Harm Reduction: The Guidance

Learn more about how some common substances work and interact, and the legal consequences of using, possessing or distributing them.

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As we continue through Student Drug & Alcohol Awareness Week, we want to be sure that you - as students - have access to the information that can keep you safe when interacting with drugs and alcohol. Full-Time Officer, Len, has collated a safety and information guide that you can find below.

Drug Categorisations 

In the United Kingdom, drugs are categorised into three primary 'classes' (as per the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971). These classes give you an idea of how dangerous they are, as well as how extreme the legal punishments are if you're caught with them.*

Class A Drugs: These substances are seen as the most harmful and subject to strict control in the UK. Possession, distribution, and production of Class A drugs carry the most severe penalties.
Examples include: heroin, cocaine, crack cocaine, ecstasy (MDMA), LSD, and magic mushrooms (when prepared for use).

Class B Drugs: These drugs are deemed less harmful than Class A drugs but are still subject to strict legal control. Offences related to Class B drugs also earn significant penalties.
Examples include: cannabis (although its classification may vary based on its form and THC content), amphetamines, and some synthetic cannabinoids. 

Class C Drugs: These drugs are considered the least harmful among the three classes but remain subject to legal restrictions. Penalties for offences related to Class C drugs are generally less severe than those for Class A or B drugs.
Examples include: anabolic steroids, some benzodiazepines, and GHB. 

*Please keep in mind that drug classifications and penalties can change due to legal reforms and government decisions. It is crucial to stay informed about current drug laws and regulations from official sources to ensure compliance with the law. 

How Drugs Interact

If a person uses more than one drug at a time, the risk of adverse side effects (or even death) can increase substantially. Check out the table below to get an idea of how dangerous some substances can be when taken together.

Key:

A colour key for the drug safety table. Light blue (low risk & synergy), grey blue (low risk & no synergy), dark blue (low risk & decreased effect), yellow (caution), orange (unsafe), red (dangerous).

Table:

A table explaining the risks of different drugs interacting with each other. If you would like a verbal explanation of this, please email studentvoice@staffs.ac.uk

Identifying and Understanding Different Substances

Below, you can find a library of various substances, their effects and classifications.

LSD

LSD, or lysergic acid diethylamide, is a potent hallucinogenic substance derived from ergot fungus. It induces profound alterations in perception, mood, and consciousness, often leading to vivid visual and sensory experiences. LSD is classified as a Class A drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 in the UK. Possession, distribution, or cultivation of magic mushrooms is illegal.

Mushrooms

Mushrooms are a type of fungi that grow in various shapes, sizes, and colours. They typically consist of a stem and a cap and are often found in forests and damp environments. In the UK, "magic mushrooms," which contain psilocybin, a controlled substance, are classified as a Class A drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. Possession, distribution, or cultivation of magic mushrooms is illegal.

DMT

DMT (dimethyltryptamine) is a powerful psychedelic compound found naturally in some plants and animals. It induces intense, short-lasting hallucinogenic experiences when consumed. In the United Kingdom, DMT is classified as a Class A drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. Possession, distribution, or production of DMT is illegal, with significant legal penalties.

Mescaline

Mescaline is a naturally occurring psychedelic substance found in certain cacti, such as the peyote cactus. It produces altered perceptions, hallucinations, and spiritual experiences when ingested. In the United Kingdom, mescaline is classified as a Class A drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, making its possession, distribution, or production illegal with severe legal consequences.

DOx

DOx refers to a series of synthetic psychedelic drugs, including compounds like DOM and DOI. These substances are chemically related to amphetamines and produce hallucinogenic effects. In the United Kingdom, DOx compounds typically fall under Class A or Class B drug classifications depending on the specific compound and its chemical structure, making possession, distribution, or production subject to relevant legal penalties. Specific regulations may change, so it's essential to consult current drug laws for precise details.

NBOMes

NBOMes are a class of synthetic hallucinogenic drugs, including compounds like 25I-NBOMe and 25C-NBOMe, known for their potent psychedelic effects. In the United Kingdom, these substances are classified as Class A drugs under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, making their possession, distribution, or production illegal with severe legal penalties. Laws and classifications may change, so consult current regulations for precise details.

2C-x

2C-X compounds are synthetic psychedelics belonging to the 2C family, such as 2C-B and 2C-I. They produce hallucinogenic effects, altering perception and mood. In the United Kingdom, the legal classification of 2C-X substances can vary. Some may be considered Class A drugs, while others could fall under Class B. It's crucial to consult current drug laws for specific details, as classifications may change.

2C-T-x

2C-T-X compounds are a group of synthetic psychedelics that include substances like 2C-T-7 and 2C-T-2. They are known for their hallucinogenic effects, altering perception and mood. In the United Kingdom, the legal classification of 2C-T-X substances can vary, with some falling under Class A or Class B drug categories. It's essential to consult current drug laws for precise details, as classifications may change.

5-MeO-xxT

5-MeO-xxT refers to a group of synthetic psychoactive compounds, such as 5-MeO-DMT and 5-MeO-MiPT, known for their powerful and short-acting hallucinogenic effects. In the United Kingdom, the legal status of these substances can vary. Still, they are often treated as Class A drugs under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, making possession, distribution, or production illegal with severe legal consequences. Specific regulations may change, so consult current drug laws for precise details.

Cannabis

Cannabis is a plant known for its psychoactive and medicinal properties. Its compounds, like THC and CBD, can induce altered perceptions, relaxation, and pain relief. In the United Kingdom, cannabis is classified as a Class B drug, with varying penalties depending on the form and amount. Possession, cultivation, and distribution can result in legal consequences, but regulations may change, so it's important to consult current drug laws for precise details.

Ketamine

Ketamine is a dissociative anaesthetic used in medical and veterinary settings. It induces a trance-like state, pain relief, and hallucinations at higher doses. In the United Kingdom, ketamine is classified as a Class B drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. Possession, distribution, or production of ketamine is subject to legal restrictions and penalties, but these may change, so consult current drug laws for precise details.

MXE

MXE (Methoxetamine) is a synthetic dissociative anaesthetic and hallucinogenic drug. It produces effects similar to ketamine but with longer duration and more potent hallucinations. In the United Kingdom, MXE is classified as a Class B drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, making its possession, distribution, or production illegal with legal consequences. Specific regulations may change, so consult current drug laws for precise details.

DXM

DXM (Dextromethorphan) is a cough suppressant found in over-the-counter cough and cold medications. In recreational use at high doses, it can induce dissociative and hallucinogenic effects. In the United Kingdom, DXM is legally available in non-prescription medications, but it is subject to restrictions on sale to prevent misuse. Legal regulations may change, so consult current drug laws for precise details.

Nitrous

Nitrous oxide, often referred to as "nitrous" or "laughing gas," is a colourless, sweet-smelling gas used for various purposes, including anaesthesia and as a recreational inhalant. In the United Kingdom, nitrous oxide is legally available for specific industrial and medical uses but is subject to restrictions to prevent misuse. Legal regulations may change, so consult current laws for precise details.

Amphetamines

Amphetamines are a class of synthetic stimulant drugs that enhance alertness, energy, and focus. They are often used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. In the United Kingdom, amphetamines are classified as Class B drugs under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. Possession, distribution, or production without a valid prescription is illegal and subject to legal penalties. Specific regulations may change, so consult current drug laws for precise details.

MDMA

MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine) is a synthetic drug known for its stimulant and empathogenic effects. Commonly called "ecstasy," it enhances mood, empathy, and sensory perception. In the United Kingdom, MDMA is classified as a Class A drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. Possession, distribution, or production of MDMA is illegal, with severe legal consequences. Specific regulations may change, so consult current drug laws for precise details.

Cocaine

Cocaine is a powerful stimulant drug derived from coca plants. It produces intense euphoria, increased energy, and heightened alertness. In the United Kingdom, cocaine is classified as a Class A drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. Possession, distribution, or production of cocaine is illegal, carrying significant legal penalties. Specific regulations may change, so consult current drug laws for precise details.

Caffeine

Caffeine is a natural stimulant found in coffee, tea, and various beverages and foods. It provides temporary alertness and reduces fatigue by blocking adenosine receptors in the brain. In the United Kingdom, caffeine is not classified as a controlled substance, and its consumption is generally unrestricted, subject to normal regulations regarding food and beverages.

Alcohol

Alcohol, or ethanol, is a psychoactive substance found in alcoholic beverages like beer, wine, and spirits. It acts as a depressant, affecting the central nervous system, leading to relaxation, impaired judgment, and reduced inhibitions. In the United Kingdom, alcohol is regulated by laws governing its sale, consumption, and public behaviour, such as the Licensing Act 2003 and the Road Traffic Act 1988. Legal age restrictions for purchase and consumption apply, and drunk driving is a criminal offence with strict penalties.

GHB and GBL

GHB (Gamma-Hydroxybutyrate) and GBL (Gamma-Butyrolactone) are central nervous system depressants with sedative and euphoric effects. They are commonly referred to as "club drugs" or "date rape drugs" due to their association with recreational and illicit use. In the United Kingdom, GHB and GBL are classified as Class C drugs under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, with possession, distribution, or production subject to legal restrictions and penalties. Specific regulations may change, so consult current drug laws for precise details.

Opioids

Opioids are a class of powerful pain-relieving drugs that include natural substances like morphine, synthetic drugs like oxycodone, and illegal drugs like heroin. They bind to opioid receptors in the brain and can lead to pain relief, euphoria, and addiction. In the United Kingdom, opioids are tightly regulated, with prescription use under medical supervision and strict penalties for illegal possession and distribution. Specific regulations may change, so consult current drug laws for precise details.

Tramadol

Tramadol is a synthetic opioid pain medication used to treat moderate to severe pain. It works by binding to opioid receptors in the brain and spinal cord, altering the perception of pain. Tramadol is available by prescription in the United Kingdom and is subject to strict regulations due to its potential for misuse and dependence. It is classified as a controlled substance, and its use should be closely monitored by a healthcare professional.

Benzodiazepines

Benzodiazepines, often referred to as "benzos," are a class of psychoactive drugs used to treat anxiety, insomnia, and certain medical conditions. They work by enhancing the calming effects of a neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain. Common benzodiazepines include diazepam (Valium), alprazolam (Xanax), and lorazepam (Ativan). In the United Kingdom, benzodiazepines are regulated as controlled drugs due to their potential for dependence and misuse. They are available only by prescription and should be used under medical supervision. Misuse of benzodiazepines can lead to physical and psychological health issues.

MAOIs

MAOIs, or Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors, are a class of antidepressant medications used to treat depression and, in some cases, other mental health conditions. They work by blocking the activity of monoamine oxidase enzymes, which break down neurotransmitters like serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain. By inhibiting these enzymes, MAOIs increase the availability of these neurotransmitters, which can help improve mood.

MAOIs are effective in treating certain types of depression but are less commonly prescribed today due to their potential for interactions with certain foods and other medications. Individuals taking MAOIs must adhere to a strict dietary regimen to avoid consuming foods or beverages containing tyramine, as interactions can lead to a dangerous increase in blood pressure. Additionally, MAOIs can interact with various medications, including some over-the-counter cold and cough medicines, stimulants, and other antidepressants, potentially causing serious health issues.

Because of these interactions and dietary restrictions, MAOIs are typically prescribed when other antidepressant treatments have been ineffective and under close medical supervision. It's essential for individuals prescribed MAOIs to follow their healthcare provider's guidance carefully and be aware of potential interactions and side effects.

SSRIs

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) are a class of commonly prescribed antidepressant medications used to treat various mental health conditions, primarily depression and anxiety disorders. SSRIs work by increasing the levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter associated with mood regulation, in the brain. They selectively inhibit serotonin's reabsorption (reuptake) by nerve cells, allowing more serotonin to remain available in the brain.

Common SSRIs include fluoxetine (Prozac), sertraline (Zoloft), escitalopram (Lexapro), and paroxetine (Paxil). SSRIs are often considered a first-line treatment for depression and anxiety due to their effectiveness and generally favourable side effect profiles. They are less likely to cause the sedation, weight gain, and anticholinergic effects often associated with older antidepressant classes.

It's important to note that SSRIs may take several weeks to reach their full therapeutic effect, and they can have side effects, including nausea, headaches, and sexual dysfunction. These medications should be prescribed and monitored by a healthcare provider, who can adjust the dosage and provide guidance on their use. Additionally, discontinuing SSRIs should be done under medical supervision to minimize withdrawal symptoms.

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