Chapter 4. The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology

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

Keyword: Neurotoxins
Link ID: 26863 - Posted: 12.02.2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sean McMinn Three years ago, only about one in ten high school students reported having recently used e-cigarettes. But a study published this week in JAMA shows the proportion of students vaping nicotine has now grown to more than one in four. Researchers from the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analyzed data from the 2019 National Youth Tobacco Survey, which is conducted annually. They drilled down on e-cigarette use among high school and middle school students based on data from 19,000 students in the eighth, tenth and twelfth grades. Teen nicotine vaping has become so prevalent in recent years that the Food and Drug Administration has called it an "epidemic." An estimated 5.3 million teens use e-cigarettes, according to the study. It is illegal in all states for people under 18 to purchase e-cigarettes, and some states have raised that age to 21. Despite this and recent efforts to crack down on retailers selling to youth, rates of teen vaping have continued to rise. "For young people, this is of particular concern," the study's authors wrote, "because it could promote ... nicotine dependence, making it easier to initiate and proceed to regular e-cigarette use or transition to cigarette or other combustible tobacco product use." Students who took the survey, however, didn't appear to have moved on to traditional cigarettes yet. Just 6% of high schoolers reported having smoked a cigarette in the last month — a decrease from last year's survey. © 2019 npr

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 26801 - Posted: 11.08.2019

Lenny Bernstein A surgeon has implanted electrodes in the brain of a patient suffering from severe opioid use disorder, hoping to cure the man’s in­trac­table craving for drugs in the first such procedure performed in the United States. The device, known as a deep brain stimulator, is designed to alter the function of circuits in the man’s brain. It has been used with varying degrees of success in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease, dystonia, epilepsy, obsessive-compulsive disorder and even depression. It is seen as a last-resort therapy after the failure of standard care, such as medication that reduces the craving for drugs. The deep brain stimulator, which functions much like a heart pacemaker, was implanted by Ali Rezai, executive chairman of the West Virginia University Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute. His patient, 33-year-old hotel worker Gerod Buckhalter, said he had been unable to remain sober for more than four months since the age of 15, despite trying a variety of medications and other inpatient and outpatient treatments. Buckhalter is the first of four people in a pilot program, which aims to demonstrate that the technique is safe so that a full-scale clinical trial can be conducted. It is aimed at a small percentage of opioid abusers with the most treatment-resistant cravings for opioids, who may face a lifetime of overdoses, relapses, inability to hold a job and other consequences of addiction.

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 26798 - Posted: 11.07.2019

Darian Woods Recently, Purdue Pharma filed for bankruptcy as part of a tentative multi-billion dollar settlement with state and local governments over lawsuits alleging that the company misled doctors and the public about the addictive nature of their well-known painkiller, Oxycontin. But Purdue Pharma's story is part of a pattern that has repeated itself throughout the history of the opium trade. It's a pattern documented by the book Opium: How An Ancient Flower Shaped And Poisoned Our World by Dr. John H. Halpern and David Blistein. The cycle begins when an opium product proves devastating to users. Innovators come along, promising a safer alternative, and virtually every time, they downplay the risks of addiction. Addiction ensues. Then come new innovators, promising something better and less addictive, and the cycle continues. This cycle, Halpern and Blistein recount, goes all the way back to Ancient Greece. Aulus Cornelius Celsus was a doctor famous for writing one of the world's first medical encyclopedias, which included a recipe for opium pills. He recommended it for insomnia, bad headaches, and joint pain. It didn't turn out so well. Opium addiction spread, and its victims included Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius. Around 1000 AD, Persian physician Avicenna developed standard opium doses the size of chickpeas. Dose standardization helped prevent overdoses but opium addiction rose in Persia over the following centuries. Avicenna himself died of an opium overdose. © 2019 npr

Keyword: Drug Abuse; Pain & Touch
Link ID: 26791 - Posted: 11.05.2019

Kas Roussy · CBC News · At the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, Dr. Andrea Furlan, a pain specialist, is holding a regular meeting with some of her colleagues. Sitting around the table are physiotherapists, pharmacists, doctors and nurses. Other health-care professionals have joined in via teleconferencing. The discussion focuses on chronic pain and the role opioids have in treating the condition at a time when current prescribing guidelines in Canada advises doctors to put the prescription pad down. On a monitor, someone asks Furlan how she should start tapering her patient who is prescribed opioids. "Each patient is different," Furlan said. "I don't have a recipe for everyone. The patients are afraid of the pain getting worse. They are afraid of the withdrawal symptoms. You need to provide a lot of education." She also suggests exercise and physiotherapy — even diet and sleep can have an impact on chronic pain. One in five Canadians suffers from chronic pain (i.e., pain that is ongoing and lasts longer than six months like low back pain, nerve damage or arthritis). For these pain sufferers, opioids are a lifesaver. But access to the pain medication is getting harder because of doctors' concerns about addiction and abuse. More than 12,800 apparent opioid-related deaths occurred from January 2016 to March 2019, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada, the vast majority from illicit fentanyl use. "I have had patients referred to us because their doctors cut them from opioids," said Furlan. "That's ridiculous because they were not addicted. They were not having any complications. They were not on a high dose." ©2019 CBC/Radio-Canada

Keyword: Pain & Touch; Drug Abuse
Link ID: 26786 - Posted: 11.04.2019

This is an excerpt from Second Opinion, a weekly roundup of eclectic and under-the-radar health and medical science news emailed to subscribers every Saturday morning. If you haven't subscribed yet, you can do that by clicking here. A review of 40 years' worth of studies suggests cannabis may not be effective in treating mental health disorders, but experts say that might have more to do with the lack of high-quality research than the drug itself. The review, published in Lancet Psychiatry this week, looked at 83 studies dating back to 1980 on cannabis and constituent cannabinoids as a treatment for depression, anxiety, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, Tourette syndrome, post-traumatic stress disorder and psychosis. The study concluded there was "scarce evidence" to suggest cannabis, including active ingredients such as cannabinoids tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), improves the symptoms of any of these conditions based on 3,513 participants. There was also "very low-quality evidence" that it leads to a "small improvement" in anxiety symptoms for individuals, but only in those with other medical conditions like chronic pain and multiple sclerosis. "There remains insufficient evidence to provide guidance on the use of cannabinoids for treating mental disorders," Prof. Michael Farrell, co-author of the report and director of the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre in New South Wales, Australia, said in an email. 'Risk of error' in research While experts say the review itself is credible, the decades-old research could be flawed due to a number of challenges — including the fact that cannabis is still illegal in much of the world, which has made securing funding for research challenging. "The research in these conditions, in general, have been hampered by, obviously, the illegality of these compounds and these products," said Dr. Peter Selby, chief of medicine in the psychiatry division of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto. ©2019 CBC/Radio-Canada

Keyword: Drug Abuse; Stress
Link ID: 26783 - Posted: 11.02.2019

By Derek Lowe So Amgen has exited the neuroscience area, with a good-sized round of layoffs at their research site Cambridge. The company has a migraine drug (Aimovig) that they’ll continue to support, and they’ll stick with their existing clinical programs, but it looks like all the early-stage stuff is gone. What does this mean? Not as much as you might think. Neuroscience is indeed hard, and Amgen’s not the only company to rethink its commitment to it (Eli Lilly did something similar last month with their neuro efforts in the UK). But there are still plenty of participants, large and small – it’s not that the field is being totally abandoned by pharma. It’s just being abandoned by Amgen, because they have other areas that look a lot more promising for them. And let’s face it, Amgen is a bit of an oddity, anyway – it’s not for nothing that they get referred to as a law firm with fume hoods. Enbrel is what pays a lot of the bills over there, and Enbrel is (and has long been) a patent-court story, not a research one. Inflammation, cardiovascular disease, and oncology are going to be the focus there, and given the company’s portfolio, that makes a lot of sense. It looks like the only neuro programs going on will be the ones that intersect with the larger inflammation area. One interesting thing that came out of the company’s statements was that management felt that a lot of the neuroscience landscape is focused on what their CFO David Meline called “orphan or niche diseases”, and that the company wants to work on things that will have a broader impact. Now, it’s not like there isn’t a neuroscience disease with a huge health impact, and it’s one that even has some inflammation and cardiovascular connections. So one of the things that Amgen is saying is “No Alzheimer’s research for us, thanks”. © 2017 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Alzheimers
Link ID: 26777 - Posted: 11.01.2019

Sarah Boseley Health editor The use of cannabis medicines to treat people with depression, anxiety, psychosis or other mental health issues cannot be justified because there is little evidence that they work or are safe, according to a major new study. A review of evidence from trials conducted over nearly 40 years, published in the journal Lancet Psychiatry, concludes that the risks outweigh the benefits. And yet, say the authors, they are being given to people with mental health problems in Australia, the US and Canada, and demand is likely to grow. Prof Louisa Degenhardt of the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre at UNSW Sydney, Australia, lead author of the study, said the findings had important implications in countries where medical use was allowed. “There is a notable absence of high-quality evidence to properly assess the effectiveness and safety of medicinal cannabinoids compared with placebo, and until evidence from randomised controlled trials is available, clinical guidelines cannot be drawn up around their use in mental health disorders,” she said. “In countries where medicinal cannabinoids are already legal, doctors and patients must be aware of the limitations of existing evidence and the risks of cannabinoids. These must be weighed when considering use to treat symptoms of common mental health disorders. Those who decide to proceed should be carefully monitored for positive and negative mental health effects of using medicinal cannabinoids.” © 2019 Guardian News & Media Limited

Keyword: Drug Abuse; Schizophrenia
Link ID: 26769 - Posted: 10.30.2019

Marisa Iati Police and doctors didn’t believe the 46-year-old man when he swore that he hadn’t had alcohol before he was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving. His blood alcohol level was 0.2, more than twice the legal limit for operating a car. He refused a breathalyzer test, was hospitalized and later released. But the facts remained in contention. Then researchers discovered the unusual truth: Fungi in the man’s digestive system were turning carbohydrates into alcohol — a rarely diagnosed condition known as “auto-brewery syndrome.” In people with the syndrome, fermenting fungi or bacteria in the gut produce ethanol and can cause the patients to show signs of drunkenness. The condition, also known as gut fermentation syndrome, can occur in otherwise healthy people but is more common in patients with diabetes, obesity or Crohn’s disease. “A person is intoxicated from this fermenting yeast, and it’s a horrible illness,” said Barbara Cordell, a researcher of auto-brewery syndrome and the author of “My Gut Makes Alcohol.” The condition has rarely been studied and is diagnosed infrequently. Researchers at Richmond University Medical Center in New York, however, wrote in the journal BMJ Open Gastroenterology that they believe the syndrome is underdiagnosed. The condition made news in 2014, when the driver of a truck that spilled 11,000 salmon onto a highway claimed to have auto-brewery syndrome. The next year, a New York woman was charged with driving under the influence after she registered a blood alcohol level that was more than four times the legal limit, CNN reported. A judge dismissed the charges after being shown evidence that she had auto-brewery syndrome.

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 26757 - Posted: 10.26.2019

Lena H. Sun Most people who died from vaping-related injuries used products containing THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, federal health officials said Friday, offering another data point tying the outbreak of lung illnesses to products made with that compound. Based on data available from 860 of the 1,604 patients who have fallen ill with the disease, about 85 percent reported using THC-containing products, compared to about 10 percent who reported exclusively vaping nicotine-containing products, officials said. Many sick patients said they bought THC vape products on the black market, and those have come under increased scrutiny. “The data do continue to point towards THC-containing products as the source of individuals’ injury,” said Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is leading the investigation. Officials don’t know what about the products are harmful, “but we’re seeing THC as a marker for products that are risky,” she said. It is also becoming clearer that the surge in cases in recent months is not the result of better recognition of an existing disease, but “something riskier that is in much more frequent use,” she said. Schuchat cited the use of cutting agents that are added to THC-containing products to increase profit, and the increased availability of online videos that may have “skyrocketed” do-it-yourself instructions. One substance that has turned up in many product samples is vitamin E oil, known as vitamin E acetate. Experts in the legal marijuana industry have said it has been added to THC oil used to fill vape cartridges.

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 26755 - Posted: 10.26.2019

By Perri Klass, M.D. It’s a pretty safe bet that most of our children, in high school and in college, will be in social situations in which people drink in unwise and sometimes downright dangerous ways. Even if they don’t drink, they will at least be exposed to friends and classmates and roommates who do. What makes alcohol more problematic for some kids — and some adults? There’s been a good deal of research on the development of what is now called alcohol use disorder, and its precursors — what do we now understand, and can that understanding help us as parents to worry less, or at least, to direct our worries in the right directions? Frances Wang, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Pittsburgh who studies genetic and environmental causes of alcohol use disorders, said that often people blame only the home environment — that is to say, the parenting. But there are genetic risk factors that seem to be common across a number of disorders, she said, including alcohol use disorder, but also depression and conduct problems, like aggression and antisocial behavior, which can be predecessors of alcohol problems. Dr. Wang was the first author on a study published in 2018 in the journal Development and Psychopathology, which looks at a particular biological attribute — the functioning of serotonin, a neurotransmitter — determined by a combination of genetic factors. Investigating these common genetic risk factors might help us understand the connections. But bear in mind that there are no simple cause-and-effect stories here. And while there may be times when the home environment really is the driving force, Dr. Wang said, “for most people it’s the interaction between already having that genetic risk and an environment that increases genetic risk or makes genetic risk come out.” © 2019 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 26724 - Posted: 10.21.2019

Nicoletta Lanese Cell transplantation therapy offers a promising route to recovery after stroke, but the grafted cells face a harsh environment, with elevated levels of free radicals and proinflammatory cytokines, compromised blood supply, and degraded neural connectivity, says Shan Ping Yu, a neurology researcher at Emory University School of Medicine. He and his colleagues aimed to build a new tool to help stem cells integrate with host neural circuitry after implantation. Scientists have long known that stimulating transplanted neural stem cells encourages them to differentiate into neurons and connect with nearby host cells. Many researchers turn to optogenetics to excite grafted stem cells, but because light travels poorly through dense tissue, the technique requires researchers to stick a laser into their subjects’ brains. So Yu and his coauthors turned instead to a type of enzyme that grants fireflies and jellyfish their glow: luciferase. “These proteins carry their own light, so they do not need a light source,” says Yu. The researchers injected neural progenitor cells that had been derived from induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) into the brains of mouse models of stroke. The cells were genetically engineered to express a fusion protein called luminopsin 3 (LMO3), crafted from the bioluminescent enzyme Gaussia luciferase and the light-sensitive protein VChR1. LMO3 activates in response to either physical light or a molecule called CTZ, which can be delivered noninvasively through the nose into the brain tissue. The fusion protein can be hooked up to either excitatory or inhibitory channels in the neurons to either stimulate or tamp down the cells’ function. Yu and his colleagues dubbed the new technique “optochemogenetics.” © 1986–2019 The Scientist.

Keyword: Stroke
Link ID: 26712 - Posted: 10.17.2019