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According to the NIDA, the abuse of illicit (or illegal) drugs is “costing our nation” $193 billion dollars overall. Many more individuals abuse illicit drugs than we commonly realize, and these people often become addicted quickly and spend a lifetime trying to recover. The use of illegal drugs is higher than most individuals know, and the dangers of this are extreme for both drug users and their loved ones. Overdose, dependence, addiction, and death are all outcomes that consistently result from the severely high use of illegal drugs.

But what is the difference between illegal and licit (or prescription-based) drugs? And what drugs fall under the illegal category?

Illegal vs. Legal Drugs

List of Illegal Drugs

Addictive drugs with no medicinal purpose are illegal in the U.S.

The DEA is clear to state, “Drugs that are legal–prescription and over-the counter (OTC) medications–can be just as dangerous as illegal drugs.” While this is true, many people don’t realize the difference between the two types. Legal drugs can be used medically and are sometimes highly regulated to prevent abuse but are still legal to use in some ways. Illegal drugs are not legal to use in any way and their possession as well as being intoxicated by them or trying to buy or sell them could lead to your arrest.

Illegal drugs are very dangerous as well and can cause many problems for users. While illegal drugs are also regulated, it would be extremely difficult to stop all illegal drug use because these substances are in such high demand and easy to find through other channels.

Illegal drugs can be life-threatening with their effects, and they are almost strictly used for recreational purposes. Take the time to learn more about the illegal drugs and their properties.

List of Illegal Drugs

According to the NCJRS, “Illegal drugs–such as heroin, marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamine–inflict serious damage upon America and its citizens every year.” While the abuse of illegal drugs can be extremely dangerous to a person in many ways, they often become addicted to these substances and then find it nearly impossible to stop without treatment.

Street Opioids

The common street opioids are heroin and opium which are both illegal to use recreationally. They are both extremely dangerous, especially when taken in large doses.

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47,300* People Addicted

23,100* Getting Help

8,209* Deaths

*Statistic from 2015


  • Street Names: H, smack, dope, junk, brown, horse, china white, mud, skag, brown sugar, big H, charley
  • Methods of Use: According to CESAR, “Heroin is most often injected intravenously for a quick and potent high, but there is a rising segment of users who sniff, snort, and smoke heroin to avoid the dangers of sharing needles.” The drug is abused often by heroin users because of the short high, and all of the methods of use make heroin incredibly addictive.
  • Short-term Effects: euphoria, nausea, respiratory depression (which can lead to death if the drug is taken in high enough doses), dry mouth, drowsiness, itchiness
  • Long-term Effects: addiction, dependence, collapsed veins (injection), risk of contracting hepatitis C and HIV (injection), abscesses, infection of the heart lining, liver disease, lung disease, gastrointestinal problems


  • Street Names: According to the DEA, there are many: “ah-pen-yen, aunti, Aunti Emma, big O, black pill, chandoo, chandu… dream stick, dreams, easing powder… gee, God’s medicine, gondola…midnight oil, mira, O, O.P., ope, pen yan, pin gon, pox, skee, toxy, toys… ze, zero”
  • Methods of Use: Opium is most often smoked, but it can also be injected intravenously or taken as a pill. It is also often combined with other drugs in order to enhance the effects of both.
  • Short-term Effects: euphoria, relaxation, absence of pain, constipation, dry mouth (very similar to the effects of heroin)
  • Long-term Effects: addiction, dependence, dryness of mucous membranes, similar issues with injection and transmitting or contracting diseases, arthritis

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CESAR states that cocaine “is categorized as a stimulant, and is currently a Schedule II substance.”

  • Street Names: coke, snow, nose candy, powder, flake, blow, yeyo, toot, sugar. Crack cocaine: crack, base, rock
  • Methods of Use: Snorting is the most common method of use, and crack cocaine, cocaine that has been turned into a rock-like form, is most often smoked. This makes crack more addictive than regular cocaine. It is sometimes sprinkled on joints and can even be intravenously injected or spread across the gums.
  • Short-term Effects: dilated pupils, an increase in body temperature (as well as heartbeat and blood pressure), nausea, a decreased need for food and sleep, euphoria, panic, paranoia (in heavy doses)
  • Long-term Effects: addiction, dependence, depression, intense cravings, insomnia, gastrointestinal problems, difficulty swallowing, mood disturbances, possible stimulant-induced psychosis (homicidal thoughts, suicidal thoughts, paranoia, hostility)


While some versions of methamphetamine are still used for medicinal purposes, crystal meth is illegal and extremely addictive as well as highly dangerous.

  • Street Names: crystal, meth, crystal meth, speed, crank, ice, chalk, scootie, glass, tick-tick, yellow barn, redneck cocaine
  • Methods of Use: Meth is usually smoked or injected, but it can also be snorted or taken orally.
  • Short-term Effects: euphoria, energy surge, dry mouth, sweating, jaw clenching, nausea, vomiting, tremors, extremely high body temperature, increase in blood pressure and breathing rate, paranoia
  • Long-term Effects: The long-effects of methamphetamine are extremely dangerous and include: addiction, weakened immune system, dental problems, brain damage, high blood pressure, anxiety, paranoia, stimulant-induced psychosis, stroke, infection of the heart, liver damage, death (CESAR)

Top 10 Killer Drugs



  • Street Names: acid, boomers, purple haze, sugar cubes, Elvis, dots, tabs, hits, electric Kool-Aid
  • Methods of Use: Commonly, LSD is used as a liquid that “has been transferred onto a small paper square” (CESAR). It is ingested by being chewed or swallowed.
  • Short-term Effects: dilated pupils, high body temperature, salivation, dizziness, sweating, hallucinations, “sense of heightened understanding,” intensification of stimuli
  • Long-term Effects: hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD), drug-induced psychosis, flashbacks, tolerance

Phencyclidine (PCP)

  • Street Names: angel dust, amp, belladonna, STP, super grass, boat
  • Methods of Use: PCP can be injected, ingested, smoked, or snorted. It is sometimes mixed in with other drugs of abuse, often without the user’s knowledge.
  • Short-term Effects: (vary with how high the dose is) anxiety, agitation, depression, obsession, delusions of grandeur, panic, terror, nausea, salivation, decreased ability to feel pain, rigidity of muscles, staring, dizziness, increased body temperature
  • Long-term Effects: addiction, flashbacks, HPPD, toxic psychosis, isolation from others, severe mood disorders

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Psilocybin (Mushrooms)

  • Street Names: boomers, magic mushrooms, silly putty, musk, shrooms, sherm, little smoke, silly cybin
  • Methods of Use: Psilocybin mushrooms are ingested either whole or sprinkled onto other food. It can also be brewed as a tea and eaten fresh or dried.
  • Short-term Effects: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, yawning, hallucinations, “altered perception of space and time” as well as fantasy vs. reality, tension, unity with the environment (CESAR)
  • Long-term Effects: tolerance, psychological withdrawal, cross-tolerance with other hallucinogens


Ketamine and GHB are both club drugs that are abused to heighten these types of high-energy experiences.

  • Street Names: special K, vitamin K, K, jet, super K, purple, green
  • Methods of Use: “In social situations, ketamine is often used intranasally and orally” (CESAR).
  • Short-term Effects: amnesia, loss of coordination, tachycardia, out-of-body experiences (K-hole), loss of consciousness
  • Long-term Effects: cognitive impairment, blurred vision, loss of coordination (NIDA)


MDMA has both hallucinogenic and stimulant effects.

  • Street Names: E, X, pills, love drug, rolls, go, speed for lovers, ADAM
  • Methods of Use: It is usually ingested orally in a tablet form.
  • Short-term Effects: muscle tension, euphoria, hallucinations, faintness, chills, blurry vision, dehydration, heat exhaustion, nausea, anxiety, paranoia, a strong sense of empathy
  • Long-term Effects: depression, insomnia, paranoia, anxiety, intense cravings, addiction

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Rohypnol was once a Schedule VI CNS depressant but is now Schedule I because of its common use as a date rape drug.

  • Street Names: roofies, rope, circles, ruffles, roach
  • Methods of Use: Rohypnol is usually taken orally and often crushed and added to other drugs or to alcohol.
  • Short-term Effects: relaxation, dizziness, nightmares, confusion, stupor (in higher doses and when mixed with alcohol), memory loss, death
  • Long-term Effects: tolerance, withdrawal, seizures, addiction


Marijuana is legal to use in some places, but in many, it is not.

  • Street Names: weed, pot, grass, reefer, herb, Mary Jane, green, ganja, dope, cheeba, Buddha, Wheezy, smoke, bud, herb
  • Methods of Use: For the most part, marijuana is smoked, either as a cigarette (joint), a hollowed-out cigar (blunt), a pipe, bowl, or bong. As stated by CESAR, “It can also be ingested.”
  • Short-term Effects: euphoria, “heightened sensory perception,” drowsiness, impaired short-term memory, increase in heart rate, increase in appetite (NIDA)
  • Long-term Effects: withdrawal symptoms, addiction (in about 9% of users who start as teens and 25-50% of users who smoke daily), depression, chronic cough, bronchitis.

These are the most commonly used and abused illegal drugs. While many individuals take them believing that one use will be harmless, many of these substances are extremely addictive and deadly and can cause these issues very early on. Illegal drugs can be harmful in many ways, and an individual who abuses them regularly will likely need formal treatment in a rehab center to be able to stop.

If you need help overcoming a drug use disorder, call (800) 407-7195(Who Answers?) now to find a treatment program that meets your needs. 

the Take-Away

Illegal narcotics are illegal because of their relative dangers. Some of these drugs are highly addictive, others are easy to overdose on, and others are powerful and unpredictable.