Overdoses Possible on Synthetic Marijuana

May 15, 2017 · Posted in Risk Factors · Comment 

spice or synthetic marijuanaSeveral states have reported upticks in overdoses from synthetic marijuana over the past few years. Synthetic marijuana, sometimes called “spice” and sold under descriptors such as “botanical incense,” consists of man-made chemicals that are sprayed on plant matter and smoked, or sold as liquids to be consumed via e-cigarettes. Monitoring the Future, an ongoing survey of teen drug use in the US, reported in 2016 that 3.5% of high school seniors had used synthetic marijuana in the past year. The risks of the drug are not yet well known, since the chemicals used may vary from batch to batch.

A case series published in the Western Journal of Emergency Medicine in 2016 described 11 cases of patients who received emergency room treatment for an overdose of the synthetic cannabinoid MAB-CHMINACA. According to the Drug Enforcement Agency, MAB-CHMINACA can cause severe toxicity, seizures, excited delirium, cardiotoxicity and death.

Kenneth D. Katz and colleagues reported that all 11 patients required sedation, while nine required intubation to provide respiratory support. Three of the 11 patients had seizures, and one suffered from hyperthermia (increased body temperature). One patient died as a result of decreased oxygen to the brain and rhabdomyolysis, a condition in which muscles break down and release toxins, shutting down the kidneys. Many of the 11 were children or adolescents.

Katz and colleageus stress that synthetic cannabinoid use is a public health crisis, and that emergency rooms should be prepared to provide aggressive sedation and respiratory support to people overdosing on MAB-CHMINACA.

Editor’s Note: ‘Spice’ is not only more potent than marijuana but also lacks the cannabinoids that are responsible for the beneficial effects of marijuana.

Decriminalization of Marijuana Linked to Lower Educational Attainment

May 12, 2017 · Posted in Risk Factors · Comment 

teenagers

As more states pass laws allowing the use of medical marijuana, and some are decriminalizing recreational marijuana use, researchers are examining possible negative consequences of loosening these drug policies. Researcher Andrew Plunk and colleagues reported in a 2016 issue of the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence that states where medical marijuana has been legalized have seen dropout rates increase among high school seniors. Educational attainment after high school has decreased as well.

Plunk stressed that while policies that allow medical marijuana and decriminalize recreational marijuana use may have benefits, it is also important to study any possible negative consequences of these policies. He compared marijuana to alcohol and cigarettes, substances that are legal for adults to use but also negatively impact users’ health. Plunk told Medscape Medical News that as marijuana gets approved for medical uses, kids may begin to see the drug as less risky.

Plunk and colleagues used datasets from the US Census and the American Community Survey from 1990 to 2012, which included a total of 5,483,715 people of high school age. Compared to young people in states with no legalized marijuana policies, those in states with medical marijuana had a 0.40 percentage point increase in the probability they would not receive a high school diploma or GED.

Living in a state with medical marijuana was also linked to a 1.84 percentage point increase in the probability of not enrolling in college, and a 0.85 percentage point increase in the probability of not getting a college degree.

While medical marijuana is not prescribed to minors, Plunk and colleagues believe it is easier for adolescents in states where medical marijuana is available to access marijuana that has been prescribed to adults.

Editor’s Note: Heavy marijuana use comes with risks such as doubling of the likelihood of psychosis, hastening the onset of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, increasing cognitive impairment, and changing brain structure.

Early Marijuana Use Linked To Abnormal Brain Function, Low IQ

May 10, 2017 · Posted in Risk Factors · Comment 

young marijuana usersA study of depression and marijuana use found that using marijuana before the age of 17 was linked to abnormal brain function and lower IQ. In a 2016 article in the journal Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, researcher Elizabeth Osuch and colleagues described a study that compared four categories of youth: frequent pot users with depression, frequent pot users without depression, those with depression who did not use pot, and healthy individuals who did not use pot. The researchers also compared those who began using pot after the age of 17 to those who began earlier.

The main findings were that brain function in the areas of reward processing and motor control differed across the four groups. Depression was linked to deficits in brain function. Marijuana use did not correct these deficits, and in some parts of the brain, worsened them.

Those who had used marijuana before the age of 17 had abnormalities in memory, visuo-spatial processing, self-referential activity, and reward processing. Those who had started using marijuana at younger ages also had lower IQ scores.

National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine Issues Report on the Health Effects of Cannabis

May 8, 2017 · Posted in Potential Treatments, Resources, Risk Factors · Comment 

The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids: Current State of Evidence and Recommendations for ResearchIn early 2017, the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine issued its first comprehensive report on cannabis since 1999. Shifting public opinion over the past few decades has led to 28 states and the District of Columbia legalizing medical uses of marijuana, and eight states and DC legalizing recreational marijuana use. The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids: Current State of Evidence and Recommendations for Research is intended to address the lack of accepted standards to guide individuals in deciding whether and how to use cannabis safely. In addition to summarizing recent health-related findings on cannabis, the report also offers recommendations to guide future research.

The report shares findings about possible therapeutic benefits to cannabis use as well as health impacts relating to areas such as cancer, respiratory disease, immunity, pre- and post-natal health.

There were several notable findings with regard to mental health. The committee that issued the report found substantial evidence of a statistical association between cannabis use and the development of schizophrenia or other psychoses, with the highest risk among the most frequent users.

The committee also found moderate evidence of a link between cannabis use and increased symptoms of mania and hypomania in people with bipolar disorder who use cannabis regularly. The report also describes moderate evidence of an association between heavy cannabis use and increased suicidal ideation and suicide attempts.

There was also moderate evidence that regular cannabis use is linked to social anxiety disorder.

The report described factors that may lead to problem cannabis use. The committee found substantial evidence that being male, smoking cigarettes, and beginning cannabis use at an earlier age are risk factors for developing problem cannabis use. Read more

Continuing Marijuana Use After a First Episode of Psychosis Increases Risk of Relapse

May 5, 2017 · Posted in Risk Factors · Comment 

marijuanaA 2016 article in the journal JAMA Psychiatry reports that continuing to use cannabis after a first episode of psychosis increases risk of relapse. The study by Sagnik Bhattacharyya and colleagues employed longitudinal modeling to determine the role of cannabis use in psychotic relapse. The researchers followed 90 women and 130 men for two years after a first episode of psychosis, and found that the more marijuana they used, the more likely they were to have a relapse of psychosis.

Relapse rates were highest (59.1%) for participants who used pot continuously following their first episode of psychosis. Relapse rates were lower (36.0%) for those who used cannabis intermittently thereafter, and lowest (28.5%) among those who discontinued cannabis use after their first episode of psychosis.

A statistical test known as a cross-lagged analysis was used to establish that cannabis use affected later relapse, rather than relapse of psychosis leading to further cannabis use.

Another statistical strategy using fixed-effect models revealed that risk of psychotic relapse was 13% higher during times of cannabis use than during periods of no cannabis use.

These findings offer some hope that the likelihood of psychosis relapse can be reduced, since ongoing cannabis use is a risk factor that can be modified, unlike family history or genetics. Bhattacharyya and colleagues called for research into interventions that can help discourage cannabis use in people who have had a first episode of psychosis.

Editor’s Note: N-acetylcysteine, a nutritional supplement sold in health food stores, can reduce cannabis use compared to placebo in teen users.

Early Cannabis Use and BDNF Gene Variant Increase Psychosis Risk

May 3, 2017 · Posted in Genetics, Risk Factors · Comment 

Teen smoking marijuanaNormal variations in genes can affect risk of mental illness. One gene that has been implicated in psychosis risk is known as BDNF. It controls production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor, a protein that protects neurons and is important for learning and memory. Another important gene is COMT, which controls production of the enzyme catechol-O-methyltransferase, which breaks down neurotransmitters such as dopamine in the brain.

Several forms of these genes appear in the population. These normal variations in genes are known as polymorphisms. Certain polymorphisms have been linked to disease risk. A study by Anna Mané and colleagues published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research in 2017 explored links between COMT and BDNF polymorphisms, cannabis use, and age at first episode of psychosis.

Mané and colleagues found that among 260 Caucasians being treated for a first episode of psychosis, the presence of a BDNF polymorphism known as val-66-met and a history of early cannabis use were associated with younger age at psychosis onset.

The val-66-met version of BDNF occurs in 25-35% of the population. It functions less efficiently than a version called val-66-val.

The researchers also found that males were more likely to have used cannabis at a young age.

Editor’s Note: In the general population, marijuana use doubles the risk of developing psychosis. Previous data had indicated that the risk was higher for those with a COMT polymorphism known as val-158-val that leads to more efficient metabolism of dopamine in the prefrontal cortex. The resulting deficits in dopamine increase vulnerability to psychosis compared to people with the val-158-met version of the COMT gene.

The new study by Mané and colleagues suggests that a common form of BDNF may be associated with an earlier onset of psychosis. Bottom line: Pot is dangerous for young users and can induce psychosis, particularly in people at genetic risk. Pot may be legal in many places, but heavy use in young people remains risky for mental health and cognitive functioning.

The company Genomind offers genetic testing for BDNF and COMT variants as part of a routine panel.

Cannabis Use May Cause Schizophrenia

May 1, 2017 · Posted in Risk Factors · Comment 

marijuanaCannabis use has been linked to schizophrenia risk, and new genetic research suggests a causal relationship between the two. In a 2017 article in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, researcher Julian Vaucher and colleagues reported that lifetime cannabis use was linked to schizophrenia even when the researchers controlled for 10 genotypes weakly associated with lifetime cannabis use. This makes it unlikely that the schizophrenia caused the cannabis use, suggesting instead that it is the cannabis use that leads to a schizophrenia diagnosis.

Vaucher and colleageus also controlled for genetic associations between cigarette smoking and cannabis use to eliminate cigarette use as a third variable causing the association between cannabis and schizophrenia.

The study by Vaucher and colleagues included 34,241 people with schizophrenia and 45,604 healthy controls.

In Population Near Uranium Plant, Headaches Predicted a Thyroid Problem

April 27, 2017 · Posted in Risk Factors · Comment 

man with headache

People with headache disorders may be at greater risk of developing hypothyroidism, a condition in which the thyroid does not produce enough thyroid hormone and various body processes start to slow down. A study by researcher Andrew Martin and colleagues in the Journal of Head and Face Pain is the largest to examine the likelihood that headache sufferers may be at risk for hypothyroidism.

About 2% of Americans develop hypothyroidism. The study by Martin and colleagues used data from a 20-year medical monitoring program for people who lived near a uranium processing plant in Ohio. The authors reported that people with pre-existing headache disorders had a 21% increased risk of new onset hypothyroidism during that period, while people who reported that they had migraines or regularly used headache medication had a 41% increased risk of hypothyroidism. People with migraines were most likely to develop hypothyroidism in the study. Female sex and age are additional risk factors for hypothyroidism. About 12% of the US population experiences migraines.

More News About Genetic Risk for Bipolar Disorder

April 25, 2017 · Posted in Risk Factors · Comment 
DNA helix with one base pair highlighted

A change to just one base pair may increase the risk of early-onset bipolar disorder

In a 2017 article in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, researcher Paul E. Croarkin and colleagues describe findings from their study of genetic risk factors for early-onset bipolar disorder. The researchers focused on single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), which are variations in a single base pair of a DNA sequence. SNPs are normal variations or copying errors that occur when DNA is replicated. Croarkin and colleagues tracked 8 SNPs that had been linked to bipolar disorder in previous studies. They examined 69 patients from a study of early-onset mania, 732 adult patients with bipolar disorder (including 192 with early-onset illness), and 776 healthy controls. The researchers compared patients with early-onset illness to controls, and also looked for connections between specific SNPs and early-onset illness.

The SNPs analyzed in the study map to three genes that have repeatedly been associated with the risk for bipolar disorder in other studies. These include CACNA1C (one of several genes that create calcium channels), ANK3, and ODZ4. Croarkin and colleagues determined that the presence of these SNPs, particularly the ones that involved the CACNA1C gene, were associated with early-onset bipolar disorder.

Editor’s Note: These findings may lead to better treatment for early-onset bipolar disorder. The CACNA1C calcium influx gene that has repeatedly been connected to bipolar illness can be blocked by the calcium channel blocker nimodipine. Nimodipine has lithium-like effects in mania and depression in adults. One case report by Pablo A. Davanzo in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology described success using nimodipine and the thyroid medication levothyroxine to treat a 13-year-old boy with very rapid cycling bipolar disorder that had previously failed to respond to multiple medications.

Nimodipine deserves further study in children showing symptoms of bipolar disorder. The company Genomind provides testing for the CACNA1C gene. We hope it will soon be determined whether the presence of this SNP predicts a good response to nimodipine.

Being able to predict who will get bipolar disorder is a long way off. However, there are some clear risk factors. Young people from families that have had several generations of bipolar disorder or related disorders are at increased risk for bipolar disorder. This risk increases for children who experience adversity in childhood, such as abuse or neglect. The presence of early mild symptoms of mania, depression, or disruptive behavior further increase this risk.

For doctors, a patient’s clinical history of these three types of risk factors can help identify whether they are at increased risk of developing bipolar disorder. Patients with several risk factors should be observed closely and treated with psychotherapy or medication as needed.

Parents of children between the ages of 2 and 12 who have shown some signs of mood or behavioral symptoms are encouraged to join our Child Network. We provide a secure online platform where parents record their children’s symptoms of anxiety, depression, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), oppositional behavior, and mania on a weekly basis. Symptoms are charted over time in a graphical depiction that can be shared with the child’s doctor. For more information, see page 11 of this issue. To join, visit our website bipolarnews.org and click on the tab for the Child Network.

Parents’ History of Mood and Anxiety Disorders Increases Risk of These Disorders in Offspring

April 24, 2017 · Posted in Risk Factors · Comment 

family history of mood disorders

A 2016 article by researcher Petra J. Havinga and colleagues in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry suggests that offspring of a parent with a mood or anxiety disorder are at higher risk for these disorders than offspring from non-ill parents. Havinga and colleagues studied 523 offspring of parents with one of these disorders. Among these offspring, 38.0% had had a mood or anxiety disorder by age 20, and 64.7% had had such a disorder by age 35. (Rates of these disorders in the general population are closer to 10%.)

The risk of offspring developing one of these disorders was even higher when both parents had a history of a mood or anxiety disorder, when a parent had an early onset of one of these illnesses, and when the offspring was female. The good news is that balanced family functioning had a protective effect, reducing the likelihood that the offspring would develop a mood or anxiety disorder.

Researcher David Axelson reported in a 2015 study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry that approximately 74% of the offspring of a parent with bipolar disorder went on to have a major psychiatric diagnosis over 6.7 years of followup. Similarly, researcher Myrna Weissman and colleagues reported in 2006 that the same high incidence of psychiatric diagnoses was true of the offspring of a parent with unipolar depression over 20 years of followup.

Editor’s Note: It is important to be vigilant for mood or behavioral disorders that may emerge in the offspring of a parent with a mood or anxiety disorder. Children at high risk should maintain a healthy diet and good sleep hygiene, exercise regularly, and perhaps try practicing mindfulness and meditation, as recommended by researcher Jim Hudziak. Family-focused therapy (developed by researcher David Miklowitz) can help when early symptoms appear in the offspring of a parent with bipolar disorder.

Another option is joining our Child Network, a secure online program that allows parents to track their children’s symptoms of anxiety, depression, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), oppositional behavior, and mania. This may facilitate earlier recognition and treatment of dysfunctional symptoms, which can be treated with psychotherapy and medication.

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