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Drugs and the Human Body

By Iman Kagimu

Edited by Emma Davis

Drugs are a big part of a majority of people’s day to day life. Different drugs have different effects on your body, so always be careful. Before we analyze the effects of drugs in the human body, we first have to define what a drug is. A drug is a substance that causes a change to an organism when ingested. There are essential three types of drugs.

There are drugs that are used for medical purposes, such as Penicillin and Psychotropics. Penicillin is a drug that either comes in pill form or as an oral solution. It was the first true antibiotic discovered by Alexander Fleming, a Professor of Bacteriology in 1928 in London. It’s used to treat infections caused by bacteria only and not for infections caused by viruses. It can help treat scarlet fever, chorea, upper respiratory infections, skin infections, and more. It is an antibiotic that stops bacteria from multiplying which kills the bacteria causing one’s infection. Some mild side effects include nausea and vomiting.

A psychotropic is a drug that affects one's mood, thoughts or behavior. They are usually prescribed by a doctor or psychiatrist. They can include antidepressants, mood stabilizers, antipsychotics, or anti-anxiety agents. These types of drugs are used to treat bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, or schizophrenia. Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) are used to treat depression by increasing the amount of serotonin in the brain, which is often referred to as the “feel good hormone”. Some side effects can include dry mouth, poor sleep, or weight gain. There are other types of antidepressants such as SNRI, MAOI and Tricyclic.

There are recreational drugs such as Alcohol and Tobacco, which are typically socially acceptable and legal drugs. Recreational drugs are chemical substances that are used for enjoyment and pleasure and not for medical purposes. In Alcohol there is a psychoactive (drug that changes brain function) ingredient, ethanol which makes one get “drunk”. Alcohol reduces shyness and can make some people “act without inhibition”. It also can impair one’s usual judgement, which causes sudden and unusual behavior. The liver organ has many functions and many people can get alcoholic liver diseases which usually stems from heavy binge drinkers. Sometimes Cirrhosis can develop which is when liver cells die and are replaced with scar tissue. When someone is diagnosed with Cirrhosis, their best chance is to have a liver transplant. Alcohol consumption also impacts your brain, as ethanol can reduce “communication between brain cells”. When someone binge drinks to the point where they blackout, they can have memory loss or amnesia which is usually temporary but if it frequently occurs there can be permanent changes in the brain.

Tobacco is a highly addictive and abused substance. Nicotine is the main addictive chemical found in Tobacco. It causes a “rush of adrenaline when absorbed in the bloodstream..”. It also increases dopamine (another “feel good” hormone) in the brain. Tobacco is actually legal and can easily be purchased and used. Some people use it very recreationally while others use it on a daily basis and become addicted. Some treatment options are a patch or nicotine gum. The patch is a bandage sticker applied to your arm which gives low levels of nicotine to the body. Nicotine gum is used more commonly for people who want to give up smoking as it contains small doses of nicotine. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tobacco causes 6 million deaths per year.

Other types of recreational drugs such as Cocaine and Heroin are not socially acceptable and are illegal. Cocaine is made from coca plant leaves in South America. It increases one’s energy and makes them talkative and euphoric. Cocaine is highly addictive even after trying it a handful of times. When used frequently it can alter brain systems. It can be inhaled or injected into a vein. When you frequently take it then you have a higher tolerance, making you take more and more of it each time, which is due to neuroadaptation. Some effects are paranoia, aggression, nausea, weight loss, and hallucinations. The most helpful and successful treatments are residential treatment programs which can last up to a year.

Lastly, we have Heroin which is an opioid. Opioids are derived from opium poppy plants. Heroin can be injected, snorted or smoked. It is highly addictive and since it’s an opioid, it “binds to receptors in the brain to release the chemical dopamine”. Similar to Cocaine, when someone takes it frequently then there is a high tolerance for the substance in order to “feel good”. Some effects include slurred speech, needle marks (from injection), change in behavior, aggression, and agitation. The same treatments for Cocaine are also equally beneficial for Heroin users.

There are many other drugs that were not included here that have either similar or extremely different outcomes. It’s good to understand what you're putting in your body and that not all drugs are 100% good or 100% bad, they each have their own effects.

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