Nature Blog Network

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

New and Innovative Uses for Scopolamine!

Oh Scopolamine, could I count the ways I know thee. Most marine scientists know this sea-sickness drug well and affectionately refer to it as "the patch" (see photo to the left for how NOT to apply a scopolamine patch, Credit: AP photo). Typically during the first few days of an expedition, you will see many of the science party sporting these fashionable icons of the industry. I myself have used it twice, the first time being a desperate measure during a "rough" transit. The key to its effectiveness is using before you will be in a situation that makes you sick, not during as it takes a while to settle in. It also has the added benefits of breathing difficulty; closing of the throat; lip, tongue or face swelling; hives; pain and redness of the eyes; dry or itchy eyes; dilated pupils; difficulty urinating; confusion; agitation; rambling speech; hallucinations; paranoia; delusions; drowsiness; dizziness; dry mouth; restlessness; blurred vision; flushing; fast heartbeats and nausea, vomitting, headache and poor coordination may occur if you discontinue prematurely. Great stuff. I have known people to have many of these side effects. Myself, I have mostly experience dry mouth, dizziness, itchy red eyes, agitation/restlessness and lots of drowsiness while using Scopolamine. I used preemptively on my last cruise for the first 4-5 days and didn't have a problem with sea sickness the 4 weeks we were out bobbing around in the Pacific.

S.A.L.-P. has sent me a yahoo news article (via the AP) that states Scopolamine can now be used to treat bipolar disorder too!

Not since lithium have they developed a drug specifically for bipolar, Manji said.

Like lithium, some of the latest crop of early candidate drugs revealed their potential simply by chance.

Take the experience of NIMH researchers Maura Furey and Dr. Wayne Drevets with the drug scopolamine, which is normally used to keep people from getting seasick or carsick. Several years ago, they were studying whether scopolamine could improve memory and attention in depressed people. So they gave the drug intravenously to depressed patients, trying to find the right dose for a brain-imaging study.

They noticed that patients started feeling less depressed the night after the injections. Most antidepressants take weeks to kick in.

"Some patients would say it was the best night of sleep they'd had in many years, and the next morning they woke up feeling a substantial lifting of their depression," Drevets said. "In many cases that improvement persisted for weeks or even months."
It certainly helps you sleep! I think I slept away most of the bad weather when I took it that first time. I am pretty surprised at how fast it reduces depression though. Depression is a serious matter and I hope that this helps, but it won't be the answer for everyone, just as it doesn't work for everyone to alleviate seasickness.


  1. I think i read somewhere that it is also used as a type of roofie, with complete amnesia afterwards, am-i confusing two drugs?

  2. Um... I've never heard that before. Maybe another can chime in. Not sure what a "roofie" is either. Is that canadian for something? Speak American dammit!

  3. from wikipedia:
    Scopolamine is used criminally as a date rape drug and as an aid to robbery, the most common act being the clandestine drugging of a victim's drink. It is preferred because it induces retrograde amnesia, or an inability to recall events prior to its administration.

  4. i gotta tell ya, it's somewhat comforting to know other marine scientists frequently "feed the fish" in the line of work... i thought it was just me with the fatal flaw of marine ecologist with a penchant for seasickness and ralphing on the ocean i love so much and work so hard to protect...

    and man, if we ever get to share a beer, i can regale you with some amazing vomit stories of me while on boat, in the water, etc... i once puked directly on a humpback whale during a whale count... poor traumatized cetacean...

  5. AC, I guess it is another new and innovative use for scopolamine. From the Wikipedia entry on date rape drugs:

    "Some often mentioned date rape drugs are GHB, ketamine and benzodiazepines (such as flunitrazepam, also known as Rohypnol or "roofies")".

    They don't mention scopolamine at that entry.

  6. Rick, we can't let a little vomit and nausea get in the way of passion! Our last cruise had a scientist who was sick for most of it. She still managed to get work done, but I don't think she will be going on another expedition ever again. I threw up on the top deck during transit to our study site while we getting the safety drills. I certainly wasn't the only one, it was some rough seas.

    I will buy you pitcher here at the Skellar anytime just to hear how you puked on a humpback.

  7. Arrr, you lily-bellied landlubbers. Ye be easy targets fer plundering. I ought a keel-haul the lot o' you.

  8. Do all those symptoms really outweigh the nausea and vertigo? :)

  9. Certainly most of them do! The fact it that everyone responds differently to the drug. Even those who take on separate occasions will experience different side effects.

    For me personally, I usually just stomach the rough transit on the outset of an expedition, throw-up for day and then I've got my sea legs and am good to go.


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