Emergency advice

Drug poisoning:

  1. Reassure them.
  2. Call 999.
  3. Find out what they’ve taken.
  4. Do not try to make them vomit. If they do vomit, keep any vomit in a bag.
  5. Monitor the casualty and prepare to give CPR.

What are poisons?

Poisons are chemicals or substances that if taken or absorbed into the body in sufficient quantities, can cause temporary or permanent damage. The effects will be different depending on the type, quantity and combination of drug taken, as well as how the person has taken it, such as swallowing, inhaling or injecting.

What are stimulants and hallucinogens?

Stimulants and hallucinogens are substances that raises the level of activity in the body, often increasing the heart rate.  These include ecstasy, LSD, amphetamines and cocaine.  Hallucinogens can cause you to hallucinate, which makes you think you can see, hear, feel, or smell something that does not exist. 

Signs and symptoms

If someone has been poisoned by stimulants and hallucinogens, they may have:

  • excitable, hyperactive behaviour.
  • sweating.
  • tremor of hands.  Facial grimacing and gurning.
  • hallucinations, for example, claiming to hear voices or see things which aren't there.
  • dilated pupils.
  • increased appetite as the effects of the substance start to ease.

What to do

  1. If the person is responsive, help them into a comfortable position and ask them what they’ve taken.

    • Try to reassure them.

    If you are in a noisy environment and they appear confused, try to move the patient to a quiet space.

    If they are still feeling unwell and / or anxious after taking the drugs:

    • keep them calm, however where someone may have taken a stimulant this may be harder to do.  If safe, allow them to pace, but if the patient is putting themself at risk, seek help.
    • reassure them that the effects will pass.
    • encourage them to breathe slowly if they are feeling anxious.
    • stay with the patient.


  2. If their condition worsens, call 999 or 112 for emergency medical help. Tell them that you suspect drug poisoning.

    • Keep checking their breathing, pulse, and level of response. 
    • Do not try to make them vomit. If they do vomit, then put some of this into a bag or container and give it to the healthcare professionals. This may help them identify the drug or substance. 
  3. If they become unresponsive, open their airway, check their breathing and prepare to treat someone who’s become unresponsive.

Our training courses:

First aid courses

First aid courses


Related first aid advice

How to do the primary survey

Use the primary survey to quickly assess the situation and check the casualty for injuries or conditions that could be immediately life threatening. Find out what to do.

How to put an adult in the recovery position

It’s safe to place someone in the recovery position who is not responding to you but is breathing normally. Learn what to do.

How to do CPR on an adult

If an adult is unresponsive and not breathing normally, you need to call 999 or 112 for emergency help and start CPR straight away. Learn what to do.

St John Ambulance volunteers providing support