AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Tag: drugs

ANOTHER new study on Coffee

As students in high school, many of us are familiar with the immediate advantage of drinking coffee which is a decrease in fatigue and increase of alertness. Since I was young, however, I have heard many myths and hypotheses about the bad side effect of coffee, like how it stunts your growth and stains your teeth. I have also heard of other, positive side effect of drinking coffee. Some articles have said that caffeine has some positive effects against some diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimers. Multiple studies and published articles have come up throughout the years on the various side effects of drinking coffee daily and whether or not it is good or bad for you. An article published on explains the most recent research on this mysterious drink and its long term effects on us humans, while another article argues its bad effects.

This article describes a study and analysis of more than 200,000 professionals followed for almost 30 years. They concluded that drinking up to five cups of either decaf or caffeinated coffee a day has a strong correlation to reduced risk of early death from heart and brain diseases as well as suicide. This study had even accounted for lurking variables such as smoking, weight, and diet. By adjusting for these factors, the scientists discovered that the benefits were more pronounced for non-smokers. They also found that both decaf. and caffeinated coffee were had positive effects. This led the researchers to believe that the powerful components of coffee may stem from chemical compounds in the bean such as diterpenes and chlorogenic acids.

Image of Coffee sourced from Coffee Greek.

Another article I came across mentioned the known positive, as well as the harmful effects of caffeine. (On a side note, I find it relevant to point out that this article mentioned that studies proving harmful effects of caffeine are harder to find that the reported positive effects. This, I speculate, might have to do a little bit with the fact that people tend to want to hear reassurance on things that will permit them to continue on with habits or actions that might be seen as harmful or bad otherwise.) This website cited studies that were performed by the Mayo Clinic that found that coffee raised blood pressure, increased risk of heart attacks, caused headaches, reduced fertility in women, proved harmful to people with type 2 diabetes, worsened menopause symptoms, increased anxiety, and, most obviously, caused insomnia and more. Some of these correlations, like an increase in headaches due to drinking coffee, can be explained by obvious reasoning: caffeine is a diuretic, and therefore if you aren’t drinking enough water to compensate, your body will produce too much urine and you will become dehydrated which leads to headaches in some cases.

Because of this drug’s popularity, studies after studies have come out presenting new, or sometimes repetitive, information regarding the side effects of drinking coffee. Many people want to believe that it is good for them because they drink it on such a regular basis that if it proved to be very harmful they would be in real trouble. Therefore, people are looking for proof that it is good, so there are more articles, credible and not, showing proof that it is. Additionally, another potential issue with these studies is the amount of caffeine given to the patients. In study one, the subjects were given around 5 cups of coffee a day, which is 2 to 3 more than the average American, and therefore unrepresentative of what Americans actually consume. From this data, I have decided to continue drinking the relatively small amount of coffee I do on a weekly basis, paying attention to how my own body reacts and noting the changes with attention in order to learn more about how it affects me personally, as I feel I am the only reliable source of information to myself at the moment.

Hope for Cocaine Addicts?

Cocaine, known as “the caviar of street drugs”, is expensive and has “powerful, negative effects”. Roughly 25% of americans between the age of 24 and 36 use or have used cocaine. Despite the dangerous effects of cocaine, After marijuana and amphetamines, cocaine is considered to be the most widely available drug on high school and college campuses in the United States. In 2002, there were 212 hospital admissions for cocaine abuse per 100,000 residents aged 12 or older in New York. Because cocaine use is so prevalent, it is important to raise awareness and to help addicts stop using.

Image taken from WikiMedia


What happens when you snort cocaine?

The cocaine quickly enters the bloodstream and travels to the brain. In the brain, cocaine interferes with neurotransmitters. Cocaine blocks norepinephrine, serotonin, dopamine, and other neurotransmitters from being reabsorbed. The resulting chemical buildup between nerves causes euphoria or feeling “high.”



Long term use of cocaine can prevent neurotransmitter to be released naturally in the brain. This means the only way to feel good is to do cocaine again. It is estimated that there are 200,000 people in the united states addicted to cocaine.


Stopping the use of cocaine is a painful and even harmful experience for addicts. However, recent studies have indicated that there may be a fast track to addiction recovery.In addicts, the drug compulsion can be blamed on a group of “sluggish neurons” that rely on drugs to be stimulated. In drug-addicted rats, the drug compulsion was eased by a laser stimulated those affected neurons.

This experiment seems to partially solve the issue of cocaine addiction. Laser therapy could make the withdrawal of cocaine a much more doable process. However, there is still part of the problem to address: relapse. Most previous addicts relapse when they are surrounded by users. this is because the sight of cocaine triggers the memory of the euphoric high they used to experience on cocaine.


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Hypocretin: A New Avenue for Antidepressants

Depression is a major psychiatric disorder in the United States, affecting about six percent of the population. However, antidepressants in common use such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and other drugs have only flimsy evidence to support their efficacy. Recent studies suggest that positive results with these medications may be the result of the placebo effect rather than an effective treatment. Critics of current remedies for depression point out that they aren’t linked to observed deficiencies in certain hormones affect mood.

Scientists at the University of California Los Angeles Semel Institute recently discovered a new chemical, a peptide called hypocretin, directly linked to happiness and alertness. In their study, the scientists monitored patients undergoing treatment for severe epilepsy. “Piggy-backing” on the implanted electrodes from the patients’ treatment, the team monitored levels of hypocretin and MCH (or melanin concentrating hormone) throughout the day at 15 minute intervals. Notes of the patients’ activities were made simultaneously. Patients answered a questionnaire asking about their mood every hour they were awake. In analyzing their data, the scientists discovered that hypocretin was highest when patients experienced “positive emotions, anger, social interactions, and awakening.” In contrast, the MCH was highest during sleep lowest when hypocretin was high.

According to Professor Segel of the Semel Institute, who led the team that made this discovery, “The findings suggest that abnormalities in the pattern of activation of these systems may contribute to a number of psychiatric disorders.” Chemicals that counteract hypocretin are already being developed as sleeping pills, and hypocretin could provide the foundation for a new kind of antidepressant.

Crystal Meth is bad for you

Breaking Bad is a show based around high school teacher Walter White. Walter was a regular chemistry teacher until one day he found out that he had inoperable lung cancer. He then turned to creating crystal meth to make money in order to support his family before he died with his former student Jesse Pinkman. It’s thrilling to watch Walter as he tries to leads the double life of a chemistry teacher with a family and a diseased drug dealer, but is definitely not something you want to try. Crystal Meth is a methamphetamine. The reason people use it is because it releases a large amount of dopamine which creates a prolonged sense of euphoria. This rush damages the dopamine receptors which eventually leads to not being able to feel pleasure at all. Chronic abuse can lead to psychotic behavior, including paranoia, insomnia, anxiety, extreme aggression, delusions and hallucinations, and even death. Other side effects include diarrhea, nausea, excessive sweating, increased blood pressure, body temperature, heart rate, blood sugar levels, bronchodilation, and “meth mouth”. Meth mouth causes teeth to rapidly decay and fall out. The moral of the story is don’t do drugs.

Photo taken by Michael Allen Smith at

Grapefruit and Drug Reactions

For years people did not know the consequences of eating grapefruit while taking certain prescription medications until now. Last month Dr. David Bailey, a Canadian researcher who discovered this interaction years ago, published a list of 85 different drugs on the market that can have life-threatening effects when mixed with grapefruit. In fact 43 of the 85 could be lethal. This is very scary information that before recently, doctors were not fully aware of what caused these reactions.

According to this article, a 42 year old woman was taken to the emergency room because of a drug overdose. She had a decreasing heart rate and falling blood pressure. She had been taking a medication called verapamil for migraines although the doctors found a huge amount of the drug after a blood test. The doctors found out that grapefruit juice was the only thing she could bear to eat or drink when she had these migraines which increased the potency of the drug. Doctors later found out that other juices cause this same effect when in the presence of other drugs.

The way to prevent these reactions is simply to be aware of the drugs that you are taking and what juices will effect these drugs in what way. Age can also be a large contributor to how these drugs effect our systems. As you get older the grapefruit juice increases the potency even more than when we are young. This article then is not to scare you into thinking juice can kill us when mixed with a simple cholesterol lowering drug, but to make you more aware next time you see that fresh grapefruit on the counter!

Photo by mjp*

Tylenol, the Magical Fix-It-All…Till It Kills You

Photo taken by Josh Lowensohn

We all do it. Headache? Tylenol. Arm hurts? Tylenol. Cramps? Tylenol. Headache hurts too much to bare? Hmm, I think I’ll take three pills instead of the recommended two pills. Um, last I checked, these “recommended” dosages should be enough to alleviate whatever pain or discomfort we’re feeling, and I’m pretty sure if it hurts that badly, you should go see a doctor–just a little piece of advice.  It seems to me that “popin’ pills” is just what we all do these days. Well..I’d stop. Especially id you want to live, but if you want to slowly begin killing yourself…

In an article written by Amanda Chan for the Huffington Post, it is revealed that “a new study suggests that acetaminophen can add up over several days and lead to an overdose.”  Oops. How many times have you done that? I know I have…a few too many times.

So what’s so bad about this gradual overdose? According to the study published by the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, staggered overdose patterns are associated with adverse outcomes following acetaminophen overdose. Patients with this overdoes have a higher risk of developing multiorgan failure including brain or liver problems, as well as needing kidney dialysis. A study done by at the University of Pennsylvania, it was found that Acetaminophen was the most commonly reported toxic ingestion in the United States in 2005.

In a recent interview with BBC News, Dr. Kenneth Simpson, a member of the team in the Scottish Liver Transplantation Unit at the University of Edinburgh said “They haven’t taken the sort of single-moment, one-off massive overdoses taken by people who try to commit suicide, but over time the damage builds up, and the effect can be fatal.”

The National Institutes of Health reaffirm the data that overdosing on acetaminophen is one of the most common causes of poisoning around the world. In an effort to reduce the risk of unintentionally overdosing, the manufacturers of Tylenol have reduced the recommended dosage.

Basically, next you contemplate taking one too many Tylenols, think of it as an actual drug, which it is…you could potentially be killing yourself. Just a thought.

Cheer up, its not depression, its just hypothydroidism

Have you ever felt depressed and you don’t want to take pills to make you feel better? If the answer is yes then you might be in luck. A recent article in The New York Times reports on scientists finding a correlation between some cases of depression and levels of thyroid hormones in the blood. The specific hormones are Thyroxine and Triiodothyronine known as T4 and T3 respectively which regulate a wide variety of things such as body temperature and cognitive functioning. There are two cases which can have an irregular effect on the body. The first is hyperthyroidism which is having too much of the thyroid hormone which can cause a faster metabolism, sweating, weight loss and anxiety. The other case is hypothyroidism which is having too little of the thyroid hormone which can cause physical fatigue, weight gain, and depression which is what Dr. Russell Joffe, a psychiatrist, has been looking into. He says that “treating [hypothyroidism], which affects about 2 percent of Americans, could alleviate some patients’ psychiatric symptoms and might even prevent future cognitive decline.” Patients can be given synthetic thyroid hormones such as levothyroxine if their thyroid stimulation hormone, or TSH, is too high.

This subject is still controversial because it is hard for some doctors to tell what an abnormal level of TSH is since the normal levels can range from 0.4 to 5. This is only a problem if one doctor sees a patient with a 5 and thinks nothing of but if the normal level for the patient is 0.5 then the patient has 10 times as much TSH than they should have. Other cases can be difficult since it is sometimes hard to tell if it is a case of depression or if it is just stress and anxiety instead of mild depression. The research is still being done on trying to get a better sense of how the thyroid hormones and mood link.

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