Drug Abuse of Common Substances

Parents of teens have plenty to worry about. Are they driving recklessly, having sex or abusing drugs or alcohol? You may think you know the answers to these questions, but you could be wrong. Maybe you can’t find any telltale clues, like plastic baggies with marijuana residue. However, you do notice a bottle of glue on your son’s dresser with the lid askew. Should this be a cause for concern? You bet. Today, teens are getting more creative and taking bigger risks with their health by abusing household substances and commonly grown weeds, flowers, mushrooms and plants to “get high.” Many of these substances are enticing because kids can get them either for free or for a very minimal cost. Plus, most parents don’t suspect abuse of these common materials.


It may be hard to believe, but your teen could get high from some of the weeds, seeds, flowers, mushrooms and berries right in your own backyard!

The effects of psilocybe mushrooms, also known as “magic mushrooms,” or “shrooms,” are similar to a mild LSD trip. That is, they cause the user to be in an “altered” state of mind. The effects can last between three and four hours depending on the dosage. Physical effects of mushrooms containing psilocybin can include:

Risks to your teen’s physical safety are most likely to result from irresponsible behavior while under the influence of psilocybin.

Another type of magic mushroom is known as fly agaric, which contains agents that are more toxic than those found in psilocybe mushrooms. After eating fly agaric mushrooms, individuals usually experience a rapid heart rate, dilated pupils, a severe headache and vomiting. Its effects are similar to severe alcoholic intoxication. Behaviors to watch for include hallucinations, non-stop talking, yelling and unawareness of their surroundings. The length of the hallucination or “trip” depends on how much was consumed and can last anywhere from seven to eight hours to two days.

The main risk to your child’s health from eating psilocybe and fly agaric mushrooms comes from not being able to identify the different varieties. Distinguishing the two varieties can be almost impossible. Collecting and eating poisonous varieties of mushrooms can cause death or permanent liver or kidney damage within hours of ingestion.

Jimson weed

Jimson weed (Datura stramonium) is a common weed that is known by its large, spiny seedpod and smelly odor. It is sometimes called “stink weed,” and is poisonous to both humans and animals. Another plant in this family is angel’s trumpet (D. inoxia), which is often referred to as “moonflower.”

Teens may abuse jimson weed by smoking it, chewing its seeds, or brewing the seeds into a tea and drinking it. Jimson weed is extremely toxic; the dose that causes a person to get high is just slightly less than the lethal dose. Because of this, accidental injury or death can occur among users. Typical side effects include:

Severe toxicity can cause a person to experience seizures or go into a coma. Symptoms of jimson weed toxicity usually occur within 30 to 60 minutes after ingestion and may continue for 24 to 48 hours. Jimson weed can interact with several antidepressants, making it even more dangerous.

Moonflower (purple or white)

This climbing plant, in the same family as morning glory, has fragrant flowers that bloom at dusk. Two common species are purple moonflower (Ipomoea muricata) and white moonflower (I. alba). The seedpods of these flowers produce toxic effects similar to those experienced with jimson weed, including confusion, agitation, anxiety, hallucinations, seizures, coma, dry mucous membranes, thirst, flushed face, blurred vision, hyperthermia, urinary retention and gastrointestinal problems. People with ragweed allergies can have severe reactions to moonflower.

If you discover your teen has been recreationally abusing this plant, immediate medical attention is advised because of its potential toxic effects.


Some kids prefer getting their high from what they can find in your cupboards rather than what they can find in the backyard. These products, known as inhalants, can be inhaled directly from the container (called sniffing or snorting), from a plastic bag (called bagging), or by holding an inhalant-soaked rag in the mouth (called huffing). The effects of using inhalants are similar to those of being drunk: slurred speech, sleepiness, staggering, dizziness, loss of inhibitions and confusion. Long-term users get headaches, nosebleeds and sometimes lose their sense of smell. Inhalants decrease oxygen to the brain and can cause brain damage as well as damage to the heart, liver and kidneys.

This form of drug abuse is most prevalent among middle school-aged children. Inhalants are popular drugs for users seeking a quick high because they are inexpensive and easy to obtain. They also are attractive to kids because adults don’t often ask or worry about why a can of hairspray is sitting on their teen’s dresser.

Some products kids commonly inhale include:

Here are some signs for parents to watch for:

You should let your daughter know that using inhalants even one time can lead to death. It’s called “Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome” and can occur at any time. “Huffing” is a very dangerous activity that needs to be addressed immediately.

Cough syrup

Dextromethorphan, also known as DXM, is a cough suppressant generally found in cough syrups, such as Dimetapp®, Sudafed® and Robitussin DM®. It is a commonly abused substance among teens because it is inexpensive and easy to find. Ingestion of high doses (five to ten times the normal dose) can make kids feel “spacey.” This is a feeling similar to the sensation produced by phencyclidine (PCP or “angel dust”). However, much of the danger lies in the fact that there are usually other ingredients contained in these medications, such as pseudoephedrine (a form of adrenaline) and acetaminophen (Tylenol®). If pseudoephedrine is ingested in large doses, it can produce a variety of side effects including increased heart rate, pulse and blood pressure. Pseudoephedrine also is the primary ingredient in homemade methamphetamine, the illegal and powerfully addictive drug, commonly known as “meth,” “crank,” “glass” or “speed.” If acetaminophen is ingested in large doses, it can damage the liver or cause death.

What can parents do?

As a parent, you need to first and foremost make sure your kids are getting the anti-drug message from you and at school. They should be educated about the dangers of alcohol, tobacco, prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications. Teach them that toxic plants and inhalants are poisons and can cause permanent damage to their bodies and brains. Teach them alternative and healthy ways to have fun such as getting involved in extracurricular clubs and activities. If you think your teen is depressed, talk to your pediatrician or family practitioner.

Other helpful tips:

If you are suspicious about your teen’s behavior, talk to her. Don’t dismiss your feeling that something is not right. If you have questions about whether a substance is dangerous, call the Drug and Poison Information Center at (800) 222-1222. Poison-control centers typically report any new, local trends in drug abuse or poisonings, and provide that information to local and state health departments. 

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