What are central nervous system stimulants?

The central nervous system (CNS) controls the functioning of the entire body. Central nervous system stimulants are drugs or substances that stimulate or excite the central nervous system, giving the user increased energy, elevated mood, and heightened alertness. Some stimulants, such as caffeine and ginseng, are available without a prescription. Others, like amphetamines, are available by prescription, and others, like cocaine, are not approved for legal use in some countries. Stimulants can increase your heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature.

Caffeine, a substance commonly found in coffee, tea, and many soft drinks, is one of the most common CNS stimulants. The effects of caffeine are typical of most stimulants: a user may feel more awake, more energetic, and may have a greater ability to concentrate. However, high caffeine intake can overstimulate the central nervous system, leading to fatigue, tremors, and difficulty concentrating.

There is a wide variety of psychoactive drugs that also act as powerful stimulants of the central nervous system. Examples of these stimulants, or "tops," are cocaine, methamphetamine, ecstasy, and amphetamines. These substances are generally not approved for legal use and are considered illegal and recreational drugs. Stimulants can be inhaled through the nose, smoked, swallowed, or injected directly into the bloodstream. The method of use depends on the specific drug. Cocaine, for example, is commonly in powder form that is snorted through the nose, while ecstasy is usually ingested in pill form.

Some amphetamines are available in prescription form and have a therapeutic medical application. These prescription medications, such as methylphenidate (Ritalin®), are often used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). When taken in carefully regulated doses, these medications act on the nervous system to make patients more alert and better able to concentrate. Recreational use of these drugs is strongly discouraged as they can be habit forming and an overdose can cause vomiting, seizures and loss of consciousness. If a patient experiences any of these symptoms, even if he takes a prescribed dose, he should be taken to an emergency room immediately.

Central nervous system stimulants generally act rapidly on the brain, causing the release of large amounts of the chemical dopamine, which produces a feeling of pleasure. This surge of dopamine will often cause euphoria and intense pleasure, but can also create anxiety and restlessness. Stimulants are different from depressants and hallucinogens, which create an altered mood through chemical reactions with a brain chemical, or neurotransmitter, called serotonin.

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