Booming New Cannabis Industry Faces an Abundance of Hurdles

canaStory at-a-glance −

Many new state laws conflict with federal drug laws when it comes to pot, which creates problems for the industry and its consumers

 If you live in a state where marijuana is legal, Continue reading

The Mysteriously Long Lives of Male Holocaust Survivors

holocaustLast week, a study appeared in PLoS ONE, the peer-reviewed journal published by the Public Library of Science, that drew attention in Israel but made barely a ripple here: That men who’d survived the Holocaust lived longer — significantly longer — than their peers who’d never been under Nazi oppression. Continue reading

Top-Selling Antidepressants Double your Bone Fracture Risk

Pharmaceutical antidepressants are usually among a class of varied chemicals known as selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Serotonin is the feel good central nervous system neurotransmitter that is produced in the body.

The phrase re-uptake inhibitor is confusing to most of us laypersons. Why does inhibiting a feel good chemical make someone feel less depressed?

The SSRIs purportedly modulate and redistribute serotonin, keeping it from being taken in by some neuron receptors and Continue reading

Top 10 Drug Company Settlements

Story at-a-glance

  • A record 4.02 billion prescriptions were written in the United States in 2011, showing Americans are taking more drugs than ever before and putting their health in the hands of some of the top corporate criminals in the world
  • Drug company settlements continue to be commonplace Continue reading

Dog Therapy Works

People with mental disease and health problems typically seek relief by hiring a shrink or snagging a prescription. The adventurous few might sign on for a trek in the Himalayas or a five-month silent retreat, but if you prefer a cuddlier solution, various studies show that you might do just as well with dog therapy.

We’ve written before about Continue reading

Virtual Reality Tops Standard Therapy in Treatment of PTSD

Soldiers stricken with post-traumatic stress disorder following their service are seeing a new ray of hope in the form of virtual reality immersion.

As increasingly larger numbers of soldiers return from duty in the Middle East, doctors are scrambling Continue reading

Dreaming Takes the Sting Out of Painful Memories

UC Berkeley researchers have found that stress chemicals shut down and the brain processes emotional experiences during the REM dream phase of sleep

They say time heals all wounds, and new research from the University of California, Berkeley, indicates that time spent in dream sleep can help.

UC Berkeley researchers have found that during the dream phase of sleep, also known as REM sleep, our stress chemistry shuts down and the brain processes emotional experiences and takes the painful edge off difficult memories.

The findings offer a compelling explanation for why people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), such as war veterans, have a hard time recovering from painful experiences and suffer reoccurring nightmares.They also offer clues into why we dream.

“The dream stage of sleep, based on its unique neurochemical composition, provides us with a form of overnight therapy, Continue reading

7 Reasons Women Experience Depression

Depression affects both men and women, but more women are diagnosed every year. Here are 7 common reasons why – from genetics, hormones, stress, other illnesses and more. Plus, get expert tips for spotting depression signs, where to go for help and natural ways to ease symptoms. Then take our quiz to find out if you could be depressed…

Everyone occasionally feels blue or sad, but these feelings are usually fleeting and pass within a couple of days. But when a woman has a depressive disorder, it interferes with daily life and normal functioning. It causes pain for her and those who care about her.

Depression is a common but serious illness, and most women who have it need treatment. The majority – even those with the most severe cases – can get better.

Signs You May Have Depression

Women with depressive illnesses  Continue reading

Alcohol Protects Accident Victims from Distress

SYDNEY – Moderate alcohol consumption is likely to protect accident victims from post-traumatic psychological distress, says a new study.

The study assessed 1,045 patients hospitalised after traumatic injury, for patterns of alcohol consumption before and three months after the accident.

This was compared with the level of anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) one week after the accident and at three months.

Researchers from University of Adelaide (U-A) found that moderate alcohol consumption before and after the accident predicted lower levels of psychological distress.

Conversely, both abstinence from alcohol and high levels of drinking produced poorer mental health outcomes.

“Rather than suggesting abstinence following exposure to traumatic events…, the importance of moderate drinking should be emphasised as this behaviour may have some benefit in minimising distress,” says Alexander McFarlane, professor at U-A, who led the study.

A small group of patients showed a link between more severe PSTD and the emergence of alcohol abuse, suggesting “self-medication”, says an U-A release.

These findings have been published in the Journal of Affective Disorders.

Genetic Link Between Psychosis and Creativity Revealed

BUDAPEST –  A new study seems to have established a link between psychosis and creativity.

Szabolcs Keri, a psychiatrist at Semmelweis University in Hungary, focused his research on neuregulin 1, a gene that normally plays a role in a variety of brain processes, including development and strengthening communication between neurons.

Writing about the study in the journal Psychological Science, he has revealed that a variant of this gene is associated with a greater risk of developing mental disorders, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

For the study, Keri and his colleagues recruited volunteers who considered themselves to be very creative and accomplished.

The participants underwent a battery of tests, including assessments for intelligence and creativity.

To measure the volunteers’ creativity, the researchers asked them to respond to a series of unusual questions, and scored them based on the originality and flexibility of their answers.

The subjects also completed a questionnaire regarding their lifetime creative achievements before the researchers took blood samples.

According to the researchers, their findings showed a clear link between neuregulin 1 and creativity, for volunteers with the specific variant of this gene were more likely to have higher scores on the creativity assessment, and also greater lifetime creative achievements, than volunteers with a different form of the gene.

Keri claims that his study has for the first time shown that a genetic variant associated with psychosis may have some beneficial functions.

He says: “Molecular factors that are loosely associated with severe mental disorders but are present in many healthy people may have an advantage enabling us to think more creatively.”

His findings also suggest that certain genetic variations, even though associated with adverse health problems, may survive evolutionary selection and remain in a population’s gene pool if they also have beneficial effects.

Mind Really Does Matter When It Comes to Health and Healing

BALTIMORE – A new research has suggested that Hippocrates’ opinion on health and illness, that mind is significant in health and healing, is actually true.

Nurse researchers and clinicians at the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing and the Johns Hopkins Hospital are looking at ways to prevent the damage excessive stress does to a young child’s development.

They are also looking at how the mind can help speed or slow healing and help control pain.

JHUSON researcher and professor Deborah Gross, DNSc, RN, FAAN has found that some behavioral disorders in young people are preventable, particularly if resilience is taught and risk factors for stress are reduced.

She claims that a key protective factor that can help reduce stress is parenting.

She said: “Parents are a child’s entire world. If parents are preoccupied, or emotionally or physically absent, their child loses out.”

Apparently, when parents don’t engage their child early and often, brain development related to language and learning may be slowed.

Gross intends to buttress child resilience by improving parents’ communications, engagement and involvement.

She said: “Does this kind of prevention program in parenting work for these children? You bet it does. Particularly in these difficult economic times when more families are at risk, we need to safeguard the development of the skills and abilities of infants and young children. After all, those capacities are the foundation for the rest of their lives.”

Some of the factors that lead to stress in youngsters are poverty, unemployment, community violence and family discord.

Scientists Crack Brain’s Numerical Code

PARIS – Researchers have found that they can tell what number a person has just seen by observing and analyzing the pattern of brain activity.

These findings confirm the notion that numbers are encoded in the brain via detailed and specific activity patterns and open the door to more sophisticated exploration of a human’s high-level numerical abilities.

Although “number-tuned” neurons have been found in monkeys, scientists hadn’t managed before now to get any farther than particular brain regions in humans.

“It was not at all guaranteed that with functional imaging it would be possible to pick this up,” said Evelyn Eger of INSERM (Institut national de la sant et de la recherche mdicale) in France.

Researchers presented 10 study participants with either number symbols or dots while their brains were scanned with a MRI. They then devised a way of decoding the numbers or the number of dots people had observed.

Although the brain patterns corresponding to number symbols differed somewhat from those for the same number of objects, the numerosity of dot sets can be predicted above chance from the brain activation patterns evoked by digits, the researchers show. That doesn’t work the other way around, however.

At least for small numbers of dots, the researchers did find that the patterns change gradually in a way that reflects the ordered nature of the numbers — allowing one to conclude that six is between five and seven, for instance.

The methods used in the new study may ultimately help to unlock how the brain makes more sophisticated calculations, the researchers say, according to an INSERM release.

“With these codes, we are only beginning to access the most basic building blocks that symbolic math probably relies on,” Eger said.

These findings were published online in Current Biology.

Flickering Bright Colors Likely To Trigger Epileptic Fits

LONDON – Certain flickering colors, especially red and blue in tandem, seem more likely to cause fits among epileptics, says a new study headed by a researcher of Indian origin.

Joydeep Bhattacharya at the Goldsmiths-University of London (GU-L) headed a team of researchers to probe the brain rhythms of photo-sensitivity.

In 1997, more than 700 children in Japan reportedly suffered an epileptic attack while watching an episode of a popular cartoon.

This was later diagnosed as a case of photosensitive epilepsy (a kind of epilepsy caused by visual stimulus) triggered by a specific segment of the cartoon containing a colourful flickering stimulus.

In 2007, the animated video footage promoting the 2012 London Olympics faced similar complaint from some viewers.

The researchers probed brain rhythms of photo-sensitivity among adult controls, an unmedicated patient suffering from photo-sensitive epilepsy, two age-matched controls, and another medicated patient.

Their results show that when perturbed by potentially epileptic-triggering stimulus, healthy human brain manages to maintain a chaotic state with a high degree of disorder, but an epileptic brain represents a highly ordered state which makes it prone to hyper-excitation.

Their study also found how, for example, red-blue flickering stimulus causes larger excitation than red-green or blue-green stimulus, says a GU-L release.

How the Brain Encodes Memories at a Cellular Level

SANTA BARBARA – Scientists at UC Santa Barbara have made a major discovery in how the brain encodes memories. The finding, published in the December 24 issue of the journal Neuron, could eventually lead to the development of new drugs to aid memory.

The team of scientists is the first to uncover a central process in encoding memories that occurs at the level of the synapse, where neurons connect with each other.

“When we learn new things, when we store memories, there are a number of things that have to happen,” said senior author Kenneth S. Kosik, co-director and Harriman Chair in Neuroscience Research, at UCSB’s Neuroscience Research Institute. Kosik is a leading researcher in the area of Alzheimer’s disease.

“One of the most important processes is that the synapses — which cement those memories into place — have to be strengthened,” said Kosik. “In strengthening a synapse you build a connection, and certain synapses are encoding a memory. Those synapses have to be strengthened so that memory is in place and stays there. Strengthening synapses is a very important part of learning. What we have found appears to be one part of how that happens.”

Part of strengthening a synapse involves making new proteins. Those proteins build the synapse and make it stronger. Just like with exercise, when new proteins must build up muscle mass, synapses must also make more protein when recording memories. In this research, the regulation and control of that process was uncovered.

The production of new proteins can only occur when the RNA that will make the required proteins is turned on. Until then, the RNA is “locked up” by a silencing molecule, which is a micro RNA. The RNA and micro RNA are part of a package that includes several other proteins.

“When something comes into your brain — a thought, some sort of stimulus, you see something interesting, you hear some music — synapses get activated,” said Kosik. “What happens next is really interesting, but to follow the pathway our experiments moved to cultured neurons. When synapses got activated, one of the proteins wrapped around that silencing complex gets degraded.”

When the signal comes in, the wrapping protein degrades or gets fragmented. Then the RNA is suddenly free to synthesize a new protein.

“One reason why this is interesting is that scientists have been perplexed for some time as to why, when synapses are strengthened, you need to have proteins degrade and also make new proteins,” said Kosik. “You have the degradation of proteins going on side by side with the synthesis of new proteins. So we have now resolved this paradox. We show that protein degradation and synthesis go hand in hand. The degradation permits the synthesis to occur. That’s the elegant scientific finding that comes out of this.”

The scientists were able to see some of the specific proteins that are involved in synthesis. Two of these — CaM Kinase and Lypla — are identified in the paper.

One of the approaches used by the scientists in the experiment was to take live neuron cells from rats and look at them under a high-resolution microscope. The team was able to see the synapses and the places where proteins are being made.

 

A Mind That Touches the Past

EDINBURGH – Imagine planning your schedule for the week and seeing the days on the calendar appear before you as a spiral staircase so real you feel like you could touch it. That’s what it’s like to have spatial-sequence synesthesia, a condition in which people perceive numbered sequences as visual patterns. Now researchers have shown that individuals with the condition have superior memories, recalling dates and historic events much better than can the average person.

Spatial-sequence synesthesia is one of several types of synesthesia, neural conditions in which senses combine in unusual ways. Grapheme-color synesthetes, for example, associate letters and numbers with colors; the number six might always look red to them. In other types of synesthesia, the word “cat” may create the taste of tomato soup, or the sound of a flute may appear as a blue cloud.

Recently, scientists have wondered if synesthesia–especially spatial-sequence synesthesia–might be linked to a superior ability to form memories. So psychologist Julia Simner of the University of Edinburgh in the United Kingdom tested for unusual mnemonic skills or other mental talents in 10 spatial-sequence synesthetes. Subjects had to quickly recall the dates of 120 public events occurring between 1950 and 2008, such as the year Nelson Mandela was freed from jail in South Africa (1990) or the year My Fair Lady won the Academy Award for best picture (1965). On average, non-synesthetic volunteers were off by about 8 years for each date, but the synesthetes were wrong by only about 4 years. They could also name almost twice as many events from specified years in their own lives than could the controls. “They have this subtle extra gift,” says Simner.

The findings, reported in the November-December issue of Cortex, also suggest a link between spatial-sequence synesthesia and hyperthymestic syndrome–a condition in which individuals can recall events from any point in their life with perfect clarity. And that may mean, says Simner, that anyone who visualizes timelines may remember historical events better than others.

The study jibes with our knowledge of how memory works, says neuroscientist David Eagleman of the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. “Putting things in spatial locations to memorize them harks back to the earliest mnemonic techniques that we know,” he says. “These spatial-sequence synesthetes are getting that for free.”