48 Health Effects of Drug Abuse

In addition to the effects various drugs of abuse may have on specific organs of the body, many drugs produce global body changes such as dramatic changes in appetite and increases in body temperature, which may impact a variety of health conditions. Withdrawal from drug use also may lead to numerous adverse health effects, including restlessness, mood swings, fatigue, changes in appetite, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, cold flashes, diarrhea, and vomiting.


Marijuana is made from the hemp plant, Cannabis sativa. The main psychoactive (mind-altering) chemical in marijuana is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC.

Possible Health Effects
Short-term Enhanced sensory perception and euphoria followed by drowsiness/relaxation; slowed reaction time; problems with balance and coordination; increased heart rate and appetite; problems with learning and memory; hallucinations; anxiety; panic attacks; psychosis.
Long-term Mental health problems, chronic cough, frequent respiratory infections.
Other Health-related Issues

Youth: possible loss of IQ points when repeated use begins in adolescence.

Pregnancy: babies born with problems involving attention, memory, and problem solving.

Click here for additional details regarding marijuana use.


A powerfully addictive stimulant drug made from the leaves of the coca plant native to South America.

Possible Health Effects
Short-term Narrowed blood vessels; enlarged pupils; increased body temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure; headache; abdominal pain and nausea; euphoria; increased energy, alertness; insomnia, restlessness; anxiety; erratic and violent behavior, panic attacks, paranoia, psychosis; heart rhythm problems, heart attack; stroke, seizure, coma.
Long-term Loss of sense of smell, nosebleeds, nasal damage and trouble swallowing from snorting; infection and death of bowel tissue from decreased blood flow; poor nutrition and weight loss from decreased appetite.
Other Health-related Issues

Pregnancy: premature delivery, low birth weight, smaller head circumference.

Risk of HIV, hepatitis, and other infectious diseases from shared needles.

Click here to learn more about cocaine.


An extremely addictive stimulant amphetamine drug.

Possible Health Effects
Short-term Increased wakefulness and physical activity; decreased appetite; increased breathing, heart rate, blood pressure, temperature; irregular heartbeat.
Long-term Anxiety, confusion, insomnia, mood problems, violent behavior, paranoia, hallucinations, delusions, weight loss, severe dental problems (“meth mouth”), intense itching leading to skin sores from scratching.
Other Health-related Issues

Pregnancy: premature delivery; separation of the placenta from the uterus; low birth weight; lethargy; heart and brain problems.

Risk of HIV, hepatitis, and other infectious diseases from shared needles.

To learn more about methamphetamine, click here.

CNS Depressants

CNS depressants slow down brain activity and can cause sleepiness and loss of coordination. Continued use can lead to physical dependence and withdrawal symptoms if use is stopped.

Possible Health Effects
Short-term Drowsiness, slurred speech, poor concentration, confusion, dizziness, problems with movement and memory, lowered blood pressure, slowed breathing.
Long-term Physical dependence, withdrawal, possibility of seizures from rebound effect.
Other Health-related Issues

Sleep medications are sometimes used as date rape drugs (e.g. Rohypnol).

Risk of HIV, hepatitis, and other infectious diseases from shared needles.

In Combination with Alcohol Further slows heart rate and breathing, which can lead to death.

Click here to find out more about the misuse of prescription drugs.

Prescription Opioids

Pain relievers with an origin similar to that of heroin. Opioids can cause euphoria and are often used nonmedically, leading to overdose deaths.

Possible Health Effects
Short-term Pain relief, drowsiness, nausea, constipation, euphoria, confusion, slowed breathing, death.
Long-term Physical dependence, possible brain damage.
Other Health-related Issues

Pregnancy: Miscarriage, low birth weight, neonatal abstinence syndrome.

Older adults: higher risk of accidental misuse or abuse because many older adults have multiple prescriptions, increasing the risk of drug-drug interactions, and breakdown of drugs slows with age; also, many older adults are treated with prescription medications for pain.

Risk of HIV, hepatitis, and other infectious diseases from shared needles.

In Combination with Alcohol Dangerous slowing of heart rate and breathing leading to coma or death.


Possible Health Effects
Short-term Euphoria; warm flushing of skin; dry mouth; heavy feeling in the hands and feet; clouded thinking; alternate wakeful and drowsy states; itching; nausea; vomiting; slowed breathing and heart rate.
Long-term Collapsed veins; abscesses (swollen tissue with pus); infection of the lining and valves in the heart; constipation and stomach cramps; liver or kidney disease; pneumonia.
Other Health-related Issues

Pregnancy: miscarriage, low birth weight, neonatal abstinence syndrome.

Risk of HIV, hepatitis, and other infectious diseases from shared needles.

In Combination with Alcohol Dangerous slowdown of heart rate and breathing, coma, death.

Click here to learn more about heroin and opioid abuse.


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