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Psychoactive Drugs

Psychoactive drugs, as opposed to medicinal drugs, have psychological effects, meaning that they change sensory experience, perception, mood, thinking, and behavior. Psychoactive drugs are sometimes called recreational drugs, though some have legitimate medical uses.

Types of Recreational Drugs

Researchers usually classify recreational drugs into four types: stimulants, sedatives, narcotics, and hallucinogens.

  • Stimulants: drugs that stimulate the central nervous system
  • Sedatives: drugs that slow down the central nervous system
  • Narcotics: also called opiates; drugs that can relieve pain
  • Hallucinogens: drugs that cause sensory and perceptual distortions

Drugs derived from the cannabis plant, such as marijuana and hashish, have features of more than one of these drug types, so researchers sometimes consider cannabis to be a separate, fifth drug type.

 
Drug type Examples Effects Negative effects
Stimulants Nicotine, caffeine, cocaine, amphetamines, crystal meth Increased alertness and energy, excitation, euphoria, confidence Anxiety, restlessness, irritability, sleeplessness, paranoia, increased aggressiveness, feelings of panic
Sedatives Alcohol, Valium, Xanax, barbiturates, such as Seconal Euphoria, relaxation, less anxiety Impaired coordination, depression, lethargy, drowsiness, mood swings
Narcotics Morphine, heroin, opium, codeine, hydrocodone, such as Vicodin Euphoria, relaxation, less anxiety, less sensitivity to pain Lethargy, drowsiness, nausea, impaired coordinated, constipation
Hallucinogens LSD, mescaline, psilocybin Euphoria, changed perception, hallucinations, insightful moments Nausea, paranoia, anxiety, feelings of panic, mood swings, impaired judgment, jumbled thoughts
Cannabis Marijuana, hashish Euphoria, relaxation, increased awareness, changed perception Sluggishness, anxiety, impaired memory

How Psychoactive Drugs Work

Psychoactive drugs work by affecting neurotransmitter function. A single drug can affect the function of more than one neurotransmitter. Drugs can:

  • Cause more or less of a neurotransmitter to be released at synapses
  • Block reuptake of a neurotransmitter by presynaptic cells
  • Stimulate or block neurotransmitter receptors on postsynaptic cells