Deciphering Drug Slang
Loved ones of a teen often find themselves playing detective, trying to crack the code to teen emotions or texting terms. If you suspect your teen is using drugs, the detective work only gets harder because teens are purposefully covering their tracks. What looks like a soda can may actually be a hiding place for marijuana. When they talk about getting some “brown sugar,” do they mean the baking supply or heroin? Drug slang allows teens to talk about drugs in plain sight without raising any red flags at school or at home.
If you notice your teen using drugs think your teenager may be using drugs, staying educated on the latest slang is essential to catch the substance abuse problem early. And if it does turn out your teen has an addiction to drugs or alcohol, this early detection will play a key part in getting them the help they need fast.
Addiction is a disease, not a moral failing or the result of bad parenting — recovery requires professional teen drug treatment. The longer it goes untreated, the more difficult treatment becomes.
Intended to help kids with attention disorders, Adderall is now the poster child of prescription drug abuse among teens. Adderall is also among the most popular study aid drugs, which teens seek out to increase their focus and energy levels on exam days and for all-night study sessions. In recent years, it’s also been growing in popularity at parties.
In 2015, approximately 7.5% of high school seniors in the U.S. used Adderall, with only 20% of these kids getting it from their doctors. In some cases, young people simply know where to buy Adderall on the street (i.e. buying it from a dealer or “trader”) or where to score it from a friend or family member. Nearly 42% of high schoolers say it’s easy to obtain Adderall or similar stimulants like amphetamines.
Other names for Adderall include:
- Black Beauties
- Pep Pills
- Study Buddies
- Smart Pills
Marketed as “bath salts” or cleaning chemicals to circumvent drug laws, these are synthetic over-the-counter powders with a powerful amphetamine-like stimulating effect. Bath salts have become popular through word of mouth amongst teens and are also available in gas stations and convenience stores.
It didn’t take long for them to become a national issue, as they sent thousands of young people to the hospital with scary and sometimes irreversible side effects — although treatment options for this dangerous substance are available. In 2013 alone, nearly 23,000 ER visits in the U.S. were related to bath salts abuse.
Other names for bath salts are often variants of different brand names, which include:
- Cloud 9
- Vanilla Sky
- White Lightning
- Meow Meow
- Pure Ivory
- Blue Silk
- Lunar Wave
- Wicked X
One of the most notorious illicit drugs, cocaine is a white powder that causes a short burst of energy and euphoria when snorted, smoked or injected. Cocaine highs fade quickly and leave users craving another hit, often turning casual teen cocaine abuse into a lasting addiction.
Almost 5% of 12th graders in the U.S. have tried cocaine at least once. Your teen may also be more likely to try cocaine if they’re struggling in school — 35% of “F” students have used it at least once, and 13% have used it more than 40 times. Cocaine causes thousands of deaths each year and is the most addictive drug behind heroin — nearly 17% of teens who try it become dependent on the drug.
Cocaine street names include:
- Nose Candy
Teens have taken to “robotripping,” a woozy type of high caused by drinking cough syrup. The active ingredient in several major cough syrups, dextromethorphan (or DXM), is responsible for the intoxicating effects — and even a chemical dependency in some cases. Codeine cough syrups, which are even more potent, were recently taken off the shelves because of how dangerous they are — but teens can still get them from somebody with a prescription.
More than 4% of high school seniors report misuse of cough medicine — whether in syrup, pill, powder or capsule form — which leads to ER visits and even death in some cases.
Cough syrup and DXM street names include:
- Red Devils
- Poor Man’s Ecstasy
- Orange Crush
- Triple C
- Drank, Purple Drank or Sizzurp (combining cough syrup with soda)
Methamphetamine, or crystal meth, is a stimulant that’s nearly three times as powerful as cocaine with a high that lasts for hours followed by a debilitating comedown (or “crash”) and, for those looking to get clean, a difficult drug detox. Meth addiction is not uncommon even after the first use, and a laundry list of other serious health problems are related to crystal meth.
According to a recent survey, one in 33 teens in the U.S. are experimenting with the drug starting at an average age of 12. A quarter of teens say it would be easy to score meth, and 10% say they’ve been offered it at least once.
Crystal meth street names include:
Ecstasy has become the go-to club drug for young people, used at parties, nightclubs, concerts and music festivals. Ecstasy — the chemical MDMA, often mixed with other ingredients — causes a rush of dopamine (a chemical that regulates happiness and related sensations) in the brain, and is known to make users feel more connected to each other.
In the last year, more than 4% of high school seniors have taken the drug. Along with the many side effects of ecstasy (e.g. dehydration, impaired judgment, post-use depression), teens who take ecstasy are vulnerable to countless untold risks depending on what the drug is combined (or “cut”) with. Only 20–25% of ecstasy pills are pure MDMA — the rest are cut with everything from caffeine to meth.
Ecstasy slang includes:
- Hug Drug
- Love Drug
- Lover’s Speed
- Moon Rocks
- Happy Pill
- Dancing Shoes
- Scooby Snacks
Heroin goes by many names. This intensely addictive drug is typically used by injection with a needle. Once it enters the body, heroin blocks the pain receptors in the brain, inducing a numb, euphoric state for a period of hours.
Only around 1% of high school seniors have tried heroin, but each teen who experiments with the drug is at risk for the drug’s many serious side effects. Between 2002 and 2013, heroin use in the U.S. jumped 63%. In 2009, 21,000 Americans sought treatment for teen heroin addiction.
Heroin street names include:
- China White
- Black Tar
- Big H
- Brown Sugar
- Mexican Brown
One of the most resourceful ways that teens get high is by breathing in gas, household cleaners, markers and other random objects with noxious fumes. The umbrella term given to these items — when they’re used to get high — is inhalants. When a teen uses an inhalant, they will often empty some of the contents onto a rag or into a plastic bag, and then hold it to their face and breathe in, called huffing.
Nearly 6% of U.S. high school seniors admit trying inhalants in their lifetime, and 2% have used them in the last month. Depending on the chemical they use, huffing will usually cause lightheadedness and a very brief feeling of euphoria. But inhalants can also do serious damage to the brain, and regular use can lead to heart damage and other major health problems.
Inhalant street names include:
- Laughing Gas
- Moon Gas
- Air Blast
- Hippie Crack
- Poor Man’s Pot
Designed as a veterinary anesthetic, ketamine has become an increasingly popular drug with teens. This colorless liquid or white powder has a tranquilizing effect, and causes both breathing and heart rate to slow down. This sends users into a “K-hole,” where it becomes difficult to move. Teens use ketamine for a detached, out-of-body experience, and it’s become a common date rape drug for the same reason. In the past year, nearly 3% of 12th graders in U.S. have used ketamine, and people aged 12–25 account for 74% of ER visits related to ketamine abuse.
Ketamine street names include:
- Special K
- Vitamin K
- Green K
- Super C
- Super Acid
- Special La Coke
- Kit Kat
- Cat Valium
- Honey Oil
This infamous psychedelic drug known for its 12-hour “trip” full of hallucinations has been popular with teens since the 1960s and the Flower Generation. It’s typically sold on small squares of paper similar to postage stamps or absorbed into sugar cubes, which are then ingested. In its most basic form, LSD is a clear, odorless liquid. Last year, nearly 3% of high schoolers took acid, and approximately 5 million Americans aged 12–25 have experimented with LSD in their lifetimes.
Tripping on acid is an unpredictable, often overwhelming journey. Users can lose control, becoming a threat to themselves or others, and have mental and/or emotional breakdowns following the experience.
LSD street names include:
- Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds
- California Sunshine
- Yellow Sunshine
- Window Pane
- Battery Acid
- Looney Toons
The green, pungent leaves of the cannabis plant — known as “marijuana,” “weed” and a host of other names — maintain a stronghold as the most popular illicit drug among U.S. teens. When smoked, marijuana releases THC, a potent psychoactive chemical. This makes the user feel relaxed, heightens their senses and has a mild hallucinogenic effect. It also causes paranoia and impaired motor function and is highly addictive.
Marijuana is commonly referred to as a “gateway drug,” because teens who use the drug often develop additional substance problems later in life. More than a third of 12th graders and 12% of 8th graders reported using it in the last year. The earlier they start using, the bigger the drug’s impact on their brain’s development. Kids smoking weed typically do poorer in school and historically have lower-paying jobs following graduation.
Slang for marijuana includes:
- Mary Jane
- Purple Haze
Psychedelic mushrooms can closely resemble mushrooms used in cooking, and are grown in a similar way. Unlike mushrooms for cooking, however, these nearly 200 species of mushrooms contain psilocybin, a mind-altering chemical. Teens may trip on psilocybin mushrooms much like they would on LSD — eating them can lead to an altered sense of space and time, hallucinations and euphoria — along with nausea and panic attacks.
While under the influence of hallucinogenic mushrooms, teens can forget where they are and act out in ways they normally wouldn’t. Over the years, several teens have died from incidents occurring during mushroom-induced stupors.
Street names for mushrooms include:
- Magic Mushrooms
- Blue Meanies
- Liberty Caps
Oxycodone is a narcotic painkiller prescribed in slow-release pills that work over a period of 12 hours, the most popular brand of which is OxyContin. The prescription caused a wave of teen incidents in the 2000s, including many instances of addiction and death. Although the tablets are slow-release, teens crush them into a powder and snort them, releasing the full amount and potency of the drug all at once. As this trend caught fire, users began spending upwards of $80 for a single pill. To counteract the growing popularity of the drug, in 2013, the FDA approved a variant that couldn’t be crushed into powder.
The drug remains a danger to teens, and as many as 1 in 20 admit to trying it. Approximately 75% of people addicted to oxycodone eventually develop a heroin habit, as heroin delivers a similar feeling for a fraction of the price.
OxyContin street names include:
- Oxy 80s
- Hillbilly Heroin
Ritalin is a slightly less common, but equally dangerous relative of the drug Adderall. Teens abuse it as a study aid drug to get an edge when writing papers and cramming for tests. It’s most commonly prescribed for teens with ADHD. Most teens get their Ritalin from siblings, classmates, or from their doctors after faking the symptoms of ADHD. A 2013 report revealed that 5 million students in the U.S. have abused Ritalin or Adderall, a 33% increase from 2008.
In addition to helping them with school, some even use the drug to lose weight. Once they begin taking the drug though, the risk of addiction is extremely high. Overdoses, along with several other serious health problems, are not uncommon.
Ritalin street names include:
- Vitamin R
- Diet Coke
- Kiddie Cocaine
- Kiddie Coke
- Kibbles and Bits
- Poor Man’s Cocaine
Similar to bath salts, a number of companies began selling synthetic marijuana in the 2000s. Packaged in small, colorful wrapping and given catchy names, these products bypassed drug laws by using a mishmash of legal chemicals and by being sold as “herbal incense.” When smoked, the high from these chemicals mimics the high of marijuana. In 2012, 11.3% of high schools seniors used it. In some cases — after just a single use — synthetic marijuana side effects have led to serious health issues or even death. died or developed a serious health issue after even one use.
The U.S. government has steadily been cracking down on stores that sell these products. Inpatient rehab options are available for this dangerous substance.
Slang and brand names for synthetic marijuana include:
- K2 Drug
- K3 Drug
- Black Mamba
- Yucatan Fire
- Bombay Blue
- Solar Flare
Vicodin is the second-most popular prescription drug amongst 12th graders — around 10% use it, with 5% using it for non-medical reasons. This powerful painkiller is a combination of hydrocodone and acetaminophen, and in 2014, the DEA reclassified it from a schedule III to a schedule II drug due to its widespread misuse and potential for addiction. More than 130 million Vicodin prescriptions are filled each year in the U.S., and people with prescriptions often sell pills to people looking for a fix.
Vicodin street names include:
- Idiot Pills
Curious teens may abuse the anti-anxiety medication Xanax (pronounced ZAN-ex) — or the similar drugs Valium, Klonopin and Ativan — and feel drowsy and out of it, with very few so-called “fun” side effects. Once they start taking it, it can be difficult to stop. The more they use, the greater their risk of serious side effects, like twitching, depression and seizures. Teens who mix Xanax with alcohol or other drugs are especially at risk. Between 2005 and 2011, the number of ER visits related to Xanax or similar prescription drugs nearly doubled.
Drug slang for Xanax include:
- Zanbars or Xanbars
- Blue Footballs
- School Bus
- Bicycle Parts
- Yellow Boys
- White Boys
- White Girls
This dissociative anesthetic drug drives users into disorientation, and causes a loss of bodily and mental control. Not only can PCP lead to mental health issues such as severe depression, it can cause psychosis. In fact, many tragic suicides, murders and accidental deaths have been attributed to PCP use. Though PCP is not as common as drugs like cocaine, hundreds of thousands of American teenagers put themselves at risk by using this substance.
PCP street names include:
- Angel dust
- Rocket fuel
- Love boat
- Embalming fluid
- Wet (a marijuana joint dipped in PCP)
Does Your Child Need Drug or Alcohol Treatment?
If you notice signs of addiction, and you hear your teen and their friends use some of this slang, they may have a drug abuse or drug addiction problem. We understand this realization can be jarring — many parents feel shocked, confused, embarrassed, or downplay the problem, calling it “normal.” It’s ok to be afraid and uncertain what to do — social stigma of drug addiction makes us view addicts as hopeless, bad people — but it’s crucial you spring to action once you discover your teen’s problem. The sooner you accept that your child is sick with the disease of addiction, the sooner you can get them the professional help they need.
You may be uncertain what to do next. We recommend speaking to a medical or treatment professional, like your family doctor or the recovery advisors from our teen drug abuse helpline. All of the conversations on the TeenRehabCenter.org helpline are free and confidential with no strings attached. We are ready to speak to you about addiction in general, specific drugs, answer questions and point you toward teen rehab facilities if you decide inpatient or outpatient rehab are right for your family.
We know how trying this is, and have seen the heartbreak of parents whose teens are struggling. Please know that you’re not alone in this — we are here to help you. Take the first step by giving us a call. There’s no cost and no obligation, just genuine care.
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- Preidt, Robert. “‘Bath Salts’ Drugs Led to 23,000 ER Visits in One Year: U.S. Report.”Consumer HealthDay. HealthDay, 17 Sept. 2013. Web. 25 Jan. 2016.
- Hitti, Miranda. “1 in 33 Teens Admit Trying Meth.” CBS News. CBS Interactive Inc., 19 Sept. 2007. Web. 1 Feb. 2016.
- Merlan, Anna. “Don’t Panic, But There’s Probably Meth in Your Ecstasy and De-Wormer In Your Cocaine.” Dallas Observer. Dallas Observer LP, 6 Mar. 2012. Web. 1 Feb. 2016.
- “Ketamine Fast Facts.” U.S. Department of Justice. National Drug Intelligence Center, June 2003. Web. 25 Jan. 2016.
- Arnold, Chris. “Teen Abuse of Painkiller OxyContin on the Rise.” NPR.org. National Public Radio, 19 Dec. 2005. Web. 26 Jan. 2016.
- “More Teens Abusing Adderall/Ritalin.” CCHR International: The Mental Health Watchdog. Citizens Commission on Human Rights International, 23 Apr. 2013. Web. 25 Jan. 2016.
- Koba, Mark. “Deadly Epidemic: Prescription Drug Overdoses.” USA TODAY. USA TODAY, 28 July 2013. Web. 26 Jan. 2016.
- “Popping Xanax is More Harmful Than You Think.” Fox News. Fox News Network LLC, 31 Jan. 2014. Web. 26 Jan. 2016.
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