Chapter 4. The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology

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Links 1 - 20 of 1947

By FRANCES ROBLES MIAMI — A hazardous new synthetic drug originating in China is being blamed for 18 recent deaths in a single South Florida county, as police grapple with an inexpensive narcotic that causes exaggerated strength and dangerous paranoid hallucinations. On Thursday, the Fort Lauderdale police killed a man, reportedly high on the man-made street drug, alpha-PVP, known more commonly as flakka, who had held a woman hostage with a knife to her throat. The shooting of Javoris Washington, 29, was the latest in a series of volatile episodes that the police in South Florida have faced with highly aggressive drug users. Law enforcement agencies have had difficulty tamping down a surge in synthetic drugs, which were banned after becoming popular in clubs five years ago only to re-emerge deadlier than ever under new formulations. As soon as legislation catches up with the latest craze, manufacturers design a new drug to take its place, federal and local law enforcement agencies say. In Broward County, which includes Fort Lauderdale and is considered ground zero for the new drug, there have been 18 flakka-related fatalities since September, the chief medical examiner there said. “I have never seen such a rash of cases, all associated with the same substance,” said James N. Hall, an epidemiologist at Nova Southeastern University who has studied the Florida drug market for decades. “It’s probably the worst I have seen since the peak of crack cocaine. Rather than a drug, it’s really a poison.” © 2015 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 20974 - Posted: 05.25.2015

by Michael Le Page Humble fungi and a home-brewing kit could soon do what the combined might of the West failed to – halt the thriving poppy industry in Afghanistan, the source of 80 per cent of the world's opium. Genetically engineered yeasts could make it easy to produce opiates such as morphine anywhere, cutting out the international drug smugglers and making such drugs cheap and more readily available. If home-brew drugs become widespread, it would make the Sisyphean nature of stopping the supply of illegal narcotics even more obvious than it is now. "It would be as disruptive to drug enforcement policy as it would be to crime syndicates," says Tanya Bubela, a public health researcher at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada. "It may force the US to rethink its war on drugs." A growing number of drugs, scents and flavours once obtainable only from plants can now be made using genetically modified organisms. Researchers want to add opiates to that list because they are part of a family of molecules that may have useful medicinal properties (see box, below). Plant yields of many of these molecules are vanishingly small, and the chemicals are difficult and expensive to make in the lab. Getting yeast to pump them out would be far cheaper. Yeasts capable of doing this do not exist yet, but none of the researchers that New Scientist spoke to had any doubt that they soon will. "The field is moving much faster than we had previous realised," says John Dueber of the University of California, Berkeley, whose team has just created a yeast that produces the main precursor of opiates. Until recently, Dueber had thought the creation of, say, a morphine-making yeast was 10 years away. He now thinks a low-yielding strain could be made in two or three years.

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 20951 - Posted: 05.19.2015

Andrew Griffin Evidence that ecigs help people stop smoking real ones is lacking, according to a new analysis. Electronic cigarettes seem to work for the first month, but there isn’t enough evidence to say that they work for longer periods, researchers said. "Until such data are available, there are a number of other smoking cessation aids available that have a more robust evidence base supporting their efficacy and safety,” said lead author of the study Riyad al-Leheb, from the University of Toronto. The analysis looked at four studies of how effective and safe ecigs were, which together had studied 1011 patients. It found that after one month, using ecigs had significantly improved the amount of people that had stopped smoking. But that effect appeared to have gone at three or six months. That included studies on people who had used a placebo against those who had used ecigarettes, as well as those who had used nicotine patches. As well as the apparent lack of permanent help, the analysis found that some studies had found people reported dry cough, throat irritation and shortness of breath. While those adverse effects weren’t any worse among those that used placebo ecigs, they were much less prevalent among those that had used nicotine patches.

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 20943 - Posted: 05.18.2015

John Crace After over a year working in Westminster as this paper’s parliamentary sketchwriter, I thought I had learned a thing or two about bearpits. That was before I agreed to second Prof Allan Young in speaking against the motion that “This House believes that the long-term use of psychiatric medications is causing more harm than good”. It turned out that politicians are almost models of decency compared to psychiatrists fighting their own corner. I had wondered why I had been invited. I have no scientific knowledge of the subject under discussion; all I had to offer was my own personal experience of living with episodes of depression and acute anxiety for more than 20 years. For me, a combination of medication and therapy has proved effective; not so effective as to prevent recurrences of these mental health problems all together, but effective enough for me to have managed them without having to return as an in-patient at the psychiatric hospital I wound up in 20 years earlier. I could perhaps have done more to look after myself, I suppose. I could have given up my Spurs season ticket. But apart from that … Having raised concerns about my credentials, I was assured that it was important to have a patient’s voice heard. I thought so, too. So I agreed. But on the way home from the debate last night, I did wonder if the reason I had been asked was because everyone else had turned them down. Things didn’t get off to a great start, when there was a pre-debate vote in the packed theatre at King’s College’s Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, which had apparently sold out within hours of the tickets being made available in March. 126 people – a mixture of mental health practitioners, students and members of the public – believed the motion to be correct; 28 abstained, and only 64 were on my side. © 2015 Guardian News and Media Limited

Keyword: Depression
Link ID: 20936 - Posted: 05.16.2015

By SABRINA TAVERNISE WASHINGTON — What would make a smoker more likely to quit, a big reward for succeeding or a little penalty for failing? That is what researchers wanted to know when they assigned a large group of CVS employees, their relatives and friends to different smoking cessation programs. The answer offered a surprising insight into human behavior. Many more people agreed to sign up for the reward program, but once they were in it, only a small share actually quit smoking. A far smaller number agreed to risk the penalty, but those who did were twice as likely to quit. The trial, which was described in The New England Journal of Medicine on Wednesday, was the largest yet to test whether offering people financial incentives could lead to better health. It used theories about human decision making that have been developed in psychology and economics departments over several decades and put them into practice with more than 2,500 people who either worked at CVS Caremark, the country’s largest drugstore chain by sales, or were friends or relatives of those employees. Researchers found that offering incentives was far more effective in getting people to stop smoking than the traditional approach of giving free smoking cessation help, such as counseling or nicotine replacement therapy like gum, medication or patches. But they also found that requiring a $150 deposit that would be lost if the person failed to stay off cigarettes for six months nearly doubled the chances of success. “Adding a bit of a stick was much better than a pure carrot,” said Dr. Scott Halpern, deputy director of the Center for Health Incentives and Behavioral Economics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, who led the study. © 2015 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 20925 - Posted: 05.14.2015

By ANDREW POLLACK A study of an obesity drug has ended after the manufacturer released early and ultimately misleading data, researchers said on Tuesday. The company, Orexigen Therapeutics, disclosed in March that early results from a clinical trial of its drug Contrave had shown a 41 percent reduction in the risk of heart attacks, strokes and death from cardiovascular causes. Orexigen’s stock shot up, and the information no doubt helped lift sales of Contrave. But the academic researchers who oversaw the study said on Tuesday that Orexigen had violated an agreement that the early results were not going to be shared widely, even within the company. Moreover, as participants in the trial were followed for a longer period of time, the benefit of the drug in reducing cardiovascular risks vanished. The researchers, in a news release issued by the Cleveland Clinic, said they took the unusual step of terminating the study and releasing the more updated results. “We felt it was unacceptable to allow misleading interim data to be in the public domain and be acted upon by patients and providers,” Dr. Steven Nissen, chairman of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic and head of the trial’s steering committee, said in an interview. He said Orexigen had “acted improperly and unethically in violating the data access agreement” and the premature release of data had made it difficult to continue the study. It’s unlikley that patients would want to stay in the trial and risk getting a placebo if they thought the drug, which is already available on the market, could reduce their risk of heart attacks. © 2015 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Obesity
Link ID: 20921 - Posted: 05.13.2015

Sarah Boseley Health editor Psychiatric drugs do more harm than good and the use of most antidepressants and dementia drugs could be virtually stopped without causing harm, an expert on clinical trials argues in a leading medical journal. The views expressed in a British Medical Journal debate by Peter Gøtzsche, professor and director of the Nordic Cochrane Centre in Denmark, are strongly opposed by many experts in mental health. However, others say the debate around the use of psychiatric drugs is important and acknowledge that there has been overuse of antipsychotics to quieten aggressive patients with dementia. Gøtzsche says more than half a million people over the age of 65 die as a result of the use of psychiatric drugs every year in the western world. “Their benefits would need to be colossal to justify this, but they are minimal,” he writes. He claims that trials carried out with funding from drug companies into the efficacy of psychiatric drugs have almost all been biased, because the patients involved have usually been on other medication first. They stop their drugs and often experience a withdrawal phase prior to starting the trial drug, which then appears to have a big benefit. He also claims that deaths from suicide in clinical trials are under-reported. In trials of the modern antidepressants fluoxetine and venlafaxine, says Gøtzsche, it takes only a few extra days for depression in the placebo group – given dummy pills – to lift as much as in the group given the drugs. He argues that there is spontaneous remission of the disease over time. © 2015 Guardian News and Media Limited

Keyword: Depression; Schizophrenia
Link ID: 20919 - Posted: 05.13.2015

Aaron E. Carroll When I was a kid, my parents refused to let me drink coffee because they believed it would “stunt my growth.” It turns out, of course, that this is a myth. Studies have failed, again and again, to show that coffee or caffeine consumption are related to reduced bone mass or how tall people are. Coffee has long had a reputation as being unhealthy. But in almost every single respect that reputation is backward. The potential health benefits are surprisingly large. When I set out to look at the research on coffee and health, I thought I’d see it being associated with some good outcomes and some bad ones, mirroring the contradictory reports you can often find in the news media. This didn’t turn out to be the case. Just last year, a systematic review and meta-analysis of studies looking at long-term consumption of coffee and the risk of cardiovascular disease was published. The researchers found 36 studies involving more than 1,270,000 participants. The combined data showed that those who consumed a moderate amount of coffee, about three to five cups a day, were at the lowest risk for problems. Those who consumed five or more cups a day had no higher risk than those who consumed none. Of course, everything I’m saying here concerns coffee — black coffee. I am not talking about the mostly milk and sugar coffee-based beverages that lots of people consume. These could include, but aren’t limited to, things like a McDonald’s large mocha (500 calories, 17 grams of fat, 72 grams of carbohydrates), a Starbucks Venti White Chocolate Mocha (580 calories, 22 grams of fat, 79 grams of carbs), and a Large Dunkin’ Donuts frozen caramel coffee Coolatta (670 calories, 8 grams of fat, 144 grams of carbs). I won’t even mention the Cold Stone Creamery Gotta-Have-It-Sized Lotta Caramel Latte (1,790 calories, 90 grams of fat, 223 grams of carbs). Regular brewed coffee has 5 or fewer calories and no fat or carbohydrates. © 2015 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 20908 - Posted: 05.12.2015

by Clare Wilson IT IS considered a soft drug, but increasing numbers of people are seeking help for cannabis addiction – and there's growing interest in finding ways to treat them. Paradoxically, the most promising treatment may be an extract of cannabis. Last month, researchers at the British Neuroscience Association meeting in Edinburgh, UK, described how the compound, called cannabidiol, helped one person who was severely addicted. A clinical trial is underway. Unlike most forms of drug addiction, there are no medical treatments to help people reduce their cannabis use. "Cannabis dependence is a huge unmet need with no pharmacological treatments," says Tom Freeman of University College London, who is involved in the trial. "It's vital we get one." A possible connection between smoking pot and schizophrenia is fairly well known, but the link is controversial and it affects only a small minority of users. Addiction seems to be a more common problem – yet is often overlooked. There is no universal definition of addiction or dependence. Someone is usually deemed to be addicted to a drug if they want to stop but cannot, or if it has a negative impact on their life. They would probably be experiencing withdrawal symptoms that make it hard to give up. In the case of heavy cannabis use, these can include anxiety and insomnia.

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 20900 - Posted: 05.08.2015

By ANDREW HIGGINS OSLO — In a country so wary of drug abuse that it limits the sale of aspirin, Pal-Orjan Johansen, a Norwegian researcher, is pushing what would seem a doomed cause: the rehabilitation of LSD. It matters little to him that the psychedelic drug has been banned here and around the world for more than 40 years. Mr. Johansen pitches his effort not as a throwback to the hippie hedonism of the 1960s, but as a battle for human rights and good health. In fact, he also wants to manufacture MDMA and psilocybin, the active ingredients in two other prohibited substances, Ecstasy and so-called magic mushrooms. All of that might seem quixotic at best, if only Mr. Johansen and EmmaSofia, the psychedelics advocacy group he founded with his American-born wife and fellow scientist, Teri Krebs, had not already won some unlikely supporters, including a retired Norwegian Supreme Court judge who serves as their legal adviser. The group, whose name derives from street slang for MDMA and the Greek word for wisdom, stands in the vanguard of a global movement now pushing to revise drug policies set in the 1970s. That it has gained traction in a country so committed to controlling drug use shows how much old orthodoxies have crumbled. The Norwegian group wants not only to stir discussion about prohibited drugs, but also to manufacture them, in part, it argues, to guarantee that they are safe. It recently began an online campaign to raise money so that it can, in cooperation with a Norwegian pharmaceuticals company, start quality-controlled production of psilocybin and MDMA, drugs that Mr. Johansen says saved and transformed his life. © 2015 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 20886 - Posted: 05.05.2015

By REUTERS NEW YORK — The mouse walked, the mouse stopped; the mouse ignored a bowl of food, then scampered back and gobbled it up, and it was all controlled by neuroscientists, researchers reported on Thursday. The study, describing a way to manipulate a lab animal's brain circuitry accurately enough to turn behaviors both on and off, is the first to be published under President Barack Obama's 2013 BRAIN Initiative, which aims to advance neuroscience and develop therapies for brain disorders. The point of the remote-control mouse is not to create an army of robo-rodents. Instead, neuroscientists hope to perfect a technique for identifying brain wiring underlying any behavior, and control that behavior by activating and deactivating neurons. If scientists are able do that for the circuitry involved in psychiatric or neurological disorders, it may lead to therapies. That approach reflects a shift away from linking such illnesses to "chemical imbalances" in the brain, instead tracing them to miswiring and misfiring in neuronal circuits. "This tool sharpens the cutting edge of research aimed at improving our understanding of brain circuit disorders, such as schizophrenia and addictive behaviors," said Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, which funded the $1 million study. The technique used to control neurons is called DREADDs (designer receptors exclusively activated by designer drugs). Brain neurons are genetically engineered to produce a custom-made - "designer" - receptor. When the receptor gathers in a manmade molecule that fits like a key in a lock, the neuron is activated. © 2015 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 20881 - Posted: 05.04.2015

Scott Hensley When patients brought to the ER have uncontrolled blood pressure, neglected asthma or diabetes that hasn't been dealt with, doctors often start treatment right then and there. But what happens when the patient turns out to be addicted to opioids, such as oxycodone or heroin? In case of an overdose, the medical team can take action to rescue the patient. The underlying addiction is something else, though. Like asthma or diabetes, opioid addiction is a chronic condition. Could starting treatment for addiction in the ER get someone on right road faster? Doctors at Yale University thought it was possible. "You can normalize this chronic disease like any other chronic disease," says Dr. Gail D'Onofrio, chief of emergency medicine at Yale's med school. A kit with naloxone, also known by its brand name Narcan, is displayed at the South Jersey AIDS Alliance in Atlantic City. Naloxone counters an overdose with heroin or certain prescription painkillers by blocking the receptors these opioids bind to in the brain. She and her colleagues at Yale-New Haven Hospital in Connecticut tested whether prescribing medicine to ease withdrawal symptoms in combination with a brief counseling intervention and a focused referral for help would improve the chances a person would get into addiction treatment. It worked pretty well, according to results of a study published Tuesday in JAMA, the journal of the American Medical Association. © 2015 NPR

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 20862 - Posted: 04.30.2015

|By Rebecca Harrington Kraft Macaroni & Cheese—that favorite food of kids, packaged in the nostalgic blue box—will soon be free of yellow dye. Kraft announced Monday that it will remove artificial food coloring, notably Yellow No. 5 and Yellow No. 6 dyes, from its iconic product by January 2016. Instead, the pasta will maintain its bright yellow color by using natural ingredients: paprika, turmeric and annatto (the latter of which is derived from achiote tree seeds). The company said it decided to pull the dyes in response to growing consumer pressure for more natural foods. But claims that the dyes may be linked to attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children have also risen recently, as they did years ago, putting food dyes under sharp focus once again. On its Web site Kraft says synthetic colors are not harmful, and that their motivation to remove them is because consumers want more foods with no artificial colors. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration maintains artificial food dyes are safe but some research studies have found the dyes can contribute to hyperactive behavior in children. Food dyes have been controversial since pediatrician Benjamin Feingold published findings in the 1970s that suggested a link between artificial colors and hyperactive behavior, but scientists, consumers and the government have not yet reached a consensus on the extent of this risk or the correct path to address it. After a 2007 study in the U.K. showed that artificial colors and/or the common preservative sodium benzoate increased hyperactivity in children, the European Union started requiring food labels indicating that a product contains any one of six dyes that had been investigated. The label states the product "may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children." © 2015 Scientific American

Keyword: ADHD; Neurotoxins
Link ID: 20851 - Posted: 04.28.2015

By ALAN SCHWARZ A sharp rise in visits to emergency rooms and calls to poison control centers nationwide has some health officials fearing that more potent and dangerous variations of a popular drug known as spice have reached the nation’s streets, resulting in several deaths. In the first three weeks of April, state poison control centers received about 1,000 reports of adverse reactions to spice — the street name for a family of synthetic substances that mimic the effects of marijuana — more than doubling the total from January through March, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers. The cases, which can involve spice alone or in combination with other substances, have appeared four times as often this year as in 2014, the organization said. On Thursday alone there were 172 reports, by far the most in one day this year. Health departments in Alabama, Mississippi and New York have issued alerts this month about more spice users being rushed to hospitals experiencing extreme anxiety, violent behavior and delusions, with some of the cases resulting in death. Similar increases have occurred in Arizona, Florida, New Jersey and Texas. The total number of fatalities nationwide this year is not available, health officials said. One person in Louisiana died Wednesday and two others were in intensive care, said Mark Ryan, the director of the Louisiana Poison Center. “We had one hospital in the Baton Rouge area that saw over 110 cases in February. That’s a huge spike,” Dr. Ryan said. “There’s a large amount of use going on. When one of these new ingredients — something that’s more potent and gives a bigger high — is released and gets into distribution, it can cause these more extreme effects.” © 2015 The New York Times Compan

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 20848 - Posted: 04.25.2015

|By Tara Haelle When it comes to treating attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) a lot of kids are getting the meds they need—but they may be missing out on other treatments. Despite clinical guidelines that urge that behavioral therapy always be used alongside medication, less than half of the children with ADHD received therapy as part of treatment in 2009 and 2010, according to the first nationally representative study of ADHD treatment in U.S. children. The findings, published online March 31 in The Journal of Pediatrics, come from data collected during that period on 9,459 children, aged four to 17, with diagnosed ADHD—just before the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued its clinical practice guidelines on treatments of the condition in 2011. They provide a baseline for comparison when the next report is issued in 2017. Medication alone was the most common treatment for children with ADHD: 74 percent had taken medication in the previous week whereas 44 percent had received behavioral therapy in the past year. Just under a third of children of all ages had received both medication and behavioral therapy, the AAP-recommended treatment for all ages. “It’s not at all surprising that medication is the most common treatment,” says Heidi Feldman, a professor of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Stanford University School of Medicine who served on the AAP clinical practice guidelines committee. “It works very effectively to reduce the core symptoms of the condition,” she adds, “and stimulants are relatively safe if used properly. The limitation of stimulant medications for ADHD is that studies do not show a long-term functional benefit from medication use.” © 2015 Scientific American

Keyword: ADHD
Link ID: 20827 - Posted: 04.21.2015

By ALAN SCHWARZ Fading fast at 11 p.m., Elizabeth texted her dealer and waited just 30 minutes for him to reach her third-floor New York apartment. She handed him a wad of twenties and fifties, received a tattered envelope of pills, and returned to her computer. Her PowerPoint needed another four hours. Investors in her health-technology start-up wanted re-crunched numbers, a presentation begged for bullet points and emails from global developers would keep arriving well past midnight. She gulped down one pill — pale orange, like baby aspirin — and then, reconsidering, took one of the pinks, too. “O.K., now I can work,” Elizabeth exhaled. Several minutes later, she felt her brain snap to attention. She pushed her glasses up her nose and churned until 7 a.m. Only then did she sleep for 90 minutes, before arriving at her office at 9. The pills were versions of the drug Adderall, an amphetamine-based stimulant prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder that many college students have long used illicitly while studying. Now, experts say, stimulant abuse is graduating into the work force. But in interviews, dozens of people in a wide spectrum of professions said they and co-workers misused stimulants like Adderall, Vyvanse and Concerta to improve work performance. Most spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of losing their jobs or access to the medication. Doctors and medical ethicists expressed concern for misusers’ health, as stimulants can cause anxiety, addiction and hallucinations when taken in high doses. But they also worried about added pressure in the workplace — where the use by some pressures more to join the trend. © 2015 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Drug Abuse; ADHD
Link ID: 20821 - Posted: 04.20.2015

By KATIE THOMAS Last fall, an article in the American Journal of Psychiatry caught the attention of specialists who treat borderline personality disorder, an intractable condition for which no approved drug treatment exists. The article seemed to offer a glimmer of hope: The antipsychotic drug Seroquel XR reduced some of the disorder’s worst symptoms in a significant number of patients. “It was an exciting development,” recalled Mark F. Lenzenweger, a professor at Binghamton University and Weill Cornell Medical College and an expert in borderline personality disorder. In the realm of clinical trials, however, reality is sometimes far messier than the tidy summaries in medical journals. A closer look at the Seroquel XR study shows just how complicated things can get when a clinical trial involves psychiatric disorders and has its roots in intersecting and sometimes competing interests: a drug company looking to hold onto sales of a best-selling drug, a prominent academic with strong ties to the pharmaceutical industry and a university under fire for failing to protect human study subjects. The trial was paid for by AstraZeneca, the maker of Seroquel XR, and was conducted by Dr. S. Charles Schulz, the head of psychiatry at the University of Minnesota. Two of the study participants were living in a residential treatment facility for sex offenders and may have lied about their diagnosis to qualify for the trial. One of those men slipped the drugs to unwitting treatment center residents and staff, an alarming development that nevertheless did not seem to ruffle the university oversight board that is charged with looking into such episodes. The University of Minnesota’s clinical trial practices are now under intense scrutiny. In February, a panel of outside experts excoriated the university for failing to properly oversee clinical trials and for paying inadequate attention to the protection of vulnerable subjects. The review, commissioned by the university after years of criticism of its research practices, singled out Dr. Schulz and his department of psychiatry, describing “a culture of fear” that pervaded the department. © 2015 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Schizophrenia
Link ID: 20814 - Posted: 04.18.2015

By SABRINA TAVERNISE E-cigarettes have arrived in the life of the American teenager. Use of the devices among middle- and high school students tripled from 2013 to 2014, according to federal data released on Thursday, bringing the share of high school students who use them to 13 percent — more than smoke traditional cigarettes. About a quarter of all high school students and 8 percent of middle school students — 4.6 million young people altogether — used tobacco in some form last year. The sharp rise of e-cigarettes, together with a substantial increase in the use of hookah pipes, led to 400,000 additional young people using a tobacco product in 2014, the first increase in years, though researchers pointed out the percentage of the rise fell within the report’s margin of error. But the report also told another story. From 2011 to 2014, the share of high school students who smoked traditional cigarettes declined substantially, to 9 percent from 16 percent, and use of cigars and pipes ebbed too. The shift suggested that some teenage smokers may be using e-cigarettes to quit. Smoking is still the single-biggest cause of preventable death in the United States, killing more than 480,000 Americans a year, and most scientists agree that e-cigarettes, which deliver the nicotine but not the dangerous tar and other chemicals, are likely to be far less harmful than traditional cigarettes. The numbers came as a surprise and seemed to put policy makers into uncharted territory. The Food and Drug Administration took its first tentative step toward regulating e-cigarettes last year, but the process is slow, and many experts worry that habits are forming far faster than rules are being written. Because e-cigarettes are so new, scientists are still gathering evidence on their long-term health effects, leaving regulators scrambling to gather data. © 2015 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 20811 - Posted: 04.18.2015

by Beth Mole Small doses of lead may have big impacts on reading and math scores, scientists report April 7 in Environmental Health. Researchers looked at third grade test scores and levels of lead in blood samples from 58,650 students in Chicago public schools. As little as 2 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood was associated with lower reading and math scores. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that anything above 5 micrograms per deciliter is of concern. The researchers estimate that childhood lead levels at or above 5 micrograms per deciliter of blood accounted for as many as 25 percent of the children in the study failing reading and math standardized tests. The findings confirm that lead exposure, even at low doses, is associated with poor school performance. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2015

Keyword: Development of the Brain; Neurotoxins
Link ID: 20809 - Posted: 04.18.2015

By Laura Sanders To drive a rat to drink, make it smoke first. Rats dependent on nicotine escalate their drinking more quickly than rats that haven’t been exposed to nicotine, researchers report in the April 15 Journal of Neuroscience. The results help explain why alcohol and tobacco addictions in people often go hand in hand. After nicotine injections, rats that had previously been exposed to alcohol dosed themselves with more alcohol than rats unexposed to nicotine did. Scientists were able to curb this booziness: Rats injected with a compound that made brain cells ignore nicotine did not boost their intake of alcohol. The double whammy of nicotine and alcohol dependence may be due to a select group of nerve cells throughout the rat brain that respond to this nicotine-aided drinking, Olivier George of the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif., and colleagues found. If a similar response happens in humans, studying these particular nerve cells might ultimately lead to better ways to curb both alcohol and tobacco dependencies, the researchers write. R. Leão et al. Chronic nicotine activates stress/reward-related brain regions and facilitates the transition to compulsive alcohol drinking. Journal of Neuroscience. Vol. 35, April 15, 2015. doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3302-14.2015. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2015.

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 20799 - Posted: 04.15.2015