Muir Wood therapist, David Laing

How to Identify Drugs

From time to time, every parent on the planet is asked to play the role of detective. Teens can be secretive, and they’re adept at hiding information they know might land them in hot water with the family. Breaking through this wall of deception can be difficult, and sometimes, it means looking for clues that something is amiss. When it comes to drug use, this kind of monitoring is incredibly important. Parents who know what drugs look like, and what teens on drugs might act like, can intervene and take action right away, before the use becomes difficult for the teen to control.


When it comes to drug use among teens, marijuana is the substance parents should be most aware of, and most concerned about, as marijuana use among teens is remarkably common. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry reports that one in three high school seniors admitted to using the drug at least once in the year prior, when they were asked to participate in a drug survey in 2011. This makes marijuana the most popular illicit drug among teenagers.

Very few dealers sell entire marijuana plants. Instead, they sell chopped-up plant bits that look much like oregano or thyme, or they sell an essence of marijuana that looks like oily, black tar. The skunk-and-grass smell of marijuana clings to both of these products, and teens who use this drug might also emit a pungent smell that’s hard to cover up. Teens who use the drug may seem sedated, silly, happy and hungry. When the drug wears off, however, these teens might seem grumpy, irritable or upset. They might also have difficulty remembering small details, including names, dates and figures.

Synthetic marijuana, often sold as spice or K2, can bring about many of these same effects in a teen, but the drugs might look a lot like potpourri and they may have no smell at all. These drugs are often sold in small foil packets, and teens may hide these wrappers in the family trashcan.


Teens might believe that this drug is safe, as it’s often sold under reassuring names, such as:

  • Disco Biscuit
  • Hug Drug
  • Lover’s Speed
  • Peace
  • Clarity
  • Beans

Pills of Ecstasy are often bright and colorful, and they might be stamped with hearts, peace signs or other reassuring images. When sold in powder form or liquid form, the drug is odorless and colorless, but it might be sold in brightly colored packages with the same kind of iconography.

Teens on Ecstasy are deeply impaired, seeing things and hearing things that others simply cannot detect. They may be overtly affectionate, hugging or touching everyone they see, and they may also feel warm to the touch. Teens may also clench their teeth involuntarily while under the influence. According to the Monitoring the Future Survey, only about 3.8 percent of high school seniors reported the use of this drug in 2012, but it’s still a substance parents should be concerned about.


While heroin was once considered a rare drug among teens, that picture might be changing as more and more teens are choosing to experiment with prescription painkillers. These powerful drugs tap into the same receptors used by heroin, but unlike heroin, prescription pills are hard to obtain. Addicts may spend hundreds of dollars on drugs like this each day, and they may find that heroin packs a more powerful punch at a much lower cost. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the average age of first use of heroin in 2006 was 20.7 years, but it’s possible that number will drop as more teens dabble in drugs they find in the family medicine chest.

Heroin can be sold as a powder, and in this form, it might be mistaken for powdered milk. It might also be sold as a sticky, black substance that looks like tar. Users of heroin often store the drugs they buy alongside the equipment they use in order to take heroin. Spoons with black residue, lighters, needles and belts often make up a heroin toolkit. Those who take this drug might seem incredibly sedated, nodding off and waking up repeatedly, and they may talk very slowly. Teens who use needles to inject the drug may become fond of long-sleeved shirts that allow them to cover up the puncture marks that line their arms.

If you suspect that your teenage boy is using drugs, please call us. At Muir Wood, we’re dedicated to helping young men get back on track when they’ve slipped into drug use, and we’d like to help your family too. Please call.