Every drug has its assortment of slang or “street” names, including prescription drugs that are sold and used illegally. These names often change as users and drug dealers try to stay ahead of police officers, parents, and the general public so they can talk about them openly without others knowing they’re referring to illicit substances. This practice is so common that police departments across the world spend significant time and resources keeping up with the current language used.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), an estimated 24.6 million Americans over the age of 12 used illegal drugs in 2013. This figure accounts for 9.4% of teenaged and adult populations, and it marks a rise in drug use from a previous survey in 2002 where drug use topped out at 8.3%.
It’s also important for parents and guardians of children to keep up with the latest terms because illegal drug use has continued to increase among young people, as have overdose deaths. In recent years, teenagers and young adults have increasingly abused so-called “club drugs,” such as ecstasy and ketamine, and illegally obtained prescription drugs, such as Vicodin and Adderall. However, use of more well-known drugs still occurs in almost every community, as evidenced by the increase in heroin use in many areas.
It can be hard to keep track of all the popular drugs of abuse, let alone all the slang terms for these substances. To make things easier, we’ve separated the most commonly used drugs into categories and outlined the slang names most often associated with each.
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Opioids are any drug that act on the opioid receptors in the brain, producing varying levels of pain relief and sedation. They include opiates, which are drugs that have been derived from the opium poppy, such as morphine and codeine. This class of drug also contains heroin, as well as a long list of prescription drugs, such as Vicodin, OxyContin, Opana, and fentanyl. According to a report by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, an estimated 2.1 million people in the U.S. were addicted to prescription opioids in 2012.
These drugs are highly intoxicating and addictive, even if they were prescribed by a doctor. Due to the high potential for abuse and overdose, many governments have restricted the distribution and use of prescription opioids in an effort to curb the escalating epidemic. Unfortunately, due to years of easy availability and the myth that prescription drugs are safer than illicit ones, people are still able to obtain these substances without much trouble. Many young people report being able to find prescription opioids in family members’ medicine cabinets or simply being given the drugs by family and friends.
- Heroin: China white, white horse, dope, brown sugar, black stuff, tar, golden girls.
- Codeine: cody, schoolboy, syrup, purple drank, doors, fours, lean, loads.
- Vicodin: vikes, vikos, hydros, tabs, lorries, Watsons, 357s.
- OxyContin: ox, oxy, OC, kickers, blues, hillbilly heroin, 40s, 80s.
- Fentanyl: China girl, China town, tango and cash, king ivory, murder eight, friends, goodfellas, great bear, dance fever, Apache, He-Man, jackpot, perc-a-pop.
- Opana: Pink O, Mrs. O, the O bomb, pink, pink lady, pink heaven, blue heaven, blues, new blues, oranges, octagons, stop signs.
To stay on top of the ever-changing landscape of opioid abuse, it’s important to keep track of the slang terms they go by, which may include:
Slang names for drugs often come from their shape, consistency, or color. Heroin frequently comes in a powder and may be white or brown, or it may come in a sticky black substance, prompting the name tar.
When most people think of illegal stimulant drugs, they think of cocaine, crack cocaine, and methamphetamine (meth). Stimulants often overlap with club drugs, but ecstasy and similar uppers can be found in another category. Prescription stimulants may also be abused, particularly those prescribed for the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), such as Ritalin and Adderall, which are often abused by students who are trying to stay alert to tackle large class and work loads. Like all medications, non-medical use of these drugs is dangerous and comes with the risk of addiction and overdose.
Slang terms for stimulants include:
- Cocaine: blow, coke, base, powder, line, bump, rail, snow, stash, dust, candy, flake, white, pearl, cola, baseball, yeyo.
- This white powered substance is most commonly laid out in thin, white lines and snorted.
- Meth: speed, crank, trash, garbage, dunk, gak, chalk, cookies, tweek, uppers, no doze, rocket fuel, scooby snacks, pookie, white cross, go-go-juice, go fast, Christina, Tina.
- This highly addictive stimulant has a glassy, crystalline appearance. Unlike cocaine, meth is not a naturally occurring substance and must be “cooked” using dangerous and volatile chemicals.
- Ritalin: rids, ritties, R pop, vitamin R, R-ball, kiddy coke, diet coke, jif, skippy, pineapple, skittles, study buddies, smart drug, smarties, west coast.
- Prescription ADHD medication is widely abused by the college students. Many students report that they have taken Ritalin, Adderall, or a similar medication without a prescription so they can concentrate for longer or go without sleep while cramming for finals.
- Adderall: red dexies, red pep, blue pill, black beauties, bennies, beans, copilots, wake-ups, lid poppers, truck drivers.
- Amphetamine: bennies, AMP, dexies, pep pills, black beauties, uppers, wake-ups.
- Amphetamines are quite like methamphetamine in their chemical structure. They are commonly used (and abused) by people who need to stay awake for long hours, like truck drivers or pilots, and they are popular on the club scene.
A recent study undertaken at the University of Maryland found that 35.6 percent of students in the country have used prescription stimulants for nonmedical purposes at least once in the lifetimes. Additionally, 10.8 percent reported using a drug like Ritalin or Adderall like this in the past year.
Stimulants are often named for their effects. Uppers is an old term that is unlikely to be used by someone attempting to hide what’s being discussed, but it describes what stimulants do. Drugs like meth give people a burst of energy, leading to names like rocket fuel and go-go juice. Adderall has come to be associated with truck drivers due to the fact that many of these individuals end up taking prescription stimulants to keep themselves awake on the job.
When it comes to Ritalin and Adderall, names like kiddy coke and diet coke refer to the fact that they have a similar effect to cocaine, but are considered to be less intense and less dangerous. However, these drugs are not safe to abuse, no matter what your age.
The term club drugs came about due to the fact that certain drugs are popular for abuse at dance parties, raves, and nightclubs. These drugs tend to enhance the party experience, with mild hallucinogenic effects that intensify the perception of lights, colors, sounds, and textures. They can also give people a heightened sense of empathy and increase sociability while lowering inhibitions. This tends to make users very friendly. They often have stimulant effects, but may produce depressant effects at higher doses.
Club drug slang terms include:
- MDMA (ecstasy): X, E, E-bombs, Molly, malcolm X, adam, love drug, hug drug, candy, beans, sweets, egg rolls, doves, disco biscuits, dancing shoes, happy pills, thizz, vowels
- Ecstasy is actually a nickname itself, referring to the synthetic drug MDMA. This drug has been relatively popular in the club scene since the 1970s, and it remains a drug of choice among young people at dance club, raves, and parties.
- Ketamine: K, special K, super K, vitamin K, kit kat, cat valium, cat tranquilizers, purple, jet
- GHB: G, Georgia homeboy, grievous bodily harm, scoop, liquid ecstasy, water, salty water, everclear, soap, easy lay, fantasy, cherry meth, G-riffick
- Rohypnol: roofies, roopies, ruffies, rope, ropies, rophy, rib, roach-2, circles, Mexican valium
Ketamine is often used by veterinarians to sedate animals like dogs and cats, which is why it’s sometimes called cat valium or something similar. GHB and Rohypnol are unfortunately sometimes used as “date rape drugs,” put in people’s drinks without their knowledge in order to sedate them and lower their inhibitions for the purposes of sexual assault. This has led to slang names like easy lay.
The National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that around 15 percent of all Americans over the age of 12 have used a hallucinogenic drug at least once in their lifetimes. Hallucinogens are less likely to be addictive than many other drugs, but they can still be dangerous, especially if they’re taken in high doses and/or without supervision. People have reported negative experiences on these drugs, commonly referred to as bad trips. It’s possible to see terrifying things under the influence of hallucinogens that can cause intense fear and panic or to fall into deep depressions that can cause suicidal urges.
Common street names for hallucinogens include:
- Marijuana (cannabis): weed, pot, grass, ganja, Mary, Mary Jane, MJ, kiff, hay, hash, bud, cheeba, flower, stems, skunk
- CNN reports that 9.5 percent of American adults used marijuana in 2013. As more states legalize marijuana for recreational use, it is likely that this number will continue to rise.
- LSD: acid, L, Lucy, dots, blotter, gel, hawk, fry, purple haze, tab, trips, flash, cheer, blaze, stars, pyramid, rainbows, smilies, superman, window
- LSD (or d-lysergic acid diethylamide) is a liquid hallucinogen that is typically dispensed on a small paper square. The drug can create vivid hallucinations, but it can also lead to drug-induced psychosis if abused.
- Psilocybin mushrooms: magic mushrooms, mushies, shrooms, magics, caps, buttons, boomers, musk, silly putty, simple simon
- DMT: DET, AMT, 45 minute psychosis, fantasia, Dimitri, businessman’s trip, businessman’s special
- Peyote: half moon, bad seed, hikori, P
- Another naturally occurring psychedelic, peyote is found inside a small, spineless cactus native to Mexico and parts of Texas. People will chew the cactus, drink its liquid, or grind the plant into a powder that they later smoke.
- PCP: boat, angel dust, belladonna, zoom
- PCP is an abbreviation for phencyclidine, a dissociative drug that “detaches” the physical body from the mental sense of self. PCP is usually injected or snorted, and it is sometimes combined with other drugs like cocaine or heroin.
- Salvia: magic mint, leaves, ska pastora, la hembra
- Salvia is a psychoactive plant native to Oaxaca, Mexico. The drug is often dried and smoked, vaporized and inhaled, or brewed into a tea.
With marijuana, slang terms for the general drug can often be confused with the names for the many different strains of the plant. Especially in areas that have legalized either the medical or recreational use of it, you may hear many odd names for marijuana that actually refer to specific types that are marketed based on their varying effects. Popular strains include blue dream, banana kush, and tangerine power. It may be worthwhile to research any new terms you hear that sound strange to see if it’s a new strain of marijuana or if it’s a new term for a more dangerous drug.
Using a slang term for a drug doesn’t automatically mean that a young person is using it. Many teens use trendy terms simply to appear cool. However, sudden and regular use of these terms coupled with other strange behaviors could be an indication of drug use.
While stimulants excite the body and wake a person up, depressants exist on the other end of the spectrum. These drugs slow down the central nervous system, decreasing function and generally promoting sedation.
Slang terms for depressants include:
- Alcohol: juice, hard stuff, sauce, hooch, vino, draft, suds, liquid courage
- Alcohol is the most commonly used depressant in the United States. This is largely due to its legal status once an individual is over the age of 21 and its ease of accessibility. However, alcohol is highly addictive, and it can be abused, either by drinking too much or before one is legally permitted to do so.
- Benzodiazepines: benzos, BZDs, stupefy, tranx, heavenly blues, valley girl, goofballs, moggies, z bars, sleepers
- Most benzodiazepines are available with a prescription from a doctor. These drugs, which include Restoril, Xanax, Valium, Halcion, and others, can be prescribed to treat anxiety disorder, insomnia, or muscle spasms; however, they can also be abused to achieve a sedative type of high.
- Barbiturates: yellow jackets, yellows, red birds, reds, red devils, barbs, tooies, phennies
- One of the older class of medications, barbiturates have been used to treat headaches, insomnia, and seizures since the 1940s. Some of the most common barbiturates are phenobarbital, pentobarbital, and secobarbital.
Abuse of over-the-counter (OTC) medications has increased rapidly in the past two decades.
Slang terms for over-the-counter medications include:
- Cough and Cold Medicine: CCC or triple C, dex, DXM, orange crush, robo (robitussin), syrup, velvet or velvet yrup
- Cough and cold medicines are among the most frequently abused over-the-counter medications, particularly among young people. These drugs are easy to access (usually from the family medicine cabinet) and can induce a potent high if overused or if mixed with alcohol or other substances of abuse. Dextromethorphan is the ingredient in most of these medications that can bring on dissociative, stimulant, or sedative effects if abuse.
- Caffeine Pills: C pills, the caf, java pills
- Caffeine pills, such as NoDoz, are commonly abused for their stimulant effects. Similar to how ADHD medications are abused, people may take extremely high doses of caffeine pills in an effort to stay up for days on end. In addition, these pills may be combined with alcohol for enhanced effects.
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