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How Drugs Affect the Mind

All drugs are basically poisons. A poison is something that makes people or animals become ill or die if it gets into their bodies. However, some poisons are much stronger than others and more harmful to a person’s health.

The effect that a drug has depends on how much of it a person takes. A small amount acts as a stimulant (increases the activity of part or parts of the body). A larger amount is a sedative (lessens the activity of part or parts of the body). But if he takes an even larger amount, the drug becomes a poison and can kill him.

For example, coffee contains caffeine, which is a drug. Two or three cups of coffee stimulates a person. Ten cups would probably put him to sleep, but one hundred cups would be likely to kill him. It is not very harmful, as it takes so much of it to have an effect. So it is known as a stimulant.

Arsenic is a much more harmful drug than caffeine and is known as a poison. Yet a tiny amount of arsenic is a stimulant. A larger dose puts one to sleep and a few grains of it are enough to kill someone.

All drugs, then, have a bad effect on the body. That effect may be small or great. But there are many drugs which cause other problems as well because they have a bad effect on the mind.


To understand how drugs affect the mind, you need to know something about what the mind is and how it works.

The mind is not the brain. The brain is simply that part of the body inside the head that uses the nerves to send out instructions to different parts of the body.

Your mind is what you use to think, remember and decide. It contains recordings of everything that has happened to you from the very beginning of your life until now. By recording we mean an exact copy of something.

Your mind makes recordings of all your thoughts, conclusions, decisions, observations and perceptions (things one becomes aware of through the senses). For example, you may recall a time something occurred when you were a child. Your mind contains the memory of that occasion, which is a recording of the things you saw, heard and felt, the conclusions you came to and any decisions you made when it happened.

These recordings are called mental image pictures. Mental image pictures are color pictures with sound and smell and all other perceptions, plus the person’s conclusions or opinions. These pictures have height, width and depth.

For example, a person remembers having breakfast that morning. Most people, recalling this memory, would see a mental image picture of the table, the food and the room. They would see in their mind the color of the tablecloth and the objects and people in the room. If their ability to recall is good, they would also be able to smell the food and hear the voices of others at the breakfast table.

If they had decided to have another cup of coffee, they would remember making the decision to have a second cup.

All these perceptions of that moment are part of the mental image picture.

These mental image pictures exist on a conscious level, which means that the person is aware of them when they happen and can recall them afterwards. However, mental image pictures also exist of things that happened when the person was partly or fully unconscious. Those mental image pictures exist below the person’s awareness. He does not know they exist and is not able to recall them at will.

For example, a person trips and bangs his head against a wall. Even though he is not seriously hurt and soon recovers, there was a moment of pain and unconsciousness when his head struck the wall. The mental image picture of that moment, complete with all perceptions, is recorded in the mind even though it is below his awareness.

One of the effects of taking drugs is to make a person unconscious. The extent to which he is unconscious may be great or small. But a person under the influence of a drug is not fully aware of what is happening around him.

For example, let’s say a person took the drug LSD. This is a powerful drug that makes someone feel like the world around him is different. It changes the way he senses space and time. He may also have delusions, which are things that seem real to him at the time but do not actually exist. While under the influence of this drug, the person is not fully conscious. He is not fully aware of his actual surroundings. But his mind would still be recording everything as it happened and would contain mental image pictures of the whole experience, complete with the sights, smells, feelings, sounds, etc., that occurred.

Let us say he took the LSD at an outdoor rock concert on a hot summer day. He experienced a number of effects from taking the drug. His heart rate increased and his emotions kept changing. He also felt nausea from the smell of cigarette smoke nearby. Sometime during the day he was separated from his friends, panicked and felt anxiety. He also suffered delusions, “hearing” colors and “seeing” sounds. His mind would contain mental image pictures of the whole day’s experiences, including the delusions caused by the LSD.

The mental pictures from that day’s experiences can then affect him in the future just as they did when he took the drug. If, one day, his surroundings contained similarities to the time he took the LSD, the mental image pictures could become active again. This is known as restimulation, a past memory becoming active due to circumstances in the present which are similar to circumstances of the past.

He might be outside on a hot day and hear loud music playing. Someone nearby might light a cigarette and blow the smoke in his direction. His heart might suddenly begin racing and he would probably feel nauseous. He might feel anxious for no obvious reason. He could also experience again the delusions of “hearing” colors and “seeing” sounds. He has not taken any more of the drug. But the mental pictures have been restimulated.

On this occasion it was events in the man’s surroundings that caused the restimulation. But there is another way in which the restimulation can occur.

Drug residues (the amounts left over after use) remain in the body long after the person has taken the drug. These drug residues lodge, meaning become fixed or stuck, in the fatty tissues of the body. Later, they can get dislodged and go back into action in the bloodstream, causing the person to re-experience the same effects.

Take again the example of the person who took LSD. Sometime later—perhaps years afterward—the residues of the drug that are still in his body can cause a restimulation of what happened when he took it. He experiences the same sensations of a racing heart, nausea and anxiety. Of course, he does not know why. He might also perceive mental images of the persons he was with and the sights and sounds and smells from the incident. Again, he has taken no more of the drug. But this restimulation, which can occur again and again, cuts down his awareness and his abilities. It can even change for the worse his attitudes toward himself and others.


The continuing record of mental image pictures through a person’s life is called the time track. It is made up of the moment-to-moment events one experiences as he moves through life. However, a person who has taken drugs has mental image pictures not only of what was happening in his surroundings when he took the drug but also of what he experienced as a result of taking the drug. His time track for the period while he was under the drug’s influence is very confused. For example, the mental image pictures of the person’s experiences after taking LSD would include the delusions as well as the events that were actually going on around him at the time.


Individuals under the influence of drugs have blank periods and delusions. Because of these, the drug-taker is not in “present time.”

Present time means now, or the things that are happening right now. A sane and happy person has his attention in present time and is aware of his surroundings.

If a person is leading an unhappy life, he may feel that present time is too painful to face. So he takes drugs to avoid it. For example, he may drink alcohol to “forget” about his troubles. This sends him out of present time and makes him less conscious so he is not fully aware of what is happening around him.

The problem is that the drug-taker does not afterwards wholly return to present time even after the effect of the drug appears to have worn off. Thus, right there before your eyes, apparently in the same room as you are, he is really only partly there and partly in some past events. His perception of what is happening now is mixed up with the mental image pictures from then, when he was under the influence of drugs.

If you say something to him, he will try to fit it in to what he is perceiving. That may not be the same as what you are perceiving. As a result, his actions can seem odd or irrational.

Let’s say that you are cleaning a floor and you are being helped by a person who has been using drugs. The drug user may be sure that he is helping you repair a floor that needs fixing. But you are cleaning the floor, not repairing it. So when you ask him to hand you the mop, he thinks you mean “hand me the hammer.” So he picks up the mop, thinking it is really a hammer, and tries to give it to you. But a mop is different from a hammer. The handle is longer and its weight and shape are not the same. So he misjudges the effort needed to give it to you and knocks over the bucket of water that you are using to clean the floor.

Because a drug-taker is not in present time, he often makes mistakes of this kind. They may be small mistakes which make him seem clumsy, such as knocking over the water bucket. At worst, the person can be insane. The events apparent to him are completely different than those apparent to anyone else.

From his point of view, however, other people are the ones who are stupid or unreasonable. As they don’t agree in their actions with what he sees is occurring, “they” aren’t sensible. Example: Several people are moving furniture. To all but him they are simply moving furniture. He sees himself to be “moving shapes into a cloud.” Thus he “makes mistakes.” As the others don’t see inside him and only see another person like themselves, they don’t understand why he keeps making mistakes.

These facts explain the odd behavior of a drug user. We have all known people like that. The sudden remark which makes no sense, having nothing to do with what is being spoken about; the blank stare when given an order or remark—behind these lie the different world in which he lives.

Such a person threatens the survival not only of himself, but of any group, whether it is a family, a business or even a nation.

The bad effects of drugs, then, continue long after the person has used them. The result can be harmful to many others besides the user. Also, it is not only illegal street drugs that are the problem. Medical drugs that are meant to help people have similar effects when they are abused.


Doctors and others prescribe painkillers such as aspirin, tranquilizers and soporifics (a drug or medicine that makes someone sleep) in an understandable wish to relieve pain.

However, no one knows exactly how or why these drugs work or what they do. Such drug compositions (made by combining different things) come from accidental discoveries that “this lessens pain.”

These drugs often have very bad side effects.

Let’s say a person was given the drug to lessen pains or discomforts. When the drug wears off or starts to wear off, the pains or discomforts become much worse. One of the answers a person has for this is more drugs. He feels he has to take more to get rid of the pains and discomforts and other unwanted sensations. But as he continues taking it, he becomes less and less able to feel good, needing more and more of the drug.

It is also common for someone taking drugs to be very excited sexually at first. But after the sexual “kicks” at the beginning, sexual sensation becomes harder and harder to achieve. The person tries more and more to achieve it but it is less and less satisfying.

People take drugs to prevent unwanted sensations. But there are many desirable sensations in life as well. Drugs prevent all sensations so they prevent the desirable ones too.

The only good thing that can be said about drugs is that they give relief from agony (very great physical or mental pain) for a brief period. If a person is very badly injured, this allows doctors to perform necessary repair. But a person who is aware of what is going on around him and skillful at what he does is unlikely to injure himself. A person who takes drugs is not aware of his surroundings and loses much of his skill. So drugs make it more likely that a person will hurt himself. Then they prevent him from regaining the awareness and skill that would keep him safe.

Anyone has a choice in life between feeling “dead” with drugs or feeling alive without them. Drugs rob life of the sensations and joys which are the only reasons for living.

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