Chapter 3. The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology

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By Elizabeth Brico The statistics are heartbreaking. Each year in the U.S., about 32,000 newborns are diagnosed with neonatal abstinence syndrome, a form of withdrawal that can result from in utero exposure to a number of drugs taken by the mother during pregnancy. Opioids — both prescribed and illegal — are among the most common culprits. These medications can be necessary, even life-saving, but that doesn’t make the resultant NAS any easier to watch: Newborns who suffer from the syndrome may exhibit tremors, irritability, hyperactive reflexes, high-pitched crying, and other symptoms. But drugs are not solely to blame for the prolonged suffering many of these infants experience. The way NAS cases are handled also has a profound impact on their severity, and often leads to negative outcomes. Health care providers and law enforcement authorities have historically separated these fragile babies from their mothers, doling out severe punishments to the latter. Although there is a growing awareness that change is needed, many hospitals still use outdated approaches — and child welfare agencies are particularly behind the times in this arena. Recent studies suggest that policies that place blame on mothers only heighten a newborn’s suffering by preventing infants from accessing potent care for reducing withdrawal symptoms: contact with mom. Misperceptions about opioid addiction, dependency, and NAS are woven into the very fabric of U.S. and state law. In order to receive federal funding for child abuse prevention, health care workers are required to report substance-affected newborns to Child Protective Services. Additionally, states can require health care providers to report or test for drug exposure during pregnancy. In many cases, mothers are reported even if the exposure is the result of prescribed methadone or buprenorphine — opioid-based drugs commonly used to treat addiction.

Keyword: Drug Abuse; Development of the Brain
Link ID: 26943 - Posted: 01.09.2020

By Brooke Siem The prescriptions began in the wake of my father’s sudden death when I was 15: Wellbutrin XL and Effexor XR for anxiety and depression, two separate doses of Synthroid to right a low-functioning thyroid, a morning and nighttime dose of tetracycline for acne, birth control to regulate the unpleasant side effects of womanhood, and four doses of Sucralfate to be taken at each meal and before bedtime — all given to me by the time I was old enough to vote. My general practitioner asked what Sucralfate was after I’d finished rattling off my prescriptive party mix during our first appointment. I was 22 and a recent Manhattan transplant. I had an apartment in Murray Hill and a job waiting tables at a local Italian restaurant. “It’s for something called bile reflux disease,” I said. “I used to randomly puke up bile all the time.” “Huh. Never heard of it.” He ripped off a completed prescription slip and scribbled across the new blank page. “You should really get the prescription for antidepressants from a psychiatrist, but I’ll give it to you along with all the rest since you’ve been on it for so long. And whenever you come back, maybe we should do a physical.” At the time, it never occurred to me that my medication needed monitoring or that perhaps my doctor should do a physical before sending me to the pharmacy. Not only was this five-minute exchange routine, but at no point during my years in the American mental health system did a psychiatrist, psychologist, doctor or pharmacist suggest that I consider reevaluating the decision to take antidepressants. Therefore, I believed that my only choices were to cope with depression or cope with antidepressants, and that depression would always thump inside me with the regularity of my own pulse.

Keyword: Depression; Drug Abuse
Link ID: 26939 - Posted: 01.07.2020

By Simon Makin For many people battling addictions, seeing drug paraphernalia—or even places associated with past use—can ignite cravings that make relapse more likely. Associating environmental cues with pleasurable experiences is a basic form of learning, but some researchers think such associations can “hijack” behavior, contributing to problems such as addiction and eating disorders. Researchers led by neuroscientist Shelly Flagel of the University of Michigan have found a brain circuit that may control this hijacking; rats that exhibit a type of compulsive behavior show different brain connectivity and activity than those that do not, and manipulation of the circuit altered their behavior. These findings may help researchers understand why some individuals are more susceptible to impulse-control disorders. “This is technically a really excellent study,” says neuroscientist Jeff Dalley of the University of Cambridge, who was not involved in the work. In the study, published last September in eLife, researchers showed rats an inert lever shortly before delivering a tasty treat via a chute, then sorted them into groups based on their responses. All rats learned to associate the lever with the treat, but some—dubbed “goal trackers”—began to approach the food chute directly after seeing the lever, whereas inherent “sign trackers” kept compulsively returning to the lever itself. The team suspected that two brain regions were involved: the paraventricular nucleus of the thalamus (PVT), which drives behavior, and the prelimbic cortex, which is involved in reward learning. The researchers used a technique called chemogenetics to alter neurons in the circuit connecting these regions, which let them turn on or inhibit signals from the prelimbic cortex using drugs. Activating the circuit reduced sign trackers' tendency to approach the lever but did not affect goal trackers. Deactivating it drew goal trackers to the lever (sign-tracking behavior), without affecting preexisting sign trackers. The team also found increased dopamine, a chemical messenger involved in reward processing, in the newly sign-tracking brains. © 2020 Scientific American

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 26933 - Posted: 01.04.2020

By Knvul Sheikh When researchers began tinkering with a class of tranquilizer drugs called benzodiazepines in the 1950s, they felt they had uncovered a solution to modern anxiety and insomnia. Benzodiazepines worked quickly and effectively to quell racing heartbeats and dismiss spinning thoughts. The dozen or so different types — including Xanax, Valium, Ativan and Klonopin — became the most frequently prescribed drugs around the world, even as concerns arose about their potential side effects and addictive properties. “Patients themselves, and not the medical profession, were the first to realize that long-term use of benzodiazepines can cause problems,” wrote Dr. Heather Ashton, a British psychopharmacologist. She said that patients who had been on the medications for months or years would come to her with fears that the drugs were making them more ill. Some continued to have symptoms of depression or anxiety. Others had developed muscle weakness, memory lapses, or heart or digestive issues. Dr. Ashton would dedicate much of her career to listening to hundreds of patients’ experiences and rigorously collecting data. The result of her work, in 1999, was “Benzodiazepines: How They Work And How To Withdraw.” Now known simply as “The Ashton Manual,” it has become a cornerstone for those looking to quit the drugs safely. Addiction researchers worldwide still cite it in studies on benzodiazepines. And patient support groups have translated and distributed it in about a dozen languages. Dr. Ashton died on Sept. 15, 2019, at her home in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. She was 90. Her death, which had not been widely reported, was confirmed by her son John. Image“Benzodiazepines: How They Work and How to Withdraw,” better known as “The Ashton Manual,” has become a cornerstone for those looking to quit anxiety drugs safely. © 2020 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 26930 - Posted: 01.04.2020

Judith Grisel I used to think addiction was caused by screwy molecules in the brain, and would be cured by neuroscience. I began learning about how the brain works after I ended up in treatment for drug addiction in the mid-1980s, when hopes for neuroscientific cures were as overblown as the hairstyles. My own journey away from the destructive cycle of addiction has been sourced much more by factors outside my brain Like many at the time, I envisioned the brain as executive director of an epic drama – solely responsible for the total picture of what I did, felt and thought. My specific purpose in getting a doctorate in behavioural neuroscience was to discover the neural explanation for my irrational choices around mind-altering chemicals. What was the faulty neural switch that swept away heartfelt promises or strongly held convictions in response to practically every opportunity to twist reality? I made increasingly risky and harebrained decisions, as the possibility of transient bliss in a shot of cocaine, a belly full of booze or a head in the (cannabis) clouds came to outweigh my obligations or common sense. Final exams, “last chances” at work, or loved ones’ funerals, for example, didn’t stand a chance compared to hitching myself to whatever intoxicating ride I could catch. By the time I hit bottom, the choice between facing stark reality or using drugs to escape was no choice at all: cortical regulation had completely given way to subcortical impulses and habits. Globally 35 million people are estimated to suffer from drug use disorders. The causes of this public health disaster are complicated, but it is widely accepted that about half of the contribution comes from inherited risk, and the rest an unfortunate confluence of environmental factors interacting with that biologic vulnerability.

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 26926 - Posted: 01.02.2020

Stephanie O'Neill For many Americans, hallucinogens still evoke the psychedelic '60s, bringing to mind the sex-and-drugs lifestyle of the hippie counterculture. But that stereotype lags behind reality, by several decades. Today, psychedelic experimentation is more likely to refer to dozens of clinical trials taking place at universities and research facilities. The psychedelics under study range from psilocybin, the active ingredient in psychedelic mushrooms, to MDMA (also known as Ecstasy or Molly), to LSD, among others. Researchers are studying them for their therapeutic potential in treating hard-to-treat conditions such as PTSD, addiction, depression and anxiety. The promise of freedom from cigarettes was what compelled Carine Chen-McLaughlin, 65, to enroll in an experimental study of psilocybin therapy for smokers. She was desperate to break free from her decades-long physical addiction to nicotine. Quitting smoking had felt impossible for so long. "It's basically saying good-bye to a very old friend, and worrying about: Am I going to be OK without this good friend?'" the Baltimore resident says. Like many of the 49 million tobacco users in the U.S., Chen-McLaughlin wanted to quit and had tried various methods: nicotine gum, the nicotine patch and even stopping cold turkey. But nothing worked for more than a couple days. The clinical trial she joined took place in her hometown of Baltimore, at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. While she was a bit anxious about the experiment, Chen-McLaughlin says she was nevertheless hopeful about trying something totally different. © 2019 npr

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 26915 - Posted: 12.26.2019

By Douglas Martin Baba Ram Dass, who epitomized the 1960s of legend by popularizing psychedelic drugs with Timothy Leary, a fellow Harvard academic, before finding spiritual inspiration in India, died on Sunday at his home on Maui, Hawaii. He was 88. His death was announced on his official Instagram account. Having returned from India as a bushy-bearded, barefoot, white-robed guru, Ram Dass, who was born Richard Alpert, became a peripatetic lecturer on New Age possibilities and a popular author of more than a dozen inspirational books. The first of his books, “Be Here Now” (1971), sold more than two million copies and established him as an exuberant exponent of finding salvation through helping others. ImageRam Dass’s book “Be Here Now,” originally published in 1971, has had more than three dozen printings and sold more than two million copies. Ram Dass’s book “Be Here Now,” originally published in 1971, has had more than three dozen printings and sold more than two million copies. He started a foundation to combat blindness in India and Nepal, supported reforestation in Latin America, and developed health education programs for American Indians in South Dakota. He was particularly interested in the dying. He started a foundation to help people use death as a journey of spiritual awakening and spoke of establishing a self-help line, “Dial-a-Death,” for this purpose. A year later, Ram Dass suffered a cerebral hemorrhage that left him partly paralyzed, unable to speak and in a wheelchair. From his home in Maui, he learned to “surf the silence” at first, he said, but over time he painstakingly reacquired a halting form of speech and was able to lecture on the internet and make tapes. © 2019 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 26912 - Posted: 12.26.2019

People with severe epilepsy will be able to access a cannabis-based medicine on the NHS from early next year after it was fast-tracked for use. NHS England said doctors would be able to prescribe Epidyolex from 6 January. It will be for children from age two, as well as adults, but some campaigners warn it is "too little too late". Clinical trials have shown the oral solution, which contains cannabidiol (CBD), could reduce the number of seizures by up to 40% in some children. The medicine will be used to treat two rare, but severe, forms of childhood epilepsy - Lennox Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome - which can cause multiple seizures a day. Epilepsy Action's chief executive Philip Lee welcomed the announcement, saying it "brings much-needed hope and could be life-changing for some". However, he added that Epidyolex was not "a silver bullet" and there was more work to be done to "collect robust high-quality evidence of the effectiveness of other cannabis-based medicines". Medical cannabis campaigner Peter Carroll said it was "too little, too late" as he urged action towards making medicinal cannabis with CBD and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) available for families in need. THC is the psycho-active component of cannabis. Speaking to BBC News, he said: "What's shown to have a transforming effect for children in desperate need is a CBD medicine with a little bit of THC, but those are unlicensed in the UK at the moment." Mr Carroll added: "The law was changed in November 2018 so that specialist doctors could write a prescription for medical cannabis with the CBD and THC, even though they are unlicensed. © 2019 BBC

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 26906 - Posted: 12.21.2019

By Abby Goodnough TULSA, Okla. — The teenager had pink cheeks from the cold and a matter-of-fact tone as she explained why she had started using methamphetamine after becoming homeless last year. “Having nowhere to sleep, nothing to eat — that’s where meth comes into play,” said the girl, 17, who asked to be identified by her nickname, Rose. “Those things aren’t a problem if you’re using.” She stopped two months ago, she said, after smoking so much meth over a 24-hour period that she hallucinated and nearly jumped off a bridge. Deaths associated with meth use are climbing here in Oklahoma and in many other states, an alarming trend for a nation battered by the opioid epidemic, and one that public health officials are struggling to fully explain. The meth problem has sneaked up on state and national leaders. In Oklahoma, meth and related drugs, including prescription stimulants, now play a role in more deaths than all opioids combined, including painkillers, heroin and fentanyl, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The spending package that lawmakers agreed on this week includes legislation from Senators Jeanne Shaheen, Democrat of New Hampshire, and Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio, that would allow states to address the resurgence of meth and cocaine by using some of the billions of dollars that Congress had appropriated to combat opioid addiction. Meth use first ballooned in the United States from the 1990s into the early 2000s, when it was often made in small home labs with pseudoephedrine, the main ingredient in many drugstore cold medicines. But today’s meth, largely imported from Mexico, is far more potent. © 2019 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 26897 - Posted: 12.18.2019

By Diana Kwon MDMA, or ecstasy, once had the reputation of exclusively being an illicit party drug popular at raves and dance clubs. That view has changed in recent years. The substance, known for its ability to produce feelings of euphoria and affection for others, has developed a new identity as a promising therapeutic tool. Researchers are currently investigating MDMA-assisted therapy as a potential treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder in late-stage clinical trials. The drug’s capacity to enhance sociability has also led to studies investigating its benefits for other conditions, such as social anxiety in individuals with autism spectrum disorder. Despite the promise of its therapeutic benefits, concern persists among some scientists that MDMA could be abused because its pleasurable effects can make it addictive. “By no means [does the drug] have the addictive liability of methamphetamine or certain opioids,” says Robert Malenka, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University. “But it does have abuse potential.” A new study by Malenka and his team suggests it may be possible to circumvent this risk. The findings, published today in Science Translational Medicine, reveal that MDMA’s sociability-enhancing abilities and its pleasurable properties are controlled by distinct pathways in the brain—at least in mice. That insight opens the possibility of developing a safer version of the drug. Previous research by Malenka’s group and others had revealed that MDMA stimulated the release of both serotonin and dopamine in the brain. The existing evidence suggested the drug’s effects on sociability were linked to serotonin and its addictive potential to dopamine, but the extent to which these pathways were distinct was unknown. “Separating out the prosocial from the addictive effects has tremendous implications for drug development,” says Boris Heifets, an anesthesiologist at Stanford and lead author of the latest study. A key question is, “Can we make something with the same kind of prosocial effect that maybe isn’t as prone to abuse?” © 2019 Scientific American

Keyword: Drug Abuse; Depression
Link ID: 26891 - Posted: 12.12.2019

By Nayef Al-Rodhan Facebook recently announced it had acquired CTRL-Labs, a U.S. start-up working on wearable tech that allows people to control digital devices with their brain. The social media company is only the latest in a long string of firms investing in what has come to be termed “neurotechnology.” Earlier this year Neuralink, a company backed by Elon Musk, announced that it hopes to begin human trials for computerized brain implants. These projects may seem like science fiction, but this drive to get more out of our brains is nothing new—from tea, caffeine and nicotine, to amphetamines and the narcolepsy drug Modafinil, drugs have long been used as rudimentary attempts at cognitive enhancement. And in our tech-driven world, the drive to cognitively enhance is stronger than ever—and is leading us to explore new and untested methods. In today’s hypercompetitive world, everyone is looking for an edge. Improving memory, focus or just the ability to work longer hours are all key to getting ahead, and a drug exists to improve each of them. In 2017, 30 percent of Americans said they had used “smart drug” supplements, known as nootropics, at least once that year, even if studies repeatedly demonstrate that they have a negligible effect on intellect. Advertisement For some, however, nootropics are not enough, and so they turn to medical-grade stimulants. The most famous of these is Adderall, which boosts focus and productivity far more than commercial nootropics. A well-established black market thrives on university campuses and in financial centers, supplying these drugs to people desperate to gain a competitive edge. © 2019 Scientific American

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Drug Abuse
Link ID: 26886 - Posted: 12.10.2019

Davide Castelvecchi The group of nerve agents known as Novichoks are to be added to the Chemical Weapons Convention’s list of controlled substances, in one of the first major changes to the treaty since it was agreed in the 1990s. The compounds, developed by the Soviet Union during the cold war, came to prominence after they were used in a high-profile assassination attempt on a former Russian military officer, Sergei Skripal, in Salisbury, UK, in March last year. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which is tasked with enforcing the treaty, announced the decision to explicitly ban Novichoks on 27 November as representatives from the 193 member states met in The Hague this week for a periodic review of the convention. The member states agreed unanimously to classify Novichoks as chemical weapons, the OPCW said. The update to the treaty, which will come into effect in 180 days, was initially proposed by the United States, Canada and the Netherlands. “There is a recognition that we all win with this agreement,” says Alastair Hay, an environmental toxicologist at the University of Leeds, UK, who was at the meeting. “The decision means that OPCW can now keep tabs on these chemicals.” The OPCW has the power to send inspectors to any signatory country to search for evidence of production of banned chemicals. It also can send experts to help countries to investigate crime scenes where chemical agents may have been used. © 2019 Springer Nature Limited

Keyword: Neurotoxins
Link ID: 26863 - Posted: 12.02.2019

By Anna Schaverien and Allison McCann LONDON — Homeless drug users in Scotland will be allowed to inject pharmaceutical-grade heroin twice a day under the supervision of medical officials as part of a new program intended to reduce drug deaths and H.I.V. infection. From 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week, a $1.5 million facility in Glasgow that opened on Tuesday will allow a handful of drug users to receive doses of the drug alongside other treatment for their physical and psychological health, according to Glasgow City Council. The pilot project, known as heroin-assisted treatment, is the first such licensed operation in Scotland, a country that has been called the “drug death capital of the world.” It has struggled to cope with high rates of fatal drug overdoses and its worst H.I.V. outbreak in decades. The program will target those with the “most severe, longstanding and complex addiction issues,” the City Council said. It aims to reduce the risk of overdoses and the spread of viruses such as H.I.V. by prescribing diamorphine — the clinical name for pharmaceutical-grade heroin — for patients to inject in a secure clinical room under the supervision of trained medics. The clinic opened in Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city, after Britain’s Home Office granted it a license, and follows a similar initiative that began in Middlesbrough, England, last month. © 2019 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 26862 - Posted: 12.02.2019

Merrit Kennedy A newly published study from University College London suggests that a single dose of ketamine could help dramatically reduce the alcohol intake of heavy drinkers. Bruce Forster/Getty Images What if a single dose of ketamine could make a heavy drinker dramatically cut back on booze? A team at University College London thinks that ketamine may be able to "rewrite" memories that shape a person's relationship with alcohol. Scientists say that participants who were given ketamine as part of an experimental study dramatically reduced their average alcohol intake for months after the initial dose. Their research was published Tuesday in Nature Communications. Ketamine — sometimes known as a club drug called Special K that can produce hallucinations — has been shown to be a powerful and fast-acting treatment for depression. Researchers also are looking into whether ketamine can help patients with post-traumatic stress disorder. The U.K. findings may signal yet another use for the drug for hard-to-treat conditions. In general, the treatment options for alcoholism "aren't particularly effective for the majority of people, particularly over the long term," says Ravi Das, a UCL psychopharmacologist and the study's lead researcher. Das thinks part of the problem is that current remedies don't necessarily help patients deal with positive memories of drinking that could make them want to drink again. "When people become addicted, they're learning that kind of behavior in response to things in their environment," he says. "Those memories, those associative trigger memories, can be really long lasting and really kind of ingrained. And current treatments don't target those." © 2019 npr

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 26858 - Posted: 11.29.2019

A disturbing aspect of Canada's opioid crisis is that more babies are being born to mothers who use fentanyl and other opioid drugs. The Canadian Institute for Health Information says more than 1,800 infants per year are born with symptoms of opioid withdrawal. A study presented Monday at the 105th Scientific Assembly and Annual Meeting of the Radiological Society of North America suggests that prenatal exposure to opioids may have a significant impact on the brain development of unborn children. A team of obstetricians, neonatologists, psychologists and radiologists led by Dr. Rupa Radhakrishnan, a radiologist at Indiana University School of Medicine, did functional MRI brain scans on 16 full-term infants. Eight of the infants had mothers who used opioids during pregnancy and eight had mothers who did not use opioids. The brain imaging technique used by the researchers is called resting state functional MRI (fMRI). The technique enabled researchers to measure brain activity by detecting changes in blood flow. The technique permits researchers to measure how well different regions of the brain talk to one another. The researchers found abnormal connections to and from a part of the brain called the amygdala. It's a region that is responsible for the perception and regulation of emotions such as anger, fear, sadness and aggression. This is one of the first studies to suggest that the brain function of infants may be affected by prenatal exposure to opioids. Abnormal function in the amygdala could make it difficult for children exposed to opioids to regulate their emotions. That could have serious implications on their social development and on their behaviour. The researchers say the study is small. They say they aren't certain as to the clinical implications of this study. A long-term outcome study is underway to understand better the functional brain changes caused by prenatal opioid exposure and their associated long-term developmental outcomes. How newborns face opioid withdrawal This research may become even more important should current trends continue, and we see an increase in the number of infants exposed to opioids prenatally. ©2019 CBC/Radio-Canada

Keyword: Development of the Brain; Drug Abuse
Link ID: 26850 - Posted: 11.26.2019

By Julie Creswell and Sheila Kaplan SAN FRANCISCO — In the face of mounting investigations, subpoenas and lawsuits, Juul Labs has insisted that it never marketed or knowingly sold its trendy e-cigarettes and flavored nicotine pods to teenagers. As youth vaping soared and “juuling” became a high school craze, the company’s top executives have stood firm in their assertion that Juul’s mission has always been to give adult smokers a safer alternative to cigarettes, which play a role in the deaths of 480,000 people in the United States each year. “We never wanted any non-nicotine user and certainly nobody underage to ever use Juul products,” James Monsees, a co-founder of the company, testified at a congressional hearing in July. But in reality, the company was never just about helping adult smokers, according to interviews with former executives, employees and investors, along with reviews of legal filings and social media archives. Juul’s remarkable rise to resurrect and dominate the e-cigarette business came after it began targeting consumers in their 20s and early 30s, a generation with historically low smoking rates, in a furious effort to reward investors and capture market share before the government tightened regulations on vaping. As recently as 2017, as evidence grew that high school students were flocking to its sleek devices and flavored nicotine pods, the company refused to sign a pledge not to market to teenagers as part of a lawsuit settlement. It wasn’t until the summer of 2018, when the Food and Drug Administration required it to do so, that the company put a nicotine warning label on its packaging. Though some former employees recalled Mr. Monsees wearing a T-shirt at the office that used an expletive to refer to Big Tobacco, the start-up’s early pitches to potential investors listed selling the business to a big tobacco company as one of the potential ways to cash out. © 2019 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 26846 - Posted: 11.23.2019

Cody A. Siciliano Some individuals consume alcohol their entire adult life without developing an alcohol use disorder. Others, however, quickly transition to compulsive and problematic drinking. Can we determine what makes some people vulnerable to addiction? Alcohol drinking is the third leading cause of preventable death in the United States, and is responsible for millions of deaths per year worldwide. If the reasons why some people are susceptible to alcohol use disorder were known, it might be possible to more effectively treat this devastating disease, or even intervene before serious problems emerge. I have spent my career as a neuroscientist and pharmacologist trying to understand how drugs and alcohol act on the brain, and what makes a brain more or less susceptible to substance use disorders. My laboratory at the Vanderbilt Center for Addiction Research develops approaches for studying addictive behaviors in rats and mice. Using electrochemical and optical approaches to measure brain activity, our goal is to determine how patterns of activity in brain cells give rise to these behaviors – and how we may use this information to treat or prevent substance use disorders. In a report published in the Nov. 22 issue of the journal Science, Kay Tye of the Salk Institute and I set out to understand how binge drinking alters the brain and how this can lead to compulsive behaviors in some drinkers. To study this, we designed an experiment in which mice were scored for their propensity to drink alcohol. We measured compulsive drinking by determining how much they drank when we mixed the alcohol with a bitter tasting substance that mice normally avoid. © 2010–2019, The Conversation US, Inc.

Keyword: Drug Abuse; Brain imaging
Link ID: 26844 - Posted: 11.22.2019

Regina Denney's 17-year-old son Brian called her in a panic; he couldn't stop throwing up. It was April 7, 2018 and the Indianapolis teen asked her to take him to the emergency room — but doctors there couldn't figure out what was wrong. He was severely dehydrated and constantly vomiting. "As we're sitting there talking, another doctor happens to walk by our room and she pokes her head in and she says, 'Do you smoke marijuana?'" Denney said. "And he said yes. And she said, 'Does it get better with hot showers or hot baths?' And he said yes." Brian Smith Jr. was diagnosed with a rare condition called cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome (CHS). When his lab results came back, his mother said the teen's kidneys were shutting down and his liver wasn't functioning properly. "It was just crazy," Denney said. "They were able to rehydrate him. And [the results] improved. So they released him the next day, but didn't give us any information about what CHS was, what causes it, what to look for." He was a heavy cannabis smoker and his mother convinced him to stop, at least until they could see a gastroenterologist 45 days later. Denney said he still had symptoms leading up to that appointment and thought if they were related to his cannabis use, he would have been symptom free. So he started smoking again. What they didn't know was CHS can present symptoms weeks or months after stopping cannabis use. By October, Denney said her son had lost more than 40 pounds. "You could see his bones. He looked sick," she said. "It's torture." ©2019 CBC/Radio-Canada

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 26824 - Posted: 11.16.2019

By Denise Grady A form of vitamin E has been identified as a “very strong culprit” in lung injuries related to vaping THC, health officials reported on Friday, a major advance in a frightening outbreak that has killed 40 people and sickened 2,051. Many patients with the mysterious illness have wound up hospitalized in intensive care units, needing ventilators or even more desperate measures to help them breathe. Most are young, male adults or even teenagers. “For the first time, we have detected a potential toxin of concern, vitamin E acetate, from biological samples from patients,” with lung damage linked to vaping, Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said at a news briefing. The new report, based on samples taken from the lungs of 29 patients, including two who died, she said, “provided evidence of vitamin E acetate at the primary site of injury in the lungs.” She added, “These findings tell us what entered the lungs of some patients with these injuries.” The patients came from 10 states scattered around the country, so the findings are considered broadly applicable and unlikely to have resulted from a single vaping product or supplier. The results mesh with other research that found the vitamin compound in vaping products. But Dr. Schuchat left open the possibility that other chemicals or toxins from vaping fluids or devices could also be causing the severe respiratory ailments. The outbreak has revealed the existence of a vast, unregulated, shadowy marketplace of illicit or bootleg vaping products that are essentially a stew of unknown chemicals concocted, packed and sold by unknown manufacturers and sellers. © 2019 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Drug Abuse; Neurotoxins
Link ID: 26808 - Posted: 11.09.2019

New preclinical research reported in animal models shows that exposure to compounds found in marijuana called cannabinoids (CBs), which includes cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), during early pregnancy can cause malformations in the developing embryo. The research also demonstrated that co-exposure to CBs and alcohol increased the likelihood of birth defects involving the face and brain. The study, funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), part of the National Institutes of Health, was published in Scientific Reports. “Prenatal alcohol exposure is a leading preventable cause of birth defects and neurodevelopmental abnormalities in the United States,” said NIAAA Director, George F. Koob, Ph.D. “Since marijuana and alcohol are frequently used simultaneously, the combined effects of cannabinoids and alcohol are worrisome as well as the dangers of either substance alone.” The detrimental effects of prenatal alcohol exposure on human development are well known and include an array of lifelong physical, cognitive, and behavioral problems collectively called fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD). Alcohol can disrupt fetal development at any stage during pregnancy, even the earliest stages before a woman knows she is pregnant. The effects of marijuana exposure during pregnancy and the combined effect of alcohol and marijuana are less known. In the study, scientists led by Scott Parnell, Ph.D., at the Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, administered a variety of CBs alone and in combination with alcohol in varying amounts to mice on day eight of pregnancy, which is similar to the third and fourth weeks of pregnancy in humans. The CBD amounts administered were within what is considered a therapeutic range for several medical conditions in humans. The THC concentration administered was similar to levels reached by a person smoking marijuana.

Keyword: Development of the Brain; Drug Abuse
Link ID: 26806 - Posted: 11.09.2019