Posts Tagged ‘addiction’


Preliminary findings from a clinical trial of heavy drinkers suggest that the drug can weaken certain memories tied to the reward of imbibing, although the mechanisms aren’t fully clear.

by CATHERINE OFFORD

he anesthetic drug ketamine could be used to rewire heavy drinkers’ memories and help them cut down on alcohol consumption, according to a study published yesterday (November 26) in Nature Communications. In a clinical trial of people who reported consuming around 590 grams of alcohol—equivalent to nearly two cases of beer—per week on average, researchers found that a procedure that involved administering the drug while people were thinking about drinking durably reduced consumption.

While it’s not clear how the method works at a neurological level, the study represents “a really exciting development,” Amy Milton, a behavioral neuroscientist at the University of Cambridge who was not involved in the work, tells STAT. She adds that the findings mark “the first time it’s been shown in a clinical population that this can be effective.”

The study was designed to manipulate the brain’s retrieval and stabilization of memories—in this case, those linking the sight and thoughts of alcohol to the reward of drinking it, study coauthor Ravi Das, a psychopharmacologist at University College London, tells Science News. “We’re trying to break down those memories to stop that process from happening.”

To do that, the team asked 30 of the participants to look at a glass of beer, followed by a sequence of images of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. On the first day of tests, the session ended with participants being invited to drink the beer. On the second day, after viewing the beer and images, the screen cut off, and instead of drinking the beer, participants were given a shot of ketamine.

Among various functions, ketamine blocks NMDA receptors—key proteins in the brain’s reward pathways—so the researchers hypothesized that administering the drug during memory retrieval would help weaken participants’ associations between the sight or contemplation of alcohol and the reward of drinking it. Their results somewhat support that hypothesis. Nine months following the several-day trial, the volunteers reported cutting their drinking back by half.

“To actually get changes in [participants’] behavior when they go home and they’re not in the lab is a big deal,” Mary Torregrossa, a neuroscientist at the University of Pittsburgh who was not involved in the work, tells Science. But she notes that it’s not clear whether it was the ketamine or some other part of the procedure that led to the effect.

Another 60 participants, split into two control groups, received slightly different procedures that involved either beer or ketamine and still showed, on average, a 35 percent decrease in alcohol consumption after nine months. The participants themselves were recruited to the study through online ads—meaning that the researchers may have selected for people already interested in reducing consumption.

Whatever the mechanisms behind the effect, the results so far suggest the method is worth investigating, David Epstein, an addiction researcher at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, tells Science News. “If a seemingly small one-time experience in a lab produces any effects that are detectable later in real life, the data are probably pointing toward something important.”

Catherine Offord is an associate editor at The Scientist. Email her at cofford@the-scientist.com.

https://www.the-scientist.com/news-opinion/ketamine-could-help-cut-alcohol-consumption-by-rewiring-memory-66792?utm_campaign=TS_DAILY%20NEWSLETTER_2019&utm_source=hs_email&utm_medium=email&utm_content=80070748&_hsenc=p2ANqtz-_mk5jB1Vyqx3xPsKPzk1WcGdxEqSmuirpfpluu4Opm4tMO6n7rXROJrCvQp0yKBw2eCo4R4TZ422Hk6FcfJ7tDWkMpyg&_hsmi=80070748

Researchers at the University of Bordeaux say the combination of ingredients in a traditional chocolate cookie trigger the same addictive response in your brain as cocaine or marijuana.

“Overall, this research has revealed that sugar and sweet reward can not only substitute to addictive drugs, like cocaine, but can even be more rewarding and attractive,” the study’s abstract posits.

Like your cookies with a dash of salt? Your brain does too. Salt consumption activates the brain’s reward centers, compounding the already addictive effects of these chocolaty treats.

So the next time your cookie cravings compel you to act against your better judgement, don’t beat yourself up about it. It’s basically a natural human response, the study shows.

Chocolate chip cookies account for about a fifth of the global cookie market, which is expected to become a $38 billion industry by 2022.

Study: Chocolate chip cookies as addictive as cocaine

By Laura Counts

Can’t stop checking your phone, even when you’re not expecting any important messages? Blame your brain.

A new study by researchers at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business has found that information acts on the brain’s dopamine-producing reward system in the same way as money or food.

“To the brain, information is its own reward, above and beyond whether it’s useful,” says Assoc. Prof. Ming Hsu, a neuroeconomist whose research employs functional magnetic imaging (fMRI), psychological theory, economic modeling, and machine learning. “And just as our brains like empty calories from junk food, they can overvalue information that makes us feel good but may not be useful—what some may call idle curiosity.”

The paper, “Common neural code for reward and information value,” was published this month by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Authored by Hsu and graduate student Kenji Kobayashi, now a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, it demonstrates that the brain converts information into the same common scale as it does for money. It also lays the groundwork for unraveling the neuroscience behind how we consume information—and perhaps even digital addiction.

“We were able to demonstrate for the first time the existence of a common neural code for information and money, which opens the door to a number of exciting questions about how people consume, and sometimes over-consume, information,” Hsu says.

Rooted in the study of curiosity

The paper is rooted in the study of curiosity and what it looks like inside the brain. While economists have tended to view curiosity as a means to an end, valuable when it can help us get information to gain an edge in making decisions, psychologists have long seen curiosity as an innate motivation that can spur actions by itself. For example, sports fans might check the odds on a game even if they have no intention of ever betting.

Sometimes, we want to know something, just to know.

“Our study tried to answer two questions. First, can we reconcile the economic and psychological views of curiosity, or why do people seek information? Second, what does curiosity look like inside the brain?” Hsu says.

The neuroscience of curiosity

To understand more about the neuroscience of curiosity, the researchers scanned the brains of people while they played a gambling game. Each participant was presented with a series of lotteries and needed to decide how much they were willing to pay to find out more about the odds of winning. In some lotteries, the information was valuable—for example, when what seemed like a longshot was revealed to be a sure thing. In other cases, the information wasn’t worth much, such as when little was at stake.

For the most part, the study subjects made rational choices based on the economic value of the information (how much money it could help them win). But that didn’t explain all their choices: People tended to over-value information in general, and particularly in higher-valued lotteries. It appeared that the higher stakes increased people’s curiosity in the information, even when the information had no effect on their decisions whether to play.

The researchers determined that this behavior could only be explained by a model that captured both economic and psychological motives for seeking information. People acquired information based not only on its actual benefit, but also on the anticipation of its benefit, whether or not it had use.

Hsu says that’s akin to wanting to know whether we received a great job offer, even if we have no intention of taking it. “Anticipation serves to amplify how good or bad something seems, and the anticipation of a more pleasurable reward makes the information appear even more valuable,” he says.

Common neural code for information and money

How does the brain respond to information? Analyzing the fMRI scans, the researchers found that the information about the games’ odds activated the regions of the brain specifically known to be involved in valuation (the striatum and ventromedial prefrontal cortex or VMPFC), which are the same dopamine-producing reward areas activated by food, money, and many drugs. This was the case whether the information was useful, and changed the person’s original decision, or not.

Next, the researchers were able to determine that the brain uses the same neural code for information about the lottery odds as it does for money by using a machine learning technique (called support vector regression). That allowed them to look at the neural code for how the brain responds to varying amounts of money, and then ask if the same code can be used to predict how much a person will pay for information. It can.

In other words, just as we can convert such disparate things as a painting, a steak dinner, and a vacation into a dollar value, the brain converts curiosity about information into the same common code it uses for concrete rewards like money, Hsu says.

“We can look into the brain and tell how much someone wants a piece of information, and then translate that brain activity into monetary amounts,” he says.

Raising questions about digital addiction

While the research does not directly address overconsumption of digital information, the fact that information engages the brain’s reward system is a necessary condition for the addiction cycle, he says. And it explains why we find those alerts saying we’ve been tagged in a photo so irresistible.

“The way our brains respond to the anticipation of a pleasurable reward is an important reason why people are susceptible to clickbait,” he says. “Just like junk food, this might be a situation where previously adaptive mechanisms get exploited now that we have unprecedented access to novel curiosities.”

How information is like snacks, money, and drugs—to your brain

For years, scientists have known that mitochondria—the power source of cells—play a role in brain disorders such as depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety and stress responses. But recently scientists at the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM) have identified significant mitochondrial changes in brain cells that take place in cocaine addiction, and they have been able to block them.

In mice exposed repeatedly to cocaine, UMSOM researchers were able to identify an increase in a molecule that plays a role in mitochondria division (or fission) in a reward region of the brain. Researchers were able to block this change by using a special chemical, Mdivi-1. The researchers also blocked responses to cocaine by genetically manipulating the fission molecule within the mitochondria of brain cells, according to research published in Neuron.

“We are actually showing a new role for mitochondria in cocaine-induced behavior, and it’s important for us to further investigate that role,” said Mary Kay Lobo, PhD, Associate Professor of Anatomy and Neurobiology.

The researchers initially studied the mitochondria in cocaine-exposed mice and determined that mitochondria fission increased in the major reward region of the brain. To confirm this same change in humans, researchers were able to identify similar changes in the mitochondrial fission molecule in tissue collected from post mortem individuals who were cocaine dependents.

Dr. Lobo said that this latest research could help UMSOM researchers better understand changes in brain cells and mitochondria from other addictive disorders. “We are interested to see if there are mitochondrial changes when animals are taking opiates. That is definitely a future direction for the lab,” she said.

“This research is another great example of our ground-breaking work at the University of Maryland School of Medicine to better understand the biology behind drug addiction,” said E. Albert Reece, MD, PhD, MBA, University Executive Vice President of Medical Affairs and the John Z. and Akiko K. Bowers Distinguished Professor and Dean at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

http://www.medschool.umaryland.edu/news/2018/University-of-Maryland-School-of-Medicine-Researchers-Discover-Key-Link-Between-Mitochondria-and-Cocaine-Addiction.html

Scientists at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have achieved a major milestone toward designing a safe and effective vaccine to both treat heroin addiction and block lethal overdose of the drug. Their research, published today in the journal Molecular Pharmaceutics, shows how a new anti-heroin formulation that is safe in animal models remains stable at room temperature for at least 30 days. As a result, the vaccine is close to being ready for human testing.

“The heroin vaccine is one step closer to clinical evaluation,” says Candy S. Hwang, PhD, first author of the study and a research associate at TSRI.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 15,446 Americans died from heroin overdose between 2000 and 2016, and the mortality rates are increasing. Heroin abuse has been further fueled by a rise in prescription opioid abuse—studies show that opioid pain reliever users are 40 times more likely to abuse heroin.

The first formulation of the heroin vaccine was developed in 2013 by a team led by Kim D. Janda, PhD, the Ely R. Callaway Jr. Professor of Chemistry and member of the Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology at TSRI. It has been shown to be effective—and safe—in both mouse and non-human primate models.

The vaccine works by training the immune system antibodies to recognize and bind to heroin molecules, blocking the drug from reaching the brain to cause a “high.” Researchers believe that blocking the high of heroin will help eliminate the motivation for many recovering addicts to relapse into drug use.

The heroin molecule does not naturally prompt an antibody response, so researchers attach it to a carrier protein that alerts the immune system to start making antibodies. Scientists also add an ingredient called an adjuvant to the vaccine, which boosts the immune response and makes the vaccine more effective.

Hwang says, “Our goal was to prepare a vaccine that could be advanced to clinical trials. As such, we were looking for the best combination of ‘hapten’ (the heroin molecule), carrier protein and adjuvant to keep the vaccine both stable for transport and storage but still efficacious.”

For the new study, the researchers investigated how 20 different carrier protein/adjuvant combinations worked, including shelf stability based on temperature and storage time and whether the formulation was a liquid or powder.

Their experiments in rodent models showed that the best vaccine formulation contained a carrier protein called tetanus toxoid (TT) and adjuvants called alum and CpG ODN. The discovery that alum worked best as an adjuvant was especially significant since alum is one of the few adjuvants used in vaccines already approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The researchers also found that there was no difference in how well it worked between the liquid and powder versions of this formulation.

Hwang notes that the best vaccine formulation showed protection against lethal doses of heroin. This is particularly important as many heroin addicts have succumb to overdose and death during their attempts to quit the drug.

With this new study, the researchers have shown that the vaccine is safe and effective in animal models, stable under clinical conditions and reliant on an already-approved adjuvant. The next step is to find a producer to make the vaccine on a large scale.

“We believe that a heroin vaccine would be tremendously beneficial for people who have a heroin substance use disorder but have found difficulty in trying to quit,” says Hwang.

In addition to Hwang and Janda, authors of the study, “Enhancing Efficacy and Stability of an Anti-Heroin Vaccine: Examination of Antinociception, Opioid Binding Profile, and Lethality,” were Paul T. Bremer, Cody J. Wenthur, Beverly Ellis and Bin Zhou of The Scripps Research Institute; and Sam On Ho, SuMing Chiang and Gary Fujii of Molecular Express, Inc.

The study was supported by the National Institutes of Health (grants UH3DA041146, F32AI126628, F32DA043323, R42DA040422 and R44AI094770).

https://www.scripps.edu/news/press/2018/20180213janda.html

“I grew up in the hood in Miami in a poor neighborhood. I came from a community in which drug use was prevalent. I kept a gun in my car. I engaged in petty crime. I used and sold drugs. But I stand before you today also — emphasis on also — a professor at Columbia University who studies drug addiction.”

That’s how Dr. Carl Hart, a neuroscientist and professor of psychology and psychiatry, opened a recent TED talk he gave about his research into addiction. After his difficult youth, Hart said he toed the drug war line for a number of years: “I fully believed that the crime and poverty in my community was a direct result of crack cocaine.” He bought into the notion, pushed by policymakers in the 1980s and 1990s, that you could get hooked on crack and other drugs after just one hit.

But his research has disabused him of these notions. He recruited cocaine and meth users into his lab, and over a period of several days offered them some options: they could either receive hits of their drug of choice, or they could take payments of five dollars instead. Crucially, the payments offered were less than the value of the drugs they could consume.

Contrary to the notion of the craven drug fiend who will do literally anything for one more hit, Hart found that half of cocaine and meth users opted for the money over the drugs. And when he increased the payments to 20 dollars, closer to 80 percent of meth users chose the money. The lesson? “Attractive alternatives dramatically decrease drug use,” he said in his talk.

This speaks to another point Hart made, which is worth quoting at length:

80 to 90 percent of people who use illegal drugs are not addicts. They don’t have a drug problem. Most are responsible members of our society. They are employed. They pay their taxes. They take care of their families. And in some cases they even become president of the United States.

He’s right, of course. Among people who have ever used marijuana, only 9 percent become addicted. That rate is 11 percent for cocaine and 17 percent for stimulants like meth. Even the vast majority of people who use heroin — 77 percent of them — never get addicted to the drug.

When it comes to his own kids, Hart, who is black, is less worried about drugs and more worried about the people who enforce drug laws. He says that the effects of drugs at the individual-level are predictable and easy to understand: you smoke some weed, you will experience X effects after Y amount of time. But interactions with the police are a different story. “I don’t know how to keep my children safe with the police because, particularly when it comes to Black folks, interactions with police are not predictable,” he said in a recent Q&A hosted by the Drug Policy Alliance and reported in Ebony magazine.

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

A new drug that gives people superhuman strength, but leads to violent delusions, is gaining attention.

The drug, which has the street name of Flakka, is a synthetic stimulant that is chemically similar to bath salts. Flakka is fast developing a reputation for what seem to be its nasty side effects, including a tendency to give people enormous rage and strength, along with intense hallucinations.”

Even though addicted, users tell us they are literally afraid of this drug,” said James Hall, an epidemiologist at the Center for Applied Research on Substance Use and Health Disparities at Nova Southeastern University in Florida. “As one user recently reported, it’s $5 insanity.”

From what it is to how it may work, here are five facts about Flakka.

1. What is it?

Flakka, which is also called gravel in some parts of the country, is the street name for a chemical called alpha-PVP, or alpha-pyrrolidinovalerophenone. The chemical is a synthetic cathinone, a category that includes the mild natural stimulant khat, which people in Somalia and the Middle East have chewed for centuries. Chemically, Flakka is a next-generation, more powerful version of bath salts. Flakka was banned by the Drug Enforcement Administration in early 2014.

2. What are its effects?

At low doses, Flakka is a stimulant with mild hallucinatory effects.

Like cocaine and methamphetamine, Flakka stimulates the release of feel-good brain chemicals such as dopamine and norepinephrine, Hall said. The drug also prevents neurons, or brain cells, from reabsorbing these brain chemicals, meaning the effects of the drug may linger in the system longer than people anticipate.

3. What are the dangers?

The danger comes from the drug’s incredible potency. A typical dose is just 0.003 ounces (0.1 grams), but “just a little bit more will trigger very severe adverse effects,” Hall told Live Science. “Even a mild overdose can cause heart-related problems, or agitation, or severe aggression and psychosis.”

Because of the drug’s addictive properties, users may take the drug again shortly after taking their first dose, but that can lead to an overdose, Hall said. Then, users report, “they can’t think,” and will experience what’s known as the excited delirium syndrome: Their bodies overheat, often reaching 105 degrees Fahrenheit, they will strip off their clothes and become violent and delusional, he said. The drug also triggers the adrenaline-fueled fight-or-flight response, leading to the extreme strength described in news reports.

“Police are generally called, but it might take four or five or six officers to restrain the individual,” Hall said.

At that point, emergency responders will try to counteract the effects of the drug in the person’s system by injecting a sedative such as the benzodiazepine Ativan, and if they can’t, the person can die, Hall said.

In the last several months, 10 people have died from Flakka overdoses, he said. (Users of PCP, Ecstasy, cocaine and methamphetamine can also experience the excited delirium syndrome.)

4. How is it sold?

According to Hall’s research, alpha-PVP is often purchased online in bulk from locations such as China, typically at $1,500 per kilogram. Doses typically sell on the street for $4 or $5, and because each dose is so tiny, that means dealers can net about $50,000 from their initial investment, as long as they have the networks to distribute the drug.

5. Why are we only hearing about it now?

Evidence suggests the illegal drug has only recently come on the scene. Crime lab reports from seized drugs reveal that seizures of alpha-PVP have soared, from 699 samples testing positive for the drug in 2010, to 16,500 in 2013, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration’s National Forensic Laboratory Information System.

About 22 percent of the drug seizures that tested positive for alpha-PVP came from South Florida, according to the data.

http://www.livescience.com/50502-what-is-flakka.html