Questions About Drugs—Answers From Scientists

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Every year since 2007, scientists at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) in Washington, D.C., dedicate a day to answering student questions about drugs. In this annual online chat—Drugs and Alcohol Chat Day*—teens across the country can ask the questions they most want answered, and the scientists answer them. No judgment. Just the facts.

To read the actual questions and answers—more than 2,500—visit teens.drugabuse.gov/chatday2015. Here are a few Q&As inspired by Chat Day to give you some important facts now.


Q: Some people say marijuana is dangerous and others say it’s not. What’s the truth?

A: Scientific research has shown that marijuana can be dangerous for teens because their brains are still developing. Regular marijuana use may impact teens’ ability to learn and even lower their IQs. It can also impair driving ability, especially when combined with alcohol. In addition, when marijuana is put into food items and eaten, its mind-altering chemical (called THC) is digested more slowly, causing some people to eat too much of it. This can provoke psychotic reactions that land people in the emergency room.


Q: Why do people use tobacco when they know it’s so bad for them?

A: It is bad for them! More than 480,000 people die every year from smoking-related illnesses. But the nicotine in cigarettes is highly addictive. Most smokers get addicted before age 18. This is not surprising since young people are especially sensitive to nicotine’s addictive effects. Some people mistakenly think that using a hookah (water pipe) will let them use tobacco but avoid the dangers of it. Not true. Hookah smoke contains the same chemicals as cigarette smoke and is also linked to heart disease and lung cancer. In fact, a typical hookah session can equal as many as 100 cigarettes.


Q: Can coffee kill you?

A: Caffeine is generally safe at levels found in beverages such as coffee, soda, or energy drinks—though drinking too much can make you feel sick. However, there have been overdoses from consuming caffeine powder. Just a teaspoon of it is equal to 25 cups of coffee—enough to kill you! Too much caffeine powder can cause fast and erratic heartbeat, seizures, vomiting, diarrhea, disorientation, and even death.


Q: How is marijuana addictive?

A: Marijuana is addictive for some people, with the risk increasing for those who start using it as a teen. It affects certain receptors in the brain, called cannabinoid receptors, which influence many functions, including the brain’s reward system. Over time, this can make it difficult for some people to stop using marijuana even when it’s having negative effects on their lives—this means they have become addicted. Also, because marijuana withdrawal can cause irritability and restlessness and ‘looks’ different from withdrawal symptoms from drugs such as heroin, some people might not realize they are experiencing withdrawal.


Q: How can I get a friend to stop taking drugs?

A: Talking about drug use can be uncomfortable, so we suggest you ask a trusted teacher or coach to help you figure out how best to help your friend. Without being judgmental, you can let your friend know that you care and are concerned, and that he or she can talk to a trusted adult or a medical professional in confidence. Also, the anonymous national call line at 1-800-273-TALK can connect your friend with a nearby professional. There is also a helpful fact sheet at drugabuse.gov/helpforteens.


Q: What are Molly and Spice and why are they in the news?

A: Both Molly and Spice have led to hospitalizations and death, which makes headlines. Molly is another name for a drug called MDMA (also known as Ecstasy or X). MDMA affects areas of your brain that help you control your body temperature. It can cause the body to overheat to such an extreme that serious heart and kidney problems can result. MDMA is sometimes passed out at concerts and parties, but more and more, what is being presented as MDMA actually contains additional dangerous chemicals or other drugs (and sometimes has no MDMA at all). Spice, sometimes called K2 or “fake marijuana,” is a drug that is made by spraying plant material with dangerous chemicals. These chemicals can cause extreme reactions like hallucinations, paranoia, and heart problems.


From the Nation's Leading Expert on Drugs
→ “Any potentially addictive drug can be the ‘worst’ drug. We are all different, and some of us might be more sensitive to one drug versus another. You often won’t know until it’s too late what your reaction will be. No one ever chooses to be addicted.” —Dr. Nora D. Volkow, Director, NIDA


More Info: For additional facts about drugs, visit scholastic.com/headsup and teens.drugabuse.gov.

*New Name. Same Facts! Drug Facts Chat Day is now Drugs and Alcohol Chat Day. Learn about it and National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week at teens.drugabuse.gov/national-drug-facts-week.