Puberty and Growth - Drugs

During the 1960s there was an alarming increase in drug use among teenagers—a problem that deservedly received nationwide attention. Education concerning the hazards and occasional tragedies accompanying drug use is imperative.


Marihuana affects the central nervous system, including the brain, after it enters the bloodstream. According to some researchers, the substance accumulates in the liver. Some of the effects of marihuana are not unlike those of tobacco. The rate of the heartbeat is increased, body temperature drops, and blood sugar levels are altered. The drug user also feels dehydrated, the appetite is stimulated, coordination of movements becomes difficult, there are feelings of drowsiness or unsteadiness, and the eyes may become reddish. Taken in higher strengths, marihuana can cause hallucinations or distortions of perception.

Varying Effects

Scientists are uncertain about the pathways of the drug in the central nervous system and its effects on other body systems. The drug's effects seem to vary widely, not only among individual users but also according to the social setting and the amount and strength of the marihuana used. The effects, which usually begin within 15 minutes after the smoke is inhaled and may continue for several hours, vary from depression to excitement and talkativeness. Some users claim to experience time distortions and errors in distance perception. But others sharing the same marihuana cigarette may experience no effects at all.

Although marihuana is not addictive, in that users do not develop a physical dependence upon the substance and withdrawal of the drug produces no ill effects, there are dangerous results from the use of marihuana. Marihuana users find it hard to make decisions that require clear thinking, some users develop psychotic reactions or an emotional disorder called “acute marihuana panic,” and there is some evidence that the active ingredient is transmitted by expectant mothers to their unborn children.


Marihuana sometimes is described as a hallucinogen because of visual hallucinations, illusions, and delusions reported by users after they have inhaled the smoke from a large number of “joints” or “sticks” of the drug. But marihuana should not be confused with the true hallucinogenic drugs such as mescaline and LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) which are known by doctors as psychomimetic drugs because they mimic psychoses.

LSD and Mescaline

LSD and mescaline have marked effects on perception and thought processes. Teenagers usually become involved with the use of LSD because they are curious about its effects; they may have heard about its purported “mind-bending” properties and expect to gain great personal insights from its use. Instead of great insight, however, the user finds anxiety, depression, confusion, and frightening hallucinations. The use of LSD is complicated by the reappearance of hallucinations after the individual has quit using the drug; the very possibility of repeated hallucinations causes a sense of terror.

Morphine and Heroin

Besides the hallucinogenic drugs, there are opium derivatives, morphine and heroin . Morphine is one of the most effective pain relievers known and is one of the most valuable drugs available to the physician. Morphine and heroin depress the body systems to produce drowsiness, sleep, and a reduction in physical activity. They are true narcotics, and their appeal is in their ability to produce a sense of euphoria by reducing the individual's sensitivity to both psychological and physical stimuli.

Addictive Properties

A great danger lies in the ability of the body tissues to develop a physical dependence on morphine and its derivative cousin, heroin. The degree to which heroin's “desirable” effects are felt depends in part on how the user takes it. Sniffing is the mildest form of abuse, followed by skin-popping —subcutaneous injection—and then by mainlining —injecting directly into a vein, which is the method used by almost all those dependent on heroin.

The body adjusts to the level of the first doses so that increasingly larger injections of the drug are required to produce the same feelings of euphoria. The ability of the body to adjust to the increasingly larger doses is called tolerance . And with tolerance goes physical dependence , which means that when heroin or morphine is withdrawn from the user he experiences a violent sickness marked by tremors, sweating and chills, vomiting and diarrhea, and sharp abdominal pains. Another shot of heroin or morphine temporarily ends the withdrawal symptoms. But the user, now dependent upon the drug, must continue regular doses or face another bout of the withdrawal sickness. Heroin has no value as a medicine and is available only through illicit channels at a high price. The heroin addict usually is unable to hold a job because of effects of the drug and often turns to crime in order to finance his daily supply of the narcotic.

Shortened Life Span

The health of a narcotics addict declines so that his life span is shortened by 15 to 20 years. He usually is in continual trouble with the law because of the severe penalties for illegal possession of narcotics. If he sells narcotics, as many heroin addicts are driven to do to get enough money to support their habit, the punishment is even more severe.

Amphetamines and Barbiturates

Other commonly abused drugs are amphetamines , also known as uppers or pep pills , and barbiturates , sometimes called downers or goof balls . Amphetamines are used by physicians to curb the appetite when weight reduction of patients is needed and to relieve mild cases of depression. However, some physicians doubt that amphetamines should be used as a weight-control medication because of the risks involved; other experts have questioned whether the drugs are actually effective for that purpose.

Amphetamines stimulate the heart rate, increase the blood pressure, cause rapid breathing, dilate the pupils of the eyes, and produce other effects such as dryness of the mouth, sweating, headache, and diarrhea. Ordinarily, amphetamines are swallowed as tablets, but a more extreme form of amphetamine abuse involves the injection of the drug, usually Methedrine, directly into the vein.

Barbiturates are sedatives used by physicians to treat high blood pressure, epilepsy, and insomnia, and to relax patients being prepared for surgery. They slow the heart rate and breathing, lower blood pressure, and mildly depress the action of nerves and muscles.

Dangers of Amphetamines and Barbituates

The danger in the use of amphetamines is that they induce a person to do things beyond his physical endurance, cause mental disorders that require hospitalization, and, in large doses, can result in death. Although they do not produce the kind of physical dependence observed in the use of narcotics, amphetamine withdrawal for a heavy user can result in a deep and suicidal depression.

Barbiturates are highly dangerous when taken without medical advice. They distort perception and slow down reaction and response time, contributing to the chances of accidents. Barbiturates are a leading cause of accidental poison deaths because they make the mind foggy and the user forgets how many pills he has taken, thus leading to overdosage. They also cause physical dependence with withdrawal symptoms that range from cramps and nausea to convulsions and death. See also Ch. 29, Substance Abuse .

Often Abused Substances

A variety of legal substances have increasingly been abused by teenagers in recent years including non-prescription and prescription medications and inhalants. Prescription drugs, such as anti-depressants, antibiotics, and pain-killers, are frequently shared among friends and family members. Borrowed medications can cause severe allergic reactions, particularly if combined with other medications or alcohol, a practice that physicians strongly oppose. Non-prescription drugs, such as sleep inhibitors and cough syrups, have also been abused, because of their wide availability. When prescription and non-prescription drugs are combined with the abuse of alcohol, the results can be deadly. Inhalants consist of three subgroups: aerosols, solvents, and anesthetics. Abusers sniff or inhale the fumes to achieve a high similar to that of many illegal drugs. Among the aerosol products abused are spray paints, hair sprays, and insecticides. The solvents include paint thinners, airplane cement and glues, and transmission fluid. Anesthetics, not as widely available as inhalants and aerosols, consist of nitrous oxide, ether, and chloroform. The use of inhalants can cause a variety of dangerous side effects including hallucination, mental disorder, nausea, muscular weakness, and fatigue. Long-term abuse may cause kidney, liver, brain, bone marrow, and heart damage, and even death. Some inhalants have also been linked to a variety of cancers.

User Contributions:

Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic: