Archive for the ‘marijuana’ Category

By Christopher Ingraham

As acceptance of and usage of marijuana have become more widespread, a whole lot of interesting questions for public health researchers have been raised: How will legal marijuana affect our children? Our jobs? Our relationships?

Or how about our sex lives?

That latter question inspired a research project by Joseph Palamar and his colleagues at New York University. “Since the landscape is changing, and marijuana continues to increase in popularity, research is needed to continue to examine if and how marijuana use may influence risk for unsafe sexual behavior,” they write in the July issue of the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior.

To that end, Mr. Palamar and his colleagues recruited 24 heterosexual adults to take part in a series of in-depth interviews about prior sexual experiences that happened under the influence of either alcohol or marijuana. This was not meant to be a national sample. Rather, the purpose was to obtain a rigorous qualitative assessment of the different effects of alcohol and marijuana on people’s sexual behaviors and to use this as a jumping-off point for future quantitative research.

Here are a few of the observations the researchers drew from the interviews.

1. Beer goggles are real.

Respondents “overwhelmingly reported that alcohol use was more likely to [negatively] affect the partners they chose,” the study found. Both men and women were fairly likely to say that alcohol had the effect of lowering their standards for whom they slept with, in terms of character and appearance. With marijuana, this seemed to be much less of an issue.

“With weed I know who I’m waking up with. With drinking, you don’t know. Once you start drinking, everybody looks good,” a 34-year-old female said.

Marijuana use also was more associated with sex with people the respondents already knew — girlfriends and boyfriends, for instance. But alcohol “was commonly discussed in terms of having sex with strangers [or someone new],” the study found.

2. Drunk sex often leads to regret. Stoned sex typically doesn’t.

“The most commonly reported feeling after sex on alcohol was regret,” the study found. “Both males and females commonly reported that regret, shame, and embarrassment were associated with alcohol use, but this was rarely reported for marijuana.”

“I want to cook the person something to eat [after sex] when I’m high,” one male respondent said. “When I’m drunk, it’s like, ‘I’m out of here.’ Or get away from me.”

These negative emotions are seen as at least partly due to drunk sex being associated more with strangers.

3. Drunk sex can make you sick. Stoned sex can make you distracted.

“Nausea, dizziness, feeling sick [and vomiting], and blacking out were commonly reported to be associated with alcohol use,” the study found. One male said he accidentally fell asleep during sex while drunk. Another told of multiple instances where sex had to be interrupted because “I’ve had to stop and go hurl.”

There were fewer adverse effects reported with marijuana, and these tended to be more mental. One respondent said that marijuana use lessened his motivation to have sex. Another reported that being high distracted her from the experience.

“You’re so high [on marijuana] … you start thinking sex is weird. ‘What is sex?’ ” a female respondent reported.

4. The pleasure is usually better on marijuana.

The study found that “alcohol tended to numb sensations and marijuana tended to enhance sensations.”

“Alcohol tends to be a lot more numb,” a male respondent said. “Everything is sort of blunted and muted, whereas with marijuana it’s intensified.”

This “numbness” was associated with a longer duration of sex while drunk. But that wasn’t necessarily a good thing.

It “sometimes lasts too long,” one female respondent said. “Compared to when you’re high — it feels so great and it might be a little shorter.”

The study found that both men and women reported longer and more intense orgasms on marijuana, with one woman reporting hers were “magnified at least by five times.”

Also, marijuana led to “more tender, slow, and compassionate sexual acts, and to involve more sensation and sensuality than alcohol,” the report found.

5. Drunk sex is riskier overall.

“With regard to sexual risk behavior, the majority of participants felt that alcohol was riskier, sexually, than marijuana,” Mr. Palamar and his colleagues found. People typically said they exercised poorer judgment when drunk than when stoned, and were more likely to black out and forget whom they were with, what they were doing or whether they used protection.

Participants generally didn’t note this type of behavior with marijuana and said that while under its effects, they felt more in control overall. “One participant interestingly pointed out that marijuana use decreased his likelihood of engaging in risk behavior because while high he was too paranoid to give in,” the study found.

There were some take-homes viewed as useful from a public health perspective. First, the findings confirm one thing that numerous other studies have shown: Alcohol use seems to be closely associated with high-risk sexual behavior.

Aside from the link with unprotected sex and the corresponding risk of unexpected pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases, studies have also drawn disturbing parallels between alcohol use and sexual assault. That link appeared even in the very small sample in Mr. Palamar’s study: One out of the 12 women interviewed reported an instance of sexual assault while under the effects of alcohol.

These negative consequences appear to be less pronounced with marijuana. Research found significantly lower incidences of domestic violence among couples who smoke marijuana, for instance.

http://www.post-gazette.com/news/health/2016/08/08/Serious-researchers-studied-how-sex-is-different-when-you-re-high-vs-when-you-re-drunk/stories/201608080044

Thanks to Michael Moore for bringing this to the It’s Interesting community.

Marijuana may give relief to migraine sufferers, according to research published online in Pharmacotherapy.

The research included 121 patients diagnosed with migraines and treated with medical marijuana between January 2010 and September 2014. Patients in the study used both inhaled marijuana and edible marijuana. The researchers said inhaled marijuana seemed to be preferred for treating current headaches, and edibles seemed to be favored for headache prevention.

The researchers found that 103 study participants said they had a decrease in their monthly migraines. Fifteen patients said they had the same number of migraines, and 3 reported an increase in headaches. Overall, the patients’ number of migraines fell from 10.4 to 4.6 per month, which is statistically and clinically significant.

“There was a substantial improvement for patients in their ability to function and feel better,” senior author Laura Borgelt, PharmD, a professor in the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora, said in a university news release. “Like any drug, marijuana has potential benefits and potential risks. It’s important for people to be aware that using medical marijuana can also have adverse effects.”

Reference

Rhyne D, Anderson SL, Gedde M, Borgelt LM. Effects of Medical Marijuana on Migraine Headache Frequency in an Adult Population. Pharmacotherapy. 2016;

Maya Donnelly awoke to what sounded like thunder in the early morning hours, but dismissed it as a typical monsoon storm and went back to sleep. Later that morning, she looked in the carport at her home in Nogales, near the US-Mexico border, and saw pieces of wood on the ground.

She found a bulky bundle wrapped in black plastic. Inside was roughly 26lbs of marijuana – a package that authorities say was worth $10,000 and was likely dropped there accidentally by a drug smuggler’s aircraft.

Police are now trying to determine whether the bundle was transported by an aircraft or a pilotless drone. Such runs usually occur at night.

“It’s all right on top of our dog’s house,” Donnelly said of the incident, which occurred on 8 September and was first reported by the Nogales International newspaper. “It just made a perfectly round hole through our carport.”

Living near the border, Donnelly said she assumed the object contained drugs. She immediately called her husband, Bill, who told her to call 911. The couple said officers who responded told them an ultralight aircraft smuggling marijuana from Mexico had probably let part of its load go early by accident before dropping the rest farther north, the newspaper reported.

Nogales police chief Derek Arnson said it was the first time in his three-year tenure that he had seen a load of drugs hit a building.

“Someone definitely made a mistake, and who knows what the outcome of that mistake might be for them,” Arnson said.

Maya Donnelly said she thought it unlikely someone would come looking for the drugs, which are now in police custody. Arnson agreed but said police had boosted patrols in the neighbourhood.

The family will have to pay the estimated $500 in repairs, as well as pay for a new home for their German Shepherd, Hulk. But the scenario could have been much worse for the couple and their three teenage daughters.

“Where it landed was clear on the other side of the house from the bedrooms,” Maya Donnelly said. “We were lucky in that sense.”

Friends and family also have gotten a laugh. Several joked that the couple could have profited from the surprise package.

“That’s what everybody says: ‘Why did you call 911?”’ Maya Donnelly said. “But how can you have a clear conscience, right? We could have made lots of home repairs with that.”

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/sep/27/10000-dollars-marijuana-falls-from-sky-arizona-dog-house?channel=us


An assortment of edible marijuana products. Most edibles in a recent study inaccurately described the amount of THC on their labels.

By CATHERINE SAINT LOUIS

An analysis of 75 edible marijuana products sold to patients in Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles found that labels on just 17 percent accurately described their levels of THC, the main psychoactive ingredient, researchers reported Tuesday.

Sixty percent of the products had less THC than their packages advertised, and 23 percent of them had more THC than claimed.

“We need a more accurate picture of what’s being offered to patients,” said Dr. Donald Abrams, the chief of hematology and oncology at San Francisco General Hospital. He was not involved in the new study, which was published in JAMA.

“What we have now in this country is an unregulated medical marijuana industry, due to conflicts between state and federal laws,” Dr. Abrams said.

After ingesting marijuana, patients experience the maximal high one to three hours later. (It is felt within minutes after smoking.) Inaccurate labels complicate the consumption of marijuana for medical purposes.

Products with too little THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, may fail to deliver symptom relief to those with debilitating conditions like chronic pain, and those with too much may overwhelm users.

Some of Dr. Abrams’s older cancer patients have tried edibles, he said, because they do not want to smoke marijuana. But some have eaten too much THC, with unpleasant results such as severe anxiety.

In the new study, cannabis candy, drinks and baked goods from 47 brands were tested by the Werc Shop, a laboratory with outposts in California and Washington State.

The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine paid for the study except for the cost of the testing, which was covered by the Werc Shop. The company’s chief executive, Jeffrey Raber, is a study author.

Some discrepancies were notably large: In one case, a product had just three milligrams of THC even though its label claimed 108, said Ryan Vandrey, the study’s lead author and an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

The researchers declined to name specific manufacturers or products. “I didn’t want to get sued,” Dr. Vandrey said.

“The point is not to say, ‘Hey, X medical marijuana company, you’re bad,’ ” he added. The more serious issue is that “we don’t have the kind of quality assurance for edibles that we have for any other medicine.”

The analysis found some geographical differences: The likelihood of having edible medical marijuana with more THC than advertised was higher in Los Angeles, while the likelihood of having it with less THC than labeled was greater in Seattle.

The researchers also tested each product for cannabidiol, or CBD, a nonpsychoactive ingredient of marijuana that is being studied in purified form as a possible aid to children with intractable epilepsy.

Forty-four products had detectable levels of CBD, though only 13 disclosed CBD. Nine had less CBD than labeled; four had more.

One limitation was that just one laboratory performed the analysis, medical and lab experts cautioned. Methodologies and results vary from lab to lab.

Some variability in test results is routine in this sort of analysis, so the researchers classified labels as accurate if the THC content was within 10 percent of the claimed levels.

Still, Remy Kachadourian, a chemist who has analyzed edible marijuana, suggested that 10 percent variability was too narrow.

“Plus or minus 15 percent is acceptable, and not only in my lab, but other labs in Colorado,” said Dr. Kachadourian, a senior scientist at CMT Laboratories in Denver.

Even though 23 states and the District of Columbia have medical marijuana programs, the federal government does not recognize marijuana as medicine and considers it illegal.

“When that changes,” Dr. Abrams said, “we’ll see the industry rushing to standardize dosing, as well as laboratory testing of products.”

http://mobile.nytimes.com/2015/06/24/health/labels-for-edible-marijuana-often-err-on-potency-study-says.html?ref=health&_r=1&referrer=

Thanks to Mike Moore for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

by Matt Ferner

The Drug Enforcement Administration has been impeding and ignoring the science on marijuana and other drugs for more than four decades, according to a report released this week by the Drug Policy Alliance, a drug policy reform group, and the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, a marijuana research organization.

“The DEA is a police and propaganda agency,” Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, said Wednesday. “It makes no sense for it to be in charge of federal decisions involving scientific research and medical practice.”

The report alleges that the DEA has repeatedly failed to act in a timely fashion when faced with petitions to reschedule marijuana. The drug is currently classified as Schedule I, which the DEA reserves for the “most dangerous” drugs with “no currently accepted medical use.” Schedule I drugs, which include substances like heroin and LSD, cannot receive federal funding for research. On three separate occasions — in 1973, 1995 and again in 2002 — the DEA took years to make a final decision about a rescheduling petition, and in two of the cases the DEA was sued multiple times to force a decision.

The report criticizes the DEA for overruling its own officials charged with determining how illicit substances should be scheduled. It also criticizes the agency for creating a “regulatory Catch-22” by arguing there is not enough scientific evidence to support rescheduling marijuana while simultaneously impeding the research that would produce such evidence.

A spokesperson at the DEA declined to comment on the report.

The feds have long been accused of only funding marijuana research that focuses on the potential negative effects of the substance, but that trend appears to be changing.

According to The Hill, the National Institute on Drug Abuse has conducted about 30 studies to date on the potential benefits of marijuana. NIDA oversees the cultivation, production and distribution of marijuana grown for research purposes at the University of Mississippi in the only federally legal marijuana garden in the U.S.– a process through which the only federally sanctioned marijuana studies are approved.

The joint report comes less than two weeks after the House approved three amendments taking aim at the DEA and its ability to enforce federal marijuana and hemp laws in states which have legal marijuana operations and industrial hemp programs. The medical marijuana amendment was sponsored by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.).

“Nobody should be afraid of the truth,” Rohrabacher said Wednesday. “There’s a lot of other drugs that have harmful side effects. Is the downside of marijuana a harmful side effect? Or is there a positive side that actually does help? That needs to be proven.”

The federal government’s interest in marijuana certainly appears to be growing. Since 2003, it has approved more than 500 grants for marijuana-related studies, with a marked upswing in recent years, according to McClatchy. In 2003, 22 grants totaling $6 million were approved for cannabis research. In 2012, that number had risen to 69 approved grants totaling more than $30 million.

“The DEA has obstructed research into the medical use of marijuana for over 40 years and in the process has caused immeasurably suffering that would otherwise have been treated by low-cost, low-risk generic marijuana,” Rick Doblin, executive director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, said in a statement. “The DEA’s obstruction of the FDA approval process for marijuana has — to the DEA’s dismay — unintentionally catalyzed state-level medical marijuana reforms.”

Currently, 22 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for medical use. Eight other states — Alabama, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah and Wisconsin — have legalized CBD oils, made from a non-psychoactive ingredient in marijuana frequently used to treat epilepsy, for limited medical use or for research purposes.

A number of recent studies have shown the medical potential of cannabis. Purified forms may attack some forms of aggressive cancer. Marijuana use also has been tied to better blood sugar control and may help slow the spread of HIV. One study found that legalization of the plant for medical purposes may even lead to lower suicide rates.

Nadelmann said the DEA has “demonstrated a regular pattern of abusing its discretionary powers.”

“We believe this authority would be better handled by another government agency in the health realm, or even better still, by an organization that is truly independent, perhaps something that involves the National Academy of Sciences,” he said. “We will be working to encourage greater congressional oversight and also to call for reforms of federal law.”

Thanks to Dr. Lutter for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/06/11/dea-blocks-marijuana-science_n_5482367.html

Humans have been ingesting mind-altering substances for a very long time. Hallucinogen-huffing bowls 2,500 years old (http://www.livescience.com/5240-ancient-family-heirlooms-snort-hallucinogens.html) have been found on islands in the Lesser Antilles, and traditional cultures from the Americas to Africa use hallucinogenic substances for spiritual purposes. Here are some notable substances that send the mind tripping.

LSD is commonly known as “acid,” but its scientific name is a mouthful: lysergic acid diethylamaide. The drug was first synthesized in 1938 from a chemical called ergotamine. Ergotamine, in turn, is produced by a grain fungus that grow on rye.

LSD was originally produced by a pharmaceutical company under the name Delysid, but it got a bad reputation in the 1950s when the CIA decided to research its effects on mind control. The test subjects of the CIA project MKULTRA proved very difficult to control indeed, and many, like counter-culture writer Ken Kesey, started taking the drug for fun (and for their own form of 1960s enlightenment).

ayahuasca-vine-110929

Ayahuasca is a hallucinatory mixture of Amazonian infusions centered around the Banisteriopsis caapi vine. The brew has long been used by native South American tribes for spiritual rituals and healing, and like other hallucinogens, ayahuasca often triggers very intense emotional experiences (vomiting is also common). In 2006, National Geographic writer Kira Salak described her experience with ayahuasca in Peru for the magazine.

” I will never forget what it was like. The overwhelming misery. The certainty of never-ending suffering. No one to help you, no way to escape. Everywhere I looked: darkness so thick that the idea of light seemed inconceivable,” Salak wrote. “Suddenly, I swirled down a tunnel of fire, wailing figures calling out to me in agony, begging me to save them. Others tried to terrorize me. ‘You will never leave here,’ they said. ‘Never. Never.'”

Nonetheless, Salak wrote, when she broke free of her hallucinations, her crippling depression was alleviated. It’s anecdotal experiences like this that have led researchers to investigate the uses of hallucinogens as therapy for mental disorders such as anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Peyote is a cactus that gets its hallucinatory power from mescaline. Like most hallucinogens, mescaline binds to serotonin receptors in the brain, producing heightened sensations and kaleidoscopic visions.

Native groups in Mexico have used peyote in ceremonies for thousands of years, and other mescaline-producing cacti have long been used by South American tribes for their rituals. Peyote has been the subject of many a court battle because of its role in religious practice; currently, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and Oregon allow some peyote possession, but only if linked to religious ceremonies, according to Arizona’s Peyote Way Church of God.

The “magic” ingredient in hallucinogenic mushrooms is psilocybin, a compound that breaks down into psilocin in the body. Psilocin bonds to serotonin receptors all over the brain, and can cause hallucinations as well as synesthesia, or the mixture of two senses. Under the influence, for example, a person might feel that they can smell colors.

In keeping with the human tradition of eating anything that might alter your mind, people have been ingesting psilocybin-continuing mushrooms for thousands of years. Synthetic psilocybin is now under study as a potential treatment for anxiety, depression and addiction.

Best known by its street name, “angel dust,” PCP stands for phencyclidine. The drug blocks receptors in the brain for the neurotransmitter glutamate. It’s more dangerous than other hallucinogens, with schizophrenia-like symptoms and nasty side effects.

Those side effects are why PCP has no medical uses. The drug was tested as an anesthetic in the 1950s and used briefly to knock out animals during veterinary surgeries. But by the 1960s, PCP had hit the streets and was being used as a recreation drug, famous for the feelings of euphoria and invincibility it bestowed on the user. Unfortunately, a side effect of all that euphoria is sometimes truly destructive behavior, including users trying to jump out of windows or otherwise self-mutilating. Not to mention that high enough doses can cause convulsions.

Derived from the African iboga plant, ibogaine is another hallucinogen with a long history of tribal use. More recently, the drug has shown promise in treating addiction, although mostly in Mexico and Europe where ibogaine treatment is not prohibited as it is in the U.S.

Using ibogaine as therapy is tricky, however. The drug can cause heart rhythm problems, and vomiting is a common side effect. The Massachusetts-based Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Research (MAPS) reports that an estimated 1 in 300 ibogaine users die due to the drug. The group is studying the long-term effects of ibogaine on patients in drug treatment programs in New Zealand and Mexico.

Salvia divinorum, also known as seer’s or diviner’s sage, grows in the cloud forest of Oaxaca, Mexico. The native Mazatec people have long used tea made out of the leaves in spiritual ceremonies, but the plant can also be smoked or chewed for its hallucinogenic effects.

Salvia is not currently a controlled substance, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, but it is under consideration to be made illegal and placed in the same drug class as marijuana.

Ecstasy, “E” or “X” are the street names for MDMA, or (get ready for a long one) 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine. The drug acts on serotonin in the brain, causing feelings of euphoria, energy and distortions of perception. It can also nudge body temperatures up, raising the risk of heat stroke. Animal studies suggest that MDMA causes long-term and potentially dangerous changes in the brain, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

MDMA was first synthesized by a chemist looking for substances to stop bleeding in 1912. No one paid the compound much mind for the next half-decade, but by the 1970s, MDMA had hit the streets. It was popular at raves and nightclubs and among those who liked their music psychedelic. Today, ecstasy is still a common street drug, but researchers are investigating whether MDMA could be used to treat post-traumatic stress disorder and cancer-related anxiety.

http://www.livescience.com/16286-hallucinogens-lsd-mushrooms-ecstasy-history.html

war_on_drugs_thumb

The decades-long global war on drugs has failed and it’s time to shift the focus from mass incarceration to public health and human rights, according to a new report endorsed by five Nobel Prize-winning economists.

The report, titled “Ending the Drug Wars” and put together by the London School of Economics’ IDEAS center, looks at the high costs and unintended consequences of drug prohibitions on public health and safety, national security and law enforcement.

“The pursuit of a militarized and enforcement-led global ‘war on drugs’ strategy has produced enormous negative outcomes and collateral damage,” says the 82-page report. “These include mass incarceration in the US, highly repressive policies in Asia, vast corruption and political destabilization in Afghanistan and West Africa, immense violence in Latin America, an HIV epidemic in Russia, an acute global shortage of pain medication and the propagation of systematic human rights abuses around the world.”

The report urges the world’s governments to reframe their drug policies around treatment and harm reduction rather than prosecution and prison.

It is also aimed at the United Nations General Assembly, which is preparing to convene a special session on drug policy in 2016. The hope is to push the U.N. to encourage countries to develop their own policies, because the report declares the current one-size-fits-all approach has not proved to be effective.

“The UN must recognize its role is to assist states as they pursue best-practice policies based on scientific evidence, not undermine or counteract them,” said Danny Quah, a professor of economics at LSE and a contributor to the report. “If this alignment occurs, a new and effective international regime can emerge that effectively tackles the global drug problem.”

In addition to contributions from Quah and a dozen other foreign and drug policy experts, the report has been endorsed by five past winners of the Nobel Prize in Economics: Kenneth Arrow (1972), Sir Christopher Pissarides (2010), Thomas Schelling (2005), Vernon Smith (2002) and Oliver Williamson (2009). Also signing on to the report’s foreword are a number of current and former international leaders, including George Shultz, secretary of state under President Ronald Reagan; Nick Clegg, British deputy prime minister; and Javier Solana, the former EU high representative for common foreign and security policy.

Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina, who has announced that his government may present a plan to legalize production of marijuana and opium poppies by the end of 2014, has also publicly backed the report. Molina plans to discuss the report at the U.N.

A recent Pew survey suggests that Americans may be ready to refocus the U.S. end of the drug war, with 67 percent favoring policies that would provide drug treatment.

“The drug war’s failure has been recognized by public health professionals, security experts, human rights authorities and now some of the world’s most respected economists,” said John Collins, the International Drug Policy Project coordinator at LSE IDEAS. “Leaders need to recognize that toeing the line on current drug control strategies comes with extraordinary human and financial costs to their citizens and economies.”

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/05/06/end-drug-war_n_5275078.html?utm_hp_ref=politics

Thanks to Dr. Lutter for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

The days when people thought only heavy Cheech-and-Chong pot smokers suffered cognitive consequences may be over. A study in The Journal of Neuroscience says even casual marijuana smokers showed significant abnormalities in two vital brain regions important in motivation and emotion.

“Some of these people only used marijuana to get high once or twice a week,” said co-author Hans Breiter, quoted in Northwestern University’s Science Newsline. Breiter hailed the study as the first to analyze the effects of light marijuana use. “People think a little recreational use shouldn’t cause a problem, if someone is doing OK with work or school,” he said. “Our data directly says this is not the case.”

“This study raises a strong challenge to the idea that casual marijuana use isn’t associated with bad consequences,” he added.

The study analyzed 20 pot smokers and 20 non-pot smokers between 18 and 25. Scientists asked them to estimate how much marijuana they smoked and how often they lit up over a three-month test period. Even those who smoked once a week showed brain abnormalities, while larger changes were seen in those who smoked more.

Marijuana is by far the most recognizable drug in the United States, with almost 19 million people reporting recent use, according to the National Survey on Drug Use. Cultural attitudes toward the drug are changing fast. What would have been inconceivable a generation ago — the decriminalization and legalization of marijuana — has happened in several states over the last several years. Nascent industries around the plant have sprouted in Colorado and Washington since they legalized the drug.

The study did not look at the behavior of the pot smokers, only their brains. What effect, if any, Wednesday’s findings will have on future legislation remains unclear.

The drug’s effect on the human brain, however, is substantially more clear, researchers say. In the study, scientists compared the size, shape and density of the nucleus accumbens and the amygdala, which control emotion. Those who had smoked had abnormally large nucleus accumbens, an area of the brain that controls pleasure, reward, and reinforcement learning.

Although structural changes were noted, it is not known whether this has any consequence on human behavior or emotion.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/04/16/even-casually-smoking-marijuana-can-change-your-brain-study-says/?tid=pm_national_pop

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By Fredrick Kunkle
The Washington Post

Annapolis Police Chief Michael A. Pristoop thought he came prepared when he testified before a Maryland state Senate panel on Tuesday about the perils of legalizing marijuana.

In researching his testimony against two bills before the Judicial Proceedings Committee, Pristoop said, he had found a news article to illustrate the risks of legalization: 37 people in Colorado, he said, had died of marijuana oversdoses on the very day that the state legalized pot.
“When he said it, everyone in the room dropped their laptops,” Sen. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Montgomery) said in an e-mail.

Trouble is, the facts were about as close to the truth as oregano is to pot. After a quick Google search on his laptop, Raskin — the sponsor of the legalization bill that was the subject of the Senate hearing — advised the chief that the Colorado overdose story, despite its deadpan delivery, had been made up for laughs by The Daily Currant, an online comedy magazine.

“I had not seen the spoof before, but it was self-evidently a parody,” Raskin said. “In the absence of real data, Internet hoaxes are becoming marijuana Prohibition’s last stand.”

Pristoop was among more than 100 people who testified at the hearing to give their views about legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana. Most witnesses said they were in favor of Raskin’s bill, which would legalize marijuana and tax and regulate its distribution and use. A separate bill, sponsored by Sens. Robert A. Zirkin (D-Baltimore County) and Allan H. Kittleman (R-Howard), would impose a civil fine of $100 for possession of small amounts of marijuana.
Late Tuesday, the chief apologized for the mistake, admitting in a news release that he had been duped.

“I apologize for the information I provided concerning the deaths. I believed the information I obtained was accurate, but I now know the story is nothing more than an urban legend,” Pristoop said. “This does not take away from the other facts presented in opposition to legalization or the good work of the Maryland Chiefs and Maryland Sheriffs Associations.”

Maj. Scott Baker said the chief and the department regretted the erroneous testimony but were also trying to take the mistake in stride, with a bit of humor.

“His numbers are up in smoke,” Baker acknowledged Wednesday — a sly tip of the hat to Cheech & Chong’s 1978 stoner movie.

Here’s an excerpt from the satirical — and totally fictional — Daily Currant article that duped Pristoop:

Colorado is reconsidering its decision to legalize recreational pot following the deaths of dozens due to marijuana overdoses.

According to a report in the Rocky Mountain News, 37 people were killed across the state on Jan. 1, the first day the drug became legal for all adults to purchase. Several more are clinging onto life in local emergency rooms and are not expected to survive.

“It’s complete chaos here,” says Dr. Jack Shepard, chief of surgery at St. Luke’s Medical Center in Denver. “I’ve put five college students in body bags since breakfast and more are arriving every minute.

“We are seeing cardiac arrests, hypospadias, acquired trimethylaminuria and multiple organ failures. By next week the death toll could go as high as 200, maybe 300. Someone needs to step in and stop this madness. My god, why did we legalize marijuana? What were we thinking?” http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/md-politics/like-wow-police-chief-is-hoaxed-on-pot-perils/2014/02/25/42bd0592-9e94-11e3-9ba6-800d1192d08b_story.html

Thanks to Da Brayn for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

drugs

dr nutt
Nutt says politicians often have a “primitive, childish” way of thinking about drugs.

David Nutt is trying to develop a new recreational drug that he hopes will be taken up by millions of people around the world. No, the 62-year-old scientist isn’t “breaking bad.” In fact, he hopes to do good. His drug would be a substitute for alcohol, to create drinks that are just as intoxicating as beer or whiskey but less toxic. And it would come with an antidote to reverse its effects, allowing people to sober up instantly and drive home safely.

Nutt, a neuropsychopharmacologist at Imperial College London and a former top adviser to the British government on drug policy, says he has already identified a couple of candidates, which he is eager to develop further. “We know people like alcohol, they like the relaxation, they like the sense of inebriation,” Nutt says. “Why don’t we just allow them to do it with a drug that isn’t going to rot their liver or their heart?”

But when he presented the idea on a BBC radio program late last year and made an appeal for funding, many were appalled. A charity working on alcohol issues criticized him for “swapping potentially one addictive substance for another”; a commentator called the broadcast “outrageous.” News-papers likened his synthetic drug to soma, the intoxicating compound in Aldous Huxley’s dystopian novel Brave New World. Some of his colleagues dismissed the idea as scientifically unfeasible.

Nutt wasn’t surprised. As a fierce advocate of what he says are more enlightened, rational drug policies, he has been a lightning rod for a long time. Politicians, in Nutt’s view, make irrational decisions about drugs that help them win votes but cost society dearly. Drug policy is often based on the moral judgment that people should not use drugs, he says. Instead, it should reflect what science knows about the harms of different drugs—notably that many are far less harmful than legal substances such as alcohol, he says. The plan for a synthetic alcohol alternative is his own attempt to reduce the damage that drug use can wreak; he believes it could save millions of lives and billions of dollars.

Such views—and the combative way in which he espouses them—frequently land Nutt in fierce disputes. Newspaper commentators have called him “Professor Nutty” or “the dangerous professor.” In 2009, he was sacked from his position as chair of the United Kingdom’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, tasked with giving scientific advice to the home secretary, after he criticized a government decision on cannabis.

But in November 2013, he received the John Maddox Prize for standing up for science. “In circumstances that would have humiliated and silenced most people,” wrote neurobiologist Colin Blakemore, one of the judges, “David Nutt continued to affirm the importance of evidence in understanding the harms of drugs and in developing drug policy.”

Controversial comparisons
David Nutt does not look like a dangerous professor. Short and heavyset, he has a jovial, round face and an old-fashioned mustache; one could mistake him for a London taxi driver. He limps slightly, has a down-to-earth way of speaking, and laughs a lot when he talks. “He is a real personality,” says psychopharmacologist Rainer Spanagel of Heidelberg University in Germany. “You can be in a meeting and almost have a result, then he will come in an hour late, stir everything up, and in the end convince everyone of his position.”

Nutt says he realized at an early age that “understanding how the brain works is the most interesting and challenging question in the universe.” When he was a teenager, his father told him a story of how Albert Hofmann, the discoverer of LSD, took a dose of that drug and felt that the bike ride home took hours instead of minutes. “Isn’t that incredible, that a drug can change time?” he asks. On his first night as an undergraduate in Cambridge, he witnessed the powers of drugs again when he went drinking with fellow students. Two of them couldn’t stop. “I just watched them transform themselves. One of them started wailing and crying and the other became incredibly hostile.”

During his clinical training, Nutt says he treated many alcoholics but failed “to get anyone interested in how to reduce their addiction to the drug that was harming them.” He set out to answer that question, first in the United Kingdom, later as the chief of the Section of Clinical Science at the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, a job he held for 2 years. Today, he runs the department of neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College, using modern imaging techniques to see what happens in the brain when people take drugs or develop an addiction.

But his biggest contribution to science, he says, was a discovery he made quite early in his career: that some molecules don’t just block receptors in the brain, but actually have the opposite effect of the molecules that normally stimulate them—and in doing so shut down a brain pathway. Nutt called these molecules contragonists, and he has made a second career out of being a bit of a contragonist himself, trying to calm society’s overexcited responses to the steady stream of alarming news about drugs.

Fictional affliction
In 2009, Nutt published an article in the Journal of Psychopharmacology comparing the harms from ecstasy with those caused by horse riding. Every 10,000th ecstasy pill is likely to hurt someone, he calculated, while an average horse enthusiast can expect a serious accident every 350 hours of riding. The sport, he concluded, was more dangerous than the notorious party drug. That “raises the critical question of why society tolerates—indeed encourages—certain forms of potentially harmful behaviour but not others such as drug use,” he added.

Politicians were not amused, and Nutt’s whimsical reference to a fictional affliction he called equine addiction syndrome, or “equasy,” did not help. In his book Drugs – Without the Hot Air, Nutt provided his account of a phone conversation he had with U.K. Home Secretary Jacqui Smith after the paper was published. (Smith calls it an “embroidered version” of their talk.)

Smith: “You can’t compare harms from a legal activity with an illegal one.”

Nutt: “Why not?”

“Because one’s illegal.”

“Why is it illegal?”

“Because it’s harmful.”

“Don’t we need to compare harms to determine if it should be illegal?”

“You can’t compare harms from a legal activity with an illegal one.”

Nutt says this kind of circular logic crops up again and again when he discusses recreational drugs with politicians. “It’s what we would call ‘splitting’ in psychiatric terms: this primitive, childish way of thinking things are either good or bad,” he says.

He’s often that outspoken. He likens the way drug laws are hampering legitimate scientific research, for instance into medical applications for psychedelic compounds, to the church’s actions against Galileo and Copernicus. When the United Kingdom recently banned khat, a plant containing a stimulant that’s popular among people from the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, he compared the decision with banning cats. And he accuses the Russian government of deliberately using alcohol to weaken the opposition. “However miserable they are, however much they hate their government and their country, they will just drink until they kill themselves, so they won’t protest,” he says.

But it’s his stance on cannabis that got him sacked. In early 2009, ignoring advice from Nutt’s advisory council, Smith upgraded cannabis from class C to class B, increasing the maximum penalty for possession from 2 to 5 years in prison. A few months later, Nutt criticized the decision in a public lecture, arguing that “overall, cannabis use does not lead to major health problems” and that tobacco and alcohol were more harmful. When media reported the remarks, Alan Johnson, who succeeded Smith as home secretary in mid-2009, asked him to resign. “He was asked to go because he cannot be both a government adviser and a campaigner against government policy,” Johnson wrote in a letter in The Guardian.

Nutt did not go quietly. With financial help from a young hedge fund manager, Toby Jackson, he set up a rival body, the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs, “to ensure that the public can access clear, evidence based information on drugs without interference from political or commercial interest.” Politics have skewed not just drug laws but research itself, he argues. “If you want to get money from the U.S. government to work on a drug, you have to prove it damages the brain,” he says.

One of his favorite examples is a paper that Science published in September 2002. The study, led by George Ricaurte at Johns Hopkins University, seemed to show that monkeys given just two or three doses of ecstasy, chemically known as MDMA, developed severe brain damage. The finding suggested that “even individuals who use MDMA on one occasion may be at risk for substantial brain injury,” the authors wrote. The paper received massive media attention, but it was retracted a year later after the authors discovered that they had accidentally injected the animals not with MDMA but with methamphetamine, also known as crystal meth, which was already known to have the effects seen in the monkeys. Nutt says the mistake should have been obvious from the start because the data were “clearly wrong” and “scientifically implausible.” “If that result was true, then kids would have been dropping dead from Parkinson’s,” he says.

Some resent this combative style. “He is a polarizing figure and the drug policy area is polarized enough,” says Jonathan Caulkins, a professor of public policy at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. But Jürgen Rehm, an epidemiologist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, Canada, says Nutt has helped stimulate debates that were long overdue. “You don’t get to be on the front page of The Lancet and The New York Times unless you sharpen your arguments a little bit,” Rehm says. “I can live with that.”

Ranking the drugs
In 2010, Nutt sparked a new firestorm when he published another comparison: a Lancet paper ranking drugs according to the harm they cause. Nutt and other experts scored a long list of drugs on 16 criteria, nine related to the user, such as death from an overdose or wrecked relationships, and seven related to society, such as drug-fueled violence and economic costs. In the end, every drug was given a score between 0 and 100 to indicate its overall harm. Alcohol came out on top, ahead of heroin; mushrooms and ecstasy were at the low end.

Critics said the study’s methodology was flawed because it didn’t address drug interactions and the social context of drug use. “For instance, the number of fatalities caused by excessive alcohol use is going to depend in part on gun control laws,” says Caulkins, who calls the whole idea of expressing drug harm as a single number “embarrassing.”

Caulkins adds that even if a perfect ranking of drug harms were possible, it wouldn’t mean that politicians should put the tightest control measures on the most harmful drugs. Suppose drug A is more harmful to the individual and society than drug B, he says, but impurities in drug A, when illegally produced, can lead to potentially fatal organ failure while they just taste bad in drug B. If you were going to prohibit only one of the two drugs, it should be drug B, he says, even though it causes less harm per se, because criminalizing drug A would lead to a more dangerous product and more deaths. Nutt’s ranking of drugs, he says, is “a pseudoscientific exercise which is trying to take control of the policy process from a technocratic perspective in a way that isn’t even sound.”

Other scientists defended the paper. Using Nutt’s harm scales, “flawed and limited as they may be, would constitute a quantum leap of progress towards evidence-based and more rational drug policy in Canada and elsewhere,” two Canadian drug scientists wrote in Addiction. Regardless of its quality, the paper has been hugely influential, Rehm says. “Everyone in the E.U. knows that paper, whether they like it or not. There is a time before that paper and a time after it appeared.”

Nutt says his comparisons are an essential first step on the way to more evidence-based drug policies that seek to reduce harm rather than to moralize. The best option would be a regulated market for alcohol and all substances less harmful to the user than alcohol, he argues.

That scenario, under which only heroin, crack cocaine, and methamphetamine would remain illegal, seems unlikely to become a reality. But Nutt says he can already see more rational policies taking hold. Recently, Uruguay and the U.S. states of Colorado and Washington legalized the sale of recreational cannabis, going a step further than the Netherlands, which stopped enforcing laws on the sale and possession of small amounts of soft drugs decades ago. Nutt was also happy to read President Barack Obama’s recent comment that cannabis is less harmful than alcohol. “At last, a politician telling the truth,” he says. “I’ll warn him though—I was sacked for saying that.”

New Zealand, meanwhile, passed a law in 2013 that paves the way for newly invented recreational drugs to be sold legally if they have a “low risk” of harming the user. Nutt, who has advised the New Zealand government, is delighted by what he calls a “rational revolution in dealing with recreational drugs.” The main problem now, he says, is establishing new drugs’ risks—which is difficult because New Zealand does not allow them to be tested on animals—and deciding what “low risk” actually means. “I told them the threshold should be if it is safer than alcohol,” he says. “They said: ‘Oh my god, that is going to be far too dangerous.'”

Safer substitute
Nutt agrees that alcohol is now one of the most dangerous drugs on the market—which is why he’s trying to invent a safer substitute. The World Health Organization estimates that alcohol—whose harms range from liver cirrhosis, cancer, and fetal alcohol syndrome to drunk driving and domestic violence—kills about 2.5 million people annually. “When I scan the brains of people with chronic alcohol dependence, many have brains which are more damaged than those of people with Alzheimer’s,” Nutt says.

In a paper published this month in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, Nutt and Rehm summarize the top six interventions that governments should consider to reduce the harms of alcohol, such as minimum prices and restrictions on the places that can sell hard liquor. They also argue that governments should support the development of alternatives. Nutt points to e-cigarettes—devices that heat and vaporize a nicotine solution—as a model. “In theory, electronic cigarettes could save 5 million lives a year. That is more than [the death toll from] AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, and meningitis put together,” he says. “I would argue that the e-cigarette is going to be the greatest health invention since vaccination.”

Can an alcohol alternative do the same? “I think that idea is utopian,” says Spanagel, the German psychopharmacologist. One reason is that researchers have recently developed a much more complex picture of what ethanol, as chemists call it, actually does. Twenty years ago, they thought that once it reached the brain, alcohol elicited its many effects by infiltrating the membranes of neurons there and changing their properties. “Now we know that’s nonsense. You would have to drink 5 liters of schnapps for that to happen,” Spanagel says.

In fact, scientists have learned that alcohol, like other drugs, interacts with the receptors for certain neurotransmitters. But unlike other drugs, it acts on a wide range of them, including receptors for GABA, NMDA, serotonin, and acetylcholine. That will make it hard to find a substance to emulate most of alcohol’s wanted effects while avoiding the unwanted ones, Spanagel predicts.

Nutt is concentrating on the GABA system—the most important inhibitory system in mammalian brains. Alcohol activates GABA receptors, effectively quieting the brain and leading to the state of relaxation many people seek. Nutt has sampled some compounds that target GABA receptors and was pleasantly surprised. “After exploring one possible compound I was quite relaxed and sleepily inebriated for an hour or so, then within minutes of taking the antidote I was up giving a lecture with no impairment whatsoever,” he wrote in a recent article.

But he wants to go one step further. “We know that different subtypes of GABA mimic different effects of alcohol,” he says. Nutt combed the scientific literature and patents for compounds targeting specific GABA receptors, and, in an as-yet unpublished report that he shared with Science, he identifies several molecules that he says fit the bill. Compounds targeting subtypes of the GABAA receptor called alpha2 and alpha3 are particularly promising, he says. Some of these molecules were dropped as therapeutic drug candidates precisely because they had side effects similar to alcohol intoxication.

Gregg Homanics, an alcohol researcher at the University of Pittsburgh, is skeptical that another substance could mimic all the positive effects of alcohol. “You could come up with a drug that might make you feel good. But is it going to be the same good feeling as alcohol? I doubt that.” Such a drug might have downsides of its own, warns Andreas Heinz, an addiction researcher at Charité University Medicine Berlin. It could still turn out to be addictive or to harm a small proportion of the population. “There is an advantage when you have known drugs for hundreds of years and you know exactly what they do,” he says.

Still, Nutt’s appearance on the BBC radio program attracted new investors, ranging “from Ukrainian brewers to American hedge funds,” he says, and Imperial Innovations, a company that provides technology transfer services, is working with him “to consider a range of options for taking the research forward,” a spokesperson says. “We think we have enough funding now to take a substance all the way to the market,” Nutt says—in fact, he hopes to be able to offer the first cocktails for sale in as little as a year from now.

Even a very good alcohol substitute would face obstacles. Many people won’t forsake drinks they have long known and loved—such as beer, wine, and whiskey—for a new chemical, Spanagel says. The idea will also trigger all kinds of political and regulatory debates, Rehm says. “How will such a new drug be seen? Will you be able to buy it in the supermarket? In the pharmacy? Will society accept it?”

Whatever the outcome, Nutt’s quest for a safer drink has already made people think about alcohol in a new way, Rehm adds. “It’s provocative in the best sense of the word.” Much the same could be said of the scientist who thought it up.

http://www.sciencemag.org/content/343/6170/478.full