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Although people use many psychoactive drugs for acceptable medicinal reasons, this research paper focuses on those psychoactive drugs that people use primarily for recreational, nonmedicinal reasons (e.g., to feel good, be more alert, alter or avoid reality). Psychologists are very interested in psychoactive drugs that change central nervous system (CNS; brain and spinal cord) activity, and thereby affect perception, thought, emotion, and behavior.Enzymes in the liver metabolize most of the psychoactive drugs described in this research paper into less lipid-soluble chemical products (metabolites).
Regarding the latter, some drugs will inhibit or enhance the activity of enzymes responsible for metabolizing certain drugs—for example, SSRI-type antidepressants like fluoxetine inhibit some of the enzymes responsible for metabolizing codeine into the active analgesic morphine. What follows is an introduction to the use, misuse, and abuse of psychoactive drugs and their effects on behavior, beginning with how drugs enter the body and what happens to them once they do. Most humans administer drugs either orally (swallowed by mouth), sublingually (substance placed under the tongue), subcutaneously (injecting under the skin), intramuscularly (injecting into muscle tissue), intravenously (injecting directly into the bloodstream via a vein), transdermally (applied to outer layer of skin), intrarectally (using suppositories), intranasally (sniffed into the nostrils), or by inhalation (breathing gases and solids into the lungs). Keep in mind, however, that the public often thinks of drug abuse as specific to illicit drugs like methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin, and LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide), even though alcohol, for example, is a licit drug that people can abuse. Drug abuse, which also can occur with licit and illicit drugs, refers here to use of a psychoactive substance to the extent that it produces some sort of physical, cognitive, behavioral, or social impairment. Although most of these acts may not seem very serious, they all can lead to very dangerous, even deadly, consequences (e.g., alcohol with other drugs, especially other CNS depressants). Nonetheless, society sends mixed messages about drug use, with commercials warning against the evils of illicit drug use and advertisements offering wonder treatments in a “purple pill.” Drugs in and of themselves are not “evil,” but every drug can be misused and abused. With pills to treat everything from the symptoms of the common cold to the positive symptoms of schizophrenia, drug use is prevalent in the United States, and pharmaceuticals are a multibillion-dollar industry. Most of the information about how drugs make a person feel come from self-reports of licit and illicit users of drugs, whereas most of the data about how the body affects drugs and how drugs work in the brain comes from well-controlled experimental studies using nonhuman animals. An adult drinking alcohol to relax or smoking cigarettes to stop the jitters are examples of recreational use of licit (legal) drugs in this country, and smoking crack to feel euphoric or injecting heroin for the “rush” are examples of illicit (illegal) recreational drug use.Pharmacodynamics is the study of how drugs work in the body. The brain is made of supporting glial (fat) cells and excitable neurons.Neurons are responsible for the electrochemical transmission of information, enabling cells to communicate with one another.