As a service provider to youth, young adults and families, one of the common questions I hear from parents and caregivers is around drugs. Namely, what drugs are youth in our communities using, and why.

Needless to say, the latter question is far too complex to cover in one article. All people use substances for a variety of understandable reasons. Why, however, do we see one drug more popular than another in our community?

Substance use patterns vary from province/coast/community. This is often a matter of basic economics. Drug supply is steered by demand—youth and young adults are savvy and intelligent consumers and if they want to get high they will seek out what is easily accessible and cost-effective. Whatever is currently flooding our community market is going to be the drug that is cheaper, easier to get than alcohol and cigarettes, and as a result, trending.

To help support parents and families in starting a conversation around substance use, I am providing a basic guide of what drugs we see used by young folks on the Island, including different names people use for each drug, a brief explanation, and some notable facts. I will not be including alcohol or tobacco (cigarettes, chewing tobacco) in this list, though acknowledge that they are commonly used drugs.

Cannabis (Marijuana, Pot, Weed, Ganja, Kush, Shatter).
Derived from the cannabis plant, a psychoactive drug. Provides a feeling of calmness, heightened senses. Commonly used by smoking (in the form of a joint, in a pipe or bong) or eaten in the form of edibles. Notable: Shatter is a form of cannabis concentrate that provides a stronger high, usually smoked, and looks like honey. When warm, it has a honey consistency, and when cold it is hard and can be broken like glass (hence the name). Also notable: “mauling” is a common term for combining tobacco and cannabis and taking a large inhalation (toke or hoot) which then provides a head rush sensation.

Cocaine (Coke, Blow)/Crack Cocaine (Crack).
Strong stimulant. Provides a feeling of intense happiness, confidence, and agitation. Cocaine comes in powder form, usually snorted through the nose or dissolved through a process and injected into a vein. Crack Cocaine is a crystallized, free base form of cocaine that is usually smoked or dissolved through a process then injected into veins. Provides a short but intense high.

Cough Syrup with Codeine (Lean, Sizzurp, Purple Drank).
Cough syrup used in a manner that is inconsistent with how it is recommended on label, usually in excess. Codeine is an opioid. Often combined with carbonated beverages and hard candies for flavor. Notable: In case of opioid overdose Naloxone (also goes by brand name Narcan) can be used to reverse the effects of the overdose. Naloxone is distributed for free throughout British Columbia, go to for more information).

Cough Syrup with Dextromethorphan (DXM, Dex, DM, Robo).
Cough syrup also used in a manner inconsistent with how it is recommended, and in excess. Has dissociative, stimulating and sedating properties at higher doses.
Crystal Methamphetamine (Crystal Meth, Meth, Side, Jib, Shard, Ice, Glass).
Strong stimulant. Provides increased energy and attention, euphoria. Highly addictive properties. Comes in crystallized chunks, can be smoked, broken into powder and inhaled through the nose, or dissolved through a process and injected into veins.

Gamma-Hydroxybutyrate (GHB, G).
Commonly used in the form of a chemical salt which is taken in clear liquid form. Often dosed in caps of the bottle it’s stored in (for example, poured from a used water bottle into the cap and swallowed). Taken recreationally with effects similar to those of alcohol. Notable: because GHB is an odourless clear liquid, it can be used as a “date rape” drug and given to people without consent. That said many people in the community use it recreationally, with full consent, with intent to enjoy the experience. Also notable: the combination of alcohol and GHB can be especially risky, and folks should be warned to not use in combination.

Heroin (Down, Pants)/Fentanyl.
An opioid, powder form. Heroin is derived from opium, but now on Vancouver Island and throughout BC is usually cut partially or completely with Fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid that is prescribed in medicinal community as a painkiller in the form of a patch (placed on skin). In the recreational community it is sold in powder form. Notable: In case of opioid overdose Naloxone (also goes by brand name Narcan) can be used to reverse the effects of the overdose. Naloxone is distributed for free throughout British Columbia, go to for more information).

Xanax (Xannie, Bars).
A benzodiazepine in pill form, usually taken orally. Provides an extreme calming sensation, drowsiness. Prescribed in medical community to relieve anxiety, but the name now extends to describe powdered benzodiazepines brought into the country, pressed into pills, and distributed illicitly.

3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA, Ecstasy, Molly, M).
A psychoactive drug usually used recreationally. Causes feelings of emotional warmth and increased self-awareness, increased extroversion (feeling less shy, less inhibited) and can heighten enjoyment from sensory experiences.

Helpful Resources
Toward the Heart: A project of the provincial harm reduction program, a service of the BC Center for Disease Control.

Discovery Youth and Family Substance Use Services—Island Health: Community-based counseling for youth, parents and families.

Let’s Talk: Speaking with our kids about substance use, an Island Health resource for parents/caregivers. lets_talk_schools_web.pdf

Family Smart “In The Know” Webinar Series: Numerous helpful webinars, including talking to youth about substance use.

Government of British Columbia—Mental Health and Substance Use Supports: Resources for information, support and treatment for substance use and mental health supports.

Victoria Youth Clinic is becoming Foundry Victoria. This means the Victoria Youth Clinic, along with Need2 Suicide Prevention Education and Support, Island Health—Early Psychosis Intervention, and Island Health—Discovery Youth And Family Substance Use Services, will be expanding services for young people ages 12-24. Over the next few months, Foundry Victoria will be working with partners to include more walk-in services, services for mental health assessment, counseling and groups, substance use counseling, peer support, youth and family engagement, and social services.

Lorna Mace is an Outreach Worker at the Victoria Youth Clinic, which will soon be Foundry Victoria.