When it comes to narcotics, things get complicated.
Technically, according to the United States Drug Enforcement Administration, a narcotic dulls senses and eases pain. Painkillers, heroin, and even some types of natural plants could be considered narcotics under this model.
But government officials use the word narcotic to refer to substances that are potentially dangerous, either physically or mentally. That means some drugs that don’t seem like painkillers, including cocaine and marijuana, are lumped in with narcotics from a legislative standpoint.
Regardless of what you call them, narcotics can be dangerous. When addictions form, treatment may help you to get better. A program that’s tailored to the substances you took and your history might be just what you need to recover.
Drug dealers can, and often do, make their own products. But it’s not unusual for dealers to reach out to foreign partners to get what they need to satisfy their customers. Government treaties and agreements aim to stop those connections from forming and thriving.
Politicians have tried to stop international drug traders for decades. Early attempts included the:
All of these agreements had one main goal: to keep drugs from moving from one part of the world to another. But until 1946, there was no real agreement on which drugs should be addressed, experts say.
Everyone seemed to agree that opium and products like it were dangerous. But no one seemed sure if the scope should expand.
In 1946, the Commission on Narcotics Drugs was established as part of the United Nations. This organization has a mandate to:
The commission has control over 130 drugs, all considered narcotics, including:
People familiar with this organization and its work might consider any drug that is monitored a narcotic.
Opioids, commonly called prescription painkillers, are classic narcotics. Their primary function is to ease pain, and they do that by altering chemical messages within the brain. The user feels awash in euphoria, and the pain seems easier to ignore.
Experts point out that people use opioids to treat all types of pain.
For people in pain, these medications are remarkably helpful. But the shift in brain chemicals can also be enticing to people without a pain problem. A Vicodin pill and the dopamine hit it delivers may make someone feel warm, comfortable, and very happy. That’s a sensation that may be hard to ignore, and it could lead to compulsive use.
But not all opioids are the same. Researchers point out that fentanyl, one type of narcotic, is about 50 to 100 times more potent than its chemical cousins like Vicodin.
People taking a fentanyl hit can overdose, as they’re taking something much stronger than expected.
It’s this worry about overdose that keeps officials tightly focused on opioid use, misuse, and trafficking. If they can prevent deaths by blocking supplies, this seems wise.
Cocaine constricts blood vessels and stops bleeding. It’s a valuable medical tool when doctors need to do delicate eye surgeries, and bleeding can ruin their work.
But unlike other narcotics, cocaine can’t be considered a sedative. Technically, it’s a stimulant. And yet, it’s still regulated by the commission.
Researchers point out that cocaine has been classified as a narcotic by both federal and state agencies since the 1920s. Those tight laws make the drug hard to research and even harder for medical professionals to get. But there seems no willingness to change its classification.
Cocaine could reasonably be considered one of the most addictive substances on the market today. And it’s remarkably versatile.
Once activated, cocaine delivers a tremendous rush of dopamine. Users describe feeling invigorated, powerful, and rejuvenated all at the same time. Each hit wears off quickly, and it’s not uncommon for users to chase one hit after another to keep the high going. That causes deep brain tissue changes, and addictions can quickly follow.
While cocaine may not technically be a narcotic, it is dangerous. Legislation that keeps it out of neighborhoods may be valuable.
The United States Drug Enforcement Administration classifies marijuana as a mind-shifting drug. Users who smoke, drink, or eat marijuana describe an altered state in which they may hallucinate, relax, and feel disinhibited. But marijuana is also considered a narcotic by the commission, although people are working to change that.
Researchers writing to the United Nations point out that marijuana can have medicinal properties. They suggest that it can:
That means, they suggest, that this is not a substance that should be considered dangerous. And it shouldn’t, they say, be a substance officials want to keep out of the country. Instead, they think it’s a substance we should bring in.
Unfortunately, many people who use marijuana would disagree.
This substance has been associated with long-term brain changes, and some people experience a withdrawal syndrome characterized by insomnia and depression for weeks when they try to quit.
Others say they can’t even think about quitting because they don’t feel normal without the drug.
Whether you’re dealing with a classic narcotic (like a painkiller) or a narcotic in name only (like marijuana), treatment options are available. Researchers have studied what people need to get better, and practitioners all across the country put those lessons to use to help their patients.
Treatment works best when it is personalized. The care you need for a marijuana addiction, for example, might be very different than the help your neighbor needs for a cocaine problem.
But treatment teams tend to offer a suite of solutions, such as:
It can take time to work through all of these steps. And some people need to move into and out of treatment a few times before they achieve full control.