Tag Archives | medical science

Ketamine (Special K) May Be Best Medicine For Depression

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Photo: Psychonaught (CC)

Amazingly enough the powerful hallucinogen ketamine (the horse tranquilizer sometimes known as Special K) is being touted as a serious and better alternative to the SSRIs like Prozac. Report from the New York Times:

It is either the most exciting new treatment for depression in years or it is a hallucinogenic club drug that is wrongly being dispensed to desperate patients in a growing number of clinics around the country.

It is called ketamine — or Special K, in street parlance.

While it has been used as an anesthetic for decades, small studies at prestigious medical centers like Yale, Mount Sinai and the National Institute of Mental Health suggest it can relieve depression in many people who are not helped by widely used conventional antidepressants like Prozac or Lexapro.

And the depression seems to melt away within hours, rather than the weeks typically required for a conventional antidepressant.

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Treating Depression With Magic Mushrooms

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Psilocybe semilanceata 6514. Photo by Arp (CC)

When the New York Times runs an op-ed seriously suggesting the use of psilocybin (a/k/a magic mushrooms) for treatment of depression, one suspects a tipping point may have been reached in the struggle for psychedelics to be taken seriously as having medical worth:

I tried magic mushrooms out of curiosity and in middle age. I’d been on the amateur mycological circuit for a couple of years, but hallucinogenic species were rarely mentioned at the foraging expeditions and conferences I attended. It’s almost as if they were the black sheep of mycology: embarrassing to serious taxonomy jocks. I read some books on the subject, but most were tripper’s guides that didn’t utilize, um, specific language or current science. Psychoactive mushrooms had been in a kind of scientific ghetto ever since they were criminalized in 1968. But now the drug derived from the mushroom, psilocybin, is finally being re-examined for its medical applications.

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This Is Your Brain on Drugs

A Harvard-Northwestern study has found differences between the brains of young adult marijuana smokers and those of nonsmokers. In these composite scans, colors represent the differences — in the shape of the amygdala, top, and nucleus accumbens. Yellow indicates areas that are most different, red the least. Credit The Journal of Neuroscience

A Harvard-Northwestern study has found differences between the brains of young adult marijuana smokers and those of nonsmokers. In these composite scans, colors represent the differences — in the shape of the amygdala, top, and nucleus accumbens. Yellow indicates areas that are most different, red the least. Credit The Journal of Neuroscience

Want to know what your brain looks like when you smoke weed? If so you’re in luck because some scientists at Harvard and Northwestern University have taken photographs of marujuana-affected brain scans and analyzed what happens. Report via the New York Times:

The gray matter of the nucleus accumbens, the walnut-shaped pleasure center of the brain, was glowing like a flame, showing a notable increase in density. “It could mean that there’s some sort of drug learning taking place,” speculated Jodi Gilman, at her computer screen at the Massachusetts General Hospital-Harvard Center for Addiction Medicine. Was the brain adapting to marijuana exposure, rewiring the reward system to demand the drug?

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Google Nanotech Pill Will Search Your Body For Disease Detection

There’s an emerging theme in contemporary science fiction of medical nanotechnology running amok with disastrous consequences for humanity. The inevitable science fact is catching up fast with fiction and no surprise, Google is among the first mega-corporations working on a nanotech pill that will run around the human body detecting problems (and no doubt eventually “fixing” them). From PC Mag:

Google X is working on another moonshot: a nanoparticle-filled pill intended to help doctors identify and prevent fatal diseases.

Andrew Conrad, head of the Life Sciences team at the Google X research lab, told attendees at the The Wall Street Journal’s WSJD Live conference (video below) that he wants to “functionalize” nanoparticles and “make them do what we want.”

These particles are less than one-thousandth the size of a red blood cell, and small enough that millions can fit within a grain of sand – or the human body. But don’t expect to start swallowing nanoparticle-infused pills during your next visit to the doctor.

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Origins of HIV Revealed

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ElecMicro of HIV Retrovirus serum isolate Samp-HM47. Picture attributed to uLtRa_GoLiAtH (CC)

It’s never been completely clear how the HIV virus came about, giving rise to various conspiracy theories about it being man-made. The Independent reports on a new study revealing a “perfect storm” of factors giving rise to the virus’s emergence:

A “perfect storm” of factors that came together in colonial Africa early last century led to the spread of Aids in the human population and eventually a full-blown pandemic infecting more than 75 million people worldwide, a study has found.

A genetic analysis of thousands of individual viruses has confirmed beyond reasonable doubt that HIV first emerged in Kinshasa, the capital of the Belgian Congo, in about 1920 from where it spread via the colonial railway network to other parts of central Africa.

Scientists believe the findings have finally nailed the origin of the Aids pandemic to a single source, a colonial-era city then called Leopoldville which had become the biggest urban centre in Central Africa and a bustling focus for trade, including a market in wild “bush meat” captured from the nearby forests.

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Testing LSD On Humans – You’re Next

Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris (Photo: Twitter)

Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris (Photo: Twitter)

Dr Robin Carhart-Harris is the first scientist in over 40 years to test LSD on humans. He talks to The Independent‘s Laurence Phelan about fighting the establishment, battling preconceptions and breaking down egos:

On a hot evening in June, in a crowded room above a London pub, Dr Robin Carhart-Harris, a research associate in the Centre for Neuropsychopharma-cology at Imperial College, is giving a public talk about his work. He is having to make himself heard over the boozy commotion downstairs, where people are watching Chile put Spain out of the World Cup. But there is a slightly giddy atmosphere in the function room, too, because the doctor’s area of research is as exciting as it is taboo: he is investigating the brain effects and potential therapeutic uses of psychedelic drugs.

Carhart-Harris is the first person in the UK to have legally administered doses of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) to human volunteers since the Misuse of Drugs Act of 1971, and his presentation climaxes with a slide showing something no one else has seen before: an as-yet unpublished cross-sectional image of the brain of a volunteer who was in an fMRI scanner while tripping on acid.

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You Are Not Nearly Scared Enough About Ebola

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2014 West Africa Ebola virus outbreak situation map by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) via Wikimedia Commons.

“Experimental drugs and airport screenings will do nothing to stop this plague. If Ebola hits Lagos, we’re in real trouble,” says Laurie Garrett at Foreign Policy:

Attention, World: You just don’t get it.

You think there are magic bullets in some rich country’s freezers that will instantly stop the relentless spread of the Ebola virus in West Africa? You think airport security guards in Los Angeles can look a traveler in the eyes and see infection, blocking that jet passenger’s entry into La-la-land? You believe novelist Dan Brown’s utterly absurd description of a World Health Organization that has a private C5-A military transport jet and disease SWAT team that can swoop into outbreaks, saving the world from contagion?

Wake up, fools. What’s going on in West Africa now isn’t Brown’s silly Inferno scenario — it’s Steven Soderbergh’s movie Contagion, though without a modicum of its high-tech capacity.

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Google’s New Moonshot Project: the Human Body

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A brave new world beckons as Google boldly goes towards a new frontier… From the Wall Street Journal:

Google Inc. has embarked on what may be its most ambitious and difficult science project ever: a quest inside the human body.

Called Baseline Study, the project will collect anonymous genetic and molecular information from 175 people—and later thousands more—to create what the company hopes will be the fullest picture of what a healthy human being should be.

The early-stage project is run by Andrew Conrad, a 50-year-old molecular biologist who pioneered cheap, high-volume tests for HIV in blood-plasma donations.

Dr. Conrad joined Google X—the company’s research arm—in March 2013, and he has built a team of about 70-to-100 experts from fields including physiology, biochemistry, optics, imaging and molecular biology.

Other mass medical and genomics studies exist. But Baseline will amass a much larger and broader set of new data. The hope is that this will help researchers detect killers such as heart disease and cancer far earlier, pushing medicine more toward prevention rather than the treatment of illness.

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How To Bring the Dead Back to Life

US Navy 061201-N-4133B-115 Cmdr. George Linville and hospital corpsman Kevin Wothrich perform a procedure in the operating room aboard USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76)Can it really be this easy? BBC Future explores a new way to bring back dead – or at least almost dead – humans to life:

A radical procedure that involves replacing a patient’s blood with cold salt water could retrieve people from the brink of death, says David Robson.

“When you are at 10C, with no brain activity, no heartbeat, no blood – everyone would agree that you’re dead,” says Peter Rhee at the University of Arizona, Tucson. “But we can still bring you back.”

Rhee isn’t exaggerating. With Samuel Tisherman, at the University of Maryland, College Park, he has shown that it’s possible to keep bodies in ‘suspended animation’ for hours at a time. The procedure, so far tested on animals, is about as radical as any medical procedure comes: it involves draining the body of its blood and cooling it more than 20C below normal body temperature.

Once the injury is fixed, blood is pumped once again through the veins, and the body is slowly warmed back up.

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Women and Black People Have Lower Pain Tolerance

In Line at the Medical Centre (7989958032)Lower pain tolerance than who you might well ask. Why white males, of course, the people that the medical and pharmaceutical industries serve. The Boston Globe reports that “Women are twice as likely as men to suffer from migraines; African-Americans were 1.4 times as likely as whites to report recent pain that interfered with their lives; both white and black test subjects rate blacks’ pain as less intense than whites; women are up to 25 percent less likely than men to receive opiod painkillers when they come to the ER with acute abdominal pain”:

If you stopped the average person in an emergency room and asked why she’s there—not just her guess at the problem, but what really motivated her to show up—the number one answer would be “pain.”

For all that modern medicine has learned about disease and treatment, it’s alleviating pain that still lies at the heart of the profession.

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