Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Drug News in Brief


Short takes on matters various.

Taking Aim at Pot—Researchers have recently made clinical efforts to test three drugs that might help during marijuana withdrawal to keep pot abstainers on the straight and narrow. Researchers at Columbia University, led by Margaret Haney, have been testing a synthetic THC compound called nabilone. The drug is designed to address sleep and appetite problems during withdrawal.  Whether it is any better tolerated by users than Marinol, Uncle Sam’s widely unpopular version of synthetic THC, remains to be seen. This approach can be viewed rather like methadone or buprenorphine substitution therapy. Meanwhile, work goes on with lofexidine, a drug sometimes used in combination with naltrexone for opiate detoxification. A 2008 study in Psychopharmacology showed a modest improvement over placebo when lofexidine was used for marijuana abstinence, but it worked much better when combined with, yes, synthetic THC. Finally, velafaxine, better known as the antidepressant Effexor, was used in a randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled trial of marijuana-dependent outpatients recently published in Addiction. Not only did velafaxine fail to help the patients with their cannabis dependence, but in fact “may lead to an increase in cannabis use.”

Smoking is Bad to the Bone—The Journal of Adolescent Health reports that cigarette smoking dramatically impacts the rate of bone density growth in teenage girls. Young women may be smoking their way toward a future of osteoporosis, the loss of bone density that often plagues older women. “This age group is when you should gain about 50 percent of your bone accrual,” reports study author Lorah Dorn at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, in Science News. A 2001 study of adult smokers found that smoking increased the risk of hip fracture by 31% in women. In addition, at the recent annual meeting of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, researchers reported on a study of 6,779 patients undergoing treatment for spinal disorders with severe pain. Those who quit smoking during treatment reported greater pain improvement than patients who didn't stop smoking. 

Dr. Google Will See You Now—Researchers are starting to data-mine the Internet to identify unanticipated side effects and interactions between prescription drugs. According to an article in Science by Sean Treacy, one study in 2011 data-mined reports to the FDA from doctors, nurses, and patients, and “uncovered a hidden drug interaction: When taken together the antidepressant paroxetine and the cholesterol suppressant pravastatin can cause hyperglycemia, or high blood sugar.”  Bioinformatics researcher Nigam Shah of Stanford told the magazine that “if a lot of people are concerned about a symptom, that in itself is valuable information.”

Fetal Health—Scientists have traced out a molecular signaling pathway that appears to play a crucial role in the development of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD). According to the researchers, whose study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, “ethanol may cause FASD in part by decreasing the adhesion of the developmentally critical L1 cell adhesion molecule through interactions with an alcohol binding pocket on the extracellular domain.” In English, it means that the research points to strong candidate genes, therefore identifying a specific locus of action for future drugs designed to block alcohol neurotoxicity in the womb. A group led by Michael Charness at Harvard Medical School did the work, building on previous studies that identified the alcohol sensitivity of L1 adhesion molecules. “Prenatal alcohol exposure is the leading preventable cause of birth defects and developmental disorders in the United States,” according to perennial Acting NIAAA Director Kenneth Warren, in an NIH news release.

Photo Credit:  http://jimbaker.wordpress.com/

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