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Updated on September 28, 2022

7 Types of Drugs Explained (+ Examples)

The seven different types of drugs are categorized based on their effects. Each type of drug has its own set of characteristics and dangers.

Pharmacologists group drugs into different categories depending on how they affect the body after use. Some drugs slow down bodily functions, while others speed them up.

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Stimulants 

Stimulants increase activity in the central nervous system. The increased brain activity can make you feel like you’re speeding up. 

Stimulants can increase your heart rate, blood pressure, and levels of alertness. These drugs typically come in pill form. However, they can also be eaten, drank, or snorted. 

Doctors usually prescribe stimulants for ADHD and narcolepsy. Stimulants can also help with weight loss as they can reduce appetite.

Some examples of stimulants include:

  • Adderall
  • Ritalin
  • Synthetic marijuana
  • Cocaine
  • Methamphetamine
  • Ecstasy
  • Caffeine

Associated Risks

Students or athletes can abuse these substances to improve their performance. When abused, stimulants can lead to a variety of unwanted consequences.

These effects can include:

  • Anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Psychosis
  • High body temperature
  • Depression
  • Heart failure
  • Stroke
  • Seizures

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Opioids

Opioids are powerful painkillers that can give you a sense of euphoria. Doctors typically prescribe opioids to people experiencing severe pain. 

These drugs can reduce pain perception and cause drowsiness. Other effects include confusion, nausea, and constipation. 

Opioids can be injected or consumed as pills. 

Here are a few examples of opioids:

  • Heroin
  • Morphine
  • Hydrocodone
  • Opium
  • Norco
  • OxyContin
  • Percocet
  • Codeine

Associated Risks

Opioid abuse can ruin a person’s life. Because it’s highly addictive, it can get a person addicted in just a few days. In rare cases, it’s possible to become addicted after one dose.

When someone decides to stop opioid use, they can struggle with withdrawal. Withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Anxiety
  • Inability to sleep
  • Hot and cold flashes
  • Excessive sweating
  • Muscle cramps
  • Runny nose
  • Watery eyes
  • Sweating

Depressants

Depressants don’t actually make you feel depressed. Like stimulants, they affect the central nervous system and slow down the messages between the brain and the body.

This ‘slowing down’ effect can affect your cognitive and motor functions. It can even slow down your responses to whatever’s happening around you.

The depressant’s sedative effect makes people feel relaxed. Because of this, these drugs are prescribed for anxiety or insomnia. 

Some examples of depressants include:

  • Barbiturates
  • Phenobarbital
  • Pentobarbital
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Xanax
  • Valium
  • Alcohol

Associated Risks

Depressants can be helpful when taken correctly. However, their sedative effects can be tempting for people experiencing stress.

Abusing depressants can cause issues both long and short-term, including:

  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Extreme sleepiness
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Lack of coordination
  • Labored or shallow breathing
  • Death

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Hallucinogens

​​Hallucinogens work by disrupting brain activity. As the name implies, the drug affects a person’s sensory perceptions, causing hallucinations.

After taking hallucinogens, your senses can be warped or distorted. 

Although research is being done on its medicinal uses, most aren’t prescribed. Some examples of hallucinogens include:

  • Psilocybin (mushrooms)
  • Peyote (mescaline)
  • LSD (acid)

Associated Risks

Hallucinogens can warp a person’s perception of reality. Abusing hallucinogens can have tragic long-term effects, including:

  • Hallucinogen persisting perception disorder, also known as flashbacks
  • Fear
  • Distorted cognition
  • Paranoia
  • Psychosis
  • Anxiety
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Nausea

Dissociatives

Dissociative drugs work by interfering with the brain’s receptors for glutamate. This chemical plays a significant role in cognition, emotionality, and pain perception.

Dissociatives can cause people to dissociate. It can make them feel like they’re watching themselves outside their bodies.

These drugs can be taken as liquids, powders, gasses, or solids. Some examples of dissociative drugs include: 

  • Ketamine
  • DXM (Dextromethorphan)
  • PCP (phencyclidine)

Associated Risks

Dissociatives can give users a false sense of invincibility. Their tendency to take dangerous risks makes them a danger to themselves and others.

Dissociatives can cause long-lasting damage. In addition, they can also cause the following immediate effects:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Speech difficulties
  • Social withdrawal
  • Hallucinations
  • Detachment from reality
  • Numbness
  • Memory loss

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Inhalants

Inhalants are volatile substances that produce chemical vapors.7 These vapors can cause a feeling of euphoria or mind-altering effects. 

As it sounds, inhalants are drugs that can only be inhaled as gasses or fumes. The ‘highs’ are slightly different between inhalants. 

Inhalants are mostly made up of everyday household items; here are a few examples:

  • Marker, paint, paint thinner, gasoline, and glue fumes
  • Nitrous oxide
  • Aerosol sprays
  • Room deodorizers

Associated Risks

​​Inhalant abuse can lead to devastating immediate and long-term effects, including:

  • Loss of smell
  • Brain damage
  • Nosebleeds
  • Weakness
  • Euphoria
  • Increased heart rate
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Hallucinations
  • Slurred speech

Cannabis

Cannabis or marijuana is a natural psychoactive drug derived from the cannabis plant. The drug acts as a hallucinogen with depressant-like effects. 

Marijuana can be smoked, vaporized, or eaten. Here are a few sources of cannabis:

  • Marijuana leaves
  • Hashish
  • Hash oil 
  • Cannabis-based medicines, such as Sativex

Associated Risks

​​Today cannabis has medicinal uses in the United States. However, it's often abused by people who don’t need it. 

Cannabis is a Schedule I drug, meaning it's highly addictive. Abusing this substance can lead to both short and long-term risks, including:

  • Lowered immunity to illness
  • Depression
  • Chronic anxiety
  • Reduced sperm count
  • Sedation
  • Slowed reaction times
  • Enhanced senses, such as seeing brighter colors
  • Impaired sense of time
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Resources

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  1. NIDA. "What classes of prescription drugs are commonly misused?." National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2021
  2. NCBI “Clinical Guidelines for Withdrawal Management and Treatment of Drug Dependence in Closed Settings.” Geneva: World Health Organization, 2009. 
  3. NIDA. "Prescription Depressant Medications." National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2021
  4. NIDA. "What Are the Effects of Common Dissociative Drugs on the Brain and Body?." National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2020
  5. NIDA. "What are the other medical consequences of inhalant abuse?." National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2020
  6. DEA “Marijuana/Cannabis” Department of Justice/Drug Enforcement Administration, 2020
  7. NIDA. “What are Inhalants?” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2022.

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