Substance Use

"I thought I could handle it..."


What is a drug?

 A drug is any substance other than food intended to affect the function of the body or mind. Drugs can include prescription medication, and illegal “street drugs”. There are also other substances that can cause a “high”, but were not intended for that purpose. 


Is drug use normal?

Many people believe that drug use among teenagers is very common. Research shows that in reality, only  a small per cent of Ontario students use drugs on a regular basis. Trying new things is a common part of adolescence, which for some students might include experimenting with drugs.


What are some of the risk of using substances?

The risk of using substances will vary from one individual to the next depending on a number of factors. It will depend on your weight, size, pre-existing medical condition, tolerance to the drug, your family history, and possible allergic reaction. It is difficult to tell exactly how your body will respond to any particular drug.


There are potential risks to using drugs. Some of these include:

  • paranoia
  • death
  • accidents
  • heart attack
  • stroke
  • hallucinations
  • anxiety
  • date rape
  • respiratory failure
  • cancer
  • weight gain or loss
  • depression
  • bladder damage
  • loss of motivation
  • loss of short-term memory
  • failing school
  • criminal charges
  • fighting with loved ones


How do I know that my drug use is a problem?

Sometimes it is difficult to tell that your drug use is a problem as things around you are falling apart, it may seem like just bad luck.  Chances are if you take some time to think about how your life was before you started using drugs and how it is now, you might see that there are some connections between your drug use and things falling apart.  You might notice that your marks in school have gone down; you are now failing your classes, suspended, fighting with your parents; you are feeling sad or depressed, anxious, paranoid or having hallucinations; you are always tired and unable to concentrate. These are all signs that your drug use might be a problem and you can improve your life if you decide to make some changes.


Other possible signs of problem use when you:


  • Tell yourself that you are going to stop using but you keep using despite negative consequences
  • Feel badly or have regrets after using
  • Feel the need to use more drugs to get a high
  • Feel the need to uses drugs just to feel normal
  • Use drugs or alcohol to cope with issues in your life (i.e., anxiety, depression, family problems, bullying, fitting in)
  • Go to school or work high or are skipping classes to use drugs
  • Spend more money than you intended on drugs
  • Hear your friends, family and loved ones express concerns about your use
  • Lose interest in things that were once important to you
  • Get into legal trouble
  • Lose control over your drug use


What are some of the most commonly used drugs?



Even though in Canada, alcohol is legal and is a socially acceptable thing to use, alcohol is still a drug. Alcohol is a depressant drug which means that it slows down the parts of the brain that are responsible for your thinking, breathing and heart rate. It is one of the most commonly used drugs throughout the world and it is also responsible for the most social problems, deaths and accidents, compared to all other drugs.

The effects of alcohol will depend on a variety of factors, including the amount of alcohol you drank, your weight, how much food you ate, stress level, tiredness, mental health issues and/or mixing alcohol with other drugs. Mixing alcohol with other drugs, both prescribed and non-prescribed, can have unpredictable and possibly fatal results. Mental health issues such as depression and anxiety can develop as a result of alcohol use, especially for those with a family history of mental health issues.



Marijuana (Cannabis)—“weed”, “pot”,

Marijuana is a hallucinogen and a depressant drug which simply means that if you smoke marijuana it can alter your perception of time, distance and space, and in some cases it can make you hear or see things that do not exist.  It can also make you feel tired and burnt out, unmotivated, sleepy and forgetful.  Youth use marijuana and who have a family history of psychosis or schizophrenia are more likely to experience psychosis or develop schizophrenia than those youth with no family history.


Some people argue that marijuana is natural and therefore can’t hurt you. However, marijuana can reduce memory, attention span, and cause or worsen anxiety and depression. It can cause you to develop medical conditions, problems at school, fights with your parents, criminal charges; and, it can even cause you to stop doing the things that you used to love doing.



Cigarette/tobacco is a plant that contains the drug nicotine. Nicotine is a stimulant that gives you more energy and takes only 10 seconds to reach the brain when it is smoked. Cigarettes contain more than 50 cancer causing chemicals. Cigarettes significantly increase your chances of getting cancer if there is someone in your family who has cancer. Cigarettes can make you feel lightheaded, dizzy or energetic. The most common diseases caused by smoking include: coronary heart disease, lung cancer, chronic bronchitis, emphysema and pneumonia. It can also cause nose, mouth, throat, larynx, and esophagus cancer.  



Ecstasy is a hallucinogen and a stimulant which means that you can experience an altered state of mind, change in perception of time and space, and increase in energy.  Ecstasy can cause panic attacks or feelings of paranoia. Some people who use ecstasy experience dry mouth, sweating, overheating, rapid heart beat and dehydration. Other experiences may include jaw clenching, teeth grinding, nausea and vomiting. Ecstasy has been known to trigger or worsen anxiety and depression. Using ecstasy can even lead to death, as a result of things like dehydration, stroke, and combination with preexisting medical conditions.


Cocaine—“coke”, “blow”

Cocaine is a stimulant that causes you to feel more energetic and alert.

Cocaine can make you feel a sense of euphoria but it can also lead to reduced sleep, loss of appetite or weight, panic attack, psychotic symptoms (i.e. hearing, seeing or feeling things that are not real). Cocaine can also make your heart beat faster and raise your blood pressure, which increases your chances of having a stroke or a heart attack.

Cocaine use can also result in mental health problems such as paranoia, anxiety and depression especially if you have a family history of mental health issues.


Ketamine—“Special K”

Ketamine is a fast acting anesthetic and a painkiller primarily used in veterinary surgery. Ketamine can produce vivid dreams or hallucinations, and make you feel like your body is separate from your mind also known as a “K Hole”.  If ketamine is combined with other depressants (such as alcohol, GHB, of oxycontin), the results can be fatal.

The onset of ketamine is very rapid.  If you use small amounts of ketamine you might start out feeling dreamy and like you are floating outside of your body and your limbs might feel numb. Within 10-20 minutes you could be in a “K-Hole” where your body is paralyzed and you experience vivid hallucinations. Ketamine can severely damage your bladder so that you might be unable to urinate and you may eventually need surgery to correct the damage.


Crystal Meth

Crystal Meth is one of the street names for methamphetamine. Crystal meth is a powerful stimulant that speeds up your central nervous system and gives you a lot of energy. The drug can be smoked, snorted or injected, and the effects can last between 6 and 12 hours. Users can experience a sense of heightened alertness, depressed appetite and a sense of well being. You may experience an increase in your blood pressure, pulse, breathing and your body temperature. Crystal meth can cause you to feel irritable, aggressive confused, anxious and depressed. Crystal meth can also cause you to have a heart attack, stroke or sudden death.



Mushrooms are hallucinogens that alter your state of reality when you eat them.  They distort your sense of vision, color, sound, objects, and time and space. Some people describe feeling like they are in a dream when they are awake. The intensity usually peaks between 4-12 hours depending on the amount eaten and the strength of the mushroom.


The experience of using mushrooms can be exciting for some people, but unpleasant and scary for others, especially if you have a “bad trip”. The trouble is that you can’t tell if you are going to have a bad trip until you have used, and the “trip” can last 12 hours.  You might also feel physically ill and vomit once you eat mushrooms. Mushrooms can also trigger mental health issues or make them worse.


Gammahydroxybutrate (GHB)


GHB is a general anesthetic and a depressant that when used as a recreational drug can be very dangerous, especially when mixed with alcohol and other depressants.  The drug is often sold as a liquid that is odorless and colorless but can be bought in capsule and powder form. The effects of GHB are usually felt between 10 and 20 minutes after taking the drug and can last up to four hours. If you take GHB, you might feel relaxed, sleepy, or dizzy; you might vomit, experience decreased breathing, loss of memory and even  loss of consciousness. This could put you at risk of passing out in public, getting into an accident, or being robbed or assaulted.



Salvia is a plant, that when smoked, produces strong and intense hallucinogenic effects. These effects are felt within a minute after smoking salvia. The high can last between 5 and 20 minutes depending on the individual and their surroundings. The effects can include visual and auditory hallucinations; distortions and a sense of disconnection from reality. Salvia can cause someone to feel disoriented, dizzy, unable to move, and can distort their sense of reality. Using salvia can put you at risk of getting hurt and can leave you feeling scared and uncomfortable even when the effect wears off. Salvia can even lead some people to develop psychosis.



Doda is an opiate that is made from dried poppy seeds and is used in tea form. It  produces a euphoric or “high” effect that can last between 20 and 30 minutes. Some people who use doda report feeling dizzy, nauseous, and can lead to vomiting.  It is also possible to overdose or develop an addiction to doda.


Tips for Prevention and Wellness:


 What can I do to stay safe?

The best way to stay safe from the risk of drug use is never to use in the first place. Remember that just because a drug is “natural” or sold in stores does not mean that it is safe for you to use. Drugs will not solve your problems, in most cases it will only make them worse. While you might get some short-term relief, drugs are likely to add more problems to your life.  However, if you are using, here are some things you can do to reduce the harms of drug use:

  • Know your source and make sure the drug is from someone you trust
  • Use in a safe place to minimize the chances of you getting hurt while under the influence
  • Know your family history of mental health and addiction
  • Do your own research on the drug before using so you know what to expect
  • If it is the first time that you are using, use small amounts
  • Never use by yourself
  • Dial 911 if you are having a negative reaction  and tell them what drugs you used


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