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Harvard University: Medical Marijuana Improves Executive Functions, Reduces Opiate Use

 

Questions

Does marijuana/cannabis affect executive functioning (the ability to decide and execute)?  Is there a difference in the effects of medicinal and recreational uses of marijuana?  Does marijuana have valid medical applications?

What is Executive Functioning?

Executive functioning is a set of processes that all have to do with managing oneself and one’s resources in order to achieve a goal. It is an umbrella term for the neurologically-based skills involving mental control and self-regulation.

Psychologists have identified the following mental control skills as part of executive functioning.

  1. Inhibition – The ability to stop one’s own behavior at the appropriate time, including stopping actions and thoughts. The flip side of inhibition is impulsivity; if you have weak ability to stop yourself from acting on your impulses, then you are “impulsive.” (When Aunt Sue called, it would have made sense to tell her, “Let me check the calendar first. It sounds great, but I just need to look at everybody’s schedules before I commit the whole family.”)
  2. Shift – The ability to move freely from one situation to another and to think flexibly in order to respond appropriately to the situation. (When the question emerged regarding who would watch the cats, Robin was stymied. Her husband, on the other hand, began generating possible solutions and was able to solve the problem relatively easily.)
  3. Emotional Control – The ability to modulate emotional responses by bringing rational thought to bear on feelings. (The example here is Robin’s anger when confronted with her own impulsive behavior in committing the family before checking out the dates: “Why are you all being so negative?”)
  4. Initiation – The ability to begin a task or activity and to independently generate ideas, responses, or problem-solving strategies. (Robin thought about calling to check on the date of the reunion, but she just didn’t get around to it until her husband initiated the process.)
  5. Working memory – The capacity to hold information in mind for the purpose of completing a task. (Robin could not keep the dates of the reunion in her head long enough to put them on the calendar after her initial phone call from Aunt Sue.)
  6. Planning/Organization – The ability to manage current and future- oriented task demands. (In this case, Robin lacked the ability to systematically think about what the family would need to be ready for the trip and to get to the intended place at the intended time with their needs cared for along the way.)
  7. Organization of Materials – The ability to impose order on work, play, and storage spaces. (It was Robin’s job to organize the things needed for the trip. However, she just piled things into the car rather than systematically making checklists and organizing things so important items would be easily accessible, so the space would be used efficiently, and so that people and “stuff” would be orderly and comfortable in the car.)
  8. Self-Monitoring – The ability to monitor one’s own performance and to measure it against some standard of what is needed or expected. (Despite the fact that they’re off to Missouri without knowing how to get there, with almost no planning for what will happen along the way, and without a map, Robin does not understand why her husband is so upset.)

Harvard University Study Conclusions

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Data from the current investigation provide preliminary evidence that after 3 months of treatment, medical marijuana users did not experience executive functioning deficits, which are often observed in regular, recreational marijuana users.

In fact, medical marijuana patients evidenced improvement in certain aspects of performance on these measures, particularly with regard to time required to complete tasks.

Further, patients reported some improvements on measures of clinical state and general health as well as a decrease in conventional pharmaceuticals, notably opiate use, which was reduced by 42% between the baseline and Visit 2 assessment.


References

Executive Functioning:  pp. 9-14 of Late, Lost, and Unprepared by Joyce Cooper-Kahn, Ph.D. & Laurie Dietzel, Ph.D. Published by Woodbine House, 6510 Bells Mill Road, Bethesda, MD 20817. 800-843-7323 http://www.woodbinehouse.com.  Retrieved 24.5.2017 from http://www.ldonline.org/article/29122/

Medical Marijuana Study:  Gruber SA, Sagar KA, Dahlgren MK, Racine MT, Smith RT and Lukas SE (2016) Splendor in the Grass? A Pilot Study Assessing the Impact of Medical Marijuana on Executive Function. Front. Pharmacol. 7:355. doi: 10.3389/fphar.2016.00355

The War on Medicine

800px-cannabis_sativa_kocc88hler

and the Leaves of the Tree are for the Healing of the Nations…

Although used for centuries as medicine by varied cultures across the world, in the US, medical marijuana became part of mainstream medicine in 1850, when it was added to the US Pharmacopeia. Physicians prescribed the use of cannabis broadly for a range of indications including (but not limited to) pain, emesis, migraine, insomnia, epilepsy, and opium withdrawal (Birch, 1889; Potter, 1917; Grinspoon and Bakalar, 1997; Booth, 2003).

Reefer Madness

It remained widely available until 1937, when the marijuana tax law criminalized use of the substance.  As anti-marijuana sentiments grew across the country, it was removed from the pharmacopeia in 1942 and in 1970, the passage of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) declared marijuana a Schedule I substance and the cultivation, possession, and distribution of marijuana became prohibited.

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Schedule I drugs are those

“with no currently accepted medical use, no demonstrated safety profile and a high potential for abuse…[they] are the most dangerous drugs of all the drug schedules with potentially severe psychological or physical dependence” (dea.gov2; Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 19703).

Marijuana > Heroin & Cocaine?

This classification deems marijuana more dangerous than other substances including cocaine, methamphetamine, and opiate-based drugs, which ironically are responsible for approximately 30,000 deaths per year (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2015). In fact, opioid overdoses are now considered a national epidemic; the rate of opioid overdose deaths, including those related to both prescription pain relievers and heroin, has nearly quadrupled since 1999 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2015).

Given its Schedule I classification, research studies exploring both potential risks and benefits of medical marijuana have faced numerous obstacles, forcing policy to outpace science in recent years. As the national climate warms toward marijuana, research is slowly pushing forward. However, much is left to be explored before the gap between science and policy can begin to close.

Excerpted with minor changes from Gruber SA, Sagar KA, Dahlgren MK, Racine MT, Smith RT and Lukas SE (2016) Splendor in the Grass? A Pilot Study Assessing the Impact of Medical Marijuana on Executive Function. Front. Pharmacol. 7:355. doi: 10.3389/fphar.2016.00355

Cannabis Restores Brain Function in Elderly Mice

Researchers believe that cannabis could actually help to sharpen our minds later in life.

In a German lab study of mice, while younger mice suffered a performance drop under the influence of THC, the psychoactive chemical gave older mice a considerable performance boost, even putting them on par with younger mice who’d abstained.

The team plans to explore the potential impact of THC on older human brains with a clinical trial later this year, being one of few to focus on more aged subjects so far.

Previous research with mice by the Universities of Bonn and Mainz also suggested that the brain’s main cannabis receptor and neural pathways are closely related to brain health in later life, and seem to play a role in preventing brain degeneration when active.

 

Full Article:  Burns, Janet. “Daily Dose Of Cannabis May Protect And Heal The Brain From Effects Of Aging.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 11 May 2017. Web. 16 May 2017. <https://www.forbes.com/sites/janetwburns/2017/05/08/daily-dose-of-cannabis-may-protect-and-heal-the-brain-from-effects-of-aging/&gt;.

Study Cited in Article:  A chronic low dose of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) restores cognitive function in old mice.  Andras Bilkei-Gorzo, Onder Albayram, Astrid Draffehn, Kerstin Michel, Anastasia Piyanova, Hannah Oppenheimer, Mona Dvir-Ginzberg, Ildiko Rácz, Thomas Ulas, Sophie Imbeault, Itai Bab, Joachim L Schultze & Andreas Zimmer.  Nature Medicine (2017) doi:10.1038/nm.4311.  Received 27 July 2015. Accepted 07 February 2017. Published online 08 May 2017.  https://www.nature.com/nm/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nm.4311.html

Healing Herb: Marijuana Treats Cancer, Epilepsy, Multiple Sclerosis & More

Live Science has rounded up promising evidence that medical marijuana may help people with certain conditions, including but not limited to:

  1. Cancer Nausea
  2. Cancer Vomiting
  3. Cancer Chronic Pain
  4. Cancer Suppressed Appetite
  5. Multiple Sclerosis Pain
  6. Epilepsy
  7. Nerve Pain

The active ingredient in marijuana, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), has been shown to increases appetite and reduces nausea. Another chemical in marijuana, cannabidiol (CBD), may decrease pain and inflammation and help with muscle-control problems, according to NIDA. Both THC and CBD belong to a group of chemicals called cannabinoids.

Full Article:  Rettner, Rachael. “Healing Herb? Marijuana Could Treat These 5 Conditions.” Live Science. Purch, 12 Aug. 2016. Web. 16 May 2017. <http://www.livescience.com/55750-medical-marijuana-conditions-treat.html&gt;.

Photo Credit:  Credit: Medical marijuana via Shutterstock

 

DUKE UNIVERSITY: Cannabis Smoking is a Safe Habit

Long-term study finds no differences in metabolism, lung function, inflammation

A long-term study of nearly 1,000 New Zealanders from birth to age 38 has found that people who smoked marijuana for up to 20 years have more gum disease, but otherwise do not show worse physical health than non-smokers.

Full Article:  Duke Today Staff. “Pot-Smokers Harm Gums; Other Physical Effects Slight.” Duke Today. Duke University, 31 May 2016. Web. 16 May 2017. <https://today.duke.edu/2016/05/cannhealth&gt;.

Study Cited in Article:  “Associations Between Cannabis Use and Physical Health Problems in Early Midlife: A longitudinal comparison of persistent cannabis versus tobacco users,” Madeline H. Meier, Avshalom Caspi, Magdalena Cerdá, Robert J. Hancox, HonaLee Harrington, Renate Houts, Richie Poulton, Sandhya Ramrakha, W. Murray Thomson, Terrie E. Moffitt. JAMA Psychiatry, online June 1, 2016. DOI: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2016.0637

Is the US Becoming the World’s Newest Third World Country?

MIT Professor Emeritus Peter Temin says “Yes.”

The richest large economy in the world, says Temin, is coming to have an economic and political structure more like a developing nation. We have entered a phase of regression, and one of the easiest ways to see it is in our infrastructure: our roads and bridges look more like those in Thailand or Venezuela than the Netherlands or Japan.

But it goes far deeper than that, which is why Temin uses a famous economic model created to understand developing nations to describe how far inequality has progressed in the United States. The model is the work of West Indian economist W. Arthur Lewis, the only person of African descent to win a Nobel Prize in economics. For the first time, this model is applied with systematic precision to the U.S.

The result is profoundly disturbing.

In the Lewis model of a dual economy, much of the low-wage sector has little influence over public policy. Check. The high-income sector will keep wages down in the other sector to provide cheap labor for its businesses. Check. Social control is used to keep the low-wage sector from challenging the policies favored by the high-income sector. Mass incarceration – check. The primary goal of the richest members of the high-income sector is to lower taxes. Check. Social and economic mobility is low. Check.

Read the full story here.

The World as a Classroom: Toward Using Indigenous Knowledge Systems

Native people have traditionally acquired their knowledge through direct experience in the natural environment.

For them, the particulars come to be understood in relation to the whole, and the “laws” are continually tested in the context of everyday survival.

Image result for aboriginal learning

West Asian science and education tend to emphasize compartmentalized knowledge which is often decontextualized and taught in the detached setting of a classroom or laboratory.

Image result for high school dissecting frogs

In the traditional Native sense, competency has an unequivocal relationship to survival or extinction. You either have it, or you don’t, and survival is the ultimate measure.

Image result for samoan spearfishing

In western terms, competency is based on predetermined ideas of what a person should know, which is then measured indirectly through various forms of “objective” tests. Such an approach does not address whether that person is really capable of putting the knowledge into practice. 

Image result for a report card

Native people do a form of “science” when they are involved in subsistence activities.

They have studied and know a great deal about the flora and fauna, and they have their own classification systems and versions of meteorology, physics, chemistry, earth science, astronomy, psychology (knowing one’s inner world), and the sacred.

Image result for aboriginal children learning from elders

For a Native student imbued with an indigenous, experientially grounded, holistic perspective, typical approaches to teaching can present an impediment to learning, to the extent that they focus on compartmentalized knowledge with little regard for how academic disciplines relate to one another or to the surrounding universe.

Image result for aboriginal children learning

To bring significance to learning in indigenous contexts, the explanations of natural phenomena should be cast first in Native terms to which students can relate, and then explained in western terms.

rasta school

For example, when describing an eddy along the river for placing a fishing net, it should be explained initially in the indigenous way of understanding, pointing out the currents, the movement of debris and sediment in the water, the likely path of the fish, the condition of the river bank, upstream conditions affecting water levels, the impact of passing boats, etc.

swirling_eddy__clackamas_river__oregon

Once the students understand the significance of the knowledge being presented, it can then be explained in west Asian terms, such as flow, velocity, resistance, turgidity, sonar readings, tide tables, etc., to illustrate how the modern explanation adds to the traditional understanding (and vice versa).

Image result for eddy diagram

All learning should start with what the student and community know and are using in everyday life.

The Native student will become more motivated to learn when the subject matter is based on something useful and suitable to the livelihood of the community and is presented in a way that reflects the interconnectedness of all things.

Image result for aboriginal knowledge system

Taken from “Education Indigenous to Place: Western Science Meets Native Reality” by Angayuqaq Oscar Kawagley and Ray Barnhardt http://www.ankn.uaf.edu/curriculum/Articles/BarnhardtKawagley/EIP.html