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Interactions in Chemical Mixtures: Additive, Synergistic & Antagonistic

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  • 0:07 Chemical Reactions
  • 0:42 Types of Reactions
  • 3:02 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sarah Friedl

Sarah has two Master's, one in Zoology and one in GIS, a Bachelor's in Biology, and has taught college level Physical Science and Biology.

Chemical reactions occur constantly within our environment and even within our own bodies. Reactions can vary depending on the chemicals that are mixed together. This lesson explores the four most common reactions and offers examples for each.

Chemical Reactions

If there's one thing chemicals like to do it's react! A chemical reaction is when two or more substances combine to form a new substance. Chemical reactions are occurring all the time in the natural environment where there are numerous different substances and chemicals coming in contact with each other. Some of these chemicals are natural, while some are human-made. When there is a reaction in nature, and it produces a toxic effect, we can put that reaction into one of four categories: additive, synergistic, antagonistic, and potentiating.

Types of Interactions

Additive effects are just what they sound like - the sum of the effects of the chemicals involved in the reaction.

This usually occurs with chemicals that are similar in structure, so they work well as a team - kind of like a superhero and a sidekick.

The sum of the additive effects is what you would expect if you were exposed to each chemical individually. An example of an additive interaction would be taking both aspirin and acetaminophen, which is the active ingredient in drugs like Tylenol. If you take both together, you get the total effect of both pain-killing drugs on your body.

Synergistic effects are when the sum of the effects is more than each chemical individually. This can create dangerous situations because each chemical is designed to work well on its own.

This would be like pairing two really strong superheroes - individually they are both strong, and if combined, their powers are overwhelming.

For example, alcohol and acetaminophen are a dangerous combination for your body. This is because both are processed in your liver, and each puts a lot of strain on this small but powerful organ. If you put both drugs into your body at the same time, it can overwhelm the liver, sending it into failure.

Antagonistic effects are when the net effect of the chemical reaction is zero.

This would be like combining our superhero with her evil arch-nemesis. One is evil and one is good, but if you add up their efforts, you neutralize them both. Antagonistic effects are important because this is where we get antidotes for poisons.

Anti-venom for snakebites is an example of an antagonistic effect; so is the combination of caffeine and alcohol.

There is one more less-common type of interaction called potentiating effects. This is when one chemical enhances the effect of another chemical. Some chemicals are not toxic on their own, but when they are in the presence of some other chemicals, they become toxic.

Think of evil villains. Most are good people at one point in their lives, but are involved in some type of accident that changes them forever. The accident has a potentiating effect on this once normal, good-hearted person, bringing out their darkest side.

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