Drugs and their use come in many different shapes and forms. There are several reasons why a person may choose to use drugs. The reasons why a person may choose to try, or use, a drug does not have to be a reason we understand, or agree with. For some folks, drugs may help with mental health or physical pain management. For others, drugs may carry a cultural element. Sometimes, people may use drugs because they like how it makes them feel. Drugs can also be used for exploring sex, ideas, dreams, and bodies.
People are in charge of their own bodies and choices, and drug use will continue to remain an activity that some people engage in. What we can actively do is try to prevent harms that arise from drug misinformation, restricted resources and stigma. This is an example of harm reduction; and harm reduction accepts you as you are.
In this blog post, we cover the major drug types: depressants, dissociatives +/psychedelics, stimulants, and cannabis. There are many other drugs that exist, but we’re unable to cover them all. We’ll break down the common ways various drugs are consumed, and ways to keep you and your friends safer.
Any drug considered a depressant is one that slows down the signaling of the central nervous system. This means that your breathing slows down, your heart rate reduces, and you may experience a drop in blood pressure. Depressant drugs commonly cause feelings of anxiety relief, relaxation, sleepiness and tranquility.
These feelings are not unique to depressants; for example, cannabis (weed) is not considered a depressant, but may cause similar feelings. This does not make cannabis a depressant drug, it just means that some effects overlap. Depressant drugs include the following five categories:
You can reduce the risk of nausea, hangovers or getting “too drunk” by pacing your drinks, drinking alongside food/snacks and drinking water to replenish the fluids you lose (alcohol is dehydrating!).
However, GHB is sold as is, so if you take GHB, it’s already been switched from GBL to GHB.
Withdrawal refers to the symptoms that come up when you abruptly stop taking a drug after you’ve been taking it for an extended period of time. You can withdraw from many drugs.
However, depressants; particularly drugs that work on receptors in the brain called GABA (Z-drugs, benzodiazepines, alcohol, GHB/GBL) and opioids; can come with unique risks. Symptoms of withdrawal from these drugs include shaking, increased anxiety, insomnia, weight loss, increased heart rate, high blood pressure, cravings for the drugs, and in some instances, seizures and death.
For this reason, benzos, Z-drugs and GHB are often not prescribed for longer than 14 days. Opioid withdrawal is less known to cause seizures or death, but is still considered to be a very serious withdrawal.
Avoid mixing with other drugs (especially other depressants), as to not risk completely slowing down your central nervous system. This is the system that’s responsible for our breathing. If we take too high of a dose, or mix too many depressants together, our system may become too relaxed and stop our breathing (this is known as CNS depression), risking coma and death. If possible, also stay away from grapefruit! Grapefruit can make the effects of drugs more potent, and can risk a severe overdose. Drugs like Gravol (Dimenhydrinate), Benadryl (Diphenhydramine) and others may make the effects of depressants more potent.
Depressant overdoses may look like: the person is unresponsive, fingernails/hands/feet/lips that are turning blue/gray, vomiting, gargled breathing, pinpoint pupils, excessive sweating, and feeling cold. Depressant overdoses are medical emergencies. Learn more about responding to a depressant overdose here.
This is a unique category, and we could separate the two, but technically dissociatives fall under the psychedelic category, so we’ll group them together.
When a person says psychedelics, they may mean drugs like LSD (Acid, tabs), DMT (Dimitri, The Rogan), Magic Mushrooms (shrooms, mushies), or Ayahusasca (yage, aya).
Effects of these drugs vary from lasting as little as 5-20 minutes like with DMT, and up to 15 hours in the case of LSD. That means: plan accordingly!
On the other hand, disassociatives may also cause hallucinations and similar psychedelic sensations as the above drugs but are known for their dreamy, out of body, floating sort-of experiences. Dissociative drugs refer to Ketamine (vitamin K, horse tranquilizer), DXM (robotripping, triple C), Nitrous Oxide (nangs, whippets) and PCP (angel dust, monkey dust). Effects can last anywhere from one minute to several hours, depending on the drug!
Harm reduction for these drugs include avoiding consuming them with certain types of antidepressants (like MAOIs and SSRIs) and stimulants, to reduce the risk of serotonin syndrome. More info here on that here.
Learn more about set, setting, and trip sitting here!
Overdosing may look like vomiting, increased heart rate, extreme disorientation, and paranoia; which is what some call a “bad trip”. Reassuring the person, staying by their side and trying to positively distract them is key in soothing a bad trip.
With psychedelics, the concerns that pertain to other drugs like opioids (such as central nervous system depression) are not applicable, unless the person has taken multiple drugs at once. Usually, the main focus is emotional regulation in psychedelic overdoses. A person may need medical intervention if they are at risk for hurting themselves or others, or are experiencing chest pains, seizures, or psychosis.
Stimulants are the opposite of depressants/downer drugs. A stimulant drug increases the signaling of your central nervous system. This results in increased heart rate, increased blood pressure and breathing rate, and may also lead to increased energy. Often, stimulants cause feelings of euphoria, confidence, anxiety, insomnia, reduction in appetite, weight loss, increased sex drive, jaw grinding and sweating.
These feelings are not unique to stimulant drugs - for example, ketamine can increase blood pressure and heart rate, but is not categorized as a stimulant. However, stimulants are referred to as such because of their stimulatory effects. Stimulants include the following:
Harm reduction tips for stimulants include taking them along with food to reduce jittery feelings and dizziness. Also, making sure you’re wearing clothing that won’t have you freeze or overheat to avoid hypothermia or hyperthermia; which is especially important when attending crowded venues where temperature may be higher.
If possible, avoid taking stimulants with SSRIs, 5-HTP, MAOIs or multiple stimulants at once.
Overdosing on stimulants, also known as “overamping” is characterized by a red face, anxiety, paranoia, chest pain, vomiting, nausea, headaches, seizures, hallucinations and hyperventilation. If someone is overdosing on stimulants, try to reassure them that things will be okay. Giving somebody a downer to “chill” during a stimulant overdose will not end the stimulant overdose, and may actually create cardiovascular problems, along with confusion. Combining depressants and stimulants can send the heart mixed electrical signals. Stimulant overdoses may be a medical emergency, especially if the person is having a seizure or complaining about chest pains or severe headache.
Withdrawal may look like depression, fatigue, increased appetite, weight gain, loss of sex drive, cravings for the drug, mood swings, brain fog, and difficulty concentrating. Withdrawal from stimulants is uncomfortable and can feel intense - but does not come with life-threatening effects as with some cases of depressant withdrawal.
Some effects of Cannabinoids include increased appetite, headache, sleepiness, euphoria, changes in sex drive, nausea relief (or even nausea itself!), paranoia, anxiety, pain relief, dizziness, increased heart rate, dry mouth, high blood pressure, muscle relaxation, hallucinations, and giddiness. Now let's get into them!
Harm reduction tips include trying to consume weed in ways that don’t require you to burn it (like smoking joints/blunts/pipes). This way, you can reduce the risk of smoke-related injury and harm to health (i.e.; lung cancer, worsening asthma, etc.).
CBD along with THC may reduce anxiety from Cannabis highs, and may provide some protection from some of the “neurotoxic” effects of THC. Neurotoxic here means it changes the way your nervous system works from its usual state.
Hyperemesis is a condition where a person experiences repeated vomiting. This is caused by overconsumption of cannabis, and will stop once you completely quit weed. Hyperemesis can be a medical emergency. More info is yet to be released; as scientists are still researching and learning about it!
Withdrawal from cannabinoids may look like depression, cravings for cannabis, having trouble falling or staying asleep, fatigue, changes in appetite, headaches, or anxiety. Withdrawal from Cannabis is not dangerous, although it may be uncomfortable - it typically lasts a week or two. For more info on weed and everything in between, check out this article!
Here are some harm reduction tips that are worth keeping in mind, and can be applied to all drugs. Be sure to check out the Harm Reduction section of Sexfluent.ca for some more important general harm reduction info, like responding to an overdose, managing drug dependence, reducing the chances of passing along infections like HIV and Hepatitis C, and more.