First of all, an important detail: Chemistry.SE has a tag for "drugs", and Biology.SE doesn't (it has one for "pharmacology"). Yet, I am still a little uncertain, and considering this question could potentially be my only contribution to either of these sites, I'd like it to be well-fitting. My uncertainty arises from the fact that the question isn't so much about the chemistry of drugs, but rather the physiological effects it has on humans. Adding to this, many drugs are natural and not chemically produced. Being unfamiliar with both sites, I am not sure how set facts places it in terms of suitability.

Here's the question in case you need more info:


This site claims there to be seven different categories of drugs, two of whom include "cannabis" and "inhalants". I find this hard to believe, as I don't think cannabis constitutes as a fundamental drug category. My assumption was that it fell under one or more of the other categories, either stimulants or depressants, or both (if that's possible).

As for inhalants, its name seems to denote the method of consumption, and not the primary physiological effect it imposes (stimulants, depressants, etc.), nor the primary ingredient of which it is made of (opioids).

Just so we're on the same page, this is the list of the fundamental drug categories I believe there to be:



Dissociatives (Not sure about this one, wondering if it's just a sub-category of "depressants")


Opioids (Not entirely sure about this one either, as I think it might be a sub-category of "stimulants")

I understand the site I linked to might not be reputable enough to be even worth discussing over, but thing is, as I searched around I found similar trends, though perhaps differing specifics. Lists compiling sub-categories of drugs next to fundamental divisions of physiological affectation. So, I found neither a consensus, nor a list with consistent categorization of drugs. My belief is that many of these sites threw in some of the fundamental types and then added a few of the most common ones, like cannabis.

EDIT: I do realize that this question centers around the categorization of chemical substances, which probably seems to make it a solely chemistry question, but that categorization is (in my understanding) determined by its physiological effects, meaning it is really a question about the human body, or am I wrong?

EDIT 2: User Rob notified me of a site, Medical Sciences.SE, which also seems like a good candidate, especially from looking at its tags.

  • 1
    This site claims there to be X... Is the site notable? Are you looking for confirmation / infirmation of these claims? If both answers are yes, then you might want to check the rules on Skeptics -- your question may be a good fit there. Jan 13, 2020 at 19:58
  • @FrédéricHamidi I see you point there, but my question is a bit more general than that. The site linked to is simply an example of the cloudiness around the topic, and my question seeks clarification for set topic. The linking to the site serves as reasoning for my confusion/lack of answers and also as proof of prior research.
    – A. Kvåle
    Jan 13, 2020 at 20:06
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    A.Kvåle, it's not just what are you asking but what kind of answer do you want. Medical Sciences.SE has a where in their help.
    – Rob
    Jan 13, 2020 at 20:13
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    @Rob Very good point, I didn't know of Medical Sciences.SE, but checking their tags, that seems like just as good of a fit as the two other sites. I will edit my question.
    – A. Kvåle
    Jan 13, 2020 at 20:23
  • Psych & Neuro might be a fit, too, though I don't think the question itself is all that great - it's kind of requesting a list, and there is a lot of opinion in the answer. I'd dissuade you from posting at Bio.SE in part because I don't really see a biological frame to the question. Better questions might be "Why are opioids not considered stimulants?" or a similar question about cannabis. Jan 13, 2020 at 21:15
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    The reason this particular site grouped drugs the way they did is because they are coming from the perspective of addiction. The groups have to do with that rather than pharmacology. Jan 13, 2020 at 21:17
  • @BryanKrause I'm not requesting a list necessarily, I'm requesting a better understanding of the different lists out there, and the different ways of listing, a.k.a. the different focuses in categorization being employed.
    – A. Kvåle
    Jan 13, 2020 at 21:19
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    That's a tricky question for any SE site. "How does one categorize this" is very broad.
    – De Novo
    Jan 13, 2020 at 21:24
  • @A.Kvåle Like DeNovo suggests, there are too many different ways to categorize something for it to be a good general question. We tend to make up these sorts of categories as we go because they are useful groups, but any one substance can be in numerous categories, and those categories need not even be hierarchically organized. Jan 13, 2020 at 21:28
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    There was a time, some years ago when I regularly took a sleep-aid (depressant), it also happened to be an anti-histamine (allergy med) and an anti-inflammatory (steroid). A bird is an animal, so is a fish, some birds swim, some fish fly - life is complicated sometimes.
    – W.O.
    Jan 13, 2020 at 21:46
  • Agreed, but you can still consistently categorize birds and fish. Do categorize them taxonomically, based on their genetic code, which would mean birds and fish exist in the same category (Animalia), or do you categorize based on the type of habitat they live in, a category that would transcend classes and kingdoms, as some birds, reptiles and mammals are aquatic. Sometimes, the type of habitat they live in is a defining feature of the taxonomic classification. Thing is, if you start mixing up these categorizations, it all becomes very confusing, which seems to have happened with drugs.
    – A. Kvåle
    Jan 14, 2020 at 8:32
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    @A.Kvåle one can come up with a dozen different ways of categorizing, all of which will be completely valid. You can categorize by effect, by biological pathway, by side effects, by addictiveness, by danger, by pleasure, by color... Anyway, that site isn't categorizing the drugs, it is categorizing its own pages of information. It has one important page for cannabis, so that gets its own section. It has grouped all the hallucinogens together, so they only get one entry. But it isn't categorizing the drugs themselves, you are looking at a site index, not a drug index.
    – terdon
    Jan 14, 2020 at 9:55
  • I strongly advise against asking on Chemistry. None of the categories mentioned in your sample can actually be related to structure or properties of (a) compound(s). Cannabis in itself is a mixture of plenty of substances, many having completely different properties. Questions about medicinal chemistry are on topic, as is pharmacology and toxicology. The tag 'drugs' does not refer to illicit substances alone, but all kinds of pharmaceuticals, too; and is most often used for synthesis/characterisation of specific substances. Jan 14, 2020 at 18:44
  • @terdon I see what you're saying but it doesn't seem like that. It seems like they're claiming their list to be THE list of drug categories. Just look at the title; "The Seven Types of Drugs". Not "Our Pick for the Seven Types of Drugs (that are/make...)". And what even is the point of a some site index without a consistent categorization? If it's to alert parents, then they might as well just list a bunch of common and dangerous drugs and their associated traits that they can look out for.
    – A. Kvåle
    Jan 15, 2020 at 11:59
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    @A.Kvåle you're talking about some random internet site. They can do whatever they like. If you want to ask about actual systems of categorization for recreational drugs that are used in the medical sciences, that's a whole different question. But the list you show is just the way that specific site chose to organize its information.
    – terdon
    Jan 15, 2020 at 12:25

2 Answers 2


The help center posts "What topics can I ask about here" should help you judge whether a question is on topic for a given SE site. Look at those rather than looking at the available tags.

Biology.SE topics

Your question could be on topic for Biology.SE if it is written to focus on biological concepts or drug mechanisms

MedicalScience.SE topics

Pharmacology is a specific bullet point in the topic list at MedicalSciences.SE.

Chemistry.SE topics

I don't answer questions on Chemistry, so I wouldn't be able to add any additional interpretation of their help article.

As it is, your question needs some work in either case. Each of these sites has a similar article on what questions not to ask. Look at that carefully. Right now, regardless of which site you choose, your question is pretty broad, leans toward being opinion based, and some may read it as a little "ranty". Biology's meta site may be a helpful place to workshop it. Medical Science is a little less active, but may also respond well to a meta question.

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    I was aware of the lack of consensus in opinion before asking the question, which is why I'm not asking an objective "these are the definite categories, and that's that", but I'm rather asking for elimination of the ones that don't belong, inclusion of categories the site may have missed, and a better overall understanding of the logic behind the different categorizations. Though, perhaps my question is simply too broad for any of the sites.
    – A. Kvåle
    Jan 13, 2020 at 21:24

I know this is an old question but I think it deserves one more point because it brings the entire basis of your question into doubt.

First, I can assure you that your question would be on topic on Medical Sciences (I'm a mod there), and it would in fact probably be the best place to ask. However, I think the problem here is your source and their particular focus. I think the article is titled rather poorly, or at least it's very localized to that site.

The title should have been "The 7 Types of Drugs of Abuse," not "The 7 Types of Drugs." It's an addiction recovery site, so the "of Abuse" part is implied. I don't think they're trying to claim those categories apply to all drugs in general. They can't be because there are a lot of drugs that don't fit anywhere in that list (antiarrhythmics, diuretics, anesthetics, chemo agents - it's a long list).

They just meant it to be a categorization of drugs of abuse, not drugs in general. So once that's made clear, would you still have a question?

  • You make a good point, but there is still a question left. The category of inhalants is still absurd to me. An inhalant can have any kind of physiological effect, no? Surely an inhalant could belong to the other categories as well. An inhalant can be so many different things, and so to group it together next to categories based on physiological effect, while inhalants are based on the mode of consumption, seems wrong. Furthermore, if this list was made for the purposes of categorizing addiction abuse, hallucinogens shouldn't be on the list (they're defined in part by not being addictive).
    – A. Kvåle
    Mar 9, 2021 at 8:46
  • Though, there of course exists abuse without addiction, something hallucinogens can cause. So, not only is there a lack of continuity in the basis of categorization (some of the categories being based on effect, one of them based on the mode of consumption), but there's also a lack of category equality, since dissociatives fall under hallucinogens (I believe so, I may be wrong). So, whether the point is to outline commonly abused drug types, or just drug types in general, the list seems badly organized.
    – A. Kvåle
    Mar 9, 2021 at 8:51

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