Sara Bellum
October 7 2010

Have you ever heard the term ”psychoactive drugs?” Drugs in this category act on the central nervous system and alter its normal, everyday activity, causing changes in mood, awareness, and behavior. Psychoactive drugs disrupt the communication between neurons (brain cells), so abusing them can have serious short- and long-term effects on the brain.

Psychoactive drugs include four groups of drugs: depressants like alcohol and sleeping pills; stimulants like nicotine and ecstasy; opioids like heroin and pain medications; and hallucinogens like LSD.

The term psychoactive drug might make you think of drugs, like LSD, that change your brain and behavior in really extreme ways. LSD is a hallucinogen or “psychedelic” that significantly alters the brain and the user’s perception of reality. It is also an illicit, or illegal, drug.

But not all psychoactive drugs are illegal. Caffeine is a stimulant found in coffee and energy drinks, and opioids like Vicodin, OxyContin, or morphine are often prescribed by doctors to relieve pain. Misusing prescribed psychoactive drugs is illegal though, and can be as dangerous as using cocaine or heroin. That's one reason why they come with warning labels telling people not to drive or operate heavy machinery. Drinking too much caffeine is not good for you either (see chart)!

So...legal or illegal, psychoactive drugs demand caution.

NIDA provides lots of information about the different types of psychoactive drugs:

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