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Drugs of abuse
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Drugs and the law

In the United Kingdom, illegal drugs are classified by the Misuse of Drugs Act into three groups; A, B and C. Each class has a set of possible fines and jail sentences that can be given for possession or supply of the drugs. In general, supplying drugs is seen as more serious than possession for personal use. However, remember that just giving a drug to a friend is categorised as supplying, even if there is no money involved.

The table shows the maximum punishments under UK law.

Picture 3. Ecstasy is a Class A drug.
Courtesy: DEA, USA.

Summary of classes

Class Examples Maximum sentence for:
possession supplying
Class A drugs Crack Cocaine, Cocaine, Ecstasy, Heroin, LSD, Magic Mushrooms (prepared for use), Methadone and Methamphetamine. Any Class B drug that is prepared for injection. 7 years in prison and/or unlimited fine. life in prison and/or unlimited fine.
Class B drugs Amphetamines+, codeine in concentrations above 2.5%, ritalin and barbiturates. 5 years in prison and/or unlimited fine. 14 years in prison and/or unlimited fine.
Class C drugs

Cannabis*, Anabolic steroids, tranquillisers which includes Valium and Rohypnol.

2 years in prison and/or unlimited fine. 5 years in prison and/or unlimited fine.
+Methamphetamine was reclassified as a Class A drug in January 2007.
*Cannabis was reclassified as a Class C drug in January 2004.

Alcohol, tobacco and solvents

It is not illegal to possess or use these drugs in the UK. However, selling alcohol or solvents to people under the age of 18 and tobacco to a person under the age of 16 is an offence.

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The main types of drugs of abuse

We can also classify drugs of abuse by their effects. The table below shows the main types of drugs classified in this way.
Type of drug Effects Examples
Sedatives Sedatives are drugs that slow down the nervous system. Alcohol is a sedative. Sedatives make people feel less anxious and more relaxed. But they also slow down physical reactions, and cause sleepiness or unconsciousness. A mixture of sedatives is dangerous because vital processes like the heartbeat get slower too. Sedatives may be addictive. alcohol
barbiturates
tranquilisers
cannabis
solvents
Stimulants Stimulants are drugs that speed up the body’s reactions, making people feel more alert and less tired. Caffeine is a stimulant. But taken in high doses stimulants cause nervous anxiety and paranoia (being convinced the world is against you). amphetamines
tobacco
cocaine
caffeine
Hallucinogens

Hallucinogens are drugs that alter how people experience what’s going on around them. They may hear, see and think things which are not really happening. People’s experiences vary, just as dreams can be pleasant or nightmares. LSD is a hallucinogen.

cannabis
LSD
ecstasy
magic mushrooms
Painkillers Painkillers take away pain, as the name suggests. They stop people reacting to physical pain or emotional worries. Heroin is a painkiller. opium
heroin
medicines that contain codeine