This course examines the major classes of psychoactive drugs and their use in cultures past and present. Specific drugs studied include cocaine, amphetamine, nicotine, caffeine, alcohol, heroin, barbiturates, valium, marijuana and hashish. Special topics such as designer drugs, undercover investigations, drug use during the war in Vietnam, and DEA operations in South America are also covered. The history of psychoactive substance use/abuse across cultures and the response of governments and legislatures in attempting to control and regulate public access are major themes of the course.
An understanding of drug use and addictive behaviors also requires an awareness of physiological mechanisms underlying the effects of these substances on the human brain and body. The basic principles of psychopharmacology are covered, following each drug through administration, absorption, distribution and final elimination from the body. These topics in psychopharmacology and the physiological basis of addictive behaviors are considered fundamental in helping the student reach a responsible, informed and critical view of psychoactive substances in their current historical and cultural context.