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Opium poppies to sleeping pills

Podcast contextualizes contemporary medications with old remedies

By Heidi Wicks

Two pharmacists are bringing their passion for their profession to the airwaves by threading pop culture and mythological drug references into modern research and practice.

The Med Thread, a new monthly podcast from the School of Pharmacy’s Dr. Cathy Balsom and Mike Chong, explores the drug history, development and advances for treating society’s most common ailments.

Episode one begins with a sleep-song mashup before delving into insomnia through the ages; contemporary cultural references are sprinkled throughout the 30-minute conversation between the co-hosts.

From left are Mike Chong and Cathy Balsom, the hosts of The Med Thread, which is recorded at CHMR 93.5 or www.chmr.ca. The first episode airs at 1 p.m. on Thursday, May 10, and is also available on SoundCloud.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

Dr. Balsom is a pharmacist with the School of Pharmacy’s Medication Therapy Services (MTS) Clinic. She works with patients to optimize their medication therapies and counsels patients who suffer from insomnia.

Her interest in starting the podcast sprang from a conversation she had with her colleague and co-host, Mr. Chong.

“I’m an avid podcast-listener and I’ve always thought there was a gap in podcasts related to pharmacy,” she said.

“After working with Mike and seeing his way of looking at things from a critical appraisal perspective, as opposed to my own patient-care point of view, it really made me think about how cool it is that we have medications to treat everything in consideration of how pharmaceuticals have evolved over time.”

Mythological modernity

Mr. Chong feels that ancient and mythological remedies shouldn’t simply be dismissed as archaic.

“We so often look forward, pushing at scientific advances and new medicines, but we shouldn’t forget to look back and see how we got here,” he said.

“Having context makes us better pharmacists, especially if we’re caring for patients who have a connection, physically or spiritually, to that history.”

In The Med Thread’s debut episode, the co-hosts discuss sleeping therapies — old and new alike.

Greeks and Egyptians developed sleeping potions using the opium poppy — the same potion that put Dorothy to sleep in The Wizard of Oz. European apothecaries in the Middle Ages stocked spongia somnifera, a medieval anesthesia soaked in wine and herbs. Today, Z-drugs are among the most popular sleep remedies.

Episode two will air in June and will focus on one reason people are so tired: anemia. The co-hosts will unravel the ancient idea that vampires caused paleness or low blood.

Community connectedness

“Our engagement with patients and their caretakers, as well as the pharmacy and health-care community, are essential components of what the School Pharmacy is all about,” said Dr. Shawn Bugden, dean of the school.

“Faculty, staff and students regularly establish relationships and rapport with patients through the MTS Clinic and through students’ practice experience placements. The Med Thread is a new and exciting medium for us — we can bring our knowledge to a more accessible platform, and I’m proud that two of our own used their creativity and zeal for our profession to research, develop and produce this series.”

The Med Thread is produced at CHMR studios on Memorial’s St. John’s campus and airs at 1 p.m. on Thursday, May 10. It will be available on GooglePlay and iTunes.

Follow the School of Pharmacy on Facebook and Twitter, or visit the website for further information. For health-care providers interested in sources, episode transcripts and listings of resources are listed online


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