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Drug type
Drug usage
Drug abuse
Drug treatment

A drug is any biological substance, synthetic or non-synthetic, that is taken primarily for non-dietary needs. It is usually synthesized outside of an organism, but introduced into an organism to produce its action. That is, when taken into the organism's body, it will produce some effects or alter some bodily functions (such as relieving symptoms, curing diseases or used as preventive medicine or any other purposes).

To many people the word "drug" primarily means "illegal recreational drugs".

Note that natural endogenous biochemicals (such as hormones) can bind to the same receptor in the cell, producing the same effect as a drug. Thus, drug is merely an artificial definition that distinguishes whether that molecule is synthesized within an organism or outside an organism. For instance, insulin is a hormone that is synthesized in the body; it is considered as a hormone when it is synthesized by the pancreas inside the body, but if it is introduced into the body from outside, it is considered as a drug.

It is a substance which is not food,[1] and which, when ingested, affects the functioning of the mind, or the body, or both. However, under the philosophy of Chinese medicine, food is also considered a drug as it affects particular parts of body and cures some diseases. Thus, food does satisfy the above definition of drug so long as ingestion of it would alter some bodily functions.


Medication can be usually classified in various ways, e.g. by its chemical properties, mode of administration, or biological system affected. An elaborate and widely used classification system is the Anatomical Therapeutic Chemical Classification System (ATC system).

Types of medicines:

  1. Antipyretics : reducing fever
  2. Analgesics : painkillers
  3. Anti-malarial drugs : treating malaria
  4. Antibiotics : inhibiting germ growth
  5. Antiseptics : prevention of germ growth near burns, cuts and wounds

Types of medication of interest to psychologists


Oral medication

Recreational drugs

Main article: Recreational drug use
Further information: Prohibition (drugs)

Caffeine is one of the most widely used psychoactive substances in the world.

Recreational drug use is the use of psychoactive drugs and hallucinogenic drugs for recreational purposes rather than for work, medical or spiritual purposes. Much controversy has arisen over recreational drug use, and governments across the world have regulated the consumption and/or distribution of drugs in the name of fighting drug abuse.

Drugs include:

Legal definition of drugs

Some countries also defined what a drug is by law. In the United States, the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act defines a drug as being an article "intended for use in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease in man or other animals" or an article "(other than food) intended to affect the structure or any function of the body of man or other animals." FDCA § 201(g)(1).

Drugs as status symbols

In most cultures, drugs are often seen as status symbols. This is true for both ancient and modern cultures. A good example of this is in ancient Egyptian culture, in which gods were commonly pictured holding hallucinogenic plants.[How to reference and link to summary or text] Another good example of this is in modern secondary schools, where teenagers often boast about their drug use, be it real or not. A recent study from Morbidity and Mortality Weekly has shown that as much as sixty-percent of American high school students admit to having consumed illegal drugs at one point.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

Pharmacology of drugs

See also


  1. Some substances, such as beers, wines, and some fungi, are sometimes regarded as both foods and drugs

Further reading

Key texts



Additional material


Fisher R.D. & Christie G.A. (1982) A Dictionary of Drugs/ London:Paladin.



External links

External links

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