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The Differences Between Hard and Soft Drugs

John C. Umhau, MD, MPH, CPE is board-certified in addiction medicine and preventative medicine. He is the medical director at Alcohol Recovery Medicine. For over 20 years Dr. Umhau was a senior clinical investigator at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

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The terms “soft drugs” and “hard drugs” are arbitrary terms with little to no clear criteria or scientific basis.

Typically, the term “hard drug” has been used to categorize drugs that are addictive and injectable, notably, heroin, cocaine, and crystal methamphetamine. Marijuana is usually the only drug included within the category of “soft” drugs, although some people include nicotine and alcohol in this category because of their legal status for use by adults, and their relative social acceptability compared to illegal drugs.

The term “soft drug” is sometimes used interchangeably with the term gateway drug, a term that is equally inaccurate.  

“Soft” vs. “Hard” Drugs

Use of the terms “hard” and “soft” drugs raises more questions than it answers. Is a drug only “hard” when it is injected? Surely heroin, crack, and meth is not “soft” drugs when they are smoked. With these drugs, it is the purity, amount, frequency of use, social context, and route of administration that typically determines how harmful it is.

The implication that marijuana is a soft or relatively harmless drug is being increasingly questioned.

There are several different types of marijuana, with hashish and hash oil traditionally being thought of as harder forms of cannabis. However, stronger strains of weed are being genetically engineered and longer-term harms are becoming more apparent.

Criminology research shows that few drug offenders limit themselves to only one drug, bringing into question the idea that drug users are able to limit themselves to a single “soft” drug, although there is a clear pattern among this population of progression from marijuana to heroin.  

Categorization Challenges

If we were to categorize drugs according to how hard or soft they are, several drugs would be particularly difficult to categorize. Hallucinogens, such as magic mushrooms and LSD, and the rave drug ecstasy, are generally not considered by users to be addictive — although some research tells a different story.  

But given the lower incidence of addiction to these drugs and the fact that they are taken orally rather than injected, would they be considered soft drugs? As the risks associated with bad trips and flashbacks are well-documented, and with their status as controlled drugs, it is unlikely that experts would support the view that they are soft drugs.

And which category would prescription medications, such as tranquilizers and painkillers, go into? We don’t usually hear the term “hard drugs” applied to these medications, even when they are abused, yet some are chemically similar to heroin, while others are among the most addictive drugs around and the most dangerous to withdraw from. So the soft drug category doesn’t fit for them, either.

A Word From Verywell

The terms “hard drugs” and “soft drugs” don’t tell you much about the drugs being referred to. They are used mostly for dramatic effect and to get across the speaker’s perceptions about the relative harmfulness of one drug compared to another.

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Learn about the distinction between soft and hard drugs, plus find out about the implications of using these terms to describe drug use.

What Does a Meth High Feel Like?

Every individual is different and we experience everything differently. The way one-person experiences eating a banana may be a different experience for another. The same goes for using drugs and alcohol. The experience of smoking weed may feel and different from one person to another, therefore, having different experiences.

It is very difficult to explain how something feels if one hasn’t experienced it for themselves. Curiously is what a lot of us addicts lead us to try drugs in the first place. One of those drugs is a deadly and addictive stimulant known as methamphetamine.

How Dangerous is Methamphetamine?

One of the most dangerous and addictive drugs being used today is methamphetamine. According to The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH), Methamphetamine is a powerful, highly addictive stimulant that affects the central nervous system. Crystal methamphetamine is a form of the drug that looks like glass fragments or shiny, bluish-white rocks. It is chemically similar to amphetamine, a drug used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy, a sleep disorder.

Other common names for methamphetamine include blue, crystal, ice, meth, and speed. It can be smoked, taken orally, snorted and injected, which is the most dangerous and addictive because of the intense “high” it creates. But what is that intense high? Why is this so alluring? What does injecting Meth feel like?

These are the main feelings that may be experienced when abusing meth:

1) The Rush— When you first inject Meth you will feel a rush within seconds. During the rush, your heartbeat races and metabolism, blood pressure and pulse soar. The rush from Meth can last up to thirty minutes or so.

2) The High— After the rush, the user will feel the “high”. This is when you feel “on top of the world”, confident, you are the best of the best. You may become augmentative and maybe violent. The high can last four to sixteen hours.

3) The Binge— Binging takes place after the high where the user tries to maintain the high by injecting more methamphetamine uncontrollably. The binge can last three to fifteen days. During the binge, the addict becomes hyperactive both mentally and physically. Each time the user injects more of the drug, he experiences another but smaller rush until, finally, there is no rush and no high.

4) Tweaking — A methamphetamine addict is most dangerous when going through a phase of the addiction called “tweaking” This is when the addict can no longer get high or a rush from using Meth. This is wear delusions set in and the user can become very dangerous to themselves and others. The addict will be unable to sleep for days and the potential for self-mutilation is high.

5) The Crash — The user then crashes because of the overwhelming effects on the body from the drug. This is where the user sleeps for long periods of time. The crash can last one to three days.

6) Meth Hangover — After crashing the addict is in a deteriorated state, starved, dehydrated and utterly exhausted physically, mentally and emotionally. This usually lasts from two to fourteen days. This leads to enforced addiction, as the “solution” to these feelings is to take more meth.

7) Withdrawal — Often thirty to ninety days can pass after the last drug use before the user realizes that he is in withdrawal. First, you become depressed, lose energy and the ability to experience pleasure. Then the craving for more methamphetamine hits, and you may become suicidal. Since meth withdrawal is extremely painful and difficult, most abusers revert; thus, 93% of those in traditional treatment return to abusing methamphetamine.

We Are Here to Help with Meth Addiction

This doesn’t have to be the case; at Garden State Treatment Center we can turn those statistics around starting with you. Located in the heart of Northern New Jersey, Garden State Treatment Center is an outpatient and partial care addiction treatment facility that offers nuanced levels of care for individuals struggling with the horrors of substance abuse. It is our explicit goal to help addicted clients rebuild their lives from the inside out and reintegrate themselves back into society.

The most important thing you can expect from your Garden State Treatment Center Treatment experience is that you will emerge from it transformed, stable, and ready to begin a lifetime of recovery.

One of the most dangerous and addictive drugs being used today is methamphetamine. Getting high on meth just once can have a person hooked. ]]>