Not all drugs are the same but they are all dangerous. Different drugs have different effects and risks associated with them. Get to know the different drugs so that you can give appropriate advice and support so someone who wants to break the habit, or to warn your loved ones of the devastating consequences of drug use.
Some drugs (such as alcohol, heroin and tranquillisers) have a sedative effect that slow down the way the body and brain function. They can have a numbing effect that causes drowsiness when taken in large quantities. Other drugs (such as amphetamine, cocaine, crack and ecstasy) have a stimulant effect that results in a rush of energy, making people more alert. A third group of drugs (such as LSD, magic mushrooms and to a lesser extent cannabis) have a hallucinogenic effect. This means they tend to alter the way the user feels, sees, hears, tastes or smells.
Sedative drugs like alcohol and heroin in large quantities can lead to fatality. They can affect co-ordination, thereby increasing the risk of accidents. Use of sedatives can also lead to physical dependence and withdrawal symptoms.
Stimulant drugs can produce anxiety or panic attacks, particularly when taken in large quantities. They can also be particularly dangerous for people who have heart or blood pressure problems.
Hallucinogenic drugs sometimes produce disturbing experiences and may lead to erratic or dangerous behaviour by users, especially if they are already unstable.
Illegal drug use is just that – illegal! A user can be arrested and convicted, leading to a different set of problems.
Factors that impact on the dangers of drug use
- The more taken the greater the danger. Taking too much of a sedative drug can lead to a fatal overdose. Taking a large dose of a stimulant drug can lead to panic attacks or even in extreme cases, psychotic behaviour (where all sense of reality is lost). Taking a large dose of a hallucinogenic drug may lead to disturbing experiences. Taking a high dose of any drug can lead to a lack of co-ordination and increase the likelihood of accidents.
- The more frequent a drug is taken, the greater the health risks. With some drugs tolerance develops, resulting in the need to take larger doses in order to feel the effect.
- Many illegal drugs, especially in powder or pill form, are a mixture of drugs or substances. This can change the effect of the drug and contribute to dangers. Taking more that one drug at a time can produce unpredictable and sometimes dangerous effects. In particular, mixtures of sedative drugs can be very dangerous. Many reported drug overdoses involve mixtures of alcohol and tranquillisers or opiates.
Impact of the method on the dangers of drugs
- Injecting drugs has a very quick and intense effect – it is, however, particularly risky. Injection carries the added risk of infection by blood-borne diseases when needles are shared. HIV has received the most attention in this regard, but there are also risks from Hepatitis B and C, another very serious blood-borne disease.
- Snorting or inhaling drugs also have a quick but slightly less intensive effect. Snorting drugs like amphetamine or cocaine powder up the nose on a regular basis may lead to damage to the nasal membranes.
- Eating or drinking a drug can be risky if large quantities are taken at the same time. The effects tend to be slow but once they take effect, it is too late to reverse them. Examples are drinking too much alcohol in a short space of time or eating a lump of cannabis. In such cases people can suddenly feel very drunk and become very disorientated.
- There are different ways of inhaling solvents such as glues, gases and aerosols – some more dangerous than others. Squirting solvents into a large plastic bag and then placing the bag over the head has lead to death by suffocation. Squirting aerosols or butane straight down the throat has lead to death by freezing of the airways. Squirting onto a rag or small bag and then inhaling will not have such an acute effect.
- Smoking a drug can damage the respiratory system, especially if the drug is smoked with tobacco, as is often the case with cannabis.
Our Employee Wellbeing Programme (EWP) is available 24 hours a day if you want to know more about the dangers of using drugs. Call us on the EWP number or email us at
var prefix = 'ma' + 'il' + 'to';
var path = 'hr' + 'ef' + '=';
var addy34595 = 'help' + '@';
addy34595 = addy34595 + 'lifeassist' + '.' + 'co' + '.' + 'za';