sex, drugs and rock'n'roll: drugs a guide to their uses and abuses

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alkyl nitrites poppers, rush, locker room science: a group of chemicals including amyl nitrite, butyl nitrite and isobutyl nitrite. Reduce blood pressure by enlarging the blood vessels. Medical use: amyl nitrite is an antidote to cyanide poisoning.

outlaw status: amyl nitrite is a pharmacy medicine. Other forms are currently unrestricted and available in a sex shop near you.

price: from pounds 5.

form: clear, yellow, volatile and inflammable liquids which smell sweet when fresh and like "dirty socks" when stale. Sniffed from small bottles.

highs: a "rushing" sensation, enhanced sexual pleasure, light-headedness and giggling.

lows: headaches, vomiting and dermatitis. Excessive use may result in a lack of oxygen in the blood, known as methaemoglobinemia - symptoms include vomiting, cyanosis (blueness on the skin and lips), shock and unconsciousness. Acute attacks of this condition have caused deaths but this is rare and usually seen in those who have swallowed the drug rather than inhaled it. The drug passes rapidly through the body so there appear to be no long-term effects. Tolerance develops in two or three weeks of continued use.

history: discovered in 1857, amyl nitrite was originally used to treat angina. It became popular with gay men in the 1960s because it relaxes the muscles, making anal sex easier.

alcoholic drinks booze, jar, shot in the arm, get pissed, get hammered, get bladdered "If he tried to go to answer the telephone, the yoke, the mercury, the poisoned mass, would shift and roll and rupture the sac, and his brains would fall out...the beast would come popping to the surface on its own and show its filthy snout." Description of a hangover in The Bonfire of the Vanities, Tom Wolfe

science: active ingredients: ethyl alcohol or ethanol (beers, wines, spirits, liqueurs); methyl alcohol (methylated spirit, meths). No medical use.

outlaw status: can be bought by adults of 18 and over, drunk at home by children of five and over, licence needed for selling.

price: anything from 50p (supermarket lager).

highs: loss of inhibitions, increased sexual appetite (unfortunately combined with decreased sexual performance). Relaxes and animates. Some research indicates that moderate use can be good for you.

lows: after the equivalent of four pints of beer, drinkers become more uncoordinated and emotional reactions are exaggerated. Increased intake can lead to double vision, loss of balance, unconsciousness. Methylated spirit is very poisonous and frequently causes blindness, coma and death from acidosis. Worst forms of physical damage include dietary deficiencies, liver and stomach disorders and brain damage. Dependency (alcoholism) can occur.

history: part of everyday life in Britain for centuries. In 1495 an Act was passed giving magistrates the power to close troublesome alehouses, seen as places where political discontent was stirred up. In the First World War restricted opening hours were designed to prevent inefficiency in the war effort.

amphetamines uppers, speed, sulphate, sulph, wizz, toffee, purple hearts, black bomber" Jackie was just speeding away, thought she was James Dean for a day, then I guess she had to crash, valium would have helped that dash..." Lou Reed, Walk on the Wild Side

science: a group of drugs including amphetamine sulphate and dexamphetamine (Dexedrine). Medical use: treatment of narcolepsy (a pathological tendency to fall asleep) and hyperactivity in children.

outlaw status: prescription-only medicine, which means it is illegal to supply them under any circumstance except in a pharmacy, by a pharmacist, in accordance with a doctor's prescription. Controlled drugs in Class B but if prepared for injection, Class A penalties apply.

price: amphetamine sulphate is commonly available on the black market at around pounds 10-15 per gram. A typical pounds 5 "wrap" of 400-500mg powder contains 25mg amphetamine.

form: white powder. Sniffed, swallowed or injected.

highs: with moderate doses people feel more alert, energetic, confident and cheerful.

lows: high doses, especially if frequently repeated over a few days, can produce delirium, panic, hallucination and feelings of persecution (amphetamine psychosis) which gradually disappear as the drug passes through the body. A single dose lasts about three or four hours but it can take the body a couple of days to recover from even a small dose. Psychological dependence can arise from the mood-elevating effects of synthetic stimulants. These drugs merely postpone feelings of fatigue and hunger, denying the body's needs which will reappear strongly after a "run". Tolerance develops so users increase the dose many times over. Toxic effects including delusions; hallucinations and paranoia can develop as a result. These symptoms will go away but persist for a time after drug taking has stopped, and sometimes develop into a psychotic state from which it takes a few months to recover. Heavy prolonged use leaves the user at risk from disease due to a lowered resistance from lack of nourishment. There is also a risk of damaging blood vessels and of heart failure as stimulants raise blood pressure.

history: amphetamines and stimulants were exploited to increase performance of troops in the Second World War and the Vietnam War, then widely prescribed to treat depression and to suppress appetite in the 1950s and 1960s. Amphetamines were a vogue with mods in the 1960s which led to them being classified under the misuse of drugs legislation in 1964.

anabolic steroids nadrolone, Stanozlol, Dianabol, Durabolin, Deca-durabolin "Have you ever wanted to walk into a club and be worshipped by the masses and take your pick of sexual partners? Then join us, for this is the reality for me and some of our friends. Join us." Quoted in Anabolic Steroid Use in Great Britain, Korkia and Stimson

science: derived from the hormone testosterone. Medical use: used in the treatment of anaemia, thrombosis and to aid the recovery of weakened muscles.

outlaw status: prescription-only medicine. Class C under the Misuse of Drugs Act.

price: pounds 20 per 100 tablets.

form: swallowed as pills or injected. A black market operates in gyms, health clubs etc.

highs: athletes and trainers believe that steroids increase athletic performance, some researchers feel there is insufficient evidence of their direct involvement on the increase of muscle strength.

lows: the available evidence shows an increased risk of liver and kidney malfunctions, hypertension, decreased fertility in men (and rare cases of breast development), increased sex drive and enlargement of the clitoris in women (a "high" for some, but one which goes hand-in-hand with facial and body hair, a deepening of the voice and reduction of breast size). There is still controversy over claims that steroids increase aggression, with some doctors claiming it is a placebo effect. There have been some reports of temporary confusion, depression, paranoia and sleep disorders which stop if steroid use is discontinued.

history: German soldiers reputedly used steroids in the Second World War to increase aggression, the type of behaviour now termed "roid rage" in the US.

barbiturates barbs; also known by the trade names Tuinal, Seconal and Nembutal science: sedatives which depress the central nervous system. Medical use: as a treatment for severe insomnia.

outlaw status: prescription-only medicines. All "misuseable" barbiturates are Class B drugs. Unauthorised production, supply or possession are offences, as is providing premises for supply or production.

price: variable.

form: swallowed as tablets, ampoules, solutions or capsules, occasionally with alcohol; sometimes prepared for injection.

highs: feeling relaxed, sociable and good-humoured.

lows: unpredictable emotional reactions and mental confusion. Overdose causes death by respiratory failure. Alcohol and barbiturates can be a lethal cocktail. Risk of gangrene if injected. Withdrawal can cause seizures, low blood pressure, delirium and hallucinations. Heavy users are prone to bronchitis and pneumonia.

history: manufactured in the UK since 1903 as sedatives and sleeping pills. Stolen medical supplies have been widely misused ever since.

benzodiazepines tranx, tems, jellies, eggs "I now think of this time of my life as the period when I had been chemically lobotomised" Peter Ritson, author of Alive and Kicking

science: a group of minor tranquillisers including diazepam (Valium), chlordiazepoxide (Librium), lorazepam (Ativan), oxazepam (Serenid), nitrazepam (Mogadon), flurazepam (Dalmane), triasolam (Halcion) and temazepam (Normison). Medical use: relieves anxiety, induces peaceful sleep.

outlaw status: prescription-only Medicines Controlled drugs, Class C under the Misuse of Drugs Act but (except temazepam) legal to possess without prescription.

price: between 50p and pounds 2 on the black market.

form: swallowed as pills or capsules, often shades of green, yellow or blue in colour, or prepared for injection.

highs: relieves anxiety; induces calmness, relaxation and mild euphoria. Some use benzodiazepines to offset the effects of Ecstacy and amphetamines.

lows: in high doses can induce sleep, sometimes lasting into the following day. It is harder to fatally overdose on Benzodiazepines than barbiturates, but if mixed with alcohol the likelihood of a fatal overdose increases. Tolerance develops quickly with constant use. After two weeks, they may become ineffective as sleeping pills; after four months, ineffectual against anxiety. Dependence is probably mainly psychological and is more likely in those with a history of dependence. Generally mild symptoms of withdrawal after low-dosage use. Sudden withdrawal leads to two to three weeks of symptoms which can include insomnia, anxiety, perceptual hypersensitivity, tremors, irritability, nausea and vomiting. After high doses, there is a chance of mental confusion and a smaller chance of life-threatening convulsions. If the gel contained in some capsules is injected, it will solidify in the veins, causing gangrene and abscesses.

history: first introduced in the 1960s, benzodiazepines came to replace barbiturates as sedatives and sleeping pills.

cannabis pot, dope, blow, draw, smoke, puff, gear. Herbal cannabis: grass, bush, weed, herb, skunk, ganja, marijuana. Cannabis resin: hash "Hell, you don't record your first album every day. Pass me that spliff, I'm going to do all the singing dressed like Lawrence of Arabia" Julian Cope, from his autobiography Head On

science: active ingredient: cannabis sativa - contains tetrahydrocannabinol. Medical use: since last September, patients can now be prescribed Dronabinol, a major active constituent of cannabis to alleviate symptoms of nausea associated with chemotherapy. The debate rages over whether it should be used to treat other medical conditions, notably multiple sclerosis (MS).

outlaw status: controlled drugs with herbal cannabis and resin Class B but cannabis oil in a twilight zone between Class A and Class B; not available for medical use - except some synthetic forms; illegal to allow premises to be used for smoking cannabis.

price: around pounds 15 for one eighth of an ounce, pounds 30 for a quarter. Herbal cannabis, pounds 100 per ounce (resin costs slightly more).

form: smoked by itself or with tobacco, or eaten.

highs: relaxation, enhanced sensory awareness, desire for snacks, less easily bored.

lows: continuous use can affect short-term memory and induce paranoia. Can cause high pulse and dry mouth. Desire for more snacks.

history: First recorded human use in a Chinese compendium of medicines, dated by some at 2737BC. In the 1850s, the French writers Baudelaire, Gautier and Dumas were members of "Le Club des Haschischins", recording effects of smoking cannabis.

cocaine / crack

coke, snow, charlie, freebase, base, rock, wash, stone

"Driving that train, high on cocaine, Casey Jones you'd better watch your speed" Grateful Dead, Casey Jones

"Inside the plastic bags the rocks were alive... they were living heads... no bodies... just heads, perfect miniature Mount Rushmores of living crack. They were all the same person... some were cryin'... some were laughin', but they were all screamin' my name" from Iced by Ray Shell.

science: cocaine hydrochloride is derived from the leaves of the Andean coca shrub. Medical use: effective as a local anaesthetic but rarely prescribed.

outlaw status: prescription-only medicines; Class A drugs.

price: powder: pounds 40 to pounds 70 per gram; crack: pounds 10 to pounds 25 per rock.

form: white powder, sniffed and occasionally injected; or small white nuggets (crack), which are burnt and inhaled.

highs: feeling of omnipotence and well being, decreased hunger and a feeling of exhilaration.

lows: large doses or a spree of repeated doses can lead to extreme agitation, anxiety, paranoia and perhaps hallucination. As with amphetamines, the effects generally resolve themselves as the drug passes through the body. Excessive doses can lead to respiratory or heart failure death but this is rare. Cocaine is likely to be adulterated with substances, causing harm if injected. No tolerance develops but there can be a psychological dependence. With frequent use increasingly unpleasant symptoms including nausea, insomnia and hyperexcitability can occur, eventually leading to a state of mind similar to paranoid psychosis. These symptoms usually clear up once use is discontinued. Repeated sniffing damages the nose; repeated smoking causes respiratory problems; injecting carries the usual risks: abscesses, HIV (if needles are shared) etc. The effect of crack is more intense; tolerance is more likely to develop.

history: coca leaves were chewed by the Incas hundreds of years ago. Introduced in to Europe and America in the 19th century, cocaine was marketed as an effective remedy for hay fever, allergies and sinusitis because it shrank the nasal membranes. In the 1880s Coca Cola, which originally contained cocaine, was marketed as a temperance drink and brain tonic. Freud's 1884 essay "Uber Coca" advocated its use as a stimulant, local anaesthetic, and treatment for syphilis, hysteria and asthma. He also thought it was an aphrodisiac. Although it sometimes produces spontaneous orgasm in the user with the first rush, long-term effects include impotence in men and a difficulty in achieving orgasm for women.

ecstasy ecstasy, e, love doves, disco biscuits, pink cadillac, Dennis the Menace "Eezagoode, eezagoode, he's Ebaneeza Goode" The Shamen

science: active ingredient: MDMA, a member of the MDA family. Classed as an hallucinogenic amphetamine - a group of drugs combining the effects of amphetamine and LSD. Medical use: none.

outlaw status: Class A controlled drugs. Anyone wanting to use it for research has to apply for a licence from the Home Office.

price: pounds 8-15 per tablet.

form: swallowed as tablets or capsules.

highs: euphoric rush, feelings of calmness and serenity. Users experience a greater feeling of connection and empathy towards others, heightened perception and occasionally hallucinations.

lows: nausea, dry mouth and rise in blood pressure on taking. Afterwards there may be feelings of fatigue and depression. High doses over a long period of time can produce anxiety, panic, confusion, insomnia and possibly psychosis - all of which stop once the drug is stopped. Around 50 deaths have been directly associated with the drug since 1988. Most of those who have died have exhibited symptoms connected to heatstroke. It is thought that the cumulative effects of MDMA (which as a stimulant makes it possible to dance for long periods of time without feeling exhausted) and dancing in hot, sweaty night-clubs have caused this. Clubs have been exploiting this by charging for water, but some local authorities have put a stop to this. Paradoxically, a few deaths (about 3) have been attributed to drinking excessive amounts of water while taking the drug. There is some evidence to suggest that ecstacy triggers the body's release of anti-diuretic hormones, which limit the effectiveness of the kidneys at processing fluids. An excess of fluid in the body dilutes the blood and swells the brain, crushing it against the skull. Water is not antidote to ecstacy, it is an antidote to dancing. Given the widespread use of E, however, it is still unclear as to why certain individuals have died, even if the actual cause is known. Some people have responded to the stimulant aspect of the drug with very high blood pressure causing heart attack or brain haemorrhage. The current advice for users of ecstacy is: if dancing, drink one pint of water per hour; take regular rests from dancing; eat some salty foods and drink fruit juice for minerals. Drinking water will not counteract the ill effects of ecstacy.

history: MDMA was first synthesised in 1912 but no medical or commercial uses were found for it until American marital therapists discovered its potential for encouraging feelings of empathy between clients and diffusing hostility. Once it leaked into the general population it was banned in the USA in 1985, though is apparently still used by some Swiss psychotherapists. Became very popular among ravers in the Eighties.

ghb gbh, liquid e, liquid x science: proper name: gammahydroxybutyrate or sodium oxybate. Medical use: an anaesthetic acting more as a sedative than a pain-killer.

outlaw status: not controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act, so possession not an offence. Classified as a medicine so unauthorised manufacture and distribution could be an offence under the Medicines Act, but the drug can be legally imported for personal use only.

price: pounds 5 for a capful, pounds 10-15 for a bottle.

form: colourless, odourless liquid with a slightly salty taste.

highs: some users have likened the effect to ecstasy. Like alcohol, small doses will break down social inhibitions and increase sex drive.

lows: large doses have led to nausea, vomiting, disorientation, convulsions and respiratory collapse. Recovery, however, has been rapid.

history: developed in the USA as a premedication to promote sleep before surgery.

ketamine special k science: anaesthetic with analgesic and psychedelic properties. Medical uses: an animal tranquilliser.

outlaw status: not controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act so possession is not a criminal offence. It is a prescription-only medicine, so unauthorised supply is illegal.

price: pounds 6 to pounds 25 for a "wrap" of powder.

form: appears as a liquid in its pharmaceutical state, but can be found as a powder, pills or preparation for smoking.

highs: key experience is one of disassociation; users say they take on a different point of view, outside of the body and self. Can include hallucinations, synaesthesia ("seeing" sounds and "hearing" colours), euphoria, confusion and the out-of-body floating experiences, which seem specific to ketamine. Popular in dance communities that have embraced ecstasy.

lows: because it's an anaesthetic, eating or drinking before taking it can cause vomiting. Temporary paralysis has been reported but is rare. Because it's an anaesthetic with painkilling properties, people under its influence might not realise if they injure themselves.

history: used in emergency surgery in the Vietnam War because it causes muscle rigidity: the patient cannot move.

khat qat, qaadka"We want our hits here and then. This Third World chewing deal is too time-consuming" Western drug user.

science: proper name: catha edulis, a green leafy plant found throughout eastern Africa and the Arabian peninsula. Active ingredients: cathinone and cathine. Medical uses: see History, below.

outlaw status: the plant itself is not controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act , but the active ingredients, cathinone and cathine, are Class C drugs. Cathinone may not be lawfuly possessed, supplied etc without licence for research, though cathine may be prescribed.

price: variable.

form: fresh plant leaves (the active ingredients deteriorate two days after harvest) which are chewed.

highs: mild euphoria and talkativeness, similar to a moderate dose of amphetamine.

lows: inflammation of the mouth and oral cavity. Prolonged use brings risk of cancer, depression, anxiety and possibly psychosis.

history: Alexander the Great used it to treat his soldiers for an unknown "epidemic disease". In the Harar region of Ethiopia it is widely believed to effect 501 cures, the number of which equals the numerical value of its Arabic name: ga-a-t (400+100+1). Has been used by the Muslim cultures of Somalia and Yemen for centuries. In modern times, it is so important a commodity that its daily export to Aden lay behind the founding of Ethiopian Airlines.

lsd tabs, acid, trips, om, strawberry, other names relating to the designs of the tabs"Turn on, tune in and drop out" Timothy Leary

science: proper name: lysergic acid diethylamide and lysergide. Medical uses: none.

outlaw status: controlled drugs; LSD not available for medical use.

price: pounds 1.50 to pounds 3 per tab (UK average).

form: LSD itself is a white powder, but the tiny amounts needed for a trip are usually mixed with other substances and made into tablets. In solution it can be absorbed on paper, gelatin sheets or sugar cubes.

highs: fascinating auditory and visual hallucinations.

lows: the bad trip is about the only danger, but as the LSD experience is more open to the user's intentions and the suggestions of others, friendly reassurance can be an effective antidote. Suicides or deaths due to LSD- induced beliefs or perceptions are rare, though much publicised. There has only been one case of fatal overdose reported in relevant literature and this might have been due to a combination of circumstances. There are no known physical dangers associated with long-term LSD use. There is no reliable evidence that LSD causes brain damage or harms future children. Prolonged and serious adverse reactions are rare, but generally occur among individuals with latent or existing mental illness after repeated use. A substantial minority of LSD users report occasional flashbacks which can lead to disorientation, distress and anxiety but are rarely dangerous. There is no physical dependence. Tolerance develops so fast that after three or four days of repeated use the user has to stop for a while or no effect occurs. LSD users can become psychologically dependent. It is sometimes said that taking vitamin C along with LSD stops any bad side effects. There's no evidence to support this theory but vitamin C could help the body get rid of the drug more quickly by acting as a diuretic.

history: first produced in 1938, its discoverer underwent the first LSD trip in 1943. In the 1950s and 1960s it was put to use in psychotherapy to assist in recovering repressed thoughts and there was military interest in it as a way of disabling enemy forces. Among fringe and hippie groups it was seen as a way of opening the mind to transcendental experiences. It was determined Class A under the 1973 Misuse of Drugs Act.

magic mushrooms mushiesscience: proper name: psilocybe semilanceata. Active ingredient: psilobycin and psilocin (Liberty Cap), amanita muscaria (Fly Agaric). Medical uses: none.

outlaw status: Liberty Cap may be controlled drug if prepared for use, otherwise unrestricted. The drugs they contain are usually Class A, so even crushing the mushrooms can be regarded by some courts as an intention to use the drug.

price: free if you can find them.

form: swallowed raw, cooked, or brewed into a drink often after drying. Liberty Caps grow wild in many parts of the UK in autumn.

highs: euphoria and hilarity, hallucinations, lots of giggling.

lows: at high doses visual distortions progress to vivid pseudohallucinations of colour and movement, often accompanied by nausea, vomiting and stomach pains. Greatest danger lies in the possibility of picking poisonous mushrooms by mistake. Eating varieties such as Amanita Phalloides or Amanita Virosa can lead to death from only very small amounts. It would take huge amounts of magic mushrooms to cause death. No serious long-lasting effects have so far been reported, though no study as yet exists.

history: the Aztecs, the shamans of North-east Asia and Siberia and a host of other ancient tribes used hallucinogenic plants as a means of gaining access to the spirit world, and divining the future. The upsurge of popularity in the UK during the 1970s was probably something to do with people wanting an "organic" alternative to LSD.

opiates junk, skag, H, smack, dike (for dipipanone)"They can get it out of your body, but they can't get it out of your mind" Charlie Parker, jazz musician, 1946

"Thou hast the keys of paradise, oh just, subtle and mighty opium!" Thomas De Quincey, Confessions of an English Opium Eater

science: group of drugs derived from the opium poppy including heroin, morphine, dipipanone, pethidine and dextropropoxyphene. Methadone is a synthetic opiate. Medical use: pain relief, cough suppression and as anti- diarrhoea agent. Synthetic opiates, such as methadone, are used to treat opiate dependence.

outlaw status: prescription-only medicines. All are controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act, although dilutions of codeine, morphine or opium appear in some over-the-counter drugs such as Phensedyl, Kaodene, Gee's Linctus, J Collis Browne's mixture and kaolin & morphine.

price: heroin, pounds 50 to pounds 90 per gram.

form: opiate powders are swallowed or dissolved in water and injected. Opium itself is the dried "milk" of the opium poppy, which contains morphine and codeine and is eaten or smoked. Heroin, as fluffy white powder, is quite easily distilled from morphine.

highs: euphoria, depression of the nervous system, feeling of warmth, detachment from pain and anxiety.

lows: high doses lead to sedation and drowsiness. Excessive doses produce stupor and coma. Death from respiratory failure is possible but far more likely if other drugs have been used at the same time, there has been a loss of tolerance, or the drug is unexpectedly potent. There can be fatal reactions to injected impurities. Tolerance develops to opiates in a way that requires the user to up the dose and / or change the method of taking them in order to get the same rush. There comes a point when the sensation can't be maintained and the drug has to be taken just to get a feeling of normality. Intravenous injection maximises the effects so as money runs short and cravings increase, people tend to move on from smoking heroin to injecting it. Fatal overdose can happen when opiate users take their usual dose after a break, during which tolerance has faded. Physical effects of long-term opiate use include respiratory complaints, constipation and irregular menstrual periods, with chronic sedation occurring at higher doses. Because opiates in themselves are relatively safe drugs, long-term health risks tend to be associated with the process of injecting: the injection of impurities (which contribute to respiratory disease), skin lesions and tetanus (with injection under the skin) Sharing needles puts the users at increased risk from the HIV virus which causes AIDS. Repeated heroin sniffing can damage the nose. Decreased appetite and apathy can encourage disease caused by poor nutrition.

history: Opium became popular in England in the 18th century, when it appeared in many patent medicines, notably "Dover's Powders". After the First World War, Britain implemented an international agreement prohibiting the non-medical use of opium and opiates but never denied they could be prescribed to anyone who couldn't cope without the drug. By 1968 only a few specialist clinics were authorised to dispense heroin.

solvents and gases nose-bag, stick-up, spray

science: active ingredients: toluene (glue), acetone (glue), butane (lighter fuel), fluorocarbons (aerosols), trichloroethylene (cleaning fluid), trichloroethane (cleaning fluid). Medical uses: none.

outlaw status: illegal to sell knowingly for inhalation. In Scotland, misusers may be taken into care.

price: from pounds 1.30.

form: gases, fluids, glues usually with strong smells. Inhaled as vapours or gases through nose / mouth.

highs: hallucinations, euphoria and laughter.

lows: breathing and heart rate are depressed so repeated or deep inhalation can result in disorientation, loss of control and unconsciousness; but recovery is usually quick, with no lasting damage. Drowsiness and a "hangover" often occur. Death can happen due to accidents or injury because of "drunkenness", and there are risks of choking on vomit if user becomes unconscious. Some products sensitise the heart to the effects of exertion or excitement and can cause heart failure. Gases squirted through the mouth can result in suffocation, as can sniffing glue from a plastic bag placed over the head (but this is due to the plastic bag cutting off air supply). Heavy solvent misuse can result in moderate, lasting brain function damage, especially affecting control of movement. Chronic misuse of aerosols and cleaning fluid has led to lasting kidney and liver damage, and sniffing leaded petrol can lead to lead poisoning. However lasting damage attributable to solvent misuse seems very rare.

history: chloroform and ether parties were held in the 1800s when research was first being carried out into anaesthetics, but the vogue died out.

tobacco fags, ciggies, tabs etc

"We tried another cigarette, and by then - perhaps instinctively - I sussed how to handle it. I was getting a hit from the stuff! I really toked on that second fag" Iain Banks, Complicity

science: processed mainly in the US from plants. Contains tar and nicotine.

outlaw status: illegal to sell to children under 16. Otherwise unrestricted.

price: pounds 2.90 for 20 cigarettes

form: smoked as cigarettes, cigars or in a pipe. Chewed and sniffed (snuff).

highs: feeling of relief from craving often interpreted as stress relief by smokers. Something to do with your hands.

lows: in the long term, tobacco increases the risk of heart disease, blood clots, heart attacks, lung infections, strokes, bronchitis, lung cancer, cancer of the mouth and throat, and ulcers. Risk of irreversible lung damage increases the more cigarettes someone smokes over a long period of time. If no irreversible effects have occurred and a smoker stops smoking, the lungs begin to clear themselves and the person can regain normal health. Smokers who stop can experience restlessness, irritability and cravings.

history: became popular in England during the 16th and 17th centuries. But fears of lung damage and the effects of passive smoking caused King James I himself to write "Counterblaste Against Tobacco" in 1604. However, by 1625, the tax revenue encouraged even the king to accept its widespread use.


National Drugs Helpline: 0800 77 66 00. Open every day, 24 hours. All calls are free.

National Aids Helpline: 0800 567123. Open every day, 24 hours. All calls are free.

Narcotics Anonymous: 0171 272 9040. Helpline and self-help groups.

Alcoholics Anonymous: 0171 352 3001; 01904 644 026/7/8/9. Helpline and self-help groups.

Cocaine Anonymous: 0171 284 1123. Helpline and self-help groups.

Adfam: 0171 638 3700 (for the families and friends of drug users).

Families Anonymous: 0171 498 4680 (for the families and friends of drug users).

Parent Line: 01268 757077 (for families and friends of drug users).

Resolve: 01785 817885 (helpline for those concerned about solvent abuse).

Release: 0171 729 9904; 0171 603 8654 (outside office hours). Release is a voluntary organisation set up to help people with drug problems and their families, and specialises in legal issues. It can refer callers to local drug projects.

Lifeline: 0161 839 2054. A Manchester-based registered charity giving advice, needle exchange and relevant referrals (Lifeline also runs a freephone helpline for families and friends of drug users: 0800 716 701).

Institute for the Study of Drug Dependence (ISDD) 0171 928 1211. Not a helpline, but a registered charity and probably the best source of information about and interpretation of drugs and related issues.

Thanks to the Institute for the Study of Drugs Dependency and Release for their help in the compilation of this article