addiction: The National Institute of Drug Abuse defines this as a complex chronic disorder that is characterized by a difficult-to-control compulsion to use some drug, despite knowing that it will likely have harmful impacts. A first exposure to these drugs is usually voluntary. But repeated use of certain ones, NIDA explains, can create “changes to  brain circuits involved in rewards, stress, and self-control.” Those changes can make it very hard to resist the urge to continue using drugs. The term has also been expanded to some behaviors that become dangerous and/or excessive, such as gambling, shopping and video game use.

adolescence: A transitional stage of physical and psychological development that begins at the onset of puberty, typically between the ages of 11 and 13, and ends with adulthood. People undergoing this transition are known as adolescents.

anxious: (n. anxiety) A feeling of dread over some potential or upcoming situation, usually one over which someone feels they have little control.

average: (in science) A term for the arithmetic mean, which is the sum of a group of numbers that is then divided by the size of the group.

brain scan: A technique to view structures inside the brain, typically with X-rays or a magnetic resonance imaging (or MRI) machine. With MRI technology — especially the type known as functional MRI (or fMRI) — the activity of different brain regions can be viewed during an event, such as viewing pictures, computing sums or listening to music.

cell: (in biology) The smallest structural and functional unit of an organism. Typically too small to see with the unaided eye, it consists of a watery fluid surrounded by a membrane or wall. Depending on their size, animals are made of anywhere from thousands to trillions of cells.

chemical signal: A message made up of molecules that get sent from one place to another. Bacteria and some animals use these signals to communicate.

chemistry: The field of science that deals with the composition, structure and properties of substances and how they interact. Scientists use this knowledge to study unfamiliar substances, to reproduce large quantities of useful substances or to design and create new and useful substances.

clinical: (in medicine) A term that refers to diagnoses, treatments or experiments involving people.

cocaine: A drug that is powerfully addictive. As a neural stimulant, it makes people’s hearts beat faster and gives them more energy focus. People can smoke, snort or inject cocaine. It is derived from the leaves of a coca plant.

cortical: (in neuroscience) Of or relating to the brain’s cortex.

depression: (in medicine) A mental illness characterized by persistent sadness and apathy. Although these feelings can be triggered by events, such as the death of a loved one or the move to a new city, that isn’t typically considered an “illness” — unless the symptoms are prolonged and harm an individual’s ability to perform normal daily tasks (such as working, sleeping or interacting with others). People suffering from depression often feel they lack the energy needed to get anything done. They may have difficulty concentrating on things or showing an interest in normal events. Many times, these feelings seem to be triggered by nothing; they can appear out of nowhere.

develop: (n. development) To emerge or to make come into being, either naturally or through human intervention, such as by manufacturing. (in biology) To grow as an organism from conception through adulthood, often undergoing changes in chemistry, size, mental maturity or sometimes even shape.

disorder: (in medicine) A condition where the body does not work appropriately, leading to what might be viewed as an illness. This term can sometimes be used interchangeably with disease.

emergency room: Also known as the ER. It’s that part of the hospital where doctors initially attend to the immediate medical needs of accident victims and others who need critical care.

function: The specific role some structure or device plays.

heroin: A highly addictive and illegal drug derived from morphine, a potent pain killer. People often take heroin as a narcotic — something that dulls the senses, relieves pain and makes them sleepy or unmotivated to do anything other than lay in a slump.

high school: A designation for grades nine through 12 in the U.S. system of compulsory public education. High-school graduates may apply to colleges for further, advanced education.

link: A connection between two people or things.

marijuana: A mind-altering drug. It is made from the leaves (and sometimes stems or seeds) of the Cannabis sativa plant. This drug also goes by the colloquial terms pot and weed.

mature: (adj.) Connoting an adult individual or full-grown and fully developed (non-juvenile) form of something. (verb) To develop toward — or into — a more complex and full-grown form of something, be it a living thing, a technology or an idea.

mechanism: The steps or process by which something happens or “works.” It may be the spring that pops something from one hole into another. It could be the squeezing of the heart muscle that pumps blood throughout the body. It could be the friction (with the road and air) that slows down the speed of a coasting car. Researchers often look for the mechanism behind actions and reactions to understand how something functions.

mental health: A term for someone’s emotional, psychological and social well-being. It refers to how people behave on their own and how they interact with others. It includes how people make choices, handle stress and manage fear or anxiety. Poor mental health can be triggered by disease or might reflect a short-term response to life’s challenges. It can occur in people of any age, from babies to the elderly.

MRI: Short for magnetic resonance imaging. It’s an imaging technique to visualize soft, internal organs, like the brain, muscles, heart and cancerous tumors. MRI uses strong magnetic fields to record the activity of individual atoms.

nausea: The feeling of being sick to one’s stomach, as though one could vomit.

nerve: A long, delicate fiber that transmits signals across the body of an animal. An animal’s backbone contains many nerves, some of which control the movement of its legs or fins, and some of which convey sensations such as hot, cold or pain.

neuroscientist: Someone who studies the structure or function of the brain and other parts of the nervous system.

New Zealand: An island nation in the southwest Pacific Ocean, roughly 1,500 kilometers (some 900 miles) east of Australia. Its “mainland” — consisting of a North and South Island — is quite volcanically active. In addition, the country includes many far smaller offshore islands.

nicotine: A colorless, oily chemical produced in tobacco and certain other plants. It creates the “buzz” associated with smoking. Highly addictive, nicotine is the substance that makes it hard for smokers to give up their use of cigarettes. The chemical is also a poison, sometimes used as a pesticide to kill insects and even some invasive snakes or frogs.

pediatrician: A doctor who works in the field of medicine that has to do with children and especially child health. 

potent: An adjective for something (like a germ, poison, drug or acid) that is very strong or powerful.

prefrontal cortex: A region containing some of the brain’s gray matter. Located behind the forehead, it plays a role in making decisions and other complex mental activities, in emotions and in behaviors.

psychologist: A scientist or mental-health professional who studies the mind, especially in relation to actions and behaviors. Some work with people. Others may conduct experiments with animals (usually rodents) to test how their minds respond to different stimuli and conditions.

psychosis: A potentially frightening symptom associated with some types of mental illness. In it, someone loses the ability to recognize what is real. Affected people may claim to see, hear or believe things that aren’t real. They may also develop strange thoughts, behaviors and feelings — such as being convinced that someone is out to get them.

risk: The chance or mathematical likelihood that some bad thing might happen. For instance, exposure to radiation poses a risk of cancer. Or the hazard — or peril — itself. (For instance: Among cancer risks that the people faced were radiation and drinking water tainted with arsenic.)

schizophrenia: A serious brain disorder that can lead to hallucinations, delusions and other uncontrolled behaviors.

smoking: A term for the deliberate inhalation of tobacco smoke from burning cigarettes.

subjects: (in research) The participants in a trial. The term usually refers to people who volunteered to take part. Some may receive money or other compensation for their participation, particularly if they entered the trial healthy.

suicidal: A mental state in which a person feels a strong impulse to take his or her own life (also known as committing suicide). Warning signs may include talking about wanting to die or about making plans to commit suicide; saying goodbye to people as if this person won’t ever see them again; taking steps to make it possible to commit suicide, such as obtaining a gun or drugs that could cause death; being obsessed with the subject of death or dying; and withdrawing from social contact in a way that is unusual for that person.

survey: To view, examine, measure or evaluate something, often land or broad aspects of a landscape. (with people) To ask questions that glean data on the opinions, practices (such as dining or sleeping habits), knowledge or skills of a broad range of people. Researchers select the number and types of people questioned in hopes that the answers these individuals give will be representative of others who are their age, belong to the same ethnic group or live in the same region.

system: A network of parts that together work to achieve some function. For instance, the blood, vessels and heart are primary components of the human body’s circulatory system. Similarly, trains, platforms, tracks, roadway signals and overpasses are among the potential components of a nation’s railway system. System can even be applied to the processes or ideas that are part of some method or ordered set of procedures for getting a task done.

THC: Short for tetrahydrocannabinol. It’s the primary active ingredient in marijuana that’s responsible for the mind-altering “high” associated with smoking or eating parts of the Cannabis sativa plant.

vaping: (v. to vape) A slang term for the use of e-cigarettes because these devices emit vapor, not smoke. People who do this are referred to as vapers.


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