Types of Psychoactive Drugs


Many drugs, both legal and illegal, are psychoactive drugs. Psychoactive drugs yield a wide range of effects and have many purposes. Psychoactive drugs, which can be synthetically created or naturally derived, produce their effects by temporarily changing the typical brain functioning of the user.


Psychoactive drugs act on the central nervous system and alter the mood, cognition and perception of the user. Different psychoactive drugs produce different effects and are used for medicinal, social and ritual purposes. Psychoactive drugs are divided into four basic categories: depressants, stimulants, opiates and hallucinogens.


Depressants are also known as hypnotics or sedatives. These drugs slow and inhibit neurological activity. Depressants produce fatigue in the user. Alcohol, antihistamines, barbiturates and the prescription drug Valium are examples of depressants.


Stimulants increase brain activity. Commonly used stimulants are caffeine and nicotine. Amphetamine and cocaine are also stimulants. Some stimulants are used recreationally and others, such as anti-depressants, have medicinal purposes and are available by prescription.


Hallucinogens are substances that alter the cognition and sensory perception of the user. Marijuana, psilocybin and mescaline are naturally-derived hallucinogens. Such drugs as LSD and ecstasy are synthetic hallucinogens. Unlike other psychoactive drugs, most hallucinogens are not lethal at high doses. Most hallucinogens are classified as Schedule I drugs by the United States, meaning the government deems them unsafe and of no medicinal value. Users of Schedule I drugs risk federal criminal prosecution.


Opiates alleviate painful sensations. Opiates are derived from opium and produce effects by interacting with opiate receptors in the brain. Opium is naturally produced in opium poppies. Codeine and morphine are clinically-administered opiates used to treat pain. The illegal drug heroin is an opiate. Opiates are highly addictive.

Other Types

Some stimulants, antidepressants and antipsychotics are psychiatric drugs prescribed to treat mental disorders.


Many psychoactive drugs have the potential to produce a physical or psychological dependence in the user. Psychoactive drugs can produce pleasurable effects such as pain relief, stress relief and euphoria, and as a result many psychoactive drugs are abused. According to The World Health Organization, abuse of psychoactive drugs has the potential to produce any combination of chronic health problems, social problems, impaired coordination and cognition, or even overdose death.

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