In particular, parents say cell phones allow their families to stay more regularly in touch. And many parents say they are now using the Internet to view material online together.
Are you using technology to its best advantage? Before you put your trust in the latest gadgets, make sure you set a few ground rules for your family:
• Limit your teens’ time spent online and keep computers in a common area of the house;
• Monitor your teens’ digital devices regularly, checking Internet history and cell phone call logs; and
• Talk to your teens about their Web sites, profiles, blogs, etc., and ask them to show you what they’re doing online.
Many parents are still unaware of the risks their teens may be exposed to online or through their cell phones, many of which have Internet access. In fact, a Nielsen study conducted for the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign found that in a one-month period, nearly one million teens were exposed to one or more drug-related videos online. And more than a third of teens viewing drug-related content are under the age of 16. Before your family can reap the rewards of technology, it’s important to understand the risks.
Long-term heavy use of marijuana may cause two important brain structures to shrink, Australian researchers said.Brain scans showed the hippocampus and amygdala were smaller in men who were heavy marijuana users compared to nonusers, the researchers said on Monday.
The men had smoked at least five marijuana cigarettes daily for on average 20 years. The hippocampus regulates memory and emotion, while the amygdala plays a critical role in fear and aggression.
The study also found the heavy cannabis users earned lower scores than the nonusers in a verbal learning task – trying to recall a list of 15 words.
The marijuana users were more likely to exhibit mild signs of psychotic disorders, but not enough to be formally diagnosed with any such disorder, the researchers said. “These findings challenge the widespread perception of cannabis as having limited or no harmful effects on (the) brain and behavior,” said Murat Yucel of ORYGEN Research Centre and the University of Melbourne, who led the study.
“Like with most things, some people will experience greater problems associated with cannabis use than others,” Yucel said. “Our findings suggest that everyone is vulnerable to changes in the brain, some memory problems and psychiatric symptoms if they use heavily enough and for long enough.”
Researchers have made a breakthrough in uncovering the mystery behind why teens get hooked on cocaine more easily than adults by finding that developing brains are more powerfully motivated by drug-related cues.
The study found that adolescent rats given cocaine were more likely than adults to prefer the place where they got it.
Epidemiological studies confirm that of people in various age groups who experiment with drugs, teens are by far the most likely to become addicted as they are driven by drug related cues.
During the study psychologists Heather Brenhouse, PhD, and Susan Andersen, from McLean’s Developmental Psychopharmacology Laboratory introduced rats that were 38 or 77 days old which is equivalent to 13 or 20 human years, to an apparatus with one central and two larger side chambers that had different flooring, wall colours and lighting.
The injected the rats with saline solution in the morning for three days in a row and placed them in one side chamber for an hour.
Four hours later, they injected them with a preference-forming dose of cocaine and placed them in the opposite-side chamber for an hour.
To test the “conditioned place preference” for the chamber where they got cocaine, the rats were let free to explore the entire apparatus in a drug-free state for 30 minutes on the 4th day
Brenhouse and Andersen calculated how long each rat spent in the drug-paired side relative to total time spent on either side. They repeated the procedure every 24 hours until each animal’s place preference was extinguished, when the time they spent in the drug-paired chamber was cut in half – suggesting no lingering preference for either side.
Relative to adults, adolescent rats required around 75 percent more trials to extinguish a preference for the place where they were given the drug.
After each rat’s last extinction trial, the researchers waited 24 hours, injected a low 5 mg/kg “priming” dose of cocaine, and put it back in the apparatus to test for place preference.
During this test for “reinstatement” of extinguished preferences, adolescent rats showed a significantly greater renewed preference than did adults for the drug-paired chamber. Those that had originally learned on a 10 mg/kg dose of cocaine showed 40 percent greater reinstatement than the few adult rats that showed a place preference at the lower dose.
Brenhouse and Andersen view this as a sign that adolescents form stronger memories for even less potent rewards.
“Adolescent vulnerability to addiction involves robust memories for drug-associated cues that are difficult to extinguish.”
They believe that this is because their brains are still developing.
The researchers believe that the new findings may help in developing new treatments for youthful addiction.
The study appears in Behavioral Neuroscience, published by the American Psychological Association.
Parents are used to hearing their teens speak in code – from the trendy catchphrase of the week to the popular acronyms used for text messaging and online chatting. But one term that might come up more frequently this time of year is “420″ (pronounced “four-twenty”).
Those familiar with popular drug culture might recognize the code as a reference to the annual pot-smoking holiday on April 20 (or 4-20). There are many theories explaining the origin of the term and the date – from the supposed number of active chemicals in marijuana to an alleged police crime code for drug arrests to the time of day a group of California teens congregated to smoke up in the 1960s.
Whatever the actual origins of 420, many teens now know April 20th as the day to smoke marijuana. So parents should be especially mindful of monitoring for drug use on this day in particular.
So you tried pot at some point in your life and think you’ll feel like a hypocrite telling your teen not to use? Get over it. It’s important to talk about your experiences to help your children learn from them. Be honest and emphasize that this discussion is about your child’s future and not about your past. Marijuana today is more potent than it was a generation ago and more kids are using it at a younger age, when their bodies and minds are still developing. Talk to your teens. Kids who learn about marijuana and other drugs from their parents are less likely to use them.
How can you monitor for marijuana use? Follow these four easy steps:
1. Look online. Talk to your teen about pro-drug messages they might find on sites like Facebook and YouTube. Many teens form groups and recruit members online who are proponents of certain drugs or risky behaviors .
2. Listen for slang and look out for paraphernalia. If you hear terms like 420, bake, Mary, bud, blunt, etc., or see them in text messages, call your teen on it. Likewise if you see makeshift pipes or bongs disguised to look like harmless trinkets, it’s time for a larger discussion about drug use.
3. Ask who, what, where, and when. You should always know the details about your teen’s whereabouts, but pay special attention on April 20 as many teens plan to meet for the “holiday celebration.”
4. Watch and smell for signs of use. Red and bloodshot eyes are a symptom of marijuana use, so be on the lookout for recently opened eye drops. A distinct odor is another sign – even if your teen was just hanging out with other people who were smoking. If you detect smoke, alcohol, etc., on your teen’s breath or clothes, it’s time to talk about the dangers of such risky behaviors
Athletes who take human growth hormone may not be getting the boost they expected. While growth hormone adds some muscle, it doesn’t appear to improve strength or exercise capacity, according to a review of studies that tested the hormone in mostly athletic young men.
“It doesn’t look like it helps and there’s a hint of evidence it may worsen athletic performance,” said Dr. Hau Liu, of Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose, Calif., who was lead author of the review.
Growth hormone, or HGH, is among the performance enhancers baseball stars Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte were accused of taking in the blockbuster Mitchell Report. Clemens denies using the hormone, while Pettitte admits using it.
But the new research has some limitations and sheds no light on long-term use of HGH. The scientists note their analysis included few studies that measured performance. The tests also probably don’t reflect the dose and frequency practiced by athletes illegally using the hormone. Experiments like that aren’t likely to be conducted.
“It’s dangerous, unethical and it’s never going to be done,” said Dr. Gary I. Wadler, a member of the World Anti-Doping Agency and a spokesman for the American College of Sports Medicine.
Consequently, those in the field have to depend on such reviews or “what we hear on the ground,” he added.
Human growth hormone is made by the pituitary gland and promotes growth. A synthetic version has been available since the 1980s and its use is restricted for certain conditions in children and adults, including short stature, growth hormone deficiency and wasting from AIDS.
Although banned for other uses, growth hormone has been used by a variety of athletes and was cited along with steroids as one of the performance-enhancing drugs abused by baseball players in the report in December by former Senate majority leader George Mitchell. Several athletes, including Pettitte, have said they used HGH while recovering from an injury, an issue not covered in the review.
“There are a lot of claims that it’s this wonder drug,” said Liu.
Wadler said one of the appeals of growth hormone for athletes is that it can’t be detected in a urine test. A blood test will be available soon, and another is in development, he said.
“They think they are getting a free ride â€” they aren’t getting a drug test,” he said. “They believe they are stronger and bigger.”
Liu and his colleagues at Stanford University sought to find out if growth hormone really could improve performance. They looked for the best published tests, those comparing participants who got the hormone to those who didn’t get the treatment.
They analyzed 27 studies involving 440 participants. The results were released Monday by the Annals of Internal Medicine.
Researchers found that those who got the hormone put on about 5 pounds more of muscle, and lost about 2 pounds more of fat, although the fat loss wasn’t statistically different. The researchers said some of the extra body mass could just be fluid buildup.
There was no difference found in strength or exercise stamina between the two groups, but there were only two strength studies and eight that measured exercise. Those who got the hormone had more side effects including swelling and fatigue.
The review couldn’t consider long-term effects, since the longest study was three months, and most were much shorter.
The researchers also said the doses used in the research may be lower than those used by athletes, who may be combining growth hormone with other performance-enhancing drugs.
Dr. Alan Rogol of the University of Virginia and the Indiana University School of Medicine, said the work was a good review but had to rely on inadequate research.
“There are just tons of things we don’t know,” said Rogol.
The California researchers had support from Stanford, government agencies and Genentech Inc., which makes growth hormone; none of the groups had a role in the study. Two researchers also have been consultants or received grants from Genentech and other drugmakers.
But the use of those drugs isn’t limited to the professionals athletes.
They also can be found in colleges, high schools and even middle schools. And it’s not just athletes who are using them.
Young people experimenting with the hormones — using one or “stacking” two or more at a time and usually at doses much higher than would ever be medically prescribed — are just flirting with disaster, adolescent physicians and sports specialists say.
Misuse of the drugs can lead to serious consequences, including heart problems, diabetes and personality changes.
Jay Hoffman knows well some of those side effects:
Now a professor of health and exercise science at the College of New Jersey, Hoffman used anabolic steroids in NFL training camps with the Philadelphia Eagles and the New York Jets in the 1980s, a time when their use was legal.
He encountered what he called the “normal side effects”– hypertension, acne, fluid retention — but stopped using the drugs when he became overly aggressive after taking Anadrol, an oral steroid notorious for its potency.
“I decided that it just didn’t pay for me, every year to struggle to make a club and to use that,” said Hoffman, who now helps advise baseball’s Texas Rangers and other teams about steroid use. “I just didn’t like what was going on.”
Hoffman and others believe that pro athletes, such as Roger Clemens, have a responsibility as role models to younger athletes in terms of proper training techniques.
Clemens was the biggest name in a report headed by former Senate majority leader George Mitchell on the use of steroids and other performance-enhancement drugs in baseball. The FBI is investigating Clemens to determine whether he lied to a congressional panel when he denied taking steroids and HGH.
Anabolic steroids, also called anabolic-androgenic steroids, are synthetic versions of testosterone, a hormone that occurs naturally in the body. We need testosterone, which is produced the adrenal gland or testicles, and human growth hormone at different times to grow and develop normally. Anabolic means to “build up,” and androgenic refers to the development and maintenance of male sexual characteristics, such as deeper voice, body hair and muscle mass.
Young people feel the pressure:
Dr. Joe Congeni, sports medicine director at Akron Children’s Hospital, estimates that between 8 percent and 10 percent of high school athletes in our region use anabolic steroids, a number that has not changed much recently.
“I think there’s a lot of pressure on these kids to experiment,” said Congeni. “They don’t care about the future; they care about the now. That’s a natural trait of teenagers.”
A child who takes anabolic steroids before he or she is done growing faces a potentially irreversible side effect: closure of the growth plates, which are areas of cartilage that allow the bones to grow through adolescence. One progressive course of steroids is enough to permanently close the growth plates and stunt growth, according to Dr. Bernard Griesemer, a St. Louis expert on steroid use in young athletes.
HGH is produced by the pea-sized pituitary gland located at the base of the brain. HGH stimulates growth and cell production, causing increased height in childhood and maintenance of muscle and tissue throughout life.
HGH is often lumped together with steroids as a performance enhancer. While several studies have found that it reduces body fat and increases muscle mass, there is little evidence it increases strength or stamina.
Many athletes use HGH, to sculpt the muscles, in combination with anabolic steroids, which add strength. HGH also has become popular with nonathletes and recently has been tied to musicians, rappers and other celebrities.
And when celebrities are using it, the kids who want to look like them will usually try it too, said Griesemer.
“It’s becoming more common, because it’s now no longer just for the athlete population, it’s for the kids who want to look like they’ve just walked off the magazine cover,” said Griesemer, who was an anti-doping investigator for the 1998 Winter Olympics. “They’re using [HGH] for cosmetic purposes only.”
HGH is not addictive, but it can cause high cholesterol and problems with cardiovascular health and may increase the risk for diabetes, said Leona Cuttler, chief of pediatric endocrinology at Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital. Because HGH triggers an increase in cell production and growth, many doctors worry there is an increased cancer risk with its use.
The fight to control HGH
HGH is not a controlled substance like anabolic steroids. The federal government regulates the manufacture, distribution and use of drugs classified as controlled substances.
But many feel it is much too easy for people, including teenagers, to get their hands on HGH, and in December, Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, and Sen. Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican, introduced legislation that would make HGH a controlled substance.
That move has frustrated endocrinologists who treat patients, primarily children, with a legitimate medical need for the hormone. Cuttler, who also is director of the Center for Child Health and Policy at UH, calls it a misguided effort that has “sort of lumped growth hormone and steroids as drugs that are abused by athletes without sorting out their medical needs.
“I think there is a momentum to do something and to avoid it being used by athletes, and avoid it being in the culture of young people and adolescents,” she said. “But I’m just not sure this is the right way to approach it.”
“I don’t see the logic of their lack of support,” he said. “This stuff is not coming in by the package. It’s not coming in by the truckload. It’s coming into this country by the container-load. It’s a mess.”
Hoffman is concerned about teens using these black-market hormones without supervision simply because they see their idols doing it and think it must be safe.
“If you spend five minutes in a locker room, you realize these guys should not be role models,” he said. “I don’t think there’s enough research out there, and you’re running the risk of some serious, irreversible side effects.”
WHEN PEOPLE NEED TO TAKE STEROIDS: People often are confused about steroid abuse because there are several different kinds of steroid hormones that serve different purposes in the body. All are lipid soluble, meaning they dissolve in fats. They pass easily through the cell membrane and bind to a specific receptor in the cell.
Glucocorticoids: A type of steroid that includes prednisone, dexamethasone and hydrocortisone. Often prescribed to treat inflammatory conditions, such arthritis, pneumonia and asthma, or to prevent organ rejection. “This is often what people mean when they say their grandmother took steroids,” said Dr. Thomas Murphy, director of the Division of Endocrinology at MetroHealth Medical Center.
Anabolic-androgenic steroids: Includes testosterone and its synthetic equivalents. Used to replace testosterone in people with a deficiency. Any disease or damage to the testicles, pituitary gland or hypothalamus, as well as genetic abnormalities, chemotherapy, tumors, infection and glandular malformations can cause such a deficiency.
There is little data on the long-term consequences of anabolic steroid use or about what happens when they are used in very high levels, as is often reported by athletes and bodybuilders. At medical doses, common but reversible side effects include hair loss, acne, development of breast tissue in males, infertility and decreased testicular size, said Murphy.
More serious recognized side effects include hypertension and a small but significant effect on cholesterol levels that can increase chances of a heart attack or a stroke.
A child who takes a course of these steroids before he or she is done growing could permanently close the bone’s growth plates, irreversibly stunting growth.Lack of proof: Dr. Bernard Griesemer, an expert on steroid use in teens, often is frustrated by the argument that none of the side effects of steroid use has been proven.
“When people [use that argument] you have to point out that they’re never going to be able to prove this,” he said. “You’re not going to take a child and put him in a double-blind crossover study using a potentially lethal medication.”
Parents and caregivers are the first line of defense in addressing this troubling trend.
What’s the problem?
Teens are abusing some prescription and over-the-counter drugs to get high. This includes painkillers, such as those drugs prescribed after surgery; depressants, such as sleeping pills or anti-anxiety drugs; and stimulants, such as those drugs prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Teens are also abusing over-the-counter drugs, such as cough and cold remedies.
Every day 2,500 youth age 12 to 17 abuse a pain reliever for the very first time. More teens abuse prescription drugs than any illicit drug except marijuana. In 2006, more than 2.1 million teens ages 12 to 17 reported abusing prescription drugs. Among 12- and 13-year-olds, prescription drugs are the drug of choice.
Because these drugs are so readily available, and many teens believe they are a safe way to get high, teens who wouldn’t otherwise touch illicit drugs might abuse prescription drugs. And not many parents are talking to them about it, even though teens report that parental disapproval is a powerful way to keep them away from drugs.
What are the dangers?
There are serious health risks related to abuse of prescription drugs. A single large dose of prescription or over-the-counter painkillers or depressants can cause breathing difficulty that can lead to death. Stimulant abuse can lead to hostility or paranoia, or the potential for heart system failure or fatal seizures. Even in small doses, depressants and painkillers have subtle effects on motor skills, judgment, and ability to learn.
The abuse of OTC cough and cold remedies can cause blurred vision, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, coma, and even death. Many teens report mixing prescription drugs, OTC drugs, and alcohol. Using these drugs in combination can cause respiratory failure and death.
Prescription and OTC drug abuse is addictive. Between 1995 and 2005, treatment admissions for prescription painkillers increased more than 300 percent.
Club drugs are being used by young adults at all-night dance parties such as “raves” or “trances,” dance clubs, and bars. MDMA (Ecstasy), GHB, Rohypnol, ketamine, methamphetamine, and LSD are some of the club or party drugs gaining popularity. NIDA-supported research has shown that use of club drugs can cause serious health problems and, in some cases, even death. Used in combination with alcohol, these drugs can be even more dangerous.
No club drug is benign. Chronic abuse of MDMA, for example, appears to produce long-term damage to serotonin-containing neurons in the brain. Given the important role that the neurotransmitter serotonin plays in regulating emotion, memory, sleep, pain, and higher order cognitive processes, it is likely that MDMA use can cause a variety of behavioral and cognitive consequences as well as impair memory.
Because some club drugs are colorless, tasteless, and odorless, they can be added unobtrusively to beverages by individuals who want to intoxicate or sedate others. In recent years, there has been an increase in reports of club drugs used to commit sexual assaults.
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The girlâ€™s mother sounded really upset. â€œShe shuts herself up in her room and sniffs a cloth soaked in petrol. I donâ€™t understand it at all,â€ she said. â€œStrange behaviourâ€¦ How did it start,â€ asked the doctor. Apparently innocently enough, as it turned out, smelling the rags discarded by her mother after cleaning the petrol spills from the generator. The girl looked tired, despondent and disoriented. She twitched and dithered, anxiously eyeing the door, hoping to escape, probably to get her next â€œfixâ€.
Further questioning revealed that the girlâ€™s academic performance had also deteriorated in the last few months. She suffered from an addiction to petrol fumes, a recognised form of inhalant abuse. This is defined as the intentional inhalation of any volatile substance for the purpose of achieving an altered mental state, a â€œhighâ€.
Inhalants are easily addictive. Abuse was first documented among children in slums and ghettos in Africa. Now this addiction is found all over the world, among all ethnic and socioeconomic groups. It can start in elementary school and continue throughout adolescence. The extent of the problem is under reported as it often goes unrecognised. Addiction to inhalants is easy as unlike alcohol, marijuana, crack, heroin and other hard core â€œrecreationalâ€ drugs these are cheap, plentiful, appear innocent and can be easily purchased without arousing suspicion.
In addition to petrol, any product containing volatile chemicals like acetone, butane, chlorinated hydrocarbons, fluorocarbons, propane and toluene can be addictive. These chemicals are found in common household products such as permanent markers, adhesive, glue, paint thinner, shoe polish, room fresheners and correction fluids. There are several innovative ways of inhaling fumes like â€œsniffingâ€ or â€œsnortingâ€ from containers. Alternatively, aerosols are sometimes sprayed directly into the nose or mouth. Kids can â€œhuffâ€ these products by soaking rags in inhalants and then pressing the damp cloth to the mouth. Fumes can also be inhaled from the products poured into plastic bags. Inhalants can be fatal as they can cause palpitations and irregular heart beats. They can also cause suffocation, especially when inhaled from plastic bags.
Parents may not be aware that their child is addicted to inhalants. They may only note inexplicably bizarre behaviour like euphoria, drowsiness, giddiness, loss of coordination, slurred speech, irritation and agitation.
Petrol, including the unleaded variety, contains a significant amount of lead. In addition to nerve and brain damage, petrol sniffers can develop symptoms of lead poisoning. In the long term, the lead and volatile hydrocarbons can damage the fat (myelin) lining of the brain and nerves. The gait then becomes abnormal and unsteady. Visual recognition, attention, memory and learning are affected. Academic performance, too, deteriorates. Physical activity and sports become curtailed as there is poor coordination and tremor. These neurological changes increase the reaction time, thus making these young people accident prone.
Children who are addicted have additional physical and psychological problems. They may be depressed, fatigued (because of anaemia) and have subnormal hearing and vision. The kidneys may be damaged and may eventually fail. Once the habit is curtailed there is some improvement, but much of the neurological damage is permanent. Inhalant abuse must be stopped as soon as it is spotted. This can result in withdrawal symptoms, such as sleep disturbances, irritability, nausea, vomiting, sweating, rapid heartbeat, hallucinations or delusions.
Addiction can occur to many things â€” like food, tobacco, alcohol, drugs, sleeping tablets, painkillers, cough mixtures or even sex. Addiction occurs when there is a combination of genetic and environmental factors. In other words, it occurs when a person with such genetic makeup â€” which predisposes him or her to addiction â€” is brought up in a family where motive and opportunity are aplenty.
Sometimes, the elders in the family may be to blame. The child may observe a lack of control in his or her parentsâ€™ lifestyle. One or both of them may consistently overeat, be overweight and exhibit no restraint. There may be smoking, use of snuff or chewing tobacco. Alcohol may be misused with uncontrolled daily consumption or binge drinking.
To help addicted children, parents have to look within as their activities are often emulated by children blindly. They have to stop their addictions. At the same time, they must closely supervise and keep a watch on the child. Disappearing into a room, under the staircase or the terrace is a danger signal. They have to provide supervised activities to occupy the child from morning till night. Physical activity must be encouraged, even if there are pressures of homework, for 40 minutes a day. Yoga and training in the martial arts are also helpful as they teach mental discipline.
The road back to normalcy is long, winding, hard and full of pitfalls with plenty of opportunities for relapse. It is only with the help of supportive and dedicated family and friends that success can be achieved.
“For people who have a desire to stop using, the vaccine should be very useful,” said Dr Tom Kosten, a psychiatry professor who is being assisted in the research by his wife, Therese, a psychologist and neuroscientist. “At some point, most users will give in to temptation and relapse, but those for whom the vaccine is effective won’t get high and will lose interest.”
The vaccine, currently in clinical trials, stimulates the immune system to attack the real thing when it’s taken. The immune system – unable to recognize cocaine and other drug molecules because they are so small – can’t make antibodies to attack them. To help the immune system distinguish the drug, Kosten attached inactivated cocaine to the outside of inactivated cholera proteins.
In response, the immune system not only makes antibodies to the combination, which is harmless, but also recognizes the potent naked drug when it is ingested. The antibodies bind to the cocaine and prevent it from reaching the brain, where it normally would generate the highs that are so addictive.
“It’s a very clever idea,” says David Eagleman, a Baylor neuroscientist. “Scientists have spent the last few decades figuring out reward pathways in the brain and how drugs like cocaine hijack the system. It turns out those pathways are difficult to rewire once they’ve seen the drug. But the vaccine just circumvents all that.”
Kosten asked the Food and Drug Administration in December to green-light a multi-institutional trial to begin in the spring and is awaiting a response. Approval would mark a breakthrough in the treatment of cocaine addiction, which now mostly involves psychiatric counseling and 12-step programs. It presumably would be the final clinical hurdle before the vaccine – more than a decade in the making – might be approved for treatment.