What Are the Different Types of Psychotropic Drugs?

Alex Tree

Psychotropic drugs cross the blood-brain barrier to affect a person’s brain function; for example, anesthetics and pain medications are different types of psychotropic drugs that doctors commonly prescribe. Some illicit recreational drugs also cross the blood-brain barrier, like cocaine and marijuana. In addition, not all drugs capable of affecting the central nervous system are prescription-only or illegal, like caffeine and alcohol. The danger of taking such drugs varies, and is occasionally highly controversial in some countries. It is possible to fatally overdose on most psychotropic drugs, so care must be taken when consuming them.

Energy drinks containing caffeine, a psychotropic drug.
Energy drinks containing caffeine, a psychotropic drug.

Anesthetics and pain control medications eliminate or reduce a person’s ability to feel pain. Most anesthetics also make the user lose consciousness, which is useful for performing surgery without traumatizing a patient. Anesthetics are often highly controlled substances that are not given to anyone but qualified doctors who administer them in-house. On the other hand, pain medications are frequently given to out patients, though some are highly addictive and have a robust black market. Both anesthetics and pain medications have differing levels of strength to be used on patients of different weights or who are experiencing higher levels of pain.

Psychotropic drugs are sometimes still used in modern night clubs.
Psychotropic drugs are sometimes still used in modern night clubs.

Cocaine, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), and marijuana are recreational drugs that are illegal in some jurisdictions. All of these drugs can pass through a person’s blood-brain barrier, which makes them psychotropic drugs. They can give the user a “high” consisting of hallucinations, a feeling of euphoria, and more. Their illegality is generally because of the potential danger and addictiveness of using them, but certain psychotropic drugs like marijuana have not been studied long term to adequately judge their side effects. These drugs were often seen as a status symbol in ancient times, and sometimes still are in modern night clubs.

Marijuana is a psychotropic drug.
Marijuana is a psychotropic drug.

Some legal psychotropic drugs are caffeine and alcohol. Caffeine is largely unregulated and available to anyone with enough money to purchase a carbonated beverage, coffee, or energy drink. On the other hand, there are usually age restrictions on alcohol, though this varies depending on the country and jurisdiction within that country. Both of these drugs are legal in most circumstances, however, and can cause feelings similar to illegal psychotropic drugs. They can also be overdosed on; for example, alcohol poisoning can lead to brain damage and death in severe cases. Death due to caffeine intoxication is rare but can happen if a person overdoses on caffeine pills.

Since cocaine passes through the blood-brain barrier, it is classified as psychotropic.
Since cocaine passes through the blood-brain barrier, it is classified as psychotropic.

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I had a friend that began to smoke marijuana while he was in college and suddenly began to get the best grades he had ever received.

He always thought that this was a strange coincidence but just went with it and made it through college with decent grades.

About five years after college he found out that he had undiagnosed ADHD.

Although the doctors have never told him that it makes sense that marijuana possibly helped him focus and therefore helped with his grades but my friend truly believes that there was some connection.

I, of course, don't share this as a suggestion to try marijuana to help you focus but rather that if you do smoke and find this side effect that you might want to go check in with an ADHD specialist.

And there is a difference between a specialist and your general physician. A specialist can have concrete cognitive tests rather than just behavioral checklist to help you find out where you fall on the ADHD spectrum.


I don't know if morphine is on the psychtropic drug list or not, but know that my grandpa was addicted to it before he passed away.

He was in such pain from his cancer, and even though he knew he was addicted, he needed it to control his pain.

This was end of life care for him, and we wanted to make sure he was as comfortable as possible. Not only did it control his pain, but he noticed other side effects as well.

For someone who had a hard time even taking an aspirin, this was hard for him to deal with, but worth it because it helped with the pain.


You just never know how people are going to respond to psychotropic drugs. Because of this and since so many of them are habit forming, they are very closely regulated.

I am very thankful for these drugs when they are needed. I can't imagine having any kind of surgery without anesthesia. There are some people I know who even have a really hard time with this.

I recently had a minor surgery and didn't get nauseated at all from the anesthesia, which I had in the past. They said there have been a lot of improvements over the last few years, and people are recovering from the side effects much faster.


I have only been hospitalized a couple of times for surgery, and both times was given Darvocet to help control my pain.

After the second time, I told them I didn't want to be given that again. I have never taken any illegal drugs, but imagine that is how I might feel if I had.

It was a very strange sensation that was difficult to explain, but I wanted to make sure they gave me something else to control the pain. I never had a reaction to any other kind of medication like that one.

I recently had an outpatient surgery, and they told me that this was no longer on the list of psychotropic drugs and had been taken off the market.


@Catapult- I think another factor is money. When people first started settling in the US from Europe, tobacco was still considered safe, and it was a really good crop for the areas on the southern east coast where some of the first English colonies were. Likewise, beer is a huge market and has been since the beginning of our history as well- it employs growers, brewers, and sellers before it gets to the drinker.


@gravois- I think some of it has to do with public perception, and some to do with productivity. Things like caffeine in coffee are helpful for people trying to get more "done", although who knows what that even really means anymore. Meanwhile most more intense psychotropic or psychoactive drugs don't seem to help anyone accomplish much of anything. I'm not saying I really agree with this interpretation, because I don't know whether or not I do, but I think that's part of it.


Its crazy to me the things we legalize and the things we keep illegal. For instance, caffeine and alcohol are both legal and both of these lead to significant social ills. Think about how much trouble alcohol gets people into each and ever weekend. Think of how many kids are ruining their bodies guzzling energy drinks.

These are legal drugs and yet we have determined that marijuana and other psychedelic drugs like mushrooms and LSD are only bad, all the time. The effects are not worse, the cost to society is not greater, but we treat these natural substances as if they were the products of the devil while encouraging people to drink, smoke, pop pills and eat triple cheeseburgers. It seems so backward to me.

Luckily the tide seems to be turning a little. I don;t think it will happen any time soon, but in the future I envision a more enlightened drug policy that takes an honest look about the costs and benefits.


I used to have a friend that would try anything twice. In most cases he tried anything about a dozen times. He was one of those guys that just wanted to have fun and feel good all day, every single day. And he would do just about anything to get that feeling.

Inevitably he got into drugs pretty bad. He also had problems with booze and women and money and gambling and driving fast, but most of his problems were centered around drugs. You can probably guess where this is going. He got in deeper and deeper, met the wrong people, did the wrong things, and now he is in jail facing a pretty substantial prison sentence. His hedonistic life has given way to decades long confinement. Kind of ironic I guess. This guys story is not at all unique but it is still a powerful reminder of how far drugs can pull you down.

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