Health Risks of Commonly Abused Substances

In compliance with the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act Amendments of 1989 (H.R.3614), higher education institutions are required to publish and distribute a list of descriptions of the health risks associated with alcohol and illicit drug use. The list of substances below are considered to be the most commonly abused according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse at the National Institutes of Health.


Risk of Dependency?

Possible Effects

When Used in Combination with Alcohol

Withdrawal Symptoms



euphoria; drowsiness; respiratory depression; constricted pupils; nausea

Symptoms of an Alcohol Overdose: Breathing is slow, shallow or has stopped; skin is cold, clammy, or blue; vomiting while passed out; loss of consciousness/unresponsive

irritability; sweating; tremors; nausea; anxiety; difficulty sleeping;                                                   in severe circumstances: seizures and/or hallucinations

Cannabis (marijuana)


enhanced sensory perception and euphoria followed by drowsiness/relaxation; slowed reaction time; problems with balance and coordination; increased heart rate and appetite; problems with learning and memory; anxiety

Increased heart rate; blood pressure; further slowing of mental processing and reaction time

irritability; trouble sleeping; decreased appetite; anxiety



euphoria; increased energy and alertness; anxiety; restlessness; erratic behavior; heart rhythm problems; seizure; increased body temperature, heart rate and blood pressure; headache; abdominal pain and nausea; panic attacks; stroke coma

increased risk of cardiac toxicity (damage to the heart by harmful chemicals) than from use of cocaine or alcohol on its own

severe cravings; depression; tiredness; increased appetite; insomnia; vivid unpleasant dreams; slowed thinking and movement; restlessness

DXM (dextromethorphan) - (Robitussin®, NyQuil®)


cough relief; euphoria; slurred speech; increased heart rate and blood pressure; dizziness; nausea; vomiting





Gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB)




euphoria; drowsiness; nausea; vomiting; confusion; memory loss; loss of consciousness; slowed heart rate and breathing; lower body temperature; seizures; coma; death

nausea; problems with breathing, greatly increased depressant effects

insomnia; anxiety; tremors; sweating; increased heart rate and blood pressure; psychotic thoughts



Ayahuasca, DMT, Khat, Salvia


numbness; disorientation and confusion; dizziness, nausea, and vomiting; changes in sensory perception; hallucinations; feelings of detachment from self and environment; increase in blood pressure, heart rate, respiration, and body temperature





increased risk of adverse effects


LSD, Mescaline (Peyote), Phencyclidine (PCP)






euphoria; dry mouth; itching; nausea; vomiting; inability to feel pain (analgesia); slowed breathing and heart rate

dangerous slowing of heart rate and breathing; coma; death

severe cravings; restlessness; muscle and bone pain; insomnia; diarrhea; vomiting; cold flashes with goose bumps



confusion; nausea; slurred speech; lack of coordination; euphoria; dizziness; drowsiness; disinhibition; lightheadedness; hallucinations; headaches;  sudden sniffing death due to heart failure; death from asphyxiation or suffocation; brain damage from lack of oxygen


nausea; tremors; irritability; problems sleeping; mood changes



nausea; dizziness; itching; sweating; dry mouth; constipation; increased urination; loss of appetite; hallucinations with long term-high dose usage


muscle aches; insomnia; irritability; hostility; aggression; emotional changes; runny nose; jerky movements

MDMA (Ecstasy/Molly)


lowered inhibition; enhanced sensory perception; increased heart rate and blood pressure; muscle tension; nausea; faintness; chills or sweating; sharp rise in body temperature could lead to kidney failure or death

MDMA decreases some of alcohol's effects; alcohol can increase plasma concentrations of MDMA, which may increase the risk for neurotoxic effects (damage to the brain and nervous system)

fatigue; loss of appetite; depression; trouble concentrating



increased wakefulness and physical activity; decreased appetite; increased breathing, heart rate, blood pressure, and temperature; irregular heartbeat; insomnia; confusion; anxiety; erratic behavior; hallucinations

Masks the depressant effect of alcohol, increasing the risk of alcohol overdose; may increase blood pressure

depression; anxiety; tiredness

Prescription Central Nervous System Depressants:

Barbiturates: Pentobarbital (Nembutal®), Phenobarbital


drowsiness; slurred speech; poor concentration; confusion; dizziness; problems with movement and memory; lowered blood pressure; slowed breathing

Further slows heart rate and breathing, which can lead to death

seizures; shakiness; anxiety; agitation; insomnia; overactive reflexes; increased heart rate, blood pressure, and temperature with sweating; hallucinations; severe cravings

Benzodiazepines: Xanax®, Librium®, Valium®


Sleep Medications: Lunesta®, Sonata®, Ambien®


Prescription Opioids: codeine, fentanyl, Vicodin® (hydrocodone), Dilaudid®, Demerol®, methadone, morphine, OxyContin® and Percocet® (Oxycodone), Opana®


pain relief; drowsiness; nausea; constipation; euphoria; slowed breathing; death

dangerous slowing of heart rate and breathing, leading to coma or death

restlessness; muscle and bone pain; insomnia; diarrhea; vomiting; cold flashes with goosebumps; leg movements

Prescription Stimulants:

Adderall® (Amphetamine)


Increased alertness, attention, energy; increased blood pressure and heart rate; narrowed blood vessels; increased blood sugar; opened-up breathing passages.

masks the depressant effect of alcohol, increasing the risk of alcohol overdose; may increase blood pressure

depression; tiredness; sleep problems

Ritalin®, Concerta® (Methylphenidate)


Psilocybin (Magic mushrooms)


hallucinations; altered perception of time; inability to distinguish fantasy from reality; panic; muscle relaxation or weakness; problems with movement; enlarged pupils; nausea; vomiting; drowsiness

may decrease the perceived effects of alcohol


Rohypnol® (Flunitrazepam)


 Drowsiness, sedation, sleep; amnesia, blackout; decreased anxiety; muscle relaxation, impaired reaction time and motor coordination; impaired mental functioning and judgment; confusion; aggression; excitability; slurred speech; headache; slowed breathing and heart rate.

severe sedation, unconsciousness, slowed heart rate and breathing, which can lead to death

Headache; muscle pain; extreme anxiety, tension, restlessness, confusion, irritability; numbness and tingling of hands or feet; hallucinations, delirium, convulsions, seizures, or shock.

Steroids (Anabolic)


improved athletic performance; acne; fluid retention; oily skin; kidney and liver damage; high blood pressure; increased risk of stroke or heart attack; increased aggression and extreme mood swings

increased risk of violent behavior

Mood swings; tiredness; restlessness; loss of appetite; insomnia; lowered sex drive; depression, sometimes leading to suicide attempts.

Synthetic Cannabinoids (ex. K2, Spice)


increased heart rate; vomiting; agitation; confusion; hallucinations, anxiety, paranoia; increased blood pressure.


Headaches, anxiety, depression, irritability.

Synthetic Cathinones (bath salts)


Increased heart rate and blood pressure; euphoria; increased sociability and sex drive; paranoia, agitation, and hallucinations; violent behavior; sweating; nausea, vomiting; insomnia; irritability; dizziness; depression; panic attacks; reduced motor control; cloudy thinking.


Depression; anxiety; tremors; problems sleeping; paranoia

Tobacco and Nicotine (cigarettes, eCigarettes/Juul, chewing tobacco)


increased blood pressure, breathing, and heart rate; increased risk of cancer and heart disease; emphysema (Whether use of eCigarettes/Juuls leads to an increased risk of cancer is currently unknown.)


irritability; attention and sleep problems; depression; increased appetite


[1] National Institute on Drug Abuse, "Commonly Abused Drugs Charts," National Institutes of Health, last modified July 2, 2018,


Back to top

Resources and Treatment

JMU offers the following resources:

  • Reflections Alcohol Intervention Program: This program is comprised of two 50-minute sessions designed to help students explore their expectations around alcohol as well as the potential risks. 

  • Reflections Cannabis Intervention Program: This program is comprised of two 50-minute sessions designed to help students explore their expectations around cannabis as well as the potential risks. 

  • University Health Center (UHC) Consultations: A consultation session is no longer than 50 minutes. Students will explore their expectations around substances as well as the potential risks. Referral to appropriate community resources will be provided. A consultation is an empathic, confidential, and non-judgmental session available to all JMU students. This is not an addiction treatment program. 

  • Educational Programs: JMU’s Office of Student Accountability and Restorative Practices offers many programs including two educational classes entitled By the Numbers and Calling the Shots. To learn more about these programs, visit: JMU Student Handbook: Sanctioning or call (540) 568 – 6218. 

Students who have not been sanctioned to the above classes are able to enroll. Please see the appropriate link for more information.

 The resources that Harrisonburg offers include but are not limited to:

Back to top

Back to Top