The neurovascular unit (NVU) regulates metabolic homeostasis as well as drug pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics in the central nervous system. Metabolic fluxes and conversions over the NVU rely on interactions between brain microvascular endothelium, perivascular pericytes, astrocytes and neurons, making it difficult to identify the contributions of each cell type. Here we model the human NVU using microfluidic organ chips, allowing analysis of the roles of individual cell types in NVU functions. Three coupled chips model influx across the blood–brain barrier (BBB), the brain parenchymal compartment and efflux across the BBB. We used this linked system to mimic the effect of intravascular administration of the psychoactive drug methamphetamine and to identify previously unknown metabolic coupling between the BBB and neurons. Thus, the NVU system offers an in vitro approach for probing transport, efficacy, mechanism of action and toxicity of neuroactive drugs.