The Drug Health Matters series covers health topics pertinent to student life in order to promote a safe and healthy university experience.
If there are topics of interest you would like to see in our Health Matters series, send us an health [dot] promotion [at] mcgill [dot] ca (e-mail) .
Click to download a pdf version. Drugs Health Matters: Alcohol
- One night of heavy drinking can impair your abstract thinking capacity for up to 30 days.
- 159,000 of today’s first-year university students will drop out of school the following year for alcohol-related reasons.
- 300,000 of today’s university students will eventually die of alcohol-related causes, such as drunk driving accidents, liver problems, various cancers and heart disease.
Source: American Council for Drug Education
The University Scene
For many students, drinking is considered a part of university life. The dangers of binge drinking are sometimes overlooked because it is often a part of the social scene. People seem to be drinking everywhere you look, from the blur of Frosh week, to spring break parties. Some don’t stop to consider the dangers of drinking simply because everyone around them seems to be doing it. The best way to have a fun and safe university experience? Educate yourself. Know the consequences of what you put into your body.
How alcohol affects your body
When you take a drink, alcohol is absorbed through the stomach and small intestine and then carried through the bloodstream, making contact with almost all of your organs. It affects perception, decision-making skills, memory, coordination and concentration. The aftermath of a night of binge drinking is usually a hangover. Hangovers are caused in part by a toxic chemical created as your liver processes alcohol. When you drink, alcohol strips your brain of water and glucose (the brain’s “food”). Your body reacts with headaches, dehydration, and shakiness.
How to deal with a hangover
- Drink water. Lots. Alcohol dehydrates your body and your brain.
- NEVER take acetaminophen (the medicine in Tylenol). The liver processes it the same way as it does alcohol. The combination can cause serious liver damage. IBUProphen (found in Advil) is not as threatening to the liver, but excess use may cause gastric problems. Wait until alcohol has cleared your system before medicating yourself.
- The only real hangover cure is time. It takes awhile for your body to remove the toxins resulting from a night of heavy drinking.
- Make a mental note of how you feel, and next time you drink, think about the consequences. Check out the drinking tips on the back of this pamphlet.
Alcohol poisoning: it can be fatal
Heavy drinking can lead to death, often as the result of a person passing out, vomiting and choking. If someone you’re with becomes unconsious as a result of drinking, he or she should be laid on his or her side and watched closely. Seek emergency medical care immediately if the person shows any of the following signs of acute alcohol poisoning: clammy skin, low body temperature, slow and laboured breathing and/or incontinence.
Party Animals, a.k.a. Alcohol Abusers
The behaviour of every problem drinker affects at least five other people. Are you finding yourself consistently having to take care of a friend when he or she has had too much to drink? Sometimes the duties include helping your friend out of the bar and into his or her bed. Other times you find yourself calling an ambulance, worrying that your friend has a serious drinking problem. The friendship is bound for destruction if this happens frequently- and your friend’s health could be in danger. How should you deal? Get support for yourself from a third party and make plans to speak with your friend when he or she is sober. Alcoholism is a touchy subject, often connected to many facets of one’s life. Stepping in and voicing your concern may be the first step towards recovery.
Are you the one who always needs to be helped home after the party? You could be crashing the party for your friends. Before your next night of binge drinking, think about how your habits affect those around you. You may be comprimising your friendships for a few beers.
“Beer goggles” and more serious side effects
Heavy drinking impairs judgement and lowers inhibitions, and mixed with sex, can make for a dangerous situation. When people are drunk, they are more likely to have unprotected sex. Unwanted pregnancy, and sexually transmitted infections can be the result. Some people become more agressive after drinking, and may force others, sometimes violently, into having sex. Sexual assault often occurs when the assailant and/or victim is under the influence of alcohol.
How does boozing now affect my future health?
The long-term effects of heavy drinking include addiction, often leading to clinical depression, stomach lining damage, and liver disease. Chronic alcohol consumption can damage the brain, sometimes causing memory loss, coordination and motor control problems and dementia.
Take control! Tips for smarter drinking
- Eat before you begin drinking, and continue to eat throughout the night.
- Drink water, before, during and after consuming alcohol.
- Limit yourself to one drink per hour. One drink = one 12 oz.can/bottle of beer (5% alcohol) = one 5 oz. glass of wine (12% alcohol) = one 1.5 oz. shot of liquor (40% alcohol.)
- Alternate alcoholic beverages with non-alcoholic drinks.
- Pass on drinking games. They make it hard to keep track of how much you’ve had to drink.
- Surround yourself with people to whom you feel comfortable saying “I’ve had enough.”
Click to download a pdf version. Drugs Health Matters: Marijuana
Marijuana, hashish and hashish oil are all products of the hemp plant Cannabis sativa, a hardy annual that grows in both tropical and temperate climates. The main ingredient that is responsible for altering mood and perception is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
Common Names: grass, pot, weed, herbs, ganja, hash, dope
Appearance & Use: Marijuana is usually a mixture of dried flowers, leaves, seeds and bits of stem. It ranges in colour from greyish-green to greenish-brown and is often smoke in pipes or in hand-rolled cigarettes called “joints”.
Hashish or hash is a marijuana derivative that comes in a dry, soft or brittle chunks ranging from light brown to black. It usually contains a higher THC concentration than marijuana and is thus more potent. Hash usually is mixed with tobacco and smoked in pipes or joints, or baked into cakes and brownies.
Hashish oil, a thick, greenish-black or reddish-brown, liquid extract is the most potent preparation of the three. Hash oil is usually dropped onto the end of a regular cigarette, or wiped onto paper before it is rolled into a joint.
A feeling of euphoria, calm and relaxation occurs. Sensory awareness and heart rate is increased. An increased appetite, dry mouth and throat, impaired motor skills and disorientated sense of time and space is also common. The high usually lasts 1-3 hours if the marijuana was smoked, and up to 12 hours if ingested. Occasional use of marijuana may affect sexual performance, but most abusers complain about a decrease in desire. Marijuana does reduce the number and quality of sperm and damages their mobility which may significantly affect fertility.
Long Term Effects
Habitual use may lead to “Amotivational Syndrome”, a state characterized by loss of will, motivation, memory and concentration problems. Psychological dependence and craving occurs with regular high doses of the drug. It is likely that marijuana smoking, like cigarette smoking, can cause cancerous tumors. In addition, bacteria, herbicides and foreign chemicals may contaminate the marijuana plant and cause damage to the lungs and other organs.
Tolerance and Dependence: With regular use, people can become psychologically dependent on cannabis. They develop a persistent craving for its mood-altering effects and feel uncomfortable and anxious if the drug is unavailable.
Physical dependence may develop in those who use high doses on a regular basis. Withdrawal symptoms include anxiety, nervousness, sleeping problems and loss of appetite, but they usually last less than a week.
Cannabis and the Law: Cannabis is governed by Canada’s Narcotic Control Act. A first offence for possession carriers maximum penalty of $1000 fine and 6 months imprisonment. For subsequent offences, the maximum penalty is a $2000 fine and 12 months imprisonment.
Cultivation of cannabis is also an indictable offence and carries a maximum penalty of 7 years imprisonment. Importing, exporting, trafficking and possession for the purposes of trafficking, on the other hand, carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
Click to download a pdf version. Drugs Health Matters: Acid
Hallucinogens are drugs that bend your mind so that you may see and hear things that don't really exist, i.e. you have hallucinations. There are many drugs in this category, some extracted from plants, others manufactured in laboratories. This pamphlet will discuss 3 major hallucinogens: lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), psilocybin, and phencyclidine (PCP).
LSD: acid, blotter, windowpane, microdots
Psilocybin: magic mushroom
PCP: angel dust, killer weed, green
Appearance and Use
LSD is the most powerful hallucinogen and has no taste, odor or colour. It is packaged in miniature powder pellets (microdots), gelatin chips (windowpane), or squares of LSD-soaked paper (blotter). LSD is usually taken orally, but also may be snorted or injected.
Psilocybin is a white crystalline substance extracted from the Psilocybe mexicana mushroom. This drug may also be distributed in crude mushroom preparations, in dried brown mushrooms, or as a capsule containing powdered materials of various colours. It is usually taken orally, but may also be injected.
PCP is a synthetic, white, crystalline powder, readily soluble in water or alcohol that is generally sold in the form of pills, capsules or powder. This drug can be taken orally (as a liquid, tablet or capsule), snorted, or mixed with tobacco, marijuana or dried parsley and smoked.
Hallucinogens are unpredictable: the effects are fast-changing and unexpected. Their effects depend greatly on a user's state of mind, expectations, experiences and mood. A ("trip") usually lasts for several hours, beginning within an hour of when the drug is taken.
Restlessness, dizziness, an uncontrollable desire to laugh and distortions in sound and vision also result. Unpleasant or terrifying hallucinations, loss of emotional control, an overwhelming feeling of anxiety, despair, or panic may also occur. The distortion of belief often leads people to attempt superhuman feats, i.e. trying to fly.
Long Term Effects
Personality problems and moodiness can develop, as well as feelings of estrangement from reality. In addition, flashbacks, or spontaneous recurrence of the sensations that occurred during a previous drug experience, have been known to occur days, weeks or even months after use. The effects may range from pleasant to severely disturbing.
Tolerance and Dependence: Regular use of hallucinogens will induce tolerance within a few days; that is, little or no effect is experienced even with higher doses. In addition, cross-tolerance develops amongst LSD and psilocybin; that is, a person who has built up tolerance to one of these drugs will be unable to experience the effects of the other. However, original sensitivity is usually restored within a few days of abstaining.
Chronic users may also become psychologically dependent on hallucinogens as the drug becomes so central to a user’s thoughts, emotions and activities. However, hallucinogens do not appear to cause physical dependence, as withdrawal reactions have not been observed, even after long-term use.
Hallucinogens and the Law
LSD and psilocybin are classified as restricted drugs under Canada's Food and Drugs Act, therefore it is illegal to possess either without government authorization. A first offence for possession carriers maximum penalty of $1000 fine and 6 months imprisonment.
For subsequent offences, the maximum penalty is a $5000 fine and 3 years imprisonment. Importing, exporting, trafficking and possession for the purposes of trafficking, on the other hand, carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
PCP is regulated under the Narcotic Control Act and conviction of possession carries a maximum penalty of 7 years imprisonment. Importing, exporting, trafficking and possession for the purposes of trafficking carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
Click to download a pdf version. Drugs Health Matters: Cocaine
Cocaine is prepared from the leaf of the Erythroxylon coca bush, which grows primarily in Peru and Bolivia. It acts as a powerful stimulant that speeds up the central nervous system and as an anesthetic that numbs whatever tissue it touches, such as the inside of the nose.
Pure cocaine was first extracted in the mid-19th century and was introduced as a tonic in patent medicines to treat a wide variety of real and imaged illnesses. Later, it was used as a local anesthetic, but today has little clinical application, having been largely replaced by synthetic local anesthetics such as lidocaine.
Common Names: coke, blow, snuff, snow, crack, C, rock
Appearance and Use
Cocaine is a fine white crystalline powder often diluted with sugar, cornstarch, calcium powder and other substances. It can be sniffed, smoked or injected. Cocaine is also converted back into its base form, eliminating adulterants and increasing its potency. This technique, know as freebasing, has become widespread with the appearance of small ready-to-smoke chunks of cocaine base known as crack.
Short-term effects appear soon after a single dose and may include euphoria, increased alertness, rapid heart beat and breathing, high body temperature, dilated pupils, sweating and decreased appetite.
Large doses can cause violent behaviour, tremors, twitching, hallucinations, pain or pressure in the chest, nausea, blurred vision, fever, muscles spasms, convulsions and death. The high generally lasts 20-60 minutes and is followed by a depression which users remedy with further doses.
Long Term Effects
With repeated use over time, users experience restlessness, extreme irritability, insomnia, suspiciousness, hallucinations, delusions, weight loss, constipation, impotence, and difficulty urinating. Snorting coke leads to congestion, a runny nose and perforation of the nasal septum.
Crack use increases the risk of abnormal heart rhythms, high blood pressure, stroke or death and lead to the coughing of black phlegm, wheezing, irreversible lung damage and hoarseness of lips, tongue and throat.
Tolerance and Dependence: There has really been no observed tolerance to cocaine’s stimulant effects; users may keep taking the original dose over extended periods and still experience the same euphoria. Yet some users frequently increase their dose to intensify and prolong the effects.
Among heavy cocaine users, an intense psychological dependence can occur, where they suffer severe depression if they are not taking the drug. Presently researchers cannot agree what constitutes physical dependence on cocaine, but physical withdrawal symptoms may include sleep and eating disorders, depression and anxiety and the craving for cocaine.
Cocaine and the Law
Cocaine is regulated under Canada's Narcotic Control Act. A first offence for possession carriers maximum penalty of $1000 fine and 6 months imprisonment. For subsequent offences, the maximum penalty is a $2000 fine and 12 months imprisonment.
Importing, exporting, trafficking and possession for the purposes of trafficking, on the other hand, carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
Click to download a pdf version. Drugs Health Matters: Downers
Barbiturates are powerful depressant drugs that slow down the central nervous system. Barbiturates are legitimately prescribed by doctors to treat epilepsy, sleeping disorders, anxiety and tension under such trade names as Secondal, Amytal, Tuina and Nembutal. On the street they are often named for the colours of their capsules.
No one should operate a motor vehicle or engage in any tasks requiring heavy concentration or coordination while under the influence of any CNS depressant.
Common Names: downers, barbs, blue heaven (Amytal), red devils, yellow jackets (Nembutal), rainbows.
Appearance & Use: Generally pills
Immediate Effects: Short-term effects appear rapidly after a single dose and disappear usually within a few hours or even days. A small amount will characteristically produce calm and relaxation, inducing slowed breathing and reflexes.
A larger dose may produce effects similar to that of drunkenness, including slurred speech, staggering, slowed reactions, loss of inhibition, and intense emotions often expressed in an extreme and unpredictable manner.
A high dose usually will produce slow, shallow and irregular breathing, and can result in death from respiratory arrest.
Long Term Effects
Long Term Effects: Symptoms include impairment of memory and judgment, depression, mood swings, hostility, chronic fatigue and paranoia.
Tolerance and Dependence: The body quickly becomes tolerant to the effects of barbiturates meaning that larger doses are required to achieve the same “high”. However, the body dose not become tolerant to the effect the drug has on breathing, meaning the higher the doses, the weaker the breathing, eventually leading to coma, and even death.
Symptoms of dependence include progressive restlessness, anxiety, irritability, insomnia, delirium and convulsions in severe cases. Further, when chronic and regular high-dose abuse has resulted in serious physical dependence, abrupt withdrawal can cause symptoms severe enough to result in death.
Barbiturates and the Law
Barbiturates are controlled drugs under Canada’s Food and Drugs Act and are legally available only by prescription from a doctor. As such, possessing barbiturates or other controlled drugs does not constitute an offence. However, anyone convicted of trafficking in these drugs or possessing them for the purposes of trafficking, is guilty of an offence that carries a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment.
Click to download a pdf version. Drugs Health Matters: Heroin
Opiates are very strong painkillers found in a gummy substance extracted from the seed pod of the Asian poppy, Papaver somniferum. Opium is produced from this substance, and codeine and morphine are derived from opium. Heroin is processed from either morphine or codeine.
Heroin was introduced in 1898 as a remedy for morphine addiction. Although, heroin proved to be a more potent painkiller and cough suppressant, it was also much more addictive than morphine.
Common Names: junk, H, horse, smack (for heroine); M, morph, Miss Emma (for morphine); meth (for methadone); percs (for Percadan); juice (for Dilaudid)
Appearance and Use
Appearance & Use: Opium appears either as dark brown chunks or in powder form and is generally eaten or smoked. Heroin usually appears as a white or brownish powder, which is dissolved in water for injection. Most preparations contain only a small percentage of the drug, as they are diluted with sugar, quinine, or other drugs and substances. Heroin is usually injected under the skin (“skin popping”) or directly into a vein or muscle, but it may also be snorted or taken orally.
Immediate Effects: At low doses after injection into a vein, the user feels a surge of pleasure, or a “rush”, that gives way to a state of gratification. Hunger, pain and sexual urges are limited, but restlessness, nausea and vomiting are also common.
At moderate doses, the user goes “on the nod”, an alternately wakeful and drowsy state during which the world is forgotten. As the dose is increased, breathing becomes gradually slower. With high doses, the pupils contract to pinpoints, the skin is cold and moist, and even slower breathing may result in coma or death.
Long Term Effects
Long Term Effects: With repeated use over an extended period of time, chronic heroin users may develop endocarditis, an infection of the heart lining and heart valves.
Tolerance and Dependence: With regular use, tolerance develops to the pleasurable effects of heroin. This means that the use must use more the drug to achieve the same intensity of effect. Chronic users usually become psychologically dependent where heroin become central to the user’s emotions and activities. Physical dependence also occurs where the body adapts to the presence of the drug and withdrawal symptoms occur if the heroin use is reduced or stopped.
Withdrawal symptoms may include uneasiness, yawning, tears, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, goose bumps, and runny nose. Although people rarely die from withdrawal, people also feel very depressed and anxious, are unable to sleep or eat, and desperately want more of the drug. Heroin is one of the hardest drugs for an addicted person to quit.
Heroin and the Law
Opiates are governed by Canada’s Narcotic Control Act. A first offence for possession carriers maximum penalty of $1000 fine and 6 months imprisonment. For subsequent offences, the maximum penalty is a $2000 fine and 12 months imprisonment. Importing, exporting, trafficking and possession for the purposes of trafficking, on the other hand, carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
Click to download a pdf version. Drugs Health Matters: Uppers
Amphetamines are a group of drugs that speed up the body’s central nervous system. They mimic the hormone adrenaline, one of the body’s natural stimulants. Many drugs are derivatives of drugs, however amphetamines are made entirely from chemicals.
Amphetamines are legitimately used as an appetite suppressant, though risk of dependence and abuse have required stringent controls on their medical use.
Common Names: speed, ice, glass, crystal, crank, pep pills, uppers
Appearance and Use
Appearance & Use: Amphetamines come in crystals, chunks, or glittery powders that are off-white to yellow in colour. They often have a “fishy” or ammonia-like smell and can be swallowed, injected, sniffed or smoked.
“Crystal” is a powder form of methamphetamine that is injected, inhaled or ingested. “Ice” and “glass” are smokable forms of methamphetamine and “crank” comes in tablets or capsules.
In small doses, upper increase mental alertness and physical energy. Breathing and heart rate speed up, pupils dilate, appetite decreases and the mouth dries up. Depression and fatigue usually follow. Irregular sleep patterns are also common. Higher doses may cause tremors, sweating, anxiety, headache, palpitations and severe chest pain. In extremely high doses, hallucinations, delirium, seizures, coma and even death may occur. Coming down leaves one depressed, anxious, jittery and nervous.
Long Term Effects
Long Term Effects: Regular use will lead to weight loss, constipation and emotional instability. Because amphetamines specifically suppress appetite, chronic heavy users generally fail to eat properly and consequently are prone to vitamin deficiencies and malnutrition.
Uppers also reduce resistance to infection and carry a risk of damage to blood vessels and heart failure. Heavy users may be prone to sudden, violent, and irrational acts that result from drug-induced self-centredness, distortions of perceptions and delusions that other people are threatening them.
Tolerance and Dependence: Physical and psychological dependence to amphetamines occurs rapidly, especially when they are injection or smoked. Tolerance does not develop to all effects at the same rate, however, and there may be increased sensitivity to some of them.
The most common symptoms of withdrawal among heavy amphetamine users are fatigue, long but troubled sleep, irritability, intense hunger, and moderate to severe depression. Fits of violence may also occur.
Amphetamines and the Law
Amphetamines and the Law: Amphetamines are controlled drugs under Canada’s Food and Drugs Act and are legally available only by prescription. As such, possessing amphetamines or other controlled drugs does not constitute an offence. However, anyone convicted of trafficking in these drugs or possessing them for the purposes of trafficking, is guilty of an offence that carries a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment.