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Abstract human brain. Credit: @ksandrphoto / Freepik

Other Types of Drugs

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While the vast majority of students who choose to use substances of any kind, use alcohol alone (Stanford Survey Data, 2019), it is important to be aware of other types of drugs, their effects, their risks, and the current landscape of drugs that cannot be obtained through licenced pharmacies (illicit drugs).

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Drug Categories

Each drug category below has different properties and therefore there are varying levels of risks associated with each of them. However, any drug that has been obtained from the illicit market, shares a collective risk of being laced with potent, synthetic opioids (e.g. fentanyl) that cause fatal overdoses. 

In 2011 the CDC declared an opioid epidemic in relation to dramatic increases in the misuse of prescription opioids. Since then, the illicit drug market has also changed drastically with alarming rates of counterfeit prescription opioid pills laced with more potent synthetic opioids like fentanyl.


Fentanyl and Other Synthetic Opioids

Fentanyl and other synthetic opioids have also been found in a wide variety of non-opioid drugs on the illicit market across the country such as counterfeit benzodiazepine pills (e.g. Xanax, Ativan, etc.), cocaine, methamphetamine, MDMA and even cannabis. The majority of overdose related deaths in the United States today are due to synthetic opioids found in a variety of drugs. Drugs from any source other than a licenced pharmacy or licenced clinic are at risk for being laced. For more information on this problem, see Santa Clara County's recent health campaign use the learn more button below. 

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Explore other types of drugs below. 

Cannabis macro image. Credit: Evgeniy_Bobkov / Deposit Photos


Cannabis (marijuana , pot, etc.) is the most widely used illegal substance in the world today. It's also the most controversial. According to the 2004 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), approximately 96.8 million (40.2%) Americans ages 12 and older have tried marijuana at least once during their lifetimes. About 25.5 million (10.6%) people reported past year marijuana use, and 14.6 million (6.1%) people reported past month use.

Cocaine under microscope. Credit: National High Magnetic Field Laboratory


Stimulants are a class of drug also commonly known as "uppers". They stimulate the nervous system. Common stimulants include caffeine, a widely used drug largely known to keep people alert and awake. Stimulants also include some prescription drugs that treat Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), which affect attention span, impulse control, self-discipline, and hyperactivity in the case of ADHD. 

DMT under microscope. Credit: National High Magnetic Field Laboratory

Hallucinogens & Psychedelics

Hallucinogens are a large class of psychoactive drugs that can produce altered states of consciousness characterized by major alterations in thought, mood, and perception, among other changes. Most hallucinogens can be categorized as psychedelics, dissociatives, or deliriants. Psychedelics are a class of hallucinogenic drugs whose primary effect is to trigger non-ordinary states of consciousness (known as psychedelic experiences or "trips"). This causes specific psychological, visual, and auditory changes, and often a substantially altered state of consciousness. The "classical" psychedelics, the psychedelics with the largest scientific and cultural influence, are mescaline, LSD, psilocybin, and DMT

Diazepam under microscope. Credit: National High Magnetic Field Laboratory


Benzodiazepines (BZD, BDZ, BZs), sometimes called "benzos", are a class of psychoactive drugs whose core chemical structure is the fusion of a benzene ring and a diazepine ring. As depressants—drugs which lower brain activity—they are prescribed to treat conditions such as anxiety, insomnia, and seizures. The first benzodiazepine, chlordiazepoxide (Librium), was discovered accidentally by Leo Sternbach in 1955 and was made available in 1960 by Hoffmann–La Roche, which soon followed with diazepam (Valium) in 1963. By 1977, benzodiazepines were the most prescribed medications globally; the introduction of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), among other factors, decreased rates of prescription, but they remain frequently used worldwide.

Hookah hot coals. Credit: @voinakh / Freepik


Hookah, often promoted as being safer than cigarette smoking, has no scientific evidence to support this claim.

Dilaudid under microscope. Credit: National High Magnetic Field Laboratory

Prescription Opioid Drugs

Prescription opioid drugs have contributed to advances in the treatment of acute pain when used appropriately. However, opioid prescription drugs can pose serious risks and side effects including increased risks of opioid use disorder, overdoses, and death. 

Ketamine under microscope. Credit: National High Magnetic Field Laboratory

Predatory, Club and Party Drugs

Sometimes drugs are misused as predatory drugs to facilitate sexual assault. It should be noted that alcohol is the most commonly used drug by predators to incapacitate victims and facilitate sexual violence. However, Rohypnol, GHB, and Ketamine are powerful drugs that are sometimes added to alcohol to render individuals incapicitated with a single drink.

Cortisone under microscope. Credit: National High Magnetic Field Laboratory


Anabolic-Androgenic Steroids are manufactured substances related to the male sex hormone Testosterone. They may be prescribed by a doctor to rebuild tissues weakened by injury or disease, to assist in regaining or maintaining weight after illness, and to aid recovery from breast cancer and osteoporosis in women. Steroids are abused in an attempt to enhance athletic performance and improve physical appearance and can be taken in pill form, injected, or rubbed on the skin in the form of gels or creams.

Smoke against a black background. Credit: / Freepik

Tobacco/Nicotine and E-Cigarettes/Vaping

Nicotine is a naturally produced alkaloid in the nightshade family of plants (most predominantly in tobacco and Duboisia hopwoodii) and is widely used recreationallyas a stimulant and anxiolytic. Tobacco is the common name of several plants in the genus Nicotiana of the family Solanaceae, and the general term for any product prepared from the cured leaves of these plants. When using an e-cigarette, it is often called "vaping."

Are you looking for further harm reduction resources? Santa Clara County offers harm reduction supplies (e.g. Naloxone, Fentanyl Testing Strips, condoms and supplies for safer sex, syringe access and disposal, etc.) and training at many locations throughout the county. Explore their website for more details.