The bulk of this document has been extracted with permission from the book “THE CRUEL HOAX” by Elaine Walters.
“Integrity without knowledge is weak and useless, and knowledge without integrity is dangerous and dreadful” Samuel Johnson, Rasselas Ch.14.
- Why are certain drugs classified as illegal?
- Why is there so much confusion and controversy surrounding the drug issue?
- When were drugs first seen as a problem which needed control at an international level?
- Are there examples in history where street drugs have proved to be harmful?
- If street drugs are known to be harmful, why is there such a widespread problem throughout the world?
- How can drug-taking be described as an epidemic?
- How have other countries responded to this drug epidemic?
- What is meant by the ‘drug market’?
- But surely street drugs are no more dangerous than many other substances as long as they are not abused?
- Isn’t heroin only dangerous when it is adulterated?
- What are the effects of cocaine?
- What are hallucinogens/psychodelics?
- Are amphetamines dangerous?
- What is meant by designer drugs?
- What is hashish?
- What is the difference between marijuana and cannabis?
- Isn’t marijuana a simple, natural weed?
- How does marijuana react in the body?
- What is known about the other cannabinoids?
- How long does it take to eliminate the THC from one joint?
- What are the immediaaste effects after smoking a joint?
- What are the long-term effects?
- How long does a person have to be using marijuana before any effects occur?
Why are certain drugs classified as illegal? Governments classify certain drugs as illegal because they have been proved to be dangerous to the individual and society. Evidence of the adverse effect of these drugs is based on reliable historical, epidemiological and scientific facts. These street drugs have the capacity to alter brain function, behaviour and social performance. They are dependence-producing and consequently the individual finds them difficult to control.
“Pharmacological studies indicate that opiates, cocaine and cannabis in minute amounts cause much greater disturbance in the brain mechanism controlling behaviour than does alcohol in smaller amounts. Use of these drugs also results in a greater incidence of compulsive drug-oriented behaviour and addiction. Such evidence highlights the fundamental contradiction of health professionals who promote the responsible use of these drugs. It is impossible to control the use of a substance which intrinsically incapacitates the user’s ability to make a sound judgement”.(12)
Some people believe that social acceptance and commercial availability of illegal drugs would eliminate the social cost associated with their illegal trade. However, no-one has ever quantitated the physical, psychological and social harm caused by these street drugs. By most conservative estimates, such damage would be infinitely greater than that associated with the present use of alcohol and tobacco.
Those who promote the legalisation of prohibited psychoactive drugs believe that heroin, cocaine, marijuana, LSD, ecstasy etc. should be accepted as a normal part of society. They refute the premise that this contemporary obsession with drugs in western society is a transient social phenomenon, recognised by the mainstream scientific community as an epidemic of mind-altering substances, which should neither be encouraged nor fostered.
Why is there so much confusion and controversy surrounding the drug issue? Much of the confusion and controversy surrounding the issues of street drugs appears to be a direct result of misunderstandings regarding the complexity of the present drug epidemic by many Australian ‘experts’.
Mixed messages come from many sources both in Australia and overseas. They come from people of varying background and experience. People’s belief systems and opinions are coloured by a multitude of factors including:
- educational opportunities
- experiences of life
- contacts and friends
In trying to distinguishing fact from opinion in the confusing mixed messages, we need to satisfy ourselves with the answers to a few basic and simple questions:
Who is this person who is giving this message?
What is their experience and background?
What other factors could influence their message, e.g. lifestyle, connections through business or academic sources?
How are they regarded by peers within their own field of experience?
Are the statements made by this ‘expert’ conclusions from objective reporting of fact backed up by the evidence of proven scientific research, or are they merely unsubstantiated opinion or the repetitive use of cliches and slogans?
It is true that we all have a right to our own opinion, but we don’t have a right to our own facts about an issue. Facts are facts with scientific results which can be replicated.
When were drugs first seen as a problem which needed control at an international level? In 1909 the first international conference was convened to formulate regulations for international control of dangerous drugs. This was due to the experiences of a number of countries, in particular the Phillipines, the U.S.A. and China, who had many problems associated with opium use throughout the 19th century. Since then, international conferences have been held at regular intervals and eventually under the auspices of the United Nations. These conferences are attended by leading physicians, scientists, pharmacologists and toxicologists, and consensus has been reached and reaffirmed over and over again about which drugs should be prohibited.
The first drugs to be classified as illegal were the opium poppy and coca plant in 1909. At the 1925 conference, Cannabis sativa was included at the insistence of the Egytian delegate, Dr. El Guindy, who stated:
“This substance and its derivatives wrought such havoc that the Egyptian Government has for a long time past prohibited their introduction into the country. I cannot emphasise sufficiently the importance of including this product in the list of narcotics, the use of which is to be regulated by this conference.” Dr. Guindy further stated: “This illicit use of hashish is the principal cause of insanity in Egypt, varying from thirty to sixty percent of the total number of cases reported. Taken occasionally and in small doses, hashish perhaps does not offer much danger, but there is always the risk that once a person begins to take it, he will continue. He acquires the habit and becomes addicted to the drug and once this happens it is very difficult to escape.”(8)
In the 1960′s Sweden decided that the best way to overcome the problems associated with heroin and amphetamine abuse was to make them available on prescription. However, this social experiment proved disastrous. Usage and crime escalated and within three years the government was forced to repeal the law and introduce even stronger controls. At the United Nations conference in 1971 Sweden initiated the prohibition of modern designer drugs, and included hallucinogens, barbituates and stimulants.
Are there examples in history where street drugs have proved to be harmful? Harm associated with street drugs dates back to the 12th-15th centuries. Historians recorded the social, cultural and economic regression which resulted from the widespread use of hashish in Moslem medieval society. At the time, the diversity of opinion was so intense it divided the ancient Islamic world. Those who favoured normalisation of hashish persuaded the leaders of the time to lift sanctions and make hashish freely available. Its use spread rapidly throughout Middle Eastern countries and, when it became evident that the consequences of its social acceptance were detrimental, Al Magrizy, a historian of the period, recorded that:
“a general debasement of the people was apparent”.(13)
For centuries, Sultans and Emirs tried to re-introduce restrictions without success and the use of hashish became widespread.
In 1980 Professor Soueif produced a major study about the pernicious effects of centuries of hashish use in Egypt. He describes the effects as catastrophic, especially as hashish was traditionally used by males between the ages of 20 and 40, usually the time of greatest productivity. The study found that the higher the level of intelligence and/or education, the greater the deterioration of faculties. These observations have been confirmed by recent research.(14)
Another country to be affected by a ‘street drug’ was Peru. In South America, paintings on Mochican pottery depicting coca chewers have been found dating from 500 AD. After the Spanish Conquest in 1554, the habit of chewing the coca leaf – originally restricted by the aristocracy for themselves and for Incan religious ceremonies – was encouraged by the Spaniards to enable farmers and miners of the Andes to work under adverse conditions with limited food intake. Bolivian tin miners still receive daily allowances of cocoa leaf as part of their wages. This is to help them with their exhausting work. Even today locals at Altiplano measure the time and distance a man can travel chewing one wad of coca (cocada). Some might argue that this is beneficial, however it is not consistent with the concept of human dignity to keep people in a state of subservience to fulfil the economic interests of large corporations.
In China the use of opium was encouraged by Great Britain, who, despite resistance by the Chinese, insisted on trading in opium. The total quantity of Indian opium imported by British traders into China was 4,000 chests in 1811 which escalated to 35,455 chests (2,250 tons) in 1839. In the House of Lords, the Earl of Albemarle, when speaking on behalf of the government and endeavouring to give credence to the trade of opium, used a ploy still favoured today by reformers:
“It was the abuse, not the use, of opium which was pernicious. In this respect, it differed not at all from other narcotics with which we were more familiar in England (namely ardent spirits, wine, beer or cider). Drunkeness was the great source of crime in England yet no-one seriously thought of suppressing the use of intoxicating drinks by legislative enactment”.(15)
Opium abuse in China had no social barriers. Although the wealthy were able to finance their addiction, the poor allowed their families to starve in order to maintain their supply of opium. It was in 1839 that the Chinese Emperor ruled that all opium should be surrendered to the government for destruction, and Palmerston used this as a pretext to declare war with the aim of forcing opium and trade on China. The world’s most valuable single commodity trade of the nineteenth century resulted in millions of people becoming addicted and generally debilitated.
About the same time the U.S.A. was also experiencing problems with cocaine and heroin. In 1885 at least 3 per cent of the U.S. population, predominantely in the upper and middle social class, were dependent on narcotics. Fifty years later, during the occupation of China, the Japanese initiated a deliberate policy to encourage the use of opium with the express purpose of “weakening the Chinese people’s will to resist”. Manchuko was the first Japanese-occupied territory to feel the impact of these policies and “a third of the population were turned into addicts within a relatively short period”.(16) Historical precedents clearly indicate that when prohibited psychotropic drugs are easily available, there is an acceleration in the use and increased health and social problems for individuals and the community.
If street drugs are known to be harmful, why is there such a widespread problem throughout the world? What society is experiencing at the moment is a phenomenon which will eventually subside if correctly managed. The international scientific community refers to it as an “epidemic” (referring of course to drug-taking behaviour).
Throughout history some groups such as artists, writers, poets, criminals and people on the fringe, were the main users of illegal drugs. However, there have always been isolated incidents of drug use in the general population. The first recorded epidemic occurred in Ireland in the early nineteenth century. Drug epidemics also took place in Egypt in the 1920s (heroin and cocaine), Japan in the early 1950s (amphetamines), Sweden and Great Britain in the late fifties and early sixties (amphetamines).
In the 1960s there was a trend among some psychiatrists to experiment with drugs such as marijuana and hallucinogens. In the U.S.A. cult figures became prominent in university life and gave the drug culture intellectual respectability. ‘Tune in, Turn on and Drop out” was popularised and before long this “Ecce Signum” was taken up by the highly visible and colourful hippie cult. In Sweden in 1965 the Board of Health agreed to sanction an experiment by allowing prescribing of central nervous system stimulants and narcotics to addicts for self-administration. In Great Britain, addicts were also given prescriptions for narcotics and, at first, reports were optimistic that the experiment would work. It was hoped that they would then be independent of the illegal market. However, it eventually became evident that a grey market (providing other people with prescribed drugs) developed and subsequently there was a rapid increase in the number of addicts. In both countries the experiment failed.
This growing acceptability within the medical profession coincided with the emergence of the drug culture. The result was street drugs started to gain acceptance in Western society. At first the focus was on marijuana and its association with ‘flower power’. This quickly emerged as a symbol of the youth culture and the term ‘soft drug’ was coined in an effort to pacify community concerns. The popularity of drugs, particularly marijuana, spread throughout the world and eventually moved into the mainstream of society.
There were two main factors favouring the acceptance of marijuana. At the time, the results of scientific research were confusing and contradictory. Secondly, the intoxicant level was fairly mild. During the 1970s experimentation with drugs spread to broad groups of the normal population, mainly the most vulnerable – youth. The taking of mind-altering drugs has now become so widespread that it has reached epidemic proportions.
How can drug-taking be described as an epidemic? Dr Nils Berejot, Research Fellow in Drug Dependence at the Karolinska University, Sweden, identified three distinct patterns of abuse:
That is, medical use of addictivedrugs which give rise to abuse and addiction, e.g. patients who become abituated to prescription drugs (Valium, Serepax etc.)
This pattern is demonstrated by the coco chewing of South American Indians, cannabis smoking in certain parts of Africa, India and the Middle East, opium smoking in the Far East and alcohol consumption in the Western world. These inebriates are socially acceptable within the community although severe cases of dependence can develop.
It is the contagion factor in contemporary drug taking behaviour which classifies its pattern as ‘epidemic’. This means that because of the sheer size of the population of drug users, drug taking cannot be attributed solely to individual maladjustment. Characteristically it arises among tightly knit fringe groups. After many years it spreads to other groups, usually criminals and the avant garde. In its third phase drug taking spreads to broad groups of the normal population and, in particular, young people. Whilst psychological, cultural or economic factors may account for some drug use, the ‘epidemic pattern’ with its inherent contagious nature is the view favoured by the International scientific community.
The ‘epidemic pattern’ is characterised by the following:
- It spreads almost without exception through psychosocial contact between an established abuser and a novice.
- It spreads rapidly.
- It is subject to fashion.
- It has close interaction of exposure and susceptibility.
- The pressure of exposure causes people to react differently over a period of time.
N.B. The addiction rate to narcotics among the medical profession is estimated to be 30-50 times greater than that of the general population.(17) These statistics suggest that easy availability and the inherent addictive properties of narcotics are important factors in involvement with prohibited psychotropic drugs. The same may also be said also about the difference in the prevalence of alcohol abuse that exists between the wet and dry aboriginal communities. In fact, there is also a significant difference in the social development of such communities.(17)
How have other countries responded to this drug epidemic? There is no example of an epidemic pattern of drug abuse in any country that has been overcome without restricting supply and implementing sanctions against users and traffickers.
Where countries have liberalised the drug laws the problem has been exacerbated. At different times there have been attempts to overcome the problem by implementing a liberal policy e.g. ‘decriminalisation’ or legalisation, but these attempts have failed.
An experiment enabling addicts to receive their drugs through prescription was tried in the United States (1923), Great Britain (1959-1964) and Sweden (1965-1967), but these strategies were later abandoned.
The British adopted a medical model allowing physicians to prescribe heroin to addicts. This ‘British system’ worked satisfactorily as long as addicts were few in number and all registered: the unofficial index of Britain’s Home Office in 1936 noted that there were 616 addicts; (147 of those were from the medical profession).
Most of the other cases were of therapeutic origin. At the time the prescribed supply of narcotics was seen as the best way of avoiding the development of a black market.
However, the government’s attitude changed as the problem became unmanageable after 1960 when heroin had to be dispensed to more than 1,000 users.
Each addict had to be provided with daily doses of heroin as well as the equipment required for injection of the drug four to six times a day. Because of this logistical problem and because of the diversion of the drug to non-registered addicts, heroin began to be progressively replaced by methadone maintenance.
(Methadone, the long-lasting synthetic drug physeptone, needs to be taken orally once a day). More recently an experiment in distributing legal heroin to a group of thirty clients in Widnes drug dependency clinic in Merseyside in the UK was discontinued. Its policy of a “responsible demand strategy” failed.
The Merseyside experiment has proved to be too expensive and impractical. The local health authority of North Cheshire decided “to reduce drug users dependence on controlled drugs, with the aim of achieving a drug free state”.
What is meant by the ‘drug market’? The drug market is structured in a similar way to any other business enterprise.
The farmer grows the crop and, as soon as it is harvested, sells it (usually for a pittance) to a local dealer. International buyers examine the quality of merchandise and purchase large amounts.
It is then smuggled out of the country and transported by rail, sea and air to various points around the globe. The Netherlands and Spain are popular points of entry into Europe, Miami into U.S.A. and the Northern Territory into Australia.
The merchandise is divided up into smaller packages and sold to dealers from all parts of the world. It is then broken down again for local pushers who divide it once more to sell on the street.
In many ways the drug market is a typical example of pyramid selling in which there are growers, traders, dealers and consumers. The proponents of legalisation assure us that lifting legal sanctions would eliminate crime and criminal organisations.
What they fail to understand is that while growers, traders and dealers can be replaced, the consumers underpin the organisation and, if they are eliminated, the whole drug milieux would be totally undermined.The consumers are often referred to as the “ant trade”.
Up to this point intervention by the law is the only means used to combat the drug market. Then, interestingly, there is usually a complete change in the method of intervention. The consumer is perceived as a victim and as such is directed towards treatment for a condition considered by many health professionals to be symptomatic of psychological problems.
However, this prevailing attitude is no longer supported by a significant number of international experts who believe that drug abuse is related to other conditions such as gambling, pyromania and kleptomania.
“After all,” as Prof. Nils Berejot stated, “nicotine dependence at forty is not a late symptom of curiosity in the early teens, it is an independent condition which is difficult to control. In other words true dependence is a learned behaviour where craving for the drug has taken on the character and force of a natural drive – the drug acts as a reinforcer.” (17)
To fully understand the role of the consumer we would have to take a very serious look at how Australia and most other western countries have reached this present state of affairs. Over the past two decades we have permitted a drug culture which coincided with, and was embraced by, the youth culture to reach a point where we feel completely overwhelmed.
We keep avoiding the factor which supports the continuance of the drug industry – the drug users: our young people, relics from the days of flower power, and individuals who believe it is their inalienable right to indulge themselves in any form of behaviour regardless of its infringement on the rights of others. These people should be confronted and made accountable.
This is not a popular concept for a multiplicity of reasons and the task is made even more difficult by the fact that so many adults seem to have abdicated their responsibilities to society in pursuit of their own needs and ambitions. Experts in the field substitute preference for analysis.
Those who favour legalisation doggedly ignore or are unaware of the opinions and experience of the international community of scientists, and civil libertarians postulate the notion that to prohibit street drugs is an infringement of civil liberties.
The consumer is the primary factor in the equation and if consumer demand can be eliminated the drug epidemic will be contained. If the demand side is maintained or expands, the market does the same.
But surely street drugs are no more dangerous than many other substances as long as they are not abused? This uncritical assumption was one of a number of theories advanced in the last two decades to underpin the argument for legalisation. It is a fallacy because it underestimates the inherent neuro-behavioural properties of dependence-producing drugs.
Heroin, cocaine and cannabis are the best known of the street drugs, but there are many others which are readily available. Young people often mix and match these with legal drugs and alcohol and this is generally referred to as ‘poly-drug use’. The interaction of drugs makes the consumer more vunerable to unpredictable side-effects.
Isn’t heroin only dangerous when it is adulterated? In the late 1980′s it was reported in the scientific literature that heroin (derived from the German word Heroisch: of supernatural power) is genotoxic and immuno-depressive.
The study indicated that heroin impairs the immune system, by facilitating entry of viruses into lymphocytes, the cells which move against foreign substances. This property of opiates explains the vulnerability of heroin addicts to all infections including AIDS.
Research indicates that opiates damage chromosomes and they are also damaging to the foetus.(49) TheAustralian public must be made aware of these startling revelations and they should also feature prominently in the AIDS and legalisation agendas.
Heroin is a dependence-producing drug and, like all derivatives in the opiate group, it is characteristic for the dose to be slowly increased to maintain or repeat the effects. This is called tolerance development. In extreme cases morphine and heroin users can use many times the prescribed dose for non-users and even more compared to maximum medical doses.
This addictive characteristic has been clearly demonstrated throughout history. There is the example of China when the legal trade of opium in 1858 resulted in approximately 90 million people becoming addicted and generally debilitated.
A century later, the Japanese, during the occupation of China, initiated a deliberate policy to encourage the use of opium. They were successful in coercing a significant number of Chinese into opium addiction.
Attempts to treat heroin dependence with methadone, naltrexone or clonidine have met with limited success. This is despite the fact that these are specific substances targeted to the brain mechanisms which induce either euphoria or withdrawal symptoms.
“… the suppression of the latter does not result in a cure, since a powerful dominant memory remains imprinted on the brain and orients the addict towards renewed drug taking.” (2)
Some experts emphasise the fact that heroin is a pharmacologically pure substance and the greatest danger for a user is if the heroin is adulterated. This simplistic concept ignores the inherent dangers of heroin itself.
What are the effects of cocaine? Cocaine stimulates the brain and its pharmacological action is similar in many ways to that of amphetamines, preludin and ritalin. It is highly addictive, and as with all central nervous system stimulants, essential natural drives such as fatigue, hunger and thirst are reduced under its influence.
Cocaine is usually inhaled (snorting) or injected. In the United States a highly addictive and dangerous variety of cocaine, known as ‘crack’ free base, has found widespread use. Cocaine can be dissolved and injected intravenously, often in combination with heroin (speedballing).
There are a wide range of side-effects associated with the use of cocaine. These include chronic fatigue, insomnia, irritability, depression, paranoid psychosis, headaches, impaired work performance, impaired relationships. Direct damage to the nasal passages is a dramatic consequence of snorting.(18)
Death can occur as a result of overdose or an accident while under the influence of the drug. With injection and freebasing, absorption is much more rapid, and the prospect of cardiac toxicity increases dramatically.
There are known cases of fatalities that resulted from a first trial of one of these alternative methods of administration. Withdrawal from cocaine is often associated with paranoid psychoses and severe depression and many users try to control mood changes by alternating cocaine with alcohol and other drugs.(19)
It is also well established in the scientific literature that central nervous stimulants may give rise to criminal activity.
What are hallucinogens / psychodelics? Hallucinogens, or psychodelics, are any mind-altering substance that distorts the user’s sensations, thinking, self-awareness, emotions and perceptions of reality.
Hallucinogens include such drugs as LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide), PCP (phencyclidine), mescaline, psilocybin, and DMT (N,N,-dimethyltryptamine).
The effects of psychodelics are unpredictable. They depend on the amount taken, the user’s personality, mood, expectations and the surroundings in which the drug is used.
Usually, the user feels the first effects of the drug 30 to 90 minutes after taking it. The physical effects include dilated pupils, higher body temperature, increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, sweating, loss of appetite, sleeplessness, dry mouth, tremors.
The person’s sense of time and of self change. Sensations may seem to cross over, giving the user the feeling of ‘hearing’ colors and ‘seeing’ sounds. All of these changes can be frightening and can cause panic.
LSD is one of the strongest of the street drugs. One pinhead-sized drop can bring on an intense psychodelic ‘high’ lasting twelve hours or longer. Having an adverse reaction to LSD and similar drugs is common.
The nervous sensations may last a few minutes or several hours. The user may experience panic, confusion, suspicion, anxiety, feelings of helplessness and loss of control. Sometimes taking a hallucinogen can unmask mental or emotional problems that were previously unknown to the user.
Flashbacks, in which the person experiences drug effects without having to take the drug again, can occur. These flashbacks, which vary widely in intensity and duration, can occur up to six months after use of the drug.
LYSERGIC ACID DIETHYLAMIDE – LSD
LSD is manufactured from lysergic acid which is found in ergot, a fungus which grows on rye and other grains. LSD is one of the most potent mind-altering chemicals. It is odourless, colorless, and tasteless.
Research has shown some changes in the mental functions of users of LSD. Users sometimes develop signs of organic brain damage, such as impaired memory and attention span, mental confusion, and difficulty with abstract thinking.
These signs may be strong or they may be subtle. It is not yet known whether such mental changes are permanent or if they disappear when LSD use is stopped.
LSD is sold on the street in many forms: tablets, capsules, liquid, or thin squares of gelatin (window panes). Often it is added to absorbent paper, such as blotting paper and divided into small decorated squares, with each square representing one dose. LSD is so potent that it can be absorbed through skin contact alone.
PHENCYCLIDINE – PCP
PCP is sometimes considered a hallucinogen because it has some of the same effects. However, it does not fit easily into any one drug category. Because PCP is made without quality control, it is associated with extremely bizarre and aggressive acts, and is considered the most unpredictable drug. It is frequently sprinkled onto marijuana to intensify the effects. This is referred to as ‘killer weed’.
Mescaline comes from the Peyote cactus and although not as strong as LSD, its effects are similar. Mescaline is smoked or swallowed in capsule form or tablets.
Psilocybin comes from certain mushrooms. It is sold in tablet or capsule form. The mushrooms themselves, fresh or dried, are eaten.
N,N,-DIMETHYLTRYPTAMINE – DMT
DMT is another psychodelic drug that acts like LSD. Its effects begin almost immediately and last for 30-60 minutes.
Are amphetamines dangerous? Amphetamines come in a variety of chemical formulations – methylamphetamine, dextroamph- etamine, benzedrine etc. and are usually referred to as ‘speed’. Their effects are similar to that of cocaine.
Originally, amphetamines were prescribed for depression, obesity and a variety of other conditions. Today their use is limited to rare conditions such as narcolepsy (uncontrolled bouts of sleep) minimal brain dysfunction and certain kinds of over-activity in children, now referred to as Attention Deficit Syndrome.
Amphetamines can be taken orally, sniffed or injected into a vein. They are usually crystalline and yellowish in appearance. The effects of amphetamines are exerted on the brain, the heart, lungs and other organs.
Short term effects depend on dosage. Amphetamines can increase breathing and heart rate, raise blood pressure and dilate pupils. High doses can cause very rapid or irregular heart-beat, tremor, loss of co-ordination and collapse.
Energy level is raised and a feeling of euphoria occurs. With increasing doses, users often feel a sense of power and superiority. Withdrawal symptoms include fatigue, disturbed sleep, irritability, hunger and severe depression.
The use of amphetamines may be associated with blockage of blood vessels, infections from intravenous injection, increased susceptibility to disease and malnutrition.
The effects of amphetamines are often underestimated because they are not regarded as glamorous and do not attract the same publicity as drugs such as heroin and cocaine.
However, amphetamines can be exceedingly dangerous and under their influence users can become severely depressed and prone to irrational behaviour and violence. There is the propensity to radically alter normally rational people, particularly when used in combination with alcohol.
In the last twenty years, socializing and partying has moved away from home and into the pub and club scene. For young people, entertainment starts late at night and it is usual to ‘rage’ until the early hours of the morning. This often requires enormous energy and while some can generate their own, many think nothing of popping amphetamine pills and washing them down with alcohol; others binge on ‘shooting up’ amphetamines and, as a result are also able to consume large quantities of alcohol.
One group of heavy amphetamine users who have caused concern to authorities for decades are interstate truck drivers. The reason they use amphetamine is to stay awake and alert during the long hours spent behind the wheel.
The problem of amphetamine use is compounded by the fact that similar substances, although weaker in strength, can be legally prescribed. However, amphetamines are easily obtained through dealers. Between 1979 and 1987, policediscovered 69 illegal laboratories in Australia, of which 36 were in Victoria.
Amphetamines are cheaper than heroin but nevertheless addicts can spend up to $300 a day. Although these users turn to crime to maintain their habit, the accompanying violence is often a direct result of the effects of the drug itself.
What are the health risks associated with inhalants? The drug taking behaviour we have come to know as ‘sniffing’ or abuse of volatile hydrocarbons, dates back to the 1800s. The only available product then was ether, which was abused by medical students for its euphoriant effects.
It came into vogue in many countries and was used either by mixing it with drinks or sniffing. Widespread sniffing of plastic model glues and nail polish began in the 1960s. Today there are many products which can be used to obtain a ‘high’. These include aerosols such as hairsprays, deodorants, insecticides, medication and paint, cleaning fluid, lighter fluid, nail polish remover and lacquer thinners.
Inhaled vapours from aerosols or solvents enter the bloodstream rapidly from the lungs and are distributed to organs with high volume circulations, such as brain and liver.
Most volatile hydrocarbons are absorbed rapidly into the central nervous system producing depression of many body functions, including respiration and cardiac output. Although some volatile hydrocarbons are metabolised and then excreted through the kidneys, many are eliminated unchanged, primarily through the lungs.
Short term effects include euphoria, vivid fantasies and excitement. Occasionally feelings of recklessness and invincibility may lead to bizarre behaviour. Most effects pass within an hour of use. However, an experienced user can maintain a ‘high’ for as long as twelve hours by continuous sniffing.
Concentrating the drug inside a plastic bag may prolong the effect for several hours. Repeated use within a short space of time may result in unconsciousness, muscular spasm, depressed reflexes and even death.
Long term effects include hostility, paranoia, reduction in the formation of blood cells, permanent or temporary impairment of liver, kidney and brain. Research also indicates there may be chromosome damage. Like most street drugs, inhalants are addictive.
What is meant by designer drugs? Designer drugs are derivatives of synthetic chemicals used in various combinations. They are drugs of potentially dangerous potency which are difficult to quantify because those who produce them have no regard for quality control.
For example, 3-methyl-fentanyl is an analogue of fentanyl, often sold as synthetic heroin. An amount as small as the head of a pin can kill 50 people.
It has been calculated that one operator working eight hours a day for a week can make enough synthesised opiates to supply the whole of the United States for six months. And the entire amount would fit into three shoe boxes.
Because ‘ecstasy’ (MDMA or 3,4-methylene- dioxymethamphetamine) is a derivative of amphetamine and can easily be produced in illegal laboratories, it is not usually classified as a designer drug. However, it has assumed the illusory glamour of one and is probably the most widely used designer drug in Australia.
Effects on individual users are unpredictable and while some people experience heightened sensory and sensual awareness, others experience nausea, jaw clenching and depression for up to fourteen days.
As the use of ecstasy spreads throughout the Australian community, hospitals are seeing people suffering the effects of overdose, usually psychotic reactions. In preliminary research by a Stanford neurologist, Dr. Stephen Peroutka, it was demonstrated that relatively low doses of ecstasy caused brain damage in rats by destroying nerve cells which produce the brain chemical serotonin.
Opinions differ on the addictive properties of ‘designer drugs’ and, although there is little research material available, the fact that new variations of molecules can be created unintentionally, means there is a very real danger that highly toxic drugs will be produced.
The consequences of uncontrolled drug production were clearly demonstrated in California in 1982, when the chemical MPTP (1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6- tetra-hydropyridine) was unwittingly produced and marketed as a synthetic heroin, MPPP (4-propyloxy-4-phenyl- N-methylyseridine).
Eventually it was determined that four hundred people used the drug. Neurological tests showed that many had symtoms of the initial stage of Parkinson’s disease. Doctors described some victims as literally “frozen up.”
What is marijuana? Marijuana is the dried crumbly leaves, flowers and flowering tops of the Cannabis sativa plant. These are usually combined with tobacco and rolled into ‘joints’, i.e; ‘mulling’.
Marijuana is often smoked in ‘bongs’ or ‘pipes’ which are designed to draw a large amount of water-cooled smoke. The bong concentrates the smoke inside the chamber so that none escapes into the air.
In the Middle East and North Africa the drug is referred to as ‘hashish’. In the Far East it is called ‘charas’ and in India it is called ‘bhang’. The habit of deep inhalation is a characteristic of the contemporary western use of cannabis.
Sometimes marijuana is added to tea or eaten in biscuits, but is usually smoked in hand-rolled cigarettes called ‘tokes’ or ‘joints’ or in cones with bongs.
What is hashish? Hashish is the thick translucent resin which is secreted from the glandular hairs on the leaves of the Cannabis sativa plant.
The resin not only keeps the moisture in, but also acts as a pesticide. It damages the nervous systems of insects and animals.
Hashish is green, dark brown or black and compressed into ‘bricks’ of various shapes and sizes. Some of the countries which produce hashish are Lebanon, Morocco, Afganistan and Pakistan.
What is hash oil? Hash oil is prepared by chemical extraction with organic solvents such as alcohol or ether, it has a very high THC content (up to 60%) and is usually spread on the tip or paper of ordinary cigarettes.
What is the difference between marijuana and cannabis? Although legal and colloquial definitions infer that all products from the cannabis plant are marijuana, there are in fact three basic types of cannabis.
Drug-type cannabis is used to produce the crude drug marijuana. The content of delta-9-THC, the intoxicant compound, varies depending on growth conditions, genetic background of the plant and as a result of special grafting and cultivation.
Fibre-type cannabis was thought to have originated in China. It is used primarily in the manufacture of rope and twine. It has a very low THC content (usually less than 0.2%).
Intermediate-type cannabis produces neither good drugs nor fibre in its raw unrefined state, but it can be processed to make hashish, a resinous material consisting of water-insoluble components of the plant. High levels of THC and other cannabinoids are found in hashish.(20)
How intoxicating is marijuana? The intoxicant chemical compound found in marijuana is known as THC. This is an abbreviation for delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol.
The potency of THC can vary enormously. In the 1960s the THC content in marijuana was usually about 1 or 2%.
This is considered a fairly mild strength. However, to satisfy the demand for a more potent product, growers and importers either selectively cultivate the cannabis plant in a special way or use chemical additives.
The potency of cannabis which is now available is exceedingly high. A hybrid called Skunk contains up to 30% THC. The following are common labels for marijuana: Pot, Hooch, Head, a Deal, Mull, Grass, Wacky-Tobaccy, Happy Weed, a Mix, Zombie, Budha and Bud.
Isn’t marijuana a simple, natural weed? Marijuana is the most complex of all illegal drugs, having in excess of 425 known constituents. Approximately 65 of those are classified as cannabinoids and are unique to the cannabis plant.
Almost all cannabinoids indentified to date are biologically active, i.e. they can alter some function of a living organism. Many other compounds are formed in the burning process associated with smoking.
An interesting example of the complexity of the smoking process is that CBD, a single inactive cannabinoid, is transformed into at least thirty new and active chemicals when smoked.
How does marijuana react in the body? The most important property of cannabinoids is their fat solubility. After entering the blood by absorption through the lung membranes, they are taken up and held in the fat stores and in organs with significant fat content such as brain, testes and ovaries as well as general body fat.
What are cell membranes? The cell membranes or linings are composed of layers of complex molecules with a lipid (fat) content. Some substances cross the membrane by simple diffusion, others by complex transport mechanisms requiring metabolic energy.
The internal substance of cells (cytoplasm) contains a mass of specialised particles which process food materials and release energy.
Many drugs and other foreign chemicals interfere with this energy-producing function. In particular, lipid-soluble compounds enter cells preferentially, and remain bound for long periods in the lipid molecules of the cell membrane.
THC is one such substance characterised by rapid action and prolonged retention. Although all cells take up THC, the brain is the site of significant change because the 3kg human brain is one third fat.
What is known about the other cannabinoids? Research has concentrated mainly on THC; however, there are some cannabinoids such as CBD, CBC, and CBN which alter the effects of THC.
Some cannabinoids have mind altering properties as well, e.g. delta-8-THC, delta-9-THCV and CBN. Marijuana gathered from a plant at 9am differs from that gathered from the same plant two hours later.
Other factors affecting the plant stability are moisture content, pH (acidity) and the soil in which they are grown. It is therefore impossible for users to accurately assess the exact strength of the marijuana they are smoking.(20)
How is marijuana eliminated from the body? Because the body has difficulty eliminating fat-soluble substances, half the THC from a single ‘joint’ remains in fatty tissue and cell membranes for approximately one week after it is smoked.
The rest is slowly eliminated in the faeces and urine over a period of several weeks. If another joint is smoked before the cannabinoids from the previous one have been eliminated, the fat content of THC steadily increases.(21) This process is similar to DDT.
How long does it take to eliminate the THC from one joint? Consider the case of smoking just one joint per week. After the first week the body eliminates approximately half the THC, the other half remains.
If at this time the next joint is smoked, the body now has one and a half doses of THC. Throughout the next week half of this is eliminated. There is now the equivalent of three quarters of a dose of THC.
And so it goes on – THC becomes embedded in the cell structure and starts to accumulate. When this process occurs in the brain cells, the damage may be irreversible.
How can you tell if a person is using marijuana? It may be only a few months, but usually it takes years before family or friends notice any significant changes in the personality and general health of a person affected by marijuana.
It is almost impossible for users themselves to detect deterioration of their own mental and physiological processes. Marijuana use produces both acute and chronic effects.
What are the immediate effects after smoking a joint? The acute effects include a subjective intoxication, usually referred to as being ‘stoned’, a feeling of euphoria, intensification of ordinary sensory experiences and poor visual perception.
There is also impairment of ability to perform complex and precise motor, visual or mental tasks, e.g. operating equipment, playing sport, driving a car or having rational thoughts or discussion.(22)
What are the long term effects? The chronic or regular users of marijuana often lack motivation, lose interest in school or work and lack proper hygiene. They may become irrational and alienated from family and former friends, choosing instead companions with similar personality traits.
There is also a possiblity that sub-clinical conditions are present in the lungs, liver, kidney, adrenal glands, bone marrow, ovaries and testes and the most sensitive of all the organs to the effects of cannabinoids – the brain.
How long does a person have to be using marijuana before any effects occur? There is a whole range of time and behavioural factors associated with the use of marijuana. Sometimes personality changes occur within weeks or months of initial involvement.
Other people sustain their normal lifestyles for many years and the compromising of potential skills and personality is so gradual that marijuana is not seen to be associated with these changes. There are also many people who appear to be unaffected, even after many years of continuous use.