Current Assessments of Possible Health Risks

This listing of possible health risks associated with drug use/abuse is taken from Drugs of Abuse, published by the Department of Justice (1989) and What Works: Schools Without Drugs, published by the Department of Education (1989). For more information on commonly abused drugs, visit the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Stimulants: speed up action of the central nervous system

Name (slang): Amphetamines (speed, uppers, pep pills, bennies)

  • Hallucinations may occur.
  • Tolerance, psychological and sometimes physical dependence can develop.
  • Continued high doses can cause heart problems, malnutrition, death.

Name (slang): Cocaine (coke, snow, crack, rock cocaine) legally classified as a narcotic

  • Confusion, depression, hallucinations may occur.
  • Tolerance and physical dependence can develop.
  • Effects are unpredictable - convulsions, coma, and death are possible.
  • Nasal membranes may be destroyed.
  • Smoking may cause lesions in lungs.

Depressants: relax the central nervous system

Name (slang): Barbiturates (barbs, goof balls, downers, blues)

  • Confusion, loss of coordination, etc. may occur.
  • Tolerance, physical and psychological dependence can develop.


  • An overdose can cause coma, death.
  • Depressants taken in combinations or with alcohol are especially dangerous.

Cannabis: alters mood and perception

Name (slang): Marijuana (grass, pot, weed, reefer); Hashish (hash); Hashish oil (hash oil)

  • Confusion, loss of coordination; with large doses, hallucinations may occasionally occur.
  • Longterm use may cause moderate tolerance, psychological dependence.
  • Longterm use may cause damage to lung tissue.

Hallucinogens: temporarily distort reality

Name (slang): Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD, acid)

  • Hallucinations, panic may occur.
  • Effects may recur (flashbacks) even after use is discontinued.
  • Possible birth defects in users' children.

Name (slang): Phencyclidine (PCP, angel dust) legally classified as a depressant

  • Depression, hallucinations, confusion, irrational behavior.
  • Tolerance develops.
  • An overdose can cause convulsions, coma, death.

Name: Mescaline, MDA, DMT, STP, psilocybin, "designer drugs"

  • Effects are similar to those of LSD.

Narcotics: lower perception of pain

Name (slang): Heroin (H, scag, horse, junk, smack); Morphine (M, dreamer); Codeine; Opium

  • Lethargy, apathy, loss of judgment and selfcontrol may occur.
  • Tolerance, physical and psychological dependence can develop.
  • An overdose can cause convulsions, death.
  • Risks of use include malnutrition, infection, hepatitis.

Deliriants: cause mental confusion

Name (slang): Aerosols; Lighter fluid; Paint thinner; Amyl nitrite (poppers); Other inhalants

  • Loss of coordination, confusion, hallucinations may occur.
  • An overdose can cause convulsions, death.
  • Psychological dependence can develop.
  • Permanent damage to lungs, brain, liver, bone marrow can result.


  • Longterm, heavy drinking is linked to cancer, heart and liver damage, and other serious illnesses. Tolerance, physical and psychological dependence can develop.


  • Longterm cigarette smoking is linked to emphysema, lung cancer, heart disease. Physical and psychological dependence can result.

Caffeine found in coffee and colas is a stimulant drug but is not controlled by law.