Chapter 4. The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology

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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

By Andy Coghlan It tastes foul and makes people vomit. But ayahuasca, a hallucinogenic concoction that has been drunk in South America for centuries in religious rituals, may help people with depression that is resistant to antidepressants. Tourists are increasingly trying ayahuasca during holidays to countries such as Brazil and Peru, where the psychedelic drug is legal. Now the world’s first randomised clinical trial of ayahuasca for treating depression has found that it can rapidly improve mood. The trial, which took place in Brazil, involved administering a single dose to 14 people with treatment-resistant depression, while 15 people with the same condition received a placebo drink. A week later, those given ayahuasca showed dramatic improvements, with their mood shifting from severe to mild on a standard scale of depression. “The main evidence is that the antidepressant effect of ayahuasca is superior to the placebo effect,” says Dráulio de Araújo of the Brain Institute at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte in Natal, who led the trial. Shamans traditionally prepare the bitter, deep-brown brew of ayahuasca using two plants native to South America. The first, Psychotria viridis, is packed with the mind-altering compound dimetheyltryptamine (DMT). The second, the ayahuasca vine (Banisteriopsis caapi), contains substances that stop DMT from being broken down before it crosses the gut and reaches the brain. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Keyword: Depression; Drug Abuse
Link ID: 23494 - Posted: 04.15.2017

Doctors trialling the use of ketamine to treat depression are calling for the treatment to be rolled out. Ketamine is licensed to be used as an anaesthetic but has a reputation as an illegal party drug. Writing in The Lancet Psychiatry, Dr Rupert McShane, who has led a trial in Oxford, since 2011 says ketamine can work on patients with depression "where nothing has helped before". However, he is calling for a national registry to monitor its use. Dr McShane says tens of thousands of people who have not responded to other treatment could be helped by the drug. But he adds there should be a national registry for those who prescribe the treatment to monitor the results and avoid misuse of the Class B substance. Of the 101 people taking part who had failed to find a successful depression treatment, 42 of them responded to the ketamine. "The first ketamine infusion literally saved my life," says one patient. "I had felt so desperate I was going to end it all. "Subsequent ketamine treatment has enabled me to return to my job full-time. I still struggle at times but being able to work again has given me such a boost." Dr McShane hopes more doctors will use it to treat depression but fears that the UK could follow the US where there are private ketamine clinics that vary in their clinical checks. © 2017 BB

Keyword: Depression; Drug Abuse
Link ID: 23469 - Posted: 04.10.2017

Smoking causes one in 10 deaths worldwide, a new study shows, half of them in just four countries - China, India, the US and Russia. Despite decades of tobacco control policies, population growth has seen an increased number of smokers, it warned. Researchers said mortality could rise further as tobacco companies aggressively targeted new markets, especially in the developing world. The report was published in the medical journal The Lancet. "Despite more than half a century of unequivocal evidence of the harmful effects of tobacco on health, today, one in every four men in the world is a daily smoker," said senior author Dr Emmanuela Gakidou. "Smoking remains the second largest risk factor for early death and disability, and so to further reduce its impact we must intensify tobacco control to further reduce smoking prevalence and attributable burden." The Global Burden of Diseases report was based on smoking habits in 195 countries and territories between 1990 and 2015. It found that nearly one billion people smoked daily in 2015 - one in four men and one in 20 women. That was a reduction from one in three men and one in 12 women who lit up in 1990. However, population growth meant there was an increase in the overall number of smokers, up from 870 million in 1990. © 2017 BBC

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 23453 - Posted: 04.06.2017

By CHRISTOPHER J. FERGUSON and PATRICK MARKEY Is video game addiction a real thing? It’s certainly common to hear parents complain that their children are “addicted” to video games. Some researchers even claim that these games are comparable to illegal drugs in terms of their influence on the brain — that they are “digital heroin” (the neuroscientist Peter C. Whybrow) or “digital pharmakeia” (the neuroscientist Andrew Doan). The American Psychiatric Association has identified internet gaming disorder as a possible psychiatric illness, and the World Health Organization has proposed including “gaming disorder” in its catalog of mental diseases, along with drug and alcohol addiction. This is all terribly misguided. Playing video games is not addictive in any meaningful sense. It is normal behavior that, while perhaps in many cases a waste of time, is not damaging or disruptive of lives in the way drug or alcohol use can be. Let’s start with the neuroscientific analogy: that the areas in the brain associated with the pleasures of drug use are the same as those associated with the pleasures of playing video games. This is true but not illuminating. These areas of the brain — those that produce and respond to the neurotransmitter dopamine — are involved in just about any pleasurable activity: having sex, enjoying a nice conversation, eating good food, reading a book, using methamphetamines. The amount of dopamine involved in these activities, however, differs widely. Playing a video game or watching an amusing video on the internet causes roughly about as much dopamine to be released in your brain as eating a slice of pizza. By contrast, using a drug like methamphetamine can cause a level of dopamine release 10 times that or more. On its own, the fact that a pleasurable activity involves dopamine release tells us nothing else about it. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 23441 - Posted: 04.04.2017

By STEPH YIN It’s a small fish, only a couple of inches long, and its bright colors make it pop in the Pacific coral reefs it calls home. The first thing that makes this fish peculiar is the striking pair of large lower canines it sports. But when attacked by a predator, this fish, part of a group called fang blennies,does something even more strange. A predator that puts this fang blenny in its mouth would experience a “violent quivering of the head,” according to George Losey, a zoologist who observed this species up close in a series of feeding experiments in the 1970s. Then the predator would open its jaws and gills. The little blenny would swim away, unscathed. A study published on Thursday in Current Biology now lays bare the details of the fish’s unusual defense mechanism: Unlike most venomous fish, which inject toxins through their fins, fang blennies deliver venom through their bite. Furthermore, fang blenny venom does not appear to produce potent pain, at least in mice. Instead, it causes a sudden drop in blood pressure, which might temporarily stupefy predators. “This is one of the most in-depth studies of how venom functions in any particular group of fish,” said Matthew Davis, an assistant professor of biology at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota, who did not participate in the research. A CT scan of Meiacanthus grammistes, a venomous fang blenny species. Anthony Romilio The authors of the study took a multipronged approach to studying venomous fang blennies. First, they imaged the jaws of fang blennies collected from around the Pacific and Indian Oceans to confirm what scientists long suspected: Not all fang blennies have venom glands at the base of their teeth. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Pain & Touch; Neurotoxins
Link ID: 23432 - Posted: 03.31.2017

Rae Ellen Bichell Exposure to lead as a child can affect an adult decades later, according to a study out Tuesday that suggests a link between early childhood lead exposure and a dip in a person's later cognitive ability and socioeconomic status. Lead in the United States can come from lots of sources: old, peeling paint; contaminated soil; or water that's passed through lead pipes. Before policies were enacted to get rid of lead in gasoline, it could even come from particles in the fumes that leave car tailpipes. "It's toxic to many parts of the body, but in particular in can accumulate in the bloodstream and pass through the blood brain barrier to reach the brain," says the study's first author, Aaron Reuben, a graduate student in clinical psychology at Duke University. Reuben and his colleagues published the results of a long-term study on the lingering effects of lead. Researchers had kept in touch with about 560 people for decades — starting when they were born in Dunedin, New Zealand, in the 1970s, all the way up to the present. As children, the study participants were tested on their cognitive abilities; researchers determined IQ scores based on tests of working memory, pattern recognition, verbal comprehension and ability to solve problems, among other skills. When the kids were 11 years old, researchers tested their blood for lead. (That measurement is thought to be a rough indicator of lead exposure in the few months before the blood draw.) Then, when they turned 38 years old, the cognitive ability of these study participants was tested again. As Reuben and his colleagues write in this week's issue of JAMA, the journal of the American Medical Association, they found a subtle but worrisome pattern in the data. © 2017 npr

Keyword: Development of the Brain; Neurotoxins
Link ID: 23422 - Posted: 03.29.2017

By MATT RICHTEL LOS ANGELES — Nine days after Nikolas Michaud’s latest heroin relapse, the skinny 27-year-old sat on a roof deck at a new drug rehabilitation clinic here. He picked up a bong, filled it with a pinch of marijuana, lit the leaves and inhaled. All this took place in plain view of the clinic’s director. “The rules here are a little lax,” Mr. Michaud said. In almost any other rehab setting in the country, smoking pot would be a major infraction and a likely cause for being booted out. But here at High Sobriety — the clinic with a name that sounds like the title of a Cheech and Chong comeback movie — it is not just permitted, but part of the treatment. The new clinic is experimenting with a concept made possible by the growing legalization of marijuana: that pot, rather than being a gateway into drugs, could be a gateway out. A small but growing number of pain doctors and addiction specialists are overseeing the use of marijuana as a substitute for more potent and dangerous drugs. Dr. Mark Wallace, chairman of the division of pain medicine in the department of anesthesia at the University of California, San Diego, said over the last five years he has used marijuana to help several hundred patients transition off opiates. “The majority of patients continue to use it,” he said of marijuana. But he added that they tell him of the opiates: “I feel like I was a slave to that drug. I feel like I have my life back.” Dr. Wallace is quick to note that his evidence is anecdotal and more study is needed. Research in rats, he said, supports the idea that the use of cannabinoids can induce withdrawal from heavier substances. But in humans? © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 23415 - Posted: 03.28.2017

Ian Sample Science editor Doctors have stumbled on an unlikely source for a drug to ward off brain damage caused by strokes: the venom of one of the deadliest spiders in the world. A bite from an Australian funnel web spider can kill a human in 15 minutes, but a harmless ingredient found in the venom can protect brain cells from being destroyed by a stroke, even when given hours after the event, scientists say. If the compound fares well in human trials, it could become the first drug that doctors have to protect against the devastating loss of neurons that strokes can cause. Researchers discovered the protective molecule by chance as they sequenced the DNA of toxins in the venom of the Darling Downs funnel web spider (Hadronyche infensa) that lives in Queensland and New South Wales. Venom from three spiders was gathered for the study after scientists trapped and “milked exhaustively” three spiders on Orchid beach, about 400km north of Brisbane. The molecule, called Hi1a, stood out because it looked like two copies of another brain cell-protecting chemical stitched together. It was so intriguing that scientists decided to synthesise the compound and test its powers. “It proved to be even more potent,” said Glenn King at the University of Queensland’s centre for pain research. Strokes occur when blood flow to the brain is interrupted and the brain is starved of oxygen. About 85% of strokes are caused by blockages in blood vessels in the brain, with the rest due to bleeds when vessels rupture. Approximately six million people a year die from stroke, making it the second largest cause of death worldwide after heart attacks. © 2017 Guardian News and Media Limited

Keyword: Stroke; Neurotoxins
Link ID: 23384 - Posted: 03.21.2017