A deep dive into kratom, the herb that helps with opioid withdrawal

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Kratom (previously) is a widely used herb that has been very effective in treating opioid withdrawal and other chronic, hard-to-treat conditions -- it also became very controversial this year because the DEA decided, without evidence, to class it as a dangerous drug, and then changed its mind (unprecedented!) after a mass-scale petition that included interventions from members of Congress. Read the rest

Letter to my black daughter under a Trump presidency

Image: Carla Sinclair

Hi Kid,

On Election Night, you went to bed crying, and this time, I couldn't fix it. Like half the country, you thought you would be going to bed with your candidate as the president-elect. I wiped away a big, globby tear from the end of your nose, proud of you for caring so deeply about your country. I said it was going to be OK. I explained that, "politics goes back and forth, and this year it just wasn't our turn. Remember when I was for Obama and you were for Hillary, and she lost the primary, but you ended up liking Obama?" Your thirteen year-old defiance broke through your tears, as you declared, "No, this is different!"

You then spouted off a litany of things I didn't know you thought much about:

"It's different because Donald Trump doesn't have the basic morals of everything our country stands for. He doesn't even have the morals of a normal Republican. It's not that the other side won. It's that the person who won is literally against half of the people in the country. He doesn't like Muslims, Mexicans, anyone who is LGBT, he definitely doesn't like women, or people of color. He doesn't like ME. It seems like he only likes people like himself -- white males. How can he be our president?"

He's our president because people voted for him and he won the election. I will be raising you under a Donald Trump presidency until you go to college in four years. Read the rest

Video about using psychedelic drugs to treat anxiety, addiction, and OCD

In the last decade, researchers at Johns Hopkins University and elsewhere have launched new studies investigating whether psychedelic drugs, from shrooms to LSD to DMT, can treat mental disorders ranging from depression and PTSD to anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Vox reporters German Lopez and Javier Zarracina surveyed the state of medical research on hallucinogens:

In a recent study, British researchers used brain imaging techniques to gauge how the brain looks on LSD versus a placebo. They found big differences between LSD and the placebo, with the images of the brain on LSD showing much more connectivity between different sections of the mind.

This can help explain visual hallucinations, because it means various parts of the brain — not just the visual cortex at the back of the mind — are communicating during an LSD trip.

This, researchers argued, may show not just why psychedelic drugs trigger hallucinogenic experiences but also why they may be able to help people. "In many psychiatric disorders, the brain may be viewed as having become entrenched in pathology, such that core behaviors become automated and rigid," the researchers wrote. "Consistent with their ‘entropic’ effect on cortical activity, psychedelics may work to break down such disorders by dismantling the patterns of activity on which they rest."

"The fascinating, strange medical potential of psychedelic drugs, explained in 50+ studies" (Vox)

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Prince: death by ignorance and fear

Image: Nicolas Genin / Flickr

There it was on my Facebook feed this week: Trending: Prince. Why was Prince a trending topic when he’d been found dead a month ago? Then I learned his official cause of death had just been released: “Accidental Fentanyl toxicity.” In other words, he unintentionally overdosed on a drug he was taking to treat chronic pain. After reading the comments on the various new Prince articles, it hit me: though Prince’s body died of opioid overdose, the autopsy report may as well have said “death by ignorance and fear,” both his own, and the public’s.

If “death by ignorance and fear” sounds inflammatory and sensational, stop and think about it. Why on earth would anyone wait to get medical help for something that could kill them? Would you furtively seek treatment if you realized you had something potentially fatal? Would you wait until things were so bad that your life was literally falling apart and you were afraid you might die? No. You’d rightly engage in proactive self-care and get professional medical treatment, with no fear that anyone would proclaim you as weak-willed and morally bankrupt. You would do it with no fear that it might permanently damage your reputation, your career, or negatively affect your family. But that’s not the case with addiction and mental health.

Because of his fear of what had become his “secret” getting out to the public, Prince passed off an emergency plane landing due to overdose as “the flu.” The public’s eyes were on him, and treatment that would have saved his life was delayed. Read the rest

Prince died of a pain medication overdose

Prince performs in Abu Dhabi, UAE, in 2010.  REUTERS

Updated: Fentanyl.

A law enforcement official told the Associated Press today that tests show Prince died of an opioid overdose. The iconic musician was found dead at Paisley Park, his home and studio in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on the morning of April 21, 2016. He was 57.

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Grieving mom says 'dirty' police detective stole dead son's money after heroin overdose

Paul "Rodney" DePotter with his mother Penny DePotter.
A police detective in Rock Falls, Illinois has been arrested for stealing more than $1,700 in cash found on the body of a man who died of a heroin overdose. Detective Sgt. Veronica Jaramillo, 43, was taken into police custody on May 17, 2016 by Illinois State Police and charged with theft and official misconduct.

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House passes bill to help children who are born hooked on opioids

Lisa Collinsworth holds her infant son Luke during a visit with him at Lily's Place, a treatment center for opioid-dependent newborns in Huntington, West Virginia, October 19, 2015. JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS
Today, the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday unanimously passed legislation to improve safety planning for babies born dependent on opioid drugs.

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Prince died just before addiction treatment doctor arrived

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According to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Prince died the day before he was to meet with a California physician who specializes in opioid addiction:

Dr. Howard Kornfeld, a national authority on opioid addiction treatment, was called by Prince representatives the night of April 20 because Prince “was dealing with a grave medical emergency,” said William Mauzy, a prominent Minneapolis attorney working with the Kornfeld family.

Kornfeld, who runs Recovery Without Walls in Mill Valley, Calif., could not clear his schedule to meet with Prince the next day, April 21, but he planned to fly out the following day.

So he sent his son, Andrew Kornfeld, who works with him, to Minnesota, with plans for him to go to Paisley Park to explain how the confidential treatment would work, Mauzy said...

When Andrew Kornfeld arrived at Paisley Park at 9:30 a.m. Thursday, Prince’s representatives could not find him, Mauzy said. Andrew Kornfeld was one of three people at Paisley Park when the musician’s body was found in an elevator a few minutes later — and it was Andrew Kornfeld who called 911

"Prince died amid frantic plans for drug addiction treatment" Read the rest

More people are smoking dead scorpions to get high in Pakistan

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Pakistan's daily news service Dawn reports on the rise in scorpion smoking there:

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Trigger Windows Solitaire victory animations with a single click

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Here is a startlingly compelling implementation of the classic Windows Solitaire victory animation: simply click and win! The creator is Richard Cabello, who has perhaps played enough Windows Solitaire for one lifetime. Read the rest

“Alcohol and the Human Body,” a cautionary film from 1949

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On the science of alcohol and alcholism, from 1949, Encyclopedia Brittanica films. Booze: “a potential menace to community safety as well as personal health”.

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"Pre-gaming" leads to riskier behavior and more alcohol consumption, groundbreaking study finds

A Swiss study has found that "pre-drinking," "pre-funking," "pre-gaming"—basically, the ritual among college-age young adults of drinking before you go out to drink, leads to "excessive consumption and adverse consequences."

Pre-gaming didn't have a name when I was their age; it's interesting how the phenomenon (is it even a phenomenon?) has become a media meme this year. This NYT story is another example.

I realize the newly-released study provides citeable evidence about a behavior with dangerous consequences, but the results are kind of like, yo, thanks, Captain Obvious.

"Increased drinking was associated with a greater likelihood of blackouts, hangovers, absences from work or school or alcohol poisoning. Pre-drinkers were also found to engage more often in unintended drug use, unsafe sex, drunken driving or violent behavior."

Sounds about right. More in the LA Times. Read the rest

Your brain, your food, and obesity

We recently hosted an article by scientist and guest blogger Stephan Guyenet that explained how certain foods—those with a high calorie density, fat, starch, sugar, salt, free glutamate (umami), certain textures (easily chewed, soft or crunchy, solid fat), certain flavors, an absence of bitterness, food variety, and drugs such as alcohol and caffeine—could trip reward systems in the human brain. Those reward systems, then, encourage people to eat more of the foods that trigger the reward. The result, says Guyenet, is a cycle that could be the link between the American obesity epidemic and the rise of highly processed convenience foods, designed specifically to trip those neural reward systems.

This theory, and several related theories, are increasingly popular in the scientific community. This week, there's an opinion piece in the journal Nature Reviews Neuroscience that looks at the strengths and weaknesses of these theories and talks about what research needs to be done going forward. It's kind of a space for researchers to step back and say, "Okay, here's what we know, here's what's not lining up with what we think we know, and here's what we have to do if we want to understand this better." In the context of science, an article like this isn't really a slam against the ideas it analyzes. Instead, it's meant to summarize the state of the science and share ideas that could either strengthen the case, or lead down entirely new roads.

Sadly, you can't read this article unless you have a subscription to Nature Reviews Neuroscience (or pay them $32 for single article access). Read the rest

What reward does your brain actually seek?

Dopamine Jackpot! Sapolsky on the Science of... by FORAtv

Dopamine does a lot of things, but you're probably most familiar with it as the chemical your brain uses as a sort-of system of in-game gold coins. You earn the reward for certain behaviors, usually "lizard-brain" type stuff—eating a bowl of pudding, for instance, or finally making out with that cute person you've had your eye on. And, as you've probably heard, there's some evidence that we can get addicted to that burst of dopamine, and that's how a nice dessert or an enjoyable crush turns into something like compulsive eating or sex addiction.

Neurologist Robert Sapolsky puts an interesting twist on this old story, though. What if it isn't the burst of dopamine that we get addicted to, but the anticipation of a burst of dopamine? It's a small distinction. But it matters, he says, if our reward system is based less on happiness than on the pursuit of happiness.

For more on this, check out David Bradley's post on this video, which also links back to a more-detailed discussion of the basics of dopamine addiction. Read the rest