Types of Drugs


The term drug is used to describe any illicit substance that has an effect on the structure and functioning of the brain when it is taken.


This definition does not include foods, but it includes alcohol, tobacco, medicine, Indian hemp and other illegal substances.


A drug is “psychoactive” or “mind altering” because it affects the way the user feels, thinks or act when under its influence. Any consumption of a drug in any quantity is known as drug use.


The term drug abuse is used to describe a situation in which drug use:


(1) Has become excessive

(2) Is contrary to the recommendation of medical expert, or

(3) Causes problems for the user or someone else.


Any use of an illegal drug is also regarded as an abuse. Sometimes, the term “drug misuse” is used interchangeably with drug abuse.


Drug dependence or addiction is an extreme degree of drug use in which the drug user has become preoccupied with the drug even in the face of social, health and occupational problems caused by the drug.
Drug dependent persons take increased amount of the drug to achieve a previous level of satisfaction. They also take the drug to prevent or relieve physical or psychological pains caused by a reduction in the amount of the drug in the body.




There are several categories of drugs with the potential for abuse. There are stimulants, tobacco products, cannabis sativa (Indian hemp), depressants, alcohol, narcotics, hallucinogens and inhalants. What follows is a brief description of each drug category.


As the name implies, stimulants are drugs that “stimulate” the brain. They are used to relieve fatigue and increase alertness when studying for examinations or doing other kinds of work. Many drugs with legitimate medical purposes are stimulants. For example, drugs that are used to control weight or extreme sleepiness do so by increasing brain activity.


The most popular stimulant in the world today is caffeine – a drug that is consumed in coffee, tea, kola nuts, and soft drinks. Caffeine is a mild stimulant when taken in these forms. Other stimulants are the amphetamines (e.g, dexedrine) and pemoline. These drugs are often taken in tablets form for purposes mentioned above.


Cocaine is a stimulant that has caused a lot of concern in Nigeria in recent years. With street names like rock, coke, or snow, cocaine is the most potent stimulant. Cocaine can be smoked, sniffed or injected. Whether in powder forms or as the solid known as “crack”, cocaine may lead to dependence very rapidly. Because of the very strong negative feelings experienced by cocaine-dependent people when they cannot take the drug, it is no surprise that they often engage in criminal activities, especially stealing, in order to satisfy their habit.


Tobacco contains a drug known as nicotine, which acts as a stimulant. Nicotine is found in the cigarettes, chewing tobacco, snuff, and pipe tobacco.
A high proportion of young people who become drug users begin with cigarette smoking and then move on to other drugs, e.g, Indian hemp.


Though tobacco is a legal substance, it is one of the most harmful drugs on earth, in terms of disease and death. For example, more than 40,000 people die every year in the U.S. because of smoking. More than 50% of these deaths are due to lung cancer and heart disease. There are no concrete data on the link between tobacco and death in Nigeria, but there is little doubt that smoking is a significant contributor to chronic diseases and death in the country.


One of the ironies of “war on drugs waged around the world is the inadequate attention being paid to legal substances like cigarette and alcohol. It is noteworthy that the tobacco industry in an increasing number of countries is facing legal challenges for its contribution to the burden of disease in these countries. Though the promulgation of the Tobacco Smoking (control) Decree in 1990 was a recognition by the government of the dangers of smoking even to non-smokers, anti-smoking sentiments in Nigeria are generally restrained.



Unlike stimulants, depressants act to slow down (depress) the activity of the brain. They are usually taken for relaxation and feeling of calm. As medicines, depressants are used to treat anxiety and insomnia (inability to sleep).


Alcohol stands out as the most often consumed depressant and one of the world’s most available drugs. Beverages containing ethyl alcohol are consumed in a variety of industrial and traditional forms. Like cigarettes, alcoholic beverages often serve as the gateway to the use of illicit drugs.


Alcoholism or alcohol dependence is the most serious drug problem in many countries, affecting young and old. Alcohol abuse is the direct or indirect cause of many social problems at home, in the workplace and the community. Of great significance today is the role it plays in the HIV infection. Because drinking clouds the mind and impairs judgement, young people can engage in unsafe sex when under the influence of alcohol.


Other examples of depressants are medications like Valium, Librium and Ativan. These drugs are often prescribed to reduce anxiety or induce sleep. Self-medication with these drugs can lead to addiction.



Though often used to refer to all illicit drugs, the term narcotics is correctly reserved for drugs that cause drowsiness and a feeling of euphoria. Their legitimate use is to relieve pain.


Examples of drugs with narcotic properties are opium, morphine, heroin, methadone and codeine. Use of any of these drugs in ways that are not recommended by a medical practitioner may lead to dependence on the drug. In many countries, addiction to heroin is a very serious problem. The HIV/AIDS epidemic in several countries was fueled to a great extent, by drug users who were injecting heroin. Heroin use, either by smoking or injection, is a problem among urban youth in Nigeria today.



Unlike heroin and cocaine, which are relatively new drugs, Indian hemp (also known as marijuana, reefer, pot, joint, dope, weed, etc.) has been available in Nigeria for many decades. It remains the most widely used illicit drug in the country today and the only one produced locally. In fact, the hemp plant is grown in all parts of the country in farmlands or flower pots at home.


The usual method of taking Indian hemp is by smoking the dried leaves as a cigarette or in a pipe, but it can also be consumed as tea. The effect of smoking Indian hemp include a feeling of relaxation, increased appetite, and increased perception. One of the dangers posed by this drug, especially among young smokers, is a tendency to lose interest in achieving one’s goals.


Though there is no conclusive causal evidence, an association between smoking Indian hemp and the development of psychiatric symptoms. There is some evidence that regular smoking of Indian hemp can lead to changes in personality, chronic anxiety and depression.


When a child begins to smoke Indian hemp there is added fear that he or she may progress to the use of more dangerous drugs like cocaine and heroin. Though most Indian hemp users do not take the next step, studies in many countries show that cocaine and heroin use tends to be preceded by some involvement with Indian hemp.



These are drugs which when taken lead to a distortion of reality. A person on a hallucinogen may believe in things that have no basis in fact or hear and see things that do not exist in reality.
In this sense Indian hemp is a mild hallucinogen but its effects are not as powerful as LSD or PCP (“angel dust”). The use of these hallucinogens by youth in Nigeria has not been reported to be widespread.



Inhalants (especially organic solvents) are the ingredients of common products found at home or in the workplace. Examples of these products are “Dunlop solution” used by vulcanizers to fix tires, glues used in carpentry and shoe repair, petrol, hair spray, paint, and correction fluid.


As the name implies, these substances are often inhaled from containers to achieve intoxication. Inhaling these substances is dangerous because it may lead to confusion, unconsciousness, brain damage and death. Because these substances are easily found at home, their potential for abuse by children and adolescents is very high. There is a growing evidence today that solvents are being used by an increasing number of Nigerian youth to get high.


Club Drugs
A growing phenomenon in many parts of the world is the use of a group of drugs known as “club drugs” by teenagers and young adults. The most popular of these drugs today is MDMA, popularly known as “Ecstasy” (with slang names like Adam, X or XTC). Other are GHB (gamma hydroxybutyrate), Ketamine, Methamphetamine, and Rohypnol. These substances are manufactured and sold illegally in tablet, or capsule form.


GHB, Ketamine and Rohypnol act as depressants. They are colourless and odourless and, because they can be dropped in someone’s drink and consumed unknowingly, they have gained a reputation as sexual assault (rape) drugs.
Especially because club drugs are often used in combination with each other and with alcohol, they have a high risk for both physical and psychological harm to users.



Steroids are another group of drugs with the potential of abuse by adolescents and young adults. Anabolic steroids are synthetic substances that are used to enhance the growth of muscles and male sexual characteristics. It is not surprising therefore, that there has been illegal use of steroids by athletes in many countries, including Nigeria.


Like most drugs, anabolic steroids have legitimate medical uses, for example, in the treatment of conditions involving low levels of male sex hormones, testosterone. The negative consequences of steroid abuse include such diverse medical problems as acne, cancer and stroke.