Hard and soft drugs
Hard and soft drugs are loose categories of non-prescription
psychoactive drugs. This distinction is used in both official and casual discourse. The term hard drug generally refers to drugs illegal for nonmedical use that lead to profound and severe addiction, as opposed to soft drugs that has weaker or no physical withdrawal symptoms. Some so-called soft drugs are however strongly habit-forming for other reasons than physical withdrawal symptoms; the dividing up between hard and soft drugs is therefore only accepted in the legislation in certain countries, such as The Netherlands.
A large part of the distinction is a subjective, socially conceived notion of the consequences of usage for each. Depending on context, a particular drug can be categorized in many different ways for various reasons.
Examples of mainstream considered hard drugs include
heroin, morphine, cocaine, amphetamines, alcohol, and nicotine. Drugs in this group are generally described as being physically addictive, easier to overdose on, and/or posing serious health and social risks, including death. Most, if not all, of these drugs are stimulantsor depressants. Some of these drugs can be freely purchased by adults; some can be purchased only with a doctor's prescription, while other, like heroin and cocaine, are generally illegal, although cocaine is sometimes used legally as a local anesthetic and heroin is legally used as an analgesic in some countries: for example, the United Kingdom.
In between "hard drugs" and "soft drugs"
Not all drugs fit under the "hard drug" or "soft drug" label. Examples of these include
MDMA, Ketamine, and caffeine.Fact|date=December 2007 MDMA shares some features with soft drugs in that it doesn't produce physical addiction. Some studies however say that it might be psychologically addictive, though such a claim is very controversial in the medical community.
Caffeine, although legal and unregulated in nearly all jurisdictions, does have a mild addiction potential (both physical and psychological) that can lead to caffeinism. Its overdose potential is also higher than that of soft drugs, though nowhere near hard drugs. If used often, caffeine can also give rise to bodily stress, ulcers, and irregular heartbeat, which can sometimes lead to death,Fact|date=December 2007 though more deaths occur from overdose. Despite this, caffeine is still safer than most hard drugs. Caffeine is the most widely used psychoactive drug in the world.
Examples of "soft drugs" include cannabis, DMT,
mescaline, psilocybin, and LSD. MDMAand caffeineare sometimes included as soft drugs, see above. The term soft drug is most usually applied to cannabis (marijuana or hashish).
The distinction between soft drugs and hard drugs is important in the
drug policy of the Netherlands, where cannabis production, retailing and use come under official tolerance, subject to certain conditions. Other drugssuch as psilocybin mushroomsand LSDare also considered soft drugs by many because there is no evidence of physical addiction, and a toxic overdose on these substances requires in some cases, hundreds of times a normal dose. However, it is possible for one to take more than one is psychologically capable of handling, which can lead to negative experiences.
Drug policy of the Netherlands
The Rhetoric of Drugs
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