Understanding Psychoactive Substances (And the Lifestyle Medicine Approach)

Updated: Jun 9


So far I have discussed Lifestyle Medicine and its three of the areas of focus namely: nutrition, sleep, and stress management. This time, I’ll be featuring the fourth focus: the avoidance of psychoactive substances and how Lifestyle Medicine could help you avoid these substances.

What are Psychoactive Substances?

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines psychoactive substances as essences which when taken into your body affects your mental processes. The term “psychoactive substances” is a neutral and descriptive term for a whole class of substances whether legal or illegal. The adjective “psychoactive” does not necessarily imply dependence or abuse, although it is commonly associated with addiction because of its effects in the brain.

Classifications of Psychoactive Substances

Psychoactive substances can be classified in different ways.


Depending on your intention of using, psychoactive substances can be classified as therapeutic or recreational. Medicines are therapeutic substances however, these could also cause some side effects affecting our mental processes (like sleepiness, sluggishness, etc.). Alcohol and tobacco, on the other hand, are considered recreational because you only use them during recreational activities.


Depending on each country, psychoactive substances can be legal or illegal. Some countries in the world consider marijuana (Cannabis sativa) legal but some countries do not.


Depending on its source, psychoactive substances can be natural or synthetic. Tobacco, wine, coffee are just a few examples of natural psychoactive substances. Most illegal drugs are synthetic or man-made.

Route of Administration

Psychoactive substances can also be classified into the way these substances enter your body. It could be by inhalation, orally or by injection.

Mechanism of Action

The most used classification that allows to define better psychoactive substances is its mechanism of action in the body once consumed. This classification divides psychoactive substances into three:


These are substances that activate the central nervous system and increase its activity. Cocaine, amphetamines, nicotine, and caffeine are just a few examples of stimulants.


These are also known as hallucinogens since they alter mental perception. Examples are LSD, ketamine, and marijuana.


These substances decrease the activity of the central nervous system and enhance inhibition. Alcohol, barbiturates, and be