Thinking About Drugs

The very word drug, immediately conjures a multitude of connotations that reflect our many views of the pharmaceutical and herbal substances we ingest. We characterize drugs as hard, soft, performance enhancing, mind expanding, toxic, synthetic, natural, addictive, dangerous and miraculous. Personal experience and exposure to information about drugs colour the way all of us (including doctors and pharmacologists) think about drugs, whether positively, negatively, or a little of both.

But decisions about drug use need to be based on evidence and not on dramatic claims, emotionally charged headlines or prejudice. The stakes are too high. In order to cut through the hyperbole surrounding them, I think of drugs in the following way.

What does the drug do?

How is it used?

What are its risks?

Each question needs to be answered with evidence based information. Information provided via marketing, social networking and cultural/news media is by its nature at least one step removed from the original data and thus open to contamination by non-scientific interests. For example, research may have shown a particular headache drug to become fully effective 20 minutes more quickly than another. An ad for the same drug on the other hand, may announce a breakthrough in headache management.

Fortunately, it is relatively easy to access reliable information on drugs. Such information becomes more easily understood the more one understands how drugs work and how we research them. Two of my favorite online sources are PubMed, a site for searching the scientific literature and the Mayo Clinic website.

Searching for evidence based answers to the above three questions facilitates rational decision making about drug use while subverting our emotional biases. It requires work. For the non-professional who simply needs help in deciding whether or not to try a particular drug, all this may seem overwhelming. Therefore, in the following posts I will present some basic information that I hope will allow you to make better decisions.

Next: Molecules


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