Chapter 4. The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology

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By Stephani Sutherland When we experience something painful, our brain produces natural painkillers that are chemically similar to potent drugs such as morphine. Now research suggests these endogenous opioids also play another role: helping regulate the body's energy balance. Lauri Nummenmaa, a brain-imaging scientist at the University of Turku in Finland, and his colleagues measured endogenous opioid release in the brains of 10 healthy men. The subjects were injected with a radioactive substance that binds to opioid receptors, making it possible to visualize the receptors' activity using positron-emission tomography. The study found evidence of natural painkillers in the men's brains after they ate a palatable meal of pizza. Surprisingly, their brains released even more of the endogenous opioids after they ate a far less enticing—but nutritionally similar—liquid meal of what Nummenmaa called “nutritional goo.” Although the subjects rated the pizza as tastier than the goo, opioid release did not appear to relate to their enjoyment of the meal, the researchers reported earlier this year in the Journal of Neuroscience. Advertisement “I would've expected the opposite result,” says Paul Burghardt, an investigator at Wayne State University, who was not involved in the work. After all, previous human and animal studies led researchers to believe that endogenous opioids helped to convey the pleasure of eating. Nummenmaa, too, was surprised. His group's earlier research showed that obese people's brains had fewer opioid receptors—but that receptor levels recover with weight loss. “Maybe when people overeat, endogenous opioids released in the brain constantly bombard the receptors, so they [decrease in number],” he says. © 2017 Scientific American

Keyword: Obesity; Attention
Link ID: 24347 - Posted: 11.22.2017

By Meredith Wadman When people die from overdoses of opioids, whether prescription pain medications or street drugs, it is the suppression of breathing that almost always kills them. The drugs act on neuronal receptors to dull pain, but those in the brain stem also control breathing. When activated, they can signal respiration to slow, and then stop. The results are well-known: an epidemic of deaths—about 64,000 people in the United States alone last year. Countering this lethal side effect without losing opioids' potent pain relief is a challenge that has enticed drug developers for years. Now, for the first time, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in Silver Spring, Maryland, is considering whether to approve an opioid that is as effective as morphine at relieving pain and poses less risk of depressing breathing. Trevena, a firm based in Chesterbrook, Pennsylvania, announced on 2 November that it has submitted oliceridine, an intravenous opioid meant for use in hospitalized patients, to FDA for marketing approval. The drug, which would be marketed under the name Olinvo, is the most advanced of what scientists predict will be a growing crop of pain-relieving "biased agonists"—so called because, in binding a key opioid receptor in the central nervous system, they nudge it into a conformation that promotes a signaling cascade that kills pain over one that suppresses breathing. And in a paper out this week in Cell, a veteran opioid researcher and her colleagues unveil new biased opioid agonists that could surpass oliceridine, though they haven't been tested in people yet. "There are many groups creating [such] biased agonists. And one of them is going to get it right," says Bryan Roth, a molecular pharmacologist at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. "To have a drug you can't die of an overdose with would be a huge lifesaver for tens of thousands of people every year." © 2017 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Drug Abuse; Pain & Touch
Link ID: 24337 - Posted: 11.17.2017

Rob Stein Federal health officials Tuesday issued a warning about kratom, a herbal product being promoted as a safe alternative to opioids for pain that is also marketed for treating addiction, anxiety and depression. The Food and Drug Administration says there's insufficient evidence the supplement works to treat addiction or other problems and cited growing evidence it can be dangerous. Kratom may cause seizures, liver damage and withdrawal symptoms. "It's very troubling to the FDA that patients believe they can use kratom to treat opioid withdrawal symptoms," FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement, adding that not only is there no reliable evidence that kratom is an effective treatment for opioid use disorder, there are FDA-approved medications that work. Calls to U.S. poison control centers about kratom, which is made from a plant that grows in Asia, jumped tenfold from 2010 to 2015, according to the FDA. At least 36 deaths are associated with the use of products containing kratom, the agency says. "I understand that there's a lot of interest in the possibility for kratom to be used as a potential therapy for a range of disorders," Gottlieb added. "But the FDA has a science-based obligation that supersedes popular trends and relies on evidence." As a result, the agency has begun seizing supplies of kratom and taking steps to prevent future shipments from being imported into the United States, the FDA says. © 2017 npr

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 24332 - Posted: 11.16.2017

By Lenny Bernstein A long-acting medication designed to help wean substance abusers off opioids is as effective as short-term therapies such as buprenorphine and methadone that patients must take every day, researchers reported Tuesday. The first major head-to-head comparison of medically assisted treatment approaches confirms that users now have two research-based options, according to the team of scientists led by Joshua D. Lee and John Rotrosen of New York University Medical School. But each method also showed a distinct disadvantage. The short-acting medicines must be taken every day for years and sometimes for a lifetime — a difficult regimen for many substance abusers to follow, especially in rural areas that may be far from dispensing clinics. Monthly injections of naltrexone, in contrast, cannot be started until users have fully detoxified from opioids, which more than 25 percent of the subjects in that part of the research study failed to do. “This provides an alternative medication for patients that may not have responded to buprenorphine . . . or patients who eventually want to be taken off their medication,” said Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the government agency that funded the research. In addition, more than half the opioid users in the study relapsed at least once, regardless of which medication they were taking — evidence of how difficult it is to conquer addiction. © 1996-2017 The Washington Post

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 24326 - Posted: 11.15.2017

By Jessica Hamzelou Heavy drinkers and abstainers don’t make the best couples. In humans, one partner that drinks more than the other is thought to be a recipe for a breakup. The same appears to be true for prairie voles, one of the only other mammals known to form long-term monogamous relationships. The finding suggests the link between alcohol consumption and relationship failure may have a biological basis, say the researchers. “There is an increase in divorce in couples in which there is discordant drinking,” says Andrey Ryabinin at Oregon Health and Science University. Money is thought to play a role, but nobody knows the precise causes because a randomised study in people would be unethical. “You can’t tell people to start drinking,” he says. To explore the question in animals, Ryabinin and his colleague Andre Walcott turned to prairie voles: the only rodents known to form lasting, monogamous relationships. “They maintain the same pair bond for their entire lives,” says Ryabinin. Unlike other rodents, both partners take care of offspring. And rather than leaving the nest as soon as they reach adolescence, the young stay and look after their younger siblings. Prairie voles are also the only rodents known to willingly drink alcohol. While mice and rats avoid the stuff, prairie voles prefer it to water, says Ryabinin. Voles on the sauce Ryabinin has previously shown that alcohol consumption affects prairie vole relationships. When given a choice between their partner and a new female, male voles that drank more alcohol were more likely to go and mate with the new female than those that abstained. Alcohol seemed to have the opposite effect in females – those that drank more alcohol more strongly preferred their original partner. © Copyright New Scientist Ltd.

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Drug Abuse
Link ID: 24325 - Posted: 11.15.2017

By Amanda B. Keener On a fall day in 2015 at Sunnybrook hospital in Toronto, a dozen people huddled in a small room peering at a computer screen. They were watching brain scans of a woman named Bonny Hall, who lay inside an MRI machine just a few feet away. Earlier that day, Hall, who had been battling a brain tumor for eight years, had received a dose of the chemotherapy drug doxorubicin. She was then fitted with an oversized, bowl-shape helmet housing more than 1,000 transducers that delivered ultrasound pulses focused on nine precise points inside her brain. Just before each pulse, her doctors injected microscopic air bubbles into a vein in her hand. Their hope was that the microbubbles would travel to the capillaries of the brain and, when struck by the sound waves, oscillate. This would cause the blood vessels near Hall’s tumor to expand and contract, creating gaps that would allow the chemotherapy drug to escape from the bloodstream and seep into the neural tissue. Finally, she received an injection of a contrast medium, a rare-earth metal called gadolinium that lights up on MRI scans. Now, doctors, technicians, and reporters crowded around to glimpse a series of bright spots where the gadolinium had leaked into the targeted areas, confirming the first noninvasive opening of a human’s blood-brain barrier (BBB). “It was very exciting,” says radiology researcher Nathan McDannold, who directs the Therapeutic Ultrasound Lab at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and helped develop the technique that uses microbubbles and ultrasound to gently disturb blood vessels. Doctors typically depend on the circulatory system to carry a drug from the gut or an injection site to diseased areas of the body, but when it comes to the brain and central nervous system (CNS), the vasculature switches from delivery route to security system. The blood vessels of the CNS are unlike those throughout the rest of the body. © 1986-2017 The Scientist

Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 24310 - Posted: 11.09.2017

By Elly Vintiadis The prevailing wisdom today is that addiction is a disease. This is the main line of the medical model of mental disorders with which the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) is aligned: addiction is a chronic and relapsing brain disease in which drug use becomes involuntary despite its negative consequences. The idea here is, roughly, that addiction is a disease because drug use changes the brain and, as a result of these changes, drug use becomes compulsive, beyond the voluntary control of the user. In other words, the addict has no choice and his behavior is resistant to long term change. This way of viewing addiction has its benefits: if addiction is a disease then addicts are not to blame for their plight, and this ought to help alleviate stigma and to open the way for better treatment and more funding for research on addiction. This is the main rationale of a recent piece in the New York Times, which describes addiction as a disease that is plaguing the U.S. and stresses the importance of talking openly about addiction in order to shift people’s understanding of it. And it seems like a welcome change from the blame attributed by the moral model of addiction, according to which addiction is a choice and, thus, a moral failing—addicts are nothing more than weak people who make bad choices and stick with them. Yet, though there are positive aspects to seeing addiction in this light, it seems unduly pessimistic and, though no one will deny that every behavior has neural correlates and that addiction changes the brain, this is not the same as saying that, therefore, addiction is pathological and irreversible. And there are reasons to question whether this is, in fact, the case. © 2017 Scientific American

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 24307 - Posted: 11.09.2017

By LAURA HILGERS San Anselmo, Calif. — Fay Zenoff recently met a friend for dinner at a sushi restaurant in Sausalito, Calif. After they were seated, a waitress asked if they’d like wine with dinner. Her friend ordered sake. Ms. Zenoff declined. “Not for me,” she said. “I’m celebrating 10 years of sobriety this weekend.” Because of the stigma attached to addiction, Ms. Zenoff, who is 50, took a risk speaking so openly. But when she and her friend finished eating, the waitress reappeared. This time she carried ice cream with a candle in it and was accompanied by fellow members of the restaurant staff. They stood beside Ms. Zenoff’s table, singing “Happy Birthday.” The evening, Ms. Zenoff recalled, was “just amazing.” A victory, too. For 25 years, Ms. Zenoff, who began adult life with an M.B.A. from Northwestern, was an alcoholic who dabbled in heroin, Ecstasy and cocaine. “I felt so much shame about my past behavior,” she said, “that it was a huge hurdle to admit I was in recovery even to my family and friends.” It took three years for her to speak up among friends and another three for her to do so publicly. Now as executive director of the Center for Open Recovery, a Bay Area nonprofit, she’s promoting an idea considered radical in addiction circles: that people in recovery could be open and even celebrated for managing the disease that is plaguing our nation. She and other advocates believe that people in recovery could play a vital role in ending the addiction epidemic, much as the protest group Act Up did in the AIDS crisis. It’s an idea that fits with the report released by President Trump’s opioid commission last week. Among the report’s 56 recommendations was a suggestion that the government battle stigma and other factors by partnering with private and nonprofit groups on a national media and educational campaign similar to those “launched during the AIDS public health crisis.”

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 24297 - Posted: 11.06.2017

By Alfonso Serrano James Casey recalls having a fondness for fireworks while growing up on the outskirts of small towns in rural Louisiana and North Carolina. That was before his 2011 deployment as a U.S. Army medic to Kandahar, Afghanistan, where he was steadily exposed to the trauma of modern warfare. After he returned to the U.S. a year later at age 19, the sound of fireworks and similar blasts of noise produced ghastly images of the lifeless Kandahar patients who proved beyond his medical aid, mangled bodies that at times covered his entire field of view. Like nearly 30 percent of Afghanistan and Iraq War veterans, Casey was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder, which he sought to quell with everything from medication to group therapy to hypnosis. Nothing worked. After 18 months Casey was ready to accept his PTSD as a life sentence, he says. Then he read about upcoming trials of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for PTSD patients in Boulder, Colorado, where he was headed to study molecular biology. “It gave me my life back,” he says, recalling the phase II trial organized in 2015 by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, or MAPS, in which Casey underwent three MDMA-assisted psychotherapy sessions over five weeks. “I did a year and a half of therapy before MDMA,” he says. “But with MDMA it was like a year and a half of the previous therapy in one day.” © 2017 Scientific American

Keyword: Drug Abuse; Stress
Link ID: 24289 - Posted: 11.04.2017

By SHEILA KAPLAN WASHINGTON — Everyday Advanced Hemp Oil, Bosom Lotion and CBD Edibles Gummie Men may have their fans, but the Food and Drug Administration is not among them. Four companies selling those and dozens of other marijuana-derived dietary supplements have been warned by the F.D.A. to stop pitching their products as cures for cancer, a common but unproven claim in the industry. “Substances that contain components of marijuana will be treated like any other products that make unproven claims to shrink cancer tumors,” said Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the agency’s commissioner, in a news release on Wednesday. “We don’t let companies market products that deliberately prey on sick people with baseless claims that their substances can shrink or cure cancer.” The businesses — Stanley Brothers Social Enterprises, Green Roads of Florida, That’s Natural and Natural Alchemist — each sell products that falsely claim to cure cancer, Alzheimer’s disease or other illnesses, the agency said. The supplements allegedly contain cannabidiol (CBD), a component of the marijuana plant that is not approved by the F.D.A. for any use. Unlike medical marijuana, CBD contains only a fraction of the tetrahydrocannabinol, known as THC, needed to cause a high, according to the manufacturers. The companies sell CBD over the internet in a wide range of oil drops, capsules, syrups, teas and creams. The websites feature endorsements from people — generally identified only by first names and last initials — who claim that they or their loved ones have been miraculously cured of terminal diseases and other illnesses. “There are a growing number of effective therapies for many cancers,” said Dr. Gottlieb, a cancer survivor himself. “When people are allowed to illegally market agents that deliver no established benefit, they may steer patients away from products that have proven, anti-tumor effects that could save lives.” © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 24278 - Posted: 11.02.2017

By Nicholas Kristof The colored parts of the image above, prepared by Columbia University scientists, indicate where a child’s brain is physically altered after exposure to this pesticide. This chemical, chlorpyrifos, is hard to pronounce, so let’s just call it Dow Chemical Company’s Nerve Gas Pesticide. Even if you haven’t heard of it, it may be inside you: One 2012 study found that it was in the umbilical cord blood of 87 percent of newborn babies tested. And now the Trump administration is embracing it, overturning a planned ban that had been in the works for many years. The Environmental Protection Agency actually banned Dow’s Nerve Gas Pesticide for most indoor residential use 17 years ago — so it’s no longer found in the Raid you spray at cockroaches (it’s very effective, which is why it’s so widely used; then again, don’t suggest this to Dow, but sarin nerve gas might be even more effective!). The E.P.A. was preparing to ban it for agricultural and outdoor use this spring, but then the Trump administration rejected the ban. That was a triumph for Dow, but the decision stirred outrage among public health experts. They noted that Dow had donated $1 million for President Trump’s inauguration. So Dow’s Nerve Gas Pesticide will still be used on golf courses, road medians and crops that end up on our plate. Kids are told to eat fruits and vegetables, but E.P.A. scientists found levels of this pesticide on such foods at up to 140 times the limits deemed safe. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Neurotoxins; Development of the Brain
Link ID: 24264 - Posted: 10.30.2017

By KYLE SPENCER As other college students head out to party on a Saturday night, Julie Linneman, a sophomore at Villanova University, rides the subway to a small rowhouse in West Philadelphia to meet with “her people,” a posse of students who understand what it’s like to be taken down by opioids. Ms. Linneman is a bespectacled 22-year-old who favors shredded jeans. She is a fan of cooking shows, fantasy fiction and Paul McCartney. She spent her first attempt at sophomore year — the one at Northern Kentucky University — in her dorm room, high on heroin. Coming to terms with a habit that nearly killed her, she has found support at the Haven at Drexel, Drexel University’s housing for students in recovery. Seven students from colleges in the Philadelphia area — including the University of Pennsylvania, Temple and Villanova — live, eat and socialize here, where they can abstain without temptation. More converge during these Saturday night meetings. “Sometimes you just need to be around other students who know what you have gone through,” Ms. Linneman said. They share snacks, drink water instead of beer, and talk about their life-threatening addictions. Ms. Linneman, who agreed to be named because she hopes to pursue a career in recovery advocacy, got her first pills — Vyvanse and Adderall, stimulants for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder — in high school from the boy with the locker next to hers. She soon moved on to prescription painkillers like Percocet. The “warm blanket” effect alleviated debilitating anxiety and loneliness. Once at college, she replaced pills with bags of cheap heroin. Her roommate moved out. The drug rendered her friendless. “It was one of the most lonely times of my life,” she recalled. She grew thin and pale. She would sit in the cafeteria alone, barely eating, occasionally nodding off. The workers would ask, “Are you O.K.?” © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 24262 - Posted: 10.30.2017

Robert Bruner & Filippa Lentzos The Netflix series Stranger Things, launching its second season today, centers on Eleven, a girl with psychic powers who has escaped a dark and psychologically abusive government program that seeks to harness and weaponize her powers. While Stranger Things is a work of science fiction, it is not as far removed from reality as it initially seems. The series is rooted in a decades-long (but long defunct) CIA research program called MKULTRA, which involved bizarre, top-secret research on how to deliberately produce behaviors and emotions—such as fear, anxiety, or confusion. While MKULTRA is infamous for its attempts to control the mind through hypnosis and paranormal phenomena, its researchers primarily concentrated on the use of pharmaceuticals and mind-bending drugs such as hallucinogenic mushrooms, marijuana, heroin, LSD, and truth serums to make intelligence targets more cooperative in questioning and more willing to act as agents of the United States. Ultimately, the project failed because of a lack of scientific understanding of the inner workings of the brain and how to manipulate it. But today, neuroscience appears to be breaking down previous technical barriers to the exogenous control of emotion, behavior, and ultimately the mind. Scientific breakthroughs in the understanding of the biological basis of behavior and cognition have given rise to numerous treatments for neurological and psychiatric disorders. These treatments have improved the quality of life for many people all over the world. But these technologies have dual-use potential. Psychiatric drugs used to treat anxiety, depression, or mania can force a person to experience those same emotions. These drugs work by returning overactive or underactive neural signaling associated with mental disease to normal levels. The same principles, however, can be used on healthy individuals to manipulate their brain chemistry and change their behavior and emotions. These drugs can be used on individuals as a form of psychological torture—or could be deployed on the battlefield to quickly incapacitate, or change the emotions of, a large group. Additionally, due to growing knowledge of the neural mechanisms active during memory formation, it may become possible to enhance or delete memories—or even, using emerging brain-stimulation techniques, transfer thoughts from one individual to another.

Keyword: Emotions; Drug Abuse
Link ID: 24256 - Posted: 10.28.2017

Angus Chen Tobacco companies put a lot of effort into giving cigarettes sex appeal, but the more sensual smoke might actually belong to marijuana. Some users have said pot is a natural aphrodisiac, despite scientific literature turning up mixed results on the subject. At the very least, a study published Friday in the Journal of Sexual Medicine suggests that people who smoke more weed are having more sex than those who smoke less or abstain. But whether it's cause or effect, isn't clear. The researchers pulled together data from roughly 50,000 people who participated in an annual Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey during various years between 2002 and 2015. "We reported how often they smoke – monthly, weekly or daily – and how many times they've had sex in the last month," says Dr. Michael Eisenberg, a urologist at Stanford University Medical Center and the senior author on the study. "What we found was compared to never-users, those who reported daily use had about 20 percent more sex. So over the course of a year, they're having sex maybe 20 more times." People who consumed marijuana daily had sex 7.1 times a month, on average, for women and 6.9 times for men. Women who didn't use marijuana at all had sex 6 times a month, on average, while men who didn't use marijuana had sex an average of 5.6 times a month. © 2017 npr

Keyword: Drug Abuse; Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 24246 - Posted: 10.27.2017

Aimee Cunningham Vaping e-cigarettes with high amounts of nicotine appears to impact how often and how heavily teens smoke and vape in the future, a new study finds. In 2016, an estimated 11 percent of U.S. high school students used e-cigarettes. Past research has found that that teen vaping can lead to smoking (SN: 9/19/15, p. 14). The new study, published online October 23 in JAMA Pediatrics, is the first look at whether vaping higher amounts of nicotine is associated with more frequent and more intense vaping and cigarette use in the future. Researchers at the University of Southern California surveyed 181 10th-graders from 10 high schools in the Los Angeles area who had reported vaping in the previous 30 days, then followed up six months later, when the students were 11th-graders. The teens answered questions about how much and how often they had smoked and vaped in the past 30 days and about the amount of nicotine in their vaping liquid. The researchers categorized the amount of nicotine as none, low (up to 5 milligrams per milliliter), medium (6 to 17 mg/mL) or high (18 mg/mL or more). With each step up in nicotine concentration, teens were about twice as likely to report frequent smoking versus no smoking at the six-month follow-up. Teens who vaped a high-nicotine liquid smoked seven times as many cigarettes per day as those who vaped without nicotine. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2017.

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 24242 - Posted: 10.26.2017

By William Wan For more than a decade, Kristin Page-Nei begged Montana lawmakers to raise cigarette prices. As a health advocate for the American Cancer Society, she watched year after year as other states increased their cigarette taxes and lowered their smoking rates. “What they’re doing is saving lives,” she kept saying. Finally, this spring, she helped persuade state senators to raise cigarette taxes for the first time in 12 years. Then came the tobacco lobbyists. Bankrolled by the country’s two biggest cigarette companies, they swarmed the halls of the state capitol, wined and dined Republican leaders, launched a sophisticated call-in campaign, and coached witnesses for hearings. The tobacco companies poured more than $200,000 into Montana, a state with barely 1 million residents. It took them just one week to kill the bill — from the time it passed the state Senate to its last gasps in a state House committee. The tobacco lobby was so effective that, in the end, eight of the bill’s original co-sponsors voted against it. “It was incredible. Just brutal,” Page-Nei said. “I’d never seen this amount of money being poured into a session in my 17 years here.” Health experts agree that raising taxes is the most effective way to reduce tobacco use. The U.S. surgeon general, the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have all concluded that raising taxes helps large numbers of smokers to quit and have loudly advocated doing so. © 1996-2017 The Washington Post

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 24229 - Posted: 10.23.2017

By R. Douglas Fields BERLIN—Society’s embrace of cannabis to treat nausea, pain and other conditions proceeds apace with the drive to legalize the plant for recreational use. Pot’s seemingly innocuous side effects have helped clear a path toward making it a legal cash crop, with all of the marketing glitz brought to other consumer products. But that clean bill of health only goes so far. Marijuana’s potentially detrimental impact on the developing brains of adolescents remains a key focus of research—particularly because of the possibility teenage users could go on to face a higher risk of psychosis. New findings may fuel those worries. At the World Psychiatric Association’s World Congress in Berlin on October 9, Hannelore Ehrenreich of the Max Planck Institute of Experimental Medicine presented results of a study of 1,200 people with schizophrenia. The investigation analyzed a wide range of genetic and environmental risk factors for developing the debilitating mental illness. The results—being submitted for publication—show people who had consumed cannabis before age 18 developed schizophrenia approximately 10 years earlier than others. The higher the frequency of use, the data indicated, the earlier the age of schizophrenia onset. In her study neither alcohol use nor genetics predicted an earlier time of inception, but pot did. “Cannabis use during puberty is a major risk factor for schizophrenia,” Ehrenreich says. Other studies, although not all, support the thrust of Ehrenreich’s findings. “There is no doubt,” concludes Robin Murray, a professor of psychiatry at King’s College London, that cannabis use in young people increases the risk of developing schizophrenia as an adult. Speaking at the Berlin conference, Murray—one of the first scientists to research pot’s link to the disorder—cited 10 studies that found a significant risk of young cannabis users developing psychosis. © 2017 Scientific American

Keyword: Schizophrenia; Drug Abuse
Link ID: 24226 - Posted: 10.21.2017

By Aggie Mika Kat Rose of Lakewood, Colorado, started smoking cigarettes when she was 12 years old. Ultimately, it was the smell that drove her to want to ditch the habit. “Constantly, my son was like, ‘Mom, you stink,’” she says. But quitting had been a struggle for Rose, a 30-year-old who works for a metal manufacturing company. She’s allergic to latex and cinnamon (common ingredients in nicotine patches and gum), and prescriptions like Chantix made her sick. Thanks to electronic vaporizers that emit a flavored—coconut cream pie, in Rose’s case—smoke-like cloud, “I haven’t smoked in two years,” she says. E-cigarettes and vaporizers, devices that turn liquid concoctions into inhalable vapor, have been touted as a panacea for smokers struggling to ditch the habit. These tobacco-less substitutes mimic what it’s like to smoke conventional cigarettes but, according to some experts within the scientific community and the tobacco industry alike, they carry a fraction of the health burden and can serve as an aid for quitting tobacco cigarettes. But researchers agree these products are not without health risks, despite messaging by some vapor product companies. One now-banned ad by a U.K.-based e-cigarette company, for example, boasted “Love your lungs”—and was censored by the Advertising Standards Authority for painting the products as healthy. In reality, scientists are just beginning to study the effects of these vapor products on humans and whether replacing traditional cigarettes with electronic versions makes a difference. Last month at the European Respiratory Society’s International Congress in Milan, Italy, independent research teams presented the results of their investigations into claims of e-cigarette safety and their efficacy as smoking cessation tools, revealing these smoking substitutes are not exactly benign. © 1986-2017 The Scientist

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 24225 - Posted: 10.21.2017

By HEATHER MURPHY Can a fish be depressed? This question has been floating around my head ever since I spent a night in a hotel across from an excruciatingly sad-looking Siamese fighting fish. His name was Bruce Lee, according to a sign beneath his little bowl. There we were trying to enjoy a complimentary bloody mary on the last day of our honeymoon and there was Bruce Lee, totally still, his lower fin grazing the clear faux rocks on the bottom of his home. When he did finally move, just slightly, I got the sense that he would prefer to be dead. The pleasant woman at the front desk assured me that he was well taken care of. Was I simply anthropomorphizing Bruce Lee, incorrectly assuming his lethargy was a sign of mental distress? When I sought answers from scientists, I assumed that they would find the question preposterous. But they did not. Not at all. It turns out that not only can our gilled friends become depressed, but some scientists consider fish to be a promising animal model for developing anti-depressants. New research, I would learn, has been radically shifting the way that scientists think about fish cognition, building a case that pet and owner are not nearly as different as many assume. “The neurochemistry is so similar that it’s scary,” said Julian Pittman, a professor at the Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences at Troy University in Alabama, where he is working to develop new medications to treat depression, with the help of tiny zebrafish. We tend to think of them as simple organisms, “but there is a lot we don’t give fish credit for.” Dr. Pittman likes working with fish, in part, because they are so obvious about their depression. He can reliably test the effectiveness of antidepressants with something called the “novel tank test.” A zebrafish gets dropped in a new tank. If after five minutes it is hanging out in the lower half, it’s depressed. If it’s swimming up top — its usual inclination when exploring a new environment — then it’s not. In Dr. Pittman’s lab, researchers induce depression in a fish by keeping it drunk on ethanol for two weeks, then cutting off the supply, forcing it into withdrawal. This here is a depressed fish. Both clips, which represent a small segment of the five minute tank test, were extracted at comparable speeds. Troy University © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Depression; Evolution
Link ID: 24201 - Posted: 10.17.2017

By James Gallagher Health and science reporter, BBC News website A hallucinogen found in magic mushrooms can "reset" the brains of people with untreatable depression, raising hopes of a future treatment, scans suggest. The small study gave 19 patients a single dose of the psychedelic ingredient psilocybin. Half of patients ceased to be depressed and experienced changes in their brain activity that lasted about five weeks. However, the team at Imperial College London says people should not self-medicate. There has been a series of small studies suggesting psilocybin could have a role in depression by acting as a "lubricant for the mind" that allows people to escape a cycle of depressive symptoms. But the precise impact it might be having on brain activity was not known. Image copyright Getty Images The team at Imperial performed fMRI brain scans before treatment with psilocybin and then the day after (when the patients were "sober" again). The study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, showed psilocybin affected two key areas of the brain. The amygdala - which is heavily involved in how we process emotions such as fear and anxiety - became less active. The greater the reduction, the greater the improvement in reported symptoms. The default-mode network - a collaboration of different brain regions - became more stable after taking psilocybin. Dr Robin Carhart-Harris, head of psychedelic research at Imperial, said the depressed brain was being "clammed up" and the psychedelic experience "reset" it. He told the BBC News website: "Patients were very ready to use this analogy. Without any priming they would say, 'I've been reset, reborn, rebooted', and one patient said his brain had been defragged and cleaned up." © 2017 BBC

Keyword: Depression; Drug Abuse
Link ID: 24195 - Posted: 10.16.2017