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Racemic means 'a mixture.' Most drugs are racemic. The easiest way to explain this is to use Xopenex, a new asthma drug, as an example.

Regular ventolin contains two isomers (configurations) of the ventolin molecule. One is left-sided and one is right-sided. It was originally thought that your body only had left-sided receptors, and that weeding out the right-sided (or backwards) molecules wasn't necessary. They've since discovered that the right-sided molecule of ventolin can cause some paradoxical bronchospasm in people, and so they've weeded it out to make Xopenex, which is also called levosalbutamol, the levo- part meaning only left-sided.

In all reality you could call Ventolin racemic salbutamol, if you wanted to.

Racemic epinephrine is the same sort of idea -- there's levoepinephrine that's only one-sided and racemic epinephrine that's both. The reasoning for the liking of racemic epi is not totally clear to me -- I think it's because you can give twice the dose with the same effects (which ... really ... doesn't make sense ...)

The concept of 'isomers' of molecules goes back to organic chemistry. There's chemistry-teaching sites that could better explain that than I could.

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