- 1: a drug (as opium or morphine) that in moderate doses dulls the senses, relieves pain, and induces profound sleep but in excessive doses causes stupor, coma, or convulsions
- 2: a drug (as marijuana or LSD) subject to restriction similar to that of addictive narcotics whether physiologically addictive and narcotic or not
The term narcotic (/nɑrˈkɒtɨk/, from ancient Greek ναρκῶ narkō, "Ι benumb") originally referred medically to any psychoactive compound with any sleep-inducing properties. In the United States it has since become associated with opioids, commonly morphine and heroin and their derivatives, such as hydrocodone. The term is, today, imprecisely defined and typically has negative connotations. When used in a legal context in the U.S., a narcotic drug is simply one that is totally prohibited, or one that is used in violation of strict governmental regulation, such as heroin or morphine.
From a pharmacological standpoint it is not a useful term, as is evidenced by the fact that spirit and wine are classified differently due to their intoxicating power; while the narcotic principle to opium and tobacco imparts similar properties. In popular language, alcohol is classed among the stimulants; and opium and tobacco among the narcotics; which are substances whose ultimate effect upon the animal system is to produce torpor and insensibility; but taken in small quantities they at first exhilarate. And since alcohol does the same, most medical writers, at the present day, class it among the narcotics.
Statutory classification of a drug as a narcotic often increases the penalties for violation of drug control statutes. For example, although federal law classifies both cocaine and amphetamines as "Schedule II" drugs, the penalty for possession of cocaine is greater than the penalty for possession of amphetamines because cocaine, unlike amphetamines, is classified as a narcotic.