Friday, March 13, 2015

Batch of links - Drugs... Uh, I mean, pharmaceuticals

- An interesting recap of the medical uses of marijuana. (And as a recreational drug, at least it’s probably the least deadly.)

- An article about women and alcoholism, in which we learn about why they drink, how their body reacts, and why traditional treatment methods like AA often don’t work for them.

- Did you know that the top-selling drug in America is Abilify? It’s an anti-psychotic most often used to treat depression, except… scientists aren’t sure how it works. It is also used to treat schizophrenia, FYI.

- I read that 1 in 4 women in America is on psychiatric medication, compared with 1 in 7 men. The psychiatrist who wrote the article says that “this is insane” and that women are probably being overmedicated because they show more emotion than men, who are considered the norm. “Obviously, there are situations where psychiatric medications are called for. The problem is too many genuinely ill people remain untreated, mostly because of socioeconomic factors. People who don’t really need these drugs are trying to medicate a normal reaction […]. This emotional blunting encourages women to take on behaviors that are typically approved by men.”

- I recently read the most interesting New Yorker article about psychedelics. It’s a very long read, but well worth your time. In a nutshell, the author, Michael Pollan, explains the current state of research into psychedelics, and it’s really fascinating. For example, LSD is being used to treat anxiety about death in some patients with terminal cancer, and a single dose had such a great impact that their lives were still positively affected 18 months later! There’s also an explanation on how psychedelics affect the brain and how they work exactly, and it really seems like if society can get over its hang-up with this drug, it could do wonders for patient care, under the supervision of trained professionals.

- Scientists have discovered that roughly 20% of the population has a genetic mutation that enables them to produce anandamide – a feel-good chemical akin to THC. This could help explain, in part, why some people are more anxious than others and feel a greater need for drugs such as marijuana: to alleviate anxiety that others (20%) simply don’t feel. According to the article, those who have the mutation usually don’t find marijuana pleasant. I wonder whether that also has something to do with why some people feel relaxed when using marijuana but others actually feel increased anxiety?

- I’ve also heard interesting things about addiction in general recently. We’ve always been told that using drugs even one time can alter the brain and make the user physically addicted to that drug for the rest of his/her life, and that the user wouldn’t have any control over it. I’ve internalized that addiction is a genetic disease. Some researchers are challenging that, however. For example, Carl Hart., Ph.D., says his research shows that drug addicts make rational choices. Let me quote from the article: “The image of a crack-starved addict who will do anything for another taste of his drug isn't backed up by the scientific evidence, according to a psychology professor at Columbia. In an interview with the New York Times […], Carl Hart said his research, as well as the work of others, shows drug addicts respond rationally and will regularly turn down crack or methamphetamine -- even if it's their drug of choice -- if presented with other options.”

- And then there’s Johann Hari, who says that everything we know about drug addiction is wrong. In a nutshell, we’ve all been told that using heroin is what makes you a heroin addict, that it just happens when you use it for a few weeks or so. It turns out that is demonstrably false. Addiction has more to do with one’s environment and psychology than anything in the drug itself. Portugal currently seems to have the best handle on the problem, with solutions that actually work in reducing rates of addiction by giving addicts a purpose in life.

- A recent article on IFLS corroborates this, saying that in short, for the majority of users, “what determines whether or not drug use escalates into addiction, and the prognosis once it has, is less to do with the power of the drug and more to do with the social, personal and economic circumstances of the user.”

- I’ve always said that I’m surprised that the 12-step program is still the most popular treatment in the early 21st century. Well, the UK is stepping up its game by covering pills that reduce alcohol dependency in patients (and I use the term “patients” loosely, because the target audience is likely middle-class drinkers who don’t think they have a problem, but who can’t reduce consumption on their own).

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