What you need to know about taking drugs

A drug can change the way the brain works. This effect will vary depending on the type of drug being taken, the person and the environment.

All drug use has risks but there are ways to reduce the risk of harm, overdose or infection when using drugs.

Avoid being alone

If you’re using drugs alone it’s important to be extra cautious around how much you take and how often you take it.

If you’re about to use drugs, With You is a charity that’ll stay on the phone with you until you’re safe. They can also send help if you’re not. The team is trained to listen, protect your privacy and keep you safe.

To contact With You, phone 0808 801 0609, Monday to Sunday, 9am to 9pm.

Test drugs before use

Drug testing is the only way to confirm what’s in drugs.

People in the UK can get drugs tested by using a free, anonymous postal service. This is provided by Welsh Emerging Drugs and Identification of Novel Substances (WEDINOS).

Be cautious

If you’re using drugs, start low and go slow. Start with a small amount (sometimes called a test dose) and wait at least 2 hours before taking any more.

You should start low and go slow as the drug may:

  • not have taken full effect
  • not always be what you’re expecting it to be
  • contain adulterants
  • be mis-sold
  • contain a different amount than you’d expected

If you don’t feel the effect as quickly as you’d expect, don’t assume the drugs are bad quality. They may contain another substance that takes longer to kick in.

For current drug alerts, visit Scotland’s drugs early warning system RADAR

Store drugs securely

Keep all drugs, medicines and other potentially hazardous substances out of sight and out of reach of children and animals. Where possible, keep them locked away in secure packaging.

Avoid mixing drugs

Avoid mixing drugs (including alcohol and medicines). Mixing drugs can cause unexpected and unpredictable results. This is a major risk factor in drug related deaths in Scotland.

It’s very dangerous to mix depressant drugs with:

  • alcohol
  • benzodiazepines (like diazepam and etizolam)
  • gabapentinoids (like gabapentin and pregabalin)
  • opioids (like heroin, buprenorphine and methadone)
  • some prescription medicines

All of these drugs can slow breathing and cause a serious risk of death if mixed.

Drugs and driving

Drugs can reduce your ability to drive. You should only drive if you’re sober, feel well and aren’t sleep deprived.

In Scotland, it’s illegal to drive with a controlled drug in the body over a set limit. The permitted limit differs for each drug.

The law applies to controlled drugs like cocaine, cannabis and heroin. It also applies to prescription drugs like diazepam and methadone. Police can test for cannabis and cocaine at the roadside.

Drugs can be detected long after the effects have worn off. The detection period will depend on factors including the:

  • drug type
  • dose
  • frequency of use

Further information on drugs and driving is available from the Scottish Government

Dealing with an overdose

There’s a greater risk of overdose if you:

  • mix drugs
  • take drugs alone
  • take drugs after a break
  • take higher purity drugs
  • inject drugs

When someone overdoses it’s important to get them help as soon as possible.

Phone 999 or go to A&E if:

You or someone else has taken drugs and has symptoms like:

  • unconsciousness
  • seizures or fitting
  • rapid heart beat
  • low or undetectable heart rate
  • chest pains
  • difficulty breathing (snoring or rasping)
  • blue or pale tingling of knees, hands and lips
  • severe nausea and vomiting
  • hyperthermia (overheating)

The call handler will talk you through what to do. If the patient isn’t breathing, they’ll tell you how to do chest compressions.

Always carry naloxone

Naloxone should be given to anyone who isn’t responsive and displays the signs of an overdose.

Naloxone is a medicine that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose for a short period. Even if it doesn’t help, it’ll do no harm.

All pharmacies in Scotland now hold naloxone for use in emergency situations.

Where to access naloxone

If you use opioid drugs, always ensure you have a naloxone kit to hand.

Naloxone can be accessed through your local drug service or pharmacy. Remember to check ahead that they have naloxone in stock.

Naloxone can also be delivered to your home. This is provided by the charity Scottish Families Affected by Alcohol and Drugs.

Naloxone is very easy to administer. You can learn more about administering naloxone from the Scottish Drug Forum.

Further information on how to respond to an overdose

Further information and support

Further advice and support for those affected by drugs

Last updated:
16 March 2023

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