Cigars Are No Better

May 15, 2015

By Medical Discovery News

Person smoking a cigarette

A common argument made by those who smoke cigars is that they are safer than cigarettes.  However, several studies argue that this is not true.

Cigar smoking has increased dramatically in the U.S. Between 2000 and 2011, small cigar sales rose 65 percent and large cigar sales increased 233 percent. Americans smoked more than 13 million cigars in 2010, twice the number from 2000. About 13.4 million people age 12 or older smoke cigars. A cigar culture has arisen, with cigar bars or clubs, shops with walk-in humidors, and magazines for those who consider themselves cigar connoisseurs. Their use among sports figures and celebrities has made them seem fashionable or sophisticated, a symbol of status or success.

The tobacco in cigars is cured and fermented to enhance the flavor, but this process also increases the amounts of harmful ingredients. Cigars come in three basic sizes, but the classic cigars are the large ones that contain more than half an ounce of tobacco, and some contain as much as an entire pack of cigarettes.

Just like cigarettes, cigars contain nicotine and can be very addictive. Most people who smoke cigars do not inhale, and therefore the nicotine is absorbed more slowly. However, cigar smoke dissolves more easily in saliva than cigarette smoke, enhancing the amount of nicotine absorbed.  Smokers absorb one to two milligrams of nicotine out of the eight total milligrams in cigarettes. The large cigars contain anywhere from 100 to over 400 milligrams of nicotine, and the amount a person absorbs varies greatly depending on how long the cigar is smoked, how many puffs are taken, and how much smoke is inhaled. Second- and third-hand cigar smoke is dangerous, just like it is with cigarettes.

In one study, scientists measured the levels of two biomarkers for tobacco as well as arsenic and lead in over 25,000 cigar smokers. Cigar smokers had higher levels of these carcinogens than nonsmokers and equal levels to cigarette smokers. Overall, the study found that cigars are not safer than cigarettes. Cigar smokers are less likely to develop lung cancer than cigarette smokers, but they are at higher risks of developing other cancers.

Those who inhale while smoking cigars are more likely to develop laryngeal cancer, lung cancer, bladder cancer, pancreatic cancer, and cancers of the tongue, mouth, or throat than nonsmokers. Even those who don’t inhale the smoke directly still inhale the secondhand smoke and are at an increased risk of lung cancer. Cigar smokers are four to 10 times more likely to die from cancers of the mouth, larynx, and esophagus than nonsmokers.

Cigar smoking also increases the risk of other diseases including emphysema, chronic bronchitis, heart attacks, gum disease, and erectile dysfunction. One long-term study determined that cigar or pipe smoking costs people 10 years on average – they spent an extra five years in bad health and died five years earlier.

So before you take up cigars in an attempt to look cool, ask yourself if your image is more important than your health.

For a link to this story, click here.

The Teen Brain on Weed

April 24, 2015

By Medical Discovery News

A brain

It is now legal to use marijuana (recreationally and/or medically) in more than 20 states and the District of Columbia, and as more places debate legalizing the substance, more people are asking about its consequences on human health. There are many myths and misconceptions out there, but this is what science has to say about the subject.

As with all substances, the health effects depend on the potency, amount, and a person’s age. An independent scientific committee in the United Kingdom evaluated how harmful various drugs were based on 16 criteria and ranked heroin, crack cocaine, and methamphetamine as the most harmful drugs to individuals using them, and ranked alcohol, heroin, and crack cocaine as the drugs that cause the most harm to others. Marijuana ranks eighth, with slightly more than one-quarter the harm of alcohol.

Short-term use is associated with impaired short-term memory, making it difficult to learn and retain information while under the influence. Short-term use can also impair motor coordination, interfering with tasks such as driving. The overall risk of an accident doubles if a person drives soon after using marijuana. In comparison, those with blood alcohol levels above the legal limit are five times more likely to have an accident, and the combination of alcohol and marijuana is higher than either one alone.

Long-term or heavy use is associated with diminished life satisfaction and achievement overall. At high doses, marijuana can cause paranoia and psychosis, and long-term marijuana use increases the risk of developing schizophrenia or other chronic psychotic illnesses. Nine percent of all marijuana users, or 2.7 million people, develop an addiction to it. That figure jumps to 25-50 percent for those who use marijuana daily, and 17 percent of people who begin using marijuana as adolescents become addicted. Cannabis withdrawal syndrome is real and includes symptoms of irritability, sleep disturbance, dysphoria, craving, and anxiety.

Adults who occasionally use marijuana do so with little to no risk, but adolescent brains are not fully developed, making them more vulnerable to the adverse effects of marijuana. Using marijuana during adolescence can alter brain development, causing impaired cognition and lower IQs. This is probably because the active ingredient in marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinol, affects the brain’s ability to make connections between neurons in certain regions of the brain. Adolescent marijuana users also have a smaller hippocampus, which is important in learning and memory, and a less active prefrontal cortex, which is important in cognitive tasks such as planning and problem-solving.

Since acute marijuana intoxication can impair cognitive functions for days, students who use marijuana may function well below their natural abilities, causing academic difficulties. High school dropouts do report higher marijuana usage than their peers. Some evidence suggests that these cognitive impairments could be long-lasting or permanent in long-term users who started at younger ages, which can impact their abilities to succeed academically and professionally.

There is no clear association between long-term marijuana use and any deadly disease, although chronic marijuana smokers have increased rates of respiratory infections and pneumonia and an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. The effects of marijuana on a developing embryo and the effects of second-hand or third-hand marijuana smoke have not been well-studied, but as marijuana legalization continues to be an issue the science behind it will as well.

For a link to this story, click here.

Krokodil Tears

Jan. 17, 2014

By Medical Discovery News

Don't do drugs

As if designer drugs and bath salts were not enough, now drug users have another substance to abuse. It’s called Krokodil, because it causes skin to turn green, bumpy, and scaly at the injection site, like a crocodile’s. And what it does inside the body is just as bad.

Use of this drug began in Russia in 2002, and by some estimates, there at least one million users. The chemical in Krokodil, desomorphine, was created in the U.S. in the 1930s as a less-addictive substitute for the painkiller morphine. However, the new drug also proved to be highly addictive and even more potent.

Krokodil and heroin are both opiates, but Krokodil is much cheaper, costing about one-tenth less than heroin, and less than one can of beer in Russia. It is becoming the drug of choice among heroin addicts, but withdrawal from Krokodil addiction is far worse and takes much longer.

The ingredients of Krokodil include codeine, gasoline, paint thinner, lighter fluid, and a few other ingredients that are readily available. It takes only about an hour in a kitchen to prepare the drug. Codeine is also an ingredient in other drugs and is no longer sold over the counter in the U.S. or Russia to curb the spread of these.

Users inject Krokodil into a vein, and the subsequent high begins in two to three minutes and lasts from 90 to 120 minutes. The first symptoms of addiction usually appear within five to 10 days. Death normally follows in two to three years, but a single dose can be lethal for a predisposed person.

The veins into which this drug is injected may be destroyed, leading to blockage of blood flow. If the drug is mistakenly injected into the skin, it will cause abscesses, which can degenerate the tissues and expose bone. Users and physicians both describe “rotting of the skin and flesh” that creates extensive sores especially on arms and legs. Treatment for these sores is intensive, often involving skin grafts. It is relatively common for Krokodil addicts to develop gangrene that requires amputation. Healing takes quite some time and it may take years before victims can do things like walk normally again. The few addicts who manage to recover are often disfigured for life. The acidic nature of the drug can lead to the deterioration of porous bones like those of the lower jaw. The drug can also lead to brain damage, speech impediments, poor motor skills, pneumonia, burst blood vessels in the heart, and meningitis. 

The first two known cases of Krokodil use in the U.S. were documented by a poison control center in Phoenix, Ariz., in September 2013, followed by additional reports in other places including Oklahoma, Illinois, Ohio, Utah, Mexico, and possibly New York. Some people think they are getting heroin and may not know that they are getting a cheaper, more toxic drug before becoming addicted to it. Officials fear this is only the beginning and that despite the warnings of its dangers, use will increase and with it, damage and death.

For a link to this story, click here.

Love or Lust?

By Medical Discovery News

Nov. 3, 2012


People seem to talk, sing, and write about love and lust more than any other emotions. Feelings behind love and sex give rise to intense emotions, and scientists have asked for years whether the feelings originate from one or separate structures in the brain. Most people can relate to relationships that made them wonder whether they’re in love or just in lust. Now evidence suggests love and sexual desire stimulate different but related parts of the brain.

Researchers in the U.S. and Switzerland pooled their brain imaging data from 20 studies to map areas of the brain that lit up as people viewed erotic images or pictures of their romantic partners.  Regardless of gender, two areas of the brain were triggered: the insula and striatum. The structures play a role in both sex and love, and provide evidence that first comes lust before love can follow.

For a person to realize they are feeling desire, the insula brings it to consciousness. Located inside the cerebral cortex, the insula connects the limbic system, which is a primitive emotion area of the brain, to the cortex, where the brain’s higher thinking takes place. By doing this, the insula creates awareness of feelings and attributes meaning to them.

The brain images also reveal that the back portion the insula is triggered by desire, the front by romantic feelings, and the middle portion is activated when people are with someone they both love and desire. As this is happening, the striatum is also triggered. The striatum, not far from the insula in the cortex of the brain, coordinates cognitive processes that include planning and executing pathways so that when a person is motivated to do something, they act. In this way, they can act on the object of their love and desire.

The striatum furthers this process with two other functions. It has reward pathways that are activated by sex and food, allowing a person to feel pleasure from these stimuli. Over time, as sexual pleasure continues with a person, the striatum’s other function of conditioning rewards this action and paves the way for sexual desire to progress to love.

Drug addictions trigger the same pathways, offering the first evidence to prove what people have always felt – that love is addictive. Put simply, love may be a habit that evolves from lust, as the desire is rewarded.

Love’s a good habit when it comes to partners, children or parents. Addiction to love is not as healthy, when a person is perpetually in new relationships and can’t sustain lasting bonds. While the new study suggests desire may be the precursor to love, it also shows love is more complex and abstract. It’s less dependent than lust on the physical presence of another person.

Love involves pathways of the brain responsible for monogamy and pair bonding, characteristics that many societies base their values on. More studies on understanding these emotions will lay the groundwork for further social neuroscience research.

For a link to this story, click here.