There are many medications that either interfere with impulses transmitted over the neural pathways or stimulate those impulses. Medications that interfere with impulses are called inhibitors and usually compete with neurotransmitters for receptor sites. That is, the medication gets to the receptor site before the neurotransmitters blocking the neurotransmitters from delivering the impulse to the receptor site. Medications that cause an impulse to be generated are called stimulants.

There are four major groups of medications that stimulate the central nervous system. These are amphetamines, caffeine, analeptics, and anorexiants. Amphetamines stimulate the cerebral cortex of the brain. Caffeine also stimulates the cerebral cortex and stimulates respiration by acting on the brain stem and medulla. Analeptics have a similar effect on the brain stem and medulla as caffeine. Anorexiants inhibit appetite by stimulating the cerebral cortex and the hypothalamus.

There are seven broad classifications of medications that depress the central nervous system. These are sedative-hypnotics, general and local anesthetics, analgesics, narcotic analgesics, anticonvulsants, antipsychotics, and antidepressants.

Sedative-hypnotics diminish the patient's physical and mental responses without affecting the patient's consciousness. General anesthetics cause a loss of consciousness and relieve pain. Local anesthetics block pain at the site where the medication is administered without affecting the patient's consciousness.

Analgesics are drugs that reduce pain such aspirin, acetaminophen, and ibuprofen. Narcotic analgesics are drugs that reduce pain and produce a state of stupor or drowsiness by blocking the transmission of pain signals in the brain.

Anticonvulsants are medications that prevent or lessen the likelihood that a patient will experience convulsions, which are abnormal motor reactions such as those found in epilepsy. Antipsychotics are drugs used to minimize symptoms of psychosis. Psychosis is a disorder that is characterized by one of a number of symptoms such as difficulty processing information and reaching a conclusion. Antidepressants are medications used to treat depressions.

The next chapter continues our exploration of drugs that affect the central nervous system by examining narcotic agonists. A narcotic agonist is a medication that relieves pain—called an analgesic.

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