DrugMonkey in New York Times profile of NIDA director, Nora Volkow
Jun15

DrugMonkey in New York Times profile of NIDA director, Nora Volkow

Hearty congratulations to my neuroscience of drug abuse colleague, DrugMonkey, on his kinda-sorta quote in The New York Times on Monday (see bottom of first online page here). The profile is on Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the NIH's National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and one of the top scientists in the field of addiction who has the rare gift of being widely-respected by both scientists and science administrators. Her staff even engages the scientific blogosphere and I wrote up a lengthy email interview I had with her in 2009 back at the ScienceBlogs home of Terra Sig. Much to the dismay of researchers, NIH has a plan to establish and combined institute by merging NIDA with the National Institute on Alcohol and Alcohol Abuse (NIAAA). It's fair to say that this move has not been terribly well-received by researchers studying alcohol or other drugs of abuse. DrugMonkey addressed some of these issues in a 16 Sept 2010 blogpost, and that's where the quote was picked up for the New York Times profile of Dr. Volkow by Abigail Zuger: The drug abuse institute and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism are on track to be merged into a joint institute on addiction still in the planning stages. National Institutes of Health watchers have already started a body count. “It will be a big loss that Nora Volkow, current N.I.D.A. director, cannot possibly be selected to head a new institute,” wrote one anonymous blogger on the Scientopia Web site. “This would be too much like N.I.D.A. ‘winning.’ ” [emphasis mine] But Dr. Volkow says she is all for the merger, calling the current structure “an artificial division with many missed opportunities,” like having an institute for every particular variety of cancer. Addictions tend to move together, she said, sharing many triggers and a great deal of biology. I'll leave it to my research colleagues in the field to discuss the merits and pitfalls of merging the Institutes. However, I share DM's feeling that the likely loss of Nora Volkow as a director is a huge loss of NIH and for intramural and extramural researchers under her funding purview. What rubbed me the wrong way - and call me an easily-offended blogger - is that DrugMonkey was not properly cited for his important quote. First, he is referred to as an anonymous blogger. A quick look at his blog, however, will reveal that he is an NIH-funded biomedical researcher and has a long track record online of writing about substantive and scholarly issues in the field of substance dependence. Hence, DrugMonkey is pseudonymous - not anonymous. Second, while I appreciate...

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Poppy seed tea can kill you (repost)
Apr13

Poppy seed tea can kill you (repost)

Almost exactly two years ago, I posted the following story at the ScienceBlogs home of Terra Sigillata. I was drawn to revisit this moving, tragic story yesterday after reading a post by organometallic chemist Sharon Neufeldt at I Can Has Science? entitled, Morphine, Heroin, and Lemon Poppy Seed Cake. In honor of Tom's courage and the memory of his son, this repost is a fitting adjunct to Sharon's essay. The following post appeared originally on 31 March 2009 at the ScienceBlogs home of Terra Sigillata. A little over a week ago, we posted on the very sad story of the accidental death of a University of Colorado sophomore from ingesting poppy seed tea. The poppy, Papaver somniferum, is the commercial source for prescription narcotic painkillers such as morphine and codeine. The seeds can be had online and in retail stores. The plants can often be grown if these seeds are not roasted or otherwise sterilized. I had originally suspected that the CU-Boulder student had not used poppy seed tea but rather some other decoction of the plant itself. I had always contended that the seeds did not contain appreciable amounts of morphine, codeine, or other opiate-related molecules. However, it appears that I am wrong. Commenter Tom just shared with me the absolutely heartbreaking story of the death of his 17-year-old son from poppy seed tea: Abel, Just a note regarding your statement: "A previous report has been that the student and friends were boiling up poppy seeds, but I was suspicious as those lack significant amounts of opiates.". Our son died 6 years ago from exactly the same causes as the man in this case. Except that my did in fact use only poppy seeds, in large amounts. Even though there is no Morphine in the seeds, they contain traces from the rest of the plant from the processing/harvesting. We have put up a Web site that includes the coroner's report stating that cause of death was indeed Morphine overdose from poppy seed tea. You can find our Web site at: http://www.poppyseedtea.com/ I spent some time on Tom's site, Poppy Seed Tea Can Kill You, and I just have to say that I am in awe of the effort and courage this gentleman has undertaken to keep other kids and other parents from experiencing the same tragedy. Related specifically to Tom's comment, he has courageously posted a redacted version of the medical examiner's report from 13 Sept 2003. Therein, the toxicology analysis of tissues, blood, and the tea his son ingested are detailed. On the third page, the content of the tea was quantified as having a "high level of morphine,"...

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Bummer SNP doesn’t mix with beer for gastric cancer risk
Apr04

Bummer SNP doesn’t mix with beer for gastric cancer risk

A study from led by investigators at the Catalan Institute of Oncology (ICO) in Barcelona has revealed that high consumption of beer combined with a single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) in the alcohol dehydrogenase gene is associated with a nearly nine-fold increased risk of gastric cancer. Thanks to the lovely folks in the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) press office who recognize science bloggers as press, I was able to sit in on a press conference this morning at the AACR annual meeting in Orlando where several studies were discussed on genetic and environmental factors in cancer risk. Lead author of this particular study, cancer epidemiologist Eric Duell, Ph.D., presented a study of Europeans on alcohol consumption and risk of gastric cancer due to SNPs in the alcohol dehydrogenase gene, ADH1. Recall from biochemistry that ADH1 and other ADH forms catalyze the rate-limiting step in the ethyl alcohol oxidation to acetaldehyde, a known carcinogen. Acetaldehyde, in turn, is oxidized to acetate by aldehyde dehydrogenases (ALDHs). This is an impressive retrospective analysis. The study data was culled the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC), a study of 521,000 individuals aged 35 to 50 who completed diet and alcohol use questionnaires at 23 centers across 10 European countries between 1992 and 1998. A subset, or nested-study, called EurGast examined environmental factors and genetic susceptibility to gastric cancer in 364 cases relative to 1272 controls. When examined as a pool only one SNP was associated with a modest, 30% increased risk for gastric cancer.  Combining this SNP with alcohol consumption data revealed that 60 g EtOH/day increased risk by 75%. (Sixty grams of ethanol per day is the amount present in approximately four 12 oz beers at 5% alcohol by volume, four 5 oz glasses of wine at 12% ABV, or four 1oz shots of 100 proof liquor.) However, the subanalysis of that SNP stratified for alcohol consumption and type of alcohol revealed the big surprise. Consumption as beer, but not wine or liquor, combined with this SNP at both alleles was associated with increased gastric cancer risk of 8.72-fold in this high consumption group (just one allele increased risk by only 33%). This SNP in the ADH1 gene, rs1230025, is an intergenic T→A polymorphism, neither in the promoter or the coding region of the gene. The influence of this SNP has only been evaluated in one study where it was shown to be associated with a lower breath alcohol concentration - and presumably higher acetaldehyde concentration, although not explicitly measured - at late timepoints when normal volunteers are given a challenge of 0.75 g/kg of ethanol. But why is...

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DEA already admits defeat on synthetic marijuana ban?
Mar02

DEA already admits defeat on synthetic marijuana ban?

For those following our most persistent story of the last year or so, you've already heard that the US Drug Enforcement Administration declared as controlled substances five synthetic cannabimimetics present in "herbal incense" products such as K2 Spice, Mr. Nice Guy, and Blaze. These compounds include JWH-018, JWH-073, JWH-200, CP-47,497, and cannabicyclohexanol. With respect to our chemistry audience here, I discussed on New Year's Eve how the DEA has authority to also regulate "analogues" [sic] of compounds that have been assigned to Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. This amendment to the act gives the DEA latitude to prosecute the sale, use, and possession of chemical analogs or compounds pharmacologically-similar to those explicitly listed as controlled substances. What authority decides what's an analog or not is still a mystery to me and was the subject of that post. In anticipation of yesterday's final rule, synthetic marijuana marketers had already been reformulating their products with compounds not named in this rule but existing among the portfolio of retired Clemson University organic chemist, John W. Huffman - namesake of the JWH compounds. (The compound most commonly cited by readers and commenters at my blogs is JWH-250.). As I understood the DEA's authority, sale of these products containing apparently still-legal compounds could still potentially be prosecuted. Well, in a story from Minnesota Public Radio, a DEA spokesperson is already apparently admitting defeat in response to retailers who are stocking products free of the five named compounds: [Last Place On Earth shop owner Jim] Carlson said that with about 210 similar chemicals available, the manufacturers will try to keep one step ahead of the government "Unfortunately he is correct," said Barbara Carreno, a DEA spokeswoman in Washington, who confirmed Tuesday that many suppliers are offering retailers products with new chemicals. "There are many of these substances and we chose five common ones because we don't have the resources to study all of them." Hmmm. Really? As we've also discussed here, several states including North Carolina have put forth legislation that exhaustively bans potentially hundreds of analogs of synthetic cannabimimetics. While the DEA limited their rule to five, it seems odd to me that they are saying, "Oh well," when they seem to have the authority to apply the rule to related compounds. After all of the quibbling and delay since the DEA first announced its intention to enact this rule last November, is anyone else confused by this throwing up of...

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Terra Sig In the News (Hi, Mom!)
Mar01

Terra Sig In the News (Hi, Mom!)

Apologies for the quick note of narcissism but, hey, Mom will be proud of this. Our continued examination of the legal highs industry brought us attention from the online arms of TIME and Nature Chemistry. First, science writer and author, Maia Szalavitz, wrote last week at TIME Healthland about the bans by US states being placed on synthetic cannabimimetics and stimulants (think Spice herbal incense and bath salts, respectively). Early in our days here at CENtral Science, Maia interviewed us for her article and photogallery on natural products and the unusual origins of drugs. She's since revisited with us for the legal highs story. I had a chance to meet her in person at the recent ScienceOnline meeting in Research Triangle Park and have been really impressed with her science writing on topics ranging from human relationships to substance abuse treatment myths. Before her time at TIME, she was one of the very few writers of high scientific rigor at The Huffington Post. Keep an eye on her at TIME Healthland and Twitter (@maiasz) as the Charlie Sheen trainwreck unfolds. Szalavitz is also the co-author - with Bruce Perry, MD, PhD - of the 2010 book, Born for Love: Why Empathy Is Essential -- and Endangered (Amazon link). Our second mention of the last week just popped up this morning on The Sceptical Chymist, the Nature Chemistry blog run by Associate Editor, Dr Neil Withers - most certainly a fine chap but who I have yet to meet in person. However, one could stretch an association between us: Neil earned his MSc and PhD degrees in chemistry at the University of Durham, the British sister city of my Research Triangle Park area home. For their March Blogroll post, Mind-Altering Blogs, Neil asks, "What responsibilities are borne by the creators of compounds that end up as 'legal highs'?" The catalyst was a 5th January editorial in Nature Chemistry Nature from Purdue chemist and pharmacologist, Dr David Nichols on the use of his science by recreational chemists and the indirect contribution of this work to loss of human life. Therein, he quotes from two of our posts (1, 2) together with that of Derek Lowe at In The Pipeline, and an excellent BBC radio program (okay, "programme," Neil) with guest British chemist Andrea Sella. Andrea wrote his own blogpost questioning how Nichols might be "a bit disingenuous" about his concerns given his relationship with chemist, Alexander "Sasha" Shulgin. Slightly off-topic, Neil also refers readers to a lovely series of posts from KJHaxton asking readers to deduce the chemical identity of a common household product. I had the pleasure of meeting Haxton...

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Synthetic marijuana for pharmacists
Feb24

Synthetic marijuana for pharmacists

As a former pharmacy professor, I'm honored that a couple of our old and new blogposts have been picked up by colleagues at the University of Texas at Austin College of Pharmacy. Clinical Assistant Professor and drug information specialist, Jennifer Seltzer, PharmD, and her intern, Tiffany LaDow, PharmD, included us in their online durg information alert entitled, "'Spice' It Up - A New Way to Get High: What Pharmacists Need to Know." This type of distillation by LaDow and Seltzer is representative of exactly the kinds of briefs I used to enjoy writing for the Colorado Pharmacists' Society and are what motivated my establishment of this blog when I was out of academia. I always found that practicing pharmacists appreciated these kinds of timely alerts complete with the basic science underlying these developments. My only suggestion to my pharmacy colleagues is that they might care to embed hyperlinks in their reference list. I'm not being entirely self-serving (although I appreciate the readership). If you're going to go through the trouble to reference blogposts and other peer-reviewed references complete with the URLs, just embed the URLs for easy clicking. In fact, one of the URLs in the reference list has a spacing issue that improperly directs the readers when copying-and-pasting. Nevertheless, thank you for directing Texas pharmacists to our humble little blog! Thanks to TIME Healthland writer and author, Maia Szalavitz While we're on this topic, I also need to thank science journalist, Maia Szalavitz, for citing our work yesterday in the widely-read TIME Healthland blog where she is a regular contributor. "Outlawing 'Legal Highs:' Can Emergency Bans Hinder Drug Development?" addresses the often-overlooked consequences of broadly assigning compounds to Schedule I of the US Controlled Substances Act: Compounds that may not have been adequately studied for therapeutic benefit might never be fully investigated if relegated to this most-restricted status. By definition, Schedule I compounds have no known medical benefit. However, if they are not studied for medical benefit, none will be found. In support of this notion, Szalvitz cited a 2005 Journal of Neuroscience paper from a Spanish neurodegeneration research group led by Dr. Maria de Ceballos at Madrid's Cajal Institute. Following from work showing that senile plaques from Alzheimer's disease patients express cannabinoid CB1 and CB2 receptors, the investigators showed that synthetic cannabinoids can prevent β-amyloid peptide-induced activation of microglial cells, known to produce inflammatory mediators that are neurotoxic. Preventing an major neurodegenerative disease with psychoactive compounds might not necessarily lead to a major therapeutic advance. However, the basic pathophysiology of Alzheimer's disease and other neurological disorders can certainly be advanced by access to these research tools. DEA...

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