Drugs, Drink'n and Smok'n Part II

This, That and the Other

This is the second of a two-part series on drugs. This month I'm writing about cannabis, GHB, ketamine or K, cocaine, alcohol, crack and their side effects. In Part I of this series in the August issue we focused on ecstasy, crystal-meth and their side effects. Just to reiterate what I said last month, although AIDS Survival Project does not encourage the use of illegal drugs; we would like to educate people about some of recreational drug use's side effects. When you take meds of any kind or mix any of the drugs listed, you increase your chances of something going wrong. It's not just the drugs that can make things go wrong, it's also the people you're with and their motives and yours.

What Is Cannabis, Weed, Dope or Pot?

Cannabis, or marijuana, comes from a plant. The dried buds of the female plant contain the highest concentration of psychoactive compounds. These buds are usually what is sold and consumed as marijuana. Cannabis usually costs about $10 to $20 a gram and is illegal. Cannabis is usually smoked, although it can be eaten. Joints are the most common method of smoking, but a wide range of pipes, bongs, hookahs, and other devices are also used. Cannabis can be prepared in butter or cooked directly into foods for ingestion. Often people will cook with the leaves of the plant rather than the buds.


In small quantities, users find cannabis both relaxing and stimulating. The senses are enhanced, as well as the appetite. Cannabis is used medicinally to treat the symptoms of cancer, glaucoma, HIV and AIDS. In larger quantities (or with stronger strains) the effects may feel similar to LSD or mushrooms. Users may experience nausea, hallucinations, anxiety, or paranoia.

Cannabis causes an increase in heart rate, reddening of eyes, and dryness in the mouth, slows down reaction time and impairs motor skills. Some people feel uncomfortable, nauseous, or paranoid after using cannabis. It is not known to create dependence and users do not experience withdrawal symptoms. Smoking cannabis can damage the lungs, throat, and mouth.

What Is GHB?

GHB (Gamma hydroxybutyrate) usually comes as an odorless liquid, slightly salty to the taste, and sold in small bottles. This is the "date-rape" drug you hear about so often. It has also been found in powder and capsule form. It is classified as a sedative-hypnotic, and was originally developed as a sleep-aid. A similar drug, "GBL," is often sold under different names and turns into GHB in the body, having the same effect. A teaspoon or capful by mouth is usually considered a normal dose. The effects are usually felt between ten minutes and one hour after ingestion. The primary effects last about two to three hours; residual effects can last up to a whole day. Many overdoses have occurred from people not waiting long enough before taking more. Overdoses can cause death!


A low dosage of GHB has an euphoric effect similar to alcohol; it can make you feel relaxed, happy and sociable. Higher doses can make the user feel dizzy and sleepy, and can sometimes cause vomiting, muscle spasms, and loss of consciousness. Overdoses can also cause loss of consciousness (temporary coma) and will slow down breathing. This can be potentially life threatening.

Sometimes, and particularly if mixed with alcohol, GHB can slow breathing down to a dangerously low rate, which has caused a number of deaths. Mixing GHB with alcohol or other depressants is extremely dangerous and has caused many deaths due to respiratory failure. Don't drive on GHB, one dose can impair motor coordination by as much as six drinks of alcohol. Also, the effects come on fast and, unlike alcohol, cannot be controlled or paced. Regular or daily use of GHB can cause physical dependency with harsh withdrawals. Remember GHB is illegal and possession can result in long prison terms. If you are at a rave or nightclub and someone falls unconscious or has a seizure who is on GHB, call an ambulance immediately. While waiting for an ambulance, lay the person on their side (recovery position) so if they vomit they won't choke. Make sure their air passage is clear and their chin is not pressed up against their chest. Let the emergency personnel know what they are on. Stay with them if you can.

What Is K, Special K, or Ketamine?

Ketamine hydrochloride, "Special K" or "K," was originally created for use as a human anaesthetic, and is still used as a general anaesthetic for children, persons of poor health, and in veterinary medicine. K belongs to a class of drugs called "dissociative anaesthetics," which separate perception from sensation. Other drugs in this category include PCP, DXM and nitrous oxide (laughing gas). K usually comes as a liquid in small pharmaceutical bottles, and is most often cooked into a white powder for snorting. Most people snort small lines or "bumps" for a mild, dreamy effect. The effect comes on within about five to ten minutes. If liquid is injected into the muscle, less is needed to enter a "K-hole" (see Effects below). Effects can be felt within four minutes. (Ketamine is never injected into the vein.) If swallowed, the effects come on in ten to 20 minutes. Some people become nauseous after taking ketamine. Occasionally, ketamine has been sold in a capsule as "ecstasy," although it is nothing like MDMA (real ecstasy).


At lower doses it has a mild, dreamy effect similar to nitrous oxide. Users report feeling "floaty" and slightly "outside" their body. Numbness in the extremities is also common. Higher doses produce a hallucinogenic or "trippy" effect, and may cause the user to feel very far away from their body. This experience is often referred to as entering a "K-hole" and has been compared to a near death experience with sensations of rising above one's body. 100mg are usually enough to enter a K-hole. Many users find the experience spiritually significant, while others find it frightening. While in a K-hole it is very difficult to move. People usually remain seated or lying down during the experience.

While low doses of ketamine can increase heart rate, at higher doses it depresses consciousness and breathing and is extremely dangerous to combine with downers like alcohol, Valium or GHB and can cause death. Frequent use causes disruptions in consciousness leading to neuroses or mental disorders. Ketamine can cause a tremendous psychological dependence. The dissociation from one's consciousness experienced with ketamine can be highly seductive to some people, and there are many cases of ketamine addiction. Ketamine is illegal and possession can result in long prison terms.

What Is Cocaine, Crack or Coke?

Cocaine hydrochloride, also know as "coke" or "blow" and other names, is a white powder derived from the leaves of the coca plant, which grows mainly in South America. Coca-Cola used to contain cocaine (hence the name) and so did many other over-the-counter food and medicine products. Cocaine is usually sold in small baggies by the gram. The leaves of the coca plant can be chewed or made into a tea and drunk. Coca leaves are used this way legally in many countries as a mild stimulant similar to caffeine. Most often cocaine is snorted in small lines. The effects come on gradually and peak after about 15-30 minutes. Crack cocaine is made by chemically altering cocaine powder into crystals or "rocks" which can easily be smoked. When smoked as crack, the effects come on immediately, but wear off much more quickly. When injected, the effects are felt immediately and intensely.


Cocaine is a stimulant drug similar to speed, but much shorter-acting. It causes a sudden increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing and also leads to feelings of confidence, alertness and euphoria. Cocaine and crack are very short acting; this can lead to using too much or too often. Many users become compulsive in their use of cocaine, which can lead to physical or psychological addiction. The after-effects can include depression, agitation, anxiety and paranoia. The intensity of these effects depend on how much and how often cocaine is used, and are more intense when cocaine is smoked as crack. High or frequent doses have caused seizures, strokes or heart attacks in some people. Repeated snorting can damage the membranes of the nose. Cocaine is illegal; possession can result in prison sentences, even if no money is exchanged.

What Is Alcohol, Beer, Wine, "Booze," "Brewski," a "Tall One," or a "Night Cap"?

And last but not least, to the most widely used drug of them all -- alcohol. Its history is long and seductive. If you don't know someone who uses this, you live on another planet. Let me tell you a little bit about this one. Beverage alcohol is ethyl alcohol, or ethanol. It is a depressant drug. Alcohol concentration in drinks varies. Wine and beer have between five percent and 15 percent. What is commonly referred to as "hard" liquor has up to 40 percent -- sometimes more. It takes an hour and a half for your body to rid itself of a standard drink and it's the amount of alcohol, not the type of drink that affects you. Alcohol effects some people more strongly than others depending on body weight, metabolism, tolerance from prior use, the food you eat, as well as other factors.


Alcohol is highly addictive and tolerance develops quickly with severe withdrawal symptoms including nervousness, tremors, seizures and hallucinations. It lowers your inhibitions, increases the chance of impaired judgment as well as increased sociability. Some of the side effects of alcohol include dizziness, nausea, slurred speech, slow reflexes and sleepiness. Overdose causes loss of motor control, blackouts, passing out and in extreme cases, death. Long-term use damages the liver, brain and other organs, which can result in mental and physical problems. Drinking too much alcohol at once can cause death through acute alcohol toxicity. Women, who drink during pregnancy, can cause their babies to be born with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). Mixing alcohol with meds, or illegal drugs is dangerous. Combine that with driving and you can endanger everyone!

There are of course many other drugs that are out there. Following are a few drugs to be aware of. Oxycontin a powerful prescription drug designed to relieve debilitating pain. The old Gay stand-by poppers which can cause death when taken with Viagra. Nitrous oxide (laughing gas), paint and glue. Pressurized gases sniffed or inhaled can cause brain damage and suffocation when inhaled for extended periods of time. The regular use of nitrous can cause long-lasting numbness in the extremities and other neurological problems.

"Magic" mushrooms are mushrooms that contain psilocybin. Psilocybin is a psychedelic drug with effects similar to those of LSD. Eating the wrong mushrooms can cause death. LSD, acid, or lysergic acid diethylamide is a hallucinogenic or psychedelic drug and can trigger underlying mental problems.

As a reminder, for information on drugs and how they can effect you, in Atlanta you can visit the AIDS Survival Project Treatment Resource Center at 159 Ralph McGill Blvd Suite 500 where we offer free and confidential assistance to everyone. You may also contact the Atlanta Harm Reduction Center at 404-526-9222 or if you need counseling contact Positive Impact at 404-589-9040. You can also visit the following site: http://www.hafci.org/drugs/index.html.

If you would like to talk to someone anonymously, you can always call an AIDS Survival Project peer counselor at 404-874-7926. The peer counselors have many local, regional and national referrals available. Thanks to DanceSafe for providing the preceding drug information, you can visit them at www.dancesafe.org to get more information on these drugs and more.

Comments? Mike Moreno may be reached at mmoreno@aidssurvivalproject.org.