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One of the key tenants of the theory underlying the OurFutures eHealth modules is normative education. This means we want to challenge the view that most young people are using illicit substances, drinking, or vaping. In other words, if you’re avoiding these things, you’re in the majority. This is important to keep in mind because if young people think their peers are all using these substances, they may feel pressured or more inclined to use them, too [1].

Adolescence is a time of exploration, curiosity and peer influence, so it’s important to focus on prevention so action can be taken before harms occur.

This post will go through some of the substances used by adolescents and high school students in Australia, as well as other terms used to describe illicit substances.

According to the most recent national survey in 2017, the three most common substances used by young Australians were alcohol, cannabis, and inhalants, with 27% of young people aged 12–17 having consumed alcohol in the past month [2]. The survey also found that just under half of all Australian secondary students aged 12-17 years had consumed alcohol in the previous year [2]. In 2019, the average age that 14–24-year-olds first consumed their full serve of alcohol was 16.2 years [3].

According to the Australian Secondary Students’ Alcohol and Drug (ASSAD) survey in 2017, for teenagers aged 12-17:

  • 66% had ever tried alcohol, with 27% having consumed it in the past month
  • 16% had ever tried cannabis, with 8% having used it in the past month
  • 18% had ever tried inhalants, with 7% having used in the past month and 13% having used in the past year
  • 14% had used an e-cigarette, with 32% having used one in the past month
  • 18% had ever smoked tobacco, with 7% having smoked in the past month
  • 5% had tried ecstasy/MDMA, with 2% having used it in the past month
  • 2% had tried amphetamines
  • 2% had tried cocaine
  • 1% had tried hallucinogens
  • 1% had tried heroin

E-cigarette use has become increasingly prevalent since 2017, particularly among young people. According to the National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2019, between 2016 and 2019, the amount of Australians who had ever used e-cigarettes increased from 8.8% to 11.3% [3]. More recently, our study among over 4000 14-17-year-olds in 2022 found 26% had tried e-cigarettes [4]. Find out more about vaping here.

The recreational use of ketamine is also on the rise, with use in the population increasing from 0.4% to 0.9% between 2016 – 2019 [3]. Ketamine use is most common amongst people aged in their 20s, and increased substantially during the Covid-19 lockdowns of 2020-21 [5]. Ketamine is a dissociative drug that has traditionally been used for medical purposes, but there’s a big difference in quality and regulations between the two [6].

There are many different words and phrases used to describe various drugs and it can be hard to keep track of, but it’s important to stay up to date when seeking to engage young people in informed discussions about substance use.


Lingo explained


  • Marijuana, yarndi, pot, grass, weed, hash, dope, gunja, joint, stick, chronic, cone, choof, mull, 420, dabs, dabbing, BHO.


  • Glue, gas, gasoline, sniff, huff, chroming, poppers.


  • Speed, up, uppers, louee, goey, whiz, rack


  • Caps, Eckies, E, XTC, pills, pingers, bikkies, flippers, molly, M&M, Eccy, love drug, disco biscuits


  • LSD, acid, trips, tabs


  • C, coke, crack, nose candy, snow, white lady, toot, Charlie, blow, white dust or stardust


  • Smack, gear, hammer, the dragon, H, dope, junk, harry, horse, black tar, white dynamite, homebake, china white, Chinese H, poison, Dr Harry.


  • Special K, K, ket, kitkat, ketters, super k or horse trank


  • G, fantasy, grievous bodily harm (GBH), juice, liquid ecstasy, liquid E, liquid X, Georgia Home Boy, soap, scoop, cherry meth, blue nitro, fishies.


Drug terms collated from Alcohol and Drug Foundation




[1] Hunter E, Gardner L, O’Dean S, Newton N, Thornton L, Rowe A, et al., (2023). Peer-Related Correlates of e-Cigarette Use in Australian Adolescents: a Cross-sectional Examination. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction. 1-12. 10.1007/s11469-023-01200-0.

[2] Guerin, N. & White, V. (2018). ASSAD 2017 Statistics & Trends: Australian Secondary Students’ Use of Tobacco, Alcohol, Over-the-counter Drugs, and Illicit Substances. Cancer Council Victoria.

[3] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2019. Canberra: AIHW

[4] Gardner, L.A., O’Dean, S., Champion, K., Stockings, E., Rowe, A.-L., Maree Teesson and Newton, N. (2023). Prevalence, patterns of use, and socio‐demographic features of e‐cigarette use by Australian adolescents: a survey. The Medical Journal of Australia, 219(7). doi:

[5] Sutherland R, Uporova J, Karlsson A, Price O, Chandrasena U, Swanton R, et al. Australian Drug Trends 2021: Key Findings from the National Ecstasy and related Drug Reporting System (EDRS) Interviews: NDARC; 2021.

[6] (2022). Ketamine use in Australia – Alcohol and Drug Foundation. Available at:


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