Chapter 4. The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology

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By Darren Incorvaia Wouldn’t it be nice if you could stave off the miserable effects from a night out drinking by simply popping a pill? Researchers are now one step closer to that reality, developing a gel that helped mice quickly and safely break down alcohol. The gel is a combination of iron atoms and the milk protein beta-lactoglobulin. When it encounters alcohol in the digestive system, this combo mimics the behavior of an enzyme that converts ethanol into acetate, food scientist Jiaqi Su of ETH Zurich and colleagues report May 13 in Nature Nanotechnology. As the body naturally breaks down alcohol, it produces the by-product acetaldehyde, which causes hangovers and can damage the liver. “One really nice feature of [the new gel] is they’re able to convert alcohol directly to acetate, which means there’s no accumulation of the toxic intermediate,” says biochemist Duo Xu of Stanford University. “It’s like a hydrogel-based nano-liver that does the work for us.” If the gel works in humans, Su and colleagues say, it could be used to prevent hangovers and potentially the harms of chronic drinking (SN: 3/22/23). Over time, excessive alcohol use can damage vital organs such as the heart, liver and brain. A 2023 study found that about 5 percent of the global population suffers from liver diseases related to drinking too much alcohol. To test the gel, Su’s team fed it to eight mice and then waited 20 minutes before plying the rodents with booze. Eight other mice received gel without iron and eight more were given a saline solution and force-fed alcohol 20 minutes later. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2024.

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 29301 - Posted: 05.14.2024

By Lauren Schenkman Repeated exposure to cocaine and morphine subverts the reward-system neurons that underlie hunger and thirst, according to a new study in mice. “The nerve cells get scrambled at the neural level in terms of their responses to food and water,” says lead investigator Eric Nestler, professor of neuroscience at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “So the ability of the brain, in a way, to compute that the individual is hungry or thirsty becomes lost.” In addiction research, there has been a “long-appreciated hypothesis that drugs of abuse hijack the natural reward circuitry of the brain,” says Marcelo Wood, professor of neurobiology and behavior at the University of California, Irvine, who was not involved in the new work. “It’s something that everyone talks about and writes about,” he says, but the exact physiology behind it “remained rather unknown.” In the new work, mice injected daily with morphine or cocaine for up to five days showed progressively increased activity in neurons in the nucleus accumbens that also respond to food and water, according to measures of FOS protein, a marker of neuronal activation. The drugs also elicited a stronger response than the natural rewards, two-photon calcium images showed, confirming what scientists have thought based on behavioral evidence, Nestler says. These alterations ultimately curbed the animals’ urge for sustenance, the study also shows: The mice ate less food and drank less water than mice given a saline solution, and lost weight—even after withdrawing from the drugs for three days. That confirms the hijacking hypothesis “pretty convincingly,” Wood says. “I thought that was brilliant.” © 2024 Simons Foundation

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 29299 - Posted: 05.09.2024

By Gina Kolata At 7 p.m. on May 7, 1824, Ludwig van Beethoven, then 53, strode onto the stage of the magnificent Theater am Kärntnertor in Vienna to help conduct the world premiere of his Ninth Symphony, the last he would ever complete. That performance, whose 200th anniversary is on Tuesday, was unforgettable in many ways. But it was marked by an incident at the start of the second movement that revealed to the audience of about 1,800 people how deaf the revered composer had become. Ted Albrecht, a professor emeritus of musicology at Kent State University in Ohio and author of a recent book on the Ninth Symphony, described the scene. The movement began with loud kettledrums, and the crowd cheered wildly. But Beethoven was oblivious to the applause and his music. He stood with his back to the audience, beating time. At that moment, a soloist grasped his sleeve and turned him around to see the raucous adulation he could not hear. It was one more humiliation for a composer who had been mortified by his deafness since he had begun to lose his hearing in his twenties. But why had he gone deaf? And why was he plagued by unrelenting abdominal cramps, flatulence and diarrhea? A cottage industry of fans and experts has debated various theories. Was it Paget’s disease of bone, which in the skull can affect hearing? Did irritable bowel syndrome cause his gastrointestinal problems? Or might he have had syphilis, pancreatitis, diabetes or renal papillary necrosis, a kidney disease? After 200 years, a discovery of toxic substances in locks of the composer’s hair may finally solve the mystery. © 2024 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Hearing; Neurotoxins
Link ID: 29293 - Posted: 05.07.2024

By Eileen Sullivan, Glenn Thrush and Zolan Kanno-Youngs The Justice Department said on Tuesday that it had recommended easing restrictions on marijuana in what could amount to a major change in federal policy. Even though the move, which kicks off a lengthy rule-making process, does not end the criminalization of the drug, it is a significant shift in how the government views the safety and use of marijuana for medical purposes. It also reflects the Biden administration’s effort to liberalize marijuana policy in a way that puts it more in line with the public as increasingly more Americans favor legalizing the drug. The decision comes at an opportune time for President Biden, who is trailing the presumptive Republican nominee, former President Donald J. Trump, as they approach the November election, according to a recent CNN poll. It could also lead to the softening of other laws and regulations that account for the use or possession of cannabis, including sentencing guidelines, banking and access to public housing. People familiar with the recommendation, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland planned to tell the White House Office of Management and Budget that the government should change the drug’s categorization. After the office assesses the recommendation, it will still face a long road before taking effect, including being subject to public comment. The Associated Press earlier reported the Justice Department decision. For more than half a century, marijuana has been considered a Schedule I drug, classified on the same level as highly addictive substances like heroin that the Drug Enforcement Administration describes as having no currently accepted medical use. Moving marijuana to Schedule III, as the Department of Health and Human Services recommended in August, would put it alongside less addictive substances like Tylenol with codeine, ketamine and testosterone, meaning that it would be subject to fewer restrictions on production and research, and that eventually it could be prescribed by a doctor. © 2024 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 29283 - Posted: 05.02.2024

By Kristen French Combat in nature is often a matter of tooth and claw, fang and talon. But some creatures have devised devious and dramatic ways to weaponize their bodily fluids, expelling them in powerful streams for the purposes of attack or self-defense. Researcher Elio Challita became fascinated by fluid ejections in nature when he began studying an insect called the sharpshooter, which pees one droplet at a time using a method called superpropulsion. These insects consume 300 times their own body weight per day in xylem sap, a watery solution of minerals and other nutrients found in the roots, stems, and leaves of plants. To efficiently expel the resulting waste, they use a kind of internal catapult that helps overcome the surface tension in the droplets. Challita and a team of researchers from the Bhamla Lab at Georgia Tech decided to survey the biomechanics and fluid dynamics that govern fluid ejections across the animal kingdom to see what commonalities they could find. Among others, they identified a number of creatures that use bodily fluids as powerful weapons in the fight for survival. These fluid ejections defy gravity and rebel against traditional notions of predator-prey tactics. The team’s review, “Fluid Ejections in Nature,” is forthcoming in the Annual Review of Chemical and Biological Engineering. 1. Ringnecked Spitting Cobra Cobras of the Naja genus defend against threats by spitting venom with extreme precision toward the eyes of an enemy, up to 6.5 feet away. These snakes release the venom through hollow microscopic fangs and can adjust the distribution of their spit with rapid movements. Spitting cobras have a venom discharge orifice that is more circular in shape than non-spitting species, which gives the venom more forward force. Contraction in the venom gland also helps. A 90-degree bend near the lip of the orifice gives the snake more precise control over venom flow. Naja pallida cobras can spit venom at average speeds of 1.27 milliliters per second. © 2024 NautilusNext Inc.,

Keyword: Neurotoxins; Evolution
Link ID: 29278 - Posted: 04.30.2024

By Christina Caron Antidepressants are among the most prescribed medications in the United States. This is, in part, because the number of people diagnosed with depression and anxiety has been on the rise, and prescriptions jumped sharply among some age groups during the pandemic. Despite the prevalence of these medications, some patients have “significant misconceptions” about how the drugs work, said Dr. Andrew J. Gerber, a psychiatrist and the president and medical director of Silver Hill Hospital in New Canaan, Conn. About 80 percent of antidepressants are prescribed by primary care doctors who have not had extensive training in managing mental illness. Dr. Paul Nestadt, an associate professor of psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, said patients tell him, “‘You know, Doc, I’ve tried everything.’” But often, he said, “they never got to a good dose, or they were only on it for a week or two.” Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about antidepressants. How do antidepressants work? There are many types of antidepressants, and they all work a bit differently. In general, they initiate a change in the way brain cells — and different regions of the brain — communicate with one another, said Dr. Gerard Sanacora, a professor of psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine. Clinical trials have shown that antidepressants are generally more effective with moderate, severe and chronic depression than with mild depression. Even then, it’s a modest effect when compared with placebo. © 2024 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Depression
Link ID: 29275 - Posted: 04.30.2024

By Ingrid Wickelgren Ishmail Abdus-Saboor has been fascinated by the variety of the natural world since he was a boy growing up in Philadelphia. The nature walks he took under the tutelage of his third grade teacher, Mr. Moore, entranced him. “We got to interact and engage with wildlife and see animals in their native environment,” he recalled. Abdus-Saboor also brought a menagerie of creatures — cats, dogs, lizards, snakes and turtles — into his three-story home, and saved up his allowance to buy a magazine that taught him about turtles. When adults asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up, “I said I wanted to become a scientist,” he said. “I always raised eyebrows.” Abdus-Saboor did not stray from that goal. Today, he is an associate professor of biological sciences at the Mortimer B. Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute at Columbia University, where he studies how the brain determines whether a touch to the skin is painful or pleasurable. “Although this question is fundamental to the human experience, it remains puzzling to explain with satisfying molecular detail,” he said. Because the skin is our largest sensory organ and a major conduit to our environment, it may hold clues for treating conditions from chronic pain to depression. To find those clues, Abdus-Saboor probes the nervous system at every juncture along the skin-to-brain axis. He does not focus on skin alone or home in on only the brain as many others do. “We merge these two worlds,” he said. That approach, he added, requires mastering two sets of techniques, reading two sets of literature and attending two sets of scientific meetings. “It gives us a unique leg up,” he said. It has led to a landmark paper published last year in Cell that laid out the entire neural circuit for pleasurable touch. © 2024 Simons Foundation.

Keyword: Pain & Touch; Emotions
Link ID: 29262 - Posted: 04.20.2024

By Helen Bradshaw Walk into a gas station in the United States, and you may see more than just boxes of cigarettes lining the back wall. Colorful containers containing delta-8, a form of the substance THC, are sold in gas stations and shops across the country, and teens are buying them. A recent survey of more than 2,000 U.S. high school seniors found that more than 11 percent of them had used delta-8 in the past year, researchers report March 12 in JAMA. This is the first year the Monitoring the Future study, one of the leading nationally representative surveys of drug use trends among adolescents in the United States, looked at delta-8 use. Because more than 1 in 10 senior students said they used the drug, the survey team plans to monitor delta-8 use every year going forward. “We don’t really want to see any kids being exposed to cannabis, because it potentially increases their risk for developmental harms … and some psychiatric reactions” such as suicidal thoughts, says Alyssa Harlow, a researcher on the survey and an epidemiologist at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine in Los Angeles. Despite its prevalence, especially in the South and the Midwest, delta-8 is still new to consumers and research. Science News talked with Harlow and addiction researcher Jessica Kruger of the University of Buffalo in New York to help explain the delta-8 craze and its effects on kids. What is delta-8-THC? Cannabis plants contain over 100 compounds known as cannabinoids. Delta-8 is one of them. The most well-known is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or delta-9-THC. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2024.

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 29248 - Posted: 04.11.2024

By Christina Caron Anxious ahead of a big job interview? Worried about giving a speech? First date nerves? The solution, some digital start-ups suggest, is a beta blocker, a type of medication that can slow heart rate and lower blood pressure — masking some of the physical symptoms of anxiety. Typically a trip to the doctor’s office would be necessary to get a prescription, but a number of companies are now connecting patients with doctors for quick virtual visits and shipping the medication to people’s homes. “No more ‘Shaky and Sweaty,’” one online ad promised. “Easy fast 15 minute intake.” That worries Dr. Yvette I. Sheline, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine. “The first question is: What is going on with this person?” Dr. Sheline said. Are they depressed in addition to anxious? Do they have chronic anxiety or is it just a temporary case of stage fright? “You don’t want to end up prescribing the wrong thing,” she added. In addition, although beta blockers are generally considered safe, experts say they can carry unpleasant side effects and should be used with caution. What are beta blockers? Beta blockers such as propranolol hydrochloride have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for chest pain, migraine prevention, involuntary tremors, abnormal heart rhythms and other uses. Some are still prescribed for hypertension, although they’re no longer considered the preferred treatment, mainly because other medications are more effective in preventing stroke and death. © 2024 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Emotions; Stress
Link ID: 29247 - Posted: 04.06.2024

By Matt Richtel Historically speaking, it’s not a bad time to be the liver of a teenager. Or the lungs. Regular use of alcohol, tobacco and drugs among high school students has been on a long downward trend. In 2023, 46 percent of seniors said that they’d had a drink in the year before being interviewed; that is a precipitous drop from 88 percent in 1979, when the behavior peaked, according to the annual Monitoring the Future survey, a closely watched national poll of youth substance use. A similar downward trend was observed among eighth and 10th graders, and for those three age groups when it came to cigarette smoking. In 2023, just 15 percent of seniors said that they had smoked a cigarette in their life, down from a peak of 76 percent in 1977. Illicit drug use among teens has remained low and fairly steady for the past three decades, with some notable declines during the Covid-19 pandemic. In 2023, 29 percent of high school seniors reported using marijuana in the previous year — down from 37 percent in 2017, and from a peak of 51 percent in 1979. There are some sobering caveats to the good news. One is that teen overdose deaths have sharply risen, with fentanyl-involved deaths among adolescents doubling from 2019 to 2020 and remaining at that level in the subsequent years. Dr. Nora Volkow has devoted her career to studying use of drugs and alcohol. She has been the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse since 2003. She sat down with The New York Times to discuss changing patterns and the reasons behind shifting drug-use trends. What’s the big picture on teens and drug use? People don’t really realize that among young people, particularly teenagers, the rate of drug use is at the lowest risk that we have seen in decades. And that’s worth saying, too, for legal alcohol and tobacco. © 2024 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 29243 - Posted: 04.06.2024

By Paula Span The phone awakened Doug Nordman at 3 a.m. A surgeon was calling from a hospital in Grand Junction, Colo., where Mr. Nordman’s father had arrived at the emergency room, incoherent and in pain, and then lost consciousness. At first, the staff had thought he was suffering a heart attack, but a CT scan found that part of his small intestine had been perforated. A surgical team repaired the hole, saving his life, but the surgeon had some questions. “Was your father an alcoholic?” he asked. The doctors had found Dean Nordman malnourished, his peritoneal cavity “awash with alcohol.” The younger Mr. Nordman, a military personal finance author living in Oahu, Hawaii, explained that his 77-year-old dad had long been a classic social drinker: a Scotch and water with his wife before dinner, which got topped off during dinner, then another after dinner, and perhaps a nightcap. Having three to four drinks daily exceeds current dietary guidelines, which define moderate consumption as two drinks a day for men and one for women, or less. But “that was the normal drinking culture of the time,” said Doug Nordman, now 63. At the time of his 2011 hospitalization, though, Dean Nordman, a retired electrical engineer, was widowed, living alone and developing symptoms of dementia. He got lost while driving, struggled with household chores and complained of a “slipping memory.” He had waved off his two sons’ offers of help, saying he was fine. During that hospitalization, however, Doug Nordman found hardly any food in his father’s apartment. Worse, reviewing his father’s credit card statements, “I saw recurring charges from the Liquor Barn and realized he was drinking a pint of Scotch a day,” he said. Public health officials are increasingly alarmed by older Americans’ drinking. The annual number of alcohol-related deaths from 2020 through 2021 exceeded 178,000, according to recently released data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: more deaths than from all drug overdoses combined. © 2024 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Drug Abuse; Alzheimers
Link ID: 29234 - Posted: 04.02.2024

By David Adam The drug ketamine is enjoying a second life. First developed as an anaesthetic that was used widely by US battlefield surgeons during the Vietnam war, it is growing in popularity as a treatment for depression and other mental-health conditions. And this week, the drug got its highest-profile endorsement yet. In an interview with US journalist Don Lemon that was released online on Monday, Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX and head of social-media platform X (formerly Twitter), spoke about his own experiences of using the drug to manage what he called a “negative chemical state” similar to depression. Musk said he has a prescription for the drug from “a real doctor” and uses “a small amount once every other week or something like that”. His comments follow the fatal drowning of Friends actor Matthew Perry last October, an incident that an investigation blamed on the drug’s acute effects. It’s complicated. Approved as an anaesthetic by the US Food and Drug Administration in 1970, the drug was delivered intravenously to people undergoing surgery. Ketamine is often still given that way for depression. That requires supervision — typically people attend a private clinic and are monitored by an anaesthetist as well as the prescribing psychiatrist and members of the support staff. Because it’s long out of patent, there’s little commercial interest in developing new versions of the drug. Some companies are trying to package it into more-convenient oral lozenges, but that’s a challenging formulation. “The problem with ketamine is if you take it orally, by and large it doesn’t get through to the system because it’s got low bioavailability,” says Allan Young, a consultant psychiatrist at King’s College London who studies mood disorders.

Keyword: Depression; Drug Abuse
Link ID: 29210 - Posted: 03.23.2024

By Frances Vinall More than two-thirds of young children in Chicago could be exposed to lead-contaminated water, according to an estimate by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Stanford University School of Medicine. The research, published Monday in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, estimated that 68 percent of children under the age of 6 in Chicago are exposed to lead-contaminated drinking water. Of that group, 19 percent primarily use unfiltered tap water, which was associated with a greater increase in blood lead levels. “The extent of lead contamination of tap water in Chicago is disheartening — it’s not something we should be seeing in 2024,” lead author Benjamin Huynh, assistant professor of environmental health and engineering at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said in a news release. The study suggested that residential blocks with predominantly Black and Hispanic populations were less likely to be tested for lead, but also disproportionately exposed to contaminated water. Gina Ramirez, Midwest regional lead of environmental health for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said she grew up in Chicago drinking bottled water, but now uses filtered water for her own family, because of a generational awareness of “not trusting my tap” to be safe. The study “confirmed my worst fears that children living in vulnerable populations in the city are the most impacted,” she said. “All children deserve to grow up in a healthy city, and to learn that something inside their home is impacting so many kids health and development is a huge wake-up call.”

Keyword: Neurotoxins; Development of the Brain
Link ID: 29207 - Posted: 03.23.2024

By Rachel Nuwer In 2011, archaeologists in the Netherlands discovered an ancient pit filled with 86,000 animal bones at a Roman-Era farmstead near the city of Utrecht. It fell to Martijn van Haasteren, an archaeozoologist at the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands, to sort through them. Deep into the cataloging process, Mr. van Haasteren was cleaning the mud from yet another bone when something unexpected happened: Hundreds of black specks the size of poppy seeds came pouring out from one end. The specks turned out to be seeds of black henbane, a potently poisonous member of the nightshade family that can be medicinal or hallucinogenic depending on the dosage. The bone — hollowed-out and sealed with a tar plug — was an ancient stash pouch that had kept the seeds safe for some 1,900 years. Researchers determined that the bone was deposited in the pit somewhere between A.D. 70 and 100 — a time when the Netherlands represented the Roman Empire’s northern border. Parts of the container were smooth, suggesting frequent handling. This “very special” discovery provides the first definitive evidence that Indigenous people living in such a far-flung Roman province had knowledge of black henbane’s powerful properties, said Maaike Groot, an archaeozoologist at the Free University of Berlin and a co-author of a paper published in the journal Antiquity last month describing the finding. At the time that the original owner stuffed the container full of seeds, the properties of black henbane were already well known in Rome. Writings by Pliny the Elder and others testify to the medicinal use of black henbane seeds and leaves, but warn that an overindulgence will result in mind-altering effects. The plant was mostly used during Roman times as an ointment for pain relief, although some sources also reference smoking its seeds or adding its leaves to wine. It seems its psychedelic effects came to the fore in the Middle Ages, when black henbane became associated “with witches and summoning demons,” said Mr. van Haasteren, who is a co-author of the paper. © 2024 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 29204 - Posted: 03.21.2024

By Jan Hoffman The death certificate for Ryan Bagwell, a 19-year-old from Mission, Texas, states that he died from a fentanyl overdose. His mother, Sandra Bagwell, says that is wrong. On an April night in 2022, he swallowed one pill from a bottle of Percocet, a prescription painkiller that he and a friend bought earlier that day at a Mexican pharmacy just over the border. The next morning, his mother found him dead in his bedroom. A federal law enforcement lab found that none of the pills from the bottle tested positive for Percocet. But they all tested positive for lethal quantities of fentanyl. “Ryan was poisoned,” Mrs. Bagwell, an elementary-school reading specialist, said. As millions of fentanyl-tainted pills inundate the United States masquerading as common medications, grief-scarred families have been pressing for a change in the language used to describe drug deaths. They want public health leaders, prosecutors and politicians to use “poisoning” instead of “overdose.” In their view, “overdose” suggests that their loved ones were addicted and responsible for their own deaths, whereas “poisoning” shows they were victims. “If I tell someone that my child overdosed, they assume he was a junkie strung out on drugs,” said Stefanie Turner, a co-founder of Texas Against Fentanyl, a nonprofit organization that successfully lobbied Gov. Greg Abbott to authorize statewide awareness campaigns about so-called fentanyl poisoning. “If I tell you my child was poisoned by fentanyl, you’re like, ‘What happened?’” she continued. “It keeps the door open. But ‘overdose’ is a closed door.” © 2024 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 29191 - Posted: 03.16.2024

By Ben Seal When Oregon’s first psilocybin service center opened in June 2023, allowing those over 21 to take mind-altering mushrooms in a state-licensed facility, the psychedelic revival that had been unfolding over the past two decades entered an important new phase. Psilocybin is still illegal on the federal level. But now, as researchers explore the therapeutic potential of psilocybin and other psychedelics, including LSD and MDMA (also known as Molly or ecstasy), legal reform efforts are spreading across the country — raising tensions between state and federal laws. As a class, psychedelic drugs were outlawed in the United States by the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. The act designated psychedelics as Schedule I drugs — the most restrictive classification, indicating a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use. That status limits research to federally approved scientific studies and restricts federal funding to research with “significant medical evidence of a therapeutic advantage.” Despite these limitations, researchers have demonstrated the potential of psychedelics in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder, major depressive disorder, anxiety and addiction. A 2020 systematic review of recent research found that psychedelics can lessen symptoms linked to a variety of mental health conditions. While that review found no serious, long-term adverse physical or psychological effects from ingesting psychedelics, more research is needed on the latter. Today, decades after research on the effects of hallucinogens on the brain was sidelined by the act, academic and cultural interest in psychedelics is on the rise. More than 60 percent of Americans now support regulated therapeutic use of psychedelics, while nearly half support decriminalization, and nearly 45 percent support spiritual and religious use. An estimated 5.5 million US adults use psychedelics each year.

Keyword: Depression; Drug Abuse
Link ID: 29189 - Posted: 03.16.2024

By Lisa Sanders, M.D. Surrounded by the detritus of a Thanksgiving dinner, the woman was loading the dishwasher when a loud thump thundered through the house. She hurried out of the kitchen to find her husband of 37 years sitting on the second-floor landing. Her son and son-in-law, an emergency-room doctor, crouched at his side. Her husband protested that he was fine, then began to scooch himself on his bottom into the bedroom. The two young men helped him to his feet. The man’s body shook with a wild tremor that nearly knocked him down again. “I was getting into bed and fell,” he explained — though the bed was too far away to make this at all likely. “Get some sleep,” the woman said gently once her husband was settled in the bed. “We’ll go to the hospital in the morning.” Her daughter and son-in-law had arrived that morning and already mentioned the change they noticed in the 70-year-old senior. The normally gregarious man was oddly quiet. And the tremor he had for as long as they could remember was much more prominent. His hands shook so much he had trouble using his fork and ended up eating much of his Thanksgiving dinner with his fingers. And now this fall, this confusion — they were worried. His wife was also worried. Just after Halloween, she traveled for business, and when she came back, her husband was much quieter than usual. Even more concerning: When he spoke, he didn’t always make sense. “Have you had a stroke?” she asked her first day home. He was fine, he insisted. But a few days later she came home from work to find his face covered with cuts. He was shaving, he said, but his hand shook so much that he kept cutting himself. “There is something wrong with me,” he acknowledged. It was Thanksgiving week, but she was able to get him an appointment at his doctor’s office the next day. They were seen by the physician assistant (P.A.). She was kind, careful and thorough. After hearing of his confusion, she asked the man what day it was. “Friday?” he offered uncertainly. It was Wednesday. Could he touch his finger to his nose and then to her finger, held an arm’s length away? He could not. His index finger carved jagged teeth in the air as he sought his own nose then stretched to touch her finger. And when she asked him to stand, his entire body wobbled dangerously. “It’s all happened so quickly,” the man’s wife said. The P.A. reviewed his lab tests. They were all normal. She then ordered an M.R.I. of the brain. That, she explained, should give them a better idea of what direction to take. But, she added, if he falls or seems © 2024 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Neurotoxins; Movement Disorders
Link ID: 29182 - Posted: 03.07.2024

By Andrew Jacobs Ibogaine, a formidable hallucinogen made from the root of a shrub native to Central Africa, is not for the timid. It unleashes a harrowing psychedelic trip that can last more than 24 hours, and the drug can cause sudden cardiac arrest and death. But scientists who have studied ibogaine have reported startling findings. According to a number of small studies, between a third and two-thirds of the people who were addicted to opioids or crack cocaine and were treated with the compound in a therapeutic setting were effectively cured of their habits, many after just a single session. Ibogaine appears to provide two seemingly distinct benefits. It quells the agony of opioid withdrawal and cravings and then gives patients a born-again-style zeal for sobriety. Now, after decades in the shadows, and with opioid overdose deaths exceeding 100,000 a year, ibogaine is drawing a surge of fresh interest from researchers who believe it has the potential to treat opioid use disorder. “It’s not an exaggeration to say that ibogaine saved my life, allowed me to make amends with the people I hurt and helped me learn to love myself again,” said Jessica Blackburn, 37, who is recovering from heroin addiction and has been sober for eight years. “My biggest frustration is that more people don’t have access to it.” That’s because ibogaine is illegal in the United States. Patients have to go abroad for ibogaine therapy, often at unregulated clinics that provide little medical oversight. Kentucky and Ohio are considering proposals to spend millions of dollars of opioid settlement money on clinical trials for ibogaine therapy. And federal drug researchers have signaled a willingness to allow the drug to be studied again — more than 40 years after regulators pulled the plug on research over concerns about the drug’s cardiac risks. © 2024 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 29179 - Posted: 03.05.2024

By Benjamin Ryan People who frequently smoke marijuana have a higher risk of heart attack and stroke, according to a study published on Wednesday. The article, published in The Journal of the American Heart Association, is an analysis of responses to the U.S. government’s annual survey on behavioral risk from 2016 to 2020. The respondents answered health questions, including reporting their own health problems related to heart disease. About 4 percent of the respondents reported daily marijuana use, which the researchers suggested raised the chance of a heart attack by 25 percent and of a stroke by 42 percent. Among those who never smoked tobacco, daily use was tied to a 49 percent higher risk of heart attack and a more than doubled risk of stroke, the study indicated. About three-quarters of the respondents said that smoking was their main method of using weed. The other quarter consumed it by vaping, through edibles or drinking it. “Cannabis smoke releases the same toxins and particulate matter that tobacco does,” said the study’s first author, Abra M. Jeffers, a data analyst at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. She conducted the analysis during her post-doctoral fellowship at the University of California, San Francisco. The study is merely observational in its review of survey responses; it does not provide conclusive evidence that regular marijuana use causes heart disease. Even so, researchers and experts said they were concerned about its implications, especially as cannabis use has increased in recent years. Thirty-eight states have legalized medical use of marijuana, and 24 have begun allowing recreational use. © 2024 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 29168 - Posted: 02.29.2024

By David Ovalle Keifer Geers was born with a hole in his diaphragm that led to painful surgeries in adulthood. Despite physical challenges that included deafness, Geers graduated from Texas A&M University with a degree in biomedical engineering. He hoped to one day create medical devices for disabled children and wounded veterans. On a spring day as Geers walked with his mother through an airport in Midland, Tex., he stumbled, then collapsed into a seizure, his face contorted in shock. Geers, 33, was pronounced dead at a hospital. His mother later found inside his suitcase several packages of powder kratom, an herbal product he consumed to manage pain from surgeries. Patricia Geers said she was stunned when an autopsy concluded that her son died from the toxic effects of kratom — levels in his blood were more than nine times what some experts believe can prove lethal. The death of Keifer Geers was hardly an isolated episode. A Washington Post review of federal and state statistics shows that medical examiners and coroners are increasingly blaming deaths on kratom — it was listed as contributing to or causing at least 4,100 deaths in 44 states and D.C. between 2020 and 2022. The vast majority of those cases involved other drugs in addition to kratom, which is made from the leaves of tropical trees. Still, the kratom-involved deaths account for a small fraction of the more than 300,000 U.S. overdose deaths recorded in those three years. Dozens of wrongful death lawsuits involving kratom have been filed nationwide — including by Geers’s mother, who in February sued a Nevada retailer. The suits illustrate increased scrutiny of deaths involving products made from kratom, which is banned in six states but remains widely available online and in vape and convenience stores despite health warnings from federal authorities.

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 29155 - Posted: 02.22.2024