1. Key Facts about Drugs
According to a 2014 survey undertaken by The Guardian, one in three UK adults has admitted to using illegal drugs at some point. That’s something like 15 million British people, a fifth of whom are, by their own accounts, still regularly using these substances.
In 2008, a similar survey by The Observer found that 27% of British adults had used illegal drugs at some point in their lives, The Guardian’s 2014 study had it at 31%, which shows that the number of users is steadily on the rise.
Whilst the ever-increasing numbers of such surveys may offer cause for concern, only 16% of responders stated a preference for taking drugs in a pub/club or bar environment, with 84% preferring to stay at home whilst taking drugs.
It all sounds relatively harmless, until you factor in 2014/15’s 8,149 hospital admissions for drug-related mental health or behavioural disorders.
According to the UK Home Office, drug misuse in the country has fallen considerably in the last 10 years. Perhaps typically with our current administration, this is not the whole story. Opioid-related deaths are, in fact, on the rise in this country, and the above statement was trotted out by the Home Office as part of a po-faced rejection of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs’ (ACMD) drug treatment and harm reduction recommendations.
As the ACMD recommendations point out, drug misuse may be on the decline, but drug-related deaths are very much on the rise – and the standard of care offered to victims of drug abuse has dropped considerably. The tangible effects of this policy of neglect could include, in addition to an increase of preventable deaths, more desperate people on the streets, resorting to crime as a method of sating their addictions.
2. What are the Different Types of Drugs
There are a lot of different illegal drugs available on UK streets. These substances range from the milder forms of cannabis to highly dangerous and addictive drugs like heroin, but all are dangerous in their own way. In this section, we’ll offer a brief guide to the main forms of drug you may encounter whilst working nights.
First synthesised in 1887, amphetamines mimic adrenaline and noradrenaline, which are stimulants produced naturally by the body. Amphetamines are used to keep people awake for extended periods of time as well as keep the user sharp and beat back exhaustion. They can also greatly improve a person’s confidence.
For those of you thinking ‘hey, sounds like I could use some of these’, think again. Amphetamine usage places a huge strain on the circulatory system and heart, which can cause long-term health problems, or even cardiac arrest. Other symptoms, such as paranoia, depression (suicide in extreme cases), fatigue (including deep sleeps lasting up to 24 hours at a time) and malnutrition (the drug is an appetite suppressant) are common among regular users.
Amphetamines are also known as ‘Amps’, ‘Speed’, ‘Bennies’, ‘Benz’, ‘Blue Mollies’, ‘Black Mollies’, ‘Uppers’, ‘Eye-Openers’, ‘Jelly Beans’, ‘Dexies’ and ‘Pick-Me-Ups’.
The most widely used illegal drug in the world, cannabis is also known as weed, grass, dope, Mary Jane, puff, hash, green, ganja and pot. The cannabis sativa plant is native to central Asia and forms the basis for all types of marijuana and hashish in the world. The drug is most often smoked, but there are other ways of taking it besides that.
Closer to home, cannabis is by far the UK’s most popular recreational drug, which around 2.4 million British people admitted to using in the last year alone.
While conventional wisdom has it that this drug is relatively safe, or even beneficial as a painkiller (this is actually true) cannabis actually has a lot of hidden dangers, such as causing paranoia, lethargy and panic attacks, as well as creating a total dependency in around 10% of users.
Cannabis usage also greatly increases the likelihood of the user developing a psychotic illness. In addition, the effects of cannabis vary wildly from person to person, which is one reason for its prohibition.
A properly regulated (and taxed) cannabis market could very well emerge at some point in the future (with the added benefit of bringing rather a lot into the UK economy), but until then, cannabis should be regarded as an illegal and potentially dangerous substance.
Creating a highly addictive feeling of bold euphoria and acute alertness, cocaine is a resilient drug that is seemingly impervious to International borders, socioeconomic ‘class boundaries’, gender, race, religion or creed. As such, it represents a serious problem for all of society.
Part of this drug’s success lies in its versatility, as it can be taken orally, smoked, snorted, injected or even (if the user is into that sort of thing) inserted into various orifices.
Cocaine is manufactured from the leaves of the coca plant. When sprinkled with lime and water, then crushed up, or mulched, they are mixed with kerosene or diesel fuel, which removes the cocaine. This is then heated and filtered before being mixed with sulphuric acid, which is in turn mixed with lime or soda to create a paste. The paste is then dissolved in a mixture of dilute sulphuric acid and potassium permanganate, before being filtered with ammonia (to neutralise the acid) and dried, forming cocaine hydrochloride, a type of salt, which is how you will most likely encounter it.
As you can probably discern after reading all that, this substance is incredibly bad for you, often causing, among other things, rampant paranoia, heart damage and cardiac infarction. Inhalation of cocaine can cause permanent tissue damage, as well as all kinds of respiratory problems and various cancers. Overdosing on this drug (especially when taking other drugs or drinking heavily) is often fatal. Some users have even been known to tear off their skin whilst high (yeah, that’s a thing. You can look it up).
The most potent form of cocaine is crack cocaine, which is created by converting the drug’s salt-like form into a solid chunk of freebase cocaine, then heating it up and inhaling the vapour.
Despite the obvious drawbacks of using it, the global trafficking of cocaine nets around $130 Billion US Dollars every year. Famous users of this drug include authors and intellectuals like Sigmund Freud, Robert Louis Stevenson, Hunter S. Thompson and Stephen King, as well as Hollywood actors like Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Downey Jr and Angelina Jolie. Also on the list of famous users is seemingly every rock star that ever lived and even the great inventor Thomas Edison. The list of famous lives cut short, either directly by this drug, or after mixing it with other substances, makes for sad, sobering reading.
Known by many names, including MDMA, E, Molly and, if you happen to be a chemist, 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine, ecstasy is a drug that excites the activity of three brain chemicals, dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin. This has the effect of making a person feel energetic and happy(from dopamine), excited (norepinephrine) and sexually aroused and emotionally close to others (serotonin). The drug brings with it a feeling of well being and happiness, as well as an altered perception of the world around the user.
If the above sounds like the recipe for a great night out, be warned. Ecstasy can also bring about nausea, muscle cramps, blurred vision, chills and more besides. Sometimes the user becomes severely dehydrated, which can cause strokes and cardiac arrest. In one high-profile case from 1995, a teenager named Leah Betts drank a large amount of water after taking the drug, this caused her brain to swell up, resulting in the brain damage that ultimately killed her.
Long-term use of the drug can lead to depression, anxiety and total loss of libido/sexual feeling. If MDMA damages the body’s ability to regulate temperature, it can cause a complete failure of the heart, liver or kidneys.
Developed by Merck pharmaceutical company in 1912, MDMA has been used for a variety of purposes. It was utilised by the US government in 1950’s psychological warfare tests. In the 1960’s, the drug was employed by psychotherapists as a way to lower patient inhibitions. By the 70’s and 80’s, MDMA had hit the party scene and, in the 1990’s, it became a central part of rave culture. Today, the drug has branched out from the nightclubs and has, sadly, made its way into British schools and onto council estates, where a tablet can be purchased for as little as 50p.
Often, ecstasy tablets contain a smaller amount of the drug than claimed and are mixed with other substances to make up the difference. The trouble with this is that the user has no way of knowing what those substances might be. It is therefore entirely possible to take a poisoned ecstasy pill. But that’s OK; drug dealers can be trusted, right?
Although commonly described as a horse tranquilizer (which is accurate enough, as the drug actually is used by veterinarians to sedate horses),ketamine was originally used on soldiers during the Vietnam War.
At first, it was deemed to be a safe, fast acting and effective anaesthetic for use in the field. However, the drug’s dark side was soon to emerge. Patients on ketamine developed schizophrenia-like symptoms, hallucinations and memory loss. As a result, the drug was largely dropped from military usage, today being employed as a controlled anaesthetic or used to create medically induced coma states. Within a wider medical context, the drug is still useful in certain circumstances, though no longer widely used by anaesthesiologists.
On the street, ketamine is variably known as K, Special K, Cat Valium, Kit Kat, or Vitamin K.
Ketamine users feel that the drug separates their mind from their body, producing dizzying highs and powerful hallucinations in the process. This is because the brain’s sensory functions are numbed, detaching the brain from its usual tasks of processing our interactions with the physical world. A large enough dose of ketamine can cause the user to slip into a coma-like state.
In extreme cases, users can dissociate themselves entirely from the real world, choosing instead to spend all their time in ‘K-World’. Ketamine also causes bladder and kidney damage, but what do you care if you’re living in K-World?
A drug that has had a huge impact on popular culture, heroin is easily the most famous addictive drug in the world. Claiming the lives of rock stars like Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Layne Staley and Dee Dee Ramone (to name but a few) and influencing the works of William Burroughs, Thomas De Quincey (opium, rather than heroin, but you get the point) and more actors, writers, artists and film makers than could be easily mentioned here, heroin is nonetheless an extremely dangerous drug.
The drug is derived from morphine, a naturally occurring substance found in the seedpods of poppy plants. Its full name is diacetylmorphine. When ingested, it inspires a powerful euphoric rush, followed by an intense period of sedation. It is also extremely addictive.
First synthesised in 1887 by English chemist C. R Alder Wright, medicinal heroin was formally introduced in 1898 by The Bayer Company of Germany. By the 1900’s, the drug was being used in any number of over-the-counter medicines, including cough syrups and tonics, but its history is far more interesting than that.
Heroin’s impact on human culture is not a recent phenomenon. Cultivation and use of opiates can be traced as far back as ancient Mesopotamia. The Sumerians passed their knowledge of the poppy plant (which they called ‘hul gil’ or ‘joy plant’) to the Assyrians and Babylonians, who eventually handed the knowledge to the Egyptians, who regarded its use as magical.
In Ancient Greece, the approach was more pragmatic, with the physician Hippocrates (of ‘Hippocratic Oath’ fame) going on record to recommend it as a painkiller. Alexander The Great brought the drug with him to India and Persia, while Arab traders brought it to China and the Far East. Opiates had arrived in England by the reign of Elizabeth I.
By 1729, the drug was banned in China, but this didn’t stop the unquenchable demand fuelling a roaring trade that was dominated utterly by colonial Britain.
When morphine was first synthesised in 1803, opiates were considered to have been ‘tamed’, and were even prescribed to children throughout the 19th century. Back in the East, the ‘Opium Wars’ saw China attempt to seize all the opium illegally being sold in their country by the British. They fought back – and lost, causing them to lose control of Hong Kong until 1997.
Today, opiates are commonly used as painkillers, despite their addictive potential and heroin is the number one addictive drug in the world. It is usually injected, but can be taken in other ways as well.
Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD) is a powerful hallucinogen that comes from a fungus called ergot. The drug was created by two Swiss chemists in 1938, and is famous for the profound and lasting effect it had on the music, ideas and imagery of the 1960’s counterculture.
The drug can be taken in a number of ways, including being absorbed through the skin and taken in tablet form (which may be subject to the same poisonous possibilities as ecstasy).
Taking LSD, often called ‘acid’, inspires hallucinations and altered states of consciousness. Sensory information that is usually ‘screened out’ by the brain is given centre stage with LSD, allowing the user a more panoramic, unfiltered experience of the world around him/her. Coupled with the hallucinations, this creates a powerful ‘psychedelic’ (some even go as far as to say ‘spiritual’) experience. Because of this, LSD has inspired many famous creative works, from the music of The Beatles to Ken Kesey’s famous novel ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’.
However, despite these undoubtedly positive aspects of its legacy, LSD also has a major dark side. When a user ‘takes a trip’, there is no way of knowing if the experience will be good or bad. Think of it like dreaming, in most cases, you don’t know what sort of dream you’ll get. You’ll probably wake up screaming from a nightmare, but a bad LSD trip can lock a user in with his or her worst demons for 8 – 12 hours at a time. Trauma experienced during this time can take quite a while to fade. During (and sometimes after) taking LSD, delusions, mood swings and clouded thought processes are common. Hence the stereotype of the ‘burned out hippy’.
A long-held myth has it that so-called ‘acid flashbacks’ occur because the acid never actually leaves your system, with trace amounts of it lurking in your brain or spine waiting to give you one last freak-out, sometimes years after a person has stopped using LSD. In truth, acid flashbacks are real, but rare – and nobody is exactly sure what causes them.
Another type of amphetamine stimulant, methamphetamine also goes by the names methylamphetamine and desoxyephedrine. On the street, it is known as ice, glass, Tina or, most notably, crystal meth. It can be smoked, injected, snorted, swallowed or inserted, so lots of options there.
Methamphetamine was first synthesised in Japan in 1893. In the 1940’s, it was approved for medical use in America, where it was prescribed to treat depression. Meth was even injected into soldiers on both sides of World War 2, largely as a way to get the armies properly ‘pumped up’ for battle. Yes, really.
Reportedly, Adolf Hitler received a shot of meth a day, which is hardly a positive review of the stuff. In any instance, Japan banned it in ’51 because of its addictive nature, and other countries followed suit in the years after that. As of 2007, meth has been considered a ‘Class A’ drug by the UK government.
As previously stated, Crystal meth is a highly addictive stimulant, which appears in an oddly crystalline shape. Crystal meth induces long lasting feelings of euphoria, combined with increased energy, alertness and libido. It is also an extremely effective method of weight loss.
However, as with every drug on this list, there are major drawbacks to using it. Common side effects include nausea, profuse sweating, diarrhoea, rapidly increased heart rate, blood pressure and blood sugar levels, constriction of artery walls and even ‘meth mouth’ (a hideous condition which causes the teeth to rapidly decay, then fall out).
To make matters worse, a pregnant user can find that the drug both crosses into the placenta and is also secreted into breast milk. Crystal meth also brings with it risks of brain damage, paranoia, cardiac arrest, hypothermia, kidney failure and stroke.
Mushrooms containing psilocybin induce a sensory high similar to that of LSD. The mushrooms can be ingested simply by eating them, or by cooking them in food. They can even be used to make tea.
Ingesting these mushrooms, or ‘shrooming’ has a history that might go back as far as 9000BC, with evidence suggesting that North African tribesmen used them, possibly for religious purposes. It is even thought by some that the ancient Mayan people used psilocybin mushrooms. The Aztecs allegedly called them ‘flesh of the Gods’ (for fairly obvious reasons). Usage in the West began in earnest in the 1950’s (partly thanks to an article in ‘Time’ magazine) and they have remained a popular hallucinogen ever since.
Of all the drugs listed here, psilocybin mushrooms (also known as ‘magic mushrooms’ or ‘shrooms’) have the least amount of negative side effects. They are, however, a powerful mood enhancer, which means that if you take mushrooms whilst angry, sad or depressed, the resultant trip is likely to amplify those negative emotions, something that can potentially lead a user to harm him/herself.
It is also possible to confuse psilocybin mushrooms with other types of mushrooms, such as the fly agaric variety, which can be deadly. Similarly to LSD, it is possible to have a mushroom flashback.
…Honestly, we’re just happy that the phrase ‘mushroom flashback’ exists. What a great name for a band!
3. What’s The Difference Between Hard & Soft Drugs
The term ‘hard drug’ is sometimes used to describe a drug that is both addictive and injectable. Heroin, cocaine and crystal meth are all considered to be hard drugs. Drugs often categorised as ‘soft’ include marijuana, valium and sleeping pills, as well as legal stimulants like tobacco and caffeine.
However, these terms are very poorly defined (there is, for example, a BIG difference between starting your day with a fresh brewed cup of coffee and starting it with a bong hit). There is also debate over whether hallucinogens like magic mushrooms or LSD qualify as ‘hard’ or ‘soft’.
This may be nit picking a little, but if a ‘hard’ drug, such as heroin, is smoked, it clearly does not become a soft drug, yet it is not being injected, so could it therefore be considered as soft under these rather flimsy definitions? As you can see, the inherent weakness of these classifications allows for a large amount of misinterpretation on the part of the user.
Prescription painkillers, to give one example, can be extremely addictive, yet are not always classified as hard drugs, so the line is very blurred by these arbitrary distinctions.
Last year, a team of Slovakian researchers put these conflicting definitions to the test, compiling the ‘hard’ and ‘soft; definitions applied by over 120 peer-reviewed research papers. Their aim was to see if there was consensus as to which drugs were hard and which were soft. Aside from the unsurprising results (coke & heroin = hard, weed = soft etc), there were some interesting definitions.
For example, tobacco, a highly addictive drug that kills something like 6 Million people worldwide every year, was routinely considered ‘soft’ (possibly because of its legality). Paradoxically, some studies classified alcohol as a hard drug, while at least a couple of studies defined cocaine and meth as soft drugs (which makes you wonder what on earth their definition of ‘hard’ might have been).
Ultimately the study proved that while there is a loose consensus regarding the definitions of hard and soft drugs, the terms are still fairly ill defined.
4. What are the Different Drug Classes
A far more comprehensive and useful system of classification is the drug class system, in which illegal substances are characterised as belonging to class A, B or C. Under this system, illegal drugs are categorised according to how dangerous they are considered to be.
Fines or prison sentences are handed out according the class of drug, how much of it a person has and whether they are involved with possession, supply or manufacture.
In the United Kingdom, the supply and production of ‘Class A’ drugs can be met with a maximum sentence of life in prison, an unlimited fine, or both. Classes ‘B’ and ‘C’ carry a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison, as well as the possibility of unlimited fines. Possession charges run as high as 7 years for Class A, 5 years for Class B and 2 years for Class C, all accompanied by fines.
The following are a few examples of drug classifications.
‘Class A’ Drugs: cocaine, ecstasy, heroin, LSD, magic mushrooms, methadone and methamphetamine.
‘Class B’ Drugs: Amphetamines, barbiturates, ketamine, cannabis and related cannabinoids.
‘Class C’ Drugs: Anabolic steroids, diazepam, piperazine.
There is no ‘Class D’ per se, but there is legislation against psychoactive substances, such as laughing gas, or anything that causes hallucinations, drowsiness or altered states of mind. These carry a maximum sentence of 7 years in prison, an unlimited fine, or both.
New Psychoactive Substances (NPS), also known as ‘legal highs’, are another type of drug you may encounter. In the past, they were often labelled as ‘not fit for human consumption’, which was understood as a legal ‘get-around’ on the part of the manufacturers – and was intended to be ignored by the drug’s users.
The term ‘legal high’ was applied to drug products created to exploit loopholes in the law, specifically the UK’s Misuse of Drugs act (1971), the main piece of legislature that deems which substances are legal in the country and which are not. These drugs (often in the forms of pills or powders) were once readily available in specialist shops or via mail order.
Legal highs had similar effects to popular illegal drugs such as cannabis, cocaine and ecstasy, but also carried many of the same risks, which is why they were banned.
In many cases, these drugs were every bit as dangerous as their illegal counterparts, partly because most had not been properly tested for safety. In 2012, four years prior to the ban, 97 people in the United Kingdom died after using legal highs, with many more being admitted to hospital.
Whilst it does appear that a lot of these fatalities involved users mixing the legal highs with alcohol or other drugs, the evidence was still damning enough for the UK government to pass the Psychoactive Substances Act in 2016. This act has rendered the vast majority of legal highs to be functionally illegal and their manufacture, supply and use to be punishable under the law. Having said that, you may still come across people using these recently banned substances.
The law now offers a maximum sentence of 7 years in prison, plus a fine, for anybody involved with legal highs.
6. What is the Law on Drugs
As stated previously, UK drug laws carry sentences that depend on three major factors.
- What class of drug is it? To answer this, use the drug classification system mentioned above.
- How much of it does the person have?
- What are they doing with it? The harshest penalties are meted out to those involved in the manufacture or sale or drugs, as opposed to their usage.
Three major statutes govern the availability of drugs in the UK, The Misuse of Drugs Act (1971), The Medicines Act (1968) and The Psychoactive Substances Act (2016). The wording of these laws can be complex and confusing for some (full PDFs, for those interested, can be found HERE), so we’ll attempt to simplify them.
The Misuse of Drugs Act was the first to formally divide illegal drugs into classes. You are in violation of this act if you possess a controlled substance, intend to supply a controlled substance, manufacture or cultivate a controlled substance, supply (or offer to supply) another person with a controlled substance, import or export a controlled substance or allow premises you occupy or manage to be used for the consumption of a controlled substance.
Also, some substances (such as alcohol or tobacco) are illegal for use by people under a certain age.
In January of 2004, cannabis was re-classified from Class B to Class C. It was again returned to Class B in 2009. As of October this year, medicinal cannabis (as prescribed by a doctor) is legal.
The Medicines Act regulates drugs used for medicinal purposes and obtained via prescription. Under this law, it is illegal to obtain prescription only drugs without a prescription.
The law also states that certain medicines may be made available for sale to the general public, but only from a pharmacist. This act also governs which drugs are available over-the-counter from any shop.
As mentioned in the section on legal highs, the Psychoactive Substances Act completely outlaws psychoactive substances of any kind, making it an offence to possess, supply, intend to supply, offer to supply or manufacture any of these kinds of psychoactive substances.
It should be noted that these discussions of UK drug laws are greatly simplified and are only intended for the reader to use as a guide.
When working security, it is important to be able to spot the presence of illegal substances. If you see somebody that you think may be using drugs, it is advisable to take them to one side for a real, face-to-face conversation. Ensure that your demeanour is calm and collected, but firm – and remember that tolerating drug use on your premises is a crime.
If a person has been smoking drugs, the smell will be on their breath, clothing and hair. This is especially true in the case of marijuana, which has a distinctively sweet, cloying scent.
When talking, pay close attention to the suspected user’s eyes, which will often be bloodshot or heavy lidded, pupils will likely be dilated (though not in all cases) and the user’s vision may well be blurred. Their speech may be slurred and they may not make much sense.
If they have taken hallucinogens such as mushrooms, mescaline or LSD, people may attempt to interact with their hallucinations. Mood swings, paranoia and anxiety are common side-effects of many drugs, as are drowsiness and confusion.
Keep in mind also that it is possible that the person has not intended to ingest drugs. ‘Spiking’ drinks (putting alcohol or drugs such as MDMA into people’s drinks without their knowledge or consent) is an alarmingly common (and incredibly dangerous) practice in the UK. Sometimes, this is done as a sick prank, but other times the intent is more serious and can include robbery or even sexual assault. Under UK law, spiking a person’s drink carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, with more years added if the ultimate intention is to perpetrate robbery or any kind of assault.
Spotting a drug deal going down is harder. As one former dealer put it, “drug dealers don’t look like drug dealers”.Dealers come in all shapes and sizes, from every conceivable race or background and are just as likely to look innocuous and ‘innocent’ as they are to look like the stereotypical dealers you see getting blown away by Big Arnie or Mel Gibson in 80’s Hollywood movies.
TV and movies deal in stereotypes partly because they often have mere seconds to demonstrate things like ‘hey, this guy’s a dealer’ and, as a result, they have evolved a sort of visual shorthand to compensate for this. When looking for a better example of a plausible dealer, think of the character Trevor from ‘Suits’, he poses as a software consultant, dresses in fine clothes and is well groomed; yet he made all this money by selling weed. That’s a far more realistic portrayal of a drug dealer than the ones you routinely see in cop movies and situation comedies.
Back in the 1990’s, researchers in Washington D.C surveyed 11,000 men and women charged with street level dealing. Of these, they discovered that three quarters of these people had been in full-time employment at the time they were charged. Most were considered ‘skilled workers’ by the state, commanding excellent salaries. These weren’t people forced into dealing by circumstance (though that does happen). Instead, they were clever, cunning and capable business people taking advantage of an opportunity. The sad reality is that dealing drugs can be a successful and lucrative career.
A lot of dealing takes place in busy, crowded nightspots. Try to be eagle-eyed and watch out for anyone handing money to somebody else. In some places, drug deals are alarmingly commonplace, as one California police officer said,
“I have worked in some of the most crowed arenas that you can imagine. The busiest were Rave parties at huge commercial buildings, including the cow palace in Daly City near San Francisco. We worked undercover and either made the undercover purchases ourselves or watched as others made deals within a few feet of where we were standing. One night we simply had to stop working because we had arrested more people than we could process. Almost 100 people went to jail for the sales of ecstasy and few for meth and cocaine. These were all sales cases. There was a multitude of people wandering around under the influence that were arrested and later released on citations.
To the untrained eye, drug deals are hard to spot. A good idea is to ask a more experienced security worker if you are unsure.”
8. Understanding the Signs of an Overdose
Many drugs create a tolerance on the part of the user, meaning that the user must use more of the drug each time in order to achieve the desired effect. As this tolerance increases, so too does the risk of overdose.
If you suspect that somebody in your presence has overdosed, it is important to be able recognise the signs in order to know for sure. Almost any drug, including alcohol, legal drugs like paracetamol and supposedly benign illegals like marijuana, can cause an overdose. An overdose is always serious and can often have lasting repercussions.
Different drugs present different symptoms of overdose, for example, a person overdosing on the opioid fentanyl (which is sometimes included in the makeup of other drugs without the user’s knowledge) will usually suffer weakness and dizziness and very low blood pressure, followed by extreme drowsiness. They will display pinpoint pupils and may present a bluish tint to their nails and lips. These symptoms (along with nausea) are also suggestive of other types of opioid overdose, such as morphine.
A person overdosing on cocaine, on the other hand, will experience a rapid increase in their heart rate, with possible arrhythmias (irregular heart rhythms), very high blood pressure and a soaring, dangerously high body temperature. Nausea, severe irritation, anxiety and even temporary psychosis are also possibilities. Seizures, strokes and tremors can also be symptomatic of a cocaine overdose.
An overdose of methamphetamines will present via enlarged pupils, irregular heart rate (which could be slowed or rapid), difficulty breathing, chest pains (sometimes leading to a heart attack), stroke, kidney failure, acute stomach pain, high blood pressure and high body temperature.
Often, a person experiencing drug overdose has more than one drug in their system. That other drug could simply be alcohol, or it could be something else.
As previously stated, the drug taken might even have been laced another substance. Sometimes toxic substances, such as glass or rat poison, are added to various drugs in order to make them heavier and thus increase their street value. One of the many dangers of drug use is that users often have no way of knowing what they are actually ingesting.
Thankfully, there are things you can do to help a person if they are overdosing. If a person has taken MDMA, for example, you are advised to take them to a cool and calm environment as they await help, avoid giving them large amounts of water. Remaining calm and clear-headed is a must, as is contacting an ambulance as soon as physically possible.
The St. John’s Ambulance website offers the following advice.
How you can help
Some drugs create serious overheating of the body, and if this is noticed, remove unnecessary clothing to allow cool air to reach the skin’s surface.
- Assess the patient
- Check the level of consciousness. If the patient is not fully conscious and alert, turn them onto their side and ensure they are not left alone.
- Reassure the patient
- Talk to the patient in a quiet and reassuring manner.
- Sometimes patients may become agitated. Enlist friends or family to calm and reassure the patient. Consider calling the police if the safety of the patient or others becomes threatened.
- Identify the drug taken
- Ask what the patient has taken, how much was taken, when it was taken, and whether it was swallowed, inhaled or injected.
- Look for evidence that might assist the hospital staff with treatment and keep any container, syringe or needle and any vomit to aid analysis and identification.
9. Should Some Drugs Be Legalised?
Debate is constantly raging about what drugs could or should be legalised and why. The 2016 crackdown on legal highs, for example, saw complaints from frustrated users, as well as MP’s worried that the ban would be unenforceable.
Many people in the UK now believe that marijuana and other cannabinoids should be legalised, and there is some evidence to suggest that this might be used not only to crack down on more dangerous incarnations of the drug, but also as a major boost to our ailing, Brexit-ravaged economy.
In 2017, the Liberal Democrat Party included a plan to legalise marijuana in their election manifesto, becoming the first major British political party to do so. The move failed to net the party either column inches or votes, but it did set a precedent.
Indeed, medicinal marijuana has since been made legal under certain circumstances, as the health benefits for those in chronic pain clearly outweigh the drawbacks.
The argument in favour of legalising marijuana often hinges on demonising alcohol, which, legal or not, is a dangerous drug that can cause addiction, long-term health problems such as liver disease and even death. Alcohol fuels violence and sex crime and actively ruins lives, and yet it is legal for an adult to buy and consume whenever he or she feels like it.
To cite another example, tobacco, despite being highly addictive as well as a leading cause of heart disease, various cancers, birth defects and death, is also legal. Both tobacco and alcohol are potentially much more harmful than weed, so why are they legal when weed isn’t?
The argument also draws parallels with America’s national prohibition of alcohol, which lasted from January of 1920 through to December of 1933 and opened the country up to the bootlegging and organised crime that ravaged it during those 13 years.
Ending the prohibition of marijuana, proponents say, would be a major blow against drug dealers, as weed is by far the UK’s most popular illegal drug.
Critics of the legalisation argument point out that, although alcohol and tobacco are dangerous, marijuana carries a potentially higher risk, as it can trigger mental disorders like schizophrenia and depression.
Like any kind of smoking, smoking pot is bad for your lungs, your heart and your general wellbeing. With a slow, yet determined anti-smoking movement building up steam for the past 30 years or more, do we really want to add another smokable product to our shelves?
Another argument states that, if weed were made legal, it stands to reason that more people would try it.
The people who are today turned away by the drug’s illegality might then begin to smoke on a regular basis, opening both themselves, and the country in general, up to myriad long-term health problems that would require expensive treatments.
A question mark also hangs over whether or not weed is a gateway drug. Would people stop at legal weed, or would they continue to seek out new drugs in an attempt to find out how deep the rabbit hole actually goes?
As for other drugs, there is, believe it or not, an argument for legalising heroin – and it is surprisingly compelling.
In 2014, American Jeff Deeney, a former heroin addict-turned social worker, wrote a reasoned and impassioned piece for The Atlantic, in which he argued for the creation of safe, non-judgemental spaces where addicts could use heroin under expert supervision. This, he stated, would help prevent deaths from overdose, as well as help users to break their habits and get clean.
Addiction is a complicated subject, but one that is not handled compassionately enough by most countries. Whatever you think of Mr. Deeney’s solution, his article shines a much-needed light on the extra stress added to the lives of drug users by over-zealous legislation aimed at the functionally impossible task of ridding our communities of illegal drugs.
So, in conclusion, perhaps it is time to accept that drugs are as much a part of our lives as anything else, whether we choose to use them or not. Collectively, we’ve tried looking at drug use as a criminal issue and have little more than over-stocked prisons and over-worked police to show for it. Imagine, then, what might if we treated drug use as a medical problem, instead of a legal one? Perhaps, after acknowledging the pitfalls and health risks that come with using any drug, we ought now to shift our focus away from punishing those in our communities who have made mistakes, and instead start looking at ways we might help them when they do? That’s one for you to mull over, we’re going out for a pint.
This article originally appeared in Working the Doors and was written by Steve Johnson, Content Manager. Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and Working the Doors and do not represent the views of Volteface.