Tara is a graduate of the University of Otago, where she studied microbiology and the molecular basis of health and disease. She has a passion for public health and epidemiology, and enjoys communicating science to the public in an engaging and funny way. She is also a professional improviser, having performed since she was 12 years old. Tara was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was 16. She really likes pasta.
Here it is team, a moment for me to be egotistical and write about my research, which is somewhat relevant to everyday life if you exist as a human on this planet.
For the past year and a half I’ve been working on a project the centres around biofilms.
You know how when you don’t brush your teeth you get that fuzzy stuff on your teeth? Yeah, that’s a biofilm. Biofilms are basically bacteria built up on bacteria on bacteria on bacteria. What happens in your mouth is that a bug (which normally resides in your mouth, it’s not abnormal) sticks to your tooth. Another bug sticks to that one, and another and another. In between the bugs there are bits of sugar and protein and other stuff that helps the bugs stick together even more. Think of it like a brownie; the chocolate bits and the nuts and the marshmallows etc are the bacteria, and the brownie mix in between them is the “extracellular matrix” made of those proteins and sugars and stuff.
Biofilms grown in lots of places, not just on your teeth. They can grow in environmental places like inside pipes in water plants. They can also grow on implanted medical devices (oooooo). Like if you were to get a urinary cathater if you get admitted to hospital, or a pacemaker, or a hip replacement, or an IV line or something. Now here’s why biofilms are bad news.
Little bits of the biofilm can break off and get into the bloodstream, and cause systemic infection which means all over infection, and bad shit can happen then, like sepsis. Here is my post about sepsis! Read it to Get Learned about what sepsis is.
Sepsis is like the worst thing that can happen, but other stuff happens too. Like an infected hip replacement will need antibiotics to treat it, and maybe even a revision where they take the replacement out, wash it and put it back in. Which is shitty to begin with, not to mention that the type of person getting a hip replacement is probably old, and unlikely to be super good at handling not one but two surgeries! So yeah, in general we should avoid biofilms if poss.
So there’s a little short intro into what Tara does with her time, I actually can’t tell you what we are doing about the biofilms cos it’s #confidential and I would get #sued cos #intellectualproperty and stuff. But now you know what a biofilm is! So yay, you Got Learned! Well done. Stay tuned for more egotistical and esoteric content, Get Learned more!
So look, the concept of “stress” is a really weird thing. There’s a strange sort of reverence for being ‘stressed’ in this modern world, where it’s like, unless you’re stressed, running from place to place super busy and always on the go, you’re not living your life properly. But what does being stressed actually mean for your body?
Well here we go kids, T is about to get evolutionary. There are two kinds of stress, chronic stress and acute stress. The acute stress comes from stuff like “oh man I have to chase this wooly mammoth across the plains” or “I have to get up in front of these people and give a speech.” This kind of stress is actually pretty good, it makes your body prepared mentally and physically to face the challenge ahead. It’s also called the flight or flight response, or the acute stress response. This is caused by the release of cortisol and adrenaline, and I’m sure we have all felt these feels. Increased heart rate, tunnel vision, shaking, slowed digestion (which manifests as butterflies in the tummy), dry mouth, flushed face, that kind of thing. All of these things prepare you for the perceived ‘danger’ ahead; increased heart rate means blood will be pumped to your muscles faster so you can run faster, tunnel vision means you won’t get distracted by things around you and you can focus on the task ahead, slowed digestion means your body is aiming it’s blood at other places.
Acute stress is fine, where problems arise is when your body is sending out these stress hormones constantly, or chronically. Chronic stress can impact negatively on reproduction, metabolism, growth, the immune system, behaviour and personality development. It can also result in high blood pressure and significant damage to mental health.
Now not gonna lie, chronic stressors are pretty common in the world today. Historically, the whole point of stress was to help survival, but nowadays there are stressors everywhere all day every day. The ability to cope with chronic stressors is called resilience, and it is influenced by lots of things. Every personality deals with stress differently, and issues like self-esteem and self-confidence also influence how resilient a person can be. On top of that, the persons social network, culture, behaviours and socioeconomic status influence resilience.
Physically, chronic stress is pretty bad for you in the long run. It’s important to try to not be stressed (man that’s such shitty advice haha) but what I mean is it’s important to turn off the cortisol stress response (fight or flight) and turn on the chilled out response, called the parasympathetic nervous system, also known as the rest and digest system, or the feed and breed system. (lol). All the stuff you do when you’re not stressed (digest, sit down, breathe deeply, eat, um… other….stuff…) indicates that you’re not in a dangerous situation and can turn off the stress response.
So here I am, giving you an excuse to #treatyoself. Rest, relax, eat, sleep, watch Netflix, let go of the stressors. Your body will thank you for it.
K thanks for reading team, I hope you enjoyed! Get Learned!
K it’s about time I wrote about this, Mum don’t read this post cos you’ll be disappointed in me xox
So have you ever noticed how when you haven’t had any alcohol in a long time, then you have a glass or two of wine suddenly you’re a lot drunker that you thought you’d be? Or the other way around where if you’ve been having a beer or two a night, it actually takes quite a lot of alcohol in order for you to feel intoxicated? Yeah, I’m gonna talk about alcohol, alcohol tolerance and hangovers in this post. (PS it’s a Sunday, it’s 3.30pm and I’m sitting on the couch in my pajamas. Hmmmm.)
Right, I’ve gone over this before, but what does alcohol do to you again? The main part of alcohol that actually has an effect on you is the ethanol. Ethanol acts as a depressant on the central nervous system. The central nervous system is basically the part of your brain that controls stuff like co-ordination, muscle movement, speech, actually pretty much everything. By depressing the CNS all of those functions go a bit wobbly, which is being drunk. The more ethanol you drink, the more your CNS is depressed, the worse you get at movement (I’m looking at you, white boy dance moves), and other CNS functions. The cool thing is, that liver that we talked about ages ago? It detoxifies the ethanol, by metabolising the ethanol molecules and making them unable to have that effect on the CNS. But with that comes limitations, which is where the “standard drink” thing comes in to play. Some fancy maths and laws of averages has allowed us to figure out that the AVERAGE liver can metabolise ONE standard drink of alcohol PER HOUR.
I’m not gonna lie, this is wildly inaccurate, for many different reasons. Let’s go.
Sex. In general, men have larger livers than women, which means physically there is more room for them to metabolise the ethanol, therefore it takes more ethanol for them to get drunk.
Age. As is the case with many bodily functions, there is a peak age for performance. Either side of that age will be less good at metabolising alcohol.
Food. If you have food in the stomach it takes longer for the alcohol to be absorbed into the bloodstream. Think of the food being like a sponge in your stomach which soaks up the alcohol, then just slowly drips it into your bloodstream. It means your liver has plenty of time to metabolise the booze instead of being hit with it all at once.
Endoplasmic reticulum. Bless you. What?
This is the cool part. So in your liver cells, you have this stuff called endoplasmic reticulum, which (in English) kinda translates to inside-cell wavy stuff. Because it looks like wavy stuff inside the cell. That’s not important though. The ER functions to detoxify stuff by metabolising it, so you have plenty of it in the liver. The AMOUNT of ER you have in cells is variable, and it’s influenced by how much you need it. What happens is, the more consistently you drink booze the more your liver is like “ah man, we’re having to detoxify a lot of this ethanol stuff, lets make some more ER so we can do a better job at this.” Which is why some people who are consistent drinkers can hold their alcohol fairly well without getting too drunk. HOWEVER. The same occurs in the opposite direction. If you don’t drink for a while because, say, you’ve had uni exams and needed to study, the liver will be like, “hey, there’s all this ER in my cells which I’m not using and it’s taking up space, I’ll break it down cos I don’t need it.” Consequently, when you finish exams and drink half a bottle of Jose Cuervo, your liver isn’t prepared for the influx of alcohol and you get DRUNK OMG SO DRUNK JUST LIKE THE DRUNKEST YOU’VE EVER BEEN then you end up vomiting in someones pocket and giving your ID to the bouncer for the wrong bar. Or something.
CAVEAT: This has limitations. The amount of ER may fluctuate up and down a bit, but it’s never going to mean you can drink as much as you want just by doing it all the time. That results in alcoholic liver disease which is not fun, so don’t do that. This is not a “How To Drink The Most” advice post. This is Get Learned, damnit. Don’t be an idiot.
Now, hangovers! Quite simply, there are a lot of factors that cause hangovers, we’re not super sure about exactly what they are. For certain one aspect of a hangover, the headache bit, is most likely caused by dehydration. Alcohol makes you need to pee, so you can get dehydrated even though you’re drinking fluids. There’s been some talk about electrolyte imbalances in the body, which is why some people think Powerade or electrolyte sports drinks might help, but there’s no real evidence for that. The sore tummy thing is because alcohol irritates your gastrointestinal system and causes inflammation. Another thought is that a byproduct of ethanol metabolism is toxic and produces hangover symptoms, which might be true. But tbh, there’s a lot of theories and no real answers here. If you have a miracle cure for a hangover, I’m all ears. People tend to say drinking water, taking pain killers, resting and eating greasy food work the best, and I tend to agree cos that sounds like an ideal Sunday. Speaking of which, I g2g, my food is ready.
Thanks for reading team, hope you enjoyed. GET LEARNED!
STIs! Let’s dive into the depths of these dastardly diseases and discover what deadly deliciousness awaits your dongle if you dip it in a disastrous dame. (lol sorry I started and I couldn’t stop.)
I’m gonna start nice and biblical with gonorrhea (or gonorrhoea, same same.) Also known as “the clap.” Which I’ve just found out, is derived from the French word for brothel, “clapier.” Huh, the more you know. This is a sexually transmitted infection caused by a bacteria called Neisseria gonorrhoeae. You see where the name comes from now, don’t you? Excellent. Hey, the dumb thing about gonorrhea is that it is often asymptomatic; you don’t know you have it cos you don’t display any symptoms. So you might accidentally pass it on without even realising that it’s there, which would suck. This is why it’s important to go get regular STI checks, especially if you have multiple partners. If you do get symptoms when infected with this bug, they go something like this.
“Ow, it burns when I pee! What’s this weird stuff coming out of the end of my penis/vagina? Ow ow ow my testicles/pelvis are/is really sore…. I’m not due for my period yet, why am I bleeding?”
That last one is only for the ladies sorry dudes. You’ll figure it out from the other stuff. Now to the juicy bit; how it spreads. Unsurprisingly, it spreads through sexual contact (durr it’s an STI) but it can also spread from mother to child during birth. Sexual contact meaning vaginal, oral, or anal sex. Men have a 20% chance of contracting the disease if they have unprotected vaginal sex with an infected woman, women have a 60-80% risk if they have unprotected vaginal sex with an infected man. Yeah, women often get the short end of the stick when it comes to STIs, mostly because… well… the bacteria gets all up in your vag, the nice warm moist delicious place that bacteria love to grow in. Yummy.
Don’t want gonorrhea? Use condoms! In exciting news, you can get antibiotic treatment for this infection and get it cleared right up, yay for Alexander Fleming and the discovery of antibiotics!
On that note, I’m gonna start talking to you about another bacterial STI, chlamydia! It’s caused by a bacteria called Chlamydia trachomatis, and, like the clap, is quite often asymptomatic. If it is symptomatic, it has similar symptoms to the clap too, like burning when you pee, weird discharge and pain. The bad thing about this one for us ladies is that if it spreads up into the pelvis, causing pelvic inflammatory disease, it can result in ectopic pregnancies and infertility, which is why (again) it’s super important to go get tested if you have multiple or new sexual partners. In the Western world, it’s spread the same as gonorrhea, mouth butt vag. In developing countries it can spread through personal contact, contaminated towels and flies, and it can infect other areas of the body too, like the eyes. Which is why chlamydia is a common cause of blindness in the developing world. Even though it’s treatable. Yes ladies and gents, once again say a prayer to ole’ Alex F up in the sky, it’s treatable with antibiotics. In fact, you can become non-infectious in just seven days from the start of treatment! That means you only have to wait a week before getting freaky again! Go you! Use condoms if you don’t want to get it again.
I’m just real briefly gonna touch on the stigmas surrounding STIs. Way back when, due to some stupidly archaic thought processes, it was often a huge deal to get an STI. Especially for women, they were thought of as harlots, sluts, skanks, whores, all those awful names for a sexual promiscuous woman.
SIDE BAR: One time my Mum sent me a text and was like “you’re such a slut” and I was like “MUM OMG WTF NO I’M NOT” and she was like “yes you are your room is so messy” because apparently slut used to mean an untidy woman, and now (clearly) it means something else.
The extra bullshit thing about women being blamed for spreading STIs is that women are actually more like to contract STIs, not spread them. And to top it off, the stigma surround sex itself has led people to simply ignore or not seek treatment for STIs due to embarrassment or shame. This is a crock of shit, it’s an infection just like anything else. To stop spread of x infection, do y. To stop spread of a cold, cover your mouth when you cough. To stop spread of some STIs, cover your willy when it coughs. Simple enough.
Let’s not be dumbos about this. Get tested, be aware of your risks, and don’t be silly wrap your willy. Contain the viper before you pipe her. Cover your stump before you hump. Don’t be a fool, cover your tool. Armour the tank before you enter the flank. No glove; no love.
Thank you and goodnight!
lol thanks for indulging my silly rhymes, hope you found this post helpful. Stay tuned for more exciting posts full of puns and bad jokes, and GET LEARNED!
I had a wee holiday last weekend! I went up to Auckland with my very good friend, we drank wine, caught up, ate, drank more wine, went to Waiheke Island, drank more wine and also drank some wine. Long story short, we drank a lot of wine. Not to get too graphic about it, but on the first night we were there she started to feel a bit ill, which was strange considering we hadn’t had THAT much wine by then… anyway, she felt awful, puked, then felt better.
The next day she was like “Man it was weird that I felt so bad… I mean, I took a codeine to help with the headache but I guess I chucked it up…” at which point I punched her in the shoulder and proceeded to screech in shock “You took codeine while you were drinking you f***ing idiot!?” God love her.
So I’m gonna learn you in this post about the interaction between codeine and alcohol so that next time you think you’ll get rid of that dehydration headache with a wee pill leftover from your sprained ankle, you’ll think again.
First off, what is codeine? Actually, codeine is a derivative of morphine. Codeine is most commonly used to treat pain as it is an opiate, like morphine. Common side effects of taking codeine include itchiness, constipation, lightheadedness, drowsiness and (no surprises) vomiting. It gets converted to morphine in the liver, which acts directly on your central nervous system to help decrease feelings of pain. Ideal when you’ve got a broken bone or your wisdom teeth out and you’re in agony!
Hey interesting fact, some people can be intolerant to morphine (and as such, codeine too.) This can manifest as an allergic reaction, so if you have this problem, you probably can’t take morphine or its derivatives, and you’d have to find some other pain meds. (Pst, I am one of these people. I take tramadol instead :))
If you are over the age of about 15 and/or exist as a human being, you probably know the symptoms of being drunk, or overdosing on alcohol. They include impaired motor function, nausea, vomiting, slurring your words, forgetting things, regrettably texting your ex, not noticing your nip has been out the whole evening and dizziness.
Some crossover exists between these two effects, but basically what codeine does is it exacerbates or makes worse the effects of alcohol. It can make you feel drunk off of one beer. In my friends case, because she took the codeine AFTER ingesting alcohol, it exacerbated nausea and vomiting symptoms. Long story short, codeine and alcohol interact. Be aware of this.
Hey team thanks for reading about my dumb friend, stay tuned for the next one! Get Learned!
Okey dokey, I’m gonna talk a bit about statistics (yuck). I know, I bloody hate them too. But knowing a little bit about how to critically think about statistics that get presented will make it easier to sift the bullshit from the gold in terms of science.
A good example is this often repeated statistic, “The most common cause of food poisoning is not reheating rice properly!”
Now, you’d think food poisoning would mostly be caused by chicken or mussels or raw fish or something, but no, rice! But here we have a deceptive statistic. Rice is commonly eaten in third-world countries, who have poorer sanitation and hygiene, therefore they are more likely to get a food-borne infection. It’s hard to get a food-borne infection from chicken if you don’t eat chicken. Ya get me? So the deceit in this statistic lies in the “worldwide” part of it. For example, this is a cool map of the world that is coloured according to the number of deaths that are caused by diarrheal disease, which is often the outcome of food poisoning.
The ones that are closer to being red are the ones which have high rates of death due to diarrheal disease. Notice how they’re all clustered in Sub-Saharan Africa? Yeah, they basically throw out all the statistics for the rest of the world.
So lets talk about scientific studies, and the data that is generated from them. I’m gonna use the example of a study that I was a part of in 2016 which was a new medication to help Type 1 diabetics have better blood sugars. If we’re talking human disease studies, the gold standard is what we call a double-blind randomised control trial. In English: Double blind means neither the researchers nor the patient know what they are getting. The aim of this is two fold. The first aim is to look at the placebo effect in the patients. It’s been proven that if you think you’re getting treatment, you’ll see a positive effect even if you aren’t. The second aim is so that the researchers or doctors give exactly the same treatment to all patients regardless of whether they’re on the drug or not. In my trial, a computer generated a random number which was assigned to a bottle of pills; they were mine. They could have been placebo pills (aka have no active ingredient) or the pills with the potential medication in them. Neither I nor my doctor knew what was in the pill. The allocation to the group was random (which fulfills the “randomised” part of the type of study) and the control part means that for every person who was on the active pill, there was another person who was on the placebo drug.
Double blind randomised control trials are the best, but sometimes it’s impossible to do them. For example, a trial where one group of patients were given a jacket and the other (control) group were not; we know who got a jacket cos we can see it for ourselves. Sometimes it can’t be controlled; there are some ethical limitations on what you’re allowed to do. If you have evidence that your drug can miraculously cure cancer, you ethically are not allowed to deprive one group from the drug and give them a placebo instead.
If a scientific study is being undertaken, there are a few things you need to know to be able to critically acknowledge whether the study is good or not.
Size – that “vaccines cause autism” claim? Came from a study of 12 children, 11 of whom were boys. We would say this is a small (tiny) sample size, and it doesn’t reflect the population accurately.
Type of study – a study that looks back retrospectively at data isn’t as good as a study of a cohort of people that is ongoing isn’t as good as a randomised control trial.
Statistical significance – this is a way of measuring how likely it is that a result is due to chance. The more significant the result is, the more likely it is to be a true result.
Length of study – some things have short term effects, some things have long term effects. If you look at a group of people who have been smoking for one year, by the end of that year not many of them will have lung cancer. But if you look at that same group of people twenty years in the future compared to a control group, you might see an association. Not everything is instant.
Variables measured – people are difficult and complex. Often there are lots of factors that go into causing disease. For example, obesity increases your risk of heart disease. But also, a fatty diet, diabetes, smoking, lack of exercise and genetic factors also increase your risk of heart disease. These are called confounding variables, because they confuse the message of obesity = heart disease. You have to control for these confounding variables. You do this by making sure they are all the same. Everything is the same except the thing that is different. You get me?
Here’s a thing that you might hear people say in the science community; correlation does not equal causation. Since the 1950’s carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has been increasing. Also since the 1950’s, the divorce rate has been increasing. Therefore, carbon dioxide causes divorce? Nah. Just because two things are correlated, does not mean one causes the other.
So there’s some wee tidbits to hopefully help you out next time you read a clickbait article. Bullshit detectors on! Thanks for reading friends, GET LEARNED!
Here at Get Learned, I’m all about dispelling myths and demystifying the world of science for ya’ll. As you can tell, I’m a big fan of microbes, and I’m also a big fan of sexual education. So it naturally follows that I’ma do a series about sexually transmitted infections, starting with herpes!
Note: Previously, STIs were called STDs; sexually transmitted diseases. We moved to calling them STIs because “disease” implies there are symptoms of illness; a lot of sexually transmitted infections don’t actually have any symptoms, they are asymptomatic.
Great, herpa derpa herpes. Herpes is a viral disease caused by a tiny wee virus called herpes simplex virus. Now, there are two types of this virus. Herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1), and herpes simplex virus 2 (HSV-2). HSV-1 commonly infects the mouth area, causing cold sores, however it can infect other areas too. HSV-2 is the type of virus more commonly associated with genital infection.
In case you couldn’t tell, I’m also a big fan of the etymology of words, especially in science. Often where the word is rooted tells us a lot about what the actual thing does. Case and point, herpes in Latin means “to creep.” No, it’s not a white-van candy virus, this refers to the fact that herpes virus infection is what we call latent. This means once you’re infected, you remain infected for life, but you don’t always display symptoms. One of my favourite first year lecturers was this jolly Irishman who declared at the beginning of a lecture,
“I have herpes, and you’ll see it later in the semester!”
What he meant was that he was infected with HSV-1, which causes cold sores around the mouth. Later in the semester when he got more stressed, he would get symptoms of this infection in the form of visible cold sores on his face. This is what it means to be latently infected with a virus; the virus is constantly chillin’ in your body, just hangin’, not doing much, kept at bay by your immune system. When you get stressed out or you get a cold or get run down, the virus takes the opportunity when your immune system isn’t working so well or is distracted, and causes cold sores.
Same deal with HSV-2, if you have an infection around your genitals. Generally it’s asymptomatic, but sometimes you might have an outbreak, which manifests as blisters around the genital areas. Here’s the sexual side of things; HSV spreads through bodily fluid contact or contact with herpes blisters. It’s why you shouldn’t kiss someone with a cold sore. Women are more susceptible to herpes virus infection, which makes the advertising image later in the post super dumb and a classic example of misogyny 🙂
Some statistics for ya. 90% of the world are infected with either HSV-1 or HSV-2. 90%. That’s like, most people. That’s a clear majority. 16% of the world is infected with HSV-2, and between 60-95% of the world is infected with HSV-1, depending on where/which socio-economic class you’re in.
In terms of transmission, there is a 30% reduction in risk when condoms are used during sex between an infected and non-infected person. Which is a pretty crappy reduction, but it’s because herpes is a skin infection. Generally other bits of skin touch when sexytimes are had, so condoms don’t do a great job of preventing spread. It’s easier to transmit from an infected male to an infected female. But still the likelyhood of a male transmitting HSV-2 to a female is only 8-11%. And female to male is only 4-5%. So an infected female is less likely to transmit the infection to a male, than an infected male to a female.
Guys. Infection with herpes ISN’T A BIG DEAL. It wasn’t until the 1970s that people started to stigmatise herpes. What happened was, this anti-viral drug was made, and people were like “great, but we don’t need it.” And then the people who made it were like “YES YOU DO WHAT ABOUT THE HERPES YOU HAVE OOO IT’S BAD EVEN THOUGH IT’S LARGELY ASYMPTOMIATIC AND CAUSES VERY LITTLE HARM AND BASICALLY NO DEATHS BUT STILL OOOO BUGS ARE BAD KILL THEM ALL BUY OUR DRUG” and people were like “Oh ok” because they hadn’t read my blog about herpes because I wasn’t born yet.
Then there’s the whole “sexually pure virgin until marriage sex is bad the clitoris is a button put onto women by the devil to send you straight to hell” thing that also helped stigmatise herpes infection as REALLY REALLY BAD when it isn’t. Historically, herpes has been known for at least 2000 years. In fact, it was considered a “vocational disease of women” in the 18th century, for ladies of the night. It’s only since that drug company figured out they could make money out of stigmatising herpes that it became a big deal. It ain’t. Most people have it, it doesn’t cause many issues when you have an outbreak, and the rest of the time it’s not symptomatic. Just chill.
Okay cool thanks for reading friends. Any ideas on posts feel free to message me on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/getlearnedweb/ , I wanna know what you wanna know!
A very good friend of mine messaged me the other day with a very concise and thought provoking question. He said, “Hey, science. Thoughts on marijuana?” And here we are.
Disclaimers follow. There is a lot of debate about if marijuana is bad or good for you. These are legal debates to do with the law and stuff. I am not a lawyer. I am a scientist. Therefore in this post I will discuss the science surrounding marijuana use, and it’s effects on the body. I am neither condoning nor condemning marijuana use. U do U.
Wheee! Marijuana, also known as cannabis, is the dried flowers of the Cannabis plant. It has been used historically as a medical treatment and also as a psychoactive drug. In fact, records going way back suggest marijuana was used 4000 years ago in China as a medicine. Marijuana was registered as a medication in the United States of America until the 1940s. Marijuana was made illegal in the USA in 1937. This is a great College Humour video about the history of marijuana in the US. It’s not very long!
But you’re not here for a history lesson. You wanna know about the SCIENCE behind weed. So let’s dive right in.
Marijuana can be ingested in many ways, common ones include smoking and cooking into edible foods. There are a buttload of chemical compounds in marijuana, around 450. 60 of these are called cannabinoids. Two of the active ones are tetrahydrocannibinol (THC) and cannabidol (CBD) which we will discuss soon, but these cannabinoids are the things that make weed have it’s signature effects.
Let’s start in humans. Humans have receptors all over the body for cannabinoids, called the cannabinoid receptors (unsurprisingly). This is normal. When scientists were researching the effects of cannabinoids in marijuana on the body they found these receptors and were like “Holy shit we make weed inside our bodies?!” Kinda.
These receptors respond to products made inside the human body which look a bit similar to those cannabinoids in marijuana. Which is how marijuana affects our bodies, the cannabinoids that are ingested through using marijuana have effects on these receptors in the body. These receptors affect areas such as cognition (thinking), coordination, memory, appetite, pain perception, heart rate, gastrointestinal function, and the immune response. Some of these may sound familiar to effects seen in people who have ingested marijuana. Here is a handy dandy table that I have helpfully annotated to be less science. On the left is the effects that the normal cannabinoid system has on our body. On the right is the potential effects of marijuana.
So let’s start with THC, the most well known part of marijuana. What do it do!?
THC is the psychoactive substance in marijuana, and it stimulates those cannabinoid receptors in humans. THC is actually FDA approved to use as a medication, which is cool. It’s used to help HIV/AIDS patients who lose too much weight, because it makes you hungry. It is also used to suppress vomiting and nausea in patients going through cancer treatment. There are also potential effects for multiple sclerosis patients, people with chronic pain, chronic cancer, sleep disorders, Tourette’s Syndrome, psychosis and maybe even depression. Overdose on THC involves lethargy (tiredness), motor issues, and slurred speech…. which kinda just sounds like being drunk. There is no evidence that overdosing on THC can be fatal. Here is the second (annotated) table that describes studies of medical disorders in which cannabinoid use may help.
Cannabinoid number 2, CBD. This works in a similar way to THC but is less good at stimulating those receptors. It is not FDA approved, although trials are going on with it because it might have some really cool therapeutic uses. It is non-addictive! It has been shown to be a good anti-anxiety medication, and an anti-psychosis medication. It may also have some benefit for epileptics as an anti-convulsant. It is also super safe and well tolerated in the body, it’s really really really hard to have too much of it.
Now lets talk about actual weed, not just the substances in it. Obviously there are a whole bunch of other things in there, which is why physicians are reluctant to say “Yeah bro, light up a bowl” when you’re having issues which might be helped by cannabinoids. It’s really hard to regulate, and some other chemicals in weed might be harmful to you. Sometimes weed is laced with tobacco, and you’d have to be living under a rock to not know that tobacco is bad for you. What we do know for sure is that there is NO benefit of marijuana use on the developing brain. A note, your brain continues to develop until your early 20’s. In fact, chronic marijuana users who started smoking in their teens have been found to have decreased IQs, memory loss, and be more at risk for schizophrenia and psychosis. Smoking marijuana has a similar effect on the lungs as smoking tobacco cigarettes, but there is no increased risk of lung cancer in chronic weed smokers. Symptoms experienced when marijuana has been ingested include dry mouth, diziness, irregular heartbeat, hunger, relaxation and changes in behaviour.
So addiction. This is an issue with all kinds of drugs. You can become physically dependent on drugs and form a physical addiction, or a mental addiction where you feel like you need the drug to get through the day. So let’s look at the facts. 9% of adult marijuana users will develop an addiction, and this rises to 17% when use begins in teen years. However studies have shown that 50% of the risk of getting addicted to marijuana comes from genes. So if you have a family history of addiction, you’re more likely to get addicted to weed. THC has some effect on the dopamine receptors in the brain, much like other drugs. Dopamine is the happy yay fun time neurotransmitter which makes you feel good, which is why it is addictive.
And obviously, there are the social issues around marijuana use. It can result in anti-social behaviour, laziness, inability to concentrate hence issues in education, a bunch of other things. But hey, that’s not the sciencey science so I’m not gonna comment too much on that.
So conclusions. As a scientist, I have to leave my personal beliefs out of the equation. There are positive effects of cannabinoid use for some illnesses, and some people find the effects of cannabinoids pleasant and they enjoy using it recreationally. Weed is becoming legalised/decriminalised in a few places, and to be honest, I think once we get data from those places on how it has effected them, other places will soon follow on to make marijuana legal. But hey, like I said, I am science, not law. I asked a medical professional his thoughts on marijuana use. He is an expert in drug and alcohol abuse, and this is what he said.
Except that prescribed for medical use, it can be hard to know exactly how much THC or other compounds found in marijuana you’re ingesting, so the effects can be unpredictable. You don’t know what else you are smoking.
I hope you feel a bit more informed about the kinds of effects marijuana has. I might keep going on this illicit substances track, you guys seem to like controversy. Thanks for reading friends, stay tuned and GET LEARNED!
Look, while we are on the topic of “down there” I feel like it’s time for me to learn you about what actually IS down there, how it was made and how it works. Again, I will say PENIS VAGINA VULVA SPERM TESTICLES and a bunch of other funny words. Try not to squirm. Real talk, when we learned about this kind of stuff in high school my teacher (who I know reads this blog, hi Mrs W!) was like “Okay guys, we’re all gonna say the word penis then laugh, then we will say it again and not laugh, cos we just need to get over it.” I was the only person who laughed the second time. So immature. Without getting too political about it, lack of knowledge and open frank discussion about your bits can result in a bunch of issues, unwanted pregnancy, STDs, illnesses, not to mention issues around consent and sex. So it’s super important to talk about. Second wee caveat, I have somewhat of an issue referring to these systems as the reproductive organs cos they’re not only for reproduction, they’re also for waste disposal (pee) and pleasure dare I say. I’ll call them the male and female sex organs instead. So let’s dive right in and get learned about male and female sex organs!
Ladies first, because (SUPER EXCITING FACT) did you know that in the womb during development, ALL BABIES START OFF WITH FEMALE BITS!? Yeah, and as development goes on, if the baby is meant to be genetically male (aka has one X and one Y chromosome), the sex organs morph into the male ones! I’ll go into more detail about this when we talk about male sex organs, but this is basically the reason why men have nipples even though they serve no evolutionary function.
Right, back on track, lady bits. Here are Tara’s bad drawings of them female sex organs.
This first drawing is of all the inside bits. The ovaries, where the eggs are held and released! The fallopian tubes, that the egg travels down! If an egg accidentally gets fertilised in the fallopian tube and implants there, this is called an ectopic pregnancy. They usually result in spontaneous miscarriage 😦 The uterus is where the egg is aiming to get fertilised. In preparation for “maybe baby?” time, the uterus gets a lovely bloody rich lining to cushion the egg. No fertilisation? No problem, shed the lining and start making a new one! Shed lining = period. Moving on down from the uterus is the cervix, which is the lower part of the uterus. It creates the false end of the vagina, which is below it. The vagina is where stuff goes in (including but not limited to penises, fingers and tampons) and babies come out. Good one 🙂
More graphic! Ladies have inside bits and outside bits! Let’s look at the outside bits.
We found the entrance to the vagina! Above the entrance to the vagina is the urethra where pee comes out. Below the entrance to the vagina is the anus where poo comes out. They’re pretty close together in ladies, and sometimes infectious bacteria that come out in your poo (which is normal) can get into the urethra and cause a urinary tract infection, which can hurt lots and you need antibiotics to fix it. There’s also the labia which are the lips which encase all the bits.
Guys! Guess what! I found the magical clitoris. Its at the top of the labia, kinda where the left and right ones meet. Sometimes they can be covered by a hood of skin. Fear not, pull the skin back to find the magical clitoris. But wait, there’s more! Not only is the magical clitoris (the pleasure organ) on the outside, it’s much like an iceberg! The majority of it is underwater aka inside the body. Which is why putting things inside the vagina can feel pleasurable too, because the nerves all around the inside bits of the clitoris get stimulated through the vaginal walls. The more you know! Lots of people get confused and us the incorrect term for what this is. Outside sexy bits of the lady = vulva, the vagina refers to the canal that stuff goes in and out of.
Yay lady bits! Moving on, here’s a drawing of the male sex organs!
Much harder to anthropomorphise. Haha. Harder. I included the kidneys in this drawing because from the kidneys come the ureters, which connect to the bladder. From the bladder down the penis is the urethra where pee comes out. But wait! The seminal vesicles get involved here! Semen hitches a ride down the uretha during ejaculation, same tube! Sperm is made in the testicles, sent up through the vas deferens and mixed with some other lovely stuff to make ejaculate, aka semen, in the seminal vesicles. When a man gets a vasectomy (for if he doesn’t want to get a woman preggo) they cut the vas deferens. Spermies got nowhere to go, no preggo. And you may think “…so…. the dude just ejaculates puffs of air then?” Not so my friend. Sperm make up only 5% of the ejaculate. You’ve still got 95% of the fluid in the seminal vesicles to ejaculate.
Now the cool part. Here is an awesome video depicting how the male and female bits are formed in the womb, from the same starting point.
What ends up being the clitoris in the female makes up the penis in the male (specifically the head of the penis)
What ends up being the labia majora (outer labia) in the female makes up the scrotum in the male. (Real talk right now I forgot the word “scrotum” so googled “anatomical name for ballsack” hahahhahaha)
What ends up being the labia minora in the female makes up the shaft of the penis in the male.
What ends up being the ovaries in the female ends up being the testicles in the male.
What ends up being the fallopian tubes in the female, makes the vas deferens in the male.
Super cool huh!? Now here’s a question. What’s a prostate, and do women have them?
Short answer, no, women don’t have a prostate. The prostate in a male is the gland that secretes about 30% of the fluid that makes up semen. It’s an alkaline fluid, which helps neutralise some of the acidity of the vagina. (Yes, vaginas have an acidic pH.) The prostate sits behind the bladder, and is a sensitive gland. Some men can experience pleasure from stimulation of this gland, which is reached through the anal passages. I don’t think I need to spell this out for you.
Hopefully by this point you’re not cowering in the corner wishing you’d never clicked on that weird link. But if you are, grow a pair of ovaries! This is the shit you gotta know! I’ll probably talk about something equally as controversial next time, just cos I like to. Thanks for reading team. GET LEARNED!
Let’s get a bit controversial today and have a chat about birth control and STD prevention, the two downsides of sexy-times. Just letting you know, I’m probably gonna say the words PENIS and VAGINA a lot. Get used to it, information is power. Not saying the words which are anatomical names for body parts increases the taboo of discussing safe sex. This leads to unwanted pregnancy and STD spread. As a wise wizard once said, “Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself.” Yes I just quoted Dumbledore in a birth control post.
And here I’m mostly gonna talk about heterosexual penis + vagina kinda sex that can result in fertilisation of an egg. There are other types of sex, and other risk factors to do with those types of sex. We’ll get to that later. Sorry Mum ❤
Righto then, there are a bloody myriad of ways to prevent pregnancy, and I’m gonna list them here and talk about them in order of effectiveness. Starting from the worst ways to prevent pregnancy.
Abstinence. Technically, this is 100% effective. 99.999999999% if you believe the Virgin Mary thing. But lets be real, you’re reading about birth control because you want to have sex, so this probs won’t work. But technically yes, if you don’t have sex you can’t get preggo. Also works against preventing STDs (if abstaining from P in V sex also means abstaining from all sex. STDs can spread in many ways other than just penetrative sex! We’ll get to that soon.)
Withdrawal – This involves pulling the penis out of the vagina before the male ejaculates. This is 73% effective because there can be sperm in pre-cum, which leaks out of the penis before ejaculation. Don’t use this as your only birth control method, dumb dumbs.
Spermicide! Spermicide is 71% effective at preventing pregnancy. It works in two ways. The first is that it’s an actual physical barrier to your cervix; it’s a gel or foam or liquid that you insert right up the top of your vagina, so it’s basically a rock slide that blocks the tunnel to Babytown. There’s a bunch of different chemicals that can be in spermicide, but the general idea is to slow down the sperm/stop them from moving so they can’t swim up to the egg and fertilise it. Spermicide needs to be used in combination with one of the next two methods….
Cervical cap. This is exactly what it sounds like, it’s a little plastic rubbery ring thing that you use to cover your cervix . It is between 71% and 86% effective at preventing pregnancy. They describe this as looking like a sailor hat to contrast it with….
A diaphragm. This works in the same way as a cervical cap but is a slightly different shape, more like a dish, and it is 88% effective. A big benefit of these two contraceptive methods is that they are non-hormonal. Some women have issues with hormonal birth control methods, so this could work for them. However, these have side effects. You might outgrow your cap or diaphragm if you lose or gain weight, and it’s not the most effective.
The contraceptive sponge is basically a diaphragm made out of spongy plastic which had spermicide embedded into it, so it works like those two things put together. However it’s only 76-88% effective depending on if you’ve given birth or not. You pop it at the very top of your vagina in front of your cervix, The downside is that you can only keep one in for 24 hours, then you have to throw it away, so if you forget to put it in or take it out too quickly, there’s a chance you could get pregnant.
The female condom is 79% effective. It works like a male condom but instead of rolling it onto the penis you insert it into the vagina before sex. These don’t fit as snuggly as male condoms, so there is more risk of pregnancy with these.
The good old male condom, which works by catching all the spermies so they can’t swim to your egg. 82% effective because they break and can slide off and also people hate using them cos they’re a bit of a pain. Super cool news though, these are the only type of birth control that will protect against STDs! And they can be used in combination with almost every other type of birth control to prevent STDs! And you can buy them at the supermarket, no prescription required!
A contraceptive patch. Much like a nicotine patch delivers nicotine into the bloodstream to help quit smoking, contraceptive patches deliver estrogen and progestin into the blood stream to help prevent fertilisation. They work by sticking a patch onto the skin and changing it every week. This hormone combination is common in all types of hormonal birth control, and it works like this. Progestin thickens the cervical mucus so spermies can’t swim through (think swimming in mud compared to swimming in water), and it also stops the egg releasing from the ovaries so it won’t be in a position to get fertilised. Estrogen works to prevent ovulation too. A lot of hormonal birth control is the same hormones, just different delivery systems. The patch is 91% effective because it’s easy to misuse it. Benefits though, some people notice reduced acne, lighter cramping and lighter periods, and more regular periods.
The contraceptive ring, also called the NuvaRing, is a mix between the patch and the diaphragm. It’s a rubber ring thing that you insert into your vagina which releases estrogen and progestin, to do the same hormonal stuff as the patch. It’s like a patch inside your vag. A vagpatch. It’s about 91% effective and has similar benefits and drawbacks as all other hormonal contraceptives. You have to change it every month, it’s three weeks in, one week out for your period, then you insert a new one. You don’t have to take it out to have sex, which is a plus too!
The contraceptive pill, the beginning of many young ladies contraceptive journey. It works the same way as the patch with estrogen and progestin (although some kinds have only progestin) and is also 91% effective cos it is also easy to misuse (forget a pill, get too drunk and vom it up, etc). The pill has been used for over 50 years as a contraceptive and has shown no significant negative effect on fertility or health of women who take it. However there is evidence linking use of the contraceptive pill to depression and mood issues. Some, not all women will experience this. They also might experience it with other types of hormonal birth control. It’s important to shop around and see what works for you.
The contraceptive shot – this involves getting an injection of progestin in your bum bum once every three months to do the whole mucus stop releasing eggs thing. This is 94% effective, but there are some downsides. Once you stop taking the shot it can take up to 10 months to become fertile again. Some people experience symptoms such as changes in periods, nausea, weight gain, headaches and depression. But this does mean it’s only four visits to the doctor a year, and it’s a set-it-and-forget-it kind of birth control, which means if you’re bad at remembering to take pills this could be good for you!
The birth control implant – this is the most effective type of birth control on the market today, it’s more than 99% effective and a super easy set-it-and-forget-it method. The implant is a rod about the size of a matchstick that gets implanted into the underside of your arm, just below your armpit. It works by using progestin, and is reversible. It lasts for up to four years. But you do have to get a minor surgery to get it, which involves numbing your arm and cutting a little hole to put the implant in, which should be done by a doctor or nurse. Bonus, a third of women who use this method stop getting their periods altogether within a year, and experience decreased period cramps. This is a pretty A1 method ladies!
IUDs or intrauterine devices. There are two forms of these, hormonal and non-hormonal. They sit right at the stop of your cervix, and have to be inserted by a doctor or nurse. The hormonal one works by releasing progestin to do the whole mucus egg thing. The non-hormonal IUD has a little copper wire around it, which is toxic to sperm, so they die and can’t fertilise the egg. Downside though, the copper can make your periods heavier and cause pain, cramping, spotting, and irregular periods. BUT this is also over 99% effective, and long term protection (up to 5 years.) They can be expensive though, if it’s not subsidised by the government. All kinds of hormonal birth control carries risks such as risk of heart attack and stroke due to high blood pressure. Always discuss with your doctor the best type of birth control for you based on your family history.
Vasectomy and sterilisation – these involve essentially cutting the tubes in the male or female to physically prevent the sperm getting inside the vagina, or the egg releasing. These are super effective, over 99%, but they are irreversible. Don’t get this done unless you are 250% sure you don’t want (more) babies.
So there you have it, the 15 ways to prevent pregnancy! Obviously chat to your doctor about your options, but I hope this helped demystify birth control, especially to you dudes out there. Let’s be honest, if a baby is accidentally made, it’s 50% yours, lads! Birth control should be as important to you as it is to women.
Thanks for reading friends, stay tuned for the next post, I might talk about something controversial again. 🙂 GET LEARNED!