Chemical Effects of Drugs

D.A.R.E. programs begin usually in elementary school classes, teaching children of the dangers of different types of drugs. But, this Drug Abuse Resistance Education does not educate people about the specifics of drugs and it true chemical affects to the body. As these children grow to become adolescents, they naturally expand their knowledge on basic information about drugs such as LSD, cocaine, and GHB based what they hear on the streets. Hallucinogens. Stimulants. Depressants. All pry at a person’s innate curiosity but as we grow to become adults, we indulge ourselves further and further into the meaning behind the saying “curiosity killed the cat.”

LSD – Lysergic Acid Diethylamide

Lysergic acid diethylamide, commonly known as LSD, is one of the most potent mood changing chemicals. Its molecular formula is C20H25N3O and has a molar mass of 323.43 g/mol.  It is a hallucinogen that greatly alters the user’s perception of reality. Brad Oskowski discusses the basics of LSD in a brief video here.

 A Swiss scientist named Albert Hoffman first created LSD in 1938. He was attempting to find ergot alkaloid derivatives, which are used to treat Parkinson’s and other diseases. He accidentally ingested an unknown quantity of this acid and discovered its psychedelic effects. Since the active dose of LSD is very small, it requires very little raw material to make a relatively large amount. It is synthesized from ergot, which is a fungus that grows on grains such as rye, making LSD a synthetic drug. LSD is produced in crystalline form and sold through tablets or in liquid form. Over 200 different types of LSD tablets have been found.

LSD trips consist of vivid hallucinations, mood swings, flashbacks, and cognitive malfunctions. Though there are very few research studies on the effects of LSD, scientists have made lots of discoveries about the specifics of the drug. Scientists believe that the drug influences the receptors involved in regulating serotonin, a hormone our body produces that regulates and controls the activity of certain cells or organs. Having too many or too few hormones in the body causes hormonal imbalances.

Serotonin also controls the behavioral, perceptual and regulatory systems, which include mood, sleep, hunger, body temperature, memory, learning, motor control sensory perception and sexual behavior. When the body is subjected to LSD, it mistakes it for serotonin and prevents serotonin from carrying information through nerve cells. Because LSD has a higher affinity for 5-HT (5-hydroxytryptamine) receptors, it blocks neural messages to the brain. 5-HT is a serotonin receptor that regulates excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmission. When 5-HT prevents serotonin from taking effect, everything that serotonin usually regulates becomes unbalanced and psychedelic hallucinations and visions result. This is another cause of hormonal imbalances, and regular imbalances cause anxiety, depression, mood swings, and insomnia.


Besides serotonin, another neurotransmitter is dopamine. Dopamine is especially affected by the drug cocaine, which is a stimulant. The molecular formula for cocaine is C17H21NO4 and its molecular weight is 303.35 g/mol, slightly less than that of LSD. It is extracted as an alkaloid ester from two different species of coca: “Erythroxylum coca (found in South America, Central America, India and Java) and Erythroxylum novogranatense (in South America)” (COCAINE). An alkaloid ester is an organic compound that eliminates hydrogen from an acid and uses another organic group in its place. Cocaine is one of 14 alkaloids that are extracted from coca leaves and is prepared by chemical synthesis from natural materials, classifying it as a semi-synthetic drug.

Cocaine affects the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is responsible for regulating pleasure and movement. Normally, neurons release dopamine whenever the body experiences something pleasurable. It is then recycled back into the cell to shut off the signal between neurons. With the ingestion of cocaine, dopamine is prevented from being recycled thus causing a dopamine build-up in the synapses, or junctions between the axon and dendrite of two nerve cells.

Because of the species of coca used to make cocaine, it is classified as a local anesthetic and vasoconstrictor. This means that it “reversibly depresses neuronal function, producing total or partial loss of sensation” and “causes narrowing of the walls of blood vessels,” (American Heritage Stedman’s…). Effects of cocaine include constricting of the blood vessels, dilation of the pupils, and increased body temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure. Nonetheless, effects due to cocaine mainly concern the eyes, ears, nose, throat, and the psychological state of the user.

GHB – Gamma-Hydroxybutyrate

Gamma-Hydroxybutyrate, more commonly known as GHB, is also an anesthetic and a depressant drug that can become addictive. GHB is a chemical that is found naturally in the human body. The molecular formula for GHB is C4H8O3 (HOOC-CH2-CH2-CH2OH) and its molecular weight is 104.10452 g/mol. The chemical is found in the central nervous system, including the brain, and “in higher concentrations in peripheral tissues”. Concentrations of GHB “are 15 to 20 times higher in kidney, heart, skeletal muscle, and brown fat, than in the central nervous system” (Chin, Kreutzer, Dyer).

GHB affects both the dopamine and serotonin systems of the body, much like a combination of LSD and cocaine. It inhibits the release of dopamine at the synapse, while simultaneously increasing the release of dopamine from the neurons. Once the drug wears off, the body goes through something called Dopamine Rebound, which is when the dopamine build up is released back into the nervous system. This causes effects common with “use of higher GHB doses, and the general feelings of increased well-being, alertness and arousal the next day,” (Trip Project Toronto Canada).  Other than affecting the dopamine system of the body, GHB also affects the serotonin system, which creates the feeling of euphoria. Though these effects are not as significant in the body, GHB increases the levels of serotonin thus causing a hormonal imbalance.

No matter what system of the body GHB affects, it is not known to be “toxic to the body or the brain.” After a few hours of ingestion, O2 and CO2 is metabolized from GHB and released from the body as urine, sweat, or through respiration. This is because GHB is synthesized within the body naturally, allowing the body to use the chemical for whatever means and it does not harm the liver or kidneys. It is harmful to the body when combined with other drugs though, such as alcohol, opiates, benzodiazepines, and antipsychotics which can lead to overdose, even at low doses. Effects are similar to that of LSD and cocaine, which damage the body’s neurological system, psychological state of the user, as well as death-imminent cardiothoracic effects; but all are dependent on the dosage of GHB used.

Drugs like LSD, Cocaine, and GHB heavily alter the mind’s state and take great control of the body. They cause a sense of great pleasure for a relatively short period of time and cause significant long term damage. Neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine are affected, and this causes hormonal changes and imbalances.  These long term damages include psychological effects like depression and insomnia. Many of these drugs cause you to build a dependence which continuously destroys your body. Lesson of the day: keep your dopamine and serotonin levels normal, of you may end up face life-threatening situations.


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