Shortcut Navigation:

Adult Courses

Sackler Brain Bench: Pick Your Poison

November 4, 2013 - December 9, 2013

Sackler: Pick Your Poison

Brain Scan - Methamphetamine

National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)

The world is a pretty toxic place. We are surrounded by animals, plants, and chemicals that can poison us, though we usually take in our favorite toxins—coffee, chocolate, and ethanol—in non-lethal doses. What’s more, entire industries try to sell products that promise to improve or alter brain performance. But what happens to our brain chemistry when we use antidepressants, amphetamines, or caffeine? Why do we poison ourselves for pleasure, and why is it difficult to overcome substance addiction? Do animals take drugs? Participants in this course will gain a better understanding of which chemicals, and at what dosages, influence brain function and when we are most vulnerable to “poisoning” ourselves; unpack current scientific research around the topic; and receive resources that can inform decisions about long-term health.

SESSION 1. Pleasure, Pain and Poison: neurochemistry and drugs (11/4)
Participants will be introduced to basic neurochemistry and will gain an understanding of how different types of prescription and recreational drugs affect the brain and behavior.

Guest Speaker: Robert S. Hoffman, MD. Professor of Emergency Medicine and Medicine, Chief, Division of Medical Toxicology, New York University Langone Medical Center.

Read a Q&A on our blog with Robert S. Hoffman, MD.
SESSION 2. Pleasure, Pain and Poison: Alcohol (11/18)
Participants will learn about the effects of alcohol and dosage on the brain, body, behavior, and society.

Guest Speaker: Leonardo Pignataro, PhD, Assistant Professor at the Department of Anesthesiology and Department of Pharmacology, The College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University
SESSION 3. Microbes, Toxins and You (11/25)
Participants will be introduced to the vast array of toxic micro-organisms, and the different types of neurotoxic effects these organisms and environmental toxins can exert on our brain and nervous system when ingested.

Guest Speaker: Ira Breite, MD, Clinical Assistant Professor, Department of Medicine (Gastro Div), New York University Langone Medical Center; Gastroenterologist, Westside Medical Associates, LLP

SESSION 4. Ageing, Oxygen, and Antioxidants (12/2)
Participants will learn about the effects of oxygen on our brain functions, and its role in neurodegenerative disorders like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.

Guest Speaker: Margaret E. Rice, PhD, Professor at the Departments of Neurosurgery, and Neuroscience and Physiology, New York University Langone Medical Center

SESSION 5. Venom to drugs: Harvesting nature's deadliest cocktail (12/9)
Participants will be introduced to a diversity of animal poisons and venoms, and will learn about their neurotoxic effects on the human brain and nervous system, and whether they can be used as therapeutic agents to treat pain and other ailments.

Guest Speaker: Mandë Holford, PhD, Assistant Professor in Chemical Biology, Hunter College Department of Chemistry; Research Associate, Division of Invertebrate Zoology, American Museum of Natural History


The Museum greatly acknowledges The Mortimer D. Sackler Foundation, Inc. for its support to establish The Sackler Brain Bench, part of the Museum’s Sackler Educational Laboratory for Comparative Genomics and Human Origins, in The Spitzer Hall of Human Origins.

American Museum of Natural History

Central Park West at 79th Street
New York, NY 10024-5192
Phone: 212-769-5100

Open daily from 10 am - 5:45 pm
except on Thanksgiving and Christmas
Maps and Directions