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Recreational drug use is drug use with the intention of creating or enhancing recreational experience. Such use is usually 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). Therefore categorizing a particular instance of drug use as recreational may be controversial. Drugs commonly considered capable of recreational use include alcohol and 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. Psychopharmacologist Ronald K. Siegel refers to intoxication as the "fourth drive," arguing that the human instinct to seek mind-altering substances (psychoactive drugs) has so much force and persistence that it functions like the human desire to satisfy hunger, thirst and the need for shelter.[1]



Responsible drug use

The concept of responsible drug use is that a person can use recreational drugs with reduced or eliminated risk of negatively affecting other parts of one's life or other peoples lives. Advocates of this philosophy point to the many well-known artists and intellectuals who have used drugs, experimentally or otherwise, with few detrimental effects on their lives. Critics argue that the drugs are escapist—and dangerous, unpredictable and sometimes addictive, and have negative and profound effects in geographic areas well beyond the location of the user. It should be noted that these criticisms can apply to a number of non drug related addictions and behavioral abuse disorders. According to medical literature, responsible drug use only becomes drug abuse when the use of the substance significantly interferes with the user's daily life.[citation needed]

Responsible drug use advocates argue that users should not take drugs at the same time as activities such as driving, swimming, operating machinery, or other activities which are unsafe without a sober state. Responsible drug use is emphasized as a primary prevention technique in harm-reduction drug policies. Harm-reduction policies were popularized in the late 1980s although they began in the 1970s counter-culture where users were distributed cartoons explaining responsible drug use and consequences of irresponsible drug use.[2] Another issue is that the illegality of drugs in itself may also cause social and economic consequences for those using them--the drugs may be "cut" with adulturants and the purity varies wildly, making overdoses more likely-- and legal regulation of drug production and distribution would alleviate these and other dangers of illegal drug use.[3] Harm reduction seeks to minimize the harms that can occur through the use of various drugs, whether legal (e.g. alcohol and nicotine), or illegal (e.g. heroin and cocaine). For example, people who inject illicit drugs can minimize harm to both themselves and members of the community through proper injecting technique, using new needles and syringes each time, and through proper disposal of all injecting equipment.


Common psychoactives

The drugs most popular for recreational use worldwide are:[4]

Other psychoactives


Depressants are psychoactive drugs which temporarily diminish the function or activity of a specific part of the body or mind.[6] Examples of these kinds of effects may include anxiolysis, sedation, and hypotension. Due to their effects typically having a "down" quality to them, depressants are also occasionally referred to as "downers". Stimulants or "uppers", which increase mental and/or physical function, are in stark contrast to depressants and are considered to be their functional opposites. Depressants are widely used throughout the world as prescription medicines and as illicit substances. When these are used, effects may include anxiolysis, analgesia, sedation, somnolence, cognitive/memory impairment, dissociation, muscle relaxation, lowered blood pressure/heart rate, respiratory depression, anesthesia, and anticonvulsant effects. Some are also capable of inducing feelings of euphoria. Depressants exert their effects through a number of different pharmacological mechanisms, the most prominent of which include facilitation of GABA and/or opioid activity, and inhibition of adrenergic, histamine and/or acetylcholine activity.


Antihistamines (or "histamine antagonists") are agents that serves to inhibit the release or action of histamine. Antihistamine can be used to describe any histamine antagonist, but it is usually reserved for the classical antihistamines that act upon the H1 histamine receptor. Antihistamines are used as treatment for allergies. Allergies are caused by an excessive response of the body to allergens, such as the pollen released by grasses and trees. An allergic reaction indicates an excessive release of histamines by the body. Other uses of antihistamines are to help with normal symptoms of insect stings even if there is no allergic reaction. Since antihistimines are widely available over the counter at drug stores (without a perscription), in the form of cough medicines, they are widely used as recreational drugs, sometimes in combination with other substances (e.g., alcohol).

Examples include:


Analgesics (also known as "painkillers") are any member of the group of drugs used to relieve pain (achieve analgesia). The word analgesic derives from Greek an- ("without") and algos ("pain"). Analgesic drugs act in various ways on the peripheral and central nervous systems; they include paracetamol (para-acetylaminophenol, also known in the US as acetaminophen), the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as the salicylates, and opioid drugs such as hydrocodone and oxycodone. The Opiates and Opioid analgesics include a variety of substances which are used recreationally, including Codeine, Vicodin, Percocet/OxyContin, and Heroin.


Tranquilizers (GABAergics)


Hallucinogens are a general group of pharmacological agents which can be divided into three broad categories: psychedelics, dissociatives, and deliriants. These classes of psychoactive drugs have in common that they can cause subjective changes in perception, thought, emotion and consciousness. Unlike other psychoactive drugs, such as stimulants and opioids, the hallucinogens do not merely amplify familiar states of mind, but rather induce experiences that are qualitatively different from those of ordinary consciousness. These experiences are often compared to non-ordinary forms of consciousness such as trance, meditation, conversion experiences, and dreams. A typical "hallucination" induced by a psychedelic drug is more accurately described as a modification of regular perception, and the subject is usually quite aware of the illusory and personal nature of their perceptions. Deliriants, such as diphenhydramine and atropine, may cause hallucinations in the proper sense.

Psychedelics, dissociatives, and deliriants have a long history of use within medicinal and religious traditions around the world. They are used in shamanic forms of ritual healing and divination, in initiation rites, and in the religious rituals of syncretistic movements such as União do Vegetal, Santo Daime, and the Native American Church. When used in religious practice, psychedelic drugs, as well as other substances like tobacco, are referred to as entheogens. Also, in some states and on some reservations, certain hallucinogens, like Peyote, are classified as part of a recognized religious ceremony and if used in said ceremonies are therefore considered legal.

Starting in the mid-20th century, psychedelic drugs have been the object of extensive attention in the Western world. They have been and are being explored as potential therapeutic agents in treating depression, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, Obsessive-compulsive Disorder, alcoholism, and opioid addiction. Yet the most popular, and at the same time most stigmatized, use of psychedelics in Western culture has been associated with the search for direct religious experience, enhanced creativity, personal development, and "mind expansion". The use of psychedelic drugs was a major element of the 1960s counterculture, where it became associated with various social movements and a general atmosphere of rebellion and strife between generations.

  • Dissociatives
    • Dextromethorphan (DXM; Robitussin, Delsym, etc; "Dex", "Robo", "Cough Syrup", "DXM")
      • "Triple C's, Coricidin" refer to a formulation containing both dextromethorphan and chlorpheniramine.
    • Ketamine (K; Ketalar, Ketaset, Ketanest; "Ket", "Kit Kat", "Special-K", "Vitamin K", "Jet Fuel", "Horse Tranquilizer")
    • Nitrous Oxide (N2O; "Nozz", "Laughing Gas", "Whippets")
    • Phencyclidine (PCP; Sernyl; "Angel Dust", "Rocket Fuel", "Killer Weed", "Super Grass")


Stimulants, also sometimes called psychostimulants[7], are psychoactive drugs which induce temporary improvements in either mental or physical function or both. Examples of these kinds of effects may include enhanced alertness, wakefulness, and locomotion, among others. Due to their effects typically having an "up" quality to them, stimulants are also occasionally referred to as "uppers". Depressants or "downers", which decrease mental and/or physical function, are in stark contrast to stimulants and are considered to be their functional opposites. Stimulants are widely used throughout the world as prescription medicines and as illicit substances of recreational use or abuse.

Stimulants produce a wide variety of different kinds of effects by enhancing the activity of the central and peripheral nervous systems. Common effects, which vary depending on the substance in question, may include enhanced alertness, awareness, wakefulness, endurance, productivity, and motivation, increased arousal, locomotion, heart rate, and blood pressure, and the perception of a diminished requirement for food and sleep. Many stimulants are also capable of improving mood and relieving anxiety, and some can even induce feelings of euphoria. It should be noted, however, that many of these drugs are also capable of causing anxiety, even the ones that may paradoxically reduce it to a degree at the same time.

Examples include:


Computer cleaning dusters are dangerous to inhale, because the gases expand and cool rapidly upon being sprayed.

Inhalants are a broad range of drugs in the forms of gases, aerosols, or solvents that are breathed in and absorbed through the lungs. While some inhalant drugs are used for medical purposes, as in the case of nitrous oxide (a dental anaesthetic), this article focuses on the non-medical use of inhalants, as recreational drugs that are used for their intoxicating effect. Most inhalant drugs that are used non-medically are ingredients in household or industrial chemical products that are not intended to be concentrated and inhaled, including organic solvents (found in cleaning products, fast-drying glues, and nail polish removers), fuels (gasoline (petrol) and kerosene) and propellant gases such as freon and compressed hydrofluorocarbons that are used in aerosol cans such as hairspray, whipped cream and non-stick cooking spray. A small number of recreational inhalant drugs are pharmaceutical products that are used illicitly, such as anaesthetics (ether and nitrous oxide) and volatile anti-angina drugs (alkyl nitrites).

Inhalant users tend to be people who do not have access to other drugs or alcohol, such as children, teenagers, incarcerated or institutionalized people, and marginalized individuals. The most serious inhalant abuse occurs among children and teens who " on the streets completely without family ties."[8] Inhalant users inhale vapor or aerosol propellant gases using plastic bags held over the mouth or by breathing from a solvent-soaked rag or an open container. The effects of inhalants range from an alcohol-like intoxication and intense euphoria to vivid hallucinations, depending on the substance and the dosage. Some inhalant users are injured due to the harmful effects of the solvents or gases, or due to other chemicals used in the products that they are inhaling. As with any recreational drug, users can be injured due to dangerous behavior while they are intoxicated, such as driving under the influence. In some cases, users have died from hypoxia (lack of oxygen), pneumonia, cardiac failure or arrest[9], or aspiration of vomit.

Variety of "popper" brands

Examples include:


Smoking any tobacco product, %, Males[8] (See the same map for female smokers.)
Total recorded alcohol per capita consumption (15+), in litres of pure alcohol[10]


A study in the Republic of Ireland found that for teenagers aged 15–19:[11]

  • 86% drink alcohol (the legal alcohol purchase age and public drinking age is 18.)
    • 51% binge drink (defined as five drinks or more at occasion) at least once a month.
    • 19% binge drink once a week.
    • On a typical drinking occasion, the average amount of alcoholic beverages consumed is 5.75 pints.
    • The average age for taking a first alcoholic drink is 13½.
  • 50% have used illegal drugs at least once.
    • 41% have used cannabis at least once.
    • The average age of first illegal drug use is 14½.

Northern Ireland has the highest rate of recreational drug use among teenagers in the European Union [12].

United States

Drug use has increased in all categories since prohibition.[citation needed] Since 1937, 20% to 37% of the youth in the United States have used cannabis. One in four high school seniors has used the drug in the past month; one in ten 8th graders has done so.[13] Between 1972 and 1988, the use of cocaine increased more than fivefold.[14] The usage patterns of the current two most prevalent drugs, methamphetamine and ecstasy, have shown similar gains.[citation needed]

Recently, new methods for reporting drug use statistics in near real-time have been made possible for over 300 substances in the 3,140 US counties.[15]


There have been many movements, mostly calling for the legalization of recreational drugs (most notably cannabis). Examples of such movements are the Worldwide Marijuana March, Hemp Day, and 420. Several movements which call for the legalization of drugs, not from an argument of their safety, but rather from an argument that this issue should be considered a medical one and not a criminal one, also exist, primarily in North America, one such organization is the Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP). Impact varies from country to country, depending on its legality. Also, there are many Anti-Drug movements, specifically Straight Edge and The Partnership For A Drug Free America, calling for the continuation of its current illegality.

See also


  1. ^ Siegel, Ronald K (2005). Intoxication: The universal drive for mind-altering substances. Vermont: Park Street Press. vii. ISBN 1-59477-069-7. 
  2. ^ Charles E. Faupel; Alan M. Horowitz, Greg S. Weaver. The Sociology of American Drug Use. McGraw Hill. pp. 366. 
  3. ^ "Failed states and failed policies, How to stop the drug wars". The Economist. 2009-03-05. Retrieved 2009-03-10. 
  4. ^ Lingeman, Drugs from A-Z A Dictionary, Penguin ISBN 0 7139 0136 5
  5. ^ MAOI action of Beta-Carbolines in Tobacco,
  6. ^ "MSDS Glossary". Retrieved 2009-01-01. 
  7. ^ "Dorlands Medical Dictionary:psychostimulant". 
  8. ^ a b Epidemiology of Inhalant Abuse: An International Perspective, 148
  9. ^
  10. ^ Global Status Report on Alcohol 2004
  11. ^ RTÉ News - Half of young people use drink, drugs
  12. ^
  13. ^ Charles Whitebread: The History of the Non-Medical Use of Drugs in the United States
  14. ^ Controlling Cocaine: Supply Versus Demand Programs
  15. ^ DopeStats
  • Walton, Stuart (2002). Out of It: A Cultural History of Intoxication. Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-027977-6. 

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