Archive for the ‘Methamphetamine’ Category

by Philip Perry

Hitler’s charisma, demagoguery, and ability to mobilize Germany behind him have been much written about and discussed. His failed attempt to fight a war on two fronts, and making the same mistake as Napoleon—invading Russia, have also been topics exhausted by scholars and armchair historians alike. But new revelations, such as the fact that the Fuhrer had a micropenis, are changing completely how we view the Second World War.

A 47-page dossier reveals that the rise of Nazi Germany was fueled by drug use. Hitler himself was taking 74 separate drugs, including a powerful opioid, and what we would consider today methamphetamine (crystal meth). The US military report, developed over the course of the war, outlines a number of different substances ingested by the Fuhrer including morphine, barbiturates, tranquilizers, and even bull’s semen.

The bull’s semen was supposed to restore the Fuhrer’s libido in to keep up with his much younger girlfriend, and to make him appear energetic and masculine before the populace. The other drugs were to help alleviate a range of issues from stomach cramps to perhaps, what some historians believe were the symptoms of bipolar disorder.

German writer Norman Ohler covers drug use in Nazi Germany in his new book, The Total Rush (Der Totale Rausch). In America, its entitled Blitzed. The book was a huge success in Germany and has since been translated into 18 languages. According to Ohler, though drugs played a pivotal role, historians overlooked it due to little interest in Hitler’s personal physician, Dr. Theodor Morell.


Injections of bull semen supposedly helped Hitler keep up with girlfriend Eva Braun, pictured here.

Ohler’s friend Alexander Kramer, who owns a vast collection of books and memorabilia from the war period and earlier, was the first to tell Ohler about the role narcotics played. Ohler said he knew immediately it would be the subject of his next book. Though he is not an historian, Third Reich expert Hans Mommsen, now deceased, aided the author in his quest. Ohler spent years in archives to piece the story together.

It all begins during the Weimar Republic, and the rise of Hitler. His inner circle lionized him, portraying him as a superior man in mind and body, who never ate meat, never touched drugs or alcohol, or even women. In 1933 when he rose to power, all intoxicating drugs were banned. Addicts were soon executed by the state or sent off to the camps.

Dr. Fritz Hauschild in Berlin developed what was first known in Germany as methyl-amphetamine. In 1937 the company he worked for expressed the hopes of using it to become a rival of Coca Cola. By 1938, the drug became pervasive and available without a prescription. Soon, almost everyone in Germany was using the drug, known as Pervitin, to boost confidence, energy, and attitude.

As ubiquitously as coffee today, it was regarded in much the same way. Housewives ate Pervitin-laced chocolates which allow them to get housework done in a jiffy and even helped them lose weight. Though health and fitness were upheld as a supreme cultural value, the populace and their leader were all in actuality, smashed on drugs.

It was Dr. Otto Ranke, the director of the Institute for General and Defense Physiology, who decided Pervitin was a good way to help soldiers avoid exhaustion. It allowed them to remain awake for long periods, march for miles, and fight in terrifying conditions fearlessly. Before invading France in 1940, Nazi soldiers were instructed to take tablets of Pervitin throughout the day and night. The invasion of Poland was also fueled by meth.

Although Ohler said his mentor told him never to rely on just one cause, the author says the blitzkrieg was utterly dependent on Pervitin. Otherwise, Hitler’s forces could have never swept through Europe as quickly as they did. Records indicate that 35 million tablets were distributed in 1940 over a span of four months, to fuel the western offensive. The idea was to turn ordinary men into superhuman machines.

There is still argument today over whether or not certain drugs improve or impede a soldier’s performance. The side effects of Pervitin were irrational behavior, hallucinations, and enraged outbursts. The Nazis weren’t alone. Many other armies used amphetamines to fight off fatigue. Dexedrine was used by the British and Americans, while the Japanese had their own form of speed.

As the war raged on, Hitler began relying on his doctor more and more, whom was distrusted and loathed by the rest of his inner circle. Dr. Morell meanwhile relied on the Fuhrer for his position. In 1941 Hitler came down with a terrible illness. Though Morell had been famous for vitamin injections, it was clear that these were not going to cut it.

Animal hormones and a series of medications were attempted. Finally, the physician settled on Eukodal, a wonder drug which we would call Oxycodone today. Soon, one of the world’s most famous villains was receiving several injections of Eukodal per day, and combining them with a host of other drugs, including cocaine, which had been prescribed to help with an ear condition endured on the eastern front. The drug cocktail, particularly Eukodal, made Hitler feel invincible, even when it became clear, by 1944, that Germany was losing. His generals frantically appealed to him to change tactics. But Eukodal made him feel powerful, euphoric, and in control, and so he decide to plod along, undeterred.

Late in the war, the factories that made Germany’s drugs were bombed out by the Allies. By early 1945, the Fuhrer was in a state of fevered withdrawal. According to Ohler, the world’s most infamous fascist spent his final days in his bunker, drowning in a hellish state of withdrawal.

Ohler doesn’t think Hitler’s personal physician purposely turned him into an addict, though it is possible. But it’s just as likely that the Fuhrer himself was the driving force, imbued with an addictive personality. Either way, in the fall of 1944, Hitler removed Morell. But by then, it was too late. The Fuhrer took his own life. Morell meanwhile died not too long after the war a sad and broken figure, discarded by history. Ohler portrays him as a tragic figure, a mere opportunist caught up in the forces of his time, while others see him as an out-and-out scoundrel. Regardless of his intentions, his methods seem to have contributed to the downfall of the Third Reich.

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No matter how safe Walter White may have made the cooking of meth look on Breaking Bad, the real life process is dangerous and potentially deadly, even to those not directly involved.

“Chemicals such as acetone, phosphine, hydrochloric acid, lye, sulfuric acid and ammonia are all released into the home during the cooking process,” said Jeremy Shelton, a Certified Microbial Consultant who routinely tests homes across America’s Southeast for exposure. “The chemicals used are extremely dangerous and can cause serious respiratory problems, cancer, and in some cases death.”

Unfortunately, state regulations vary when it comes to the requirements of disclosing the history of former meth houses, as well as the clean up of such homes, so those buying or renting in a residence formerly used as a meth lab might never know about its past.

“I’ve dealt with everything from the unsuspecting homeowner who has unexplained respiratory issues and migraines, to apartment complexes who have had a meth lab in a single unit where we test that unit and the surrounding units,” Shelton said.

But now there is a way for potential renters and buyers to glean some insight into the pasts of their current, or potential residences.

The founders of DiedinHouse.com, which provides reports to homeowners and renters who want to know if someone has died in their home, has now added a new report that allows renters and homeowners to find out if their home was formerly reported as a site for cooking meth.

“It’s important for buyers or renters to know what they are moving into,” said Roy Condrey, founder of DiedinHouse.com.

Consumers can visit the site, input their address and pay $11.99 to get a report that includes details of a death or meth activity having occurred in the home.

It’s still early and Condrey says he has less than 50,000 reports of former meth homes across the US, however, he expects the numbers to continue to grow due to the meth epidemic sweeping the country. From the data reported thus far, Condrey said the top number of reported meth homes are in the following states.

Missouri
Oklahoma
Indiana
Tennessee
Arkansas

The company is also providing a new service for renters and buyers who might want to get a bargain on a formerly “stigmatized” home.

“We can now provide a list of stigmatized addresses to buyers an renters who are looking for a bargain and claim to not care if the property is stigmatized,” Condrey said.

http://hotpads.com/blog/2015/04/living-meth-house/?utm_source=hotwire&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=hotwire

Thanks to Jody Troupe for bringing this to the It’s Interesting community.

Last year, newly published letters written by Nobel prize winner Heinrich Böll appeared to confirm that Nazi troops took crystal methamphetamines in order to stay awake and motivated, despite the desperate conditions they faced on the front line.

Now, new research has revealed that Adolf Hitler was himself a regular user of the drug, now a Class A, prized among addicts for its feeling of euphoria but feared for its mental destructiveness.

According to a 47-page wartime dossier compiled by American Military Intelligence, the Fuhrer was a famous hypochondriac and took over 74 different medications, including methamphetamines.

It claims that Hitler took the drug before his final meeting with Italian fascist leader Mussolini in July of 1943, during which he apparently ranted non-stop for two hours.

Hitler eased the pain of his final days in his bunker with nine injections of a drug called Vitamultin, too, which contained among its ingredients meth-amphetamine.

The dossier – which is the subject of a new documentary Hitler’s Hidden Drug Habit – goes on to claim that the Fuhrer became addicted to drugs after seeking the medical advice of Berlin-based Dr Morell in 1936.

He was initially prescribed a drug called Mutaflor in order to relieve the pain of his stomach cramps.

He was then prescribed Brom-Nervacit, a barbiturate, Eukodal, a morphine-based sedative, bulls’ semen to boost his testosterone, stimulants Coramine and Cardiazol, and Pervitin, an ‘alertness pill’ made with crystal meth-amphetamine.

His reliance on medication became costly, and by the end of 1943, Hitler was dependant on a mentally debilitating cocktail of uppers and downers.

“Morell was a quack and a fraud and a snake oil salesman,” Bill Panagopoulos, an American collector who discovered the dossier, said.

“He should not have been practising medicine anywhere outside a veterinary clinic.”

“Some [of the drugs] were innocuous, some not so innocuous, some poisonous. Did he develop a dependence on any of these drugs? Which of these drugs, if any, were addictive? And did he become addicted to them? I’d be interested to know what the combination of these medications would do to someone who’s otherwise in good health.”

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/hitler-was-a-regular-user-of-crystal-meth-american-military-intelligence-dossier-reveals-9789711.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.

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

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by Harrison Jacobs

Mexico has long suffered blistering violence and crime at the hands of its homegrown drug cartels.

Though the Mexican government has waged war on the cartels, the effort has struggled to go anywhere. More than 90,000 people have died in the ongoing conflict.

Fed up with a corrupt police force that is often in bed with the cartels and a military that has to this point been ineffective, some Mexicans have taken it upon themselves to fight the cartels and protect their families — with an incredible conflict happening this week in the city of Paracuaro.

Over the last year, vigilante groups, known as fuerzas autodefensas have sprung up all over Mexico, particularly in the southwestern state of Michoacan, an area plagued by the Knights Templar cartel.

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In neighbouring Guerrero, members of the Public Safety System (the name of the vigilante group) marched to commemorate the first anniversary of their founding.

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On Monday, hundreds of vigilantes stormed Paracuaro, Michoacan, where the Knights Templar had set up their headquarters, in order to seize the town back from the cartel. Below is the entrance, where vigilantes erected a checkpoint.

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The gunmen, “community police” from a number of nearby towns, rode in a convoy of pickup trucks and SUVs, before engaging in a gunfight with the Knights Templar.

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The battle was bloody. One vigilante, two members of the Knights Templar, and two federal police were reportedly killed in the shootout.

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Once they had taken control of the town, the vigilantes began disarming municipal police, whom they accuse of being corrupt and in league with the cartel.

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The vigilantes set up patrols and checkpoints on any highways going into and out of Paracuaro.

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Anybody suspected of being associated with the Knights Templar was detained. Currently, 11 police officers are being held on suspicion of colluding with the cartel.

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What happened in Paracuaro is becoming more common. Several months ago, another group in Guerrero detained more than 50 people for over six weeks for alleged crimes.

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While the vigilantes in Paracuaro went after the drug cartel, most other vigilante groups in Mexico are more concerned with punishing criminals who commit robberies, rape, and murder, than stopping the actual drug trade.

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In response to the vigilantes’ takeover of Paracauro, the Michaocan governor told press that the police will begin attempting to “eradicate” the vigilante groups.

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For a government and police force already overwhelmed by the drug cartels, trying to eliminate the vigilante groups likely won’t be easy.

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http://www.businessinsider.com.au/mexican-vigilantes-battle-drug-cartel-photos-2014-1

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