Radical Note:
Endorphins
3 September 2014

¶ We could have looked it up, but we didn’t do more, whenever the word “endorphin” came up, than frown. What a funny-looking word. Derived from what, possibly? “End-” was vaguely Greek, but the rest was gibberish.

Now we know. In a fantastic piece about the seesawing problems of pill and heroin abuse on Staten Island, Ian Frazier writes about the “antagonistic” opioid naloxone, which, injected by nasal spray, saves lives that might be lost to drug overdoses. Naloxone was discovered in Queens, and promptly led to important discoveries.

If naloxone could reverse pain relief when no drugs were present, researchers guessed that the body must have its own pain-relief systems. “Endorphin,” the word, comes from “endogenous morphine.” A number of such natural chemicals were later found, along with receptors in the brain upon which they and the opioids acted. Other studies showed that naloxone may block the pain-relieving effects of acupuncture and placebos, temporarily suppress the urge to eat, and reduce the body’s shock and stress reactions.

We have no suggestions for an improved word, but dropping the “m” in “morphine” was an illiterate move.