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11 Most Commonly Used Illegal Drugs

  1. Phungushead
    View attachment 46782 While one might think that it would be relatively easy to make a list of the most commonly used illegal drugs, that’s not the case. The number of illicit drug users is hard to determine, since many countries, especially in Africa and Asia, have limited information about the extent of drug use. In creating this list we used multiple sources, but before presenting it, we give you a short overview of the history of the relationship between humankind and drugs, which is filled with strange twists and turns.

    Some records suggest that use of opium dates back to 3.400 B.C., when opium poppy was cultivated by Sumerians in Southwest Asia. Cannabis was used as early as 4.000 B.C. in China, and it is considered to be one of the first cultivated plants. Our ancestors used plants with hallucinogenic potential for various purposes. For instance, marijuana was used as a medicine for treating different illnesses – constipation, severe pain, blood clots, even hair loss. Also, opium poppy was a sacred plant that was consumed during religious ceremonies as a mean of inducing an ecstatic state in which people received messages from Gods.

    However, by the end of 19th century, first laws that prohibited use of narcotics appeared in UK and USA. At that time, the primary concern of legislators was banning opium use. It wasn’t long before the use of all narcotics was criminalized. Today, in majority of countries use, production and distribution of narcotic substances is prohibited but there are a few exemptions, including Argentina, Columbia, Equador, Netherlands, Czech Republic, Spain, Switzerland, Norway…. You can check our list of 10 Countries with the Toughest Drug Laws in the World to see which countries are not so liberal when it comes to drug use.

    Until the mid-20th century drugs that were produced directly from plants dominated the market but then first synthetic drugs appeared. LSD, MDMA, PCP were developed in laboratories and used in medical treatments as well as in different kind of psychological experiments. And now, at the beginning of the 21st century, a whole new cluster of synthetic drugs has emerged. Spice and K2, synthetic marijuana products, Bath Salts, synthetic amphetamine, are some of the most popular synthetic narcotics on the market. Despite causing serious health problems, these drugs find more and more users every day.

    The beginning of the 21st century brought another important change in the world of narcotics. The development of modern technologies created a new online market for drug users around the world. The findings of Global Drug Survey 2015 show that the number of people who buy drugs online has been growing. While, in 2000, 1.6 of respondents used the web to obtain a drug, in 2014, the number of online buyers reached 25.3 percents.

    In making the list of 11 Most Commonly Used Illegal Drugs we consulted three sources: Global Drug Survey, World Drug Report and National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). The reports present data from 2013. Each of these reports has its advantages and shortcomings. World Drug Report is published annually by United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), and it focuses on production, trafficking and use of illicit drugs. While the report presents data about the number of users of cannabis, cocaine, ecstasy-type drugs, Amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS), opiates and opioids, it doesn’t provide the number of heroin or opium users but only estimates global production of these drugs. Global Drug Survey, which was conducted in 18 states, with 80,000 respondents, didn’t include countries in Asia, which is why Global Drug Survey’s list doesn’t include opium, whose production has reached its historical levels, according to UNODC, and which is mostly consumed in Asia. Finally, NSDUH presents a detailed list of most widely illicit drugs, but only in the USA.

    According to World Drug Report 246 million people between the ages of 15 and 64 years used an illicit drug during 2013, and more than 1 out of 10 drug users is a problem drug user, which means that he or she is suffering from drug use disorders or drug dependence. In addition, almost half of drug addicts inject drugs, which is why there are 1.65 million HIV-positive addicts.

    11. PCP

    Street names: Phencyclidine, Peace Pills, Hog, Angel Dust

    Phencyclidine (PCP) was developed in the 1950s as an anesthetic, but its medical use was discontinued due to the side effects of hallucinations, delirium, and mania. It is believed to be one of the most dangerous illegal substances. Among other things, PCP users feel detached from their surroundings and since PCP causes a temperature rise many of them strip in public. PCP is often used as a dippy – cigarette that is dipped in PCP. In the USA 274.000 people used it in a life time, and 90.000 in 2013.

    View attachment 46783 10. Heroine

    Street names: Smack, Skag, Horse, H, Gear

    UNODP estimates that global heroin production was 526 tonnes. In America 681,000 people used heroin in 2013. Heroin is made from morphine extracted from poppy plants. Morphine chemical structure is similar to endorphins, chemicals in the brain that influence our mood and perception of pain. Morphine binds to endorphin-receptor sending signal that there is endorphin overload. When heroin users stop taking the drug, the level of endorphin goes down which is why they experience intense physical pain in initial stages of abstention. Heroin is an extremely dangerous drug, and survival rate among users is only 50 percents. The number of heroin-related deaths in 2013 was highest in a decade – 8,257 people died because of heroin use.

    9. Opium

    Street names: Ah-pen-yen, Buddha, Ze, Chinese Tobacco, Pin gon

    While there are no data on the number of opium users in the world, according to UNODP, 7.554 tonnes of opium was produced last year, which means that global opium production increased for 11 percent since 2013. This increase is due to rise in opium cultivation in Afghanistan, which was at the historical level in 2014. When opium gets into the body, it interacts with opioid receptors that affect how we experience pain and reward. Since opioid receptors are also part of brain stem, which controls blood pressure and breathing, use of opium can have deadly consequences.

    8. LSD

    Street names: Window, Tripper, Smilies, Rainbows, Lightning Flash

    LSD was accidentally synthesized in 1938 by Albert Hofmann. Prior to becoming illegal, LSD was used on psychiatric patients. In the USA it was an extremely popular drug that left its mark on hippy movement. In Global Drug Survey, 10.1 percent of respondents reported using LSD. In the USA 1.1 million people used LSD. It remains unclear how LSD exactly affects the brain, but it is known that it is similar to serotonin, which is a reason why it activates serotonin receptors in the brain. In recent years, some researchers have focused on LSD medical use in lowering anxiety and alleviating pain.

    7. Ketamine

    Street names: Tamin K, Super K, K, Green, donkey dust.

    When properly used Ketamine works as anesthetics, alleviating pain and sedating a patient. However, the number of people misusing Ketamine is rising, in the USA 2,7 million people misused it, and 5.7 percent of Global Drug Survey participants took it. When misused, ketamine creates a feeling of detachment from surrounding, interferes with one’s perception, causes hallucination… Prolonged use of ketamine can cause bladder problems. In recent years, some studies have shown that ketamine can be effective in treating severe depression.

    6. Opioid painkillers

    Street names: Oxy 80s, Oxycet, Hillbilly, Perks, Hydros, Pinks

    Painkillers abuse has gained epidemic proportions. In Global Drug Survey 8.7 respondents reported using painkillers, while in the USA 11 million people used these drugs in 2013. In addition, 46 people die every day from painkillers overdose in the USA. In last twenty years the number of prescribed painkillers has doubled in the USA, which explains why more and more people are abusing these drugs. One of the most popular painkillers is OxyContin. The owner of the company which produces OxyContine, Sackler family, has taken the 16th place on Forbs list of America’s Richest Families. OxyContin works in a similar way as opiates – heroine, opium, morphine – it binds to opiate receptors, thus causing euphoria and interfering with the perception of pain.

    5. Cocaine

    Street names: Crack, Coke, White, Wash, Charlie, Snow

    Cocaine, the substance after which Coca-Cola got its name, is produced from Coca plant, native to South America. The drug occupies the 5th place on our list of 11 Most Commonly Used Illegal Drugs. While cocaine use is banned in most countries, in 2013 Bolivians passed the law that gives them the right to chew coca leaves. World Drug Report estimates that 17.04 million people used cocaine. Cocaine interacts with neuro cells that are responsible for releasing dopamine. In normal circumstances, dopamine returns to cells to be recycled. However, cocaine prevents this recycling causing more and more dopamine to be accumulated in the brain. High levels of dopamine create the feeling of euphoria that cocaine users experience.

    4. Ecstasy

    Street names: XTC, Elephants, Pink superman, Pills, Cadillac

    Ecstasy, or 3,4-methylenedioxy-methamphetamine (MDMA), is a synthetic hallucinogenic drug. Although ecstasy has lost its popularity, and the global “ecstasy” market has been on a decline for some time, according to UNDOP, 18.79 million people used MDMA. It was synthesized in 1912, and it was later used by the US Army in psychological warfare tests, and as a psychotherapy medication to “lower inhibitions.” It was only in the 1980s that the drug was banned. Ecstasy increases the release of three neurotransmitters: serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrin. Its effects are mostly due to the increase of serotonin, which controls mood, sleep, appetite, memory, and perceptions.

    3. Benzodiazepines

    Street names: Benzos, Downers, Stupefy, Tranx, Velley Girl

    Benzodiazepines is a group of drugs which includes Valium, Ativan, Xanax, Klonopin, Restoril. In the USA alone, 22 millions people abused Benzodiazepines. While there are no precise data about extant of Benzodiazepines misuse on the global level, it is evident that a disturbing number of people is reaching for Benzodiazepines without consulting a doctor first. Benzodiazepines enhance working of GABA, neurotransmitter that slows down process in the brain, and this is a reason why these drugs lower anxiety, make one sleepy, relax muscles…. Women are more likely than men to abuse these drugs. The number of benzodiazepines overdose deaths was 6,973 in 2013, which is the 4-fold increase compared to 2001.

    2. Amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS)

    Street names: Bennie, Speed, Jelly Beans, Uppers, Eye poppers

    World Drug Report estimates that 33.9 million people consumed some sort of ATS. Among ATSs, methamphetamine is mostly commonly consumed. It is a very addictive substance that causes high relapse rates among addicts. In USA 1.2 million people took methamphetamine. In last years drug users have been turning to crystal meth, which is a crystal made from d-methamphetamine HCI, because of its low price, a quarter of gram costs around $ 25 , and the fact that it produces effects that last up to 12 hours. Consuming meth cause rapid physical and psychological deterioration and meth users suffer from depression, anxiety, cognitive impairments, uncontrollable movements.

    1. Cannabis

    Street names: Weed, Herb, Pot, Grass, Ganja

    It hardly comes as a surprise that cannabis is first on the list of 11 Most Commonly Used Illegal Drugs. All three reports agree that cannabis is most widely used illegal drug. According to World Drug Report, 181.79 million people consumed cannabis. It is very likely that the number will continue to rise since many countries have been considering to allow the use of cannabis in medical treatments, because numerous studies have shown that it is effective in alleviating the pain in patient with chronic illnesses, as well as reducing vomiting and nausea in patients who receive chemotherapy.

    16 October 2015

    Milica Radenkovic
    Insider Monkey


  1. trdofbeingtrd
    *goes off grumbling*
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