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Types of Psychoactive Drugs

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Types of Psychoactive Drugs

Do you drink a lot of coffee? What if I told you that coffee contains caffeine, which is considered a psychoactive drug?

There are three different types or categories of psychoactive (or psychotropic) drugs; depressants, hallucinogenics, and stimulants. Each has its effects on neural activity and body functions. While some of these drugs are considered narcotics, a few are easily purchased and socially accepted.

  • What are the types of psychoactive drugs?
  • Which drugs fall into each category?
  • How is depression medication similar to psychoactive drugs?
  • Do psychoactive drugs cause cancer?

Types of Psychoactive Drugs

Let's explore different categories of psychoactive drugs.

Depressants

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

Alcohol

There is a range of effects associated with the use and abuse of alcohol. One of those effects is a slower processing speed in our thought processes and speech. Alcohol also disrupts our memory and can deeply impair our judgment. This is a reason why alcohol is called a disinhibiting drug. In lower doses, alcohol slows down our neural processes. Larger amounts create slower or slurred speech and very low skill performance. Alcohol can even have a long-term effect on our memory when consumed regularly or in large quantities. Chronic and long-term use of alcohol cause shrinkage in brain size resulting from alcohol use disorder (Myers, 2014).

Types of Psychoactive Drugs three bottles of alcohol StudySmarterAlcohol, flaticon.com

Barbiturates

Barbiturates have the same effects as large doses of alcohol. They can cause memory and judgment impairment and death in some cases. This is because barbiturates are hard to dose appropriately. Those who take large doses often fall into a coma-like state where they cannot be aroused and may even stop breathing.

Opiates

Opiates are another depressant. Opiates are derived from opium and can be used to create drugs such as heroin, codeine, and morphine. As the opiates react, there is a numbing or painkilling effect. It can take someone only five days to get addicted to opiates.

Hallucinogenic Drugs

Hallucinogenic drugs warp perceptions and conjure up sensory images without the help of sensory input. The most common of these are LSD and MDMA.

LSD

LSD is a very powerful psychedelic drug; the descriptions of reactions to LSD sound extreme, and otherworldly. Those under the influence of LSD see geometric patterns, 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 with a "near-death" experience.

LSD acts the same as a serotonin neurotransmitter, which should create extreme happiness. However, although serotonin is released, some do not have happy and uplifting experiences with LSD.

MDMA

MDMA is also known as Ecstacy. Once the effects of this drug begin, they can last up to four hours. MDMA creates the effect of releasing serotonin and the blockage of reuptake. People experience immense dehydration, which can lead to overheating and death. Because of the sudden and immense release of serotonin, damage can occur, resulting in permanent depression in those who use it.

Weed is a mild hallucinogenic because it contains THC.

Stimulants

A stimulant excites neural activity and speeds up bodily functions. A person is often more energetic, has a high heart rate, and elevated blood sugar levels. Common and easily obtained stimulants, such as caffeine, can lessen your appetite, and the effects can last up to four hours. But what about other stimulants that are considered far more dangerous? Among these are cocaine and methamphetamine (meth).

Cocaine

Cocaine is an intense and highly addictive stimulant. It comes from the coca plant and produces increased alertness and euphoria for up to eight hours. In addition, 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 wear off.

Methamphetamine (Meth)

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

So how does a person feel after these eight hours of euphoric happiness? Noted symptoms include seizures, depression, and violent outbursts (most likely due to insomnia).

Nicotine

Nicotine is easily obtained; at the market, a store on the corner, from a friend. An estimated 10,000 people die, worldwide, from smoking every day (Myers, 2014). As with most drugs, nicotine users also build tolerance with chronic use. Because of this, a person who smokes eventually increases their daily usage to feel the same effects as they usually do.

Want to quit? In withdrawal, nicotine users can experience anxiety, insomnia, and of course, general crankiness from these symptoms.

Interestingly, nicotine takes effect only seven seconds after being smoked and can be as addicting as cocaine or heroine! Nicotine signals norepinephrine and epinephrine to be released in the brain.

One cigarette takes approximately 12 minutes off your average lifespan (Myers, 2014).

Psychoactive or Psychotropic Drugs for the Treatment of Depression

Remember, a psychoactive drug is a substance that can change or modify thoughts and behaviors. With this in mind, medications for depression are considered psychoactive. Antidepressant medications work similarly to other psychoactive drugs due to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Each medication, of course, has different dosage necessities and impacts. The use of psychoactive medications as antidepressants is mainly because of their sedative effects. Because of this sedative effect, psychoactive drugs can reduce symptoms of anxiety, insomnia, and agitation in those diagnosed with depression.

Psychoactive Drugs and Cancer

Using psychotropic drugs can cause cancer. Those who smoke nicotine-filled cigarettes and cigars may find themselves on the receiving end of a cancer diagnosis. To clarify, nicotine itself does not cause cancer. However, because nicotine is so addictive, it can be difficult for some to quit smoking before being diagnosed with oral, larynx, oesophagus, or lung cancer (National Cancer Institute, 2022).

Alcohol can also be a cancer-causing drug. We know that alcohol has many carcinogens (most likely from the fermentation process). These are linked to causing cancer in the same areas of the body associated with cigarette smoking.

Types of Psychoactive Drugs - Key takeaways

  • Depressants can slow down mental and neural processes in the body. There are common psychoactive depressants that are easily obtained such as alcohol.
  • Barbiturates have the same effects as large doses of alcohol. They can cause memory and judgment impairment and death in some cases.
  • Hallucinogenic drugs warp perceptions and conjure up sensory images without the help of sensory input. The most common of these drugs are LSD and MDMA.
  • After taking cocaine, there is a sudden release of epinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin, while reuptake is simultaneously being blocked.
  • Meth stimulates the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that causes feelings of a positive mood.

Frequently Asked Questions about Types of Psychoactive Drugs

Methamphetamine (meth) is type of psychoactive drugs. It is an incredibly addictive drug that has dangerous effects on the body and mental state. Meth stimulates dopamine release (a neurotransmitter that causes positive feelings).

There are three main categories of psychoactive (or psychotropic) drugs: depressants, hallucinogenics, and stimulants.

Nicotine is a stimulant.

Weed is a mild hallucinogenic because it contains THC.

Addiction to psychoactive drugs can be prevented by beginning with education about drugs and their effects.

Final Types of Psychoactive Drugs Quiz

Question

Which psychoactive drugs are considered to be stimulants?

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Answer

Caffeine, cocaine, methamphetamine, and nicotine

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Question

Which of these is a stimulant?

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Answer

Caffeine 

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Question

Which psychoactive drugs are considered to be hallucinogens?


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Answer

LSD and MDMA

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Question

Alcohol is considered a hallucinogen. True or false?

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Answer

False

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Question

Which of these psychotropic drugs are considered depressants?

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Answer

Barbiturates

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Question

What psychoactive drugs are considered to be depressants?

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Answer

Alcohol and Barbiturates

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Question

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

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Answer

MDMA

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Question

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


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Answer

Depressants

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Question

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


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Answer

Hallucinogenic

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Question

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


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Answer

LSD

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Question

Medications for depression are considered psychoactive. True or false?


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Answer

True. These medications alter brain functions as well.

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Question

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


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Answer

Alcohol

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Question

Which drugs are created from opium?

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Answer

Opiates

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Question

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


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Answer

 stimulant

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Question

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


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Answer

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

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Question

What do depressants do to our bodies?

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Answer

Slow down our mental and neural processes

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Question

What is an example of a psychoactive drug that is disinhibiting?

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Answer

Alcohol

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Question

What are side effects of alcohol consumption?

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Answer

Slows neural processes, slurred speech, less skills, memory problems, brain shrinking

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Why are barbiturates such a dangerous psychoactive drug?

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Answer

They are hard to dose so people end up taking too much and can enter a coma-like state

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How many days does it take for someone to get addicted to opiates?

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Answer

1

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How are hallucinogenics different from stimulants?

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Answer

Hallucinogenics make people see reality differently and stimulants increase neural firings to make people more awake

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Question

When someone is on LSD, the feelings that they have are similar to what?

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Answer

A near-death experience

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How does MDMA work?

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Answer

It increases the production of serotonin and blocks the process of reuptake (similar to SSRIs)

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How can MDMA lead to depression?

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Answer

MDMA causes as sudden increase in serotonin in the brain which can cause permanent damage and depression

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Question

Why do people crash after cocaine wears off?

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Answer

The cocaine was blocking the process of reuptake, leaving lots of serotonin, epinephrine, and dopamine in the brain. When the cocaine wears off, reuptake comes back, removing the extra neurotransmitters from the brain, causing the crash. 

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Question

What is one of the long-term effects of doing meth?

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Answer

The body's reduction of dopamine production, leading to depression

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Question

Worldwide, how many people die daily due to smoking cigarettes?

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Answer

5,000

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Can alcohol cause cancer?

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Answer

Yes

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Is marijuana a psychoactive drug?

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Answer

Yes

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Question

What type of psychoactive drug is nicotine?

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Answer

Stimulant

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