Psychoactive drug  

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This page Psychoactive drug is part of the drugs series.  Illustration: The Smoker (ca. 1654 - 1662) by Joos van Craesbeeck
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This page Psychoactive drug is part of the drugs series.
Illustration: The Smoker (ca. 1654 - 1662) by Joos van Craesbeeck

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

A psychoactive drug or psychotropic substance is a chemical substance that acts primarily upon the central nervous system where it alters brain function, resulting in temporary changes in perception, mood, consciousness and behavior. These drugs may be used recreationally to purposefully alter one's consciousness, as entheogens for ritual or spiritual purposes, or therapeutically as medication.

Because psychoactive substances affect the brain and bring about subjective changes in mood, behavior and perception that the user may find pleasant, many psychoactive substances are abused, that is, used outside of the guidance of a medical professional and for reasons other than what they were originally intended for. With sustained use, physical dependence may develop, making the cycle of abuse even more difficult to interrupt. Drug rehabilitation can involve a combination of psychotherapy, support groups and even other psychoactive substances to break the cycle of dependency.

In part because of this potential for abuse and dependency, the ethics of drug use are the subject of a continuing philosophical debate. Many governments worldwide have placed restrictions on drug production and sales in an attempt to control drug abuse.

History

Psychoactive drug use is a practice that dates to prehistoric times. There is archaeological evidence of the use of psychoactive substances (mostly plants) dating back at least 10,000 years, and historical evidence of cultural use over the past 5,000 years. The chewing of coca leaves, for example, was found to date back over 8000 years ago in Peruvian society.

Medicinal use is one important facet of psychoactive drug usage. However, some have postulated that the urge to alter one's consciousness is as primary as the drive to satiate thirst, hunger or sexual desire. The long history of drug use and even children's desire for spinning, swinging, or sliding indicates that the drive to alter one's state of mind is universal.

One of the first people to articulate this point of view, set aside from a medicinal context, was American author Fitz Hugh Ludlow (1836–1870) in his book The Hasheesh Eater (1857): "...drugs are able to bring humans into the neighborhood of divine experience and can thus carry us up from our personal fate and the everyday circumstances of our life into a higher form of reality. It is, however, necessary to understand precisely what is meant by the use of drugs. We do not mean the purely physical craving...That of which we speak is something much higher, namely the knowledge of the possibility of the soul to enter into a lighter being, and to catch a glimpse of deeper insights and more magnificent visions of the beauty, truth, and the divine than we are normally able to spy through the cracks in our prison cell. But there are not many drugs which have the power of stilling such craving. The entire catalog, at least to the extent that research has thus far written it, may include only opium, hashish, and in rarer cases alcohol, which has enlightening effects only upon very particular characters."

This relationship is not limited to humans. A number of animals consume different psychoactive plants, animals, berries and even fermented fruit, becoming intoxicated, such as cats after consuming catnip. Traditional legends of sacred plants often contain references to animals that introduced humankind to their use. Biology suggests an evolutionary connection between psychoactive plants and animals, as to why these chemicals and their receptors exist within the nervous system.

During the 20th century, many governments across the world initially responded to the use of recreational drugs by banning them and making their use, supply, or trade a criminal offense. A notable example of this is the Prohibition era in the United States, where alcohol was made illegal for 13 years. However, many governments, government officials and persons in law enforcement have concluded that illicit drug use cannot be sufficiently stopped through criminalization. Organizations such as Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) have come to such a conclusion believing "the existing drug policies have failed in their intended goals of addressing the problems of crime, drug abuse, addiction, juvenile drug use, stopping the flow of illegal drugs into this country and the internal sale and use of illegal drugs. By fighting a war on drugs the government has increased the problems of society and made them far worse. A system of regulation rather than prohibition is a less harmful, more ethical and a more effective public policy." In some countries, there has been a move toward harm reduction by health services, where the use of illicit drugs is neither condoned nor promoted, but services and support are provided to ensure users have adequate factual information readily available, and that the negative effects of their use be minimized. Such is the case of Portuguese drug policy of decriminalization, which achieved its primary goal of reducing the adverse health effects of drug abuse.

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Psychoactive drug" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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