Drugs and Supplements

Marijuana: Health effects of recreational and medical use

Wynne Armand, MD
Wynne Armand, MD, Contributing Editor

Regardless of whether or not marijuana is legal, using it can have long-term health effects, especially in those who are heavy users. Marijuana shows promise for treating certain medical conditions and symptoms, and further potential benefits are still being studied.

The trouble with antibiotics

Susan Farrell, MD
Susan Farrell, MD, Contributing Editor

The overuse of antibiotics has led to an increase in antibiotic resistance, and inappropriate prescribing and antibiotic misuse are major contributors to this problem. In one study conducted between 2010 and 2011, researchers noted that as many as 34 million prescriptions for antibiotics were written for illnesses like the flu, upper respiratory infections, and bronchitis, all of which typically don’t require the use of antibiotics. Although antibiotic use is necessary for some infections, like pneumonia and urinary tract infections, many people will often get better in a reasonable amount of time by simply treating symptoms.

Buying into generic drugs

Matthew Solan
Matthew Solan, Executive Editor, Harvard Men's Health Watch

Generic versions of drugs are just as effective as their name-brand counterparts, and they cost less than the brand names. Although there are various reasons why your doctor might not always recommend switching to the generic version, it is important to speak with your doctor about the cost of your prescriptions and ask if there is a generic version available.

“Superbugs” and the very real threat of untreatable infections

Michaela Kane
Michaela Kane, Contributor

Doctors recently discovered a gene in E. coli bacteria that makes it resistant to an antibiotic that is typically used when other drugs fail. This new finding suggests that effectiveness of last-resort antibiotics is at risk. As more bacteria evolve to “outsmart” antibiotics, scientists are increasingly concerned about infections caused by “superbugs” that cannot be treated with existing antibiotics.

Can aspirin protect against cancer?

Lori Wiviott Tishler, MD, MPH
Lori Wiviott Tishler, MD, MPH, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School

You may have heard somewhere that an aspirin a day can prevent cancer. It almost sounds too good to be true. For many people, it is, but for a select few, it might not be. We’ve taken a look at the (often confusing) evidence that gave rise to this statement.

Antidepressants and pregnancy: More research needed

Monique Tello, MD, MPH
Monique Tello, MD, MPH, Contributor

A significant number of pregnant women suffer from depression. However, there are still many unanswered questions about how best to treat depression during pregnancy, especially regarding the use of a class of antidepressants called SSRIs. We’ve taken a look at some of the most salient research on the topic and listed tips for what to do if you’re pregnant (or planning a pregnancy) and think you may be depressed.

Diabetes drug pioglitazone could get personal: Neither panacea, nor peril

Lori Wiviott Tishler, MD, MPH
Lori Wiviott Tishler, MD, MPH, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School

Doctors are often hesitant to prescribe newer drugs. We simply can’t know everything about them until the experiences of early adopters tell us what they’re really like. Such is the case with thiazolidinediones. Some of the more recent diabetes drugs fell out of favor, but a new study suggests that may be helpful for very specific types of patients.

Taking your medications as prescribed: Smartphones can help

Robert H. Shmerling, MD
Robert H. Shmerling, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

Many people don’t take their medications exactly as prescribed. While some do this purposefully, plenty more simply forget. Researchers have studied several different methods to help people remember their medication, but a new study has revealed one that stands out among the rest: texting. While the study does have some limitations, it’s an impressive reminder that the technology sitting in many people’s pockets and purses can be a powerful tool to help them improve their health.

Starting an osteoporosis drug? Here’s what you need to know

Maneet Kaur, MD
Maneet Kaur, MD, Contributor

In its early stages, osteoporosis has no symptoms but causes millions of bone fractures every year, often resulting in loss of function and, disability and even death from the complications of the fracture. There are effective medications to prevent osteoporosis, but they can have serious (though rare) side effects. It’s best to talk discuss with your doctor to understand all your options and make an informed decision on how to best protect your bones.

Is there a “best” pain reliever for osteoarthritis?

Robert R. Edwards, Ph.D.
Robert R. Edwards, Ph.D., Contributing Editor

Osteoarthritis can contribute significantly to a reduced quality of life, and many arthritis sufferers have come to rely on pain medication for symptom control. A recent study compared NSAIDs against opioids for pain relief and found no significant difference between them. But as always, the right treatment choice for any individual person depends on their unique medical situation and what works best for them.