Sometimes you hear things that make you wonder whether there's anything teenagers won't smoke. At least the latest trendy thing to spark up isn't scientifically acknowledged as addictive, doesn't seem to provide a genuine high, and tastes totally sweet: Twix. No, that's not a slang word for some substance you're too old to have heard of; some teens really are lighting up the candy bar. “Basically you're just smoking burnt food,” a 19-year-old rap-loving college freshman in North Carolina helpfully explains to The Fix. “But when you eat the burnt part it tastes like s'mores.” The practice isn't entirely new—but the social media explosion has apparently given it a resurrection in some quarters. An 18-year-old high school senior and aficionado confirms, “My sister said she saw someone do it on Tumblr.”
Just in case you're curious—and with the usual disclaimers about not trying this at home—the technique involved is to snip off both ends of a Twix bar, placing one end in your mouth while holding a lighter flame to the other end (because candy doesn't stay lit). Inhale, "filtering" the burning end of the candy bar through the length of its chocolate-covered, porous biscuit finger. Let the burnt chocolate flavor sink in. But why try, if you can't even get a sugar high? “People just do it for fun because it's kinda interesting to see smoke come out from a candy bar,” says our high school source. And it tastes like s'mores.
More than 20 years ago, Steve Jobs, the late Apple co-founder, was being considered by President George H.W. Bush for an appointment to the President’s Export Council. Jobs ultimately got the appointment—but only after the FBI undertook a careful investigation into his past, including his use of illegal drugs. During the course of the agency's research, the bureau spoke to dozens of the Apple titan’s past and present business and personal associates. Their report, which was kept under wraps until now, was released today in response to a Freedom of Information Request. In the nearly 200-page document, multiple sources cite Jobs’ past drug use. One former colleague said that, “during the late 1960s and early 1970s, Mr. Jobs may have experimented with illegal drugs, having come from that generation.” A college buddy said that “he was aware that Mr. Jobs used illegal drugs, including marijuana and LSD, while they were attending college.” And what sounds like an old flame told the FBI that “the Appointee grew up in the late sixties and early seventies when drug use was prevalent and that she and the Appointee both experimented with various drugs.”
In a smart move, Jobs didn’t try to hide his past when the bureau came calling. According to an interview with the man himself, “He had not used drugs in the past five years however during the period of approximately 1970–1974 he experimented with marijuana, hashish, and LSD.” (The investigation was conducted in 1991, which means that Jobs could well have toked up or tripped as late as 1985. That doesn’t seem an unreasonable response to getting pushed out of the company you helped found, as happened to Jobs at Apple that year.) The report goes on to state that, “This was during high school and college and he mostly used these substances by himself. He never sold any drugs and no one who could substantiate his use came readily to mind.” It turns out Jobs was wrong about that last part.
- Sibling Brains Suggest Addiction Is Hereditary. [Science]
Dominating the week's addiction science news was a brain study of 47 sibling pairs—one a hard-core chronic addict, the other free of the disease. MRI scans revealed identical irregularities in key addiction-related regions of the brains—both between sibs and across the entire group—offering the first-ever concrete confirmation of the long-suspected link between addiction and heredity. The high-tech photos also show that these brain bloopers weren't the result of addictive behavior but, more likely, a cause of the condition.
Conducted at Cambridge University, the study was published in the journal Science, which considered it sufficiently path-breaking to warrant a commentary by Dr. Nora Volkow, the world-class neuroscientist who heads the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) under President Obama. Yet as breathlessly as the story was covered, few reporters bothered to read the Volkow brief, which points out that the differences between the sibling brains were at least as provocative as the likenesses. (Hat tip to Fix columnist Maia Szalavitz, who lucidly decodes the study on Time’s Heartland blog.)
For pointy-headed readers, the two main findings regarding identical irregularities were (1) a weaker frontostriatal circuit, which connects the prefrontal cortex—the self-control command center—to other white matter responsible for impulse control, and (2) a bigger putamen, a motor skills–and–learning regulator already implicated in the development of addiction. As for where the addicts differed from their sib? (1) a weaker medial orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), which plays a role in addiction to the extent that it directs the planning of behavior in terms of sensitivity to reward and punishment, and (2) a smaller precuneus, the seat of self-consciousness that, when disrupted, can lower tolerance for craving and frustration.
The BBC went so far as to track down one of the sibling pairs for an interview: two middle-aged women, longtime crack addict Sophia, with her "pallor," "nervousness" and stringy hair, and the "smartly dressed" Theresa, who sports an attention-getting Cleopatra hairdo and describes herself as a "control freak." We were hard-pressed to tell which was which.
- Will Anti-Smoking Drug Help Cokeheads Kick Their Habit? [Drug and Alcohol Dependence]
No pharmacological treatment exists for addiction to cocaine, methamphetamine or other stimulants. While the big money and glory lie in research into vaccines—which will take another decade (if ever) to get to market—more clinically oriented researchers are looking closer to home. How cool would it be if a drug already on pharmacy shelves could break an addict's cocaine stranglehold?
For example, scientists at the University of Pennsylvania's Treatment Research Center speculate that Chantix (varenicline), the only drug specifically made and marketed for nicotine addiction, might work against blow because of its unique action. Chantix is a partial nicotinic receptor agonist—it sparks the same neuronal targets that are stimulated by nicotine. But where cigarettes have a gigawatt effect, Chantix produces only a faint flicker, causing an uptick in the feel-good brain chemical dopamine that counters cravings. Plus, it blocks nicotine from the receptor because it is already occupying it. Testing their hypothesis in a study of 37 cocaine addicts, they found that varenicline had a small but significant efficacy. The Chantix-takers experienced markedly lower levels of the so-called reward effect compared with their placebo counterparts. Still, the drug only slightly reduced the actual number of abstinent days (its primary endpoint). That's not a deal-breaker, however, as Chantix has only modest success at its anti-smoking application, besting the cold-turkey technique by anywhere from 15% to 23%. But a drug with even a modest effect against coke cravings would be better than nothing.
- FDA Trounces Painkiller-Producing Plant [Fierce Pharma]
Pharma manufacturing plant shutdowns rarely make big news unless they cause major drug shortages, such as the ongoing Adderall drought. Yet in recent years, the drug industry has shown signs of losing its grip on quality control, especially in the production of over-the-counter (OTC) products. Last December, Swiss drug giant Novartis shuttered its huge painkiller factory in Lincoln, Nebraska, amid a full-on investigation by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The company had to recall its entire Excedrin line. The plant also made heavy-duty prescription painkillers such as oxycodone ER, percocet, morphine sulfate and Endocet—these, too, were contaminated.
Dozens of people in India’s eastern state of Orissa became ill after consuming toxic liquor that was made from cough syrup. At least 24 people died after consuming the liquor and two dozen more are said to be in critical condition. The victims had fallen ill after buying the brew in Tukuliapada village. Authorities say that the man who sold the liquor, Baidhar Bhoi, was the first to die on Tuesday morning. Three of Bhoi's relatives have been arrested by investigators. Back in December, more than 170 people died after consuming toxic liquor in the eastern state of West Bengal. The poor in India are often sold bootlegged liquor that is often made from cold and cough medicines, or even insecticide. A government spokesman says the two pharmaceutical companies that produced the cough syrup in this case have been sealed.
The Baseball Hall of Fame is starting a new program to help educate young adults and students about performance-enhancing drug use. The program—named "Be a Superior Example" (BASE)—comes in the same year that players like Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, and Roger Clemens will appear on Hall of Fame ballots for the first time following steroid accusations. The Hall of Fame museum in Cooperstown, New York, will start launch interactive educational kiosks on site, as well as learning programs online. Museum president Jeff Idelson insists the program has been years in the making and has nothing to do with the controversial players on the ballot this year. “We’re launching it now because it’s taken that long to build the curriculum, the program elements, and find the funding to launch BASE,” he says. “We still need to find more funding to sustain it, but we now have enough to launch it and keep it up and running.” The Hall of Fame museum houses many Major League artifacts, as well as plaques representing the inductees. Idelson stresses that “character, sportsmanship and integrity” are the qualifications for ballot selection and that the new educational program “is not intended to cast a directive to voters about Hall of Fame-worthy candidates.”
- Josh Hamilton Alcohol Relapse Forces MLB to Get Involved [Chicago Sun-Times]
- Brownsville Man Accused of Selling Coke to Rehab Classmates [Valley Central]
- Baseball Hall to Begin Drug Education Program [Missoulian]
- Alleged Squatters Caught With Cocaine, Marijuana, Guns, 10 Grenades and a Pig [Huffington Post]