Chapter 4. The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology

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An analysis of survey data from more than 280,000 young adults ages 18-35 showed that cannabis (marijuana) use was associated with increased risks of thoughts of suicide (suicidal ideation), suicide plan, and suicide attempt. These associations remained regardless of whether someone was also experiencing depression, and the risks were greater for women than for men. The study published online today in JAMA Network Open and was conducted by researchers at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), part of the National Institutes of Health. “While we cannot establish that cannabis use caused the increased suicidality we observed in this study, these associations warrant further research, especially given the great burden of suicide on young adults,” said NIDA Director Nora Volkow, M.D., senior author of this study. “As we better understand the relationship between cannabis use, depression, and suicidality, clinicians will be able to provide better guidance and care to patients.” The number of adults in the United States who use cannabis more than doubled from 22.6 million in 2008 to 45.0 million in 2019, and the number of daily or near-daily users almost tripled from 3.6 million to 9.8 million in 2019. Over the same time span, the number of adults with depression also increased, as did the number of people who reported suicidal ideation or plan or who died by suicide. To date, however, the relationship between trends in cannabis use and suicidality is not well understood. The current study sought to fill this gap.

Keyword: Depression; Drug Abuse
Link ID: 27866 - Posted: 06.23.2021

By Lenny Bernstein MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — After nearly two decades of hardcore drug addiction — after overdoses and rehabs and relapses, homelessness and dead friends and ruined lives — Gerod Buckhalter had one choice left, and he knew it. He could go on the same way and die young in someone’s home or a parking lot, another casualty in a drug epidemic that has claimed nearly 850,000 people like him. Or he could let a surgeon cut two nickel-size holes in his skull and plunge metal-tipped electrodes into his brain. More than 600 days after he underwent the experimental surgery, Buckhalter has not touched drugs again — an outcome so outlandishly successful that neither he nor his doctors dared hope it could happen. He is the only person in the United States to ever have substance use disorder relieved by deep brain stimulation. The procedure has reversed Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy and a few other intractable conditions, but had never been attempted for drug addiction here. The device, known as a deep brain stimulator, also is recording the electrical activity in Buckhalter’s brain — another innovation that researchers hope will help locate a biomarker for addiction and allow earlier intervention with other people. Buckhalter, 35, is a walking, talking laboratory for the outer edge of drug addiction therapy, a living experiment in what may be possible someday. Yet for all the futuristic prospects, he is also proof of how difficult treatment of addiction remains. Quelling it with a scalpel helps refute the false belief that substance use disorder is a weakness or a moral failing, rather than a brain disease. But it does not address the psychological, social and socioeconomic factors that complicate the disease.

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 27859 - Posted: 06.19.2021

By Laura Sanders The key ingredient in the illicit drug known as Ecstasy or Molly may offer profound relief from post-traumatic stress disorder. When paired with intense talk therapy, MDMA drastically eased symptoms in people who had struggled with severe PTSD for years, a new study reports. “This is a big deal,” says Steven Gold, a clinical psychologist in Fort Lauderdale and professor emeritus at Nova Southeastern University in Plantation, Fla. “All other things being equal, the use of psychedelic medication can significantly improve the outcome.” The results, published May 10 in Nature Medicine, are preliminary. But the findings offer hope to the millions of people worldwide who have PTSD, for whom new treatments are desperately needed. Antidepressants such as Zoloft and Paxil are often prescribed, but the drugs don’t work for an estimated 40 to 60 percent of people with PTSD. Ninety people participated in the new study, which took place at 15 clinical sites in the United States, Canada and Israel. All the participants received 15 therapy sessions with therapists trained to guide people as they experienced the drug. Half of the participants received MDMA in three eight-hour therapy sessions; the other half received placebos during three eight-hour therapy sessions. True to its nickname Ecstasy, MDMA evokes feelings of bliss and social connectedness. The participants took the drug (or the placebo) while wearing eye covers and listening to music, and occasionally talking with their therapist about their experience. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2021.

Keyword: Stress; Drug Abuse
Link ID: 27826 - Posted: 05.19.2021

By Andrew Jacobs It’s been a long, strange trip in the four decades since Rick Doblin, a pioneering psychedelics researcher, dropped his first hit of acid in college and decided to dedicate his life to the healing powers of mind-altering compounds. Even as antidrug campaigns led to the criminalization of Ecstasy, LSD and magic mushrooms, and drove most researchers from the field, Dr. Doblin continued his quixotic crusade with financial help from his parents. Dr. Doblin’s quest to win mainstream acceptance of psychedelics took a significant leap forward on Monday when the journal Nature Medicine published the results of his lab’s study on MDMA, the club drug popularly known as Ecstasy and Molly. The study, the first Phase 3 clinical trial conducted with psychedelic-assisted therapy, found that MDMA paired with counseling brought marked relief to patients with severe post-traumatic stress disorder. The results, coming weeks after a New England Journal of Medicine study that highlighted the benefits of treating depression with psilocybin, the psychoactive ingredient in magic mushrooms, have excited scientists, psychotherapists and entrepreneurs in the rapidly expanding field of psychedelic medicine. They say it is only a matter of time before the Food and Drug Administration grants approval for psychoactive compounds to be used therapeutically — for MDMA as soon as 2023, followed by psilocybin a year or two later. After decades of demonization and criminalization, psychedelic drugs are on the cusp of entering mainstream psychiatry, with profound implications for a field that in recent decades has seen few pharmacological advancements for the treatment of mental disorders and addiction. The need for new therapeutics has gained greater urgency amid a national epidemic of opioid abuse and suicides. © 2021 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Depression; Drug Abuse
Link ID: 27817 - Posted: 05.12.2021

By Rachel Nuwer In an important step toward medical approval, MDMA, the illegal drug popularly known as Ecstasy or Molly, was shown to bring relief to those suffering from severe post-traumatic stress disorder when paired with talk therapy. Of the 90 people who took part in the new study, which is expected to be published later this month in Nature Medicine, those who received MDMA during therapy experienced a significantly greater reduction in the severity of their symptoms compared with those who received therapy and an inactive placebo. Two months after treatment, 67 percent of participants in the MDMA group no longer qualified for a diagnosis of PTSD, compared with 32 percent in the placebo group. MDMA produced no serious adverse side effects. Some participants temporarily experienced mild symptoms like nausea and loss of appetite. “This is about as excited as I can get about a clinical trial,” said Gul Dolen, a neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, who was not involved in the research. “There is nothing like this in clinical trial results for a neuropsychiatric disease.” Before MDMA-assisted therapy can be approved for therapeutic use, the Food and Drug Administration needs a second positive Phase 3 trial, which is currently underway with 100 participants. Approval could come as early as 2023. Mental health experts say that this research — the first Phase 3 trial conducted on psychedelic-assisted therapy — could pave the way for further studies on MDMA’s potential to help address other difficult-to-treat mental health conditions, including substance abuse, obsessive compulsive disorder, phobias, eating disorders, depression, end-of-life anxiety and social anxiety in autistic adults. © 2021 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Drug Abuse; Stress
Link ID: 27804 - Posted: 05.05.2021

Ariana Remmel Scientists in search of psychedelic drug treatments have developed a way to determine whether a molecule is likely to cause hallucinations, without testing it on people or animals. Growing evidence suggests that psychedelic compounds, which are active in the brain, have potential to treat psychiatric illnesses such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but researchers are trying to find out whether there is a way to keep the beneficial properties of these drugs without the hallucinogenic side effects, which can complicate treatment. It is currently almost impossible to predict whether a potential drug will cause hallucinations before it is tested on animals or people. “That really slows down drug discovery,” says David Olson, a chemical neuroscientist at the University of California, Davis. To address this, a team led by Olson and neuroscientist Lin Tian, also at Davis, designed a fluorescent sensor to predict whether a molecule is hallucinogenic, based on the structure of a brain receptor targeted by psychedelics. Using their approach, the researchers identified a psychedelic-like molecule without hallucinogenic properties that they later found had antidepressant activity in mice1. The discovery adds “more fuel for the fire” of efforts to make drugs from psychedelic-like molecules without side effects, says Bryan Roth, a molecular pharmacologist at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine in Chapel Hill. © 2021 Springer Nature Limited

Keyword: Drug Abuse; Stress
Link ID: 27798 - Posted: 05.01.2021

by Angie Voyles Askham A brain circuit that connects the amygdala to the hypothalamus is essential for deriving pleasure from social interactions, according to a new study in mice. Alterations in this circuit may help explain why autistic people tend to have less social motivation than their non-autistic peers. The release of the neurotransmitter dopamine into the striatum prompts the rewarding feelings that come from stimuli such as food or sex, previous research shows. But it was unclear whether all social reward is processed in that same circuit, or if it occurs in a separate brain area that later links up with the striatum, the brain’s reward center, says lead researcher Weizhe Hong, associate professor of neurobiology and biological chemistry at the University of California, Los Angeles. Hong and his colleagues trained mice on a social test and then altered activity in the animals’ medial amygdala, which has been linked to the regulation of social behaviors. Cells in the area carry information about social reward to the medial preoptic area of the hypothalamus, the team found. And activation of this circuit prompts the release of dopamine in the striatum. “It’s filling a gap that existed” in the field, says Jessica Walsh, assistant professor of pharmacology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who was not involved in the study. © 2021 Simons Foundation

Keyword: Autism; Drug Abuse
Link ID: 27793 - Posted: 05.01.2021

By Nambi Ndugga and Austin Frakt American deaths from misuse of substances, including alcohol, have increased over the past two decades, but not uniformly across various demographic groups. Overall rates of alcohol abuse and related deaths have consistently and significantly increased for white non-Hispanic Americans, while Black Americans have experienced a much slower and less significant incline, and some other groups have had declines. More recently, alcohol use has been up during the pandemic, with one study showing a greater increase in misuse among women than among men. (For men, heavy drinking is considered more than four drinks per day and 14 drinks per week, and for women, more than three drinks per day and seven drinks per week, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.) “Alcohol kills many more people than many may realize,” said Yusuf Ransome, an assistant professor at Yale’s School of Public Health. “It is a major contributor to deaths linked to physical injuries, interpersonal violence, motor vehicle crashes, self-harm and other harmful outcomes.” One reason for this might be that alcohol is often viewed as socially acceptable. “Alcohol use has been normalized because it is consumed sometimes at family and communal gatherings, casual outings, and that’s the type of drinking that is typically seen or showed within the media,” he said. “We rarely see the long-term health impacts of excessive alcohol use, nor do we show the acute dangers of alcohol misuse and abuse.” Between 2000 and 2016, according to research published in JAMA, alcohol-related deaths continually increased for white men (2.3 percent per year on average) and white women (4.1 percent), with middle-aged white Americans accounting for the highest increase in deaths. Rapid increases during this period in mortality related to alcohol and drugs like opioids among white Americans — particularly those without a college degree — have been termed “deaths of despair.” Sign up for The Upshot Newsletter: Analysis that explains politics, policy and everyday life, with an emphasis on data and charts. © 2021 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Drug Abuse; Stress
Link ID: 27779 - Posted: 04.21.2021

Greg Rosalsky Last month, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed three bills making it official: marijuana will soon be growing legally in the gardens of the Garden State for anyone over 21 to enjoy. The bills follow through on a marijuana legalization ballot initiative that New Jerseyans approved overwhelmingly last year. New Jersey is now one of a dozen states, plus the District of Columbia, which have let loose the magic dragon — and more states, like Virginia, may be on the way. It's been almost a decade since Colorado and Washington legalized marijuana. That's given economists and other researchers enough time to study the effects of the policy. Here are some of the most interesting findings: Legalization didn't seem to substantially affect crime rates — Proponents of legalizing weed claimed it would reduce violent crimes. Opponents said it would increase violent crimes. A study by the CATO Institute finds, "Overall, violent crime has neither soared nor plummeted in the wake of marijuana legalization." Legalization seems to have little or no effect on traffic accidents and fatalities — Opponents of marijuana legalization argued it would wreak havoc on the road. A few studies have found that's not the case. Economists Benjamin Hansen, Keaton S. Miller & Caroline Weber, for instance, found evidence suggesting it had no effect on trends in traffic fatalities in both Colorado and Washington. © 2021 npr

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 27734 - Posted: 03.17.2021

Alexandra Jones In the summer of 1981, when he was 13, Grant crashed a trail motorbike into a wall at his parents’ house in Cambridgeshire. He’d been hiding it in the shed, but “it was far too powerful for me, and on my very first time starting it in the garden, I smashed it into a wall”. His mother came outside to find the skinny teenager in a heap next to the crumpled motorbike. “I was in a lot of trouble.” Grant hadn’t given this childhood memory much thought in the intervening years, but one hot August day in 2019, it came back to him with such clarity that, at 53, now a stocky father of two, he suddenly understood it as a clue to his dangerously unhealthy relationship with alcohol. The day before, a team of specialists at the Royal Devon and Exeter hospital had given him an intravenous infusion of ketamine, a dissociative hallucinogen, in common use as an anaesthetic since the 1970s, and more recently one of a group of psychedelic drugs being hailed as a silver bullet in the fight to save our ailing mental health. To date, more than 100 patients with conditions as diverse as depression, PTSD and addiction have been treated in research settings across the UK, using a radical new intervention that combines psychedelic drugs with talking therapy. What was once a fringe research interest has become the foundation of a new kind of healthcare, one that, for the first time in modern psychiatric history, purports to not only treat but actually cure mental ill health. And if advocates are to be believed, that cure will be available on the NHS within the next five years. © 2021 Guardian News & Media Limited

Keyword: Depression; Drug Abuse
Link ID: 27732 - Posted: 03.13.2021

By Cathleen O’Grady People who take tiny amounts of LSD, “magic mushrooms,” and related drugs report a range of benefits, from more creativity to improved psychological well-being. But do these microdoses—typically less than 10% of the amount that causes a true psychedelic experience—actually benefit the mind? That’s been a hard question to answer. Placebo-controlled trials are tricky to pull off, because psychedelics are so tightly regulated. Now, researchers have come up with a creative workaround: They’ve enlisted microdosing enthusiasts to hide their drugs in gel capsules and mix them up with empty capsules. The upshot of this “self-blinding” study: Microdosing did lead to improvements in psychological well-being—but so did the placebo capsules. “The benefits are real,” says lead author Balázs Szigeti, a neuroscientist at Imperial College London. “But they are not caused by the pharmacological effects of microdosing.” The findings, however, are “the least interesting thing about this study,” says Noah Haber, a study design specialist at Stanford University. The “very, very clever” method of self-blinding pushes the boundaries of what can be investigated using randomized placebo controls, he says. Getting the new study off the ground wasn’t easy. Obtaining ethical approval to enroll psychedelic-taking volunteers was a “long and difficult process,” Szigeti says. And then he had to go out and find those volunteers, which he did by reaching out to microdosing communities, giving talks at psychedelic societies, and holding an “ask me anything” discussion on Reddit. Szigeti eventually garnered more than 1600 sign-ups, but once potential participants realized they’d have to procure their own psychedelics, interest ebbed, and only 246 ended up in the experiment. © 2021 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Depression; Drug Abuse
Link ID: 27721 - Posted: 03.06.2021

By Matt Richtel Texas has one of the most restrictive medical marijuana laws in the country, with sales allowed only by prescription for a handful of conditions. That hasn’t stopped Lukas Gilkey, chief executive of Hometown Hero CBD, based in Austin, Texas. His company sells joints, blunts, gummy bears, vaping devices and tinctures that offer a recreational high. In fact, business is booming online as well, where he sells to many people in other states with strict marijuana laws. But Mr. Gilkey says that he is no outlaw, and that he’s not selling marijuana, just a close relation. He’s offering products with a chemical compound — Delta-8-THC — extracted from hemp. It is only slightly chemically different from Delta 9, which is the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. And that small distinction, it turns out, may make a big difference in the eyes of the law. Under federal law, psychoactive Delta 9 is explicitly outlawed. But Delta-8-THC from hemp is not, a loophole that some entrepreneurs say allows them to sell it in many states where hemp possession is legal. The number of customers “coming into Delta 8 is staggering,” Mr. Gilkey said. “You have a drug that essentially gets you high, but is fully legal,” he added. “The whole thing is comical.” The rise of Delta 8 is a case study in how industrious cannabis entrepreneurs are pulling apart hemp and marijuana to create myriad new product lines with different marketing angles. They are building brands from a variety of potencies, flavors and strains of THC, the intoxicating substance in cannabis, and of CBD, the nonintoxicating compound that is often sold as a health product. With Delta 8, entrepreneurs also believe they have found a way to take advantage of the country’s fractured and convoluted laws on recreational marijuana use. It’s not quite that simple, though. Federal agencies, including the Drug Enforcement Administration, are still considering their options for enforcement and regulation. © 2021 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 27714 - Posted: 02.28.2021

By Tom Bartlett The stimulant hexedrone — known more commonly as “bath salts” — is the kind of drug Carl Hart believes would be ideal to take right before a hellish academic reception or departmental holiday party. He’ll do cocaine and ecstasy from time to time and is a fan of the opioids oxycodone and morphine for the “pleasurable calmness” they induce. But after a long day, there are few things that Hart, a neuroscientist and psychology professor at Columbia University, enjoys more than a few lines of heroin by the fireplace. Hart has long pushed back against what he sees as the demonization of certain drugs and those who take them, particularly Black users, who are incarcerated at higher rates than white users. He has questioned the prevailing opinion that methamphetamine interferes with cognition and presented findings that suggest marijuana has minimal impact on the working memory of regular smokers. In his 2013 memoir, High Price: A Neuroscientist’s Journey of Self-Discovery That Challenges Everything You Know About Drugs and Society, Hart makes the case for decriminalizing narcotics and argues that “we’re too afraid of these drugs and of what we think they do.” In a 2014 talk at the TEDMed conference, he argued that “science should be driving our drug policy and our drug education, even if that makes you and me uncomfortable.” In his new book, Drug Use for Grown-Ups: Chasing Liberty in the Land of Fear, the former chairman of Columbia’s psychology department goes a step further, revealing that he has used — and continues to use — a number of illegal drugs. In fact, Hart recently said on a podcast that he was on methamphetamine when he delivered that TEDMed talk and that he’s given some of his best interviews the day after using heroin. Hart, who is 54, tried heroin for the first time in his 40s and has used it regularly — and responsibly, he contends — for years. “I am an unapologetic drug user,” he writes. “I take drugs as part of my pursuit of happiness, and they work. I am a happier and better person because of them.” He is not, he writes, an addict, and his book is not about addiction. Hart says that his stressful recent stint as department chairman was more damaging to his health than any substance he has ingested. © 2021 The Chronicle of Higher Education

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 27709 - Posted: 02.28.2021

By Linda Searing People who smoke even occasionally are more likely than nonsmokers to have a serious type of stroke caused by a ruptured blood vessel — 27 percent more likely if they smoke up to 20 packs a year, according to research published in the journal Stroke. The average American smoker, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, smokes 14 cigarettes daily, which means about 255 packs a year. The type of stroke examined by the researchers, known as a subarachnoid hemorrhage, occurs when a weakened blood vessel ruptures and bleeds into the space between a person’s brain and skull. Most often, this results from an aneurysm, an abnormal bulge in a blood vessel. A subarachnoid hemorrhage is not as common as an ischemic stroke, which is caused by a blood clot, but it also can lead to neurological problems or be life-threatening without immediate treatment to stop the bleeding. To focus on the effect that smoking may have on people’s risk for this type of stroke, the researchers analyzed data on 408,609 adults, about a third of whom smoked regularly. During the study period, 904 participants had a subarachnoid hemorrhage. The more people smoked, the greater their risk for this type of stroke, prompting the American Stroke Association to note that the findings “provide evidence for a causal link” between smoking and subarachnoid hemorrhage. washingtonpost.com © 1996-2021

Keyword: Drug Abuse; Stroke
Link ID: 27707 - Posted: 02.28.2021

By Anahad O’Connor Five years ago, a group of nutrition scientists studied what Americans eat and reached a striking conclusion: More than half of all the calories that the average American consumes comes from ultra-processed foods, which they defined as “industrial formulations” that combine large amounts of sugar, salt, oils, fats and other additives. Highly processed foods continue to dominate the American diet, despite being linked to obesity, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and other health problems. They are cheap and convenient, and engineered to taste good. They are aggressively marketed by the food industry. But a growing number of scientists say another reason these foods are so heavily consumed is that for many people they are not just tempting but addictive, a notion that has sparked controversy among researchers. Recently, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition explored the science behind food addiction and whether ultra-processed foods might be contributing to overeating and obesity. It featured a debate between two of the leading experts on the subject, Ashley Gearhardt, associate professor in the psychology department at the University of Michigan, and Dr. Johannes Hebebrand, head of the department of child and adolescent psychiatry, psychosomatics and psychotherapy at the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany. Dr. Gearhardt, a clinical psychologist, helped develop the Yale Food Addiction Scale, a survey that is used to determine whether a person shows signs of addictive behavior toward food. In one study involving more than 500 people, she and her colleagues found that certain foods were especially likely to elicit “addictive-like” eating behaviors, such as intense cravings, a loss of control, and an inability to cut back despite experiencing harmful consequences and a strong desire to stop eating them. At the top of the list were pizza, chocolate, potato chips, cookies, ice cream, French fries and cheeseburgers. © 2021 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Obesity; Drug Abuse
Link ID: 27706 - Posted: 02.23.2021

By Nicholas Bakalar A large analysis looked at hundreds of factors that may influence the risk of heart failure and found one dietary factor in particular that was associated with a lower risk: drinking coffee. Heart failure, sometimes called congestive heart failure, occurs when the heart muscle becomes weakened and can no longer pump blood efficiently. It can be caused by high blood pressure, heart valve disease, heart attack, diabetes and other diseases and conditions. The analysis included extensive, decades-long data from three large health studies with 21,361 participants, and used a method called machine learning that uses computers to find meaningful patterns in large amounts of data. “Usually, researchers pick things they suspect would be risk factors for heart failure — smoking, for example — and then look at smokers versus nonsmokers,” said the senior author, Dr. David P. Kao, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Colorado. “But machine learning identifies variables that are predictive of either increased or decreased risk, but that you haven’t necessarily thought of.” Using this technique, Dr. Kao and his colleagues found 204 variables that are associated with the risk for heart failure. Then they looked at the 41 strongest factors, which included, among others, smoking, marital status, B.M.I., cholesterol, blood pressure and the consumption of various foods. The analysis is in Circulation: Heart Failure. In all three studies, coffee drinking was associated more strongly than any other dietary factor with a decreased long-term risk for heart failure. Drinking a cup a day or less had no effect, but two cups a day conferred a 31 percent reduced risk, and three cups or more reduced risk by 29 percent. There were not enough subjects who drank more than three cups daily to know if more coffee would decrease the risk further. © 2021 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 27701 - Posted: 02.23.2021

By Warren Cornwall Prozac might need a new warning label: “Caution: This antidepressant may turn fish into zombies.” Researchers have found that long-term exposure to the drug makes guppies act more alike, wiping out some of the typical behavioral differences that distinguish them. That could be a big problem when the medication—technically named fluoxetine—washes into streams and rivers, potentially making fish populations more vulnerable to predators and other threats. In recent decades, scientists have uncovered a plethora of ways that pharmaceuticals affect animals in the lab and in the wild, such as by altering courtship, migration, and anxiety. The drugs find their way into the environment through water that pours from sewage treatment plants, which is rarely filtered to remove the chemicals. But the findings are usually based on an average taken from combining measurements of all the individual animals in a group. Giovanni Polverino, a behavioral ecologist at the University of Western Australia, Perth, and colleagues wondered whether this calculation obscured important but subtle insights about individual animals. Did the drug change behavior similarly in all the creatures in a group? Or were certain kinds of “personalities” affected more strongly? To find out, Polverino’s team captured 3600 guppies (Poecilia reticulata)—a common silvery fish often used in labs that grows to half the length of an average human’s pinkie—from a creek in northeastern Australia. In the laboratory, the fish and their offspring—as many as six generations—spent 2 years in tanks filled with either freshwater, water with fluoxetine at levels common in the wild, or a higher dose similar to places near sewage outflows. © 2021 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Depression; Neurotoxins
Link ID: 27685 - Posted: 02.13.2021

by Peter Hess A new engineered protein that glows in the presence of serotonin enables researchers to track the neurotransmitter’s levels and location in the brains of living mice, according to a new study. This ‘serotonin sensor’ could help elucidate serotonin’s role in autism, experts say. Serotonin helps regulate mood, circulation and digestion, among other functions. Some people with autism have elevated levels of serotonin in their blood. Other evidence links serotonin to social behavior in mice. “Serotonin is wildly important both for basic research and human health. And for the longest time, ways to measure it were very indirect,” says co-lead researcher Loren Looger, professor of neuroscience at the University of California, San Diego. “Only with sensors like this can one follow it in vivo, which is critical.” Unlike other tools for measuring serotonin, the sensor can also show changes in serotonin activity over time, making it an exciting tool for autism research, says Jeremy Veenstra-VanderWeele, professor of psychiatry at Columbia University, who was not involved in the study. “This tool will make it possible to understand the relationships between serotonin release and complex behaviors, including in different genetic mouse models related to autism,” he says. “I imagine that this tool will come into fairly broad use.” Programmable protein: The new sensor originated from one described last year that detects a different neurotransmitter, acetylcholine. Looger and his team used a computer algorithm to redesign the acetylcholine-binding portion of the sensor protein so that it could attach to serotonin instead. © 2021 Simons Foundation

Keyword: Depression; Obesity
Link ID: 27680 - Posted: 02.08.2021

Paul Tullis On a sunny day in London in 2015, Kirk Rutter rode the Tube to Hammersmith Hospital in hopes of finally putting an end to his depression. Rutter had lived with the condition off and on for years, but the burden had grown since the death of his mother in 2011, followed by a relationship break-up and a car accident the year after. It felt as if his brain was stuck on what he describes as “an automatic circuit”, repeating the same negative thoughts like a mantra: “‘Everything I do turns to crap.’ I actually believed that,” he recalls. The visit to Hammersmith was a preview. He would be returning the next day to participate in a study, taking a powerful hallucinogen under the guidance of Robin Carhart-Harris, a psychologist and neuroscientist at Imperial College London. Years of talking therapy and a variety of anti-anxiety medications had failed to improve Rutter’s condition, qualifying him for the trial. “Everyone was super nice, like really lovely, and especially Robin,” Rutter recalls. Carhart-Harris led him to a room with a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine, so researchers could acquire a baseline of his brain activity. Then he showed Rutter where he would spend his time while on the drug. Carhart-Harris asked him to lie down and played him some of the music that would accompany the session. He explained that he would have on hand a drug that could neutralize the hallucinogen, if necessary. Then the two practised a grounding technique, to help calm Rutter in the event that he became overwhelmed. Without warning, Rutter burst into tears. “I think I knew this was going to be unpacking a lot — I was carrying a bit of a load at the time,” Rutter says. © 2021 Springer Nature Limited

Keyword: Depression; Drug Abuse
Link ID: 27670 - Posted: 01.30.2021

Research shows that hallucinogens can be highly effective treatments for anxiety, depression, addiction, and trauma. Here's everything you need to know: Aren't psychedelic drugs illegal? Under federal and most states' laws, they are, but a push to legalize or decriminalize the drugs is gaining momentum. On Election Day, Oregon voters made their state the first to legalize the active ingredient in "magic mushrooms" — psilocybin — for mental health therapy in a controlled setting with a therapist. Washington, D.C., voters passed Initiative 81, making the city at least the fifth to decriminalize magic mushrooms. Similar legislation has been proposed in California, Vermont, and Iowa. Last summer, Canada issued four terminally ill patients exemptions to take psilocybin for end-of-life anxiety and depression. British Columbia resident Mona Strelaeff, 67, got an exemption for treatment for trauma, addiction, depression, and anxiety. "All the unresolved trauma," Strelaeff said, "it came back and I was beyond terrified, shaking uncontrollably, and crying." She said that psilocybin therapy helped her conquer "those tough memories" and today she "ain't afraid of jack (s---)." How does psychedelic therapy work? Participants usually take psilocybin or LSD in a relaxing setting, lying down with blindfolds and headphones on, listening to music. Trained supervisors encourage them to "go inward and to kind of experience whatever is going to come up," said Alan Davis, who studies psychedelics at Johns Hopkins University. Bad psilocybin trips are rare — Johns Hopkins and NYU researchers conducted 500 sessions without observing any "serious adverse effects" — but they can occur. Advocates say careful dose control, supervision, and controlled settings are very important. Psilocybin sessions typically last between four and six hours, while LSD sessions go on for 12. Robin Carhart-Harris, who runs the Centre for Psychedelic Research at Imperial College in London, theorized that such sessions can "reboot" the brain in a way similar to a near-death or intense spiritual experience. ® 2021 The Week Publications Inc.,

Keyword: Depression; Drug Abuse
Link ID: 27667 - Posted: 01.27.2021