Most Commonly Used Drugs

Understanding the landscape of drug use is essential in addressing the associated challenges and promoting informed decisions. The most commonly used drugs span various categories, each with its own effects and risks.

Overview of Drug Use

People use drugs for a multitude of reasons. Some individuals seek to experience pleasure or escape negative emotions, while others may turn to drugs to improve performance in school or work. Peer pressure and the desire to fit in can also influence drug use, particularly among teens [1].

Categories of Commonly Used Drugs

The most commonly used drugs can be categorized into several groups, each with its own characteristics and effects. These categories include:

  • Cannabinoids: This category includes marijuana and hashish, which are derived from the Cannabis plant.
  • Stimulants: Stimulant drugs such as cocaine, crack, amphetamines, and methamphetamine increase brain activity, resulting in heightened energy and alertness.
  • Depressants: Depressant drugs, including alcohol, barbiturates, and benzodiazepines, slow down brain activity and induce relaxation.
  • Hallucinogens: Hallucinogenic drugs, such as LSD, mescaline, and psilocybin, alter perception, leading to visual and auditory hallucinations.
  • Opiates: Opiate drugs, including heroin, opium, codeine, and morphine, are derived from the opium poppy and are commonly used as pain relievers.
  • Prescription Medications: This category encompasses prescription drugs that are commonly misused or abused. These medications can include opioids, stimulants, and sedatives, among others.

It is important to note that drug addiction is a chronic disease that can have severe consequences on an individual's life, including strained relationships, legal issues, and difficulty quitting. Triggers, such as certain places, people, smells, feelings, or memories, can lead individuals to relapse and return to drug use, underscoring the importance of avoiding triggers to maintain sobriety. Additionally, individuals who have been sober for a period of time, such as during imprisonment or treatment, are at a high risk of overdose if they relapse and consume the same amount of drugs as before, as their tolerance has decreased.

By understanding the most commonly used drugs and the reasons behind drug use, individuals can make informed choices and seek appropriate support if needed. It is important to prioritize mental health and explore alternative coping mechanisms for stress, loss, and social pressures, such as seeking counseling or engaging in stress-reducing activities [2].


Cannabinoids, a class of drugs derived from the Cannabis plant, are among the most commonly used drugs worldwide. They encompass various substances, including marijuana and hashish. Let's take a closer look at these two cannabinoids.


Marijuana, also known as cannabis, is made from the dried flowers, leaves, stems, and seeds of the hemp plant, Cannabis sativa. The main psychoactive chemical in marijuana is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

Marijuana is typically smoked, but it can also be consumed in other forms such as edibles or oils. When ingested, THC binds to cannabinoid receptors in the brain, resulting in various effects, including euphoria, relaxation, altered perception, and increased appetite.

Marijuana is commonly used for recreational purposes, but it also has potential medicinal applications. It can be prescribed in some jurisdictions for the treatment of certain medical conditions, such as chronic pain, nausea, and muscle spasms.


Hashish, also known as hash, is another cannabis-derived drug. It is made from the resin of the cannabis plant. The resin is collected, dried, and then compressed into a solid form, which can vary in color and texture.

Hashish contains higher concentrations of THC compared to marijuana, making it a more potent form of cannabis. Similar to marijuana, hashish is typically smoked or vaporized for its psychoactive effects.

Due to its potency, hashish may result in stronger and more immediate effects compared to marijuana. The specific effects experienced can vary depending on the individual and the potency of the hashish consumed.

Both marijuana and hashish are subject to legal regulations in many countries. The legal status of these substances varies, with some jurisdictions allowing for recreational or medical use, while others strictly prohibit their possession and use.

It's important to note that the use of cannabinoids, including marijuana and hashish, carries potential risks and side effects. These substances can impair coordination, memory, and judgment, and may have adverse effects on mental health, particularly in heavy or prolonged use. It's crucial to make informed decisions and consider the legal and health implications before using cannabinoids.

Understanding the effects and risks associated with cannabinoids is essential for individuals who choose to use these substances. It's always recommended to consult with healthcare professionals for personalized advice and guidance, especially when it comes to potential interactions with other medications or underlying health conditions.


Stimulants are a category of drugs that increase activity in the central nervous system, resulting in heightened alertness, energy, and euphoria. They are commonly used for their stimulating effects and can be highly addictive. This section will explore some of the most commonly used stimulant drugs, including cocaine, crack, amphetamines, and methamphetamine.


Cocaine is a powerful stimulant drug derived from the leaves of the coca plant, native to South America. It is typically processed into a fine white powder or solid crystal form. Cocaine is known for its stimulating effects, including increased energy, heightened focus, and a sense of euphoria.

In 2019, it was estimated that around 2 million people in the United States used cocaine [4]. Despite its short-lived effects, cocaine can be highly addictive and can have severe health consequences, including cardiovascular problems, respiratory issues, and neurological damage.


Crack is a highly potent and addictive form of cocaine. It is created by mixing cocaine powder with water and baking soda, resulting in a solid crystal that can be smoked. The name "crack" comes from the crackling sound it makes when heated.

Due to its intense and immediate effects, crack has a high potential for abuse and addiction. It rapidly produces a short-lived but powerful euphoria, leading users to seek repeated doses to maintain the desired high. The use of crack can have devastating consequences for individuals, impacting their physical and mental health, as well as their personal and social well-being.


Amphetamines are a group of synthetic stimulant drugs that stimulate the central nervous system. They are typically prescribed for medical purposes such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. However, they are also commonly abused for their stimulant effects.

Amphetamines can increase energy, improve focus and attention, and induce a sense of euphoria. They can be taken orally, snorted, or injected. In 2008, the global prevalence of amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) use was estimated to be between 16 and 51 million people [5]. Misuse of amphetamines can lead to addiction, cardiovascular problems, and psychological issues.


Methamphetamine, commonly known as meth, is a highly addictive stimulant drug that affects the central nervous system. It is chemically similar to amphetamines but has a more potent and long-lasting impact. Methamphetamine can be smoked, snorted, or injected.

According to a survey in the United States, methamphetamine use was reported by 1.9 million people in 2019. The drug produces intense euphoria, increased energy, and a heightened sense of well-being. However, the misuse of methamphetamine can have severe health consequences, including addiction, dental problems (known as "meth mouth"), cardiovascular issues, and neurological damage.

Stimulant drugs, including cocaine, crack, amphetamines, and methamphetamine, have powerful effects on the body and mind. It's important to recognize the potential risks and consequences associated with their use and seek help if you or someone you know is struggling with stimulant drug abuse.


Depressants are a category of commonly used drugs that slow down the central nervous system, resulting in relaxation, sedation, and reduced anxiety. This category includes substances such as alcohol, barbiturates, and benzodiazepines. Each of these drugs has its own specific effects and potential risks.


Alcohol is the most commonly used addictive substance in the United States. In 2019, an estimated 17.6 million people were diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder. Alcohol is a depressant that affects the brain by altering neurotransmitter levels. It leads to impaired judgment, coordination, and cognitive function.


Barbiturates are a class of depressant drugs that act as central nervous system depressants, inducing sedation and sleep. They were once commonly prescribed to treat anxiety, insomnia, and seizures. However, due to their high potential for abuse and overdose, their use has significantly declined. Barbiturates can be highly addictive and their misuse can lead to serious health consequences.


Benzodiazepines are a class of prescription medications commonly used to treat anxiety, insomnia, and seizures. They enhance the effects of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), resulting in sedation and relaxation. Benzodiazepines are generally safe and effective when used as prescribed. However, they can be habit-forming and may lead to dependence and withdrawal symptoms if misused or taken for extended periods of time. It is important to use benzodiazepines under the guidance of a healthcare professional.

Understanding the effects and potential risks associated with depressant drugs is essential. If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, seeking professional help and support is highly recommended.


Hallucinogens are a class of drugs that can cause profound distortions in a person's perceptions of reality. These drugs can have a significant impact on the brain and body, affecting coordination, reaction time, judgment, and even causing drowsiness, which can make driving unsafe. In this section, we will explore three commonly used hallucinogens: LSD, mescaline, and psilocybin.


LSD, also known as acid, is a powerful hallucinogenic drug that alters a person's thoughts, perceptions, and feelings. It is typically consumed orally and can induce intense visual hallucinations and sensory experiences. LSD is considered one of the most potent hallucinogens, with effects lasting up to 12 hours or longer.


Mescaline, also referred to as peyote, is a naturally occurring hallucinogen derived from the peyote cactus. It has been used for centuries in religious and spiritual ceremonies. Mescaline can produce profound changes in perception, including visual hallucinations and a heightened sense of connection to the surrounding environment.


Psilocybin is found in certain species of mushrooms, often referred to as "magic mushrooms" or "shrooms." When ingested, psilocybin is converted into psilocin, which interacts with serotonin receptors in the brain, leading to altered perception and sensory experiences. Psilocybin mushrooms have a long history of use in various cultures for spiritual and therapeutic purposes.

It's important to note that the use of hallucinogens carries potential risks and should be approached with caution. These substances can have unpredictable effects on individuals and may lead to adverse psychological reactions. Additionally, the use of hallucinogens may be associated with dangerous behaviors and an increased risk of accidents.

As with any drug, it is crucial to prioritize safety and make informed decisions. Understanding the risks and potential consequences associated with hallucinogen use is essential for promoting responsible drug use and ensuring the well-being of individuals who choose to engage with these substances.


Opiates are a class of drugs that are derived from opium, a natural substance extracted from the seed pod of various opium poppy plants. These drugs have potent pain-relieving properties, but they can also lead to addiction and other serious health consequences. In this section, we will explore some of the most commonly used opiates: heroin, opium, codeine, and morphine.


Heroin is one of the most well-known and dangerous opiates. It is derived from morphine, a natural substance found in opium poppy plants. Heroin is typically consumed by injection, smoking, or snorting. It rapidly enters the brain and binds to opioid receptors, producing intense feelings of euphoria and sedation. However, heroin use is associated with numerous health risks, including overdose, infections, and the transmission of blood-borne diseases. It is highly addictive, leading to a cycle of dependence that can be difficult to break.


Opium is the dried latex obtained from the seed pods of the opium poppy plant. It has been used for centuries as a pain reliever and sedative. Opium contains several alkaloids, including morphine and codeine, which are responsible for its psychoactive effects. Historically, opium was commonly smoked, but it can also be consumed orally or through other routes. Like heroin, opium use carries significant health risks and can lead to addiction.


Codeine is a less potent opiate compared to heroin and morphine. It is often used as a pain reliever and cough suppressant. Codeine is frequently found in prescription medications, such as certain cough syrups and pain relievers. It can produce a mild euphoric effect, but it is also associated with side effects like drowsiness and constipation. Due to its potential for abuse, codeine is often regulated and available only by prescription in many countries.


Morphine is a powerful opiate that is derived from the opium poppy plant. It is widely used for pain management, particularly in clinical settings. Morphine is available in various forms, including oral tablets, injections, and intravenous solutions. It acts on the central nervous system to relieve pain and induce feelings of relaxation. However, its use can lead to tolerance, dependence, and addiction. Proper medical supervision is crucial when using morphine to minimize the risk of adverse effects [7].

Opiates, such as heroin, opium, codeine, and morphine, have potent effects on the brain and body. While they can provide pain relief when used under medical supervision, their misuse and abuse can lead to severe health consequences and addiction. It is essential to understand the risks associated with these drugs and seek professional help if struggling with opiate addiction.

Prescription Medications

Prescription medications play a crucial role in treating various medical conditions and improving overall health. However, the misuse of these drugs has become a significant concern. Understanding the misuse of prescription drugs and identifying commonly abused medications is important for promoting safe and responsible medication use.

Misuse of Prescription Drugs

Misuse of prescription drugs refers to using these medications in ways not intended by a healthcare professional or for non-medical purposes. This includes taking higher doses than prescribed, using them without a prescription, or using them for reasons other than their intended purpose. According to data from 2019, 14% of the population in the United States reported using prescription drugs, with 5.2 million individuals misusing prescription pain relievers [4].

The misuse of prescription drugs can have serious consequences. It can lead to addiction, overdose, and even death. Additionally, the misuse of prescription drugs can contribute to other health risks, such as an increased risk of contracting HIV due to sharing needles or engaging in risky behaviors. Substance use among adolescents is also associated with dangerous driving and an increased likelihood of engaging in delinquent behaviors.

Commonly Abused Prescription Medications

Several types of prescription medications are commonly abused. It is important to note that the vast majority of individuals who use prescription medications do so responsibly for legitimate medical purposes. However, misuse can occur. Some commonly abused prescription medications include:

It is important to remember that these medications have legitimate medical uses and should only be used as prescribed by a healthcare professional. Misusing prescription medications can have serious health consequences and should be avoided.

If you or someone you know is struggling with prescription drug misuse, seeking help from a healthcare professional or a substance abuse treatment program is crucial. They can provide guidance, support, and resources to address the issue and promote a healthier approach to medication use.