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What is a Psychostimulant?

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  • 0:02 What Is a Psychostimulant?
  • 0:42 Types of Psychostimulants
  • 1:42 How Do Psychostimulants Work?
  • 2:40 Who Uses Psychostimulants?
  • 3:27 Side Effects of…
  • 4:03 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sharon Linde
Humans rely on medicines for many different reasons. A psychostimulant is one type of medicine that helps people every day. Read on to learn about this important type of drug.

What Is a Psychostimulant?

If you look closely at the word psychostimulant, you may notice a root word: 'stimulant.' This is because a psychostimulant is a type of drug that affects the nervous system by stimulating it. This stimulation takes place in the circulatory system and impacts the heart rate, blood pressure, and concentration. We'll get into specific uses for psychostimulants later in this lesson.

The type of psychostimulant taken will determine what happens in the body. Effects vary depending upon which drug is taken and how much of it is taken. Do you know of any psychostimulants? You've likely heard of a few. Let's take a look.

Types of Psychostimulants

Prescription psychostimulants are drugs that affect the central nervous system. We can classify them into three categories.

Medicines that help release chemicals in the brain by stimulating the central nervous system are considered psychomotor stimulants. Examples include Adderall (also known as amphetamine or dexatroamphetamine), Dexedrine (also called dextroamphetamine), and Ritalin, or methylphenidate.

Psychotomimetic stimulants are also knows as hallucinogens because they cause users to have hallucinations. Lysergic acid and mescaline are two examples of psychotomimetics.

Respiratory stimulants, also known as convulsants, are used primarily in research. They don't have clinical uses as other psychostimulants do, and it's unknown how they work. Examples include Bicuculline and Doxapram.

Well-known nonprescription drugs that have stimulating results include cocaine, caffeine, and nicotine.

How Do Psychostimulants Work?

As mentioned earlier, psychostimulants are meant to stimulate the central nervous system. But how does this work? One way is by increasing chemicals such as dopamine, glutamate, or norepinephrine in the brain. Each chemical has its own effect.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that controls concentration or attention. It also triggers emotions, like happiness. This helps patients with attention disorders remain calm and focus better. Alertness is also triggered by norepinephrine. Oftentimes people, such as students studying for exams, will take psychostimulants that improve their ability to remain alert for long periods of time. Glutamate is another neurotransmitter that helps control behavior. People with attention or impulsiveness issues are helped by this chemical, which aids in impulse control and other behavior modifications. Some chemicals in psychostimulants also act as inhibitors. These chemicals block the production of an unwanted chemical.

Who Uses Psychostimulants?

Many patients who are prescribed psychostimulants have attention difficulties, including Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Although it may seem counter-intuitive to give a stimulant to a person who has trouble with attention and focus, psychostimulants actually help to control urges and have a calming effect. For example, a child who struggles to remain on task at school and doesn't display an ability to control impulsive behavior may be prescribed a psychostimulant. This drug will help the child pay attention and make good choices.

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