Throughout human history drugs have been used to manage pain, combat disease and to alter perception and behaviour. Whether as naturally occurring herbs or synthetic substances, drugs have held both the promise of healing and the risk of poisoning.

The legal status, prevalence rates and social acceptance of particular drugs vary according to country and across different periods of history. In particular, legal status of a drug is rarely based on a scientific assessment of the inherent risks associated with it’s consumption.

Four forms of use psychoactive drug consumption 

Ritual / Cultural – Throughout human history drugs have been used in religious ceremonies.  A good example is how wine is used to symbolise the blood of Christ in the Christian communion.  Drugs also feature in the rituals and festivals of the world’s cultural groups. 

Medical / Therapeutic – Very obviously, drugs have an important role to play in maintaining and improving the health of the general community.  Whether it be over- the-counter medication or drugs prescribed by medical practitioners there are a multitude of uses and benefits that drugs confer on our society.

Social / Recreational – Drugs are often used as a way of relaxing, having fun or socialising with friends.  This kind of drug use may involve consuming large quantities of drugs and intoxication but, in general, stays within safe limits and does not interfere with other aspects of a person’s life. 

Occupational / Functional – Two examples of this kind of drug use, are students studying for exams using stimulants to stay alert and awake cram in more information and interstate truck drivers who also use stimulants to stay awake for longer periods and deliver the goods in less time. 

Adapted from the United Nations (UN): World drug report (1997)