Bad trip from marijuana could be sign of mental illness, research says

Research suggests that bad marijuana trips can be predictors of future mental health issues.

A new Danish study suggests that of patients hospitalized due to pot-related mental health issues, nearly 50 percent are diagnosed with bipolarism or schizophrenia later in life.

“It was very surprising,” said Marie Starzer, lead author of the study. “(These) were cases so severe you would need hospitalization or at least a visit to the psychiatric emergency room … there’s probably a lot more cases of people who get some sort of psychotic symptoms when they smoke cannabis but they pass after a couple of hours.”

Cannabis’ connection to schizophrenia is not new. In fact, over the past year, Health Canada gave $83,000 to the Schizophrenia Society of Canada to create a health-messaging website,

Phil Tibbo, chair of the Schizophrenia Society of Canada Foundation, suggests that many people think that because marijuana is “natural,” it’s always safe to use.

“When you talk to youth, that’s what they hear,” he said. “‘There’s no issue. It’s harmless. It’s a natural product. How can it do me any harm?’ That’s the perception of cannabis.”

And in some cases, the disruption of the endocannabinoid system that weed causes can lead to psychosis.

“Some might call it a ‘bad trip’ … which is really not what you’re supposed to expect if cannabis is a pleasurable experience,” Tibbo said. “What I’ll say to a patient in front of me is that, ‘Yes. Your friends may be smoking a lot but they’re not here. You’re here in front of me. It’s something about your brain.’”

The findings were published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

Study says learning to lie has cognitive benefits

Research suggests that learning to lie has beneficial effects on the developing brain of children.

A recent study suggests that learning to lie has cognitive benefits.

“As parents and teachers – and society as a whole – we always worry that if a kid lies there will be terrible consequences,”  said Kang Lee, senior author of the study. “But it turns out there is a big difference between kids who lie earlier and those who lie later. The kids who lie earlier tend to have much better cognitive abilities.”

“With just a few days of instruction, young children quickly learned to deceive and gained immediate cognitive benefits from doing so,” the researchers wrote in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology.

“More generally, these findings support the idea that even seemingly negative human social behaviors may confer cognitive benefits when such behaviors call for goal pursuing, problem solving, mental state tracking, and perspective taking,” they continued.

Lee has been exploring why and how kids lie for over 20 years. But the new study is “the first evidence that learning to deceive causally enhances cognitive skills in young children.”

Children can lie before they are seven years old, which the earliest cases as young as two. Despite the results, Lee isn’t suggesting that parents teach their kids to lie.

“I don’t think that would be a good idea, but it’s not a bad idea to let them play these kinds of deceptive games,” he said.

Ultimately, lying is a part of normal development, and the earlier kids learn to lie, the better.

The findings were published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology.

Dehydration is connected to muddled thinking, experts say

If you’re thinking is a bit fuzzy, a new study suggests that it could be dehydration.

A new study continues to add to the growing evidence that even a small amount of dehydration can cause everything from mood changes to declines in cognitive performance.

“We find that when people are mildly dehydrated they really don’t do as well on tasks that require complex processing or on tasks that require a lot of their attention,” said Mindy Millard-Stafford of the Georgia Institute of Technology, who published the recent study.

And it doesn’t take long to become even mildly dehydrated during the summer, especially for people that exercise outdoors.

“If I were hiking at moderate intensity for one hour, I could reach about 1.5 percent to 2 percent dehydration,” said Doug Casa, a professor of kinesiology at the University of Connecticut.

In fact, an average-sized person will sweat out approximately 1 liter of water from 2 percent dehydration.

“Most people don’t realize how high their sweat rate is in the heat,” Casa said.

Another recent study examined young, active women who took cognitive tests after they reduced fluid intake to 6 ounces or less for a day.

“We did manage to dehydrate them by [about] 1 percent just by telling them not to drink for the day,” said Nina Stachenfeld of the Yale School of Medicine who led the research.

“When the women were dehydrated they had about 12 percent more total errors” she said.

And after repeating the tests when the women drank a sufficient amount of water, performance increased.

“We were able to improve executive function back to normal — in other words, back to the baseline day — when they rehydrated,” Stachenfeld said.

The findings were published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.

Scientists track neural circuits of ageless hydras

A team of researchers is tracking the nervous system of the unique ageless hydras.

A team of Rice University researchers is examining the neural activity and muscle movement of the freshwater Hydra vulgaris. The team’s unique methods are being used to create the first comprehensive characterization of the connection between muscle movements and neural activity in the hydras.

C. elegans (roundworms) and hydrae have similarities,” said computer engineer Jacob Robinson. “They’re small and transparent and have relatively few neurons, and that makes it easier to observe the activity of every brain cell at the same time.”

“But there are enormous biological differences,” he added. “The worm has exactly 302 neurons, and we know exactly how it’s wired. Hydrae can grow and shrink. They can be cut into pieces and form new animals, so the number of neurons inside can change by factors of 10.”

“If you look at them with the naked eye, they just sit there,” he added. “They’re kind of boring. But if you speed things up with time-lapse imaging, they’re performing all kinds of interesting behaviors. They’re sampling their environment; they’re moving back and forth.”

Robinson and his team believes that the examination of organisms from different locations on the phylogenetic tree can reveal the links between animal nervous systems.

“Why do we have a nervous system? What is it good for? What are the things that a hydra can do that worms and humans can also do? What are the things they can’t do?”

“These kinds of questions will help us understand how we’ve evolved the nervous system we have,” Robinson said.

The findings were published in Lab on a Chip.


Single molecule deficiency could mean severe and treatment-resistant depression

Scientists have discovered the connection between a common nutritional supplement and depression.

Researchers have determined that people with severe and treatment-resistant depression have low levels of acetyl-L-carnitine, which is naturally produced in the body. It it also available as a nutritional supplement in many stores.

Although the data is built from extensive animal research, it is the first solid indication of the potential connection between acetyl-L-carnitine levels and depression in humans.

Natalie Rasgon fromt Stanford University School of Medicine described the results as “an exciting addition to our understanding of the mechanisms of depressive illness.”

“As a clinical psychiatrist, I have treated many people with this disorder in my practice,” she said.

Also known as major depressive disorder or clinical depression, this mental health issue is the most common mood disorder in the world, with approximately 8 to 10 percent of the general population affected at any time.

“It’s the No. 1 reason for absenteeism at work, and one of the leading causes of suicide,” Rasgon said. “Worse, current pharmacological treatments are effective for only about 50 percent of the people for whom they’re prescribed. And they have numerous side effects, often decreasing long term compliance.”

However, this doesn’t mean you should run to the store and purchase acetyl-L-carnitine, as many of these products are unregulated by the Food and Drug Administration. Not only that, but many questions remain to be answered – hopefully by future research.

“We’ve identified an important new biomarker of major depression disorder,” Rasgon said. “We didn’t test whether supplementing with that substance could actually improve patients’ symptoms. What’s the appropriate dose, frequency, duration? We need to answer many questions before proceeding with recommendations, yet. This is the first step toward developing that knowledge, which will require large-scale, carefully controlled clinical trials.”

The findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Study sheds light on how stimulants help ADHD

A new study sheds light on how stimulants work on the cognitive processes of the human brain to treat ADHD.

A new study sheds light on why stimulant medications effectively treat Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Although they have been used for decades, the new data fills in gaps of knowledge that previously existed in our understanding of the way they increase cognitive function.

“This is the first study to demonstrate that improving short-term working memory and the ability to inhibit are at least part of the way that stimulants work and improve outcomes for ADHD in the classroom,” said Larry Hawk, a professor in UB’s Department of Psychology and lead author of the paper.

And knowing how treatments like methylphenidate (MPH) work could lead to the development of better behavioral and pharmacological treatments.

“It’s estimated that it takes 15 to 20 years to go from animal research to an approved medication, at a cost of roughly $500 million to $2 billion,” Hawk said. “Knowing how one treatment works gives us clues about what to target in developing new treatments. That can save a lot of time, energy and money.”

Hawk says that the new data is the strongest evidence yet that stimulants like MPH enhance specific cognitive processes, which is what leads to improved performance and classroom behavior.

“Specifically, the more medication helped kids hold and manipulate information in working memory (like being able to remember things in reverse order) and the more it helped children inhibit responses ‘on the fly’, the greater the classroom benefit,” he said. “These data are the strongest yet to suggest those are the mechanisms by which the medication is working.”

The findings were published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.

Leopard geckos can make new brain cells, study says

A new study reveals that leopard geckos can make new brain cells.

A team of researchers from University of Guelph in Canada just discovered the stem cell types that geckos use to create new brain cells, effectively providing evidence that the lizards might be able to regenerate certain parts of their brain following injury.

“The brain is a complex organ and there are so few good treatments for brain injury, so this is a very exciting area of research,” said Matthew Vickaryous in the Department of Biomedical Sciences at the Ontario Veterinary College (OVC). “The findings indicate that gecko brains are constantly renewing brain cells, something that humans are notoriously bad at doing.”

The data is the first to provide evidence of new neuron formation in the brain of the leopard gecko. Not only that, it’s the first study to reveal the presence of stem cells in the same area.

“Most regeneration research has looked at zebrafish or salamanders,” said Rebecca McDonald, a master’s student who led the study. “Our work uses lizards, which are more closely related to mammals than either fish or amphibians.”

The team found that stem cells produce new brain cells regularly in the medial cortex, which is a region in the front of the brain that is needed for behavior and social cognition.

“The next step in this area of research is to determine why some species, like geckos, can replace brain cells while other species, like humans, cannot,” McDonald said.

“Recently, there’s been a lot of new information coming out about the brain’s ability to produce new cells, something that was long thought to be impossible,” she added. “This is definitely an area of research that has the potential to change the way we treat brain injuries.”

The findings were published in Scientific Reports.

Most life experienced are fabricated from memories, study says

A new study suggests that most of our life experiences are crafted using past memories.

A new study suggests that how well we remember the events in our lives has a huge impact on our perception of the present and predications of the future.

The Event Memory Retrieval and Comparison Theory (EMRC) underlying the findings suggests that the brain constantly compares sensory information from experiences against models of similar events in the past that are crafted from related memories.

“Memory isn’t for trying to remember,” said Jeff Zacks of Washington University and senior author of the study. “It’s for doing better the next time.”

And when the real world doesn’t match the “event model,” prediction errors increase and lead to a rewiring of the brain to strengthen the memories of the new experience and events in the older model.

“We provide evidence for a theoretical mechanism that explains how people update their memory representations to facilitate their processing of changes in everyday actions of others,” said Chris Wahlheim, first author of the study. “These findings may eventually illuminate how the processing of everyday changes influences how people guide their own actions.”.

The findings suggest that one of the biggest functions of memory is to retrieve past experiences and connect them to the current environment..

“Our study lends support to the theory that predictions based on old events help us identify changes and encode the new event,” Zacks said. “Memories of recent experiences are valuable because they can be used to predict what will happen next in similar situations and help us do better in dealing with what’s happening now.”

The findings were published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.

Ant soldiers don’t require large brains, study says

A new study suggests that natural selection works against large brains in army ants.

Army ant soldiers might be fairly large as far as ants go, but a new study reveals that they don’t have bigger brains than other workers in the same colony responsible for more complex tasks.

Ants are classified as eusocial insects, meaning they exhibit complex social organization. The variations in their individual abilities are organized by what helps the colony as a whole—not the individual.

“To compare different types of ant castes—soldiers and other workers—we took advantage of the dramatically distinct soldier class of workers in Eciton army ant colonies,” said Sean O’Donnell, lead author of the study. “Soldiers are morphologically distinct—they are bigger than their nest mates—but also behaviorally distinct: they have a simpler behavioral repertoire. Our findings support the idea that the simple behaviors of soldiers allow for reduced investment in brain development.”

The new data suggests that brain tissue maintenance and development is costly not only to individual organisms, but to colonies as a whole. As such, natural selection at the colony level selects for reduced brain tissue investment in soldiers that deal with less cognitive demands than others.

“We believe this is the first study to explore the possibility of reduced brain investment in social group members, with the evolutionary advantages accruing at the colony level, despite potential cognitive costs to the individuals,” O’Donnell said.

“Most previous studies of this kind compared different species, or explored which factors could favor increased brain investment at the individual level,” he continued. Our study explores how a reduction in behavioral capacity, and an associated reduction in brain investment in individuals, could benefit social groups as a whole.”

The findings were published in BMC Zoology.

‘Skinny fat’ could predict dementia in older adults

The presence of “skinny fat” could help predict dementia and Alzheimer’s in older adults.

A new study suggests that “skinny fat,” which is a combination of low muscle mass and strength with high fat mass, could be a predictor of dementia in older adults. And while risks of sarcopenia, the loss of muscle tissue that comes naturally with age, and obesity both have a negative impact of overall cognitive function and health, their coexistence poses a higher threat than either when they’re alone.

The study examined community-based memory and aging studies in 353 participants to analyze the relationship of  “skinny fat,” or sarcopenic obesity, with cognitive performance. The results found that “skinny fat” is linked to poor global cognitive performance in the study’s subjects.

“Sarcopenia has been linked to global cognitive impairment and dysfunction in specific cognitive skills including memory, speed, and executive functions,” said James E. Galvin, M.D., M.P.H., one of the most prominent neuroscientists in the country and senior author on the study.

“Understanding the mechanisms through which this syndrome may affect cognition is important as it may inform efforts to prevent cognitive decline in later life by targeting at-risk groups with an imbalance between lean and fat mass,” he continued. “They may benefit from programs addressing loss of cognitive function by maintaining and improving strength and preventing obesity.”

“Sarcopenia either alone or in the presence of obesity, can be used in clinical practice to estimate potential risk of cognitive impairment,” said Magdalena I. Tolea, coauthor on the study. “Testing grip strength by dynamometry can be easily administered within the time constraints of a clinic visit, and body mass index is usually collected as part of annual wellness visits.”

The findings were published in Clinical Interventions in Aging.