How These 10 Illegal Substances Affect Your Health And Well-Being

Updated on February 6, 2023

Since time immemorial, people have been using substances to relieve themselves of many problems that come with daily living, such as stress, pain, and persistent illness. Consciously or not, most of these have become staples in history, such as wine, beer, cocoa, and several iterations of pain relievers. 

Most of the problems that came with this reliance remained unnoticed until recently when substance abuse disorder became an official diagnosis. People now recognize how damaging these substances turn out to be when the body develops a tolerance and dependence on them. 

Substance abuse often starts as an experimental or recreational use that grows into a habit. From there, it gets more and more difficult to give up. In some cases, like with alcohol and medication abuse, stopping can cause life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. 

Regulation varies between states and countries. What you deem as acceptable substances to take will also depend on your culture, background, community, religious or political stances, and personal experiences. Regardless, it’s important to understand the risks you put yourself and others around you when you choose to take illicit substances. 

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Substance abuse is virulent and leads to a variety of problems that range from physiological to social. Here are some examples: 

  1. Heroin 

It’s among the most abused drugs in highly developed nations. Classified under depressants, heroin is used as a pain reliever in medical settings.  

The drug is derived from opium plants and is readily available in some parts though illegal in many jurisdictions. In the hands of abusers, it is snorted, injected, or smoked. 

It has both long-term and short-term effects. Some of the effects include: 

  • Dry mouth 
  • Memory loss 
  • Lower brain function  
  • Loss of appetite and subsequent malnutrition 
  • Increased risk of infections (for abusers who share needles) 
  • Paralysis caused by atrophy due to persistent lethargy and malnutrition 

Many rehabilitation programs for heroin abuse already exist. You can find more information on them online.  

  1. Cocaine 

Cocaine is popularly purchased as a powder. It has powerful effects on the brain and the body, particularly the nervous system. Like most stimulants, it gives you a surge of energy and alertness. Some people rely on it as a performance enhancer.  

It can also trigger a sense of euphoria, making it a commonly abused substance. Cocaine does this by triggering an increase in dopamine production, which generates pleasurable sensations. However, excess production of dopamine can result in brain damage, making one prone to seizure disorders. It has also been found to slow glucose metabolism, causing neurons to deteriorate. 

Perhaps the most apparent effect of cocaine is how it spikes the adrenal response, narrowing the blood vessels and raising the heart rate. These changes can cause erratic behavior. But they also have the risk of either triggering or leading to a cardiovascular condition. Most fatal cases are caused by sudden cardiac arrest. 

  1. Alcohol 

Alcohol is still illegal in some countries, including India, Brunei, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Bahrain. In places without strict regulation on the substance, the sale to underaged persons is limited.  

Most alcohol consists of a mixture of fermented brewed liquid and flavored water. Research has shown that it has its benefits in limited amounts. But overconsumption causes severe effects on the body and brain. Those include:  

  • Impaired brain function 
  • Liver damage 
  • Inflammation of the pancreas 
  • Nerve damage 
  • Exacerbated mental disorders 
  • High blood pressure 
  • Reduced concentration span 
  • Insomnia 
  1. Nicotine 

Like alcohol, the sale of nicotine products to persons under the age of 18 is prohibited in many countries.  

Nicotine is an addictive chemical in tobacco, a component of most cigarettes. Besides that, other substances, such as pipe, chewing, and wet and dry snuff, have it.  

The chemical is classified as a stimulant, usually taken to ease nerves. The effects of taking nicotine include: 

  • Fainting spells 
  • High risks of getting cataracts 
  • Congenital disabilities (for pregnant smokers) 
  • Respiratory diseases such as asthma 
  • Reduced fertility 
  • Reduced immunity 
  • Diabetes 

Some people take nicotine together with other substances, like alcohol. Reconsider your smoking habits and see a doctor for most of the immediate effects, like lung disease. 

  1. Cannabinoid Drugs 

These drugs interact with cannabinoid receptors of the body. They‘re broadly classified into recreational, medicinal, and synthetic.  

The two main cannabinoids are delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).  These two are common in most sativa plant products, such as bhang and marijuana. Their main difference is that THC has a stronger psycho-effective impact than CBD. The former is what produces the high that most users seek. 

Cannabinoids come in different forms, such as oils, leaves, cigars, flower buds, concentrates, capsules, edibles, candy, creams, and lotions. The effects of taking these substances can be felt immediately or within two hours. Overconsumption of these products can cause:  

  • Slower body reflexes 
  • Red or bloodshot eyes 
  • Memory impairment 
  • Increased heart rate 
  • Mild paranoia 
  • Anxiety attacks 

The mode of intake can also affect a user’s health. For instance, people who smoke cannabis products are likely to get sore throats, bronchitis, and asthma. Mixing them with other illegal substances like tobacco can increase your risk of cancer

Stopping your usage of cannabis suddenly can cause severe withdrawal, which can be complicated if you have a mental condition. Seek help from a rehabilitation facility to properly ease out of cannabinoid dependence. 

Note that medicinal cannabis does exist and is used to relieve the symptoms of certain diseases such as epilepsy. This product is tightly regulated and should only be taken with a prescription from a doctor. 

  1. Club Drugs 

These products get their name from how they are commonly distributed in nightclubs, raves, and similar settings. Some of the common examples are: 

  • Gamma hydroxybutyrate 
  • Ketamine 
  • Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA)  
  • Flunitrazepam (Rohypnol)  
  • Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) 

Their sedative abilities make them popular with clubgoers, giving a sense of tireless pleasure. 

But outside of medical settings, experimenting with these drugs has harmful effects. For example, flunitrazepam can trigger seizures and dehydration. Most of these also worsen the effects of mental conditions with delirium, making people prone to dangerous behavior. Overdosing is fatal. 

  1. Performance And Image-Enhancing Drugs (PEIDS) 

People who want to enhance their physical appearance use these kinds of drugs, for instance, bodybuilders or other sporting personalities. They can be taken in the form of injections or tablets. 

The most common ones are: 

  • Anabolic steroids 
  • Peptides 
  • Hormones (Bio-identical and synthetic) 

These drugs usually trade enhanced performance and appeal for a variety of problems. For instance, steroid abuse can lead to low sexual performance, hair loss, hypertension, cardiomegaly, and muscle damage. Meanwhile, peptides and hormone-increasing drugs lead to water retention and numb hands and feet. 

  1. Opium 

As a traditional depressant, many variants of opium are illegally distributed nowadays. It’s usually smoked, eaten raw, or taken as a pill.  

Opium abuse usually leads to: 

  • Regular constipation  
  • Lower sex drive 
  • Loss of consciousness 
  • Irregular periods in women 
  • Insomnia 
  • Relentless and irritability 
  1. Dissociatives 

These are drugs that fall under hallucinogens, meaning they’re taken to change your perception, mood, and cognitive processes. Some examples of dissociatives include PCP and nitrous oxide. They can be taken as pills, concentrates, powders, or liquids.  

Most dissociatives contain depressants that result in mild effects such as drowsiness. But in some people, they also cause severe fatigue and breathing problems. Other side effects include: 

  • Memory impairment 
  • Bladder issues 
  • Breathing difficulties 
  • Nerve damage 
  • Anemia 

Prolonged use of dissociatives usually leads to impaired cognitive functions. Knowing this, if your work requires a lot of concentration, such as making major planning decisions or operating heavy machinery, these drugs could result in serious safety violations. Either avoid such work or reconsider your current lifestyle choices to avoid problems like freak accidents. 

  1. Empathogens 

These drugs are usually used to lower inhibitions and increase your empathic feelings towards others. For this reason, they’re usually passed around at parties and other large social gatherings.  

Empathogens work by triggering the release of dopamine and serotonin in the brain. These two chemicals are responsible for feelings of connection, relaxation, and enjoyment. 

These drugs can be taken in powder form, crystals, or pills. Others can be injected into the body. Some of the most common examples include ecstasy, mephedrone, and ethylene. 

When used too much, empathogens can cause problems like: 

  • Restlessness 
  • Exhaustion 
  • Anxiety 
  • Irritability 
  • Scandalous displays of behavior, like groping 
  • Greater risk of depression 
  • Paranoia  

Taking empathogens can significantly take a toll on your health, especially if you combine them with other drugs that increase serotonin in the brain. It’s easy for most abusers to develop a tolerance, making them prone to risky behaviors to maintain their supply. 

Understand Your Risks 

The debate on how the production, distribution, and regulation of these substances can rage on for who knows how long. The only sure thing people on all sides can agree on is that information on how these substances can affect your mind and body should be transparent and accessible to everyone. 

Empower yourself by reassessing your habits in light of these facts. If you want to get out of substance abuse, reach out for professional help. There are resources available to help you or people you know to safely detox, recover, and reintegrate yourself. These services are confidential and provide you with specialized care plans.