Teens turn to drugs despite the consequences

By Amy Erickson
Port Hardy Secondary School
Port Hardy, British Columbia

Despite all of the efforts made to educate people, especially teenagers, about the potential dangers of narcotics, drug use among teens is a severe problem. Illegal drugs are becoming both more accessible and stronger.

"I know at least one person who uses drugs. So does everyone else," says Misty Oakes, a Grade 10 student.


Experimentation with narcotics usually begins at the age of twelve or thirteen years, as teens are entering high school and starting to feel peer pressure to conform. At such a vulnerable age, teens tend to follow what their friends and other kids are doing.

Most teens who try drugs usually experiment with marijuana first. Marijuana (pot) is cheaper than other drugs and easier to obtain and most teens don't consider it to be a dangerous drug to use. Many youth don't think that smoking one joint could change their lives.

Says recovering drug addict, Felicity, "Don't even touch drugs or they will catch up with you. You will get hooked and won't even know." (See Ken's story of addiction)

Drugs: the Highs and Lows
By Amy Erickson

Marijuana (weed, pot, bud)- A gray or green mixture of dried leaves and flowers from the hemp plant that is usually smoked or eaten.

PCP (angel dust, ozone, wack)- A white chrystalline powder that is made illegally in laboratories. It is normally snorted, smoked or eaten and is often found as an additive in marijuana.

LSD (acid, tabs)- This is manufactured from lysergic acid and is most commonly sold as colorful sheets of paper with the drug imprinted on it ("blotter paper"). It is one of the strongest mood-changing chemicals.

Mushrooms (shrooms, magic mushrooms)- Naturally occuring mushrooms that contain psilocybin or psilocin- hallucinogenic chemicals. These are eaten or drank as tea and affect perception of touch, taste, sight and sound.

Cocaine/Crack (coke, snow, rock)- A highly addictive drug that is inhaled, injected or smoked. When used heavily effects include hallucinations, paranoia, agression, insomnia and depression.

Anabolic Steroids (rhoids, juice)- A group of potent compounds related to the male sex hormone, testosterone. These are used illegally by athletes to improve performance and appearance, and are injected into muscle or taken orally. Steroids can cause more than 70 side effects.

Heroin (dope, smack, big h)- A highly addictive drug that comes from morphine. This is a downer drug that affects the brain's ability to feel pain and the brain's pleasure system. Heroin can be injected, smoked and inhaled.

Ecstasy (xtc, mdma, e)- This is a synthetic drug that is both a stimulant and a hallucinogen. It stimulates the central nervous system and causes hallucinogenic effects. Ecstasy is swallowed, snorted, smoked or injected and is often associated with raves.

Methamphetamine (meth, speed, crystal, ice)- A stimulant of the central nervous system, this is a crystal like-powder substance that is sometimes found in large chunks. Psychological symptoms of meth users are similar to those associated with schizophrenia.

Inhalants (laughing gas, solvents)- These are ordinary household products such as cooking spray, paint thinner and hairspray. Inhalants are sniffed, snorted, bagged or huffed.

Marijuana is called a gateway drug, meaning it can lead to the use of various other drugs. Often teens begin smoking marijuana once in a while at parties and soon they start smoking it after school or on weekends with their friends. Before long, it is used by youth at home, at school and any other chance they have. Many people do not know what is in their pot, as it is often laced with cocaine or contains PCP as an additive.

Cocaine, magic mushrooms and heroin are not used by teens as often as marijuana, but they are much more dangerous. Often teens that are using marijuana begin to look for other highs leading them to stronger and more addictive drugs.

Teens who have drug problems don't often realize it because their judgment is clouded. In some cases, drug use may take place at the homes of these teenagers or by other members of their family, and they consider it to be a normal practice.

Parents, friends, teachers or counselors can usually tell if teens have drug problems. These youth will usually be very tired, paranoid, secretive, angry or unsociable. They also lose interest in sports or other activities which they were once involved in, and school marks and attendance drop.

Many teens don't want to acknowledge that they have a drug problem because they fear looking weak and being blamed for their problems. Detoxification and counselling groups try not to put the blame on anyone. They try to help the teen by addressing the problem with advice, role playing and films to try to overcome drug abuse and make teens feel good about themselves.

There are ways to prevent becoming a drug user. Teens should become educated about drugs and be aware of the effects and consequences of drug use. Participating in extra-curricular activities such as sports, or joining clubs in the school or the community are also ways to avoid the temptation to use drugs.

As the problem with teens and drugs continues to increase, counsellors, family members and the public must find ways to help youth make the responsible choice not to use drugs.

Most people, especially teens, do not realize the severe effects that drug use can have on them both psychologically and physically.

"People use before thinking," says Barbara Unroe, of the Mount Waddinton Community Health Council.

Drugs can have a more severe effect on young people than adults. Teens don't require as much of a substance compared to an adult to experience the same 'high'. This occurs because young people's bodies are usually not as developed as those of adults, and therefore the drug has a smaller area to affect.

The physical effects of drugs on teens are very serious. Hallucinogens such as cocaine and LSD can cause people to experience such things as "cokebugs," a sensation that causes the user to think that insects or snakes are crawling under the skin. This hallucination tremendously overworks the brain. Cocaine also raises the heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature, which can initiate heart failure, bursting blood vessels and high fevers. Psychological effects of drugs such as LSD include flashbacks even after drug use has ceased.

Cannabis or marijuana affects people differently depending on their moods, as well as how much substance they use. Soon after smoking marijuana a person may feel more relaxed and talkative or they may become dizzy, nervous and upset. They also become less concerned with what they are doing and saying.

Says grade 9 student, Norman Saliken, "Drugs make people do stupid things."

A marijuana user's eyes may turn red, their heart may begin to beat faster and they may also develop a huge appetite. Cannabis use can also affect balance, judgement and perception as well as lower the body's reaction rate. It can also impair a user's ability to learn, think and speak as well as their memory.

Inhalants, which include many common household products that give off fumes or vapours, slow down bodily reactions and cloud thinking when they are inhaled. They can invoke confusion, mood swings, delusions and hallucinations. Using inhalants can provoke lung and heart failure, and can permanently damage the nervous system, kidneys and other organs. Inhalants can also destroy brain cells, resulting in memory loss and learning disabilities. More severe inhalant effects include seizures, comas or even death.

Another serious side effect of drugs is the chance of being infected with a disease. People that use drugs that are injected such as heroin, cocaine, meth-amphetamines and ecstasy risk developing Hepatitis, HIV and AIDS, and other life-threatening illnesses. According to the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse (CCSA), in 1997, one in five AIDS cases was related to injection drug use.

While drugs may seem exciting or alluring, their effects are not. Drugs are dangerous and their effects which are most severe on teens, can be fatal.

By Barry White
Port Hardy Secondary School
Port Hardy, British Columbia

Ken is a recovering drug addict. He began using drugs as a teen because of his home and peer influences, along with the desire to experiment. Because of his experimentations with marijuana Ken was drawn to other more powerful drugs.

According to Ken, the first 5 years he was using drugs were fun. Then at the age of 20 he realized that narcotics had taken over his life. He began stealing to support his habits, and became very dishonest. Obtaining drugs became more important to Ken then paying the rent or making the car payments. Money to support his drug problem began to run out because keeping a job proved to be very difficult. As a result, Ken resorted to picking cans to gather money for his addiction.

After years of being addicted to drugs Ken realized that he had to stop using. The addiction had already greatly affected his life in a negative way. He also thought that if he didn't discontinue his usage of drugs there was the possibility he was going to die

"It wasn't easy to stop using drugs. I felt alone." One night Ken decided to quit using for good, the next morning he woke up with a seizure. His body was so used to having drugs in his system that he could not function properly without them.

Ken felt that he was a disgrace. "I forgot who I was and what my life meant. I lost all of my self respect and self estem, I felt sorry for myself." These feelings helped Ken quit using cocaine and marijauna on his own, but he couldn't quit drinking. To help him with this obstacle, Ken attended a twelve step program.

Ken has been drug free for over two years now. He says he feels better about himself and has gained control of his life. Ken says that teens may sometimes find themselves thinking that drugs will solve problems, but in actuality, they will only cause more.