What is Psychopharmacology?

Psychopharmacology  refers  to  the  study  of  the actions  of  drugs  on  behavior.  Drugs  and  substances with the potential to modify or completely change human behavior are best known as psychoactive. It is noteworthy that psychopharmacology has  developed  along  with  advances  in  neuroscience research. These two fields of scientific inquiry revealed  the  mechanisms  of  brain  function—and more especially how chemical substances naturally occurring in the human brain (i.e., neurotransmitters) influence human behavior. The different types of psychoactive drugs can be broadly categorized as follows:

  • Opiates and narcotics
  • Neuroleptics or antipsychotics
  • Stimulants
  • Anti-anxiety agents
  • Antidepressants
  • Psychedelics
  • Sedative–hypnotics

Nicotine,  caffeine,  alcohol,  as  well  as  certain herbal  products  (e.g.,  ginkgo  biloba  and  ephedrine)  also  exert  psychoactive  effects  and  change aspects   of   behavior   by   inducing   alertness   and increasing energy levels.

Function and Uses of Psychoactive Drugs

Psychoactive drugs exert their effects on brain cells (neurons)  mainly  by  mimicking  or  increasing  the function of neurotransmitters (agonists) or decreasing and countering the effects of neurotransmitters (antagonists).  Some  psychoactive  drugs  are  used as  sedatives  and  induce  hypnotic  states,  whereas others  are  used  to  counter  the  negative  effects  of anxiety  disorders  or  depression.  In  principal,  psychoactive drugs are used for the treatment of a wide range  of  psychiatric  symptoms  and  psychological disorders. In addition to their clinical uses, psychoactive  substances  are  consumed  for  recreational purposes in a variety of settings and social contexts. Alcohol, nicotine, marijuana, and psychedelic drugs (e.g.,  MDMA,  or  ecstasy)  are  commonly  used, especially among young people, during social interactions,  such  as  parties.  Studies  indicate  that  psychoactive substances may also be used to increase academic performance during exams and increase productivity in specific professions.

Psychoactive Drug Use in Sports

Psychoactive  drugs  are  used  in  sports  to  increase athletic  performance  in  numerous  ways.  Several studies  report  that  psychoactive  substances  are effective in countering the effects of insomnia and sleep  disturbances  followed  by  excessive  training in  elite  athletes.  Athletes  may  also  use  psychoactive  drugs  to  counter  stress  and  anxiety  associated with intensive training and work–life balance issues.  Research  also  indicates  that  psychoactive substances  are  used  to  increase  athletic  performance.  For  instance,  stimulants  like  ephedrine based   supplements   induce   thermogenesis   and elevate energy levels. This is assumed to help athletes increase physical stamina and burn body fat more  effectively.  However,  evidence  of  the  actual performance-enhancing  properties  of  psychoactive  drugs  is  unequivocal.  The  presumed  ergogenic effects may come at the expense of physical and mental well-being. Specifically, serious health problems  and  death  may  result  from  prolonged and excessive use of psychoactive substances, such as amphetamines.

Therapeutic Uses and Doping Prevention

International  sporting  organizations  and  agencies try to regulate psychoactive drug use among athletes. The list of prohibited substances issued annually  by  the  World  Anti-Doping  Agency  (WADA) includes  several  types  of  psychoactive  drugs  that are  considered  doping  agents,  such  as  narcotics, stimulants, amphetamines, and alcohol (prohibited in-competition  in  specific  sports).  Nevertheless, some  prohibited  psychoactive  drugs  may  be  used under  the  Therapeutic  Use  Exemptions  (TUE) regime. This involves the authorization to use medication for the treatment of specific conditions or illnesses in athletes and necessitates strict medical supervision of the TUE process.

Psychoactive Drug Use Inside and Outside Sports

Psychoactive drugs are used in different situations, and the use of specific substances (e.g., cannabis, alcohol,  nicotine)  can  be  initiated,  as  previously noted,  in  nonsporting  contexts  such  as  parties and other socializing activities. Thus, unlike other doping  substances,  psychoactive  drugs  entail  a unique  socialization  element,  and  their  use  may be the result of peer influences or other processes that  do  not  necessarily  relate  to  performance enhancement.  By  this  token,  preventing  psychoactive  drug  use  in  sports  should  not  only  focus on  a  strict  detection-and-punishment  approach. Rather  it  could  be  equally  important  to  address the  broader  societal  influences  and  trends  that facilitate  and  normalize  psychoactive  drug  use outside  sports.  For  instance,  collegiate  athletes are  familiarized  with  excessive  alcohol  drinking and  the  use  of  other  psychoactive  substances  in college campus and outside sporting events. This socialization process may facilitate the use of psychoactive drugs in the sporting context—the drugs once used for recreation can be used to facilitate performance enhancement.

References:

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  6. Martens, M. P., Dams-O’Connor, K., & Beck, N. C. (2006). A systematic review of college student-athlete drinking: Prevalence rates, sport-related factors, and interventions. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 31, 305–316.
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