Addiction to Drugs/Drugs


I have a question about the distinction between drugs and normal healthy ingestable substances. People who use cannabis these days argue it is just an herb that kills cancer and help certain eye problems. What makes it a drug and not an herb? What makes its effects distinct enough that the caffeine in chocolate, or seratonin bump from things with tryptophan are natural and not really drugs themselves (as even food alters mind state)?

Please give me any insight you can. I already got this question rejected by 2 other experts and I don't know who else to ask.

Hi James,

I have no idea why anyone would reject this question, it's a great question.

I don't think there is a clear answer however.  It is a complex topic.  But I will give it a go:  

I would probably suggest that a drug is something that is considered psychoactive, i.e.: the substance has a significant effect on mental processes such as perception.  A lot of things give us feelings of pleasure, such as sunshine, love, chocolate, a warm bath, etc, but I think these are different as they don't have a significant effect on the mind.  The other factor that I would consider would be the potential for the substance to be used for reasons that might not be healthy.  I don't hold any judgement against anyone using a drug like cannabis but if someone is doing it for reasons of avoidance (ie.: wanting to avoid difficult emotions) or compulsion (i.e.: it has become habitual) it may negatively impact their life.  These kinds of impact need to be weighed up as per the pros and cons - for example if you are dying of cancer and in considerable pain, then taking a large out of morphine every day, may be a worthy price to pay.  However, if you are a young healthy person and taking morphine every day because you have trouble managing your depression, then that may not be a price worth paying as there are alternatives.

Does this help at all?  Happy to hear your feedback.


Addiction to Drugs

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I am a psychologist committed to Harm reduction, a philosophy that acknowledges people will continue to use drugs despite all of the effort put into stopping it (case in point - US government drug war ... trillions of dollars spent fighting and more people using). I advocate to support people who use drugs by reducing the harms associated with their use through needle and syringe programs (NSP), advocating for drug law reform, non-judgmental health services and reducing the stigma associated with drugs. I have worked in harm reduction in Australia (NSP, primary health care, drop in centre) for 10 years and also have 18 months managing a service providing care coordination for people with multiple and complex problems. I spent two years living and working in Cambodia as a Harm Reduction Advisor for a local Khmer NGO, primarily focusing on methamphetamine use. Now I am back in Australia and have worked in a prison providing drug treatment and currently work as a psychologist in a dual diagnosis service (for people with mental health and substance use problems). I have a Masters in Clinical Psychology so can also answer questions around mental health and drug use. Happy to answer questions about blood borne viruses such as HIV and hepatitis C, questions about opiates, amphetamines, cocaine, benzos and other substances. Questions about treatment (particulary methadone and buprenorphine). Questions about harm reduction and why it is the best approach. I will try to answer questions about drug tests. I DO NOT JUDGE PEOPLE NEGATIVELY DUE TO THEIR DRUG USE, AND DON'T DEMAND PEOPLE MARCH STRAIGHT OFF TO REHAB! If anyone has taken a sip of a coffee, or drunk a beer, then ... well we are all drug users, and I don't think we are going to see an end to it! Deal with the real.


Worked in the field in Australia and Cambodia for 15 years. Psychologist with Clinical Masters. Two significant research projects on drug use (one on HIV risk and its link with trauma and one on drug related stigma). Presentation at two international conferences and two Australian conferences.

Registered as a psychologist with the Australian Health Practitioners Registration Agency.

Conference proceedings - IHRC 2004 (Chiang Mai), 2005 (Melbourne) & 2010 (Bangkok). Anex Conference 2005 (Melbourne) Stigma-Pleasure-Practice conference 2006 (Sydney).

Bachelor of Arts (Humanities), Bachelor of Psychology (Honours), Masters of Psychology (Clinical). And a multitude of training courses including advanced first aid, pre & post test counselling accreditation for HIV, significant amount of training on hepatitis C, etc.

Awards and Honors
Have presented at international conferences including the International Harm Reduction Conferences in Chiang Mai Thailand; Melbourne, Australia and Bangkok, Thailand. Also national conferences in Sydney and Melbourne Australia.

Past/Present Clients
I maintain confidentiality about my clients.

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