Hard Drugs & Hard Facts

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes and is not intended to condone the use of drugs illicit or otherwise.

Marijuana is being legalized and hitting pop culture with a force. With most focus being directed at this seemingly harmless drug it may be easy to forget about the more taboo drugs people are using. The intricate workings of these illicit substances and how to navigate them with the least amount of danger seems to be tied up in research papers that are unclear to most. To challenge that lack of accessibility I’m going to do my best to make things digestible, with some help of course.

Without further ado, allow me to introduce Heroin, Methamphetamine, and Cocaine.

Heroin- Smack, H, Dope, Brown

I provide an infallible sense of euphoria and if you keep to just smoking me our relationship may not grow to reach its full dependent potential. Most people get obsessed and start slamming me. I’ll swim through your veins; our bond will be so strong you’ll never want to let me go. If there ever comes a point where we get a little too involved with each other and you overdose my buddy Narcan (Naloxone) can try and save you. And if you live- you’ll always know where to find me.

Heroin operates on a system that already exists in the brain called the opioid neurons. The opioid neurons are involved with pain, pleasure and critical life functions such as breathing. In a chain of effects H acts as an agonist (activator) on the neuron causing it to switch on without the biological need. If this activation of the opioid system is pushed to a point of excess an overdose will occur.


 There is however a way to combat this excessive activation with an antagonist (deactivator). At the point of overdose an antagonist can stop the activation of the opioid receptor and reverse the life threatening effects of heroin. Naloxone, known by brand as Narcan, is the opioid antagonist that can save heroin users from the point overdose. Essentially Narcan’s function is being stronger than the agonist, kicking it off the receptor, and ending its activation[2].

Overdose usually indicates toxic levels of a drug in the body, but in some cases, the overdose occurs because of failed tolerance that leads to decreased drive to breathe. One of these cases has been coined as “situational specificity of tolerance[3].” This could translate to: an individual’s tolerance for smack can be reliant on environmental stimuli. An example of this being if someone takes “x” amount of heroin in their bedroom everyday but then takes “x” amount again in a different location, they can overdose. Being aware of this and putting repetitive location use into practice cuts out one risk factor, which can be life saving.

Methamphetamine- Speed, Meth, ChrisTina

Do you find yourself sleeping all the time, just low on energy; I can keep you up, buzzing, doing all the things you need to do, finally finishing those projects you’ve been putting off, really getting the grout in the corner of your kitchen counter clean kind of thing. I’ll even help you reorganize all your things so you’ll know if anyone ever touches your stuff!

Methamphetamine triggers its response by influencing dopamine neurons. The dopamine neurons strongly affect the reward systems in the brain and speeds exploitation of this quickly leads to addiction. The molecular makeup of meth allows it to enter the reuptake receptors of dopamine neurons. Reuptake receptors are transporters placed on the neuron to suck back in the excess dopamine and recycle it.


When all the dopamine stored are released into the synapse speeds effect is achieved. Subsequently the neurons wither in exhaustion, which leads to neuronal death[5]. However there is hope for individuals with this extreme depletion to recover. With abstinence from use for a prolonged period of time regeneration has been shown to occur for a partial recovery.

Cocaine- Coke, Blow, Snow

When people say the party is going to be snowing and you live in LA during the winter, you know I’m going to be the special guest. I’m often referenced in pop culture with my current favorite being a song by Blackbear with the lyric: “one more line I’m superhuman.” I’m quite fond of the notion that I provide a feeling of invincibility. I’ve also got a little secret that you probably already know without knowing. When I link up with those shots of tequila you’ve been shooting, I hit harder and last even longer.


Cocaine also operates on the reuptake receptors of dopamine neurons, however it does not use this as an entrance into the neuron. The function of cocaine is to inhibit the reuptake receptor leaving an excess of dopamine in the synapse. This excess of dopamine in the synapse then spreads throughout the brain and cocaine’s effect is achieved. The dopamine system impacted here has the same ramifications as methamphetamine with less reward and the mode of activation causes less damage to the neurons. Cocaine does however have a way to ramp up its effect.


The way in which coke enhances itself is a molecular collaboration with alcohol forming cocaethylene. It’s stronger, it lasts longer, and it carries with it many more dangers. Cocaethylene has associations with seizures as well as an 18 fold increase in risk for overdose[9]. Eliminating the interaction of these drugs is as simple as making the decision not to consume them at the same time.

Now some hard facts about these hard drugs have found their way into your brain. Even if just one idea sticks, you now have the power to educate and potentially protect those around you who use these drugs. So, to those who use and those who do not- best of luck. 


1. Hackney, A. C. (2018). Hormone and Metabolic Modulators. Doping, Performance Enhancing Drugs, and Hormones in Sport, 77–89. doi:10.1016/b978-0-12-813442-9.00007-9 

2. Kerensky, T., Walley, A.Y. Opioid overdose prevention and naloxone rescue kits: what we know and what we don’t know. Addict Sci Clin Pract 12, 4 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13722-016-0068-3

3. Siegel, S. (2001). Pavlovian Conditioning and Drug Overdose: When Tolerance Fails. Addiction Research & Theory, 9(5), 503–513. doi:10.3109/16066350109141767 

4. Kish SJ. Pharmacologic mechanisms of crystal meth. Cmaj : Canadian Medical Association Journal = Journal de L’association Medicale Canadienne. 2008 Jun;178(13):1679-1682. DOI: 10.1503/cmaj.071675.

5. Halpin Laura E., Collins Stuart A., Yamamoto Bryan K., Neurotoxicity of Methamphetamine and 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine, Life Sciences (2013), doi: 10.1016/j.lfs.2013.07.01

6. Volkow, Nora D., et al. “Loss of Dopamine Transporters in Methamphetamine Abusers Recovers with Protracted Abstinence.” The Journal of Neuroscience, vol. 21, no. 23, 2001, pp. 9414–9418., doi:10.1523/jneurosci.21-23-09414.2001.


8. vectorstock.com

9. Rose, S., Hearn, W. L., Hime, G. W., Wetli, C. V., Ruttenber, A. J., and Mash, D. C. (1990). Cocaine and cocaethylene concentrations in human post mortem cerebral cortex. Neurosci. Abstr. 16, I 1.6.