Psychoactive substances: what are they and how are they classified?

Psychoactive substances: what are they and how are they classified?

Psychoactive substances are chemical substances (drugs or psychotropic drugs) of natural or synthetic origin that affect the functions of the central nervous system (CNS), that is, the brain and the spinal cord. Among their effects, we can find pain inhibition, mood change, altered perception, etc.

While drugs are associated with therapeutic and medicinal use, drugs are often considered to be for recreational use. The latter are usually associated with young people, but in reality they are consumed by people with very diverse profiles and of different ages.

Psychoactive substances are very versatile and have a wide repertoire of effects. It should be noted that some psychoactive substances are considered drugs and psychopharmaceuticals. One example is Xyrem, which as a medical use can be used for the treatment of narcolepsy, but in leisure circuits is called liquid ecstasy or GHB.

You can learn more about this substance in our article: “GHB: the drug rapists use to neutralize their victims”

Psychoactive substances: their beginnings

Psychoactive substances have not only been used by modern man, but have been consumed for thousands of years. In fact, there are discoveries that indicate that they have been used since 3000 BC. The data suggest that opiates were already being taken at that time. Later, it is known that the Aztecs used peyote and some shamans of hallucinogenic substances.

How psychoactive substances are classified

In the following lines we have made a classification of psychoactive substances differentiating psychoactive drugs from drugs.

Types of psychotropic drugs

There is a great variety of psychotropic drugs and they can therefore be classified in different ways. None of the categories below are better than the rest, but we have taken into account the functionality or usefulness of each group of psychotropic drugs.

Neuroleptics and antipsychotics

These are psychopharmaceuticals used to treat psychotic breaks. Some of these drugs have powerful side effects, and are often used by, for example, patients with schizophrenia or paranoid disorder. Among the best known are haloperidol or olanzapine.

2. Anxiolytics and sedative-hypnotics

Anxiety disorders are one of the most frequent reasons for psychological consultation, so these psychotropic drugs are also among the most used. Some of these drugs, which are included in this classification, are used as sedatives, to facilitate sleep. We can highlight diazepam (valium) or tranquimazin.

3. Antidepressants

These are the psychotropic drugs used to treat depression, and usually increase the presence of serotonin, noradrenaline or dopamine in the brain through different actions. For example, by inhibiting recapturing enzymes. These include fluoxetine (or prozac) or sertraline.

4. Mood Stabilizers/Eutimizers

These types of psychoactive drugs are used in the case of a patient suffering from bipolar disorder. In this way, it is possible to stabilize the mood and keep it stable. We can highlight lithium salts or carbamazepine.

  • You can read more about these classifications in our article: “Types of psychopharmaceuticals: uses and side effects”

Types of drugs

Drugs also have different effects and can be classified in several ways. They are as follows.

According to its legality

According to their legality, drugs can be classified into:

  • Legal drugs: are those that are permitted by the law of a country. These laws can change from one country to another. In Spain, alcohol or tobacco are legal drugs.
  • Illegal drugs: are those whose consumption is not allowed in a country. In Spain, for example, we can talk about cocaine or ecstasy. Drug traffickers are responsible for marketing this type of substance, one of the best known being Pablo Escobar. You can read his biography in our article: “Biography and personality of Pablo Escobar, the irreducible drug dealer”

Depending on how they are consumed

Drugs can be used in different ways. But what are they?

  • Smoking: tobacco, hashish or “crack” are some examples.
  • Oral: ecstasy, alcohol, LSD
  • Inspired: speed, cocaine stripes.
  • Inhaled: glue, popper.
  • Injected: heroin

According to its effect on the central nervous system (CNS)

Depending on their effects, drugs can be classified in the following ways:

  • Nervous system depressants : Produce an inhibitory effect on some central nervous system functions. Alcohol, hypnotics (sleeping pills or barbiturates), anxiolytics such as benzodiazepines, opiates (heroin, morphine, methadone, etc.) or tranquillisers belong to this group.
  • Nervous system stimulants : Produce an effect contrary to the previous ones and are exciting drugs, which cause a sensation of energy and stimulation of the waking state. Amphetamines, nicotine, cocaine or caffeine belong to this group.
    Psychedelic or disturbing substances: These are substances that cause hallucinations and exaggerated changes in perception. The best known are: LSD, mescaline, ketamine and MDMA

Drug use is widespread today, and the variety of drugs is very remarkable. Some of these drugs are natural, produced by nature itself. Others, the synthetic ones, follow a series of chemical processes for their creation. The immediacy of their effects has to do with the speed with which the active ingredient passes into the blood. Generally, injected drugs are the ones that cause the fastest effects, and also the most addictive.

  • For more information on drugs, you can read our article: “Types of Drugs: Know Your Characteristics and Effects”

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