Drug interactions occur when the combination of one drug with another causes side effects. Supplements, herbs, legal drugs and illegal substances can all cause drug interactions. Most drug interactions fall into two categories:
Example 1 : Blood thinners and aspirin become dangerous when combined. Both have the effect of preventing blood clots from forming, blood thinners prevent the formation of clotting factors, and Aspirin prevents blood cells from clotting into clots. If used individually, it does not matter, but if accidentally used, they can thin the blood to dangerous levels, even causing internal bleeding. This is a drug interaction in which one substance enhances the effect of another.
Example 2 : Cocaine and heroin are both dangerous and if used together, they become many times more dangerous. Cocaine is a stimulant that increases the heart rate, making the body need more oxygen. But heroin, an inhibitor of breathing slowdown, reduces the body's ability to supply oxygen. This combination stretches the organs, which can lead to respiratory failure and death. This is a drug interaction in which the two substances seem to cancel each other out but are actually strangling you.
Example 3 : The interaction between grapefruit juice and some cholesterol-lowering drugs like Statin is related to the liver's ability to metabolize drugs. The liver produces enzymes, molecules that facilitate the breakdown of substances that enter the body. Enzymes can both activate drugs by breaking them down into therapeutic components, and have the ability to be neutralized by breaking down harmful compounds into harmless metabolites. There are many different enzymes, each capable of binding to specific substances. Grapefruit binds to the same type of enzyme with statins, making the amount of enzyme suitable for breaking statins less. This combination is synonymous with the high level of statin that still exists in the blood, leading to kidney failure.
Example 4 : Alcohol can also alter the function of the enzyme that breaks down Acetaminophen - an ingredient in pain medications like Paracetamol. Acetaminophen is converted into a toxic substance but at the recommended dose, usually not enough to cause harm to the body. However, drinking a lot of alcohol can alter the enzyme activity so that byproducts are produced more and potentially cause serious liver damage.
Example 5 : Meanwhile, some herbal remedies such as Saint John's Wort increase the liver's ability to produce a specific enzyme. That means the drugs that are suitable for this enzyme will be metabolized faster, sometimes too quickly before they have a therapeutic effect on the body.
Although the number of drug interactions is increasing, most dangerous interactions are detected. Some researchers are developing AI programs to predict the side effects of drug interactions. For new drugs, supercomputers are being used to look for potential interactions while these drugs are still being developed.