Types of Psychoactive Drugs: A Comprehensive Overview

Psychoactive drugs are substances that affect the central nervous system, altering the way people feel, think, and behave. There are several types of psychoactive drugs, including depressants, stimulants, hallucinogens, opioids, cannabis, dissociative drugs, inhalants, and prescription medications. Each type of psychoactive drug has its unique effects and risks.

Depressants are psychoactive drugs that slow down the activity of the central nervous system, leading to relaxation, drowsiness, and a decreased heart rate. Alcohol, benzodiazepines, and barbiturates are examples of depressants. Stimulants, on the other hand, are psychoactive drugs that increase the activity of the central nervous system, leading to heightened alertness, energy, and euphoria. Examples of stimulants include cocaine, amphetamines, and caffeine.

Hallucinogens are psychoactive drugs that alter perception, mood, and thought processes, leading to vivid hallucinations and altered states of consciousness. Examples of hallucinogens include LSD, psilocybin, and mescaline. Opioids are psychoactive drugs that mimic the effects of natural endorphins, leading to pain relief, relaxation, and euphoria. Examples of opioids include heroin, morphine, and prescription painkillers.

Key Takeaways

  • Psychoactive drugs affect the central nervous system, altering the way people feel, think, and behave.
  • There are several types of psychoactive drugs, including depressants, stimulants, hallucinogens, opioids, cannabis, dissociative drugs, inhalants, and prescription medications.
  • Each type of psychoactive drug has its unique effects and risks.

Overview of Psychoactive Drugs

Psychoactive drugs are substances that affect the central nervous system, altering brain function and resulting in changes in perception, mood, consciousness, or behavior. These drugs can be broadly classified into four categories: depressants, stimulants, hallucinogens, and opioids.

Depressants, also known as sedatives or tranquilizers, slow down brain activity and reduce anxiety and tension. Examples of depressants include alcohol, barbiturates, and benzodiazepines. While these drugs can be prescribed by doctors to treat anxiety, insomnia, and seizures, they can also be abused for their sedative effects.

Stimulants, on the other hand, increase brain activity and alertness, often resulting in feelings of euphoria and increased energy. Common stimulants include caffeine, nicotine, amphetamines, and cocaine. These drugs can be used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy, but they are also commonly abused for their effects.

Hallucinogens, also known as psychedelics, alter perception and mood, often resulting in vivid sensory experiences and altered states of consciousness. Examples of hallucinogens include LSD, psilocybin mushrooms, and mescaline. These drugs are being studied and used for their medicinal purposes in helping many people with mood disorders.

Opioids, also known as narcotics, are painkillers that work by binding to opioid receptors in the brain and reducing pain perception. Examples of opioids include morphine, codeine, and fentanyl. While these drugs can be prescribed by doctors to manage severe pain, they are also highly addictive and can lead to overdose and death when abused.

It is important to note that the use of psychoactive drugs can have both short-term and long-term effects on physical and mental health. Some of these effects can be beneficial, such as the therapeutic use of certain drugs, while others can be harmful and potentially lead to addiction, overdose, and mental health problems. It is important to use these drugs only as directed by a healthcare professional and to be aware of the potential risks and consequences of their use.

Depressants

Depressants are psychoactive drugs that can slow down the central nervous system, resulting in a feeling of relaxation and calmness. However, they can also cause negative side effects such as nightmares, anxiety, and aggression. Some of the most common types of depressants include alcohol, benzodiazepines, and barbiturates.

Alcohol

Alcohol is one of the most commonly used depressants. It is legal and easily accessible, which makes it a popular choice for people looking to relax or socialize. However, excessive alcohol consumption can lead to serious health problems, including liver disease, heart disease, and cancer. It can also impair judgment and coordination, leading to accidents and injuries.

Benzodiazepines

Benzodiazepines are a class of prescription drugs that are commonly used to treat anxiety and insomnia. They work by enhancing the effects of a neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which helps to calm the brain and reduce anxiety. However, long-term use of benzodiazepines can lead to dependence and withdrawal symptoms, and they can also cause drowsiness, confusion, and memory problems.

Barbiturates

Barbiturates are a class of drugs that were once commonly used as sedatives and sleep aids. However, they are now rarely prescribed due to their high risk of overdose and addiction. Barbiturates can cause drowsiness, confusion, and impaired coordination, and they can also slow down breathing and heart rate, which can be fatal in high doses.

In conclusion, depressants are a class of psychoactive drugs that can slow down the central nervous system and cause relaxation and calmness. However, they can also cause negative side effects and have the potential for addiction and overdose. It is important to use these drugs only as prescribed by a doctor and to be aware of the risks associated with their use.

Stimulants

Stimulants are a class of psychoactive drugs that increase activity in the brain, impacting alertness and mood. They are generally defined as substances that excite functional activity in the central nervous system. Stimulants can increase energy, alertness, and wakefulness. They can also increase heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory rate, and body temperature [1].

Caffeine

Caffeine is the most widely used psychoactive drug in the world. It is found in coffee, tea, energy drinks, and some soft drinks. Caffeine works by blocking the action of adenosine, a neurotransmitter that promotes sleep and suppresses arousal. This leads to increased alertness and wakefulness [1].

Nicotine

Nicotine is a psychoactive drug found in tobacco products. It stimulates the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that produces feelings of pleasure and reward. Nicotine can also increase heart rate, blood pressure, and respiratory rate. It is highly addictive and can cause a range of health problems [2].

Amphetamines

Amphetamines are a class of stimulant drugs that include prescription medications like Adderall and Ritalin. They are used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. Amphetamines increase the release of dopamine and norepinephrine, two neurotransmitters that play a role in attention, motivation, and reward. They can also cause a range of side effects, including increased heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature [1].

Cocaine

Cocaine is a highly addictive stimulant drug that is derived from the coca plant. It increases the release of dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine, leading to feelings of pleasure and euphoria. Cocaine can also cause a range of negative side effects, including increased heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature, as well as paranoia, anxiety, and aggression [1].

Overall, stimulants are a diverse class of drugs that can have a range of effects on the body and mind. While some stimulants, like caffeine, are relatively safe and widely used, others, like cocaine, can be highly addictive and dangerous. It is important to use these drugs responsibly and under the guidance of a healthcare professional.

Hallucinogens/Psychedelics

Hallucinogens, otherwise known as psychedelics, are a class of psychoactive drugs that can cause profound alterations in perception, mood, and thought. They can be found naturally in plants, such as psilocybin in magic mushrooms, or synthesized in a lab, such as LSD. Here are some of the most common types of hallucinogens:

LSD

Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) is a synthetic hallucinogen that was first synthesized in 1938. It is a potent drug that can cause intense visual and auditory hallucinations, as well as altered perceptions of time and space. LSD is typically taken orally, either in a small piece of paper or in a liquid form. The effects of LSD can last for up to 12 hours.

Psilocybin

Psilocybin is a naturally occurring hallucinogen found in certain species of mushrooms, commonly known as magic mushrooms. When ingested, psilocybin is converted into psilocin, which can cause visual and auditory hallucinations, as well as changes in mood and perception. The effects of psilocybin can last for up to six hours. It’s important to note that larger doses can cause hallucinations, but microdoses are sub-perceptual and do not cause hallucinations.

MDMA

3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), also known as ecstasy, is a synthetic drug that can cause both hallucinogenic and stimulant effects. MDMA is commonly taken in pill form and can cause feelings of euphoria, increased empathy, and heightened sensory perception. The effects of MDMA typically last for three to six hours.

Ketamine

Ketamine is a dissociative anesthetic that can cause hallucinogenic effects when taken in higher doses. It is commonly used in veterinary medicine but has also been used as a recreational drug. Ketamine can cause visual and auditory hallucinations, as well as feelings of detachment from one’s body and surroundings. The effects of ketamine can last for up to an hour.

Hallucinogens can have unpredictable effects on the mind and body, and their use can be dangerous. It is important to use caution and only take these drugs under the supervision of a trained medical professional.

Opioids

Opioids are a class of drugs that are commonly used to treat pain. They are also known as narcotics. They work by binding to opioid receptors in the brain and spinal cord, which can reduce the perception of pain. However, opioids can also cause feelings of euphoria and relaxation, which can lead to their misuse and addiction.

Heroin

Heroin is an illegal opioid drug that is highly addictive. It is made from morphine, which is a natural substance that is extracted from the seed pod of the opium poppy plant. Heroin can be injected, smoked, or snorted. It produces a rush of euphoria and relaxation, but it can also cause respiratory depression, coma, and death. Heroin is illegal in most countries, including the United States.

Morphine

Morphine is a powerful opioid drug that is commonly used to treat severe pain. It is derived from opium, which is a natural substance that is extracted from the seed pod of the opium poppy plant. Morphine can be taken orally, injected, or inhaled. It produces a sense of euphoria and relaxation, but it can also cause respiratory depression, constipation, and addiction. Morphine is a controlled substance and is available only by prescription.

Codeine

Codeine is a milder opioid drug that is commonly used to treat mild to moderate pain and coughs. It is derived from opium, which is a natural substance that is extracted from the seed pod of the opium poppy plant. Codeine can be taken orally or inhaled. It produces a sense of relaxation and can also cause drowsiness, constipation, and addiction. Codeine is a controlled substance and is available only by prescription.

In conclusion, opioids are a class of drugs that are commonly used to treat pain. They work by binding to opioid receptors in the brain and spinal cord, which can reduce the perception of pain. However, opioids can also cause feelings of euphoria and relaxation, which can lead to their misuse and addiction. Heroin, morphine, and codeine are three examples of opioids that are commonly used for pain relief.

Cannabis

Cannabis is a psychoactive drug that is derived from the plant Cannabis sativa or Cannabis indica. It is commonly known as marijuana, weed, or pot. Cannabis contains over 100 different cannabinoids, but the main psychoactive component is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

Cannabis is usually smoked in a joint, pipe, or bong, but it can also be vaporized, brewed into a tea, or added to food. The effects of cannabis vary depending on the dose, the method of consumption, and the individual’s tolerance.

Some of the short-term effects of cannabis use include altered senses, altered sense of time, changes in mood, impaired memory, and impaired coordination. These effects can last for a few hours, depending on the dose and method of consumption.

Long-term cannabis use can have negative effects on health, including respiratory problems, mental health problems, and dependence. It is important to note that the long-term effects of cannabis use are still being studied, and more research is needed to fully understand its impact on health.

In some countries, cannabis has been legalized for medical or recreational use. However, it is still illegal in many parts of the world, and its use and possession can result in legal consequences. It is important to be aware of the laws and regulations regarding cannabis in your area before using or possessing it.

Overall, cannabis is a psychoactive drug that can have both short-term and long-term effects on health. Its use and possession are regulated in many parts of the world, and it is important to be aware of the laws and regulations regarding cannabis in your area.

Dissociative Drugs

Dissociative drugs are a class of psychoactive substances that can cause feelings of detachment from oneself and the surrounding environment. They can also produce hallucinations and distortions of perception. In this section, we will discuss three commonly used dissociative drugs: PCP, DXM, and Salvia.

PCP

Phencyclidine (PCP) is a dissociative drug that was originally developed as an anesthetic. It is now a Schedule II controlled substance due to its high potential for abuse. PCP can be ingested orally, smoked, or snorted. The effects of PCP can last for several hours and can vary depending on the dose and method of ingestion.

PCP can cause a range of physical and psychological effects, including:

  • Numbness and tingling in the extremities
  • Loss of coordination and balance
  • Agitation and aggression
  • Hallucinations and delusions
  • Impaired judgment and decision-making

DXM

Dextromethorphan (DXM) is a dissociative drug that is commonly found in over-the-counter cough medicines. It is legal to purchase and use, but high doses can cause hallucinations and other dissociative effects. DXM can be ingested orally in liquid or pill form.

The effects of DXM can vary depending on the dose, but can include:

  • Mild euphoria and relaxation
  • Distorted perception of time and space
  • Hallucinations and delusions
  • Impaired coordination and balance
  • Nausea and vomiting

Salvia

Salvia divinorum is a plant that contains a psychoactive compound called salvinorin A. It is legal in some countries, including the United States, but its use is restricted in others. Salvia is typically smoked or chewed, and its effects can last for several minutes.

The effects of salvia can include:

  • Intense hallucinations and distortions of perception
  • Loss of coordination and balance
  • Impaired judgment and decision-making
  • Anxiety and paranoia
  • Nausea and vomiting

Overall, dissociative drugs can be dangerous and have the potential for abuse. It is important to use these substances with caution and under the supervision of a medical professional.

Inhalants

Inhalants are a type of psychoactive drug that people typically take by inhaling. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, inhalants are various products that are easily bought and found in the home or workplace, such as spray paints, markers, glues, and cleaning fluids. These products contain dangerous substances that have psychoactive (mind-altering) properties when inhaled.

There are four general categories of inhalants: volatile solvents, aerosols, gases, and nitrites. Volatile solvents are liquids that vaporize at room temperature. Examples of volatile solvents include paint thinner, nail polish remover, and gasoline. Aerosols are sprays that contain propellants and solvents. Examples of aerosols include spray paint, hair spray, and deodorant spray. Gases include medical anesthetics and gases used in welding, such as nitrous oxide and butane. Nitrites, also known as poppers, are prescription medicines for chest pain that are misused for their psychoactive effects.

Inhalants can have a range of short-term and long-term effects on the body. Short-term effects can include dizziness, slurred speech, lack of coordination, hallucinations, and delusions. Long-term effects can include damage to the brain, liver, kidneys, and lungs. Inhalants can also cause addiction, and withdrawal symptoms can include nausea, vomiting, anxiety, and insomnia.

It is important to note that inhalants can be extremely dangerous and even deadly. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, inhalant use can cause sudden sniffing death syndrome, which is a form of cardiac arrest that can occur after a single use of inhalants. Users can also suffer from suffocation, seizures, and coma.

In conclusion, inhalants are a type of psychoactive drug that people typically take by inhaling. They contain dangerous substances that can have a range of short-term and long-term effects on the body, including addiction and even death. It is important to seek help if you or someone you know is struggling with inhalant abuse.

Prescription Medications

Prescription medications are psychoactive drugs that require a prescription from a licensed healthcare provider. These medications are often used to treat mental health disorders and can be highly effective when used correctly. In this section, we will discuss two common types of prescription medications: sleep medications and ADHD medications.

Sleep Medications

Sleep medications are a type of prescription medication used to treat insomnia and other sleep disorders. These medications work by slowing down brain activity, making it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep. Some common sleep medications include:

  • Benzodiazepines: These medications, such as Valium and Xanax, are highly effective at inducing sleep but can be habit-forming and have a high potential for abuse.
  • Non-benzodiazepine hypnotics: These medications, such as Ambien and Lunesta, are less habit-forming than benzodiazepines but can still cause dependence and withdrawal symptoms.
  • Melatonin receptor agonists: These medications, such as Rozerem, work by mimicking the effects of the hormone melatonin, which regulates sleep-wake cycles.

It is important to use sleep medications only as prescribed and under the guidance of a healthcare provider. Misuse of these medications can lead to dependence, addiction, and other serious health consequences.

ADHD Medications

ADHD medications are a type of prescription medication used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). These medications work by increasing levels of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain, which can improve focus and reduce impulsivity. Some common ADHD medications include:

  • Stimulants: These medications, such as Ritalin and Adderall, are highly effective at treating ADHD but can be habit-forming and have a high potential for abuse.
  • Non-stimulants: These medications, such as Strattera, are less habit-forming than stimulants but may take longer to start working and may not be as effective for all individuals.

It is important to use ADHD medications only as prescribed and under the guidance of a healthcare provider. Misuse of these medications can lead to dependence, addiction, and other serious health consequences.

Psychoactive Drugs Final Thoughts

In conclusion, psychoactive drugs are substances that affect the brain and alter the way we think, feel, and behave. They can be divided into different categories based on their effects and characteristics. Some of the most common types of psychoactive drugs include:

  • Stimulants, such as cocaine, amphetamines, and caffeine, which increase alertness, attention, and energy levels.
  • Depressants, such as alcohol, benzodiazepines, and opioids, slow down the central nervous system and produce feelings of relaxation and sedation.
  • Hallucinogens, such as LSD, psilocybin, and peyote, alter perception, mood, and thought processes.
  • Cannabinoids, such as THC, produce a range of effects including euphoria, relaxation, and altered sensory perception.

While some psychoactive drugs can be used safely and responsibly, others can be highly addictive and harmful. They can lead to physical and psychological dependence, tolerance, withdrawal, and a range of health problems.

It is important to understand the risks and benefits of psychoactive drugs before using them. We should always follow safe and responsible use guidelines, such as avoiding mixing different drugs or taking large doses, seeking medical help if necessary, and avoiding driving or operating heavy machinery while under the influence.

Overall, psychoactive drugs can have both positive and negative effects on our physical and mental health. By being informed and responsible, we can make informed decisions and minimize the risks associated with their use.

Last Updated on September 29, 2023 by Megan Mbengue, BSN, RN, CHPN

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