What are the Different Types of Illegal Substances?

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  • Written By: M. Rosario
  • Edited By: Susan Barwick
  • Last Modified Date: 01 February 2020
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Illegal substances are substances that it is against the law to possess or use. Commonly known as illegal drugs, they are generally prohibited because of their propensity to be abused. There are a number of illegal substances that are categorized according to form, effect and ingestion method. They fall into three main categories: depressants, stimulants and hallucinogens.

Controlled substances can be considered illegal substances when they are incorrectly used or distributed. While controlled substances hold medicinal and commercial value, they tend to be abused as well. As a result, the majority of controlled substances are strictly regulated. An example of this is morphine. Doctors often use it to alleviate pain. However, selling morphine to an unlicensed individual is commonly deemed illegal.

History is replete with people abusing some type of illegal substance, and in modern times, the use of illegal substances is generally prohibited by law due to their potentially harmful side effects. Methods of taking illegal drugs are as varied as the forms they take. They can be swallowed, injected, snorted or smoked.

Depressants are substances that typically diminish the user’s physiological functions. Sometimes called “downers,” depressants induce a feeling of relaxation and lethargy. Doctors usually prescribe them as a sedative. They are given to patients to help induce sleep, reduce anxiety and lower blood pressure. Examples of depressants include barbiturates, morphine and codeine.


Stimulants are the polar opposite of depressants. They force the body to release dopamine which leads to heightened alertness, improved mood and the sense of euphoria. This is why they are known as “party drugs”. Drugs considered stimulants include cocaine, ecstasy and methamphetamines.

Overuse of stimulants can have adverse effects. Since the body naturally develops a tolerance to these drugs, the user must increase the dosage to experience the same “high”. This may result to heart complications, seizures, and panic attacks.

Hallucinogens are drugs that can alter consciousness and distort perception. They are further classified into dissociatives, deliriants, and psychedelics. Users of this type of drug are reported to have episodes of hallucinations, synesthesia and out of body experiences.

Among the three types of illegal substances, hallucinogens are the most likely to cause permanent brain damage. Use of hallucinogens can lead to dementia, paranoia, and chronic hallucinations. Common hallucinogens include LSD, mescaline, and magic mushrooms.

Use and possession of illegal substances are strictly punishable by law. Depending on the jurisdiction and gravity of the offense, the punishment may include fines, prison time or even death. Other illegal chemicals and illegal pharmaceuticals can also be illegal substances if they are included in a jurisdiction’s controlled drug schedule.

It is important to remember that a substance considered illegal in one jurisdiction or for a particular age group may be perfectly legal for use in a different location or by a different group. For instance, some countries prohibit the sale of alcohol to minors. On the other hand, there are countries that strictly prohibit the consumption of alcohol for all citizens.


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