Like any substance that affects the human body, drugs have myriad effects - and some of them have real medical potential.
Shami Sivasubramanian

20 May 2016 - 1:58 PM  UPDATED 20 May 2016 - 1:58 PM

The line between recreational drugs and doctor-approved medicine has never been clear-cut. In the past decade alone there's been no shortage of studies looking into the potential medicinal benefits that several illegal drugs can offer.

These drugs are largely illegal to prevent susceptible people from self-harm and drug abuse, and while debate rages over legalisation of various substances, some researchers are looking into ways these substances could be harnessed for good.

Below are seven illegal drugs that are known or have been investigated for medical benefits, for example treating hard-to-treat mental illnesses and chronic disorders. 

1. Cocaine

Cocaine might be a well-known stimulant, but studies show this drug has long been used as a topical anaesthetic in the Andean tribal communities of South American thanks to its numbing properties. Cocaine is also used as a treatment for irritable bowel disease and other intestinal dysfunctions. Most famous, however, is cocaine's ability to alleviate headaches; it was originally an active ingredient in the beverage Coca-cola, before the substance was made illegal.


2. Heroin

Opiates are derived from poppies.

A study at Hannover Medical School found opiate addicts - usually people addicted to painkillers like Vicodin, Percocet, Oxycontin, or Demerol - were able to better kick their opiate addiction after taking small dosages of heroin. Heroin is also commonly used in hospitalised pain management, particularly in palliative care.


3. Magic Mushrooms

'Shrooms contain a psychedelic hallucinogen called psilocybin which - when consumed in small quantities - gives people kaleidoscope-like visions. But studies show magic mushrooms can be an effective remedy against long-term cluster headaches, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and even depression and anxiety.


4. Ketamine

Also known as 'Special K', this drug is commonly used as a horse tranquiliser. It's also a frequent option for recreational drug takers at music festivals and raves. But a 2012 study found ketamine could in fact fight the symptoms of chronic depression. The study claims the drug aids the growth of brain synapses, a neurological structure which allows chemical signals to pass more easily and effectively throughout your nervous system, making a person more reactive to the world around them.



This drug is called by many names including ecstasy, E, X, eccy, and even 'disco biscuits'. The drug which typically comes in a small pill form as shown above, produces a unique spike in energy that makes those who take the drug feel "warm and safe". That might be why studies show it has potential to treat post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD.


6. LSD

Also know as acid, this synthetic hallucinogen provides similar psychedelic effects on the body as magic mushrooms. It usually comes in the form of blotting papers, like the one above, which are consumed orally. However the drug, could be a viable and effective treatment for alcoholism. Published in a Norwegian study in 2012, LSD helps alcoholics from relapsing during rehabilitation.


7. Cannabis

Cannabis or marijuana has long been known to provide pain relief for chronic illnesses. Marijuana also offers relief from PTSD symptoms, controls nausea, and can minimise some symptoms of glaucoma and Crohn's disease. In US states where the drug is legalised, products for such things as period pain management are being made available to the public.

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