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Drugs of abuse are defined as substances taken for nonmedicinal reasons, usually for their mind-altering effects. Most often these abused drugs are illicit substances such as heroin, cocaine, etc., but prescription and over-the-counter drugs are also abused. Abuse of ethical drugs (prescription or over-the-counter) occurs when people use the drugs in a manner or in quantities other than those directed, or for purposes that are not legitimate.

Many drugs abused in modern society are extracted from or based on natural products. The dangers associated with these drugs are substantially enhanced when the active substance is isolated from the plant material and used as essentially a pure drug, for example, heroin (derived from acetylation of morphine from the opium poppy) and cocaine when isolated from Erythroxylum coca.

Herbal products used to produce a "high" are becoming increasingly popular drugs for abuse [1]. These substances include obvious examples mentioned earlier as well as plants containing tropane alkaloids, plants containing stimulants such as caffeine, ephedrine, and khat, hallucinogenic plants, or even the alkenebenzene derivatives in nutmeg. The most common drugs of abuse of herbal origin sorted by scientific name, including the common English name, most common use, and most important active compound are summarized in Table 19.1.

The source of knowledge by users is often Internet based; "trip reports" and descriptions of the plants are shared among drug users, and often, unfortunately, the "new herbal drugs" are falsely labeled as safe and legal [2].

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