Category Archives: Medicine

Psilocybin cuts cancer patient anxiety, depression

Psilocybin, a mind-altering chemical found in “magic mushrooms,” once again proves the most powerful treatment yet for anxiety and depression, this time in cancer patients.

Two parallel studies have demonstrated remarkable effects from the drug, one which also also been shown in other studies to be the most potent pharmacological treatment ever found for alleviating major depression [here, here and here], social isolation, and spousal abuse, as well as in reducing tobacco smoking.

Gee, guess those ‘shrooms really are magic.

We include reports on both of the latest studies, first from the New York University Langone Medical Center:

When combined with psychological counseling, a single dose of a mind-altering compound contained in psychedelic mushrooms significantly lessens mental anguish in distressed cancer patients for months at a time, according to results of a clinical trial led by researchers at NYU Langone Medical Center.

Published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology [access free for the article] online December 1, the study showed that one-time treatment with the hallucinogenic drug psilocybin—whose use required federal waivers because it is a banned substance—quickly brought relief from distress that then lasted for more than 6 months in 80 percent of the 29 study subjects monitored, based on clinical evaluation scores for anxiety and depression.

The NYU Langone-led study was published side by side with a similar study from Johns Hopkins University. Study results were also endorsed in 11 accompanying editorials from leading experts in psychiatry, addiction, and palliative care.

“Our results represent the strongest evidence to date of a clinical benefit from psilocybin therapy, with the potential to transform care for patients with cancer-related psychological distress,” says study lead investigator Stephen Ross, MD, director of substance abuse services in the Department of Psychiatry at NYU Langone.

“If larger clinical trials prove successful, then we could ultimately have available a safe, effective, and inexpensive medication—dispensed under strict control—to alleviate the distress that increases suicide rates among cancer patients,” says Ross, also an associate professor of psychiatry at NYU School of Medicine.

Study co-investigator Jeffrey Guss, MD, a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at NYU Langone, notes that psilocybin has been studied for decades and has an established safety profile. Study participants, he says, experienced no serious negative effects, such as hospitalization or more serious mental health conditions.

Although the neurological benefits of psilocybin are not completely understood, it has been proven to activate parts of the brain also impacted by the signaling chemical serotonin, which is known to control mood and anxiety. Serotonin imbalances have also been linked to depression.

For the study, half of the participants were randomly assigned to receive a 0.3 milligrams per kilogram dose of psilocybin while the rest received a vitamin placebo of 250 milligrams of niacin, known to produce a “rush” that mimics a hallucinogenic drug experience.

Approximately halfway through the study’s monitoring period (after seven weeks), all participants switched treatments. Those who initially received psilocybin took a single dose of placebo, and those who first took niacin, then received psilocybin. Neither patients nor researchers knew who had first received psilocybin or placebo. Guss says, “The randomization, placebo control, and double-blind procedures maximized the validity of the study results.”

One of the key findings was that improvements in clinical evaluation scores for anxiety and depression lasted for the remainder of the study’s extended monitoring period—specifically, eight months for those who took psilocybin first.

Much, much more after the jump: Continue reading

Say goodbye to medical and recreational pot?

It’s a very real possibility, reports the Associated Press:

Weed is winning in the polls, with a solid majority of Americans saying marijuana should be legal. But does that mean the federal government will let dozens of state pot experiments play out? Not by a long shot.

The government still has many means to slow or stop the marijuana train. And President-elect Donald Trump’s nomination of Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions to be the next attorney general has raised fears that the new administration could crack down on weed-tolerant states 20 years after California became the first to legalize medical marijuana.

“We need grown-ups in charge in Washington to say marijuana is not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized. It ought not to be minimized, that it’s in fact a very real danger,” Sessions said during an April Senate hearing.

The Controlled Substances Act bans pot even for medical purposes.

The AP reports goes on to list the tools Sessions has at his disposal once confirmed as the nation’s next Attorney General, including lawsuits to overturn state laws on they grounds that the federal marijuana ban preempts them.

Even without litigation, he could order Drug Enforcement Administration raids to shut down dispensaries and recreational marijuana shops in states which had authorized them.

A third alternative also appears to us: Federal legalization coupled with a revision of a section of the 1937 Marihuana Tax Act declared unconstitutional in 1969.

The act imposed a tax on growers as well as a tax of $100 [$1,690 in today’s

A federal marijuana tax stamp from the original 1937 issue, via Wikipedia.

A federal marijuana tax stamp from the original 1937 issue, via Wikipedia.

dollars] on every ounce sold. The court ruled the tax unconstitutional because the simple act of registering to pay the tax was admission of a crime, because both growers and buyers would be admitting to other federal laws criminalizing cultivation with intent to sell, sales, and possession.

The combination of legalization plus an insanely high tax level, say $10,000 an ounce, and drastic criminal sentences and fines for failure to pay the tax would effectively result in an end to legal pot.

Given Sessions’ temperament and the mood of the GOP controlling both houses of the national legislature, we suspect that the feds will take some action in those famous smoke-filled rooms.

We can personally attest to the value of marijuana as a medicine. A legal prescription from our oncologist ended the nausea accompanying our cancer chemotherapy three years ago, and the demon weed also has proven extremely effective in alleviating flareups of the rheumatoid arthritis that’s afflicted us since we turned 30.

Map of the day: The Zika epidemic’s spread

And the global health emergency has been declared at an end.

From the latest World Health Organization Zika Situation Report [click on the image to enlarge]:

blog-zika-mapMore on the declared end to the crisis from Reuters:

The World Health Organization on Friday declared that Zika no longer constitutes an international emergency, but it stressed a need for a long-term effort to address the virus, which has been linked to birth defects and neurological complications.

Officials on WHO’s Emergency Committee made clear the Zika still constitutes a global public health threat. They warned the virus, which has been found in 60 countries since the outbreak was identified last year in Brazil, will continue to spread where mosquitoes that carry the virus are present.

Removing the international emergency designation will put Zika in a class with other diseases, such as dengue, that pose serious risks and require continued research, including efforts to develop effective vaccines.

But some public health experts worried that losing the “international emergency” label could slow research into the virus, which continues to cause infections in the United States and elsewhere.

WHO in February declared Zika a public health emergency of international concern – a designation under international law that compels countries to report outbreaks. The moved was part of an effort to determine if Zika was linked to reports in Brazil of the severe birth defect microcephaly and the neurological disorder Guillain-Barre Syndrome. Traditionally, Zika had only been thought to cause mild symptoms.

Quote of the day II: The fuel for populist outrage

Populism is a truly democratic force, a rising up of the people to seek what the Both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States term a redress of grievances.

And the people have plenty of grievances.

In the general election, of the only two candidates to draw the attention of the mainstream media only one addressed those grievances. and it was the candidate of the right.

In the primaries, the Democrats had one candidate who addressed those grievances, though from a diametrically opposite perspective, but,m as those Wikileaked emails reveal, his opponent was the hand-picked minion of the same forces that had raised popular outrage.

And in our gerrymandered political landscape, the populist won, albeit a populist whose subsequent actions have proven him to be the opposite of what he had professed, with his appointments coming from the same sectors he had excoriated during the campaign [or at least some of the pronouncements, given the utterly self-contradictory nature of many his his avowals].

An interesting take of the forces generating that populist outrage comes from political scientist and sociologist R.W. Johnson, emeritus fellow of Magdalen College at Oxford University, writing in the London Review of Books:

Between 1948 and 1973, productivity rose by 96.7 per cent and real wages by 91.3 per cent, almost exactly in step. Those were the days of plentiful hard-hat jobs in steel and the auto industry when workers could afford to send their children to college and see them rise into the middle class. But from 1973 to 2015 – the era of globalisation, when many of those jobs vanished abroad – productivity rose 73.4 per cent while wages rose by only 11.1 per cent. Trump argued that this was caused by unrestricted illegal immigration and the off-shoring of jobs, though these were only partial causes: the erosion of trade unions probably accounts for 25 to 30 per cent of the net loss in earning power. The 11 million unauthorised immigrants in the US form only part of the vast mass of non-unionised labour competing for jobs.

In any mass democracy, this would spell trouble, but it was masked for some time by more women going out to work, creating two-income households, and later by many workers taking two or three jobs. Sooner or later the stress of such a downward spiral had to be felt and the results are more and more visible. Drive across America and you will notice who operates the pumps at the gas stations. Over and over again it is white men and women in their seventies, pensioners eking out a few more dollars. Such people were unlikely to be impressed by the parade of celebrities at Hillary Clinton’s rallies – Beyoncé, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez, Bruce Springsteen etc. The French use the expression ‘la richesse insultante’. What does it mean for someone on social security to walk past shops with watches or shoes or dresses marked in the thousands of dollars? Each price ticket says: ‘You’re just nothing, you’re a loser.’

There is no sign of any halt in the trend towards greater inequality (and a Trump victory, bringing tax cuts for the rich, will only increase it). Since 2000 the wages paid to college graduates have fallen. For men wages have risen slightly but for women they have plunged, producing an overall fall. The situation at the bottom is more serious still: the worst paid 10 per cent saw the biggest drop in wages between 1979 and 2013. At the same time, employers have slashed health benefits. In 2011, only 50 per cent of high school graduates – the peculiar America-speak for those who didn’t have a higher education or enter the middle class – got them (down from 67 per cent in 2000) and only 76 per cent of college graduates, down from 84 per cent.

Another telling figure. On average in 1965 an American CEO earned 20 times what a worker did. By 2013, on average, the number was 296 times. Marx foresaw ever greater concentrations of capital accompanied by the pauperisation of the working class. But the result has been the opposite of what Marx predicted: the rise of right-wing demagoguery. The elemental nature of this working and middle-class revolt explains why much of Trump’s support was impervious to his crass behaviour and his wish to give offence. Things that might have sunk earlier candidates did not sink him. Clinton spent scores of millions of dollars on negative ads about Trump, with no apparent effect at all.

Drug-resistant staph plagues hog farm workers

From Chartbin, a look a the world’s carnivorous habits using the latest available data from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

From Chartbin, a look a the world’s carnivorous habits using the latest available data from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

Factory farmed meat has become the rule, rather than the exception, when it comes to the food we eat at home and in most restaurants. Called Intensive animal farming by Big Agra, factory farming uses dense populations of animals, confined in shed or pens, forced to stands surrounded ankle deep in their own feces and urine,

Because bodily waste serves as a perfect breeding ground for bacteria, beef, poultry, and hog farmers feed or inject their livestock with ongoing doses of antibiotics.

But the combination of dense populations, rampant bacterial growth in waste-soaked soil, and the process of natural selection virtually guarantees that bacteria, with their reproductive rates thousands of times faster than that of humans, will evolve to resist the drugs designed to kill them.

The result is a panoply of organisms like methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aurea, or MRSA, better known to the mass media as flesh-eating bacteria capable of standing off what has been the antibiotic of last resort when all others have failed.

One of the meats most intensively factory-farmed is pork, asn thius image from Farm Sanctuary is an example of the origins of your morning bacon and evening pork chops:


So the next logical question is this: Does working on a factory farm, the perfect storm of conditions for breeding MRSA, result in higher rates of MRSA infections for workers?

A new study looks at that question, using hog farm workers, and the answers are just what you’d expect.

From the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health:

New Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health-led research suggests that some workers at industrial hog production facilities are not only carrying livestock-associated, antibiotic-resistant bacteria in their noses, but may also be developing skin infections from these bacteria.

The findings are published Nov. 16 in PLOS ONE [open access].

“Before this study, we knew that many hog workers were carrying livestock-associated and multidrug-resistant Staphylococcus aureus strains in their noses, but we didn’t know what that meant in terms of worker health,” says study leader Christopher D. Heaney, PhD, an assistant professor at the Bloomberg School’s departments of Environmental Health and Engineering, and Epidemiology. “It wasn’t clear whether hog workers carrying these bacteria might be at increased risk of infection. This study suggests that carrying these bacteria may not always be harmless to humans.”

Because the study was small, the researchers say there is a need to confirm the findings, but the results highlight the need to identify ways to protect workers from being exposed to these bacteria on the job, and to take a fresh look at antibiotic use and resistance in food animal production. Hogs are given antibiotics in order to grow them more quickly for sale, and the overuse of antibiotics has been linked to the development of bacteria that are resistant to many of the drugs used to treat staph infections.

The researchers, involving collaborators at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the Rural Empowerment Association for Community Help in Warsaw, NC, and the Statens Serum Institut in Copenhagen, enrolled 103 hog workers in North Carolina and 80 members of their households (either children or other adults) to have their noses swabbed to determine whether they were carrying strains of S. aureus in their nasal passages. Each person was also shown pictures of skin and soft tissue infections caused by S. aureus and asked if they had developed those symptoms in the previous three months.

The researchers found that 45 of 103 hog workers (44 percent) and 31 of 80 household members (39 percent) carried S. aureus in their noses. Nearly half of the S. aureus strains being carried by hog workers were mutidrug-resistant and nearly a third of S. aureus strains being carried by household members were. Six percent of the hog workers and 11 percent of the children who lived with them reported a recent skin and soft tissue infection (no adult household members reported such infections).

Continue reading

Depression rate soars among adolescent girls

Rising rates of depression among the adolescents and the young. From the study.

Rising rates of depression among the adolescents and the young. From the study.

A sobering new study reveals a growing mental health crisis, as depression rates steadily rise among America’s adolescents, with the increases most pronounced among young women.

We suspect the causes are, ultimately economic, sparked by the Great Recession and the surge in sexist and racist rhetoric encouraged by the right wing of American politics to deflect attention from the unprecedented rise to power of the plutocracy and their elected and appointed shills at all levels of governance.

As part of the deflection strategy, a brilliance piece of semantic jujitsu has rebranded civility as political correctness, enabling the resurgence of the open expression of behaviors, both semantic and somatic, once considered beyond the pale in the wake of civil rights and feminist revolutions that began in the middle 1950’s.

Targeting, the ongoing and growing assault on reproductive rights, and the radical rise of the national wealth into the hands of a few, soaring personal debt levels, and the loss of hope to live better than one’s parents, are good reasons to be depressed. And to be angry and engaged in the struggle to win back their stolen futures. . .

From Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health:

The rate of adolescents reporting a recent bout of clinical depression grew by 37 percent over the decade ending in 2014, with one in six girls reporting an episode in the past year, new Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health-led research suggests.

The findings, published online Nov. 14 in the journal Pediatrics, highlight a need to focus on the mental well-being of young people and match those in peril with mental health professionals.

“This shows us there are a growing number of untreated adolescents with depression and that we are making few inroads in getting mental health care to this population,” says study leader Ramin Mojtabai, MD, PhD, MPH, a professor in the Department of Mental Health at the Bloomberg School. “It is imperative that we find ways to reach these teenagers and help them manage their depression.”

Suicide rates have been increasing in recent years, particularly among adolescent girls and young women. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this month reported that suicide rates among American middle school students – those aged 10 to 14 – were higher than rates of death from motor vehicle crashes in that age group.

For the study, the researchers analyzed data from the 2005 to 2014 National Surveys on Drug Use and Health on adolescents and young adults to examine trends in “major depressive episodes” over the previous year. Major depressive episodes, also known as clinical depression, occur when someone develops a depressed mood or a loss of interest or pleasure in daily activities along with other depressive symptoms consistently for at least two weeks.

Overall, 176,245 adolescents aged 12 to 17 and 180,459 adults aged 18 to 25 were involved in the annual study between 2005 and 2014. Participants were told about symptoms of depression and were asked whether they had experienced them in the prior year. In 2005, 8.7 percent of adolescents reported major depressive episodes in the past year; the figure was 11.3 percent in 2014. The percentage had remained relatively steady from 2005 to 2011, but grew from 2012 through 2014.

Among girls, the prevalence of major depressive episodes increased from 13.1 percent in 2005 to 17.3 percent in 2014. White adolescents and young adults were also more likely than non-whites to experience these episodes. Among young adults, the prevalence of these episodes grew from 8.8 percent in 2005 to 9.6 percent in 2014, though the increase was only found in those ages 18 to 20.

The findings were based only on self-reporting, not on clinical diagnoses. The researchers controlled for substance abuse and socioeconomic factors.

There were few significant changes in the use of mental health treatment among those adolescents and young adults with depression. In adolescents, after 2011, there were small increases in visits to specialty mental health providers, the use of inpatient and day treatment centers and medication. These increases, however, were not enough to keep up with the increases in those with clinical depression.

The increase in some treatment could be related to the expansion of health insurance under the Affordable Care Act and mental health parity legislation, though the future of health insurance expansion is in doubt following the recent election of a new U.S. president.

The researchers say it is unclear what is driving the rise in major depressive episodes, particularly among girls. They say adolescent girls may have been exposed to a greater degree of depression risk factors in recent years. Cyberbullying, for example, may have increased more in girls, as studies have shown that they use mobile phones more frequently and intensively than boys and problematic mobile phone use among young people has been linked to depressed mood.

The results coincided with a major economic downturn, but there has not been an increase in the prevalence of clinical depression among adults over the period and this study found no increase among those age 21 to 25.

“The growing number of depressed adolescents and young adults who do not receive any mental health treatment calls for renewed outreach efforts, especially in school and college health centers, counseling services and pediatric practices, where many of the untreated adolescents and adults with depression may be detected and managed,” Mojtabai says.

National Trends in the Prevalence and Treatment of Depresson in Adolescents and Young Adults”[open access]  was written by Ramin Mojtabai, Mark Olfson and Beth Han.

More austerian misery on the Mediterranean

In the European Unions, Great Recession bailouts were contingent on harsh memoranda from the Troika — the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank, and the European Commission — documents spelling out harsh conditions, ranging from mandated selloffs of ports, transportation systems, and other state resources, as well as those pay, pension, and healthcare benefits.

The hardest hit countries in the European Union were the PIIGS, Portgual, Italy, Ireland, Greece, and Spain.

Two PIIGS are feeling the pain, one physically.

Spanish unions battle the Troika.


Spain’s two biggest unions said on Thursday that they “firmly opposed” measures demanded by Brussels to reduce the public deficit and demanded a hike in the minimum wage.

“We firmly reject the adjustment of €5.5 billion demanded by the European Commission,” the head of the UGT union, Pepe Alvarez, told a joint news conference with Ignacio Fernandez Toxo who heads the nation’s biggest union Commissiones Obreras.

Spain had agreed with Brussels to reduce its public deficit from 5.1 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2015 to 4.6 percent this year and 3.1 percent in 2017.

But the draft 2017 budget which Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s conservative government sent to Brussels last month forecasts a public deficit of 3.6 percent this year.

The European Commission responded by demanding that Madrid adopt additional measures to lower the deficit down to 3.1 percent, which will require roughly 5.5 billion euros ($6.1 billion) in spending cuts and tax increases.

The pain is physical in Greece

The Hellenic republic was the hardest hit of the PIIGS, and employment is still at stunningly high levels, with nearly half of Greek young people jobless and unemployment rates rising among older workers.

The latest numbers, released Thursday by the Hellenic Statistical Authority:

Austerity measures have been notably harsh, and the anti-austerity Syriza-led government surrendered to the Troika, inflicting still more pension, pay, and healthcare benefits whiles selling off more of the commons.

Just what impact the Troika has had can be illustrated in one sobering story from Kathimerini:

Spending on dental care in Greece declined by up to 64 percent between 2009 and 2015, according to data compiled by the country’s statistical authority which also showed that overall health spending fell by slightly over 19 percent over the same period.

According to ELSTAT, in 2009 Greeks spent a total of 1.95 billion euros on oral care (an average 473.4 euros per household). Six years later, spending had dropped to 701 million euros (an average of 169.5 euros per household).

Experts say that pressed by the ongoing financial crisis, Greeks chose to sacrifice oral care in favor of less flexible health spending such as medicine and hospital treatment.

Experts warn that the situation is made worse by the deterioration of public dental care service which has been hit by shortages in staff and equipment.

So the cash keeps flowing out of the country, while pain and suffering increases.

So is the power of the lootocrats.