Drug-Induced Changes in Consciousness
Meditation is one way to change the quality of conscious experience; medication is another. Many psychoactive drugs change aspects of one’s experience—so that antidepressants can decrease someone’s sense of apathy or sadness; analgesics can decrease how much pain someone is feeling. Other drugs have broader effects and seem to change the very nature of our experience. This is certainly true for many of the illegal drugs taken for recreational purposes; indeed, the change in consciousness is often the reason why people use (and abuse) these drugs. We discussed some of the biological mechanisms underlying the drugs’ effects and noted that these mechanisms all influence information flow at the synapse. Let’s now turn to the psychological effects of these drugs by looking first at depressants (drugs intended to decrease neural activity) and then at the stimulants (drugs that promote neural activity). After that, we’ll discuss marijuana as well as the broader set of hallucinogens. And finally, we’ll consider the thorny problem of defining “drug dependence” and addiction.