By Moses Adeyemi

“COCAINE . . . is probably the most benign of illicit drugs currently in widespread use . . . and acutely pleasurable.”

In years gone by, similar comments were made regarding marijuana, which led some people to believe that the use of drugs was harmless. However, today you can read mountains of medical evidence indicating otherwise. Indeed, the use of drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, crack (a form of cocaine), heroin, amphetamines, and barbiturates is extremely harmful to the body.

Researchers claim that marijuana users can expect smaller babies, more accidents, and damaged lungs. Cocaine and its derivative crack have been linked with paranoia and other schizophrenic symptoms, intense depression, insomnia, loss of appetite, sexual impotence, profound irritability, seizures, heart attacks, strokes, skin lesions or large blisters, loss of limbs and fingers, birth defects, upper respiratory infections, loss of sense of smell, and death.

According to one science writer, “if cocaine use d

uring pregnancy were a disease, its impact on infants would be considered a national health-care crisis.”

Whilst alcohol, tobacco and cannabis remained the most common drugs used within the last year, with cocaine, amphetamine in its various forms and MDMA frequently just behind them, countries showed marked variation in the use of other drugs. The increasing uptake of other preparations nicotine containing products namely shishas tobacco and electronic cigarettes demonstrate the pervasive presence of diverse nicotine based products in our culture.

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The high rates of caffeine energy drinks, caffeine tablets (and in some countries like Germany even intranasal caffeine) demonstrate the market for this legal stimulant is as strong as ever. Prescribed and non-prescribed psychoactive medication particular opioid painkillers and benzodiazepines were frequently in the top 10 drugs used by GDS populations in the last year, with their use, non-medical and problematic use being particularly high in the USA and New Zealand being dominant forces. Other medications that crossed over into the recreational drug scene such as GHB, methyphenidate (Ritalin) and ketamine were more sporadically distributed
Certain types of drug users also run a high risk of contracting AIDS and many health problems have been associated with the abuse of synthetic drugs, such as amphetamines, barbiturates, tranquilizers, and exotic “designer drugs.”

Alcohol remained the biggest cause of concern among friends and the biggest culprit in sending people to Emergency Department.
The highest rates of turning up to work hung-over in the last 12 months was the Republic of Ireland (50%) followed by the UK and Hungary (46%). The lowest rates were reported in the USA and Portugal (both less than 25%). The highest rates of turning up to work coming down from the effects of drugs was in the Netherlands (25%), the UK and the Republic of Ireland (both over 20%). The lowest rates were reported in New Zealand (less than 8%).

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Accepting that many of the harms related to drug use can be significantly reduced by how you use your drugs, where you use them and what you do while you are under the influence, means that as a society we can promote safer use and reduce risk.

What is different about the High-way Code is that not only was it was voted for by people who use drugs but that as well as rating strategies on their impact in reducing the risk of harm, they also highlight the impact of the same strategies on the pleasure obtained from using the drug. Given that the major driver for drug use is pleasure, not reducing risk we think this is important. Being able to say that safer drug use is more enjoyable is a bit like saying you can lose weight and eat chips and pizza.

A person addicted to heroin may be in danger of relapse when he sees a hypodermic needle, for example, while another person might start to drink again after seeing a bottle of whiskey. Conditioned learning helps explain why people who develop an addiction risk relapse even after years of abstinence.

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Yet, in spite of known risks, people are still tempted to try drugs. Casual users find such drugs to be exciting. Nevertheless, the risks are very real. It is like steering an oil tanker onto a submerged reef disaster is certain.

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