The Global Initiative For Drug Policy Reform

Glossary

TermDefinition
AbuseThe term “drug abuse” is quite vague and has a variety of meanings depending on the context . Some equate any use of illicit drugs to “drug abuse”, for example, the international conventions consider that any use of drugs other than for medical or scientific purposes is abuse. The Diagnosis and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association defines abuse as a maladaptive pattern of substance use leading to clinically significant impairment or distress. A more appropriate term to adopt to describe the out of control use of drugs could be “excessive use” or “harmful use”
AddictionGeneral term referring to the concept of tolerance and dependency. According to WHO addiction is the repeated use of a psychoactive substance to the extent that the user is periodically or chronically intoxicated, shows a compulsion to take the preferred substance, has great difficulty in voluntarily ceasing or modifying substance use, and exhibits determination to obtain the substance by almost any means.
Commission on narcotic drugs (CND)The Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) was established in 1946 by the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. It is the central policy-making body within the UN system for dealing with all drug-related matters. The Commission analyses the world drug abuse situation and develops proposals to strengthen international drug control.
ControlThe term ‘control’ encompasses the full array of legislative approaches for restricting the availability of various substances. It includes laws such as the Misuse of Drugs Act, which make some substances illegal to use / possess / sell, as well as regulations concerned with the manufacturing, dispensing, approval and marketing of substances that have medical or commercial uses, or are seen as ‘acceptable’, such as alcohol, solvents, inhalants etc.
DecriminalisationDecriminalisation removes certain activities from the scope of the criminal justice system. Specifically referring to the repeal of laws that define drug use or possession (but not selling or distribution) as criminal offences. It does this through either total repeal of penal punishments (ie prison sentences) or shifting the basis to civil penalties, such as fines or removal of a licence, or administrative processes. A distinction is usually made between de jure decriminalization, which entails an amendment to criminal legislation, and de facto decriminalization, which involves an administrative decision not to prosecute acts that nonetheless remain against the law.
Depenalisation‘Depenalisation’ refers to the reduction of the level of penalties associated with drug offences, usually those for personal use or possession. For example, ‘depenalisation’ applies to the introduction of warnings or cautions for cannabis possession, rather than potential time in prison. Modification of the sentences provided in criminal legislation for a particular behaviour generally refers to the removal of custodial sentences.
DependenceState where the user continues its use of the substance despite significant health, psychological, relational, familial or social problems. Dependence is a complex phenomenon which may have genetic components. Psychological dependence refers to the psychological symptoms associated with craving and physical dependence to tolerance and the adaptation of the organism to chronic use.
DiversionThe use of measures other than prosecution or a criminal conviction for an act that nonetheless remains against the law. Diversion can take place before a charge is formally laid, for example if the accused person agrees to undergo treatment. It can also occur at the time of sentencing, when community service or treatment may be imposed rather than incarceration.
DrugAny chemical agent that alters the biochemical or physiological processes of tissues or organisms. In this sense, the term drug refers better to any substance which is principally used for its psychoactive effects. Also used to refer to illicit, rather than licit (such as nicotine, alcohol or medicines) substances.
European Monitoring Centre on Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA)The European Monitoring Centre was created in 1993 to provide member states within the EU objective, reliable and comparable information on drugs, drug addictions and their consequences. Statistical information, documents and techniques developed in the EMCDDA are designed to give a broad perspective on drug issues in Europe. The Centre only deals with information. It relies on national focal points in each of the Member States.
Gateway / Gateway TheoryTheory suggesting a sequential pattern in involvement in drug use from nicotine to alcohol, to cannabis and then to “hard” drugs. In regard to cannabis, the theory rests on a statistical association between the use of hard drugs and the fact that these users have generally used cannabis as their first illicit drug. This theory has not been validated by empirical research and is considered out-dated.
International conventionsVarious international conventions have been adopted by the international community since 1912, first under the League of Nations, then under the United Nations, to regulate the possession, use, production, distribution, sale, etc., of various psychotropic substances. Currently, the three main conventions in force are the 1961 Single Convention, the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substance and the 1988 Convention against Illicit Traffic. Subject to countries’ national constitutions, these conventions establish a system of regulation where only medical and scientific uses are permitted. This system is based on the prohibition of source plants (coca, opium and cannabis) and the regulation of synthetic chemicals produced by pharmaceutical companies.
International Narcotics Control Board (INCB)The Board is an independent, quasi-judicial organization responsible for monitoring the implementation of the UN conventions on drugs. It was created in 1968 as a follow up to the 1961 Single Convention, but had predecessors as early as the 1930s. The Board makes recommendations to the UN Commission on Narcotics with respect to additions or deletions in the appendices of the conventions.
Legalisation ‘Legislation’ refers to making drug use, possession, production and distribution legal. Unlike decriminalisation, legalisation would repeal all penalties, criminal and civil, for use, possession, production and distribution of a substance. However, ‘legalisation’ would most likely still require other types of controls and regulations put in place (e.g. restrictions to licensed proprietors, and age restrictions on sales). Legislating under a regulatory system would control the production, marketing, sale and use of substances. No such provision currently exists in relation to "street-drugs" (as opposed to alcohol or tobacco which are regulated products).
NarcoticSubstance which can induce stupor or artificial sleep. Usually restricted to opiates. Sometimes used incorrectly to refer to all drugs capable of inducing dependence.
Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) USACreated in 1984 under the Reagan administration, the Office is under the direct authority of the White House. It coordinates US policy on drugs. Its budget is currently US $18 billion.
ProhibitionHistorically, the term most often refers to the period of national interdiction of alcohol sales in the United States between 1919 and 1933. By analogy, the term is now used to describe UN and State policies aiming for a drug-free society. Prohibition is based on the interdiction to cultivate, produce, fabricate, sell, possess, use, etc., some substances except for medical and scientific purposes.
Psychoactive substanceSubstance which alters mental processes such as thinking or emotions. Analogous to the term “drug” but it more neutral as it does not refer to the legal status of the substance.
Psychotropic substance (see also psychoactive)Used synonymously with psychoactive substance, however the term refers to drugs primarily used in the treatment of mental disorders, such as anxiolytics, sedatives, neuroleptics, etc. More specifically, the term refers to the substances covered in the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances.
Regulation‘Regulation’ (both domestic and international) imposes conditions on the manufacturing, dispensing, approval and marketing of substances. These laws bind manufacturers and distributors and penalties range in severity and may be civil or criminal. Examples include food labelling requirements, age restrictions on sales, and the more stringent controls for dispensing medicines.
ToleranceReduced response of an organism and increased capacity to support the effects of a substance after a more or less lengthy period of use. Tolerance levels are extremely variable between substances, and tolerance to cannabis is believed to be lower than for most other drugs, including tobacco and alcohol.
ToxicityCharacteristic of a substance which induces intoxication, i.e., “poisoning”. Many substances, including some common foods, have some level of toxicity. Cannabis presents almost no toxicity and cannot lead to an overdose.
United Nations Drug Control Program (UNDCP)Established in 1991, the Program works to educate the world about the dangers of drug abuse. The Program aims to strengthen international action against drug production, trafficking and drug-related crime through alternative development projects, crop monitoring and anti-money laundering programs. UNDCP also provides accurate statistics through the Global Assessment Programme (GAP) and helps to draft legislation and train judicial officials as part of its Legal Assistance Programme. UNDCP is part of the UN Office for Drug Control and the Prevention of Crime.
World Health Organization (WHO)The World Health Organization, the United Nations' specialized agency for health, was established on April 7, 1948. WHO’s objective is the attainment by all peoples of the highest possible level of health. Health is defined in WHO’s Constitution as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.