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Different Drug Categories and Their Effects

Drug CategoriesPhysicians do drug categories according to the effects they have on the human body. Drug recognition experts use seven different drug categories to group them together depending on how they impact the body after use. Some drugs may slow down the body, and other drugs can speed up bodily functions.

Some of the Drug Categories

Central Nervous System Depressants

Central nervous system depressants may also be referred to as tranquilizers or sedatives. A person experiencing anxiety, a panic attack, or a sleep disorder might receive a prescription for a CNS depressant drug. Benzodiazepines can be highly addictive, so physicians usually prescribe these drugs only for short-term treatment. Examples of benzodiazepines include diazepam, alprazolam, triazolam, and estazolam. Non-benzodiazepine drugs also fall under this category of prescriptions. These medications are not as addictive, but they act on the same brain receptors as the more addictive benzodiazepines do. Examples of non-benzodiazepine drugs include zolpidem, eszopiclone, and zalepon. Barbiturates are another type of CNS depressant. These drugs are used less often due to a potential for overdose. Examples of barbiturates include mephobarbital, phenobarbital, and pentobarbital sodium.

Central Nervous System Stimulants

More than one of the drug categories affect the central nervous system, but these drugs increase the speed of mental and physical processes. CNS stimulants can be addictive due to the feelings of euphoria they create in people. A person under the influence of a CNS stimulant may feel as if the drug enhances and improves performance. However, these drugs typically make the brain and nervous system work harder, not better. The two major CNS stimulants are amphetamines and cocaine. Minor stimulants include caffeine and nicotine.


Hallucinogenic drugs can have a powerful impact on the brain. Common hallucinogens include LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide), PMA (paramethoxyamphetamine), and specific types of mushrooms. Drugs in this category can change how the user perceives reality because they change how nerve cells communicate in the brain. Results of taking hallucinogenic drugs can include reduced coordination, seeing visions, hearing voices, and feeling nonexistent sensations. While hallucinogens can be moderately addictive, the biggest risk with taking these drugs involves injuries and accidents while under the influence of the drug.

Dissociative Anesthetics

The original purpose of dissociative anesthetics involved surgical anesthesia. The effect of these drugs involves distorting perceptions and creating feelings of detachment between the body and the surrounding environment. Dissociative anesthetics affect the brain by changing the distribution of glutamate, which is instrumental in the perception of pain and memory. The two main dissociative anesthetics are PCP and ketamine. Dextromethorphan, an active ingredient in cough suppressants, can also produce dissociative anesthetic results when taken in large quantities.

Narcotic Analgesics

When severe pain occurs, narcotic analgesics can be effective for relieving discomfort. These drugs work by blocking how the central nervous system perceives pain. Common effects of narcotic analgesics include euphoria, drowsiness, and contentedness. Under the influence of narcotics, people also tend to experience slowed respiration and pupil constriction. Narcotic analgesics include morphine, codeine, and heroin. These drugs can result in increased tolerance and physical dependence.


Drugs in the inhalants category require inhalation of chemical vapors. Upon “huffing,” or inhalation, these chemicals interrupt the supply of oxygen to the brain. Reduced oxygen changes the way the brain works. Common physical effects include dizziness, distorted perceptions, and effects that mimic alcohol intoxication. The physical effects wear off quickly, which often leads to repeated use of the inhalants. Users might inhale volatile solvents, aerosols, and gases including nitrous oxide. Use of inhalants can cause significant brain damage.

Cannabis (Marijuana)

Cannabis contains delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol, which is a psychoactive chemical. Marijuana comes from the leaves and flowers of the cannabis sativa plant. Marijuana might be smoked or ingested to create physical effects. Common effects of marijuana include increased heart rate, dry mouth, bloodshot eyes, increased appetite, and euphoria. Some users feel paranoia and anxiety while under the effects of marijuana. After the drug wears off, users may feel drowsy.

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