A drug, broadly speaking, is any chemical substance that when absorbed into the body of a living organism, alters normal bodily functions. There is no single, precise definition, as there are different meanings in medicine, government regulations, and colloquial usage. See drug types for more information on legal and illegal drugs. Warning: Taking too much drugs can lead to an overdose or cause drug problems leading to the need of a drug rehab.
Many natural substances such as beers, wines, and some mushrooms, blur the line between food and drugs, as when ingested they affect the functioning of both mind and body. The wrong use of drugs can lead to drug abuse. You can also read up more on drug effects.
The term narcotic drug is believed to have been coined by Galen to refer to agents that benumb or deaden, causing loss of feeling or paralysis. The term is based on the Greek word (narcosis), the term used by Hippocrates for the process of benumbing or the benumbed state. Galen listed mandrake root, altercus (eclata) seeds, and poppy juice (i.e. opium) as the chief examples.
In U.S. legal context, narcotic refers to opium, opium derivatives, and their semi-synthetic or fully synthetic substitutes "as well as cocaine and coca leaves," which although classified as "narcotics" in the U.S. Controlled Substances Act (CSA), are chemically not narcotics. Contrary to popular belief, marijuana is not a narcotic, nor are LSD and other psychedelic drugs. Specifically, steroids are not narcotics.
Many law enforcement officials in the United States inaccurately use the word "narcotic" to refer to any illegal drug or any unlawfully possessed drug. An example is referring to cannabis as a narcotic. Because the term is often used broadly, inaccurately or pejoratively outside medical contexts, most medical professionals prefer the more precise term opioid, which refers to natural, semi-synthetic, and synthetic substances that behave pharmacologically like morphine, the primary active constituent of natural opium poppy. Although the overuse of the term "narcotic" in various nonclinical contexts is technically inaccurate, it does serve adequately as a shorthand way of denoting any powerful or illegal drug.
Outside of the United States, narcotic is generally taken to define any substance which produces narcosis, a bluntening of the senses. From a criminal viewpoint, this includes but is not limited to illegal drugs, alcohol, and misuse of prescriptive medication such as morphine.
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Drugs can be administered in a variety of ways. In a medical context, they are taken orally, transdermally (skin patches), intravenously, or administered as suppositories. As recreational drugs, they may be used orally, but are also commonly smoked, snorted, or self-administered by the more direct routes of subcutaneous ("skin popping") and intravenous ("mainlining") injection, depending on the precise substance in question. (Recreational use of suppositories is uncommon).
Drug effects depend heavily on the dose, route of administration, previous exposure to the drug, and the expectation of the user. Check out our section on signs of drug addiction. Aside from their clinical use in the treatment of pain, cough, and acute diarrhea, narcotics produce a general sense of well-being, euphoria, and can reduce tension, anxiety, and aggression. These effects are helpful in a therapeutic setting and contribute to their popularity as recreational drugs, as well as helping to produce dependency. It should be noted that these effects are not set in stone, and may not be experienced all at once, or at all by some users. Narcotic use is associated with a variety of side effects, including drowsiness, itching, sleeplessness, inability to concentrate, apathy, lessened physical activity, constriction of the pupils, dilation of the subcutaneous blood vessels causing flushing of the face and neck, constipation, nausea, vomiting and respiratory depression. As the dose is increased, the subjective, analgesic, and toxic effects become more pronounced. Except in cases of acute intoxication, there is no loss of motor coordination or slurred speech, as occurs with many depressants such as alcohol or barbiturates.
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