Chapter 4. The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology

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By Sam Wong Microdosing, the practice of regularly taking small amounts of psychedelic drugs to improve mood and performance, has been taking off over the past few years. But the fact that these drugs are illegal makes it difficult to research their effects and possible health consequences. There are no rigorous clinical trials to see whether microdosing works (see “Microdosers say tiny hits of LSD make your work and life better”). Instead, all we have are anecdotes from people like Janet Lai Chang, a digital marketer based in San Francisco. She will present her experience of microdosing at the Quantified Self conference in Amsterdam from 17 to 18 June. When did you start microdosing? I started in February 2016. I wanted to understand how my brain works and how it might work differently with the influence of psilocybin [the active ingredient in magic mushrooms]. What else did you hope to achieve? I had been struggling with a lot of social anxiety. It was really preventing me from advancing professionally. I was invited to give a talk at Harvard University and a TedX talk in California. I didn’t feel ready. I felt all this anxiety. I procrastinated until the last minute and then didn’t do it. It was one of my biggest regrets. What doses did you take? At first I was taking 0.2 grams of mushrooms every day, with a day or two off at the weekend. In August, I had a month off. From October to April, it was a few times a week. How did it affect you? I was less anxious, less depressed, more open, more extroverted. I was more present in the moment. It’s harder to get into the flow of the focused solo work that I’m normally really good at. But it’s good for the social aspect. © Copyright New Scientist Ltd.

Keyword: Depression; Drug Abuse
Link ID: 23743 - Posted: 06.15.2017

Rob Stein The Food and Drug Administration requested Thursday that the drugmaker Endo Pharmaceuticals stop selling Opana ER — its extended-release version of Opana. The FDA says the move marks the first time the agency has taken steps to remove an opioid from the market because of "public health consequences of abuse." An increasing number of people, the FDA says, are abusing the powerful prescription pills by crushing, dissolving and injecting them. The sharing of needles by these drug users has fueled an outbreak of associated infectious diseases — HIV, hepatitis C and another serious blood disorder. "We are facing an opioid epidemic — a public health crisis, and we must take all necessary steps to reduce the scope of opioid misuse and abuse," says Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the FDA's commissioner, in announcing the move. "We will continue to take regulatory steps when we see situations where an opioid product's risks outweigh its benefits, not only for its intended patient population but also in regard to its potential for misuse and abuse," Gottlieb says. Dangers Of Opana Opioid Painkiller Outweigh Benefits, FDA Panel Says In a written statement, Endo says the company is "reviewing the request and is evaluating the full range of potential options as we determine the appropriate path forward." The company defended its drug, a version of the medicine oxymorphone hydrochloride, citing the opioid's effectiveness in alleviating pain and Endo's efforts to prevent abuse. © 2017 npr

Keyword: Drug Abuse; Pain & Touch
Link ID: 23725 - Posted: 06.09.2017

Nicola Davis Drinking even moderate amounts of alcohol can damage the brain and impair cognitive function over time, researchers have claimed. While heavy drinking has previously been linked to memory problems and dementia, previous studies have suggested low levels of drinking could help protect the brain. But the new study pushes back against the notion of such benefits. “We knew that drinking heavily for long periods of time was bad for brain health, but we didn’t know at these levels,” said Anya Topiwala, a clinical lecturer in old age psychiatry at the University of Oxford and co-author of the research. Alcohol is a direct cause of seven ​​forms of cancer, finds study Read more Writing in the British Medical Journal, researchers from the University of Oxford and University College London, describe how they followed the alcohol intake and cognitive performance of 550 men and women over 30 years from 1985. At the end of the study the team took MRI scans of the participants’ brains. None of the participants were deemed to have an alcohol dependence, but levels of drinking varied. After excluding 23 participants due to gaps in data or other issues, the team looked at participants’ alcohol intake as well as their performance on various cognitive tasks, as measured at six points over the 30 year period.

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 23718 - Posted: 06.07.2017

By Jessica Hamzelou Drinking even small amounts of alcohol when pregnant seems to have subtle effects on how a baby’s face develops – including the shape of their eyes, nose and lips. This isn’t necessarily harmful, though. “We don’t know if the small changes in the children’s facial shape are connected in any way to differences in their development,” says Jane Halliday of the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Victoria, Australia, who led the research. “We plan to look at this as the children grow.” Heavy drinking during pregnancy can cause fetal alcohol syndrome, which is characterised by distinctive facial features, such as small eye openings, a short up-turned nose, and a smooth philtrum over the upper lip. Children with this condition are likely to have attention and behavioural disorders, as well as a lower IQ, says Halliday. To find out whether low levels of alcohol consumption, which are more common in pregnancy, might also affect developing fetuses, Halliday’s team studied 1570 women throughout their pregnancies and births. Of these women, 27 per cent said they continued to drink at least some alcohol while pregnant. When the children were 1 year old, Halliday’s team took photos of 415 of the babies’ faces with multiple cameras from different angles. When the team stitched these images together using computer software, the resulting 3D photographs detailed almost 70,000 points on each baby’s face. Analysing these revealed subtle differences in the faces of babies whose mothers had drunk alcohol compared with those whose mothers hadn’t. These included a slightly shorter, more-upturned nose. © Copyright New Scientist Ltd.

Keyword: Development of the Brain; Drug Abuse
Link ID: 23714 - Posted: 06.06.2017

By JOSH KATZ AKRON, Ohio — Drug overdose deaths in 2016 most likely exceeded 59,000, the largest annual jump ever recorded in the United States, according to preliminary data compiled by The New York Times. The death count is the latest consequence of an escalating public health crisis: opioid addiction, now made more deadly by an influx of illicitly manufactured fentanyl and similar drugs. Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death among Americans under 50. Although the data is preliminary, the Times’s best estimate is that deaths rose 19 percent over the 52,404 recorded in 2015. And all evidence suggests the problem has continued to worsen in 2017. Because drug deaths take a long time to certify, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will not be able to calculate final numbers until December. The Times compiled estimates for 2016 from hundreds of state health departments and county coroners and medical examiners. Together they represent data from states and counties that accounted for 76 percent of overdose deaths in 2015. They are a first look at the extent of the drug overdose epidemic last year, a detailed accounting of a modern plague. The initial data points to large increases in drug overdose deaths in states along the East Coast, particularly Maryland, Florida, Pennsylvania and Maine. In Ohio, which filed a lawsuit last week accusing five drug companies of abetting the opioid epidemic, we estimate overdose deaths increased by more than 25 percent in 2016. “Heroin is the devil’s drug, man. It is,” Cliff Parker said, sitting on a bench in Grace Park in Akron. Mr. Parker, 24, graduated from high school not too far from here, in nearby Copley, where he was a multisport athlete. In his senior year, he was a varsity wrestler and earned a scholarship to the University of Akron. Like his friends and teammates, he started using prescription painkillers at parties. It was fun, he said. By the time it stopped being fun, it was too late. Pills soon turned to heroin, and his life began slipping away from him. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 23712 - Posted: 06.06.2017

Sarah Marsh When depression takes hold of Helen it feels like she is drowning in a pool of water, unable to swim up to the world above. The 36-year-old former nurse has had mental health problems most of her life. No drugs, hospital stays or therapies have been able to help. Then one day, during yet another spell in hospital, her consultant told her about a psychiatrist treating patients with ketamine. The psychiatrist in question visited her to discuss using the drug. He warned there were no guarantees, but it had helped some patients. Since then Helen’s life has transformed. Sitting on a bench in the grounds of the hospital where her treatment began a year and a half ago, she lists everything she can do now that she could not before: take her kids to school, give them hugs, go on coffee dates. “I am managing my thoughts and that is what ketamine helps to do. It slows down my thought process so instead of being completely overwhelmed by all these immense negative thoughts and feelings … I can think, stop and breathe,” she says, nervously pulling her sleeves over her hands as she talks. She adds: “It’s still really hard but now there is a tiny fraction of a second where my thoughts are slow enough to think: ‘I can deal with this. I cannot give up.’”

Keyword: Depression; Drug Abuse
Link ID: 23697 - Posted: 06.02.2017

Meghan Rosen The first thing you’ll notice is the noise. Monitors beep steadily, relentlessly, ready to sound a car-alarm blare if a baby is in trouble. The air has an astringent odor — not clean exactly, but reminiscent of an operating room (there’s one next door). Ceiling lights shine fluorescent white. Half are off, but glare from the monitors throws out extra light. It’s midday on a Friday, but it’ll be just as bright at midnight. Here on the fourth floor of Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital, 10 tiny beds hold 10 tiny infants, each with Band-Aid–like patches stuck to their bodies to continuously monitor health. Between beds, nurses squeeze through narrow aisles crammed with folding chairs and plastic incubators. This space, one of five in the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit, has the people and equipment needed to keep sick babies alive — heart rate monitors, oxygen tanks, IV poles to deliver medications. Until recently, Yale’s NICU and hundreds like it across the country were considered the place to be for newborns withdrawing from opioid drugs. But now, as the number of drug-dependent babies surges, doctors here and elsewhere are searching for better options. “We’re really focused on trying to get these kids out of the NICU,” says Yale pediatrician Matthew Grossman. “We’re looking at moms and the dads as the first line of treatment.” The nationwide rate of babies withdrawing from opioids has soared — up nearly 400 percent from 2000 to 2012. The booming numbers are the bleak by-product of the United States’ ongoing battle with the drugs: Sales of prescription opioid pain relievers alone quadrupled from 1999 to 2010, and overdose deaths tripled from 2000 to 2014. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2017

Keyword: Drug Abuse; Development of the Brain
Link ID: 23689 - Posted: 06.01.2017

Laurel Hamers Last year, Joan Peay slipped on her garage steps and smashed her knee on the welcome mat. Peay, 77, is no stranger to pain. The Tennessee retiree has had 17 surgeries in the last 35 years — knee replacements, hip replacements, back surgery. She even survived a 2012 fungal meningitis outbreak that sickened her and hundreds of others, and killed 64. This knee injury, though, “hurt like the dickens.” When she asked her longtime doctor for something stronger than ibuprofen to manage the pain, he treated her like a criminal, Peay says. His response was frustrating: “He’s known me for nine years, and I’ve never asked him for pain medicine other than what’s needed after surgery,” she says. She received nothing stronger than over-the-counter remedies. A year after the fall, she still lives in constant pain. Just five years ago, Peay might have been handed a bottle of opioid painkillers for her knee. After all, opioids — including codeine, morphine and oxycodone — are some of the most powerful tools available to stop pain. Hitting opioid receptors in the peripheral nervous system keeps pain messages from reaching the brain. But opioids can cause problems by overstimulating the brain’s reward system and binding to receptors in the brain stem and gut. But an opioid addiction epidemic spreading across the United States has soured some doctors on the drugs. Many are justifiably concerned that patients will get hooked or share their pain pills with friends and family. And even short-term users risk dangerous side effects: The drugs slow breathing and can cause constipation, nausea and vomiting. |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2017

Keyword: Pain & Touch; Drug Abuse
Link ID: 23686 - Posted: 05.31.2017

A cannabis compound has been proven for the first time to reduce the frequency of seizures in people with a rare, severe form of epilepsy, according to the results of a randomized trial. For years, parents have pointed to anecdotal benefits of cannabidiol (CBD), a compound in the marijuana plant that does not produce a high, saying it reduces seizures in treatment-resistant epilepsy. Now doctors have performed a randomized trial to show cause and effect, with the findings published in Wednesday's issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. To conduct the study, the researchers focused on Dravet syndrome, a rare form of epilepsy that begins in infancy and is linked to a particular mutation that often resists combinations of up to 10 conventional seizure medications. They enrolled 120 patients who ranged in age from 2.5 to 18 years. Sixty-one patients were randomly assigned to cannabidiol, and the 59 others to placebo. Neither the researchers nor the families knew who received the medication to prevent bias. All continued to take their existing medications. "The message is that cannabidiol does work in reducing convulsing seizures in children with Dravet syndrome," said lead author Dr. Orrin Devinksy, who is director of NYU's Langone Comprehensive Epilepsy Center. For those in the cannabinoid group, the median number of convulsive seizures per month dropped from 12.4 per month before treatment, to 5.9 seizures, the researchers reported. The placebo group, in comparison, only saw their convulsive seizures fall from 14.9 per month, to 14.1. ©2017 CBC/Radio-Canada.

Keyword: Epilepsy; Drug Abuse
Link ID: 23659 - Posted: 05.25.2017

By Catherine Caruso If you give a mouse a beer, he is going to want a cookie—and another, and another. If you give a person enough beer, she might find herself wolfing down a plate of greasy nachos or some other caloric snack. A study published in January in Nature Communications helps to explain why binge drinking, in both mice and humans, so often leads to binge eating even though alcohol is, itself, high in calories. In the first part of the study, neuroscientists Craig Blomeley and Sarah Cains, both at the Francis Crick Institute Mill Hill Laboratory in London, injected mice with the equivalent of roughly two bottles of wine once a day for three consecutive days, mimicking a weekend of heavy drinking. Sure enough, the inebriated mice ate far more than sober mice in a control group. To figure out why, the researchers then exposed thin-sliced postmortem mouse brains to alcohol and measured the resulting neural activity using fluorescent tags and electrodes. They found that ethanol exposure alters calcium exchange in the cells, causing specialized nerve cells called agouti-related protein (AgRP) neurons to fire more frequently and easily. These neurons normally fire when our body needs calories, and research has shown that activating them artificially will cause mice to chow down even when they are full. The study results suggest that alcohol activates AgRP neurons in the brain, giving drunk mice the munchies. The same is likely true for humans because this brain circuitry has been highly conserved across mammal species, Cains says: “I don't doubt that AgRP neurons are activated in humans, and that's why you see this effect.” © 2017 Scientific American

Keyword: Drug Abuse; Obesity
Link ID: 23645 - Posted: 05.22.2017

Laura Beil Even though a sprained ankle rarely needs an opioid, a new study of emergency room patients found that about 7 percent of patients got sent home with a prescription for the potentially addictive painkiller anyway. And the more pills prescribed, the greater the chance the prescription would be refilled, raising concerns about continued use. The research adds to evidence that it’s hard for some people to stop taking the pills even after a brief use. State officials in New Jersey recently enacted a law limiting first-time prescriptions to a five-day supply, and other states should consider similar restrictions, says Kit Delgado, an assistant professor of Emergency Medicine and Epidemiology at the University of Pennsylvania. “The bottom line is that we need to do our best not to expose people to opioids,” Delgado says. “And if we do, start with the smallest quantity possible.” The research was presented May 17 at the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine’s annual meeting in Orlando. Previous research has found that the more opioids such as hydrocodone and oxycodone are prescribed, the more likely patients are to keep taking them. But previous studies have been too broad to account for differences in diagnoses — for instance, whether people who received refills kept taking the drug simply because they still were in pain, Delgado says. He and colleagues limited their study to prescriptions written after ankle sprains to people who had not used an opioid in the previous six months. Usually, those injuries aren’t serious and don’t require opioids. |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2017

Keyword: Drug Abuse; Pain & Touch
Link ID: 23638 - Posted: 05.20.2017

Lesley McClurg When her youngest daughter, Naomi, was in middle school, Ellen watched the teen disappear behind a screen. Her once bubbly daughter went from hanging out with a few close friends after school to isolating herself in her room for hours at a time. (NPR has agreed to use only the pair's middle names, to protect the teen's medical privacy.) "She started just lying there, not moving and just being on the phone," says Ellen. "I was at a loss about what to do." Ellen didn't realize it then, but her daughter was sinking into a pattern of behavior that some psychiatrists recognize from their patients who abuse drugs or alcohol. It's a problem, they say, that's akin to an eating disorder or gambling disorder – some consider it a kind of internet addiction. Estimates of how many people are affected vary widely, researchers say, and the problem isn't restricted to kids and teens, though some – especially those who have depression or anxiety disorder — may be particularly vulnerable. Naomi had always been kind of a nerd — a straight-A student who also sang in a competitive choir. But she desperately wanted to be popular, and the cool kids talked a lot about their latest YouTube favorites. "I started trying to watch as many videos as I could so, like, I knew as much as they did," says Naomi. "The second I got out of school, I was checking my phone." That's not unusual behavior for many teens and adults these days. © 2017 npr

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 23631 - Posted: 05.18.2017

A healthy teenager in the US state of South Carolina died from drinking several highly-caffeinated drinks too quickly, a coroner has ruled. Davis Allen Cripe collapsed at a high school in April after drinking a McDonalds latte, a large Mountain Dew soft drink and an energy drink in just under two hours, Gary Watts said. The 16-year-old died from a "caffeine-induced cardiac event causing a probable arrhythmia". He had no pre-existing heart condition. The teenager weighed 90kg (200 lbs) but would not have been considered morbidly obese, Mr Watts said. "This is not a caffeine overdose," Mr Watts told Reuters news agency. "We're not saying that it was the total amount of caffeine in the system, it was just the way that it was ingested over that short period of time, and the chugging of the energy drink at the end was what the issue was with the cardiac arrhythmia." Caffeine would probably not have been seen as a factor in the teenager's death if witnesses had not been able to tell officials what he had been drinking before his death, the Richland County coroner said. The main witness could not say which brand of energy drink Davis drank but said it was from a container the size of a large soft drink. "We're not trying to speak out totally against caffeine," Mr Watts said. "We believe people need to pay attention to their caffeine intake and how they do it, just as they do with alcohol or cigarettes." The American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP) has warned against children and teenagers consuming energy drinks, saying their ingredients have not been tested on children and "no-one can ensure they are safe". It says they have side-effects including irregular heartbeats and blood pressure changes. © 2017 BBC.

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 23618 - Posted: 05.16.2017

By Michael Le Page In some cultures, it’s traditional for elders to smoke grass, a practice said to help them pass on tribal knowledge. It turns out that they might just be onto something. Teenagers who toke perform less well on memory and attention tasks while under the influence. But low doses of the active ingredient in cannabis, THC, might have the opposite effect on the elderly, reversing brain ageing and restoring learning and memory – at least according to studies of mice. “We repeated these experiments many times,” says team leader Andreas Zimmer at the University of Bonn, Germany. “It’s a very robust and profound effect.” Zimmer’s team has been studying the mammalian endocannabinoid system, which is involved in balancing out our bodies’ response to stress. THC affects us by mimicking similar molecules in this system, calming us down. The researchers discovered that mice with genetic mutations that stop this endocannabinoid system from working properly age faster than normal mice, and show more cognitive decline. This made Zimmer wonder if stimulating the endocannabinoid system in elderly mice might have the opposite effect. To find out, the team gave young (2-month-old), middle-aged (12-month-old) and elderly (18-month-old) mice a steady dose of THC. The amount they received was too small to give them psychoactive effects. After a month, the team tested the mice’s ability to perform cognitive tasks, such as finding their way around mazes, or recognising other individuals. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Keyword: Drug Abuse; Development of the Brain
Link ID: 23593 - Posted: 05.09.2017

By CASEY SCHWARTZ OAKLAND, Calif. — In a packed, cavernous space one weekend late in April, a crowd of thousands was becoming increasingly amped up. Rainbow hair was commonplace, purple silk pants were sighted, and the smell of marijuana drifted in from a designated smoking area nearby. Audience members watched the stage with avid interest, leaping to occasionally shoeless feet to applaud and cheer. This wasn’t Coachella, taking place the same weekend some 500 miles south, or any other music festival, but a five-day convention of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), its first in four years. Rather than rock stars, scientists from schools like Johns Hopkins and N.Y.U. were the main attraction, bringing evidence to the medical case for psychedelics like psilocybin (the active ingredient in magic mushrooms) to assuage end-of-life anxiety, to help deepen meditation practices, to search for the shared underpinnings of spiritual life, and — in a new study — to explore a possible treatment for severe depression. Paul Austin, 26, of Grand Rapids, Mich., a so-called social entrepreneur who runs a website called The Third Wave devoted to getting out information on psychedelic substances, had come to meet other members of the pro-psychedelic community and share with them his vision for how the next generation must proceed. “A lot of the people who are leading the movement now are 60 or 70 years old, based in academia or research,” Mr. Austin said. “But to catalyze change, you have to speak to people, get to them on an emotional level.” The conference was taking place just over the Bay Bridge from the city that introduced psychedelics to the American imagination in the early 1960s, when LSD was relatively new, legal and regarded by those who used it as a portal to expanded consciousness, a deeper life and an enlightened, humane society. (Cary Grant and other Hollywood stars were among those who experimented with it as part of their psychotherapeutic process.) © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Drug Abuse; Depression
Link ID: 23589 - Posted: 05.08.2017

A U.S.-based drug researcher who led a team that hunted through a massive database of patient records says the anesthetic ketamine shows potential as an antidepressant and should be further studied for its potential as a psychiatric drug. Doctors currently use ketamine to relieve pain during surgery and it is approved for that purpose. The drug's potential to relieve suicidal depression is also well known, but that information is based on anecdotes and small studies rather than a large clinical trial. Ruben Abagyan, a professor in the school of pharmaceutical sciences at the University of California San Diego, said ketamine is a "possible alternative treatment and definitely in particularly difficult cases." Those cases could include suicidal depression, where the weeks of treatment that traditional antidepressants require to take effect might be too long, Abagyan said. Search for beneficial signal Abagyan is the senior author of a study published in Wednesday's issue of the journal Scientific Reports, based on an analysis of a large U.S. database of adverse effect reports that were made for any reason. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration's adverse effects database, which contains over 8 million patient records of reports made for a wide range of reasons, is normally used to look for potentially harmful side-effects. But in a twist, the researchers turned this on its head, looking for reduction in depression symptoms among patients who took ketamine. "If we can look at the reduction of their complaints about depression that can be a signal for the beneficial effect of ketamine," Abagyan said. ©2017 CBC/Radio-Canada.

Keyword: Depression; Drug Abuse
Link ID: 23569 - Posted: 05.04.2017

Austin Frakt The burden of substance abuse disorders can fall heavily on the families and friends of those who battle addictions. But society also pays a great deal through increased crime. Treatment programs can reduce those costs. For at least two decades, we’ve known substance use and crime go hand in hand. More than half of violent offenders and one-third of property offenders say they committed crimes while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Researchers with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently estimated that prescription opioid abuse, dependence and overdoses cost the public sector $23 billion a year, with a third of that attributable to crime. An additional $55 billion per year reflects private-sector costs attributable to productivity losses and health care expenses. About 80,000 Americans are incarcerated for opioid-related crimes alone. The total annual economic burden of all substance use disorders — not just those involving opioids — is in the hundreds of billions of dollars. In an editorial accompanying the C.D.C. researchers’ study, Harold Pollack, co-director of the University of Chicago Crime Lab, wrote that opioid-associated crime, like all crime, extracts an even larger toll when you consider its impact on families and communities. “The most important reason to support treatment is to improve the well-being and social function of people with addiction disorders,” Mr. Pollack said. But there are other social benefits. When the criminally active get help for this, “the economic value of crime reduction largely or totally offsets the costs of treatment,” he added. Relative to the costs of crime alone, treatment for substance use disorders is a good deal. Even though a typical burglary may result in a few thousand dollars of tangible losses, researchers have estimated that people are willing to pay 10 times that amount to avoid that loss and 100 times more to avoid armed robbery. This reflects the fact that crime exacts a large psychological toll — the threat or climate of it is far more costly than the crimes themselves. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 23527 - Posted: 04.24.2017

By Dina Fine Maron A bizarre medical mystery can be added to the list of growing concerns about opioid use in the U.S. Since 2012 more than a dozen illicit drug users have shown up in hospitals across eastern Massachusetts with inexplicable amnesia. In some cases the patients’ memory difficulties had persisted for more than a year. Yet this bewildering condition does not appear to be the result of a simple case of tainted goods: The drug users do not appear to have used the same batch of drugs—or even the same type of substance. To get some answers, the state’s public health officials are rolling out a new requirement that clinicians who come across any patients (not just opioid users) with these types of memory deficits—along with damage to the hippocampus—must report the cases to the state. On April 3 state public health officials received the legal green light from the Massachusetts public health commissioner to make this a required, reportable condition. This technical change, which will last for one year, authorizes public health workers to collect this information and reassures clinicians that they can—and must—share case reports. In the next couple of days workers will notify emergency room personnel as well as addiction counselors and neurology specialists about the new designation via e-mail. The new reporting requirement, state officials hope, will help epidemiologists learn how widespread the issue of potential opioid-linked amnesia may be and whether patients have specific factors in common. The change was first reported by BuzzFeed News. © 2017 Scientific American,

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Drug Abuse
Link ID: 23513 - Posted: 04.20.2017

Ian Sample Science editor Brain scans have revealed the first evidence for what appears to be a heightened state of consciousness in people who took psychedelic drugs in the name of science. Healthy volunteers who received LSD, ketamine or psilocybin, a compound found in magic mushrooms, were found to have more random brain activity than normal while under the influence, according to a study into the effects of the drugs. The shift in brain activity accompanied a host of peculiar sensations that the participants said ranged from floating and finding inner peace, to distortions in time and a conviction that the self was disintegrating. Researchers at the University of Sussex and Imperial College, London, measured the activity of neurons in people’s brains as the drugs took hold. Similar measurements have shown that when people are asleep or under anaesthetic, their neurons tend to fire in a more predictable way than when they are awake. “What we find is that under each of these psychedelic compounds, this specific measure of global conscious level goes up, so it moves in the other direction. The neural activity becomes more unpredictable,” said Anil Seth, a professor of neuroscience at the University of Sussex. “Until now, we’ve only ever seen decreases compared to the baseline of the normal waking state.”

Keyword: Drug Abuse; Brain imaging
Link ID: 23511 - Posted: 04.19.2017

Lauren Frayer Gandelina Damião, 78, is permanently hunched, carrying her sorrow. She lost three children to heroin in the 1990s. A quarter century ago, her cobblestone lane, up a grassy hill from Lisbon's Tagus River, was littered with syringes. She recalls having to search for her teenagers in graffitied stone buildings nearby, where they would shoot up. "It was a huge blow," Damião says, pointing to framed photos on her wall of Paulo, Miguel and Liliana. "I was a good mother. I never gave them money for drugs. But I couldn't save them." For much of the 20th century, Portugal was a closed, Catholic society, with a military dictator and no drug education. In the early 1970s, young Portuguese men were drafted to fight wars in the country's African colonies, where many were exposed to drugs for the first time. Some came home addicted. In 1974, there was a revolution — and an explosion of freedom. "It was a little bit like the Americans in Vietnam. Whiskey was cheaper than water, and cannabis was easy to access. So people came home from war with some [drug] habits," says João Goulão, Portugal's drug czar. "Suddenly everything was different [after the revolution]. Freedom! And drugs were something that came with that freedom. But we were completely naive." By the 1990s, 1 percent of Portugal's population was hooked on heroin. It was one of the worst drug epidemics in the world, and it prompted Portugal's government to take a novel approach: It decriminalized all drugs. Starting in 2001, possession or use of any drug — even heroin — has been treated as a health issue, not a crime. © 2017 npr

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 23506 - Posted: 04.19.2017