Use and Abuse


Wanna Feel Good?

Behind the fa├žades of respectability, family life and surprisingly modest homes [are] fathers who hate drugs but sell tons of heroin,
gambling czars who lose heavily on the horses, murderers who take offense at off-color language around women
and Runyonesque characters with funny nicknames who beat people to death with hammers.

- Robert D McFadden

I've never had a problem with drugs.  I've had problems with the police.

- Keith Richards

Big Black Market for Kiddie's Drug

Police say parents are pressuring doctors to prescribe hyperactivity drug Ritalin for their children so they an sell It on a growing black market.  Ritalin has been on the market for about 50 years but has undergone an upsurge in popularity as the drug of choice to treat children suffering from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.  Dunedin Detective Sergeant Malcolm Inglis said it was also popular with drug users as it was similar to methamphetamines or speed.

Police had come across cases of parents selling their children's prescriptions or pressuring Ritalin users to hand over the drug, Mr Inglis said.  Dunedin police were investigating a new case of Ritalin-related crime every week.  "Police have been trying to stem the tide of Ritalin for about two years," he added.  Dunedin police have prosecuted numerous people for Ritalin-related crime, and investigated one death and three near deaths in the past few years after people had taken the drug without being prescribed it.  The upsurge in the drug's popularity on the street has police urging doctors to be especially carefully of the motives of parents asking for it.  "There are certainly children who are on Ritalin who need to be on Ritalin.  We are not saying it's a bad drug and certainly in some cases it works well.  But it's quite a dangerous drug as well, especially if it's not taken properly."

In the United States, children have been found selling the drug to their friends.  Principals and teachers have been caught stealing it from the school nurse's office.  Educators have told parents to give the drug to their children so they behave in class.  American lawmakers, examining the use of Ritalin, have been asked to provide more money for researching the drug's use - and its abuse.  Concern was raised that the medicine was over-prescribed but it still had its champions, particularly beleaguered parents who had seen it turn around their uncontrollable children.

Studies show Ritalin's rise in use and abuse: the United States makes and uses 85% of the world's supply; one in five college students take it recreationally and more toddlers are getting prescriptions for it - despite opposition by the drug's manufacturers.  San Francisco paediatrician Lawrence Diller said he began to question his own actions after seeing a growing number of parents of preschoolers and teenagers demanding the drug. - NZPA

Source: The Dominion Friday 19 May 2000

Source: Funny Times August 2001 find them on the web at

Ritalin Abuse Is Increasing

by Nick Szuflita

A preliminary study at the University of Wisconsin has shown that as many as one in five college students have used the psychostimulant Ritalin or a similar drug like Adderall, illegally.  Though both drugs are very commonly prescribed - over 7 million children consume over 8 tons of Ritalin every year in the US - they can both have deadly side effects, similar to those of cocaine and methamphetamine.

Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD) are common behavioural disorders affecting attention span, impulse control, and self-discipline, and in the case of AD/HD, an accompaniment of hyperactivity and impulsiveness.  The widely accepted acronym for both disorders is AD/HD, which afflicts between 4% and 6% of Americans, most of whom are children.  Treatment most commonly involves the same psychostimulants, Ritalin and Adderall, that are widely abused on college campuses.

Ritalin, the brand name for methylphenidate hydrochloride, was introduced in 1956, and though its workings are still not fully understood tends to affect the way the brain filters and responds to stimuli.  Methylphenidate increases energy and a feeling of physical well-being.  Side effects include increased heart and respiratory rates, elevated blood pressure, dilated pupils, dry mouth, perspiration and a feeling of superiority.  In severe cases, it has been linked to aggression and hostility, and strange behaviour.  These effects are likened to those of the street drug cocaine.  Both drugs block the reuptake of dopamine, a brain neurotransmitter that tends to promote mood elevations and feelings of alertness, well-being and superiority.

Studies in baboons have found that both methylphenidate and cocaine are similarly distributed in brain regions believed to be responsible for reward and pleasure related behaviours, and are so similar in fact, that they compete for binding sites on postsynaptic neurons.  Adderall, a mixture of the amphetamine salts amphetamine and dextroamphetamine, and is prescribed as an alternative medication to Ritalin, or plan B that needs to be administered less frequently because of its longer lasting effects on the brain.  It also has a tendency to improve attention span, self-control and the ability to concentrate.  The feelings of superiority that accompany cocaine and Ritalin are not as common with Adderall.  It does not block the reuptake of dopamine, but instead triggers the release of more dopamine, and norepinephrine -a neurotransmitter of the same family, and with similar effects on the brain.

With the ability to help sustain concentration, increase energy and the fact that they are readily available, Adderall and methylphenidate are gaining great popularity among college and graduate school students who lack motivation and energy for long nights of cramming.  They are also becoming popular party drugs on some college campuses and high school scenes, bring crushed up and snorted for quicker and stronger effects.  However, the abuse of such drugs can lead to serious sleep deprivation in a demographic group that is already very sleep deprived.  The National Sleep Foundation recommends that Americans get at least 8 hours of sleep a night to maintain optimal health and performance.

The foundation further reports that 61% of those who have sleep disorders are between the ages of 18 and 29.  According to a survey done by Mary A Carskadon, a professor of psychology at Brown University, college students are receiving inadequate amounts of sleep - an average of six hours a night.  Lack of sleep has been attributed to weakening of the immune system, making students more prone to viruses and bacteria.  It has also been shown to have very detrimental effects on one's attention span and ability to concentrate, and have even been linked to the onset of depression.  A study done in North Carolina found that 55% of all fall-asleep crashes involved drivers 25 years old or younger.

Sleep deprivation can be especially detrimental to athletes.  Combining long exhaustive hours of practice and minimal hours of rest causes many to become ineffective on the field and in the class room.  Dr Eve VanCauter of the University of Chicago performed a study that showed that sleep deprivation slowed the body's production of glucose, the brain's principal source of energy, by as much as 40%.  Subjects also showed an elevation in the amounts of stress-related hormones.  Maren Reiner, a professor of biology at Richmond University, also sites social stresses as causes of sleep deprivation among college students.  "I also think the atmosphere of dorm life makes it difficult for students to get any sleep," she said.

But the relation between methylphenidate and Adderall and sleep deprivation is undeniable.  Harvard sophomore David Green said in a recent interview with the Washington Post, "In all honesty, I haven't written a paper without Ritalin since my junior year in high school."  Director of the International Center for the Study of Psychiatry and Psychology, and Associate faculty at the Johns Hopkins University Department of Counseling, Peter R Breggin MD, said that "Ritalin does not correct biochemical imbalances - it causes them."  He also indicated Ritalin in causing such brain damaging effects as depression, insomnia, agitation, social withdrawal and a decreased ability to learn.

Students commonly purchase pills from their peers who have legal prescriptions for them, unaware of the possible side effects that rival cocaine.  These drugs can be very beneficial for academic focus when used properly, but abuse can have serious and even fatal consequences.

Source: The Johns Hopkins Newsletter 22 November 2003

Side effects include a feeling of superiority?  Works a lot like cocaine?  This article makes it clear that the line between a drug and a medicine can become very blurred indeed.  So, some of these students are self-medicated and others get their buzz from their doctors?  Everyone needs a little reward and pleasure from time to time.  My feeling is - either make it freely available to everyone or stop prescribing it only for some.  You don't mess with your brain's chemical systems without paying for it in the long term, one way or another.  But if this drug helps enhance performance, why not make its benefits available to everyone?

If Ritalin must be prescribed (and how else will all those pharmaceutical executives make money?) why not give it to people trying to quit smoking - since both cigarettes and Ritalin have a similar effect on the brain.

Scientists' Short-Cut to Happiness

Scientists try to create artificial happiness in rats

by Mark Easton

Science is beginning to find ways to control happiness in the brain artificially.  Since the dawn of time we have sought short-cuts to happiness.  Early man got high on psychotropic drugs.  Alcohol has been around since the stone age.  The designer drugs of today promise ecstasy in a pill.  Now neuroscientists are beginning to manipulate happiness in the brain.

In a series of experiments in the 1950s and 1960s psychologists pinpointed the pleasure zones in the brains of rats and eventually in human patients.  In 1954 Peter Milner and James Olds performed a radical experiment on rats.  They implanted electrodes into rats' brains, and found that when they gave electrical brain stimulation the rats seemed to experience pleasure and almost ecstasy at times.  The rats could press a lever which would deliver a small current deep into its brain.  It was found that they would perform complex and difficult tasks for another dose of stimulation, and would even press the lever up to 2,000 times an hour to the exclusion of eating or drinking.  Olds and Milner concluded that they had discovered the area of the brain responsible for reward.

In the 1960s, psychiatrist Robert Heath of Tulane University in New Orleans chose to use this same deep brain stimulation on humans.  He performed a series of experiments where he put electrodes deep into his patients' brains.  Bob Heath hoped to cure depression, pain, and addiction.  But controversially he also experimented on gay men.  When a mild shock was administered to patients they felt good.  When they were handed the controls they chose to press repeatedly - sometimes over a thousand times.  But the pleasure stopped when the current was stopped and Heath eventually abandoned his work.

In the last few years interest in deep brain stimulation has been taken up by mainstream medicine to help patients with Parkinson's Disease and also to tackle acute pain.  Robert Matthews had had a leg amputated after an accident.  Robert still suffers excruciating pain from the leg that no longer exists.  "My lowest took me so low, I couldn't even think about myself or my family or anything.  That's how far I went.  So happiness had gone."

An operation by Professor Tipu Aziz, consultant neurosurgeon at the Oxford Functional Neurosurgery Group, meant that the pain could be massively reduced and life for Robert became bearable.  Professor Aziz has implanted an electrode in his brain which can in a sense make him happier.  The electrode is controlled by a switch which is in his chest.  Richard is now free to control the voltage delivered to his brain and thereby reduce the pain he suffers.  "I used to worry about the fact of having something in my head but now I don't look at it like that.  I mean, it works to a percentage, which gives us a better way of life than what we had before."

So could this be an idea for the future?  Morten Kringelbach, a neuroscientist from Oxford University, thinks it is still a long way off.  "The prospects of actually putting an electrode in and permanently changing people's happiness, and that is the state of contentment over time, I think the only way that one can do that is by changing the circumstances that people are in."  Dr Kringelbach says it is possible to manufacture pleasure.  But the priority is to use the science to alleviate pain and depression.

But Robert Matthews was in no doubt that if he was offered not just the chance to get rid of his pain but actually to make himself feel positively happy he would turn his switch up to the happy level.  "Oh definitely.  Most definitely all the way.  Take it all the way, yes.  That would be a happy day, wouldn't it?"

But films and literature have seen the idea of artificial happiness as sinister.  In the 1930s novelist Aldous Huxley wrote about it in his book Brave New World.  The idea of synthetic emotion is also explored in the film The Matrix.  In our opinion poll we asked whether people would take pills that made them happy if there were no side-effects.  Three out of four people said "no thanks".

Leading psychologist Professor Ed Diener argues against artificial routes to happiness.  "We do not want to create a society that's happy because of drugs.  Society that's locked into happiness, we still want people with functioning emotion systems, systems that react when bad things are happening, and react when good things are happening."  It is a thought echoed by Professor Paul Salovskis, clinical psychologist at King's College London.  "It seems to me that drugs as a solution to unhappiness are rather similar to kind of, you know, say plastic surgery to enhance your beauty or whatever.  The quick fix is potentially on the horizon but I think it will keep receding as it already has.  We were promised years ago that we would have the pharmacological solution to all of emotional problems - it hasn't happened."

Source: 24 May 2006

The Use of Enhancement Drugs

by Philip Campbell

I've changed my mind about the use of enhancement drugs by healthy people.  A year ago, if asked, I'd have been against the idea, whereas now I think there's much to be said for it.

The ultimate test of such a change of mind is how I'd feel if my offspring (both adults) went down that road, and my answer is that with tolerable risks of side effects and zero risk of addiction, then I'd feel okay if there was an appropriate purpose to it.  An appropriate purpose would exclude gaining an unfair advantage or unwillingly following the demands of others, but include gaining a better return on an investment of study or of developing a skill.

I became interested in the issues surrounding cognitive enhancement as one example of debates about human enhancement - debates that can only get more vigorous in future.  It's also an example of a topic in which both natural and social sciences can contribute to better regulation - another theme that interests me.  Thinking about the issues and looking at the evidence-based literatures made me realise how shallow was my own instinctive aversion to the use of such drugs by healthy people.  It also led to a thoughtful article by Barbara Sahakian and Sharon Morein-Zamir in Nature (20 December 2007) that triggered many blog discussions.

Social scientists report that a small but significant proportion of students on at least some campuses are using prescription drugs in order to help their studies - drugs such as modafinil (prescribed for narcolepsy) and methylphenidate (prescribed for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder).  I've not seen studies that quantify similar use by academic faculty, or by people in other non-military walks of life, though there is no doubt that it is happening.  There are anecdotal accounts and experimental small-scale trials showing that such drugs do indeed improve performance to a modest degree under particular circumstances.

New cognitive enhancing drugs are being developed, officially for therapy.  And the therapeutic importance - both current and potential - of such drugs is indeed significant.  But manufacturers won't turn away the significant revenues from illegal use by the healthy.

That word illegal is the rub.  Off-prescription use is illegal in the United States, at least.  But that illegality reflects an official drugs culture that is highly questionable.  It's a culture in which the Food and Drugs Administration seems reluctant generally to embrace the regulation of enhancement for the healthy, though it is empowered to do so.  It is also a culture that is rightly concerned about risk but wrongly founded in the idea that drugs used by healthy people are by definition a Bad Thing.  That in turn reflects instinctive attitudes to do with "naturalness" and "cheating on yourself" that don't stand up to rational consideration.  Perhaps more to the point, they don't stand up to behavioural consideration, as Viagra has shown.

Research and societal discussions are necessary before cognitive enhancement drugs should be made legally available for the healthy, but I now believe that that is the right direction in which to head.  With reference to the precursor statements of this year's annual question, there are facts behind that change of mind, some thinking, and some secular faith in humans, too.

Philip Campbell is the Editor-in Chief of Nature


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