Synthetic marijuana, otherwise known as spice, skank, or K2, is not only vastly more potent than the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in marijuana plants, but it also lacks cannabidiol (CBD), the calming, antipsychotic substance also present in the plants. This makes spice much more likely to induce major psychiatric effects.
New evidence links use of spice during pregnancy to a tragic birth defect, anencephaly, or absence of the cerebral cortex. It can also lead to the later development of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, learning disabilities, memory impairment, depression, and aggression.
Effects of THC on gestation may occur as early as two weeks after conception, meaning by the time a woman realizes she is pregnant, the fetus may have been harmed by exposure to the drug.
Other new finding associate use of spice with acute coronary syndrome and the kind of acute kidney injury that can lead to the organ shutting down.
Editor’s Note: It has now been found that synthetic marijuana, or spice, can lead to psychosis, delirium, acute coronary syndrome (heart attack) in young people, and now kidney dysfunction, in addition to causing birth defects if used by pregnant women. Not only is spice made up of more potent THC without the calming effects of CBD, but it is often laced with unknown contaminants, which are likely the cause of the heart and kidney damage.
Smoking regular marijuana is bad enough—it doubles the risk of psychosis and may precipitate the onset of schizophrenia. It may also cause long-lasting effects on cognitive function. Since many states are legalizing marijuana, it is important to know the risks. In any case the risks are much more serious with the synthetic product, and synthetic marijuana should be avoided at all costs.
Memantine (Namenda) is an N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) glutamate receptor antagonist that is FDA-approved for the treatment of Alzheimer’s dementia. Its use in other illnesses such as bipolar disorder and autism is currently being explored.
As we have written in previous issues of the BNN, A. Anand et al. reported in 2012 that in bipolar depression, memantine has an initial antidepressant augmentation effect when added to lamotrigine, an inhibitor of glutamate release. Koukopoulos et al. also reported in 2012 that in an open study, memantine had a large and sustained effect in previously treatment-resistant patients with bipolar disorder, producing an impressive 60-70% rate of excellent response at 6 months and again at 12 months of follow-up.
There is some evidence that memantine can be useful in obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). In a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled study of memantine combined with fluoxetine published by Ghaleiha et al. in 2012, patients with moderate to severe OCD taking memantine and fluoxetine were more likely to achieve remission after 8 weeks than patients taking placebo and fluoxetine.
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is another condition that memantine may be able to treat. Disturbances in NMDA receptor activity are thought to play a role in ADHD. Small, preliminary studies of memantine in ADHD have been promising.
New research has begun to explore memantine’s effects in autism. In one recent randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study published by Ghaleiha et al. in the International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology, memantine produced improvement in children with autistic disorder when the drug was added to a treatment regimen that included risperidone, which blocks dopamine D2 receptors and is FDA-approved for the treatment of schizophrenia and mania, as well as autism.
However, at the 2012 meeting of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Robert Findling presented a poster on extended release memantine (Namenda) in children with autism, a study with negative results. This was a monotherapy study, unlike the above studies in which memantine was added to treatment with another drug. Findling found that extended release memantine (at doses of 3mg to 15mg per day) was well tolerated in children with autism, but the drug on its own was not significantly more effective than placebo in these preliminary studies.
Editor’s Note: Taken together, these data suggest an emerging role for memantine and possibly other drugs that work through NMDA receptor blockade in several disorders associated with repetitive behavior, like OCD and autism. The role of memantine augmentation in each of these syndromes deserves further exploration.
A symposium at the 2012 meeting of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) examined long-term outcomes of childhood onset disorders, including bipolar disorder, unipolar depression, ADHD, and anxiety disorder.
Course of Childhood Onset ADHD
Lily Hechtman reported on the long-term difficulties of adolescents who had childhood onset of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). They often experienced: continued typical symptoms including restlessness and over-activity, decreased academic performance, deficits in social interactions, and decreased self-esteem.
Twenty-five percent developed an antisocial personality disorder with 19-50% of these having difficulties with the legal system. There were again three distinct groups that showed different patterns of outcome. Thirty percent of the sample showed essential normality into adolescence and young adulthood. Sixty percent had continuous ADHD symptomatology, and 10% had serious psychiatric illness resulting in jail or hospitalization.
Other follow-up studies that extend as far as 40 years suggest that ADHD persists in older adults at a rate of 36%, while antisocial personality persists in 10%, and substance abuse in 17%. Adolescent controls went on to experience these disorders in adulthood at respective rates of 13%, 0%, and 7%. Hechtman provided systematic data that treatment of ADHD was not a risk factor for the subsequent adoption of substance abuse.
In another study, a latent class analysis showed that about 52% of those with ADHD became well and stayed well. The predictors of this good outcome were: lack of maternal drug exposure in the prenatal period, a stable family, not being on welfare, not having a comorbid psychiatric diagnosis, not having a severe form of ADHD, and not having lower social functioning at baseline.
There is some evidence that treatment of ADHD in young adults can lead to psychosocial benefits. In one study performed in 1984, a group of college-age participants treated with stimulants for 3 to 5 years showed improvement in social skills and self-esteem, but surprisingly, no increase in academic performance.
Course of Childhood Onset Anxiety Disorders
Danny Pine presented a study of 191 adolescents with an anxiety disorder, among whom 36% showed no anxiety disorder in adulthood, while 62% continued to have an anxiety disorder. Among a control population, 390 adolescents without an anxiety disorder remained so in adulthood, while 36 developed new onset of an anxiety disorder in adulthood. Sixty-two of the 98 participants who had anxiety disorders in adulthood had had the disorder continuously from its onset in adolescence. Thus, it appears that approximately two-thirds of adults with an anxiety disorder show a persistence of their childhood onset anxiety disorder, while approximately 1/3 had a new anxiety disorder diagnosis.
A symposium on bipolar disorder and its comorbidities in children and adolescents was held at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry in 2011. The following findings were reported there.
Researcher Janet Wozniak discussed the relationship of bipolar illness and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Based on interviews of family members of children with bipolar illness alone, bipolar illness plus ADHD, ADHD alone, and controls, she concluded that bipolar illness occurred more often in families of children with bipolar illness with or without ADHD. Similarly, she showed that there was more ADHD in relatives of children with either ADHD alone or ADHD comorbid with bipolar illness. She concluded that the comorbidity of bipolar illness and ADHD is a unique subtype of bipolar disorder and requires further study.
Emotional Dysregulation and Substance Abuse
In another presentation, Tim Wilens indicated that those with bipolar disorder and emotional dysregulation had an 8- to 20-fold increased risk of having a substance abuse comorbidity with their bipolar disorder.
Substance Abuse Comorbidity
In a third presentation, Ben Goldstein reported that the onset of bipolar illness predates the onset of substance abuse in 60 to 83% of instances of comorbid illness. He emphasized the dramatic negative impact of comorbid substance use in children with bipolar disorder in terms of increasing legal entanglements, pregnancy, academic failure, suicide, and decreased compliance with medications. He reported that in the multi-site, National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)-funded Course and Outcome of Bipolar Illness in Youth (COBY) study, the largest longitudinal study to date of youth with bipolar disorder, the risk of new onset substance abuse over the course of 4 years of follow-up was 32%. These data taken with the 15% of children who already had substance abuse at intake indicates that in this study approximately half of the children with bipolar illness had or acquired a substance abuse problem near the beginning of their illness. Two-thirds of the children in the study had abused both alcohol and cannabis. Read more
An article by Bloch & Qawasmi published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry last year suggested that omega-3 fatty acids could improve ADHD in children. The effects were milder than the standard pharmacological treatments for ADHD, but given that omega-3s have few side effects, there would be little risk to using them to supplement traditional treatments or in cases where traditional treatments cannot be used.
Editors note: It would also be worth seeing if omega-3s helped mood symptoms too. A meta-analysis we wrote about here suggests that the omega-3 fatty acid EPA or the combination of EPA plus DHA has positive effects on depression in adults.
At the 2011 Pediatric Bipolar Disorder Conference in March, Steven V. Faraone from the State University of New York Upstate Medical University presented a plenary paper in which he described how to distinguish deficient emotional self-regulation from traditional mood disorders.
Faraone defined deficient emotion regulation as a lack of four regulating behaviors:
- Inhibition of inappropriate behavior related to strong negative or positive emotion
- Self-soothing of physiologic arousal that the strong emotions induced
- Refocusing of attention from strong emotions
- Organization of subsequent behavior in the service of an external goal
He found that deficient emotion regulation was closely related to ADHD, and progressively less similar to oppositional defiant disorder, anxiety disorders, major depression, conduct disorder and, lastly, bipolar disorder.
Deficient emotional self-regulation is associated with considerable functional impairment and is also characterized by these traits:
- Quick to anger
- Easily frustrated
- Emotionally over-reactive
- Easily excited by activities going on nearby
- Loses temper
- Argues with others
- Touchy or easily annoyed by others
- Angry or resentful
The behaviors associated with deficient emotion regulation are also prevalent among the siblings of children who have received the diagnosis. Deficient emotional self-regulation often occurs in families where ADHD is also present, but does not have a familial association with bipolar disorder or other comorbidities.
At the 57th Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) in New York in October 2010, Tim Wilens of Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) presented data that maternal smoking and alcohol use during pregnancy both appeared to increase the risk of comorbid attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children with bipolar disorder.
At a symposium on new research on juvenile bipolar disorder at the meeting of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) in 2010, the discussant Kiki Chang of Stanford University reported some recent neurobiological findings on childhood bipolar disorder. He found evidence that prefrontal cortical volume appears to decrease over the course of the illness and, conversely, there was evidence of increases in amygdala volume. He also found that the volume of the striatum (or caudate nucleus, which is involved in motor control) increased in children with bipolar illness or bipolar illness comorbid with ADHD, but decreased in children with ADHD alone.
Chang cited the study of Singh et al. (2010) who found that the subgenual anterior cingulate volume early in the course of illness was smaller in adolescent-onset bipolar disorder compared to controls. Given this evidence of prefrontal cortical and anterior cingulate deficits, Dr. Chang raised the possibility that treatment with lithium and other agents with potential neurotrophic and neuroprotective effects might be able to prevent these neurobiological aspects of illness progression in young patients.
Tim Wilens of Massachusetts General Hospital presented a poster at the 57th Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) in October 2010 that showed that extended release guanfacine could augment incomplete responses to stimulants in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). This double-blind, placebo-controlled study of children aged 6-17 used guanfacine doses of 4mg/day or less. Those children who received guanfacine in addition to the psychomotor stimulant they were already taking were more likely to improve and more likely to reach a satisfactory remission than those taking a placebo in addition to their regular psychomotor stimulant. These results suggest that adding an alpha 2 noradrenergic agonist compound like guanfacine to a psychomotor stimulant may bring about a more complete response in ADHD.
At the 57th Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) in October 2010, Gianni Faedda of the Lucio Bini Mood Disorders Center reported that monitoring of activity, sleep, and circadian-rhythm disturbances can be used to distinguish children with a diagnosis of bipolar illness (who showed more hyperactivity and less sleep), from children with ADHD and control children without illness.