Beautiful microscope photographs of drugs, legal and illegal: LSD, caffeine, GHB, meth, and more.

Caffeine crystals; formed out of 100% caffeine powder dissolved in demineralised water, made visible by using a cross polarised light microscope with an Berek filter.
Who knew caffeine, aspirin, and LSD were so darn beautiful up close?

The history of sarin

UN investigators confirmed this week that sarin was used in attacks on civilians in Syria, and, at The Guardian, Ian Sample has an interesting story about the history of this poison, starting with its origins in Nazi Germany. Interestingly, it wasn't originally developed specifically to be used on people. Sarin was an accidental discovery that came out of IG Farben research into new insecticides. Nevertheless, the formula was quickly handed off to the German military. One of the inventors of sarin eventually ended up convicted of war crimes at Nuremberg. He served four years — before being recruited into the US chemical weapons program. Read the rest

What is dopamine?

Dopamine — the most talked-about human neurotransmitter — isn't a "love drug", or a "lust drug", or an "addiction drug", writes Bethany Brookshire in a smarter-than-average neuroscience story at Slate. It's actually a lot more complicated than that, and if you keep trying to pigeonhole and oversimplify what it does, you're going to completely misunderstand how your brain works. Read the rest

Dopamine isn't "the pleasure chemical"

Vaughan Bell is one of the best neuroscience writers out there. In a piece at The Guardian, he explains what, exactly, the chemical dopamine is doing in our brains and why we do it a major disservice by associating it solely with addiction. Read the rest

The sordid history of a perfect poison

Suxamethonium chloride is a common hospital anesthetic that has, off and on, moonlighted as murder weapon.

Used to paralyze patients so that doctors can more easily put insert a breathing tube, the drug can kill very easily if the person who gets a dose of it doesn't have access to things like respirators, or a medical team. And when somebody is killed by "sux", the death can look conveniently like a simple heart attack. More importantly, writes professional chemist and anonymous science blogger Dr. Rubidium, for many years, there was no way to test for sux in a dead person's bloodstream.

Since the early 1950s, sux has been used in a clinical setting mainly by anesthesiologists. It’s a mystery when it was first used in a homicide, but the first high-profile killings came in the 1966 and 1967. This salacious tale of murder involves anesthesiologist Dr. Carl Coppolino, his mistress, his mistress’ husband dying suddenly in ’66, Coppolino’s wife dying suddenly in ’67, a quick remarriage by Dr. Coppolino (not to that mistress), two trials in different states leading to different verdicts.

Coppolino’s first trial in New Jersey involved a shaky witness (that jilted mistress) and a tricky toxicology problem. ...

Back in the mid-to-late sixties, sux was likely considered a “perfect poison” as no tried-and-true method for detecting it in tissues was developed until the 1980s. Previous analysis had holes – including the analysis presented in both of Coppolino’s trials. It wasn’t sux that was detected, but the metabolites succinic acid and choline.

Read the rest