One of the distinguishing factors of any community is its language. Politics, religion, sports, medicine, academia, entire cities and states—each has its own vocabulary.
The language of a community allows its members to know who is in the community and who is not, providing context, a sense of familiarity, and sometimes even safety.
Drug culture, like any other community, has its own language, too. Drug slang can provide a shorthand for dealers and users to connect, for one user to connect with another, for people in the community to protect themselves from outsiders like law enforcement, worried or angry loved ones, or strangers.
In recovery, the language of the drug scene can also be a useful tool early on to help individuals seeking recovery connect with people who once used—and spoke—just like them. And as recovery takes root, a new language is created as the old one is replaced.
Drug slang can change rapidly and often depends on the region, or even a neighborhood, but we’ve rounded up some of the more common and longstanding drug terminology here.
Because benzodiazepines are primarily intended to treat anxiety and insomnia, they are a prime target for misuse and abuse. A type of prescription sedative, “benzos” place users in a more tranquil state by enhancing the effect of the GABA neurotransmitter in the brain.
Common benzodiazepines include:
- Xanax (alprazolam)
- Valium (diazepam)
- Klonopin (clonazepam)
Common nicknames for benzodiazepines include:
Cocaine & Crack
A highly addictive stimulant, cocaine is a white powder that can be snorted or dissolved and injected. Cocaine works by increasing dopamine, resulting in a euphoric or energetic feeling.
Crack cocaine is the crystalline form of cocaine. Providing a short but very intense high, crack is extremely addictive. Crack is used by heating the crystallized white powder, called “rocks” and smoking the vapors. This is called “free basing.” The name “crack” comes from the crackling sound the powder makes as it burns.
Common nicknames for cocaine include:
Heroin is a highly addictive, illegal opioid derived from morphine. It can be snorted, smoked, or injected. The drug works by attaching to opioid receptors in the brain responsible for regulating pain, hormone release, and feelings of pleasure, resulting in a rush of pleasure or euphoria.
Common nicknames for heroin include:
- Black tar/tar
- China white
Now legal in many states, marijuana comes from the dried leaves and flowers of Cannabis sativa, or hemp plant. While marijuana is most commonly smoked, and more recently vaped, it can also be mixed into teas and foods (edibles). Resin produced by the leaves and buds of the cannabis plant contain THC, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, which is responsible for producing a high.
Common nicknames for marijuana include:
- Mary Jane
An illegal stimulant and hallucinogenic, MDMA stands for 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine. Often referred to as “Molly,” slang for molecular, MDMA is a synthetic powder contained most often in clear capsules though it can also be snorted. After taking the drug, users may experience a heightened sense of energy, euphoria, and empathy, distorting their sense of time and perception. Used in pill or tablet form, “a roll,” it is referred to as Ecstasy.
Common nicknames for MDMA include:
A white crystalline powder, methamphetamine is a highly addictive stimulant that can be smoked, snorted, injected, or taken in pill form. It affects the central nervous system by releasing increased levels of dopamine and noradrenaline, resulting in feelings of pleasure or euphoria. As a need for the drug builds and tolerance increases, dopamine transmitters and receivers will begin to shut down. Greater quantities of the drug at an increased frequency are then needed in order to produce a high.
Common nicknames for methamphetamines include:
- Shake ‘n’ bake
Originally intended to be prescribed by medical professionals to treat pain, prescription opiates have in recent years become the gateway drug for many addicts who eventually move onto heroin or other illegal opioids. By blocking pain receptors in the body, prescription opioids release dopamine, producing a relaxed, happy feeling. Prescription opioids are most commonly swallowed, but they can be crushed then snorted or dissolved in water and then injected.
Common nicknames for prescription opiates include:
- Hydro/dro (as in hydrocodone)