Street Drugs: Know the Facts and Risks

Medically Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on March 13, 2023
8 min read

When you use street or club drugs, you’re taking a lot of risks. The drugs are dangerous, and usually there’s no way to know how strong they are or what else may be in them. It's even more unsafe to use them along with other substances like alcohol and marijuana.

Here's a rundown of common street drugs and the health threats they can pose.

These designer drugs came on the scene fairly recently and became popular fast. That may be because they were easy to get and used to be hard to detect in drug tests.

They're highly addictive, and they come in a crystalline powder that users swallow, inhale, or inject.

Despite their name, bath salts have nothing in common with products you can use for a soak in the tub.

What else they’re calledPlant FoodBloom, Cloud Nine, Ivory Wave, Lunar Wave, Scarface, Vanilla Sky, or White Lightning.

What type of drug is it? Bath salts contain manmade stimulants called cathinones, which are similar to amphetamines.

What are the effects? These stimulants increase levels of dopamine, a brain chemical that can create feelings of euphoria.

Some say the effects are similar to cocaine or methamphetamines. But they’re even more likely to cause serious health effects, including:

  • Violence
  • Paranoia
  • Agitation
  • Hallucinations
  • Psychosis
  • Racing heart
  • High blood pressure
  • Chest pain
  • Panic attacks
  • Dehydration
  • Kidney failure
  • Death


This drug comes in different forms. A user can snort the powder type through their nose or inject it into their bloodstream. Crack is a crystal form of the drug that’s smoked and absorbed into the bloodstream through the lungs.

What else it’s called: Blow, Bump, C, Candy, Charlie, Coke, Crack, Flake, Rock, Snow, or Toot.

What type of drug is it? Cocaine is a highly addictive stimulant made from the coca plant. Crack cocaine is even more addictive.

What are the effects? It triggers your brain to release dopamine and creates a euphoric feeling. The high is intense but short-lived, which leads people to use it repeatedly to try to keep the feeling going.

The risks are:

  • Increased heart rate
  • High blood pressure
  • Increased body temperature
  • Stomach pain, nausea
  • Loss of appetite, malnourishment
  • Heart damage and heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Death
  • Loss of smell, nosebleeds, and problems swallowing
  • Higher risk of HIV and hepatitis C due to sharing needles or other drug equipment
  • When used during pregnancy it can cause spontaneous abortion, low birth weight, birth defects, and a baby born addicted to the drug

Users often take this drug by mouth in pill or tablet form. You can also snort it or inject it into a vein.

What else it’s called: MDMA or Molly.

What type of drug is it? This is a man-made stimulant and hallucinogen.

What are the effects? Ecstasy increases levels of several chemicals in the brain, including serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. It alters your mood and makes you feel closer and more connected to others. Users get a sense of euphoria and a boost in energy.

When the drug wears off, though, it can lead to confusion, depression, anxiety, and sleep problems.

The physical effects that it has on the body can be very similar to other stimulants like cocaine and amphetamines. Those effects include:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Tense muscles
  • Nausea
  • Blurred vision
  • Dizziness
  • Sweating or chills

This designer drug is similar to bath salts. It is a pale-hued crystal that users eat, snort, inject, or vaporize using an e-cigarette device.

It might also be referred to as Gravel, because of the way it looks.

What type of drug is it? Like bath salts, it also contains synthetic cathinone.

What are the effects? The drug has a stimulant-like effect but can cause paranoia, hallucinations, and can lead to violence or self-harm. It’s been linked to deaths due to heart attack, suicide, and kidney damage or kidney failure.

Heroin comes as a white or tan powder, or a black sticky substance, known as “black tar heroin.” Users can inject, inhale or smoke it.

What else it’s called: Brown Sugar, China White, Dope, H, Horse, Junk, Skag, Skunk, Smack, and White Horse

What type of drug is it? It’s an opioid derived from the opium poppy flower. It’s rapidly absorbed into the brain, which makes it highly addictive.

What are the effects? A rush of euphoria followed by dry mouth, a heaviness sensation in the arms and legs, and a fuzzy mind.

Heroin use can be deadly. Risk factors for overdose include, simultaneous use of sedatives or alcohol, use of prescription pain pills, and recent abstinence with relapse.

<!--td {border: 1px solid #ccc;}br {mso-data-placement:same-cell;}--> Learn more about life after relapse.

It can also lead to:

  • Collapsed veins
  • Skin Infections
  • Gastrointestinal problems (especially constipation)
  • Kidney disease
  • Suppressed breathing, which is which is leading cause of coma, brain damage, and death
  • Risk of catching HIV and hepatitis C through sharing needles and other drug equipment
  • When used during pregnancy it can cause spontaneous abortion, low birth weight, birth defects, and a baby born addicted to the drug

This drug isn’t common in the U.S., but it’s used widely in Russia, especially among young adults as a cheaper alternative to heroin. It’s a man-made form of morphine and about 10 times stronger.

It’s a combination of several harmful chemicals including codeine, iodine, gasoline, paint thinner, lighter fluid and others.

Users inject it into the bloodstream, and it has a rapid and brief effect. It’s also sometimes spelled Crocodil.

What type of drug is it? Opioid.

What are the effects? Krokodil is named for the crocodile-like appearance it creates on the skin. Over time, it damages blood vessels and causes the skin to become green and scaly. The tissue damage can lead to gangrene and result in amputation or death.

This drug became popular in the 1960s and is still commonly used today. It's made from an acid found in a fungus that grows on rye and other grains.

What else it’s called: Acid, Blotter, Doses, Hits, Microdots, Sugar Cubes, Trips, Tabs, and Window Panes.

What type of drug is it? Hallucinogen.

What are the effects? It causes someone to see, hear, and feel things that seem real, but aren’t. These hallucinations, called “trips,” can last as long as 12 hours.

LSD can cause physical effects such as dilated pupils, increased heart rate and blood pressure, sweating, less appetite, dry mouth, and shakiness.

It's still the most-used illegal drug in the U.S., despite it recently earning legal status for medical purposes in many states.

Marijuana refers to the dried leaves, flowers, stems, and seeds of the hemp (Cannabis sativa) plant. Most people smoke marijuana, but it can also be added to foods and eaten.

What else it’s called:Blunt, Bud, Dope, Ganja, Grass, Green, Herb, Joint, Mary Jane, Pot, Reefer, Skunk, Smoke, Trees, Weed, Ashish, Boom, Hash, and Hemp.

What type of drug is it? It can act as both a stimulant and a depressant, and even a hallucinogen.

What are the effects? Marijuana contains the chemical THC, which acts on different parts of the brain to create the “high” that users experience, such as changes in sensations, mood, body movements, thinking, and memory.

When used regularly, marijuana can affect brain development and lead to cognitive problems. It can become addictive for some people, and also cause serious health problems such as breathing issues, increased heart rate, and higher risk of heart attacks, depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts for some people. Among young people, heavy MJ use has been associated with cognitive impairment and mental illness, like schizophrenia. However, in adults, chronic use has not been associated with serious medical conditions.


Meth is a white powder that users swallow, smoke, snort, or inject. It’s made from a combination of pseudoephedrine, a common ingredient in cold medications, along with other toxic chemicals.

What else it's called:Crystal meth, Chalk, Crank, and Ice.

What type of drug is it? Stimulant.

What are the effects? Meth creates an immediate high that quickly fades. As a result, users often take it repeatedly, making it extremely addictive. The physical effects are very similar to other stimulants like cocaine and amphetamines. Those effects can include:

  • Increased breathing
  • Rapid heart rate
  • High blood pressure
  • Increased body temperature

With repeated long-term use, meth can lead to extreme weight loss, skin sores, and severe dental issues. Chronic abusers often suffer from anxiety, confusion, insomnia, hallucinations and delusions, and paranoia. Injecting the drug can raise the risk of getting HIV or hepatitis when sharing needles and other drug equipment.

When used during pregnancy it can cause spontaneous abortion, low birth weight, birth defects, and a baby born addicted to the drug.

Psilocybin and peyote mushrooms are eaten, brewed in a tea, or added to foods to get a high. Though cravings may occur, physical dependence isn’t usually present with hallucinogens.  

What else they’re called:Boomers, Little Smoke, Magic Mushrooms, and Shrooms.

What type of drug is it? The active ingredient is psilocybin, which is a hallucinogen found in certain types of mushrooms.

What are the effects? The effects start within about 20 minutes and last as long as 6 hours. Similar to LSD, mushrooms can cause hallucinations, an altered perception of time, and an inability to tell the difference between what’s real and what’s not.

Taking high doses or using them for a long time can cause panic, psychosis, or flashbacks. They can also cause extreme pupil dilation, nausea, and vomiting.

This drug is an herb in the mint family that’s native to parts of Mexico. Users chew or smoke its leaves.

What else it’s called:Maria Pastora, Sage of the Seers, Diviner’s Sage, Sally-D, and Magic Mint.

What type of drug is it? Hallucinogen.

What are the effects? The drug creates intense but short-lived effects, which start within 5 to 10 minutes and last about 30 minutes. The hallucinogenic effects include changes in vision, mood, emotions, and body sensations.

Little is known about the health effects of salvia, though animal studies show it may have an impact on learning and memory. The Drug Enforcement Administration doesn’t consider salvia an illegal drug, but several states have passed laws to regulate its use.

This is a mixture of different herbs and chemicals that looks similar to potpourri. Users either smoke it like marijuana or make it into an herbal tea-like drink.

What else it’s called:Black Mamba, Bliss, Bombay Blue, Fake weed, Fire, Genie, K2, Moon Rocks, Skunk, Smacked, Yucatan, or Zohai.

What type of drug is it? Synthetic cannabinoid.

What are the effects? Compounds in Spice act on the same parts in the brain as THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. As a result, the effects are very similar, such as feeling happier and more relaxed. But the compounds in Spice can lead to a stronger effect.

Users also report severe anxiety, paranoia, and hallucinations.

Other effects of Spice can include:

  • Rapid heart rate
  • Vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Seizures
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Heart attack (rarely)