Drug, broadly defined, is a term used for any chemical substance that when introduced to the body of a living organism has a non-food impact in altering the organism's normal functioning or structure.
The term drug lacks a precise definition and may used in different senses in medicine, pharmacology, government regulation, and common usage. The term may have a positive connotation as a chemical compound used medically in humans or animals for diagnosis, treatment, cure, mitigation, or prevention of disease, pain, or other abnormal condition. It also may have a negative connotation as a substance that affects the body or mind of humans in such a way that it implies impairment, abuse, addiction, or illegal use. Some drugs are used to create or enhance recreational experience (recreational drugs) and some are used in religious, shamanic, or spiritual contexts (entheogens).
Many chemical agents known as drugs are used both medically and for non-therapeutic purposes, such as anabolic steroids used in treatment of cancer or recovery from surgery, as well as used (generally illegally) to gain a competitive advantage by enhancing athletic performance. Morphine may be used medically as an analgesic but also is highly addictive, with among the highest abuse and dependency potential of all known drugs. Among drugs with common, often legal non-medical use as recreational drugs are alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco. Common drugs used in medicine are antipyretics (for reducing fever), analgesics (for reducing pain), and antibiotics (inhibiting germ growth).
Human creativity, interacting with the natural environment, has been able to identify, produce, and synthesize many drugs of medical significance, such as aspirin and quinine, traced to the the bark of the willow and cinchona trees, respectively, and penicillin, traced to a fungi. However, many drugs have been tied to abuse, resulting in physical, social, and psychological harm, and the illegal drug trade has been linked to violent crime and other societal harms.
The term drug is thought to originate from the 14th century Old French "drogue" ("supply, stock, provision") possibly deriving from the Middle Dutch or Middle Low German word "droge-vate" ("dry barrels") or "droge waere" ("dry wares"), referring to medicinal plants preserved in barrels or that medicines mainly consisted of dried herbs.
The World Health Organization notes that drug is a "term of varied usage," and that:
Some governments define the term drug by law. In the United States, the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act definition of "drug" includes:
Consistent with that definition, the U.S. separately defines narcotic drugs and controlled substances, which may include non-drugs, and explicitly excludes tobacco, caffeine, and alcoholic beverages.
Drugs are usually distinguished from endogenous biochemicals by being introduced from outside the organism. For example, insulin is a hormone that is synthesized in the body; it is called a hormone when it is synthesized by the pancreas inside the body, but if it is introduced into the body from outside, it is called a drug.
Many natural substances, such as beers, wines, and psychoactive mushrooms, blur the line between food and recreational drugs, as when ingested they also can have nutritive value.
There are numerous ways in which drugs are grouped. The following are a few of the common groupings;
A medicine or medication is a drug taken to cure, treat, mitigate, or diagnosis an illness or medical condition, or may be used as preventive medicine that has future benefits but does not treat any existing or pre-existing diseases or symptoms.
Dispensing of medication is often regulated by governments into three categories: over-the-counter (OTC) medications, which are available in pharmacies and supermarkets without special restrictions; behind-the-counter (BTC), which are dispensed by a pharmacist without needing a doctor's prescription; and Prescription only medicines (POM), which must be prescribed by a licensed medical professional, usually a physician.
In the United Kingdom, BTC medicines are called pharmacy medicines which can only be sold in registered pharmacies, by or under the supervision of a pharmacist. These medications are designated by the letter P on the label.The range of medicines available without a prescription varies from country to country.
Drugs have been employed for spiritual and religious use since antiquity. Entheogens is the term used for psychoactive substances when they are used for their religious or spiritual effects, whether or not in a formal religious or traditional structure. Entheogens are mostly hallucinogens, being either psychedelics or deliriants, but some are also stimulants and sedatives.
Historically, entheogens were mostly derived from plant sources and have been used in a variety of traditional religious contexts. With the advent of organic chemistry, there now exist many synthetic substances with similar psychoactive properties, many derived from these plants. Examples of traditional entheogens include: kykeon, ambrosia, iboga, soma, peyote, bufotenine, ayahuasca, and Datura. Other traditional entheogens include cannabis, ethanol, ergine, psilocybe mushrooms, and opium. Many pure active compounds with psychoactive properties have been isolated from organisms and chemically synthesized, including mescaline, psilocin/psilocybin, DMT, salvinorin A, ibogaine, and scopolamine. Semi-synthetic (e.g. LSD derived from LSA) and synthetic substances (e.g. DPT used by the Temple of the True Inner Light and 2C-B used by the Sangoma) have also been developed. Entheogens may be compounded through the work of a shaman or apothecary in a tea, admixture, or potion like ayahuasca or bhang.
Nootropics, also commonly referred to as "smart drugs," are drugs that are claimed to improve human cognitive abilities. Nootropics are used to improve memory, concentration, thought, mood, learning, and many other things. Some nootropics are now beginning to be used to treat certain diseases such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, Parkinson's disease, and Alzheimer's disease. They are also commonly used to regain brain function lost during aging. Racetems (eg. Piracetam, Oxiracetem, levetiracetam ) are considered to be a class of nootropics.
Similarly, drugs such as anabolic steroids improve human physical capabilities and are sometimes used (legally or not) for this purpose, often by professional athletes.
Stimulants are often seen as smart drugs, but may be more accurately termed productivity enhancers. Some stimulants can enhance cognition and memory in some people, but cause psychosis in others. They generally have a very substantial side-effect profile and are not considered classical "nootropic" drugs. These typically improve concentration and a few areas of cognitive performance, but only while the drug is still in the blood.
Recreational drug use is the use of a drug, usually psychoactive, with the intention of creating or enhancing recreational experience. Such use is controversial, however, often being considered to be also drug abuse, and it is often illegal. Also, it may overlap with other uses, such as medicinal (including self medication), performance enhancement, and entheogenic (spiritual).
Drugs commonly considered capable of recreational use include alcohol, tobacco, and drugs within the scope of the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs and Convention on Psychotropic Substances. The fact that caffeine use may be considered recreational is often overlooked.
The drugs most popular for recreational use worldwide are:
Drug abuse or substance abuse refers to a maladaptive pattern of use of a substance that is not considered dependent. The term "drug abuse" does not exclude dependency, but is otherwise used in a similar manner in nonmedical contexts. The terms have a huge range of definitions related to taking a psychoactive drug or performance enhancing drug for a non-therapeutic or non-medical effect. All of these definitions imply a negative judgment of the drug use in question. Some of the drugs most often associated with this term include alcohol, amphetamines, barbiturates, benzodiazepines (particularly temazepam, nimetazepam, and flunitrazepam), cocaine, methaqualone, and opioids. Use of these drugs may lead to criminal penalty in addition to possible physical, social, and psychological harm, both strongly depending on local jurisdiction.
Definitions of drug abuse general fall into four main categories: public health definitions, mass communication and vernacular usage, medical definitions, and political and criminal justice definitions.
Drugs, both medicinal and recreational, can be administered in a number of ways. Many drugs can be administered in a variety of ways rather than just one.
All links retrieved August 25, 2013.
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