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Illicit drugs and how they affects the brain

Drugs are very dangerous, especially for teens because their brains are still being developed, and drugs interfere with the brain's normal processing and tend to have long-term adverse effects on the brain's functioning.

The brain is one of the vital organs and is body's control and communication center made up of approximately 100 billion neurons (nerve cells).
The brain produces chemicals called neurotransmitters and uses neurotransmitters to send and receive messages (thousands of times a minute) to our other organs through the nervous system's nerve cells called neurons.  Thus, a message goes from the transmitting neuron using neurotransmitters to the receptors of the receiving neurons.

The brain uses neurotransmitters and neurons to tell the heart to beat, tell the lungs to breathe, or tell our legs to walk.
Neurotransmitters also have effects on our mood, awareness, concentration, motivation, and other brain functions.

Drugs are made up of chemicals with complex structures. When a person takes these chemicals into his/her body by smoking, injecting, inhaling, or eating them, the bloodstream delivers these chemicals to the brain.
Once these chemicals get into the brain, they start interfering with brains regular communication system and processes.

Different types of drugs such as the following affect the brain in different ways:

  • Marijuana and heroin have a similar chemical structure as neurotransmitters, so they act as neurotransmitters and lock onto the neuron receptors; this causes neurons to send abnormal messages to our brain.
  • Cocaine and methamphetamine cause the nerve cells to produce much more than usual neurotransmitters such as dopamine.  Having too much dopamine in our brain wreaks havoc on our brain; this is because the messages are exaggerated.

All drugs have short-term and long-term side effects. The short-term effects of some of the drugs are the impairments of the brain's functions such as the inability to concentrate and make sound judgment, inability to think clearly and react effectively in traffic situations, losing awareness, coordination, and staying in control of our body and mind.

Some of the long-term effects of drugs are drug addiction, mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, and loss of motivation.

Marijuana is the most commonly used illegal drug in the U.S. and unfortunately, its use among young people has increased over the past few years.

Legalization of marijuana for medical use or adult recreational use in some states has created the misconception that marijuana is not as harmless substance as it seems.

However, it is important to note that marijuana is an addictive drug that can cause several short-term side effects and long-term health risks.  Short-term effects of marijuana include reduced ability to think clearly, the decline in awareness and concentration, the decline in perception of speed, time and space, and the inability to react effectively to traffic situations.

Drivers who are impaired by marijuana can only concentrate on one task at the time, so it creates a dangerous environment for drivers to make many different traffic maneuvers while under its influence. For example, if a driver needs to check his/her blind spot and change lanes, he/she may have a problem performing both tasks at once.

Marijuana gets absorbed into the bloodstream much faster than alcohol, so the person who takes marijuana will feel the effect of marijuana and becomes impaired much faster.  Mixing marijuana and alcohol will increase the level of impairments substantially and will prolong the duration of the impairment.

Illegal Drugs - Heroin and Hallucinogens
Heroin is a highly addictive drug. Heroin users experience a brief period of euphoria followed by a period of wakefulness and drowsiness.

Heroin clouds a user's ability to think clearly because the central nervous system is depressed. Effects include:

  • Slow and slurred speech
  • Poor night vision
  • Drooping eyelids
  • Vomiting
  • Sluggish movements

Heroin slows reaction times and distorts the user's vision. Even simple motor skills are impaired. In serious cases, heroin can cause the user to go into a stupor or coma, or even die.

LSD (acid), mescaline, PCP (angel dust), peyote, and other hallucinogens cause the user to experience hallucinations. These can be visual, auditory, or tactile.
They impair judgment and distort the user's ability to detect and react to dangerous situations.

Users of hallucinogens may believe they are invincible or incredibly strong; this often results in aggression and injury.