Doctors in the UK should be able to prescribe cannabis-derived medicine, the government’s chief drug advisers have recommended, paving the way for a loosening of the laws governing access to the substance.
Cannabis is classed as a schedule 1 drug, meaning it is thought to have no therapeutic value and cannot be lawfully possessed or prescribed. It may be used for the purposes of research but a Home Office licence is required.
“At present, cannabis-derived products can vary greatly in their composition, effectiveness and level of impurity. It is important that clinicians, patients and their families are confident that any prescribed medication is both safe and effective.”
The ACMD has tasked the Department of Health and Social Care and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency with producing a definition for the products that could be prescribed.
The council also recommends that clinical trials urgently take place to further establish the safety and effectiveness of different products.
In 2017, scientists managed to observe and produce the loving mechanism to voles of prairies1. Before going further in this article, it is necessary to know that this species (Microtus ochrogaster) is curiously an excellent choice to model the human loving behavior. Indeed, voles look like us emotionally talking: they are monogamous but have sexual interactions with other partners than their other half, they become aggressive in the presence of other individuals of the same sex and depressed when they lose their partner. Furthermore, the prefrontal cortex of voles and humans can modify the behavior of the deep layers of the brain.
That’s what happens to the voles when they fall in love… and thus that’s probably what happens to us either in such a situation. The neuroscientists of the Emory University of Atlanta were able to observe that the loving feeling coincides, in the brain of voles, with the takeover of the accumbens core by the prefrontal cortex. In other words, the center of reflection and decision suddenly takes over the center of pleasure while the subject falls in love. It would thus be the intellect which would be at the origin of the Love feeling! And it would be it which would make us perceive the presence of our partner as a reward.
The same team was able to verify it: having introduced photoperceptible genes into certain neurons of a female, they put her in a cage with an unknown male (and they made sure to prevent any physical contact between them). Then they activated the neurons of the prefrontal cortex of the female with a frequency determined during preliminary phases of observation, before the experiment. Then they placed the female in an environment containing various males: in 10 cases out of 12, the female then preferred the male that was chosen by the scientists.
Even if this behavior are not directly transposable to a human (whose brain is more complex), this experiment lights us on the way we work. And, potentially, this knowledge can help us treating disorders as autism, which corresponds to a difficulty in creating social links.
1■ Science et vie, august 2017, “Les secrets de l’amour enfin révélés” [“Science and life”, “Secrets of loved finally uncovered”]
Is it possible to enhance and rewire the adult brain?
To find out more about plasticity in the brain, host Nicola Davis speaks to Dr Tamar Makin, a neuroscientist at the University of College London’s Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience; Nick Ward, a professor of neurology and neurorehabilitation at University College London; and Prof Allan Young, chair of mood disorders at King’s College London and a coauthor of a recent study into possible drug treatments to enhance brain plasticity.
In attempts to define what makes us uniquely human, emotions and feelings are often marginalized. These deeply ingrained, often irrational aspects of our behaviour seem destined to be the poor cousins of the rational cognitive functions that enable the formulation of mathematical theorems or operatic scores. In his bold and important book The Strange Order of Things, neuroscientist Antonio Damasio argues that in underestimating the contributions of such ‘lower-level’ brain phenomena to ‘higher-level’ cognitive functions, science might have been missing out on some important biology. Similarly, neuroscience’s emphasis on the origins of language as a shaper of culture might have eclipsed the role of feelings.
Damasio traces core components of the human “cultural mind”, such as social behaviour and cooperation, back to the non-human biology of unicellular organisms present at the inception of life. Bacteria do not sit up at night to contemplate the nature of their existence, and are unable to calculate the trajectories of distant planets. Nevertheless, they are in full command of an impressive repertoire of social behaviours. For example, when nutrients are scarce, bacteria eschew their hermit-like lives and clump together. They can also align into defensive palisades that can confer resistance to antibiotics.
Although compelling and refreshingly original, Damasio’s thesis would have benefited from a more detailed exposition of the scientific evidence supporting his assertions.
Chemical controllers: How hormones influence your body and mind
WE LIKE to think we are in charge of our own behaviour – that our thoughts are under our conscious control and that our actions are mostly reasonable. But our behaviour is also in the sway of an ancient system of mind control: hormones. These protein messengers are best known for their fundamental duty as regulators – think of insulin and blood sugar, for example – but they also bathe the brain in chemical information that tells us about the world around us and the people in it.
Can a surge in a particular hormone make us feel and act like a totally different person?
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Nowadays, science verifies more and more this old proverb. Indeed, we begin to realize the enormous influence that our food has on our physical and mental health, on our feelings and our way of thinking.
Why? Because the food we gulp down has contact with our digestive system, which is a kind of … a second brain. That could sound strange, but sometimes reality does: not only our digestive system contains neurons, but it contains nothing less than 100 milliards of them1! Connected between them and also with the brain, the one which stands in the head, via the vagus nerve, of which between 80 % and 90 % of fibers are none-reciprocal, and let information pass from the stomach (in particular the small intestine, around which it is rolled up) to the brain2. So it is our digestive system which tells our brain how to behave, and not the opposite!
We thus very well understand that what we eat influences our digestive system, and thus our brain: our feelings, our reflections, etc.
Furthermore, our food also has a direct effect on our intestinal flora, these 100000 billion of small bacteria which develop in our digestive system. But this intestinal flora, which has a very important effect on our body, depends naturally on our food. And from its composition can ensue cardiovascular risks4, anxiety and dépression2, autism4, obesity4, neurological diseases (as the Parkinson’s disease5), diabetes4, cancer4, as well as disorders in our hormonal and immune systems 2.
A research team led by Mark Kahn, of the university of Pennsylvania, showed that the risk of developing cavernomes (vascular malformations resulting in risks of brain haemorrhages) depended on the intestinal flora of an individual. To prove that, they identified certain bacteria of the intestinal flora of mouse freeing a toxin susceptible to cross into the body and to generate cavernomes. By preventing the fixation of this toxin in the body of mice, they managed to reduce of 90 % the development of cavernomes in the population of studied mouse, proving the direct link between intestinal flora and appearance of cavernomes.3
Researchers showed the link between intestinal flora and Parkinson’s disease by transplanting the intestinal flora of sick mice in healthy mice, what made reveal the symptoms of the disease in the sane mice. On the other hand, by isolating sick mice in a sterile environment or by treating them with antibiotics (and doing so by eliminating their intestinal flora), the researchers managed to reduce the intensity of the symptoms of the disease.5
A research team led by Floris Fransen identified that the intestinal flora of young individuals differed from that of the old ones. And by transferring the intestinal microbiote of old individuals in young individuals, and vice versa, they managed in a case to generate disorders to the guinea pig and to reduce them in the other one.4
Professor P. Holzer, neuro-gastroenterologist from Graz’s Hospital, was able to observe during large-scale epidemiological studies led on volunteers, that food has an effect on the humor of people, as they eat healthily or not.3
WHAT CAN BE DONE WITH IT
These discoveries are a real revolution: they actually allow to envisage in the future to handle a lot of complex diseases simply by modifying the intestinal flora of the sick person, using for example antibiotics or probiotics.
Well, as prevention is better than cure, pay attention on what you eat!
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Hi Neurohackers! Previously we saw a cool introduction to the powers of music. Here is another one about applications of the concept!
Social applications are unlimited: we find of course the track of music in every religion, where texts must be precisely memorized, and where the rites referred to magic stuff. We know moreover from now on that this phenomenon was already present during prehistoric areas! Cro-Magnon men preferred the caves having the best acoustic properties and we found in the cave of Portel (Ariège, France), a testimony of this statement: two red points were drawn on the ceiling, and by standing between both, if we speak, the echo of the cave sends us back our voice “transformed”, “hollow”, “as if we were communicated with the spirit of the cave” according to the suggestion of Michel Dauvois.1 Thus we know that sounds and voices in particular has always been associated always to the divine world.
We still understand the interest of the military fanfare: it generates a protection bubble of sound, preventing the sounds of the enemy from reaching the troop, and thus let the men think that all is good so far! Furthermore, when we sing with the others, there is a form of “dissolution of the subject” into the population: everyone is an actor of his sound landscape, but he does not distinguish his voice from that of the others, if he sings in rhythm and in tune. And if it is the case, the impression of power is moreover multiplied tenfold (physical phenomenon of resonance). Thus we understand that we can generate a solid group spirit by this way.
The notion of ” sound landscape ” evoked above was created by Pierre Schaeffer (pioneer of the electronic music). It allows to bridge the gap between sound and music, by the means of ” the sound atmosphere “. If we saw that the psychology of man is modelled by the sound, we understand that his sound environment partially defines him… That is why the discipline of ” sound archaeology ” begins to be developed, trying to understand and then to reproduce the sound atmospheres of the past, and doing so trying to obtain information on the people who preceded us. But we also perceive here the ill-being of our time with all the problem of noise pollution…1
When we see the degree of importance that sound has for the man, we can finally raise the question: is sound essential to man’s development? Well, in fact, we notice that it is rather important for building himself: we saw in the first part of the article (lien html) that the sound connects the individual with the world which surrounds him, it erases the barrier which separates him from this one. Yet unsurprisingly, we know nowadays, that deafness has huge consequences on the development of psychomotor capacities of the children.2 In the same order of idea, we shall still note the use of ” the inner ear ” in the representation of the vertical posture for the individual
And finally, also interesting: the laboratories of Orfield, in Minneapolis, created, mainly for the NASA, a “anechoic room”. This place, said “anechoic” (without echo), absorbs 99,9 % of sounds. And we notice that to stay more than 45 minutes in such a chamber drives us crazy, because it breaks the balance between our inner physiological noises and the outer foreigner ones: the man is not made to hear only the beatings of his own heart!3 He is not alone in the universe, and maintains an intimate link with the outside world, a sound link.
And on these words ends this second part of article. But they say: all things come in threes! The next part and the end of this article is coming in the next episode.
Look further / Useful link(s)
1■ Article “Searching for lost sounds” from 01net, 02/08/2017
I recently read an article about the lack of sleep and its consequences. And it appears that it’s far more devastating than I could imagine!
The article is taken from The Guardian and is an interview of Mattew Walker, neuroscientist and director of the Center for Human Sleep Science at the University of California Berkeley.
If you sleep less than seven hours a day (eight are recommended), you’re suffering sleep deprivation, which is increasing your risk of cancer, heart attack, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, obesity and poor mental health. In fact, Matthew Walker’s researches showed that « no aspect of our lives is left unscathed by sleep deprivation ». It appears, among others, that there are relations between lack of sleep and development of certain subtypes of dementia and that after only one night of only four or five hours of sleep, the killer cells that your organism produces every day and clean cancerous cells or external toxic agents, drops by 70 %! Another effect of the lack of sleep is the lack of creativity, as the dream state is connected to it, and that it helps to overcome psychological shocks (you look about it better the next morning, due to the sleep), so the lack of sleep makes you psychologically vulnerable.
Bad news is that nowadays, accordingly to Matthew Walker, « We are in the midst of a « catastrophic sleep-loss epidemic », the consequences of which are far graver than any of us could imagine. » He thinks about that a lot and the result of his observations is that our lack of sleep is due to our environment and our civilization’s philosophy. It appears that in fact, only 8 % of population was trying to live with six hours of sleep or less by night in 1942, as in 2017, half of the population is concerned. Reasons are that we electrified the night (light dramatically degrades sleep), we don’t want to spend less time at work and with our family, we fear to be described as lazy by the others if we admit that we need to sleep and people are lonelier, more depressed and drink more alcohol and caffeine than in the past. Accordingly to Walker, « Humans are the only species that deliberately deprive themselves of sleep for no apparent reasons ». And as no one, accordingly to his researches, can survive on five hours of sleep or less without any impairment (or that an adult sleeping only 6h45min a night is predicted to live to his early 60s only without a medical intervention), then logically, it is observed that the sleep loss costs the UK economy more than 30 billion £ a year, or 2 % of GDP.
The advices of Matthew Walker to sleep well are:
– to go to bed and to wake up every day at the same time (put an alarm to warn you 30 minutes before to go to sleep!)
– to have a dark room to sleep well
– to not have computers or smartphones in your bedroom when you sleep
– to resist to the injunctions of society to sleep less (he noticed as a warning that Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher who both claimed that they didn’t need to sleep a lot developed each other an Alzeihmer’s disease).
Reviving unresponsive patients has long been a dream of humanity, and an oft-talked about part of the human condition.
A French patient received a traumatic brain injury fifteen years ago, putting him into a vegetative state. After stimulating a part of the brain, scientists were seemingly able to restore some of the patients’ consciousness. But no, we’re not quite at Awakenings yet.
A vegetative state is not a coma. Instead, the brain-damaged patient is awake but unaware and conscious-less. A paper in BMC Medicine describes the condition as “only showing reflex movements without response to command.” Put very simply, researchers are pretty sure the condition has something to do with brain damage altering how electrical signals travel between the inner and outer sections of the brain, as well as around the outer layer. Some patients recover from vegetative states, but others don’t.
The scientists hypothesized that perhaps stimulating the vagus nerve, the longest nerve connected directly to the brain, would help rewire parts of the brain and allow for higher levels of consciousness. They implanted a stimulator to the nerve and applied a current, slowly ramping it up over a month. Afterwards, they noticed the patient had increased brain activity and observed him move from the vegetative to a minimally conscious state—as one paper describes, “a condition of severely altered consciousness in which minimal but definite behavioral evidence of self or environmental awareness is demonstrated.”
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What about a little music to sleep well? A little song to get intestinal fortitude? Or singing a text to remember it? Does this stuff work? Yes it does!
The music influences on several brain behaviors and it plays therefore an important role in learning, human relations, perception of the world and memorization.
Light has always been associated with truth (what we can see in such expressions as ” to shed light on “, or ” the Age of the Enlightenment ” which appoints the first large-scale human attempt to get rational knowledge of the world).
And, for the same reasons, the sight is associated with knowledge: we immediately understand the origin of the image that we see, and if an obstacle prevents us from seeing something, at least we can notice the obstacle, so we know that something can be hide behind.
At the opposite, the hearing has a little bit of a magic character: the sound spreads itself in the space, despite of physical barriers across its ways. If masking an image is an easy job, it is more difficult to deaden a sound. And, the other way, it is often difficult to determine the origin of a sound we sense. Moreover, if we can close our eyes, we cannot close our ears. Therefore, the sense of hearing erases the barrier between the individual and the world which surrounds him. Sounds affect him directly and modify his person, his deep psychological structure. Sounds put us in touch with the Unknown. Therefore, music plays a very important role in the functioning of the brain and in the human development.
The musical memorization uses different zones of the brain than the linguistic one. It mainly uses two types of different memories: the semantic one, which enables one to identify an air or to whistle it, and the episodic one, which enables one to put it back in the context in which he has already heard it before, to recall the events and the feelings which he has associate with this music or sound.1
Furthermore, we know that the sense of hearing is developed very early, and is already operational in the mother’s wombs: the baby hears working the physiological system of his host. We thus see that the hearing system is more primitive than the visual one and is associated with a primitive phase of development where the subject isn’t yet separated from his environment and doesn’t differentiate himself from the world. And as the memory always put sounds back in context, by listening to past sounds we also recall the context in which we heard them and the feelings that we associated to them. Thus, we can say that we can “fix” feelings or memories to a music! 1
WHAT CAN BE DONE WITH IT
What? Plenty of things, of course, with such a tool!
For example, we can use it to memorize better a text by putting it into music.
The semantic memory makes us know the air, thus the musical note which is going to come, and the episodic memory reminds us the word which has to come with the next note. By the way it is for that reason that there are so many popular songs: music is a very powerful cultural vector.
We can also help our baby to fall asleep by singing a lullaby to him: very soon, he will associate it with the presence of his mother: her smell, her contact, her voice, the breast feeding … And in the future the simple singing will recall him this comfortable atmosphere. The lullaby also has the power to calm the parent who sings it by sending him back in his own childhood! By the way, it is certainly for that reason that certain lullabies crossed ages, from generation to generation … And it is so powerful that a program of music therapy using lullabies was developed in Canada to reassure children presenting an attachment disorder. 1
Then there are plenty of social applications: more to read in our next article!
Controversial topic: on one side some people complain to feel harmful effects on their body, on the other one labs say that the waves doesn’t cause any damage. It just happened that I recently read two articles which show a small evolution in that debate, and I thought that this information deserved to be shared.
A double-page from magazine “Science et Vie” of July, 2017 mention a researcher of the University of Picardy which announces: “our works led on rats show that they perceive the waves emitted by relay masts. It could cause psychosomatic disorders”. I like at the end of the article the sentence “this study is very interesting, comments an expert in this domain, who wishes to remain anonymous“. We can see that there is no problem with freedom of speech here! Other studies are planned, in particular in Amiens (North of France).
Shortly before, I read an article from magazine “01net” of June 21st, 2017 talking about certain smartphones: “these smartphones, as well as about forty others marketed between 2012 and 2016, can radiate way too much when they are placed on the thorax. So much that they could be forbidden to sale if they weren’t already on the market”. Indeed the National Agency of the Frequencies changed the standard: since April, 2016, the measures must be made 5 millimeters away from the body (this new test protocol can modify the ancient results up to 50 % !).