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Drugs Little Glossary

acetylcholine—Neurotransmitter that relaxes the body.
alkaloids—Any of a host of organic compounds derived from plants; many are useful as medicines.
autocatalytic cycle—A cycle that fuels itself.
autonomic nervous system—The part of the nervous system responsible for unconscious actions, like heart rate. It is divided into two subparts: the sympathetic, responsible for activities that excite the body such as increasingrespiration, and the parasympathetic, responsible for activities that relax the body such as lowering blood pressure.
central nervous system (CNS)—The brain and spinal cord; sensory nerve signals are sent to the CNS and it is responsible for many bodily activities, including movement and the release of chemical signals.
codeine—An alkaloid in opium used primarily as a cough suppressant.
detection period—The amount of time for which a drug test can detect the use of a drug (this differs depending on the type of sample—urine, blood, or other).
dihydrocodeine—A rather weak analgesic related to codeine, it is usually combined with other drugs and used as a headache suppressant.
dopamine—Neurotransmitter that causes euphoric feelings.
drug sensitivity—The amount of drug needed in a drug test sample to consider it a positive result.
epinephrine—Neurotransmitter that stimulates striated muscle, which is under conscious control.
fentanyl—A semi-synthetic opioid that is a much more powerful version of morphine. It is used during surgery as an anesthetic and is extremely dangerous when taken in a nonmedical context.
gas chromatography—A method for detecting the presence of illicit drugs in blood or urine. The sample is first inserted into the machine and vaporized (turned into a gas). As it vaporizes, different metabolites within the sample vaporize at different times, called retention times. The time differences are recorded and analyzed by the machine, which is pre-programmed to recognize the retention times of prohibited drugs.
heroin—A powerful, highly addictive narcotic made by boiling morphine; also known as diacetylmorphine.
hydrocodone—A widely prescribed, and abused, pharmaceutical designed as a pain-reliever.
hydromorphone—A pharmaceutical product used to combat severe pain.
immunoassays—Amethod for detecting the presence of illicit drugs in urine. Immunoassays involve the use of antibodies, proteins that can recognize and bind to a specific substance. To test for illegal opiate drugs, scientists find antibodies for the metabolite traces left by drugs in the urine. The urine and a solvent containing the antibodies are mixed together and scientists are then able to deduce if a drug is present by the reaction between the two substances.
laudanum—A mixture of opium and liquor once commonplace in English households.
mass spectrometry—A method for detecting the presence of illicit drugs in blood or urine. It uses an electron beam to separate the vaporized sample into its different ions according to their mass. The machine is able to separate all of the ions into groups and measure their concentrations. The metabolites for many enhancement drugs leave their
own unique signature.
meperidine—Also known as pethidine, it is a synthetic opioid that is often used in place of morphine to treat pain.
methadone—A synthetic opioid that is commonly used today to treat heroin addicts.
morphine—Opium’s most abundant alkaloid and active ingredient; used as a narcotic agent.
mules—The colloquial term for someone who smuggles illegal drugs on their person.
neurons—Nervous system cells with the specific job of transmitting signals to each other to coordinate a host of bodily functions.
neurotransmitters—Chemicals released by neurons to communicate with each other.
norepinephrine—Neurotransmitter that stimulates smooth muscles such as the heart and keeps blood pressure from lowering too much.
noscapine—A benzylisoquinoline alkaloid from opium that has only minimal medicinal and narcotic capabilities.
nostrums—Untested medications, produced by patent medicine makers, combining all kinds of natural products and drugs.
opioid receptors—A chemical lock-and-key mechanism located on cell surfaces that works because it allows only certain chemicals—in this case, opiates—to fit and thus communicate with the cell. There are three classifications of opioid receptors, mu, delta, and kappa.
opium—The narcotic drug obtained from the opium poppy; it is the oldest drug ever cultivated and actively pursued by the human species.
opium clippers—Ships developed in the mid-1800s specifically for the transport and sale of opium.
opium den—An environ in which to smoke opium.
oxycodone—Derived from the alkaloid thebaine, it is a highly effective painreliever and prescribed to postsurgical patients, cancer patients, and others with severe pain.
papaverine—An alkaloid in opium with no narcotic properties used medicinally as a muscle relaxant.
Papaver somniferum—The opium poppy plant; it is one of only two species that produce morphine (the active ingredient in opium) and the only one actively cultivated to produce the drug.
parasympathetic system—The part of the autonomic nervous system responsible for activities that relax the body such as lowering blood pressure.
patent medicine makers—Unregulated small-time drug manufacturers prevalent in the nineteenth century.
poppy—The plant containing opium; a tall, thin plant of about 90–150 centimeters, its four sprouting leaves can be a variety of colors—white, pink, blue, crimson, or any combination of these—which surround the plant’s inner pod.
propoxyphene—A synthetic opioid that is similar to methadone but much less potent.
serotonin—Neurotransmitter that inhibits bodily activities and acts as a counter to norepinephrine.
sympathetic system—The part of the autonomic nervous system responsible for activities that excite the body, such as increasing respiration.
synaptic cleft—The space between neurons.
thebaine—An alkaloid in opium that is actually a poison, causing convulsive effects when taken in high quantities.