These questions were answered by more than 50 individual scientists and science writers with expertise in addiction. To get as many answered as possible, responses were written quickly based on the personal background and knowledge of each expert. Please note that there was not a secondary review or proofreading of each fact, and if readers have questions or comments about any response, they can ask further questions.

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are the affects for drinking alcohol different for youths and adults?

-puppylover123, Maryland

Teens who drink face many of the same risks as adults who drink - but teens face additional risks including negative effects on brain development and an increased risk of developing alcohol problems later in life. Risks facing anyone who drinks too much include: 

  1. Legal trouble
  2. Car crashes and other accidents
  3. Making bad choices and engaging in risky behavior

Research tells us that drinking lots of alcohol during the teenage years can make the area of the brain called the frontal lobes smaller. The frontal lobes help us make decisions, think about things and pay attention. Teenagers who drink a lot have problems with these things. Alcohol also can shrink the hippocampus, the area of the brain area that helps us learn and remember things. Teenagers who drink a lot also have trouble with learning. We do not know yet whether these problems go away if the teenager stops drinking.

Drinking at a young age makes it much more likely a person will develop alcoholism later in life. It's really important to wait as long as possible to drink alcohol, or to avoid it altogether. Check out: http://www.thecoolspot.gov/

-Aaron White

Are the drugs that are advertised on TV for medication purposes safe with all the side effect possibilities?

-ryan_thorpe, New York
Hey Ryan, one general fact is that all drugs and medications have side effects.  When taken as they are prescribed, the possibilities for harm and side effects are minimized.  If you want more information about the health effects of drugs of abuse, check out https://teens.drugabuse.gov/drug-facts
 
Thanks for writing in! 
-Joe Frascella

Are the effects of drugs different for teens than for adults?

-Meg7, Massachusetts
Hello meg7
what a great question.
 
the short answer is a resounding yes!!!
 
the brain is like a computer. During adolescence your computer is being actively programmed, so when you use drugs they introduce glitches in the program that can persist and affect the program (behaviors) long into the future. In contrast, when an adult uses a drug it affects a program that has already been written long ago, so the glitches are mostly temporary.
 
Hope this helps. Stay strong and healthy.
 
Ruben 
-Ruben Baler

Are the effects of marijuana different on men and wome?

-Rinee3236, Massachusetts

We are still learning about that, but its a very interesting question because we know that marijuana acts on the endocrine (or hormonal) systems.  It can have effects on fertility, sperm count, and has been linked in at least one study with a severe form of testicular cancer.  But, its effects on the brain have not yet been distinguished between men and women.  In general, males are heavier users and thus more likely to get addicted, but that may change as societal norms change.   

-Susan Weiss

Are the same kind of drugs used in other parts of the world or do they have different ones?

-Dude, Maryland

Hey Dude. Great question! Generally speaking, different regions of the world use drugs at different rates, just like the United States has regional differences in use. Some parts of the world experience types of drug use results because they come from plants that are specific to certain regions of the world. For example the chewing of betel nut, grown in tropical Pacific, Asia, and parts of east Africa. That said, some drugs unfortunately appear in most places around the globe. Marijuana, cocaine, heroin, alcohol, tobacco, and ecstasy are some of the most common ones. Check out this interactive map the Guardian newspaper put together using United Nations data. But remember: drugs down the street or on the other side of the planet have the same bad effects on your health and your life. So choose abide by a healthy lifestyle and stay off drugs, Dude!

-Marsha Lopez

Are there any drugs that are not Addictive?

-WaffleKing, Maryland
Great question, WaffleKing!  Most abused drugs are very addictive, but there are some, such as some of the hallucinogens for which addictive properties have not been shown.  That said, everyone's response to drugs is unpredictable; just because someone may abuse some drug and not become addicted, it does not mean that for someone else, taking a drug a few times might not lead to addiction.
 
For more information on addiction, check out: https://teens.drugabuse.gov/drug-facts/brain-and-addiction
-Joe Frascella

Are there any drugs that are typically considered illegal that can be prescribed by doctors?

-beginagain, New York

Hi beginagain - generally no...by definition drugs that can be prescribed by doctors are not illegal.  The one exception to that is marijuana which is legal under some states' laws but still illegal under Federal law. Great question!

-Steve Gust

Are there any good side effects of drugs?

-heresjohnny123, Maryland
Hello heresjohnny123,
This is a good question. Some of the drugs that are abused by youth and adults do have some therapeutic effects, or at least potentially. For example prescription opioids have a clear benefit and provide great short-term pain relief after someone has had surgery, accidents, etc. They also help treat chronic pain that often accompanies cancer. Certain derivatives of marijuana plant have been found to be helpful in reducing nausea that can occur during cancer or HIV treatments. Despite what you read in the papers, street drugs (i.e. the ones that are illicit and not prescribed by a doctor) are not considered therapeutic or helpful in improving the health of individuals.
thanks for asking! 
-Geetha Subramaniam

Are there any hallucinogens that can be placed into an aerosol can? If so, are they dangerous?

-ThleduinAlkara, Pennsylvania
Hi ThleduinAlkara,
I've never heard of hallucinogens that you can put in an aerosol can! Good question. Definitely don't sniff anything from an aerosol can--it can be really dangerous.
-Eric Wargo

Are there any medical uses for marijuana? If so how many?

-heresjohnny123, Maryland

Great question, heresjohnny123!  Yes, THC, the active drug in marijuana has been shown to have medicinal effects...for example, it helps in nausea, relieving the pressure in one's eyes with glaucoma, used for pain, and I am sure there are other medicinal properties still to be discovered.  NIDA supports research to create medicines using THC and other chemicals.  The problem with using smoked marijuana is that there is no dosage control. Here's a link to the NIDA teen site fact sheet on marijuana: https://teens.drugabuse.gov/drug-facts/marijuana

-Joe Frascella

alcohol shouldnt be illegal for highschoolers considering many people do it anyway. why is this?

-skylerisdope, New York
You bring up an interesting problem. The US created the 1984 law raising the minimum legal drinking age to 21 because too many young people were getting hurt by drinking alcohol. Raising it to 21 helped to significantly reduce the number of young people killed in alcohol-related car crashes. By contrast, kids drink more heavily in places like Europe and Australia, where the drinking age is lower than 21.So, raising the drinking age was a good thing. And while too many kids in high school drink, many do not. Avoiding alcohol will help keep you safe.
 
-Aaron White

Also what about mariquana with hi cbd and low thc content.

-xmen515, Maryland
Hi again xmen515,
You're asking good questions today--bravo!
Yes, some parents are giving hi-CBD (cannabidiol) marijuana to their children with a terrible form of epilepsy called Dravet Syndrome. CBD is another cannabinoid chemical related to THC but doesn't produce a high and has probably a lot of beneficial health effects. But the best way to deliver CBD to Dravet patients and others would be through actual medications made from CBD, with none of the other harmful chemicals in marijuana. A CBD drug is already being tested in children with Dravet Syndrome, and if it works, there will be no need to breed marijuana strains or give children marijuana to treat their disease.
 
-Eric Wargo

Am i secondhand smoking is I can smell the smoke?

-jdizzle813, Maryland

If u can smell the smoke its likely that some nicotine will get into your brain but the questions is how much.  Just smelling smoke when u come close to someone who is a smoker is unlikely to deliver much nicotine into your brain but if you are in a room where people are smoking and stay there for several minutes then you will get sufficient nicotine into your brain to affect it.    

-Nora Volkow

apparently recent studies have shown that the most dangerous drug is alcohol... is that true?

-lalala, New York

You are right that some studies suggest that alcohol is more dangerous than many, if not most, other drugs. However, it really depends on how you define "dangerous". In terms of the number of years of life lost due to drugs, the number of deaths due to drug overdoses, the number of fatalities caused by injuries sustained while under the influence of drugs, alcohol ranks #1. But part of the reason is because there are so many people in the world who drink alcohol. Way more people drink alcohol than do other drugs. This makes it hard to compare the consequences of various drugs. 

-Aaron White

are 'soft' drugs less harmful than 'hard' drugs?

-lalala, New York

Not exactly sure which drugs you are considering soft vs. hard.  Some drugs are definitely more addictive than others (e.g., methamphetamine) and  people can be more sensitive to some drugs than others because of their genetics.  Alcohol and tobacco are among the most damaging--because they are so widely used--are they hard or soft?

-Susan Weiss

are alcohol and smoking bad combinations?

-devondonahue, New York

Both alcohol and nicotine can produce nausea and some people get really sick from the combination. If you meant smoking marijuana, both can impair balance, coordination, reaction times, decision making and attention, making the odds of being injured or making back choices higher if you combine the two drugs. 

-Aaron White

are all drugs addicting

-whiteman03, Maryland

Yes, most drugs of abuse can be addicting.  Research shows that brain development continues well into a person’s twenties. Alcohol and drugs can affect this development, and contribute to a wide range of problems. There is a lot of information about the health effects of drugs on NIDA’s teen site here: https://teens.drugabuse.gov/drug-fact

And try this brand new “e-poster”---“Drugs and the Body: It Isn’t Pretty” http://www.scholastic.com/drugs-and-your-body/

-Joe Frascella

Are all drugs fatal or cause damage to your body if used on a daily basis?

-Soto2016, Texas
Depends on the drugs and the doses used.
 
For example, one glass of wine a day in an adult would not be fatal but 5 glasses a day will be harmful and even higher alcohol intake can result in death from overdose, accidents or liver damage.  
-Nora Volkow

are any drugs good for you

-drugs, New York

Hey drugs.  Is this a trick question?  It's a good one.  There are drugs that can be good for you--they are the ones that your physician prescribes.  Your physician knows which drugs at what dose will help you with an illness or health condition.  They are usually safe for you when used properly!  But used improperly, they can become very dangerous.  You might take a peek at this Prescription Drugs Fact page for more info: https://teens.drugabuse.gov/drug-facts/prescription-drugs.

-Joni Rutter

are bath salts the same as bath salts? what are bath salts, they sound like inhalants

-AG, New York

HI AG - good question.  And the answer is no.  There are bath salts that are meant to be used in an actual bath, and these tend to be things that smell nice or make your skin smooth.  There are also 'bath salts' that are drugs meant to be taken by mouth and not used in baths at all.  The 'bath salts' term is just used to get around the illegality of selling these substances for human consumption.  It is important to know and remember that these 'bath salts' are very different from each other and that they can contain any of a number of chemicals, many of which we do not know much about.  For more information check out https://teens.drugabuse.gov/drug-facts/bath-salts.

-Steve Gust

are celebrities allowed to have drugs?

-Blackgurl, Maryland

Nope!

-Jack Stein

Are certain drugs better for you than others?

-Lemons1018, Pennsylvania

None of the drugs are better for you, but its rather that some are worse for you than others. Which drugs are worse depends on your genteic vulnerability.

-Nora Volkow

Are dissociation drugs are the worst or harder drugs like crack? - Rory

-Aveson, California
Hi Rory,
Good question, and it's a hard one to answer. Comparing different types of drugs is like comparing apples and oranges--they have different effects, and different people react differently to the same drug. Dissociatives cause more perceptual effects (distorted perceptions and feelings) while crack might be more energizing, but it's hard to say which is worse.
Check out our fact sheets on these drugs:
-Eric Wargo

Are drugs bad for animals?

-HappyCows42, Massachusetts
Hi again HappyCows42.  Drugs can definitely affect animals.  In fact, a lot of the research we support uses animals to examine the effects of drugs because animal brains are a good model for human brains.

You should also check out this great blog by our very own Dr. Joe Frascella on drugs being "discovered" first by animals!  https://teens.drugabuse.gov/blog/post/so-why-do-people-drugs.

-Joni Rutter

Are drugs bad for you?

-Azreal Garcia, California
Hey Azreal,
Good question.  Drugs include illegal drugs, like heroin or cocaine as well as drugs that a doctor might prescribe for you.  Abusing any drug is bad for you but using a drug that your doctor has prescribed in the way it was prescribed can be very good for you.  Those drugs are called "medicine".    
Dave 
-Dave Thomas

Are drugs good for you?

-JcPuebla, Texas
Hey JC! The term "drugs" is so broad that it's impossible to give a simple yes-or-no answer to your question.
 
Usually when we think of "drugs" we think of illegal substances like heroin, cocaine, etc.  These "street drugs" have no known medicinal benefits and that's why they're illegal.  But the term "drugs" also includes prescription medications.  Prescription meds do have benefit and are safe (they're approved by the FDA to be sure) -- but they're only safe if used EXACTLY as prescribed, by the person to whom they are prescribed, for the reason they're prescribed.
 
The same is true with over-the-counter meds (like cold medicine or cough syrup) that you can get in a drugstore. Virtually any prescription or over-the-counter drug can be misused or abused, and in that case they're definitely not good for you.  Thanks for your question!
-Lori Ducharme

are drugs like viruses and attack cells

-ra, New York
Dear ra, that is a great analogy. Drugs do act like viruses that impact the brain in a very significant way. Drugs have strong behavioral, chemical and emotional effects of drugs. For example, drugs contain chemicals that take over the communication system in the brain, and therefore, interrupts the way in which nerve cells send, receive and process this information. Drugs, in other words, imitates the brain's natural chemical signals, and also intensifies the 'reward' circuit of the brain. Drug addiction actually changes the brain and compulsive drug seeking is part of it, this is why addiction is such a devastating disease. 
 
Stay healthy! 
-Will Aklin

Are E-Cigarettes safer to use than normal cigarettes, and if they are, why?

-kmussett, Pennsylvania

Hey Kmussett,  Great hearing from a middle school student.  Electronic cigarettes are new to the scene and we don't have a lot of scientific data on their safety or effects yet.  While they may be advertised as "safer" than cigarettes, there is a lot we don't know about the health consequences of e-cigarettes.  There have been a few reports of e-cigarettes exploding when people use them causing some serious injuries to their hands and faces. The bottom line....you don't know what you are getting in these products or their health consequences. Best to wait until we get more information---and it could take a few years before we see good research studies on e-cigs.  For more information see:http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/electronic-cigarettes-e-...

-Cindy Miner

Are E-cigs a safe alternative to cigarettes? I've been told they are but I don't know.

-5w1m5w4g420, New York
Is your name a chemical formula or something???   
 
We are not sure of the safety of E-cigs at this point. But a lot of people are starting to use them.  We are just starting to do research on their safety, and we may look at if they can be used to help people stop smoking real cigarettes.  
 
Dave 
-Dave Thomas

are electronic cerets worse then real cigars

-Allen12, Maryland
Hi Allen12,
Good question! We actually don't know the answer to this yet. E-cigs don't have the cancer-causing tar that cigarettes and cigars have, but they do have other possibly harmful chemicals, and they still have nicotine, which is very addictive. Scientists are studying this, and hopefully we'll know more soon!
-Eric Wargo