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Knowledge Base » Mental Health » What are Class A Drugs?

What are Class A Drugs?

Last updated on 4th May 2023

Controlled drugs are listed in Schedule 2 to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and are divided into three Classes A, B and C, with Class A drugs considered the most harmful. In 2020, that is the last year that official national figures are available for, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) found that 3.4% of adults aged 16 to 59 years had taken a Class A drug, – approximately 1.1 million people – and this was similar to the previous year (3.7%) in 2019. 2.1% of adults aged 16 to 59 years and 4.3% of adults aged 16 to 24 years were classed as “frequent” drug users, that is they had taken a drug more than once a month in the last year; these figures are similar to the previous year’s (2019) estimates.

According to the UK Government, “the Class A drug powder cocaine is the most commonly used stimulant in the UK. The prevalence of use in the last year reported in England and Wales in 2018 to 2019 (2.9%) was the highest since 2008 to 2009. Lifetime use among 15-year-olds in England increased from 2% in 2013 to 4.2% in 2018, and was 5.4% in Scotland in the same year. Thirteen per cent of people starting drug treatment in Great Britain in 2018 reported primary use of powder cocaine. There has been a notable increase in the proportion of people starting treatment for powder cocaine use in Scotland and Wales in recent years.

The UK has the highest levels of crack cocaine problems in Europe, this is also a Class A drug. Of the approximately 11,000 people who were recorded as starting treatment for primary crack use in Europe in 2017, 65% of these were in the UK. All countries in the UK have seen large increases in the numbers of deaths involving cocaine (powder or crack) over the past decade”.

What are Class A drugs?

Controlled drugs are classed according to their relative degree of overall harm from misuse. To classify drugs, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) considers scientific evidence on medical and social harms and risks. A drug or other substance is tightly controlled by the Government because it may be abused or cause addiction.

There are three classes of controlled drugs and the class of drug a person is caught possessing, supplying or producing affects the severity of the offence. Class A drugs are treated as the most dangerous and include cocaine, ecstasy, heroin, LSD, magic mushrooms and crystal meth.

Class A Drug Crystal Meth

What kind of drugs are considered Class A?

Some of the most commonly encountered Class A drugs currently controlled under the misuse of drugs legislation – that is, both the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (MDA) and the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001 (MDR) – include:

Cocaine – A white powder stimulant that is normally snorted or rubbed into the gums. It is also called:

  • Blow.
  • C.
  • Chang.
  • Charlie.
  • Ching.
  • Coke.
  • Crack.
  • Flake.
  • Freebase.
  • Pebbles.
  • Percy.
  • Rocks.
  • Sniff.
  • Snow.
  • Stones.
  • Toot.
  • Wash.
  • White.

Some of the effects on your body include:

  • Faster heart rate.
  • Raised body temperature.
  • Feeling sick and/or wanting to go to the toilet more.

Cocaine use is risky for anyone with high blood pressure or a heart condition, but there are risks even for healthy young people.

Some of the common risks of cocaine use include:

  • Anyone can have a panic attack, a fit, a heart attack and/or a stroke if they take too much cocaine.
  • Regular use can make you feel depressed and run down.
  • The risk of overdose increases if you mix cocaine with other drugs or alcohol.
  • Over time, snorting cocaine damages the cartilage in your nose that separates your nostrils. Heavy users can lose this cartilage and end up with one large nostril and a misshapen nose.

Ecstasy – A recreational/club drug taken as ecstasy pills or as MDMA powder. It is also called:

  • Beans.
  • Brownies.
  • Cowies.
  • Crystal.
  • Dizzle.
  • Dolphins.
  • EMD.
  • MDMA.
  • Mandy.
  • Mitsubishis.
  • Molly.
  • Pills.
  • Pink Superman.
  • Rolexs.
  • Superman.
  • Xtc.

Some of the effects on your body include:

  • Tingling.
  • Feeling confused.
  • Faster heart rate.
  • Higher body temperature.

The use of ecstasy has been linked to liver, kidney and heart problems. Some users report getting colds and sore throats more often when they take ecstasy. Anyone with a heart condition, blood pressure problems, epilepsy or asthma can have a very dangerous reaction to the drug. Ecstasy affects the body’s temperature control. Dancing for long periods in a hot atmosphere, like a club, increases the chances of overheating and dehydration. Drinking too much (including water) can also be dangerous. This is because ecstasy can cause the body to release a hormone which stops it from making urine. If you drink too quickly you might affect your body’s salt balance, which can be as deadly as not drinking enough water. Evidence suggests that long-term users can suffer from memory problems and may develop depression and anxiety.

Heroin – A powerful opiate that’s usually sold as a white or brown powder.

It is also called:

  • Brown.
  • Gear.
  • H.
  • Horse.
  • Skag.
  • Smack.

Some of the effects on your body include:

  • Feeling sick and vomiting, especially if not used to the effect.
  • Feeling drowsy.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Heart rate and breathing slow down.

It’s very easy to overdose from heroin, which kills far more people in the UK than any other illegal drug. If you overdose you may begin to feel very sleepy. Your breathing will slow and you can fall into a coma. If your breathing slows too much you could die. Injecting heroin is very dangerous. It is easier to overdose from injecting than from other ways of taking the drug. You also risk damaging veins and developing infections and blood clots. Sharing needles and syringes is also very dangerous as you run the risk of catching or spreading a virus, such as HIV, hepatitis B or hepatitis C.

LSD – A chemical usually sold in tiny amounts on blotter paper, as a liquid, or a pellet/micro-dot. It is also called:

  • Acid.
  • Blotter.
  • Cheer.
  • Dots.
  • Drop.
  • Flash.
  • Hawk.
  • L.
  • Lightning Flash.
  • Liquid Acid.
  • Lucy.
  • Micro Dot.
  • Paper Mushrooms.
  • Rainbows.
  • Smilies.
  • Stars.
  • Tab.
  • Tripper.
  • Trips.
  • Window.

Some of the effects on your body include:

  • Seeing and hearing things that aren’t there (hallucinating).
  • Confused.
  • Suspicious.
  • Anxious.
  • Panicked.
  • Frightened.
  • Overwhelmed.

For most people, the world appears distorted when they take LSD. Colours, sounds, objects and even time can all seem very strange and disturbing. People have been known to harm themselves during a bad trip, so people in a bad mood, feeling depressed or worried should avoid taking the drug. LSD could have serious, longer-term implications for somebody who has a history of mental health problems. It may also be responsible for setting off a mental health problem that had previously gone unnoticed.

Magic mushrooms – Grow in the wild, and they can be swallowed or made into tea.

They are also called:

  • Agaric.
  • Amani.
  • Liberties.
  • Liberty Caps.
  • Magics.
  • Mushies.
  • Philosopher’s Stones.
  • Shrooms.

Some of the effects on your body include:

  • The world appears distorted – colours, sounds, objects and even time can all seem very different.
  • Mild hallucinations.
  • Feeling paranoid, anxious, panicked, overwhelmed.
  • Feeling like vomiting.
  • Having diarrhoea.
  • Getting stomach pains.

The biggest danger to your health when taking magic mushrooms is eating a poisonous mushroom by mistake. There are many types of mushroom in the UK and some, like the fly agaric, can kill you. If you have any mental health issues, magic mushrooms can make them worse, such as getting flashbacks that are frightening or unsettling or losing complete control of what you are doing, and putting yourself at risk.

Methadone – A synthetic opiate used as an alternative to heroin.

It is also called:

  • Linctus.
  • Mixture.
  • Physeptone.

Some of the effects on your body include:

  • Overdoses that can lead to coma, and even death from respiratory failure, that is when breathing stops.
  • Increasing risk of miscarriage and stillbirths and opiate users may give birth to smaller babies.

Taking methadone illegally does involve risks. Methadone that is prescribed by a doctor is subject to stringent controls, as with any other medicine, so you can be sure of its strength and that it has not been tampered with. Methadone bought on the street may have been tampered with and there is no way of knowing how strong it will be, increasing the risk of overdose.

Methamphetamine – Part of the amphetamine family of stimulant drugs.

It is also called:

  • Crank.
  • Crystal Meth.
  • Glass.
  • Ice.
  • Meth.
  • Tina and Christine.
  • Yaba.

Some of the effects on your body include:

  • Increased heart rate raising the risk of heart attack; the higher the dose, the greater these effects.
  • Increased blood pressure.
  • Reduced appetite.
  • Feeling agitated, paranoid, confused, aggressive, aroused.

There is evidence that long-term methamphetamine use can cause brain damage, although this gradually gets better if the user stays off the drug for a long time. In cases of overdose, stroke, lung, kidney and gastrointestinal damage can develop, and coma and death can occur. Severe psychosis caused by methamphetamine has been reported in countries where there is a widespread use of the drug. Psychosis is a serious mental state where you lose touch with reality and may come to believe things that are not true.

A comprehensive list of Class A drugs currently controlled under the misuse of drugs legislation is published by the UK Government, and although the list is extensive, it is not exhaustive. It was last updated on 8th August 2022.

Effects of Class A Drugs

What is the law around Class A drugs?

The laws controlling drug use are complicated but there are three main statutes regulating the availability of drugs in the UK:

The Misuse of Drugs Act (1971) is intended to prevent the non-medical use of certain drugs. For this reason it controls not just medicinal drugs, which will also be in the Medicines Act, but also drugs with no current medical use. Drugs subject to this Act are known as controlled drugs.

The main difference from the Medicines Act is that the Misuse of Drugs Act also prohibits unlawful possession. To enforce this law, the police have the power to stop, detain and search people on reasonable suspicion that they are in possession of a controlled drug.

Most controlled drugs have medical uses, while others may be of scientific interest, so the Act allows the Government to authorise the possession, supply, production and import or export of drugs to meet medical or scientific needs. These exemptions to the general prohibitions are in the form of regulations made under the Act. The most restricted drugs can only be supplied or possessed for research or other special purposes by people licensed by the Home Office. These drugs are not available for normal medical uses and can’t be prescribed by doctors who don’t have a licence, for example LSD.

Class A drugs are treated by the law as the most dangerous. Offences under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 can include:

  • Possession of a controlled drug.
  • Possession with intent to supply another person.
  • Production, cultivation or manufacture of controlled drugs.
  • Supplying another person with a controlled drug.
  • Offering to supply another person with a controlled drug.
  • Import or export of controlled drugs.
  • Allowing premises that you occupy or manage to be used for the consumption of certain controlled drugs (smoking of cannabis or opium but not use of other controlled drugs) or supply or production of any controlled drug.

Certain controlled drugs such as amphetamines, barbiturates, methadone, minor tranquillisers and occasionally heroin can be obtained through a legitimate doctor’s prescription. In such cases their possession is not illegal.

Penalties for possession of Class A drugs

Possession means being caught with drugs, even if they do not belong to the person caught. The police have the power to stop, detain and search people on reasonable suspicion that they are in possession of a controlled drug. A prosecution is usual when a case involves the possession of a Class A drug.

The penalty for possession depends on the class and quantity of the drug, and where the person and the drugs were found. If a person is found with drugs near a school, youth facility or location where young people formally meet, the courts will treat this as an aggravating issue and can impose higher penalties. Parliament sets the maximum and sometimes minimum penalty for any offence. When deciding the appropriate sentence, the court must follow any relevant sentencing guidelines, unless it is not in the interests of justice to do so. The maximum sentence for a person charged with possession of a Class A drug is seven years’ custody, an unlimited fine or both.

Less serious possession offences are usually dealt with by magistrates’ courts, where sentences can’t exceed six months and/or a £5,000 fine, or three months and/or a fine. Most drug offenders are convicted of unlawful possession. Although maximum penalties are severe, only around one in five people convicted of possession receive a custodial sentence and even fewer actually go to prison, with the majority of fines £50 or less. If a person is found with a Class A and has a history of drug offences, they will be prosecuted.

Possession with intent to supply. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) states that “Where the evidence supports a charge of supplying or possessing controlled drugs of any class with intent to supply, this is to be preferred to a simple possession charge. As with a simple possession charge, a person found in possession of one form of drug but believing it to be another form of drug and intending to supply it to another should be charged with possession with intent of the actual drug. The intent must relate to a future supply of controlled drugs. If the evidence points to past supply, a charge of supplying is more appropriate.”

Possession Of Class A Drugs

Penalties for supply and production of Class A drugs

Supply includes dealing or sharing drugs, even if just with friends. It does not require proof of payment or reward. The penalty for supplying drugs depends on the amount of drugs found. Production is committed when a suspect has some identifiable participation in the process of producing an illegal drug, by making it, growing it or any other method.

Supplying or offering to supply a controlled drug is an offence under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (section 4(3)). The production of a controlled drug is an offence under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (section 4 (2)(a)). There are general sentencing guidelines for the supply and/or production of Class A drugs, but the exact sentence a person may receive will depend on the specifics of the case, anything they might choose to plead guilty to and/or what can be proven beyond reasonable doubt by the prosecution.

In the Crown Court, the maximum sentence for the supply and/or production of Class A drugs can include either or both:

  • An unlimited fine.
  • A prison sentence up to and including life imprisonment.

If the offence is possession with intent to supply, supply, production or importation, the court will determine the offender’s culpability and the harm caused. Culpability is a measure of the offender’s role in the offence. Harm is indicative of the type and quantity of the drug concerned. For possession, the sentence is determined by the class of drug, along with any aggravating or mitigating circumstances.

Aggravating factors may increase the severity of the sentence. Examples include:

  • If the possession was in a school, prison or licensed premises.
  • Evidence of “county lines” exploitation.
  • If the drugs were cut with harmful substances.
  • If the drugs were of high purity.
  • Evidence of community impact.

Mitigating factors may reduce the severity of the sentence. Examples include where the offender:

  • Has no previous or relevant convictions.
  • Has shown remorse and/or is of good character.
  • Is taking steps to address their addiction.
  • Has a serious medical condition.
  • Lacks maturity, or has a mental disorder or learning disability.
  • Is the sole or primary carer for dependent relatives.

If the defendant enters a guilty plea, they may also receive a reduced sentence.

Final thoughts

Drugs legislation sets maximum, and sometimes minimum, sentences for Class A drug offences, but the law is written in such a way that gives judges and magistrates considerable discretion when it comes to sentencing.

Sentencing guidelines help make sure that judges and magistrates in courts across England and Wales take a consistent approach to sentencing. The Sentencing Code states that the courts must follow any relevant sentencing guidelines, unless it is contrary to the interests of justice to do so.

For anyone concerned about their own or someone else’s use of Class A drugs, you can call FRANK on 0330 123 6600.

To report Class A drug offences, contact the police on 999 or CrimeStoppers on 0800 555 111.

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About the author

Megan Huziej

Megan Huziej

Megan has worked with CPD Online College since August 2020, she is in charge of content production, as well as planning, managing and delegating tasks. Megan works closely with our writers, voice artists, companies and individuals to create the most appropriate and relevant content as well as also using and managing SEO. She gained her Business Administration Level 3 qualification over the duration of being at CPD Online College as well. Outside of work Megan loves to venture to different places and eateries as well as spending quality time with friends and family.

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