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10/01/14 7:00am

Morning Roundup: Oct. 1, 2014

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By Shawn Dwyer

healing ptsd

9/30/14 7:30pm

How Smoking Pot May Alleviate PTSD Symptoms

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This article first appeared on AlterNet.

Marijuana has been shown to be an effective treatment to prevent post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in rats, according to a recently published study in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology. Roughly 2.5 million combat veterans have returned to the United States from Iraq and Afghanistan, many of them coping with the often crippling symptoms of severe PTSD.

The study, performed by Nachshon Korem and Irit Akirav of the University of Haifa’s Department of Psychology in Israel, examined the interactions between cannabis and trauma reminders. A trauma reminder is a stimulus that would not be stressful out of context, say a picture of a helicopter, but which reminds a PTSD sufferer of a traumatic event, for instance an event related to war, which can cause intense stress. The study found that rats who were given an electric shock, then injected with synthetic marijuana, showed significantly reduced symptoms of PTSD compared to rats not treated with cannabinoids. Specifically, when exposed to a trauma reminder, these rats did not have typical symptoms, such as an increased startle response, altered pain sensitivity and neurological issues related to learning and the brain’s reward response. Cannabinoids also did markedly better than the pharmaceutical drug sertraline in the same study. Sertraline is in the SSRI family along with many common antidepressants such as Prozac.

It is difficult to come up with a good estimate for the number of people with PTSD—symptoms are often invisible, and can even difficult to identify even for the sufferer. According to the US Department of Veterans' Affairs, an estimated 7.8% of Americans will experience PTSD at some point in their lives. The study lends scientific backing to the claims of many veterans who have long advocated for marijuana as a way to manage PTSD. The Iraq War is finally over, and the war in Afghanistan is reportedly coming to a close this year. Approximately 2.5 million veterans from these wars are now living in the U.S. Due to the obstinate stance of the federal government that cannabis is a criminal drug, many of those veterans will be denied an effective medicine with negligible side effects.

With 23 states having a medical marijuana law on the books, and a handful more allowing for high CBD/low THC pot for a short list of conditions, most of the U.S. has now acknowledged the healing power of cannabis. By maintaining its Schedule I status, and even mandating an additional review process for research that only applies to marijuana, the federal government remains stodgily behind the times.

The study by Korem and Akirav shows a pressing need, both for additional research on cannabis and a loosening of the restrictions that have kept it out of the hands of patients who stand to benefit from its use. It is past time for the U.S. to undo the holds on the study and use of marijuana.

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By Owen Poindexter

gateway drug?

9/30/14 5:30pm

Study Describes E-Cigarettes as Gateway To Illegal Drugs

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On the path to cocaine? Shutterstock

In a red flag-raising study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, neuroscientist Eric Kandel and his wife, Dr. Denise Kandel, warned that electronic cigarettes very likely could be a gateway drug for adolescents. Basing their findings on recent research done on mice, the study reveals that e-cigarettes prime the brain for the use of illegal drugs like cocaine and marijuana.

As e-cigarettes deliver highly addictive "pure nicotine," the brain chemistry of the mice in the study was altered. Such alterations primed the animals for cocaine addiction. "One drug alters the brain's circuitry in a way that enhances the effects of a subsequent drug," Professor Kandel explained.

The couple from Columbia University wrote extensively on the subject of the heightened risk to young people. At the end of their report in the New England Journal of Medicine, they clearly raised a red flag when they wrote:

"Our society needs to be concerned about the effect of e-cigarettes on the brain, especially in young people, and the potential for creating a new generation of persons addicted to nicotine. The effects we found in adult mice are likely to be even stronger in adolescent animals. Priming with nicotine has been shown to lead to enhanced cocaine-induced locomotor activity and increased initial self-administration of cocaine among adolescent, but not adult, rats… Nicotine clearly acts as a gateway drug on the brain."

Although the typical e-cigarette user is a long-term smoker who has been unable to quit, more and more young people are taking up the habit as it has evolved into a popularized fad. A problem is nicotine has a much more powerful effect on the adolescent brain. As Professor Kandel, who in 2000 shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his research on the physiological basis of memory, said, “The effects we saw in adult mice are probably even stronger in adolescent animals.”

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By John Lavitt

celebrity DUI

9/30/14 3:30pm

Gold Medalist Michael Phelps Arrested for DUI

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Michael Phelps, the multi-gold medal winning swimmer who rose to international stardom during the 2008 Summer Olympics has allegedly been arrested for driving under the influence.

First reported by celebrity site TMZ, Phelps was busted in Baltimore, Md., during the wee hours for reportedly driving 84 mph in a 45 mph zone. An officer pulled over his white Land Rover around 1:40 am and noticed right away that he "appeared to be under the influence," according to a police statement.

Though cooperative, Phelps failed a variety of field sobriety tests, including a breathalyzer, which determined that he was almost twice the legal limit. He was brought to a station and booked on a DUI, before being released.

Unfortunately, this wasn't the first time Phelps has been arrested for driving under the influence. In 2004, when he was 19 years old, he was arrested in Salisbury, Md., for drunk driving. He pleaded guilty and was given 18 months probation, fined $250, and told to speak to students about the dangers of drinking and driving.

More famously, Phelps was photographed in 2009 while smoking weed from a bong while partying at the University of South Carolina. He was suspended from competing for three months and lost Kellogg as a sponsor. Phelps readily admitted his mistake in an apology, calling his actions "inappropriate."

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By Shawn Dwyer

number one

9/30/14 1:00pm

America Consumes 80% of the World's Prescription Painkillers

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Congressional testimony by the American Society of Interventional Pain Physicians recently revealed that Americans consume a staggering 80% of the world's painkillers.

According to the BBC, this high percentage translates into more than 110 tons of addictive opiates consumed every year. Although pharmaceutical opiates such as OxyContin and Zohydro are legal with a prescription, they also have proven to be incredibly addictive.

In the 21st century, the number of users of painkillers has increased 600% in the United States. Crimes committed by drug abusers addicted to oxycodone and hydrocodone, the main ingredients in most pharmaceutical opiates, have skyrocketed as well. The prescription painkiller plague has become the gravest drug problem in the country.

Doctors in the United States prescribe more than 259 million prescriptions for painkillers annually. Behind the façade of the American dream, the first-world country seems to be suffering from far more pain and disease than much of the rest of the world. As a result of this flood of painkillers, prescription drug overdose is now the leading cause of acute preventable death in United States, exceeding even the death rate from car accidents.

A further problem is prescription drug abuse often becomes a gateway for illegal drug addiction. When addicts can no longer convince doctors to write scripts, they often move on from opiate painkillers to heroin. Without question, if the plague of prescription painkiller abuse in the United States is not effectively addressed, the problem is bound to worsen.

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By John Lavitt

drugs in sports

9/30/14 10:30am

Student Athletes In Oregon Demand School Drug Testing

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Parents and students in several districts throughout the country have been protesting drug testing in schools, but one school district in Oregon has implemented them at the request of students.

Student-athletes in the South Lane and Junction City school districts, located in Eugene, Ore. will be required to submit to drug tests this year. Both school boards have approved plans to drug test students at least once per season and also administer random tests. Any student who fails three tests will be banned from sports teams. Students in South Lane have even made bracelets in the school’s colors that read, “I am drug free. Test me.”

Students in the district are already required to take a Breathalyzer test before entering a school dance. They had previously tried implementing voluntary drug-testing in the early 90s, but scrapped it after students who were using drugs unsurprisingly didn’t volunteer to be tested.

"This isn't about busting kids," said Cottage Grove High School Principal Iton Udosenata. "It's about helping kids. It's not about infringing on kids' rights. The outcome we want is for more kids to have the opportunity to say 'no.'" Senior Jarrett Reade, the co-chair of the athletes’ council, supported the measure because “it’s an easy way to see who is using and who is not.”

However, some parents and students in the district believe the new policy is misguided and will drive students away from extracurricular activities. It’s a sentiment that’s echoed by many across the country. The Perry County school district in Pennsylvania sparked controversy over their mandatory drug testing being administered to pre-teens. Natalie Cassell, 10, was drug tested three times this past year at Susquenita Middle School because she is part of a leadership club.

Her mother, Kristin, said she was upset that she wasn't notified when one of the tests took place. School officials said that a nurse is required to inform parents that their child is being drug tested, but doesn't have to wait for them to respond back.

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By McCarton Ackerman

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