Different Types of Drugs

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Drugs, both legal and illegal, are defined as any substance that, when consumed, can cause change to the human body and its functions. These changes can be physical or psychological. Whether legal or illegal, the use of all drugs can cause a person to develop an addition.

The word “drug” partially originates from the 14th-century word “droge”, which was used to refer to supply and provision of dry goods. Although the origin is not certain, this theory is quite common since most medicines were in the form of dry herbs at the time. Drugs are also referred to as narcotics.

There are many drugs that are legal and medically beneficial, such as aspirin or paracetamol, commonly utilised for headaches and pain. Caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol, although readily available in most of the world, are considered drugs as well. There are also many illegal drugs, such as cannabis, cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamines.

Some medically beneficial drugs are available by prescription only (depending on the country), such as antidepressants, amphetamine salts, or opiate-based painkillers. However, these drugs can be considered illegal if not prescribed, and even if they are, they can be abused and addictive as well.

What Are the Different Types of Drugs?

Drugs can be categorised in many ways. Pharmaceutical drugs are meant to be used for wellbeing and medical purposes, such as treating a disease. Occasionally, pharmaceutical drugs can overlap with psychoactive drugs, which affect the brain and central nervous system, and can change one’s mood, behaviour, or perception.

Recreational drugs are mainly psychoactive drugs, and can be divided into multiple groups as well, such as depressants, stimulants and hallucinogens.

All drugs can be misused, abused, and have addictive effects.

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What are Depressants?

Depressants, also known as downers, slow down the central nervous system, and can slow down one’s heart rate and/or breathing. Alcohol is considered one of the most well-known depressants in the world.

Depressants do not necessarily make a person sad or “depressed”; the term refers to the depression, or decrease, in the body’s activity levels. Effects of using depressants include pain relief, sedation and cognitive impairment.

Other examples of depressants include barbiturates, benzodiazepines, cannabis and opioids.

What are Stimulants?

Boosting physical and/or mental functionality, stimulants are the opposite of depressants. “Uppers” is a common slang term for such drugs.

Meant to be performance-enhancing, stimulants can give their user more energy and better concentration. There are many stimulants that are prescribed for legitimate reasons, such as ADHD, weight loss, or a stuffy nose.

Some examples of stimulants include caffeine, cocaine, methamphetamine (meth), MDMA (Ecstasy) and amphetamine salts (e.g. Adderall).

What are Hallucinogens?

Dissociatives, psychedelics, and deliriants, are all sub-sub-categories of hallucinogens. Hallucinogens, as the name suggests, have the primary effect of altering one’s perception and often cause hallucinations.

Dissociatives cause a person to “dissociate” or detach from the world around them, by creating a barrier between the brain and the conscious mind. This can mean anaesthesia, depersonalisation, or amnesia, Dissociatives are capable of producing hallucinogenic effects, and can occasionally mimic a depressant. Other dissociatives, such as PCP, however, can cause the opposite effect, depending on the dosage and person. Some examples of dissociatives include ketamine, PCP, nitrous oxide and even dextromethorphan in large doses (a common ingredient in cough syrups).

Psychedelics create auditory or visual changes, and alter one’s conscious experience. Effects from using psychedelics are often described as a state of trance, euphoria or dreaming. Mushrooms, LSD, and DMT are some of the most common psychedelic drugs.

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Furthermore, LSD and mescaline are two examples that are classified under both dissociative and psychedelic.

Deliriants place the user in a state of confusion or “delirium”, and can decrease one’s ability to have control over their actions, unlike other hallucinogens, which tend to create a more lucid experience for the consumer. Nutmeg and high levels of nicotine are known to have deliriant effects.

How Are Drugs Administered or Consumed?

Drugs can be consumed in many different ways. Aside from the most common method of taking something orally (by mouth), drugs can also be snorted (insufflation), smoked, injected, or applied topically (directly onto one’s skin), or inserted as a suppository into the rectum.

The recommended consumption of each drug differs depending on how it is metabolised. Cocaine, for example, is a water-soluble drug that has the best bioavailability when insufflated, injected or absorbed via the rectum. When consumed orally, only about 30% of the drug is felt, compared to [up to] 80% when snorted.

Some drugs, such as oxycodone, a prescription painkiller, has a high bioavailability when taken orally, hence there is no need to utilise other methods, such as insufflation.

Each method of drug administration carries its own risk. Taking any substance via the nose or the rectum can damage the already sensitive tissue, and induce irreparable damage. Injecting a drug may cause collapsed veins. In addition, injection of any substance carries a risk of the transmission of infections, especially in cases where needles are shared.

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What are the Effects or Consequences of Drug Use?

People utilise drugs because they produce a desirable or pleasurable effect on one’s body. The reaction of the body to each drug differs, of course, but most people seek the drug that affects them in the ways they desire. Someone wanting to lose weight or gain more energy, for example, may seek out stimulants. While someone in mental or physical pain may reach out for a depressant or painkiller.

Some people may argue that their substance has positive effects on their life. Drugs can give a person extra energy, more motivation to socialise, or the ability to relax, even in a stressful environment.

Drugs have both short and long-term effects on the person; some good, some bad. One of the most dangerous consequences that can happen even after one use, is addiction. Drugs can also influence the development of mental or physical illnesses. Smoking a drug, for example, can result in lung cancer.

Drug use can also have indirect effects. Those who abuse substances are likely to be involved in dangerous activities in order to acquire their drug of choice. After prolonged consumption, the drug user may also negatively affect those around them. As their health begins to deteriorate, their families or friends are likely to feel the consequences as well. Relationship or legal problems are quite common with prolonged substance abuse.

What is Considered a Drug Addiction?

A person with a drug addiction, or substance dependency, loses the ability to control their use of a substance. Even despite evident harm, the user will continue to consume their substance of choice.

Someone with a drug addiction will become preoccupied with finding or using their substance, to the point where it starts to affect their lives, or the lives of people around them.

Addiction can motivate a person to turn to crime, either so as to acquire the drug, or fund their habit.

Constant use can also lead to the development of a tolerance, where the person needs more of said drug to achieve the same effect or “high”. With some drugs, a high tolerance can influence a person to turn to a stronger, more potent drug. For example, a person addicted to painkillers may end up utilising heroin.

Some of the most common symptoms of drug addiction include:

  • Cravings
  • Regular use
  • Preoccupation
  • Tolerance
  • Denial
  • Reckless behaviour
  • Irresponsibility (forgoing work, school or social obligations)
  • Repeated failed attempts at quitting
  • Withdrawal symptoms when not using

In addition to these commonly noticed addiction signs, each drug has its own unique list of symptoms.

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What are Some Common Drugs?

A drug’s popularity differs from country to country, community to community, and person to person. However, there are many drugs that are common and recognised in all parts of the world.


Amphetamines cover a broad range of drugs, both legal and illegal. Some commonly used street names referring to amphetamine-based drugs include speed, amps, uppers, and wake-ups. Considered a stimulant, amphetamines are often medically prescribed for ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), narcolepsy, and obesity.


Cannabinoids, derived from the cannabis sativa plant, are considered the most widely-used drugs in the world. Cannabis (marijuana) and hashish (hash) are two common cannabinoid drugs, both of which have THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) as the primary psychoactive ingredient.

Commonly consumed via inhalation (smoking) or ingestion (eating), cannabinoids’ effects include euphoria, relaxation, sensory distortion, increased appetite, and heightened anxiety.

Cocaine and Crack

Like marijuana and hash, cocaine and crack are two different versions of a stimulant drug produced from the coca plant. When in powder form, cocaine is usually snorted, but it can also be injected for a stronger effect. Freebase cocaine, however, can be smoked.

Crack refers to the crystallised form of cocaine, and is mainly smoked. It is dangerous and very addictive, due to it being much more potent than powder cocaine.

However, one of the dangers of powdered cocaine is the user often may not know what they are actually taking. Street-sold cocaine is often “cut” or mixed with other substances, some of which may be harmless, while others lethal.

High energy, euphoria, and reduced appetite are some of the effects of cocaine or crack use, but they can fade in one or two hours. The drug also raises blood pressure, body temperature, and heart rate, putting the user at risk for heart damage and other health issues.

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Opiates and Opioid Medicines

An opiate is any drug, naturally derived or chemically synthesised, that, when consumed, binds to the opioid receptors in the brain, Original opiate-based medicines were made from the opium poppy plant, and produce a pain-numbing effect.

Due to opiates’ highly addictive properties, opiate addiction has become a prominent problem in many countries in the world.

Many doctor-prescribed pain killers, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, and tramadol, are opiate-based medicines, and referred to as opioids. Some, like morphine, are naturally occurring opiates, while others, like oxycodone are either completely or semi-synthesised.

Opiate-based medicines are usually taken orally or injected for a faster effect, but also occasionally come in the form of transdermal patches.


Heroin is considered one of the most dangerous drugs, as it is highly addictive, and detoxing from it can be very unpleasant. Its appearance can vary, but is commonly found as a white or brown powder, or in sticky, tar-like form.

Usually injected, but sometimes snorted or smoked, heroin produces a rush of euphoria followed by a period of relaxation and sleepiness. It is a potent pain killer as well.

High doses can result in respiratory depression, comas or death.

Tolerance for heroin develops quickly, and overdose among regular users is not uncommon. Like cocaine, heroin is also known to be cut with lethal additives.

Methamphetamine or Crystal Meth

Completely chemically synthesised, methamphetamine (or meth), has grown in popularity due to its stimulating effects and addictive properties.

Meth produces an effect similar to cocaine – euphoria, elevated energy, alertness, and increased sociability – however its effects last way longer, often from six to 12 hours.

Meth, also referred to as speed, ice or crystal, can be consumed in many different ways, but is often smoked via a pipe. Alternatively, some users choose to inject, snort, or even eat the drug.

Because meth produces such a large rush of dopamine in the brain, anhedonia, or the inability to find any pleasure from life or previously enjoyed things, is a common consequence in frequent use.

Even after detoxing from meth, users may experience episodes of psychosis, including hallucinations, paranoia, and catatonia.

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Club or Designer Drugs

MDMA, GHB, and ketamine are some examples of club or designer drugs, because they are often utilised in recreational settings such as nightclubs or raves, and because most are man-made. LSD, meth and cocaine can also fall under the category of “club drugs” as they are also prominent in these environments.

MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxy-methamphetamine), also known as ecstasy or Molly), increases energy, produces euphoria and alters the user’s perception of senses and time. Like cocaine, it elevates blood pressure and heart rate, and continued use can result in memory problems, depression and other psychological and physical problems.

GHB (Gamma-hydroxybutyric acid) can come in liquid, powder or tablet form. It is a CNS depressant and known to produce feelings of euphoria, empathy and sexual arousal. Taking too much can induce respiratory failure and loss of consciousness.

Ketamine, a dissociative and anaesthetic, producing a trance-like state in the consumer. Found in a powder or liquid form, the drug can be injected, snorted, and even added to drinks or cigarettes. Negative consequences of use include high blood pressure, respiratory problems, hallucinations, depression and amnesia.

Other Drugs

There are many more legal and illegal substances that can be abused as well. These can include over-the-counter or prescribed medicines, available for purchase at any pharmacy, or inhalants like spray paint, glue, or solvents sold at home-improvement stores.

Some drugs have only recently been given illicit status. Examples of such include the synthetic cannabinoid Spice, Salvia, and Bath Salts.

Research chemicals (RCs), sold under the false label of scientific and laboratory chemicals, have also become more and more popular on the market. These are often considered to be designer drugs. Because they are new and relatively untested on the market, they can be hard to control by authorities.

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