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Psychoactive Drugs and Their Effects

Psychoactive Drugs and Their Effects

Recent trends show a rise in both, ethical and unethical use of psychoactive drugs and stimulants, which, in turn, makes it all the more important for us to be well-versed with their effects on our brain and body.
Abhijit Naik
Though they are usually prescribed to treat a range of disorders, psychoactive drugs have more recently come under the scanner for their alleged side effects on the human body. These drugs are used in a range of psychiatric medication and therefore, it becomes all the more important for the layman to be aware of their effects. The need of the hour is to spread awareness about the possible side effects of these drugs, so that people don't get addicted to them, either knowingly, or unknowingly.

What are Psychoactive Drugs?

Chemical substances which act upon the central nervous system―particularly the brain―and bring about a change in the mood, perception, behavior, and other psychological attributes are referred to as psychoactive drugs. These substances are used for both, recreational and therapeutic purposes; their recreational use though, is a strict no.

Psychoactive drugs can be broadly categorized into three groups: (i) depressants, (ii) stimulants, and (iii) hallucinogens. While depressants are the drugs which slow down the nervous system, stimulants are the ones which stimulate the central nervous system and speed up the messaging process. Hallucinogens, similarly, are the drugs which alter your perception drastically and make you hallucinate.

The Effects of Different Psychoactive Drugs

The therapeutic use of these drugs refers to their use in the field of medicine to treat a range of health problems, including the treatment of pain and various mental illnesses. One should also take note of the fact that the use of psychoactive medication can also result in drug addiction, especially when used for a prolonged duration. On the other hand, these drugs are also used for recreational purposes. Use of nicotine and caffeine can be attributed to day-to-day activities, like smoking or consumption of beverages like tea and coffee. Other strong drugs are used―abused to be precise―to produce hallucinatory effects, the so-called state of trance. While such use of illegal drugs can be traced back to several centuries, recent scientific studies have revealed that such abuse can lead to a series of ill effects on the human body and mind.

The long list of depressants include alcohol, cannabis, opiates, etc., which slow down the central nervous system functions and therefore, make the person feel relaxed. That, however, is the case when these drugs are taken in a small amount, mainly through medicines. In large amounts, these drugs are known to trigger a range of adverse effects on the individual's health, including vomiting, unconsciousness, and even death at times. Relatively milder side effects of depressants include lack of ability to concentrate and coordinate, which, in turn, affects the individual's ability to react to unexpected situations. Even alcohol is a depressant, and the number of car crashes attributed to drunk driving does have a message for everyone who think otherwise.

In contrast, stimulants have a totally opposite effect on the individual. They speed up the messages to and from the brain, thus making the person feel totally charged up. While ephedrine and caffeine are mild stimulants, cocaine and ecstasy are more powerful ones. The effects of mild stimulants are not hazardous, unless taken in large quantities. In fact, ephedrine is used in medicines meant to treat health problems, like asthma and bronchitis. Even more common are caffeine and nicotine, which are present in coffee and cigarettes respectively. The stronger stimulants though, can have hazardous effects on our mind and body even when taken in small quantities. Over-stimulation caused by these stimulants can result in headache, panic, anxiety, seizures, and even make the person aggressive and paranoid.

Hallucinogens are by far the most powerful among the various psychoactive drugs and therefore, their effects are also quite serious. They directly affect the perception of the individual and result in hallucinations, i.e., seeing things and hearing sounds which don't exist. The long list of hallucinogens include Ketamine, LSD, marijuana, etc. It is very difficult to asses the extent of the hazardous effects these drugs can have on the individual at a given time. These drugs also have a large share when it comes to drug abuse. The hazardous effects of hallucinogens range from headache, panic, and anxiety to paranoia, irrational behavior, and psychological euphoria. Among the more serious side effects are renal failure and cardiac distress, which can eventually result in death. Interestingly enough, certain depressants, like cannabis, also have the tendency of producing hallucinogens-like effects on humans.

Substance abuse is responsible for a large number of car accidents in the United States, and when we talk about substance abuse, alcohol has a major share. The use of psychoactive medication during pregnancy is also hazardous, as they have the tendency to intrude the placenta and affect the fetus. They can also result in a range of other complications, including miscarriage, in pregnant women.

Taking into account the effects of psychoactive drugs, their therapeutic use should only be done under the strict supervision of a medical professional who is well-versed with their dosage. And as for their use for recreational purpose, it should be strictly avoided.