Poisoning and Drug Abuse

A poison is any substance that, when introduced into the body by absorption, ingestion, inhalation, or injection, causes injury or death. Venom is a specific type of poison discharged from animals (e.g., snakes, scorpions, spiders, etc.) and received by means of a bite or sting that pierces the skin.

Any substance can be poisonous if a sufficient quantity is introduced to the body. For example, one or two aspirin can relieve the symptoms of a headache, but an entire bottle of aspirin taken as a single dose can be lethal. As another example, if a person ingests too much water, this can also have a toxic effect.

This page contains the following sections:

  • Poison Control Centers
  • Poisons by mode of entry
  • Bites and stings (venomous)
  • Substance abuse and misuse

Poison Control Centers (PCCs)

Poison control centers are specialized health care centers that provide helpful information on poisons and medications. A network of PCCs exist in the United States, which can be reached by dialing 1-800-222-12221-800-222-1222. This network of PCCs is maintained by the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC). For current alerts from the AAPCC, including warning about bath salts, the cinnamon challenge, and others, click here.

For a worldwide list of poison control centers and other useful links, go to EAPCCT links. The EAPCCT is the European Association of Poison Centres and Clinical Toxicologists.

IMPORTANT: Call the poison control center if the patient of suspected poisoning is conscious. If the person collapses and is unresponsive, call for emergency medical services immediately.

Poisons by Mode of Entry

Poisons are categorized based by they enter the body: through absorption, ingestion, inhalation, or injection.


An absorbed poison enters the body through the skin or the mucous membranes in the eyes, nose, or mouth. Absorbed poisons come from the following:


Ingested poisons are swallowed. They can include any toxic solid or liquid, including:


Poisoning by inhalation occurs when a person breathes in poisonous gases or fumes. Common inhaled poisons include:


Injected poisons enter the body through the bites and stings of certain animals or through injection of drugs by a hypodermic needle. Some general information is included in this subsection, but a great deal of specific information can be found in the Bites and Stings (Venomous) and Substance Abuse and Misuse sections on this page.

Bites and Stings (Venomous)

Animal bites and stings can cause wounds, transmit microorganisms that cause disease, and/or inject venom into the wound.  Bites and stings that inflict wounds and transmit microorganisms but do not inject venom are covered on the Environmental Emergencies page. For venomous bites and stings, keep reading.

Aquatic life

Some forms of aquatic life can inflict stings that are not only painful but can cause serious injury, illness, or even death.

Arachnids (Venomous)

Venomous arachnids include spiders and scorpions. Other arachnids (e.g., harvestmen, mites, Solifugae, and ticks) may inflict an irritating or painful bite or sting, but they either do not have venom or their venom is harmless to human beings. Nonvenomous arachnids are described in Environmental Emergencies page.

Venomous spiders and scorpions vary from place to place; this section describes specimens from the United States and throughout the world.


In the United States and around the world, the most likely insects to inflict a poisonous bite or sting that results in medical problems are ants, bees, and wasps. These insects are of the Hymenoptera order, and, since many species live in colonies, you may easily be bitten or stung more than once. According to the Mayo Clinic, about 10% of those stung by a bee or other insect have a stronger than average reaction, which includes redness and swelling around the wound. Approximately 3% have a severe allergic reaction called anaphylaxis, which usually requires medical care. When someone experiences a severe allergic reaction, there is a 30% to 60% chance they will have another one if stung again.


Substance Abuse and Misuse

A drug is any substance, other than food or drink, taken to affect body functions. When a drug is given therapeutically to prevent or treat a disease, it is called a medication. Substance abuse is the deliberate, persistent, and excessive use of a drug without regard to health concerns or accepted medical practice (e.g., club drugs, etc.). Substance misuse refers to an unintended use (including improper dosage).

Cannabis products

Cannabis products, including marijuana, hashish, and hash oil are derived from the plant Cannabis sativa. When smoked or consumed, the resin in the plant, called THC, produces feelings of elation, distorted perceptions of time and space, and impaired judgment and motor coordination. Street names for marijuana include “420,” “blunt,” “bud,” ‘chronic,”  “ganja,” “grass,” “pot,” “reefer,” and “weed.”


Depressants affect the central nervous system by decreasing physical and mental activity and altering consciousness. They relieve anxiety, relieve pain, relax muscles, and impair coordination and judgment.


Hallucinogens cause changes in mood, sensation, thought, emotion, and self-awareness. They alter one’s perception of time and space and produce visual, auditory, and tactile delusions.


Inhalants depress the central nervous system and produce mood-altering effects.

Narcotics (Opiates)

Narcotics, which are derived from the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum), depress the central nervous system and relieve pain. They are so powerful and addictive that they are all illegal without a prescription, and certain narcotics are not prescribed at all.


Stimulants affect the central nervous system by increasing physical and mental activity and producing temporary feelings of alertness.


Some substances do not fit neatly into the categories above. These substances include: