Psychoactive substances are drugs that contain chemical properties that alter the physical and/or mental state of an individual because of the interaction it causes with the central nervous system.
They can be used for medical purposes when prescribed by a physician.
Many psychoactive substances are also commonly used for its recreational effects.
In addition to black market drugs, prescription drugs are also commonly abused despite its medical use.
When an individual begins abusing these drugs, it can lead to tolerance and addiction.
There are many different types of psychoactive substances, each containing different chemical makeup and producing different effects on the body and mental state.
They are characterized and categorized by the effects it has on the central nervous system.
Some drugs may overlap in their effects, making them a part of more than one specific class.
Common classes of psychoactive substances include depressants, stimulants, opioids, hallucinogens, and anxiolytics.
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Common Classes of Psychoactive Substances
Depressants are a class of psychoactive substances that depress the central nervous system. The three classes of central nervous system depressants include sedatives, hypnotics, and tranquilizers. Each class of depressants operates differently. However, they all have one thing in common: slowing down brain activity and lowering inhibition.
Certain depressant drugs are prescribed by physicians and are effective in treating many health conditions, including major depressive disorder, anxiety, and sleep disorders. These drugs work because they focus on gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA). Some short-term effects of depressants include drowsiness, decreased inhibition, and calmness.
Long-term effects can include memory loss, liver problems, high blood pressure, stroke, and coma. It can also lead to death. These are commonly abused for their calming effect on the body and mind. This abuse can easily lead to addiction.
Commonly used depressants include:
- Certain prescription antidepressants
- Prescription sleeping pills
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Stimulants are a class of psychoactive substances that increase cognitive function and brain activity, especially dopamine and norepinephrine.
Certain stimulants are prescribed by physicians and are effective in treating attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD); eating disorders; and sleeping disorders, such as narcolepsy. Stimulants work by stimulating the central nervous system, allowing dopamine and norepinephrine to stay in the brain longer. Short-term effects include increased energy, increased attention and focus, euphoria, decreased appetite, deeper empathy, confidence, sociability, and heightened sexual arousal.
Long-term effects include increased blood pressure, increased heart rate, nutritional deficit, insomnia, anxiety, depression, impotence, and seizures. It can also result in death. Once an individual begins using stimulants, it may be difficult to stop because of the intensely pleasurable side effects it produces.
Commonly used stimulants include:
- Crack cocaine
- Adderall, Ritalin, Vyvanse, and other ADHD medications
Opioids are a class of psychoactive substances that provide pain relief. Some opioids are prescribed by a physician to relieve moderate to severe pain and to relieve symptoms of a severe cough.
Opioids work by binding to opioid receptors in the brain. It can also bind to the spinal cord, stomach, and other parts of the body. The opioid receptors then block signals from the brain to the body and release a great amount of dopamine. Short-term effects include increased pain tolerance, euphoria, drowsiness, calmness, nausea, constipation, and slowed breathing. Long-term effects include brain damage, liver damage, and coma. It can also lead to death.
Opioids are an extremely hard drug to stop using, especially when it is abused. The withdrawal symptoms of opioid addiction are intense, which compels an individual to avoid these unpleasant symptoms by continuing to use the drug.
Commonly used opioids include:
- Prescription pain medications such as OxyContin, Hydrocodone, and Codeine
Hallucinogens are a class of psychoactive substances that affect sensory and produce hallucinations and an altered perception of reality. This class of drugs has no known medical use.
However, research is being currently being conducted for the medical use of hallucinogens in microdoses to treat major depressive disorder. Hallucinogens work by altering functioning in the prefrontal cortex of the brain. The prefrontal cortex plays a role in mood, perception, cognition, arousal, and physiological responses to stress.
Short-term effects include visual and auditory hallucinations, altered perceptions of reality, increased sensory function, increased heart rate, and nausea. Uncommon instances of death have occurred. However, because hallucinogens cause an altered perception, many people have injured or killed themselves as a result of use.
Research on long-term effects is still being conducted. Two known long-term effects include psychosis and hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD). HPPD is a mental health condition that produces intense flashbacks.
Commonly used hallucinogens include:
- Lysogenic dimethylamine acid (LSD)
- Psilocybin (mushrooms)
- N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT)
Anxiolytics are a class of psychoactive substances that relieve anxiety and panic. Anxiolytics are prescribed by a physician to treat anxiety and related mental health disorders.
Anxiolytics work by inhibiting activity in the gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors to slow down the brain. Short-term effects include calmness, sedation/drowsiness, cognitive impairment, memory impairment, decreased libido, and decreased appetite. Long-term effects include mood swings, lethargy, brain damage, cardiac problems, and blood pressure problems.
It can also result in death. Anxiolytics can be beneficial because of its medical use, but many people abuse these drugs because it makes them feel sedated and produces euphoria.
Commonly used anxiolytics include:
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Mental Illness and Psychoactive Substances
Certain psychoactive substances have valuable medical use while some are purely recreational. The commonality between both kinds of drugs is that there is no guarantee of safety when using them.
All have the potential for abuse. Approximately half the people with mental illness will abuse drugs to combat the overwhelming symptoms they feel. This is only a short relief from their distress. It will cause further deterioration of mental health and physical health problems. Individuals with a preexisting mental illness or illnesses should only take medications as prescribed by a physician. It is the safest thing to do. Any psychoactive substance comes with its risks, especially in those with mental illness, who are more susceptible to adverse effects.
Addiction to Psychoactive Substances
Addiction is a chronic disorder in the brain that makes an individual compulsively seek and use psychoactive substances despite the negative effects it has on his or her physical health, mental health, and life.
When an individual begins abusing drugs, he or she may experience enjoyment and feel as though nothing is wrong. However, the abuse leads to addiction because the brain develops a tolerance to drugs. This causes the individual to use more of the drug. Withdrawal symptoms will begin to occur with continued use.
To avoid withdrawal symptoms, the individual will use drugs to feel normal. This is because the brain is altered with frequent drug use, resulting in addiction.
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