The English used in this article may not be easy for everybody to understand.
Illegal drugs are drugs that are not allowed. The law says a person cannot own an illegal drug. A drug is any chemical that affects the human body or mind when it is consumed in any way. A psychoactive drug affects the brain. Most laws against drugs are against psychoactive drugs.
Some drugs are allowed if you have permission (called a "prescription") from a doctor. Other drugs are illegal—meaning a person is never allowed to have them. Individual countries and places have different laws about different drugs, and there are also international treaties against some drugs. The most used drugs are not illegal, for example tobacco.
Types of psychoactive drugs and their effects
There are many categories (types) of psychoactive drugs. These categories have subcategories (categories within categories). For example, benzodiazepines and opiates are both subcategories of depressants. Some drugs such as ketamine have elements of two categories (hallucinogens and depressants). Every drug is different, so it is important to know the effects of each individual drug.
Hallucinogens change the way people see, hear, feel or think. The three main groups of hallucinogens are: psychedelics, dissociatives and deliriants. Each group has different effects. They may cause hallucinations. Hallucinations are a feeling, sound, or sight that does not exist. When one hallucinates, they feel, hear, or see something that is not truly there.
Stimulants speed up the central nervous system. People using stimulants may feel happy and excited. Also, they have more energy, concentration or motivation. Stimulants create difficulty sleeping.
Depressants slow down the central nervous system. People using depressants feel happy and content, and sleepy and relaxed. Depressants slow down bodily functions such as breathing and heart rate. They may also make speaking or moving difficult. The difficulty speaking is "slurred speech."
Antipsychotics are used to balance one's moods or stop hallucinations. Many anti-psychotics are legal prescription drugs. One can have them if they have a prescription (doctor's permission). Anti-depressants help depression. Some anti-depressants are also anti-psychotics.
Why people use drugs
People might use drugs as medicine if they are sick and the drugs help make them better. People might also use drugs recreationally (to have fun). These usually are illegal drugs. Some people use drugs to make themselves more productive or to help themselves stay awake- in this case they would use a stimulant such as amphetamines or caffeine.
Some people use drugs for spiritual or religious reasons. Some Christians use small doses of wine (alcohol) as part of their religious ceremonies. Some members of the Native American Church use Peyote (a type of cactus that contains the drug mescaline). Some Hindus use cannabis (containing THC and CBD) as part of their religious rites.
Some people also use drugs because they are addicted. (See "Health effects of drugs" below).
Drugs and the law
The law is different in every country. A drug can be legal in one country and illegal in another. For instance, in Ecuador, cannabis is allowed. But in the United States of America it is illegal to have cannabis in most states. In the United Arab Emirates, alcohol is not allowed. But in the United States, adults are allowed to have alcohol. Some drugs are only legal if you have permission (a "prescription") from a doctor to have them. If a person is caught by the police with controlled drugs they are not allowed to have, they may be taken to court. Court cases may result in fines (when one is required to pay a large sum of money to the government). One may be sent to prison. In some countries, execution is a punishment for drug possession. It is important to know what the law says about drugs in your area.
Health effects of drugs
Drugs can have many different effects on a person's health. Some drugs cause many people to die every year. Tobacco and alcohol can cause death. Other drugs do not cause death. Cannabis and psilocybin mushrooms ("magic mushrooms") do not cause death. But all drugs affect one's health. Someone using drugs is "intoxicated." Intoxicated people may do dangerous things. They may be unable to safely drive or operate machinery. If an intoxicated person operates machinery, an accident may occur.
Overdose occurs when one has used too much of a drug. Overdosing is very dangerous. It can cause death. Some drugs are easy to overdose on (heroin, alcohol and aspirin). Other drugs are difficult to overdose on (LSD, cannabis). Many drugs cause long-term (long-lasting) health effects. Smoking tobacco can cause cancer. Drinking alcohol damages the liver (cirrhosis).
Many drugs are used as medicine to help make sick people better. Opiates (morphine, heroin and codeine) are analgesics (pain killers). Nitrous oxide and ketamine are used as anesthetics (to force someone to sleep) for surgical operation. Amphetamines are legally prescribed to treat attention disorders in some countries, such as the United States.
Combining drugs often causes negative effects. One may die if they combine multiple drugs.
Addiction and dependence
An addiction is the repeated use of a drug. An addict (person with an addiction) uses the drug again and again. Addicts will continue to use the drug, even if the drug hurts them. Addiction causes cravings for the drug. A craving is an intense need for the drug's effects. Drug tolerance occurs when a person's body adapts to a drug. The body becomes more resistant to the drug and craves the drug all the time. If a dependent person stops taking the drug, they may become very sick or die. Medical help is often required to negate (help) addiction. Addiction and dependence can happen separately from each other. People can be addicted to things that are not drugs (like gambling or sex).
Some psychoactive drugs are known to be very addictive (causing addiction, like alcohol, heroin, tobacco, methamphetamine and cocaine) other drugs are known to be slightly less addictive (such as khat, cannabis and caffeine) or not addictive at all (such as LSD and Psilocybin mushrooms).
Drugs are used many ways. Different drugs can be used in different ways. Some drugs are available in different forms and each form is used a certain way. Crack cocaine (cocaine in a solid form) is smoked or vaporized. Powder cocaine (cocaine in a salt form) is snorted. Drugs can be taken:
- Orally - The drug is placed in the mouth, then swallowed. Pills are used orally.
- Smoked - The drug is burned, then the smoke is inhaled. Pipes, bongs, cigars and cigarettes are used to smoke.
- Insufflated - The drug is a powder. The powder is snorted directly into the nose.
- Vaporized - The drug is heated until it turns into a vapor. The vapor is breathed in.
- Sublingually - The drug is placed under the tongue. The drug is absorbed through the vein under the tongue. Dissolving tablets are an example of sublingual drug use.
- Buccally - The drug is absorbed through the cheek. The drug is placed between the cheek and the gums.
- Intravenous - (also called IV) - The drug is injected into the veins. Usually, it is injected through the arm. A needle and syringe is used for injection.
- Intramuscular - (also called IM) - The drug is injected into a muscle. A needle and syringe are also used for injection.
- Rectally - The drug is placed in the anus and absorbed there. The anal drug is called a suppository.
- Transdermally - The drug is absorbed through the skin. Nicotine patches and fentanyl patches are used transdermally.
Orally is the slowest method of using a drug because it must be digested in the stomach first. Injecting a drug (IV or IM) is the fastest method of using a drug. IV and IM drugs are most likely to cause an overdose. It is important to use clean needles to inject. Injecting with used or dirty needles spreads deadly infections (such as Hepatitis C or HIV).
Smoking anything can cause cancer. Smoking can also lead to emphysema (a disease of the lungs). Snorting a drug can lead to ear, nose and throat conditions. Eating a drug can cause oral (related to the mouth) problems, like tooth decay.