Drugs and the Brain (PSY 313)

Class: Tuesday/Thursday 5-6:15pm

Location: EDUCATION, Room 211

Instructor: Stephen Cowen, Ph.D.

Cowen Office Hours: Wednesdays from 1:00-2:00 at my office near the UMC-Banner hospital, in the Life Sciences North building, Room 347. You will need to call me at my office phone number (below) in order to get into the building as it is locked. If you email me, we can schedule a meeting and I can provide you with a map to the building.

Phone: (520) 626-2615                                                                                                   Email:


TA Office Hrs:    Lindsey Crown Mon 3-5pm in Life Sciences North.                 

                                Tony Ye                Tues 12-2pm in Life Sciences North.               

Course overview:

Across history, humans have been drawn to substances that alter the mind.  Over time we’ve discovered chemicals that can stimulate or relax the brain, relieve depression, encourage social behavior, alter our perception, and sometimes cause addiction.  This course will explore how chemicals alter our brains and behavior – some of these chemicals are found in nature, some are found in the drugstore, and some are produced by the brain itself.  The course will cover topics in cellular biology, biochemistry, neuroscience, and cognitive psychology. A previous background in these topics is not required; however, success in the course will be helped if students are proactive in filling in the gaps in their understanding by accessing resources outside of the main texts.

Learning Outcomes

·         Understand the basic cellular mechanisms by which chemicals act upon neurons and the brain. For example, describe how neurotransmitters alter neural activity and neural plasticity. How do drugs cross the blood brain barrier? What brain regions are involved in drug addiction and reward learning?

·         Demonstrate an understanding of the effects of the drugs and neurotransmitters discussed in the course upon perception, decision making, mood, and motivation. What neurotransmitter system(s) are most often linked to depression, addiction, and Alzheimer’s disease?

Required Texts:

1.       Psychopharmacology: Drugs, the Brain, and Behavior, Second Edition 2nd Ed by J. S. Meyer, L. F. Quenzer

·         This books provides the depth necessary to understand the concepts introduced in the Wenk book.

2.       Your Brain on Food: How Chemicals Control Your Thoughts and Feelings, 2nd Edition, by Gary L. Wenk

·         This is an entertaining popular science book that will be used to organize the class.


You will need a clicker for the course. Instructions for registering the clicker are on the course D2L page.

Will this course teach me how to self-medicate?

The instructor is a research scientist, not a medical doctor and cannot prescribe drugs. Please do not change any medication that you now use or use any new medications as a result of this course without consulting your doctor.

Schedule by Week

1) [1/14] Food, Drugs and You: (Wenk: Preface and Ch. 1)

2) [1/19-21] Your brain Part 1: The Micro Brain (Meyer Ch. 2. Pages 41-58)

3) [1/26-1/28] Your brain Part 2: The Macro Brain (Meyer: Ch. 2. Page 56-76 and Ch. 1. page 15-18)

4) [2/2-2/4] Your Brain Part 3: Neurotransmission and Modulation (Meyer Ch. 3 From P. 77 To 90)


5) [2/9-2/11] Memories Magic and Addiction and Arousal Systems Ch. 7 Meyer (Ach), Wenk Ch. 3

6) [2/16] Review for Exam 1

6) [2/18] Exam 1. IN CLASS – BRING YOUR CLICKER. It is a combination of paper + clicker.

7) [2/23-2/25] The Brains Reward Systems and Catecholamines Ch. 5 Meyer [Just up to DOPAMINE]


8) [3/1-3/3] Addiction Ch. 9 Meyer

9) [3/8-3/10] Opioids, Pain and Addiction Ch. 11 Meyer

10) [3/15-3/17] SPRING BREAK – NO CLASS

11) [3/22-3/24] Hallucinations, Your Brain's Anchor to Reality Ch15 Meyer, Wenk Ch. 6, Vollenwieder (Optional – it is on D2L under Content)


12) [3/29] Review for Exam 2

12) [3/31] Exam 2 in class

13) [4/5-4/7] Schizophrenia Ch. 20 Meyer

14) [4/12-4/14] Affective Disorders And Anxiety: Ch. 4 Wenk, Subsections Of Ch. 18, 19 Meyer.

15) [4/19-4/21] Neurodegenerative Diseases Ch. 21 Meyer


16) [4/26-4/28] Marijuana and the Brain – Cannabinoids Ch. 14 Meyer, Wenk Ch. 6.

17) [5/3] Review for Final Exam

17) [5/5] DEAD DAY – no class. 

18) FINAL EXAM (in class): Wed.  5/11/2016                             6:00 pm - 7:00 pm


·         15%: Attendance and quiz participation (The grade will equal the percent of classes attended as measured by the clickers. 3 absences will be allowed without affecting this grade. There may be a delay before we get the clickers up and running so this grade will only be calculated from the point at which everyone’s clickers are working).

·         10%: Submissions of Brain and Drug News articles to the D2L Discussion group (see below).

·         75%: 3 Exams. Exam grades are curved.

·         Extra credit: Too be determined, but some optional clicker quizzes are likely

o   UPDATE 3/10: Here is the extra-credit deal. There will be two D2L extra credit tests. Each one will be worth the following percentage points added to your final grade, according to your score.

§  0-50% grade on test = 0 additional points

§  >50 and <=70 = 2 percentage points.

§  >70 = 3 percentage points

o   For example, if you get 60% on one extra-credit test and 71% on the second, you would get a total of 2 + 3 = 5% points added. That means that if you got an 86% in the course, your updated grade would be 91% - an A.


Missed Tests and Late Assignments: If you miss an exam, you must contact the professor within 48 hours to arrange for a make-up exam. Make up exams may have a different format than the in-class exams at the instructor’s discretion (e.g., a make-up exam may be an essay exam). Note that if you do not arrange for a make-up exam within 48 hours of a missed test, the score on that test will become a 0 unless a validated medical excuse.

Quizzes and Tests:

Unannounced graded and ungraded clicker quizzes will be given frequently during the course as well as announced tests. Use of laptops, written notes, or cell phones are not permitted during the quizzes and tests. All material presented in the course is fair game for the quizzes. It is OK if you have to miss a lecture/quiz or two as your lowest 3 quizzes will be dropped when computing the final quiz grade. There are no makeup quizzes without a valid written/signed medical excuse.

Brain and Drug News Submissions (4 submissions total):

Our knowledge of drugs and the brain is advancing quickly, and it is exciting to keep track of the most recent discoveries. To stimulate thought about recent neuroscience discoveries, students will explore sites such as those listed below to find cutting edge neuroscience articles that interest them. On the announced weeks (see syllabus), submit a 1 paragraph summary of an article that interested you to the D2L discussion group. In that summary, provide 1) the title and hyperlink to the article, 2) a very brief discussion of the main discovery in your own words, and 3) why this is interesting you. The main requirement the submission is that it must be based on a scientific article and discuss drugs/chemicals/brains in some way. You do not have to read the original peer-reviewed article if you do not want to, but the article that you summarize should be based on solid, peer-reviewed research and not pseudoscience. You will get full credit for the submission if these criteria are met.


Here are some excellent sources for brain news that typically cover scientific peer-reviewed articles:

Here is an example from a former student…

Title: A nap to recap: How reward, daytime sleep boost learning


Researchers at the University of Geneva showed that memories associated with reward are reinforced by sleep, even a short nap after a period of learning. This information, since it is paired with a reward, is favorably consolidated over information lacking a reward. There were two groups, a sleep and wake group and brains were scanned while remembering pictures with certain pictures eliciting a reward. There was a 90-minute break or nap depending on which group following the picture learning then there was a memory test about what pairs they remembered. Participants who slept performed better overall. This just solidifies how important sleep is for memory and encoding information and is important for all college students to remember when trying to pull an all-nighter for an exam. 

Course Policies

Incomplete Grade Policy: Incomplete grades will be given only in special circumstances as outlined in University Policy as stated in “The University of Arizona Record General Academic Manual” at;

Academic Integrity: Cheating and other aspects of academic misconduct are covered under the UA academic code as described in the General Academic Manual. Students are highly encouraged to read the UA code of academic integrity as it appears at: Plagiarism, including self-plagiarism (the significant ‘cutting and pasting’ from reports turned in for other classes) is also not tolerated. All papers go through a TurnitIn scan for plagiarism. Significant paraphrasing is also discouraged. See

Accessibility and Accommodations: It is the University’s goal that learning experiences be as accessible as possible.  If you anticipate or experience physical or academic barriers based on disability or pregnancy, please let me know immediately so that we can discuss options.  You are also welcome to contact Disability Resources (520-621-3268) to establish reasonable accommodations. Please be aware that the accessible table and chairs in this room should remain available for students who find that standard classroom seating is not usable.

Absence policies: Attendance is monitored on those days in which clickers are used. Considerable course material will only be presented during class. As a result, it is important that attendance is regular. If a day is missed, it is in the best interest of the student to get notes taken by other students.

a)      All holidays or special events observed by organized religions will be honored for those students who show affiliation with that particular religion.

b)      Absences pre-approved by the UA Dean of Students (or Dean’s designee) will be honored.

Expected classroom behavior: Courtesy is expected. This translates to not using cell phones or talking frequently while the instructor is giving a presentation. Questions, however, are more than welcome at any time. Frequent disruption will result in the student being asked to leave the classroom.

Threatening Behavior Policy: The University seeks to promote a safe environment where students and employees may participate in the educational process without compromising their health, safety, or welfare. The Arizona Board of Regents (ABOR) Student Code of Conduct, ABOR Policy 5-308, prohibits threats of physical harm to any member of the University community, including to one’s self. Threatening behavior can harm and disrupt the University, its community, and its families. Specific policies are listed at the following link:


Other texts for those wanting to dive in deeper:

·         Good Pop-Science Books…

a.       Drugged: The Science and Culture Behind Psychotropic Drugs (Miller)

b.       Sex, Drugs, and Rock 'n' Roll: The Science of Hedonism and the Hedonism of Science (Cormier)

·         Stahl's Essential Psychopharmacology: Neuroscientific Basis and Practical Applications 4th Edition by Stephen M. Stahl 

·         Molecular Neuropharmacology: A Foundation for Clinical Neuroscience, Third Edition 3rd Edition by Eric Nestler, Steven Hyman, Robert Malenka [a little more to the point.]

Other non-required material that may be helpful and fun to explore:

·         Very handy summary of drug effects:

· (FREE!)

· (FREE!)