This Week in Health: Marijuana alters key brain structures in casual users

The health effects of marijuana
Even casual marijuana use may alter key structures in brain.
Credit: iStockphoto

Marijuana alters key brain structures in casual users

Location of study: U.S.

Study subjects: 40 college students in the Boston area aged 18 to 25

Results: Can casual marijuana use have lasting effects on the brain? A recent study suggests that even light, recreational pot smoking can lead to significant changes in the regions of the brain related to emotion, motivation and reward. When compared to non-users, young adults who reported smoking marijuana once a week exhibited differences in the size, shape and structure of these brain regions. These irregularities were more extreme in participants who smoked pot more frequently.

Significance: According to the study, these affected brain regions have been broadly linked to addiction. “It also is possible that the brain is adapting to marijuana exposure and that these new connections may encourage further marijuana use,” Dr. Anne Blood, a co-senior author from the Massachusetts General Hospital Department of Psychiatry, said in a statement. Similar findings have come out of previous studies focusing on heavy, long-term marijuana users. This new study is one of the first to look at the drug’s effects among people who only smoke casually. Researchers say the findings raise concerns about the long-term impact of legalizing marijuana.

Experts find no proof that inducing labor causes autism

Location of study: U.S.

Results: After careful review, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has found no link between labor induction and autism. Experts say that the collective research at this time is not enough to suggest a causal relationship. “Our opinion was stimulated by a study done last year that showed a potential association between the use of drugs like Pitocin to start labor and autism in children,” said Dr. Jeffrey Ecker, the ACOG’s chair of the Committee on Obstetric Practice. The organization deemed the available evidence surrounding the use of oxytocin to bring on labor as inconsistent. The group also found limitations in study design and conflicting findings in other research.

Significance: The concerns over labor induction and autism picked up considerable steam last year following a study suggesting that women who used labor-inducing drugs to stimulate contractions may be more likely to deliver a child with autism. Researchers from that study were unclear about the nature of the association. They were also unaware of the circumstances that required labor induction or augmentation to begin with. According to Ecker, the ACOG very clearly recommends that current practices not be changed because evidence of a cause-and-effect relationship is not there. He added that cutting back on labor inductions, which are an important part of patient care, would almost certainly raise cesarean section rates.

Nasal spray protects against any strain of flu

Location of study: Scotland

Study subjects: Mice

Results: A developmental nasal spray may be able to prevent infection from any strain of the flu. Upon influenza infection, viruses attach to receptors in the throat and nose. The in-the-works nasal spray works by coating these receptors with engineered proteins so that viruses are unable to attach to them. In recent animal studies, a single intranasal dose protected mice from lethal influenza exposure. Researchers report that not only did the mice avoid infection; they also produced antibodies against the virus.

Significance: The novel spray is particularly exciting as it holds the potential for more far-reaching applications. Developing a new vaccine is a complex and often lengthy process that typically takes six months from start to finish. Researchers hope the new approach will eventually be used as a first-line protection against pandemic strains while new vaccines are being developed. “We believe that our approach has the potential to be used as a preventative against any current and new virus that emerges, such as H5N1, H7N9 and the very recent H10N8,” lead researcher Garry Taylor, a professor at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, said in a statement.

Diabetes rates soar, obesity partly to blame

Location of study: U.S.

Study subjects: Over 43,000 adults

Results: Cases of diabetes and pre-diabetes have almost doubled over the last two decades. Experts say obesity is likely behind the increase. Since 1988, diabetes went up from 6 percent to 10 percent of the U.S. population. Similarly, cases of pre-diabetes doubled during this time. Another key discovery is that the condition is not distributed equally in the population (the study revealed major racial disparities). A much higher prevalence of diabetes was observed among African Americans and Mexican Americans. These populations also had poorer rates of glucose control. Researchers say this is particularly concerning since ethnic minorities are at higher risk for diabetes complications.

Significance: There are currently 21 million adults with diabetes in the United States, but the results from the study weren’t all bad. On the upside, the number of diabetes cases that are undiagnosed has actually gone down. To determine this, investigators looked at glucose levels from the previous three months to make this estimation. It revealed that just 11 percent of diabetes cases nationwide are undiagnosed. “This suggests we’re doing better with screening and diagnosis overall,” said lead author Dr. Elizabeth Selvin, associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Content provided by ZipTrials, a trusted source for the most up-to-date medical news and trending health stories. 



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
International

PHOTO: Queen Elizabeth photobombs Australian hockey players trying…

The selfie / photobomb has gone viral.

Local

Astoria minivan crash kills 1, injures 6: NYPD

Anthony Boyd, 45, died soon after what investigators believe was some sort of medical emergency as he drove his family through Astoria on Sunday afternoon.

Local

NYC pension funds valued at $160b: Scott Stringer

The five NYC pension funds that thousands of city employees contribute to saw its fifth year in a row of increased returns, up $23 billion from last year.

International

Sierra Leone Ebola patient, recovered from family, dies…

An Ebola patient whose family sparked a nationwide hunt when they forcefully removed her from a treatment center and took her to a traditional healer has died.

Movies

The 'Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1' trailer is…

Watch 'The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1' trailer.

Music

Newport Folk Festival: Photo gallery of 35 moments…

As has been the tradition since Bob Dylan plugged in a bajillion years ago, the Newport Folk Festival embraces more musical genres than its name implies.

Music

MKTO: Behind the bromance

MKTO's Malcolm Kelley and Tony Oller talk about the American Dream tour, Demi Lovato and getting turned down by girls.

Arts

James Earl Jones and Rose Byrne head to…

Two-time Tony winner James Earl Jones returns to the New York stage next month as an eccentric grandfather in a revival of the 1930s comedy…

NFL

Computer to Jets: Start Michael Vick over Geno…

Jets general manager John Idzik says the choice of who starts between second-year quarterback Geno Smith and veteran Michael Vick will be a “Jets decision.”

MLB

Yankees looking to trade for Josh Willingham: Report

CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reported Sunday the Yankees are interested in Twins outfielder Josh Willingham.

MLB

Joe Torre: I'm in Hall of Fame because…

Joe Torre spent 18 years putting together a near Hall of Fame career as a player. But it was the 12 years he spent as…

MLB

Yankees GM Brian Cashman breaks down art of…

The action frequently accelerates as the non-waiver trade deadline approaches, as it will on Thursday.

Tech

Amazon offers 3D printing to customize earrings, bobble…

By Deepa SeetharamanSAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Amazon.com Inc will offer 3D printing services that allow customers to customize and build earrings, bobble head toys and…

Wellbeing

This Week In Health: Friends share similar DNA,…

Friends share similar DNA, study finds Location: U.S. Study subjects: Nearly 2,000 people Results: When it comes to our social networks, it seems that birds of…

Education

Are liberal arts colleges turning away from the…

Bryn Mawr College, a small women's college located just outside of Philadelphia, announced last week that it would be making standardized tests like the SAT…

Education

Recent grads discover school superintendent plagiarized parts of…

  Two recent high school graduates made a surprising discovery about the commencement speech their school superintendent delivered at their graduation: portions of it was copied…