Consciousness Altering Drugs: Depressants – Consciousness (PSY)

by Tarry Ahuja, PhD

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    00:01 Okay. So now we’re going to get into something around drug taking and we’re going to focus on consciousness altering drugs.

    00:09 So, So you can have whole different types in categories of drugs that are taken.

    00:15 We’re going to focus on sort of four broad bins -- depressants, stimulants, psychoactive drugs, and hallucinogens.

    00:22 We’ll start with depressants because these are probably the ones that are the most common, most commonly used, and they include things like alcohol, barbiturates, and opiates.

    00:31 So like the name implies, depressants actually depresses overall neural activity.

    00:38 Now, your reflex might be, well, wait a second, you know, you’re thinking of alcohol, you think of a party, you think of people being loud, but fast forward your night.

    00:46 So let’s take a look at your last weekend.

    00:49 You start the night highly activated.

    00:52 You seem like you’re partying and dancing. You’re like how is that a depressant? Look at the end of your night.

    00:57 If you were to continue to consume alcohol, how does your night typically end? It usually ends with you passing out on the sofa or being extremely tired, because at the end of the day, if you look at the process of your drug taking in the end result, it’s usually, almost always, results in you sort of passing out or falling asleep or being depressed.

    01:16 Not in the mood, but depressed in neural activity.

    01:19 So how is your brain actually working? So what it does is depressants stimulate and increase the levels of something called GABA, which is a type of neurotransmitter, and dopamine in the brain.

    01:30 More specifically, we’re going to hone in on GABA because that’s much more prominent.

    01:34 And what GABA is, is actually an inhibitory transmitter.

    01:39 So I’m going to simplify this for you and say we have sort of excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitters in the brain.

    01:47 And the end result of behavior or even neural activity is dependent upon that delicate balance of excitation and inhibition.

    01:56 So an analogy I like to use is the gas and the brakes, with excitation being gas and inhibition being the brakes.

    02:03 So GABA being inhibitory, think in your mind brakes of a speeding car.

    02:08 Okay? So typically, neural activity is a combination of how much gas and how much of the brakes are being applied.

    02:14 Well, now you’re drinking alcohol for example and we’re increasing the amount of brakes.

    02:20 Okay? So GABA is inhibitory and what it actually does is it reduces things like anxiety.

    02:27 So what do you do when you’re asked to perhaps give a speech or you’re going into a “stressful situation” like a first date or a dinner party with people you don’t really know? You kind of tend to go for that drink.

    02:41 “I have to go give a speech, let me have a quick drink before I head up to calm me down.” So what we’re saying here is in anxiety situations and stressful situations where excitation is high, you drink some alcohol, it increases levels of GABA, which is the brakes, and it lowers levels of anxiety.

    02:59 Okay? So I hope that analogy makes sense for you.

    03:02 So, sort of a take home, GABA, inhibitory, lowers level of activity of neural activity.

    03:08 Now, also in the mix is dopamine and we’ll talk about dopamine a little bit more in some of the other drug classes, but dopamine, levels of dopamine, especially increased levels of dopamine is associated with happiness and that I am feeling good.

    03:22 I’m feeling euphoric.

    03:24 So any drug you take where you’re increasing levels of dopamine, that’s going to lead to you wanting to take more or take it again.

    03:30 So it’s behaviorally reinforcing, that’s a term you should know, and that means that your behavior is reinforcing that drug taking behavior because it makes you feel good, and what’s mediating that behavior is dopamine.

    03:44 Another thing that these depressants can do is suppress REM sleep.

    03:48 Now, REM stands for rapid eye movement sleep and it’s a phase of sleep that we have.

    03:52 So we’re not going to get into the whole lecture on sleep, but basically, you have four stages of sleep, plus REM.

    03:58 The newer versions have three stages, plus REM.

    04:01 And REM is that stage where you do your dreaming and it’s thought to be the restorative stage of sleep where you actually, your brain is quite active, but it’s allowing you to feel rested.

    04:12 So those who don’t get REM sleep will wake up after their eight hours of sleep, but not having REM being really tired, versus those who have their eight hours of sleep plus their REM, they feel much more rested.

    04:25 Okay, so anytime you’re impacting or influencing or messing with the amount of REM sleep you’re getting, that’s not a good thing.

    04:30 It’s also why when you drink a lot, you don’t dream.

    04:34 And so, what ends up happening is, you know, after you stop drinking, you’ll notice that the following night you might have exaggerated or longer or more frequent episodes of dreaming.

    04:44 Okay? So we also know that if you don’t have good REM sleep or proper phases of sleep, it can actually impact your short-term memory.

    04:52 So during this phase of sleep and the deeper stages of sleep, that’s where short-term memories are assimilated and they’re converted into long-term memories.

    05:00 So memory, as a whole, gets impacted if you lose a good quality of sleep.

    05:07 Now, let’s take a look at some of the other depressants that you can take.

    05:11 So alcohol is one.

    05:13 Barbiturate is another, and barbiturates is an older medication that was used for a lot of different purposes.

    05:19 It was used as an anti-anxiety agent, it was used as an agent to help people go to sleep that were having trouble falling asleep, but of them, whether it’s alcohol or barbiturates, they actually depress the sympathetic nervous system.

    05:29 And if you recall, that’s the system that has the fight or flight response, or mediates that fight or flight response.

    05:35 Now, in the past, barbiturates were used commonly as sleep aids, but they really no longer are. They’re a pretty out of date drug.

    05:43 Now we use benzos in certain situations are more specific hypnotic agents we call them.

    05:50 And so, these barbiturates have this effect of depressing respiration and are a depressant, as they’re called, and they have something called a synergistic effect with alcohol.

    06:02 So what that means is barbiturates alone will cause some depression and alcohol alone will cause some depression.

    06:09 But you put the two together, it’s like oil on fire or gas on fire, and we have this synergistic or exaggerated effect.

    06:16 And so, an individual who maybe has a couple of barbiturates and then has a couple of glasses of wine -- no, normally the two barbiturates will just help you sleep, and normally two glasses of wine would make you feel relaxed.

    06:28 But the two of them together can be catastrophic and can actually kill you because they depress your respiration to a point where you stop breathing.

    06:35 This is actually one of the theories behind what killed Marilyn Monroe, the big movie star from the ‘50s and ‘60s.

    06:43 She had taken some barbiturates and they found alcohol in her blood as well, and one of the theories is that she ended up mixing the two and having that synergistic effect.

    06:54 Opiate is another one and this includes agents like morphine and heroin, and these are typically things that are taken to help manage pain.

    07:01 And so what they do is they actually mimic our normal endogenous opioids that are released which help us normally deal with pain.

    07:08 Living in, you know, the year 2016, we typically feel any pain and we go for something to manage that pain, morphine and heroine are one of them.

    07:18 And they’re quite tricky because they have a really, really - really, really low threshold for addiction, meaning that it’s -- you don’t need to take much in order to get addicted.

    07:28 With heroine, being pretty much at the top of that pyramid, is one of the most addictive substances that you can take.

    07:33 Morphine is quite high as well, but heroine is pretty much the top of its class in terms of being highly, highly addictive.

    07:41 So we know that chronic use of opioids, of morphine, heroine, can lead to dependence and addiction.

    About the Lecture

    The lecture Consciousness Altering Drugs: Depressants – Consciousness (PSY) by Tarry Ahuja, PhD is from the course Making Sense of the Environment.

    Included Quiz Questions

    1. Decreases dopamine level
    2. Depresses neural activity
    3. Increases GABA level
    4. Reduces activity
    5. Can affect sleep
    1. Amphetamines
    2. Morphine
    3. Barbiturates
    4. Benzodiazepines
    5. Oxycodone
    1. Alcohol
    2. Nicotine
    3. Marijuana
    4. PCP
    5. LSD
    1. Opioids can affect long-term memory.
    2. Opioids should be taken only for a short time.
    3. Alcohol should be avoided while taking opioids.
    4. Opioids can decrease REM sleep.
    5. Opioids have an affect on neurotransmitters.

    Author of lecture Consciousness Altering Drugs: Depressants – Consciousness (PSY)

     Tarry Ahuja, PhD

    Tarry Ahuja, PhD

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