Substances of Abuse


This module examines a selection of different commonly abused drug substances. It will study their chemical structure, production and distribution within the supply chain and look in depth at their biological effects and analyses together with relevant legislation and the forensic reporting of casework samples.


The aim of this Module is to provide the student with an understanding of the chemistry and pharmacology of commonly abused substances. It will explore the theoretical and practical aspects of analytical strategies, the interpretation of results within current legislation and consider aspects relating to production, drug profiling and intelligence for law enforcement agencies as well as the health risks and physiological response of selected substances.

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this module the student should be able to:

1.  Understand the physiological effects and underlying mechanisms of action of common substances of abuse at the receptor level and appreciate the role of pharmacokinetics in these physiological responses.

2.  Analyse, critically evaluate, interpret and communicate appropriately information relating to substance of abuse casework.

3.  Understanding how clandestine manufacture and the physical and chemical characteristics of the illicit preparations relate to product quality, potency and health risks for users as well as drug intelligence for law enforcement agencies.

Indicative Content

1 Physiological and Pharmacological Considerations

Types of substances, routes of ingestion and pharmacokinetics (ADME) of specific substances of abuse, pharmacodynamics and physiological effects including addiction/dependency.

2 Analytical/Legal Considerations

Presumptive Testing, sampling, errors of measurement, reference materials, challenges associated with unequivocal identification of illicit drugs and new psychoactive substances, method validation and reporting levels, uncertainty, quantification, UKAS accreditation and various sections of current UK legislation.

3 Production, Quality, Drug Intelligence and Chemical Considerations

Clandestine laboratories, health & safety, precursors, steroisomerism, potency, yield, purity, batch characterization, secondary processing, diluents & adulterants, storage conditions, degradation, product safety, databases, cluster analysis and drug intelligence.

Statement on Teaching, Learning and Assessment

Teaching methods include use of live and recorded lectures, practical essay writing sessions in the collaborative learning suite, case studies and formative assessments. Students are required to undertake directed study outside the contact hours to learn, reinforce and contextualise module information. This module allows group working, communication and self- reflection opportunities for the students.

Teaching and Learning Work Loads

Total 200
Lecture 28
Tutorial/Seminar 0
Supervised Practical Activity 12
Unsupervised Practical Activity 0
Assessment 75
Independent 85

Guidance notes

Credit Value – The total value of SCQF credits for the module. 20 credits are the equivalent of 10 ECTS credits. A full-time student should normally register for 60 SCQF credits per semester.


We make every effort to ensure that the information on our website is accurate but it is possible that some changes may occur prior to the academic year of entry. The modules listed in this catalogue are offered subject to availability during academic year 2019/20 , and may be subject to change for future years.