What are drugs?
The Drug Foundation says a drug is a substance – solid, liquid or gas – that changes the functions or structures of the body in some way. It might change the way someone acts or thinks. This obviously excludes food and water, which are required to maintain normal body functioning.
Almost everyone takes some kind of drug, perhaps to keep healthy or fight illness, but drugs can be harmful if misused – that’s why laws restrict their manufacture, distribution and use.
The drugs creating a health problem in New Zealand are those that affect a person’s central nervous system. They act on the brain and can change the way a person thinks, feels or behaves. These are called “psychoactive” drugs.
The harm from these drugs to individuals and the community are clear. Anyone using them can suffer from poor health, have distorted family and social interactions, psychological and emotional difficulties, legal and economic problems, and possibly death. The Drug Foundation says it’s important to remember that many people start and continue to use drugs to find relief and escape from problems.
There are three main types of drugs, classified by their effects on the central nervous system. These are depressants, hallucinogens and stimulants.
Depressants slow down the functions of the central nervous system. They don’t necessarily make you feel depressed. Moderate amounts of depressants can make you feel relaxed. Some depressants cause euphoria and a sense of calm and well-being. They may be used to “wind down” or to reduce anxiety, stress or inhibition. Examples include alcohol, cannabis, benzodiazepines, and opiates.
Hallucinogens change the way you perceive or experience the world. You might see or hear things that don’t exist. They can affect your thinking, sense of time and emotions. Effects can include panic, paranoia and loss of contact with reality. In extreme cases, this can result in dangerous behaviour, like walking into traffic or jumping off a roof. Examples include LSD and ecstasy.
Stimulants speed up or stimulate the central nervous system and can make you feel more awake, alert and confident. They increase heart rate, body temperature and blood pressure. They also reduce appetite, dilate pupils, and lead to talkativeness, agitation and sleep disturbance. Large quantities of stimulants can cause anxiety, panic, seizures, headaches, stomach cramps, aggression and paranoia. Examples include cocaine, methamphetamine, speed, party pills and even caffeine.
Reducing the Risks
Statistically New Zealand has some of the highest rates of drug use in the world (2012 United Nations World Drug Report).
Cannabis use is particularly high, largely because we have ideal growing conditions and it doesn’t need to be imported. The UN report showed between 9.1 and 14.6 percent of the population used cannabis, compared to an estimated 2.6 to 5 percent worldwide.
Our relatively high use of drugs has created a health issue that is being dealt with through police enforcement and border security; legislation to make it more difficult to get raw materials – such as making pseudoephedrine prescription only (which can be used to make the drug methamphetamine); and education through organisations such as the New Zealand Drug Foundation and the police drug education in schools (CHOICE) programme.
The statistics are not necessarily gloomy. There are some positive signs, such as a reduction in the number of young people using drugs. Recent publicity about drug use in high-level sport also helps to portray drugs as socially unacceptable.
Programmes such as CAYAD (Community Action Youth and Drugs – www.cayad.org.nz), and needle exchange programmes are playing a positive role in reducing drug use in our communities.
The New Zealand Government's drug policy is based on harm minimisation. This is aimed at reducing drug-related harm to the community and individual drug users. Ways of doing that include encouraging nonuse, through to providing the means for users to use drugs with fewer risks.
Remember: there is no safe level of illegal drug use.
The New Zealand Police aim at reducing the supply of illegal, harmful drugs. Dealing in and using such drugs is illegal, and it supports criminal activity. If caught, you can be prosecuted and convicted. A conviction could make life awkward for you if you try to enter another country. That's the least that can happen. Supplying and dealing a class A drug could result in your being locked up for 25 years.
The good, the bad, and the ugly
Drugs can be good, bad and ugly. We sometimes need good drugs to help fight illness or ease our physical and emotional pain. They are made to a standard that is monitored and we know what we are getting. They result from painstaking development over many years. The labelling is on the packet and they are sold over the counter as reputable brands. Sometimes they need a doctor's prescription and are issued by a pharmacist. They are the good drugs... but this article is more concerned with the bad and ugly drugs. These drugs are addictive, have all sorts of unknown ingredients, and can be dangerous - even fatal.
They are associated with crime. Some drug-related offences are now being viewed as a significant social threat to the country. These activities are having an unprecedented effect on health, jobs, productivity and community cohesion in New Zealand.
Cannabis remains the third-most used drug in New Zealand after alcohol and tobacco. Cannabis-related offences are down from what they were, but non-cannabis drug crimes, which include amphetamine-type substances, are up.
The movement from cannabis to synthetics began in the late 90s. In 2000 the Police saw significant changes as methamphetamines, ecstasy and GHB (gamma-hydroxybutyrate, also known as fantasy or the date-rape drug) became widely available.
These "party" drugs can be made at home, the ingredients are readily available and they are very addictive. The chemicals are usually made in China and groups that are known as Triads, in cooperation with New Zealand gangs, are often the importers. New Zealand is a prime target in the international drugs trade because the market is so lucrative. The gangs control the trade to ensure that competition is minimal and prices are kept high.
Under the Misuse of Drugs Act (1975), illegal drugs are in three classes.
Class A drugs include heroin, homebake, speed, P, cocaine, LSD, and magic mushrooms. The penalties for importing, supplying and dealing in these drugs include life imprisonment. Possession can get you one year jail time or a $1000 fine, or both.
Class B drugs include methadone, morphine, GHB, and ecstasy. Some Class B drugs become Class A when prepared for injection. The maximum penalty for dealing, supplying or importing Class B drugs is 14 years, for Class C drugs, eight years. All drug profits, including cash, car and your property, can be seized.
Class C drugs include cannabis, and prescribed drugs such as benzodiazepines or those that contain pseudoephedrine, the main ingredient in locally made speed. Ketamine and amyl are controlled under the Medicines Act. Possessing Class B and C drugs can earn three months imprisonment or a $500 fine or both. Possession also covers letting your car or house be used for using, selling or making drugs.
Dealing is "possession for the purpose of supply or sale". Sharing with friends technically makes you a dealer. You don't have to profit or get money to be a real dealer. Giving a pill to a friend, say for their birthday, is dealing.
Drugs and driving
It is illegal to drive while under the influence of any drug. Breaking this law carries heavy penalties, including disqualification, fines and even imprisonment. A pharmacist can give advice on what prescription and over-the-counter drugs affect driving.
Drugs and pregnancy
Drug use is an important aspect of a woman’s health during pregnancy. Drugs that are of concern include alcohol, tobacco, P, cannabis, amphetamines, heroin, cocaine, tranquillisers and sleeping pills, pain-killers, LSD, ecstasy, and glues and aerosols.
Some prescription drugs can be a problem during pregnancy, so discuss this with your doctor as soon as you know you’re pregnant. Drugs can be harmful to a developing child throughout the pregnancy, but the first three months is considered the time of most risk because the baby’s main organs and limbs are forming.
All supplies of nutrients, water and oxygen pass from the mother to the baby through the placenta. All drugs taken during pregnancy will reach the baby through the placenta. How babies respond to these drugs varies.
Each baby, for reasons that are not clear, seems to have its own response to different drugs. Mothers can use the same drugs in the same amount for the same duration or length of a pregnancy and the babies can react differently. Something in each baby appears to allow that to occur. You might know someone who has had a healthy baby even though she took drugs during her pregnancy. You cannot assume that your baby will be healthy if you take drugs during your pregnancy. Nobody can predict how a baby will be affected.
Ante-natal checks – the visits you make to the doctor, hospital, or community health centre while you are pregnant – are important. The best way to avoid or reduce complications and the risk to the baby is to have good ante-natal care. Women who attend antenatal visits throughout the pregnancy run fewer risks of obstetric complications. At these appointments you could discuss with the doctor or midwife any drugs you might be taking. The information you give them will be confidential whether you are discussing legal or illegal drugs.
Effects on pregnancy
Mothers taking drugs or alcohol tend to go into premature labour, their babies often arriving more than six weeks early. Overall, babies born to mothers who are using drugs or alcohol are smaller than the average baby.
Low birth-weight babies often have breathing difficulties and are more vulnerable to infections. The baby needs to be carefully monitored at ante-natal visits. Ultrasound assesses the baby’s growth and other tests check that the placenta continues to work well.
Withdrawal is the body’s reaction to going without drugs on which it has depended to feel normal. Babies whose mothers have taken drugs during pregnancy might suffer withdrawal. This will depend on the drug, the dose, the purity, how often it’s used and the woman’s general health. A baby can suffer withdrawal during the pregnancy and after birth.
There are common signs and symptoms of drug withdrawal in a new-born baby. Withdrawal often develops after the first 24 hours of life. The babies are agitated and irritable, difficult to settle and suck poorly. They often have diarrhea and scratch themselves; sometimes hiccup and cough.
Withdrawal can be so severe that the babies have convulsions if not treated. In about 75 percent of cases the only treatment required is supportive care – that is, soothing the baby by bathing more often and feeding frequently. The baby is wrapped tightly in blankets to make him/her feel secure. If the irritability is extreme the baby might need medication.
Although some drugs are excreted into breast milk, breast-feeding might still be the right choice to make for feeding your baby.
One important reason to consider breast-feeding is the bonding that it can encourage.
Methamphetamine is a powerfully addictive Class A drug. It is closely related to amphetamines but has a greater effect on the central nervous system. It works by releasing the brain chemical dopamine, stimulating brain cells, enhancing mood and body movement. Methamphetamine is a neurotoxin, which means that it damages the neurons that produce the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin.
Street names for methamphetamine include speed, meth, pure or P, chalk, crank, crystal, ice, glass, crystal meth, sketch, go, junk, wake up, zoom, tweak and dope. It can be snorted (inhaled through the nose), smoked, injected or eaten. Each way of taking it produces different highs for the user. Immediately after smoking the drug or injecting it intravenously the user gets a feeling of intense pleasure or rush, which lasts for a few minutes. Snorting or swallowing causes euphoria, but not a rush, and produces effects within 15-20 minutes.
The pleasurable rush disappears quickly. Other effects might last between eight to 24 hours and include: increased alertness, sense of well-being, paranoia, hallucinations, aggressive and violent behaviour, increased heart rate, convulsions and/or uncontrollable twitching, jerking, extreme rise in body temperature (as high as 42.2C, which can cause brain damage and death), insomnia, impaired speech, dry, itchy skin, loss of appetite, acne, sores, and numbness.
The long-term effects make sober reading. They include fatal kidney and lung disorders, brain damage, depression, hallucinations, permanent psychological problems, violent and aggressive behaviour, weight loss, insomnia, behaviour resembling paranoid schizophrenia, malnutrition, poor ability to cope, lowered resistance to illness, liver damage, stroke and death.
The pleasure is short-lived so users often try to maintain the high by bingeing on the drug. P causes a severe crash after the effects wear off. The crash is more intense and longer lasting than for amphetamine, Speed and cocaine. The effects are not only long-lasting but continue to cause damage long after drug use has stopped.
Addiction is strong. The brain responds to P by releasing an enzyme to knock out the extra dopamine that has been produced. With repeated use, the enzymes kill the nerve endings of the dopamine cell. In other words, the brain cannot register pleasure and satisfaction as it did before P. So users need the drug to feel pleasure, or simply to overcome the feelings of withdrawal.
Chronic use can lead to derangement with auditory hallucinations (i.e. hearing "voices") and extreme paranoia. Unlike cocaine psychosis, it does not pass rapidly. It can last for weeks. P psychosis is common in high doses. About one-third of heavy users suffer hallucinations and hear voices. They get nervous and agitated and are prone to violence.
Injecting carries other risks. Sharing needles with others, reusing injecting equipment and not disposing of them correctly lead to an increased risk of contracting Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and HIV.
P in your neighbourhood
The illegal making and distribution of P is big business in New Zealand. Gangs are prominent but so are other people, motivated by the quick making process and high financial returns. The process is dangerous and so are many of the people engaged in it.
P is made in houses, motel units, sheds, caravans and even in car boots. Most of the people who make it – or cooks as they are known – have extensive criminal histories. They often keep loaded firearms handy during cooking and, after prolonged exposure to the drug and chemicals, might not be rational to deal with.
The chemicals used can become explosive and/or give off toxic fumes that attack skin, eyes, and the mucous membranes of the respiratory tract and can cause death. They pose a significant safety risk for the Police, Environmental Science and Research and other emergency personnel engaged in the investigation and clean-up.
The people engaged in the making don't generally observe safe chemical handling and disposal practices, and usually have only a very basic knowledge of the chemical process.
Every kilogram of manufactured P produces 7 - 10kg of toxic by-product. This is either flushed down toilets or dumped – quite often in residential neighbourhoods. The fumes are highly explosive as well as deadly if inhaled.
Buildings can be contaminated. Many of the stains from the chemical process contain cancer-causing substances that can affect later occupiers.
How to spot a P laboratory
If you suspect people are making or supplying P, report it to Police. If you find a drug lab, keep your distance from it and call the Police immediately on 111. If it is safe to do so, keep watching and write down a description of the people and their vehicles.
Chemicals and common products used in making P include: lithium, red phosphorus, salt, methanol, sulphuric acid, ephedrine/pseudoephedrine, alcohol, veterinary products, alkaline batteries, matches, rock salt, car fuel system cleaners, drain and grease cleaners, Sudafed, paint-thinners, and allergy products.
Any one of the following from this list of common occurrences or tell-tale signs might not mean that drug dealing or production is occurring, but some or several happening together might indicate a problem:
- Frequent visitors at all times of the day or night.
- Frequent late night activity.
- Windows blackened out or curtains always drawn.
- Visitors with expensive vehicles.
- Unfriendly people, appearing secretive about their activities.
- People watching cars suspiciously when they pass by.
- Appearing to be paranoid by exhibiting odd behaviour such as an extensive investment in home security.
- Strange odours coming from house or rubbish.
- Rubbish has numerous bottles and containers, especially chemical containers.
- Putting rubbish out in another neighbours' collection area.
Survey shows serious abuse
A survey called The Socio-Economic Impact of Amphetamine-Type Stimulants (ATS) in New Zealand was conducted in 2001 for the Police by the Centre for Social and Health Outcomes Research and Evaluation, Massey University, in Auckland. The results were issued in 2004. ATS's are illicit synthetic drug types that include methamphetamine, ecstasy and crystal methamphetamine (known as ice).
The research showed that ATS's were now serious drugs of abuse in New Zealand. In 2001, one in 10 New Zealanders aged 18–29, or about 100,000 people, had used an ATS drug in the last year. About one-third of these were frequent users (defined as having used six times or more in the previous year). The illegal trade in ATS drugs in New Zealand is of the equivalent dollar value – $168.3 million – as the illicit trade in cannabis. It might have effectively doubled the dollar value of the illegal trade in drugs in New Zealand in less than 10 years.
The evidence suggests we are witnessing a drugs epidemic.
The survey reveals that ATS users were mainly male and aged 18–29; the heaviest among them aged 20–24. Users mostly were in full-time work, were in professional occupations, earned good money and were well-educated. Many, including frequent users, were European. Users mainly were urban-dwellers, in the upper half of the North Island and in Auckland.
40% of frequent users of methamphetamine reported existing mental health problems, including tendencies to self-harm. About two-thirds of users said methamphetamine increased their psychological problems such as anxiety, mood swings, short temper, paranoia and depression, and suicidal thoughts (21%) and attempts (13%).
93% of the frequent methamphetamine users interviewed believed P to be "more harmful" or "much more harmful" than cannabis.
About half of frequent users interviewed reported harm in "friendship and social life" (55%), "health" (55%), and "energy and vitality" (53%). Other "harms" that frequent users most often rated as "very serious" or "extremely serious" were to "work and work opportunities", "outlook on life", and "friendship and social life".
Frequent P users were often engaged in other illegal activities such as drug dealing and making. One-third of users interviewed had sold P and about one in five had made it or exchanged it for stolen property.
About half of amphetamine buyers had contacted their drug dealers by mobile phone or texting; nearly two-thirds of cannabis buyers visited a house or flat. All the amphetamine sellers reported selling only to "close friends and family members", whereas cannabis sellers sold at least "some" of their cannabis to "casual acquaintances" and "complete strangers".
ATS users commonly combined their drug-taking with high-potency cannabis, LSD, magic mushrooms, cocaine, GHB, Ketamine, Rush and tranquillisers
Broader market noticed
Since that survey in 2001, the Police have noticed that P has been "marketed" away from dance party-goers and motorcycle gangs to broader society, particularly poorer groups, teenagers and traditional cannabis users. Some dealers also lace cannabis with P to increase the attractiveness.
The typical dollar amount spent each time on amphetamine by users arrested in 2001 was $350 compared with only $20 for cannabis. New Zealand has the highest drug prices in the world. A "tinny" of cannabis in New Zealand, which is well-suited to growing the plant, costs $20 and in other countries, the same quantity might cost 50c.
Another survey of methamphetamine use in New Zealand was undertaken in November and December of 2003. The information came from drug treatment workers, Police and Customs drug enforcement officers.
Some key trends emerged:
- Methamphetamine was readily available.
- A greater cross-section of society is now using P.
- Methamphetamine sales are being made from cannabis "tinny houses".
- P is being marketing to poorer groups of people.
- Methamphetamine users have increased drug dealing.
- Violence and property crime is associated with P use.
- Serious violence and family violence is linked to methamphetamine.
- More P users are coming to the attention of the Police and drug treatment.
- Smoking methamphetamine is becoming more popular, as opposed to the previous tradition of snorting.
- P is now being injected.
- The prevalence of pure crystal forms of methamphetamine as opposed to cut powder.
Class A drugs
Hallucinogens, also known as "psychedelic" drugs, change how a person perceives the world. Hallucinogens markedly affect all the senses and cause hallucinations – seeing or hearing things that do not exist or are distorted. A person's thinking, sense of time and emotions can also be altered.
There are many different kinds of hallucinogens. Some occur naturally, in trees, vines, seeds, fungi and leaves; others are made in laboratories. Hallucinogens include LSD, magic mushrooms, mescaline, PCP (phencyclidine), cannabis (in high quantities) and ecstasy.
Naturally occurring hallucinogens have been used since ancient times by various cultures throughout the world, particularly North and South American Indians, for their mystical and spiritual associations. They became fashionable in America and Europe in the 1960s. Very few people use hallucinogens today.
LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) is a hallucinogenic drug. In its pure form, it’s a colourless, odourless and mildly bitter powder. It’s one of the most commonly used hallucinogens in New Zealand. During the 1960s LSD became the hippies' drug of choice. Since then its use has declined, but there is some recent evidence of increased popularity. LSD is diluted from its crystalline form and usually comes in the form of liquid, tablets or capsules, squares of gelatine or blotting paper (paper soaked in the liquid to produce “tabs” of acid). It can be swallowed, sniffed, injected or smoked. LSD will distort a user’s reality. It is very potent: small amounts cause strong effects. Their senses and emotions will be heightened and a “trip” can last up to 12 hours. Because it’s difficult to tell the potency of a dose, the effects can be variable and unpredictable. A bad trip can cause the user to feel like they have things crawling on their skin, lose control of their emotions or feel like they have lost their grip on reality. People who have existing mental health issues can also be at risk from LSD use because it can exacerbate symptoms of their illness or trigger LSD psychosis. Although LSD is not thought to be addictive, a person can become psychologically dependent, relying on using it in certain situations.
Cocaine is a drug derived from the leaves of the coca plant, which is found mainly in Peru and Bolivia. It is a stimulant because it speeds up the functions of the central nervous system – the messages going to and from the brain. It comes as a crystal white powder and has the scientific name cocaine hydrochloride.
Cocaine can be injected, snorted, or even converted to a freebase form and smoked. It is sometimes known as C, coke, flake, nose candy, snow, dust, white, white lady, toot, crack, rock, or freebase. It is inhaled (snorted) through the nose, or injected. It can also be converted to an alkaloid form through a process known as freebasing, which allows it to be smoked. Cocaine hydrochloride cannot otherwise be smoked, because the drug is destroyed at high temperatures.
Crack is a very pure form of freebase cocaine sold as crystals or rocks. Crack is smoked in pipes or in cigarettes, mixed with tobacco or marijuana. Crack has rarely been seen in New Zealand.
Cocaine might be mixed, or "cut", with other substances such as sugar, baking soda and talcum powder to increase profits. This increases the risk of harmful or unpleasant effects.
Many people have had the following effects shortly after taking cocaine: physiological arousal, including increased body temperature and heart rate; exhilaration; anxiety; feelings of well-being; decreased hunger; panic; poor concentration and judgment; indifference to pain and fatigue; feelings of great physical strength and mental capacity; enlarged pupils; sexual arousal; unpredictable and/or violent behaviour. The effects of cocaine peak after 15 to 30 minutes, and then diminish.
Using greater quantities of cocaine repeatedly over several hours can lead to extreme agitation, anxiety, paranoia, hallucinations, dizziness, nausea and vomiting, tremors, unpredictable violent/aggressive behaviour; loss of: concentration, co-ordination, interest in sex, ambition and motivation; heart pain, heart attack, paranoid psychosis, increased body temperature, rapid, irregular and shallow breathing.
People who have used cocaine over longer periods tend to take it in stronger quantities – binges interrupted by crashes. A user might try to end the binge by taking a depressant drug such as alcohol, benzodiazepines (benzos), or heroin. The binge is followed by the crash – intense depression, lethargy and hunger.
The unpleasant effects of cocaine increase with more frequent, long-term use. Most symptoms will go once cocaine use ceases.
Heroin is an opiate. Opiates are a group of drugs known as “downers” derived from the sticky resin of the opium poppy seed-pod. They also include opium, morphine, methadone, codeine and pethidine. Fortunately, heroin use is relatively low in New Zealand.
Class B drugs
Ecstasy is a street term for drugs similar in structure to MDMA (Methylenedioxymethamphetamine). It is similar in structure and effect to amphetamines and hallucinogens. Ecstasy is also known as E, XTC, eccy and the love drug. It’s often referred to as the “love drug” because it can induce empathy, euphoria, and a closeness and openness to others.
Ecstasy is illegal, and its ingredients are often hard to get, so makers might substitute a variety of substances. You might buy Ecstasy containing little MDMA. Like other illegally made drugs, such as speed, the strength and hygiene of the drug is uncontrolled. Ecstasy is often cut with other substances such as methamphetamine, caffeine and BZP.
This increases the chances of a person overdosing, being poisoned or having other adverse reactions.
Ecstasy usually comes in the form of small white or yellow-to-brown tablets of various sizes, shapes and designs. Swallowing is the most common way to use it, even though it can taste foul. Ecstasy tablets can be crushed and snorted. They can be inserted into the anus from where the drug is absorbed. Injecting Ecstasy has recently become more popular.
Because Ecstasy is commonly taken before or during dance or rave parties, the stimulant effects are likely to increase. The user might be more prone to prolonged and vigorous dancing, increasing some of the dangers listed below.
People having any of the following conditions put themselves at greater risk of physical and psychological harm by taking Ecstasy: hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, liver problems, epilepsy, a history of mental illness or panic attacks. Immediate effects can include increased heart rate, body temperature and blood pressure; increased confidence; jaw-clenching, teeth-grinding; feelings of well-being; nausea; feelings of closeness to others, hence the term Love Drug; anxiety; loss of appetite; and, sweating.
These effects usually begin within 20 minutes of taking the drug and might last up to six hours. Some people have reported symptoms persisting for 32 hours.
The effects usually go through three phases:
- Coming up – where the effects can be smooth and bumpy, and users might feel a rush.
- The plateau – where the user might feel happy and relaxed.
- Coming down – where users might feel physically exhausted, depressed and irritable.
Signs are usually a very high body temperature and blood pressure, hallucinations and a faster heartbeat. This is especially dangerous for those who have an existing heart condition, breathing problems, and for people with depression or any other psychological disorder.
Death can result under three distinct circumstances:
- The stimulant effect: resulting in heart attack or brain haemorrhage.
- Overheating: the combination of Ecstasy and prolonged and vigorous dancing raises the body temperature dangerously. Because it is often taken in hot, humid venues, such as rave or dance parties, the risk of death by overheating (hyperthermia) is further increased.
- Drinking too much: it is important not to drink too much water all at once. Several people have died after their brain swelled from the excess fluid intake, inducing a coma.
Sip water regularly rather than all at once. If dancing, drink about 500ml an hour; if inactive drink 250ml an hour. Wearing light, loose clothing and taking regular rests from dancing (15 minutes after every hour of dancing) will help reduce the risk of overheating. Check that the body has cooled down, breathing and heart rate are back to normal and that you are feeling OK.
The following are important signs to watch out for: starting to feel very hot, unwell, and confused; not being able to talk properly; headache; vomiting; not being able to urinate or noticing that urine is thick and dark; not sweating, even when dancing; heart rate or pulse not slowing even when resting; fainting, collapsing, convulsing.
Amphetamines (more commonly known as speed) belong to a group of drugs called psychostimulants which stimulate the central nervous system. Amphetamines speed up the messages going to and from the brain to the body. Most amphetamines are produced in backyard laboratories and sold illegally. It usually appears as a whitish yellow powder, and occasionally in liquid. People who buy amphetamines illegally are sometimes buying these drugs mixed with other substances that can have unpleasant or harmful effects.
People use speed for various reasons: getting high to dance and party all night is one of them. It can help you stay awake for long periods of time. Some use it to do better in sport or at work, or to boost their self-confidence.
Amphetamines can reduce tiredness and increase endurance. For medical purposes, they are prescribed to treat narcolepsy (where a person has an uncontrollable urge to sleep) and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). They are most commonly swallowed, injected (methamphetamine) or smoked. They are also "snorted".
The body's activity accelerates – heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure increase. A dry mouth, increased sweating, enlargement of the eye's pupils and headaches might occur, too. Users might feel energetic and full of confidence, with a heightened sense of wellbeing. Other effects include feeling wide awake and alert, becoming talkative, restless and excited, and having difficulty sleeping. The user might also get panic attacks. Reduced appetite is another effect.
Some users become anxious, irritable, hostile and aggressive. Sometimes people feel a sense of power and superiority over others.
Most amphetamines sold illegally contain a mixture of pure amphetamines and other substances such as sugar, glucose, bicarbonate of soda and ephedrine. These additives can be highly poisonous. They can cause collapsed veins, tetanus, abscesses and damage to the heart, lungs, liver and brain. Because users don't know whether they are using 5% or 50% pure amphetamines, it is easy to overdose by accident.
Very high quantities of amphetamines can cause paleness, headaches, dizziness, blurred vision, tremors, irregular heartbeat, stomach cramps, sweating, restlessness, irregular breathing and loss of coordination. Some users have collapsed after taking amphetamines. High quantities can also create an "amphetamine psychosis", characterised by paranoid delusions, hallucinations and aggressive or violent behaviour.
Some users have had strokes, heart failure, seizures and high body temperature. Some have died. Injecting runs a greater risk of overdosing because large amounts of the drug flood the bloodstream and quickly goes to the brain.
As the effects wear off, a user might experience symptoms including uncontrolled violence, tension, radical mood swings, depression, and total exhaustion. Regular use of amphetamines might result in chronic sleeping problems, anxiety and tension, high blood pressure, and a rapid and irregular heartbeat.
To combat these drug-related effects, users often take alcohol, benzodiazepines, other sedatives/hypnotics, cannabis and available opiates. Taking other drugs to cope with some of the undesirable effects of amphetamines can result in a "roller-coaster" dependence on several drugs. For example, some people need amphetamines to get them going each day, and benzodiazepines to get them to sleep each night. This type of dependence can lead to a variety of serious physical and psychological problems.
Gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB), also known as fantasy, grievous bodily harm (GBH), liquid ecstasy and liquid E, is classed as a depressant drug that contains sedative and, at sufficient doses, anaesthetic properties.
GHB occurs naturally in the body as a neurochemical compound. It was first made in 1960 and has been used in several countries as a general anaesthetic and for treatment of the sleep disorders insomnia and narcolepsy.
More recently, GHB is being trialled as a treatment for alcohol and opiate (eg heroin) withdrawal. GHB commonly comes as a colourless, odourless, bitter or salty-tasting liquid usually sold in small bottles or vials. It also comes as a crystal powder. It is mostly taken orally. Makers can change the colour of GHB by adding food dye.
An increasing number of people in the dance/club scene are using GHB for its euphoric and sedative effects. GHB has been linked to "date-rape drug" incidents.
The effects of GHB appear to vary greatly according to the amount used. A small increase in amount can result in a dramatic increase in effect. One of the most dangerous aspects of using GHB is the small difference between an amount that produces the desired effect and the amount that results in overdose.
Another risk with GHB is that there is often no way to be sure that the drug is made correctly. The drug could contain other substances that can have unpleasant or harmful effects, and are of unknown purity. That poses a risk of great harm. Improperly made GHB might result in an extremely toxic mixture of GHB and the chemical sodium hydroxide.
Generally, the effects of GHB are felt in 15 minutes and last for about three hours. Effects of lower amounts might include a sense of well-being, relaxation, drowsiness, induced sleep, nausea, increased confidence and reduced inhibitions, dizziness, headache, greater sense of touch.
A greater amount or stronger GHB might cause confusion, agitation, extreme drowsiness/grogginess, hallucinations, difficulty focusing eyes, vomiting, stiffening of muscles, disorientation, convulsions/seizures, unconsciousness or abrupt short-term coma, respiratory collapse, amnesia (afterwards), impaired movement and speech.
Using GHB with another depressant, such as alcohol, benzodiazepines (e.g. valium), or opiates, (e.g. heroin), will increase the risk of overdosing. Some people can become addicted to GHB. You can become physically and psychologically addicted if it’s used regularly. The risk of overdose is high because it can be difficult to judge the potency.
A story of drink spiking
The threat of drink spiking with substances such as GHB is real. Kate is a journalist. She told us about an incident some years ago, when she was working at a Big Day Out rock concert in Auckland. Her experience led her to believe her drink was spiked.
I was working at Big Day Out stand doing reviews for a student website. I met up with a guy who I vaguely knew through clubbing and friends, and was hanging out with him for a bit watching the bands.
He was fairly “gone”, but that wasn’t unusual. He was going to get a drink and offered to get me one and a little while later came back with a couple of juicetype things. I didn’t notice a difference in taste, but I was quite thirsty so probably wouldn’t have paid much attention.
About half an hour later, my whole body went haywire – I got incredibly hot, my body got incredibly strong tingles and I had trouble walking and seeing. I managed to make my way outside and sat down, unable to use my phone, barely able to speak and feeling quite scared. A guy who I didn’t know came up to me and could see that I was in trouble. He went and bought an orange juice, unopened, and sat with me until I could tell him to call my boss, who was still at the stand.
I was getting phone calls every 10 minutes or so from the guy who I had been with. He was asking where I was because he wanted to go to a party, and did I want to go with him? He left about a dozen phone and text messages – I just hung up on him each time.
My boss took me home and stayed with me until my partner got home from work. I had started to feel better so we decided not to go to the doctor. I was kept awake and fed orange juice until the effects wore off.
There was no complaint to the Police but the next day I was throwing up quite a bit and passed out a few times, so we went to the doctor that afternoon. Blood and urine tests didn’t reveal anything. He said it might have been GHB, which is flushed out of the body quite quickly. There was nothing conclusive.
Kate says it happened to her a second time, at a club.
“I realised quite quickly that my drink didn’t taste right and stopped drinking. It might have been someone who put their drink down next to mine, and either they had stuff in their drink to take recreationally and walked off with the wrong drink, or put it in mine.”
She is careful with her drinks now.
“I never accept drinks from people I don’t know and always hold on to them. I never put them down on tables unless I am with a group of people I trust. I also keep an eye on my friends and other people – if I see they are in trouble I’ll do something.
“I have educated myself on the signs of GHB overdose and always have an eye out so I can be someone else’s Samaritan if they are in trouble. I’ve helped one girl already.”
NOTE: Spiking drinks is illegal. The Police urge anyone who believes their drink has been spiked to contact them.
Class C drugs
Cannabis comes from the cannabis sativa plant. It is the most commonly used illicit drug in New Zealand. A recent drug use survey (Ministry of Health 2007–08) found that 46.4 percent of people aged 16–64 have used cannabis in their lifetime. Cannabis is illegal to grow, sell, distribute or possess.
The active chemical in cannabis is THC (Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol). The more THC cannabis contains, the stronger it is. Cannabis is a depressant. It can have mild hallucinogenic effects. Street or slang names for marijuana include Pot, Grass, Dope, Electric Puha, Hooch and Weed.
Cannabis has three main forms: marijuana, hashish and hash oil.
Marijuana is the most common and least powerful form of cannabis. It is the dried leaves and flowers of the plant. Marijuana looks like chopped grass, and is grey-green to greenish-brown. Its texture can be fine or coarse. It can contain seeds and twigs from the plant. The flowers or "heads" are the most potent part of the plant. Marijuana is smoked in hand-rolled cigarettes (joints) or in a pipe (bong).
Hashish (hash) is dried cannabis resin, which comes in small blocks. The blocks are light brown to nearly black. The concentration of THC in hashish is higher than in marijuana. That produces stronger effects. Hash is added to tobacco and smoked, or baked and eaten in foods such as "hash cookies".
Hash oil is a thick, oily liquid, golden-brown to black, which can be extracted from hashish. It is usually spread on the tip or paper of cigarettes and then smoked. Hash oil is more powerful than the other forms of cannabis. A very small amount can have a strong effect, lasting two-three hours.
The effects of cannabis use vary from person to person. Although it’s a depressant, using it doesn’t mean you’ll get depressed – just that it has a mellowing effect. Generally, however, its short-term effects include users feeling stoned or “out of it”. Cannabis can make users feel happy, relaxed and comfortable, but some people feel anxious, self-conscious or have paranoid thoughts. They might feel less inhibited, friendlier and laugh spontaneously. It reduces coordination and balance, making it dangerous to drive or use machinery. Cannabis can impair short-term memory, attention span and the ability to think logically - which makes it harder to complete tasks or concentrate on doing several things at once. Young people who use cannabis can have their concentration and motivation affected, which can harm how well they do at school. Other common immediate effects include increased heart rate, low blood pressure, faintness, and reddened eyes. There also can be a hangover effect like drowsiness and poor coordination that lasts for several hours.
Marijuana cigarettes have more tar than tobacco. Cannabis users thus run an increased risk of respiratory illnesses such as lung cancer and chronic bronchitis. This risk is increased because marijuana smokers often inhale deeply, and hold the smoke in the lungs longer, to increase the effects of the drug. Cigarette smokers who also smoked cannabis have an even greater risk of respiratory disease.
Cannabis is addictive, despite some common misconceptions. There is evidence that prolonged use can increase the risk of developing cancer. There’s also an increased risk of developing chronic bronchitis, damage to the lungs and other respiratory problems.
People with mental health problems are particularly sensitive to the effects of cannabis. It can exacerbate conditions such as paranoia, depression and anxiety. Chronic use can affect fertility in both men & women.
Synthetic cannabinoids – these create similar effects to that of cannabis (getting high). These chemicals are added to a mixture of dried plant matter and sold as a legal alternative to cannabis. Police and hospitals are reporting that violent and psychotic teenagers high on these substances are filling up police cells and hospital emergency departments. Recent publicity about the negative health effects of synthetic cannabis has led to the banning in New Zealand of several ingredients used in its manufacture.
A lot is said and written about tobacco, and we won't add too much to it here.
However, a few facts might be pertinent. Tobacco smoke contains 4000 chemicals, many of which are poisonous, and 43 that have been proven to be carcinogenic (causing cancer).
Nicotine is the drug in tobacco smoke that causes addiction among smokers. The strength of addiction is said to be as powerful or more so than that of heroin. Nicotine is a poison. Swallowing one drop of pure nicotine can kill an adult.
Tar is released when a cigarette burns. Tar is the main cause of lung and throat cancer in smokers. Carbon monoxide is a colourless, odourless and very toxic gas, which the lungs take up more readily than they do oxygen. High levels of carbon monoxide in the blood is typical of smokers and, with nicotine, increases the risk of heart disease, hardening of the arteries and other circulatory problems.
Tobacco is a legal product. The sale of tobacco products is legal only to people aged 18 and over. About 15,000 asthma attacks in children under 16 are caused by second-hand smoke in New Zealand every year. One in six deaths in New Zealand is related to tobacco use. About 5000 New Zealanders die every year from tobacco (including people who were exposed to second-hand smoke) – that is more than from road crashes, suicide, skin cancers, drowning, homicide and AIDS combined.
We don’t currently have any information on vaping, to learn about vaping devices visit this website: https://vapingfacts.health.nz/
Benzodiazepines (sometimes called benzos) are also referred to as minor tranquillisers. They work by slowing the central nervous system's activity.
Benzodiazepines are produced by chemical synthesis. The benzodiazepine group contains more than 24 specific drugs. Each has a chemical or generic name, and each is sold under one or more brand-names. They are most often prescribed as tablets or capsules. They come in a variety of colours and shapes. Whether taken orally or intravenously the drug is absorbed into the bloodstream and circulates through the body.
Medically, benzodiazepines are classified as sedatives/hypnotics (to induce sleep) or anxiolytics (to relieve anxiety). In practice they perform all of these functions, although different ones are prescribed based on how quickly they work and how long they last.
Some doctors prescribe some benzodiazepines to relieve stress and anxiety and to help people sleep. They are also sometimes used to treat epilepsy, to relax muscles, to help people withdraw from alcohol, or as an anaesthetic before surgery.
Some people use benzodiazepines to become intoxicated. People who use heroin sometimes use benzodiazepines when they can't get heroin, when they are trying to get off heroin or to increase the effects of heroin. People who use Speed or Ecstasy might use benzodiazepines to help when they are coming down from a high, and to help them sleep.
The use of benzodiazepines over a long time (more than two to three weeks) is not recommended. Benzodiazepines can help to relieve anxiety in the short term. But they do not solve the problem that caused the anxiety in the first place – they treat the symptoms but not the cause.
Benzodiazepines taken during pregnancy cross the placental barrier and can affect the baby's growth and development. Anyone taking a prescription of benzodiazepines should see a doctor before altering their dosage.
Benzodiazepines can produce withdrawal symptoms in newborn babies, which can last for a week or longer. Withdrawal symptoms can include breathing problems, poor body temperature control, poor muscle tone and sucking difficulties.
Inhalants are volatile substances (many of which are familiar household items) that, when vaporised and inhaled, might make the user feel intoxicated or high. Like alcohol, inhalants are depressants. Street names are Glue, Gas, Sniff, Huff, Chroming (as in the use of chrome paint) and Poppers.
Teenagers are identified as the most prevalent group of inhalant users. Some adults in the dance scene also use inhalants to boost their experience.
Users fall into three broad categories of people:
The experimenter – most teenagers fall into this category. They try it once or twice then stop by themselves.
Social/situational user – usually done with a group of friends. These users often develop other interests and grow out of this practice.
The long-term, dependent user – A few go on to use regularly over a long time.
Reasons young people give for using inhalants are often very similar to the reasons adults give for using alcohol and tobacco. Experimenting with inhalants can be a part of growing up and, for most, it is a passing interest and they move on to other activities.
With short-term use, most products rarely cause damage to the body. But some glue-sniffers have been admitted to hospital, unable to control their movements or speak properly, and sometimes have convulsions. Most of these symptoms clear within a few hours. Some people might have problems with their breathing passages, but even that improves over time.
Long-term users might appear pale, have tremors, lose weight, feel tired and be unusually thirsty. They might also have anaemia because some inhalants affect blood production. The lead in petrol, and some of the chemicals in other inhalants, might build up in the body. This irritates the lining of the stomach and intestines and can cause damage to the brain, nervous system, kidneys, and liver. Prolonged and heavy use might even cause stupor or coma, problems with breathing, irregular heartbeat and sometimes seizures.
A small number of people have died from using inhalants. The main danger comes from accidents when high, such as suffocation from plastic bags, choking on vomit when unconscious, and behaving recklessly.
"Sudden sniffing death" has followed the use of aerosol sprays, cleaning and correction fluids, and model aeroplane cement. It is believed that chemicals in these products can cause heart failure, particularly if the user is stressed or does heavy exercise after inhaling.
Most inhalants are common household products. It is illegal for shopkeepers to sell products to someone if they believe that they are to be used for inhaling.
Anabolic steroids are synthetic derivatives of the male hormone, testosterone. They come in tablet or liquid form and can be swallowed or injected. Steroids sold illegally might be of poor quality or intended for animal use only.
Steroids are used medically to treat male hormone deficiencies and to build up the body mass of people with medical conditions such as HIV. They are used illegally by athletes and body-builders to boost performance and increase muscle size.
The minor effects are reversible after stopping steroid use. They include hypertension, fluid retention, decreased sex drive, increased acne, colds or flu, and early hair loss. People might also become more aggressive – this is known as "roid rage".
Serious, permanent, effects include bigger breasts, increased chance of heart disease, altered carbohydrate tolerance, bicep tear and rupture, risk of contracting Hepatitis C, HIV, and other infections through sharing unclean needles.
For women the effects also include a deepening voice, more facial hair, an enlarged clitoris, and problems with the regularity of menstrual periods.
Adolescents and children who use steroids might stunt their growth permanently.
Taking larger doses of anabolic steroids does not increase their effects. It simply overloads the muscles and might increase the side-effects.
In New Zealand it is illegal to use steroids without a prescription. Steroid use has been banned in international sport and athletes can be disqualified if found using anabolic steroids.