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The Drug Wheel

The drug wheel is a visual tool that classifies drugs into seven broad categories, while providing information on the effects typical to these categories as well as listing substances that fall into these group. An interactive version of the drug wheel developed by the Alcohol and Drug Foundation can be used to learn more about short- and long-term effects, information on effects and/or risks of mixing with other substances, harm reduction tips, and other valuable information about a range of substances. Translated versions of the wheel in a range of languages can be found here.

For information about different substances/drugs, please click on the headings below. Information is organized by the type of substance.

For substances that are not included below, please check Health Canada’s Substance Use Information pages or the interactive drug wheel.

Cannabinoids (Cannabis, synthetic cannabinoids, etc.)

Cannabinoids refers to every chemical substance that joins the cannabinoid receptors of the body and brain and that have similar effects to those produced by the Cannabis Sativa plant (Alcohol and Drug Foundation, 2024).

The two main cannabinoids are THC and CBD:

THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) - THC is responsible for the psychoactive effects of cannabis or the high/intoxication.

CBD (cannabidiol) - CBD does not create the same 'high' as THC and is thought to block or lower some of the effects of THC on the mind. (Health Canada, 2024).

Cannabis (marijuana, pot, weed)

Cannabis is a cannabinoids drug that is a preparation of the Cannabis Sativa plant that is used as a drug and medicine. As a drug it can be used in dried plant, resin or oil form. The potency of cannabis depends on the concentration of THC, which is higher in resin and hash oil.

Cannabis can make you feel relaxed, giddy, and hungry or hallucinate or have a dry mouth. 

For more information about cannabis, including resources for adults and youth, check the Cannabis page.

For harm reduction information, see Canada’s Lower Risk Cannabis Use Guidelines.

For information about cannabis use and women, see the Women and Cannabis Factsheet.


Depressants (Alcohol, benzodiazepines, GHB, etc.)

Depressants are substances that reduce arousal and stimulation by affecting the central nervous system, slowing down messages between the brain and body (Alcohol and Drug Foundation, 2024).


Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant drug. Alcohol is a product of fermenting sugars. It is usually made from grains such as hops, barley, rice and fruits. Alcohol has been used for thousands of years by cultures around the world.

Drinking alcohol can make you feel relaxed, more confident and sociable. It will also reduce your ability to concentrate and will slow your coordination and reflexes.

For more information about alcohol, see Canada’s Low Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines.

Benzodiazepines (benzos)

Many people use benzodiazepines (Xanax, Klonopin,Valium, Ativan) to manage stress and anxiety disorders. Like alcohol and opiates, benzos are a depressant. This means combining things like Xanax, alcohol, opioids or any combination of these can be dangerous.

Taking benzos with or without a prescription can lead to physical dependence. When benzo use is suddenly stopped or a much lower dose is taken, withdrawal symptoms may appear.  Symptoms can include headache, muscle pain, restlessness, and trouble sleeping.

The risks of misusing benzos can include:

  • Substance use disorder
  • Having an adverse drug interaction which can lead to overdose

If you or someone you know is concerned about benzo use, please consult a health care provider. More information is available at Health Canada.

For harm reduction information, check Harm Reduction for Benzos handout.


GHB (G, fantasy, liquid ecstasy) was originally synthesized for use as an anesthetic. It usually comes as a clear liquid with a bitter aftertaste but can also be a white powder or a bright blue liquid.

GHB slows down the body and the most common side effects include feelings of euphoria, increased sex drive, and lower inhibitions. GHB can also cause memory lapse, clumsiness and lack of motor control, dizziness or headache, lowered body temperature and heart rate. In Canada it is often known as the date rape drug.

For more information about GHB visit the Health Canada website.

Opioids (Heroin, fentanyl, etc.)

An opioid is any substance that activates opioid receptors in the brain. Opioids derived from plants (opium, morphine, codeine, heroin) are called opiates and are not synthetic.

Opioids can also be "made in lab" or "synthesized," synthetic opioids include fentanyl and carfentanyl, oxycodone, buprenorphine, methadone, and naloxone.

Opioids are often used to treat short term pain. Side effects include nausea, vomiting and constipation. In an overdose, opioids can cause respiratory depression – breathing can slow and eventually stop. Opioids can be addictive.

Naloxone is an anti-overdose medication that can be used to temporarily reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. Visit the Naloxone page and Overdose Prevention page for more information on how to reduce risk of overdose, how to use naloxone, and where to access a naloxone kit in Waterloo Region.

For more information on opioids, check the Opioids, Fentanyl, Overdose and Naloxone Information Package for Parents, Caregivers and Students.

To learn to recognize the signs of an opioid overdose and how to respond, check the Naloxone Infographic (injectable) and Naloxone Infographic (nasal spray).

For information about heroin see the Heroin Factsheet from Drug Wise or visit Health Canada.

Two facts sheets are also available from the BC Centre for Excellence for Women’s Health:

Stimulants (Amphetamines, caffeine, cocaine, nicotine, etc.)

Stimulants are a class of drugs that increase the activity of the brain and the spinal cord and speeds up the messages travelling between the brain and the body (Alcohol and Drug Foundation, 2024).


Cocaine is a white powder derived from the leaves of the coca shrub, a plant that grows in South America.  It can be snorted through the nose or swallowed, or rarely made into an injectable solution with water.

Cocaine is a strong but short-acting stimulant drug that speeds up the body. Crack cocaine is an intense, short acting drug produced through a chemical process that produces peanut sized rocks. Crack is usually smoked in a pipe, glass tube, plastic bottle or foil.

For more information about cocaine, including harm reduction strategies, check the Cocaine Drug Wise Fact Sheet.

Amphetamine (Meth, Ice, Crystal, glass, speed)

Methamphetamine is the name given to range of different street drugs that are classed as stimulants. Stimulants are drugs that increase central nervous system activity – making you breathe faster, making your heart rate faster, and giving you more energy.

Crystal meth usually comes in the form of a powder or crystals that look like broken glass or crushed ice.  Meth can be snorted or swallowed, but many people either inject it or smoke it through a special glass pipe. 

Common physical and psychological health problems include poor appetite, anxiety, depression, fatigue, loss of energy, heart flutters, tremors, hallucinations, or paranoia.

For information about meth, including reducing harm, check the Users Guide to Methamphetamine.

For information on how reduce your harm when smoking meth, see the Smoke Crystal Safer postcard.

Psychedelics (LSD, psilocybin, etc.)

Psychedelics may also be referred to as hallucinogens, and can cause hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that do not exists or are distorted) or changes in a person's thoughts, mood, sense of time, or perception of their environment or themselves (Alcohol and Drug Foundation, 2024).

LSD (acid, blotter, dots, L etc.)

Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) in a hallucinogen derived from ergot, a fungus growing wild on rye. As a street drug it is often sold as liquid absorbed into paper sheets that are divided into small squares.

The drug is usually taken orally. It causes hallucinations and has unpredictable effects. For more information about LSD check the Health Canada website. 

Magic Mushrooms

Magic mushrooms are a hallucinogen which come from the liberty cap or fly agaric mushrooms. They can be eaten raw but are often dried. They can then be smoked or added to drinks such as tea.  The effects of hallucinogenic mushrooms are similar to a mild dose of LSD. Some people laugh a lot and feel more confident. Some people feel sick and suffer from stomach aches. For more information check the Health Canada website.

Dissociatives (Ketamine)

Dissociatives or dissociative anaesthetics are a subclass of psychedelics that can cause feelings on disconnection from one's body of physical environment. Similarly to other psychedelics, dissociatives can also cause hallucinations and changes in thoughts, emotions, and consciousness and distortion of physical senses (Alcohol and Drug Foundation, 2024).

Ketamine (vitamin k., special K., kit kat, Super K. etc.)

Ketamine is an anesthetic used medically in operations on humans and animals. Unlike most anesthetics, ketamine does not slow breathing. Ketamine can cause loss of feeling and numbness of muscles. Users may feel sick and detached from their environment.  Hallucinations may be experienced.

Pharmaceutical ketamine is usually in liquid form. Tablets and a white crystalline powder are most commonly seen on the streets. Ketamine is odourless and colourless. Its effects can make it difficult for a person to resist sexual assault. For these reasons, ketamine can be used as a date rape drug.

For more information check the Health Canada website.

Empathogens (MDMA/ecstasy)

Empathogens include substances that cause the release of dopamine and serotonin in the brain, this results in increased feelings of empathy and social connection and increased friendliness and playfulness. Empathogens can also mood swings, dehydration, and depression (Alcohol and Drug Foundation, 2024).

MDMA (Ecstasy, Molly, E, XTC, Adam, Beans)

MDMA is an empathogens which is often used recreationally to increase feelings of connectedness, euphoria, and excitement. It is most commonly taken orally as pills or capsules. 

MDMA use may result in experiences euphoria, increased sweating, dehydration, dilated pupils, agitation, muscle aches and pains, jaw clenching, increased heart rate and palpitations.

For information on reducing harm and MDMA overdose, check the MDMA Quick Reference for Health Care Professionals.





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