Fact files

With so many drugs and substances on the market it can be hard to get your head around what’s what. That’s why we’ve compiled handy fact files so that you can read about what each drug is, its effects, the risks involved and whether it’s addictive.


What’s cannabis?

It’s the most widely used illegal drug in Britain, but there’s a whole lot more to know about cannabis and its effects.

  • Cannabis is naturally occurring – it’s made from the cannabis plant
  • The main active chemical in it is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC for short)
  • THC’s the ingredient in cannabis that can make you feel very chilled out, happy and relaxed
  • THC can also make you hallucinate, meaning it can alter your senses, so that you might see, hear or feel things in a different way to normal
  • Skunk’s a stronger form of cannabis and is increasingly dominating the UK market

A big myth about cannabis is that it’s safe because it’s natural. Cannabis has some very real effects on your mood, as well as creating longer term problems.

  • Cannabis can make you feel very anxious and even paranoid
  • Using cannabis has been linked, in some people, to serious, long-term mental health problems

Slang terms

Cannabis is also known as: bhang, bud, dope, draw, ganja, grass, hash, hashish, herb, marijuana, pot, puff, resin, sensi, sinsemilla, skunk, weed.

What are the different types of cannabis?

Although it’s all from the same plant, cannabis comes in many different forms.

  • Hash is a black or brown soft lump made from the resin of the cannabis plant. It’s much less common in the UK than it used to be. It costs about £26 per quarter ounce
  • Grass, also known as weed, is made from the dried leaves and flowering parts of the female cannabis plant and looks like tightly packed dried herbs. This traditional grass was normally imported and much weaker than the ‘skunk’ types of cannabis usually sold now. Grass costs around £30 per quarter ounce
  • Cannabis oil is a sticky, dark honey-coloured substance and is much less common. This costs around £25 per 50ml bottle

How’s cannabis taken?

  • Most people mix it with tobacco, roll it up into something known as a ‘spliff’ or a ‘joint’, and then smoke it. Some people smoke it using a type of pipe called a bong
  • Others drink or eat it mixed in cookies, cakes or even cups of tea. Taken this way, the effects of cannabis can be more difficult to predict or control. It takes cannabis longer to get into your body by these routes; and so if unpleasant side-effects do start to develop, it’s too late to do very much about it except wait for the effects to reach their peak and then wear off

How will it make you feel?

Cannabis has a number of different effects. It’s classed as a sedating and hallucinogenic drug. Its effects can turn out to be pleasant or unpleasant.

What are the risks and effects?

Cannabis can have many negative effects on the mind and body.

Effects on the mind:

  • Cannabis can cause feelings of anxiety, suspicion, panic and paranoia
  • Regular cannabis use is associated with an increase in the risk of developing psychotic illnesses including schizophrenia; if you have a family background of mental illness, the risk is increased. For people already with illnesses such as schizophrenia, cannabis can cause a serious relapse
  • Cannabis can affect the way the brain works. Regular, heavy use makes it difficult to learn and concentrate, and research has linked cannabis use to poor exam results. This is a potentially serious risk if you’re young, when the brain’s still developing. People who take a lot of cannabis can also find they lack motivation

Effects on the body:

  • Smoking cannabis can make asthma worse, and cause wheezing in non-asthma sufferers
  • It can increase the heart rate and affect blood pressure, which can be especially harmful for those with heart disease
  • Any impurities you smoke are inhaled into the lungs alongside the wide range of chemicals naturally found in cannabis
  • Like tobacco, cannabis has many chemical ‘nasties’. So if you smoke it, cannabis could cause lung disease and possibly cancer too, especially when smoked with tobacco
  • It’s reported that frequent use of cannabis may affect fertility. It can cut a man’s sperm count and can suppress ovulation in women
  • If you’re pregnant, smoking cannabis may increase the risk of your baby being underweight at birth
  • Regular users can also get unpleasant withdrawal symptoms on stopping, including irritability, mood changes, feeling sick, loss of appetite, difficulty sleeping, sweating, shaking and diarrhoea in some people

How pure’s cannabis?

Cannabis may be ‘cut’ with other substances to increase the weight and dealer’s profits.

  • Impurities in cannabis may include a variety of substances, with laboratory-confirmed reports of glass and pesticides bound in herbal forms of cannabis.

Can you get addicted?

The simple answer is yes. This means you can get ‘cravings’ for cannabis, and may have difficulty staying off it even if you recognise that using it has started to cause problems.

You’re also at real risk of getting addicted to nicotine, or staying addicted to it, if you roll your spliffs with tobacco.

Cannabis and the law

Cannabis is a class B drug. This means that possessing it can lead to a prison sentence of up to 5 years. Supplying could lead to a 14 year prison sentence and an unlimited fine.

Fact: Passing drugs amongst friends is supplying in the eyes of the law.

Fact: A drug conviction could stand between you and your ideal job.

Fact: It’s illegal to allow people in your house to use cannabis.


What’s heroin?

It’s a drug made from morphine that’s extracted from the opium poppy. Like many drugs made from opium (called opiates) it’s a very strong painkiller.

Slang terms

Heroin’s also known as: brown, skag, H, horse, gear, smack.

What are the different types of heroin?

Heroin’s appearance varies depending on how pure it is.

  • Pure heroin’s a white powder
  • Street heroin, also known as brown, can be any colour from brownish white to brown
  • Heroin’s been known to be sold as ‘brown’ to clubbers as a chill out drug after a night out. It’s the same drug and just as addictive
  • When heroin’s smoked it’s called ‘chasing the dragon’
  • When morphine’s made into heroin to be used as a medicine it’s called diamorphine and is stronger than morphine or opium
  • Methadone’s a type of medicine called an opioid and is prescribed as a substitute to help tackle heroin use

How’s heroin taken?

Heroin’s smoked, snorted or prepared for injection. Opioids such as methadone made for medical use usually come in liquid, tablet or injectable form and can be misused for non-medical reasons, especially by heroin users who cannot get hold of heroin. Methadone’s usually prescribed in liquid form.

How will heroin make you feel?

  • It gives a feeling of warmth and wellbeing and can make people feel sleepy and relaxed
  • It also slows down the way the body works and is a very strong painkiller. The first dose may cause dizziness and vomiting
  • Heroin’s effects can last for hours so it’s important to be careful if using any other drugs or alcohol in that time

What are the risks and effects?

Heroin can have many negative risks and effects on both the mind and body.

Effects on the mind:

  • Detachment from reality
  • Clouded judgement
  • Irrational decision making
  • Depression

Effects on the body:

  • Aches, tremor, sweating, chills and muscular spasms
  • Physical dependence can result from regular use
  • Overdoses can lead to coma and even death
  • If you’ve been taking heroin regularly you may have built some tolerance, but if you then stop for just a few days, your tolerance will rapidly drop – and you risk an overdose if you continue with the previous high dose
  • If heroin’s taken with other drugs, including alcohol, an overdose is more likely
  • Risk of death due to inhaling vomit because heroin both sedates and stops you coughing properly, and the vomit remains in the airways so you can’t breathe
  • Injecting heroin can damage your veins and arteries, which may lead to gangrene. Sharing injecting equipment can cause serious infections such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C, HIV and AIDS

How pure’s heroin?

It’s common for heroin to be mixed with a variety of substances, such as sugar, starch, powdered milk, quinine or paracetamol. This increases its weight and the drug dealer’s profits.

Other substances are sometimes added to heroin, including sedatives such as benzodiazepines and barbiturates.

Substances like nutmeg, brick dust, and even ground-up gravel have been reported to be found in heroin. This is what gives street heroin its brown colour.

Can you get addicted?

Heroin’s highly addictive and people can quickly become dependent on it. Over time heroin’s effects on the brain cause cravings and a desire to keep on taking heroin. Those who take heroin regularly will find that their body builds up a tolerance, so that they have to start taking more. Eventually heroin will be required to feel normal and avoid unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.

Heroin and the law

Heroin is a class A drug. This means that possessing it can lead to a prison sentence of up to 7 years and an unlimited fine. Supplying (which includes giving it to a friend) could lead to a life sentence and another unlimited fine.

Fact: Passing drugs amongst friends is supplying in the eyes of the law.

Fact: A drug conviction could stand between you and your ideal job.


What’s cocaine?

Cocaine’s a powerful stimulant and short-acting drug which is obtained from coca plant leaves. Its effects temporarily speed up the way your mind and body works.

Slang terms

Cocaine’s also known as C, charlie, ching, coke, crack, freebase, pebbles, percy, rocks, snow, stones, toot, wash and white.

What are the different types of cocaine?

  • Cocaine most commonly appears as a white powder. This is the salt form of cocaine.
  • Crack cocaine looks like small rocks about the same size as a peanut. It’s produced when the cocaine base is separated from the hydrochloride
  • Crack cocaine’s sometimes sold by the slice as ‘clubbing rock’
  • Freebase cocaine’s the base form of cocaine

How’s cocaine taken?

  • Powder cocaine’s divided into lines and snorted up the nose
  • Freebase and crack cocaine are often smoked through a pipe. This includes homemade pipes such as an empty drinks can or a glass tube and small piece of copper cleaner.
  • Crack can also be rolled up in cigarette paper and smoked in a joint, often mixed with cannabis.
  • Crack can be prepared for injection. The effects of smoking crack are almost immediate
  • Some people inject crack with heroin – known as speedballing – which mixes the stimulant and depressant effects of both drugs

How will it make you feel?

  • It may make you feel more alert and energetic
  • Some users feel an increase in confidence and physical strength, and believe they have greater mental capacities
  • It can reduce feelings of hunger and appetite

What are the risks and effects?

Cocaine can have many negative effects on the mind and body.

Effects on the mind:

  • Extreme anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations

Effects on the body:

  • Increased body temperature
  • Increased heart rate
  • Flu like symptoms the day after

How pure’s cocaine?

It may be cut with other substances including sugar and starch.

Can you get addicted?

Cocaine’s highly addictive and can change the way your brain works. Psychological dependency’s often a bigger barrier to withdrawal than the physical symptoms which include low moods and feeling rough.

It isn’t inevitable that you’ll get addicted to cocaine as your own mental state and circumstances play a part in getting hooked. As cocaine is expensive if you do develop an addiction this may lead to further problems such as turning to crime to fund your habit.

Cocaine and the law

Cocaine’s a Class A drug which means it’s illegal to have, give away or sell. If you’re caught with cocaine you can get up to seven years in jail for possession. Supplying cocaine could lead to a life sentence and fine.

Fact: Passing drugs amongst friends is supplying in the eyes of the law.

Fact: A drug conviction could stand between you and your ideal job.

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