Drugs and the Nervous System

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SWBAT explain how drugs impact the function of the nervous system.

Big Idea

Use this lesson to help students understand the ways that various drugs impact neurons and the nervous system.


5 minutes

As the students enter the room, they take out their journals and respond to the prompt:  

How do drugs impact the nervous system?  How do you know?

While the students work, I circulate through the room to read what they are writing and to ask them questions. This helps me to identify misconceptions they have about the topic. Once the students have finished writing, I ask for volunteers to share their journal with the class. As evidenced by these student journals, many of the students share responses regarding the fact that drugs can kill brain cells, but they are unable to elaborate on the topic, proving the need for this lesson.

*Note on language use* It is especially important in this lesson to carefully define the terms being used, specifically the terms drugs and medication.  For the journal prompt, I use the word drugs as it is understood by students, specifically “illegal mind altering substances”. I use the term medication in reference to prescribed, legal drugs.  The Explain section provides details as to how I address this with students.


5 minutes

I explain to the students that we will be reviewing the manner in which various drugs impact the nervous system, specifically neurons. I begin by asking the students to explain the difference between a medicine and a drug. The students are quick to respond that medicine is used for a specific purpose, for a specific duration, for a specific person. They recall that medicines can be drugs if they are misused.  

The students work in groups for this lesson and I use the Line Up strategy to place them into their groups. Since we are reviewing how drugs impact neurons, each student is given a card containing a structure of a neuron. The notecards are labeled as dendrite, soma, nucelus, axon, or axon terminal. After receiving their card, the students asked to find their group, based on the color of their card and then sit in the order in which a message travels through the neuron (dendrites, soma, nucleus, axon, axon terminals).  

When they are in their groups, I have them take out their Chromebooks and open the Drugs and the Nervous System worksheet. I explain that they will complete the top portion of the activity on their own and then they will perform research in their small group to answer the other questions. After they complete the remaining questions, the group will include their information on a group slide and then present the information to the class.  I have the students begin by working individually because I want to have a better understanding of their own thoughts and ideas.  This question serves to help activate their prior knowledge and to connect the topic to our previous lesson about how neurons and the brain function.  The students then share their thoughts and ideas when they work together on the research.

This video reviews the written materials the students use for the activity, while this video provides information about the websites the students will be using.


25 minutes

After reviewing the instructions with the students, I assign each group a drug to research. I give each group a paper copy of information to read while they wait for their websites to load. I also remind them to review the various links listed on the worksheet under the drug they were assigned. While the students work, I circulate through the room to help them locate and synthesize information. I also ask them questions to help guide them to conclusions, specifically about neurotransmitters and how they are impacted by drugs.

This activity addresses SP8 Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information as the students obtain, evaluate and communicate information about how drugs impact the nervous system.  NGSS MS-LS1-8 as students evaluate the impact that drugs have on how information arrives in the brain.  Examining their research and the accompanying pictures helps students better visualize what happens to neurons and neurotransmitters when drugs are introduced to the nervous system (NGSS XC-SF-MS1)

As the students finish answering their questions, I direct them to the class presentation template set up on Google. Prior to class I created a presentation with a slide for each group, with a sharing setting that allows each student access to add information. The students know that I can and do review the revision history* to keep them accountable for the information they include.

This is a sample class presentation Drugs and the Nervous System -8th Hour.  An example of proficient student work on the individual worksheet is also included.

*If you aren't familiar with Google docs, the revision history allows you to see each and every change made to a document, and indicates who made the change. The command is found in the File tab.


The revision history can show multiple people, and multiple times in a day.

Wrap up

5 minutes

At the end of the lesson, I have each group tell the rest of the class the name of the neurotransmitter that is impacted by their assigned drug.  As they share this information, I ask the students to keep track of commonalities (which neurotransmitters are repeated) to see if they can draw any conclusions based on that information later when the groups give their full presentations.

Day 2 - Presentations

30 minutes

As we begin day two, I ask the students to spend some time meeting in their groups in order to finalize the pieces of their presentation.  I also ask them to determine which members of the group will be presenting which pieces of information and to practice at least once.  I have found that having the students practice helps them identify any information that they may have left out of their slide.  When the students are ready, I display the presentation on the LCD projector and advance through the slides, asking the students to share their information with the class.  The rest of the class is encouraged to ask the presenters questions.  If the students are having difficulty understanding how the specific drug impacts the nervous system I will open the previously viewed websites and use them to explain the information, or I will have the students use the neuron we created to demonstrate the impact of the drug.  Once all of the students have presented, I ask the students to summarize the various ways in which drugs can impact the nervous system.