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Users reflect on benefits, harm of illegal drugs

Illegal Drug Addiction and Substance Abuse
Illegal Drug Addiction and Substance Abuse (Photo credit:

“To feel something different.”

That is how four illegal drug users described their aim when using illicit drugs in interviews with Chicago Talks.

Medical and drug research has yielded  thousands of drugs that help people. Antibiotics and vaccines have revolutionized the treatment of infections. Medicines can cure, slow, or prevent disease, helping us to lead healthier and happier lives. But it has also created illegal drugs with potent effects that people seek to help them feel good or have a good time.

Speaking to people about illicit drug use can provide some impressions of why these substances have such an attraction for people.

Spencer B., 22, said he has experimented with ecstasy, weed, mushrooms and meth. Doing drugs was a way for him to stay awake, have a good time with friends and step out of everyday problems. Thinking about his drug use, he  experimented “to try something different,” he said. Now older and wiser he reflects on things he would have done differently.

“ When I think about it there were summers I spent doing drugs and have no memories of them” Spencer said.

The Health Officers Council identified categories of beneficial attributes of substances:

  • Physical: pain relief, assistance with sleep, decreased risk of cardiovascular disease, increased endurance, stimulation or diminution of appetite.
  • Psychological: relaxation, relief of stress and anxiety, increased alertness, assistance in coping with daily life, mood alteration, pleasure, performance improvement, or enhancement of creativity.
  • Social: facilitation of social interaction, religious, spiritual or ceremonial use.

Gordon John D., 21, first tried marijuana when he was 14-years-old.

“I did it to try it out, introduced by friends, decided upon my own will,” he said.

He has experimented with many types of drugs since, like LSD, cocaine, psychedelic mushrooms and mescaline and.

“Through use of LSD I had about four hours to sit and ponder my personal imagery of life, how in my mind I could elaborate the things we have going on around us and relate our life as a personal thing, while combining the knowledge acquired from living in society, being surrounded by more life,” he said.  “As effective as drugs can be to enable you to get a closer look at yourself,  is the same effectiveness they have in creating a completely composite reality within someone.”

Gordon John is aware of the effects drugs can have in the long run, but this does not stop him from consuming drugs. “Bottom line is I could wake up tomorrow have a great day, trip, hit my head and die.” he said.

Gordon John uses drugs when he feels the urge to do so, due to his personal enjoyment of certain sensations, but said he does not need them to function on a daily basis. Though Davis has had bad hangovers with LSD, cocaine and Ecstasy he continues to use for the sensations, which he described as “overwhelming feelings of euphoria along with intensified perception and a general openness of self.”

Drugs can cause sensations that can take you into different dimensions, but it’s important to be aware of the dangers and effects of drugs:

  • Cocaine is a stimulant that affects the central nervous system, giving users a quick, intense feeling of power and energy. Elevates heart rate, breathing rate, blood pressure, and body temperature. Injecting cocaine can cause HIV/AIDS if you share needles with other users. Snorting cocaine can cause nosebleeds and damage the tissues inside your nose. It can even cause a hole inside the lining of your nose.
  • Ecstasy combines a hallucinogenic with a stimulant effect, making all emotions, negative and positive, much more intense. Ecstasy can also cause dry mouth, cramps, blurred vision, chills, sweating, and nausea. Many users also experience depression, paranoia, anxiety and confusion. There is some concern that these effects on the brain and emotion can become permanent with chronic use of ecstasy.
  • LSD hallucinations occur within 30 to 90 minutes of dropping acid. People say their senses are intensified and distorted — they see colors or hear sounds with other delusions such as melting walls and a loss of any sense of time. Bad trips may cause panic attacks, confusion, depression, and frightening delusions.  Physical risks include sleeplessness, mangled speech, convulsions, increased heart rate, and coma and in some cases users of LSD have flashbacks in which they feel some of the effects of LSD at a later time without having used the drug again.

Correctional Officer Christopher Walker works at, Cook County Department of Corrections supervising inmates. He also works at the Medical Center, Cermack Hospital, with services provided by the Cook County department. The hospital provides assistance to inmates that are withdrawal from drugs.

“People get addicted to drugs because of their environments. They think it’s cool, and then they get addicted,” Walker said. He deals with inmates that are going through withdraw and empathizes that many of these patients can’t take it. “They fight with one another just because they need a drug it’s pretty intense,” he said. The ages of the inmates treated and supervised, range from 17-years-old up to 65-years-old.

“Most of the people here you can’t really say much to, cause they are going to do it no matter what,” Walker said.

In addition to drugs being an escape, causing sensations and different emotions, they can be a drag on productivity.

Heather L.,23, feels drugs have hindered her productivity.

“I do feel my life would have been better if I never took drugs. I had a lot of more potential before I used drugs. I could have been smarter. I could have spent all that time I wasted doing drugs, doing productive things, like playing music, auditioning for plays. Instead I revolved my life around getting high and following the crowd,” she said.

She first consumed marijuana when she was 14-years-old, then later got introduced to mushrooms, cocaine, ecstasy, and acid by friends and boyfriends. Mushrooms and acid made her feel like nothing mattered. The use of cocaine caused her to be diagnosed with anxiety disorder.

“The first time cocaine felt amazing, after that I just felt dirty, stupid and naïve,” Heather said.

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