Drug Classifications

Drugs are classified according to their common effects and actions on the mind and body.  Click on the following links for more information.

Depressants

Hallucinogens

Opiates

Stimulants


Depressants

Depressants slow normal brain function.  Because of this effect, depressants are often used to treat anxiety and sleep disorders. 

Although the different depressant drugs work uniquely in the brain, it is through their effect on GABA activity that produces a drowsy or calming effect.  GABA works to decrease brain activity. 

Despite their prescription for treatment of anxiety and sleep disorders, depressants also carry high addictive potential.  The withdrawal effects from long-term depressant use can be life-threatening and produce some of the worst consequences of any other drug classifications.  Keep in mind: this includes alcohol.

Examples include: alcohol, Valium, Xanax, Librium, and barbiturates.

Hallucinogens

Hallucinogens are drugs which cause altered perception and feeling.  Hallucinogens have powerful mind-altering effects and can change how the brain perceives time, everyday reality, and the surrounding environment.  They affect regions of the brain that are responsible for coordination, thought processes, hearing, and sight.  They can cause people to hear voices, see things, and feel sensations that do not exist.

Hallucinogens change the way the brain works by changing the way nerve cells communicate with one another. Click here for more information about how the brain is impacted by hallucinogen use.

Hallucinogens possess a moderate potential for addiction with very high potential for tolerance, moderate level of psychological dependence, and low potential for physical dependence.  Most of the risks associated with hallucinogen use are associated with the risk for personal injury and life-threatening accidents.

Examples include: LSD, PCP, MDMA (Ecstasy), marijuana, mescaline, and psilocybin.

Opiates

Opiates are powerful painkillers.  They are made from opium, a white liquid in the poppy plant.  Opiates produce a quick, intense feeling of pleasure followed by a sense of well-being and calm.

Long-term opiate use changes the way the brain works by changing the way nerve cells communicate with one another.  If opiates are taken away from opiate-dependent brain cells, many of them will become overactive.  Eventually, cells will work normally again if the person recovers, but they cause wide range of withdrawal symptoms that affect the mind and the body.

As with many other drugs, opiates possess very high addictive potential. 

Examples include: heroin, morphine, codeine, and Oxycontin.

Stimulants

Stimulants are a class of drugs that elevate mood, increase feelings of well-being, and increase energy and alertness.  Stimulants can cause the heart to beat faster and will also cause blood pressure and breathing to elevate.  Repeated use of stimulants can result in paranoia and hostility. 

Stimulants change the way the brain works by changing the way nerve cells communicate with one another.  Click here for more information about how the brain is impacted by stimulant use.

As with many other drugs, stimulants possess very high addictive potential. 

Examples include: cocaine, methamphetamine, amphetamine, MDMA (Ecstasy), nicotine, and caffeine.