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Sample Expository Essay on the American Drug Culture

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The following sample expository essay from Ultius will explore popular drugs in America, and discuss their history within the country. Writing and your own expository essay can be a daunting and time consuming task. Consider buying a professionally written essay sample like this one from the pros at Ultius on whatever your topic may be, including hot button topics like the American drug culture. The drug culture in America has been evolving for it seems like centuries. Street drugs are illegal and carry many consequences, legal charges, and negative physical impacts on the body. Drug culture comes with its own set of rules, behaviors, and language. There are a variety of reasons why people have a tendency to use street drugs. These reasons include:

  1. Self-Medicating
  2. Experimenting
  3. Peer Pressure
  4. Feelings of Emptiness
  5. Going Against the Grain (Recovery Connection)

Despite the reasons why people turn to drugs, it is important that we understand the history, culture, and prevalence that they have on our lives, society, and country. These drugs are either organic in nature, or completely synthetic, such as Flakka. The purpose of this discussion is to explore street drugs and the impact they have on our lives. Let’s take a look at the history behind some of the most popular street drugs in America.

Popular Drugs in America: Marijuana (Weed, Reefer, Bud, Tree)

Marijuana is probably the most common street drug used in America. Marijuana did not begin as a recreational street drug in the United States.

Marijuana cultivation began in the United States around 1600 with the Jamestown settlers, who began growing the cannabis sativa or hemp plant for its unusually strong fiber that was used to make rope, sails, and clothing. Until after the Civil War, marijuana was a source of major revenue for the United States. (PBS)

History of Marijuana in America

  • During the 19th century marijuana plantations flourished around the country.
  • Between 1850 and 1937 marijuana was used widely as a medicinal drug and could be purchased in pharmacies and general stores.
  • An influx of Mexican immigrants introduced marijuana as a recreational habit after the Mexican Revolution of 1910.
  • In 1937, Congress passed the Marijuana Tax Act, which criminalized the drug in an attempt to limit illegal immigration from Mexico.
  • The Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970 led to a series of events that placed legal ramifications on marijuana usage.
  • In 1996, California reinstated the medical use of marijuana to treat patients with certain diseases. (PBS)
  • In 2013 Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize Marijuana for recreational use. Marijuana is treated like alcohol in these states, made available to responsible adults over 21 years of age. As of 2016, 13 more states are voting to legalize marijuana despite opposition from the federal government. 

Although marijuana remains largely illegal, most Americans feel the danger of marijuana is largely over-exaggerated by the government. In polls throughout the country, people view marijuana as less harmful than alcohol. The government classifies marijuana as a Schedule I Drug, the most dangerous class of drug, stating it holds no medical value. We now know this to not be true though, as many doctors maintain it has less addictive properties than prescription opiates, and recommend the drug in more than 20 states for wide variety medical uses. 

Popular Drugs in America: Cocaine (Blow, Yay-o, Snow, Booger Sugar)

Cocaine is one of the oldest known stimulants to man, and one of the most widely abused recreational drugs in America. It's largely taken in nightclubs, or where it's users prefer to stay up late at night. Cocaine was first isolated (extracted from coca leaves) in 1859 by German chemist Albert Niemann. It was not until the 1880s that it started to be popularized in the medical community (Foundation for a Drug-Free World). Though already present in the rest of the world, it was John Pemberton that further exploited the drug when he added coca leaves to the soft drink Coca-Cola (Foundation for a Drug-Free World).

Cocaine use exploded in America in the 1980's. America was in the middle of a large economic boom, and young party-goers had a lot of disposable income. Cocaine quickly became the drug of choice to stay up all night, and enjoy the party. Cocaine was often presented in movies and television as a drug for the rich and attractive, which increased demand. Some, like Pablo Escobar, were quick to meet that demand. The infamous cartel leader made the Forbes billionaire list three years in a row (1987-1989) due to profits from drug trafficking.

History of Cocaine Use in America

  • 1850s – 1900s: Cocaine becomes widely used by all classes in the form of tonics and wines.
  • 1903: Cocaine is removed from Coca-Cola.
  • 1905: It became popular to snort cocaine and hospitals beginning reporting the negative effects of the drug.
  • 1912: The United States government reports 5,000 cocaine related deaths.
  • 1922: Cocaine is officially banned.
  • 2008: Cocaine had become the second most trafficked illegal drug in the world. (Foundation for a Drug-Free World)

Popular Drugs in America: LSD (>Sid, Acid, Alice, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, Doses)

Lysergic acid diethylamide, better known as LSD, is a psychedelic drug accidently discovered by a Swiss chemist named Dr. Albert Hofmann in 1943 (PBS). Initially intended to treat psychosis, it had strong hallucinogenic and mood altering effects as well. The most popular link to LSD and the American population is through Dr. Timothy Leary, who had earlier conducted experiments with hallucinogenic psilocybin was introduced to LSD in 1961.

His personal use of the drug helped lead to his dismissal from a teaching position at Harvard in 1963. (PBS) Leary believed aside from treating neurologic disorders, LSD could be used to access parts of the mind that were only thought to be accessible subconsciously. The drug was extremely popular in the 1960s, but use declined afterwards until the 1990s (PBS). While LSD is still available on the street today, it's popularity is minimal when compared to most widely abused street drugs due to it's unpredictability among users.

The Effects of LSD Include:

  • Mood and emotional disturbances
  • Delusions and hallucinations
  • Physical reactions such as dilated pupils, increased heart rate, and sleeplessness
  • Impaired depth and time perception
  • Irrational and intense fears of dying, losing control, insanity, and others (Anderson)

Popular Drugs in America: Heroin (Black, Brown, Tar, China White, Mexican Oxy)

The next street drug to be discussed is Heroin. Heroin usage has been tied tightly to the entertainment industry and has been responsible for many notable deaths due to overdose (Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison). Heroin is an opioid drug that is synthesized from morphine, a naturally occurring substance extracted from the seed pod of the Asian opium poppy plant. The National Institute on Drug Abuse describes heroin as a white or brown powder or as a black sticky substance, known as “black tar heroin.” (National Institute on Drug Abuse).

The first wave of Heroin addiction occurred during the Civil War, with a second wave occurred during the 1920s and 1930s and is identified with Harlem Jazz scene (PBS). The drug also ran through the ranks of soldiers fighting in the Vietnam war (PBS). When many soldiers returned from Vietnam, they brought their addictions home with them. Heroin was an epidemic in the 1970's. Heroin became an epidemic again in the 1990's when it exploded in the pacific northwest. States like Washington, and Oregon are still struggling with heroin deaths and overdoses.

Methods of Heroin Ingestion:

  • Injection
  • Snorting
  • Sniffing
  • Smoking (National Institute on Drug-Abuse)

Popular Drugs in America: MDMA (Ecstasy, Molly)

Methylenedioxy-Methamphetamine, or MDMA, is most popularly known as Molly, or Ecstasy. It was initially made popular by younger people, most likely participating in the club scene or raves. As reported by The Atlantic, ecstasy use skyrocketed to popularity in the late 1990's due to the emergence of electronic dance music and the rave scene. It's current form, Molly, is extremely popular today among club-goers. MDMA causes feelings of extreme euphoria with a short come down, making it extremely popular when compared to the hangover effects of alcohol. There are a variety of side effects that accompany the usage of Ecstasy, including nausea muscle cramping, teeth clenching, chills, and sweating (National Institute on Drug Abuse).

3,4-methylenedioxy-methamphetamine (MDMA) is a synthetic drug that alters mood and perception (awareness of surrounding objects and conditions). It is chemically similar to both stimulants and hallucinogens, producing feelings of increased energy, pleasure, emotional warmth, and distorted sensory and time perception. (National Institute on Drug Abuse)

Chemicals in the Brain Effected by MDMA

  • Dopamine—causes a surge in euphoria and increased energy/activity
  • Norepinephrine—increases heart rate and blood pressure, which are particularly risky for people with heart and blood vessel problems
  • Serotonin—affects mood, appetite, sleep, and other functions. It also triggers hormones that affect sexual arousal and trust. The release of large amounts of serotonin likely causes the emotional closeness, elevated mood, and empathy felt by MDMA users. (National Institute on Drug Abuse)

Popular Drugs in America: Methamphetamine (Crystal Meth, Tina, Speed, Glass, Go Fast)

Methamphetamine usage, particularly that of crystal meth, is currently one of the country’s most widespread drug issues. Meth at first causes a rush of euphoria, but then users tend feel edgy, overly excited, angry, or afraid. Meth is one of the most addictive street drugs available because of it's cheap high. Most users don't get a pharmaceutical grade of Methamphetamine. Instead, most users get a synthetic version often made with household cleaners and other substances never meant for ingestion. As stated on MedlinePlus, it can cause a wide variety medical and mental illnesses, and comes with a host of negative side effects.

Negative Side Effects of Methamphetamine Use

  • Extreme Body Temperature fluctuation
  • Severe itching
  • "Meth mouth" - broken teeth, dry mouth and eroding gums.
  • Difficulty with critical thinking, and emotional instability. (MedlinePlus)


Drug use in America can be classified as an epidemic. There are very few people who have not experimented with some type of drug or another in their lifetime. The street drugs listed in this discussion may be the most popular and widespread, there are many others that some feel may pose a threat to overall well-being of the population. As long as people have a curiosity about altered states of consciousness, the use and abuse of street drugs will always be present.

Works Cited

Anderson, L. "LSD: Effects, Hazards & Extent of Use - Drugs.com." LSD: Effects, Hazards & Extent of Use - Drugs.com. N.p., 2014. Web. 29 Aug. 2016. https://www.drugs.com/illicit/lsd.html

FAST. "Glossary of Drug-Related Slang (Street Language)." Glossary of Drug-Related Slang (Street Language). N.p., 2010. Web. 29 Aug. 2016.

Foundation for a Drug-Free World. "Watch Truth About Drugs Documentary Video & Learn About Substance Addiction. Get The Facts About Painkillers, Marijuana, Cocaine, Meth & Other Illegal Drugs." Foundation for a Drug-Free World. N.p., 2016. Web. 29 Aug. 2016. https://www.drugfreeworld.org/drugfacts/cocaine/a-short-history.html

MedlinePlus. "Methamphetamine: MedlinePlus." Methamphetamine: MedlinePlus. N.p., 2016. Web. 29 Aug. 2016. https://medlineplus.gov/methamphetamine.html

National Institute on Drug Abuse. "Heroin." DrugFacts:. N.p., 2014. Web. 29 Aug. 2016. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/heroin

NCASA. "Commonly Used Illegal Drugs." The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse. N.p., 2016. Web. 29 Aug. 2016. https://www.centeronaddiction.org/addiction/commonly-used-illegal-drugs

PBS. "A Social History of America's Most Popular Drugs." PBS. PBS, 2014. Web. 29 Aug. 2016. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/drugs/buyers/socialhistory.html

Recovery Connection. "Top 10 Reasons People Use Drugs and Alcohol." Recovery Connection. N.p., 2011. Web. 29 Aug. 2016. https://www.recoveryconnection.com/10-reasons-people-abuse-drugs/

Jenkins, Nash, P. "Electronic Dance Music’s Love Affair With Ecstasy: A History." The Atlantic. Web. 20 Sep 2013. http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/09/electronic-dance-music-s-love-affair-with-ecstasy-a-history/279815/



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Ultius, Inc. "Sample Expository Essay on the American Drug Culture." Ultius | Custom Writing and Editing Services. September 14, 2016. https://www.ultius.com/ultius-blog/entry/sample-expository-essay-on-the-american-drug-culture.html.

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