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Other Substances

Other substances with negative health impacts

There are additional substances that have made their way into our modern culture – some with dangerous health consequences.

Some of them, like inhalants, are relatively easy for kids to access. Whether they promise bigger muscles or a cheaper high, these substances can be extremely dangerous.

Learn more about some of the other substances your kids may have heard about in the capsules below. Having informed and meaningful conversations with your kids about what to do or say if they are ever offered any of these substances is a good way to prevent the harm they can cause to youth.

Anabolic Steroids

Anabolic Steroids

About Steroids

“Steroids” refers to the class of drugs used to treat a wide variety of conditions, from supporting reproduction (e.g., estrogen) and regulation of metabolism and immune function, to increasing muscle and bone mass and treating inflammation and asthma (e.g., cortisone).

What Are Anabolic Steroids?

“Anabolic” steroids are the class of steroids used to increase muscle and bone mass. These drugs are manufactured in a laboratory to imitate the male sex hormone, testosterone. Despite the fact that there are various types of steroids, teens tend to use the “anabolic” muscle-building kind.

While anabolic steroids are available legally by prescription, they are most often prescribed to treat conditions that occur when males produce abnormally low amounts of testosterone, which can result in delayed puberty, osteoporosis (weak bones), and impotence. They are also prescribed to treat body wasting in patients with AIDS and other diseases that result in loss of lean muscle mass. However, the improper use of anabolic steroids can lead to serious health problems, some irreversible.

Street or Slang Terms for Steroids

Arnolds, gym candy, juice, pumpers, stackers, and weight trainers are all commonly used terms to refer to steroids.

Why Steroids Are Dangerous to Teens

As a parent, you have the challenge of explaining to your teen why the use of steroids is a serious issue.

1.  While they are sometimes prescribed to treat medical conditions like cancer, there are significant health risks in using them outside a health professional’s care. Typically, in those situations, the benefits of steroid use under a physician’s supervision outweigh the risks, and they can improve the patient’s quality of life.

2.  Both men’s and women’s bodies produce a certain level of testosterone. When teens take steroids, they are adding more testosterone to their growing bodies, which throws off their hormonal balance.

3.  Since steroids are often taken by injection, there is also increased risk of HIV and/or hepatitis infection from an unsterile needle or syringe.

There are many reasons teens think they should take steroids. Here are a few natural opportunities to talk to your child about all the reasons they should stay far away from steroids:

  • When your teen gets more involved with competitive sports.
  • If you find your teen is growing more preoccupied with body image, such as wanting to gain more muscle or appear leaner.
  • If you notice your child’s friends are hitting their growth spurts and “filling out.”

Make sure your teen understands that the effects of steroid use may include: sterility; damage to the cardiovascular system and liver; increased risk of injury; and disease, such as increased levels of cholesterol, causing a thickening of arterial walls that could ultimately be life-threatening.

Signs and Symptoms

If you have reason to believe your teen is using steroids, look out for these specific signs and symptoms:

  • Noticeable weight gain, particularly more muscle
  • Hair loss and premature balding
  • Severe acne
  • Mood swings, from depression to aggressiveness
  • Increased injuries, specifically to tendons
  • Yellow tinge to the skin (indicates abnormal liver function)
  • Needle marks in large muscle groups
  • Needles or syringes in your teen’s belongings

If you notice any of this, it’s important to talk with your teen right away and discuss the serious health risks with him. It’s also important that you speak with a family physician. Some health effects are reversible, like acne and mood swings, while others (such as baldness and stunted growth) are not. A doctor should also supervise and help your teen stop taking steroids safely.

Where Do Teens Get Steroids?

Since anabolic steroids are available only by prescription, and because they are regulated like narcotics, young people using anabolic steroids often obtain the drugs illegally. Some of the ways they can get steroids can include purchasing steroids manufactured in an illegal drug laboratory, smuggling from other countries, purchasing through Internet sales, or stealing from pharmacies.

Forms of anabolic steroids containing androstenedione or “andro” can be purchased legally without a prescription through many commercial sources, including health food stores. An anabolic steroid precursor is a steroid that the body converts into an anabolic steroid. There is evidence that they may increase the risk of serious, long-term health problems.

How Are Steroids Used?


Anabolic steroids can be taken in the following ways:

  • Injection directly into the bloodstream
  • Swallowed as tablets or capsules
  • Ointments or patches (through the skin)
  • Preparations that are placed between the cheek and gum of mouth

Doses taken by non-medical users can be up to 100 times more than the doses used for treating medical conditions.

Health Effects

Although steroids do not produce a medically intoxicating effect, the non-medical use of steroids by a growing teen can lead to serious consequences:

Short-term effects

  • Effects vary by individual, but general short-term negative effects for both sexes include hostility, aggression, and acne.
  • Steroids can have a magnified effect on teens since their bodies are still growing. Any unnatural substances, such as anabolic steroids, that are designed to physically alter a body before adulthood, can result in stunting height, and this can be permanent.
  • Males may experience shrunken testicles, difficulty or pain in urinating, become infertile or impotent, development of breasts, hair loss, and increased risk for prostate cancer.
  • Girls can experience an excessive growth of body and facial hair, male-pattern baldness, decreased body fat and breast size, changes in or cessation of the menstrual cycle, and a deepened voice.

Long-term effects

The long-term effects for both males and females are similarly related to extreme stresses to the body. Long-term effects include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Increased risk of blood clotting
  • Increases in LDL (bad cholesterol)
  • Decreases in HDL (good cholesterol)
  • Jaundice (yellowish skin color, tissues, and body fluids)
  • Liver cysts and cancer
  • Kidney cancer
  • Fluid retention
  • Severe acne

Mental effects

While steroids are not taken as mood-altering drugs, they do have potentially negative psychological effects when used without medical supervision. Scientific research has shown that aggression and other psychiatric side effects may result from the abuse of anabolic steroids. Many users report feeling good about themselves while on anabolic steroids, but researchers report that extreme mood swings also can occur, including hyperactivity or agitation, and uncontrolled aggression (known as “roid rage”), which can lead to violence.

What Is Steroid Withdrawal?

Many steroid users feel strong and “happy” when they are using. When they stop, they can experience feelings of depression, which can result in dependence. Researchers also report that users may suffer from paranoid jealousy, extreme irritability, delusions, and impaired judgment stemming from feelings of invincibility.

Bath Salts

Bath Salts

Bath Salts sold in small packets or jars with names like Blue Wave, Cloud Nine, and White Lady, are one of the scariest of so called “designer drugs”.

Bath Salts are a troubling addition to a growing list of items that young people can obtain to get high. The synthetic powder is sold legally online and in drug paraphernalia stores under a variety of names, such as Ivory Wave, Purple Wave, Red Dove, Blue Silk, Zoom, Bloom, Cloud Nine, Ocean Snow, Lunar Wave, Vanilla Sky, White Lightning, Scarface, and Hurricane Charlie.

Because these products are relatively new to the drug abuse scene, our knowledge about their precise chemical composition and short- and long-term effects is limited, yet the information we do have is worrisome and warrants a proactive stance to understand and minimize any potential dangers to the health of the public.

These products often contain various amphetamine-like chemicals, such as methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MPDV), mephedrone and pyrovalerone. These drugs are typically administered orally, by inhalation, or by injection, with the worst outcomes apparently associated with snorting or intravenous administration.
Mephedrone is of particular concern because, according to the United Kingdom experience, it presents a high risk for overdose.

These chemicals act in the brain like stimulant drugs (indeed they are sometimes touted as cocaine substitutes); thus they present a high abuse and addiction liability.  Consistent with this notion, these products have been reported to trigger intense cravings not unlike those experienced by methamphetamine users, and clinical reports from other countries appear to corroborate their addictiveness.

They can also confer a high risk for other medical adverse effects. Some of these may be linked to the fact that, beyond their known psychoactive ingredients, the contents of bath salts are largely unknown, which makes the practice of abusing them, by any route, that much more dangerous.

Unfortunately, bath salts have already been linked to an alarming number of ER visits across the country. Doctors and clinicians at poison centres have indicated that ingesting or snorting “bath salts” containing synthetic stimulants can cause chest pains, increased blood pressure, increased heart rate, agitation, hallucinations, extreme paranoia, and delusions.



Inhalants are common products found right in the home and are among the most deadly substances kids use.

Although other substances that are problematically used can be inhaled, the term inhalants refers to the various substances that people typically take only by inhaling. These substances include:

  • solvents (liquids that become gas at room temperature)
  • aerosol sprays
  • gases
  • nitrites (prescription medicines for chest pain)

Inhalants are various products easily bought and found in the home or workplace—such as spray paints, markers, glues, and cleaning fluids. They contain dangerous substances that have psychoactive (mind-altering) properties when inhaled.

Inhalant use can result in death from the very first use.

Teens use inhalants by sniffing or “snorting” fumes from containers; spraying aerosols directly into the mouth or nose; bagging, by inhaling a substance inside a paper or plastic bag; huffing from an inhalant-soaked rag, or inhaling from balloons filled with nitrous oxide. Young people are likely to use inhalants, in part, because inhalants are readily available and inexpensive.

Parents should see that these substances are monitored closely so that children do not use them.

Inhalants fall into the following categories:


  • industrial or household solvents or solvent-containing products, including paint thinners or solvents, degreasers (dry-cleaning fluids), gasoline, and glues
  • art or office supply solvents, including correction fluids, felt-tip-marker fluid, and electronic contact cleaners


  • gases used in household or commercial products, including butane lighters and propane tanks, whipping cream aerosols or dispensers (whippets), and refrigerant gases
  • household aerosol propellants and associated solvents in items such as spray paints, hair or deodorant sprays, and fabric protector sprays
  • medical anesthetic gases, such as ether, chloroform, halothane, and nitrous oxide (laughing gas)


  • aliphatic nitrites, including cyclohexyl nitrite, which is available to the general public; amyl nitrite, which is available only by prescription; and butyl nitrite, which is now an illegal substance

Health Hazards

Health Effects and Risks.

Nearly all inhalants produce effects similar to anesthetics, which act to slow down the body’s functions. When inhaled in sufficient concentrations, inhalants can cause intoxicating effects that can last only a few minutes or several hours if inhalants are taken repeatedly. Initially, users may feel slightly stimulated; with successive inhalations, they may feel less inhibited and less in control; finally, a user can lose consciousness.

Irreversible hazards.

Inhalants are toxic. Chronic exposure can lead to brain damage or nerve damage similar to multiple sclerosis; damage to the heart, lungs, liver and kidneys; and prolonged abuse can affect thinking, movement, vision and hearing.

Sniffing highly concentrated amounts of the chemicals in solvents or aerosol sprays can directly induce heart failure and death.

Heart failure results from the chemicals interfering with the heart’s rhythm regulating system, causing the heart to stop beating. This is especially common from the use of fluorocarbons and butane-type gases. High concentrations of inhalants also cause death from asphyxiation, suffocation, convulsions or seizures, coma, choking or fatal injury from accidents while intoxicated.

Other irreversible effects caused by inhaling specific solvents are:

  • Hearing loss – toluene (paint sprays, glues, dewaxers) and trichloroethylene (cleaning fluids, correction fluids)
  • Peripheral neuropathies or limb spasms – hexane (glues, gasoline) and nitrous oxide (whipping cream, gas cylinders)
  • Central nervous system or brain damage – toluene (paint sprays, glues, dewaxers)
  • Bone marrow damage – benzene (gasoline)
  • Liver and kidney damage – toluene- containing substances and chlorinated hydrocarbons (correction fluids, dry-cleaning fluids)
  • Blood oxygen depletion – organic nitrites (“poppers,” “bold,” and “rush”) and methylene chloride (varnish removers, paint thinners)

Parents can keep their teens away from inhalants by talking to them and letting them know the dangers of inhalants. Most young users don’t realize how dangerous inhalants can be. Inhalants are widely available and inexpensive, and parents should be mindful about how and where they store common household products.

Parents should be aware of the following signs of an inhalant abuse problem:

  • Chemical odours on breath or clothing;
  • Paint or other stains on face, hands, or clothes;
  • Hidden empty spray paint or solvent containers and chemical-soaked rags or clothing;
  • Drunk or disoriented appearance;
  • Slurred speech;
  • Nausea or loss of appetite;
  • Inattentiveness, lack of coordination, irritability, and depression;
  • Missing household items.



Salvia is a potent hallucinogen.  

Salvia (Salvia divinorum) is an herb common to southern Mexico and Central and South America. The main active ingredient in Salvia, is salvinorin A,  a potent activator of kappa opioid receptors in the brain. These receptors differ from those activated by the more commonly known opioids, such as heroin and morphine.

Traditionally, Salvia has been ingested by chewing fresh leaves or by drinking their extracted juices. The dried leaves of Salvia can also be smoked as a joint, consumed in water pipes, or vaporized and inhaled.

Health/Behavioral Effects

People who use Salvia generally experience hallucinations or “psychotomimetic” episodes (a transient experience that mimics a psychosis).  Subjective effects have been described as intense but short-lived, appearing in less than 1 minute and lasting less than 30 minutes. They include psychedelic-like changes in visual perception, mood and body sensations, emotional swings, feelings of detachment, and importantly, a highly modified perception of external reality and the self, leading to a decreased ability to interact with one’s surroundings.

This last effect has prompted concern about the dangers of driving under the influence of salvinorin. The long-term effects of Salvia abuse have not been investigated systematically although recent experiments in rodents demonstrated deleterious effects of salvinorin A on learning and memory.

Spice – Synthetic Cannabis

Spice – Synthetic Marijuana

Synthetic marijuana or Spice refers to a wide variety of plant mixtures that are promoted to produce experiences similar to natural cannabis) and that are marketed as legal and “safe” alternatives.

Synthetic marijuana or Spice, is completely different than natural marijuana.

Spice is considered highly addictive and is widely believed to be more dangerous than the real thing.

Synthetic marijuana is not sold as a single brand, nor does it make use of just one ingredient. It’s sold in cute colourful packages and is marketed as a herbal tobacco, potpourri, or incense, purporting to be an innocent product for scenting rooms and will usually have the warning, “Not for human consumption” on the packet.

The packages contain dried and shredded plant materials that have been sprayed with synthetic cannabinoids – which are responsible for their psychoactive (mind-altering) effects..

Synthetic cannabinoids latch onto the same receptors that THC latches onto in the brain, so they can have an effect similar to THC. However, some synthetic cannabinoids are 100 times stronger than THC and many operate on other brain receptors, too.

Synthetic cannabis and Spice products are often labeled “not for human consumption” and are sold under many names, including K2, Fake weed, Yucatan Fire, Skunk, Mojo, Scooby Snax, Black Mamba, Annihilation, Moon Rocks, etc.

Easy access and the misperception that Spice products are “natural” and therefore harmless have likely contributed to their popularity. Another selling point is that the chemicals used in Spice are not easily detected in standard drug tests.

Spice highs can now mimic the effects of amphetamine, cocaine, or psychedelic drugs, with significant negative side effects that can include high blood pressure, blurred vision, heart attack, vomiting, seizures, hallucinations, and severe anxiety, paranoia and psychosis.


Vaping the liquid form of synthetic cannabis is a fast-growing trend.

The variety of chemicals may be greater in the liquid forms of synthetic cannabis. Some suspect that a few brands of liquid Spice may contain traces of synthetic psychedelics such as 2C-P.

Much of synthetic cannabis is produced in clandestine labs in China or Russia. Because of the wide variety of chemicals involved and the sloppy manufacturing methods used to produce them, one batch may not be the same as another, increasing the health risks and turning the use of the drug into a game of Russian roulette.

Unlike some countries and U.S. states, Canada hasn’t expressly banned synthetic cannabinoids, although it controls them under the term “similar synthetic preparations” to cannabis.

It may be harder to get Spice in head shops or gas station stores now, but synthetic cannabis remains available online.

Most young users are unaware of the negative effects that synthetic cannabis can have on them. Some have died from their first exposure to the drug.

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