Common drug types and what they are

Drug testing kits used for workplace drug testing generally test for the six most commonly used illegal drugs including amphetamines, methamphetamines, cocaine, opiates, marijuana, and benzodiazepines.

Drugs can affect us in different ways, and it varies from person to person. How a drug affects a person can depend on their weight, size, and health, their frequency in using their drug, and also the presence of any other drugs in their system. The effects are also dependent on the amount of drugs taken.

With illegal drugs, it can be hard to judge how much has been taken because they are uncontrolled, and therefore the quality and strength of the drug varies from batch to batch.

The effects of drugs, and the symptoms of coming down and withdrawal, can affect a person’s ability to work safely and effectively, which is why many organisations have a strict zero tolerance towards drugs and alcohol in the workplace.




Different types of drugs have different effects –


  • Examples: alcohol, benzodiazepines (minor tranquillisers), cannabis, GHB, heroin, morphine, codeine, methadone, and some inhalants.
  • Effects: They affect the central nervous system by slowing down the messages between the brain and the body. They affect concentration and coordination and can slow down the person’s ability to respond to unexpected situations.
  • Dangers: In small doses they can cause the user to feel more relaxed and less inhibited but in larger doses they can cause drowsiness, vomiting, unconsciousness and death.


  • Examples: caffeine, ephedrine, nicotine, amphetamines, cocaine and ecstasy (MDMA).
  • Effects: These speed up the messages between the brain and the body, and make the user feel more awake, alert, confident or energetic.
  • Dangers: Large doses or long term use of strong stimulants can cause over-stimulation, anxiety, panic, seizures, headaches, stomach cramps, aggression and paranoia.


  • Examples: ketamine, LSD, datura, magic mushrooms (psilobycin) and mescaline (peyote cactus). Cannabis and ecstasy can also have hallucinogenic qualities.
  • Effects: These distort a person’s perception of reality. Users may imagine seeing or hearing things, or distortions of reality. The effects of different hallucinogens vary.


Below are the six most common drug types tested by drug test kits today. Click on the tabs to learn more about them.


  • Amphetamines
  • Methamphetamines
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Cocaine
  • Opiates
  • Marijuana

Amphetamines (AMP) are central nervous system stimulating drugs. They may induce alertness, wakefulness, increased energy, reduced hunger and overall feeling of well being. Overdose and extended usage of amphetamines may lead to substance abuse, which may cause severe and/or permanent damage to the human nervous system.

The drug is often self-administered by nasal inhalation or oral ingestion. Depending on the route of administration, amphetamine can be detected in oral fluid as early as 5-10 minutes following use and up to 72 hours after use .

Methamphetamine (METH) is a potent stimulant chemically related to amphetamine but with greater central nervous system stimulation properties.

Methamphetamine overdose can cause restlessness, confusion, anxiety, hallucinations, cardiac arrhythmias, hypertension, circulatory collapse, convulsions, and coma. It has been implicated in fatal poisonings following both intravenous and oral administration. Chronic abusers may develop paranoid psychosis. METH is also utilised in the treatment of obesity.

The drug is often self-administered by nasal inhalation, smoking or oral ingestion. Depending on the route of administration, methamphetamine can be detected in oral fluid as early as 5-10 minutes following use and up to 72 hours after use.

Ecstasy (Methylenedioxymethamphetamine or MDMA) is a stimulant and hallucinogen structurally related to Methamphetamine. MDMA was once used for psychotherapy and is now a Schedule 1 drug in the US (no approved medical use).

Benzodiazepines (BZO) are sedative, hypnotic and anti-anxiety drugs commonly used as oral tranquilizers. They include alprazolam, diazepam, lorazepam, triazolam, chlordiazepoxide, flurazepam and temazepam.

Benzodiazepines have a low potential for physical or psychological dependence. However, the same as other central nervous system stimulating drugs, they may induce drowsiness and muscle relaxation. Chronic abuse of benzodiazepine may result in intoxication, similar to drunken behavior. Overdose and extended usage of benzodiazepines may lead to coma and possibly death.

Benzodiazepines are absorbed at different rates and their effects may vary with the absorption rate. Therefore it can be hard to estimate how long after use they can still be detected in oral fluids.

Cocaine (COC) is a potent central nervous system stimulant and a local anesthetic derived from the coca plant (erythroxylum coca). The drug is known to be addictive.

Physical effects of cocaine use include constricted peripheral blood vessels, dilated pupils, and increased body temperature, heart rate and blood pressure. Some cocaine users report feelings of restlessness, irritability and anxiety, both while using and between periods of use. High doses of cocaine and/or prolonged use can trigger paranoia.

Smoking crack cocaine can produce particularly aggressive paranoid behavior in users. Long-term use of prolonged cocaine can result in ulceration of the mucous membrane of the nose and damage to the nasal septum, enough to cause it to collapse. Cocaine-related deaths are often a result of cardiac arrest or seizures followed by respiratory arrest.

The drug is often self-administered by nasal inhalation, intravenous injection and free-base smoking. Depending on the route of administration, cocaine and metabolites benzoylecgonine and ecgonine methyl ester can be detected in oral fluid as early as 5-10 minutes following use, up to 24 hours after use.



The drug class opiates (OPI) refers to any drug that is derived from the opium poppy, including naturally occurring compounds such as morphine and codeine and semi-synthetic drugs such as heroin.

Opiates act to control pain by depressing the central nervous system. Adverse or toxic effects of opiates usage include pupillary constriction, constipation, urinary retention, nausea, vomiting, hypothermia, drowsiness, dizziness, apathy, confusion, respiratory depression, hypotension, cold and clammy skin, coma and pulmonary edema. Death may occur following over-dosage.

The drugs demonstrate addictive properties when used for sustained periods of time; symptoms of withdrawal may include sweating, shaking, nausea and irritability.

Heroin metabolite 6-monoacetylmorphine (6-MAM) is found more prevalently in excreted unmetabolized, and is also the major metabolic product of codeine and heroin.

Morphine is a frequently prescribed drug (under the trade name Serax) for treatment of moderate to severe pain. It is also a common metabolite of opiates [morphine, codeine (methyl-morphine), and heroin (semi-synthetic derivatives of morphine)].

Methadone is a long-acting opioid µ-receptor agonist with pharmacological properties similar to those of morphine. Methadone is available as an oral concentrate and dispensable tablets for relief of chronic pain, treatment of opioid abstinence syndromes, and treatment of heroin dependence. Methadone appears rapidly in oral fluid and correlated with plasma concentrations.

Opiates can be taken orally or by injection routes including intravenous, intramuscular and subcutaneous; illegal users may also take the intravenously or by nasal inhalation. Codeine can be detected in the oral fluid within 1 hour following a single oral dose and can remain detectable for 7-21 hours after the dose.

Marijuana, or Cannabis, is a depressant drug, which means it slows down messages travelling between your brain and body.

Cannabis induces feelings of relaxation, sleepiness, spontaneous laughter and excitement, increased appetite, dry mouth, and quiet and reflective mood. When large doses of cannabis are taken, it may also produce blurred vision, clumsiness, slower reflexes, mild anxiety, paranoia, and hallucinogenic effects. Long term regular use of cannabis may cause memory loss, learning difficulties, and substance abuse, which may cause severe and/or permanent damage to the human nervous system.

Cannabis is usually smoked or eaten, and comes in the form of marijuana (the dried plant that is smoked in a joint or a bong), hashish (the dried plant resin that is usually mixed with tobacco and smoked or added to foods and baked; such as cookies and brownies), or as hash oil (liquid that is usually added to the tip of a cigarette and smoked).

Cannabis can also come in synthetic form, which may be more harmful than real cannabis. Read more about synthetic cannabis.

Tetrahydrocannabinols (THC, ∆9 -THC) are the most active of the principal constituents of cannabinoids such as marijuana and hashish, as well as the major metabolites.

THC is detectable in oral fluid shortly after use. The detection of the drug is thought to be primarily due to the direct exposure of the drug to the mouth and the subsequent sequestering of the drug in the buccal cavity. Studies have shown a window of detection for THC in oral fluid of up to 14 hours after drug use.

Sources & References

Drug Info,

Ora-Check 5 Oral Fluid Drug Screen Device,

ORAL-VIEW™ Saliva Multi-Drug of Abuse Test,

US National Library of Medicine

Check out all our drug test kits online.

Tony Mavuu

Tony Mavuu

With a background in Biomedical Science (majoring in Physiology and Microbiological Studies), Tony has brought unprecedented insight into subjects such as health and substance use. Having worked in the medical industry before that focuses on analytical medicine, Tony has vast knowledge about the effects that alcohol and drugs can have on our well-being.


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