Something that defines drugs is that, beyond their potential psychoactive effects and their capacity to generate serious addictions, they have reached practically all corners of human societies. Today we can talk about massive drug consumption, and in some cases, their use has become so normalized that it can even be controversial to talk about the harmful effects of some of the most popular drugs.

In this article we will review the most consumed drugs in the world , and we will see their characteristics, and why they are harmful and a reason for professional assistance in case of addiction.

How does drug addiction arise on a massive scale?

In the world, there are many substances with the ability to enter the human brain and interfere with its functioning. Many of them, moreover, not only alter the normal dynamics of the nervous system, but also make adjustments to it that predispose us to want to repeat the experience of consuming that substance.

This process by which we consume something directly affects our behavior, going to the base of everything we do, the brain, has achieved not only that millions of people have seen their lives turned upside down because of drugs, but that even drug consumption can now be understood as a sociological phenomenon, which does not occur in isolated individuals.

Of course, many psychologists see in this fact the need to offer services specially designed to help addicted people. Andrés Quinteros Turinetto, psychologist and Director of the Centro de Psicología Cepsim, with several locations in Madrid, points out that addictions are so complex that his centre proposes intervention programmes in which they always work from a double psychiatric and psychotherapeutic approach .

To take care of this, Cepsim’s team has created an institution called CEPSIM-CETRAD, which starts from the beginning with an integral therapy that combines both approaches. Doing it differently would not be as effective, says Adrés Quinteros, because where there is behaviour (psychology) there is a brain at work (psychiatry), and vice versa .

Therefore, whenever we talk about the most consumed drugs we are not only talking about substances, but also about the behavioral dynamics that usually go hand in hand with their consumption: addictive substances are nothing without the actions that lead to wanting to consume more, and mental health professionals can work on modifying these behavioral patterns.

The Most Used Drugs and Their Effects

As we have seen, although the most popular and used drugs vary in their effects, they are all based on changes in the brain and modifications in the user’s behaviour, predisposing him/her to continue using. This vicious circle is responsible for the fact that today there are substances as omnipresent as the following.

1. Alcohol

It should not be forgotten that alcohol is a drug, which although legal in practically all countries, has two characteristics which make it very dangerous : it is one of the most addictive, and its effects greatly increase the probability of death not only in those who consume it, but also in others, because it leads to risky behaviour. In addition, it is one of the most widely used drugs, and the age at which people begin to drink products containing this substance is decreasing.

On the other hand, the process of quitting alcohol is one of the most complicated, due to the aforementioned intensity of the dependency it generates in consumers who abuse the drink. Therefore, treatment by medical and psychological professionals is essential , says Andrés Quinteros.

2. Tobacco

Tobacco is another drug so popular that we often forget what it is.

This is a highly addictive substance with a very significant impact on our health, since although its effects on the mind are usually not as intense as those of the other drugs we see around here (beyond predisposing us to adjust our behaviour to addiction), it damages our circulatory system and besides greatly increasing our chances of suffering from cancer it makes the body in general function worse and age faster.

3. Cocaine

Cocaine is one of the most consumed psychostimulants , and it also appears in very different contexts: from parties and concerts to offices and workplaces, and of course also in homes.

This is because the excitatory effects of cocaine are not only sought after for the feeling of euphoria they produce, but certain work environments are so harsh that workers see in this substance a short-term support.

4. Amphetamine

Amphetamines are based on the excessive potentiation of the effects of dopamine and noradrenaline , substances that are naturally present in the brain and which act as neurotransmitters, i.e. messenger molecules that go from one neuron to another.

On the other hand, the stimulant effects of amphetamines have meant that in certain cases, and only under medical supervision, versions of this substance are used as drugs to treat some disorders, such as narcolepsy or ADHD.

Andres Quinteros points out that the use of this substance as a drug, while it can be relatively beneficial in borderline cases, always goes hand in hand with the risk of patients developing dependency.

5. Methamphetamine

Methamphetamine is a psychostimulant protected by amphetamine, which as we have seen is also one of the most widely used drugs, especially in countries with a Western culture. It is also one of the most addictive drugs in the world, which is why is very present in drug trafficking and is only available legally through a doctor’s prescription.

Although the effects of this substance begin with a state of general excitement, Andrés Quinteros explains that many of the people hooked on this drug end up in a state of constant stagnation and exhaustion because they become unable to sleep for several days .

6. Cannabis

Cannabis or marijuana is a substance extracted from the various variants of the plant Cannabis sativa, and bases its psychoactive functioning on a molecule called tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC .
Marijuana has the particularity that it presents ambivalence in terms of its capacity to induce states of depression or activation of the nervous system, since it is capable of generating states of calm and relaxation as well as excitement and euphoria.

On the other hand, other typical effects of cannabis are the disorder of ideas and speech, disorientation and the induction of states of confusion or even paranoia. In some cases, dissociative effects such as hallucinations or de-realization also appear; and it is important not to forget one of its most dangerous effects: its capacity to trigger psychotic outbreaks in people genetically predisposed to it.

While other widely used drugs are mostly used in social contexts, in comparison the characteristics of cannabis favour its use alone or in very small groups, maintaining a passive attitude.

On the other hand, although cannabis is not as addictive as other illegal drugs, it has been shown that it is capable of generating dependence , something to which adolescents and young adults, the main consumers of marijuana, are especially vulnerable.


Also known as Ecstasy or Molly , this drug is linked to recreational contexts and specifically to electronic music events, although its popularity is such that it has long since overflowed that kind of scene. In fact, it is one of the drugs most consumed by young people during the weekends, usually while they are socializing.

The effects of MDMA, which appear 45 minutes after ingesting the dose, have to do with the appearance of a feeling of satisfaction and euphoria , as well as a greater extraversion and desire to socialize. But beyond its effects as a stimulant drug, Ecstasy can cause very dangerous imbalances in the body’s ability to regulate temperature, as well as high-risk kidney complications.

Bibliographic references:

  • Crippa, J. A. et. al. (2009). Cannabis and anxiety: a critical review of the evidence. Human Psychopharmacology 24 (7): 515 – 523.
  • National Institute on Drug Abuse (2018). Commonly Abused Drug Charts. Revised 19/06/2019.
  • Parrott, A. C. (2014). The Potential Dangers of Using MDMA for Psychotherapy. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs 46 (1): 37 – 43.