Word of Wisdom: The Low-Down

The Low-Down

What we don't know won't hurt us, right? Maybe not so right. And that's why this information is here, not to lecture you, not to browbeat you, but simply to give you the "rest of the story" on some of the most commonly abused chemicals out there today.*


Alcohol is highly addictive, and the initial high often turns to depression. As blood vessels enlarge, the drinker feels flushed, but body temperature actually lowers. The part of the brain controlling thought and spatial ability changes. Speech, memory and judgment suffer; vision blurs; gait and hands become unsteady, reflexes slow; and behavior can be bizarre, even violent. Alcohol is dangerous taken with other drugs because the vomit reflex may be inhibited, causing alcohol poisoning and possible death. Alcoholism is a serious risk and often creates liver and other organ damage. (Teens are more susceptible and can develop cirrhosis after just 15 to 20 months of drinking.) Hallucinations and/or nervous disorders and phobias can occur, along with complete physical and emotional dependence.


Tobacco contains nicotine and tar, made of several thousand chemicals which are mostly cancer-causing and/or poisonous, including carbon monoxide (a deadly gas found in car exhaust), arsenic (used in rat poison), formaldehyde (used to embalm bodies) hydrogen cyanide (the poison used in gas chambers), and more. This drug ravages the body. Blood pressure rises, and the heart beats 40-50 percent faster per minute while the amount of oxygen in the user's blood decreases. Tobacco creates psychological/physical dependence and causes 85% of lung cancers. Other cancers are likely also, including oral cancers from chewing tobacco. Heart and blood vessel disease occurs frequently, and tobacco is blamed for 80-90% of deaths from pulmonary disease. Even knowing this, it is hard for users to quit. The addictive nature of nicotine compares to heroin.

Marijuana and Hashish:

Marijuana contains 426 chemicals that are converted into 2,000 when smoked, and the main one is THC. Marijuana now has 5% THC as compared to .2% in the 1960's, so it is a far more powerful (and dangerous) drug. In fact, some strains have up to14% THC. A user's heart beats as much as 50% faster. Time and distance perception change; coordination and short-term memory are impaired. This drug can be laced with other chemicals like PCP. It is known to be physically and psychologically addictive, with 33% of users becoming daily users. THC is stored in fatty tissue in the liver, ovaries, and testicles, and it takes 30 days to rid the body of it. Habitual use destroys brain cells and can cause permanent short-term memory loss. Amotivational syndrome--recognized by lethargy, reduced attention span, neglect of personal appearance, and lack of interest in anything but getting high--is a common symptom. Heavy use can cause brain atrophy in the cerebrum. "Burnouts" appear slow, dim-witted and forgetful, with personality changes. Marijuana also aggravates existing psychological problems and can cause paranoia. It has more cancer-causing agents than tobacco smoke. Studies show smoking five marijuana cigarettes is equal to smoking 112tobacco cigarettes in lung toxicity. It also lowers the immune system (fewer white blood cells), decreases testosterone levels, and can disrupt menstrual cycles. Hashish is 5 to10 times stronger than marijuana. Effects are similar but include hallucinations and delusions.


This drug is routinely mixed with hydrochloric acid. Short-lasting euphoria is followed by intense dysphoria, or "crashing." This includes depression, anxiety, irritability, and lack of motivation. It also narrows blood vessels and stimulates heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure. Cocaine can be fatal, through cardiac arrest or suffocation from massive brain seizures. It also causes heart palpitations, angina, and arrhythmia. Addiction comes quickly; relapse is common. It creates the most extreme cravings of any other substance. Monkeys in a study consistently chose it over food until they starved to death. Other effects are chronic depression, compulsivity, panic attacks, memory loss, and loss of sexual interest. Moodiness, absence from school or work, nervous twitches, insomnia, hyperactivity, poor concentration, humorlessness, irritability, paranoia, physical neglect, and teeth grinding are also common. Cocaine psychosis with hallucinations can occur. Long-term physical symptoms are fatigue, nausea and vomiting, digestive disorders, severe headaches, cold sweats, respiratory infections, persistently dry throat, and damage to the nose. Those who inject run the risk of skin abscesses, hepatitis, and AIDS from shared needles.


Crack is a freebase form of cocaine sprinkled on marijuana cigarettes and smoked or vaporized and inhaled through a pipe. Crack's effects are stronger than cocaine. Teens who use crack become violent 31% of the time and suicidal 18% of the time. This drug is even more addictive than regular cocaine and is considered the most addictive substance presently known. It causes extreme craving that can never be satisfied. A crack addict needs another hit within minutes. Addiction can occur instantaneously. A user's need for the drug quickly overcomes former values. Criminal behavior is common.

Amphetamines, Methamphetamines, and Other Stimulants:

Speed (or crank) and other stimulants increase heart rate, breathing rate and blood pressure. Dry mouth, sweating, headaches, blurred vision, dizziness, sleeplessness, and anxiety often occur. Amphetamines can also produce tremors, coordination loss, fever, chest pains, and fatal strokes or heart failure, especially if injected. The high is followed by a severe and unpleasant depressive "crash," which often leads to a cycle of abuse. Long-term effects are usually ulcers, skin disorders, malnutrition, and diseases linked to vitamin deficiencies. High doses can lead to psychosis with hallucinations, delusions, and paranoia. These drugs, which can also lead to violent behavior, cause most of the prolonged drug-induced psychotic mental states in the US. Those who inject them run the added risk of skin abscesses, AIDS, hepatitis, lung disease, heart disease, and damage to kidneys and other tissues.


These vapors (such as nitrous oxide) come from household items like airplane glue, lighter and cleaning fluids, etc. Inhalants make a person feel slow, draggy, dizzy and drowsy. There is a sensation of hyperventilation with thick tongue, numb face, and throbbing head. Death can occur. Overdose victims usually suffocate by either choking on their own vomit while unconscious, having the vapors displace the oxygen in their lungs, or depressing the central nervous system so much they stop breathing. These drugs decrease blood pressure, heart rate, and respiratory rate. Other effects are prolonged coughing/sneezing, nosebleeds, appetite loss, visual impairment, hallucinations, loss of ability to speak properly, and violent actions. Inhalants kill brain cells and turn more users into vegetables than any other drug. 40-60% of long-term users sustain brain damage. The central nervous system is permanently harmed with diminishing mental and physical capacities. Kidneys, blood, and bone marrow are also negatively affected. Weight loss, mental, and muscle fatigue also occur.

Sedatives and Hypnotics:

These drugs are tranquilizers usually prescribed for sleep or sedation. They can cause slurred speech, staggering gait, lethargy, mental impairment, rapid, involuntary movement of the eyeballs, blurred vision, tingling sensations in extremities, and mood swings. It is easy to overdose because memory is impaired, and the user can't remember how much he has taken. The risk multiplies taken with alcohol. Breathing, heart rate and blood pressure are diminished. An overdose causes the user to stop breathing. These drugs are extremely addictive. The user's behavior often becomes unpredictable, sometimes violent. Withdrawal is even more severe than withdrawal from heroin. Symptoms include anxiety, restlessness, sweating, shaking, nausea, vomiting, and increased heart rate, as well as grand mal seizures and/or convulsions similar to the DT's alcoholics go through at withdrawal.


LSD is one of several hallucinogens. "Bad trips" are terrifying and unpredictable. They include panic, anxiety, and terrifying hallucinations lasting for up to 12 hours. Brain waves are often abnormal for one to two days after taking LSD. LSD mimics psychosis. It can cause suicides or accidental deaths. It can also cause flashbacks, or experiencing the effects of the drug without taking it. These can last as long as two years. Signs of organic brain damage (confusion, shortened attention span, impaired memory, difficulty with abstract thinking) have been seen. Some users have reported permanent loss of color vision.

PCP or Angel Dust:

This powder is often laced with other harmful substances. PCP costs little to make and can be substituted by dealers for more expensive drugs, so it is often taken unknowingly. Effects differ from person to person. Users can become destructive and violent or withdraw completely and be unable to communicate. PCP also causes confusion or delusions of massive strength or invulnerability to pain, making victims susceptible to drowning, being burned, falling, and car accidents. Users can be severely injured and not realize it until the drug has worn off. Physical effects are also hard to predict. PCP stimulates some and depresses others. Typical symptoms are tearing of the eyes, lack of body control, cramps, sweating, nausea, and bloody vomiting. Large doses can cause drowsiness, convulsions, or coma. Death from respiratory failure is also possible. PCP psychosis can occur three to four days after use. This consists of extreme depression, suicidal impulses, paranoia, and violence that can persist for days or weeks and require psychiatric treatment. Habitual users report slurred speech, problems with concentration and memory, and auditory delusions (imaginary sounds or voices lasting as long as two years.) Other long-term effects are severe hypertension, multiple seizures, fever, brain hemorrhaging, and kidney failure. The drug causes both tolerance and psychological dependence.

Mescaline, Peyote, and Other Hallucinogens:

These are similar in nature to LSD. Even the "good trips" are unpleasant for many, while the bad ones are terrifying and unpredictable. Peyote causes nausea and vomiting. Mescaline can also cause anxiety or depression. Mushrooms are comparable in risk and effect to LSD, though effects are generally shorter lived.

Narcotics (Other Than Heroin and Methadone):

Codeine and other pain pills are made from opium. Before crack came along, these were the most addictive drugs. Anxiety often becomes worse after the effects wear off. Narcotics can also cause restlessness, nausea, vomiting, drowsiness, and a low level of consciousness. Overdose victims may go into a stupor or coma as their respiration, body temperature, and blood pressure drop swiftly. After ten days of daily use or a month of frequent use, narcotics will cause physical dependence. At this point, more is taken just to avoid withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal includes restlessness, diarrhea, cramps, tremors, sweating, chills, nausea, body pain, runny nose and eyes, and goose flesh. Sleeplessness and drug craving can persist for months with feelings of despair, depression, and worthlessness.


This drug is extremely addictive. All too soon, there is no rush or high. The addict is just taking the drug to avoid withdrawal symptoms, which are similar to those of other opiates. Heroin causes diminished sex drive, mood changes, and lethargy. Overdose, convulsions, coma, and death occur because of impurities in the drug, contaminated needles, and high doses. (High doses are necessary to ward off the withdrawal symptoms as tolerance occurs.) The ritual of injecting the drug can also be psychologically addictive. Veins are destroyed, and users will inject into the groin, neck, or any place at all where they can find a vein. Withdrawing from methadone is even harder than from heroin. Other long-term effects are from needle use: infections or flooding of the heart lining and valves, skin abscesses, lung congestion, hepatitis, tetanus, liver disease, and AIDS.

Designer Drugs:

Ecstasy and similar designer drugs (connected to amphetamines) are made by underground chemists and are often laced with LSD, heroin, and other substances. Adverse reactions like confusion, depression, restlessness, anxiety, nausea, and faintness frequently occur. Designer drugs also cause increased heart rate and blood pressure, chills, sweating, and blurry vision. Permanent brain damage and death have occurred.

So what do you think? Sure, some of these drugs seem "fun" at first, but scientists agree there's a huge downside physically, to say nothing of psychologically and spiritually. The physical effects of drug use are pretty straightforward. We took a look at some psychological and spiritual consequences in last week's article, "The Fallout." I hope you'll check out next week's article to read some comments, stories, and insights from LDS youth who've learned the hard way...from experience.

* Facts and statistics taken from Ken Barun and Philip Bashe, Drugs and Alcohol: When Saying No Isn't Enough, [Ontario, Canada: Signet, 1992], 162-99.

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