Teens and drugs: What you need to know

Author: Canadian Living


Teens and drugs: What you need to know

Originally titled "Teens & Drugs," from the September 2007 issue. Subscribe to Canadian Living today and never miss an issue!

The day unfolds like any other quiet Sunday. Your teen is out with some friends at a nearby mall. You're just dropping some folded laundry on her bed when you notice the Facebook page left open on her computer. You don't want to be nosy, but, well, it's right in front of you. You look.

Imagine your complete and utter astonishment when you see your very own 16-year-old daughter, wearing the outfit she had on just last night, smoking what appears to be a bong (not that you would know). It appears to be filled with smoke. Her eyes look glazed. Is that what was going on at the friend's house you drove her to?

When you confront her as she comes in the door, she brushes you off with, “Oh, Mom, it's just organic herbs!”

Yeah, right. Now what are you going to do?

You are not alone
First, know that you are not alone. Wende Wood, a psychiatric pharmacist with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto, says most Canadian teens experiment with drugs. However, she adds, when kids move from experimentation to chronic use to problem use, they may have an underlying problem that has not been diagnosed, such as anxiety, depression or bipolar disorder.

Similarly, what may appear to be a telltale sign of drug use, such as sleeping all day on the weekend, may be normal teen behaviour, points out Wood. "Teens can be dramatic, and it's often hard to know what's normal teenage behaviour. Keep the lines of communication open," she advises.

Becoming as knowledgeable as possible about the drugs out there before you have an open conversation with your teen is another way to help build credibility and protect your child, says Carin McLean, manager of the Youth Outreach program at CAMH.  To get you started, here's a list of the most common recreational drugs, as well as their uses, side-effects and health risks.

Page 1 of 5Methamphetamine
Street names: chalk, crank, crystal, crystal meth, glass, ice, meth, speed

Who uses it? Crystal meth use among teens is relatively low -- about two per cent. A 2004 study indicates there may be increasing methamphetamine use among homeless youth. Young people are making it in basement labs; this can prove dangerous, as recent news reports of crystal meth lab fires and explosions indicate.

Cost: $60 for one-third of a gram; $10 per "hit." Although the price of crystal meth has gone up in recent months, thanks to police crackdowns in urban centres, it's still relatively cheap. And the high it provides can last much longer than the high provided by either cocaine or crack.

Physical and mental effects
• Increased heart rate and blood pressure
• Wakefulness
• Sense of well-being thought to be caused by release of dopamine, the brain chemical associated with pleasurable feelings
• Decreased appetite, weight loss
• Same euphoria as cocaine
• Highly addictive

Health risks
• Convulsions, respiratory problems, irregular heartbeat
• Extreme anorexia
• Delusions and hallucinations that can lead to picking skin until open sores become infected
• Rotting teeth known as "meth mouth," which could be caused by chronic dry mouth and reduced blood flow to gums
• Violent behaviour, anxiety, confusion, paranoia and psychosis
• Overdose, particularly when combined with alcohol or ecstasy

Telltale signs of use
• Sleeplessness followed by a lot of sleep
• Weight loss
• Binge-and-crash pattern

Page 2 of 5Marijuana
Street names: blunt, bomb, bud, chronic, doobie, dope, ganja, grass, hash, herb, homegrown, hydro, jay, joint, Mary Jane (MJ), pot, reefer, weed

What is it?
Marijuana, hashish (hash) and hash oil all come from a hemp plant known as Cannabis sativa. The active ingredient in all three is called THC. Marijuana is the flowering tops and dried leaves of the hemp plant; hash comes from the sticky resin that coats the flowers.

What does it look like?
• Green, brown or grey mix of dried and shredded leaves, stems, seeds and flowers
• Often rolled in cigarette papers and smoked like a cigarette
• May be stashed in a drawer, in a small plastic bag or tin foil

• Dark brown or black chunks
• Often carried in tin foil

Hash oil

• Green or red-brown
• Often carried in tin foil or a small (pinkie-size) glass vial with screw-top lid

Cost: Marijuana: one-quarter ounce, $75; hashish/hash oil: one-quarter ounce, $90.

Who uses it?
Marijuana is the most commonly used illegal drug in Canada. According to CAMH, almost half (44 per cent) of all Canadians have used it at least once.

Marijuana is also popular with Canadian teenagers. Results out of the Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey (OSDUHS) -- the longest ongoing survey of adolescent drug use in Canada -- shows that:
• 26.5 per cent of Ontario students have used marijuana in the past year, including three per cent of Grade 7 students and 46 per cent of Grade 12 students; and
• 12 per cent of students who use marijuana say they use it every day, representing three per cent, or about 33,200 students.

Physical and mental effects
As with most illegal recreational drugs, you don't really know what you are getting. Marijuana can be mixed with other drugs, making it much more potent. Smoking marijuana may:
• increase heart rate;
• make throat sore and lungs ache;
• distort sense of time, making it seem to pass more slowly;
• heighten hearing and vision;
• affect balance;
• affect ability to think clearly and short-term memory;
• produce feelings of relaxation and lower inhibitions, or, conversely, increase feelings of anxiety, confusion or paranoia;
• cause sleepiness as drug wears off;
• cause hallucinations, especially if a lot is smoked at one time; and
• lead to dependence in some cases.

Health risks
Marijuana smoke contains more tar and more of some cancer-causing chemicals than tobacco smoke. There are at least 400 chemicals in marijuana. Add to that the fact that people who smoke marijuana inhale more deeply and hold the smoke in their lungs longer than tobacco smokers and you get some idea of how unhealthy it is.

In addition, smoking marijuana:
• affects coordination, concentration and reaction time, making it dangerous to drive a car, operate machinery or ride a bicycle;
• irritates lungs and is linked to chronic cough and bronchitis;
• can make asthma worse;
• may have an impact on prescription medication such as antidepressants; and
• can lead to "toxic psychosis," including hallucinations and paranoia.

Telltale signs of use:
• Dry mouth and/or red eyes
• Increased appetite ("the munchies")
• Sleeping more than usual
• A general lack of motivation
• Drop in academic progress
• New friends who are part of a drug culture that involves buying, selling and using drugs

Page 3 of 5Ecstasy
Street names: Adam, E, the love drug, X, XTC

What is it?
Ecstasy is a synthetic chemical that stimulates the release of serotonin, the "feel-good" brain chemical. It can be mixed with caffeine, ephedrine or amphetamine – or with other, highly toxic drugs. "Herbal ecstasy" usually contains herbal ephedrine, a stimulant linked to increased risk of stroke and heart attack.

What does it look like?
• Tablets or capsules in different candylike shapes, sizes and colours
• May be stamped with a logo such as a butterfly or a clover leaf

Cost: $20 to $25 per hit

Who uses it?
In the 1980s ecstasy became popular at all-night dance parties, or raves. Now it's a popular party drug favoured by different groups of people, including adult urban professionals.

Physical and mental effects
Within an hour, low to moderate doses can produce feelings of well-being, confidence and increased energy. Negative effects even at low doses can include teeth grinding and jaw pain, sweating, increased blood pressure and heart rate, anxiety, blurred vision, nausea and convulsions. After four to six hours, aftereffects such as confusion, anxiety, paranoia, depression and insomnia kick in and can last for days or weeks.

Health risks
• A growing number of deaths have been attributed to ecstasy, mainly due to dehydration and overheating associated with all-night dancing.
• Use of other drugs, including alcohol, greatly increases risk of overdose
and death.
• Increased body temperature, blood pressure and heart rate can lead to kidney or heart failure, stroke
and seizure.
• May cause jaundice and liver damage.
• People who already have high blood pressure, heart or liver problems, diabetes, epilepsy or any mental disorder are most at risk of negative effects.
• Can cause a toxic interaction when mixed with other drugs, including prescription medications such as monoamine oxidase inhibitors and ritonavir -- a drug used to treat HIV.
• Although it may not cause physical dependence, tolerance builds up quickly, making it increasingly difficult to get desired effects.
• Prolonged use may interfere with the release of serotonin, the "feel-good" hormone.

Telltale signs of use
• Stays up all night
• Extremely talkative and energetic
• Sleeps for days after "coming down"
• Irritable, paranoid, confused, depressed

Page 4 of 5Cocaine
Street names: blow, c, coke, crack, dust, flake, freebase, powder lines, rock, snow

What is it?
Cocaine is a stimulant drug made from the leaves of the South American coca bush.

What does it look like?
• White powder that is inhaled or snorted
• Liquid that is injected
• Crack, the most highly addictive form

Cost: One-half gram of powder, $45; $15 to $25 for a rock, or hit, of crack

Who uses it?
One in 20 Ontario students -- about 43,000 -- in grades 7 to 12 used cocaine at least once in the past year.

Physical and mental effects
The impact of this drug depends on how much is used, how often, in what form (powder, liquid or crystals) and whether or not other drugs are involved.
• When snorted or injected, cocaine takes effect within minutes and the
high lasts up to an hour.
• When smoked, drug takes effect within seconds but lasts only five to 10 minutes.
• You initially feel energetic, confident, talkative and excited.
• When high fades, you feel agitated, paranoid and unable to relax or sleep.

Health risks

Cocaine can be mixed, or "cut," with dangerous substances. As well, cocaine:
• is highly addictive, especially "freebase" or "crack" cocaine;
• can cause a heart attack or stroke;
• can cause sinus infections, loss of smell and nosebleeds;
• can damage tissues in the nose;
• can lead to weight loss, malnutrition, anxiety, depression and psychosis; and
• is easy to overdose on.

Telltale signs of use
• Loss of appetite
• Extremely talkative and energetic
• Stays up all night
• Sleeps for one to two days after "coming down"
• Irritable, paranoid, confused

Street names: black tar, brown sugar, goods, H, Harry, horse, junk, Lady, smack, white girl

What does it look like?
• A white powder, a brown grainy substance or a dark sticky gum; most often injected but can be snorted
• Can be heated in tin foil or on a spoon and the fumes inhaled in a ritual known as "tooting" or "chasing the dragon"

Who uses it?
• Wide range of people from different cultural, social, economic and age groups
• Twice as many males as females
• Most first-time users are teens and young adults
• Most regular users are over 30

It varies according to availability and market trends.

Physical and mental effects
• When injected, immediately produces a surge of euphoria known as a “rush” that lasts for a few minutes
• Slowed breathing due to depression of the autonomic nervous system
• Followed by up to one hour of sedation referred to as being “on the nod”
• New users may become nauseated and vomit
• Feeling of detachment from physical and emotional pain
• Feeling of well-being
• Effect with snorting or smoking not as intense

Health risks
• Bacterial infection, blood poisoning, abscesses, endocarditis (infection of the heart lining), collapsed veins, overdose, infection with HIV, hepatitis B or C from shared needles, dependence and addiction, changes in brain function
• Overdose, particularly when injected, and, when combined with other sedating drugs such as alcohol, can cause breathing to stop completely

Telltale signs of use
• "Track marks" along the arms from repeated injections
• Changes in mood and behaviour
• Decreased awareness of the outside world
• Drowsiness
• Docile and compliant when high
• Irritable and aggressive during withdrawal, which can set in within six to 12 hours of last dose
• Withdrawal symptoms include runny nose, sneezing, diarrhea, vomiting, restlessness, sweating, chills, shaking and involuntary leg movements; intense craving for more drug

Page 5 of 6
Street names: date rape drug, K, Special K

What does it look like?
Used by veterinarians, this fast-acting anesthetic and painkiller is usually sold as a white powder that is snorted, dissolved in drinks or smoked with marijuana or tobacco. (A liquid form is typically mixed with drinks or injected.)

Who uses it?
• Clubbers who are part of the downtown bar scene
• Used recreationally by people attending large parties or raves
• Recent reports also point to the use of the drug among young people

Cost: A vial of powdered K (0.5 grams) costs $30 on the street.

Physical and mental effects
• Can produce a speedy rush and lead to hallucinations
• Out-of-body experiences sometimes referred to as "K-holes"
• Feelings of numbness and lack of coordination
• Nausea
• Blurred vision

Health risks
• At high doses may cause irregular heartbeat, difficulty breathing and loss of consciousness
• Some other drugs (including some that treat HIV) increase the potency of this drug
• Could pose a safety risk because its sedative effects have been used to prevent victims from resisting sexual assault
• Since it's an anesthetic that dulls pain, you may hurt yourself unknowingly

Telltale signs of use
• Change in behaviour
• Unexplained cuts or bruises
• Drowsiness

Alcohol: Risky business
Let's not forget about the rampant use -- and abuse -- of alcohol among Canadian teens. A 2001 survey of Alberta adolescents aged 12 to 18 found that 65 per cent had consumed alcohol at least once in the previous month. Almost half -- 46 per cent -- said they had consumed five or more drinks in a row during the same time.

Alcohol can pave the way for sexual assault and is also associated with increased risk of accidental injury and death, including alcohol poisoning and suicide. Over the long term, heavy drinking can cause brain and nerve damage; high blood pressure and stroke; liver disease; diseases of the stomach, digestive system and pancreas; breast and throat cancer; low sex-hormone levels; and alcohol dependence.

Read about how to stop your teen from binge drinking.

Page 6 of 6

Share X

Teens and drugs: What you need to know