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Encyclopedia > Drugs
For other uses, see Drug (disambiguation).
Many drugs are provided in form.
Many drugs are provided in tablet form.

A drug is any substance that can be used to treat an illness, relieve a symptom, or modify a chemical process or processes in the body. The word "drug" is etymologically derived from the Dutch/Low German word "droog", which means "dry", since in the past, most drugs were dried plant parts.



The term "drug" is necessarily a vague one, being defined by intent: for example, foods consumed for normal metabolism are not generally considered "drugs", but the same foods consumed for a more specific purpose (such as the use of alcohol as a depressant or caffeine as a stimulant) may be. Depending on the definition used, the same substance may even be considered both a food and a drug at the same time. The term "medication" is frequently applied to drugs used for medical treatment, presumably to avoid conflation with recreational drugs.

Legal Distribution

In the United States, medical professionals may obtain drugs from pharmaceutical companies or pharmacies (which in turn purchase drugs from pharmaceutical companies). Pharmacies may also supply a drug directly to patients, authorized by a prescription from a medical professional, if the drug can be safely self-administered. Most drugs are relatively high-cost for patients to purchase directly when first distributed, although health insurance may mitigate some of the cost. When the patent for a drug runs out, a generic drug (some known as simply a "generic") is usually synthesized and released by competing companies, causing the price to drop markedly. Drugs which don't require prescription by a medical professional are known as over-the-counter (OTC) drugs and can be sold in stores without pharmacy association.

Meanwhile many recreational drugs are illegal almost everywhere, meaning that there distribution is through criminal networks. This results in adulterated products such as soap bar. See Drug policy of the Netherlands.


Drugs may be classified in many different ways, according to mechanism of action, effects, or even legal status.


Usage of most of drugs is regulated to some extent. While details vary with location, these are somewhat usual regulations in the Western world:

Not regulated:

Regulated to some extent (age or labeling requirements, for example) but available over the counter:

Prescription drugs, prohibited for non-medical use:

Varies from tolerated to prohibited for medical use:

Varies from prohibited for non-medical use to prohibited for any use

Prohibited for any use, no medical uses currently allowed

UN documents

Three international UN treaties regulate drugs laws:

  • UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs from 1961, see http://www.incb.org/e/conv/1961/index.htm
  • UN Convention on Psychotropic Substances from 1971, see http://www.incb.org/e/conv/1971/index.htm
  • UN Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances from 1988, see http://www.incb.org/e/conv/1988/index.htm

The UN Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention (http://www.undcp.org/) is charged with overseeing these treaties and maintains a list of signatory nations at http://www.undcp.org/treaty_adherence.html.

See also

External links

Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to:
  • United Nations Drug Control (http://www.tni.org/drugsungass/index.htm) A critical review of the United Nations drug control system (Transnational Institute)
  • Dutch Jellinek clinic (http://www.jellinek.nl/brain/index.html) Shows the micro biological effect of several kinds of drugs on brain cells, using flash animations.
  • http://www.erowid.org reliable, non-judgmental information about psychoactive plants and chemicals and related issues. Working with academic, medical, and experiential experts to develop and publish new resources.

Books about Illicit and Popular Drugs

  • The Pursuit of Oblivion: A Global History of Narcotics (2002) ISBN 0393051897
  • Forces of Habit: Drugs and the Making of the Modern World (2002) ISBN 0674010035
  • Pharmako/Dynamis: Stimulating Plants, Potions and Herbcraft (2002) ISBN 1562791257
  • Illegal Drugs: A Complete Guide to Their History, Chemistry, Use and Abuse (2001) ISBN 0970313012
  • The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Substances (2000) ISBN 0312263171
  • A Brief History of Drugs: From the Stone Age to the Stoned Age (1999) ISBN 0892818263
  • Phantastica: A Classic Survey on the Use and Abuse of Mind-Altering Plants (1998) ISBN 0892817836
  • Essential Substances: A Cultural History of Intoxicants in Society (1995) ISBN 1568360754
  • Pharmako/Poeia: Plants Powers, Poisons, and Herbcraft (1995) ISBN 1562790692
  • Plant Intoxicants: A Classic Text on the Use of Mind-Altering Plants (1994) ISBN 0892814985
  • The alchemy of culture: Intoxicants in society (1993) ISBN 0714117366

  Results from FactBites:
Drugs and Teen Substance Abuse (1421 words)
Club drugs: This term refers to drugs being used by teens and young adults at all-night dance parties such as "raves" or "trances," dance clubs, and bars.
Because some club drugs are colorless, tasteless, and odorless, they can be added unobtrusively to beverages by individuals who want to intoxicate or sedate others.
Drug use is associated with a variety of negative consequences, including increased risk of serious drug use later in life, school failure, and poor judgment which may put teens at risk for accidents, violence, unplanned and unsafe sex, and suicide.
The Good Drugs Guide (2130 words)
GHB was dubbed a date-rape drug despite the fact that its foul taste cannot be masked by any amount of soft drink.
A drug to dampen violent impulses might someday be similarly applied.
The minister responsible for drug policy, Jim Anderton, says he is confident the research - one of four studies - is a fair reflection of the situation, and says it is not a problem that only two brands of BZP, Jet and Bliss, were used for the study.
  More results at FactBites »



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