Last week’s meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) put the spotlight on marine species like the bluefin tuna and some endangered sharks, as the meeting failed to protect them from being overfished to extinction. But a new survey published in the UK journal Mammal Review reminds us that it’s not just marine animals that are endangered by humans, but also primates.
The survey showed that despite CITES’ tight trade regulations for primates, more than a hundred primate species, from gorillas to monkeys to tiny lorises, are endangered by traditional medicine. The survey found that animals across the world were being hunted and killed for their perceived magical or medicinal values–of the 390 species studied, 101, or more than a quarter, are regularly killed for their body parts, with 47 species being used for their supposed medicinal properties, 34 for use in magical or religious practices, and 20 for both purposes [BBC].
The survey found that people still use primate parts to treat a wide variety of ailments. In Bolivia, spider monkey parts are used to cure snake bites, spider bites, fever, coughs, colds, shoulder pain, and sleeping problems; in India, the survey found that many people believe that macaque blood is a cure for asthma. Other monkeys or lorises have their bones or skulls ground up into powder administered with tea, or have their gall bladders ingested or blood or fat used as ointments [BBC]. Monkeys are also valued in Sierra Leone, where a small piece of chimpanzee bone is tied to a child’s waist or wrist, as parents believe it will make the child stronger as he grows older.
This week, a eight-year double-blind study of the nutritional supplement ginkgo biloba finally reached the pages of the Journal of the American Medical Association. Many health food stores sell ginkgo supplements to people who are hoping to improve their wits and memory, and particularly to elderly people worried about cognitive decline and dementia. But the conclusion by lead researcher Steven DeKosky? Save your money.
In the GEM [Ginkgo Evaluation of Memory] study, participants aged 72-96 years with little or no cognitive impairment were recruited from four communities in the eastern United States and received either a twice-daily dose of 120-milligrams of extract of G biloba or an identical-looking placebo [AFP]. For the more than 3,000 study participants, researchers found no difference in age-related cognitive decline—including the incidence of dementia or Alzheimer’s—between ginkgo takers and placebo takers.
The U.S. Justice Department has officially instructed federal prosecutors around the country to stop going after medical marijuana users who are complying with state laws. A total of 14 states now have some provisions for medical marijuana use.
A memo from Deputy Attorney General David Ogden said it was “unlikely to be an efficient use of limited federal resources” to prosecute “individuals with cancer or other serious illnesses who use marijuana as part of a recommended treatment regimen” [The Wall Street Journal]. The memo emphasized, however, that prosecutors should continue to target drug traffickers and distributors who use state laws as a cover for illegal activity.
Supporters of the policy change say it represents a new emphasis on violent crime and the sale of illicit drugs to children…. But some local police and Republican lawmakers criticized the change, saying it could exacerbate the flow of drug money to Mexican cartels, whose violence has spilled over the Southwestern border [Washington Post].
80beats: Medical Pot Clubs Get a Reprieve From Raids Under Obama
80beats: A Toke a Day Might Keep Alzheimer’s Away
Image: flickr / Neeta Lind
About 5,000 years ago the ancient Egyptians were already mixing herbs and tree resins into their wine to make natural medicines, according to a new analysis of the chemical traces left behind in wine jars. The early Egyptians “were living in a world without modern synthetic medicines, and they were very aware of the benefits that natural additives can have—especially if dissolved into an alcoholic medium, like wine or beer,” which breaks down plant alkaloids [National Geographic News], says lead researcher Patrick McGovern, an archaeochemist.
Literary evidence of such drinks had already been brought to light. Ancient Egyptian papyri dating from about 1850 B.C. contained recipes for concoctions to treat a variety of ailments, with many of the recipes involving wine mixed with herbs…. But scientists had not found remnants of any such health-preserving beverages until now [Science News]. The new findings also push back the date at which Egyptians were known to be dabbling in medicinal mixology by more than 1,000 years. The chemical compounds found in the ancient jars may have come from coriander, mint, sage, rosemary, and pine tree resin, researchers say.
Strange as it may sound, maggots have recently been in vogue in medical circles. In increasing numbers, doctors have been placing live maggots on patients’ wounds to clean out decaying tissue; because the maggots eat only dead tissue and leave healthy tissue untouched, they’ve been seen as an efficient way to clean the wound. But now researchers have announced the results of the first large clinical trial comparing maggots to traditional therapies, and found that maggots don’t have a clear advantage.
Maggots did clear away the dead tissue faster, but that’s where their superiority ended. “Maggots, although they sped the cleaning, didn’t speed the healing of the wound,” [lead researcher Nicky] Cullum said in an interview. “Both treatments had a similar cost, but the maggots led to more pain.” The researchers found no evidence that maggot therapy should be recommended for routine use on leg ulcers [Bloomberg].
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced yesterday that the federal government will not prosecute all sales of medical marijuana, marking another stark change in policy from the days of the Bush administration, which conducted frequent raids under a zero tolerance policy.
Medical marijuana distributors were targeted by federal officials under Bush even in states that had passed laws allowing use of the drug for medical purposes by cancer patients, those dealing with chronic pain or other serious ailments. Holder said the priority of the new administration is to go after egregious offenders operating in violation of both federal and state law, such as those being used as fronts for drug dealers [Los Angeles Times]. Under the new policy, medical marijuana dispensaries that abide by state laws will be left alone.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, marijuana may actually fight memory loss, scientists report—but only if taken in small doses amounting to just one puff a day. Researchers tested a compound similar to THC, the main psychoactive substance in marijuana, on rats and found that the chemical reduces inflammation in the brain and promotes the growth of new brain cells. Elderly rats given the compound performed better on learning and memory tasks. “Could people smoke marijuana to prevent Alzheimer’s disease if the disease is in their family? said [researcher Gary Wenk]. “We’re not saying that, but it might actually work” [Telegraph].
In one part of the study, researchers injected the THC-mimicking drug, called WIN-55212-2, into young rats with inflammation in their brains. The drug reduced inflammation. In a second part, the researchers injected WIN into older rats that were then put into a swimming tank with hidden resting spots. The medicated rats were better able to find and remember the resting spots. Dissection of the rat brains revealed not only reduced inflammation but the growth of new neurons. The results were presented at last week’s Society of Neuroscience meeting.
Kids are bouncing off the walls like never before. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has become one of the most commonly diagnosed mental disorders in children, with about 4.4 million cases in the United States. But while medications like Ritalin are very effective in getting these kids to focus on their homework, some parents worry about the effects of long-term use, or have more amorphous concerns about suppressing their children’s personalities. It’s no wonder that more than half of these parents have experimented with alternative medicines and special diets.
Now, however, one of the leading contenders for an effective alternative medicine has been debunked in a new study. Researchers tested St. John’s wort, an herbal supplement that’s been adopted as an alternative treatment for ADHD and which is also used to treat depression. They found that children taking the herb fared no better than those taking a placebo pill.