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By ANAHAD O'CONNOR A new federal report shows that the percentage of American high school students who smoke marijuana is slowly rising, while the use of alcohol and almost every other drug is falling. The report raises concerns that the relaxation of restrictions on marijuana, which can now be sold legally in 20 states and the District of Columbia, has been influencing use of the drug among teenagers. Health officials are concerned by the steady increase and point to what they say is a growing body of evidence that adolescent brains, which are still developing, are susceptible to subtle changes caused by marijuana. “The acceptance of medical marijuana in multiple states leads to the sense that if it’s used for medicinal purposes, then it can’t be harmful,” said Dr. Nora D. Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which issued the report. “This survey has shown very consistently that the greater the number of kids that perceive marijuana as risky, the less that smoke it.” Starting early next year, recreational marijuana use will also be legal in Colorado and Washington. Experts debate the extent to which heavy marijuana use may cause lasting detriment to the brain. But Dr. Volkow said that one way marijuana might affect cognitive function in adolescents was by disrupting the normal development of white matter through which cells in the brain communicate. According to the latest federal figures, which were part of an annual survey, Monitoring the Future, more than 12 percent of eighth graders and 36 percent of seniors at public and private schools around the country said they had smoked marijuana in the past year. About 60 percent of high school seniors said they did not view regular marijuana use as harmful, up from about 55 percent last year. Copyright 2013 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 4: The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 4: The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology
Link ID: 19049 - Posted: 12.18.2013

By David Nutt Imagine being an astronomer in a world where the telescope was banned. This effectively happened in the 1600s when, for over 100 years, the Catholic Church prohibited access to knowledge of the heavens in a vain attempt to stop scientists proving that the earth was not the center of the universe. ‘Surely similar censorship could never happen today,’ I hear you say—but it does in relation to the use of drugs to study the brain. Scientists and doctors are banned from studying many hundreds of drugs because of outdated United Nations charters dating back to the 1960s and 1970s. Some of the banned drugs include cannabis, psychedelics and MDMA (now widely known as ecstasy). The most remarkable example is that of the psychedelic LSD, a drug accidentally discovered by the Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann while he was working for the pharmaceutical company Sandoz to find new treatments for migraine. Once the ability of LSD to alter brain function became apparent, Hofmann and others realized it had enormous potential as a tool to explore and treat the brain. The immediate effects of LSD to alter brain states offered unique insight into states such as consciousness and psychosis; the long-lasting changes in self-awareness it brought on were seen as potentially useful for conditions such as addiction. Pharmaceutical company Sandoz saw LSD as so important that they chose to make it widely available to researchers in the 1950s. Researchers conducted over 1,000 studies at that time, most of which yielded significant results. However, once young Americans started using the drug recreationally—partly in protest against the Vietnam War—it was banned, both there and all over the world. Since then, research into the science behind the drug and its effects on the brain has come to a halt. Yet, we have begun to rectify the situation using the shorter-acting psychedelic psilocybin (also known as magic mushrooms). In just a couple of experiments, scientists have discovered remarkable and unexpected effects on the brain, leading them to start a clinical trial in depression. Other therapeutic targets for psychedelics are cluster headaches, OCD and addiction. © 2013 Scientific American

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 4: The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology; Chapter 16: Psychopathology: Biological Basis of Behavior Disorders
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 4: The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology; Chapter 12: Psychopathology: Biological Basis of Behavioral Disorders
Link ID: 18983 - Posted: 11.30.2013

By Janet Davison, CBC News If headlines in the past few weeks are to be believed, a "Flesh-eating 'zombie' drug" that could devour users "from the inside out" is finding its way onto American streets. Then came reports suggesting that "krokodil," a cheap and highly addictive homemade substitute for heroin that surfaced first in Russia about 10 years ago, had appeared in Ontario's Niagara region. But so far, neither the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency nor Health Canada has identified krokodil, also known as desomorphine, in any samples they've analyzed since the DEA found two instances of it in 2004. And police in Niagara are now saying the reported cases of the drug — an ugly concoction of codeine mixed with common products such as gasoline, lighter fluid, paint thinner or industrial cleaning oil — haven't been medically confirmed. Krokodil is named for the Russian word for crocodile and its tendency to turn users' skin rough and scaly. The injectable opioid can cause brain damage and severe tissue damage, sometimes leading to gangrene, amputations and even death. It has also been linked to pneumonia, blood poisoning, meningitis, liver and kidney problems, rotting gums and bone infections. The horrific health problems the drug has caused among the well over 100,000 users in Russia and Ukraine have been well documented by researchers in publications such as the International Journal of Drug Policy. But so far there is no solid, official proof that krokodil has reached Canada. The recent news reports about the drug coupled with the lack of hard evidence to back them up underline how difficult it is for health and law enforcement officials to keep up with the evolving mix of street drugs. © CBC 2013

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 4: The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 4: The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology
Link ID: 18967 - Posted: 11.25.2013

Medical marijuana can alleviate pain and nausea, but it can also cause decreased attention span and memory loss. A new study in mice finds that taking an over-the-counter pain medication like ibuprofen may help curb these side effects. "This is what we call a seminal paper," says Giovanni Marsicano, a neuroscientist at the University of Bordeaux in France who was not involved in the work. If the results hold true in humans, they "could broaden the medical use of marijuana," he says. "Many people in clinical trials are dropping out from treatments, because they say, ‘I cannot work anymore. I am stoned all the time.’ ” People have used marijuana for hundreds of years to treat conditions such as chronic pain, multiple sclerosis, and epilepsy. Studies in mice have shown that it can reduce some of the neural damage seen in Alzheimer's disease. The main psychoactive ingredient, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), is approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat anorexia in AIDS patients and the nausea triggered by chemotherapy. Although recreational drug users usually smoke marijuana, patients prescribed THC take it as capsules. Many people find the side effects hard to bear, however. The exact cause of these side effects is unclear. In the brain, THC binds to receptors called CB1 and CB2, which are involved in neural development as well as pain perception and appetite. The receptors are normally activated by similar compounds, called endocannabinoids, that are produced by the human body. When one of these compounds binds to CB1, it suppresses the activity of an enzyme called cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2). The enzyme has many functions. For instance, painkillers such as ibuprofen and aspirin work by blocking COX-2. Researchers have hypothesized that the suppression of COX-2 could be the cause of THC's side effects, such as memory problems. © 2013 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 4: The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology; Chapter 17: Learning and Memory
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 4: The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology; Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 18962 - Posted: 11.23.2013

By R. Douglas Fields San Diego—Would we have Poe’s Raven today if the tormented author had taken lithium to suppress his bipolar illness? Not likely, considering the high frequency of psychiatric illnesses among writers and artists, concluded psychiatrist Kay Jamison of Johns Hopkins Medical School speaking last week at the Society for Neuroscience annual meeting in San Diego. Madness electrifies the creative process, Jamison concluded, but this difficult drug-use dilemma raises an even more provocative question: Would we have Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds had the Beatles not taken LSD? Lord Tennyson, Virginia Woolf and Vincent Van Gogh are familiar examples of artists and writers who suffered serious mental illnesses, but Jamison explained that psychiatric illness was the cruel engine of their creativity. Tracing their family pedigrees, she showed that many of these artists’ siblings, parents and descendants were institutionalized in mental hospitals, committed suicide, or endured life-long struggles with mania, despair, schizophrenia or other mental disorders. The genetic backbone to mental illness is strong. Ernest Hemingway and his supermodel granddaughter Margaux Hemingway both killed themselves. Separated from one another in environment and experience by a generation, their fates were inevitably tethered by their DNA. In all, seven members of the Hemingway family died at their own hand. This raises the question of why the genes of such devastating brain dysfunctions should persist in the human gene pool. Statistics show that among all categories of creative artists, writers suffer by far the highest incidence of bipolar disorder, outstripping all other artistic professions. Why? Jamison concludes that the manic phase of bipolar disorder infuses the writer with furious energy and limitless stamina. The author foregoes sleep, is driven to take daring risks, expands their imagination and embraces grandiose thinking. © 2013 Scientific American

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 4: The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology; Chapter 16: Psychopathology: Biological Basis of Behavior Disorders
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 4: The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology; Chapter 12: Psychopathology: Biological Basis of Behavioral Disorders
Link ID: 18961 - Posted: 11.23.2013

By Evelyn Boychuk, Ever since Toronto Mayor Rob Ford admitted to having smoked crack cocaine, various city councillors and media observers have publicly advised him to seek drug counselling. But in a CNN interview that aired Nov. 18, Ford continued to stand by his message: “I’m not an addict.” The ongoing saga of the mayor’s crack use has raised unanswered questions about how addictive the drug really is. It’s been commonly accepted that crack is more addictive than other drugs, but addictions researchers and drug counsellors say it’s hard to compare the addictiveness of specific substances because drug-taking is a highly individual experience. Robin Haslam, director of operations and procedures for Addiction Canada, says that he has never met someone who can “just casually smoke crack.” However, people have different thresholds of addiction. “I know people who have used crack once, and never touched it again. I also know people who smoked marijuana once, and became very impaired,” he says. Carl Hart, author of High Price: A Neuroscientist's Journey of Self-Discovery That Challenges Everything You Know About Drugs and Society, told CBC Radio’s Day 6 that crack “is not uniquely addictive, or it’s not something that is special, as we have all been taught.” Hart said that the percentage of people that become addicted to crack is lower than most think. “For example, 10 to 20 per cent of people will become addicted — that means that 80 to 90 per cent of people won’t become addicted.” © CBC 2013

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 4: The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 4: The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology
Link ID: 18953 - Posted: 11.21.2013

Jessica Wright A tiny fiber-optic probe inserted into the reward center of the mouse brain monitors how the mouse feels about meeting a peer — or a golf ball. The unpublished technique was presented last week at the at the 2013 Society for Neuroscience annual meeting in San Diego. Mice feel the most satisfaction when sniffing another mouse’s rear and when walking away from a golf ball, the study found. The new technique is one of only a few ways to read the electrical activity of neurons in freely moving mice and is the most noninvasive, making it ideal for monitoring social interactions. The method takes advantage of a fluorescent molecule that lights up only in the presence of calcium, which rushes into the cell when neurons fire. The researchers used mice engineered to express this molecule only in neurons that make dopamine — the chemical messenger that mediates a sense of reward — in the ventral tegmental area (VTA). The researchers placed the cable in the VTA, the source of most of the brain’s dopamine neurons. The fiber-optic cable is 400 micrometers in diameter, and could probably be half that size, says Lisa Gunaydin, who developed the method as a graduate student in Karl Deisseroth’s lab at Stanford University in California. When neurons expressing the fluorescent molecule fire, the cable reads these as a series of spikes. In the study, the researchers gave thirsty mice sweet water and, as expected, their dopamine activity in the VTA spiked each time they drank. When the mice interact with a new mouse, or a golf ball, the dopamine neurons fire more on the first encounter but dull with repeated visits, suggesting that the mice are most excited by novelty. © Copyright 2013 Simons Foundation

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 4: The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology; Chapter 3: Neurophysiology: The Generation, Transmission, and Integration of Neural Signals
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 4: The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology; Chapter 3: Neurophysiology: The Generation, Transmission, and Integration of Neural Signals
Link ID: 18949 - Posted: 11.21.2013

By BARRY MEIER Addiction experts protested loudly when the Food and Drug Administration approved a powerful new opioid painkiller last month, saying that it would set off a wave of abuse much as OxyContin did when it first appeared. An F.D.A. panel had earlier voted, 11 to 2, against approval of the drug, Zohydro, in part because unlike current versions of OxyContin, it is not made in a formulation designed to deter abuse. Now a new issue is being raised about Zohydro. The drug will be manufactured by the same company, Alkermes, that makes a popular medication called Vivitrol, used to treat patients addicted to painkillers or alcohol. In addition, the company provides financial support to a leading professional group that represents substance abuse experts, the American Society of Addiction Medicine. For some critics, the company’s multiple roles in the world of painkillers is troubling. Dr. Gregory L. Jones, an addiction specialist in Louisville, Ky., said he had long been concerned about financial links between the group and the drug industry, adding that the Zohydro situation amplified those potential conflicts. Dr. Stuart Gitlow, the current president of the American Society of Addiction Medicine, said he had been unaware until now of Alkermes’s involvement with Zohydro. Dr. Gitlow, who is affiliated with Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, said that the group would seek more information from Alkermes about the situation and then decide what, if anything, to do next. Officials of Alkermes appear to recognize the issue they face. In recent years, the company has been trying to increase sales of Vivitrol, a form of a drug called naltrexone, that is used to treat both alcoholism and opioid addiction. © 2013 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 4: The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology; Chapter 8: General Principles of Sensory Processing, Touch, and Pain
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 4: The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology; Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System
Link ID: 18931 - Posted: 11.16.2013

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA—Compulsive gamblers aren’t necessarily greedier than the rest of us—their brains may just be wired to favor money over sex. That’s the conclusion of a study presented here today at the Society for Neuroscience conference. This tendency to prioritize money over more basic desires resembles other addictions like alcoholism, researchers say, and could point toward new therapies. Of the millions of people who gamble for fun or profit, about 1% to 2% qualify as pathological gamblers. They can't quit despite encountering serious negative consequences—going into debt, damaging relationships, and even smashing up slot machines and getting arrested when the habit gets out of control. This inability to stop even after sustained loss is one reason gambling recently became the first behavioral addiction to be recognized by psychiatry's most frequently used diagnostic manual, the DSM-5, says Guillaume Sescousse, a neuroscientist at the Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands who led the new study. After all, he says, professional poker players can play for 10 hours a day and not be considered addicts—so long as they can stop when their luck runs out. Researchers have long hypothesized that the basis for gambling addiction might be hypersensitivity to the highs of winning money, caused by dysfunctional wiring in neural circuits that process reward. Studies have produced conflicting results, however, so Sescousse decided to investigate an alternative hypothesis. He wondered if instead of being overly sensitive to monetary reward, compulsive gamblers were less sensitive to other rewarding things, like alcohol and sex. © 2013 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 4: The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology; Chapter 12: Sex: Evolutionary, Hormonal, and Neural Bases
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 4: The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology; Chapter 8: Hormones and Sex
Link ID: 18929 - Posted: 11.14.2013

Heavy smokers who regularly puffed more than a packet of cigarettes a day cut down or quit for six months after their brains were stimulated with magnets, researchers say. The apparent success of the simple procedure has led the scientists to organise a large-scale trial which will launch early next year at 15 medical centres worldwide. Smokers in the pilot study had already tried anti-smoking drugs, nicotine gum and patches or psychotherapy to no avail, raising hopes that magnetic stimulation might offer an effective alternative for those who want to give up but have so far failed. Nearly half of the smokers in one group, who received high-frequency magnetic pulses, quit after a three-week course of stimulation, with more than a third still abstaining six months on. "This is a new approach to the problem," said neuroscientist Abraham Zangen of Ben-Gurion University in Israel. "These are heavy smokers who could not stop smoking before." More trials will be needed to prove the value of the procedure, which scientists say should only be offered within a psychotherapy-based programme designed specifically for smokers. For the pilot study, Zangen recruited 115 people aged 21-70 who smoked at least 20 a day. Only those who had tried to give up before using at least two methods were allowed to take part in the programme. The smokers were divided into three groups. The first had 15 minutes of high-frequency magnetic stimulation every weekday for two weeks, followed by three sessions in the third week. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 4: The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 4: The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology
Link ID: 18921 - Posted: 11.13.2013

By ANDREW HIGGINS BRUSSELS — Facing a decision on whether to impose tight restrictions on a booming market for electronic cigarettes, members of the European Parliament received a pleading letter in September that was signed by thousands of former smokers worried that “the positive story of e-cigarettes may be about to come to an abrupt halt.” The signatures had been collected via a website, saveecigs.com, which proclaimed itself the voice of the “forgotten millions in this debate” — people who had taken up e-cigarettes to stop smoking, and their grateful families. The website, however, was not quite the grass-roots effort it claimed to be. The text of the letter it asked people to sign was drafted by a London lobbyist hired by Totally Wicked, an e-cigarette company. The website had been set up by a British woman living in Iceland who had previously worked for the owners of Totally Wicked. As the headquarters of the European Union, Brussels sets regulatory standards that resonate around the world. It rivals Washington as a focus for corporate lobbying, with an estimated 30,000 professional lobbyists with registered lobbying firms and thousands more who operate beneath the radar. In this case, a determined lobbying campaign, marrying corporate interests in a fledgling but fast-growing industry with voices elicited from the general public, was aimed at a compelling public health issue: whether e-cigarettes, which deliver nicotine without burning tobacco, should be regulated as medicinal products, just as nicotine patches are. The stakes were substantial. Although e-cigarettes have not been linked to any serious health issues, they have been in widespread use for such a short time that researchers have no basis yet for determining if there are long-term risks. © 2013 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 4: The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 4: The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology
Link ID: 18903 - Posted: 11.10.2013

By DAN FROSCH DENVER — Marijuana proponents scored significant victories on Tuesday as voters around the country passed ballot measures decriminalizing marijuana possession and approved regulatory taxes on the drug. In Colorado, voters backed a heavy tax on recreational marijuana, which was made legal here last year. The tax will pay for the cost of overseeing the state’s marijuana industry as well as school construction. Voters in three Michigan cities approved measures legalizing the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana by adults on private property, following Detroit and Flint, which passed similar measures last year. And voters in Portland, Me., passed an ordinance legalizing the possession of up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana by adults over 21, making it the first East Coast city to pass such a law, advocates said. The victories are widely seen as fuel for the legalization movement, which has chipped away at state drug laws over the past decade and has vowed to push for more changes from state legislatures. “A majority of Americans now agree that marijuana should be legal for adults, and this was reflected at the polls,” said Mason Tvert, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, one of the main groups behind the legislative initiatives across the country. “There is clearly momentum behind marijuana policy reform,” Mr. Tvert said. “We expect to see these kinds of measures passing across the nation over the next several years.” © 2013 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 4: The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 4: The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology
Link ID: 18881 - Posted: 11.07.2013

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford said Tuesday that he had smoked crack cocaine, probably "in one of my drunken stupors," about a year ago. Here’s a look at the drug that can rapidly produce a high, some of the ways it can affect an individual’s behaviour and health, its legal status and other instances of high-profile use. What is crack cocaine? Crack cocaine is a chemically processed form of cocaine, a stimulant drug made into a white powder from leaves of coca bushes growing in the Andes Mountains of South America. To make crack, the white crystalline cocaine powder — cocaine hydrochloride — is dissolved and boiled in a mixture of water and ammonia or baking soda. When that cools into a solid substance, small pieces, often called "rocks," are formed, according to a 2009 RCMP report on "The Illicit Drug Situation in Canada." How is it used? Cocaine is injected or snorted. Crack cocaine is usually smoked, often in a glass pipe, although it can also be injected. The word "crack" comes from the distinctive sound heard when the substance heats up. When crack is heated and inhaled, the vapours are absorbed through the lungs and into the bloodstream, according to the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse. A high from smoking crack could last five to 10 minutes, says the institute, compared to 15 to 30 minutes for a high from snorting cocaine. © CBC 2013

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 4: The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 4: The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology
Link ID: 18876 - Posted: 11.06.2013

By Ferris Jabr When Shirley was in her mid-20s she and some friends road-tripped to Las Vegas on a lark. That was the first time she gambled. Around a decade later, while working as an attorney on the East Coast, she would occasionally sojourn in Atlantic City. By her late 40s, however, she was skipping work four times a week to visit newly opened casinos in Connecticut. She played blackjack almost exclusively, often risking thousands of dollars each round—then scrounging under her car seat for 35 cents to pay the toll on the way home. Ultimately, Shirley bet every dime she earned and maxed out multiple credit cards. “I wanted to gamble all the time,” she says. “I loved it—I loved that high I felt.” In 2001 the law intervened. Shirley was convicted of stealing a great deal of money from her clients and spent two years in prison. Along the way she started attending Gamblers Anonymous meetings, seeing a therapist and remaking her life. “I realized I had become addicted,” she says. “It took me a long time to say I was an addict, but I was, just like any other.” Ten years ago the idea that someone could become addicted to a habit like gambling the way a person gets hooked on a drug was controversial. Back then, Shirley's counselors never told her she was an addict; she decided that for herself. Now researchers agree that in some cases gambling is a true addiction. In the past, the psychiatric community generally regarded pathological gambling as more of a compulsion than an addiction—a behavior primarily motivated by the need to relieve anxiety rather than a craving for intense pleasure. In the 1980s, while updating the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the American Psychiatric Association (APA) officially classified pathological gambling as an impulse-control disorder—a fuzzy label for a group of somewhat related illnesses that, at the time, included kleptomania, pyromania and trichotillomania (hairpulling). In what has come to be regarded as a landmark decision, the association moved pathological gambling to the addictions chapter in the manual's latest edition, the DSM-5, published this past May. © 2013 Scientific American

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 4: The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 4: The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology
Link ID: 18875 - Posted: 11.06.2013

By Bradley E. Alger, Ph.D. Cannabis, derived from a plant and one of the oldest known drugs, has remained a source of controversy throughout its history. From debates on its medicinal value and legalization to concerns about dependency and schizophrenia, cannabis (marijuana, pot, hashish, bhang, etc.) is a hot button for politicians and pundits alike. Fundamental to understanding these discussions is how cannabis affects the mind and body, as well as the body’s cells and systems. How can something that stimulates appetite also be great for relieving pain, nausea, seizures, and anxiety? Whether its leaves and buds are smoked, baked into pastries, processed into pills, or steeped as tea and sipped, cannabis affects us in ways that are sometimes hard to define. Not only are its many facets an intrinsically fascinating topic, but because they touch on so many parts of the brain and the body, their medical, ethical, and legal ramifications are vast. The intercellular signaling molecules, their receptors, and synthetic and degradative enzymes from which cannabis gets its powers had been in place for millions of years by the time humans began burning the plants and inhaling the smoke. Despite records going back 4,700 years that document medicinal uses of cannabis, no one knew how it worked until 1964. That was when Yechiel Gaoni and Raphael Mechoulam1 reported that the main active component of cannabis is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC, referred to as a “cannabinoid” (like the dozens of other unique constituents of cannabis), acts on the brain by muscling in on the intrinsic neuronal signaling system, mimicking a key natural player, and basically hijacking it for reasons best known to the plants. Since the time when exogenous cannabinoids revealed their existence, the entire natural complex came to be called the “endogenous cannabinoid system,” or “endocannabinoid system” (ECS). Copyright 2013 The Dana Foundation

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 4: The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology; Chapter 3: Neurophysiology: The Generation, Transmission, and Integration of Neural Signals
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 4: The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology; Chapter 3: Neurophysiology: The Generation, Transmission, and Integration of Neural Signals
Link ID: 18874 - Posted: 11.06.2013

The generic anticonvulsant medication gabapentin shows promise as an effective treatment for alcohol dependence, based on the results of a 150-patient clinical trial of the medication. Conducted by scientists supported by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), part of the National Institutes of Health, the study found that alcohol dependent patients using gabapentin were more likely to stop drinking or refrain from heavy drinking than those taking placebo. Gabapentin is already widely prescribed to treat pain conditions and epilepsy. “Gabapentin adds to the list of existing medications that have shown promise in treating alcohol dependence,” said Kenneth R. Warren, Ph.D., acting director of the NIAAA. “We will continue to pursue research to expand the menu of treatment options available for alcoholism in the hopes of reaching more people.” A report of the study, led by Barbara J. Mason, Ph.D., of The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) in La Jolla, Calif., appears in the Nov. 4, 2013 edition of JAMA Internal Medicine. Dr. Mason and her colleagues randomly assigned alcohol dependent patients to receive a moderate or high dose of gabapentin (900 milligrams or 1,800 milligrams) or a placebo. Over the 12-week treatment, patients receiving the 1,800-milligram dose were twice as likely to refrain from heavy drinking (45 percent vs. 23 percent) and four times as likely to stop drinking altogether (17 percent vs. 4 percent), compared to placebo. Participants receiving gabapentin also reported improved sleep and mood and fewer alcohol cravings. The medication appeared to be well tolerated with few side effects.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 4: The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 4: The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology
Link ID: 18873 - Posted: 11.05.2013

By JANE E. BRODY Marijuana has been used medically, recreationally and spiritually for about 5,000 years. Known botanically as cannabis, it has been called a “crude drug”: marijuana contains more than 400 chemicals from 18 chemical families. More than 2,000 compounds are released when it is smoked, and as with tobacco, there are dangers in smoking it. Medical marijuana clinics operate in 20 states and the District of Columbia, and its recreational use is now legal in Colorado and Washington. A Gallup poll conducted last month found that 58 percent of Americans support the legalization of marijuana. Yet researchers have been able to do relatively little to test its most promising ingredients for biological activity, safety and side effects. The main reason is marijuana’s classification by Congress in 1970 as an illegal Schedule I drug, defined as having a potential for abuse and addiction and no medical value. American scientists seeking clarification of marijuana’s medical usefulness have long been stymied by this draconian classification, usually reserved for street drugs like heroin with a high potential for abuse. Dr. J. Michael Bostwick, a psychiatrist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., said the classification was primarily political and ignored more than 40 years of scientific research, which has shown that cellular receptors for marijuana’s active ingredients are present throughout the body. Natural substances called cannabinoids bind to them to influence a wide range of body processes. In a lengthy report entitled “Blurred Boundaries: The Therapeutics and Politics of Medical Marijuana,” published last year in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, Dr. Bostwick noted that the so-called endocannabinoid system has an impact on the “autonomic nervous system, immune system, gastrointestinal tract, reproductive system, cardiovascular system and endocrine network.” Copyright 2013 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 4: The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology; Chapter 8: General Principles of Sensory Processing, Touch, and Pain
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 4: The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology; Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System
Link ID: 18866 - Posted: 11.04.2013

Melissa Dahl TODAY You know smoking doesn’t do any favors for your face – or your lungs, or your heart, or just about any other part of your body, for that matter! – but a new study of twins hints at the ways the habit makes you look older than you really are. In what is perhaps the best detail of the study, researchers used the annual Twins Days Festival in Twinsburg, Ohio (the "Largest Annual Gathering of Twins in the World!") to round up the 79 identical pairs they include in the report. A panel of three plastic surgery residents compared the faces of the twins, one of which had been smoking for at least five years longer than the other. They identified a few major areas of accelerated aging in the faces of the smoking twins: The smokers' upper eyelids drooped while the lower lids sagged, and they had more wrinkles around the mouth. The smokers were also more likely to have jowls, according to the study, which was published today in the journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. Smoking reduces oxygen to the skin, which also decreases blood circulation, and that can result in weathered, wrinkled, older-looking skin, explains Dr. Bahman Guyuron, a plastic surgeon in Cleveland, Ohio, and the lead author of the study. The logic of research like this and others like it is this: If threats of cancer, heart and lung disease, or the dangers of second- and third-hand smoke aren’t enough to get people to stop smoking, or to never start in the first place, then why not try appealing to people’s vanity? (The same tactic has been used in an attempt to warn young people away from tanning.)

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 4: The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 4: The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology
Link ID: 18851 - Posted: 10.30.2013

By ADAM NAGOURNEY and RICK LYMAN LOS ANGELES — In the heart of Northern California’s marijuana growing region, the sheriff’s office is inundated each fall with complaints about the stench of marijuana plots or the latest expropriation of public land by growers. Its tranquil communities have been altered by the emergence of a wealthy class of marijuana entrepreneurs, while nearly 500 miles away in Los Angeles, officials have struggled to regulate an explosion of medical marijuana shops. But at a time when polls show widening public support for legalization — recreational marijuana is about to become legal in Colorado and Washington, and voter initiatives are in the pipeline in at least three other states — California’s 17-year experience as the first state to legalize medical marijuana offers surprising lessons, experts say. Warnings voiced against partial legalization — of civic disorder, increased lawlessness and a drastic rise in other drug use — have proved unfounded. Instead, research suggests both that marijuana has become an alcohol substitute for younger people here and in other states that have legalized medical marijuana, and that while driving under the influence of any intoxicant is dangerous, driving after smoking marijuana is less dangerous than after drinking alcohol. Although marijuana is legal here only for medical use, it is widely available. There is no evidence that its use by teenagers has risen since the 1996 legalization, though it is an open question whether outright legalization would make the drug that much easier for young people to get, and thus contribute to increased use. And though Los Angeles has struggled to regulate marijuana dispensaries, with neighborhoods upset at their sheer number, the threat of unsavory street traffic and the stigma of marijuana shops on the corner, communities that imposed early and strict regulations on their operations have not experienced such disruption. © 2013 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 4: The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 4: The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology
Link ID: 18840 - Posted: 10.28.2013

Doug Greene, WVIT and NBC News staff NBC News Oreos are as addictive as cocaine, at least for lab rats, and just like us, they like the creamy center best. Eating the sugary treats activates more neurons in the brain’s “pleasure center” than drugs such as cocaine, the team at Connecticut College found. “Our research supports the theory that high-fat/ high-sugar foods stimulate the brain in the same way that drugs do,” neuroscience assistant professor Joseph Schroeder says. “That may be one reason people have trouble staying away from them and it may be contributing to the obesity epidemic.” Schroeder’s neuroscience students put hungry rats into a maze. On one side went rice cakes. “Just like humans, rats don’t seem to get much pleasure out of eating them,” Schroeder said. On the other side went Oreos. Then the rats got the option of hanging out where they liked. They compared the results to a different test. In that on, rats on one side if the maze got an injection of saline while those on the other side got injections of cocaine or morphine. Rats seems to like the cookies about as much as they liked the addictive drugs. When allowed to wander freely, they’d congregate on the Oreo side for about as much time as they would on the drug side. Oh, and just like most people - the rats eat the creamy center first.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 13: Homeostasis: Active Regulation of the Internal Environment; Chapter 4: The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 9: Homeostasis: Active Regulation of the Internal Environment; Chapter 4: The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology
Link ID: 18794 - Posted: 10.16.2013