The central nervous system consists of the brain and spine. It is both the source and the main conduit of neural signals that tell the body how to function. CNS depressants are a class of drugs that slow down the central nervous system. A person who takes CNS depressants may feel calm and sleepy afterward.
Some CNS depressants have no accepted medical uses and are illegal in the United States. Others are useful for treating certain conditions and may be available with a doctor’s prescription. However, all have abuse potential.
Illegal CNS depressants
According to the Drug Enforcement Agency, GHB is a Schedule I controlled substance. This means that it has no accepted medical uses in the United States and is illegal to prescribe, possess, use oneself or administer to others. Rohypnol is not a Schedule I drug but it is still illegal to use, possess or distribute in the United States. The penalties for each are the same as for a Schedule I substance if a person is in possession of more than one gram of Rohypnol. One of the possible abuses of these substances is facilitating sexual assault by administering it to another person to increase passivity and suggestibility.
Prescription CNS depressants
There are several classes of prescription CNS depressants, including barbiturates, benzodiazepines and sedative-hypnotics. These medications range from Schedule II to Schedule IV controlled substances. They are useful for treating conditions of sleep disorders or anxiety.
However, prescription depressants still have the potential for abuse, especially if taken by someone other than the person authorized to have them. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, misuse of depressants can lead to substance use disorder and addiction. People who stop taking depressants after long-term use can experience withdrawal symptoms. Overdose on depressants is possible and potentially deadly because they can slow down breathing and heart rate to fatally low levels.