Term Paper: Psychopharmacology, the Goal

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[. . .] It can have powerful effects on the brain, causing the person to have a greatly exaggerated sense of his or her abilities. PCP can cause a temporary psychotic break. It is sometimes dusted on marijuana to make the marijuana seem more potent.

Marijuana is another naturally occurring drug, related to the hemp plant. Its active ingredient is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinolm or THC, and is believed to bind to synapses in several parts of the brain (Kimball, 2003). It has several effects on the brain. It can make the user drowsy, acting as a sedative. It can decrease sensation of pain, and if used in large amounts, distort perception somewhat like a hallucinogenic. Unlike sedatives and opioids, however, marijuana use does not result in addiction or increased physical need for the drug (Kimball, 2003). Where the body removes many drugs from the body rapidly, THC leaves the body very slowly, allowing the user to get the desired high with less product, if used closely enough together. Nevertheless, psychological addiction to marijuana is possible. Because of its tendency to distort perception, driving can be particularly hazardous while under the influence of marijuana, as judgment regarding both time and distance are impaired.

Unlike stimulants, TCH tends to encourage appetite rather than suppressing appetite. It may also lower the internal pressure in some kinds of glaucoma, a disease where pressure builds up in the eyeball, eventuality causing blindness if not controlled. Significant controversy currently exists over whether people with cancer or HIV / AIDS should be allowed to use marijuana as an appetite stimulant. Since it also has some ability to control pain, it might hold potential for such use.

Drug abuse issues

While researchers have learned a great deal about what drugs are addictive and why, drug abuse continues as a serious societal problem. The War on Drugs has not eliminated drug abuse and a variety of illegal drugs are easily available in most places of the United States today. In response to this problem, a wide variety of treatments have been devised to help people free themselves from drug addiction.

Efforts at treating drug addiction face multiple problems. There seems to be no quick way for most people to free themselves from drugs (Smart. 1996), but few people can afford stays of several months in treatment centers. Usually the person leaves the treatment program and returns to the circumstances that led him or her to substance abuse to begin with. Drug abusers tend to have drug abusers for friends, and no one wants to be friendless. Poverty and lack of jobs seem to contribute to drug abuse, but those problems are still present when the person returns home. The result is that many people relapse and may have to go through drug treatment programs several times before successfully ending their drug dependency. Youth programs have not been any more successful than those for adults (Smart. 1996).

Pharmacology and Psychological Disorders

The last twenty years have shown a dramatic increase in the numbers of drugs used to treat psychological and psychiatric conditions such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and depression.

One of the older classes of drugs for this purpose are tranquilizers. They work like sedatives in that they decrease anxiety, but they do not trigger sleep. They are grouped into two sets: major and minor. The major tranquilizers, such as haloperidol (Haldol) and chlorpromazine, are used for severe psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia, a devastating condition. They bind to receptors for dopamine and force increased neuron activity (Kimball, 2003).

Minor tranquilizers include Librium, Xanax, Halcion, and Valium. They are benzodiazepines, and bind to GABA receptors, and increase the action of GABA on synapses. These are also the synapses that respond to both alcohol and barbiturates, so these tranquilizers can be quite dangerous if combined with alcohol (Kimball, 2003). Such combinations can result in death by depressing respiration.

Antidepressants work by increasing the amount of serotonin available in the brain. There are several kinds. One breaks down neurotransmitters so they can be recycled into new ones for re use. These are called "MAO inhibitors," and while they have a place in treatment, often other antidepressants may be tried first (Kimball, 2003).

Tricyclics and tetracylics block the reuptake, or absorption, of neurotransmitters, allowing them to be used longer. Some of them include imipramine (Tofranil), desipramine (Norpramine), and mirtazapine (Remeron) (Kimball, 2003). These were once widely used but now selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are often the first choice. They inhibit the reuptake of serotonin only, while tricyclics inhibit both serotonin and noradrenaline. Commonly used SSRIs include fluoxetine (Prozac), sertraline (Zoloft), fluvoxamine (Luvox) and paroxetine (Paxil). They all increase the amount of serotonin rapidly, but often do not begin to relieve symptoms of depression for a week or more. The reasons for this are not clear (Kimball, 2003). Different SSRIs have been found to help other conditions in addition to depression, including anxiety disorders and obsessive compulsive disorder.

Bupropion, marketed as Wellbutrin, doesn't fit into any of the categories listed above. It blocks the reuptake of dopamine instead of serotonin, as well as noradrenaline. Effective as an antidepressant, it may also help some other conditions, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, a condition most typically treated with stimulants.

Other Neurochemical Conditions

Mention should be made of the disease Parkinson's Disease (PD). PD is a degenerative disease of the disease marked by increasing loss of control over body muscles. It may start as a slight tremor in the hand, but eventually may make it impossible for the person to walk. People with PD have reduced levels of dopamine in crucial parts of their brain. It is typically treated with Levodopa, which the brain can convert into dopamine (Hines, 2000). Often another drug has to be added to convey the Levodopa into the brain so it can do its job. It is an imperfect solution and can alleviate some but not all of the symptoms of PD, and sometimes the amount of relief given is completely inadequate. We do not yet have good pharmaceutical treatment for PD, which a long-term and worsening disease.

PD can be difficult to diagnose because some psychotropic drugs can mimic this disease. However, when those drugs have been stopped, if the symptoms remain, the person already had PD and the drugs used only made it worse (Hines, 2000).

Herbal Medicines and Psychology

There are literally hundreds of different drugs that can alter behavior (Hamilton & Timmons, 1994), and many of them have their origins in folk medicine. Opiates were first derived from the opium poppy, and the synthetic variations of opiates were developed based on knowledge first gained from studying opiates. Cocaine is a naturally occurring drug, and studying it has triggered more research in similar medications. Many drugs used today are simply medicines first found in herbs but refined in pharmaceutical labs for strength conformity and to remove impurities (Hamilton & Timmons, 1994). Some herbal remedies are being studied today for possible psychological benefit, including ginseng, gingko and St. John's Wort, which has been shown to help mild to moderate depression.


Hamilton, W. Hamilton and Timmons, Robin. "From Folk Medicine to Modern Pharmacology." In Companion Encyclopedia of Psychology: Vol. 1. London: Routledge, 1994.

Hines, Silvia E. 2002. "A better life for patients with Parkinson's disease." Patient Care, May.

Kimball, John W., M.D. "Drugs and the Nervous System" in Biology. Accessed via the Internet 1/20/03: Kimball's Biology Pages, last updated 1/19/03. http://users.rcn.com/jkimball.ma.ultranet/BiologyPages/D/Drugs.html

Murray, John B. 1998. "Psychophysiological aspects of amphetamine-methamphetamine abuse." The Journal of… [END OF PREVIEW]

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