PSYCHOACTIVE SUBSTANCES

PSYCHOACTIVE SUBSTANCES

A psychoactive substance is defined as a chemical substance, other than a nutrient or essential dietary ingredient, that affects brain function to produce alterations in sensation, perception, mood, consciousness, cognition, and behaviour.

Exposure to a psychoactive substance can cause changes in the structure and functioning of neurons.

A psychoactive substance is defined as a chemical substance, other than a nutrient or essential dietary ingredient, that affects brain function to produce alterations in sensation, perception, mood, consciousness, cognition, and behaviour. According to the World Health Organization (Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, Management of Substance Abuse Team), “psychoactive substances are substances that, when taken in or administered into one's system, affect mental processes, e.g. cognition or affect. This term and its equivalent, psychotropic drug, are the most neutral and descriptive term for the whole class of substances, licit and illicit, of interest to drug policy. ‘Psychoactive’ does not necessarily imply dependence-producing, and in common parlance, the term is often left unstated, as in ‘drug use’ or ‘substance abuse’.

Depressants: they slow down the central nervous system; for example: tranquillisers, alcohol, heroin and other opiates, cannabis.


Stimulants: they excite the nervous system; for example: nicotine, amphetamines, cocaine, caffeine.


Hallucinogens: they distort how things are perceived; for example: LSD, mescaline, 'magic mushrooms', cannabis.

Hallucinogens: (Mushrooms, LSD, LSA, AL-LAD, DMT, 5-MeO-DMT, Harmine, Ibogaine, Mescaline, Salvia, Muscimol, 2C-X series, DOx series, NBOMe series).

Depressants: (Cannabis, Alcohol, GHB, Benzodiazepines, Opioids [Heroin, Codeine, Tramadol, Morphine, Opium, Hydrocodone, Hydromorphone, Oxycodone, Oxymorphone, Poppy extracts, Fentanyl]).

Stimulants: (Adderall, MDMA, Cocaine, Methamphetamine, Street amphetamine, Ephedrine, 5-APB, Nicotine).

Dissociatives: (DXM, Ketamine, MXE, Nitrous, PCP).

Deliriants: (Diphenhydramine, Scopolamine)

Alcoholic beverages: (contain psychoactive ethyl alcohol, are produced legally throughout the world. Their production supports a commercial alcohol industry. Consumption of alcohol is subject to regulation in most countries, namely by means of age restrictions.

Tobacco: a recreational drug containing nicotine, is produced legally in countries such as Cuba, China, and the United States. This also supports a tobacco industry and the production of a variety of tobacco products, which, like alcoholic beverages, are subject to age restrictions in most countries.

Caffeine: a stimulant drug, is extracted from plants including the coffee plant and the tea bush. It is the most widely consumed psychoactive substance in the world, remaining unregulated and generally recognized as safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

A drug can have psychological, emotional and physical effects and can change the behaviour of the person taking the drug. These behavioural changes are not the same for everyone. The effect of any drug will depend on (1) the drug: what effect it has on the central nervous system; the amount taken; how it is taken; how often; for how long; if it is taken with other drugs, (2) the person: age, weight, sex, tolerance, past experiences, mood, personality, the expectations and what the person wants to happen from using the drug, (3) the environment: what the community or society expects, allows and excuses as a result of using the drug; the place; the presence of other people; noise levels, and so forth.

Exposure to a psychoactive substance can cause changes in the structure and functioning of neurons, as the nervous system tries to re-establish the homeostasis disrupted by the presence of the drug (see also, neuroplasticity). Exposure to antagonists for a particular neurotransmitter can increase the number of receptors for that neurotransmitter or the receptors themselves may become more responsive to neurotransmitters; this is called sensitization. Conversely, overstimulation of receptors for a particular neurotransmitter may cause a decrease in both number and sensitivity of these receptors, a process called desensitization or tolerance. Sensitization and desensitization are more likely to occur with long-term exposure, although they may occur after only a single exposure.

  • Griffiths, RR , 1995. Psychopharmacology: The Fourth Generation of Progress, 4th ed.). Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. p. 2002. Edwards, Griffith, 2005. Matters of Substance: Drugs—and Why Everyone's a User. Thomas Dunne Books. p. 352.
  • WHO Regional Offices, http://www.who.int/substance_abuse/links/regionaloffice/en/
  • E.M.C.D.D.A. European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, http://www.emcdda.europa.eu/
  • UNODC United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (formerly UNDCP), http://www.unodc.org/
  • Council of Europe's Pompidou Group, www.coe.int/en/web/pompidou/home

Why people use psychoactive drugs

For pleasure - they like the feeling the drug gives

Because friends and family use them

Because they like the 'taste'

To relieve tension and relax

To be part of a religious or social ceremony

Because they are lonely, to relieve boredom

For pain relief

To help cope with problems and forget worries

Because they have grown dependent on the drug

Because they feel ill if they stop

To do things that they usually could not or would not do - it gives them courage

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