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  • There are plenty of reasons to want a fully-stocked medicine cabinet, but it's also possible to be too prepared.

  • Like, while that huge bottle of aspirin you bought on sale ten years ago might have seemed like a great idea.

  • It's almost definitely expired by now.

  • Expired medicine might seem like a weird concept because a lot of it doesn't get moldy or slimy like old food.

  • Some of it is just powder, but it can expire.

  • And when it does, it's time to pitch it.

  • Just like with packaged food, drug manufacturers in the U.S. are required to provide an expiration date for medications.

  • They're estimated after seeing how many samples of a drug degrade over short periods of time, or by accelerating the breakdown of the drug's active ingredients.

  • Like the dates on food, the dates on medicine aren't an indicator of when the drug might hurt you.

  • Instead, they're a guarantee that it will work as intended, as long as it's in the original, sealed packaging.

  • However, after that date, you can't be totally confident that the medicine will work as well.

  • And if you've already opened the bottle, the expiration date no longer applies, and all bets are off.

  • Some of this is because outside factors can cause compounds in medicine to break down more quickly.

  • Heat, humidity, and sunlight are all big ones.

  • And in some cases, those broken-down compounds can actually become unsafe.

  • So if you've been keeping your aspirin in the bathroom cabinet all this time, your shower has probably done a number on it

  • Even if everything looks normal.

  • For many medicines, there's also the risk of bacterial growth, especially when it comes to liquid medicine.

  • As soon as you open that container, the contents are no longer sterile.

  • And quickly become susceptible to contamination from the environment.

  • So if you take that past the expiration date, there's a chance you're drinking something pretty nasty.

  • Ultimately, taking expired medicine is like spinning a roulette wheel of potential dangers.

  • In the best-case scenario, the drug just won't work as well.

  • And in the worst case, you'll make yourself more sick.

  • And since it's really difficult to figure out what all the risks areit's just not worth it.

  • Also, this should go without saying, but this is especially true about drugs for serious or life-threatening medical conditions.

  • Especially because some of those lose their effectiveness really quickly.

  • For example, the heart medicine nitroglycerin becomes unstable at high heat and is known to lose its potency fast.

  • These drugs could also seriously hurt you.

  • Some prescription drugs have a very narrow therapeutic window, meaning the exact dosage is really important.

  • Receiving too much or too little of an active ingredient could have significant adverse effects.

  • So at the end of the day, it's much safer just to pitch things.

  • If there aren't any specific instructions on the package, the Food & Drug Administration website has recommendations for how to do that.

  • If you want to learn more, you can click the link in our description.

  • Thanks for asking!

  • And thanks to all of our patrons on Patreon for supporting this episode, and for asking such thoughtful questions.

  • If you want to help us keep making more episodes and support free science education online, you can go to

There are plenty of reasons to want a fully-stocked medicine cabinet, but it's also possible to be too prepared.

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