Homologues 8/27/20

Thoughts by Richard Bleil

Organic chemists will speak of homologues. These are series of chemicals with some common characteristic. Alcohols, all named with the “-ol” ending for example, all have a hydroxide, or “-OH” functional groups attached to the compounds. So, a homologous group might be something like methanol, an -OH group attached to one carbon, ethanol with two carbons, propanol with three carbons and so forth.

These homologues help us to understand certain properties. For example, LSD, cocaine and amphetamine all have a functional group -CH2CH2N…, or the ethyl amine group. The reason for this is that the ethyl amine component of these drugs all attach to receptor sites in the brain that trigger the effects of the drug. The rest of the molecule, then, helps the drugs to pass through the blood-brain barrier and affects the strength and properties once bound. This is why there are different levels of effects and different types of results.

A friend of mine likes to ask why different people have different responses to various drugs or chemical stimuli. Why, for example, are some people allergic to pollen and others not. There is no good answer for this. We know thousands of metabolic reactions, and no doubt there are thousands, perhaps even millions, of reactions of which we are currently unaware. Everybody’s metabolic processes are slightly different. The overall reactions might be the same, but evolution being what it is, we are all slightly different. This also means that we all respond to the same drugs in slightly different ways.

I tend to suffer from springtime pollen allergies. When I was younger, there was one allergy medication that was like a miracle drug. In my absolute worst attacks, this would clear it up in ten minutes and wouldn’t make me drowsy. My mother always thought I should take it routinely so I never had an attack, but I don’t think she realized that it cleared up the attacks so quickly that it wasn’t necessary to keep up a regular concentration of the drug in my body.

Over the years, this medication continued to work, but less and less well. One year, as I was teaching a summer course I decided to try a different antihistamine. I took a tab a few minutes before class, and in the middle of lecture, the walls began to melt. There was no such thing as reality anymore. Aliens spoke in strange tongues and offered me milk. Okay, that last part is a lie, but clearly, it’s unfortunate that I’m not a drug addict because if I were, it would be cheap and legal for me. When my head cleared, and I threw away the rest of the antihistamine, I looked up the structure, and what did I find but ethyl amine. To be on the market, clearly this antihistamine doesn’t affect too many other people like it did me, so why did it have this effect on me?

We’re down to differences between individuals. We’re all different. We drip different chemicals with each step we take, differences which is what dogs can pick up on and distinguish the scent of one human from another. Many animals, and it’s been suggested that humans do the same, release pheromones which might be very similar from one human to the next, and yet are different enough that, even subconsciously, this person might be very attractive to another but someone else is not. A more recent hypotheses that has crossed my path suggests that people’s complimentary smells might be related to our immune system.

In other words, if somebody smells good to you, it might be a sign that they have strong immune systems in areas that yours are weak. The hypothesis that I read suggested that this is related to survival of the species. Two people with strengths in different immune system areas will pass elements of both immune systems on to their offspring, giving their child the strongest of both parents, and the best chance for survival.

In a way, I think we all live homologues. My ex-wife was raised by an alcoholic father, which led to her alcoholism. Her first husband, then was an alcoholic, and the man she left me for was, yup, an alcoholic. I’m no better. I’ve been involved with one narcissist after another, emotionally abusive partners because it felt familiar to me. But maybe this is a good thing. Much like recognizing that chemical piece in the antihistamine means that I could figure it out and avoid it from here on out. So, if I recognize that I tend to look for narcissists because of the familiarity they bring, maybe that recognition is the tool that I need to finally break the cycle.

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