Recreational drug use is the use of psychoactive drugs for recreational purposes rather than for work, medical or spiritual purposes, although the distinction is not always clear. Regardless of medical supervision, this label does not apply to the use of drugs for utilitarian purposes, such as the relief of fatigue or insomnia, or the control of appetite.
A distinction must be made between (recreational) drug use and drug abuse, although there is much controversy on where the dividing line lies on the spectrum from a drug user to a drug abuser. Some say that abuse begins when the user begins shirking responsibility in order to afford drugs or to have enough time to use them. Some say it begins when a person uses excessive amounts, while others draw the line at the point of legality, and others believe it amounts to chronic use despite degenerating mental and physical health in the user. Some think that any illegal intoxicant consumption is an inappropriate activity.
In many cases, the possession and use of common recreational drugs violates the law; this is often considered an exercise in hypocrisy in that alcohol, tobacco, and various over-the-counter and prescription medications with a high potential for abuse (such as OxyContin, NyQuil, and cough supressants containing the hallucinogenic drug dextromethorphan) are not only legal, regulated and taxed by the government in regards to their distribution, but actively encouraged in some respects (especially alcohol; the most heavily used and abused substance in the world, especially between people aged 19-24). Additionally, many prevalent prohibitionist figures in the American War on Drugs, such as William Bennett, Rush Limbaugh, and Richard Nixon, have themselves unapologetically abused drugs, alcohol, and other forms of indulgent behavior (Bennett, former U.S. Drug Czar, lost over $8,000,000 because of his gambling addiction).
Perhaps the greatest irony of the drug war is that it is essentially prohibiting victimless crimes; in this sense, its actual intent largely remains a mystery. By contrast, alcohol increases aggressive behavior in human beings and heavy use regularly results in drunk-driving accidents, in which people are often killed, and domestic abuse amongst family members of alcoholics; most other drugs seem to affect the body in an opposite manner. Scientific research and experimentation into illicit substances is incredibly difficult due to their illegality, although some of them have documented medicinal properties (marijuana, for example, is quite popular in this field and effective in treating many disorders, and psychedelics such as LSD and MDMA are highly effective in psychotherapy treatment).
This attitude is less prevalent in western Europe and more recently in Canada, where enforcement of extant legal penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana and other so-called soft drugs such as hallucinogenic mushrooms is increasingly ignored or given a low priority by law enforcement officials.
This attitude stands in marked contrast to the official policy of the United States government, which declared a War on Drugs under President Richard Nixon in 1972 which later intensified under Ronald Reagan, but saw its greatest increases (in budget, and in the number of arrests and prosecutions) under President Bill Clinton. The United States is far more stringent about enforcing penalties for soft drug use. The Drug Enforcement Administration, or DEA, is primarily responsible for illegal drug interdiction at the federal level. Despite the application of billions of dollars to eliminate the use of illegal drugs, recreational drug use remains common in the United States, and according to some studies is actually more common than in Europe where the laws are more relaxed (although, as stated, prescription drugs are abused in much greater numbers, and given almost no concern by the DEA whatsoever). Millions of illicit drug users exist in the United States who have never faced prosecution. Many American police officers dont bother enforcing possession laws on those holding small quanities of soft drugs.
In Asia penalties vary from country to country, but can be even stricter than in the West. For example, under Singapore law, drug trafficking in over 15 g of heroin carries a mandatory death penalty.
Some theorize that the taboos on recreational drugs add an aura of mystique to their use, and encourage experimentation (i.e., the forbidden fruit phenomenon). This phenomenon was prevalent in the 1920s during the American alcohol prohibition. It is argued that the dangers of illicit drugs are widely exaggerated (especially in regards to marijuana, with most of its purported negative effects being routinely dismissed as junk science), and actual experimentation can give the user a sense of knowledge of the true dangers of a drugs side effects and addictive properties. An unfortunate side effect of this is that, considering that anti-drug education programs are known to exaggerate the negative effects of illicit substances, many young people encourage themselves to experiment with much more dangerous substances (such as methamphetamines) after convincing themselves theyve been lied to when discovering softer drugs, such as marijuana, are nowhere near as harmful as expected.
A few societies have abandoned what they feel are unsuccessful attempts to prohibit recreational drugs, and instead turned to a policy of harm reduction by informing users of ways to reduce common risks associated with popular drugs, and providing medical assistance for drug users who wish to stop using drugs (similar approaches are used to sex-education). Harm reduction is the official policy of the Netherlands, Brazil, and some areas of Canada such as Vancouver, which have stopped actively prosecuting end users of recreational drugs. Instead, law enforcement efforts focus on capturing illegal dealers of hard drugs such as heroin and cocaine, passing out clean needles to intravenous (IV) drug users, and providing medical assistance for addicted users who wish to stop taking drugs.
Many currently legal recreational drugs (examples: alcohol, tobacco and caffeine) have been subject to prohibition throughout history, and likewise most of the currently illegal recreational drugs have been legal as recently as the early twentieth century such as with heroin, cocaine and marijuana, or even later for some newer synthetic chemicals such as LSD.
Drugs popularly used for recreation
The drugs most popular for recreational use worldwide are, in alphabetical order, alcohol, betel nut, caffeine, cannabis, khat and tobacco.
Other substances often used for recreational purposes follow:
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