What are Psychotropic Drugs?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Psychotropic drugs, which are sometimes called psychoactive drugs, affect the central nervous system and can cause a variety of changes in behavior or perception. Many people think psychotropic drugs are only of the illegal variety, such as lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), angel dust and marijuana, but even something as relatively benign as caffeine is considered one of many psychotropic drugs. These drugs have various uses and can be divided into four major groups: hallucinogens, antipsychotics, depressants and stimulants. Some drugs fit into multiple categories because they produce more than one type of effect. Marijuana, for example, is considered a depressant, stimulant and hallucinogen.

Caffeine is a stimulant and considered a psychoactive drug.
Caffeine is a stimulant and considered a psychoactive drug.

One psychotropic drug that is often used is alcohol, a depressant. It can impair mood, causing either elation or depression, and it impairs the ability to think clearly or make rational decisions. Supporters for legalization of marijuana in certain countries often point to the legality of alcohol, which is considered more toxic, more addictive and potentially more impairing and dangerous.

Morphine, a depressant, is considered a psychoactive drug.
Morphine, a depressant, is considered a psychoactive drug.

Marijuana has many applications in medicine and might be helpful to some patients who have acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) or cancer. This drug can control nausea, promote appetite and reduce pain, so it can be helpful for people who are experiencing intense suffering. The stigma associated with illegal marijuana use has stalled its legalization or limited access to the drug for medicinal purposes in many places.

Morphine and heroin are derived from opium.
Morphine and heroin are derived from opium.

Other psychotropic drugs that affect the user's mood include antidepressants, antipsychotics, mood stabilizers and tranquilizers, which are considered vital to the practice of psychiatry. Certain antidepressants might help reduce depression or anxiety, but they also might provoke anxiety if they also are stimulants. Tranquilizers, which are depressants, might be more effective for severe anxiety. Mood stabilizers might be either stimulants or antipsychotics and can help people with bipolar conditions. Antipsychotics are often used to treat schizophrenia.

Marijuana is a psychotropic drug sometimes used to treat nausea.
Marijuana is a psychotropic drug sometimes used to treat nausea.

Some psychotropic drugs can foster addiction, with many of these belonging to either the stimulant or depressant classes. For example, many depressants, such as morphine, are used to alleviate symptoms of pain. Morphine is addictive and is derived from opium, from which heroin also is derived. Many people who receive morphine note hallucinatory episodes when given high doses of morphine, and long-term use of morphine can cause difficulties in withdrawing from the medication.

High doses of THC cause the “high” associated with marijuana, leading to altered perceptions of time and space, as well as feelings of happiness or fatigue.
High doses of THC cause the “high” associated with marijuana, leading to altered perceptions of time and space, as well as feelings of happiness or fatigue.

Stimulants, which can range from caffeine to illegal drugs such as crystal meth and cocaine, also can be addictive. For example, coffee drinkers might notice extreme headaches if they skip a day of drinking coffee. Nicotine is a highly addictive stimulant, although many people believe that it has a relaxing effect. Addiction to cocaine is almost assured after consistent use over several weeks. Children who take methylphenidate, a drug that is commonly given under certain brand names to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), can become dependent upon the medication and have a difficult time being weaned from it as adults.

The action of psychotropic drugs is not always clearly understood. For example, researchers assume that some antidepressants increase the levels of serotonin in the brain, but this has not been proved, and little explanation exists for those who have opposite reactions to medications that are used to elevate mood. In addition, nicotine is thought to both relax and stimulate, another unclear reaction.

Long-term use of morphine can cause difficulties withdrawing from the drug.
Long-term use of morphine can cause difficulties withdrawing from the drug.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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The cause of mental illness is being debated among theologians, psychiatrists and psychologists. At the core of the debate is whether mental illness is a medical or a spiritual condition. One's belief system plays a major role in what kind of cure they will pursue.

If a chemical imbalance in the brain causes mental illness, then you will likely seek the service of a psychiatrist, but if you believe as it says in the Bible that because of Adam's sin, we all became sinners and mentally ill, then only a belief in Jesus Christ can remedy our condition. The truth be told, every human being has a mental illness and only a relationship with Jesus Christ can cure it.


Marijuana as a "depressant." Depressants, such as alcohol and heroin, work directly on the central nervous system, causing the heart to slow down, which is why they can cause death in overdose.

If marijuana is a "depressant," then why does it take 15,000 joints smoked within 15 minutes to kill you? If it is a "depressant," it certainly is not in the same league as alcohol and heroin which can and do kill people in overdose by shutting the central nervous system.

The same argument applies to the idea that pot is a stimulant. If it is a "stimulant," it has far less effect on the central nervous system than cocaine, caffeine, or nicotine. Furthermore, cravings for nicotine are way more powerful than "cravings" for pot.

How could a drug slow down your heart rate and speed up your heart rate at the same time? That is just plain illogical.

Pot is not a depressant, nor is it a stimulant. For one thing, depressants and stimulants are addictive drugs. Pot is a hallucinogen that doesn't make you hallucinate (I've been trying to hallucinate on pot for 40 years and have had no luck. Mind you, I've never hallucinated on LSD or mushrooms, either.)

No psychotropic drugs other than pot -- that I know of -- are fat soluble. This may be why there are no harsh withdrawal symptoms. At any rate, cannabis is a unique substance that really can't be compared to other psychotropic drugs except perhaps to show how different it is than other, more harmful, drugs.


Marijuana is considered a mild hallucinogen? Only in the minds of people who have no direct or personal experience with the stuff. Scientific American reported on the use of magic mushrooms (Psilocybin) on stable, well-educated persons with advanced university degrees. All subjects reported the experience as positive, and many said it was "life-altering," in a positive way, even one year later. None of the subjects hallucinated. Now, if hallucinations on mushrooms are rare, how likely is it that pot, which is way less potent than mushrooms, causes hallucinations?

That's not to say that no one hallucinates on pot. For example, if you are psychotic and smoke pot, you might be likely to hallucinate on pot.

In my own personal experience, alcohol is much more likely to cause hallucinations and psychotic behavior than pot. Well-adjusted people who smoke pot do not "go crazy." In contrast, well-adjusted people who drink alcohol to excess can go psychotic and become violent. One major difference between alcohol and pot is that people who have an adverse reaction to pot are not likely to continue, whereas people who act violently and face criminal charges due to alcohol will continue to drink -- despite facing jail time for breaching conditions not to drink!


@Post 28: I have Alice in Wonderland Syndrome. It is a legit type of ocular migraine that is most experienced when young. Either that, or you never grow out of it, like me. I have Alice in Wonderland Syndrome. It is a real term.


Wow, I've never witnessed so many people so easily freaked out by a little pot. I mean, come on, pot's what you smoke to kick the other hallucinogenic drugs in so you can start to get some visuals. I'm talking mushrooms, LSD, ecstasy, peyote, mescalin, ghb, 2cb, DMT, 5 meo DMT, etc., etc. And seriously, did someone really just say "alice in wonderland syndrome"? Really? You don't go through life actually believing this is a real term do you? My guess, is probably not.

Your story about altered depth perception sounds like it definitely happened, maybe after you ate an eighth of some good quality mushroom caps and dropped a few drops of some super potent high grade acid straight onto your eyeballs, because dude, it's freaking weed, man.


It very well can be a hallucinogenic. My experiences were two different ones at two different times in my life.

I smoked as a teenager and it used to give me what is called Alice in Wonderland syndrome. I come to find out what it was as a adult, but when switching positions from sitting to standing or lying down in any random order, my perception of my everyday environment wasn't the same. At some points it was if I was constantly looking down from the ceiling and everything seemed extremely low, like the light switches door knobs so it was also interaction. Other times, it seemed the ceiling was amazingly high and everything else was relative to it.

Later as an adult, if in the presence of active THC or consumption, I have had instances where, while riding in vehicles, it suddenly seemed the world around went completely flat, like the loss of 3D. It was kind of like I had no height reference, no looking up at things. It was like everything leveled flat.

The other experience that sometimes happens is while riding in vehicles, I sometimes get the sensation and visual perception that everything is leaning backward like on a 20-30 degree tilt and I would actually find myself leaning forward to compensate. I would agree it is a mind altering drug.

As a depressant, it is true also seeing and socially interacting with friends just as alcohol. If you feel the need to do the drug under stressful, serious or complicated situations, like the need to smoke to feel chilled out around crowds or strangers, if, as a smoker, if a mentally heavy problem happens and instead of figuring out how to deal with the problem ASAP, you instead kick back and relax on marijuana, then get back to it later, that is a depressant addiction and more people are guilty of this then they would admit.


When a person consumes psychotropic drugs, the behavior of the person changes, and there is a difference in the way he perceives things, as these drugs affect the central nervous system of the individual.


These drugs (called psychotropic drugs) are very harmful in the long run and i would strongly urge the uninitiated/users to watch the video reporting "Marketing of Madness" that tries to shed some light on the mechanism behind marketing of these drugs. They do no good to you and can only make you addicted so that you use it even more. Please be aware.


My experience of smoking pot has definitely included some hallucinations. I don't enjoy the feeling of being high, personally, but I support its legalization. My father uses it because he has severe back problems, and it works for him.


I'm in Canada, and it's not so illegal here, only selling it is. Go figure.

Anyway, I'm very sensitive to THC, in other words I can get a buzz being in a room of smokers, which is good, cheap fun for me, but I've never hallucinated even after lots of it! And I can't imagine being depressed and laughing so hard it hurts -- at the same time?


Anyone who is taking or thinking about taking a psychotropic drug should watch the video "Marketing Madness: Are we all Insane?" online.


well, marijuana is both a depressant and hallucinogen. it lies in how the chemical thc interacts with serotonin and dopamine receptors in the brain.

however, the effects are said to be stronger in those with a lower or higher than normal level of serotonin. i.e. a person who suffers from adhd, depression, panic attacks, anxiety disorders. however there has been no medical/scientific link between these disorders and hallucinations caused by ingestion of thc.


Cannabis is classified as an hallucinogen. Clearly many of the people who have posted here are not smoking the right stuff.


The majority of these illegal drugs do alter your mental state. Go to a psych ward and you will see the majority of these patient's took either marijuana, cocaine, LSD, etc., and are now unable to function in society. Be careful, you could be next.


what are the effects of psychotropic drugs?


any drug or medication is addicting or unhealthy if taken in excess. Pot seems to be the least of the problems.


My young adult son recently told me of a story when his friend gave him plate of "special" brownies. He hadn't had brownies before. So he ate one. No immediate effect and the brownies were good, so he ate another one. Still nothing.

Then he realized he had been given cookies too. And boy, he said the cookies were good too. Well you can imagine what happened next. He was stoned! And yeah, this time he saw things and felt all kinds of anxiety. Stuff that usually doesn't happen with pot. I thought that was the funniest thing; he was lead astray by the chocolatey goodness.


Wow, as old as I am I have never heard of or experienced pot as a hallucinogen!


Since when has marijuana become a hallucinogen? I have never known anybody to hallucinate on pot.

Now you have. I've seen some neat stuff while stoned on pot!


I am not anti pot but it really has a weird effect on me. It's definitely like hallucination but with a frightening, paranoid feeling -- not at all enjoyable. I'm sure that it affects everyone differently, but that's what it does to me.


Actually, you can hallucinate on marijuana. I know from experience that it can impair what you are seeing, or at least what you think you are seeing. It is nowhere as strong as eating a bag of mushrooms, or dropping a few dots of acid. But it can make you see things in a different way as to make you think there are things there that really are not there.

For example, I was walking home when I was a teenager, and I was really high after smoking quite a bit with some friends of mine. As I was walking down the road in the dark, I could see ahead in the light what I thought was a large brown and white cow standing on the side of the road, just staring at us. I couldn't understand how it got there, or where it had come from. It was not until I got right up to it that I realized the cow I had been looking at was nothing more than a warning sign on the side of the road.


I have a friend who smokes pot regularly and he claims that every time after smoking it, he goes into a time altered state, i.e. everything around him slows down to 1/2 to 1/10th speed. As far as I’m concerned, this is a ‘hallucinogenic’ state.


How is marijuana classified as a depressant?


What psychotropic drugs are used for anxiety disorders? And what are some of the side affects?


Since when is Marijuana become a hallucinogen? I have never known anybody to hallucinate on pot!

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