UNDERSTANDING DRUGS


Drugs are a scourge of our society, and the misuse of drugs in crime is a key factor for the increase in drug related crime in the UK.

To understand the issues of drugs in crime it is essential that you know something the different categories and types of drugs.


The following, in legal terms are considered the list of drugs:

Alcohol

Amphetamines

Cannabis

Cocaine

Ecstasy

Hallucinogens

Heroin

Inhalants

Party drugs

Pharmaceuticals

Steroids

Lets look at each grouping for a better understanding of what is available and understood.

 

ALCOHOL

Description

Pure alcohol is a colourless, tasteless liquid produced by fermentation, a process in which water and yeast act on sugars from a grain, vegetable or fruit. When discussed as a drug, "alcohol" becomes the collective term for a wide variety of alcoholic beverages. Most are commercially produced and contain a written indication of their alcoholic content on the packaging.

Alcohol is the most widely used recreational drug in the UK and is responsible for a large proportion of drug-related health problems and deaths.

Effects

Alcohol is a depressant, slowing the activity of the central nervous system. This leads to reduced inhibitions, as well as a deterioration in coordination and reflexes. Consumption of alcohol can lead to aggression, confusion, nausea, vomiting, unconsciousness and risk taking behaviour.

Chronic use of alcohol can lead to dependence and cause liver damage, brain damage, shaking, high blood pressure and many other health problems.

Alcohol's effects on co-ordination and reflexes make it a major factor in accidents. Alcohol is believed to be involved in a third of serious car crashes and a third of drownings. Alcohol is strongly linked to anti-social behaviour and violence, with an estimated three-quarters of assaults related to alcohol use.

Method of use

Alcohol is generally drunk.

Law

There are a range of laws relating to the production, distribution, sale and consumption of alcohol within the UK. The sale and supply of alcohol to people under the age of 18 years is prohibited throughout the UK.

The ability to sell alcohol is restricted to licence entities from licensed premises, although supply without gain is generally allowed. Licensed premises are further restricted in relation to the times they can serve alcohol, dress and behaviour standards of their patrons and the availability of meals. The consumption of alcohol in a variety of public places is outlawed.

Individuals who become intoxicated by alcohol may be apprehended by police and either charged or taken to a safe place until the effects have worn off sufficiently. Drivers of vehicles must ensure that their blood alcohol levels remain below those prescribed by law for their class of drivers licence.

Alcohol is a causal factor in many street offences, disorder and assaults. Participating in these types of behaviours places people at risk of arrest and criminal conviction.





AMPHETAMINES

Description

The term "amphetamines" covers several similar substances including amphetamine sulphate, dexamphetamine and methamphetamine.

Amphetamines are produced from an oil base but may be found in a number of forms. 
The most common is for the oil to be converted into a powder. The powder may be made into capsules or tablets. Methamphetamine may appear as rock-like crystals or as a liquid. Occasionally a very high purity gel or putty like substance can be produced. Amphetamine is often "cut" with adulterants such as sugar, glucose or ephedrine.

Effects

Amphetamines are psychostimulant drugs and their primary effect is to speed up the activity of the brain and nervous system. The user's heart and breathing rate increase and they may experience increased energy, alertness and confidence. Appetite may be suppressed and they may become talkative and excited.

The less sought after effects include heart palpitations, anxiety and irritability. At higher doses, amphetamine can cause irregular heartbeat, headaches, dizziness and panic attacks.

Long term, heavy amphetamine use can lead to insomnia and malnutrition.

Psychological and emotional problems such as depression, paranoia and extreme aggressiveness can develop. In some cases, users may experience amphetamine psychosis - a psychological state, similar to schizophrenia - characterised by paranoid delusions. Amphetamine overdose can cause stroke, heart attack, seizure, coma or death.


Method of use

Amphetamines can be injected, snorted, smoked or taken orally.

Law

Excluding some amphetamine-based drugs which are available on prescription for medical conditions such as narcolepsy and hyperactivity, the possession, use, manufacture and distribution of amphetamines is illegal throughout the UK, as is its importation.

Many regions have restricted access to the precursor chemicals used in the manufacture of amphetamines and their importation is strictly controlled.

Prevalence, market and production in the UK

The majority of amphetamines consumed in the UK is produced in this country in clandestine laboratories. Some of the laboratories located by police have been highly mobile, sometimes contained within a car boot. Due to the highly toxic and volatile nature of the chemicals used in amphetamine production, these laboratories present a considerable risk to the public.

Generally the product is consumed on the local market, however some regional distribution occurs.

Amphetamines are readily available on the drug market in most areas of the UK. Purity levels vary markedly from 1% to 99% pure. The median purity of amphetamines seized and analysed in 2001/02 was 18%.

Common street names

Speed, goey, whizz, uppers

Methamphetamine - ice, shabu, batu, glass, crystal meth

Liquid methamphetamine - ox blood, leopard's blood or red speed

 

CANNABIS

Description

Cannabis is a drug obtained from the leaves, stems, flowers and seeds of the Cannabis sativa plant. The active psychotropic ingredient in cannabis is THC (delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol). Cannabis is generally found in three forms - a mix of the dried leaves and flowers of the cannabis plant, as dried cannabis resin (hashish) and as an oil (hashish oil).

Effects

Cannabis is a depressant that has some mild hallucinogenic properties. As a depressant it slows the activity of the central nervous system.

The effects of cannabis are unpredictable. The drug's typical effect is to make the user feel relaxed and less inhibited. It causes increased appetite and bloodshot eyes and can affect sensory perception. Cannabis can affect coordination, reduce attention span and cause short term memory loss. Users may lose track of their thoughts or of a conversation. Heavier doses can cause confusion, excitement or anxiety. Users may have hallucinations.

Chronic cannabis use can cause respiratory illnesses such as lung cancer and chronic bronchitis. Some heavy users lose energy and motivation and experience a deterioration in memory, concentration and ability to learn new things. Cannabis psychosis, similar to schizophrenia, can occur in vulnerable individuals.


Method of use

Cannabis is generally smoked either as cigarettes or through a water pipe. It can be ingested as an ingredient in food.

Law

The cultivation, possession, use and supply of cannabis is illegal throughout the UK as is its importation.

Some regions have moved towards decriminalising the possession of small quantities of cannabis for personal use or the diversion of offenders to education or treatment programs.

Prevalence, market and production in the UK

Cannabis is the most widely used illicit drug in the UK and generally easily available. It is now suspected that hydroponics is the most common method of cultivation in the domestic market.

Growers believe that hydroponics produce a better yield, reduce the chances of detection and mitigate seasonal climate changes.

There is a level of cannabis importation from countries including the Netherlands.

Organised crime groups, are involved in the cultivation and distribution of cannabis within the UK.

Common street names

Dope, pot, mull, grass, weed, gunja and yandi (among others).

 

COCAINE

Description

Cocaine is extracted from the leaves of the coca bush. In Australia, cocaine is most commonly available as cocaine hydrochloride, a white powder, although it can found as an alkaloid form for smoking or as small crystal known as "crack".

In its powdered form, cocaine is often "cut" with other substances such as lactose, sucrose and talcum powder to increase volume and reduce purity.

Effects

Cocaine is a stimulant, increasing the speed of central nervous system activity. The effects of cocaine are felt almost immediately and can last between minutes or hours. These effects include increased body temperature and heart rate, reduced appetite and heightened levels of energy and alertness. Although cocaine can cause euphoria and increased confidence, it may cause anxiety and panic.

In larger doses or if used repeatedly over hours, cocaine can lead to extreme agitation, panic, paranoia, hallucinations, dizziness, trembling, nausea and heart attack. Concentration and coordination may deteriorate.

Long-term, heavy cocaine users can become restless, over-excitable and paranoid. They may also experience nausea, weight loss and depression. In some cases, psychosis occurs. Snorting cocaine damages the nasal passages.



Method of use

Cocaine is usually inhaled through the nose. In the alkaloid form it may be injected or smoked.

Law

The possession, use, manufacture and distribution of cocaine is illegal throughout the UK, as is its importation.

Prevalence, market and production in the UK

Coca leaf is only grown in three countries for commercial distribution. These countries are Bolivia, Columbia and Peru.

Therefore there is no local production of cocaine in the UK.

There is evidence to suggest that some Columbians living in the UK are involved in the importation of cocaine. A number of ethnic based crime syndicates are involved in the distribution of cocaine within the UK.

Cocaine is fairly easily obtained in capital cities with availability declining in other areas.

Common street names

Coke, okey dokey, charlie, nose candy, big C, blow, marching powder, snow, white lady, ceci, candi.


ECSTASY

Description

Ecstasy is the street name for a range of drugs including, or similar in chemical structure to MDMA (methylenedioxymethamphetamine). Some of these include MDA, MDEA and PMA. Ecstasy tablets may contain varying mixtures of MDMA and related drugs (including amphetamine) as well other substances. Many ecstasy pills are fake and contain little or no MDMA.

In its original form, ecstasy is a white, bitter-tasting oil. It is usually available in tablet form and sometimes as capsules. Tablets vary in colour, size and design. Tablets may be crushed to give the appearance of a powder.

Effects

Ecstasy has both stimulant and hallucinogenic effects. Like other stimulants, ecstasy causes increased heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature. It can also lead to increased confidence and euphoria. The hallucinogenic properties can lead to altered perception.

Users may experience clenching of the jaw, grinding of the teeth, nausea, anxiety, as well as profuse sweating, a tingling feeling and blurred vision.

Used in high doses, MDMA may lead to an amphetamine like psychosis, vomiting, convulsions and kidney failure. Overdose is characterised by very high temperatures and blood pressure, accelerated heartbeat and hallucinations.

In addition to deaths caused directly by the drug, people have died by becoming overheated, sometimes through the combination of ecstasy use, vigorous dancing and hot humid venues, or from dilution hyponatremia, a flooding of the brain due to excess fluid consumption.

Method of use

Ecstasy is usually taken orally either in tablet or capsule form. The powdered form can be snorted, smoked or injected. In some cases, the pill is crushed and swallowed inside a folded napkin, known as "parachuting" or "bombing", or is inserted in the anus or vagina, a method known as "shelving", "plugging" or "shafting”

Law

The possession, use, manufacture and distribution of amphetamines is illegal throughout the UK, as is its importation.

Many regions have restricted access to the precursor chemicals used in the manufacture of the drug and their importation is strictly controlled.

Prevalence, market and production in the UK

The majority of ecstasy used in the UK is believed to have been illegally imported. The Netherlands is the world's major producer of ecstasy and many of the seizure in this country have originated from Europe. There is some evidence that MDMA production is occurring in Asia with a transportation route through Indonesia.

High level dealing and importation is conducted by Southeast Asian organised crime gangs, often in conjunction with heroin smuggling. Criminal groups of Middle Eastern decent are involved in the distribution of the drug within the UK.

Surveys indicate that most ecstasy users source their drugs from friends, acquaintances or at venues. Often these deals took place at private residences.

There is a significant level of dealing in "fake ecstasy", drugs marketed as ecstasy but containing drugs other than MDMA, such as amphetamines.

Ecstasy is available particularly in the nightclub and dance party scene. However it appears to be more difficult to obtain outside of capital cities and major regional centres.

Common street names

E, Adam, XTC, eccies, the love drug, the hug drug.


HALLUCINOGENS

Description

Hallucinogens can be naturally occurring or produced by a chemical process. They come in a wide variety of forms from plants to small tabs of printed blotting paper. The two most common hallucinogens in the UK illicit drug market are LSD and psilocybin.

LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) is a synthetic drug. It may be produced as a white power, tablets, capsules or most commonly, impregnated in blotting paper.

Psilocybin occurs naturally in certain varieties of mushrooms. The mushrooms may be presented whole, cooked in food or as a tea.

Effects

Hallucinogens act upon the central nervous system to cause radical changes in sensory perception. Users may experience intense sensory perception, a mixing of senses, confusion and a distorted self image. Physiological effects include rapid heart beat, chills and increased blood pressure.

Some people using hallucinogens may experience vivid but negative hallucinations, extreme feelings of panic and anxiety, and paranoia.

Tolerance to hallucinogens develops quickly. However, there is no evidence of physical dependence even after long-term use, or of withdrawal symptoms after ceasing such use. Some users of LSD may experience "flashback" hallucinations for up to a year once they have stopped taking the drugs.

Method of use

LSD can be taken orally, sniffed, smoked or injected. The liquid form may be rubbed into the skin and tabs are occasionally placed under the eyelids of users. LSD is highly potent and very small doses are used.

Mushrooms containing psilocybin are ingested whole, as an ingredient in food or brewed as a tea.

Law

The cultivation, manufacture, possession, use and supply of hallucinogens is illegal throughout the UK as is their importation.

Prevalence, market and production in the UK

LSD is not generally produced in the UK and is mainly imported from the United States of America. There are 30 types of hallucinogenic mushrooms growing naturally in this country and there have been seizures of spores from other countries.

Common street names

There is a range of street names for the various types of hallucinogens. LSD is known as acid, trips, blotters, mellow or tabs or may be named after the design on the blotting paper. Mushrooms may be known by their common botanical names or as "magic mushrooms".


HEROIN

Description

Heroin is an opioid or narcotic analgesic made from a sticky resin secreted by the opium poppy, Papaver somniferum. Produced by a chemical process, it results in a white, brown or pink powder or granules. Street heroin is often "cut" with additives making it difficult to establish the actual contents or purity of a street deal.

A crude form of heroin made from codeine is known as "homebake".


Effects

Heroin is a depressant drug, slowing the activity of the central nervous system. The initial effect of heroin, experienced immediately after injecting, is a rush of intense pleasure and feelings of well-being. This lasts about half an hour and gives way to three to four hours of lethargy.

Heroin reduces pain, hunger and libido and slows breathing and pulse rate. Blood pressure decreases and the pupils of the eyes get smaller. Heavier doses cause a feeling of warmth and sleepiness but may lead to nausea and vomiting. Overdoses can cause respiratory failure and death. When heroin is taken in combination with other depressant drugs (such as alcohol or benzodiazepines) its effects are magnified, as is the risk of overdose.

Long-term use of heroin can lead to a loss of appetite and sex drive, sexual dysfunction, pneumonia and constipation. Psychological and physical dependence are common results of long-term use and can lead to financial, dietary, lifestyle and health problems. Dependent users develop a tolerance and need higher doses to achieve the same effects.


Method of use

Heroin is most commonly injected intravenously but it can be smoked or snorted. Alternatively, heroin can be heated on tin foil and the vapours inhaled, a practice known as "chasing the dragon" or "tooting".




Law

The manufacture, possession, use and supply of heroin is illegal throughout the UK as is its importation.

Prevalence, market and production in the UK

Heroin is produced in three major regions known as the golden triangle (Burma, Laos, Thailand), golden crescent (Afghanistan) and Central and South America.

Policing agencies indicate that most of the importation and distribution of heroin is controlled by a small number of crime groups.

The availability of heroin at the street level is unpredictable.

Common street names

Smack, skag, hammer, H, horse, rock, white, slow, Harry cone, China white.


INHALANTS

Description

Inhalants, also called solvents or volatile substances, vaporise in air and cause intoxication when inhaled. Many are ordinary household products such as glue, aerosol sprays, butane gas, some cleaning fluids, paint thinners, chrome-based paints and petrol.

Effects

Most inhalants are depressants, which slow the brain and central nervous system activity. Their effects are similar to those of alcohol or cannabis. Small amounts can have a very rapid effect, causing a reduction in inhibitions, mild excitement or euphoria. Some users engage in reckless or dangerous behaviour while under the influence of inhalants.

They may cause anxiety. The effects of inhalants usually last about an hour and the initial excitement often gives way to drowsiness.

Large doses of inhalants can lead to disorientation and loss of coordination as well as nausea and diarrhoea. Habitual use can cause flu-like symptoms such as sneezing, coughing and a runny nose. Frequent users may suffer nosebleeds, bloodshot eyes, anaemia, weight loss and sores around the mouth and nose with some long-term users becoming irritable, depressed, paranoid or aggressive.

Long-term use of inhalants can damage internal organs, the brain and the nervous system. The use of alcohol with inhalants can increase the severity of inhalant-related brain damage. Regular abusers can develop both psychological and physical dependence and a tolerance to inhalants. Withdrawal symptoms after heavy use are usually mild.

Method of use

As the name suggests, inhalants are inhaled by users, often by concentrating the fumes in plastic bags or tins.

Law

As most inhalants are everyday items with common lawful uses, their simple possession is not illegal in the UK. Some regions have laws allowing the apprehension of people affected by inhalants and the seizure of items.

There are some restrictions on the marketing of products which are likely to be misused as inhalants and many businesses, such as hardware stores, operate under codes of practice to reduce the availability of substances to users.

Prevalence, market and production in the UK

Although there are some restrictions on their purchase, intoxicants are readily available for legal purchase throughout the UK. Many users, however, will steal rather than buy substances.


PARTY DRUGS

Description

The term "party drugs" is used to describe a number of illicit substances used by some people attending nightclubs, raves and larger events in the belief that they enhance the experience.

Some of these drugs include amphetamines, ecstasy, GHB, ketamine and LSD. These drugs will most commonly appear as tablets, capsules, powder or liquid.

Effects

Each drug has differing effects on the user.


Amphetamines

These are psychostimulant drugs whose primary effect is to speed up the activity of the brain and nervous system. The user's heart rate and breathing increases and they may experience increased energy, alertness and confidence. Appetite may be suppressed and they may become talkative and excited.

The less sought after effects include heart palpitations, anxiety and irritability. At higher doses, amphetamine can cause irregular heartbeat, headaches, dizziness and panic attacks.



Ecstasy

This has both stimulant and hallucinogenic effects. Like other stimulants, ecstasy causes increased heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature. It can also lead to increased confidence and euphoria. The hallucinogenic properties can lead to altered perception.

Users may experience clenching of the jaw, grinding of the teeth, nausea, anxiety, as well as profuse sweating, a tingling feeling and blurred vision. Used in high doses, MDMA may lead to an amphetamine-like psychosis, vomiting, convulsions and kidney failure. Overdose is characterised by very high temperatures and blood pressure, accelerated heartbeat and hallucinations. 

GHB (gamma-hydroxybutyrate)

This is a depressant drug with both sedative and anaesthetic properties. The immediate effects, occurring approximately 15 minutes after use, include increased sense of touch, drowsiness, feeling of well being and headaches. Higher doses lead to rapid drowsiness, muscle tension, convulsions, respiratory distress and possibly death. There appears to be little margin between the correct dose and an overdose.

GHB can cause amnesia and has been implicated in drink spiking, due to its colourless and odourless liquid form.

Ketamine

This is an anaesthetic normally used in veterinary procedures. It is a dissociative drug, giving the user the feeling of being separated from their body. In low doses, ketamine causes clumsy or robotic movements, delayed sensation and increased sociability. In higher doses it make movement extremely difficult and causes complete dislocation and near-death experiences.

Ketamine is sometimes found as a constituent in ecstasy and can be both physically and psychologically addictive.



LSD

This is a potent hallucinogen which acts upon the central nervous system to cause radical changes in sensory perception. Users may experience intense sensory perception, a mixing of senses, confusion and a distorted self image. Physiological effects include rapid heart beat, chills and increased blood pressure.

Method of use

Party drugs are most commonly ingested orally, but they may also be inhaled through the nose or injected.


Law

The possession, use, manufacture and distribution of most party drugs is illegal throughout the UK, as is their importation. The only exceptions are those drugs prescribed for authorised medical or veterinary purposes.

Many regions have restricted access to the precursor chemicals used in the manufacture of amphetamines, GHB and ketamine and their importation is strictly controlled.

Prevalence, market and production in the UK

The availability of individual drugs within the party, rave and nightclub scenes can vary. Amphetamines and ecstasy are readily available, with the other types less common.

Amphetamines and GHB are manufactured locally whilst ketamine is usually sourced from the diversion or theft of veterinary supplies. Netherlands is the world's largest producer of ecstasy, but much of the drug in this country is produced or trafficked via Asia. LSD is generally imported from the USA.

Organised crime syndicates are involved in the supply and distribution of other party drugs.

Common street names

Amphetamines - speed, goey, whizz, uppers, ice, glass, crystal meth

Ecstasy - E, Adam, XTC, eccies, the love drug, the hug drug

GHB - GBH, grievous bodily harm, blue nitro, fantasy

Ketamine - special k, kit kat, vitamin k, ket

LSD - acid, trips, blotters, mellow, tabs

 
PHARMACEUTICALS

Description

Pharmaceutical drugs may be obtained either by prescription or over the counter from pharmacies for legitimate medical purposes. Users of other illicit drugs may utilise pharmaceuticals to supplement their illicit drug use or to reduce their effects.

The most common pharmaceutical drugs diverted for illicit personal use are benzodiazepines and opiate-based drugs. Other drugs may be obtained as precursors or ingredients for other substances such as amphetamines.

Benzodiazepines are designed to reduce anxiety and to help people sleep. They are prescribed to treat epilepsy, as muscle relaxants and to help people withdrawing from alcohol. They may be in tablet, capsule or liquid form.

Opiate based drugs include morphine, codeine and methadone. These drugs are used to treat pain or to reduce the effects of heroin withdrawal. They may be in tablet, capsule or liquid form.

Effects

Benzodiazepines are classified as sedatives and anxiolytics. They slow the activity of the central nervous system, making users feel calmer and lethargic, and relaxing muscles. Larger doses may lead to confusion, poor coordination and memory loss.

Long-term use can result in lethargy and a lack of motivation, though some become anxious and aggressive. Tolerance develops very quickly and withdrawal from dependent use can lead to panic attacks, vomiting, depression and paranoia.

Opiate based drugs are depressants, slowing the activity of the central nervous system. Some of the effects of this class of drugs include lethargy, nausea, euphoria, vomiting and shallow breathing. Use of drugs such as methadone with heroin significantly increases the risk of overdose.

Method of use

Prescription drugs are usually taken orally as a tablet, capsule or liquid. They can be injected intravenously.

Law

The supply of pharmaceuticals is strictly controlled. The most commonly abused drugs are only available on prescription from a medical practitioner or dentist. The importation, supply and manufacture of pharmaceuticals without authority is illegal throughout the UK.

The use of stolen or forged prescriptions to obtain pharmaceuticals is illegal throughout the UK.

Prevalence, market and production in the UK

The misuse of pharmaceuticals is frequent amongst users of other illicit drugs, particularly heroin and to a lesser extent, amphetamines. One study has found that over 50% of intravenous drug users also used benzodiazepines.

The demand for pharmaceuticals is linked to the availability of other drugs, especially heroin.

Common street names

Pharmaceuticals may be known by a variety of trade names or a shortened version of these names. Some common street names for benzodiazepines include benzos, tranks or sleepers.


STEROIDS

Description

Anabolic and androgenic steroids can be produced naturally or derived from synthetic sources. Commercially produced steroids can be placed into three groups - those produced for human consumption, those for veterinary use and those produced illegally.

Steroids are used to increase muscle bulk and strength and to enable longer and harder athletic training sessions. Some users take steroids for cosmetic (body image) reasons.


Effects

Steroids increase protein synthesis, promoting growth of muscles and bones. They reduce the recovery time needed between training sessions and enable athletes to train more intensively for longer periods.

Side effects of steroid use can include hair loss, liver problems, insomnia, acne, headaches, jaundice, hypertension and high cholesterol. Steroids can permanently stunt the growth of adolescents. Men who use steroids can experience shrinking testes, gynaecomastia (enlarged breasts) and prostate and fertility problems. Women can experience clitoral enlargement, shrinking breasts, permanent deepening of the voice, menstrual irregularities and growth of body and facial hair.

Psychological effects can include enhanced self-esteem and euphoria, but also increased aggression and irritability, mood swings, changes in libido, paranoia and depression. Psychological dependence on steroids is possible. Withdrawal symptoms include mood swings, severe depression, insomnia, lethargy, nausea, headaches and cravings.


Method of use

Steroids may be injected intramuscularly, taken orally or rubbed on the skin as a cream.

Law

The possession, use and supply of steroids, other than by prescription from a medical practitioner, dentist or veterinarian is illegal throughout the UK as is unauthorised importation.

The use of steroids by competitors in most sports is banned.

Prevalence, market and production in the UK

Steroid users generally fall within four categories - athletes for performance enhancement, body builders to increase muscle mass and definition, people within the security industry and adolescents for body image reasons.

Users may attempt to gain drugs by convincing a doctor to prescribe them, via mail order or the Internet from overseas, from veterinarians by supplying false information or from local dealers in gyms etc. There is some evidence that outlaw motorcycle gangs are involved in the dealing and distribution of steroids in this country.

Common street names

Roids, gear, juice, vets' drugs, Caseys


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