What Are Drugs?

May 26, 2024

Delve into 'what are drugs?', their types, health effects, and the hidden world of addiction.

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What Are Drugs?

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of drugs, let's first figure out what a drug actually is and how the term has evolved over time.

What Exactly Are Drugs?

Drugs are substances that can change how your body or mind works. This includes everything from prescription meds and alcohol to illegal substances like cocaine and heroin.

Doctors usually group drugs into seven main types: central nervous system (CNS) depressants, CNS stimulants, hallucinogens, dissociative anesthetics, narcotic painkillers, inhalants, and cannabis. These drugs can mess with your brain and make it dangerous to do things like drive.

The Word "Drug"

The word "drug" has an interesting history. It started as "drogge" in Middle English around 1611. Over time, its meaning has expanded as our understanding of drugs has grown.

Interestingly, "drug" was also used as a verb in 1667, meaning to drag something. This shows how the word has changed over time, just like our understanding of the substances it describes.

Types of Drugs

Knowing the different types of drugs helps us understand their effects on our bodies and minds. Drugs are categorized based on how they affect the CNS and their potential for misuse.

Drug Categories

Doctors break down drugs into seven main groups:

  1. CNS Depressants: Slow down brain activity, making you feel relaxed.
  2. CNS Stimulants: Speed up brain activity, making you feel more alert and energetic.
  3. Hallucinogens: Cause you to see or hear things that aren't there.
  4. Dissociative Anesthetics: Make you feel detached from your surroundings.
  5. Narcotic Painkillers: Reduce pain and can make you feel euphoric.
  6. Inhalants: Substances you inhale to get a quick high.
  7. Cannabis: Includes marijuana and related products that alter your mind.

Effects of Different Drugs

Different drugs can have wildly different effects. Some effects are immediate, while others can last long after you stop using the drug.

Drug Category Effects
CNS Depressants Slowed brain activity, relaxation
CNS Stimulants Increased alertness, energy
Hallucinogens Altered perceptions, hallucinations
Dissociative Anesthetics Feelings of detachment
Narcotic Painkillers Pain relief, euphoria
Inhalants Euphoria, dizziness
Cannabis Altered perceptions, increased appetite

Remember, these effects can vary based on the drug, the amount taken, and the person's body chemistry. Long-term use can lead to addiction and other serious health issues.

Commonly Used Drugs

To understand what drugs are, let's look at some commonly used ones like marijuana, cocaine, hallucinogens, and opioids.


Marijuana comes from the Cannabis sativa plant. The main chemical that gets you high is THC. Effects can range from feeling relaxed to feeling anxious or paranoid.


Cocaine is a powerful stimulant that's highly addictive. It can cause serious health problems like heart disease and mental disorders. In extreme cases, it can be fatal.


Hallucinogens like ketamine, LSD, and psilocybin can make you see and hear things that aren't there. They can also lead to risky behaviors because they distort your perception of reality.


Heroin is made from morphine and is highly addictive. It can cause a rush of euphoria followed by drowsiness. Long-term use can lead to physical dependence and withdrawal symptoms.

Health Effects of Drug Use

Drugs can have a wide range of health effects, both short-term and long-term.

Short-Term Effects

Drugs can cause a rush of pleasure by increasing neurotransmitters like dopamine. This can lead to:

  • Intense pleasure
  • Increased heart rate
  • High blood pressure
  • Dizziness
  • Sleep problems
  • Anxiety

Long-Term Effects

Long-term drug use can mess with your brain's ability to produce neurotransmitters, making it hard to feel pleasure from anything other than the drug. This can lead to:

  • Tolerance and addiction
  • Mental health issues
  • Heart disease
  • Lung problems
  • Cancer

Impact on Organs

Drugs can damage almost every organ in your body. Long-term use can lead to liver damage, heart disease, and respiratory problems. For pregnant women, drug use can cause premature birth and other complications for the baby.

Addiction and Dependency

Addiction and dependency are major issues when it comes to drug use.

How Drugs Affect the Brain

Drugs can change how your brain works, making it hard to make good decisions. They can hijack your brain's reward system, making you crave the drug more and more.

The Cycle of Addiction

Addiction often starts with tolerance, where you need more of the drug to get the same effect. This can lead to physical dependence, where your body needs the drug to function normally.

Substance Use Disorder

Over time, addiction can turn into a substance use disorder (SUD), which is a medical condition that affects your ability to function in daily life.

Risks and Consequences

Understanding drugs also means knowing the risks and consequences of using them.

Illicit Drug Disorders

Illicit drug disorders are chronic conditions that result from compulsive drug use. They can cause intense cravings and continued use despite harmful consequences.

Health Risks and Mortality

Drug use can lead to serious health problems and even death. According to the Gateway Foundation, one in four deaths is related to drug use.

Impact on Pregnancy

Drug use during pregnancy can cause serious problems for both the mother and the baby, including premature birth and birth defects.

In conclusion, while drugs might offer temporary relief or pleasure, the risks far outweigh the benefits. It's important to be aware of these dangers and seek help if needed.


[1]: https://www.theiacp.org/7-drug-categories

[2]: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/drug

[3]: https://nida.nih.gov/research-topics/commonly-used-drugs-charts

[4]: https://www.gatewayfoundation.org/about-gateway-foundation/faqs/effects-of-drug-abuse/

[5]: https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/drugs-brain

[6]: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/substance-use/controlled-illegal-drugs.html

[7]: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/substance-use/about-substance-use.html

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