7 Drugs and Their Psychological Effects

While drugs don’t all have the exact same effects, they do work in a similar way: by ‘playing’ with and manipulating your neurons and neurotransmitters. This can have far reaching effects, from pleasant short bursts of energy and elated feelings of a ‘high’, to depression, lack of appetite or even a solid addiction. They can even cause long term neural damage. Today on psych2go, we will investigate the effects of several drugs, and see who were some of the most talked about users. We will also discuss the possible dangers of recreational drug use, and the different types of addiction or dependence. The first part discusses the psychological effects of drugs, the second part discusses types of addiction and more.

1. Cocaine

A drug in the stimulant category. They increase your heart rate, sweating and some degree of euphoric feelings. A common side effect is feeling invincible. They also influence sleep patterns.

Because of these stimulating properties it can influence your arteries and heart, especially when used more often. The psychological effects of drugs, particularly stimulant drugs, can involve an increased production of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that influences positive feelings. This causes cocaine to be a particularly addictive drug. It can be snorted in its powder form, but can also be smoked or injected. Smoking and injecting are said to have more intense but short bursts of effects, while snorting is said to lead to a longer high. [X] 

Sigmund Freud and cocaine

At some point Freud believed cocaine was some kind of miracle cure for other problems. He wrote several texts praising the substance. His first major scientific publication was a medical analysis of the effects of cocaine (or coca) titled “Über Coca” (on coca), in 1884. He even used it himself, quite frequently actually. Freud was initially drawn to it because a close friend of his, Fleischl-Marxow, was extremely addicted to morphine (nowadays used as a strong painkiller), and thought that cocaine might cure him. But of course, swapping one addictive drug for another is not a very good way to handle addiction. Then again, people at the time were not as much aware yet of the negative consequences it could have. [X] 

2. Opium

Opium is a naturally occurring substance in types of poppy seeds and flowers. It can be chemically processed to produce heroine or synthetic opioids for drug trade or medicine. There are records and archaeological evidence dating back opium use to before 500CE (common era). Soe even go as far back as 5000BCE, still in the Neolithic age.

During the Victorian Era big cities such as London had places known as opium dens. Here people could go to buy and use opium, and then lay around. It was a rather popular drug at the time. It is often smoked.

At first the effects can include relaxation and pain relief, or even lowered anxiety. It can also give a sensation of floating outside yourself, or emotional detachment. [X]  On the other hand, it can mess with your coordination and alertness – bringing it down to sluggish and very slow. The damaging effect of opium do not always show immediately, sometimes a user might only start feeling them long after use, or after a period of prolonged use. Opium can lead to lung problems, brain liver and kidney issues, as well as damaging other organs. [X] 

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Famous Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius was a user of opium, which at the time was reserved to the very wealthiest. [X] He was prescribed “theriac” (a name for opium used during his age) by Galen, who you might remember from our What Temperament Are You? QUIZ. He formulated an interesting theory that our personality is shaped by 4 bodily fluids and the proportions in which our body produces them. For more information visit the quiz here. 

Even queen Victoria’s household ordered opium from the royal apothecary. There are rumours she might also have taken cocaine gum with Winston Churchill, who was a young man at the time. [X]

3. Cannabis

There are several types of cannabis, most of which are used as either recreational drug or medicinal purposes. The principal psychoactive component, which causes the psychological effects of drugs, or actually, in this drug is THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). Not all drugs have the same psychoactive component. Some strains of the plant have been selectively bred to produce low levels of THC and high levels of fiber, which allows people to make hemp ropes. [X] 

The fact that it derives from a plant causes different batches or strains to have very different levels of THC, and therefore not being consistent with effects. Effects of cannabis are said to be very dependent on the person using it. Using cannabis can release increased amounts of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and norepinephrine. [X]  Dopamine can give users a ‘happy and high’ feeling, but norepinephrine is a stress related transmitter, which can greatly increase anxiety. Sometimes this can lead to paranoia. Other effects of cannabis might be an altered perception, jovial feelings, episodic memory, increased libido, and increased awareness of sensation. Furthermore, it can alter your body image, lead to dissociative feelings such as depersonalization [X] or the feeling of losing touch with reality. [X] 

4. Alcohol

Medical School Brain GIF

It might not have been the first to pop into your head, but chemically speaking, alcohol is definitely a drug. To be more precise, alcohol is a drug in the depressant category, which is a category of drugs that slow down bodily processes. Compare this to the stimulant category for example. Apart from slowing bodily functions, they also slow brain functions. Thinking takes longer, and your movement becomes less precise: many people have trouble walking when drunk. This also results in slurred speech. A very low intake of alcohol might have some positive effects in some individuals. [X]  The psychological effects of drugs, in this case, can also differ for each individual, some turn extra sleepy, others turn angry, and some might become very emotional. [X]

5. Mushrooms

Drug mushrooms, often psilocybin mushrooms, fall into the hallucinogen category. Psychedelic mushrooms can contain many different types of psychotropic substances. Mushrooms are a hallucinogenic drug, which is a category of drugs that alters your perception of reality. Compared to other types, hallucinogens often stay in your system for longer. Some of the drugs can cause an odd phenomenon referred to as reverse tolerance – needing less the next time to reach the same effect.

They can have many different psychological effects, but the most common are altered emotions, such as feeling more or less emotional. Others include vivid hallucinations of different kinds: sounds, touch, color, and others.


MDMA falls into both hallucinogens and stimulants. It often appears in three variants, powder, pill and crystal. The pill form is better known by the name XTC. It is broken down by the kidney. It can cause increased feelings of empathy, euphoria and heightened sensations in general. [X] The negative effects can be rather extreme, from depression and fatigue, to paranoia, loss of memory, addiction, teeth grinding and vision problems. [X] 

7. LSD

This also falls into the hallucinogens category, and may cause vivid fantasies, loss of identity or other hallucinations. It often appears to be sold as small tablets, called microdots, or even infused in small, thin squares of gelatine. [X] It can have physical effects such as dilated pupils, loss of appetite, and sleepiness.

The psychological effects of drugs, in this case are delusions, hallucinations, altered emotions, impaired time perceptions and visions of movements, sounds, colors or touch.

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Types of addiction

psychological effects of drugs

There is more than one kind of addiction, also referred to as dependence. This is defined as an inability to function as normal without the substance or thing you are dependent on. Or “a compulsive need for and use of a habit-forming substance (such as heroine, nicotine or alcohol) characterised by tolerance and well-defined physiological symptoms on withdrawal”. [X] 

Tolerance occurs when you repeatedly use a substance and the same dose starts having a smaller effect. It is the diminishing effect with regular use of the same dose of the same substance. As a result, a user needs to take larger and larger doses to experience the same effect, which can spiral into addiction. Tolerance often arises from drugs that create physiological dependence.

As per the DSM-5, drug use disorders are classified as addictive disorders. Usually, ‘addicts’ often uses the drug more than they originally planned, and continues using despite the negative consequences they experience.

Physiological addition

Physiological addiction, or physical dependence, involves changes in bodily functions. For example, people with dependence might start shivering or having tremors when they cannot get their ‘fix’. Other symptoms can include sweating, throwing up, heart palpitations and increased blood pressure, among other things.

Psychological addiction

Psychological dependence involves the mind. This type of dependence has a more emotional connotation, and the need for the drug is used, for example, to relieve emotional distress or discomfort.

However, while this might seem clear cut, most addictions or dependences are a combination of both types. They hardly ever occur completely separate. [X] 

Disclaimer: This is not a medical publication. No right scan be derived from the direct or indirect consequences of interacting with this page. Everything here is at your own risk. It is neither a help article, fort hat we would like to redirect you to professional institutions who deal with drug related issues on a daily basis, some of which you can find here. https://drugabuse.com/library/drug-abuse-hotlines/

These were psychological effects of drugs. Did you like this article, then please SHARE it to help our mission of helping people learn about psychology. Besides psychological effects of drugs, what other topics do you want to learn about? Send suggestions to our facebook page or our tumblr.

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  1. I’m a recovering alcoholic. Sober 5 years the first time before relapsing into a long period of daily drinking to the point that I was drinking 24/7. I would drink, throw up and drink more to stop the nausea. Repeat the process. The second time almost cost me my life. I was almost dead when I arrived at the ER. Thanks to rehab and psychological therapy I’ve been sober 4 years now. The demon never leaves though and it’s a daily battle and will be for the rest of my life. Once an alcoholic/ addict always an alcoholic/ addict.


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