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Illegal drugs, drug trade and drug crime

Updated on February 22, 2012

Illegal drug trade is a global black market involving the cultivation, manufacture, distribution and sale of illegal controlled drugs. While some drugs are legal to possess and sell, in most jurisdictions laws prohibit the trade of certain types of drug. Pharmacology divides drugs into depressants, stimulants, analgesics and hallucinogens. The legal classification in England and Wales divides illicit drugs into 3 classes - A, B and C, with class A involving those drugs which represent the greatest harm.


The number one drug in the list of harmfulness, heroin is a semi-synthetic opioid drug synthesized from morphine, a derivative of the opium poppy. Produced by chemical process it results in white, brown or pink powder or granules. Street heroin also known by the names smack, rock, H, white, horse or hammer is often cut with additives, which makes it difficult to find out the actual contents of a street deal. Heroin is a depressant, depressing the nervous system. Heroin is most commonly injected but it can be snorted or smoked. Also some users can heat heroin on tin foil and inhale the vapours (known as chasing the dragon or tooting). The effects of the heroin are experienced immediately. Most users get a rush and feelings of well-being which lasts about half an hour. This is followed by three to four hours of lethargy. The first dose of heroin can bring dizziness and vomiting. Bigger doses can make the user sleepy and very relaxed. Heroin slows down body functioning and substantially reduces physical and psychological pain. It also reduces hunger and libido, slows breathing and pulse rate, decreases blood pressure and the pupils of the eyes get smaller. Overdoses can lead to coma or even death from respiratory failure. Heroin is highly addictive. Long-term use can lead to financial, dietary, lifestyle and health problems. Heroin is smuggled into the UK from areas such as the 'golden triangle' ( Burma, Laos, Thailand), Central and South America and Afghanistan (also known as the 'golden crescent' ) is currently the 'largest exporter of heroin'.


Also known as coke, Charlie, or white lady by its users, is obtained from the leaves of the coca plant. Cocaine is a stimulant of the central nervous system activity and an appetite suppressant. The effects are felt almost immediately. These include: euphoria, alertness but it may also cause anxiety and panic. Physiological effects of the cocaine include: increased blood pressure, constricted blood vessels, dilated pupils, increased energy, increased heart rate and temperature, decreased appetite. Cocaine is highly addictive, its long term use can lead to heart disease, heart attacks, strokes, seizures, insanity or even death. Long term cocaine users experience addiction, paranoia, restlessness, and mood disturbances. Usually cocaine is available as a white powder, which is inhaled through the nose. However it can be found as an alkaloid or as a small crystal known as crack which may be smoked or injected. The coca leaf is only grown in three South American countries :Colombia, Bolivia and Peru.


Ecstasy is a white bitter-tasting oil. Ecstasy is a street name which comes from a range of drugs including methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA). Some ecstasy tablets may contain mixtures of MDMA and related drugs ( for example amphetamine). Ecstasy can be available in capsules or in powder form too. Usually ecstasy is taken orally, but the powder form can be smoked or snorted. Some users may crush the tablet and swallow inside a folded napkin. This method is known as parachuting or bombing. If it is inserted into the anus or vagina, it's known as shelving or plugging. The effects of ecstasy are both stimulant and hallucinogenic. These include increased heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature and also confidence and euphoria. Other side effects include nausea, anxiety, tingling feeling, blurred vision. Ecstasy affects the body's temperature control. Dancing for long periods in a hot atmosphere increases the chances of overheating and dehydration and this can result in death. Ecstasy, most commonly known as E, Adam or XTC by its users, has been linked to liver, kidney and heart problems. People who use too much can become paranoid and depressed. The world's major producer of ecstasy is the Netherlands. Marketed ecstasy is very rarely pure. Thery are often cut with amphetamines, caffeine and other substances as it is cheaper to produce. Ecstasy is most often available in nightclubs and party scenes.


Hallucinogens are strong mood-changing drugs with unpredictable psychological effects. The two most common hallucinogens in the UK black market are LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) and psilocybin also known as magic mushrooms. Hallucinogens affect the central nervous system causing changes in sensory perception. Under the influence of hallucinogens people see images, hear sounds, and feel sensations that seem real but are not. Some people may experience negative hallucinations ( bad trips) including panic, paranoia, anxiety. Psychological effects inlcude increased heartbeat, blood pressure, body temperature and breathing rate, impaired co-ordination, chills, blurred vision.

LSD is a synthetic drug which comes in forms of a white powder, capsules, tablets or its most common form is a liquid that has been transferred onto a blotting paper, which users usually chew or swallow. LSD is mainly imported from the USA into the UK.

The psilocybin occurs in certain varieties of mushrooms that grow in the wild. After picking they are often eaten raw or some users cook them in food or as a tea. In the UK there are 30 types of 'magic mushrooms' growing naturally in the wild.


'Speed' is a street name for a range of amphetamines such as amphetamine sulphate, dexamphetamine and methamphetamine. Amphetamines are usually found in a number of shapes. As they are produced from oil base, the most common form is for the oil to be converted in a powder. This powder may be made into capsules or tablets. Methamphetamine may have a form of rock-like crystals or liquid. Amphetamines are psychostimulants, speeding up the activity of the brain and nervous system. The heart and breathing rate increases, and they make the user feel wide awake, excited and chatty. Amphetamines also stop the user feeling hungry. The come down can make the user feel irritable and depressed. Long-term amphetamine use can lead to depression, anxiety, aggression or to a psychological state similar to schizophrenia - amphetamine psychosis. Overdoses may cause stroke, heart attack, coma or even death. On the black market amphetamines are available in most UK areas. As they are often cut with sugar, glucose or ephedrine, their purity varies from 1% to 99%.


Cannabis is the most commonly used illegal drug in the UK, which is obtained from the leaves, stems, flowers and seeds of the cannabis plant. Usually cannabis is found in 3 forms:

- as a mix of dried leaves and flowers of the Cannabis sativa plant

- as a dried cannabis resin also known as hashish

- in oil form known as hashish oil

Cannabis is a depressant, slowing the activity of central nervous system and is generally smoked. The main active chemical, which is a psychotropic ingredient and creates the 'high' effect, is THC (delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol). Cannabis has both psychological and physiological effects. Users usually feel relaxed and less inhibited, may become more aware of their senses, and they also may experience hallucinations. Short-term effects also include increased appetite, bloodshot eyes, affected co-ordination and reduced attention. Long-term use can cause illnesses such as lung cancer or chronic bronchitis. People who use cannabis regularly may lose energy, motivation or ability to learn new things. They can become anxious, suspicious, panicky or paranoid. Cannabis ( also known as weed, grass or gunja) is generally easily available in the UK.

GHB and Ketamine

These drugs are mostly used by people attending nightclubs and party scenes. GHB (gamma-hydroxybutyrate) is a depressant with sedative and anaesthetic properties. The effects of GHB occur about 15 minutes after use. These are: euphoria, sleepiness, drowsiness, increased sense of touch, headaches. Higher doses may cause muscle tension, convulsions, unconsciousness, coma or even death. GHB usually comes as an odourless and colourless liquid. It has been linked to drink spiking and drug assisted sexual assault.

Ketamine is normally used in veterinary procedures. It is an anaesthetic which depresses the nervous system and gives the user a floating feeling, as if the body and mind have been separated. In smaller doses ketamine causes robotic movements and increased sociability. Higher doses may cause the user physically incapable of moving while under influence.

Drugs and crime

Drugs are related to crime in many ways : most directly it is crime to use, possess, manufacture or distribute drugs classified as having a potential for abuse (such as heroin, cocaine, amphetamines etc.) Drugs are also related to crime through the pharmaceologic effects they have on the user's behaviour and by generating violence and other illegal activity in connection with drug trafficking. The purchase of illicit drugs is also illegal, as with the purchase comes the possession and the possible use of the drug. Other crimes related with the purchase of drugs is commiting an offence to obtain money to support drug use. Drug users (especially users who are dependant on heroin or crack cocaine) may not be able to afford their habit. The user's neeed for money may even get him or her involved in 'acquisitive' crimes such as theft, robbery, prostitution or even murder. Evidence also suggests that drug users are more likely to be involved in a crime than non-users. A study in England between 1997 and 1999 found that over two - thirds of arrestees tested positive for at least one drug ( Bennett and Sibett, 2000).


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    • stanzi11 profile image

      stanzi11 5 years ago from London

      I am studying Criminology at the moment, and this was one of my assignments I had to write, so I decided to publish it. Thanks for your comment, "war on drugs" is a great idea , i think I am going to look into it more deeply, and try to write a hub about it. Thanks again.

    • charles wade profile image

      charles wade 5 years ago from Chicago, Illinois

      Have you looked into the progress if any being made by the “war on drugs” effort? With so much money to be made, it seems like drugs are here to stay. This is a good hub for those of us who are pretty ignorant in this area. It seems to me that better solutions would be available in dealing with the illegal uses of drugs. A great Hub, I really didn’t know very much about the various types.