Drugs and Brains

CC BY 2.0 Christophe Goessen https://flic.kr/p/7WV2Ft

This semester has been my best one at PSU. Picking every class because I wanted to take it, not because I had to was awesome. I finally feel connected and interested in every single class. It’s also nice to have classes from all different topics, that can still relate. It keeps things fresh. I haven’t felt like I’ve become stagnant. I’m learning totally different things every day, but at the same time they’re all still relevant, so I can still actively participate and connect without hitting a wall. Like I said, I’ve learned so many great things that are extremely relevant, but I want to particularly discuss two of these things.

CC BY-ND 2.0 Gregor Fischer https://flic.kr/p/4C5mQP

The first topic I want to share is from my drug behavior class. Over the course of this semester I’ve gotten to learn about all different types of drugs and how they affect our body; illicit and non-illicit. We’ve gone over drugs on the streets, drugs you get at a pharmacy, and even some in food we consume (caffeine). All of these drugs, illicit or not, affect our bodies in some way, whether it be giving us more energy to get through the day, helping us cope with mental illnesses, or eliciting some trippy psychedelic high. Its honestly crazy what people can get their hands on and what it can do for them. On the other hand, learning more about very common prescription medications and what mechanisms they works on in our bodies is very eye opening as well.

CC BY-ND 2.0 torbakhopper https://flic.kr/p/ejaMJy

Antidepressants are a group of specific pharmaceuticals that we’ve gone over in class. It’s super cool to learn the history of this class of medication. Obviously, since there are many different types of antidepressants, not a single one worked for everybody, but rather people responded differently to some of the drugs than others. Seeing that evolution is so cool. We learned about MAO inhibitors and the first marketed drug was used for curing Tuberculosis (McKim and Hancock). We discussed tryciclic antidepressants and how they were safer than the early MAOIs, so many more were developed (McKim and Hancock). Finally, we came to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, which act on serotonergic pathways in our brains. Prozac is a very widely used SSRI; its generic name being fluoxetine. SSRIs act on the serotonergic pathways in our brains. These drugs block the reuptake of serotonin so that there is more readily available for our brains to use (Yue et al., 2017). Initially, fluoxetine was being used to alter one’s personality rather than as an antidepressant (McKim and Hancock). This is an intriguing thought to have in terms of what I’ve learned in my Neurobiology class.

CC BY-SA 2.0 A Health Blog https://flic.kr/p/dLSKTQ

We have been studying the brain and the different mechanisms that allow us to complete everyday tasks. Understanding how neurotransmitters affect our behavior and actions is an essential component to neurobiology. Without these neurotransmitters, our brain would not be able to communicate with our body. We know that different neurotransmitters interact with different systems in our bodies and are influential on specific behaviors (John Nicholls). One of the key transmitters in our bodies is serotonin. The effects of serotonin (5-HT) are better understood by studying drugs that mimic 5-HT, block its specific receptors, or block the reuptake of 5-HT (John Nicholls). By doing these studies, it has been found that serotonin plays a role in regulating affective states, so these drugs have a direct effect on a person’s mood (John Nicholls).

CC BY-SA 2.0 Fotis Bobolas https://flic.kr/p/6PKTHD

Both of these things I’ve learned are super relevant to my program, Mental Health Studies. Understanding the effects drugs have on neurotransmitters in our brains is a huge aspect of treating mental illnesses. Drug behavior introduces me to the more behavioral side of drug use and how people act when they take various drugs. Neurobiology takes this idea a step further and discusses the actual systems these drugs act on and what it means for our brains and bodies, should we take any drug. It’s so cool to be taking both of these classes at the same time, because things I may not be covering in one class we will touch on in the other.

CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 rachel https://flic.kr/p/CNW8m

I’m hoping that these classes will help me in a career of psychiatric nursing or working in a substance abuse rehabilitation program. Understanding how drugs affect the neurotransmitters in our brain will help me to understand how illicit drugs may interact with prescription drugs or how to effectively implement treatment programs for someone who may be struggling with addiction, along with so many other important factors that play a role in a person’s mental health.



McKim, William A., and Stephanie D. Hancock. Drugs and Behavior.Pearson Education, 2012.

Nicholls, John G. From Neuron to Brain. Sinauer Associates, 2012.

Yue, John, et al. “Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors for Treating Neurocognitive and Neuropsychiatric Disorders Following Traumatic Brain Injury: An Evaluation of Current Evidence.” Brain Sciences, vol. 7, no. 12, 2017, p. 93., doi:10.3390/brainsci7080093.

One Reply to “Drugs and Brains”

  1. Wow. It’s absolutely incredible to me to see the overlap in coursework, and the perfect coherence that it all has with your own program as you have crafted it. It just makes me wonder if college, in general, would just make more sense if students ALWAYS took the reins in designing majors. I mean, tons of students take both of these courses. But in the context of you working to integrate them for a purpose, it seems like they have become more meaningful and engaging for you. I enjoyed learning more about these drugs in your post, but also really loved the kind of meta-level discussion of how student ownership of learning affects engagement. I just love reading your work and hope you will keep posting in this space after our course is complete!

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