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Recreational drug use is the use of a drug (legal, controlled, or illegal) with the intention of enhancing life (increasing euphoria, blocking unhappy memories, or creating pleasure). Some would also include creativity and religious growth among the effects of certain drugs (cannabis and the psychedelics). Understood broadly, this is recreation.
Usage of recreational drugs has been associated with various dispositions ranging from curiosity to boredom or low self-esteem, a want to be risky, to meditate, to escape from or cope with difficulties, to relax, to increase energy and decrease sluggishness, and to improve focus or concentration. Psychological disorders such as depression, trauma, social anxiety, and schizophrenia are also seen as promoters of drug use. Additionally, users seek positives such as a disinhibiting effect on socialization or an aphrodisiac effect.
Drugs commonly considered capable of recreational use include alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, and controlled substances within the scope of the United Nations' Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs and Convention on Psychotropic Substances. Recreational drug usage can lead to substance addiction and crime, and thus international and domestic law enforcement agencies are perpetually occupied with interdiction efforts against illegal drug usage, manufacture, and distribution.
The concept of "responsible drug use" is that a person can use drugs recreationally or otherwise with reduced or eliminated risk of negatively affecting other aspects of one's life or other people's lives. Advocates of this philosophy point to the many well-known artists and intellectuals who have used drugs, experimentally or otherwise, with few detrimental effects on their lives. Responsible drug use becomes drug abuse only when the use of the substance significantly interferes with the user's daily life.
Responsible drug use advocates that users should not take drugs at the same time as activities such as driving, swimming, operating machinery, or other activities that are unsafe without a sober state. Responsible drug use is emphasized as a primary prevention technique in harm-reduction drug policies. Harm-reduction policies were popularized in the late 1980s, although they began in the 1970s counter-culture where users were distributed cartoons explaining responsible drug use and consequences of irresponsible drug use. Another issue is that the illegality of drugs in itself may also cause social and economic consequences for those using them — the drugs may be "cut" with adulturants and the purity varies wildly, making overdoses more likely — and legal regulation of drug production and distribution would alleviate these and other dangers of illegal drug use. Harm reduction seeks to minimize the harm that can occur through the use of various drugs, whether legal (e.g., alcohol and nicotine), or illegal (e.g., heroin and cocaine). For example, people who inject illicit drugs can minimize harm to both themselves and members of the community through proper injecting technique, using new needles and syringes each time, and proper disposal of all injecting equipment.
Other popular drugs are:
Legally available opioids are sometimes combined with other drugs such as NSAIDs (e.g. ibuprofen, aspirin), paracetamol, antihistamine, expectorant, homatropine/atropine. The purpose of the non-controlled drugs in combination is often twofold: 1) To provide increased analgesia via drug synergy. 2) To limit the intake of opioid by causing unpleasant and often unsafe side effects at higher-than-prescribed doses. See also: Hydrocodone/paracetamol (Vicodin).
Inhaling nitrous oxide from tanks used in automotive systems is unsafe, because the toxic gas sulfur dioxide is mixed in around 100 ppm, specifically to discourage recreational use.
Drugs most often associated with a particular route of administration:
Many drugs are taken through various routes. Intravenous route is the most efficient, but also one of the most dangerous. Nasal, rectal, inhalation and smoking are safer. Oral route is one of the safest and most comfortable, but of little bioavailability.
Substances (also not necessarily psychoactive plants soaked with them):
Minimally psychoactive plants which contain mainly caffeine and theobromine:
Most known psychoactive plants:
Depressants are psychoactive drugs that temporarily diminish the function or activity of a specific part of the body or mind. Examples of these kinds of effects may include anxiolysis, sedation, and hypotension. Due to their effects typically having a "down" quality to them, depressants are also occasionally referred to as "downers". Stimulants or "uppers", which increase mental and/or physical function, are in stark contrast to depressants and are considered to be their functional opposites. Depressants are widely used throughout the world as prescription medicines and as illicit substances. When these are used, effects may include anxiolysis, analgesia, sedation, somnolence, cognitive/memory impairment, dissociation, muscle relaxation, lowered blood pressure/heart rate, respiratory depression, anesthesia, and anticonvulsant effects. Some are also capable of inducing feelings of euphoria. Depressants exert their effects through a number of different pharmacological mechanisms, the most prominent of which include facilitation of GABA and/or opioid activity, and inhibition of adrenergic, histamine and/or acetylcholine activity.
Antihistamines (or "histamine antagonists") inhibit the release or action of histamine. "Antihistamine" can be used to describe any histamine antagonist, but the term is usually reserved for the classical antihistamines that act upon the H1 histamine receptor. Antihistamines are used as treatment for allergies. Allergies are caused by an excessive response of the body to allergens, such as the pollen released by grasses and trees. An allergic reaction causes release of histamine by the body. Other uses of antihistamines are to help with normal symptoms of insect stings even if there is no allergic reaction. Their recreational appeal exists mainly due to their anticholinergic properties, that induce anxiolysis and, in some cases such as diphenhydramine, chlorpheniramine, and orphenadrine, a characteristic euphoria at moderate doses.
Hallucinations and possibly delirium resembling the effects of Datura stramonium can result if the drug is taken in much higher than therapeutical dosages.
Antihistamines are widely available over the counter at drug stores (without a prescription), in the form of allergy medication and some cough medicines. They are sometimes used in combination with other substances such as alcohol. The most common unsupervised use of antihistamines in terms of volume and percentage of the total is perhaps in parallel to the medicinal use of some antihistamines to stretch out and intensify the effects of opioids and depressants. The most commonly used are hydroxyzine, mainly to stretch out a supply of other drugs, as in medical use, and the above-mentioned ethanolamine and alkylamine-class first-generation antihistamines, which are - once again as in the 1950s - the subject of medical research into their anti-depressant properties.
For all of the above reasons, the use of medicinal scopolamine for recreational uses is also seen.
Analgesics (also known as "painkillers") are used to relieve pain (achieve analgesia). The word analgesic derives from Greek "αν-" (an-, "without") and "άλγος" (álgos, "pain"). Analgesic drugs act in various ways on the peripheral and central nervous systems; they include paracetamol (para-acetylaminophenol, also known in the US as acetaminophen), the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as the salicylates, and opioid drugs such as hydrocodone, codeine, heroin and oxycodone. Some further examples of the brand name prescription opiates and opioid analgesics that may be used recreationally include Vicodin, Lortab, Norco (hydrocodone), Avinza, Kapanol (morphine), Opana, Paramorphan (oxymorphone), Dilaudid, Palladone (hydromorphone), and OxyContin (oxycodone), kratom.
Hallucinogens can be divided into three broad categories: psychedelics, dissociatives, and deliriants. They can cause subjective changes in perception, thought, emotion and consciousness. Unlike other psychoactive drugs such as stimulants and opioids, hallucinogens do not merely amplify familiar states of mind but also induce experiences that differ from those of ordinary consciousness, often compared to non-ordinary forms of consciousness such as trance, meditation, conversion experiences, and dreams.
Psychedelics, dissociatives, and deliriants have a long worldwide history of use within medicinal and religious traditions. They are used in shamanic forms of ritual healing and divination, in initiation rites, and in the religious rituals of syncretistic movements such as União do Vegetal, Santo Daime, Temple of the True Inner Light, and the Native American Church. When used in religious practice, psychedelic drugs, as well as other substances like tobacco, are referred to as entheogens.
Starting in the mid-20th century, psychedelic drugs have been the object of extensive attention in the Western world. They have been and are being explored as potential therapeutic agents in treating depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, Obsessive-compulsive disorder, alcoholism, and opioid addiction. Yet the most popular, and at the same time most stigmatized, use of psychedelics in Western culture has been associated with the search for direct religious experience, enhanced creativity, personal development, and "mind expansion". The use of psychedelic drugs was a major element of the 1960s counterculture, where it became associated with various social movements and a general atmosphere of rebellion and strife between generations.
Stimulants, also known as "psychostimulants", induce euphoria with improvements in mental and physical function, such as enhanced alertness, wakefulness, and locomotion. Due to their effects typically having an "up" quality to them, stimulants are also occasionally referred to as "uppers". Depressants or "downers", which decrease mental and/or physical function, are in stark contrast to stimulants and are considered to be their functional opposites.
Stimulants enhance the activity of the central and peripheral nervous systems. Common effects may include increased alertness, awareness, wakefulness, endurance, productivity, and motivation, arousal, locomotion, heart rate, and blood pressure, and a diminished desire for food and sleep.
Use of stimulants may cause the body to reduce significantly its production of natural body chemicals that fulfill similar functions. Until the body reestablishes its normal state, once the effect of the ingested stimulant has worn off the user may feel depressed, lethargic, confused, and miserable. This is referred to as a "crash", and may provoke reuse of the stimulant.
Inhalants are gases, aerosols, or solvents that are breathed in and absorbed through the lungs. While some "inhalant" drugs are used for medical purposes, as in the case of nitrous oxide, a dental anesthetic, inhalants are used as recreational drugs for their intoxicating effect. Most inhalant drugs that are used non-medically are ingredients in household or industrial chemical products that are not intended to be concentrated and inhaled, including organic solvents (found in cleaning products, fast-drying glues, and nail polish removers), fuels (gasoline (petrol) and kerosene), and propellant gases such as Freon and compressed hydrofluorocarbons that are used in aerosol cans such as hairspray, whipped cream, and non-stick cooking spray. A small number of recreational inhalant drugs are pharmaceutical products that are used illicitly, such as anesthetics (ether and nitrous oxide) and volatile anti-angina drugs (alkyl nitrites).
The most serious inhalant abuse occurs among children and teens who "[...] live on the streets completely without family ties." Inhalant users inhale vapor or aerosol propellant gases using plastic bags held over the mouth or by breathing from a solvent-soaked rag or an open container. The effects of inhalants range from an alcohol-like intoxication and intense euphoria to vivid hallucinations, depending on the substance and the dosage. Some inhalant users are injured due to the harmful effects of the solvents or gases, or due to other chemicals used in the products that they are inhaling. As with any recreational drug, users can be injured due to dangerous behavior while they are intoxicated, such as driving under the influence. Computer cleaning dusters are dangerous to inhale, because the gases expand and cool rapidly upon being sprayed. In some cases, users have died from hypoxia (lack of oxygen), pneumonia, cardiac failure or arrest, or aspiration of vomit.
Marijuana is the most popular drug in Australia tried by more than 7 million Australians in a lifetime, with ecstasy being the second most popular tried by 2 million people. By age 20, 37% of the population have tried those drugs, and by age 40, this is just shy of 60%.
A 2008 study in the Republic of Ireland found that for teenagers aged 15–19:
Northern Ireland has the highest rate of recreational drug use among teenagers
In the 1960s, the number of Americans who had tried cannabis at least once increased over twentyfold. In 1969, the FBI reported that between the years 1966 and 1968, the number of arrests for marijuana possession, which had been outlawed throughout the United States under Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, had increased by 98%. Despite acknowledgement that drug use was greatly growing among America's youth during the late 1960s, surveys have suggested that only as much as 4% of the American population had ever smoked marijuana by 1969. By 1972, however, that number would increase to 12%. That number would then double by 1977.
The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 classified marijuana along with heroin and LSD as a Schedule I drug, i.e., having the relatively highest abuse potential and no accepted medical use. Most marijuana at that time came from Mexico, but in 1975 the Mexican government agreed to eradicate the crop by spraying it with the herbicide paraquat, raising fears of toxic side effects. Colombia then became the main supplier. The "zero tolerance" climate of the Reagan and Bush administrations (1981–93) resulted in passage of strict laws and mandatory sentences for possession of marijuana and in heightened vigilance against smuggling at the southern borders. The "war on drugs" thus brought with it a shift from reliance on imported supplies to domestic cultivation (particularly in Hawaii and California). Beginning in 1982 the Drug Enforcement Administration turned increased attention to marijuana farms in the United States, and there was a shift to the indoor growing of plants specially developed for small size and high yield. After over a decade of decreasing use, marijuana smoking began an upward trend once more in the early 1990s, especially among teenagers, but by the end of the decade this upswing had leveled off well below former peaks of use.
There have been many movements calling for the legalization of recreational drugs (the most notable one being cannabis). Examples of such movements are the Worldwide Marijuana March, Hemp Day, and 4/20. Several movements that call for the legalization of drugs, not from an argument of their safety but rather from an argument that this issue should be considered a medical one and not a criminal one, also exist, primarily in North America. One such organization is the Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP). The British drug reform group Transform believes that taxation and regulation of drugs by the government would significantly decrease crime while increasing the health of drug users and addicts. Impact varies from country to country, depending on its legality. Also, there are many anti-drug movements, specifically Straight Edge and The Partnership For A Drug Free America, calling for the continuation of its current illegality.
In a blog article titled "Drugs and the meaning of life", author and neuroscientist Sam Harris argues "The fact that we pointlessly ruin the lives of nonviolent drug users by incarcerating them, at enormous expense, constitutes one of the great moral failures of our time." He says that he dreads the thought of his daughter's ever taking an interest in crack cocaine. On the other hand, he feels that she might be missing out if she never tried psychedelics like psilocybin. Harris also laments that a drug's legality, social status, and risks of harm rarely correlate reasonably.
The amount and type of risks that come with recreational drug use vary widely with the drug. There are many factors in the environment and the user that interact with each drug differently. Overall, some studies suggest that alcohol is one of the most dangerous of all recreational drugs; only heroin, crack cocaine, and methamphetamines are judged to be more harmful. However, studies which focus on a moderate level of alcohol consumption have concluded that there can be substantial health benefits from its use, such as decreased risk of cardiac disease, stroke and cognitive decline. Experts in the UK offer that some drugs that may be causing less harm, to fewer users (although they are also used less frequently in the first place) include Cannabis, psilocybin mushrooms, LSD, and ecstasy. These drugs are not without their own particular risks.
A pile of cocaine hydrochloride
Tablets containing MDMA, widely known as "ecstasy"
Preparing heroin for injection
Crack cocaine in the form of "rocks"
Opium poppy seed pods exuding latex
Methamphetamine in crystal form
Coca tea, consumed as a stimulant
Ketamine hydrochloride crystals
25I-NBOMe is usually misrepresented as LSD and sold in blotters
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