Psychoactive Drugs
Mood-altering drugs—also called psychoactive drugs—are drugs that can change or affect the way a person thinks, feels, or acts. These drugs usually have physical effects as well, but what sets them apart from other drugs is that they work on the mind and the senses. Most of these drugs work on the central nervous system (CNS).

Psychoactive drugs can be classified as
  • CNS depressants
  • opiates
  • CNS stimulants
  • hallucinogens
  • cannabis
  • solvents and inhalants

CNS Depressants
These are drugs that act on the central nervous system, producing feelings of relaxation, and can lead to intoxication. These drugs lower blood pressure, respiration, and heart rate. In large doses, depressant drugs may lower these body functions to the point of death.

Examples of depressants include
  • alcohol (e.g., beer, wine, spirits, coolers)
  • benzodiazepines (minor tranquillizers or sleep medications)
  • barbiturates

These drugs were originally derived from the Asian poppy, but many drugs in this class are now produced by the pharmaceutical industry. These drugs are often prescribed by physicians and used under medical supervision to relieve and manage pain. Opiates can produce surges of pleasure followed by stupor. They also produce nausea, constipation, and slow breathing to a point where it may stop. Opiates have high addiction potential and can produce physical dependence at a prescribed dose.

Examples of opiates include
  • morphine
  • codeine
  • heroin
  • various prescription pain relief medications (e.g., OxyContin)

CNS Stimulants
These drugs act on the brain and the body to cause a variety of effects, including increased blood pressure, heart, and respiration rates; raised blood sugar levels; increased energy and alertness; and decreased appetite.

Examples of stimulants include
  • cocaine (including crack)
  • amphetamines (e.g., Benzedrine, speed, crystal methamphetamine)
  • diet pills
  • nicotine—tobacco products
  • caffeine—coffee, tea, chocolate, colas
  • methylphenidate (Ritalin)
    Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA – Ecstasy)*
    * a stimulant with hallucinogenic properties

Sometimes referred to as “psychedelics,” these drugs act on the brain, intensifying all senses, dramatically affecting perception, and creating disorientation. Hallucinogens raise the heart rate and sensory activity and muddle perceptions of reality.

Examples of hallucinogens include
  • lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD, acid)
  • psilocybin (magic mushrooms)
  • mescaline (peyote)

Cannabis products are considered in a classification of their own because they act like a hallucinogen, but also produce depressant effects. Cannabis effects include relaxation and slowed response time, as well as memory and concentration problems.

Examples of cannabis products include
  • marijuana
  • hash
  • hash oil
  • synthesized THC medicinal product (e.g., Marinol)
  • cannabis-based medicinal product (e.g., Sativex)

Solvents and Inhalants
Solvents and inhalants are found in household and commercial products. They are used by pouring the product into a bag and inhaling. Effects range from effects similar to being intoxicated to serious and unpredictable results such as seizures, convulsions, brain damage, heart failure, and death.

Examples of solvents and inhalants include
  • gas
  • paint thinner
  • aerosols
  • plastic cement