Drugs of Abuse: An Identification Guide
Why This Guide?
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”- Benjamin Franklin
The key to effective prevention is knowledge. This guide is designed to inform families, employers, and educators not familiar with the vast array of abused drugs now commonplace in our communities. Some of these drugs, such as inhalants, can be found in any supermarket or hardware store. Prescription drugs have legitimate medical applications but are being increasingly diverted for illicit purposes. Other “hardcore” drugs, such as crack cocaine, are now commonplace in many schools, work sites, and homes across North America.
When Drug Use Becomes Drug Dependence
When drugs are used solely to create intensely pleasurable feelings, it is called drug abuse. Tolerance to the drugs’ effects occurs with long-term use, so users must take higher doses to achieve the same or similar effects as experienced initially. Prolonged drug abuse can also lead to physical dependence, psychological dependence, or both. Physical dependence means that the absence of the drug creates discomfort (withdrawal) until more of the drug is administered. Psychological dependence refers to a perceived “need” or “craving” for a drug. While physical dependence is typically treated in a few days, treatment for psychological dependence requires a much longer time frame.
Drug Categories Explained
The Controlled Drugs and Substances Act in Canada regulates four classes of drugs: hallucinogens, depressants, stimulants, and anabolic steroids. All controlled substances have the potential to be abused. With the exception of anabolic steroids, controlled substances are abused to alter mood, thought, and feeling through their effect on the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord).
Drugs are distinguished by their effect on the central nervous system (depressants or stimulants), by their primary ingredient (the poppy plant for opioids, testosterone for steroids), or how they are used (inhalants). Individual drugs within a class can have differing medical uses, effect duration, or methods of ingestion (oral, injected, smoked, or snorted). However, drugs within a particular class typically share similar effects, overdose risk, and withdrawal symptoms.
Although considered a hallucinogen, the prevalence and unique features of cannabis warrant a separate section. Inhalants are abused drugs but, due to their widespread use for a number of legitimate purposes, are not controlled substances. Due to their abuse potential, however, a section is dedicated to inhalants. Families and educators may want to pay particular attention to inhalants since most inhalant abusers are youth.
Prevalence of Drug Abuse in Canada
A final note on the prevalence of the drugs profiled in this guide is necessary. Of Canadians 15 years or older, a survey conducted in 2004 revealed that alcohol is, by far, the drug of choice with 79.3 percent report consuming alcohol in the past year. Of past-year drinkers, 17 percent are considered high-risk drinkers. According to the same survey, “cannabis is the most widely used illicit drug followed in order by LSD or hallucinogens, cocaine and crack, speed, and heroin.” Rates of past-year use of cannabis increased signifi cantly from 7.4 percent in 1994 to 14.1 percent in 2004, while cocaine and crack use more than doubled from 0.7 percent to 1.9 percent during the same period. Rates of past-year use for all other substances (including steroids and inhalants) remained below 1 percent. (source: Canadian Addiction Survey, 2004).
In Canada, tobacco is the leading preventable cause of death. Exclusion from this guide is not intended to minimize its impact on the well-being of Canadians.
Changes in this Edition
In this 2010/11 edition of this guide, changes have been made to the marijuana section. Furthermore, information on barbiturates has been replaced with additional photographs of more commonly prescribed drugs.