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As parents you know that drug use among young Americans is on the rise once more. Many kids today even inhale aerosol products for kicks. According to research by the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), 46 percent of eighth grade students report that they have smoked cigarettes. The same study also found that by the eighth grade, 29 percent of American children have used illicit drugs at least once in their lifetime.

This guide provides you with the latest information on drug use among young people, particularly tobacco, marijuana, and inhalants.

Please read this guide to learn key facts about these three drugs. It will help you explain to your child exactly why drug use is illegal, dangerous, and wrong - and why he or she should never start.

Q: What is a drug?

A: A drug is any substance that changes how the body works once it gets inside the body.

Q: Does everyone use illegal drugs?

A: No. Some children may assume that everyone takes drugs. The fact is that the vast majority of Americans do not use illegal drugs. It is important for children to understand this fact and to know that it is perfectly normal to refuse to use illegal drugs.

Q: Does the same drug affect everyone the exact same way?

A: No.The same drug can do different things to different people. Most drugs offer special risks to children.
For example, the same amount of cocaine results in a much higher blood level of the drug in a child than it does in an adult. Thus, a child may run a greater risk of overdose than an adult.
Second, children are less able than adults to understand the possible long-term effects of drug abuse, such as lung cancer, liver damage, and mental health problems. The younger the person, the more difficult it is for them to understand the consequences of drug abuse.

Q: Where do drugs go in the body?

A: Once drugs enter the bloodstream, they travel throughout the body. They travel fastest to organs with a rich blood supply - the heart, the lungs, and the brain. Drugs that are inhaled, smoked, or injected directly into the bloodstream get into those organs the fastest.
Because drugs travel throughout the body, they can affect different organs at the same time. For example, sniffed glue may simultaneously intoxicate the brain and damage liver cells.

Q: How do drugs work?

A: As drugs contact organ cells, they interact with specific "targets"or receptors, on or inside the cells. When a drug combines with these receptors a "message" is sent to the cell, changing its normal activity.
For example, nicotine combines with nerve cells to increase the rate of electrical conduction - this increases the heart rate and blood pressure. Inhalants interact with brain cells to slow electrical conduction, which causes intoxication.

Q: How do drugs leave the body?

A: Drugs usually leave the body through the liver and the kidneys. Some, like inhalants can be eliminated by the lungs in the breath.
Most drugs leave the body within days or hours after they have been taken. Nicotine, for example, is eliminated so rapidly that a person must smoke cigarettes continuously through the day to keep the nicotine level high enough for its effects to be felt. In contrast, THC, the active ingredient in marijuana leaves the body so slowly that it can be detected for at least several days after it was smoked.

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