Psychoactive drug

What Is a Psychoactive Drug?

A psychoactive drug is a substance that affects the central nervous system and alters brain function. A psychoactive drug typically results in a temporary change in perception, consciousness, behaviour, and mood. A psychoactive drug can either be a prescribed medication or a substance that is used recreationally. Many psychoactive drugs are known to be habit forming and can cause dependence or addiction in certain individuals. Not all people who use a psychoactive drug however, will become dependent.

History of Psychoactive Drugs

Psychoactive substances have been used for at least 10,000 years. In early history, psychoactive drugs were typically plant-based and often used for medicinal purposes. For example, chewing of the betel nut in Thailand dates back over 10,000 years ago, and chewing of coca leaves dates back at least 8,000 years amongst cultures in Peru. Native Americans were using tobacco long before European contact, and opiates made from the poppy plant have been used to control pain as early as 7,000 years ago.

Hallucinogens have been used for at least 2,000 years by various indigenous cultures. The use of psilocybin mushrooms dates back to the Mayans, and Native American cultures have used peyote in religious ceremonies for centuries.

The use of alcohol has been displayed by countless cultures since time began. In the 1840s, hashish was used to treat mental disorders at the Bicetre in France. Psychoactive drugs were introduced in medicine as early as the late-1700s. Since then, prescribed psychoactive drug use has continued to increase into what is seen today with modern medicine.


Psychoactive drugs are categorised into four different classes. These include:

  • Depressants: This includes substances such as alcohol, benzodiazepines, and barbiturates. Depressants invoke effects such as relaxation, reduced anxiety, and sleep.
  • Stimulants: This includes substances such as amphetamines, cocaine, nicotine, caffeine, and ecstasy. Stimulants arouse feelings of alertness, euphoria, wellbeing, increased confidence, and hallucinations (typically with ecstasy).
  • Opiates: This includes substances such as heroin, morphine, certain prescription painkillers, and opium. Opiates offer feelings of euphoria, wellbeing, and as a pain reliever.
  • Psychedelics: This includes substances such as LSD, psilocybin mushrooms, marijuana, spice, and PCP. Psychedelics evoke hallucinations, feelings of wellbeing, euphoria, relaxation, and altered perceptions.

Psychoactive Drug Facts

  • The harmful misuse of alcohol results in 3.3 million deaths each year
  • At least 15.3 million people worldwide have drug use disorders
  • Cigarette consumption is highest in East Asia and the Far East. The Americas and Europe are close behind.
  • Of the 200 million people worldwide who use illicit psychoactive drugs, cannabis is the most commonly used.
  • Illicit psychoactive drug use is most common in males and young adults.

Psychoactive Drug FAQ

What is a psychoactive drug?

A psychoactive drug is a substance that alters brain function and results in temporary changes in perception, mood, and behaviour.

What is the most common psychoactive drug used worldwide?

Caffeine is the most widely used psychoactive drug in the world. It is known to excite the central nervous system and release pleasure-producing chemicals in the brain.

What is considered a psychoactive drug?

A psychoactive drug can be a legal or illicit substance that changes mood, consciousness, and thoughts. Legal psychoactive drugs can include prescription medication, caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco. Illicit psychoactive drugs can include cannabis, heroin, ecstasy, cocaine, and more.

External Links

Psychoactive Drugs, Wikipedia

Psychoactive Drugs, Science Daily

What Psychoactive Drugs Are Used in the World, ShareCare

History of Psychoactive Drugs, Swilhite.Weebly.Com

Timeline of Events in the History of Drugs, InPud Blog

Facts about Psychoactive Drugs, Green facts

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