A parent's guide to drugs 

Return to the Home Page


Anyone who is a parent will know the worry surrounding drugs. Often it is difficult to look beyond the emotive and highly-charged news stories and find accurate and understandable information about drugs issues. 

All children can be tempted to experiment with drugs, regardless of their school or family background. If you ever find yourselves in a situation where you have to deal with the issue of drugs, it is important you are as best informed as possible.

The following information may help you talk to your children about drugs in a more informed and less emotional way.



Why will my child experiment with drugs?

There are a number of reasons why children experiment with drugs. These could be:

  • Pressure from friends
  • It's the current fashion or trend
  • Curiosity or intrigue
  • Boredom
  • Rebelling against parents or teachers
  • A way to get confidence or self-esteem amongst peers
  • The excitment of doing something dangerous or illegal
How will I tell if my child is taking drugs?

It might be difficult at first, particularly if drugs are only being used occassionally. What is important is that you are sure - try not to jump to conclusions. Signs can include:

  • Changes in mood from happy to sullen
  • Bouts of drowsiness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Loss of interest in hobbies or sports
  • Irritability 
  • Evidence of telling lies
  • Unusual smells or stains on clothing
What is the difference in the effects of drugs?

Certain drugs make people feel confident and excited, others make you relaxed or alter the way you see things. It is impossible to predict the effects of any drug - much depends on the amount taken, the user's mood and their surroundings. However, some drugs can be divided into broad groups:

  • Stimulants - drugs which act on the central nervous system and increase brain activity. (Anabolic steroids, cocaine, crack, ecstasy, poppers, speed, tobacco)
  • Depressants - drugs which act on the central nervous system and slow down brain activity. (Alcohol, gases, glues and aerosols, tranquillisers)
  • Hallucinogens - Drugs which act on the mind, distorting the way users see and hear things. (Cannabis, ketamin, LSD, magic mushrooms)
  • Analgesics - drugs which have a painkilling effect. (Heroin)
What does the law state?

The two main laws concerned with the use and supply of drugs are the Medicines Act and the Misuse of Drugs Act.

The Misuse of Drugs Act places drugs into three categories - A, B and C - and penalties for offences are dependent on the class of drug.

The offence of possession means being caught with an illegal drug for your own use. As for punishment, the police have these options:

  • a formal warning (which is put on files. If another offence is committed, the police may be influence to charge rather than caution again.)
  • a formal caution (held on files for five years. This can be used against the offender if they commit another offence.)
  • charge with an offence leading to a Youth Court hearing (for under 17s) or an adult Magistrates Court hearing (for over 17s).

The offence of possession with intent to supply means being caught with a drug which you had intended to deal (including giving or sharing) to another. The police can take the same course of action as in possession cases, however, this time it is far more likely that the offender will be charged and if it goes to court the penalties are much heavier.

Class A drugs carry the highest penalty and include substances such as cocaine, crack, ecstasy, heroin, LSD (acid), magic mushrooms prepared for use, speed (amphetamines) if prepared for injection.

The maximum penalties for possession of Class A drugs are seven years' prison and/or a fine. For supply, the maximum penalties are life imprisonment and/or a fine.

Class B drugs include cannabis and speed (amphetamines).

The maximum penalties for possession of Class B drugs are five years' prison and/or a fine. For supply, the maximum penalties are 14 years' prison and/or fine.

Class C drugs include (supply of) anabolic steroids and tranquilisers, and (possession of) temazepam.

The maximum penalties for possession are two year's prison and/or fine and for supply are five year's prison and/or a fine.

Most common types of drugs
Anabolic Steroids
Effects Risks
  • Can make users more aggressive
  • Can build up muscle, however, there is debate whether they improve power or performance
  • Help users to recover from strenuous exercise
  • Can stop young people growing properly
  • Risks for men include increased chance of heart attack and liver failure and fertility problems
  • Risks for women include menstruation problems, miscarriage, deepening voice, facial hair.




  • Makes most users relaxed and talkative
  • Heightens the senses, particularly to colours, taste and music
  • Cooking and eating it makes the effects more intense
  • Can leave people feeling tired and lacking energy
  • Can bring on cravings for certain foods
  • Affects short-term memory and ability to concentrate
  • Affects co-ordination, increasing the risk of accidents
  • Impairs driving skills
  • It can make users paranoid and anxious
  • Smoking cannabis over a long period of time may increase risk of respiratory disorders
  • Often difficult to quit




  • Cocaine is a powerful stimulant
  • Makes users feel alert and confident
  • Effects last roughly 30 minutes
  • Users are often left craving more
  • People may take more to delay the comedown
  • Can cause heart problems and chest pain
  • Heavy use can cause convulsions
  • Large or frequent doses over a short period can leave users restless, confused and paranoid
  • Snorting cocaine may permanently damage the inside of the nose
  • The habit is expensive and hard to control
  • Users have died from overdose




  • The effects of smoking crack are similar to snorting cocaine but much more intense
  • The high lasts as little as 10 minutes
  • Users often 'chase' the high by repeating the dose
  • Heavy users may take heroin to dull the craving caused by the crack
  • Heavy use can lead to fatal heart problems
  • Convulsions
  • Highly addictive
  • Difficult to control
  • Can cause serious damage to lungs and chest pain
  • Common feelings of restlessness, nausea and sleeplessness
  • Can leave users confused and paranoid
  • Very expensive habit
  • Users have died from overdose


Effects Risks
  • Users can feel alert
  • Sound, colour and emotions are much more intense
  • The energy buzz means users can dance for hours
  • The effects last from three to six hours
  • Tightening of the jaw, nausea, sweating and an increase in heart rate
  • The comedown can leave users feeling tired and depressed - often for days
  • Use has been linked to liver and kidney problems
  • There have been more than 60 ecstasy-related deaths in the UK
  Gases, glues and aerosols (solvents)


Effects Risks
  • Users feel thick-headed, dizzy, giggly and dreamy
  • They may also hallucinate
  • The effects disappear after 15 to 45 minutes
  • Users feel drowsy and may suffer a headache
  • Can cause instant death - even on the first go
  • Squirting substances into the throat may produce fluid that floods the lung - fatally
  • Nausea, vomiting, black-outs and fatal heart problems
  • Senses are affected so accidents can happen
  • Risk of suffocation if substance is inhaled from a plastic bag
  • Brain, liver and kidney damage


Effects Risks
  • Sedative properties which can produce feelings of euphoria
  • Effects have been known to last a day
  • Sickness, stiff muscles, fits and even collapse
  • GBH can badly burn the mouth
  • It is VERY DANGEROUS and can be fatal when mixed with alcohol or other drugs


Effects Risks
  • In small doses, gives the user a sense of well-being
  • Higher doses result in drowsiness
  • Excessive amounts result in overdose, coma and even death
  • First-time use leads to dizziness and vomiting
  • Very addictive
  • Tolerance develops, which means users need more heroin for the same effect
  • Users end up taking the drug, just to feel normal
  • Smoking or snorting heroin often leads to injecting it
  • Injecting can damage veins and lead to gangrene
  • Sharing needles puts users at risk of HIV and other infections
  • Withdrawing from heroin is very hard
  • Mentally it takes years to kick the drug


Effects Risks
  • Creates 'out of body' and hallucinatory experiences for up to three hours
  • Effects are influenced by users mood and surroundings
  • During this time, the user may be unable to move
  • Numbs the body, so risk of injury without feeling pain
  • Effects can be alarming
  • Risk of breathing problems and heart failure
  • VERY DANGEROUS when mixed with alcohol and other drugs
  LSD (acid)


Effects Risks
  • Hallucinogenic with a powerful effect on the mind
  • The effects can last as long as eight to 12 hours.
  • The effects depend on the user's mood and surroundings
  • Sense of movement and time may speed up or slow down. Objects, colour and sound may become distorted.
  • The effects can be terrifying and there's no way of stopping it
  • Bad effects are more likely if the user is anxious or worried
  • The feelings can leave users shaken for a very long time
  • Accidents can happen during hallucinations
  • Users may experience flashbacks
  • LSD can complicate mental problems such as depression, anxiety and schizophrenia
  Magic mushrooms



Effects Risks
  • Similar effects to LSD but milder and shorter
  • Users feel very relaxed and the effects depend on mood and surroundings
  • May cause hallucinations
  • Effects last about four hours
  • Can cause stomach pains, sickness and diarrhoea
  • Eating the wrong type of mushroom can cause illness or may even be fatal
  • Once effects take hold they cannot be stopped. They can also be very frightening
  • Can complicate mental problems


Effects Risks
  • Intense head rush caused by surge of blood through the heart and brain
  • Flushed face due to dilation of blood vessels
  • Effects last two to five minutes
  • Sickness and feeling faint
  • Headache
  • Skin problems around nose and mouth
  • Reduces blood pressure
  • Can burn skin if spilled
  • May be fatal if swallowed
Speed (amphetamines)


Effects Risks
  • Quicken heart rate and breathing
  • Users feel confident and energetic
  • Suppresses the appetite
  • Feelings of anxiety
  • Comedown lasts for one or two days and includes feelings of tiredness and depression
  • Short-term memory and concentration affected
  • May cause hallucinations and panic
  • May become dependent
  • Tolerance can develop, meaning the user needs more to get the same effect
  • Strains the heart and overdose can be fatal
  • Can lead to mental illness


Effects  Risks
  • Calms users and slows them down
  • Relieve tension and anxiety
  • Can cause drowsiness and forgetfulness
  • Slow reactions, making accidents more likely
  • VERY dangerous if mixed with alcohol
  • Tolerance can develop and users can become dependent
  • Panic attacks when trying to stop

Return to the Home Page                                       Return to the previous page