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Teen Girls' Health

Be Street Smart About Street Drugs

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By Jennifer Ashton, M.D., Ob-Gyn with Christine Larson
WebMD Feature by “The Body Scoop for Girls”

If you think all drug users are gang members, rock stars, pro athletes, or homeless people, guess again. Hard-drug users are also suburban housewives, doctors, movie stars, and even high school students, like my patient Leslie. Smart and pretty, Leslie tried cocaine at age sixteen when her friends talked her into it. She soon found she couldn’t get enough. She became obsessed with her next hit, with getting more drugs, and hiding them from her parents.

Fortunately, Leslie got into rehab and has been clean and sober for two years. She told me she feels incredibly lucky that she never got arrested, assaulted, or raped. In fact, she feels lucky just to be alive.

As Leslie found out, street drugs are pervasive. You can find them in small towns, big cities, and everywhere in between.

Here’s what they do to your body and mind.

Cocaine. Also known as “coke,” “blow,” “snow,” or “C.” Made from the coca bush, cocaine can be very addictive (natural isn’t always safe!). It works rapidly on the heart and the brain.

In the brain cocaine alters the perception of feelings of pleasure, reality, and mood. Over the long term people who use cocaine often suffer from depression and display generally self-destructive tendencies. Cocaine also causes a very rapid heart rate, elevates blood pressure, and increases body temperature. At times these abnormal heart rates are fatal. With cocaine your first time could easily be your last.

Ecstasy. Also known as X. This is an amphetamine or “upper” that causes psychedelic changes in your emotional and sensory perception. About 5.8 percent of high school students have tried ecstasy. The technical term for this drug is MDMA, but I just call it really bad news. Despite its cheerful name, ecstasy has potentially devastating neurotoxic effects. In the long run, it can permanently damage your brain and central nervous system. In the short term, ecstasy can cause dehydration and can cross-react with other drugs, leading to death.

Heroin. Made from morphine, which comes from opium derived from the poppy plant. (Remember in the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy falls asleep in the poppy field?) When heroin hits your bloodstream, it goes directly to the brain, where it has a sedative effect. It can also impair important bodily functions like breathing. In terms of feelings and sensations, heroin acts like a powerful narcotic (painkiller) and slows down your thoughts and reactions. Heroin is highly addictive and associated with several other very serious health risks, such as hepatitis C and HIV/AIDS. The overall use and abuse of heroin is on the rise in the United States.

Crystal Meth. Another form of stimulant or amphetamine. Often called ice, it’s clear, odorless, and tasteless. Crystal meth works a lot like cocaine, but the effects last longer and are much more extreme. In the short term, it can cause suicidal, homicidal or violent thoughts, and paranoia and anxiety. Physically, crystal meth increases heart rate and blood pressure, which can lead to seizures and death. Continued use can cause serious effects in the brain, resulting in symptoms similar to those of Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and general brain damage.

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