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Recreational drug useRecreational drug use is the use of mind-altering substances for the purpose of altering one's mental state, typically without the supervision of a physician. The use of drugs for spiritual development and exploration is not usually included under the definition of recreational drug use, although the distinction is not always clear. The majority of human societies throughout history have practiced recreational drug use in various forms. Probably the best known example of a recreational drug is alcohol, which most cultures have manufactured in one form or another. As with any drugs, some recreational drugs are addictive, some are harmful to one's health, and some are illegal in most places.
A wide variety of drugs have been employed for recreation at various times through history. By far the most popular recreational drug in modern society is caffeine, accepted by nearly all societies today. Also very popular are alcohol and nicotine in the form of tobacco, present and accepted in most cultures today. Despite relatively recent proscription as an illegal drug in much of the world, marijuana retains its historical popularity.
Many other substances were once commonly used as recreational drugs, but fell from favor for various reasons and are now much less common. Recreational use of opium was once common in Asia, and from there spread to the West, peaking in the 19th century. Cocaine and heroin were sold as patent medicines in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and marketed as treatments for a wide variety of ailments.
This attitude stands in marked contrast to the official policy of the United States government, which declared a "War on Drugs" (c.f.) under Richard Nixon in 1972 and later intensified under Ronald Reagan. The United States is much more strict about enforcing penalties for soft drug use. The Drug Enforcement Agency, or DEA, is primarily responsible for illegal drug interdiction at the federal level. Despite the application of billions of dollars of taxpayer money to this perceived problem, recreational drug use remains common in the United States, and according to some studies is actually more common than in Europe where the laws are more relaxed. Some theorize that this is because the very prohibition of illegal recreational drugs adds an aura of mystique to their use, and encourages experimentation.
Many societies have abandoned what they feel are unsuccessful attempts to prohibit recreational drugs, and instead turned to a policy of harm reduction by informing users of ways to reduce common risks associated with popular drugs, and providing medical assistance for drug users who wish to stop using drugs. Harm reduction is the official policy of the Netherlands and some areas of Canada such as Vancouver, which have stopped actively prosecuting end users of recreational drugs. Instead, law enforcement efforts focus on capturing illegal dealers of "hard drugs" such as heroin and cocaine, passing out clean needles to IV drug users, and providing medical assistance for addicted users who wish to stop taking drugs.
Other substances commonly considered recreational drugs include:
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