A-Z guide to drugs

7min read

From alcohol to illegal drugs


Alcohol – Booze, Bevvies, Hooch, Sauce 

Young people are usually aged between 13-14 when they have their first alcoholic drink without their parents' knowledge. Read our advice about underage drinking

  • Effects - after a couple of drinks people can feel relaxed and less reserved. A few more drinks can make someone more talkative, cause their speech to become slurred and make them physically uncoordinated.
  • Problems - alcohol can become dangerous in large quantities. Long-term drinking can cause physical and mental damage. Being drunk can cause people to become more vulnerable to violence, theft and assault.
  • The law - at 18 it is legal to be sold alcohol.

Amphetamines - Speed, Billy, Whiz, Phet

Young people may use amphetamines at clubs and parties or at exam times and situations where they want more energy. Read our advice about what parents should know about drugs or visit Talk to Frank for more information about drugs and alcohol

  • Effects - the drug makes users feel energised and excited. It also suppresses the appetite therefore people use it to help with dieting.
  • Problems - after effects can include mood swings, difficulty sleeping, tiredness, low energy levels. Long term usage can cause the user to feel depressed and paranoid.
  • The law - Class B drug possession means up to five years prison plus a fine. Supplying means maximum 14 years imprisonment and a fine


Cannabis - Dope, Hash, Weed, Pot, Skunk, Ganga, Zoot, Spliff, Green

This is sold as a hard or crumbly resin or as a dry herb. Buds of the cannabis plant contain more drug than the stalks and leaves. Is it usually smoked with tobacco in a roll up. There are lots of different types of cannabis, including Skunk, Sensimilia, Purple Haze, etc.

  • Effects - users feel relaxed, giggly and talkative.
  • Problems - can feel anxious, paranoid and forgetful.
  • The law - Class B drug possession means up to five years prison plus a fine supplying means maximum 14 years imprisonment and a fine

Cocaine and Crack - Coke, Charlie, White, Snow, Sniff, White Lady

Cocaine is bought as a white powder. It is normally sniffed but can be prepared for injection. Crack comes in the form of 'small rocks' and can be smoked and injected. Read our article on how to talk to teens about drugs

  • Effects - users feel confident and strong.
  • Problems - users become dependent on the drug and find themselves running into crime and violence due to the high price of it.
  • The law - Class A drugs possession means up to seven years in prison and a fine supplying can mean life imprisonment and a fine


Ecstasy - E, Beans, Pills, Doves, Apples, MDMA, Mandy

Ecstasy is common on the club scene.

  • Effects - energy, followed by calmness.
  • Problems - some people suffer from sickness and experience stiffening of arms and legs and in particular their jaw. Ecstasy-related deaths seem to be due to heatstroke from overheating in a club atmosphere as ecstasy can dehydrate the body, drinking too much fluid and high blood pressure.
  • The law - Class A drug possession means up to seven years in prison plus a fine supplying ecstasy can mean life imprisonment


GBL is a party drug which is particularly popular amongst university students, and can be fatal when taken with alcohol. It caused the death of 21 year old student Hester Stewart in Brighton in 2009. Its dangers were highlighted when 22 year old Mikaela Tyhurst revealed how her looks and health had been ravaged after taking GBL over the previous four years. Read more about teenage parties

  • Effects - GBL has the same effects as GHB – which is also classified as a Class C drug and known as ‘liquid ecstasy’. Produces feelings of euphoria, reduce inhibitions and cause sleepiness.
  • Problems -  potentially serious consequences when taken with alcohol or other depressant or sedatuve drugs. 
  • The law - GBL was made illegal in December 2009. It is now classified as a Class C drug under the Misuse of Drugs act 1971. Anyone caught with this drug can get up to two years in prison or an unlimited fine. 


Heroin - Smack, Junk, H, Brown, Gear, Skag

Comes as a white, greyish or brown powder. Often smoked it can also be injected or sniffed.

  • Effects - reduces physical and emotional pain and gives warm, drowsy feeling to allow users to forget their problems.
  • Problems - First time users are usually sick and it can take weeks/months to become 'hooked'. Overdosing on heroin is a major risk as street heroin is mixed with other substances. Overdose can mean falling into a coma or even death. Withdrawal symptoms can mean flu-like symptoms - sweating, shaking.
  • The law - Class A drug possession means up to seven years in prison plus a fine supplying can mean life imprisonment and a fine


Ketamine - Green, K, Special K, Super K

Powerful anaesthetic drug with medical uses which is usually sold as a white crystalline powder or tablet.

  • Effects - painkilling effects as well as altering perception. Low dose users might feel euphoric, and higher dose users might hallucinate.
  • Problems - numbness and unexpected muscle movements as well as feeling sick. Large doses can lead to unconsciousness.
  • The Law - Class C Drug possession can mean up to two years in prison and a fine supplying can mean 14 years imprisonment and a fine. 


Khat - Qat, Quat, Chat

Khat is a leafy green plant and the leaves are chewed. 

  • Effects - similar effects to Speed, more talkative and more energy, appetite supressant. 
  • Problems - can lead to insomnia and confusion. High use can lead to high blood pressure and heart palpitations. 
  • The Law - Khat is now a class C drug which means that you can go to prison for two years for possession or much longer for dealing. It will also be an offence to bring Khat into the UK from other countries. 


LSD - Acid, Tabs, Trips

Sold as small squares of paper with cartoon designs. These are swallowed and take up to half an hour to have an effect. A trip can last for as long as 12 hours.

  • Effects - drug changes the way that users see and hear things. There is heightened self-awareness and users can hallucinate.
  • Problems - 'bad trips' can be frightening. Users might feel anxious and accidents can occur when users are not in control of their faculties.
  • The law - Khat is now controlled as a Class C drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act.


Magic Mushrooms - Shrooms, Mushies, Magics

Generally only available during the autumn in the wild. They can be eaten either raw or cooked, made into a tea or smoked. 20 mushrooms would be a usual dose.

  • Effects - hallucination can occur. It takes around half hour to take effect and can last for as long as nine hours.
  • Problems - picking a poisonous mushroom by mistake.
  • The law - Class A drug possession can mean up to seven years in prison and a fine supplying can mean life imprisonment and a fine.

Mephedrone - Meow Meow, M-Cat, Drone, Bubbles, Bounce

Mephedrone (often called 'meow meow#) is a powerful stimulant and belongs to a group of drugs that are closely related to the amphetamines - including amphetamine itself (often called 'speed'), methamphetamine and ecstasy. There is very little evidence about mephedrone and what long-term effects it has, but there have reports of people hospitalised due to the short-term effects. Also, you can never be entirely sure that what you're buying is actually mephedrone and not something else.

  • The law - Mephedrone is a Class B drug, so it's illegal to have for yourself, give away or sell.


Tobacco - Ciggies, Fags, Tabs

5% of thirteen year olds smoke a cigarette or more a week. Around 1/3 of older teenagers smoke on average more than 10 cigarettes a day.

  • Effects - first time smokers often feel sick and dizzy. One or two cigarettes increase pulse rate and blood pressure.
  • Problems - users quickly become physically dependant on cigarettes. Long-term smoking can result in heart disease, blood clots, heart attacks and lung infections.
  • The law - selling any tobacco products to anyone under 18 is illegal.


Volatile substances (solvents)

Used by younger teenagers, these are particularly dangerous as they can kill unpredictably, even first time users. Substances misused can include nail varnish removers, aerosols, butane gas, glues, petrol, dry cleaning fluid.

  • Effects - sniffers feel light headed, dizzy and as if they are drunk. Some users might experience hallucinations.
  • Problems - fainting and vomiting can occur. If a user becomes unconscious they can choke on their own vomit.
  • The law - it is illegal for people to sell volatile substances to someone they know is under 18 years old and who is going to sniff them.

I've discovered that my child is smoking cannabis - what are the risks associated with this drug?

Cannabis is the most widely used illegal drug in Britain. Smoking it can leave users feeling relaxed, optimistic and talkative. However, it also has hallucinogenic effects which can lead to paranoia and anxiety. There's also increasing evidence of a link between cannabis and mental health problems such as schizophrenia, while around 10% of users develop a psychological dependence on the drug. Heavy use can lead to concentration problems, while some users begin to feel tired all the time and lack motivation. It is a particularly risky drug for anyone with heart problems as it increases the heart rate and can affect blood pressure, and can also lead to respiratory diseases, coughs and sore throats.

If my child is taking cannabis then does this mean that they will begin experimenting with other drugs such as cocaine and ecstasy?

There is no strong evidence to suggest that cannabis is a 'gateway drug'. Many young people who experiment with recreational drugs do not go on to develop long-term problems with substance abuse. A small minority who use cannabis may move on to other drugs. However, it is an individual's choice whether they take drugs and what type of drug they use, and as such it is difficult to generalise. The key is in understanding why your child had taken a drug such as cannabis in the first place - be it peer pressure or lack of self-esteem - as these factors will invariably influence their decision to experiment with harder drugs in the future.

My child has started hanging out with a dodgy crowd and I’m worried they'll be exposed to drugs. What should I do?

Try to understand why they're attracted to this new crowd - it could be that they're having problems with their existing friends or they want to be accepted by these particular peers. Don't be afraid to talk openly to them about drugs - they're unlikely to raise the issue, so the onus will be on you. Make sure they're aware of the risks of drugs - both physical and legal. It's easy as adults to forget that growing up can be tough. Your child will be going through lots of physical and emotional changes, as well as dealing with a massive surge of hormones. If they seem moody or aggressive, then talk to them: ask them what's going on in their world, and how they are coping with all the changes that come with being a teen. 

Will my child get a criminal record if they are caught by the police with cannabis? 

If they are caught with even a small amount of cannabis, the police will confiscate it and can make an arrest. What the police will do depends on the circumstances and the age of the person. The maximum penalty for possession of cannabis is five years in prison plus an unlimited fine. Dealing is a very serious offence in the eyes of the law. This includes giving drugs to friends. People who grow cannabis in their homes or carry larger amounts on them also risk being charged with intent to supply. The maximum penalty for supply is 14 years in prison plus an unlimited fine.

How would I know if my child is using drugs?

Often there are not any clear signs that a person is using drugs. The following are things to look out for, but remember that most of these can occur for lots of different reasons and may be unrelated to drug use:

  • Red rimmed eyes
  • Loss of interest in school, hobbies, friends
  • Loss of appetite, drowsiness
  • Mood swings
  • Money /valuables going missing regularly
  • Burnt foil, torn cigarette packets, empty aerosols, or pipes found around the house

There are probably lots of questions that you may have about illegal drugs and its use amongst young people. It is important to try and educate yourself with as much information as you can. For more information, browse the rest of our pages on drugs, including our A-Z, or vist the FRANK website. 

Further resources 

For a more comprehensive list, please visit the FRANK for an A-Z list of drugs. If you are worried about your teen, please get in touch with us for support. It may help to chat to other parents on our forums to find out how they are dealing with this issue within their family life. You can also talk to us online via our live chat service, email us at askus@familylives.org.uk or call us on our helpline on 0808 800 2222 to speak to trained family support worker.