Employee Fact Sheet: Drugs

There are serious health effects associated with the misuse of drugs including heart disease, HIV and Hepatitis C, psychological illnesses and a greater risk of accidents, to mention just a few. Understanding of the effects of drugs is an important element in the process of accepting that “social” drug users pose a health and safety risk to any organisation.

The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 lists the drugs that are subject to control and classifies them in three categories according to their relative harmfulness when abused, as follows.

Class Aincluding cocaine, heroin, LSD, mescalin, methadone, morphine, opium and injectable forms of Class B drugs.
Class Bincluding oral preparations of amphetamines, barbiturates, codeine and methaqualone (mandrex), cannabis and cannabis resin.
Class Cincluding most benzodiazepines (sleeping pills, tranquillisers, eg valium) and the harmful amphetamines.

Commonly-used Drugs — Short-term and Long-term Effects


Cannabis comes in two forms: herbal and resin. It is usually mixed with tobacco and smoked in the form of a hand rolled cigarette. Cannabis in both forms is a Class B drug.

Sought EffectShort-term EffectsPotential Long-term Harm
Relaxed, happy, heightened sense of awarenessDizziness, sickness, dry mouth, lips, tongue, feeling hungry, loss of co-ordination, panic and paranoiaLung disease and lung cancer, bronchitis, asthma, high blood pressure, infertility, depression and some evidence points to schizophrenia


Amphetamines are a group of synthetic drugs that are stimulants. They are often known as speed, billy or wizz. Often in powder form, it can be snorted through the nose, some are available in tablet form but it can also be injected. A strong, highly addictive form of amphetamine known as crystal meth can be smoked.

Most amphetamines are Class B drugs but crystal meth and amphetamines prepared in injection form are Class A drugs.

Sought EffectShort-term EffectsPotential Long-term Harm
Sudden energy boost, talkative and excited — the high may last 4–8 hoursOnce the high has worn off, a crash occurs, leaving the person feeling very tired (but unable to sleep) anxious and irritable.

They may suffer from short-term dizziness and hallucinations

Burst blood vessels can lead to paralysis and may be fatal, insomnia, depression.

As the body becomes tolerant of the drug, larger amounts are needed, leading to addiction

Cocaine and crack

Cocaine is a stimulant, often known as charlie, snow, toot or coke. Often available in a powder form which can be snorted through the nose or rubbed on the gums. The form of cocaine called crack can be smoked. Both cocaine and crack are Class A drugs.

Sought EffectShort-term EffectsPotential Long-term Harm
Intense feelings of energy, well-being and self-confidence

The high may last only up to 30 minutes. A crack high is more intense but may last only 10 minutes

Similar crash effect to amphetamine, raised blood pressure, tiredness and depressionHeart failure, depression, insomnia, extreme paranoia, extreme weight loss and malnutrition, impotence (in men) and damage to the nasal passages

If taken when pregnant may cause harm to the baby — low birth weight, birth defects and the baby may be born addicted to cocaine


Ecstasy is a synthetic stimulant, often known as E or pills. Its chemical name is Methyledioxymethamphetamine (MDMA). Ecstasy is usually available in tablet form but a powdered form of MDMA is sometimes used. In England and Wales there have been an average of 27 deaths per year from people taking ecstasy. Ecstasy is a Class A drug.

Sought EffectShort-term EffectsPotential Long-term Harm
Rush of energy, alertness, excited, happy, increased sense of affection towards people around them (ie exposing themselves to personal risk), often popular with clubbers as sound (especially music) and colours seem more intenseDehydration is a major risk — if fluid levels drop dramatically dehydration can cause unconsciousness, coma or even death

Similar crash effect to cocaine and amphetamines

Dry mouth, nausea, raised blood pressure, heart pounding, depression, body can stiffen causing clenched jaws and grinding teeth

The use of ecstasy became widespread in the late 1980s

Long-term effects have yet to be determined by the medical profession. The short-term effects can be fatal


Heroin is a powerful sedative and painkiller. Heroin and codeine are derived from the opium poppy and are known as opiates. Heroin is a Class A drug and highly addictive, both physically and psychologically.

Sought EffectShort-term EffectsPotential Long-term Harm
Intense feeling of relaxation and wellbeingThe purity of heroin differs dramatically in each batch. Often the products with which it is bulked up are also harmful and can cause allergic or toxic reactions

Overdose is common when a stronger dose than the body can cope with is used and this can result in heart failure, unconsciousness and coma

Overdose effects can result in death through heart failure. Coma or unconsciousness can occur and there is a risk of choking on vomit when unconscious

Respiratory failure (loss of normal lung function) can be fatal

Injecting heroin has additional risks: sharing needles has the risk of Hepatitis C or HIV and damage to veins can lead to serious infections and abscesses


The two most commonly used hallucinogens are Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and magic mushrooms.

Magic mushrooms are often called shrooms or mushies and be can eaten or boiled in liquid and then drunk.

LSD is synthetic liquid that is is usually dropped onto small squares of blotting paper which is then swallowed, often known as acid.

Sought EffectShort-term EffectsPotential Long-term Harm
Hallucinogens are taken to experience a long-lasting series of hallucinations, known as a trip

Time can appear to speed up or slow down. A mushroom trip can last 4–10 hours. An LSD trip lasts around 12 hours

Bad trips with frightening or disturbing hallucinations can occur leaving people feeling very disturbed

Users may place themselves in physical danger and act irrationally or impulsively

Could make an existing mental health condition more severe


Tranquilisers are a prescription medication designed to treat anxiety, depression and insomnia. Many tranquilisers are addictive if used regularly. They are available as tablets, as gel capsules, in injection form or as suppositories and are often known as mazzies, benzos or jellies.

Sought EffectShort-term EffectsPotential Long-term Harm
Calming, sedating effect.

They are misused to lessen the effects of a crash, after taking stimulants or to lessen the effects of drug withdrawal symptoms

Physically addictive — withdrawal symptoms may include: severe headache, nausea, anxiety and confusionPhysical addiction may lead to attempts to heighten the effect of the drug by crushing and injecting the powder form which contains chalk and may cause the veins to collapse. This can lead to serious infections or gangrene

Gel caps that are melted down to inject can then re-solidify inside blood vessels, which can cause death


Solvents are available both at home and in the workplace. There are over 200 solvents liberally available and they include paints, cleaning fluids and glue. Every year in the UK there is an average of 50 deaths from solvent misuse.

Sought EffectShort-term EffectsPotential Long-term Harm
Similar to alcohol: happy, laughing and uninhibitedHeart attack, vomiting and black outsHeart failure, Liver, kidney and brain damage

Please contact us if you require any assistance with this topic.



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