Mankind has always shown a surprising ingenuity for finding drugs which have a pleasurable effect. Alcohol in its various forms is perhaps the oldest drug to be used for its effects on the brain, closely followed by various naturally occurring hallucinogens; for example fungi have long been known to be an important component of religious ritual in many societies. Other drugs, some of which have had therapeutic uses, include the opioid analgesics such as morphine and codeine, cannabis, cocaine (until recently in a relatively crude form extracted from the leaf of the Andean coca plant) and the milder stimulants, caffeine and nicotine. The use of extracts of opium, coca leaves and khat, a plant growing in some Middle Eastern countries that contains several stimulant components, has had social importance in some non-industrialized societies, where such substances are commonly used as social alternatives to alcohol and also have a role in counteracting hunger and fatigue. Most societies in which these drugs are used recognize their potential dangers to health should they be consumed to excess. Thus both the non-medical use of drugs and the related problem of drug abuse have been widely recognized since antiquity. This chapter concentrates on the psychopharmacological properties of drugs of abuse (Table 15.1).
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