When we think about our country, all manner of patriotic feelings and lofty ideals come to mind. The United States of America is the land of swagger and opportunity, of movies and movin'-on-up, of Hollywood and hustle. But this great country of ours is plagued by a devastating scourge of drug addiction sweeping our land—oftentimes the single most detrimental factor in the life of a young person—and it has ravaged every single state in the union, indiscriminately, despite our best (and prodigious) efforts at drug abuse prevention.
Roughly 64,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2015, the majority involving opioids, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (That's far higher than the approximately 49,000 deaths due to gun homicides and car crashes, which killed about 13,000 and 36,000 Americans, respectively.) If it's indeed true that a country's strength lies in the innovation of its people, just think of the collective potential and promise that America has lost...
To guard against this loss, since the early 1980's public schools in America have implemented "drug abuse prevention" programs, aimed at catching kids early-on. These programs, which focused on drug education and encouraging kids to "just say no" (specifically the D.A.R.E. programs) were usually administered by law enforcement and relied on "rehearsing" the refusal of drugs. But studies show that the effectiveness of these types of programs missed the mark entirely and indicate that "rehearsing the refusal" of drugs does little or nothing to combat substance abuse among young people. In 2009, an analysis of 20 controlled studies revealed that teens enrolled in these types of programs were just as likely to use drugs as were those who received no intervention at all. What a colossal waste of time and public money! Experts now say that key to successful campaigns are approaches that produce changes in behavior, rather than emotional reactions. They also show that above all, it's important to steer clear of scare tactics.
But could it be that there's another layer to the drug abuse prevention onion? Could it be that the main reason these drug abuse prevention programs haven't worked the way we intended is because the language that actual drug abusers use to talk about drugs has morphed, becoming commonplace, friendly jive, casual conversation? Could part of the reason that these programs failed be because they ignored how commonplace slang names for street drugs have become in our everyday lives, and because they did not acknowledge how powerful these nicknames can be?
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So, what's in a name? Well, quite a bit it turns out. When we assign nicknames--whether they be to people, pets, places, or things--we give them inherent power. Calling something by an unique moniker gives it presence, importance, and acknowledgement. Could it be that by giving drugs more familiar, casual names on the street, we're solidifying them into our lives, and normalizing their presence?
Slang names for drugs on the street usually start as a code word to avoid judgement or being caught, used by youth/teens in secret to avoid getting into trouble at school and at home. But these words quickly leak down into our popular culture lexicon and become normalized in our everyday experiences. Often, they are referenced in music, movies, and other products of our culture, and all of this culminates in our country at large becoming accustomed, inoculated, or "dull" to the dangers these drugs bring.
Drug dealers are extremely savvy, inspired salespeople. They absolutely understand that calling drugs funny or trendy names makes them inherently cool and irresistible to young people. Knowing and using the "slang name" makes the buyer feel cool and in-the-know, like they're part of the "in-crowd," and especially among youth who are always trying to fit in, this is an extremely powerful motivator. Street names are incredibly effective marketing tools, because they make drugs seem more appealing, and far less harmful. But we know that in reality, nothing could be further from the truth.
Parents and other loved ones of teens often find themselves trying to crack the code to teen behavior, emotions or texting terms. Drug slang is no different. It's incredibly important for parents, law enforcement, drug prevention providers, care givers and educators to know the different slang words for specific drugs and for specific drug use.
The green leaves of the cannabis plant are (by far) the most popular drug among U.S. teens. Marijuana releases THC (a potent psychoactive chemical) which makes the user feel relaxed, heightens their senses and has a mild hallucinogenic effect. Roughly 36% of 12th graders and 12% of 8th graders reported using it in the last year. Studies also show that early marijuana use can negatively impact brain development.
Also known as: Atshitishi, Bamba, Black Bart, Broccoli, Bud, Cabbage, Catnip, Charge, Dope, Fine Stuff, Ganja, Grass, Hash, Hemp, Jane, MJ, Muggle, Pot, Rope, Sticky Icky, Trees, Weed, Whacky Tobacky, 420, Kush.
Packaged in small, colorful wrapping and given catchy names, a number of companies began selling synthetic marijuana in the 2000s; these products were extremely successful, as they were able to bypass drug laws by using a combination of legal chemicals and by being sold as "herbal incense." Synthetic marijuana is usually smoked, and the high from these chemicals mimics the high of marijuana.
Also known as: K-2, Spice, Fake Weed, Gold Spice.
Cocaine is a white powder that causes a burst of energy and an extreme sense of well-being when snorted, smoked or injected. It's also perhaps one of the most famous illicit drugs, rising to fame in the 1970s and 1980s, and portrayed ad nauseum in movies and television shows. Cocaine highs fade quickly and leave users craving another hit, often turning casual use into a lasting addiction. Roughly 3.8% of 12th graders and just over 1% of 8th graders in the U.S. report having tried cocaine at least once.
Also known as: Apache, Blanco, Blow, Blow-caine, Crank, Coke, Nose Candy, Nose Beers, Sneeze, Sniff, Snort, Snow, toot, White Lady, White Girl, White Dove, Whitey, Yeyo Blow, C, candy, do a line, freeze, girl, happy dust, Mama coca, mojo, monster, nose, pimp, shot, smoking gun, sugar, sweet stuff, and white powder.
Derived from the poppy plant, once heroin enters the body, it blocks the pain receptors in the brain, inducing an euphoric state for hours. In 2015, an estimated 21,000 adolescents had used heroin in the past, and between 2002 and 2013, heroin use in the U.S. jumped 63%.
Also known as: Brown Sugar, China White, Dope, H, Horse, Junk, Skunk, Smack, White Horse, Big H, Antifreeze, Cheese (When mixed with Cough Medicine) Mug, Tar, Train, Skag.
Originally intended to help kids with attention disorders, Adderall is hugely popular among teens, who often seek it out to increase their focus on exam days and for all-night study sessions. In recent years, it's also become very popular at parties. In 2019, approximately 3.9% of high school seniors in the U.S. used Adderall. Nearly 42% of high schoolers say it's easy to obtain Adderall or similar stimulants.
Also known as: Addys, Uppers, Beans, Black Beauties, Pep Pills, Speed, Dexies, Zing, Study Buddies and Smart Pills.
Bath Salts are synthetic over-the-counter powders with a powerful stimulating effect. In 2013, nearly 23,000 ER visits in the U.S. were related to bath salts.
Also known as: Arctic Blast, Blue Magic, Cloud 9, Cloud 10, Ivory Fresh, Lady Bub- bles, Meow Meow, Snow Leopard, White China, China Girl, Vanilla Sky, Wicked X.
The active ingredient in several major cough syrups, dextromethorphan (or DXM), is responsible for the intoxicating effects cough syrups can sometimes have. More than 2.5% of high school seniors and 3.2% of 8th graders report past-year misuse of cough medicine.
Also known as: C-C-C, Dex, DM, DMX, Skittles, Triple C, Tussin, Vitamin D, Purple Dank, barre, Bo, Lean, Purple, Jelly, Sip-Sip, Texas Tea, Dexies, Drex, Robo, Rojo, Red Devils, Poor Man's Ecstasy, Orange Crush, Velvet, Triple C, Drank, or Sizzurp (combining cough syrup with soda.)
One common way teens experiment with getting high is by breathing in gas, cleaners, markers and other household objects with noxious fumes. (This is called huffing.) In 2019, 5.3% of U.S. high school seniors and nearly 10% of 8th graders reported ever trying inhalants. Huffing will usually cause lightheadedness and a very brief feeling of euphoria. Inhalants can also do serious damage to the brain.
Also known as: Duster, Snappers, Ozone, Poppers, Whit-its/Whippets, nitrous.
Also known as: Ah-pen-yen, Aunti, big O, black stuff, Chinese tobacco, chocolate, dopium, dover's deck, dream gun, hard stuff, hocus, joy plant, O, ope, pin yen, toxy and zero.
Methamphetamine, (or "crystal meth,") is a stimulant that's three times as powerful as cocaine with a high that lasts for hours. And, for those looking to get clean, methamphetamine, unfortunately, proves to be an extremely difficult drug detox. Meth addiction can occur after literally just the first use and can contribute to many other serious health problems. Surveys have shown that one in 33 teens in the U.S. are experimenting with the drug, starting at an average age of 12.
Also known as: Chalk, Crank, Crystal, Ice, Junk, Meth, No Doze, Rocket Fuel, Scooby Snax, Speed, White Cross Meth, Crystal Meth, Glass, Ice, and Speed.
Also known as: Shrooms, Caps, Boomers, Magic Mushrooms, Purple Passion.
Ecstasy -a key go-to club drug for young people and often used at parties, nightclubs, concerts and music festivals-- causes a rush of dopamine (the chemical that regulates happiness and related sensations) in the brain and is known to make users feel more connected to each other. In 2019, 3.3% of high school seniors reported ever taking the drug.
Also known as: X, E, XTC, Molly, Rolls, Hug, Hug Drug, Love Drug, Lover's Speed, Beans, Adam, Clarity, Moon Rocks, Happy Pill, Dancing Shoes, Scooby Snacks, and Candy.
Originally created and intended as a veterinary anesthetic, ketamine is a colorless liquid or white powder that has a tranquilizing effect and causes both breathing and the heart rate to slow down. This can send users into a "K-hole," (which is incredibly dangerous) where it becomes difficult to move; thus, it's become a common date rape drug.
Also known as: K, Special K, Valium K, Vitamin K, Green K, Super C, Super Acid, Special La Coke, Jet, Purple, Kit Kat, Cat Valium, Honey Oil.
This infamous psychedelic drug has been popular since the 1960s, known for its minimum 12-hour long, hallucination-filled trip. Typically sold on small squares of paper similar to postage stamps or absorbed into sugar cubes, in its most basic form, LSD is a clear, odorless liquid.
Also known as: Acid, Blotter, Doses, Hits, Microdots, Sugar Cubes, Trips, Tabs, Window Panes, Lucy, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, Cid, Cid-Cid, California Sunshine, Yellow Sunshine, Battery Acid, Dots, Looney Toons, Superman.
Also known as: Apache, China Girl, China White, Dance fever, Friend, Goodfella, Jackpot, Murder 8, Tango and Cash.
Also known as: Dreamer, First Line, God's Drug, M, Miss Emma, Mister Blue, Monkey, Morf, Morpho, Vitamin M, White Stuff.
Also known as: Bananas, Cotton, Ercs, Greenies, Hillbilly Heroin, Kickers, O.C., Ox, Oxy, Oxycet, Oxycotten, Percs, Pills.
Staying up on the latest slang is essential to catching a teen's potential drug use early on. If you hear any of these terms referenced and suspect that a teen you care about may be abusing substances, multiple resources are at your fingertips. You are not alone in the battle against drug addiction and learning these key terms and acknowledging their power will give you a leg up in the fight.