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Thursday, May 29, 2014

Medical Marijuana Treatment Epilepsy Report

In the wake of Sanjay Gupta’s special CNN report on the use of marijuana as an acceptable medical treatment, the journal Epilepsia has published a series of articles which investigate medical marijuana and pure cannabidiol for the treatment of severe forms epilepsy. In Gupta’s report he spoke with parents whose daughter Charlotte suffers from a severe form of epilepsy known as SCN1A-confirmed Dravet syndrome.

After extensive personal research the family, with the aid of Colorado-based medical marijuana group (Realm of Caring), started treating Charlotte with a high concentration cannabidiol/Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (CBD:THC) strain of marijuana, now known as Charlotte's Web, according to the report. As a result, Charlotte’s frequency of seizures reportedly decreased from 50 convulsions per day to 2-3 convulsions each month, dramatically improving the child’s quality of life.

Charlotte's case is not isolated; there have been others who have experienced similar results. However, the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) produced a report which reviewed all available evidence on the use of marijuana to treat brain diseases; they concluded that there is only limited evidence to support the use of medical marijuana beyond treating multiple sclerosis symptoms.

In the new Epilepsia articles, they challenge the conclusion of the AAN, citing case studies, like Charlotte’s. They point out that the strain of marijuana used on Charlotte is low in THC (the psychoactive ingredient of marijuana) and high in cannabidiol (CBD), she gets the medical benefits of marijuana without the heavy sedation.

"Colorado is 'ground zero' of the medical marijuana debate," claims article author Dr. Edward Maa, chief of the Comprehensive Epilepsy Program at Denver Health. "As medical professionals it is important that we further the evidence of whether CBD in cannabis is an effective antiepileptic therapy."
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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Heroin Called the Scourge of New York

U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer of New York is calling heroin the scourge of New York, according to the New York Daily News. Schumer is asking for $100 million in federal aid to help stop heroin trafficking in his state. “Seizures of heroin in New York City in 2014 have already surpassed those of any previous year since 1991, which demonstrates an alarming trend that we must nip in the bud,” he said.

The money would be used for the federal High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program, according to the report. Schumer is dead set on preventing a repeat of the crack epidemic that swept across New York in the 80’s, reports Newsday. “Now everyone saw what happened with the crack epidemic. Our society ignored it for too long. It’s got its tentacles deeply into our young people, and took a decade to get rid of it,” Schumer said. “We cannot wait that long for heroin. We cannot wait till the heroin problem becomes an epidemic."

Schumer said the funding will hinder the Mexican and South American drug cartels who have been flooding the New York area with heroin. In the first four months of this year the Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor in New York City seized 288 pounds of heroin.

“For a while we thought the heroin scourge had ended, but it’s back and it’s stronger than ever,” he said.

Law enforcement officials believe that New York City has become the center for the heroin market on the East Coast. With around a third (up from one-fifth in previous years) of all heroin seized by the Drug Enforcement Administration nationwide since October, it is clear that officials are not exaggerating.
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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Elderly People Addicted to Prescription Drugs

Americans make up 4 percent of the world's population, but consume 80 percent of the worlds opioids, according to Dr. Mel Pohl, who spoke to USA Today. The elderly are one group of Americans who have been overloaded with prescription narcotics and government reports show that more seniors than ever are in need of substance abuse treatment.

“There’s this growing group of seniors, they have pain, they have anxiety…and a lot of (doctors) have one thing in their tool box — a prescription pad,” said Dr. Pohl. “The doctor wants to make their life better, so they start on the meds.” Patients build up a tolerance over time, or they suffer more pain and request more medication. “And without anyone necessarily realizing, it begins a downward spiral with horrible consequences,” he told the newspaper.

In the last decade, the average number of elderly people addicted to or misusing prescription painkillers more than doubled, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The SAMHSA report also showed a 46 percent increase of adults 55 and up seeking treatment for prescription drugs from 2007 to 2011.

Last year, 55 million opioid prescriptions were written for people 65 and older, which is a 20 percent rise over a five year period — almost double the growth rate of the elderly population. What’s more, the number of benzodiazepine prescriptions written was up 12 percent, to 28.4 million.

If you are having trouble viewing the video, you can see it here.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Gene Linked to Autism and Addiction Related Behaviors

Synaptic Gasp
A gene essential for normal brain development that was linked to Autism Spectrum Disorders, may have a function related to addiction-related behaviors, according to a new report published in the journal of neuroscience Neuron. The findings could help doctors and addiction therapists develop more effective forms of treatment.

"In our lab, we investigate the brain mechanisms behind drug addiction - a common and devastating disease with limited treatment options," explained Christopher Cowan, PhD, director of the Integrated Neurobiology Laboratory at McLean Hospital and an associate professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

"Chronic exposure to drugs of abuse causes changes in the brain that could underlie the transition from casual drug use to addiction. By discovering the brain molecules that control the development of drug addiction, we hope to identify new treatment approaches."

Laura Smith, PhD, an instructor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, led the research team that used animal models to show that the fragile X mental retardation protein (FMRP) has an important role in the development of addiction-related behaviors. The researchers found that cocaine utilizes FMRP to facilitate brain changes involved in addiction-related behaviors. FMRP has a hand in changing brain connections due to cocaine abuse.

"We know that experiences are able to modify the brain in important ways. Some of these brain changes help us, by allowing us to learn and remember. Other changes are harmful, such as those that occur in individuals struggling with drug abuse," points out Cowan and Smith.

"While FMRP allows individuals to learn and remember things in their environment properly, it also controls how the brain responds to cocaine and ends up strengthening drug behaviors. By better understanding FMRP's role in this process, we may someday be able to suggest effective therapeutic options to prevent or reverse these changes."

You can watch a more detailed explanation in this video.
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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Long Term Effects of Prescription Stimulants

English: Adderall
The Partnership Attitude Tracking Study found that one in eight teens (13 percent) said that they have taken the stimulants Ritalin or Adderall, known as “study drugs,” without a prescription. Teenagers and young adults in college are often prescribed stimulant medications for attention problems without any evidence to support the patient's claim. The drugs are often passed amongst friends and sold to other students. New research suggests that young people who misuse prescription stimulants may have long-term impairment to brain function.

When students are struggling in school, parents are often quick to suggest the aid of stimulant medication without knowing all the facts. There are  so many young people prescribed “study drugs” that parents often assume that the drugs are without side effects, both short and long term. Parents need to be cognizant of the fact that such drugs are no joke, they are powerful medications that can easily be abused and cause long term problems for their children.

A number of different studies on potential lasting side effects of misusing Ritalin or Proviigil were observed by researchers. The research showed that any short-term boosts in mental performance were offset by a long-term decrease in brain plasticity. The ability of planning ahead, changing from one task to another, and being flexible in behavior all have to do with brain plasticity.

“What’s safe for adults is not necessarily safe for kids,” lead researcher Kimberly Urban of the University of Delaware said in a news release. “The human brain continues to develop until our late twenties or early thirties. Young people are especially prone to abuse smart drugs, but also more vulnerable to any side-effects. We simply don’t know enough about the long-term effects of these drugs on the developing brain to conclude they are safe.”

The findings are published in Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience.
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Monday, May 12, 2014

Increased Supply of Marijuana for NIDA Testing

There is a lot we still don’t know about marijuana and the drugs ability to ease the suffering of those with serious health conditions. In the past, access to marijuana for studies and testing has been limited due to the illegal status of the drug, but as the national mindset on the drug continues to change government researchers will have more access to marijuana. Researchers at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) will have an increased supply of marijuana for medical research, according to an announcement from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

Until now, researchers at NIDA had access to 21 kilograms of marijuana, now they will have access to 650 kilograms, The Hill reports. All of the marijuana will be supplied by the University of Mississippi, which has growing facilities on campus.

“That’s a lot of marijuana,” DEA spokeswoman Barbara Carreno said. “One kilogram is equivalent to a brick. So 650 kilograms would look like 650 bricks and would probably fill a cargo van.”

There have only been 30 studies on marijuana conducted by NIDA to date, according to the article. “The additional supply to be manufactured in 2014 is designed to meet the current and anticipated research efforts involving marijuana – this projection of increased demand is due in part to the recent increased interest in the possible therapeutic uses of marijuana,” NIDA said in a statement to The Hill.

The increased supply will allow NIDA to increase the testing of marijuana effects on the treatment of a number of conditions, such as:
  • Cancer
  • Inflammation
  • Pain
  • Seizures
  • Psychiatric Disorders
  • Autoimmune Diseases
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Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Prescription Drug Database Privacy In Question

The scourge of prescription drug abuse continues across the United States, with more prescription narcotics being given to patients who either abuse or sell the drugs on the black market. In the last few years every attempt to curb the ever growing problem seems to be thwarted. Prescription drug databases do not work together on a national level, making it easy for people to take advantage of the system by doctor shopping.

In an attempt to curb the prescription drug epidemic, law enforcement officials have been using prescription drug monitoring systems (in the states that have them) to arrest people who they feel are using prescription drugs inappropriately. Unfortunately, the ability to use the databases for tracking offenders is being hampered because the privacy of information contained in prescription drug monitoring databases is being tightened, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Almost every state, forty-eight, have a prescription drug database in one form or another, that compile data on narcotics that are often abused. In seventeen states a warrant is required to gain access to information. There are a number of states that make it easy for officials to access the data. However, Vermont does not allow any access to the database, except for those in the medical field.

There are many who feel that it is a violation of privacy when law enforcement accesses the databases, which has lead to privacy advocates imploring courts and lawmakers to restrict access to the databases. In recent months Rhode Island made it harder to gain access to drug databases. In February, a court in Oregon ruled that federal agents needed a warrant to gain access to the state's database. Lawmakers from both Florida and Pennsylvania are considering measures that restrict access.

“The public and lawmakers are really starting to understand what kinds of threats to privacy come when we start centralizing great quantities of our sensitive personal information in giant electronic databases,” said Nathan Wessler, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union.

There is no question about the importance of privacy, but it could easily be argued that law enforcement would not need access to the prescription drug databases if doctors would use the databases to determine if their patients were being prescribed by multiple doctors. Furthermore, if the databases were connected on a national level, it would make it much more difficult for people to abuse the system.
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Monday, May 5, 2014

Kansas Officials See Dramatic Rise Marijuana Seizures

The head of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reports that the end of marijuana prohibition in certain states has led to a rise in illegal shipments to the surrounding areas. In fact, Kansas officials have seen a dramatic rise, 61 percent, in marijuana seizures since Colorado legalized the drug, according to the Washington Post.

The rise of seizures in the surrounding states may have to do with the fact that Colorado sits on the edge of the Midwest, where people’s views on marijuana tend to be more conservative than liberal. However, despite the state of Washington being on the western edge of the “green triangle,” DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart believes that recreational marijuana sales in Washington will spark a fire similar to the one Colorado has started.

“The trends are what us in law enforcement had expected would happen,” Leonhart told the Senate Judiciary Committee. “In 2012, 438,000 Americans were addicted to heroin. And 10 times that number were dependent on marijuana.” Leonhart makes some valid points when she cites certain statistics, such as marijuana-related emergency room visits rising 28 percent between 2007 and 2011 and that since 2009 more high school seniors have been smoking marijuana than cigarettes.

However, Leonhart may be premature in condemning recreational marijuana while still in its infancy, after 77 years of prohibition it should be expected that it will take some time for states choosing to legalize marijuana to work out the kinks. Arguing that legal marijuana in one state leads to the drug flowing downstream into a state that deems the substance illegal is no different than people driving form a “dry” (alcohol-free) county to the next in order to acquire alcohol. No one can argue that alcohol is any safer than marijuana.

It is hard for a number of officials to adapt to the changing views about a drug that makes up for more than half of all the drug arrests every year. Around 86 people per hour are arrested for marijuana in the United States, according to NORML. DEA officials have been fighting the "war on drugs" for so long it is practically coded into their DNA. It comes as no surprise that DEA officials have said privately that they are frustrated with Colorado and Washington’s legalization laws.

James Capra, the DEA’s Chief of Operations, at a hearing told senators that state legalization laws are “reckless and irresponsible.” “It scares us,” he said. “Every part of the world where this has been tried, it has failed time and time again.”

Marijuana may not be good for you; it may even be addictive and lead to negative consequences. Nevertheless, the cost of imprisoning marijuana offenders is too great, the DEA may be right that attempts at legalization have failed “time and time again," but the "war on drugs" has failed equally and at a greater cost.

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