Drug reservoirs are pockets of substance that stay in the body and affect it when they are released – sometimes years after they have been initially taken. Here’s a relatively simple explanation of how drug reservoirs develop and appear when you least expect them.
In Chinese medicine we view the body as a landscape, with forests and mountains & deserts and rivers, just like Earth. From this perspective it stands to reason that if the landscape is affected by drugs of any description, there will be a period of repair, during which the substance leaves the system. In Western Pharmacology, in particular what is referred to as “drug distribution”, there is such a thing called a “Drug Reservoir”. A drug reservoir is something that can happen in muscle, organ or fat tissue when it’s been saturated with any type of drug, long after the last effects have been felt. It doesn’t apply only to street drugs, it happens with pharmaceuticals and anaesthetics as well. It’s part of the delivery system of many pharmaceuticals, especially those with slow release or injected intramuscularly, or those intended to work with the mechanism of drug reservoirs for controlled release of a substance. The drugs are stored in a certain area in the body and are triggered to release when their levels get low by chemically engineered mechanisms. But with street drugs it’s hard to know what’s going to happen when tissue gets saturated with a substance, which is why people experience “flashbacks” or have long-term effects during recovery.
Pharmacology – the study of drugs and how they get in.
How does this even happen?
The way drugs work their way through our system has to do with what’s known in pharmacology and pharmacokinetics (how drugs make their way around our bodies) as, Distribution. Drugs enter the bloodstream and join with receptors that certain biochemicals naturally attract, according to the drug. They run their course over a certain period of time and then their effects reduce, and stay there for an amount of time and concentration that is known as “Half-life”. After that they are processed and eliminated via the liver and kidneys.
But if you’re over-saturated with a drug for extended periods of time (like continued use of pain killers or street/party drugs) or in high concentrations (like a general anaesthetic or some psychedelics at strong doses), they can stick around in little pockets in muscle tissue. This isn’t something that gets talked about a lot but it’s actually fairly common when you treat musculoskeletal conditions.
Left-overs: not for the faint-hearted
After the half-life of the drug has ended, our bodies go back to normal. But in the tissue that we don’t use very often, bound up muscles or areas that don’t get much conscious exercise – like under the scapula or some of the deeper muscles in the hips or pelvis that we don’t release very easily without treatment – saturation can still be present. It doesn’t release from inside that tissue until there is some good blood flow through the area to release it into the vascular system. Kind of like leftovers at the back of the fridge behind the sauerkraut.
So when you feel like you have fully recovered and start getting healthy, working out, getting regular massage, acupuncture, cupping, doing Pilates, gym or manipulative therapies, this is something to watch out for. The muscles start getting activated and circulation increases, and finally the drug makes its way back into the bloodstream. The effects might be intense or mild, depending on the drug, the biological location or the amount of time since it was originally administered. Like the old Woodstock stories you might have heard about post-festival acid flashbacks in the 60’s and 70’s, there is a biological process where these pockets of drug are released and their effects are felt all over again. But it most often takes people by surprise and can be a bit of a weird feeling if you don’t expect it to happen.
But now you have a heads up.
Dr Rebecca Tolhurst (Physician of Chinese Medicine) has been practicing in the Alcohol & Other Drugs sector as a detox and recovery acupuncture clinician for over a decade, in a professional and volunteer capacity. During that time she has developed a deep understanding of the challenges patients face when reducing, withdrawing or recovering from pharmaceutical overload, addiction and recreational drug use. If you would like to book an appointment please text on 0422 353 446 or online here.