ABU DHABI // Lawyers are warning university students not to harm their future by abusing drugs, saying that the number of cases involving hard drugs is far too high.

Regarding cases of students caught using or possessing illicit substances, Hassan Elhais, a senior partner at Al Rowaad Advocates and Legal Consultants, said: "Sadly, the frequency of such cases is very high, in spite of the zero-tolerance for drugs."

Having seen the situations students can find themselves in if they are caught and convicted, Mr Elhais urged them to think carefully about taking drugs.

My message to all university students is that your family has invested their past and future in you," he said.

"So please do not risk it all for a moment of pleasure that you and your family will regret for the rest of your life.

"By abusing drugs you are not just spoiling your health and wasting money, you are destroying your future, credibility and social status, in addition to wasting all the years you have spent in college."

In his experience as a legal consultant, said Mr Elhais, cannabis was the most common type of drug students used, in line with global trends.

MDMA, commonly known as ecstasy, was also a drug of choice, while cocaine and LSD (also known as acid) were also prevalent, he said.

Mr Elhais said Federal Law No 14 of 1995 on combating narcotics and intoxicants outlined the penalties for drug-related crimes.

"The type of punishment varies with the type of drugs based on the classification under which they fall," he said.

"The punishments and penalties also differ based on the kind of misuse, for example, dealing, selling, consuming or possessing.

Mr Elhais said that foreigners convicted of drug-related offences would be deported under the law after serving their prison sentences.

Faisal Alzarooni, a lawyer who specialises in narcotics offences, said his law firm has handled cases involving students.

"Typically, we receive about three to four inquiries a month for drug-related charges, from consumption to possession to trafficking," said Mr Alzarooni.

"About half of those inquiries are students or individuals between the ages of 18 and 25.

"Cannabis is definitely the most common drug among all those we defend, including university students.

"After cannabis, it would be abuse of prescription drugs such as Tramadol and Lyrica."

Students bought such drugs from local dealers, Mr Alzarooni said.

"Many times these dealers are friends. The marijuana is smuggled to the UAE from countries such as India, Pakistan and Afghanistan," he said.

"Students buy the Tramadol from pharmacies with prescriptions from local doctors, or they buy smuggled Tramadol, which is made in Iran or Egypt, from drug distributors."

Mr Alzarooni said that any drug-related charge was a felony and that the charges varied depending upon the severity of crime.

Those caught using cocaine, opium, acid, heroin or marijuana, for example, could be locked up for a minimum four-year jail term.

"The sentence for trafficking in drugs could be the death penalty or life imprisonment," said Mr Alzarooni.

"I would encourage all students who feel they have an addiction problem to seek help and advice from family, friends and the community.

"The UAE has great rehabilitation centres that can help students to identify and address their addiction and there is no shame in seeking help," he said.

"It is better for a student to address the issue early on, before it can cause personal and legal problems."

"If caught, I would advise a student to fully cooperate with the authorities and to seek counsel as soon as possible."

According to authorities in Dubai, 2,000 people are in jail in the emirate because of drug-related offences in a prison population of 16,000.