8.5 Drugs and Alcohol Abuse

Surveys and statistics show that use of drugs and alcohol has been on the rise especially among the youth. This is really a cause of concern as it could result in many harmful effects.

Proper education and guidance would enable youth to safeguard themselves against these dangerous behaviour patterns and follow healthy lifestyles.

The drugs, which are commonly abused are opioids, cannabinoids and coca alkaloids. Majority of these are obtained from flowering plants. Some are obtained from fungi.

Opioids are the drugs, which bind to specific opioid receptors present in our central nervous system and gastrointestinal tract. Heroin, commonly called smack is chemically diacetylmorphine which is a white, odourless, bitter crystalline compound.

This is obtained by acetylation of morphine, which is extracted from the latex of poppy plant Papaver somniferum (Figure 8.8). Generally taken by snorting and injection, heroin is a depressant and slows down body functions.

Cannabinoids are a group of chemicals, which interact with cannabinoid receptors present principally in the brain. Natural cannabinoids are obtained from the inflorescences of the plant Cannabis sativa.

The flower tops, leaves and the resin of cannabis plant are used in various combinations to produce marijuana, hashish, charas and ganja. Generally taken by inhalation and oral ingestion, these are known for their effects on cardiovascular system of the body.

Coca alkaloid or cocaine is obtained from coca plant Erythroxylum coca, native to South America. It interferes with the transport of the neuro-transmitter dopamine.

Cocaine, commonly called coke or crack is usually snorted. It has a potent stimulating action on central nervous system, producing a sense of euphoria and increased energy. Excessive dosage of cocaine causes hallucinations.

Other well-known plants with hallucinogenic properties are Atropa belladona and Datura.

These days cannabinoids are also being abused by some sportspersons. Drugs like barbiturates, amphetamines, benzodiazepines, lysergic acid diethyl amides (LSD), and other similar drugs, that are normally used as medicines to help patients cope with mental illnesses like depression and insomnia, are often abused.

Morphine is a very effective sedative and painkiller, and is very useful in patients who have undergone surgery.

Several plants, fruits and seeds having hallucinogenic properties have been used for hundreds of years in folk-medicine, religious ceremonies and rituals all over the globe.

When these are taken for a purpose other than medicinal use or in amounts/frequency that impairs one’s physical, physiological or psychological functions, it constitutes drug abuse.

Smoking also paves the way to hard drugs. Tobacco has been used by human beings for more than 400 years. It is smoked, chewed or used as a snuff.

Tobacco contains a large number of chemical substances including nicotine, an alkaloid. Nicotine stimulates adrenal gland to release adrenaline and nor-adrenaline into blood circulation, both of which raise blood pressure and increase heart rate.

Smoking is associated with increased incidence of cancers of lung, urinary bladder and throat, bronchitis, emphysema, coronary heart disease, gastric ulcer, etc.

Tobacco chewing is associated with increased risk of cancer of the oral cavity. Smoking increases carbon monoxide (CO) content in blood and reduces the concentration of haembound oxygen.

This causes oxygen deficiency in the body. When one buys packets of cigarettes one cannot miss the statutory warning that is present on the packing which warns against smoking and says how it is injurious to health. Yet, smoking is very prevalent in society, both among young and old.

Knowing the dangers of smoking and chewing tobacco, and its addictive nature, the youth and old need to avoid these habits. Any addict requires counselling and medical help to get rid of the habit.

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