Abuse of certain legal drugs can produce various clinical effects such as sedative, psychotic, euphoric, and anticholinergic symptoms. The most affected are young adults and adolescents.
The lack of regulation of these herbal drugs that have psychotropic, stimulant, and euphoric effects, has resulted in people seeking an alternative ”legal high” to illicit drugs of abuse.
Internet advertising and online sales have become good techniques for marketing and distribution of many herbal drugs of abuse. Despite the potential for addiction, abuse, toxicity, and serious adverse effects, there may be a false perception that these products are safe, legal, and organic.
People do not consider herbal drugs as medications or worthy of mentioning to doctors about their use, which may lead to serious adverse effects.
Health care professionals need to be familiar with the abuse of certain herbal drugs that can produce toxicity and severe life-threatening cases.
What Is A Herb?
Scientifically speaking, a herb is any plant that grows without a woody stem for medicinal, cosmetic, and culinary purposes. Herbs are of many types, including containing various psychoactive chemicals or abusive and toxic substances. These kinds of herbs are differentiated from spices because of their culinary uses.
What Are Drugs Of Abuse?
Drugs of abuse are substances that are taken for their mind-altering effects and non-medical reasons. Use of such herbs and psychoactive plants as drugs of abuse have been used traditionally for ages. These drugs are extracted from natural sources and are used to produce a feeling of high and euphoria, increasing in popularity day by day.
Sadly, these drugs are advertised as safe and legal, which is false, and healthcare professionals need to be vigilant about their selling openly and the concerning consequences.
Below are six most common herbal drugs of abuse in use by adults and youngsters alike:
- Betel nut
The use and preparation of the Salvia Divinorum plant are becoming increasingly popular, and more plants are being harvested for their non-traditional use.
The plant typically grows up to three feet tall and has large green leaves and hollow stems that are square. The most preferred traditional form of ingestion is smoking the extract.
The effects of this herb are intense but short-lived and take less than a minute to kick in while they last for up to fifteen minutes. These effects include changes in visual perception, mood change, bodily sensation, visual perception, and a very high perception of the self and outer reality. This consumption leads to a decreased ability to interact with the world and oneself causing the user to be delusional.
Salvia works by activating the opioid receptor, which can benefit patients who suffer from mild anxiety as it can offer them a deep sense of calmness. Severe reactions of this herb include agitation, which the user can treat with benzodiazepines.
The drug Kava is derived from the dried roots of a plant called Piper methysticum. The herb has been used in a variety of traditional drinks in South Pacific countries. It is also used as a muscle relaxant, sedative, mood enhancer, and also for treating PMS.
Ingestion of this herb can cause specific symptoms like numbness, weakness, and sedation. Pharmacologic effects of Kava include photosensitivity, difficulty in visual activities, and others.
Long-term use of Kava, especially at high doses, can cause dry, yellow, and flaky skin; the mechanism behind this symptom is still unknown. Some other common side effects of the drug include anorexia, hearing loss, and ataxia.
Nutmeg is harvested from the native tree from Indonesia, and Molucca Islands called Myristica frarans. After its growing need and popularity as a spice, it has been cultivated in the West Indies. The fruit looks quite similar to apricots. However, when it is split up open, it reveals a brown kernel known as nutmeg. Some of its unproven benefits include the treatment of psychiatric conditions, gastrointestinal issues, and musculoskeletal problems.
Nutmeg is very much in use and preferred by its users despite its side effects for its hallucinogenic effects and euphoric experience. It is very readily available as a legal drug. At a low dose, nutmeg produces no neurological and physiological difference. Still, large quantities can lead to flushes, accelerated heartbeat, dizziness, constipation, nausea, panic attacks, and difficulty in urination along with nausea. Ingestion of this herb in large doses can cause an acute psychiatric disorder.
Poisoning caused by overdosing on nutmeg has no antidote, and supportive care based on the symptoms is the only cure for nausea, vomiting, and hallucinations, plus restlessness. The main components found in nutmeg are borneol, eugenol, and linalool, which produce sympathomimetic and psychotropic effects.
Kratom, also known as Mitragyna Speciosa, is a native tree from the Southeast of Asia. It belongs to the coffee family and has different types of colors of the leaves of the stems, showing how mature the tree has gotten. The tree consists of leaves that contain specific compounds, including mitragynine which is a mind-altering opioid. The herb is consumed for pain relief and mood-altering effects.
Kratom is available in various forms, including powdered form, capsules, fresh leaves, gum, and even liquid. The most common ways of ingesting kratom include brewing it as tea or mixed with food.
Possible and short-term side effects of the use of this drug include nausea, dizziness, sweating, dry mouth, and loss of appetite. When consumed over time, long-term use of this drug can cause issues like skin darkening, anorexia, weight loss, frequent urination, and hallucinations.
Kratom has a strong potential of becoming a highly addictive drug, and the treatment options are not well-researched to be implemented yet. Research is being carried out to find if behavioral therapies can help treat the symptoms of this addiction.
Yohimbe is another psychoactive drug that offers aphrodisiac and stimulating effects. It is obtained from the barks of a plant called Pausinystalia Yohimbe and is also found abundantly in the Indian snakeroot. The herb is commonly marketed as a supplement to a general audience as a body-building compound, but it is widely consumed for its hallucinogenic properties. The drug is also prescribed for the treatment of erectile dysfunction.
Yohimbe is said to have various side effects like causing rapid heart rate, anxiety, insomnia, high blood pressure, and dizziness. In rare cases. Adverse reactions to this drug can cause skin flushing, headaches, dizziness, panic attacks, and hallucinations. Severe side effects of Yohimbe can cause renal failure and seizures.
People should never take Yohimbe with heart, kidney, liver, and other types of psychological disorders. No specific antidote of these side effects exists, but supportive care is usually offered.
Betel nut is commonly used in Asian countries and is one of the most abused substances when it comes to herbal drugs after caffeine. It has been chewed by people for hundreds of years now. The tree is typically harvested in Vietnam, Sri Lanka, India, the Philippines, and others. It has been used for mild stimulating effects and is often mixed with other chewing substances like lime, catechu, clove, cardamom, leaves, and fennel seeds.
First-time betel nut users may report feeling dizzy, flushing, and vomiting due to bradycardia, pupillary constriction, and glandular secretions. Adverse reactions may result in experiencing seizures and cardiac arrhythmias, and asthmatic issues as well. Cancer research has declared betel nut as a human carcinogen with more risk factors if consumed with tobacco.
Consistent use of this nut causes red staining of the gums and teeth and increased risk of submucous fibrosis, oral cancer, and oral leukoplakia. No antidote to this disease is present. Therefore only supportive care is given, which is symptomatic.
The market and internet are full of herbal drugs geared to gain the attention of adults and especially teenagers, but this needs to be controlled to detect the harmful ones capable of being toxic and addictive. These herbal drugs, in most cases, are marketed as being organic and legal despite their side effects and potential abuse. In conclusion, proper research and vigilance when it comes to regulating the use of these drugs and their open marketing need to be controlled.