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Psychoactive Drugs

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Psychoactive Drugs

There are many drugs in the world, but which are considered to be psychoactive? What makes a drug psychoactive?

  • What are stimulants?
  • What are depressants?
  • What are hallucinogenics?
  • What are benefits to using psychoactive drugs?

Psychoactive Drugs Definition

A psychoactive drug is a drug that has a significant impact on psychological processes including emotions, thinking, and perception.

There are three different categories of psychoactive drugs; stimulants, depressants, and hallucinogens. Within these categories are drugs that are commonly considered to be psychoactive drugs.

Examples of Psychoactive Drugs

Let's dive deeper into the three main types of psychoactive drugs!

Stimulants

Stimulants are often called "uppers", as they speed up bodily functions.

Methamphetamine

Meth is an incredibly addictive drug that has dangerous effects on the body and mental state. Meth will stimulate the release of dopamine (a neurotransmitter that causes feelings of a positive mood). One adverse reaction (among many) is that meth can reduce the production of dopamine over time, leaving the user in a permanently depressed state.

Caffeine

This is the most common psychoactive drug across the world. Are you surprised to see such a common beverage on the list? Once caffeine is ingested, the effect lasts up to four hours. Those who find themselves regular users of caffeine will eventually build a tolerance to its effects. Those who decide that they want to cut back on their usage can find it difficult. When a person stops using caffeine, their body's response is quite like that of other drugs in this explanation. Often, a person will experience fatigue and headaches once the usage of caffeine is lessened or completely stopped.

Nicotine

This is another commonly used psychoactive drug that can be found at most markets and shops dedicated to smoking. According to Myers' Psychology for AP, an estimated 10,000 people die worldwide from smoking every day (Myers, 2014). As with most drugs, nicotine users will also build tolerance with chronic use, so a person who smokes will eventually increase their daily usage to feel the same effects. Norepinephrine and epinephrine are released in the brain when nicotine is used.

For those who try to quit smoking, the withdrawal symptoms can be tough. In withdrawal, nicotine users can experience anxiety, insomnia, and of course general crankiness from these symptoms.

An interesting fact about nicotine is that it takes effect only 7 seconds after being smoked and can be as addicting as cocaine or heroine!

Cocaine

Cocaine moves at rocket speeds after being used. This psychoactive drug works quickly but does not have long-lasting effects. There is a sudden release of epinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin while reuptake is simultaneously being blocked. This blockage causes a "crash", or a sudden depressive state when the effects are no longer taking place.

MDMA

Also known as Ecstacy, this happens to be a mild hallucinogen. Once the effects of MDMA begin, it can last up to four hours. The effects of this drug are due to the brain releasing serotonin and the blockage of reuptake. There are several negatives with this drug that can lead to death. Firstly, there is dehydration which can lead to overheating and thus death. Because of the immense release of serotonin, damage can occur resulting in the permanency of depression.

Depressants

On the opposite end of the spectrum from stimulants, some depressant psychoactive drugs create a slowing down in the body.

Alcohol

This is another common psychoactive drug that can be found and accessed easily. There is a range of effects that are associated with the use and abuse of alcohol. There is a slower processing speed in our thought processes and speech. It also disrupts our memory and can deeply impair our judgment. This is a reason why alcohol is called a disinhibiting drug. Often, people blame the use of alcohol for doing things that they would normally not do.

Barbiturates

The effects of barbiturates are like that of alcohol, as large doses are seen to cause memory and judgment impairment. Some deaths are also associated with their use. This is because barbiturates are hard to appropriately dose. Those who take large doses often fall into a coma-like state and may even stop breathing.

Opiates

Another class of depressant. Opiates are derived from opium and can be used to create drugs such as heroin, codeine, and morphine. As the drugs react, there is a numbing or pain-killing effect.

Drawing of a poppy flower. StudySmarterPoppy flowers are used to produce opioids. pixabay.com.

Hallucinogens

Hallucinogens can create sensations without the help of any sensory input, creating hallucinations for the user.

LSD

This is said to be a very powerful and psychedelic drug; it acts the same as a serotonin neurotransmitter. When a person describes their reactions to LSD it can sound quite strange. Those who are under the influence of LSD find themselves seeing geometric patterns as well as shapes and past emotional experiences. Many people claim that they felt a sense of separation from their mind and body. Myers' Psychology for AP says that these symptoms are also typical for those who have had a "near-death" experience (Myers, 2014).

Marijuana

This is a very commonly used psychoactive drug, and has even become a political issue in the United States. Much like alcohol, marijuana is a disinhibitor due to its active ingredient, THC. For chronic users, THC can stay within the blood for months at a time. Marijuana impairs memory and judgment and also increases sensations.

Benefits of Psychoactive Drugs

There are a few benefits to using psychoactive drugs. Psychopharmacol journals state that there are benefits in areas of life such as sociability, enjoyment, state of mind, pain management, and relief from anxiety and depression. The most common psychoactive drug that has been classified as having high benefits and low risks is marijuana. Benzodiazepines and marijuana are associated with benefits such as relaxation, decreased depression, decreased anxiety, and relief from pain and illness.

How do Psychoactive Drugs Affect the Brain?

There is quite a bit of research into this particular subject.

Neurotransmitters

Psychoactive drugs often affect the neurotransmitters of the brain, either beneficially, or in harm. As stated for some of the drugs listed above, there is a stimulation of certain hormones that are released by manipulating neurotransmitters. This can be the leading cause of abuse or addiction of these psychoactive drugs.

During the early exposures to these drugs, there are still normal neurotransmissions as levels return to baseline. Repeated use of these drugs however can and will cause abnormalities in neurotransmission, in a permanent way. These are the beginning markers of higher tolerances, resulting in the possibilities of addictions and therefore withdrawal symptoms.

Genetics

Interestingly, amassed changes in neurotransmission can be epigenetic. Of course, a drug cannot change a person's genes, but it can change (increase or decrease) the production of proteins which in turn can change neuron function and the physical structure of neurons (NIDA, 2017).

Psychoactive Drugs - Key takeaways

  • A psychoactive drug is a drug that has a significant impact on psychological processes including emotions, thinking, and perception and are categorized into stimulants, depressants, and hallucinogens
  • Stimulants are often called "uppers" as they speed up bodily functions and include Methamphetamine (Meth), caffeine, nicotine, cocaine, and MDMA
  • Depressant psychoactive drugs (such as alcohol and barbiturates) create a slowing down in the body versus stimulants
  • Much like alcohol, marijuana is a disinhibitor due to its active ingredient, THC. These drugs can have benefits in areas of life such as sociability, enjoyment, state of mind, pain management, and relief from anxiety and depression.
  • Psychoactive drugs often affect the neurotransmitters of the brain, either beneficially or harmfully

Frequently Asked Questions about Psychoactive Drugs

A psychoactive drug is a drug that has a significant impact on psychological processes including emotions, thinking, and perception.

Psychoactive drugs often affect the neurotransmitters of the brain either in benefit or in harm. There is a simulation of certain hormones that are released by manipulating neurotransmitters which can be the leading cause of abuse or addiction to these psychoactive drugs. 

Psychoactive drugs have the potential to become addictive. 

Repeated use of these drugs however can and will cause abnormalities in neurotransmission in a permanent way. These are the beginning markers of higher tolerances and possible addictions, and therefore withdrawal symptom possibilities.

Psychopharmacol journals state that there are benefits in areas of life such as sociability, enjoyment, state of mind, pain, and relief from anxiety and depression. The most common psychoactive drug that has been classified as having high benefits and low risks is marijuana. Benzodiazepines and marijuana are associated with benefits such as relaxation, decreased depression, decreased anxiety, and relief from pain and illness.

Final Psychoactive Drugs Quiz

Question

________ are often called "uppers" as they speeds up functions in the body.

Show answer

Answer

Stimulants

Show question

Question

Stimulants include Methamphetamine (Meth), _______, _______, cocaine, and MDMA.

Show answer

Answer

caffeine, nicotine,

Show question

Question

Meth can reduce the production of _______. 


Show answer

Answer

dopamine.

Show question

Question

Nicotine takes effect only ___ after being smoked.

Show answer

Answer

 7 seconds

Show question

Question

______ is also known as Ecstacy and happens to be a mild hallucinogen.


Show answer

Answer

MDMA

Show question

Question

________ psychoactive drugs create a slowing down in the body versus stimulants.


Show answer

Answer

Depressant

Show question

Question

______ leads to slower processing speeds in thought and speech. It also disrupts memory and can deeply impair judgment.


A. Cocaine

B.Caffeine

C. Alcohol

Show answer

Answer

C. Alcohol

Show question

Question

_________ can create sensations without the help of any sensory input creating hallucinations for the user.

Show answer

Answer

Hallucinogens

Show question

Question

There is a numbing or pain-killing effect with this particular class of drug.

Show answer

Answer

Opiates

Show question

Question

Those who are under the influence of _____ find themselves seeing geometric patterns as well as shapes, and past emotional experiences. Many people claim that they felt a sense of separation from their mind and body.

Show answer

Answer

LSD

Show question

Question

Psychoactive drugs often affect ______ of the brain either in benefit or in harm.

Show answer

Answer

neurotransmitters

Show question

Question

A psychoactive drug is a drug that has a significant impact on psychological processes including _____, _____, ____.

Show answer

Answer

emotions, thinking, and perception.

Show question

Question

______ will stimulate the release of dopamine.

Show answer

Answer

Meth

Show question

Question

Which psychoactive drug can be as addictive as cocaine and heroin but is easily accessed?

Show answer

Answer

Nicotine 

Show question

Question

What are three different categories of psychoactive drugs?

Show answer

Answer

Stimulants, depressants, and hallucinogens.

Show question

Question

Which psychoactive drugs are considered to be stimulants?

Show answer

Answer

Caffeine, cocaine, methamphetamine, and nicotine

Show question

Question

Which of these is a stimulant?

Show answer

Answer

Caffeine 

Show question

Question

Which psychoactive drugs are considered to be hallucinogens?


Show answer

Answer

LSD and MDMA

Show question

Question

Alcohol is considered a hallucinogen. True or false?

Show answer

Answer

False

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Question

Which of these psychotropic drugs are considered depressants?

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Answer

Barbiturates

Show question

Question

What psychoactive drugs are considered to be depressants?

Show answer

Answer

Alcohol and Barbiturates

Show question

Question

With ______, people experience immense dehydration. This can lead to overheating and death.

Show answer

Answer

MDMA

Show question

Question

________ can slow down mental and neural processes in the body.


Show answer

Answer

Depressants

Show question

Question

_______ drugs warp perceptions and conjure up sensory images without the help of sensory input.


Show answer

Answer

Hallucinogenic

Show question

Question

Those who are under the influence of _______ see geometric patterns, shapes, and past emotional experiences.


Show answer

Answer

LSD

Show question

Question

Medications for depression are considered psychoactive. True or false?


Show answer

Answer

True. These medications alter brain functions as well.

Show question

Question

Which psychoactive drug can create a pattern of shrinkage in the brain?


Show answer

Answer

Alcohol

Show question

Question

Which drugs are created from opium?

Show answer

Answer

Opiates

Show question

Question

A ______ excites neural activity and speeds up functions of the body.


Show answer

Answer

 stimulant

Show question

Question

Because nicotine is easily obtained, there is no long-term harm in chronic usage. True or false?


Show answer

Answer

False: Nicotine is as addictive as cocaine and heroin. A single cigarette can take minutes off your average life span.

Show question

Question

What is substance abuse? 

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Answer

Substance abuse is the excessive use of an illicit or prescription drug or medication that may negatively affect the person. 

Show question

Question

What percentage of people above 12 in the United States may fit the description of having a substance abuse disorder?

Show answer

Answer

7.2 percent

Show question

Question

What is the name of the questionnaire used to screen for alcohol use disorder?

Show answer

Answer

CAGE

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Question

Addiction may be described as a ______?

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Answer

Chronic Brain Disease

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Question

Addiction can only be to drugs or alcohol. True or False?

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Answer

False

Show question

Question

Gambling is another form of addiction. True or False?

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Answer

True

Show question

Question

Genetics may account for ___ percent of determining whether or not someone will develop an addiction.

Show answer

Answer

50

Show question

Question

There are certain genes related to developing alcohol addiction. True or False?

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

Genetic alterations may account for changes in the _______ system. 

Show answer

Answer

Dopamine 

Show question

Question

What is the mechanism of action of Chantix?

Show answer

Answer

Partial nicotinic receptor agonist 

Show question

Question

Identical twins are most likely to either both be alcoholics, or neither. True or False?


Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

Children of parents with alcoholism are less likely to develop alcoholism after being adopted by healthy parents. True or False?

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

Which neuroanatomical structure is implicated in drug addiction? (Decision making)

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Answer

The orbitofrontal cortex.

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Question

Which neuroanatomical structure is implicated in relapse? 

Show answer

Answer

Nucleus Accumbens 

Show question

Question

The orbitofrontal cortex has higher volume or lower volume in patients with addiction? 

Show answer

Answer

Lower

Show question

Question

True or False?

Caffeine is a socially acceptable psychoactive drug. 

Show answer

Answer

True 

Show question

Question

Drugs with a higher rate of abuse cause the increased release of a hormone called ______.

Show answer

Answer

dopamine

Show question

Question

What is dopamine?

Show answer

Answer

A neurotransmitter/hormone that shows up in the brain in areas of emotion, cognition, motivation, and feelings of pleasure 

Show question

Question

True or False?

Everyone has the same amount of neurotransmitters and has the same addiction risk.

Show answer

Answer

False. Some people are more prone to a stronger reaction to these neurotransmitters. This puts some people at a higher biological risk for addiction. 

Show question

Question

__________________ is the theory that explains drug use as a learned behavior. 

Show answer

Answer

The social learning theory

Show question

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