What is a Psychoactive Drug?

A medical definition of a pscyhoactive drug could be derived from the following two definitions:

drug -  any substance that, when taken into a living organism, may modify one or more of its functions ("drug")

psychoactive -  having an impact on thinking, mood, or behavior ("psychoactive")

A psychoactive drug is therefore any substance that, when taken, has an impact on thinking, mood or behavior.  This is accomplished through manipulation of the central nervous system.  The word psychotropic may be used in place of psychoactive.

Types of Psychoactive Drugs

·         Cocaine 
·         Amphetamines
·         Opiates
·         Nicotine
·         Alcohol
·         Benzodiazepine
·         Barbiturates
·         Cannabis
·         Hallucinogens
·         Caffeine

This is only a partial list of the many different types of psychoactive substances that can affect the mind.  These substances also have a wide variety of effects with highly variable levels of severity, and differing amounts of addiction.  The substances displayed above are placed in descending order of addictiveness ("psychoactive drug"). 


What is surprising is that many of these psychoactive substances can be found in everyday products.  One can find them in medicines, beverages, and even in chocolate.  In fact humans have a history of using psychoactive drugs.  The proliferation of such substances and the fact that we can and do use them in items like medicines and food items raises questions about the connection that humans have with psychoactive drugs.


“drug.” Taber’s Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary, 20th ed.  2005.  Print.

“psychoactive.” Taber’s Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary, 20th ed.  2005.  Print.

“psychoactive drug.”  McGraw-Hill Concise Dictionary of Modern Medicine.  2007.  thefreedictionary.com.  28 Mar 2010. < http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/psychoactive+drug>