Drugs and your health

When times get tough people can turn to drinking or drugs to cope with stress and anxiety. They can seem to reduce worries or help us to cope with difficulties in life. But in many cases they make you feel worse – physically and emotionally.

If you already have a mental health problem or get depressed, taking drugs or alcohol can heighten those feelings. Heavy drinking or regular drug use can also affect your home life, school/college work, friendships and relationships and stop you functioning normally.

There are better ways to cope with stress, like eating well, exercising regularly and taking time out to spend with friends or doing something you enjoy.


Here are some examples of what specific drugs can do to your health:


Weed, Puff, Pot, Dope

Cannabis has been linked to mental health problems such as schizophrenia and, when smoked, to lung diseases including asthma. Mixing it with tobacco is likely to increase the risk of heart disease and lung cancer.

It affects how your brain works, so regular use can make concentration and learning very difficult or lead to paranoia. Frequent use can have a negative effect on your fertility.

New Psychoactive Substances

(NPS) Plant Food, Clockwork Orange, Bliss

As you can never be sure what is actually in the NPS, you can’t be sure what effect it’s going to have on you or your friends. They can cause paranoia, coma, seizures and in rare cases death.

Cannabis edibles

Cannabis edibles are food products that contain the active ingredients in cannabis (THC and CBD). They can come in many forms including sweets and brownies.

THC is the chemical found in cannabis that makes you ‘high'. The higher the THC content, the stronger its effects. The amount of THC varies a lot in edibles and there’s no way of knowing this, so the effects are unpredictable. Some edibles also contain other harmful drugs or chemicals.

An overdose from edibles can cause: paranoia, nausea, hallucinations, panic attacks and impaired mobility. Regularly using cannabis can lead to issues with brain development and function, heart health, memory and mental health.

Minimising harm

The effects of eating edibles can take 1‐3 hours, with greater intensity over a longer time than through smoking cannabis. This means it’s easy to accidentally take a larger dose than you wanted to. So…

  • Read the label ‐ sometimes edibles packaging contains labels that tell you the THC strength. However, this information is not always reliable so always be cautious
  • Eat a meal first
  • If you try edibles, wait a few hours to see the effect on you, if you plan to take more.
  • Keep edibles away from children, as they often look just like sweets.

Cannabis edibles are illegal in the UK. Don’t be confused with CBD edibles which are legal in the UK if the THC content of the active ingredients is less than 0.3%.


Coke, Charlie, Crack, White

Snorting cocaine can damage the cartilage of your nose, injecting increases your risk of an overdose and also damages your veins and body tissues. Cocaine could cause an overdose by overstimulating the heart and nervous system, which can lead to a heart attack.

If you've had previous mental health problems, it can increase the chance of these returning.


E, MDMA, Mandy, XTC

Using ecstasy affects how your body controls temperature which can lead to overheating and dehydration. However it also tends to stop your body producing enough urine which means drinking too much fluid can be dangerous for your brain as your body could be retaining the fluid.

Long-term use has been linked with memory problems, depression and anxiety.

Nitrous Oxide or NOS

Laughing Gas, Balloons, Smartwhip, Noz, Whippits

NOS is a solvent-based gas used medically or in catering, but some people use it recreationally to 'get high'. Although the effect of inhaling it from a balloon is quick, it can have life changing risks to the brain and body.

You should never inhale NOS directly from the high pressured 'charger', as it can cause damage to the throat and lungs, and the extreme cold can cause burns. It is harder to keep track of how much you’re taking. Laughing Gas can cause unconsciousness or even death through suffocation or asphyxiation – where the available oxygen for breathing is effectively pushed out by the nitrous oxide.

Regular use of Nitrous Oxide can cause Vitamin B deficiency which can cause serious nerve damage. This can lead to numbness in the fingers, toes and other extremities, and even difficulties with walking and pains in the affected areas.


Purple Drank, Syrup, Purple Jelly

LEAN is a homemade drink typically made from a cocktail of substances, including a cough syrup which contains the highly addictive prescription-only drug codeine. Mixed with unknown quantities of other substances, using LEAN may have unpredictable effects which can include breathing difficulties, or longer term psychological or physical dependency.


Aerosols, Petrol and Cigarette Lighter Refills

Solvents come in different liquid, gas and solid forms and are found in deodorant, glues, cleaning and other chemical products. When inhaled, sniffed or sprayed, any solvent can have an immediate intoxicating effect on the body and brain.

Users can pass out and choke on their own vomit or suffocate. There can be long term damage to muscles, liver and kidneys. There is no safe way to use solvents.


Blues, Benzos, Downers

Xanax is a sedative drug and is used to treat short term anxiety and anxiety accompanying depression. However it is not prescribed in the UK under the NHS. When used in larger quantities, it can cause people to feel confused or disoriented. It can cause short-term memory loss and big doses can make you forgetful and overly sleepy. Xanax can be highly physically and psychologically addictive and individuals can build a tolerance very quickly. Any drug bought illegally is not always what says it is on the packet. It can be mixed with various unknown substances and there is no way of knowing what is in it, or how your body may react. Read our 5 harm reduction tips for Xanax for more information.

Get emergency help, and explain exactly what drugs have been taken, if anyone shows a worrying or worsening reaction to any substance

Frank has compiled an A-Z of drugs. Here you can find out each drug's different names, the effects it has, the risks involved and what the law says.

Further advice and guidance can be given by your local substance misuse team.

Find where to get FREE drug and alcohol advice services near you