Drugs are chemical substances that have known biological effects on humans and animals. Psychoactive drugs affect the function of the nervous system, altering perception, mood or consciousness in people.
In pharmacology, drugs are “chemical substances that are used in the treatment, cure, prevention or diagnosis of disease or used to enhance physical or mental well-being”.
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Drugs can be products made from entirely natural substances, and artificial – created and produced in laboratories. According to legal regulations, as well as the social acceptability in relation to the given definition of drugs, they can be divided into several groups:
- Legal drugs: alcohol, tobacco
- Medications: different types of drugs that are available to anyone, narcotic drugs that are used for medical purposes
- Illegal drugs: substances whose production, distribution and use outside the legal framework is considered illegal
The use of narcotics may be for medical purposes and non-medical purposes (drug abuse). In medicine, narcotic drugs are most commonly used as analgesics for pain relief. This use of the drug is legal, but one should be always careful because these drugs can also cause dependence. The use of drugs for non-medical purposes due to the various effects of changes in consciousness and spirit of people, voluntary or forced, is illegal and unnatural. After repeated use drugs can lead to addiction, which has many negative consequences for health.
According to experts in the field, people who consume drugs can be divided into several types:
- people who have tried an illegal drug at least once in their life, but they didn’t repeat the experience
- people who occasionally use drugs and they are not addicted
- people who regularly use drugs and they are addicted to drugs
The first two types of people usually hide from their parents and friends the fact that they take drugs sometimes, and they believe that their habit is under control. On the other hand, drug addicts often come into conflict with the law or have acute or chronic health problems.
Psychoactive substances are used by people for a number of different purposes to achieve a specific end. Their uses vary widely between cultures and while some substances may have illegal uses, many of them have shamanic purposes, and others are used medicinally. Caffeine is the most widely consumed psychoactive substance in the world, but unlike others, it is legal in nearly all countries in the world.
Psychoactive drugs can be divided into several groups according to their pharmacological effects. The most commonly used psychoactive drugs are:
- Stimulants (“uppers”) – Stimulants are substances that wake one up and stimulate the mind. They also cause euphoria and do not affect perception. Some examples include caffeine, cocaine, amphetamine, and nicotine.
- Depressants (“downers”) – This category includes sedatives, hypnotics, and narcotics. Depressants are calmative, anesthetizing substances that reduce anxiety and are sleep-inducing. However, these drugs can induce perceptual changes and evoke feelings of euphoria. Most common examples include opioids, ethanol (alcohol), benzodiazepines, and barbiturates.
- Hallucinogens – This category includes dissociatives, psychedelics, and deliriants. These are substances that produce distinct alterations in perception, emotional states, and sensation of space and time. Some examples include LSD, nitrous oxide, psilocybin, and Salvia divinorum.
Drug use in the long term can cause addiction, while addiction can lead to tolerance which requires increasing doses of the drug. Drug tolerance occurs when a person no longer responds to the drug in the way initially responded, which can lead to taking lethal doses (overdose), which can cause death.
The abrupt discontinuation of drugs can also be very dangerous and is accompanied by bone and muscle pain, chills, sweating, abdominal cramps, anxiety and insomnia. The term for these physiologic changes undergone by people who have become physically dependent on a drug who are abruptly deprived of that substance is abstinence syndrome.