Top 10 most-read posts of July
Jul31

Top 10 most-read posts of July

Being a scientist and writer of a science blog, one can’t help being mesmerized by the statistics behind one’s readership. Over the last five years I’ve been quite surprised to see what posts garner a large number of readers and comments and which ones don’t (more often those that take a lot of time to write). As posts gain traction among Google search returns on popular topics, you’ll often see old posts continuing to be among the most-read for months after writing. So here are some data for you as well as a nice list of posts that you may have missed first time around: 1. iAroma synthetic marijuana and the loss of Max Dobner – 16 July 2011 – 1,022 views, 4 comments 2. DEA already admits defeat on synthetic marijuana ban? – 02 March 2011 – 833 views, 23 comments 3. Flurry of FDA action against aromatase supplements – 27 September 2010 – 490 views, 5 comments 4. Amy Winehouse found dead in London – 23 July 2011 – 395 views, 3 comments 5. What’s the buzz?: Synthetic marijuana, K2, Spice, JWH-018 (repost) – 07 September 2010 – 352 views, 20 comments 6. SciAm blog network follow-up – 11 July 2011 – 324 views, 12 comments 7. Welcome Scientific American blog network! – 05 July 2011 – 307 views, 17 comments 8. Fingolimod (Gilenya, Novartis) for multiple sclerosis – 11 May 2011 – 249 views, 2 comments 9. “Synthetic marijuana” chemist John W Huffman interviewed on regional NPR program – 26 January 2011 – 187 views, 2 comments 10. Poppy seed tea can kill you (repost) – 13 April 2011 – 185 views, 2 comments A few interesting observations: Only four of the top ten most-read posts in July were actually authored in July Two posts weren’t even written this year Four posts dealt with some aspect of synthetic marijuana chemistry and pharmacology Three posts dealt with death Two posts dealt with the blogging community Synthetic marijuana users and bloggers are most likely to comment on blogposts about them And which one surprises me the most? The post on aromatase inhibitors being in dietary supplements. These agents, developed originally to treat breast cancer, have found increasing use in bodybuilding and in testosterone-deficiency of aging (now called “low-T” in pharma commercials). The post hasn’t drawn a comment since November but “aromatase inhibitors” remain one of the top search terms that bring readers to the blog. I’m not sure if those readers are seeking information on breast cancer or testosterone replacement therapy. Happy analyzing, reading, or...

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Amy Winehouse found dead in London
Jul23

Amy Winehouse found dead in London

I just learned from wire services that 27-year-old singer Amy Winehouse was found dead this afternoon in London (here is the Scotland Yard report without her name). She was a remarkable vocal talent in the classic style but her battle with drugs was painful to watch. I saw a very hurt and confused little girl inside this beautiful woman with a rich soulful voice that stood with decades of the most prodigious singers, both African-American and white. (In my update below, Russell Brand wrote of her, “a voice that seemed not to come from her but from somewhere beyond even Billie and Ella, from the font of all greatness.”) Her trainwreck of a performance in Belgrade last month told me that her demise was forthcoming unless she sought (or was forced to seek) a vigorous drug addiction treatment program. The most recent news I could find about her post-Belgrade life and concert tour cancellation was her appearance this past Wednesday evening in London at a performance by her teenage goddaughter, Dionne Bromfield. Sadly, we’ll be adding to this post on the pharmacology of her death once more details become available. Update 24 Jul, 7:40 pm: In the meantime, have a read of this superb discussion on the underlying causes of drug abuse by TIME Healthland writer Maia Szalavitz. I think many people might be surprised to learn that the drugs themselves are only part of the story. One thing, however, is certain. Blaming drugs or Winehouse’s “enablers” for her death misses the point: what she needed was compassion, most of all from herself. Szalavitz will also be following this week at Healthland with discussions of treatment options and strategies to minimize overdose deaths. Szalavitz speaks from firsthand experience as a person with drug addiction 20 years ago. She is co-author of Born for Love: Why Empathy is Essential — and Endangered (Morrow, 2010), with Dr. Bruce D. Perry Update 25 Jul, 5:45 am – Russell Brand, the British comedian and husband of singer Katy Perry, wrote a revealing and eloquent reflection on Winehouse from his experiences knowing her before she became famous just as he completed a rehabilitation program for his own substance dependence. Finally, James Hannaham had this particularly prescient article on 14 December 2007 in Salon. His article begins, We’re all expecting Amy Winehouse to die. It seems inevitable, given the ferocious soul singer’s combination of youth, chutzpah, talent, substance abuse and bad taste in...

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Naturally Toxic Crowdsourcing
Jul21

Naturally Toxic Crowdsourcing

Among a typically mad summer of academic activities, I am nervously trying to finish a chapter on naturally-occurring toxins for a drug metabolism book. Indeed, this entire chapter will be a science-based rebuttal to the timeworn but misled statement, “Natural is safe.” So far, I’ve focused on naturally-occurring toxins that are metabolically activated by the liver such as the aflatoxins from Aspergillus spp. and pyrrolizidine alkaloids from a litany of herbal medicines such as comfrey and teas such as Jamaican bush tea made from Senecio. These two classes of compounds are acutely toxic to the liver because they are metabolized to highly-reactive nucleophiles. With long-term exposure, both classes are liver carcinogens. I’ve also talked a bit about α-amanitin, the RNA polymerase II poision from Amanita phalloides and other Amanita species. Here, I mentioned the treatment of such poisoning with extracts of milk thistle in an intravenous form available in Europe. This 2009 case in California is a great example. But let me ask you: what naturally-occurring toxins would you like to know about? They don’t necessarily have to be metabolically activated. Some interesting aspects about their absorption, distribution, or excretion are a plus. For example, I feel compelled to cover E. coli toxins, particularly those due to the recent O104:H4 outbreak, as most recently discussed by Superbug writer, Maryn McKenna. But I want to be sure that I’m not missing anything. The crowdsourced suggestions of the hivemind are greatly appreciated...

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iAroma synthetic marijuana and the loss of Max Dobner
Jul16

iAroma synthetic marijuana and the loss of Max Dobner

If you have not heard about the risks of marginally-legal, synthetic marijuana products, a NBC Today Show piece this week certainly raised national awareness of these products sold online, in convenience stores, and smoke shops. (Note: the video autoplays after clicking the hyperlink.) On June 14 a 19-year-old northern Illinois man named Max Dobner crashed into a two-story home at a high rate of speed. The family living there was out but a baby had been napping an hour earlier in the room where the car entered. According to Paul Biasco at the Daily Herald: Police said Dobner was speeding in a 1999 Chrysler Cirrus east on Mooseheart Road, blew through a stop sign at the T-intersection at Route 31 and was sent airborne when the four-door struck a retaining wall. The vehicle flew about 15 feet in the air over an 80-foot stretch before hitting a tree and then the home, Zies said. “The car hit with such force the motor came dislodged from the vehicle and went in through two more rooms and ended up in a bedroom in the back of the house,” [North Aurora Fire District Capt. Todd] Zies said. “It wiped out four rooms: a living room, bedroom, bathroom and another bedroom on the other side.” This photo gallery at the Daily Herald shows the scene of the accident. Charles Menchaca of the Batavia Patch reported this week that in the intervening month since the accident, a potential reason for this inexplicable single-car accident has emerged: Max’s brother reported speaking to him about having smoked a legal “potpourri” product called iAroma about an hour-and-a-half prior to the accident. Search engine hits to one of our introductory posts here and to those of our neuroscience colleague DrugMonkey let us know that many of you are looking for information about these products. Therefore, I thought I’d put together an “explainer” for anyone interested in this topic regardless of whether they have a scientific background. Please let me know if this helps you understand – if anything is unclear, please leave a message in the comments below and I’ll follow-up. For more technical information written by us and several of our neuropharmacology research colleagues, scroll to the bottom of this post. Synthetic marijuana: where did it come from? Before I suggest background reading, let’s just chat about the basics behind these so-called potpourri or incense products, also known as “legal highs.” Many mind-altering substances come from my specialized branch of the study of drug action: natural products pharmacology and pharmacognosy. Natural “products” doesn’t refer to retail products but rather chemicals made by plants, mushrooms, microorganisms, and other...

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News & Observer tweet-up: my newspaper groks it
Jul13

News & Observer tweet-up: my newspaper groks it

For those of you social media butterflies, how does your local newspaper interact with you? Call me a dinosaur but I love my local newspaper. We at Terra Sig World Headquarters still get the dead-tree version on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and you’ll occasionally see me blog here and elsewhere about pharma stories I first learn from the News & Observer of Raleigh, North Carolina. Part of the reason is because it is the main newspaper of the Research Triangle region. (The Durham Herald-Sun is another, with about 1/5th the circulation, and few people know that almost all of Research Triangle Park is located within Durham County.) I like the smell and feel of a newspaper and I immensely respect those of my friends who write for the paper. As much as I get excited on days when we get over 500 visitors here, the N&O has a print circulation of 134,470 daily and 190,514 on Sunday. But in these latest numbers from May, a new print/web metric was reported by the auditing firm who compiles these numbers. The N&O reaches a combined number of 797,346 unduplicated readers as determined from the last seven days of print and last 30 days of the online version. Like most papers around the world, the online readership far outnumbers those who access the paper in print. Last night, I had the pleasure of attending the second “tweet-up” sponsored by the N&O at Sitti Lebanese Restaurant in downtown Raleigh. The paper has been committed to engaging the online community and this two-hour gathering of local Twitter users was one of those activities. Writers, editors, and advertising folks from the paper were in attendance together with some of the best-known (and not-so-known) local voices in social media. We gathered around some fabulous Sitti Middle Eastern food provided by the N&O (the chicken kabobs, falafel, and hummus were to die for) and a cash bar in the restaurant courtyard, although most folks were sucking down the ice water provided by the waitstaff in the 100F heat. I had the pleasure of talking with Senior Editor Dan Barkin and “Interactive Retail Sales Manager” Kara Bloomer about the revenue challenges of online advertising relative to print – my interpretation of our discussion is that the fragmentation of eyes online significantly reduces rates per eyeball relative to print, thereby driving down revenue from print advertising since merchant budgets are now split across the media. Regular readers may also recognize Dan Barkin’s name – he wrote a profile a few years ago on Anton Zuiker, the co-founder of what is now the international ScienceOnline science communicators conference. Dan’s tagline...

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