Psychoactive Drugs

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Psychoactive Drugs are chemical substances that alter behavior, mood, perception, or mental functioning. Through the consumption of substances many cultures have found ways to alter consciousness. Psychoactive substances apply their effects by transforming biochemical or physiological processes in the brain. The message system of nerve cells, or neurons, relies on both electrical and chemical transmission. Neurons rarely touch each other; there is a microscopic gap between one neuron and the next, called the synapse. When a neuron fires, it releases chemicals called neurotransmitters into the synapse. Psychoactive drugs act by altering neurotransmitter function, they bind to the site of the firing neuron and inhibits this process so the neurotransmitters remain in the synapse, where they extend and increase the normal effect. The drugs can be separated into six key pharmacological classes based on their desired behavioral or psychological effect alcohol, sedative-hypnotics, hallucinogens, narcotic analgesics, stimulant-euphoriants, and psychotropic drugs.

The most used psychoactive substance is alcohol, which is also the only psychoactive drug legally available without a prescription in most countries. Enjoyable relaxation is often the ideal effect from alcohol consumption, but intoxication weakens judgment and motor performance, as well as brings on a feeling of exhilaration, and exaltation followed by sleep. Alcohol is a stimulant at first but after more is consumed it becomes a depressant. Alcohol is addictive. Continual use of alcohol can lead to disease known as alcoholism. Alcoholism can be classified as a chronic illness, psycho, somatic, or psychosomatic. It manifests itself as disorder of behavior. When consumed continually, alcohol consumption can be extremely harmful to the liver and brain cells, as well as physiologically addicting, generating hazardous withdrawal symptoms. It is possible to overdose from alcohol. Alcohol increases danger when taken with other types of drugs.

Sedative-hypnotics, such as diazepam, amytat or barbiturates, more commonly known as the brand ‘Valium’, are all types of brain depressants. To assist people in sleeping, doctors often prescribe sedative-hypnotics. They can also be prescribed to calm people without causing sleep, because some may contain anti-anxiety agents. Sedative-Hypnotics are also used illegally to create relaxation, tranquility and euphoria. Overdoses of such drugs can prove to be fatal; they may also be physiologically addicting and may produce life threatening withdrawal symptoms.

Barbiturates are extremely dangerous if injected and highly addictive. If they are taken to help a person sleep for a few nights in a row then after the person stops taking them it will have become impossible to sleep without them. Barbiturates create tolerance. The withdraw symptoms can be very painful to the user. A person who is withdrawn from barbiturates craves for them, they feel discomfort, and cannot sleep. In some situations withdrawal can cause major epileptic seizures, which makes it possible to die from barbiturate withdrawal. Barbiturates should only be used under doctor supervision. They aren’t pleasant or enjoyable since they lack euphoric content and the social lubrication that is produced by alcohol consumption. They create a dark, blank oblivion, because of this they are usually taken by people who hate him or herself or life.

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Hallucinogens or psychedelic drugs as they are sometimes referred to, or more commonly known as marijuana (which is a very weak hallucinogen), LSD (Lysergic Acid Diethylamide), mescaline, or PCP’s (Phencyclidine), have little medical use. These drugs are taken illegally to alter perception and thinking patterns. Hallucinogens all have the same risks that a person faces when choosing to take a form of hallucinogen. Those risks are increased heart rate and blood pressure, sleeplessness and tremors, lack of muscular coordination, sparse, mangled and incoherent speech, as well as convulsions, comas, and heart and lung failure, decreased awareness of touch and pain that can result in self- inflected wounds. People who take these drugs are also faced who psychological effects such as a sense of distance and estrangement, depression, anxiety, and paranoia, violent behavior, confusion, suspicion, and loss of control, plus flashbacks, and behavior similar to schizophrenic psychosis, in addition to catatonic syndrome which is when a user becomes mute, lethargic, disoriented or makes meaningless repetitive movements.

When taken in low quantities, marijuana, which is scientifically known as cannabis, becomes a depressant drug, which slows down the body’s systems. If taken in strong doses marijuana, or weed as it is commonly referred to on the street, can cause mild hallucinogenic effects, which can lead to panic or anxiety attacks. Cannabis is a leafy plant, which grows wild in many of the tropic and temperate areas of the world. It can be grown both indoors and out. The leaves and the flowering tops (buds) are the most commonly used parts of the plant. These parts may be either smoked or eaten. It is possible to buy (illegally) a more concentrated resinous form of marijuana called hashish. There is three distinct types of cannabis cannabis sativa, cannabis indica, and cannabis ruderalis, it is still unsure whether these should be regarded as varieties or species. The marijuana that is commonly used for hallucinogenic purposes is a cross between all three types. The active ingredients in marijuana are called cannabinoids. There are many different types of cannabinoids such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabinol, cannabidiol, cannabinolidic acid, cannabigerol, and cannabichromene. The cannabis plant has been used for thousands of years for both medical and recreational purposes. In the early 1th century the use of ‘dope’ spread to Europe from the Middle East and China, and by the middle of the century onto America. In 17, cannabis was made illegal to possess and sell in the U.S. it has still being used as a popular recreational substance by some people. However, in some places it is still legal to smoke marijuana for medical purposes, because it suppresses nausea caused by chemotherapy, and possibly reduces eye pressure in severe cases of glaucoma.

LSD or Lysergic Acid Diethylamide as it is scientifically known as, is found in ergot, a fungus that grows on rye and other grains. LSD was discovered in 18 and is commonly referred to as one of the most potent mood-changing chemicals. It is odorless, colorless, and tasteless. LSD is sold on the street in tablets, capsules, or sometimes in a liquid form. It is usually taken orally but can also be injected. Often it is added to absorbent paper, and divided into squares that represent one dose. LSD or acid produces a tolerance, so users who take the drug repeatedly have to take higher and higher levels of doses to acquire the same state of intoxication. This can be extremely dangerous, because acid is very unpredictable. The effects of LSD can vary widely from intense sensory perception, and mixing of the senses (ex. colors are heard, and sounds are seen), to distorted senses of time, space, body image. Pupils may become dilated, heart rate and blood pressure may increase, or a sense of well-being and relaxation all can occur, there are many more side effects that may transpire if LSD is taken.

Mescaline comes from the peyote cactus, which is found in Mexico and the Southwest United States. It is basically a weaker form of LSD, the effects are similar. Mescaline is usually smoked or capsules and tablets are swallowed.

PCP’s or phencyclidine is often called angel dust. It was first developed as an anesthetic in the 150’s, however it was soon taken off the market because it sometimes caused hallucinations. Angel dust can be sold in a white crystal-like powder, or tablet or a capsule. It can be swallowed, sniffed, or injected, it can also be scattered on marijuana or parsley and smoked. PCP’s are illegal, but are easily manufactured, and are often sold as mescaline, THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) or other drugs that look similar, sometimes it is possible that the drug being purchased isn’t even a PCP but a lethal by-product. Since PCP’s are manufactured illegally it is hard to be sure what is actually being bought. There are many side effects such as increased blood pressure, and heart rate, flushing, sweating, dizziness, numbness, and if larger doses are taken effects can include drowsiness, convulsions, and coma. Taking larger doses can also cause death from repeated convulsions, heart and lung failure, or ruptured blood vessels in the brain. PCP’s can create violent or bizarre behavior in people that are not normally that way. Such behavior can lead to death from burns, falls, drowning, and automobile accidents. Regular amounts of PCP’s affects memory, perception, concentration, and judgment. Users may show signs of paranoia, fearfulness, anxiety, or a temporary disturbance called PCP psychosis, which can last for days or even weeks. Long-term use can cause memory and speech difficulties, as well as hearing voices or other sounds which are non-existent. Withdrawal symptoms can include aggression and difficulties communicating.

Some other kinds of Hallucinogens are psilocybin, which comes from certain mushrooms. It can be sold in either tablet or capsule so that it can be swallowed. Mushrooms, fresh or dried, can be eaten. DMT is another hallucinogen that acts like LSD. The effects of it begin almost immediately after consumption and last for 0-60 minutes.

Narcotic Analgesics are also called opiates. Some examples of opiates are opium, morphine, codeine, belladonna, hyoscyamus, and hyoscine and heroin. These drugs have become one of the most valuable and important types of drugs in the medical world, and can be prescribed to produce analgesia. They can also be used illegally, this mostly involves heroin. People achieve euphoria from these drugs by injecting substances into the veins. They can by physiologically addicting and can produce unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. This type of drugs can be divided into principal groups opium, which causes sleep, and belladonna, which produces delirium and illusions. The most important narcotics are all habit forming, and are used in the medical world to relieve pain and induce sleep. When taken in large doses they can cause a coma and even death.

Opium is the dried milky juice that comes from unripe seedpods from the opium poppy (poppy seeds).

Morphine is the most effective painkiller. Morphine is what is left in the unripe seedpods of the opium poppy after the milky juice has been extracted. Morphine doesn’t diminish pain but changes the way a person perceives it, because of this morphine has become one of the most valuable drugs in medicine. Morphine is addictive and it creates a tolerance so that a person who takes morphine needs to take more every time to reach the same relief. This drug can cause death because it depresses the function in the brain that controls breathing and so a person taking high doses of morphine can go into respiratory arrest.

Codeine is an alkaloid drug that is derived from opium. Codeine is often prescribed as an analgesic, cough suppressant or a hypnotic, because it has effects similar to morphine.

Heroin is the most dangerous and expensive narcotic analgesic. The greatest risk from injection of heroin is death from overdose. In one year in the US 1% of all heroin addicts will die despite having a high tolerance for heroin in their system. Tolerance to heroin can change from day to day; studies are being done to see if it is because of change of environment. Heroin gives the user a much more euphoric experience then any other opiate, but has less side effects. There are several different forms of heroin. Pharmaceutical heroin was illegally available in the 160’s as a white powder this form was obtained from pharmacy and hospital thefts, or in ‘Jacks’ a 10mg tablet made specifically for injection. Today the most seen form of pharmaceutical heroin is dry amp, which is injectable and can be bought in 10mg, 60mg, and 100mg. This drug is often referred to as the ‘holy grail for opiate users’. Far eastern heroin came to America after laws changed and heroin became illegal. It became very hard for addicts to get heroin so they turned to the black market where the Chinese met the demand for heroin. This type of heroin came in two different brands Pink Elephant and Tiger & Rice Brand. Far eastern heroin is graded by number. A three-grade heroin is pinkish-greyish granular substance that closely resembles instant coffee. It is produced for smoking, but dissolves for injection when heated. A four-grade heroin is a pure white powder that closely resembles pharmaceutical heroin. It is dissolvable in cold water and is made for injection. Middle-Near Eastern Heroin is the most available heroin on the black market, although it isn’t actually heroin. It is dominates the British and Dutch black markets. Middle-Near Eastern Heroin is made by removing hydrochloride to make a smokable by-product, which is not soluble in water and cannot be injected.

To suppress appetite and treat children diagnosed as hyperactive doctors prescribe stimulant euphoriants such as amphetamines, and methamphetamines. For some reason these drugs stimulate adults and have the opposite effect on kids, and calm children who have been diagnosed as hyperactive or have short attention spans. Cocaine, which is also a stimulant euphoriant, is used medically as a local anesthetic. These drugs are used illegally to produce alertness and euphoria, as well as to prevent drowsiness and improve performance in physical and mental tasks.

Amphetamine is structurally related to ephedrine and adrenaline. Edeleano first synthesized it in Germany in 1887, however it wasn’t until the late 10’s that it was introduced into the medical world, after it’s psycho-stimulant effects were recognized. Amphetamine is a cheap and synthetic alternate to ephedra. It is commonly used to dilate the small bronchial sacs in lungs, because of this in 1 Smith, Kline and French introduced the ‘Benzedrine Inhaler’ to the world. It is also available in pill form, which are generally referred to as ‘pep pills’. These drugs are prescribed for depression, Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, travel-sickness, night-blindness, and obesity, narcolepsy, impotency, hyperactivity in children, and boredom in seniors. When used amphetamines release excitatory neurotransmitters, dopamine, and noradrenaline, from where it is stored in the central nervous system. Amphetamines can be sniffed, swallowed, snorted or injected. It induces exhilarating feelings of power, strength, energy, self-assertion, focus, and enhanced motion, the need to sleep and eat disappear. When the dopamine is released, it induces a sense of euphoria, which unlike cocaine, can last for many hours. Since the body does not readily break down amphetamines, feelings are intensified. After the euphoria ends, then the user feels intense depression and fatigue.

Speed is one form of amphetamine that is commonly linked with violent and anti-social behavior. When used in small doses and infrequently it has relatively no harmful effect on the body, but when used heavily in chronic doses it can lead violent behavior, depressive disorders and “meth bugs”. Speed is a cocaine-induced formication and has a strain on the cardiovascular system which causes increased behavioral disintegration and outright “amphetamine psychosis”.

A common drug that is mainly associated with the rave and nightclub scene is Ecstasy, it is actually called MDMA. Ecstasy or ‘E’ is a psychedelic amphetamine, which produces strong feelings of comfort, empathy, and connection to others. It is often bought in tablets and taken orally but can also be crushed into a powder and snorted. Sometimes ‘E’ is used in therapy to get the patient to open up since the therapist will no longer seem like a doctor but more like a loved one.

Methamphetamine is very addictive and creates tolerance. When used, they create a feeling of extreme elation, wakefulness, alertness, enhanced self-confidence, aggression, talkativeness, loss of appetite, increased initiative, and an increase in physical activities, which is followed by prolonged depression and fatigue. When bought on the street it is an odorless white or off-white bitter powder, or else in pills, capsules, or large crystals. It is frequently snorted, but can be swallowed, smoked or injected. When it is smoked the effects can be prolonged for up to twenty-four hours. When it is smoked in it’s base form methamphetamines are generally called snot because of the resemblance between the drug and the mucus from a nose. Withdrawal creates severe cravings, deep depression, fatigue, apathy, paranoia, and psychosis. Smokable methamphetamine is similar to smokable cocaine (crack). The brand Desoxyn is often prescribed by doctors to treat ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). In 14, Hitler received daily methamphetamine injections from his psychiatrist, Dr. Morell. It is possible that this drug tainted his judgments, destabilized his health and quite possibly changed the course of World War II.

A form of Methamphetamine is Ice or Crystal Meth, which is crystallized methamphetamine hydrochloride, is a powerful stimulant. The clear, crystallized chunks dissolve in water and breaks down to smaller particles. This drug induces a profound sense of euphoria in users by blocking the reuptake in the brain and stimulating the release of dopamine and noradrenaline in the central nervous system. It is frequently labeled the ‘Power Drug’.

Cocaine came into common use after a German doctor issued it to Bavarian Soldiers in 188. Austrian neurologist and psychologist Sigmund Freud was an early advocate for cocaine. He gave it to friends, family, colleagues and patients. Freud observed the effects caused by small doses for cocaine. He described a “lasting euphoria, which in no way differs from that of a healthy person.” Because of his results Freud published a series of essays praising the drug. But his experience with one patient led Freud to ultimately change his mind. He had prescribed cocaine as a replacement for morphine, and his patient developed a serious case of cocaine psychosis, which contradicted Freud’s first belief that cocaine was non-addicting and Freud was forced to abandon his prized medication. Cocaine is a naturally derived central nervous system stimulant that is extracted and refined from the coca plant, which is grown primarily in the Andean region of South America. It is a whitish powder, which is bitter and numbing to taste. It is often snorted but can also be injected or swallowed. Since it burns instead of vaporizing it cannot be smoked but a derivative was produced called crack, which is used for smoking. Removing a hydrochloride from cocaine makes crack. Both cocaine and crack are highly addictive and creates tolerance. Cocaine and crack use during pregnancy can cause major problems including birth defects and stillbirths. Cocaine or crack can be passed to the baby through breastfeeding.

Psychotropic agents have been used since the early 150’s. Currently psychotropic drugs are being used to treat patients that suffer with severe mental illnesses. Anti-psychotic drugs decrease symptoms of schizophrenia and allow many patients to leave the hospital and rejoin community life. Anti-depressant drugs help the majority of patient with severe depression to recover. Lithium salts eliminate or diminish episodes of mania and depression that are experienced by manic-depressive patients. Lithium carbonate is used in the treatment of bipolar disorder and some forms of depression.

Psychoactive drugs are both helpful and harmful and by categorizing them it is possible to tell which part of the brain they stimulate. The search for euphoria is not that abnormal. Our bodies hold us back and it is human nature to want to get around this. Naturally some people are drawn in by the appeal of drugs. These wishes are not naïve and they are not essentially evil. Perhaps before attempting to experiment with drugs it is important to first understand them. Drugs do not give us any new sensations; they only intensify existing sensations by manipulating pre-existing brain structures.

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