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11/21/14 7:00am

Morning Roundup: Nov. 21, 2014


Colin Stone. Photo via

By Shawn Dwyer


11/20/14 7:30pm

Research Shows Cannabinoids Slow Tumor Growth in Aggressive Cancer



Marijuana could play a role in treating one of the most aggressive cancers in adults, a new study found.

The research team from St. George’s University of London examined mice that had been infected with glioma, one of the most aggressive cancers in adult humans. The mice were then treated with radiation alone or in combination with two cannabinoids—the active components of the cannabis plant—tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).

“We wanted to investigate the anti-cancer effects of Sativex in glioma cells,” said Dr. Wai Liu, one of the study’s lead authors. Sativex is an equal mixture of THC and CBD, and is already licensed as a mouth spray for multiple sclerosis in the United States.

The researchers found the tumors were best treated by low doses of both THC and CBD, a combination which made the tumors more receptive to radiation treatment. Liu said this “triple threat approach” may be of value.

“Our results showed that the dose of irradiation we used had no dramatic effect on tumor growth, whereas CBD and THC administered together marginally reduced tumor progression,” Liu wrote. “However, combining the cannabinoids with irradiation further impeded the rate at which tumor growth progressed and was virtually stagnant throughout the course of the treatment.”

Though study of the anti-cancer effect of cannabinoids is not new, this research is the first to examine marijuana’s effect on cancer when used with radiation, Liu said. “[C]ombining radiotherapy with cannabinoid treatment had a big effect,” Liu wrote in the Washington Post.

THC and CBD are just two of dozens of cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. High-grade glioma has very low survival rates, as standard treatments for glioma remain largely unsuccessful. “The results are promising…it could provide a way of breaking through glioma and saving more lives,” Liu said.

“Hopefully, these results will support calls for formal trials in humans to test these combinations.”

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By Victoria Kim

hep c

11/20/14 5:30pm

Study Suggests Prisons Use Expensive Hep C Drugs



In the latest online edition of the Annals of Internal Medicine, a new study strongly recommended the use of Sofosbuvir, the notoriously expensive Gilead HCV drug regimen with the brand name Sovaldi, to treat rampant HCV infection rates in U.S. prison populations.

Although Sovaldi has been demonstrated to be highly effective, its cost has gained as much publicity as the drug’s success. Known as the $1000 pill, it is doubtful whether such a regimen could ever be used to treat hepatitis C infections in incarcerated populations. 

Although the researchers found a large improvement in health status of patients with extreme liver damage due to HCV, particularly with respect to decompensated cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma, the cost of treating prison populations without a special dispensation from Gilead would be astronomical. The researchers of the study actually disagree with the cost challenge by raising the issue of the greater cost of treating incarcerated populations with chronic infections.

According to the study, for each additional life year for each inmate with the infection, the cost to the prison increased by up to $28,800. The authors argue that this makes the treatment regimens cost-effective, but question whether it is affordable.  The study lacks information about the cost savings from avoiding treating complications, reinfection, and ongoing spread of the HCV infection in a prison population.

According to HealthDay, there are more than half a million inmates in the U.S. that currently have hepatitis C. Although overwhelmed by the rampant spread of HCV in prison populations, states recoil when confronted with the price. Most officials—particularly elected officials having to face a voting populace that does not want to spend financial resources on curing prisoners—do not see the new expensive HCV drug regimens being used in prisons.

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By John Lavitt


11/20/14 3:30pm

Brain Damage Caused By Meth Looks a Lot Like Schizophrenia



A new study published by Australian researchers from the University of Sydney reveals how the methamphetamine-induced sensitization of the brain looks a lot like schizophrenia.

By examining alterations to the prefrontal cortex, the researchers were surprised to find the neurological changes induced by methamphetamine use to be extraordinarily similar to the brains of schizophrenics. The structural damage and protein alterations seen in schizophrenia appeared in the brain after methamphetamine-induced sensitization.

Published in the Journal of Proteome Research, the ultimate focus of the study was more focused on implications for the maintenance of psychotic disorders than on methamphetamine treatment. A proteome is the entire set of proteins expressed by a specific organism at a certain time. More specifically, it is the set of expressed proteins in a given type of cell or organism at a given time under defined conditions. By examining the proteome layout in the prefrontal cortex, damage done by genetic psychotic disorders or external abuse factors like drugs and injuries can be gauged.  

In the study, the Australian researchers worked with rats. They found that repeat administration of methamphetamine to the rats led to a progressive increase in locomotor activity in the form of a behavioral sensitization. Such a behavioral sensitization is similar to the underlying neurochemical changes driving traditional psychoses like schizophrenia. The behavioral changes are the direct result of alterations to the prefrontal cortex of the brain.

The original aim of the current study was to investigate changes to protein expression in the prefrontal cortex in male rats sensitized to methamphetamine. Twenty percent of the neural proteins affected by the methamphetamine have previously been implicated in the neurobiology of schizophrenia. From synaptic regulation to mitochondrial function, the changes in the brain caused by methamphetamines had only been seen before in the brains of schizophrenics. Future treatment of schizophrenia could be improved by avoiding the stimulation associated with methamphetamine use.

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By John Lavitt


11/20/14 1:00pm

'Anthony’s Act' Pushes for 90-Day Minimum Inpatient Drug Treatment


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After losing their son to a heroin overdose, one Pennsylvania family started the Anthony’s Act petition in hopes of increasing the effectiveness of in-patient drug treatment programs.

On May 31, Valerie and Cris Fiore lost their 24-year-old son Anthony to a heroin overdose. Anthony struggled to get clean, and had even been in and out of several rehabs. But because the Affordable Care Act only provides a 30-day maximum treatment program, he didn't have enough time to recover.

In honor of their son and other struggling addicts, the Fiore family has started Anthony’s Act, a petition aimed at increasing the minimum length of inpatient drug rehabilitation programs to 90 days.

“One of the things that is so important about inpatient treatment that's so important is it gets you out of that environment,” said Cris Fiore, Anthony’s father. “You’re some place safe, secure and away from the things that were a bad part of your life before.”

“The way the system works right now is 30 days or less,” he added. “And people are just going through rehab after rehab after rehab. It’s not working. Anthony…every time he came home he used that night.”

While the drastic increase would certainly come with a heavy financial toll, Anthony’s Act claims there could be as much as a 12 to 1 return on investment. An effective treatment of 90 days would not only reduce the risk of relapse by up to 73%, but it would also decrease the amount of drug-related accidents, including overdoses and deaths.

The Fiore family is already well over halfway to their goal of reaching 10,000 signatures, and has encouraged supporters to tell their representatives that the “Affordable Care Act must be amended to provide for a minimum of ninety (90) days inpatient drug or alcohol treatment up to a maximum of one hundred eighty (180) days per year at a facility certified to provide such care by the Secretary of Health of the state in which it is located.”

Click here to sign the petition.

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By Brent McCluskey


11/20/14 10:30am

Rural Alaskan Communities Address High Teen Drug Abuse, Suicide Rates


Lead On in Anchorage. Photo via

Alaskans are well aware of the high rates of suicide and drug abuse among teenagers in rural communities throughout the state, but many of these remote areas are now establishing programs to help address this issue.

The American Journal of Public Health noted that suicide is the leading cause of death in Alaska among 15-24 year-olds and drug abuse likely plays a contributing role to this statistic. In the remote community of Dillingham, the local SAFE shelter addressed this issue by creating a program for teens called Myspace, which helps give kids a support base outside of school and home. In addition to providing a meal every day, kids take part in structured activities like tutoring and also have access to programs like Talk Now Talk Often, which helps kids and parents learn how to interact.

“If kids don’t have a place to go, they’ll end up in places that are really, really bad. They need to have shelter, they need to have a place to go because it’s cold outside,” said Myspace manager Gregg Marxmiller. "Kids were ending up in places where there’s drinking going on, where people were sexually assaulting each other, where they were beating on each other, where drugs were being used.  And so they said we don’t want that. Myspace is one of those solutions.”

Teenagers across the state have also tried to address this issue by joining statewide youth collaboration Lead On, which led to Dillingham High School senior Elijah Hunt creating a youth leadership group to help clean up the community and bring people together.

“My opinion is that the youth don’t connect with everybody as well, that brings a lot of problems for them…they get led into drugs and alcohol and I believe it’s because of a lack of communication,” said Hunt. "I want people to realize that we are able to change, we don’t have to just complain about everything. We can actually step up and do something.”

Access to drug treatment is another issue that often plagues rural communities. In January 2012, a remote First Nations reserve in Northern Ontario, Canada declared a state of emergency due to extremely high rates of prescription drug abuse and no options for treatment locally. Cat Lake—which has a population of 480 and is only accessible by aircraft—reports 150 registered prescription drug addicts and 120 suspected addicts who aren't registered.

“These people have no access to treatment whatsoever and the wait lists are 40 days to six months,” said community spokesman Russell Wesley. "After the state of emergency cry for help, two community wellness workers were made available to Cat Lake. Steve Outhouse, spokesperson for Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq, said the government had earmarked $700,000 to fund community-based drug programs for First Nations communities.

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By McCarton Ackerman


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