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Recognize Types of Stimulants and Their Street Names

Stimulant drugs account for some of the most widely abused and illegally traded chemical substances on the black market. This reality has led to an entire vocabulary surrounding their use and distribution.

For parents and loved ones who are worried about whether a family member is hooked, it is important to recognize the different types of stimulants and their street names. 

What Are Stimulants?

Stimulants are drugs that increase electrical activity in the brain, inducing neurons to communicate with each other at much faster rates than usual. This can have therapeutic applications. They can boost a person’s mood as a treatment for depression, and they can help to restore focus in people who struggle with conditions like attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Stimulants do this by boosting the production and release of key neurotransmitters in the brain. Two such neurotransmitters are dopamine and norepinephrine. Dopamine’s release is the chemical mechanism behind feelings of pleasure, reward, and the anticipation of more pleasure and reward. Norepinephrine is released to increase states of mental clarity and alertness.

Many people are born with brains that genetically can’t produce enough of these respective neurotransmitters or with brains that produce unbalanced amounts of them. The neurotransmitters are supposed to be reabsorbed by the brain when their purpose is served, but not everyone’s brain can do this. In other cases, some people’s brains reabsorb the neurotransmitters too quickly.

Stimulant medications can compel the brain to release increased amounts of dopamine and norepinephrine, giving users intense feelings of pleasure and quick thinking. For patients with depression or ADHD, this can be a much-needed blessing. It can also be incredibly tempting for people to abuse stimulants for recreational purposes. If they can’t use prescription stimulants to get high or boost their mental sharpness for professional reasons, they turn to illegal stimulants, which are much more dangerous. 

Types of Stimulants

Regardless of legality, unfettered stimulant use can cause severe physical and psychological problems, leading to addiction, and in many cases, overdoses that can be fatal.

A line of cocaine

Drugs that meet the classification for stimulants can be as notorious as cocaine and methamphetamine, and as innocuous as caffeine. Colloquially, they are known as “uppers” because of their nature of perking up one’s mood and mental activity.

Notwithstanding the legitimate medical applications of many stimulants, they are frequently targets of abuse because they can speed up one’s mental and physical processes, with a strong burst of euphoria often accompanying every dose. Patients often feel supremely good about their stimulant consumption while in the moment, but the long-term abuse of these substances can make discontinuing substance use painful to the point of psychological dependence, not to mention the negative consequences they have on one’s overall well-being.


Cocaine is one of the most widely known stimulants. It is also known by a variety of street names, which include:

  • C
  • Candy
  • Coke
  • Line (as in, “a line of cocaine”)
  • Happy dust
  • Nose
  • Monster
  • Mojo
  • Snow
  • Sugar

Many of the slang terms for cocaine are derived from the drug’s appearance — that of fine white powder. Cocaine takes its name from the plant from which it is derived, the South American coca plant. There are many ways cocaine can be made and used, but the most common form of consumption is to snort the drug through the nose.

Users experience almost instantaneous sensations of excitability, euphoria, and wild mood swings. Even the first line of cocaine is capable of producing feelings of “power and energy,” and users feel a burst of energy.

This blast of stimulant releases such a wave of dopamine that it primes the brain to immediately seek out more cocaine; however, continued use of the drug leads to a diminishing return. That is, users have to take more cocaine over time to produce the same desired effects. The more cocaine a person takes, the greater the physical and psychological need for the drug and the damage it causes. Users go for days without eating or sleeping, doing increasingly dangerous things to get more cocaine. 

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In 2005, Newsweek called methamphetamine “America’s most dangerous drug,” and in 2018, The New York Times warned that meth, “the forgotten killer,” is not only back, “it’s everywhere.”

A closeup of shards of crystal meth

Also known as Mexican crack, rock, chalk, crank, crystal, speed, ice, and simply meth, it is a devastatingly powerful stimulant. Its street names refer to how it is typically sold and used — in powdered and in crystalline forms, which contribute to the many different ways of using it.

Meth can be smoked, snorted, and injected intravenously. As with most stimulants, the initial consumption of methamphetamine causes a surge of euphoria, but this is tempered by a severe crash or comedown. Users are left with wildly negative mood swings, covering everything from anger to paranoia. In 2018, one harrowing account of a meth user who tried to claw her own eyes out, while under the influence of the drug, went viral.

Other side effects of meth use include a dramatic increase in body temperature, to the point of causing unconsciousness, brain damage, and a decline in basic hygiene and nutrition, giving rise to the colloquial term “meth mouth” that even the American Dental Association acknowledges. 

It is very possible to overdose on methamphetamine, where the body and brain cannot keep up with the rapid changes induced by the drug. In effect, the body shuts down. Without fast medical intervention, overdoses can cause long-term (even lifelong) physical and mental health problems. If a patient is not revived and given emergency treatment, the overdose can easily be fatal. 

Both cocaine and methamphetamine are Schedule II Controlled Substances in the United States. They have accepted medical uses (cocaine as an anesthetic and methamphetamine for ADHD treatment and weight loss), but they are subject to some of the tightest restrictions on their manufacture and distribution. People caught without the proper authorization to possess, sell, or use them are subject to some of the toughest criminal penalties.


Adderall is a highly popular prescription medication that is intended for the treatment of ADHD in children and teenagers. Because of the cognitive improvements it offers, Adderall has also become popular as a “study drug.” It is consumed on college campuses and in high-stress jobs to help users work productively around the clock.

There is widespread diversion of Adderall in the United States — that is, it is obtained and used without a doctor’s prescription. Adderall also has entered the black market and is available from dealers who operate on the streets and online. 

This illegal use has led to Adderall being known by different street names, including:

  • Addys
  • Uppers
  • Speed
  • Zing
  • Dexies
  • Study buddies
  • Smart pills

Dexies is an allusion to the chemical contents of Adderall — the medication is the combination of two stimulant drugs, dextroamphetamine and amphetamine. As the name suggests, Adderall (while being a legitimate medication) is related to the illegal drug methamphetamine, which explains both the addictive potential of Adderall and the tight regulations regarding its prescription and use. 

The presence of methamphetamine in Adderall explains its use in conditions such as narcolepsy and ADHD. The medication stimulates a patient’s nervous system to the point where they have a reduced number of episodes of daytime sleepiness. For ADHD, the Adderall increases the flow of neurotransmitters like norepinephrine to the central nervous system, helping patients to feel focused and calm. This mechanism is also why Adderall is widely abused in academic and professional settings.

As with most forms of drug abuse, this misuse of Adderall can be habit-forming. Users will often struggle to think straight or manage their own sleep without the influence of the medication. Other long-term effects of continued Adderall abuse include anxiety, hypertension, depression, cognitive problems, and personality and behavioral changes.


(October 2018). An Overview of Stimulants and How They’re Used. Verywell Mind. Retrieved January 2019 from

(May-Aug 1992). Caffeine And The Central Nervous System: Mechanisms Of Action, Biochemical, Metabolic And Psychostimulant Effects. Brain Research. Brain Research Reviews. Retrieved January 2019 from

(May 2017). What 100 Percent Pure Cocaine Actually Does to You. VICE. Retrieved January 2019 from

Just One Hit of Cocaine Totally Screws Up the Dopamine System of Recovering Addicts. IFL Science. Retrieved January 2019 from

(August 2005). America’s Most Dangerous Drug. Newsweek. Retrieved January 2019 from

(February 2018). Meth, the Forgotten Killer, Is Back. And It’s Everywhere. New York Times. Retrieved January 2019 from

(March 2019). I'm the Girl Who Clawed Her Own Eyes Out. This Is My Story. Cosmopolitan. Retrieved January 2019 from

Meth Mouth: How Methamphetamine Use Affects Dental Health. Mouth Healthy. Retrieved January 2019 from

(November 2018). Does Cocaine Have Any Legitimate Medical Uses? Very Well Mind. Retrieved January 2019 from

(February 2014). Why We Need Medical Meth + Cocaine. The Daily Beast. Retrieved January 2019 from

Adderall. WebMD. Retrieved January 2019 from

(April 2009). Brain Gain. New Yorker. Retrieved January 2019 from

How Does Adderall Work? ADHD / ADD Medication Overview. ADDitude. Retrieved January 2019 from

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