Chapter 4. The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology

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By CATHERINE SAINT LOUIS and MATT APUZZO The Obama administration is planning to remove a major roadblock to marijuana research, officials said Wednesday, potentially spurring broad scientific study of a drug that is being used to treat dozens of diseases in states across the nation despite little rigorous evidence of its effectiveness. The new policy is expected to sharply increase the supply of marijuana available to researchers. And in taking this step, the Obama administration is further relaxing the nation’s stance on marijuana. President Obama has said he views it as no more dangerous than alcohol, and the Justice Department has not stood in the way of states that have legalized the drug. For years, the University of Mississippi has been the only institution authorized to grow the drug for use in medical studies. This restriction has so limited the supply of marijuana federally approved for research purposes that scientists said it could often take years to obtain it and in some cases it was impossible to get. But soon the Drug Enforcement Administration will allow other universities to apply to grow marijuana, three government officials said. While 25 states have approved the medical use of marijuana for a growing list of conditions, including Parkinson’s, Crohn’s disease, Tourette’s syndrome, Alzheimer’s, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, the research to back up many of those treatments is thin. The new policy could begin to change that. “It will create a supply of research-grade marijuana that is diverse, but more importantly, it will be competitive and you will have growers motivated to meet the demand of researchers,” said John Hudak, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. The new policy will be published as soon as Thursday in the federal register, according to the three officials, who have seen the policy but spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss it. © 2016 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 22539 - Posted: 08.11.2016

By MARTHA C. WHITE A graphic 30-year-old drug education campaign from Partnership for a Drug-Free America is being updated. For a generation of commercial-watching adolescents, it was an indelible image: an egg, sizzling in a frying pan, representing “your brain on drugs.” It was a straightforward message, and the ad’s final line — “Any questions?” — asked as the egg white clouded and cooked, was strictly rhetorical. Three decades later, the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids (the group formerly known as the Partnership for a Drug-Free America) is bringing the frying pan out of retirement and firing up the stove again. But this time questions are the point. The group hopes it can tap into the nostalgia parents may have for the old frying egg ad while also letting them know their children do indeed want answers about drugs. “‘Any questions’ was the end. Now it’s the beginning,” said Scott Seymour, chief creative officer at BFG Communications, which created print and digital banner ads for the new campaign. “The landscape of drugs has really gotten a lot more complex, so we took this idea of having a succession of questions delivered by kids,” he said. The group drew on real inquiries from parents to develop the questions featured in the ads, which cover topics like prescription drugs and marijuana legalization. Children today feel empowered and entitled to ask questions about drugs, and parents are more willing to entertain those questions, observers say. “Because of parenting styles today, parents are engaged with their kids in a different way,” said Kristi Rowe, chief marketing officer at the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. “They’re really stumped by the questions. They don’t know how to answer them.” © 2016 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 22524 - Posted: 08.08.2016

Tina Hesman Saey Alcoholism may stem from using genes incorrectly, a study of hard-drinking rats suggests. Rats bred either to drink heavily or to shun alcohol have revealed 930 genes linked to a preference for drinking alcohol, researchers in Indiana report August 4 in PLOS Genetics. Human genetic studies have not found most of the genetic variants that put people at risk for alcoholism, says Michael Miles, a neurogenomicist at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. The new study takes a “significant and somewhat novel approach” to find the genetic differences that separate those who will become addicted to alcohol from those who drink in moderation. It took decades to craft the experiment, says study coauthor William Muir, a population geneticist at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind. Starting in the 1980s, rats bred at Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis were given a choice to drink pure water or water mixed with 10 percent ethanol, about the same amount of alcohol as in a weak wine. For more than 40 generations, researchers selected rats from each generation that voluntarily drank the most alcohol and bred them to create a line of rats that consume the rat equivalent of 25 cans of beer a day. Simultaneously, the researchers also selected rats that drank the least alcohol and bred them to make a line of low-drinking rats. A concurrent breeding program produced another line of high-drinking and teetotaling rats. For the new study, Muir and colleagues collected DNA from 10 rats from each of the high- and low-drinking lines. Comparing complete sets of genetic instructions from all the rats identified 930 genes that differ between the two lines. |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2016.

Keyword: Drug Abuse; Genes & Behavior
Link ID: 22521 - Posted: 08.06.2016

Janet Raloff Over the last three years, growing evidence has shown that electronic cigarettes are not the harmless alternative to smoking that many proponents have argued. Now, a new study traces a large share of e-cigs’ toxic gases to a heat-triggered breakdown of the liquids used to create the vapors. And the hotter an e-cig gets — and the more it’s used — the more toxic compounds it emits, the study shows. “There is this image that e-cigarettes are a lot better than regular cigarettes, if not harmless,” says Hugo Destaillats, a chemist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California. But after his team’s new analyses, published July 27 in Environmental Science & Technology, “we are now definitely convinced that they are far from harmless.” Electronic cigarettes draw liquids over one or more hot metal coils to transform them into vapors. Those liquids — polyethylene glycol, glycerin or a mix of the two — are food-grade solvents laced with flavorings and usually nicotine. The Berkeley team used two current models of e-cigs and three different commercially available e-liquids. The experimental setup mechanically drew air through the devices to create the vapors that a user would normally inhale. Heating up The higher an e-cigarette’s voltage, the more toxic aldehydes it produces in each puff of vapor. Once a certain threshold is hit, each voltage increase produces a disproportionate increase (see last bar) in acrolein, acetaldehyde and formaldehyde, three of the most harmful compounds in the vapor. |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2016

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 22490 - Posted: 07.28.2016

By KATHARINE Q. SEELYE PORTLAND, Me. — A woman in her 30s was sitting in a car in a parking lot here last month, shooting up heroin, when she overdosed. Even after the men she was with injected her with naloxone, the drug that reverses opioid overdoses, she remained unconscious. They called 911. Firefighters arrived and administered oxygen to improve her breathing, but her skin had grown gray and her lips had turned blue. As she lay on the asphalt, the paramedics slipped a needle into her arm and injected another dose of naloxone. In a moment, her eyes popped open. Her pupils were pinpricks. She was woozy and disoriented, but eventually got her bearings as paramedics put her on a stretcher and whisked her to a hospital. Every day across the country, hundreds, if not thousands, of people who overdose on opioids are being brought back to life with naloxone. Hailed as a miracle drug by many, it carries no health risk; it cannot be abused and, if given mistakenly to someone who has not overdosed on opioids, does no harm. More likely, it saves a life. As a virulent opioid epidemic continues to ravage the country, with 78 people in the United States dying of overdoses every day, naloxone’s use has increasingly moved out of medical settings, where it has been available since the 1970s, and into the homes and hands of the general public. But naloxone, also known by the brand name Narcan, has also had unintended consequences. Critics say that it gives drug users a safety net, allowing them to take more risks as they seek higher highs. Indeed, many users overdose more than once, some multiple times, and each time, naloxone brings them back. © 2016 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Drug Abuse; Pain & Touch
Link ID: 22481 - Posted: 07.27.2016

Ian Sample Science editor They were once considered merely lazy and adorable. But new research into the antics of the slow loris has revealed a wilder side to the docile creatures. Given the chance the innocent-eyed beasts will neck the most alcoholic drinks they can lay their paws on. The ability of the slow loris to seek out the most potent brew in reach was discovered by researchers in the US who wanted to know whether the animals favoured highly-fermented nectar over the less alcoholic forms secreted by plants in their natural habitats. As sugary nectar ferments in the wild, its calorie content rises, making it a potentially more valuable source of energy. In a series of tests with Dharma, an adult female slow loris, biologists at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire found that when presented with a choice of sugary solutions laced with different amounts of alcohol, the loris speedily settled on the most intoxicating. But while the animal was quickly drawn to the nectar substitutes, which contained between 1% and 4% alcohol, the slow loris displayed what the researchers describe as “a relative aversion to tap water”, which was used as a control. Dharma was not alone in her taste for drink. The scientists ran the same series of experiments with two nocturnal aye aye lemurs, a male called Merlin and a female called Morticia. Once again, the primates homed in on the most alcoholic of sugary solutions the researchers knocked up to mimic fermented nectar. © 2016 Guardian News and Media Limited

Keyword: Drug Abuse; Evolution
Link ID: 22460 - Posted: 07.20.2016

Research supported by the National Institutes of Health has identified brain patterns in humans that appear to underlie “resilient coping,” the healthy emotional and behavioral responses to stress that help some people handle stressful situations better than others. People encounter stressful situations and stimuli everywhere, every day, and studies have shown that long-term stress can contribute to a broad array of health problems. However, some people cope with stress better than others, and scientists have long wondered why. The new study, by a team of researchers at Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, is now online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “This important finding points to specific brain adaptations that predict resilient responses to stress,” said George F. Koob, Ph.D., director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), part of NIH and a supporter of the study. “The findings also indicate that we might be able to predict maladaptive stress responses that contribute to excessive drinking, anger, and other unhealthy reactions to stress.” In a study of human volunteers, scientists led by Rajita Sinha, Ph.D., and Dongju Seo, Ph.D., used a brain scanning technique called functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure localized changes in brain activation during stress. Study participants were given fMRI scans while exposed to highly threatening, violent and stressful images followed by neutral, non-stressful images for six minutes each. While conducting the scans, researchers also measured non-brain indicators of stress among study participants, such as heart rate, and levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, in blood. The brain scans revealed a sequence of three distinct patterns of response to stress, compared to non-stress exposure.

Keyword: Stress; Drug Abuse
Link ID: 22459 - Posted: 07.20.2016

By Maia Szalavitz When a family member, spouse or other loved one develops an opioid addiction — whether to pain relievers like Vicodin or to heroin — few people know what to do. Faced with someone who appears to be driving heedlessly into the abyss, families often fight, freeze or flee, unable to figure out how to help. Families are sometimes overwhelmed with conflicting advice about what should come next. Much of the advice given by treatment groups and programs ignores what the data says in a similar way that anti-vaccination or climate skeptic websites ignore science. The addictions field is neither adequately regulated nor effectively overseen. There are no federal standards for counseling practices or rehab programs. In many states, becoming an addiction counselor doesn’t require a high school degree or any standardized training. “There’s nothing professional about it, and it’s not evidence-based,” said Dr. Mark Willenbring, the former director of treatment research at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, who now runs a clinic that treats addictions. Consequently, families are often given guidance that bears no resemblance to what the research evidence shows — and patients are commonly subjected to treatment that is known to do harm. People who are treated as experts firmly proclaim that they know what they are doing, but often turn out to base their care entirely on their own personal and clinical experience, not data. “Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew,” which many people see as an example of the best care available, for instance, used an approach that is not known to be effective for opioid addiction. More than 13 percent of its participants died after treatment,1 mainly of overdoses that could potentially have been prevented with evidence-based care. Unethical practices such as taking kickbacks for patient referrals are also rampant.

Keyword: Drug Abuse; Pain & Touch
Link ID: 22458 - Posted: 07.20.2016

By SARAH MASLIN NIR Almost as soon as the young man crouching on a trash-strewed street in Brooklyn pulled out a crumpled dollar bill from his pocket and emptied its contents of dried leaves into a wrapper, he had company. A half-dozen disheveled men and women walked swiftly to where the young man was rolling a cigarette of a synthetic drug known as K2 to wait for a chance to share. The drug has been the source of an alarming and sudden surge in overdoses — over three days this week, 130 people across New York City were treated in hospital emergency rooms after overdosing on K2, almost equaling the total for the entire month of June, according to the city’s health department. About one-fourth of the overdoses, 33, took place on Tuesday along the border of Bedford-Stuyvesant and Bushwick, the same Brooklyn neighborhoods where, despite a heightened presence of police officers, people were again openly smoking the drug on Thursday. In response to the overdoses, the city is sending a health alert to emergency rooms and other health care providers warning about the drug. The outbreak comes after officials this spring lauded what they described as a successful campaign to severely curb the prevalence of K2. On Thursday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced that the State Police would step up enforcement against the drug and aggressively go after merchants who illegally sell it. The same day, just steps from where people were using the drug, clusters of police officers patrolled beneath the elevated subway tracks along a stretch where, the day before, five bodegas had been raided. K2 is typically sold by convenience stores, though the raids did not turn up any. © 2016 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 22448 - Posted: 07.16.2016

Suzi Gage Ketamine hydrochloride is a synthetic dissociative anaesthetic. It was first synthesized in the 1960s for medical use, and was first used medicinally during the Vietnam war. Recreationally, it is usually consumed by snorting a white crystalline powder, and at lower doses than when it’s used as an anaesthetic. However it can also be injected, or smoked. It is used in a club setting, but also as a psychedelic. Short term effects When ketamine is snorted, it gets in to the blood stream quickly, and intoxication effects occur soon after it’s taken. Although it’s an anaesthetic, at low doses it raises heart rate. It’s also associated with cognitive impairment during intoxication, including to speech and executive function. It can also induce mild psychedelic effects such as perceptual changes and psychotic-like experiences, which are appealing to some users, but can also be distressing. At slightly higher doses, users can experience a dissociative state, where their mind feels separated from their body. This can also manifest as a feeling of depersonalization. At higher doses, the anaesthetic quality of ketamine becomes more pronounced. People may find it difficult to move and may feel numb, and can experience more vivid hallucinations. This is sometimes called the ‘k-hole’ by users. Amnesia can occur at this level of use. This is a particular danger of using ketamine recreationally: users are vulnerable to assault from others in this state, or can put themselves in danger by not being aware of their surroundings (for example being unaware they are outside and it is cold can lead to hypothermia, or being unaware of surroundings could lead to walking in to traffic). © 2016 Guardian News and Media Limited

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 22436 - Posted: 07.14.2016

By Anahad O'Connor Like most of my work, this article would not have been possible without coffee. I’m never fully awake until I have had my morning cup of espresso. It makes me productive, energized and what I can only describe as mildly euphoric. But as one of the millions of caffeine-loving Americans who can measure out my life with coffee spoons, (to paraphrase T.S. Eliot), I have often wondered: How does my coffee habit impact my health? The health community can’t quite agree on whether coffee is more potion or poison. The American Heart Association says the research on whether coffee causes heart disease is conflicting. The World Health Organization, which for years classified coffee as “possibly” carcinogenic, recently reversed itself, saying the evidence for a coffee-cancer link is “inadequate.” National dietary guidelines say that moderate coffee consumption may actually be good for you – even reducing chronic disease. Why is there so much conflicting evidence about coffee? The answer may be in our genes. About a decade ago, Ahmed El-Sohemy, a professor in the department of nutritional sciences at the University of Toronto, noticed the conflicting research on coffee and the widespread variation in how people respond to it. Some people avoid it because just one cup makes them jittery and anxious. Others can drink four cups of coffee and barely keep their eyes open. Some people thrive on it. Dr. El-Sohemy suspected that the relationship between coffee and heart disease might also vary from one individual to the next. And he zeroed in on one gene in particular, CYP1A2, which controls an enzyme – also called CYP1A2 – that determines how quickly our bodies break down caffeine. One variant of the gene causes the liver to metabolize caffeine very quickly. People who inherit two copies of the “fast” variant – one from each parent – are generally referred to as fast metabolizers. Their bodies metabolize caffeine about four times more quickly than people who inherit one or more copies of the slow variant of the gene. These people are called slow metabolizers. © 2016 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Drug Abuse; Genes & Behavior
Link ID: 22434 - Posted: 07.13.2016

Tough love, interventions and 12-step programs are some of the most common methods of treating drug addiction, but journalist Maia Szalavitz says they're often counterproductive. "We have this idea that if we are just cruel enough and mean enough and tough enough to people with addiction, that they will suddenly wake up and stop, and that is not the case," she tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. Szalavitz is the author of Unbroken Brain, a book that challenges traditional notions of addiction and treatment. Her work is based on research and experience; she was addicted to cocaine and heroin from the age of 17 until she was 23. Szalavitz is a proponent of "harm reduction" programs that take a nonpunitive approach to helping addicts and "treat people with addiction like human beings." In her own case, she says that getting "some kind of hope that I could change" enabled her to get the help she needed. On her criticism of 12-step programs I think that 12-step programs are fabulous self help. I think they can be absolutely wonderful as support groups. My issue with 12-step programs is that 80 percent of addiction treatment in this country consists primarily of indoctrinating people into 12-step programs, and no other medical care in the United States is like that. The data shows that cognitive behavioral therapy and motivational enhancement therapy are equally effective, and they have none of the issues around surrendering to a higher power, or prayer or confession. © 2016 npr

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 22408 - Posted: 07.08.2016

Shefali Luthra Prescription drug prices continue to climb, putting the pinch on consumers. Some older Americans appear to be seeking an alternative to mainstream medicines that has become easier to get legally in many parts of the country. Just ask Cheech and Chong. Research published Wednesday found that states that legalized medical marijuana — which is sometimes recommended for symptoms like chronic pain, anxiety or depression — saw declines in the number of Medicare prescriptions for drugs used to treat those conditions and a dip in spending by Medicare Part D, which covers the cost on prescription medications. Because the prescriptions for drugs like opioid painkillers and antidepressants — and associated Medicare spending on those drugs — fell in states where marijuana could feasibly be used as a replacement, the researchers said it appears likely legalization led to a drop in prescriptions. That point, they said, is strengthened because prescriptions didn't drop for medicines such as blood-thinners, for which marijuana isn't an alternative. The study, which appears in Health Affairs, examined data from Medicare Part D from 2010 to 2013. It is the first study to examine whether legalization of marijuana changes doctors' clinical practice and whether it could curb public health costs. The findings add context to the debate as more lawmakers express interest in medical marijuana. This year, Ohio and Pennsylvania passed laws allowing the drug for therapeutic purposes, making it legal in 25 states, plus Washington, D.C. The approach could also come to a vote in Florida and Missouri this November. A federal agency is considering reclassifying medical marijuana under national drug policy to make it more readily available. © 2016 npr

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 22406 - Posted: 07.07.2016

Susan Gaidos By age 25, Patrick Schnur had cycled through a series of treatment programs, trying different medications to kick his heroin habit. But the drugs posed problems too: Vivitrol injections were painful and created intense heroin cravings as the drug wore off. Suboxone left him drowsy, depressed and unable to study or go running like he wanted to. Determined to resume the life he had before his addiction, Schnur decided to hunker down and get clean on his own. In December 2015, he had been sober for two years and had just finished his first semester of college, with a 4.0 grade point average. Yet, just before the holidays, he gave in to the cravings. Settling into his dorm room he stuck a needle in his vein. It was his last shot. Scientists are searching for a different kind of shot to prevent such tragedies: a vaccine to counter addiction to heroin and other opioids, such as the prescription painkiller fentanyl and similar knockoff drugs. In some ways, the vaccines work like traditional vaccines for infectious diseases such as measles, priming the immune system to attack foreign molecules. But instead of targeting viruses, the vaccines zero in on addictive chemicals, training the immune system to usher the drugs out of the body before they can reach the brain. Such a vaccine may have helped Schnur, a onetime computer whiz who grew up in the Midwest, far removed from the hard edges of the drug world. His overdose death reflects a growing heroin epidemic and alarming trend. In the 1960s, heroin was seen as a hard-core street drug abused mostly in inner cities. Now heroin is a problem in many suburban and rural towns across America, where it is used primarily by young, white adults — male and female, according to research published by psychiatrist Theodore Cicero of Washington University in St. Louis and colleagues in 2014 in JAMA Psychiatry. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 201

Keyword: Drug Abuse; Neuroimmunology
Link ID: 22376 - Posted: 06.29.2016

By BENEDICT CAREY New York University’s medical school has quietly shut down eight studies at its prominent psychiatric research center and parted ways with a top researcher after discovering a series of violations in a study of an experimental, mind-altering drug. A subsequent federal investigation found lax oversight of study participants, most of whom had serious mental issues. The Food and Drug Administration investigators also found that records had been falsified and researchers had failed to keep accurate case histories. In one of the shuttered studies, people with a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress caused by childhood abuse took a relatively untested drug intended to mimic the effects of marijuana, to see if it relieved symptoms. “I think their intent was good, and they were considerate to me,” said one of those subjects, Diane Ruffcorn, 40, of Seattle, who said she was sexually abused as a child. “But what concerned me, I was given this drug, and all these tests, and then it was goodbye, I was on my own. There was no follow-up.” It’s a critical time for two important but still controversial areas of psychiatry: the search for a blood test or other biological sign of post-traumatic stress disorder, which has so far come up empty, and the use of recreational drugs like ecstasy and marijuana to treat it. At least one trial of marijuana, and one using ecstasy, are in the works for traumatized veterans, and some psychiatrists and many patients see this work as having enormous promise to reshape and improve treatment for trauma. But obtaining approval to use the drugs in experiments is still politically sensitive. Doctors who have done studies with these drugs say that their uncertain effects on traumatic memory make close supervision during treatment essential. © 2016 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Drug Abuse; Stress
Link ID: 22371 - Posted: 06.28.2016

by German Lopez and Javier Zarracina After years of struggling with treatments for his worsening cancer, Roy was miserable — anxious, depressed, hopeless. Traditional cancer treatments had left him debilitated, and it was unclear whether they would save his life. But then Roy secured a spot in a clinical trial to test an exotic drug. The drug was not meant to cure his cancer; it was meant to cure his terror. And it worked. A few hours after taking a little pill, Roy declared to researchers, "Cancer is not important, the important stuff is love." His concerns about his imminent death had suddenly vanished — and the effects lasted for at least months, according to researchers. It was not a traditional antidepressant, like Zoloft, or anti-anxiety medication, like Xanax, that led Roy to reevaluate his life. It was a drug that has been illegal for decades but is now at the center of a renaissance in research: psilocybin, from hallucinogenic magic mushrooms. Psychologists and psychiatrists have been studying hallucinogens for decades — as treatment for things like alcoholism and depression, and to stimulate creativity. But support for studies dried up in the 1970s, after the federal government listed many psychedelics as Schedule 1 drugs. But now researchers are giving the drugs another look. © 2016 Vox Media, Inc.

Keyword: Drug Abuse; Depression
Link ID: 22370 - Posted: 06.28.2016

By MAIA SZALAVITZ I SHOT heroin and cocaine while attending Columbia in the 1980s, sometimes injecting many times a day and leaving scars that are still visible. I kept using, even after I was suspended from school, after I overdosed and even after I was arrested for dealing, despite knowing that this could reduce my chances of staying out of prison. My parents were devastated: They couldn’t understand what had happened to their “gifted” child who had always excelled academically. They kept hoping I would just somehow stop, even though every time I tried to quit, I relapsed within months. There are, speaking broadly, two schools of thought on addiction: The first was that my brain had been chemically “hijacked” by drugs, leaving me no control over a chronic, progressive disease. The second was simply that I was a selfish criminal, with little regard for others, as much of the public still seems to believe. (When it’s our own loved ones who become addicted, we tend to favor the first explanation; when it’s someone else’s, we favor the second.) We are long overdue for a new perspective — both because our understanding of the neuroscience underlying addiction has changed and because so many existing treatments simply don’t work. Addiction is indeed a brain problem, but it’s not a degenerative pathology like Alzheimer’s disease or cancer, nor is it evidence of a criminal mind. Instead, it’s a learning disorder, a difference in the wiring of the brain that affects the way we process information about motivation, reward and punishment. And, as with many learning disorders, addictive behavior is shaped by genetic and environmental influences over the course of development. Scientists have documented the connection between learning processes and addiction for decades. Now, through both animal research and imaging studies, neuroscientists are starting to recognize which brain regions are involved in addiction and how. © 2016 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 22365 - Posted: 06.27.2016

By DONALD G. McNEIL Jr. Global health authorities are trying to get more countries to mandate the use of the “world’s ugliest color” on cigarette packaging to discourage smoking. In 2012, GfK Bluemoon, a market research company under contract to the Australian government, announced that nearly 1,000 smokers had voted that a drab greenish brown known as opaque couché, number 448c in the Pantone color matching system, was the world’s most repulsive color. It was described as looking like death, filth, lung tar or baby excrement. Color aficionados later noted that it was also similar to the hue of the dress worn by the Mona Lisa. Photo Cigarettes on sale in Sydney, New South Wales. Credit Ryan Pierse/Getty Images Australia then mandated “plain packaging” for cigarettes that was actually anything but plain. The opaque couché-colored boxes have vivid pictures of rotted teeth, tongues with tumors and dangerously tiny newborns, along with warnings about smoking’s dangers printed in type larger than the brand names. Australia has been very successful in getting smokers to quit, so health officials in Britain, France and Ireland have announced plans to imitate the packaging. Last month, the European Court of Justice rebuffed legal challenges, by tobacco companies, to the use of shocking images, and India’s Supreme Court ruled in favor of letting them cover 85 percent of packs. A recent study in JAMA Internal Medicine found that these pictures prompt more smokers to at least try to quit, but the American tobacco industry has blocked all attempts to put them on cigarette packs sold in the United States. © 2016 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 22344 - Posted: 06.22.2016

Laurel Hamers People hooked on cocaine are more likely to stick to other habits, too. They’re also less sensitive to negative feedback that tends to push nonaddicts away from harmful habitual behaviors, new research published in the June 17 Science suggests. The findings might help explain why cocaine addicts will do nearly anything to keep using the drug, despite awareness of its negative consequences. Instead, treatments that encourage new, healthier habits in place of drug use might click better. Similar results have been demonstrated with mice and rats, but the effect hadn’t been well-established in humans. There’s no pharmacological treatment approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that targets cocaine addiction as there is for opioid addiction. So the best treatment currently focuses on changing patients’ behavior — and it’s not easy. “It’s such a devastating situation for families,” says Karen Ersche, a psychologist at the University of Cambridge who led the study. Drug users “know they’ll lose their job. They’ll tell you they want to change, but still they carry on using the drug. It seems incomprehensible.” Habits can be helpful because they free up brainpower for other things. A new driver has to think through every push of the pedal and flick of the turn signal, while an experienced one can perform these actions almost effortlessly, allowing them to also carry on a conversation. But people can also snap out of that automation when necessary, slamming on the brakes when a deer darts across the road. It’s harder for someone addicted to cocaine to get off autopilot. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2016.

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 22340 - Posted: 06.20.2016

By Jane E. Brody Smokers who think they are escaping the lung-damaging effects of inhaled tobacco smoke may have to think again, according to the findings of two major new studies, one of which the author originally titled “Myth of the Healthy Smoker.” Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or C.O.P.D., may be among the best known dangers of smoking, and current and former smokers can be checked for that with a test called spirometry that measures how much air they can inhale and how much and how quickly they can exhale. Unfortunately, this simple test is often skipped during routine medical checkups of people with a history of smoking. But more important, even when spirometry is done, the new studies prove that the test often fails to detect serious lung abnormalities that cause chronic cough and sputum production and compromise a person’s breathing, energy level, risk of serious infections and quality of life. “Current or former smokers without airflow obstruction may assume that they are disease-free,” but that’s not necessarily the case, one of the research teams pointed out. These researchers projected that there are 35 million current or former smokers older than 55 in the United States with unrecognized smoking-caused lung disease or impairments. Many, if not most, of these people could get worse with time, even if they have quit smoking. They are also unlikely to be referred for pulmonary rehabilitation, a treatment that can head off encroaching disability. Perhaps most important, those currently smoking may be inclined to think they’ve dodged the bullet and so can continue to smoke with impunity. Doctors, who are often reluctant to urge patients with symptoms to quit smoking, may be even less likely to recommend smoking cessation to those with normal spirometry results. Referring to C.O.P.D., one of the researchers, Dr. Elizabeth A. Regan, said, “Smoking is really taking a terrible toll on our society.” Dr. Regan, a clinical researcher at National Jewish Health in Denver, is the lead author of one of the new studies, published last year in JAMA Internal Medicine. “We live happily in the world thinking that only a small percentage of people who smoke get this devastating disease,” she said. “However, the lungs of millions of people in the United States are negatively impacted by smoking, and our methods for identifying their lung disease are relatively insensitive.” © 2016 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 22339 - Posted: 06.20.2016