Archive for Drugs

Apothecary bottles found in a collectibles shop

// August 21st, 2010 // 2 Comments » // Drugs

About a week ago I was in Gulgong, a small town in New South Wales near the wine region of Mudgee. The main road was spelled Mayne Road, and was brown stone rather than tarmac. Along the footpaths were old stone troughs for watering horses. Key landmarks included the Ten Dollar Motel and the Gulgong Butchers Cafe. It was an old gold mining town which had lost its gold but kept its rural charm.

Wandering the streets I came across a collectibles shop filled with coloured glass jugs and gold rimmed plates. Amongst the copper kettles I found these old bottles from an apothecary, dated around the 1800’s I believe.

Old Apothecary Bottles

The craftsmanship is stunning, and they teased my imagination. What were these drugs used for? What did they look like, when those bottles were filled, and who was the chemist who filled them?

I have since looked into some of the medicines written on the bottles.

Iodoformum is now called tri-iodomethane (CHI3). The crystals are lemon yellow and have a disagreeable odour and taste. I think it was used to treat tuberculosis, and is still used in homeopathy for a range of ailments. Hexamine may have been mixed with hippuric acid to make methenamine hippurate, which was used to treat lower urinary tract infections. Salol was a white powder derived from salicylic acid, the active ingredient in willow bark, which we take as acetylsalicylic acid in asprin. It was used to reduce pain and fever. Menthol you probably recognise from chest rubs. It comes from mint oil, though it can be made synthetically. As well as clearing sinuses it can ease sore throats and muscle pains, and is one of the ingredients in tiger balm.

While researching I found an issue of the British Medical Journal from September 5, 1885 which is an interesting read.

Science of Inception – sedatives, dissociatives and dreaming

// August 1st, 2010 // 11 Comments » // Drugs, Science in the Movies

inception movieInception is a movie which grabs you by the throat and won’t let you go. Having seen it, I can’t stop thinking about it and I just have to write something down. For those who haven’t seen it, I will keep this vague enough to avoid spoilers.

Dreaming is, well, weird. We don’t really know why or how it happens, though we have plenty of theories. I’ve had dreams so real that afterward I think they happened in life. It makes you think, if we can dream or imagine something that looks real, how real is reality? Could it all be a chemical hallucination, reality merely a response to stimuli that triggers a release of endogenous drugs? What makes reality more real than a dream?

If you really start thinking about it, nothing seems real. So let’s not think about it right now.

Instead let’s talk about sedatives – drugs which relax the body and the mind. Examples include alcohol, kava, valium, and barbiturates which are sometimes used as general anaesthetic (we made one at Uni once – sleepiest class ever!) Sedatives can be used to treat insomnia, and come with the danger of addiction.

So sedatives can put you to sleep, but what about dreams? The few times I’ve had general anaesthetic I haven’t had any dreams at all, and I’ve never noticed different dreams after a big night of drinking rum or sharing kava on the islands.

houseI’ve been racking my brains trying to think of a drug that enhances dreams, and I think I’ve found one. Ketamine, the horse tranquiliser known on the streets as Special K. They had it once in House – the episode “No Reason” starts with House getting shot and given ketamine as anaesthetic. The rest of the episode he hallucinates wildly and finally decides everything is a dream and kills a patient to prove it – then it flashes back to the start as House is rushed to the emergency room and says “Tell Cuddy I want ketamine.” And the whole thing was a dream. Best episode EVER.

Based on that and descriptions on Erowid I think ketamine is a good contender for inducing dreams.

It can act like a sedative (you know, seeing as it’s a tranquiliser and all) but it’s actually classed as a dissociative. Being awake under a sedative means being able to react to stimulus, but with ketamine someone is in a trancelike state with analgesic (not anal gesic, sir, the pills go in your mouth) and amnesic properties.

If I know a dream is about to become a nightmare, I can usually just wake up out of it. Sweet, right? Yes, except sometimes when I wake up I try to turn on the light and the power is out. Then I know I’m still dreaming, and the nightmare starts again. I’ve woken up into other dreams ten times in a row before actually waking up. Does that happen to anyone else, or am I as mad as Ahab?

So, even after all that research and writing, I still can’t get Inception out of my head. I think I’ll have to see it again next time I’m on shore. Come with me?

World’s sweetest antibiotic? The five ways honey kills bacteria.

// July 13th, 2010 // 5 Comments » // Drugs, How Things Work, Recent Research, Science at Home

HoneyYou’re at the doctors with a suspected infection, but instead of offering penicillin or erythromycin, they prescribe honey. Would you switch toast toppings? Take a honey pill? How about letting the doctor smear medical grade honey over the infected area?

People have been using honey (not mad honey) as medicine since ancient times, but until now we have never fully understood how it works. Research lead by Dr. Paulus Kwakman from the University of Amsterdam and his team have finally identified the key elements which give honey its antibacterial activity.

Bacteria are becoming resistant to drugs faster than we’re developing them. Honey might help because it works when other drugs don’t. Studies show it has good activity in vitro against antibiotic-resistant bacteria. An older study reports successful treatment of a chronic wound infections not responding to normal medicine.

So how does it work? It’s a combination of five factors.

1. Hydrogen peroxide, a kind of bleach. The honey enzyme called glucose oxidase makes hydrogen peroxide when honey is diluted with water. We clean toilets with bleach, and it’s pretty good at killing bacteria.

2. Sugar. Honey has so much sugar there’s hardly any water for bacteria to grow in.

3. Methylglyoxal (MGO), an antibacterial compound found in New Zealand Manuka honey a couple of years ago. It’s also found in medical grade honey which is made in controlled greenhouses, albeit in smaller amounts.

4. Bee defensin 1, a protein found in royal jelly (special food for queen bee larva.) This report is the first time bee defensin 1 has been identified in honey, and it works as an antibiotic.

5. Acid. Diluted honey has a pH of around 3.5, the acidic environment slows down bacterial growth.

These five things work together to provide a broad spectrum activity against bacteria. For example, S. aureus is vulnerable hydrogen peroxide, while B. subtillis is challenged only if MGO and bee defensin 1 are working simultaneously. Honey has the right mix for maximum destruction.

So that’s how bees keep their honey fresh and unspoiled by bacterial growth. Perhaps with this information we’ll create enhanced honey to guard against infection, improving on nature like we did with penicillin. Until then, I know what I’m having on my toast.

A Schooner of Science could be named Australia’s best science blog. If you enjoyed reading, please vote for me.

ResearchBlogging.orgKwakman, P., te Velde, A., de Boer, L., Speijer, D., Vandenbroucke-Grauls, C., & Zaat, S. (2010). How honey kills bacteria The FASEB Journal, 24 (7), 2576-2582 DOI: 10.1096/fj.09-150789

How to stop coughing with medicine or chocolate

// May 26th, 2010 // 4 Comments » // Drugs

Image by Peter Pearson

I have been sadly struck down with a cold. So it was with weary steps I took myself to the pharmacy to obtain suitable drugs, and plenty of them. I got capsules which contain paracetamol (painkiller,) phenylephrine (ineffective speed-like drug that used to be pseudoephedrine and now doesn’t really work) and dextromethorphan (cough suppressant.)

Well I’m still coughing… So let’s see what the deal is with Mr. Dextromethorphan. Dexter for short.

Dexter is chemically similar to morphine and codeine. It was first developed to replace codeine as America’s favourite cough suppressant, and has been successful because it is non-addictive and has less potential for abuse. Unfortunately there’s debate about whether it actually works, particularly in children.

It may have less potential for abuse, but people still have a good time on cough medicine. Too much Dexter acts as a dissociative hallucinogen similar to ketamine (aka Special K) or PCP. Possibly you could enjoy watching a TV show of animals through a wide angled lens if you had too much.

If that’s not your cup of tea, why not actually have a cup of tea? Tea contains theobromine, which can suppress coughing. You know what else has theobromine in it? Cocoa. Dark chocolate in particular is a good source of theobromine, and is a delicious alternative to cough medicine. The study reported by New Scientist showed it was more effective than codeine, and better than placebo.

Dexter must have kicked in now, I’m not coughing so much. I always feel spaced out from cough medicine though, and I’m feeling pretty zonked… Methinks I will seek out some large supply of chocolate, just in case.

Hallucinogenic drugs, animal studies and explosm

// May 18th, 2010 // 3 Comments » // Drugs, Just for Fun

So I have had a really busy week in the lovely sunshine coast, and haven’t had a chance to track down the quality science content you know and love. Instead, I have comics of drugs.

WAIT!!! THIS IS SCIENCE! Because sometimes scientists give hallucinogenic drugs to animals to see what happens to them, and to find out how the drug works. Studying hallucinogens can give insights into how the mind works and manages itself.

There are a few famous cases of animal drug studies. The first is the spider web experiment, where spiders were given LSD, caffeine, cannabis or mescaline and the resulting webs were photographed. Another one is the elephant on acid, which happened in the 60’s (or 70’s) when LSD was new and being tried on EVERYTHING. They tried giving it to an elephant at about 400 times the human dose to see if it would go into musth, if it did it would prove LSD induced a kind of psychosis. The elephant didn’t go into musth, it actually died. And they were in a zoo and everything, not cool.

So here are the drug comics. Enjoy!

Cyanide and Happiness, a daily webcomic
Cyanide & Happiness @ Explosm.net

Cyanide and Happiness, a daily webcomic
Cyanide & Happiness @ Explosm.net

Cyanide and Happiness, a daily webcomic
Cyanide & Happiness @ Explosm.net

Oh Cyanide and Happiness, how I love thee!






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