Types of psychoactive drugs and their effects

A psychoactive substance is any substance that interacts with the central nervous system. When a person uses them, it causes changes in the way the brain responds to stimuli.

Their effect on the central nervous system causes an individual to experience changes, including:

  • mood swings
  • behavioral changes
  • changes in awareness
  • altered thoughts
  • changes in the way they feel

These changes can be helpful or desirable, but psychoactive drugs can also produce undesirable effects.

Psychoactive drugs fall into different categories, depending on the effects the drug has on a person. These include:

  • Depressants: These drugs can calm the brain, cause drowsiness and relax a person. However, they can also cause nightmares, anxiety, and aggression. Alcohol is an example of a depressant.
  • Stimulants: These include drugs such as cocaine and caffeine. Stimulants can increase energy, alertness and wakefulness.
  • Opiates: They are pain relievers that increase feelings of happiness or euphoria and create a tranquilizing effect. They can be addictive if a person abuses them, and they include drugs such as heroin.
  • Hallucinogens: These drugs can cause a person to hallucinate, which means they can see or hear things that aren’t there. They can also cause a person to perceive time differently, to feel detached from their surroundings, or to feel deeply insightful. LSD is an example of a hallucinogen.

There are several different examples of psychoactive substances, and they all have different effects on the body and the brain.

Although not all psychoactive substances are illegal, a person can abuse any of these substances.

Here are common examples of psychoactive drugs and their effects on the body.


Heroin is an illegal drug that binds to opioid receptors in the brain, causing a “rush” of pleasurable sensations.

Despite initial feelings of euphoria, heroin can cause a slower heartbeat, feelings of drowsiness, and cloudy thinking. However, the physical effects of heroin, such as a slower heartbeat and reduced breathing, can sometimes be life-threatening.


Cocaine is an illegal stimulant in many countries. It can cause an immediate euphoric high that lasts from a few minutes to about an hour.

Higher doses of this drug can cause a person to experience erratic behaviors, including violence, anxiety, panic, and paranoia. It can also lead to serious complications, including heart attacks and sudden death, potentially the first time someone uses it.

Learn more about cocaine.


LSD and other hallucinogens can cause a person to feel, hear, or see things that are not there. Some of these experiences may seem pleasant and profound, while others may seem frightening.

LSD can also cause high blood pressure, insomnia, and dizziness.

Additionally, LSD use can lead to the development of tolerance to both the drug itself and other hallucinogens, meaning an individual must take higher doses to experience the same” high”.

Learn more about LSD.

Methylenedioxy-methylamphetamine (MDMA)

MDMA, also called molly or ecstasy, can have both stimulant and hallucinogenic effects. Some people who use it experience increased empathy and emotional closeness, elevated mood, and increased energy.

However, moderate use can cause irritability, depression, sleep problems, and anxiety.

Learn more about MDMA.


Amphetamines are a type of stimulant. They can come in the form of prescription drugs to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or narcolepsy, with the brand names Adderall or Dexedrine.

People sometimes use them as recreational drugs because they can give a person a “rush” of euphoria and increase energy and alertness.

However, they can also cause paranoia, anger, and psychosis. High doses can cause heart failure or seizures.

Learn more about amphetamines.


Cannabis, also called weed, is a type of psychoactive drug that can have the effects of a depressant, stimulant, or hallucinogen.

This drug affects everyone differently, but common effects include increased appetite, euphoria, and relaxation. Some people may also have altered senses, such as seeing brighter colors.

However, some may experience negative effects after taking the drug, such as feelings of panic, fear, and distrust.

Learn more about cannabis.


People generally classify alcohol as a depressant because it slows down a person’s thinking and responses. This can make someone calm, relaxed or euphoric.

However, it can also reduce a person’s ability to think rationally and lead to impaired judgment. Over time, a person can develop a tolerance or addiction to alcohol.

Learn more about alcohol.


Nicotine, which people can find in smoked and chewed tobacco products, is a stimulant and a depressant. Nicotine first provides a “buzz” of energy and pleasure.

However, this effect wears off over time and leaves a person feeling tired. Their bodies can also become addicted to nicotine, which can lead to addiction.

Learn more about nicotine.


It’s the The most common form of legal psychoactive drug. Caffeine acts as a stimulant that can help with alertness.

However, it can also disrupt a person’s sleep. Like nicotine and alcohol, an individual can develop a tolerance to caffeine, which means they need to consume more of it to feel its effects. It can lead to addiction and withdrawal symptoms when a person stops taking it.

Learn more about caffeine.

Prescription Opioids

A doctor may prescribe someone opioids for moderate to severe pain. Common brand names for prescription opioids include OxyContin and Percocet.

They are generally safe when a person takes them as prescribed by a doctor and on a short-term basis. However, people can abuse prescription drugs by:

  • taking medicine that doctors have prescribed for someone else
  • taking the drug in amounts or ways other than those prescribed by doctors
  • taking drugs to get high

Prescription opioids can be very harmful if someone takes them differently from how a doctor prescribed them.

Because they slow a person’s breathing, using them improperly can cause hypoxia, when the brain doesn’t get enough oxygen. This can lead to coma, permanent brain damage, or death.

Learn more about opioids.

Whether a person uses psychoactive substances as medication, recreational drugs, or as part of their daily routine, there are risks in using them. For example, all drugs can lead to dependence and addiction.

Different medications have different effects and levels of risk associated with them. In particular, legal and illegal drugs have different levels of potential harm.

Legal psychoactive drugs

Legal drugs, such as caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and prescription drugs, tend to be safe with responsible use.

However, these drugs can still have harmful consequences if used excessively or improperly. For example, it is dangerous for a person to drive under the influence of alcohol or abuse prescription drugs.

Smoking drugs such as nicotine or cannabis can also damage a person’s lungs and increase the risk of several types of cancer.

Learn more about the risks of caffeine.

Learn more about the health risks of excessive alcohol consumption.

Learn more about the health risks of smoking.

Illegal psychoactive drugs

Illegal drug use generally poses a higher risk. Because they cannot undergo professional manufacturing processes in a laboratory, a person cannot be sure of the ingredients an illegal drug may contain.

Illegal drugs can contain substances that are dangerous to consume. For example, some illegal drug manufacturers mix drugs such as heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and MDMA with a powerful synthetic opioid called fentanyl.

A person taking a drug containing fentanyl is more likely to overdose if their body does not have sufficient tolerance to strong opioids.

Additionally, some drugs, such as cocaine, are associated with potentially serious side effects, including heart attack and sudden death.

Learn to recognize the signs of an opioid overdose.

Comments are closed.