Psychoactive Drugs and Their Effects

Psychoactive drugs are those that work on the brain to alter mood, behavior, thinking, and perception. Using these drugs is probably the most common way individuals alter their states of consciousness. There are four major classifications of psychoactive drugs: depressants, hallucinogens, opiates, and stimulants. Let's take a closer look at each of these and their effects on the individual.

Marijuana is typically given its own category. While it does have some hallucinogenic properties, it is also thought to contain a mild stimulant even though the effects mimic those of depressants. The effects of marijuana can vary depending on dosage. Smaller dosages typically create a euphoric feeling, while larger doses can cause hallucinations. It can impair your coordination, create feelings of anxiety, and slow down reaction times.


As the name implies, depressants slow down the activity of the central nervous system. The most widely used depressant is alcohol. Other depressants include tranquilizers and barbiturates. Because they slow down mental and physical activity, depressants can make a person feel calm and less stressed. They also relieve anxiety and tension. While this may seem like a bonus, depressants can also impair your judgment and coordination and reduce your inhibitions, causing you to act in a way you normally wouldn't. Large doses of depressants can cause insensitivity to pain, convulsions, blackouts, and irregular heartbeats.


Hallucinogens interfere with your normal thought processes, altering your perceptions and affecting your senses. Popular hallucinogens include lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), psilocybin (mushrooms), and mescaline (peyote). The effects of hallucinogens vary from person to person, and also vary with each use. When a person uses hallucinogens, he is often said to be “tripping.” This trip could range anywhere from a pleasant period of enlightenment to the most hellish of nightmares. Hallucinogens can cause sensory hallucinations (hence the name), the most common being visual hallucinations.


Opiates impair your ability to respond to and/or feel sensations, most notably pain. As such, you may receive a prescription from your doctor for an opiate to be used as a painkiller. Of course, opiates are also used for recreational purposes, though illegally. The most common opiates include opium, heroin, methadone, and morphine. The effects of opiates vary, but most experience a sudden euphoric feeling, or “rush,” at first. This feeling is then often followed by a state of relaxation in which anxiety decreases.

While you may not like to think of yourself as a drug user, if you have that daily cup of coffee or smoke cigarettes, you are in fact using drugs. The caffeine in coffee and the nicotine in cigarettes are both stimulants.


Stimulants are the opposite of depressants. They speed up the activity in the central nervous system. Stimulants include, but are not limited to, cocaine, methamphetamine hydrochloride (speed), and amphetamines (uppers). Because they speed up mental and physical activity, they often create a feeling of excitement, higher energy levels, and confidence. However, large doses can create anxiety and hallucinations, and can even cause convulsions and death.

  1. Home
  2. Psychology
  3. Altered States of Consciousness
  4. Psychoactive Drugs and Their Effects
Visit other sites: