What Drugs Look Like Under the Microscope

Not all drugs are bad for you, but one thing that all types have in common is that they all look quite harmless and beautiful under a microscope.

Besides the sheer beauty of their molecule levels, we’ve brought some additional information on the effect of each of these drugs.

Adrenaline (4,5-?-trihydroxy-N-methylphenethylamine)



It has many functions in the body, regulating heart rate, blood vessel and air passage diameters, and metabolic shifts; epinephrine release is a crucial component of the fight-or-flight response of the sympathetic nervous system.

Caffeine (white crystalline xanthine alkaloid)



In humans, caffeine acts as a central nervous system stimulant, temporarily warding off drowsiness and restoring alertness. It is the world’s most widely consumed psychoactive drug, but unlike many other psychoactive substances, it is legal and unregulated in nearly all parts of the world. Beverages containing caffeine, such as coffee, tea, soft drinks, and energy drinks, enjoy great popularity. In North America, 90% of adults consume caffeine daily.

Cocaine (benzoylmethylecgonine)



It is addictive because of its effect on the mesolimbic reward pathway. It is markedly more dangerous than other CNS stimulants, including the entire amphetamine drug class, at high doses due to its effect on sodium channels, as blockade of Nav1.5 can cause sudden cardiac death.

Crystal Meth

Crystal Meth

Contrary to popular misconception, methamphetamine in both powder and crystal form is a hydrochloride salt (chemistry). The freebase form of methamphetamine (as well as amphetamine) is an oily liquid. The misconception started with the fact that heroin and cocaine are injected or snorted as salts, but they are smoked in freebase form. See also: crack cocaine.

Ecstasy (3,4-methylenedioxy-N-methylamphetamine)



MDMA can induce euphoria, a sense of intimacy with others, diminished anxiety, and mild psychedelia. Many studies, particularly in the fields of psychology and cognitive therapy, have suggested MDMA has therapeutic benefits and facilitates therapy sessions in certain individuals, a practice for which it had been formally used in the past.


Heroin (diacetylmorphine or morphine diacetate)



When used in medicine, it is typically used to treat severe pain, such as that resulting from a heart attack or a severe injury. The name “heroin” is usually only used when being discussed in its illegal form. It is prevalent in heroin coming from Afghanistan, which as of 2004 produced roughly 87% of the world supply in illicit raw opium. However, production in Mexico has risen six times from 2007 to 2011, changing that percentage and placing Mexico as the second largest opium producer in the world.





Ketamine can be effective in treating depression in patients with depression and bipolar disorder who have not responded to antidepressants. It produces a rapid antidepressant effect, acting within two hours as opposed to the several weeks taken by typical antidepressants to work.


LSD (Lysergic acid diethylamide)



LSD is non-addictive, is not known to cause brain damage, and has extremely low toxicity relative to dose. However, adverse psychiatric reactions such as anxiety, paranoia, and delusions are possible.


Speed (Amphetamine)


Historically, it has been used to treat nasal congestion, depression, and obesity. Although it is a prescription medication in many countries, unauthorized possession and distribution of amphetamine is often tightly controlled due to the significant health risks associated with uncontrolled or heavy use. Consequently, amphetamine is illegally synthesized by clandestine chemists, trafficked, and sold. Based upon drug and drug precursor seizures, illicit amphetamine production and trafficking is much less prevalent than that of methamphetamine.


Valium (Diazepam)



Adverse effects of diazepam include anterograde amnesia (especially at higher doses) and sedation, as well as paradoxical effects such as excitement, rage or worsening of seizures in epileptics. Benzodiazepines also can cause or worsen depression. Long-term effects of benzodiazepines such as diazepam include tolerance, benzodiazepine dependence and benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome upon dose reduction.

For a bit more on cool things you get to see under the microscope, check out Things That Look Horrifying Under a Mircoscope.