Category Archives: research

MSU study finds surprises about drug use

Conducting an economic analysis of drug use is a particularly difficult endeavor, but for Michigan State University professor and economist Siddharth Chandra, it just meant taking a look at the history books.

“You can’t simply go to Wal-Mart and look at the sticker price, and people don’t want to talk to you because drugs are illegal and they think they’ll get in trouble, ” Chandra said. “Our study is the first time the subject of how populations of consumers switch between drugs is being studied with data considered reliable.”1pillst.jpg

To find reliable economic data on drug use, Chandra, also the director of the Asian Studies Center at MSU, had to look back to early 20th century India, when the region was still part of the British Empire.

“One hundred years ago these products were legal. In British India the government was actually selling these things to the public, and they kept meticulous records,” Chandra said.

In his study – the first of its kind – Chandra pored through stacks of 100-year-old ledgers, called Excise Administration Reports, kept by the governments of the various provinces of India. Interpreting these data, he found surprising results about the economics of drug use behaviors. Despite the stark differences in the effects of opium vs. cannabis on the human body, the study shows that users would switch between the two drugs when the price of one went up – in economics, a phenomenon called substitution.

“The time, place and context are different, but the phenomenon is there. You might think consumers would treat them differently,” Chandra said. “But just because the two drugs used are very different, doesn’t mean people won’t switch.”

Opium, used legally to make the pain medicine morphine and illegally to make the drug heroin, is a highly addictive and potent depressant with potentially lethal side effects. Cannabis, also known as marijuana, is a less potent drug that produces a sense of relaxation and euphoria when used, usually through smoking or ingestion. These differences only came into consideration when analyzing cannabis in its weakest form, a drug called bhang, which consumers would not substitute for the more potent opium.

“There are many policy implications for these results,” Chandra said. “Targeting a particular drug with policies and enforcement might backfire.”

Chandra pointed to the epidemic of heroin, a product of opium that is relatively inexpensive and is devastating some communities in the United States.

“Many people know someone who has been affected by heroin – it is a very dangerous drug,” Chandra said. “But prohibiting harmful drugs selectively can be ineffective. Consumers may switch.”

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Strong placebo response thwarts painkiller trials

Interesting article, placebo’s as effective as meds.

Drug companies have a problem: they are finding it ever harder to get painkillers through clinical trials. But this isn’t necessarily because the drugs are getting worse. An extensive analysis of trial data1 has found that responses to sham treatments have become stronger over time, making it harder to prove a drug’s advantage over placebo.

The change in response to placebo treatments for pain, discovered by researchers in Canada, holds true only for US clinical trials. “We were absolutely floored when we found out,” says Jeffrey Mogil, who directs the pain-genetics lab at McGill University in Montreal and led the analysis. Simply being in a US trial and receiving sham treatment now seems to relieve pain almost as effectively as many promising new drugs. Mogil thinks that as US trials get longer, larger and more expensive, they may be enhancing participants’ expectations of their effectiveness.

See the entire article here:  http://www.nature.com/news/strong-placebo-response-thwarts-painkiller-trials-1.18511?%3Fftcamp=crm%2Femail%2F%2Fnbe%2FFirstFTEurope%2Fproduct

Research Identifies How Stress Triggers Drug Relapse

Recent research from Brown University could pave the way for new methods of treatment for those recovering from addiction. Researchers identified an exact brain region in rats where the neural steps leading to drug relapse take place, allowing them to block a crucial step in the process that leads to stress-induced relapse.

Prior research has established that acute stress can lead to drug abuse in vulnerable individuals and increase the risk of relapse in recovering addicts. But the exact way that stress triggers the neural processes leading to relapse is still not clearly understood. The Brown study provides new insights on how stress triggers drug abuse, and could lead to more effective treatments for addiction.

According to the study, stress has significant effects on plasticity of the synapses on dopamine neurons in the ventral tegmental area (VTA), the brain region where the neural activities leading to a stress-induced drug relapse take place.
Stress activates kappa opioid receptors (KORs) in the VTA, and the researchers found that by blocking the KORs, they could prevent the rats from relapsing to cocaine use while under stress.

Published this week in the journal Neuron, the study shows blocking these receptors may be a critical step in preventing stress-related drug relapses in humans, as well. The chemical used to block the receptor, “nor-BMI,” may eventually be tested on humans, according to the study’s authors.

“If we understand how kappa opioid receptor antagonists are interfering with the reinstatement of drug seeking we can target that process,” senior study author Julie Kauer said in a statement. “We’re at the point of coming to understand the processes and possible therapeutic targets. Remarkably, this has worked.”

Kauer noted that the study builds upon over a decade of research on how changes in brain synapses relate to behaviors like addiction. The advance is significant, and could accelerate progress towards a medication for those struggling to recover from addiction.

“If we can figure out how not only stress, but the whole system works, then we’ll potentially have a way to tune it down in a person who needs that,” Kauer said.