Mar 11th, 2018, 03:15 PM

Drugs 101

By Alizée Chaudey
Image Credit: National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependance
Anonymous AUP students open up about the good, the bad, and the scary from their drug experiences.

Despite being illegal in Paris, it has become extremely easy to find multiple types of drugs all over the city. But as it becomes more and more popular to find substances in clubs, bars and in Parisian youth's daily lives, it appears that most people seem to forget what those substances are made of and how they affect our bodies. There are many different ways to take drugs, from oral ingestion or snorting to smoking or injecting. It is important to remember that some are much more dangerous than others, and complications may not always be a direct effect of the drug.  Here's a crash course on the most common Parisian drugs based on anonymous AUP students experiences.

1. Cocaine

An AUP student agreed to sit down over coffee and talk about the drug. He tried cocaine for the first time at 18 years old. "It's kind of a funny story actually; Wesley Snipes's son made me do it. I wanted to try something new so I did. It didn't really make me feel anything the first time, but I somehow liked it and kept on doing it." Once a person starts regularly taking cocaine, it has proven almost impossible to become free of its grip physically and mentally; it's one of the most addictive drugs known to this day. The powder stimulates key receptors within the brain that create a lovable euphoria, to which users quickly develop tolerance to. The only way to feel the same high again is to take a bigger dose, and the unstoppable cycle begins.

Cocaine was originally extracted from Coca leaves and developed as a painkiller. It is nowadays found in the form of powder or crystal and is usually mixed with other substances such as corn starch, talcum powder, sugar or other drugs such as procaine (commonly used a local anesthetic) or amphetamines. It is sniffed, ingested or rubbed into the gums. Once the powder enters the bloodstream, it causes a short-lived, intense high that is immediately followed by the opposite: intense depression, edginess, and cravings for more "blanco". According to the European Monitoring Centre on Drugs and Drug Addiction, "Cocaine is the second most commonly used illegal drug in Europe. Among young people (15 to 34 years), an estimated 7.5 million have used cocaine at least once in their life, 3.5 million in the last year and 1.5 million in the past month."

Cocaine use can lead to several not-so-pleasant side-effects: death from respiratory failure, stroke, cerebral hemorrhage or heart attack. In the long run, cocaine causes permanent damages to blood vessels of the heart, brain, liver, and kidney, and severe lung damage. It can even cause infertility and severe depression. "You eat less, you lose weight, you lose sleep, your nose bleeds, you crave more. It's a very bad drug. I spent some time in rehab a few years ago. Cocaine is highly addictive, but it also depends on one's character. If you have an addictive personality, you can get hooked on caffeine."

2. Marijuana

Another student opened up about her daily use of marijuana, and the medical reasons behind it. She smoked weed for the first time when she was 15 years old. "I was suffering from chronic pain. My dad is a huge advocate of medicinal marijuana; he told me it could help and it did." Marijuana comes from the dried leaves, flowers, stems, and seeds from the Cannabis sativa or Cannabis indica plant. The THC contained in the plant creates mind-altering effects and is originally the protective mechanism of the marijuana plant. Marijuana is one of the most abused drugs in the world, being legal in some countries and strictly prohibited in others. It can be smoked as a cigarette (a "joint"), but may also be smoked in a dry pipe or a water pipe. It can also be mixed with food and eaten or brewed into tea. Joints are sometimes laced with more powerful drugs, such as crack cocaine or PCP (a powerful hallucinogen), and that's when potential danger can appear.

"I started smoking daily about a year ago. It calms me down because I suffer from a lot of anxiety, and helps with the chronic pain. It changed my life." The debate around whether or not marijuana should be legalized is popular in France, although it has been proven that medical marijuana has multiple benefits on health. Studies are now showing marijuana's potential in helping shrinking aggressive cancerous brain tumors and reducing nausea and pain from chemotherapy. It also has been proven to help in reducing anxiety, the progression of Alzheimer's disease, ease the pain of multiple forms of sclerosis, help with Chron's disease, protect the brain from strokes, help with PTSD and more.

"My grades are the same, I eat better and sleep better." The common sides effects of cannabis abuse include relaxation, sociability, happiness, laughter, increased appetite ("munchies"), an alteration of sight and smell and a loss of pain perception as well as an impairment of short-term memory, "The only problem is that I tend to forget stuff. For example, if I have an appointment I absolutely need to write it down." Indeed, cannabis induces short-term memory problems. However, marijuana’s effect on short-term memory is quite different from other substances like alcohol. One won’t find themselves blacked out or experience complete amnesia after smoking too much weed. While it is safer than other drugs, such as alcohol, cannabis can still hook users without proper care and responsibility.


MDMA is a synthetic drug that acts as a stimulant and hallucinogen. It can be taken either in a tablet or capsule form and is often mixed with methamphetamine, ketamine (commonly used as an anesthetic), caffeine, ephedrine (a diet drug), dextromethorphan, heroin, phencyclidine (PCP), or cocaine. The student I sat down with had tried MDMA for the first time when she was just 12 years old. "I was in Hawaii at that time. It felt weird at first, I didn't know that it was actually going to do something to me. I thought I'd just have a lot of energy, but everything felt amazing." MDMA provides an enhanced sense of well being, an increased extroversion, emotional warmth, empathy toward others and a willingness to discuss emotionally-charged memories.

While fatal overdoses from MDMA are rare, they can be potentially life-threatening: panic attacks, hypertension, loose of consciousness and seizures, and multiple heart diseases are among the side effects. MDMA can also produce other adverse health effects, including involuntary jaw clenching, lack of appetite, depersonalization, illogical or disorganized thoughts, restless legs, nausea, hot flashes or chills, headache, sweating, and muscle or joint stiffness.  "I really liked a guy that was a few years older than me. He was selling MDMA and I thought he'd like me better if I took it. It's a stupid reason to do it, I know."

"Every time you take it, you know there's gonna be a comedown, and during the come down you just feel like shit." MDMA works by releasing from large amounts of serotonin in the brain, which is what causes MDMA’s mood elevation effect that so many people find valuable and rewarding about the drug. But in releasing large amounts of serotonin, MDMA also depletes the brain’s supply. It then takes some time for the brain to replenish what was released, from 48 hours to an entire week. In this phase of come down, one can feel deeply depressed, weak and physically sick. "Drugs definitely affected my studies -hell, sometimes I even take drugs to study. If I stopped I'd save a lot of money. I could buy the paperback version of my textbooks instead of the online free pdf ones."

4. Mushrooms

"I took shrooms for the first time when I was 16 years old. It was the summer before 11th grade. My uncle grew them behind his couch and I had already been smoking weed with him for awhile. He asked me if I wanted to try them and I said yes." Despite being illegal, "magic mushrooms" have been proven by studies to be the safest recreational drug. "Magic mushrooms" is the term given to mushrooms that contain psilocybin, a hallucinogenic substance.

"You have to be in the safe environment when you try mushrooms and have a reliable source to get them. The best is to grow them yourself." There are hundreds of varieties of mushroom and some are highly poisonous. You can eat them raw, dried (sometimes smoked, mixed with cannabis or tobacco), cooked or stewed. When psilocybin is taken, it is converted in the body to psilocin, which is the chemical with the psychoactive properties. Mushroom also affects the brain's serotonin receptors and can reduce anxiety, ease the intense pain of cluster headaches, alleviate OCD symptoms, improve depression, and boost the psychological state of terminal cancer patients. It has also been proven to be impossible to get addicted to mushrooms: they are a physically non-addictive hallucinogen. However, they can be potentially habit-forming,  as tolerance to mushrooms quickly increases and the drug has a reduced effect.

"I had a positive first experience, probably because I took a very low dose. We just chilled and talked while tripping. I saw colors and some distortion, but nothing too disturbing. I'd say that mushrooms are pretty light psychedelics." Once a person takes "shrooms", they can experience distortion of color, sound, and objects as well as a different relation to time (either the sensation of time being sped up or slowed down). They can also make the person feel more creative and enlightened or, on the contrary, sick, tired and disorientated. Mushrooms can also lead to powerful hallucinations, out of body experiences ("smell words" and "taste colors"), an alcohol-like euphoria, deep sleep with vivid dreams or some not so pleasant side effects, such as slurred speech and poor coordination, convulsions, muscle twisting, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.

5. Acid

Acid, also known as LSD, is produced in crystal form in illegal laboratories. These crystals are converted to a liquid for distribution. It is odorless, colorless, and has a slightly bitter taste. This liquid can be found in small tablets, capsules or gelatin squares. It can also be added to absorbent paper, which is then divided into small squares or occasionally sold in direct liquid form.

"I was 14 years old and a guy I went to school with dealt acid. I had just gotten my nipple pierced and it hurt really bad so I decided to do it. I took a very low dose. I remember laughing for 30 minutes straight- my whole face was hurting. Everything felt more vibrant, and the colors were different. I couldn't sleep so I went and took a bath. I was sitting there and the water was lilac. It was magical. The immediate come down off acid was fine, as I never have bad comedowns. But for two days afterward, I was really depressed and kept crying. I couldn't get out of bed, go to school, or do anything. For weeks afterward, I just felt really sad. "

The effects of acid are rather unpredictable; they depend on the amount taken, the person's mood and the environment in which it is taken. Acid will either give a distorted high or a severe, paranoid low, more commonly known as a "bad trip". On a bad trip, users experience terrifying thoughts and feelings, fear of losing control, fear of insanity and death, and despair. Once it starts, there is often no stopping a bad trip which can go on for up to twelve hours. Some people never recover from an acid-induced psychosis. While being very similar to a comedown from MDMA, acid's comedowns normally have a longer side effect.

One student described a bad trip on acid. "I had a friend living in Boston, he called me the 19th of April telling me to get on a bus from New York to Boston for the Boston Marathon Monday. For universities there, it's a marathon for partying. They start at six in the morning, so my friend woke me up at 5:30 am and brought me to a frat house. They were already shots deep. I had never seen this before." She explained how the acid came into the picture: "We went to McDonald's at like 7:30 in the morning, and, sitting there with my Mc Muffin and my coffee, my friend passes me a tab of acid and asked me to do it with him. I decided to do it because I knew I would've never tried it by myself. It happened to be Marathon Monday and 4/20, a day commonly dedicated to smoking marijuana. We were going from frat house to frat house and everyone around me was either smoking weed or taking shots. I remember being in a frat house, incapable of knowing the way in or out. I was taller than everybody else, stuck in the middle of all of these sorority girls who were dressed the same. I felt like a sea turtle in a sea of basic bitches. I freaked out- I couldn't speak, I didn't know anyone and I was losing my mind. I was confused by everything, it was very overwhelming. You never wanna do acid in an uncontrolled environment."

Drug harm reduction lies in education, both legal and illegal, to help reduce the short and long-term harms of drugs. There are clear benefits to knowing what you are truly putting into your body and in doing research about how to dose properly and knowing the risks. When taking any drug, be mindful of where the drug came from, if it's mixed with anything, and about the environment in which you decide to do so. If you have any concerns about your drug use or questions, please contact on and off-campus counseling here at AUP or call the Narcotic Anonymous hotline (English speaking).