Cocaine, Adderall, and the Brain

Dr. Ryan Bachtell gave a presentation at the University of Colorado on Cocaine’s affects on the brain, but not surprisingly (due to the abuse of the controlled substance by college students around the nation), the talk took a turn towards discussing Adderall, and its effects on the brain.

Psi Chi, Colorado’s psychology club, created the event and opened it up to students. The room was set up in the usual format of a presentation, with a projector and white board for the speaker, and pizza and soda to bribe students to attend. Dr. Bachtell began by talking about his achievements and previous research, building credibility with his audience. His talk was centered around the usage of cocaine and its effect on Brain-Derived Neurtrophic Factor (BDNF) activity in the nucleus accumbens, the area of the brain that determines pleasure and rewards. He described that cocaine increases BDNF activity in mice which led to increased self-administration of cocaine, indicating signs of addiction and tolerance.

Most of the students that attended, shown by a survey the Bachtell did at the beginning of the presentation, were psychology, not biology, students. Bachtell spoke in a highly, biologically-specific and technical manner that even I, a fourth year molecular cellular developmental biology student, had trouble following at times. I believe this caused the audience to doze off from time to time during the presentation, and I think Bachtell noticed this.
He then asked the audience if they knew anyone who took Adderall that wasn’t prescribed the medicine. Nearly everyone raised their hands.  He used this as a segue to his experiments of the effects of adderall on mice. I noticed, as I think he did too, that this peaked the majority of the audience’s interest. He asked people to share the myths they heard about using un-prescribed Adderall and then went on to debunk the false ones. He showed us images of neural activity in human brains on and off Adderall. He then went on to explain that prolonged usage of Adderall can actually change the way a brain functions, possibly creating ADD/ADHD-like functioning brains in people who have/had normal brains.

Bachtell’s powerpoint presentation was flawless. Slides with only pictures were supplemented with a thorough discription and explanation. He explained the mice brain images and was sure to emphasize that the results from the mice studies can allow extrapolation of theories to the effects of cocaine and Adderall on humans, but can’t be deemed as causal evidence because of the large differences between mice and human brains.

Bachtell then went on to give resources to addiction and abuse hotlines and told stories of people that failed to use these resources, which ultimately lead to their death. Bachtell finished his presentation with a Q/A and answered every question he was asked, no matter how loosely-linked the question was to his research. He drew figures on the board to explain complicated processes and would simplify his complicated explanations when asked.

While Bachtell didn’t deviate from the traditional presentation style in his body language or powerpoint, he did respond and change his presentation based on the audience’s interests. He used ethos by stating his achievements and previous resources, pathos by telling stories of cocaine-abuse patients, and logos with his research data to effectively convey his ultimate message of how and why abusing these substances is detrimental to physical and mental health of humans.


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