Drug Effectiveness Diminished in Space

Astronauts on long space missions may not be able to take antibiotics to treat infections or aspirin to treat headaches, simply because drugs have been found to decay much faster in space than on earth. A recent study in the AAPS Journal found, that the half-life of drugs is much lower in spacecrafts orbiting the planet.

This study was conducted by scientists at the Johnson Space Center investigated how the environment in space, such as higher radiation levels, lower gravity, micro gravity, vibrations, a carbon dioxide rich environment and variations in temperature and humidity could affect drug effectiveness.

Four boxes with drugs were flown to the International Space Station (ISS) and four identical boxes were kept at the research centre on Earth. The boxes were returned to earth at varying lengths of time, ranging from two weeks to over two years. The study concluded that a number of drugs stored in space had a much lower potency after storage in space, with most of them actually failing United States Pharmacopeia potency requirements.

“It is important to characterise space-specific degradation products and toxicity limits using ground-based analogue environments of space that include proton and heavy ion radiation, vibration and multiple gravity conditions“, the study claimed.

These studies have profound implications on the usage and packaging of drugs in space. The data also greatly help the understanding of the decay of drugs to improve their storage capacity on earth. This could potentially help save a lot of money each year, as drug deposits have to be cleared regularly due to drugs being out of date. If the understanding of drug storage can be improved, the costs to produce certain drugs can be reduced.

The studies also help to make space travel safer and will help reduce health risks to astronauts, once storage conditions have been optimised. It has to be noted that almost all our modern technology is dependent on space travel and on orbital satellites. The health and safety of our astronauts is thus imperative to the majority of us.

On the long run, the pharmaceutical industry and ultimately ourselves will benefit from these studies by making drugs safer and lengthening their expiry dates.

Du et al., Evaluation of Physical and Chemical Changes in Pharmaceuticals Flown on Space Missions, THE AAPS JOURNAL, 13, 299-308, DOI: 10.1208/s12248-011-9270-0

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Ecstasy – A Love Affair With Mandy

The “Drugs Live” show broadcasted on Channel 4 at the end of September 2012 provoked a prominent response amongst a large proportion of our society. To me, it struck a raw nerve as I recalled with reproach the fairly recent deterioration of a close friend upon succumbing to the drug “MDMA” (ecstasy). I felt somewhat infuriated at how flippant some of the doctors were, presenting ecstasy as something potentially harmless and even beneficial, when in reality, after what I had experienced with my friend, I knew this was far from the truth.


Adam went to University carrying expectations; “University is the best time of your life”, “These are the years of self discovery.” For Adam, it was the year he met Mandy – beautiful, comforting Mandy. Mandy was always there for him; when he was down, when he needed to just get away from it all. Mandy was loyal, Mandy was trustworthy, the only problem was – Mandy was a Class A drug.

When people often think of drug use, they think of people at a rave sharing a bottle of pills, a group of youngsters toking on spliffs in a dimly lit room. For Adam, MDMA was his medicine, his girlfriend to come home to when he had no one else. This is exactly the self-destructive behaviour that got him taking MDMA every day of the week for months on end.

Adam came across MDMA through a friend who had tried it and was raving about it’s effects. She told everyone how she felt “pure love” and just wanted to dance all night. Adam’s first response was weary as all he had ever tried was marijuana. Nevertheless, the next time he went out, without question friends had shoved it in his hand and told him to rub it on his gums. The taste was insufferably putrid. He was a little scared of what the effects would be. That night he did not feel the real effects of the drug. But it gave him the courage to do it a couple of weeks later – properly. More.

There were 6 of them. The six inseparables. One night they decided to stay in with MDMA and marijuana. They all took turns rubbing it on their gums and chugging down water to take away the taste. As time went on Adam started to feel the effects. His eyes began to widen, jaws began to clench, palms began to sweat. He noticed himself showering friends with compliments and love. He was having the time of his life.

Sounds kind of cool so far, right? Sure, it was – it’s renowned as a recreational drug for party people. But for the lonely – BEWARE. This drug sucked Adam in like the devil in a red dress. As the year progressed, his days got darker and lonelier. He went from taking MDMA once a month with a crowd to once every other week with a bunch of friends, to once a week with a few friends, to 2 times a week with one friend, to every day – alone. As the days got closer, the more depressed he became, the more in denial he became and the more attached he became to Mandy. He carried on taking it and as a result, the effect it had wasn’t as potent. So he went from buying half a gram for one night to two and then three grams per night. MDMA is known as a party drug. He took it at home. Alone. Everyday.

Eventually money ran out and life came to a complete and utter standstill. It was like for two weeks straight he felt totally comfortable and with a blink of an eye it disappeared. Reality dawned in a way that he didn’t know it could. He found himself snapping at friends, feeling heavy and dull and drinking a lot. As a result of drinking he would go into friends’ rooms late at night and beg them to buy him MDMA. It’s funny how drugs can make you act. They can push you to completely debase yourself and compromise your pride for the sake of a substance.

Adam’s frustration eventually led to a breakdown causing him to contemplate suicide. I had never considered him as a suicidal person but at that time the act seemed so conceivable, it was frightening he could seem so at peace with the notion. His moods were going from contented to extremely depressed and hysterical in a matter of seconds and he didn’t seem to know why. The more alienated he felt, the more his friends estranged him. They began to judge his unusual behaviour, it scared them.
He tried the doctor, he tried advice, but no one seemed to know what was going on. It was as though no one believed that MDMA could have such a psychologically damaging and addictive effect on a person.

It is now half a year later and after having to leave University to go and recuperate in extensive therapy, Adam is much better. I wont lie and say he’s completely rehabilitated. There are times we play songs that he associates with MDMA and it makes his heart pump faster and I can see him reminiscing over the feeling ‘Mandy’ gave him. I can see he still craves that feeling. He’ll even dream of taking it.

Nothing is good in large doses….. except maybe in the short time that ‘high‘ feels like it is. But then you look in the mirror and realize it has been a month since you’ve taken a shower. You’ve failed your course. You’ve lost your friends. Is any high worth it? Decide for yourself… “Drugs Live” conducted an experiment within a controlled environment to evaluate the effects of MDMA on the brain, it seemed like a pretty crazy experiment for people like Adam who knew the result.

Don’t decide based on the observers. Decide on the addicts. Decide on Adam.