Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Handling Drugs With Common Sense

You may have friends who have experimented with illegal drugs like cannabis or ecstasy, and you may be interested in trying them yourself. But there are serious dangers associated with taking any drug. If you're determined to try a drug, don't do it without knowing what to expect - the downside as well as the upside.

What drugs do:
  • Loosely speaking drugs have four different kinds of effect on the body: stimulants (such as amphetamine) quite literally speed up the body
  • depressants (such as alcohol) slow the body down
  • hallucinogens/psychedelics (such as acid) alter the way people perceive the world around them
  • narcotics (such as heroin) induce a feeling of passive drowsiness.

But not every drug fits neatly into one category. There's cannabis, which gives users a bit of everything: it relaxes, mellows and some of the modern blends can also trigger hallucinations. There are drugs such as MDMA (ecstasy) that are halfway between being pure stimulants and pure psychedelic/hallucinogens. In fact all the drugs in the ecstasy family fall somewhere on the psychedelic/stimulant axis; some are more psychedelic than stimulant and some are the other way around.

Psychedelic spectrumThese drugs share actions on a spectrum from purely psychedelic (acid) to purely stimulant (amphetamine), with ecstasy in the middle having both.


Know what to expect

  • Most drugs with a stimulant effect produce a rush, and this is usually the first feeling. The most commonly experienced rush is from tobacco - that slight feeling of giddiness after the first puff of the first cigarette of the day. Or the "hit" from alcohol - 20 minutes after the first mouthful - the warmth behind the eyes, and in the legs. Not surprisingly, because of its name, a rush feels like a sudden burst of energy when everything inside your body and your head is whizzing, dizzying, fainting and swooning. Involuntarily you may start gasping for breath.
  • With ecstasy and amphetamine the rush can make people want to dance and never stop. The rush from MDA (ecstasy's parent drug) can make people want to sit down in a cool place and take deep breaths - and they should do just that.
  • Depressant drugs, including alcohol, dull the central nervous system so the heart beats more slowly and this can give people a feeling of well-being, relaxation and loss of inhibitions.
  • Drugs with hallucinogenic effects take an hour or so to act and they change the way people see the world. The changes can be pleasant, such as colours seeming more intense; or they can be frightening, such as thinking you're being attacked by strange animals. These drugs can take hours to wear off.
  • It's asking for big trouble to take any drug unless you're sure what it is and where it's come from. Drugs are often padded out (cut) or substituted with anything from caffeine, flour or glucose to dog-worming tablets, all of which can be very harmful. Sometimes a drug is cut with another drug; for example, ketamine is often added to ecstasy and has horrible, unexpected effects.

Know the downside

You may know the pleasant and glamorous effects of certain drugs but do you know the negatives? Stimulants can cause overheating and dehydration. A "trip" may not go as you'd hoped - it could be nightmarish. And, remember, every time you go up you have to come down and the comedown can be nasty.

You, your mood and your friends

How you'll react to a drug depends only partly on what's in it. But reactions to the same drug can also vary from time to time and in different situations. The "set", literally your mind-set (your mood) when you take the drug: whether you're happy, sad, up, down, nervous or relaxed may mean a good trip or a bad trip. Where you are and who you're with - the "setting" - can also affect you positively or negatively. If you're somewhere you don't like or with people who make you feel uncomfortable, you're more likely to have a bad experience.

"Coming down"

The feelings of exhaustion, depression and sickness (being wasted) that come on in varying degrees when a drug wears off are described as "coming down". And the higher you go, the harder you fall. With stimulants the high is achieved using up the body's own store of energy - the drug merely acts as the trigger - so a down is inevitable when exhaustion and depression hit and the down can last for several days. Persistent use of stimulants can cause prolonged and "deeper" downs as the body has less time to recover.

  • The comedown after the frequent use of any drug can make you feel paranoid, jittery and panicky.
  • After cocaine the comedown is a sudden, intense and deep blackness. The more cocaine you take to compensate the deeper you go.
  • Ecstasy can leave you feeling low and apathetic for up to a week.
  • Crack gives at best a ten-minute high, followed by a low that can last for days and has been described as "rolling down a hill of broken glass".
  • Tranquillizers give people a terrible hangover.
What's a bad trip like?
A bad trip from ecstasy, speed, acid or strong cannabis can affect you physically and emotionally. The worst part is that you can get flashbacks for months, even longer, when you'll relive the horrors of the bad trip. Everyone's bad trip is different and hard to put into words but it's possible to build a mental picture afterwards.


Know how to look after yourself

The dance/drug combination can cause real problems. Dance drugs like ecstasy, amphetamine and acid are stimulants that go hand-in-hand with the all-night dance culture of clubs and raves. The greatest dangers of taking them are dehydration, heat exhaustion and heatstroke. Although dance drugs speed up your body, giving you the energy to dance for hours, dancing in a hot club makes you overheat and sweat to excess, depleting your body of water and salts. The problem with dance drugs is that you probably won't feel tired, thirsty or hungry until it's either too late or the drug wears off, even though your body is exhausted and dangerously low on minerals and water.

Know the don'ts

  • DON'T take alcohol with drugs.
  • DON'T take more drugs after the first dose.
  • DON'T mix drugs - they can react with each other producing serious side effects.
  • DON'T dance all night without having regular breaks, preferably outside or in the chill-out room.
  • DON'T dance all night without drinking liquids.
  • DON'T wear a hat.
  • DON'T drive a car or use machinery.

Know what to do in an emergency
Read the "If something goes wrong" section for each drug. This tells you what to do if you or a friend suffer adverse side effects. Also read the last chapter "What to do in an emergency" and, if possible, go on a first-aid course. Quick-thinking friends have saved lives.

Warning signs to watch out for:
  • disorientation (the person can't say where she is or what day it is)
  • drowsiness (the person is unresponsive to commands such as "Open your eyes")
  • having fits (convulsions)
  • gasping for breath or difficulty breathing
  • feeling abnormally hot to the touch, even though the person's been in a cool environment
  • fainting or unconsciousness.
If you notice any of the above, get help from a member of the club staff or Call an ambulance. Always say what you think your friend has taken.

Know the club
A good safe club should have:

  • free water
  • water, high-energy drinks, fruit juice and salty snacks for sale
  • chill-out areas
  • lots of public telephones, with the local hospital phone number and a taxi number displayed
  • a resident paramedic.


Follow these guidelines and you reduce the chance of meeting problems face to face: Drink half a pint of liquid (NOT alcohol) every half an hour

Stimulants naturally increase your body temperature. Taking them in a hot place, like a club, raises your body temperature even more. If you also dance for hours, your body temperature goes through the roof. You overheat and to try to counter this, your body sweats - buckets. You must replace these lost fluids with high-energy sports drinks, fruit juice or water. They help to restock lost minerals and vitamins as well as the water, so your body has a better chance of recovering from the pounding it takes during a night's clubbing.

  • Don't gulp the drink all at once. Drink some about every 15 minutes.
  • Never drink alcohol. It makes you even more dehydrated, and is a nasty additive to any other drug. It depends on how much you sweat, but drinking more than three pints of water in an hour is dangerous.
  • Eat salted crisps or peanuts This helps your body to replace salt lost through sweating. If it's not replaced, the least you can expect is aching limbs the morning after.
  • Spend regular periods in the chill-out room These rooms aren't provided for decoration, they're there to allow your body to recover and cool down.
  • Don't wear a hat Hats keep heat in the body. You may think you look good wearing one, but you'll feel terrible as you're more likely to overheat.
  • Cool off with water If you're hot, splash water over your face and head.
  • Go with friends Your mood ("mind-set") will be better if you're with people you like, and you're more likely to look out for each other.

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