Chapter 4. The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology

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|By Victoria Stern Many studies show that teens who use marijuana face a greater risk of later developing schizophrenia or symptoms of it, especially if they have a genetic predisposition. For instance, one 15-year study followed more than 45,000 Swedes who initially had no psychotic symptoms. The researchers determined that subjects who smoked marijuana by age 18 were 2.4 times more likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia than their nonsmoking peers, and this risk increased with the frequency of cannabis use. The connection still held when researchers accounted for participants' use of other drugs. Yet despite these results and an uptick in marijuana use in the 1970s and 1980s, other researchers have not uncovered an increase in the incidence of schizophrenia in the general Swedish population—suggesting that perhaps people who were going to develop schizophrenia anyway were more likely to use marijuana. Another study, conducted in Australia over a 30-year period, also found no increase in schizophrenia diagnoses among the general population, despite rising rates of teen marijuana use. These authors concluded that although cannabis most likely does not cause schizophrenia, its use might trigger psychosis in vulnerable people or exacerbate an existing condition. © 2014 Scientific American

Keyword: Drug Abuse; Schizophrenia
Link ID: 20101 - Posted: 09.22.2014

Elie Dolgin When Carol Steinberg was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 1995, there was only one drug approved by the US Food and Drug Administration to treat the disease. Now there are eleven. Yet none of these agents can help Steinberg. She suffers from progressive MS, a form of the disease that is characterized by steadily worsening neurological function. All eleven approved drugs combat the unpredictable symptom outbreaks that are associated with the relapsing–remitting form of MS. Around 85% of newly diagnosed patients have the relapsing–remitting form; after 10 to 20 years, most of them develop the progressive type. The lack of good treatment options for progressive MS weighs heavily on Steinberg. She uses a wheelchair, but continues to work as a trial lawyer in Newton, Massachusetts. “I’m constantly afraid of my disease getting worse,” she says. A global initiative called the Progressive MS Alliance now hopes to kick-start the development of therapies specifically for Steinberg and the million or so people worldwide living with progressive MS. On 11 September, at a joint meeting of the European and Americas Committees for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis, the alliance announced an inaugural round of research awards — part of a six-year, €22-million (US$28.5-million) programme that is the first concerted effort to tackle the disease’s less-common form. © 2014 Nature Publishing Group

Keyword: Epilepsy; Neuroimmunology
Link ID: 20089 - Posted: 09.18.2014

By ANDREW POLLACK New York State’s attorney general filed an antitrust lawsuit on Monday seeking to stop a pharmaceutical company from forcing patients with Alzheimer’s disease to switch to a new version of a widely used drug. The lawsuit contends that the switch is designed to blunt competition from low-priced generic versions of the medication. Forest Laboratories, now owned by Actavis, announced in February that it would stop selling the existing tablet form of the drug, Namenda, in favor of new extended-release capsules called Namenda XR that can be taken once a day instead of twice. While the company said that patients preferred the newer drug, it has made little secret of its desire to switch all patients to the newer form, which has a longer patent life, before the old tablets face generic competition in July. The strategy would make it much harder for the generics to gain traction. The lawsuit, filed in Federal District Court in Manhattan, says the step is an illegal attempt by Forest to maintain its monopoly even after its patent expires. “A drug company manipulating vulnerable patients and forcing physicians to alter treatment plans unnecessarily, simply to protect corporate profits, is unethical and illegal,” the attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman, said in a statement. A spokesman for Actavis said the company did not comment on pending litigation as a matter of policy. The company said that the once-a-day drug had “significant advantages” for patients and their caregivers. The lawsuit argues that the benefit of switching is not very great. It says the company decided to force the switch because it feared that not enough patients would switch voluntarily. © 2014 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Alzheimers
Link ID: 20078 - Posted: 09.16.2014

By Abby Phillip Most long-time, pack-a-day smokers who took part in a small study were able to quit smoking after six months, and researchers believe the hallucinogenic substance found in "magic mushrooms" could be the reason why. The study of the 15 participants, published this week in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, is the first to look at the feasibility of using the psychedelic drug psilocybin to aid in a smoking cessation treatment program. Existing treatments, from quitting cold turkey to prescription medications like Varenicline (Chantix), work for some people, but not the majority of smokers. With Varenicline, which mimics the effect of nicotine in the body, only about 35 percent of participants in a clinical trial were still abstaining from smoking six months later. Nearly half of all adult smokers reported that they tried to quit in 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, yet 480,000 deaths are attributed to the addiction every year. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University recruited a group of long-time, heavy smokers — an average of 19 cigarettes a day for an average of 31 years — to participate in the study. They were treated with cognitive behavioral therapy for 15 weeks, and they were given a dose of the hallucinogen psilocybin at the five-week mark, when they had agreed to stop smoking. Although it was a small study, the results were promising. Twelve of the participants had quit smoking six months after being treated with the drug.

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 20076 - Posted: 09.15.2014

by Michael Slezak "Cannabis catastrophic for young brains" screamed the headline on an Australian medical news website this week. The article, and others like it, were reporting on a study linking teenage cannabis use with school dropouts, addiction and suicide, published in the The Lancet Psychiatry. Echoing the research findings, the articles declared that if teenagers smoke cannabis daily, it makes them seven times more likely to commit suicide compared with non-users. Indeed, "there is no safe level of use", most reported. They also urged caution to legislators around the world that are gingerly taking steps towards weakening prohibition of cannabis, lest young people get easier access to it. So does smoking pot cause suicide? The Lancet authors say it probably does. Their study combined data from three previous longitudinal studies which together tracked cannabis use in more than 3000 people in Australia and New Zealand over many years. The authors looked for associations between the frequency of cannabis use before the age of 17 and outcomes, such as high school completion, until the people reached the age of 30. They found that those who smoked cannabis daily before they were 17 had lower odds of finishing high school and getting a degree than people who had never used cannabis. Larger increased odds were associated with cannabis dependence later in life, trying other illicit drugs and suicide attempts. But longitudinal studies only show correlation, not causation. The difficulty is that people take drugs for a reason, and that reason could be what's causing the outcome. In the case of school dropout, suicide and daily pot smoking, it is not hard to imagine what else could be going on in someone's life to engender these behaviours. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd

Keyword: Drug Abuse; Depression
Link ID: 20071 - Posted: 09.13.2014

|By Amy Nordrum If you were one of millions of children who completed the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program, or D.A.R.E., between 1983 and 2009, you may be surprised to learn that scientists have repeatedly shown that the program did not work. Despite being the nation’s most popular substance-abuse prevention program, D.A.R.E. did not make you less likely to become a drug addict or even to refuse that first beer from your friends. But over the past few years prevention scientists have helped D.A.R.E. America, the nonprofit organization that administers the program, replace the old curriculum with a course based on a few concepts that should make the training more effective for today’s students. The new course, called keepin’ it REAL, differs in both form and content from the former D.A.R.E.—replacing long, drug-fact laden lectures with interactive lessons that present stories meant to help kids make smart decisions. Beginning in 2009 D.A.R.E. administrators required middle schools across the country that teach the program to switch over to the 10-week, researcher-designed curriculum for seventh graders. By 2013, they had ordered elementary schools to start teaching a version of those lessons to fifth and sixth graders, too. "It's not an antidrug program," says Michelle Miller-Day, co-developer of the new curriculum and a communications researcher at Chapman University. “It's about things like being honest and safe and responsible." Even so, keepin’ it REAL has reduced substance abuse and maintained antidrug attitudes over time among students in early trials—an achievement that largely eluded the former iteration of the program. D.A.R.E.’s original curriculum was not shaped by prevention specialists but by police officers and teachers in Los Angeles. They started D.A.R.E. in 1983 to curb the use of drugs, alcohol and tobacco among teens and to improve community–police relations. Fueled by word of mouth, the program quickly spread to 75 percent of U.S. schools. © 2014 Scientific American,

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 20060 - Posted: 09.11.2014

By SOMINI SENGUPTA A coalition of political figures from around the world, including Kofi Annan, the former United Nations secretary general, and several former European and Latin American presidents, is urging governments to decriminalize a variety of illegal drugs and set up regulated drug markets within their own countries. The proposal by the group, the Global Commission on Drug Policy, goes beyond its previous call to abandon the nearly half-century-old American-led war on drugs. As part of a report scheduled to be released on Tuesday, the group goes much further than its 2011 recommendation to legalize cannabis. The former Brazilian president Fernando Henrique Cardoso, a member of the commission, said the group was calling for the legal regulation of “as many of the drugs that are currently illegal as possible, with the understanding that some drugs may remain too dangerous to decriminalize.” The proposal comes at a time when several countries pummeled by drug violence, particularly in Latin America, are rewriting their own drug laws, and when even the United States is allowing state legislatures to gingerly regulate cannabis use. The United Nations is scheduled to hold a summit meeting in 2016 to evaluate global drug laws. The commission includes former presidents like Mr. Cardoso of Brazil, Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico and Ruth Dreifuss of Switzerland, along with George P. Shultz, a former secretary of state in the Reagan administration, among others. The group stops short of calling on countries to legalize all drugs right away. It calls instead for countries to continue to pursue violent criminal gangs, to stop incarcerating users and to offer treatment for addicts. © 2014 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 20052 - Posted: 09.10.2014

By C. CLAIBORNE RAY Q. Is there a difference between alcoholic dementia and “regular” dementia in the elderly? A. Dementia refers to the general category of diseases that cause acquired cognitive loss, usually in later life, said Dr. Mark S. Lachs, director of geriatrics for the NewYork-Presbyterian Healthcare System. Such loss has scores of possible causes, he said, but Alzheimer’s disease is the culprit in a vast majority of cases in the developed world. Alzheimer’s and what doctors call alcohol-related dementia affect parts of the brain cortex that control memory, language and the ability to follow motor commands. Because Alzheimer’s and excessive drinking are relatively common in the older population and can occur at the same time, and because many of their clinical features overlap and affect similar parts of the brain, “it is more accurate to say that each condition potentially exacerbates the other,” Dr. Lachs said. Abstinence is the treatment of choice in alcohol-related dementia, with or without concurrent Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia. Even in patients with “pure” Alzheimer’s disease or another kind of dementia, Dr. Lachs said, most experts recommend greatly moderating alcohol consumption or eliminating it, as even occasional drinking “can serve as a brain stress test for a patient with impaired cognition from any cause.” © 2014 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Alzheimers; Drug Abuse
Link ID: 20048 - Posted: 09.09.2014

By MICHAEL HEDRICK I can remember the early days of having schizophrenia. I was so afraid of the implications of subtle body language, like a lingering millisecond of eye contact, the way my feet hit the ground when I walked or the way I held my hands to my side. It was a struggle to go into a store or, really, anywhere I was bound to see another living member of the human species. With a simple scratch of the head, someone could be telling me to go forward, or that what I was doing was right or wrong, or that they were acknowledging the symbolic crown on my head that made me a king or a prophet. It’s not hard to imagine that I was having a tough time in the midst of all the anxiety and delusions. Several months after my diagnosis, I took a job at a small town newspaper as a reporter. I sat in on City Council meetings, covering issues related to the lowering water table and interviewing local business owners for small blurbs in the local section, all the while wondering if I was uncovering some vague connections to an international conspiracy. The nights were altogether different. Every day, I would come home to my apartment and smoke pot, then lay on my couch watching television or head out to the bar and get so hammered that I couldn’t walk. It’s hard to admit, but the only time I felt relaxed was when I was drunk. I eventually lost my newspaper job, but that wasn’t the catalyst for change. It all came to a head one night in July. I had been out drinking all night and, in a haze, I decided it would be a good idea to drive the two miles back to my apartment. This is something I had done several times before, but it had never dawned on me that it was a serious deal. I thought I was doing well, not swerving and being only several blocks from my house, when I saw flashing lights behind me. What started as a trip to the bar to unwind ended with me calling my parents to bail me out of jail at 3 a.m. © 2014 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Schizophrenia; Drug Abuse
Link ID: 20045 - Posted: 09.08.2014

Ewen Callaway Caffeine's buzz is so nice it evolved twice. The coffee genome has now been published, and it reveals that the coffee plant makes caffeine using a different set of genes from those found in tea, cacao and other perk-you-up plants. Coffee plants are grown across some 11 million hectares of land, with more than two billion cups of the beverage drunk every day. It is brewed from the fermented, roasted and ground berries of Coffea canephora and Coffea arabica, known as robusta and arabica, respectively. An international team of scientists has now identified more than 25,000 protein-making genes in the robusta coffee genome. The species accounts for about one-third of the coffee produced, much of it for instant-coffee brands such as Nescafe. Arabica contains less caffeine, but its lower acidity and bitterness make it more flavourful to many coffee drinkers. However, the robusta species was selected for sequencing because its genome is simpler than arabica’s. Caffeine evolved long before sleep-deprived humans became addicted to it, probably to defend the coffee plant against predators and for other benefits. For example, coffee leaves contain the highest levels of caffeine of any part of the plant, and when they fall on the soil they stop other plants from growing nearby. “Caffeine also habituates pollinators and makes them want to come back for more, which is what it does to us, too,” says Victor Albert, a genome scientist at the University of Buffalo in New York, who co-led the sequencing effort. The results were published on 4 September in Science1. © 2014 Nature Publishing Group

Keyword: Drug Abuse; Evolution
Link ID: 20040 - Posted: 09.06.2014

On 5th May, 1953, the novelist Aldous Huxley dissolved four-tenths of a gram of mescaline in a glass of water, drank it, then sat back and waited for the drug to take effect. Huxley took the drug in his California home under the direct supervision of psychiatrist Humphry Osmond, to whom Huxley had volunteered himself as “a willing and eager guinea pig”. Osmond was one of a small group of psychiatrists who pioneered the use of LSD as a treatment for alcoholism and various mental disorders in the early 1950s. He coined the term psychedelic, meaning ‘mind manifesting’ and although his research into the therapeutic potential of LSD produced promising initial results, it was halted during the 1960s for social and political reasons. Born in Surrey in 1917, Osmond studied medicine at Guy’s Hospital, London. He served in the navy as a ship’s psychiatrist during World War II, and afterwards worked in the psychiatric unit at St. George’s Hospital, London, where he became a senior registrar. While at St. George’s, Osmond and his colleague John Smythies learned about Albert Hoffman’s discovery of LSD at the Sandoz Pharmaceutical Company in Bazel, Switzerland. Osmond and Smythies started their own investigation into the properties of hallucinogens and observed that mescaline produced effects similar to the symptoms of schizophrenia, and that its chemical structure was very similar to that of the hormone and neurotransmitter adrenaline. This led them to postulate that schizophrenia was caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, but these ideas were not favourably received by their colleagues. In 1951 Osmond took a post as deputy director of psychiatry at the Weyburn Mental Hospital in Saskatchewan, Canada and moved there with his family. Within a year, he began collaborating on experiments using LSD with Abram Hoffer. Osmond tried LSD himself and concluded that the drug could produce profound changes in consciousness. Osmond and Hoffer also recruited volunteers to take LSD and theorised that the drug was capable of inducing a new level of self-awareness which may have enormous therapeutic potential. © 2014 Guardian News and Media Limited

Keyword: Drug Abuse; Depression
Link ID: 20036 - Posted: 09.04.2014

|By Roni Jacobson Almost immediately after Albert Hofmann discovered the hallucinogenic properties of LSD in the 1940s, research on psychedelic drugs took off. These consciousness-altering drugs showed promise for treating anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and addiction, but increasing government conservatism caused a research blackout that lasted decades. Lately, however, there has been a resurgence of interest in psychedelics as possible therapeutic agents. This past spring Swiss researchers published results from the first drug trial involving LSD in more than 40 years. Although the freeze on psychedelic research is thawing, scientists say that restrictive drug policies are continuing to hinder their progress. In the U.S., LSD, psilocybin, MDMA, DMT, peyote, cannabis and ibogaine (a hallucinogen derived from an African shrub) are all classified as Schedule I illegal drugs, which the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration defines as having a high potential for abuse and no currently accepted medical applications—despite extensive scientific evidence to the contrary. In a joint report released in June, the Drug Policy Alliance and the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies catalogue several ways in which they say that the DEA has unfairly obstructed research on psychedelics, including by overruling an internal recommendation in 1986 that MDMA be placed on a less restrictive schedule. The DEA and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration maintain that there is insufficient research to justify recategorization. This stance creates a catch-22 by basing the decision on the need for more research while limiting the ability of scientists to conduct that research. © 2014 Scientific American

Keyword: Depression; Drug Abuse
Link ID: 20004 - Posted: 08.28.2014

Daniel Cressey In many respects, the modern electronic cigarette is not so different from its leaf-and-paper predecessor. Take a drag from the mouthpiece and you get a genuine nicotine fix — albeit from a fluid wicked into the chamber of a battery-powered atomizer and vaporized by a heating element. Users exhale a half-convincing cloud of ‘smoke’, and many e-cigarettes even sport an LED at the tip that glows blue, green or classic red to better simulate the experience romanticized by countless writers and film-makers. The only things missing are the dozens of cancer-causing chemicals found in this digital wonder’s analogue forebears. E-cigarettes — also known as personal vaporizers or electronic nicotine-delivery systems among other names — are perhaps the most disruptive devices that public-health researchers working on tobacco control have ever faced. To some, they promise to snuff out a behaviour responsible for around 100 million deaths in the twentieth century. Others fear that they could perpetuate the habit, and undo decades of work. Now, a group once united against a common enemy is divided. “These devices have really polarized the tobacco-control community,” says Michael Siegel, a physician and tobacco researcher at Boston University School of Public Health in Massachusetts. “You now have two completely opposite extremes with almost no common ground between them.” Evidence is in short supply on both sides. Even when studies do appear, they are often furiously debated. And it is not just researchers who are attempting to catch up with the products now pouring out of Chinese factories: conventional tobacco companies are pushing into the nascent industry, and regulators are scrambling to work out what to do. © 2014 Nature Publishing Group

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 20000 - Posted: 08.27.2014

By Chelsea Rice Opioid-related overdose deaths are a bleak public health issue in this country. The percentage of patients who receive opioid prescriptions to treat noncancer pain has almost doubled in the past decade, but the number of overdose-related deaths for women have increased five times as much, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. To put the nationwide stats in perspective, more women have died each year from drug overdoses than from motor vehicle-related injuries since 2007. For men in the past decade, the rate of opioid overdose deaths has increased three-fold. According to the CDC, women in particular are more likely to be prescribed opioid pain relievers than men, more likely to use them chronically, and more likely to be prescribed them in higher doses. But what if medical marijuana, another option for treating chronic pain, could have an impact on these staggering statistics? Research published today in JAMA Internal Medicine found that states with medical marijuana laws before 2010 had 24.8 percent lower annual opioid overdose deaths on average when compared to states where medical marijuana was illegal. Medical cannabis laws were associated in the study with lower overdose mortality rates that generally strengthened over time. In 2010, for instance, researchers noticed there were 1,729 fewer deaths in states where medical marijuana was legal. The research team, lead by Dr. Marcus A. Bachhuber at the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center, examined state medical marijuana laws and opioid overdose deaths using death certificate data from 1999 to 2010.

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 19993 - Posted: 08.26.2014

By DAVE PHILIPPS WRAY, Colo. — Behind a tall curtain of corn that hides their real cash crop from prying eyes, the Stanley family is undertaking an audacious effort to expand their medical marijuana business to a national market. For years, the five Stanley brothers, who sell a nonintoxicating strain of cannabis that has gained national attention as a treatment for epilepsy, have grown medical marijuana in greenhouses, under tight state and federal regulations. But this year, they are not only growing marijuana outdoors by the acre, they also plan to ship an oil extracted from their plants to other states. The plan would seem to defy a federal prohibition on the sale of marijuana products across state lines. But the Stanleys have justified it with a simple semantic swap: They now call their crop industrial hemp, based on its low levels of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in pot. “The jump to industrial hemp means we can serve thousands of people instead of hundreds,” said Jared Stanley, 27, who wore muddy Carhartts and a rainbow friendship bracelet as he knelt down to prune his plants. Colorado, which has legalized the sale of marijuana for recreational and medical use, has accepted the new designation. But the real question is whether the federal government will go along. If it does, the impact would be significant, opening the door to interstate sales not just by the Stanleys, but possibly by scores of other medical cannabis growers across the country. But if it does not, the Stanley brothers could be shut down by federal agents. So far, the Drug Enforcement Administration is offering few clues, insisting in public statements that while it is willing to allow marijuana sales in states that have legalized the drug, it might step in if growers try to sell beyond state borders. © 2014 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 19990 - Posted: 08.25.2014

By TARA PARKER-POPE When the antidrug educator Tim Ryan talks to students, he often asks them what they know about marijuana. “It’s a plant,” is a common response. But more recently, the answer has changed. Now they reply, “It’s legal in Colorado.” These are confusing times for middle and high school students, who for most of their young lives have been lectured about the perils of substance abuse, particularly marijuana. Now it seems that the adults in their lives have done an about-face. Recreational marijuana is legal in Colorado and in Washington, and many other states have approved it for medical use. Lawmakers, the news media and even parents are debating the merits of full-scale legalization. “They are growing up in a generation where marijuana used to be bad, and maybe now it’s not bad,” said Mr. Ryan, a senior prevention specialist with FCD Educational Services, an antidrug group that works with students in the classroom. “Their parents are telling them not to do it, but they may be supporting legalization of it at the same time.” Antidrug advocates say efforts to legalize marijuana have created new challenges as they work to educate teenagers and their parents about the unique risks that alcohol, marijuana and other drugs pose to the developing teenage brain. These educators say their goal is not to vilify marijuana or take a stand on legalization; instead, they say their role is to convince young people and their parents that the use of drugs is not just a moral or legal issue, but a significant health issue. “The health risks are real,” said Steve Pasierb, the chief executive of the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. “Every passing year, science unearths more health risks about why any form of substance use is unhealthy for young people.” © 2014 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Drug Abuse; Development of the Brain
Link ID: 19976 - Posted: 08.19.2014

By NICHOLAS BAKALAR A new study reports that caffeine intake is associated with a reduced risk for tinnitus — ringing or buzzing in the ears. Researchers tracked caffeine use and incidents of tinnitus in 65,085 women in the Nurses’ Health Study II. They were 30 to 34 and without tinnitus at the start of the study. Over the next 18 years, 5,289 developed the disorder. The women recorded their use of soda, coffee and tea (caffeinated and not), as well as intake of candy and chocolate, which can contain caffeine. The results appear in the August issue of The American Journal of Medicine. Compared with women who consumed less than 150 milligrams of caffeine a day (roughly the amount in an eight-ounce cup of coffee), those who had 450 to 599 milligrams a day were 15 percent less likely to have tinnitus, and those who consumed 600 milligrams or more were 21 percent less likely. The association persisted after controlling for other hearing problems, hypertension, diabetes, use of anti-inflammatory Nsaid drugs, a history of depression and other factors. Decaffeinated coffee consumption had no effect on tinnitus risk. “We can’t conclude that caffeine is a cure for tinnitus,” said the lead author, Dr. Jordan T. Glicksman, a resident physician at the University of Western Ontario. “But our results should provide some assurance to people who do drink caffeine that it’s reasonable to continue doing so.” © 2014 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Hearing
Link ID: 19955 - Posted: 08.14.2014

Sara Reardon When the states of Colorado and Washington voted to legalize marijuana in 2012, the abrupt and unprecedented policy switch sent the US National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) into what its director Nora Volkow describes as “red alarm”. Although marijuana remained illegal for people under the age of 21, the drug’s increased availability and growing public acceptance suggested that teenagers might be more likely to try it (see ‘Highs and lows’). Almost nothing is known about whether or how marijuana affects the developing adolescent brain, especially when used with alcohol and other drugs. The new laws, along with advances in brain-imaging technology, convinced Volkow to accelerate the launch of an ambitious effort to follow 10,000 US adolescents for ten years in an attempt to determine whether marijuana, alcohol and nicotine use are associated with changes in brain function and behaviour. At a likely cost of more than US$300 million, it will be the largest longitudinal brain-imaging study of adolescents yet. Researchers are eager to study a poorly understood period of human development — but some question whether it is possible to design a programme that will provide useful information about the effects of drugs. “It’s definitely an idea that’s overdue,” says Deanna Barch, a psychologist at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. “The downside is it’s a lot of eggs in one basket.” © 2014 Nature Publishing Group,

Keyword: Development of the Brain; Drug Abuse
Link ID: 19949 - Posted: 08.13.2014

By Lenny Bernstein, Lena H. Sun and Sandhya Somashekhar Suicides are the 10th-leading cause of death in the United States and eighth among people in the 55- to 64-year-old age group. Comedian Robin Williams, who died Monday of an apparent suicide, was 63. In 2010, 38,364 people died this way. Many suicides are the result of undiagnosed or untreated depression, often masked by self-medicating behaviors such as alcohol and drug use. Though we don’t yet know the exact circumstances of Williams’s death, we do know that he long battled addictions to cocaine and alcohol and, according to his publicist, was struggling with “severe depression.” But unlike many people, Williams had the resources and the motivation to seek treatment, at least for his addictions. According to this report, he had undergone rehab at the famed Hazelden Addiction Treatment Center in Minnesota two months ago, and had sought treatment in 2006 when he began drinking again after 20 years of sobriety. How, then, do we explain the death of someone who appeared to recognize the danger he faced and was trying to address it? Here are some thoughts: • Suicides are often impulsive acts: People who kill themselves are not thinking clearly, have trouble solving problems and weigh risks differently from us, Jill Harkavy-Friedman, vice president of research for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, told To Your Health in March. If thwarted in their first attempt, they often do not try again immediately, she said.

Keyword: Depression; Drug Abuse
Link ID: 19947 - Posted: 08.13.2014

By KATHARINE Q. SEELYE SPARTA, N.J. — When Gail Morris came home late one night after taking her daughter to college, she saw her teenage son, Alex, asleep on the sofa in the family room. Nothing seemed amiss. An unfinished glass of apple juice sat on the table. She tucked him in under a blanket and went to bed. The next morning, he would not wake up. He was stiff and was hardly breathing. Over the next several hours, Ms. Morris was shocked to learn that her son had overdosed on heroin. She was told he would not survive. He did survive, but barely. He was in a coma for six weeks. He went blind and had no function in his arms or legs. He could not speak or swallow. Hospitalized for 14 months, Alex, who is 6-foot-1, dropped to 90 pounds. One of his doctors said that Alex had come as close to dying as anyone he knew who had not actually died. Most people who overdose on heroin either die or fully recover. But Alex plunged into a state that was neither dead nor functional. There are no national statistics on how often opioid overdose leads to cases like Alex’s, but doctors say they worry that with the dramatic increase in heroin abuse and overdoses, they will see more such outcomes. “I would expect that we will,” said Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. “They are starting to report isolated cases like this. And I would not be surprised if you have more intermediate cases with more subtle impairment.” More than 660,000 Americans used heroin in 2012, the federal government says, double the number of five years earlier. Officials attribute much of the increase to a crackdown on prescription painkillers, prompting many users to turn to heroin, which is cheaper and easier to get than other opioids. © 2014 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Consciousness; Drug Abuse
Link ID: 19935 - Posted: 08.11.2014