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A psychoactive drug or psychotropic substance is a chemical substance that acts primarily upon the central nervous system where it alters brain function, resulting in temporary changes in perception, mood, consciousness and behaviour. These drugs may be used recreationally to purposefully alter one's consciousness, as entheogens for ritual or spiritual purposes, as a tool for studying or augmenting the mind, or therapeutically as medication.
Because psychoactive substances bring about subjective changes in consciousness and mood that the user may find pleasant (e.g. euphoria) or advantageous (e.g. increased alertness), many psychoactive substances are abused, that is, used excessively, despite risks or negative consequences. With sustained use of some substances, physical dependence may develop, making the cycle of abuse even more difficult to interrupt. Drug rehabilitation can involve a combination of psychotherapy, support groups and even other psychoactive substances to break the cycle of dependency.
In part because of this potential for abuse and dependency, the ethics of drug use are the subject of a continuing philosophical debate. Many governments worldwide have placed restrictions on drug production and sales in an attempt to decrease drug abuse.
Drug use is a practice that dates to prehistoric times. There is archaeological evidence of the use of psychoactive substances dating back at least 10,000 years, and historical evidence of cultural use over the past 5,000 years. While medicinal use seems to have played a very large role, it has been suggested that the urge to alter one's consciousness is as primary as the drive to satiate thirst, hunger or sexual desire. Others suggest that marketing, availability or the pressures of modern life are why humans use so many psychoactives in their daily lives. However, the long history of drug use and even children's desire for spinning, swinging, or sliding indicates that the drive to alter one's state of mind is universal.
This relationship is not limited to humans. A number of animals consume different psychoactive plants, animals, berries and even fermented fruit, becoming intoxicated, such as cats after consuming catnip. Traditional legends of sacred plants often contain references to animals that introduced humankind to their use. Biology suggests an evolutionary connection between psychoactive plants and animals, as to why these chemicals and their receptors exist within the nervous system.
The 20th century has seen governments initially responding to many drugs by banning them and making their use, supply or trade a criminal offense. A notable example of this is the Prohibition era in the United States, where alcohol was made illegal for 13 years. However, many governments have concluded that illicit drug use cannot be sufficiently stopped through criminalization. In some countries, there has been a move toward harm reduction by health services, where the use of illicit drugs is neither condoned nor promoted, but services and support are provided to ensure users have the negative effects of their illicit drug use minimized. This can go hand-in-hand with supply reduction strategies by law-enforcement agencies.
Uses of psychoactive substances
Psychoactive substances are used by humans for a number of different purposes, both legal and illicit.
General anesthetics are a class of psychoactive drug used on patients to block pain and other sensations. Most anesthetics induce unconsciousness, which allows patients to undergo medical procedures like surgery without physical pain or emotional trauma. To induce unconsciousness, anesthetics affect the GABA and NMDA systems. For example, halothane is a GABA agonist, and ketamine is an NMDA receptor antagonist.
Psychoactive drugs are often prescribed to manage pain. As the subjective experience of pain is regulated by endorphins, neurochemicals that are endogenous opioids, pain can be managed using psychoactives that operate on this neurotransmitter system. This class of drugs includes narcotics, like morphine and codeine, and also NSAIDs such as aspirin and ibuprofen.
Psychiatric medications are prescribed for the management of mental and emotional disorders. There are 6 major classes of psychiatric medications:
- Antidepressants, which are used to treat disparate disorders such as clinical depression, dysthymia, anxiety, eating disorders and borderline personality disorder.
- Stimulants, which are used to treat disorders such as attention deficit disorder and narcolepsy and to suppress the appetite.
- Antipsychotics, which are used to treat psychoses such as schizophrenia and mania.
- Mood stabilizers, which are used to treat bipolar disorder and schizoaffective disorder.
- Anxiolytics, which are used to treat anxiety disorders.
- Depressants, which are used as hypnotics, sedatives, and anesthetics.
Many psychoactive substances are used for their mood and perception altering effects, including those with accepted uses in medicine and psychiatry. Classes of drugs frequently used recreationally include:
- Stimulants, which elevate the central nervous system. These are used recreationally for their euphoric and performance-enhancing effects.
- Hallucinogens, which induce perceptual and cognitive distortions.
- Hypnotics, which are used recreationally because they induce inebriation.
- Analgesics, which are used recreationally because of their euphoric effects.
- Inhalants, in the forms of gas aerosols, or solvents, which are inhaled as a vapor inducing stupefying effects.
In many cultures, possessing or having used recreational drugs is seen as a status symbol. Recreational drugs, especially those known as club drugs, are seen as status symbols at social events such as at nightclubs and parties. This is true of many cultures throughout history; drugs have been viewed as status symbols since ancient times. For example, in ancient Egypt, gods were commonly pictured holding hallucinogenic plants.
Ritual and spiritual use
Certain psychoactives, particularly hallucinogens, have been used for religious purposes since prehistoric times. Native Americans have used mescaline-containing peyote cacti for religious ceremonies for as long as 5700 years. The muscimol-containing Amanita muscaria mushroom was used for ritual purposes throughout prehistoric Europe. Various other hallucinogens, including jimsonweed, psilocybin mushrooms, and cannabis have been used in religious ceremonies for centuries. There is speculation that hallucinogenic mushrooms and cacti greatly influenced the major religions of India, North and South America, the Middle East, and Europe, including Christianity.
The use of entheogens for religious purposes resurfaced in the West during the counterculture movements of the 1960s and 70s. Under the leadership of Timothy Leary, new religious movements began to use LSD and other hallucinogens as sacraments. In the United States, the use of peyote for ritual purposes is protected only for members of the Native American Church, which is allowed to cultivate and distribute peyote. However, the bona fide religious use of Peyote, regardless of ancestry, is protected in Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, and Oregon.
For a substance to be psychoactive, it must cross the blood-brain barrier so it can affect neurochemical function. Psychoactive drugs are administered in several different ways. In medicine, most psychiatric drugs, such as fluoxetine, quetiapine, and lorazepam are ingested orally in tablet or capsule form. However, certain medical psychoactives are administered via inhalation, injection, or rectal suppository/enema. Recreational drugs can be administered in several additional ways that are not common in medicine. Certain drugs, such as alcohol and caffeine, are ingested in beverage form; nicotine and cannabis are often smoked; peyote and psilocybin mushrooms are ingested in botanical form or dried; and certain crystalline drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamines are often insufflated. The efficiency of each method of administration varies from drug to drug.
Subjective and behavioral effects
The following Venn diagram attempts to organize and provide a basic overview of the most common psychoactive drugs into intersecting groups and subgroups based upon the subjective and behavioral effects they cause in humans as well as by their pharmacological classification. Items within each subgroup are close to those of most similar method of action, and also follow a general placement in accordance with the legend below the diagram. Primary intersections are represented via color mixing.
- Blue: Stimulants generally increase in potency to the upper left.
- Red: Depressants generally increase in potency to the lower right.
- Green: Hallucinogens are psychedelic to the left, dissociative to the right, generally less predictable down and to the right, and generally more potent towards the bottom.
- Pink: Antipsychotics are generally more sedative/tranquilizing to the right.
- Cyan (light blue): Overlap of Stimulants (Blue) and Psychedelic hallucinogens (Green) — Primary psychedelics exhibit a stimulant effect
- Yellow : Overlap of Depressants (Red) and Dissociative hallucinogens (Green) — Primary dissociatives exhibit a depressant effect
- Lavender: Overlap of Stimulants (Blue) and Antipsychotics (Pink) - The modern non-sedating antidepressants.
- Salmon: Overlap of Depressants (Red) and Antipsychotics (Pink) - The older sedating antidepressants and anxiolytics.
- Magenta (purple): Overlap of Stimulants (Blue) and Depressants (Red) — Example: nicotine exhibits effects of both.
- White: Overlap of Stimulants, Depressants and Hallucinogens — Example: THC exhibits effects of all three sections.
- Sky-blue: Overlap of Stimulants, Psychedelic hallucinogens and Antipsychotics - The empathogens / entactogens.
- Peach: Overlap of Depressants, Dissociative hallucinogens and Antipsychotics
- Light-pink: Center overlap of all four sections (Stimulants, Depressants, Hallucinogens and Antipsychotics) - Cannabis, containing both THC and CBD, exhibits a mix of all sections, leaning towards the hallucinogen section due to THC being the primary constituent.
Psychoactive drugs operate by temporarily affecting a person's neurochemistry, which in turn causes changes in a person's mood, cognition, perception and behavior. There are many ways in which psychoactive drugs can affect the brain. Each drug has a specific action on one or more neurotransmitter or neuroreceptor in the brain.
Drugs that increase activity in particular neurotransmitter systems are called agonists. They act by increasing the synthesis of one or more neurotransmitters or reducing its reuptake from the synapses. Drugs that reduce neurotransmitter activity are called antagonists, and operate by interfering with synthesis or blocking postsynaptic receptors so that neurotransmitters cannot bind to them.
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. Exposure to antagonists for a particular neurotransmitter increases the number of receptors for that neurotransmitter, and the receptors themselves become more sensitive. This is called sensitization. Conversely, overstimulation of receptors for a particular neurotransmitter causes 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. These processes are thought to underlie addiction.
Affected neurotransmitter systems
The following is a brief table of notable drugs and their primary neurotransmitter, receptor or method of action. It should be noted that many drugs act on more than one transmitter or receptor in the brain.
Psychoactive drugs are often associated with addiction. Addiction can be divided into two types: psychological addiction, by which a user feels compelled to use a drug despite negative physical or societal consequence, and physical dependence, by which a user must use a drug to avoid medically harmful withdrawal. Not all drugs are physically addictive, but any activity that stimulates the brain's dopaminergic reward system — typically, any pleasurable activity — can lead to psychological addiction. Drugs that are most likely to cause addiction are drugs that directly stimulate the dopaminergic system, like cocaine and amphetamines. Drugs that only indirectly stimulate the dopaminergic system, such as psychedelics, are not as likely to be addictive.
Because so many consumers want to reduce or eliminate their own use of psychoactive drugs, many professionals, self-help groups, and businesses specialize in drug rehabilitation, with varying degrees of success. Many parents attempt to influence the actions and choices of their children regarding psychoactives.
Common forms of rehabilitation include psychotherapy, support groups and pharmacotherapy, which uses psychoactive substances to reduce cravings and physiological withdrawal symptoms while a user is going through detox. Methadone, itself an opioid and a psychoactive substance, is a common treatment for heroin addiction. Recent research on addiction has shown some promise in using psychedelics to treat and even cure addictions, although this has yet to become a widely accepted practice.
Many recreational drugs are heavily regulated, an indication of widespread moral objection to variation in recreational psychoactive drug use. However, critics believe that regulation of recreational drug use is a violation of personal autonomy and freedom.
“ We're playing with half a deck as long as we tolerate that the cardinals of government and science should dictate where human curiousity can legitimately send its attention and where it can not. It's an essentially preposterous situation. It is essentially a civil rights issue, because what we're talking about here is the repression of a religious sensibility. In fact, not a religious sensibility, the religious sensibility.”
In the United States, critics have noted that prohibition or regulation of recreational and spiritual drug use might be unconstitutional. Because there is controversy about regulation of recreational drugs, there is an ongoing debate about drug prohibition. At the beginning of the 21st century, legally prescribed illegal psychoactive drugs used for legitimate purposes have been targeted by the US Justice System.
“ The use of drugs to alter consciousness is nothing new. [...]
It is my belief that the desire to alter consciousness periodically is an innate, normal drive analogous to hunger or the sexual drive. Note that I do not say ‘desire to alter consciousness by means of chemical agents.’ Drugs are merely one means of satisfying this drive; there are many others, and I will discuss them in due course. [...] Furthermore, the need for periods of nonordinary consciousness begins to be expressed at ages far too young for it to have much to do with social conditioning. Anyone who watches very young children without revealing his presence will find them regularly practicing techniques that induce striking changes in mental states. Three- and four-year-olds, for example, commonly whirl themselves into vertiginous stupors. They hyperventilate and have other children squeeze them around the chest until they faint. They also choke each other to produce loss of consciousness.
To my knowledge these practices appear spontaneously among children of all societies, and I suspect they have done so throughout history as well. In our society, children quickly learn to keep this sort of play out of sight of grownups, who instinctively try to stop them.”
The legality of psychoactive drugs has been controversial through most of history; the Opium Wars and Prohibition are two historical examples of legal controversy surrounding psychoactive drugs. However, in recent years, the most influential document regarding the legality of psychoactive drugs is the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, an international treaty signed in 1961 as an Act of the United Nations. Signed by 73 nations including the United States, the USSR, India, and the United Kingdom, the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs established Schedules for the legality of each drug and laid out an international agreement to fight addiction to recreational drugs by combatting the sale, trafficking, and use of scheduled drugs. All countries that signed the treaty passed laws to implement these rules within their borders. However, some countries that signed the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, such as the Netherlands, are more lenient with their enforcement of these laws.
In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has authority over all drugs, including psychoactive drugs. The FDA regulates which psychoactive drugs are over the counter and which are only available with a prescription. However, certain psychoactive drugs, like alcohol, tobacco, and drugs listed in the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs are subject to criminal laws. The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 regulates the recreational drugs outlined in the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. Alcohol is regulated by state governments, but the federal National Minimum Drinking Age Act penalizes states for not following a national drinking age. Tobacco is also regulated by all fifty state governments. Most people accept such restrictions and prohibitions of certain drugs, especially the "hard" drugs, which are illegal in most countries.
In the medical context, psychoactive drugs as a treatment for illness is widespread and generally accepted. Little controversy exists concerning over the counter psychoactive medications in antiemetics and antitussives. Psychoactive drugs are commonly prescribed to patients with psychiatric disorders. However, certain critics believe that certain prescription psychoactives, such as antidepressants and stimulants, are overprescribed and threaten patients' judgement and autonomy.
- Contact high
- Demand reduction
- Designer drug
- Drug addiction
- Drug rehabilitation
- Hard and soft drugs
- Poly drug use
- Psychedelic plants
- Responsible drug use
- ↑ Merlin, M.D. "Archaeological Evidence for the Tradition of Psychoactive Plant Use in the Old World". Economic Botany 57 (3): 295–323.
- ↑ Siegel, Ronald K (2005). Intoxication: The Universal Drive for Mind-Altering Substances. Park Street Press, Rochester, Vermont. ISBN 1-59477-069-7.
- ↑ Weil, Andrew (2004). The Natural Mind: A Revolutionary Approach to the Drug Problem (Revised edition). Houghton Mifflin, 15. ISBN 0-618-46513-8.
- ↑ Samorini, Giorgio (2002). Animals And Psychedelics: The Natural World & The Instinct To Alter Consciousness. Park Street Press. ISBN 0-89281-986-3.
- ↑ Albert, David Bruce, Jr. (1993). Event Horizons of the Psyche. Retrieved on February 2, 2006.
- ↑ Medline Plus. Anesthesia. Accessed on July 16, 2007.
- ↑ Li X, Pearce RA (2000). "Effects of halothane on GABA(A) receptor kinetics: evidence for slowed agonist unbinding". J. Neurosci. 20 (3): 899-907. PMID 10648694.
- ↑ Harrison N, Simmonds M (1985). "Quantitative studies on some antagonists of N-methyl D-aspartate in slices of rat cerebral cortex". Br J Pharmacol 84 (2): 381-91. PMID 2858237.
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- ↑ Schatzberg, A.F. (2000). "New indications for antidepressants.". Journal of Clinical Psychiatry 61 (11): 9-17. PMID 10926050. Retrieved on 2007-11-20.
- ↑ Neuroscience of Psychoactive Substance Use and Dependence by the WHO. Retrieved on July 5, 2007.
- ↑ Anderson TL (1998). "Drug identity change processes, race, and gender. III. Macrolevel opportunity concepts". Substance use & misuse 33 (14): 2721-35. PMID 9869440.
- ↑ Bertol E, Fineschi V, Karch S, Mari F, Riezzo I (2004). "Nymphaea cults in ancient Egypt and the New World: a lesson in empirical pharmacology". Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine 97 (2): 84-5. doi:10.1258/jrsm.97.2.84. PMID 14749409.
- ↑ El-Seedi HR, De Smet PA, Beck O, Possnert G, Bruhn JG (2005). "Prehistoric peyote use: alkaloid analysis and radiocarbon dating of archaeological specimens of Lophophora from Texas". Journal of ethnopharmacology 101 (1-3): 238-42. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2005.04.022. PMID 15990261.
- ↑ Vetulani J (2001). "Drug addiction. Part I. Psychoactive substances in the past and presence". Polish journal of pharmacology 53 (3): 201-14. PMID 11785921.
- ↑ 16.0 16.1 Hall, Andy. Entheogens and the Origins of Religion. Retrieved on May 13, 2007.
- ↑ Becker HS (1967). "History, culture and subjective experience: an exploration of the social bases of drug-induced experiences". Journal of health and social behavior 8 (3): 163-76. doi:10.2307/2948371. PMID 6073200.
- ↑ Bullis RK (1990). "Swallowing the scroll: legal implications of the recent Supreme Court peyote cases". Journal of psychoactive drugs 22 (3): 325-32. PMID 2286866.
- ↑ United States Food and Drug Administration. CDER Data Standards Manual. Retrieved on May 15, 2007.
- ↑ McKim, William A (2002). Drugs and Behavior: An Introduction to Behavioral Pharmacology (5th Edition). Prentice Hall, 400. ISBN 0-13-048118-1.
- ↑ Information on Drugs of Abuse. Commonly Abused Drug Chart. Retrieved on December 27, 2005.
- ↑ Erowid Psychoactive Vaults. Retrieved on December 27, 2005.
- ↑ Stafford, Peter (1992). Psychedelics Encycloedia. ISBN 0914171518.
- ↑ Kent, James. Psychedelic Information Theory - Shamanism in the Age of Reason. Retrieved on July 5, 2007.
- ↑ Seligman, Martin E.P. (1984). Abnormal Psychology. W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 039394459X.
- ↑ University of Texas, Addiction Science Research and Education Center. Retrieved on May 14, 2007.
- ↑ Lüscher C, Ungless M (2006). "The mechanistic classification of addictive drugs". PLoS Med. 3 (11): e437. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0030437. PMID 17105338.
- ↑ Ford, Marsha. Clinical Toxicology. Philadelphia: Saunders, 2001. Chapter 36 - Caffeine and Related Nonprescription Sympathomimetics. ISBN 0721654851
- ↑ 29.0 29.1 Johnson, Brian. (2002) Psychological Addiction, Physical Addiction, Addictive Character, and Addictive Personality Disorder: A Nosology of Addictive Disorders. Retrieved on July 5, 2007.
- ↑ Zhang J, Xu M (2001). "Toward a molecular understanding of psychostimulant actions using genetically engineered dopamine receptor knockout mice as model systems". J Addict Dis 20 (3): 7-18. PMID 11681595.
- ↑ More Promising Research Findings. Brief Interventions Help Heavy Drinkers and Alcoholics. Retrieved on July 12, 2006.
- ↑ Hops H, Tildesley E, Lichtenstein E, Ary D, Sherman L (1990). "Parent-adolescent problem-solving interactions and drug use". The American journal of drug and alcohol abuse 16 (3-4): 239-58. doi:10.3109/00952999009001586. PMID 2288323.
- ↑ Psychedelics Could Treat Addiction Says Vancouver Official. Retrieved on March 26, 2007.
- ↑ Ibogaine research to treat alcohol and drug addiction. Retrieved on March 26, 2007.
- ↑ Hayry M (2004). "Prescribing cannabis: freedom, autonomy, and values". Journal of medical ethics 30 (4): 333-6. doi:10.1136/jme.2002.001347. PMID 15289511.
- ↑ Barnett, Randy E. The Presumption of Liberty and the Public Interest: Medical Marijuana and Fundamental Rights. Retrieved on July 4, 2007.
- ↑ Mosher, Clayton James; Scott Akins (2007). Drugs and Drug Policy: The Control of Consciousness Alteration. Sage. ISBN 0761930078.
- ↑ United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. Retrieved on June 20, 2007.
- ↑ MacCoun R, Reuter P (1997). "Interpreting Dutch cannabis policy: reasoning by analogy in the legalization debate". Science 278 (5335): 47-52. doi:10.1126/science.278.5335.47. PMID 9311925.
- ↑ History of the Food and Drug Administration. Retrieved at FDA's website on June 23, 2007.
- ↑ United States Controlled Substances Act of 1970. Retrieved from the DEA's website on June 20, 2007.
- ↑ Title 23 of the United States Code, Highways. Retrieved on June 20, 2007.
- ↑ Taxadmin.org. State Excise Tax Rates on Cigarettes. Retrieved on June 20, 2007.
- ↑ What's your poison?. Caffeine. Retrieved on July 12, 2006.
- ↑ Griffiths, RR (1995). Psychopharmacology: The Fourth Generation of Progress (4th edition). Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2002. ISBN 0-7817-0166-X.
- ↑ Edwards, Griffith (2005). Matters of Substance: Drugs--and Why Everyone's a User. Thomas Dunne Books, 352. ISBN 0-312-33883-X.
- ↑ Dworkin, Ronald. Artificial Happiness. New York: Carroll & Graf, 2006. pp.2-6. ISBN 0786719338
- ↑ Manninen BA (2006). "Medicating the mind: a Kantian analysis of overprescribing psychoactive drugs". Journal of medical ethics 32 (2): 100-5. doi:10.1136/jme.2005.013540. PMID 16446415.
- Erowid: Extensive online library primarily relating to psychoactive drugs (Wikipedia article about the website: Erowid)
- Journal of Psychoactive Drugs: The first journal established to discuss drugs and drug abuse in the United States. (Wikipedia article about the website: Journal of Psychoactive Drugs)
- Report by the Dutch Government Stating Psilocybin's Relative Harmlessness
- The Lycæum: Resources and discussions relating to psychoactive drugs
- Neuroscience of Psychoactive Substance Use and Dependence by the WHO
- BehaveNet Clinical Capsules: Comprehensive database of psychoactive substances and related pharmacological information
- Research into the cerebral and neuronal effects of drugs use
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