Recreational drug use

Recreational drug use

Recreational drug use is the use of a drug (legal, controlled, or illegal) with the primary intention to alter the state of consciousness (through disruption of the CNS) in order to recreate positive emotions and feelings. The popular concept of this phenomena puts it closer to a social behaviour that many places around the world tolerate rather than to serious medical conditions such as self-medication.

Recreational drug use has been associated by some publishers with various dispositions such as curiosity, boredom, low self-esteem, desire for risk, for meditation, desire to escape from or cope with difficulties, to relax, to increase energy, and to improve focus or concentration. Psychological disorders such as depression, trauma, social anxiety, and schizophrenia have also been claimed by some people to be promoters of drug use. Some users seek to encourage their socializing or an aphrodisiac effect.[1][2][3]

Drugs commonly considered capable of recreational use include alcohol, cannabis, nicotine, caffeine, and controlled substances within the scope of the United Nations' Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs and Convention on Psychotropic Substances. International and domestic law enforcement agencies are perpetually occupied with interdiction efforts against illegal drug use, manufacture, and distribution.


  • Evolution 1
  • Responsible use 2
  • Risks 3
  • Types 4
    • Popular drugs 4.1
    • Routes of administration 4.2
    • Drugs which can be smoked 4.3
    • Psychoactive plants, fungi and animals 4.4
    • Other psychoactives 4.5
      • Depressants 4.5.1
        • Antihistamines
        • Analgesics
        • Tranquilizers
    • Euphoriants 4.6
      • Hallucinogens 4.6.1
      • Stimulants 4.6.2
    • Inhalants 4.7
  • Prevention 5
  • Demographics 6
    • Australia 6.1
    • Ireland 6.2
    • United States 6.3
  • Recreational drugs and culture 7
  • Gallery 8
  • See also 9
  • References 10
  • External links 11


Cave art, possibly Neanderthal

Genetic research has indicated that man and his distant ancestors "may have evolved to counter-exploit plant neurotoxins". The ability to use botanical chemicals to serve the function of endogenous neurotransmitters may have improved the survival rate, conferring an evolutionary advantage. A typically restrictive prehistoric diet may have emphasised the apparent benefit of consuming psychoactive drugs, which had themselves evolved to imitate neurotransmitters.[4]

"Emerging insights from plant evolutionary ecology and the genetics of hepatic enzymes, particularly cytochrome P450" have led researchers to believe that "humans have shared a co-evolutionary relationship with psychoactive plant substances for millions of years."[5]

Responsible use

The concept of "responsible drug use" is that a person can use drugs recreationally or otherwise with reduced or eliminated risk of negatively affecting other aspects of one's life or other people's 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. Responsible drug use becomes drug abuse only when the use of the substance significantly interferes with the user's daily life.

Responsible drug use advocates that users should not take drugs at the same time as activities such as driving, swimming, operating machinery, or other activities that 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.[6] 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 adulterants 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.[7] Harm reduction seeks to minimize the harm 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 proper disposal of all injecting equipment.


The amount and type of risks that come with recreational drug use vary widely with the drug. There are many factors in the environment and the user that interact with each drug differently. Overall, some studies suggest that alcohol is one of the most dangerous of all recreational drugs; only heroin, crack cocaine, and methamphetamines are judged to be more harmful. However, studies which focus on a moderate level of alcohol consumption have concluded that there can be substantial health benefits from its use, such as decreased risk of cardiac disease, stroke and cognitive decline.[8][9][10][11] Experts in the UK offer that some drugs that may be causing less harm, to fewer users (although they are also used less frequently in the first place) include Cannabis, psilocybin mushrooms, LSD, and ecstasy. These drugs are not without their own particular risks.[12]


Popular drugs

The following substances, all widely illegal unless stated otherwise, are here listed by order of world-wide popularity:[13]

The Drinkers by Jean Béraud, c. 1908

Other well known substances:

Routes of administration

Drugs most often associated with a particular route of administration:

  • intravenous injection (see also the article Drug injection) – morphine and heroin, less commonly other opioids or stimulants like cocaine or amphetamine, but almost every substance (with some exceptions) can be injected
  • smoking (see also the section below) – tobacco, cannabis, opium, methamphetamine, crack cocaine and heroin (diamorphine as freebase) known as chasing the dragon
  • insufflationsnuff (a form of smokeless tobacco), amphetamine and cocaine
  • inhalation – all inhalants (listed above), as the name suggests
  • chewing, absorbing sublingually, placing under the lip, etc. – some forms of smokeless tobacco (e.g. dipping tobacco, snus), LSD blotters, coca leaves with slaked lime, paan (see betel), some hallucinogens
  • intrarectal - administering into the rectum, most water soluble drugs can be used this way
  • transdermal patches with prescription drugs – e.g. methylphenidate (Daytrana) and fentanyl
  • oral intake – caffeine, ethanol, hash cakes (cannabis), nutmeg, datura, psilocybin mushrooms, coca tea, poppy tea, laudanum, GHB, ecstasy pills with MDMA and/or various other substances (mainly stimulants and psychedelics), prescription and over-the-counter drugs (ADHD and narcolepsy medications, sleeping pills, anxiolytics, sedatives, cough suppressants, benzydamine, ephedrine, pseudoephedrine, morphine, codeine, opioids and others)

Many drugs are taken through various routes. Intravenous route is the most efficient, but also one of the most dangerous. Nasal, rectal, inhalation and smoking are safer. Oral route is one of the safest and most comfortable, but of little bioavailability.

Drugs which can be smoked


Substances (also not necessarily psychoactive plants soaked with them):

Psychoactive plants, fungi and animals

Minimally psychoactive plants which contain mainly caffeine and theobromine:

  • coffee
  • tea (caffeine in tea is sometimes called theine) – also contains theanine
  • guarana (caffeine in guarana is sometimes called guaranine)
  • yerba mate (caffeine in yerba mate is sometimes called mateine)
  • cocoa
  • kola

Most known psychoactive plants:

Solanaceae plants – contain atropine, hyoscyamine and scopolamine

Cacti with mescaline:

Other plants:


Psychoactive animals:

Other psychoactives


Depressants are psychoactive drugs that temporarily diminish the function or activity of a specific part of the body or mind.[27] 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") inhibit the release or action of histamine. "Antihistamine" can be used to describe any histamine antagonist, but the term 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 causes release of histamine by the body. Other uses of antihistamines are to help with normal symptoms of insect stings even if there is no allergic reaction. Their recreational appeal exists mainly due to their anticholinergic properties, that induce anxiolysis and, in some cases such as diphenhydramine, chlorpheniramine, and orphenadrine, a characteristic euphoria at moderate doses.

Hallucinations and possibly delirium resembling the effects of Datura stramonium can result if the drug is taken in much higher than therapeutical dosages.

Antihistamines are widely available over the counter at drug stores (without a prescription), in the form of allergy medication and some cough medicines. They are sometimes used in combination with other substances such as alcohol. The most common unsupervised use of antihistamines in terms of volume and percentage of the total is perhaps in parallel to the medicinal use of some antihistamines to stretch out and intensify the effects of opioids and depressants. The most commonly used are hydroxyzine, mainly to stretch out a supply of other drugs, as in medical use, and the above-mentioned ethanolamine and alkylamine-class first-generation antihistamines, which are - once again as in the 1950s - the subject of medical research into their anti-depressant properties.

For all of the above reasons, the use of medicinal scopolamine for recreational uses is also seen.


Analgesics (also known as "painkillers") are used to relieve pain (achieve analgesia). The word analgesic derives from Greek "αν-" (an-, "without") and "άλγος" (álgos, "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, codeine, heroin and oxycodone. Some further examples of the brand name prescription opiates and opioid analgesics that may be used recreationally include Vicodin, Lortab, Norco (hydrocodone), Avinza, Kapanol (morphine), Opana, Paramorphan (oxymorphone), Dilaudid, Palladone (hydromorphone), and OxyContin (oxycodone).


Tranquilizers (GABAergics):


  • Alcohol: "Euphoria, the feeling of well-being, has been reported during the early (10–15 min) phase of alcohol consumption" (e.g., beer, wine or spirits)[28]
  • Passion Flower (Passiflora incarnata) is widely used as a sedative that has calming effects on the nervous system and acts as a sleep aid. One harmala alkaloid present in this herb in the form of harmine is thought to induce meditative and euphoric effects.[29]
  • Catnip Catnip contains a sedative known as nepetalactone that activates opioid receptors. In cats it elicits sniffing, licking, chewing, head shaking, rolling, and rubbing which are indicators of pleasure. Catnip does not however, induce the same response in humans.[30]
  • Cannabis Tetrahydrocannabinol, the main psychoactive ingredient in this plant can have sedative and euphoric properties.
  • Stimulants: "Psychomotor stimulants produce locomotor activity (the subject becomes hyperactive), euphoria, (often expressed by excessive talking and garrulous behaviour), and anorexia. The amphetamines are the best known drugs in this category..."[31]
  • MDMA: The "euphoriant drugs such as MDMA (‘ecstasy’) and MDEA (‘eve’)" are popular amongst young adults.[32] MDMA "users experience short-term feelings of euphoria, rushes of energy and increased tactility."[33]
  • Opium: This "drug derived from the unripe seed-pods of the opium poppy ... produces drowsiness and euphoria and reduces pain. Morphine and codeine are opium derivatives."[34]


Hallucinogens can be divided into three broad categories: psychedelics, dissociatives, and deliriants. They can cause subjective changes in perception, thought, emotion and consciousness. Unlike other psychoactive drugs such as stimulants and opioids, hallucinogens do not merely amplify familiar states of mind but also induce experiences that differ from those of ordinary consciousness, often compared to non-ordinary forms of consciousness such as trance, meditation, conversion experiences, and dreams.

Psychedelics, dissociatives, and deliriants have a long worldwide history of use within medicinal and religious traditions. 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, Temple of the True Inner Light, and the Native American Church. When used in religious practice, psychedelic drugs, as well as other substances like tobacco, are referred to as entheogens.

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.


Stimulants, also known as "psychostimulants",[35] induce euphoria with improvements in mental and physical function, such as enhanced alertness, wakefulness, and locomotion. 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 enhance the activity of the central and peripheral nervous systems. Common effects may include increased alertness, awareness, wakefulness, endurance, productivity, and motivation, arousal, locomotion, heart rate, and blood pressure, and a diminished desire for food and sleep.

Use of stimulants may cause the body to reduce significantly its production of natural body chemicals that fulfill similar functions. Until the body reestablishes its normal state, once the effect of the ingested stimulant has worn off the user may feel depressed, lethargic, confused, and miserable. This is referred to as a "crash", and may provoke reuse of the stimulant.

Examples include:


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 anesthetics (ether and nitrous oxide) and volatile anti-angina drugs (alkyl nitrites).

The most serious inhalant abuse occurs among children and teens who "[...] live on the streets completely without family ties."[36] Inhalant users inhale [37] or aspiration of vomit.

Examples include:


Evidence is insufficient to tell if behavioral interventions help prevent recreational drug use in children.[38]


Smoking any tobacco product, %, Males[36] (See the same map for female smokers.)
Total recorded alcohol per capita consumption (15+), in liters of pure alcohol[39]


Marijuana is the most popular drug in Australia tried by more than 7 million Australians in a lifetime, with ecstasy being the second most popular tried by 2 million people. By age 20, 37% of the population have tried those drugs, and by age 40, this is just shy of 60%.


A 2008 study in the Republic of Ireland found that for teenagers aged 15–19:

  • 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.

United States

In the 1960s, the number of Americans who had tried cannabis at least once increased over twentyfold. In 1969, the FBI reported that between the years 1966 and 1968, the number of arrests for marijuana possession, which had been outlawed throughout the United States under Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, had increased by 98%.[40] Despite acknowledgement that drug use was greatly growing among America's youth during the late 1960s, surveys have suggested that only as much as 4% of the American population had ever smoked marijuana by 1969.[41] By 1972, however, that number would increase to 12%.[41] That number would then double by 1977.[41]

The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 classified marijuana along with heroin and LSD as a Schedule I drug, i.e., having the relatively highest abuse potential and no accepted medical use.[42] Most marijuana at that time came from Mexico, but in 1975 the Mexican government agreed to eradicate the crop by spraying it with the herbicide paraquat, raising fears of toxic side effects.[42] Colombia then became the main supplier.[42] The "zero tolerance" climate of the Reagan and Bush administrations (1981–93) resulted in passage of strict laws and mandatory sentences for possession of marijuana and in heightened vigilance against smuggling at the southern borders. The "war on drugs" thus brought with it a shift from reliance on imported supplies to domestic cultivation (particularly in Hawaii and California).[42] Beginning in 1982 the Drug Enforcement Administration turned increased attention to marijuana farms in the United States,[42] and there was a shift to the indoor growing of plants specially developed for small size and high yield.[42] After over a decade of decreasing use, marijuana smoking began an upward trend once more in the early 1990s,[42] especially among teenagers,[42] but by the end of the decade this upswing had leveled off well below former peaks of use.[42]

Recreational drugs and culture

Many movements and organizations are advocating for or against the liberalization of the use of recreational drugs, notably cannabis legalization. Subcultures have emerged among users of recreational drugs, as well as among those who abstain from them, such as teetotalism and "straight edge".

The prevalence of recreational drugs in human societies is widely reflected in fiction, entertainment, and the arts, subject to prevailing laws and social conventions. In video games, for example, enemies are often drug dealers, a narrative device that justifies the player killing them. Other games portray drugs as a kind of "power-up"; their effect is often unrealistically conveyed by making the screen wobble and blur.[43]


See also


  1. ^ Working with Drug and Alcohol Users, Tony White - 2012 - Page 77
  2. ^ Over the Influence: The Harm Reduction Guide for Managing Drugs and Alcohol, Patt Denning, Jeannie Little, Adina Glickman - 2004
  3. ^ Situational Prison Control: Crime Prevention in Correctional Institutions, p 159, Richard Wortley - 2002
  4. ^ Roger J Sullivan, Edward H Hagen and Peter Hammerstein (2008). "Revealing the paradox of drug reward in human evolution". The Royal Society. Retrieved September 2014. 
  5. ^ R. J. Sullivan & E. H. Hagen (2000). "Psychotropic substance-seeking: evolutionary pathology or adaptation?". Retrieved September 2014. 
  6. ^ Charles E. Faupel; Alan M. Horowitz; Greg S. Weaver. The Sociology of American Drug Use. McGraw Hill. p. 366. 
  7. ^ "Failed states and failed policies, How to stop the drug wars". The Economist. 5 March 2009. Retrieved 10 March 2009. 
  8. ^ Stampfer MJ, Kang JH, Chen J, Cherry R, Grodstein F (Jan 2005). "Effects of moderate alcohol consumption on cognitive function in women". N Engl J Med. 352 (3): 245–53.  
  9. ^ Hines LM, Stampfer MJ, Ma J (Feb 2001). "Genetic variation in alcohol dehydrogenase and the beneficial effect of moderate alcohol consumption on myocardial infarction". N Engl J Med. 344 (8): 549–55.  
  10. ^ Berger K, Ajani UA, Kase CS (Nov 1999). "Light-to-moderate alcohol consumption and risk of stroke among U.S. male physicians". N Engl J Med. 341 (21): 1557–64.  
  11. ^ Mukamal KJ, Conigrave KM, Mittleman MA (Jan 2003). "Roles of drinking pattern and type of alcohol consumed in coronary heart disease in men". N Engl J Med. 348 (2): 109–18.  
  12. ^ "Drug harms in the UK: a multi-criteria decision analysis", by David Nutt, Leslie King and Lawrence Phillips, on behalf of the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs. The Lancet.
  13. ^ a b "The Global Drug Survey 2014 findings". Global Drug Survey. 2014. Retrieved September 2014. 
  14. ^
  15. ^ Wonnacott S (February 1997). "Presynaptic nicotinic ACh receptors". Trends in neurosciences 20 (2): 92–8.  
  16. ^ Pharmacokinetics and Pharmacodynamics of Methylecgonidine, a Crack Cocaine Pyrolyzate – Scheidweiler et al. 307 (3): 1179 Figure IG6 – Journal of Pharmacology And Experimental Therapeutics
  17. ^ British Journal of Pharmacology – Abstract of article: Evidence for cocaine and methylecgonidine stimulation of M2 muscarinic receptors in cultured human embryonic lung cells
  18. ^ Studies on Hydrolytic and Oxidative Metabolic Pathways of Anhydroecgonine Methyl Ester (Methylecgonidine) Using Microsomal Preparations from Rat Organs (Chemical Research in Toxicology/ACS Publications)
  19. ^ John Philip Jenkins. "methamphetamine (drug) – Britannica Online Encyclopedia". Retrieved 29 January 2012. 
  20. ^ Cruickshank CC, Dyer KR (July 2009). "A review of the clinical pharmacology of methamphetamine". Addiction 104 (7): 1085–1099.  
  21. ^ Malenka RC, Nestler EJ, Hyman SE (2009). "15". In Sydor A, Brown RY. Molecular Neuropharmacology: A Foundation for Clinical Neuroscience (2nd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill Medical. p. 370.  
  22. ^ Hofmann A, Heim R, Tscherter H. (1963). "Phytochimie – présence de la psilocybine dans une espèce européenne d'agaric, le Psilocybe semilanceata Fr." [Phytochemistry – presence of psilocybin in a European agaric species, Psilocybe semilanceata Fr.]. Comptes rendus hebdomadaires des séances de l'Académie des sciences (in French) 257 (1). pp. 10–12. 
  23. ^ Albert Hofmann. "LSD My Problem Child". Retrieved 19 April 2010. 
  24. ^ "Brecher, Edward M; et al. (1972). "How LSD was popularized". Consumer Reports/Drug Library". Retrieved 20 June 2012. 
  25. ^ United States Congress (24 October 1968). "Staggers-Dodd Bill, Public Law 90-639". Retrieved 8 September 2009. 
  26. ^ "Erowid DMT (Dimethyltryptamine) Vault". Retrieved 20 September 2012. 
  27. ^ "MSDS Glossary". Retrieved 1 January 2009. 
  28. ^ Christopher J. Morgan and Abdulla A.-B. Badawy. "Alcohol-induced euphoria: exclusion of serotonin." Alcohol and Alcoholism (2001) 36 (1): 22-25.
  29. ^ Cotter, Malik. "Herbs Make It Easy to Catch Some Zs". Nutrition Science News. Penton Media. Retrieved 27 July 2011. 
  30. ^ Foster, Steven (2002). A field guide to Western Medicinal Plants and Herbs. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. p. 58. 
  31. ^ Alan W. Cuthbert "stimulants" The Oxford Companion to the Body. Ed. Colin Blakemore and Sheila Jennett. Oxford University Press, 2001. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. 28 July 2011
  32. ^ Rhodri Hayward "euphoria" The Oxford Companion to the Body. Ed. Colin Blakemore and Sheila Jennett. Oxford University Press, 2001. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. 28 July 2011
  33. ^ "ecstasy" World Encyclopedia. Philip's, 2008. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. 28 July 2011
  34. ^ "opium" World Encyclopedia. Philip's, 2008. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. 28 July 2011
  35. ^ "Dorlands Medical Dictionary:psychostimulant". 
  36. ^ a b Epidemiology of Inhalant Abuse: An International Perspective, 148
  37. ^
  38. ^ Moyer, VA; U.S. Preventive Services Task, Force (May 6, 2014). "Primary care behavioral interventions to reduce illicit drug and nonmedical pharmaceutical use in children and adolescents: U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommendation statement.". Annals of internal medicine 160 (9): 634–9.  
  39. ^ Global Status Report on Alcohol 2004
  40. ^ David Farber (2004). The Sixties Chronicle. Legacy Publishing. p. 432.  
  41. ^ a b c [Decades of Drug Use: Data From the '60s and '70s] Jennifer Robison,, 2 July 2002, Accessed 13 November 2013
  42. ^ a b c d e f g h i
  43. ^ MacDonald, Keza (5 November 2014). "Why Are Drugs Always So Lame in Video Games?". Vice. Retrieved 16 November 2014. 

External links