Depressants of the nervous system: characteristics and examples

Drugs are substances that generate in people who use them an effect on their mental life, which they tend to appreciate as pleasant when they are expressed, but which end up severely conditioning the way in which they carry out their activities. daily.

And it is that all drugs involve (in some way) the manipulation of our central reward system, vitiating the “magnetism” of the compass that guides our motivations and goals in life. This is how the phenomenon that we call “addiction” or “dependence” occurs.

The effects of any substance on our brain can be divided into three categoriesNamely: stimulant (generation of euphoria and more activity), psychodysleptic (altered perception) and depressant (deep relaxation of physiological and cognitive activation).

In this article we will tackle precisely the last of them, highlighting several of the drugs that depress the nervous system which are most commonly consumed around the world. Particular attention will be paid to their effects and how they modify thinking and behavior.

    Nervous system depressant drugs

    Central nervous system depressive drugs have the property of induce states of deep muscle relaxation, as well as a relaxation of consciousness and cognitive slowing down and physiological processes such as respiration or heart rate. All of them have the property of exerting synergistic-type effects when consumed in combination, so the concomitant use of two or more of them can lead to coma or even death. In addition, it has been shown that they are able to generate a tolerance and withdrawal syndrome (which is the opposite of the effect of intoxication).

    Another aspect to be aware of is that of cross tolerance. The consumption of a drug of this family means that an increasing dose is necessary to achieve the same effect obtained initially, but all of this is extended to everyone. So, if someone develops this process with alcohol, they have shown an attenuated reaction to the effect of anti-anxiety drugs when consumed separately. Now let’s see what these drugs are and their most important features.

    1. Alcohol

    Alcohol is the generic name given to ethanol. It comes from the aerobic fermentation of the sugar contained in certain fruits (grapes, apples, etc.) and cereals (rice, barley, etc.), mediated by the activity of fungi such as yeasts. In general, it is possible to differentiate its presentation into two different categories: fermented drinks (wine, beer, etc.) and distilled drinks (whiskey, rum, gin, etc.), the latter of which contain a higher percentage of this substance. (thirty degrees or more).

    Alcoholic beverages are all products that contain at least 1% ethanol in their composition (or a quality, which would be an equivalent measure); and belong to such a category a very wide range of liquors and beers marketed as “non-alcoholic”. The calculation of grams of this substance would be done by simply multiplying its degrees (per 100 cc of liquid) by 0.8, a number which corresponds to its density.

    When the substance is ingested, 80% of it is absorbed by the small intestine and the remaining 20% ​​by the stomach. Furthermore, it crosses the blood-brain and placental barrierSo, it would have the brain and the fetus in the case of pregnant women (acting as a very dangerous teratogen and increasing the risk of multiple problems in the newborn).

    In turn, women get drunk faster and are at a higher risk for the substance to harm their body. When alcohol is mixed with gas (carbonated drinks) or used on an empty stomach, the onset of its effect is accelerated.

    You could say that alcohol poisoning involves transit through a series of well-differentiated stages. In the first place, it is possible for the person to experience well-being and a tendency to easy laughter, accompanied by loquacity and behavioral disinhibition (so that he dares to interact with others in a less “apprehensive” way).

    As consumption continues, a state of sedation and numbness occurs when attempting to move, with mumbling speech and substantial loss of reflexes. Eventually, a condition is reached in which consciousness is impaired, lacunar amnesia appears, and difficulty in breathing. At this stage, the risk of coma and death (from respiratory depression) is present.

    Although it is a drug which can be legally acquired without any problem, and even being a common guest at many celebrations and parties, alcohol is addictive and is associated with multiple pathologies in different organs and systems. Its use is particularly harmful in the case of women, Due to intersex differences in the body’s distribution of adipose tissue and enzymes responsible for its metabolism.

      2. Benzodiazepines

      Benzodiazepines are prescription drugs for treating some of the disorders included in the general category of anxiety, and more specifically those with a physiological symptom profile (eg panic). They work on our brain by affecting GABA, the most important inhibitory neurotransmitter for humans, which reduces the basal level of cortical activation. Its effect begins about ten or fifteen minutes after oral consumption, due to which it is easily absorbed.

      Its impact on the body alleviates the way the sympathetic nervous system precipitates anxious physiology itself. This is why it is used in the treatment of this symptom, although it can be addictive in those who take it for long periods of time. Thus, the appearance of both withdrawal syndrome (discomfort when giving up consumption or not having this compound is described) and tolerance (need to increase the dose to obtain the same effect as the one obtained at the start). In some cases, it also promotes hostility and irritability.

      When consumed in higher doses, they can induce sleep, or what is the same, acquire hypnotic properties (reducing the time between bed access and reconciliation). However, its use changes its structure: it shortens phase 1 (light sleep), prolongs phase 2 and practically cancels phases 3 and 4 (deep sleep). It is for this same reason that it is a priority to provide sleep hygiene strategies, And only reserve this medication for cases of extreme need, to be kept for a maximum of three or four weeks.

      In addition to the anxiolytic / hypnotic effects, this drug induces muscle relaxation through its action on the central gray nuclei, the cerebellum and the spinal cord; and anticonvulsant effects, including concomitant spasms in the context of abstinence from alcohol. This is why its use can extend to health problems very different from anxiety, such as contractures of muscle fibers and the detoxification of other substances.

      Side effects of its administration include dizziness (especially in elderly patients with impaired liver and / or kidney function), excessive sedation, headache, inhibition of sexual desire, erectile dysfunction, insufficient lubrication , joint damage during language production (dysarthria / dysphasia), tremors, diarrhea or constipation. Cases of anterograde amnesia have also been detectedThat is, an obstacle to the process of storing information in long-term storage memory. Such problems hamper academic and professional activity and significantly reduce the quality of life.

      However, these drugs have a better safety profile than those used before them: barbiturates. Adhering to what the doctor says in his clinical trial, without increasing the dose or prolonging the duration of treatment, is essential to minimize the risk of addiction.

        3. Barbiturates

        The barbiturates are non-selective depressants of the nervous system. They are made up of barbituric acid (a combination of urea and apple malonic acid) and two carbon radicals.

        Until the 1960s, it was the most commonly used anxiolytic, Although it is infamous for the high number of fatal poisonings it has produced around the world (as the therapeutic and fatal doses are excessively following). Such a fact, as well as their enormous addictive capacity, necessitated their therapeutic discouragement and their replacement by new anxiolytics (once synthesized).

        Currently they are only used for intravenous anesthesia in some surgeries, as well as for resuscitation of cranioencephalic trauma. Moreover, oddly enough, it is included (along with other substances) in the lethal injection formula, which is still used today in the U.S. Finally, sodium phenobarbital is still used for epilepsy, being l ‘one of the deadliest substances caused by respiratory depression in the whole planet (mainly in combination with alcohol).

        4. GHB

        GHB (gamma-hydroxybutyrate) is another depressant drug in our brain, which very often it is labeled as liquid ecstasy. The truth is, this is a misleading name because ecstasy (or MDMA) is a chemical compound that has a different effect and mechanism of action than GHB. The latter is generally presented as a transparent and slightly salty liquid, which facilitates its “camouflage” in drinks of all kinds without practically perceiving the change in its taste, which is dangerous for those who can drink. Inadvertently (because it potentiates the effect of alcohol and facilitates a possible overdose).

        It is a popular drug in rave parties, which were traditionally held underground and in which all manner of substances were used alongside electronic music and colored lights. GHB consumption induces a state of “euphoria” and depression disinhibition of the prefrontal cortexSomething that often ends up being expressed as acts of violence. Many who use it recognize hallucinations in visual mode, which precipitates an agitation and nervousness response that leads to the collapse of emotions.

        The effect of the substance reaches its peak about 10-20 minutes after consumption, which is why the possibility of using it as a sleep inducer and anesthetic has previously been postulated. Later, it had to be ruled out by the perceptual alterations it caused and also by its secondary and numerous and disabling alterations (dizziness, nausea, diplopia, drowsiness and headaches). The effect of the drug lasts two hours, But with a residual stage which doubles the duration. Its origin is synthetic (it comes from an artificial synthesis in the laboratory).

        Sometimes its presentation is in the form of a whitish powder, which makes it easier to assess the associated effect depending on the dose administered (in grams). It is estimated that from four grams, it can induce an extremely difficult state of sleep to interrupt, as well as a dissolution of consciousness which ultimately involves comatose states.

        5. Coffee

        Kava is a substance sold as an alternative medicine for the treatment of acute anxiety states, although no evidence is yet available on its possible beneficial effect in this regard. It comes from a plant of Polynesian origin (piper nigrum) directly related to pepper, and is widely used in regions that are distributed along the Pacific Ocean. Its effects are similar and include other depressive substances described in this text a state of calm and relaxation in which the full integrity of higher cognitive functions is maintained.

        While there are studies on the substance from which the addictive properties are inferred, the truth is that definitive evidence on this extreme is not yet available. It usually comes in the form of a drink and its active ingredients are called kavalactones. All possible harmful effects that could be attributed to this substance, including its hepatotoxicity and possible tissue apoptosis, are still under investigation.

        6. Heroine

        Heroin is one of the most addictive drugs ever documented. It is made from morphine, which in turn is extracted from the pod. It comes in the form of a white powder or a blackish sticky substance. Some of its users mix it with cocaine (speedball), from which a mixture is derived that has resulted in the deaths of many people in recent decades. In the latter case, the route of consumption is injected, although the heroin is also administered by smoke and inhalation, which accelerates its access to the nervous system and the time it takes to act on it (adhesion to opioid receptors).

        In its early days, this drug was synthesized to replace morphine for military use, as many soldiers returned to their countries (after the First World War) suffering from a harmful chemical dependence on it. It was also sold for the innocent purpose of treating common cough and diarrhea. Eventually, however, withdrew from the market for security reasons; although its use has spread as an illegal practice irresistible, especially in the 1960s.

        Its consumption produces significant dry mouth (xerostomia), redness, heaviness in the arms / legs, nausea, diffuse itching of the skin, cognitive slowdown, profound drowsiness and vomiting. When you stop using it, excruciating joint pain, flu-like symptoms, uncontrollable diarrhea, tremors, and a desperate search for the substance can occur. The effects of the withdrawal syndrome can sometimes be very serious, forcing the articulation of damage control treatments with partial agonists (methadone).

        Over time, if its use does not cease, complications of enormous importance may arise. The most important are damage to the structure of the nostrils (in the case of the inhaled route), insomnia in one of its phases, pericarditis (infection of the tissue that covers the heart), alterations in the sexual sphere , chronic constipation, problems in the emotional life (especially depression) and deterioration of kidney and liver function. Social ostracism is also very common, which aggravates the problem and makes successful reintegration difficult..

        In other cases, due to malfunction of syringes and utensils used for intravenous administration, the heroin user may contract a chronic infection (HIV, hepatitis, etc.); which poses an additional health problem for which independent therapeutic solutions must be proposed. Finally, there is a significant risk of overdose, resulting from the synergistic effects of its association with other depressants, or of its use in an unusual or infrequent space (due to conditioned tolerance).

        Bibliographical references:

        • Barerah, S. (2018). Forms of drug abuse and their effects. Weekly Alcoholism and Drug Addiction Weekly, 1. pages 13-19.
        • Dassanayake, T., Michie, P., Jones, A., Carter, G., Mallard, T and Whyte, I. (2012). Cognitive impairment in patients clinically recovered from an overdose of central nervous system depressive drugs. Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology, 32, 503-510.

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