Categories Of Commonly Abused Substances

Drug abuse is not limited to one particular group of individuals. The majority of Americans is vastly overmedicated in one way or another, which is most likely due to the belief that there is a pharmacologic remedy for every problem. The list of commonly abused substances can be extremely long, ranging from caffeine and tobacco (nicotine) to over-the-counter sleep medications. We will limit this lesson to abused substances that fall into four major categories: depressants, stimulants, narcotics, and hallucinogens.

a. Depressants (Downers). Depressants are substances that affect the central nervous system (CNS). They decrease awareness and the mental capacity to function, slow reflexes, and may decrease the respiratory and heart rates.

(1) Alcohol. Alcohol is a liquid obtained by fermentation of carbohydrates with yeast. It is a powerful CNS depressant.

(2) Barbiturates (sedatives/hypnotics). Barbiturates are drugs that affect the CNS with remarkable effects similar to that of alcohol. They do not relieve pain, nor do they produce a specific "high." Sometimes an individual will use barbiturates with alcohol or with the opium analgesics to augment the effects of a weaker product.

(3) Nonbarbiturates (sedatives/hypnotics). Nonbarbiturates are drugs known as tranquilizers (drugs used to reduce mental disturbance, such as anxiety and tension). Some of the drugs are Thorazine, Valium, and Librium.

b. Stimulants (Uppers). Stimulants are drugs that affect the nervous system by increasing alertness, awareness, and mental and motor activity. In other words, they are known to excite the user. The effect on the individual will depend on the route of administration, the drug, its dose, and the circumstances. Some of the drugs in this category are listed below.

(1) Amphetamines. Amphetamines are stimulants taken to produce a general mood elevation. They include Dexedrine, Benzedrine, and Methedrine.

(2) Cocaine (street name is coke). Cocaine is a powerful stimulant that induces an extreme state of euphoria. It is often inhaled.

(3) Caffeine. Caffeine is a mild stimulant found in coffee, cola drinks, tea, and cocoa.

(4) Nicotine. Nicotine is a mild stimulant found in tobacco.

c. Narcotics. Narcotics are drugs that have a powerful analgesic (pain relieving) and sedative (calm and alleviate anxiety) effect on an individual. Some of these drugs are listed below.

(1) Opium. Opium is a bitter, brownish addictive narcotic drug that consists of the dried juice of the opium poppy.

(2) Morphine. Morphine is a bitter, crystalline addictive narcotic base drug that is used as an analgesic and sedative.

(3) Heroin. Heroin is a strongly physiologically addictive narcotic drug that is made from morphine, but is more potent than morphine.

(4) Methadone. Methadone is a synthetic addictive narcotic drug, used especially in the form of its hydrochloride for the relief of pain and as a substitute narcotic in the treatment of heroin addiction.

(5) Codeine. Codeine is a morphine derivative drug that is found in opium. Codeine is weaker in action than morphine and is used in cough remedies.

d. Hallucinogens (Psychedelics). Hallucinogens are drugs that alter the mind to produce hallucinations and intensifies perception. These drugs often result in dangerous psychiatric symptoms and behavior, attempts at suicide, or panic reactions. Some of these drugs are listed below.

(1) Marijuana (commonly known as "pot" or "weed"). Marijuana is an extract from the plant top of a flowering hemp plant that, when inhaled as smoke, produces euphoria, relaxation, and drowsiness.

(2) Hashish. Hashish is a form of cannabis from the flowering tops and spouts of female hemp plants, which contains the highest concentration cannabinolis.

(3) Lysergic acid diethylamide Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD)is a widely acclaimed drug. It is in the form of liquid and is usually placed on some material for oral injection.

(4) Phencyclidine . Phencyclidine (PCP) is a drug that can be absorbed by mouth or intravenously, as well as by smoking or snorting. It is a crystalline, water-soluble, and lipophilic substance.

NOTE: See Table 1-1 for a more detailed list of commonly abused substances.




HALLUCINOGENS (Mind Affecting)

AMOBARBITAL (blue devils, barbs, Amytal

AMPHETAMINE (Benzedrine, bennies, pep pills, ups, cartwheels

CODEINE (often in cough syrup)


BARBITURATES (Dolls, barbs, rainbows)





CHLORAL HYDRATE (Knockout drops)



LSD (acid, sunshine)

GLUTEHIMIDE (doriden, goofers)

COCAINE (coke, snow)

HEROIN ("H", horse, junk, smack, stuff)

MESCALINE (peyote, mesc

METHAQUALONE (Quaalude, ludes, Sopors)

DESOXYN (black beauties)




NON-BARBITURATE SEDATIVES (various tranquilizers, sleeping pills, Valium, Miltown, Equanil, meprobamate, Thorazine, Compazine, Librium, raserpine

DEXTROAMPHE TAMINE (dexies, Dexedrine)


PCP (angle dust, hog, peace pils)


METHAMPHETA MINE (speed, meth, crystal, diet pills, Methedrine

(magic mushrooms)

PENTOBARBITAL (yellow jackets, barbs)




STP (serenity, tranquility, peace)

PHENOBARBITAL (goofballs, phennies, barbs)


SECOBARBITAL (red devils, barbs, Seconal


Table 1-1. Commonly abused substances.

Table 1-1. Commonly abused substances.

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