What’s The News: Three 16-year-old teenage boys in Texas had heart attacks shortly after smoking a product called k2, or Spice, according to a study published this month in the journal Pediatrics. The report highlights a growing public health problem: the increased availability and use of synthetic cannabinoids, which when smoked mimic the effects of marijuana but typically can’t be detected in drug tests. While the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency secured an emergency, one-year ban of five synthetic cannabinoids in March of this year, most of the hundreds of such chemicals remain basically legal, widely available, little understood, and potentially harmful.
Since its emergence in the early 1980s, the drug isotretinoin—used to treat severe acne and sold under a host of different brand names—has been subject to controversy over whether it increases the incidence of suicide attempts in those who take it. But sorting out whether the drug, the acne itself, or some other factor is driving increased suicide risk is quite difficult.
So for a study out in the British Medical Journal, a team of researchers in Sweden looked at a deluge of data for 5,756 people who took the drug. Their conclusion: Severe acne patients who took isotretinoin had an increased risk for suicide attempts both before and after taking it, so they can’t definitively link isotretinoin to suicide.
The drug, perhaps best known as the pharmaceutical company Roche’s Accutane, has been embraced by dermatologists and their suffering patients, but has also been dogged by controversy for its side effects.
While powerful at clearing acne, the drug has been linked to birth defects if taken during pregnancy and has also been suspected of causing mental side effects, although Roche has vigorously defended personal injury claims in this area. [Reuters]
Anders Sundstrom led the current research, which seems to support the theory that the pharmaceutical isn’t a threat to mental health. Said Sundstrom:
It’s not that teenagers aren’t trying to learn. (Well, OK, some of them definitely aren’t trying.) But the distractions that come with being a teenager are exacerbated by the fact that teens just don’t learn as quickly as either young kids or adults, and a new study of mice that appears in Science points to specific brain changes that might help explain why.
Seeking to study spatial learning during puberty, the team devised a relatively complex task (at least for a mouse) that requires learning how to avoid a moving platform that delivers a very mild shock [TIME]. While the prepubescent mice picked up on what to avoid pretty quickly, as did adult mice, pubescent mice took considerably longer to figure it out. The key to these differences was what study leader Sheryl Smith saw in the brains of these mice.
There’s been lots of gloating, arguing, and tossing around of cliches like “game-changing” in the wake of a new study on abstinence education and its potential to reduce sexual activity in teens. But the study isn’t exactly what the political forces trumpeting its arrival would like you to believe.
The study appears in the journal Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. In its introduction, study leader John B. Jemmott III concludes that “Theory-based abstinence-only interventions may have an important role in preventing adolescent sexual involvement.”
So what’s actually in the study? Between 2001 and 2004, Jemmott’s team studied 662 African-American middle schoolers in the northeastern United States, who were each paid $20 a session to attend sex-education classes. The kids were randomly assigned to one of several different programs: One program emphasized only abstinence, one both safe sex and abstinence, one just safe sex, and the last was a control group that simply taught healthy living—eating well, exercise, and the like.