Archive for March, 2013

Cancer patients with acid smiles

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013

The New York Times reported last year that psychedelic drugs were being trialled in cancer treatment – not to encourage remission, but to help people face their own mortality. Far from being smacked up to the eyeballs to achieve this anxiety release, patients undertaking the trials experienced long-lasting benefits in terms of mood and attitude towards life – and death – from a single administration of psilocybin, the psychotropic substance found in magic mushrooms .

When taken in controlled conditions which encourage the participants to think about their lives and those they share them with, an emotional catharsis appears to take place. Subjects report being able to experience the emotions felt by their loved ones relating to their illness, and a spiritual connection to the world which enables them to see life as part of a process, therefore removing the fear of death. Effects were immediate, and scores on depression and anxiety scales were consistently lower at six-month follow-up.

Now this research is only small-scale, but if you cast your mind back, some of you will have read about David Nutt(bag)’s campaign to enable LSD and MDMA (esctacy) to be used in clinical trials to look at their efficacy in treating depression. Now I acknowledge that it’s probably the fault of the media, and it’s not that I contest what he has to say – I just find myself frustrated that I can see the world isn’t ready for his outlandish statements, so why can’t he? The man needs Alistair Campbell.

However, below the media hysteria that hangs precariously off his every word like a failed snot-rocket, are some incredibly interesting points, which not only support the research findings around treating the fear of imminent death, but have some potentially broader-reaching implications. Psilocybin, for example, has been found to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety disorders, by shutting down parts of the brain associated with the unhelpful and repetitive thought processes on which the illnesses feed. It has also given some insight into the neuropsychology of schizophrenia. MDMA appears to enable post-traumatic stress sufferers to revisit problematic memories without experiencing overwhelming fear. It seems that the drugs associated with free love may in fact be capable of breaking introspective thought patterns and giving us back our sense of perspective. (Which, let’s face it, most of us in the western world would benefit from.)

Now I am not suggesting that wigging oneself out on pills and mushrooms everyday is a health intervention. Far from it. We all know the pie-eyed star-gazers who went a bit too far for a bit too long and, after a brief spell of drug-induced psychosis, now shuffle around talking to themselves, looking constantly surprised, devising conspiracy theories about the Government. Too much of these substances can cause long-lasting damage to the grey stuff. But who is to say that measured doses of these active ingredients couldn’t have their place in mental health treatment? Or, for that matter, addiction treatment?

Anyone who has ever had cognitive behavioural therapy, solution-focused therapy, hypnotherapy – pretty much any psychological intervention – will know that the their fundamental bases are breaking unhelpful, engrained thinking patterns. If you can help people lift their heads to see above these negative cycles, they realise that life doesn’t have to be like this. Now if a controlled dose of psilocybin can achieve this, a) the massive financial burden of treatment for depression, anxiety and addiction would be minimalised, and b) I’d be out of a job. Sounds like a plan.

In his usual ‘all right David, tone it down a bit’ way, Professor Nutt has claimed that it’s “outrageous” and “a scandal” that further studies into this have not been done, but I think he has a profound point – the only thing complicating this research taking place is the illegality of the substances involved.

Whether or not you agree with decriminalising drugs as a whole, I think there can be little argument that these substances should not be made available to medical researchers. And this is in a country where George Osborne is making beer cheaper. (How thick and easily-pleased do you actually think we plebs are, George?) I increasingly struggle to understand the arbitrary disparity between the Government’s treatment of different substances… Maybe I’m going a bit Nutts.

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Theresa May’s Skirt

Tuesday, March 12th, 2013

It’s hard not to pull another ‘Theresa May or may not’ pun in light of this week’s news, but I think we can all be pretty confident that impartiality will not play a part in her ‘what works study’, and so we might be best steering away from language that implies an absence of foregone conclusion. After all, “The Government does not believe there is a case for fundamentally rethinking the UK’s approach to drugs”, and despite the recent peer review which suggested otherwise, “a royal commission is simply not necessary” (with ‘simply’ here meaning ‘in my opinion, and I hold a position of great power, so frankly the rest of you can go fuck yourselves’).

It doesn’t sit comfortably with me making the point that Theresa doesn’t have children of her own, as it drives me mad that every prominent female figure has their personal life and physical appearance analysed, while their male counterparts can walk around looking like someone ran over their fat faces, sticking bits of themselves into anything that will let them (and some things that don’t), and no-one bats an eyelid or feels the need to pass comment. However, on the issue of drugs, I can’t help thinking that being a parent might make Theresa somewhat less glaringly out-of-touch with what is happening on the street, if ya get me, blood. If she had a teenager with friends on Facebook that used words she didn’t understand, or had to carefully vet nights out to ensure none of those state school kids were going to be at this dance – or even, god forbid, had a child who disclosed cannabis use but hadn’t developed schizophrenia or grown another set of arms in their sleep (probably for stealing) – she might be less focused on figures showing heroin and crack use to be at their lowest levels, and more on the scary prevalence of ‘legal highs’.

However, her claim that she will “review new evidence of what works in other countries” is nothing more than an exact word-for-word restating of a commitment made in her 2010 drug strategy. It is not hard to see through the flimsy smokescreen that this is, in fact, a statement that they are going to do nothing – other than funding some Lib Dem to go on a jaunt, despite better evidence being available via academic studies on the internet. (“Best send one of theirs, David – gets one of them out of the way for now, focuses the matter on opinions instead of hard facts, and means we can completely ignore his findings whilst avoiding those ghastly ‘party divided’ headlines.”) The action falls short of offering anything that wasn’t already promised three years ago, but is released as a news story for no other reason than to spin some yarn that the Government is doing something, anything, in response to public and peer pressure to genuinely review drug policy.

You might think it’s a clever skirt, Theresa, but us plebs aren’t quite a thick as you might like to think. Nice legs though, love.

Guns don’t kill people, tablets do

Friday, March 1st, 2013

My last post considered the over-prescribing of psychoactive medications. Your responses suggested that I was not alone in my belief that highly-addictive painkillers and sedatives are prescribed far too easily, for a specific symptom instead of for the benefit of the person as a whole, and sometimes causing side-effects worse than the original complaint.

There is currently a debate raging in the US which queries the links between psychiatric medication and violence. Various articles link recent shootings to prescription medication, and a substantial piece of research (carried out by doctors who have all made money by testifying this in court, ahem) has been published which looks at acts or threats of violence carried reported as serious adverse drug events to the American Government. This research found that drugs most likely to lead to violent behaviour were varenicline (a stopping smoking aid), antidepressants, some ADHD drugs, and good old sedatives. (Interestingly, for geeks like myself, it seemed to be drugs that affected dopamine or serotonin levels.)

Now, as you know, I have some issues with taking a drug to ‘take things away’. They don’t go away, they just get hidden, and along with them often come an array of unexpected and potentially damaging side-effects. I got stuck on the Pill aged 12 by my GP to ‘regularise’ my periods, and it was only when I decided to stop taking it, aged 24, that I realised – hormones make me MENTAL. Information I would probably have benefitted from in my teens.

However, even by my standards, the articles from the US make some hefty claims. One article quotes a neurosurgeon and a security expert, both of whom, in the wake of recent shootings, point towards antidepressants as potential causes for this impulsive and violent behaviour.

Now I think that the suggestion of a causal link may be somewhat presumptuous. Even if there is a link between some medication and violence, how can the medication and not the original complaint be implicated? One of the diagnostic criteria for depression is ‘recurrent thoughts of death’ (although admittedly normally one’s own death). I’m not saying depressives are prone to killing sprees (or at least not ones that can’t be controlled by thumbs and forefingers) – I’m just saying that one’s thoughts do tend to go a bit squiffy when clinically depressed.

Another queriable factor is the number of Americans who take mental health medication. Anyone who saw Louis Theroux’s crazy documentary ‘America’s Medicated Kids’ will know that psychiatric meds are not just for adults over there, oh no, over there they’re smashing them down little kids too. One family he interviewed had their 10-year old son on separate medications for ADHD, bipolar (which, I’m pleased to say, is still not really used as a label for children in the UK… yet), and ‘impulsiveness’ – which isn’t even a psychiatric diagnosis. His mother was on antidepressants and his father was on medication for bipolar, which he “may or may not have”. From what I can gather, they’re all bang at the happy pills over there.

Now, if mental health medication caused violence, this is the equation I think we should be seeing in America: everyone on medication + shit loads of guns everywhere = a serious amount of death. When I see the news, I definitely see some death, but not shit loads. Maybe I’m just not looking hard enough. Not a massive death fan.

However, some of the articles I have read claim that the lack of focus in the news on the link between psychiatric meds and violent behaviour is because it detracts from the current anti-gun agenda. I have to say this seems a somewhat naive standpoint – no matter how mad they are, no-one has ever, as far as I’m aware, committed mass murder with a pack of Prozac.

It seems far more likely to me that the lack of coverage on this issue is as a result of back-handers to the media by the ever-present and largely omnipotent drug companies. As we all know, whether it’s doctors getting sent on golf weekends for over-prescribing sedatives, or news editors cutting stories that implicate antidepressant use in murder cases – drugs reps drive very nice cars.

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