What is a drug

Drugs

A firework of fascinations and nightmares

It starts with green tendrils on the red carpet in the hotel lobby: suddenly they grow, sprawling wildly up the wall and up the legs of a guest. Johnny Depp aka Raoul Duke pulls himself together.

But when the receptionist's head also turns into an attacking moray, he crouches down gasping in front of the reception counter. Even knowing that the LSD ingested triggers his hallucinations does not help.

In the film "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" the two protagonists Dr. Gonzo and Raoul Duke one after the other - or even combined - use just about any mind-changing agent and the viewer can experience the effect. Seldom has a film strung together such a firework of psychedelic fascinations and nightmares.

The viewer feels seduced to experience such an effect himself, and yet at the same time repelled and warned to avoid any drug.

But what belongs to drugs - when alcohol is allowed by law in Germany and cannabis is forbidden, while the magazine "Der Spiegel" declared sugar a drug itself in an issue from September 2012?

What is a drug

The Federal Center for Health Education divides drugs into alcohol, nicotine and illegal drugs. The vernacular, however, means above all the forbidden substances. The most common both in Germany and worldwide is cannabis with the active ingredient THC. The plant's flowers are known as marijuana and the resin is known as hashish.

Some people criticize cannabis as an illegal drug: "Legalize it", initially an album by reggae musician Peter Tosh, is still the phrase with which proponents of the drug demand its legal release. In Germany, the judiciary is now accepting a compromise.

Possessing or growing and selling cannabis is prohibited and punished. However, consuming the drug is allowed. If the police discover only a small amount of cannabis in a person, the proceedings are in many cases dropped. How high this so-called tolerance limit is differs depending on the federal state. In North Rhine-Westphalia, for example, it is ten grams.

An exception is cannabis use for medical reasons. In Germany, patients can have their doctor prescribe cannabis if they are seriously ill and are undergoing chemotherapy or suffer from AIDS. Those affected can obtain this so-called medicinal hemp with a prescription from the doctor through the pharmacy.

With the harder drugs, a distinction can be made between ecstasy, speed, cocaine, opiates and finally hallucinogens. The latter are mainly lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and psychoactive mushrooms.

Opium is the dried milky sap of the opium poppy, its natural components are the opiates. There are also chemically similar, but synthetic - i.e. artificially produced - opioids. This includes, for example, heroin. But even the body's own endorphin is an opioid - it triggers the so-called "runner's high" in endurance athletes, for example. This is a noise-like state that runners can achieve during training. In doing so, they lose track of time and feel euphoric.

Natural fabrics

The active chemical substance of opium is called morphine. Doctors use this against severe pain. With this at the latest, the proximity of drugs to medicine becomes clear. The English word "drugs", which can denote both, also indicates the relationship.

The ancient Egyptians are said to have used opium as a medicine. When the doctor and philosopher Paracelsus reinvented the substance at the beginning of the 16th century, he called his morphine solution laudanum and touted it as a panacea.

Cocaine is also of natural origin. It was originally obtained from the leaves of the South American coca bush. However, it is now mainly produced synthetically. As a drug, the white powder is placed on the table as a line and drawn into the nose through a tube.

The substance is a stimulant: mood and pulse rise, the body is adjusted to higher performance. Over time, however, this is exactly what is exhausting.

Even worse are the acute risks of a heart attack, respiratory / circulatory failure or what is known as cocaine shock: a circulatory collapse that can be fatal. In addition, many people are quickly addicted to cocaine.

LSD, on the other hand, is one of the semi-synthetic substances. A natural, strongly hallucinogenic substance that originally occurs in ergot. It is a fungus that grows out of ears of corn as an extension. LSD is a chemically produced variant of this active ingredient molecule.

Synthetic drugs

The natural substances are opposed to the synthetic, i.e. artificially produced drugs. This includes, for example, the group of amphetamines. They stimulate and increase performance. Amphetamines are known as "speed" or "pep" in the drug scene. Ecstasy is also an artificially manufactured drug. It is chemically related to the amphetamines. In the drug scene, ecstasy is often consumed as a pill at parties.

Amphetamine was first synthesized in 1887. In the 1930s it came onto the market as an over-the-counter drug for asthma and - like Paracelsus' laudanum - was soon touted as a panacea. Students used it to stay awake, as did WWII soldiers. The drug wasn't declared as such until it was found to be highly addictive.

Today medical professionals no longer use amphetamines as asthma medication. However, there are drugs with so-called amphetamine derivatives. These are chemical modifications of amphetamine. Doctors prescribe them to some patients with attention deficit / hyperactivity disorder ADHD and the sleeping sickness narcolepsy.

The effect of amphetamines as a drug is based on the release of the body's own brain messenger substances dopamine and norepinephrine: People who have taken amphetamines feel relaxed and alert at the same time. A feeling of strength arises, whereas hunger and tiredness are suppressed. On the other hand, precisely this effect also harbors the risk of not noticing important body signals such as the need for sleep and thirst.

Ecstasy can also lead to dizziness, nausea, sweating and cramping of the jaw muscles. With Speed, the possible side effects are even stronger and range from muscle cramps to a stroke or heart attack.

How at risk are adolescents?

The Federal Center for Health Education is investigating the drug affinity of adolescents in Germany in an ongoing study. To do this, she questions people between the ages of twelve and 17 at regular intervals about their drug use.

The 2019 results found that 9.5 percent of teens drink alcohol at least once a week. In the same age group, however, only 5.6 percent smoke. The proportion of young people who smoke has been falling for a number of years. At around 85.1 percent, the proportion of young people who do not smoke is higher than ever before.

Of the illegal drugs, cannabis is the most widespread among young people. 11.1 percent of boys and 5.3 percent of girls stated that they had used cannabis in the past twelve months.

(First published: 2012. Last update: May 12, 2021)