If an insatiable appetite for chocolate has you ravaging your nearest vending machine, you may be experiencing an addictive cycle similar to that of an opiate addict. A study conducted at the University of Michigan by a neuroscience student Alexandra DiFeliceantonio found that eating chocolate locks the brain into a cycle of “addiction, joy, and despair” similar to drug addiction. The researchers examined rats that were given M&M's, and found that they produced enkephalin—a naturally occurring opioid-receptor binding compound in the brain that is also released by addictive drugs such as morphine and heroin. Following that, researchers gave the rats a painless opioid-stimulating drug injection in their brain, and found that the rats ate double the amount of M&M's after the injection. “The same brain area we tested here is active when obese people see foods and when drug addicts see drug scenes,” DiFeliceantonio says. “So it seems likely that our enkephalin findings in rats mean that this neurotransmitter may drive some forms of overconsumption and addiction in people.” The researchers believe the findings may explain why some people cannot put down a bag of chocolate or candy bar after one serving. DiFeliceantonio writes: “Finding the brain mechanisms for overconsumption is a step towards designing better biological-based treatments for obesity and binge eating disorders.”
- Czech Police Make Arrests In Methanol Poisoning Case [Huffington Post]
- Dad Defends Chemist at Center of Mass. Drug Lab Scandal [Washington Post]
- Drug Use Seven Times More Likely Among Gay People, Study Finds [The Independent]
- Australian Wine Industry Adopting Health Warnings [ABC News]
- Montana Voters Favor Tighter Medical Marijuana Law [San Francisco Chronicle]
- Georgia Shooting Range Approved for Alcohol [Atlanta Journal-Constitution]
- Rihanna Rolls an Expensive Joint on Single Artwork [Idolator]
Just as bath salts mania seems to have (mostly) simmered down, a new designer drug known as "smiles" may be lining up to induce parental panic. A synthetic hallucinogenic otherwise known as 2C-I, it's most often sold as a powder, which can be mixed with candy or chocolate before ingesting. Like its synthetic predecessors, such as K-2 and bath salts, smiles seems to appeal to a younger demographic—half of those exposed to it in 2011 were teenagers, according to the American Association of Poison Control. Little research into the possible dangers of the new drug yet exists, although it's thought to have been responsible for two teen deaths in East Grand Forks, North Dakota in June. One of them, 17-year-old Elijah Stai, stopped breathing several hours after an alleged overdose caused him to "smash his head against the ground" and act "possessed," "shaking, growling, foaming at the mouth," say witnesses.
Smiles elicits intense aural and visual hallucinations that may last for days, users report. Some describe side effects like nausea, vomiting, anxiety and panic attacks; one online commenter describes the high as a "roller coaster ride through hell." Like LSD and psilocybin (or "magic mushrooms"), the drug causes hallucinations by interfering with the brain's serotonin system, Dr. Harris Stratyner, vice president of Caron Treatment Centers, tells The Fix. But unlike better-known hallucinogens, it has stimulating effects—meaning it carries some of the risks of meth and other uppers, like potentially fatal dehydration, arrhythmia and stroke. "Combining a psychedelic with a stimulant—it's pretty frightening. It's like taking ecstasy and LSD together," says Dr. Stratyner. But the effects are highly unpredictable when you're talking about synthetic compounds that have yet to be thoroughly researched.
The DEA has been quick to classify 2C-I as a Schedule 1 substance, making it illegal to manufacture, distribute or possess. Still, reports of teens using smiles across the US are popping up rapidly, which Dr. Straytner attributes largely to teens' tendency to spread "misinformation" through chat rooms, Facebook and blogs. He emphasizes the importance of parents sitting down with their kids to educate them on the dangers of smiles, and other synthetic drugs. K-2 and bath salts, once considered benign, have been made illegal since they were linked to a slew of hospitalizations earlier this year. "These kids are playing russian roulette," Dr. Staytner. "It's absolutely ludicrous that anyone would put this into your body. Its like trying to get high off arsenic or rat poison."
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Recovery from eating disorders doesn't seem to get as much media attention as recovery from drug and alcohol addiction—but that could be changing. During her new ABC talk show earlier today, Katie Couric opened up about battling bulimia in her late teens and early twenties. “I wrestled with bulimia all through college and for two years after that," she said. "And I know this rigidity, this feeling that if you eat one thing that’s wrong, you’re full of self-loathing and then you punish yourself, whether it’s one cookie or a stick of gum that isn’t sugarless, that I would sometimes beat myself up for that.” Couric was joined on the show by eating disorders specialist Cynthia Bulik, as well as singer and X-Factor judge Demi Lovato, 20, who has also been candid about her struggle with eating disorders and cutting, for which she sought treatment in 2010. “How do you have a healthy relationship with food, and say, ‘You know what, I can have one cookie and it’s okay?’ That is such a huge thing for people who wrestle with this,” said Couric, 55, who credits therapy with helping her in her recovery. Bulik praised the news anchor for her honesty, and for serving as an example to others that recovery is possible: "Just knowing that you can get past that, and learning strategies from someone who’s been there, that’s what it’s all about in terms of recovery,” she said.
It's long been known that legendary poet John Keats experimented with opium, but a new biography claims that he was a full-blown addict during his most prolific periods of writing. Professor Nicholas Roe of the University of St. Andrews, Scotland, the author of John Keats—A New Life, which is to be released next week, claims that Keats first took opium to address issues including a sore throat, and then continued to "keep up his spirits." He first gained access to laudanum—a form of opium—in 1818, in order to administer it to his brother Tom, who was dying from tuberculosis. Roe believes that two of Keats' most famous poems—"Ode on Indolence" and "Ode to a Nightingale"—were inspired while he was on opium and that the latter "is one of the greatest recreations of a drug inspired dream vision in English literature, a poem that frankly admits his own opium habit." Keats was warned about his habit by his writer friend Charles Brown and when the poet eventually came down with TB in 1820, his friend Severn apparently stopped Keats from taking laudanum by hiding the bottle. The new revelations add to the druggy legend of the Romantics: Samuel Coleridge supposedly wrote "Kubla Khan" in 1797 following an opium-induced dream, and the stereotype of the suffering, addicted genius stems in large part from this era.