Mental Health

Cannabis can make patients less bothered by pain

Cannabis makes pain more bearable rather than actually reducing it, a study from the University of Oxford suggests.Cannabis can make patients less bothered by painUsing brain imaging, researchers found that the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis reduced activity in a part of the brain linked to emotional aspects of pain.

But the effect on the pain experienced varied greatly, they said.

The researchers’ findings Amygdala activity contributes to the dissociative effect of cannabis on pain perception are published in the journal Pain.

The Oxford researchers recruited 12 healthy men to take part in their small study.

Participants were given either a 15mg tablet of THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) – the ingredient that is responsible for the high – or a placebo.

The volunteers then had a cream rubbed into the skin of one leg to induce pain, which was either a dummy cream or a cream that contained chilli – which caused a burning and painful sensation.

Each participant had four MRI scans which revealed how their brain activity changed when their perception of the pain reduced.

Dr Michael Lee, lead study author from Oxford University’s Centre for Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Brain, said: “We found that with THC, on average people didn’t report any change in the burn, but the pain bothered them less.”

MRI brain imaging showed reduced activity in key areas of the brain that explained the pain relief which the study participants experienced.

Dr Lee suggested that the findings could help predict who would benefit from taking cannabis for pain relief – because not everyone does.

“We may in future be able to predict who will respond to cannabis, but we would need to do studies in patients with chronic pain over longer time periods.”

He added: “Cannabis does not seem to act like a conventional pain medicine. Some people respond really well, others not at all, or even poorly.

“Brain imaging shows little reduction in the brain regions that code for the sensation of pain, which is what we tend to see with drugs like opiates.

“Instead cannabis appears to mainly affect the emotional reaction to pain in a highly variable way.”

The study was funded by the UK Medical Research Council and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Oxford Biomedical Research Centre.

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Smoking may worsen a hangover US research concludes

Smoking may worsen a hangover after drinking heavily US research concludes-  although the reason why is unclear.Smoking may worsen a hangover US research concludesResearchers asked 113 US students to keep a diary for eight weeks, recording their drinking and smoking habits and any hangover symptoms.

When they drank heavily- around six cans of beer an hour – those who also smoked suffered a worse hangover.

Addiction charities hope this study may motivate smokers to cut down over the festive season.

The study’s findings are reported in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

One of the paper’s authors, Dr Damaris Rohsenow, from the Centre for Alcohol and Addiction Studies at Brown University said: “At the same number of drinks, people who smoke more that day are more likely to have a hangover and have more intense hangovers.”

“And smoking itself was linked to an increased risk of hangover compared with not smoking at all.  That raises the likelihood that there is some direct effect of tobacco smoking on hangovers.”

The students from a Midwestern university in the US reported on the number of drinks consumed, number of cigarettes smoked and their hangover symptoms – which included if they felt more tired than usual, had a headache, felt nauseated and had difficulty concentrating.

The researchers then estimated blood alcohol concentration (BAC) which helped control for differences between sexes as it took into account weight and the period over which the student drank alcohol.

After analysing the results, the researchers found that smoking more heavily the day before increased the presence and severity of hangover the next day – but only after a heavy drinking episode, estimated at a BAC of 110mg/dl or greater – the equivalent of around six cans of beer an hour.

The reasons why are unclear- but the study suggests it may down to the toxicological and pharmacological effects of nicotine on the nervous system.

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Exercising in your 70s may stop brain shrinkage

Exercising in your 70s may stop your brain from shrinking and showing the signs of ageing linked to dementia, say experts from Edinburgh University.Exercising in your 70s may stop brain shrinkageBrain scans of 638 people past the age of retirement showed those who were most physically active had less brain shrinkage over a three-year period.

Exercise did not have to be strenuous – going for a walk several times a week sufficed. But giving the mind a workout by doing a tricky crossword had little impact.

The study found no real brain-size benefit from mentally challenging activities, such as reading a book, or other pastimes such as socialising with friends and family.

When the researchers examined the brain’s white matter – the wiring that transmits messages round the brain – they found that the people over the age of 70 who were more physically active had fewer damaged areas than those who did little exercise.

And they had more grey matter – the parts of the brain where the messages originate.

Experts already know that our brains tend to shrink as we age and that this shrinkage is linked to poorer memory and thinking and previous studies have shown that exercise helps reduce the risk of dementia and can slow down its onset.

But scientists are still baffled about why this is.

Exercise increases blood flow to the brain, delivering oxygen and nutrients to brain cells, which may be important.

Or it may be that as people’s brains shrink, they become less inclined to exercise.

Regardless of why, experts say the findings are good news because exercise is an easy thing to do to boost health.

Prof James Goodwin, head of research at Age UK, the charity that provided the funding for the research, said: “This research re-emphasises that it really is never too late to benefit from exercise, so whether it’s a brisk walk to the shops, gardening or competing in a fun run it is crucial that, those of us who can, get active as we grow older.”

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Does a high fat diet damage your brain?

Eating a high fat diet can impair the function of the part of the brain that controls appetite and energy expenditure which in turn dictates our weight.Does a high fat diet damage your brain?That is the finding presented at the British Science Festival by scientists at the University of Aberdeen Rowett Institute for Nutrition and Health.

This may help explain why overweight people struggle to lose weight and then struggle to maintain their weight loss.

Researchers fed mice a diet high in saturated fat and sugar over 16 weeks – where 60% of their energy came from saturated fat – and compared them with mice fed a normal diet over the same period.

Using techniques such as transcriptomics and proteomics, scientists then studied genes and proteins in the hypothalamus of their brain – the part that regulates eating and energy expenditure.

They found that mice fed a high fat diet had changes to genes and proteins indicative of damage in the hypothalamus and that these changes occurred very rapidly – within weeks.

Dr Lynda Williams, Obesity and Metabolic Health Group Leader, at the Rowett, said: “The hypothalamus is a small area at the base of the brain containing neurones that control the amount of food we eat and the energy we expend.

“However this control breaks down in obesity – the system appears not to work – and we don’t really know why this happens. In our study we found that genes and proteins changed in response to a high fat diet and that these changes are normally associated with damage in the brain, indicating that damage had occurred in the hypothalamus in mice that ate a diet high in saturated fat.

“We instinctively know that eating a diet high in saturated fat and sugar will lead to overweight and obesity. Our results indicate that a high fat diet can damage the areas of the brain that control energy balance and perpetuate the development of obesity. High fat and high sugar foods are energy dense foods which are highly palatable and they are very easy to overeat.”

“Our findings may also explain why some overweight people find it difficult to diet and why weight loss after dieting is so difficult to maintain. We now plan to carry out further studies that will look at whether these effects are reversible.”

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Eat eggs while pregnant to lower child’s risk of illness

Pregnant women should eat plenty of eggs and lean meat to reduce their unborn child’s risk of high blood pressure and mental health problems in adulthood, researchers claim.Eat eggs while pregnant to lower child's risk of illnessA nutrient called choline, which is found in meat, eggs, beans and broccoli, could lower the risk of the children developing stress related illnesses and chronic conditions later in life.

In future, women could even be given choline tablets in the same way folic acid is prescribed today to lower the risk of children being born with defects like spina bifida, experts said.

The researchers from Cornell University studied changes in “epigenetic markers” – chemicals which attach to our DNA and influence how our genes work – in a group of 26 pregnant women in their third trimester.

Epigenetic markers are important because they determine whether individual genes are “switched on”, meaning they work properly, or “switched off”, making them completely inert.

Some of the women were assigned to take in 480mg of choline per day through their diet and supplements – an amount just above the recommended dose – while others were given 930mg per day.

The larger dose caused more chemicals to be added to the women’s DNA, altering genes that regulate hormone activity in the body, researchers found.

Genes that regulate the production of cortisol, a hormone previously linked to lifelong risk of stress and metabolic disorders, were turned down so that levels of it in the babies’ blood were 33 per cent lower.

Prof Eva Pressman, who led the study, said mothers who suffer from anxiety and depression – conditions which raise cortisol levels – could benefit from taking choline as a protective measure.

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