood pressure and heart rate, making the heart work harder. These side effects can be worse when prescription drugs are not taken as prescribed or are used in combination with other substances.

How Prescription Drugs are Misused

 1 Taking someone else's prescription to self-medicate. 2 Taking a prescription medication in a way other than prescribed. 3 Taking a medication to get high.
  • Taking someone else’s prescription medication. Even when someone takes another person’s medication for its intended purposes (such as to relieve pain, to stay awake, or to fall asleep) it is considered misuse.
  • Taking a prescription medication in a way other than prescribed. Taking your own prescription in a way that it is not meant to be taken is also misuse. This includes taking more of the medication than prescribed or changing its form—for example, breaking or crushing a pill or capsule and then snorting the powder.
  • Taking a prescription medication to get high. Some types of prescription drugs also can produce pleasurable effects or “highs.” Taking the medication only for the purpose of getting high is considered prescription drug misuse.
  • Mixing it with other drugs. In some cases, if you mix your prescription drug with alcohol and certain other drugs, it is considered misuse and it can be dangerous. 

Commonly Misused Prescription Drugs

There are three kinds of prescription drugs that are commonly misused. Visit our separate Drug Facts pages to learn more about each of these classes of prescription drugs:

  • Opioids—used to relieve pain, such as Vicodin, OxyContin, or codeine
  • Depressants—used to relieve anxiety or help a person sleep, such as Valium or Xanax
  • Stimulants— used for treating attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), such as Adderall and Ritalin

Prescription Pain Medications (Opioids)

A bottle with a hydrocodone label and hydrocodone tablets spilling out isolated on white background.©iStock.com/smartstock

Also known as: Happy Pills, Hillbilly Heroin, OC, Oxy, Percs, or Vikes

Prescription opioids are medications that are chemically similar to endorphins – opioids that our body makes naturally to relieve pain – and also similar to the illegal drug heroin.  In nature, opioids are found in the seed pod of the opium poppy plant. Opioid medications can be natural (made from the plant), semi-synthetic (modified in a lab from the plant), and fully synthetic (completely made by people). 

Prescription opioids usually come in pill form and are given to treat severe pain—for example, pain from dental surgery, serious sports injuries, or cancer. Opioids are also commonly prescribed to treat other kinds of pain that lasts a long time (chronic pain), but it is unclear if they are effective for long term pain. 

For most people, when opioids are taken as prescribed by a medical professional for a short time, they are relatively safe and can reduce pain effectively. However, dependence and addiction are still potential risks when taking prescription opioids. Dependence means you feel withdrawal symptoms when not taking the drug. Continued use can can lead to addiction, where you continue to use despite negative consequences. These risks increase when these medications are misused. Prescription medications are some of the most commonly misused drugs by teens, after tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana.

Common opioids and their medical uses are listed below.

Opioids
Opioid Types Conditions They Treat
  • oxycodone (OxyContin, Percodan, Percocet)
  • hydrocodone (Vicodin, Lortab, Lorcet)
  • diphenoxylate (Lomotil)
  • morphine (Kadian, Avinza, MS Contin)
  • codeine
  • fentanyl (Duragesic)
  • propoxyphene (Darvon)
  • hydromorphone (Dilaudid)
  • meperidine (Demerol)
  • methadone
  • severe pain, often after surgery
  • acute (severe) pain
  • some forms of chronic pain (severe)
  • cough and diarrhea

Fentanyl has been in the news recently.  It is a powerful opioid prescribed for extreme pain that is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. It is extremely dangerous if misused, and is sometimes added to illicit drugs sold by drug dealers. Find out more about Fentanyl.

Types of opioids:

Type of Opioid

How Are They Derived

Examples

Natural opioids (sometimes called opiates)

 nitrogen-containing base chemical compounds,  called alkaloids, that occur in plants such as the  opium poppy

 morphine, codeine, thebaine

Semi-synthetic/man-made opioids

 created in labs from natural opioids

 hydromorphone, hydrocodone, and oxycodone (the  prescription drug OxyContin), heroin (which is made  from morphine)

Fully synthetic/man-made opioids

 completely man-made

 fentanyl, pethidine, levorphanol, methadone, tramadol,  dextropropoxyphene

 

How Prescription Opioids Are Misused

People misuse prescription opioid medications by taking them in a way that is not intended, such as:

  • Taking someone else’s prescription, even if it is for a legitimate medical purpose like relieving pain.
  • Taking an opioid medication in a way other than prescribed—for instance, taking more than your prescribed dose or taking it more often, or crushing pills into powder to snort or inject the drug.
  • Taking the opioid prescription to get high.
  • Mixing them with alcohol or certain other drugs. Your pharmacist can tell you what other drugs are safe to use with prescription pain relievers. 

Prescription Stimulant Medications (Amphetamines)

prescription stimulants in a medication bottlePhoto by NIDA

Also known as: Bennies, Black Beauties, Hearts, Roses, Skippy, Speed, Study Drugs, The Smart Drug, Uppers, and Vitamin R

Prescription stimulants increase—or "stimulate"—activities and processes in the body. This increased activity can boost alertness, attention, and energy. It also can raise your blood pressure and make your heart beat faster. When prescribed by a doctor for a specific health condition, they can be relatively safe and effective. However, dependence and addiction are still potential risks when taking prescription stimulants. These risks increase when these drugs are misused. Taking someone else's prescription drugs or taking the drugs to get “high” can have serious health risks.

There are two commonly misused types of stimulants: amphetamines (e.g., Adderall) and methylphenidate (e.g., Ritalin). In the past, stimulants were used to treat a variety of conditions, including asthma and other breathing problems, obesity, and health problems that affect your nervous system. Now, because the risk for misuse and addiction is better understood, doctors prescribe them less often and only for a few health conditions. They are still prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), narcolepsy (a sleep disorder), and, in some instances, depression that has not responded to other treatments.

Stimulants
Type Conditions They Treat
  • Amphetamines (Adderall and Dexedrine)
  • Methylphenidate (Ritalin and Concerta)
  • ADHD
  • Narcolepsy (sleep disorder)
  • Depression

Read more about prescription drugs and what happens to the brain and body when someone misuses them.

How Stimulants Are Misused

Prescription stimulants are normally taken in pill form, but some people who misuse them to get "high" crush the tablets and snort or inject them. This can be dangerous because ingredients in the tablets can block small blood vessels, damaging the heart and other organs.

Some teens are prescribed stimulants to manage their ADHD. But if they share their medication with friends, it is considered misuse. People misuse stimulants by taking them in a way that is not intended, such as:

  • Taking someone else’s prescription stimulant medication.
  • Taking a prescription stimulant medication in a way other than prescribed.
  • Taking the prescription stimulant to get high.
  • Mixing them with alcohol and certain other drugs. A pharmacist can tell you which drugs are not safe to mix with stimulants. 

Stimulants have been misused as an "academic performance enhancer," (for example, to stay awake all night to cram for an exam). That's why people sometimes refer to them as "study drugs." However, studies have found that stimulants do not increase learning or thinking ability when taken by people who have not been diagnosed with a medical condition like ADHD.

Salvia

Salvia plan in a potPhoto courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/CC0

Also known as: Diviner's Sage, Magic Mint, Maria Pastora, Sally-D, Seer's Sage, and Shepherdess's Herb

Salvia (Salvia divinorum) is an herb in the mint family found in southern Mexico. The main active ingredient in salvia, salvinorin A, changes the chemistry in the brain, causing hallucinations (seeing something that seems real but isn’t). The effects are short lived, but may be very intense and frightening.

Although salvia is not illegal according to Federal law, several states and countries have passed laws to regulate its use. The Drug Enforcement Administration lists salvia as a drug of concern that poses risk to people who use it.

How Salvia is Used

Usually, people chew fresh S. divinorum leaves or drink their extracted juices. The dried leaves of S. divinorum also can be smoked in rolled cigarettes, inhaled through water pipes (hookahs), or vaporized and inhaled.

Spice

Packages of the drug SpicePhoto by DEA

Also known as: Black Mamba, Bliss, Bombay Blue, Fake Weed, Genie, K2, Moon Rocks, Skunk, Yucatan Fire, and Zohai

Spice is a mix of herbs (shredded plant material) and manmade chemicals with mind-altering effects. It is often called “synthetic marijuana” or "fake weed" because some of the chemicals in it are similar to ones in marijuana; but its effects are sometimes very different from marijuana, and frequently much stronger. Usually the chemicals are sprayed onto plant materials to make it look like marijuana. 

Because the chemicals used in Spice have a high potential for abuse and no medical benefit, the Drug Enforcement Administration has made many of the active chemicals most frequently found in Spice illegal. However, the people who make these products try to avoid these laws by using different chemicals in their mixtures.

Spice is most often labeled "Not for Human Consumption" and disguised as incense. Sellers of the drug try to lead people to believe they are “natural” and therefore harmless, but they are neither. In fact, their actual effects can be unpredictable and, in some cases, severe or cause death.

How Spice is Used

Most people smoke Spice by rolling it in papers (like with marijuana or handmade tobacco cigarettes); sometimes, it is mixed with marijuana. Some users also make it as an herbal tea for drinking. Others buy Spice products as liquids to vaporize them in e-cigarettes. 

Tobacco, Nicotine, & E-Cigarettes

broken cigarette sitting alongside an e-cigarette©Shutterstock/CatherineL-Prod

Also known as:

Cigarettes: Butts, Cigs, and Smokes

Smokeless tobacco: Chew, Dip, Snuff, Snus, and Spit Tobacco

Hookah: Goza, Hubble-bubble, Narghile, Shisha, and Waterpipe

Tobacco is a leafy plant grown around the world, including in parts of the United States. There are many chemicals found in tobacco leaves or created by burning them (as in cigarettes), but nicotine is the ingredient that can lead to addiction. Other chemicals produced by smoking, such as tar, carbon monoxide, acetaldehyde, and nitrosamines, also can cause serious harm to the body. For example, tar causes lung cancer and other serious diseases that affect breathing, and carbon monoxide can cause heart problems.

Teens who are considering smoking for social reasons should keep this in mind: Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of disease, disability, and death in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cigarettes cause more than 480,000 premature deaths in the United States each year—from smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke—about 1 in every 5 U.S. deaths, or 1,300 deaths every day. An additional 16 million people suffer with a serious illness caused by smoking. So, for every 1 person who dies from smoking, 30 more suffer from at least 1 serious tobacco-related illness.1

How Tobacco and Nicotine Products Are Used

Tobacco and nicotine products come in many forms. People can smoke, chew, sniff them, or inhale their vapors.

  • Smoked tobacco products.
    • Cigarettes (regular, light, and menthol): No evidence exists that “lite” or menthol cigarettes are safer than regular cigarettes.
    • Cigars and pipes: Some small cigars are hollowed out to make room for marijuana, known as "blunts." Some young people do this to attempt to hid the fact that they are smoking marijuana. either way, they are inhaling toxic chemicals. 
    • Bidis and kreteks (clove cigarettes): Bidis are small, thin, hand-rolled cigarettes primarily imported to the United States from India and other Southeast Asian countries. Kreteks—sometimes referred to as clove cigarettes—contain about 60-80% tobacco and 20-40% ground cloves. Flavored bidis and kreteks are banned in the United States because of the ban on flavored cigarettes.
    • Hookahs or water pipes: Hookah tobacco comes in many flavors, and the pipe is typically passed around in groups. A recent study found that a typical hookah session delivers approximately 125 times the smoke, 25 times the tar, 2.5 times the nicotine, and 10 times the carbon monoxide as smoking a cigarette.
  • Smokeless tobacco products. The tobacco is not burned with these products:
    • Chewing tobacco. It is typically placed between the cheek and gums.
    • Snuff: Ground tobacco that can be sniffed if dried or placed between the cheek and gums.
    • Dip: Moist snuff that is used like chewing tobacco.
    • Snus: A small pouch of moist snuff.
    • Dissolvable products (including lozenges, orbs, sticks, and strips).
  • Electronic cigarettes (also called e-cigarettes, electronic nicotine delivery systems, or e-cigs). Electronic cigarettes are battery-operated devices that deliver nicotine and flavorings without burning tobacco. In most e-cigarettes, puffing activates the battery-powered heating device, which vaporizes the liquid in the cartridge. The resulting vapor is then inhaled (called “vaping”). See What About E-Cigarettes? to learn more.

1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Smoking and Tobacco Use: Fast Facts. Atlanta, GA. December 2015. Available at http://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/fast_facts/index.htm.