Smoking weed for a slimmer bod? It sounds contradictory given pot's tendency to induce the munchies—but according to British researchers, marijuana may actually help lower appetite and boost metabolism, thus reducing the risk of heart disease and diabetes. Animal tests revealed that cannabis acted as an appetite suppressant, but for only a short time; however, further research showed that certain compounds of the drug could actually impact fat levels and the body's response to insulin (the hormone that controls blood sugar). “The results in animal models have been very encouraging,” says Steph Wright, director of research and development at GW Pharmaceuticals. “We are interested in how these drugs effect the fat distribution and utilization in the body as a treatment for metabolic diseases." So far, testing in mice showed that two cannabis compounds—THCV and cannabidiol—raised metabolism, leading to reduced levels of fat in the liver and lowering cholesterol. THCV was also found to increase the mice's sensitivity to insulin and also protect the cells that produce insulin. “Over all, it seems these molecules increase energy expenditure in the cells of the body by increasing the metabolism,” says Mike Cawthorne, research director at the University of Buckingham, who has been conducting the animal studies. Based on these findings, researchers hope to develop a drug to treat patients suffering from metabolic syndrome, which is a major risk factor for heart disease.
Despite a panel of experts strongly recommending mandatory training in painkillers for doctors, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has decided to disregard their advice and will not require doctors to undergo special training before prescribing addictive narcotics. The FDA's plan, announced yesterday, will require drug makers to underwrite the cost of voluntary programs aimed at teaching doctors how to best use them—but the companies won't control their content. The plan also calls for patients to receive one-page handouts about the risks and benefits of drug use. The panel of outside experts—assembled by the FDA itself in 2010, in order to address the ongoing problem of prescription drug abuse—stated that mandatory training was essential to reduce the abuse of painkillers and ensure they're prescribed appropriately. The debate has left the medical community sharply divided. Several major doctors' groups, including the American Medical Association, are opposed to mandatory training because they believe the programs would be burdensome and could reduce the number of physicians who treat pain patients. On the other hand, many pain specialists fully support it. Dr. Scott M. Fishman, a pain specialist and professor at the University of California, Davis, says: “The problem of prescription drug abuse has become so severe, I believe that the time has come to make that training mandatory,”
- Pot May Have Appetite Suppressant Qualities, Could be Used to Treat Obesity [Village Voice]
- Restricting Booze Ads Could Be More Effective Than Increasing Costs [Wall Street Journal]
- Singapore to End Mandatory Death Penalty for Drug Couriers [Washington Post]
- What's With All the Offensive Alcohol Names? [Time]
- Beer Company Launches Plantable Coasters That Will Grow Into Trees [PSFK.com]
- Amy Winehouse's Mother Opens up About Her Grief [Huffington Post]
- "Zombie Attack" Toxicology Reports Questioned [ABC Action News]
As the fight against "pill mills"—clinics, doctors and pharmacies that prescribe powerful narcotics inappropriately—continues, states like Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia also have their work cut out for them as they combat "prescription tourists." These are people who travel to obtain huge volumes of painkillers, and then return to sell them on the street for as much as $100 a pill. The lucrative business involves drug dealers sending runners to states like Florida or Georgia, which are known for numerous pill mills. Once there, it's not hard to gain a prescription if you go to the right place. "They're like a swarm of locusts," says Richard Allen, director of the Georgia Drugs and Narcotics Agency. "Once they have a script, they'll hit every pharmacy in the state trying to get them filled." Prescription tourists, who come from as far away as Arizona and Nebraska, play a part in making drug overdose the leading cause of accidental death in dozens of states. "The effect is the same effect as if they were coming out of our own pain clinics," says Aaron Haslam, who directs Ohio's anti-painkiller abuse efforts in the state's attorney general's office. "We have overdoses all over the state of Ohio because of it."
Stopping prescription tourism can be hard, as it crosses multiple state lines. But many law enforcement and prevention groups are trying anyway. Florida became a popular destination for drug runners because of a virtually unregulated pain clinic industry—but last March, Gov. Rick Scott finally created Florida's Drug Enforcement Strike Force Teams, which have now closed down 254 clinics. "This is something the state of Florida continues to focus on and our Strike Force Teams have been doing a wonderful job," Gretl Plessinger, communications director for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, tells The Fix.
But as Florida cracks down, the illegal trade has shifted up into Georgia, which had almost no pill mills three years ago, but is now home to as many as 150. So groups there have begun taking up the fight too: the Medical Association of Georgia has developed a campaign called Think About It—which aims to educate health care professionals, create legislation and provide safe places to dispose of prescription drugs. "It's not hard to figure out how to stop it if we can educate people to safeguard their drugs, take only what they need to avoid addiction and educate doctors not to over-prescribe," says Dallas Guy, who helped design the pilot program. Still, some feel that authorities are overreacting to a few doctors and clinics that participate in illegal activities. Paul Sloan, owner of several pain management clinics in Florida says, "We're dealing with a war on legitimate medications that's being dealt with like we're all cartels and drug lords."
The man who first dubbed marijuana "the gateway drug" passed away on June 28—leaving a controversial legacy. Gabriel Georges Nahas developed his anti-cannabis stance while growing up in Egypt in the 1920s: noticing lethargic, intoxicated people on the streets, he found out they were addicted to hashish. He went on to become a medical researcher, a professor at Columbia University and an author of several books on pot policy—including 1976's Keep Off the Grass, in which he wrote: "It appears that the biochemical changes induced by marijuana in the brain result in drug-seeking, drug-taking behavior, which in many instances will lead the user to experiment with other pleasurable substances. The risk of progression from marijuana to cocaine and heroin is now well-documented." His theory that pot was a "gateway" to other drugs was instrumental in the US government's refusal to back down on marijuana-law reform.
Dr. Nahas also blamed weed for causing cancer, brain damage, infertility, and weakening of the immune system. A supporter of Nancy Regan's "Just Say No" campaign of the '80s, he received praise from the anti-drug movement; 1970s US drug czar Robert L. DuPont called him “the Paul Revere of drug abuse,” and said, “He alone lit the beacon warning of the threat of the modern drug abuse epidemic.” But for those in favor of decriminalizing or legalizing marijuana, Nahas was seen as a villain. The New England Journal of Medicine once described his work as “psychopharmacological McCarthyism that compels him to use half-truths, innuendo and unverifiable assertions." So his death may not be universally mourned—one obit on CelebStoner.com declares, "Nahas, who was 92, will not be missed."
After a few too many in-flight refreshments, South African member of parliament Dirk Feldman decided to disembark early from his trans-continental flight—attempting to exit via the aircraft's emergency door while thousands of feet up in the air. The MP, a member of his country's Congress of the People (COPE) party, was en route to Mumbai as part of an official parliamentary delegation. He arrived in notably undiplomatic style—and after several hours of detention by Indian security authorities, he was sent back to Johannesburg in disgrace. "He had too much to drink and they say he lost his inhibitions," says COPE's chief whip Dennis Bloem, with admirable understatement. South Africa's ruling African National Congress (ANC) party—which COPE split from in 2008—issued a statement condemning Feldman's "in-flight drunken escapades" and claiming that his behavior "places this Parliament and the country in a negative light both internationally and at home." It's been a spectacular few days for the image of international politicians, what with Jordanian MP Mohammed Shawabka pulling a gun during a TV debate last Thursday. But Feldman can at least reflect that when it comes to going "overboard" on planes, he keeps the glittering company of Kelly Osbourne, Dutch rehab magnate Bas de Bont and actor Gerard Depardieu.