Although past research has indicated that moderate alcohol consumption can reduce cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk, more recent studies suggest that moderate levels of drinking may be hazardous to heart health. A new analysis now sheds new insight on this complex relationship between alcohol consumption and the progression of CVD, showing that a few particular alcohol metabolites strongly influence its protective effects.
Published in the journal BMC Medicine, the study observed a total of 60 alcohol consumption-related metabolites, identifying seven circulating metabolites that link long-term moderate alcohol consumption with an increased risk of CVD, and three circulating metabolites that link this same drinking pattern with a lower risk of CVD.
The findings from the study led by Boston University School of Public Health and Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University (Friedman School) detail the molecular pathway of long-term alcohol consumption and show that further research on these metabolites is needed for targeted prevention and treatment of alcohol-related CVD.
“The study findings demonstrate that alcohol consumption may trigger changes of our metabolomic profiles, potentially yielding both beneficial and harmful outcomes,” says Dr Chunyu Liu, assistant professor of biostatistics at BUSPH and co-corresponding/co-senior author of the study along with Dr.Jiantao Ma, assistant professor in the Division of Nutrition Epidemiology and Data Science at the Friedman School.
“However, rather than definitively settling that debate, this study underscores the intricate effects of alcohol consumption on cardiovascular health and generates a useful hypothesis for future investigations,” Dr Liu says.
The researchers analysed blood samples to measure the association between the cumulative average consumption of beer, wine, and liquor and 211 metabolites among Framingham Heart Study Offspring Study participants, who are the children of participants in the long-running Boston University-based Framingham Heart Study, over 20 years.
Of the 2428 participants, 636 developed CVD over the study period. Among the 60 drinking-related metabolites, 13 metabolites had a stronger association with alcohol consumption in women than in men, perhaps due to higher blood alcohol levels from women’s generally smaller body size versus the same amount of alcohol.
Consuming different types of alcohol was also linked to different metabolomic responses, with beer consumption generating a slightly weaker association overall than wine and liquor.
In roughly two-thirds of the 60 metabolites, higher plasma levels were detected in participants who consumed greater amounts of alcohol. Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), were among the metabolites not associated with alcohol consumption.
The researchers then calculated two alcohol consumption-associated metabolite scores, which had opposite associations with the development of CVD.
“While our study presents intriguing findings, validation through state-of-the-art methods and large and diverse study populations is crucial,” Dr Ma says.
“To enhance reliability, we aim to conduct larger-scale research involving a more diverse racial and ethnic background, as the current study participants are all white. In addition, we will expand our study to integrate with other molecular markers such as genetic information to illustrate the complex relationships between alcohol consumption, metabolite features, and cardiovascular risk.”
A study of regular cannabis users and non-users found that users tend to have a greater understanding of the emotions of others, based on psychological assessments. Brain imaging tests also revealed that cannabis users’ anterior cingulate – a region generally affected by cannabis use and related to empathy – had stronger connectivity with brain regions related to sensing the emotional states of others within one’s own body.
The study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience Research, included 85 regular cannabis users and 51 non-consumers who completed psychometric tests and a subset of 46 users and 34 nonusers who underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging exams.
“Although further research is needed, these results open an exciting new window for exploring the potential effects of cannabis in aiding treatments for conditions involving deficits in social interactions, such as sociopathy, social anxiety, and avoidant personality disorder, among others,” said co-author Víctor Olalde-Mathieu, PhD, of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.
A meta-analysis of studies published over the past 40 years on cannabis use during pregnancy has found an association between foetal exposure to cannabis in the womb and preterm delivery, low birth weight and the need for neonatal intensive care admission (NICU). The study was published today in the journal Addiction.
Previous research has indicated that THC, the main psychoactive component in cannabis, can cross the placenta to the foetus during pregnancy and bind to receptors in the foetal brain.
The meta-analysis examined the results of 57 studies around the world that included almost 13 million infants in total. Based on either self-reports from pregnant women, or blood and saliva testing depending on the study, just over 100 000 infants were found to be exposed to cannabis in the womb. While none of the studies found a direct causal relationship between cannabis use during pregnancy and adverse birth outcomes, the combined results indicated that newborns exposed to cannabis during pregnancy were twice as likely to require NICU admission, twice as likely to have a low birth rate and one and a half times more likely to be born early.
While there has been little research on cannabis use during pregnancy since cannabis was legalised in Canada five years ago, an American study has indicated an increase in cannabis use during pregnancy in states where it has been legalised and the perceived risk of harm from cannabis has decreased. The study states that overall cannabis use in pregnancy has doubled in the past 20 years, with approximately 10% of pregnancies associated with cannabis exposure. Some studies indicated it was being used to alleviate symptoms of nausea, poor appetite, insomnia or anxiety during pregnancy.
“This research emphasizes the importance of healthcare providers making an effort to create a safe space talking to pregnant women and women planning to be pregnant about their cannabis use and their motivations for using it to educate them about the potential risks and empower them to make informed decisions for their child,” says lead author Maryam Sorkhou, a PHD student within the addictions division at CAMH as well as the University of Toronto. Ms Sorkhou is overseen at CAMH by Senior Scientist and paper co-author Dr Tony George.
Children of a parent with alcohol or drug use disorder have a greater risk of intellectual disability, even if the problem only lies with the father, researchers from Karolinska Institutet report. According to the study, which is published in the journal eClinicalMedicine, preventive measures should be directed at both parents.
A woman’s consumption of alcohol during pregnancy has been well established as increasing the risk of the child developing. Research from Karolinska Institutet now shows that all forms of substance abuse, both in the mother and the father, and not only during pregnancy, can constitute a risk factor.
Previous efforts aimed at mothers
“Preventative measures, such as educating healthcare professionals and public health recommendations, have focused for decades on mothers with alcohol-related problems,” says Lotfi Khemiri, researcher at Karolinska Institutet. “Our findings highlight the importance of also directing such measures towards fathers with different types of substance use disorder.”
The study drew on data from Swedish registries with almost two million babies born between 1978 and 2002 and their parents. The researchers found that 1.2% of babies born to parents without such a disorder were diagnosed with an intellectual disability, compared with 3% of the babies who had one parent with a diagnosis related to a substance use disorder (alcohol or drug abuse).
Higher risk before birth
The elevated risk was greater if the parent had received a diagnosis before or during pregnancy rather than after birth. A substance use disorder diagnosis registered before birth was associated with more than twice the risk of intellectual disability in the baby, regardless of which parent had the diagnosis. The correlation was weaker but still statistically significant after adjustment of socioeconomic factors and psychiatric comorbidity in the parents.
“Since it was an observational study, we can draw no conclusions about the underlying mechanism, but we suspect that both genetic and environmental factors, including harmful effects of substance abuse on foetal development, may play a part,” says Dr Khemiri. “We hope that the results will contribute to the preventative efforts, as well as to the improved diagnosis of children with an intellectual disability and to timely intervention directed both to the child as well as parents in need of substance use disorder treatment.”
Alcohol a major risk factor
Intellectual disability was observed to be much more likely in alcohol-related problems during pregnancy, where the risk was five and three times higher depending on whether it was the mother or father who had the alcohol use disorder diagnosis.
Researchers have detected significant levels of metals in the blood and urine among marijuana users, concluding that marijuana may be an important and under-recognised source of lead and cadmium exposure. This is among the first studies to report biomarker metal levels among marijuana users and most likely the largest study to date, that links self-reported marijuana use to internal measures of metal exposure, rather than just looking at metal levels in the cannabis plant. The results are published online in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.
Measurements reported by participants for exclusive marijuana use compared to nonmarijuana-tobacco had significantly higher lead levels in blood (1.27ug/dL) and urine (1.21ug/g creatinine).
“Because the cannabis plant is a known scavenger of metals, we had hypothesised that individuals who use marijuana will have higher metal biomarker levels compared to those who do not use,” said first author Katelyn McGraw, postdoctoral researcher. “Our results therefore indicate marijuana is a source of cadmium and lead exposure.”
The researchers, from Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, combined data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey for the years 2005-2018, a biannual programme of studies designed to assess the health and nutritional status of adults and children in the U.S.
McGraw and colleagues classified the 7254 survey participants by use: non-marijuana/non-tobacco, exclusive marijuana, exclusive tobacco, and dual marijuana and tobacco use. Five metals were measured in the blood and 16 in urine.
The researchers used four NHANES variables to define exclusive marijuana and tobacco use: current cigarette smoking, serum cotinine levels, self-reported ever marijuana use, and recent marijuana use. Exclusive tobacco use was defined as individuals who either answered yes to ‘do you now smoke cigarettes, or if individuals had a serum cotinine level >10ng/mL.
The study found higher levels of cadmium (Cd) and lead (Pb) in blood and urine among participants reporting exclusive marijuana use compared to non-smokers. Cd and Pb levels were also higher in exclusive marijuana users who reported using marijuana within the last week. Cd biomarker levels were higher in those who smoked only marijuana than , either because of differences in frequency of use or differences in Cd levels in the tobacco and cannabis plants themselves. However, blood and urinary Pb levels among exclusive marijuana users and exclusive tobacco users were similar. Dual marijuana and tobacco users also had higher levels of Cd and Pb compared with non-smokers.
These observations marijuana use is an important and underrecognised source of Cd and Pb exposure independent of tobacco use, the researchers concluded.
Marijuana is the third most commonly used drug in the world behind tobacco and alcohol. As of 2022, 21 states and Washington D.C., covering more than 50 percent of the U.S. population, have legalised recreational use of marijuana; and medical marijuana is legal in 38 states and Washington D.C. However, because marijuana is still illegal at the federal level, regulation of contaminants in all cannabis-containing products remains piecemeal and there has been no guidance from federal regulatory agencies like the FDA or EPA. As of 2019, 48.2 million people, or 18% of Americans, report using marijuana at least once in the last year.
While 28 states regulate inorganic arsenic, cadmium, lead, and total mercury concentrations in marijuana products, regulation limits vary by metal and by state.
“Going forward, research on cannabis use and cannabis contaminants, particularly metals, should be conducted to address public health concerns related to the growing number of cannabis users,” said Tiffany R. Sanchez, PhD, assistant professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia Public Health, and senior author.
I walked into a store in Cape Town and I bought a gram of cannabis for R100. With GroundUp’s money. I had my editor’s consent.
The store was small, dimly lit, and lined with a variety of cannabis products in glass jars.
On the table was a stack of medical forms used by a doctor to prescribe cannabis to people for health reasons.
I did not have a doctor’s note. So I complimented the salesman on his luscious black curls. I think it worked because he became very chatty. Let’s call him Bob.
We discussed how the store works and the current laws. He said they’re working in a “grey area”.
There are two ways the store sells cannabis to people, Bob explained.
Method one: the membership system. Bob said that members pay a monthly fee and receive a certain amount of cannabis over a month. He says this gets around the legal problem, which is, he says, that “buying and selling” are not allowed. With the membership system, Bob said, you’re not doing either.
Method two: the medical method. The store uses section 21 of the Medicines Act to facilitate medical sales.
Bob said he was keen for the store to use the medical route for customers during the day and to run a club in the evenings where members come and smoke in a chilled environment.
I explained to Bob that I get quite anxious when I smoke. I can hear myself think with an echo of my thoughts swirling in my brain. (Boring truth be told, I haven’t smoked cannabis in years, and I didn’t smoke what I bought either. I won’t reveal who did.) Bob recommended a specific cannabis for me.
I asked him if he could recommend a doctor so I could get a prescription. Laughing, he said that he was a doctor. I think he was only half-joking, because it seemed like we then used method two: the medical route. He took out a scale and some bright green cannabis. He weighed it, and sold me 1 gram of OG Kush for R100.
Nope, that’s not how the law works
Was Ashraf’s transaction legal? No, according to a lawyer with expertise in the cannabis industry whom we spoke to.
First, the lawyer explained, cannabis can only be produced in a facility licensed by the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA). It’s unlikely that the store obtained its cannabis from such a licensed facility. In fact there is a view that even weighing out a small amount of weed from a bag obtained from a licensed cultivator, and then packaging it, is manufacturing.
Second, if Section 21 of the Medicines Act is to be used, the sale of the cannabis can only take place after the doctor has prescribed it and SAHPRA has authorised the sale of weed to that particular patient. (Ashraf didn’t even give Bob his name.)
Even if these two conditions are met, no sale of cannabis to a patient can take place outside of a retail or community pharmacy.
There’s nothing unique about Ashraf’s experience. Dozens of stores across the country are selling cannabis using the same approach. We got the impression that in Durban there isn’t even a pretence of trying to be legal as there is in some of the Cape Town and Johannesburg stores. Our experience in Durban is that you can pretty much walk into stores and simply buy cannabis over the counter without any fuss.
How it got this way
South Africa’s cannabis sector is in limbo five years after the Constitutional Court ruled that cultivation and possession of the plant for private use is legal.
In 1997, Gareth Prince, a practising Rastafarian, applied to the Law Society of the Cape of Good Hope to be admitted as an attorney. The Society rejected his application because he had two criminal convictions for possession of cannabis and he continued to smoke cannabis. Prince argued that the use of cannabis was part of his religion, and that the Law Society’s decision violated his right to religious freedom.
Prince took the decision to court in 1998. But the High Court, Supreme Court of Appeal and Constitutional Court ruled in favour of the Law Society. The Constitutional Court’s 2002 decision was close: five versus four.
After the Constitutional Court’s judgment, Prince and two cannabis activists – Jeremy Acton and Jonathan Ruben – approached the courts again. Instead of focussing solely on religious freedom, their applications challenged provisions of the Drugs Act and Medicines Act that criminalised the use of cannabis on the basis that these provisions violated the right to privacy in section 14 of the Constitution. As these challenges were related, the High Court consolidated the cases.
In 2017, the Western Cape High Court declared the provisions in the Drugs Act and Medicines Act that criminalise private adult use of cannabis unconstitutional. This decision was upheld by the Constitutional Court in 2018. This judgment has become known as Prince 3. But the Constitutional Court did not confirm the High Court order that decriminalised the dealing of cannabis. Parliament was given 24 months to deal with the offending legislation.
In the event that Parliament didn’t fix things within the two-year deadline, the court ruled that its reading-in remedy (which permits the narrow exception for personal use) would become permanent, at least until Parliament amended the law.
Five years later, the slow pace of drafting legislation following the Prince 3 judgment has resulted in a proliferation of businesses using “grey areas” in the wording.
“People are looking for gaps, so these so-called dispensaries are stepping into the market claiming to sell something legal,” explained Andy Gray, chair of the Cannabis Working Group at SAHPRA and a pharmacy lecturer at the University of KwaZulu Natal (UKZN).
Substances that you can ingest are scheduled by SAHPRA from 0 to 8. A schedule 0 substance has very few controls; anyone can sell it without any licence required. At the other end of the scale, a schedule 8 substance is very strictly controlled, it may have some medicinal benefits but also has extremely high potential for abuse. Medical practitioners have to get special permission from SAHRPA for use and prescription of any of these substances.
After the Constitutional Court ruling, SAHPRA lowered the schedules of some of the substances found in cannabis. Low doses of Cannabidiol (CBD), a component of cannabis that isn’t psychoactive, were lowered to schedule 0 in complementary medicine products. But it is unclear if CBD in products such as drinks and gummies, with their varying dosages, manufacturing processes and contents – found in nearly every major shopping outlet – qualify as “complementary medicines”.
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the key psychoactive component of cannabis, was lowered from schedule 7 to schedule 6. But schedule 6 substances are still highly restricted: According to SAHPRA these are medical substances that have “a moderate to high potential for abuse” which necessitates strict control and management of supply, including restrictions on repeat prescriptions and a supply limit of 30 days’ worth.
Danmari Duguid is head of the cannabis department at Schindlers Attorneys who represented Julian Stobbs and Myrtle Clarke, intervening parties in the 2018 Constitutional Court case, Prince 3. She says that the only way you can legally buy cannabis containing THC is through the medical route. This is done using section 21 of the Medicines Act.
Why section 21 of the Medicines Act is important
In a nutshell, this clause is a way for people with particular needs to legally obtain medicines that have not been registered by SAHPRA, but contain scheduled substances. For example, patients with serious cases of lung or skin cancer use Section 21 authorisation to access a medication called nivolumab (branded as Opdivo). SAHPRA has registered a lung and skin cancer medicine called pembrolizumab (branded as Keytruda) but this may not work with every patient.
In the 2000s, the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) famously imported a generic version of a drug called fluconazole to treat an illness that particularly affects people with advanced HIV disease. A patented version of the medicine was available in the country but it was extremely expensive. The much more affordable version of the medicine that the TAC imported was not registered in South Africa, so the then Medicines Control Council allowed a doctor working with the TAC to import the medicine for patients using section 21 of the Medicines Act.
But section 21 authorisations are far from a straightforward legal route to using cannabis as explained above.
Hardly any of the cannabis retailers that claim to use the section 21 process are adhering to what’s legally required. It is in theory possible but in practice very hard for small cannabis retailers to do so.
Also, the Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill, currently before Parliament, does not provide for a recreational or adult market.
Gray told GroundUp that he fears people who want to buy and sell recreational cannabis in private will continue to abuse the medical route.
This happened in California in the United States, where the state legalised cannabis through the medicinal route and this led to extensive abuse of the process by patients, doctors and retailers.
The most direct way to combat this abuse is through the introduction of an adult use market, said Gray. This would mean cannabis products would be highly regulated and taxed, similar to alcohol and tobacco. This model could include the “legacy” or “peasant cultivators” who grow cannabis in rural parts of the country, and cannot meet the strict conditions for growing medical grade cannabis, said Gray.
Duguid agrees that the adult use model would work best for the legalisation of recreational cannabis sale and use in the future.
“At the moment you are allowed to brew beer for your own consumption, similar to how you are now allowed to grow cannabis for your own consumption after the 2018 judgement; but the moment you want to retail the product you should need a licence like you do to sell alcohol. This would ensure you meet certain safety standards,” said Duguid.
The Department of Agriculture and Land Reform and the Presidency recently hosted the Phakisa Action Lab in June 2023, which brought together 130 representatives of government and business, religious leaders and legal experts to discuss the legalisation of cannabis and hemp.
The final report from Phakisa emphasised that the government is taking a “science-based and human rights approach” approach to creating and regulating an adult use market, but that the “supply and trade of cannabis to consumers remains illegal”.
The report suggests adding a clause to the Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill which would remove cannabis from the Drugs Act “subject to parliamentary process and approval”.
The report highlights that adult use legalisation must include “the existing historical cultivation of cannabis by indigenous communities and black rural farmers”.
But it does not provide a timeline for doing this.
Recreational drug use may be a factor in a significant proportion of admissions to cardiac intensive care, with various substances detected in 1 in 10 such patients, suggest the findings of a multicentre French study published online in the journal Heart.
Drug use was also associated with significantly poorer outcomes, with users nearly 9 times as likely to die or require emergency intervention as other heart patients while in hospital, and 12 times as likely to do so if they used more than one drug.
Recreational drug use is a known risk factor for cardiovascular incidents, such as a heart attack or abnormal heart rhythm (atrial fibrillation), explain the researchers. An estimated 275 million people around the globe indulged in this activity in 2022, a 22% increase on the figure for 2010, they add.
But it’s not clear how common recreational drug use is among patients admitted to hospital with heart problems, or to what extent this affects the likely course of their condition.
To try and find out, the researchers analysed the urine samples of all patients admitted to cardiac intensive care in 39 French hospitals during one fortnight in April 2021, with a view to detecting recreational drug use.
During this period, 1904 patients were admitted, 1499 of whom provided a urine sample – average age 63, 70% male. Of these, 161 (11%) tested positive for various recreational drugs, but only just over half (57%) of whom admitted to using.
Prevalence was even higher among the under-40s, 1 in 3 (33%) of whom tested positive for recreational drugs.
The most frequently detected substance was cannabis (9%), followed by opioids (2%), cocaine (just under 2%), amphetamines (nearly 1%), and MDMA or ecstasy (just over 0.5%).
Compared with other non-using heart patients, users were more likely to die or to require emergency intervention for events such as cardiac arrest or acute circulatory failure (haemodynamic shock) while in hospital: 3% vs 13% – especially if they had been admitted for heart failure or a particular type of heart attack (STEMI).
After adjusting for other underlying conditions, such as HIV, diabetes, and high blood pressure, users were nearly 9 times as likely to die or require emergency treatment.
While cannabis, cocaine, and ecstasy were each independently associated with these incidents, and single drug use was detected in nearly 3 out of 4 patients (72%), several drugs were detected in more than 1 in 4 (28%) users: these patients were at even greater risk, being 12 times as likely to die or require emergency treatment.
This is an observational study, so can’t establish that recreational drug use resulted in admission to cardiac intensive care. The researchers also acknowledge that the study was only conducted over 1 fortnight in April, so the findings might not be applicable to other months of the year or the longer term.
And they caution: “Although the strong association between the use of recreational drugs and the occurrence of [major adverse events] suggests an important prognostic role, the limited number of events requires caution in the clinical interpretation of these findings.”
But recreational drugs can increase blood pressure, heart rate, temperature, and consequently the heart’s need for oxygen, they explain.
And they conclude: “While the current guidelines recommend only a declarative survey to investigate recreational drug use, these findings suggest the potential value of urine screening in selected patients with acute cardiovascular events to improve risk stratification in [cardiac intensive care].”
In a linked editorial, doctors from London’s St Bartholomew’s Hospital and Queen Mary’s University of London reiterate that the study wasn’t designed to uncover a causal relationship. Larger studies would be needed to try and establish that.
But the study findings prompt two obvious questions, they suggest: “(1) Should patients admitted to intensive cardiac care units be screened for recreational drug use: and (2) What, if any, interventions might be implemented following a positive patient test result?”
Knowing that a patient had used recreational drugs might shed light on the cause of their condition and inform how it’s managed, they suggest. It might have other benefits too.
“A positive test result would provide an opportunity for counselling about the adverse medical, psychological, and social effects of drugs, and for the implementation of interventions aimed at the cessation of drug use,” they write.
But quite apart from the cost, screening raises issues of patient confidentiality and the potential for discrimination in how targeted screening might be applied, they say.
And they conclude: “There is a considerable way to go, however, before screening for recreational drug use can be recommended.”
Children prescribed a stimulant to manage symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) do not have more substance use or substance use disorder (SUD) as adolescents or young adults, according to a new study appearing in JAMA Psychiatry.
The study’s findings may provide some reassurance to parents and clinicians who may be hesitant to prescribe ADHD stimulant medications out of fear that this may result in future substance abuse.
“Stimulants are the first-line treatment recommended for most individuals with ADHD – the drug class is an evidence-based treatment with few side effects,” said Brooke Molina, PhD, professor of psychiatry, psychology and paediatrics at University of Pittsburgh. “Because stimulant medications are classified by the Drug Enforcement Administration as schedule two substances with the potential for misuse, many people fear that harmful substance use could result.”
Marked by chronic patterns of inattention, hyperactivity or impulsivity, ADHD is a chronic condition that must be monitored throughout an individual’s life.
Molina and her colleagues assessed patients with ADHD over a 16-year period from childhood through adolescence to early adulthood to see if there was any association between stimulant treatment and subsequent substance use. The study accounting for dozens of demographic, clinical and psychosocial factors that may predispose an individual to treatment and substance use to address the relationship between childhood use of prescription stimulants and later SUD.
“Our study not only accounted for age, but also used a statistical method that adjusted over time for the many characteristics that may distinguish treated from non-treated individuals,” said study co-author Traci Kennedy, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry at Pitt. “Considering these factors allowed us to more accurately test the relationship between stimulants and substance use.”
While other studies have sought to uncover and define a possible connection between prescription stimulant use for ADHD and SUD, the association between the two has remained controversial. Some studies suggested a protective effect of prescription stimulant use on the risk of having SUD later in life, while others failed to find an association.
After accounting for a number of factors, the researchers found no evidence that prescription stimulant treatment in childhood provided protection against developing a SUD for adolescents or young adults with ADHD. Nor did they find an association between stimulant use during childhood and increased substance misuse in the future
While some study participants self-reported an increase over time in heavy drinking, marijuana use, daily cigarette smoking and using other substances, an association with age was also found for stimulant treatment, with older participants being less likely to continue taking medication. When these trends were paired with rigorous statistical analysis, results provided no evidence that prolonged stimulant use is associated with reduced or increased risk for SUD.
“We hope the results of this study will help educate providers and patients,” Molina said. “By understanding that stimulant medication initially prescribed in childhood is not linked to harmful levels of substance use, I anticipate that parents’ and patients’ fears will be alleviated.”
Pitt researchers plan to study individuals who were first diagnosed with ADHD and treated with stimulants in adulthood. The study aims to learn if there are differences in the characteristics and outcomes of these adults compared to people who were diagnosed and first treated with stimulants in childhood.
The rate at which women eliminate alcohol from their bloodstream is largely predicted by their lean body mass, although age plays a role, too, scientists found in a new study published in the journal Alcohol Clinical and Experimental Research. Since women with obesity also have more lean body mass, older women with obesity clear alcohol from their systems 52% faster than younger women of healthy weights, the study found.
“We believe the strong relationship we found between participants’ lean body mass and their alcohol elimination rate is due to the association that exists between lean body mass and lean liver tissue – the part of the liver responsible for metabolising alcohol,” said research group leader M. Yanina Pepino, a professor of food science and human nutrition at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.
To explore links between body composition and alcohol elimination rates, the team conducted a secondary analysis of data from a study performed at and another at Indiana University, Indianapolis. Both projects used similar methods to estimate the rate at which alcohol is broken down in the body.
The combined sample from the studies used in the analysis included 143 women who ranged in age from 21 to 64 and represented a wide range of body mass indices – from healthy weights to severe obesity. Among these were 19 women who had undergone different types of bariatric surgery. Lean body mass is total body weight minus fat.
In a subsample of 102 of these women, the researchers had measured the proportions of lean and fat tissue in their bodies and calculated their body mass indices. Based on their BMI, those in the subsample were divided into three groups: normal weight (BMI of 18.5–24.9), overweight BMI (25–29.9) and obese (BMI 30+).
As the researchers expected, women with higher BMI had not only more fat mass than women of healthy weights, they also had more lean mass. On average, the group with obesity had 52.3 kg of lean mass, compared with 47.5 kg for the normal weight group.
The two studies both used an alcohol clamp technique, where participants received an intravenous infusion of alcohol at a rate controlled by a computer-assisted system. The system calculated personalised infusion rates based upon each participant’s age, height, weight and gender and was programmed so they would reach a target blood alcohol concentration of .06% within 15 minutes and maintain that level for about two hours
Using a breathalyser, breath samples were collected at regular intervals throughout the experiments to estimate participants’ blood alcohol concentration and provide feedback to the system.
“We found that having a higher fat-free body mass was associated with a faster alcohol elimination rate, particularly in women in the oldest subgroups,” said Neda Seyedsadjadi, a postdoctoral fellow at the university and the first author of the study.
“The average alcohol elimination rates were 6 grams per hour for the healthy weight group, 7 grams for the overweight group, and 9 grams for the group with obesity,” she said. “To put this in perspective, one standard drink is 14 grams of pure alcohol, which is found in 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of table wine or 1.5 ounces shot of distilled spirits.”
The interaction between participants’ age and lean body mass accounted for 72% of the variance in the time required to eliminate the alcohol from their system, the team found.
Pepino, who also holds an appointment as a health innovation professor at Carle Illinois College of Medicine, has conducted several studies on alcohol response in bariatric surgery patients.
The findings also shed light on alcohol metabolism and body composition in women who have undergone weight loss surgery. Researchers have long known that bariatric surgery alters women’s response to alcohol but were uncertain if it affected how quickly they cleared alcohol from their systems.
Some prior studies found that these patients metabolised alcohol more slowly after they had weight loss surgery. The new study’s findings indicate that these participants’ slower alcohol elimination rates can be explained by surgery-induced reductions in their lean body mass. Weight loss surgery itself had no independent effects on patients’ alcohol elimination rates, the team found.
With growing legalisation and recreational use of cannabis comes a change in attitudes. Research has shown that dispensaries often recommend cannabis for the easing of pregnancy symptoms, especially morning sickness.
Growing evidence links cannabinoid consumption during pregnancy with poor child outcomes, though the exact effects on the developing foetus remain unclear. In a study published in Frontiers in Pediatrics, researchers in the US have now examined how timing of cannabis exposure during pregnancy impacts foetal development.
“We show that even when marijuana use occurred only in the first trimester of pregnancy, birth weight was significant reduced, by more than 150g on average,” said senior author Dr Beth Bailey, professor and director of population health research at Central Michigan University. “If that use continued into the second trimester, newborn head circumference was significantly decreased as well.”
Continued exposure results in largest deficiencies
“These findings are important as newborn size is one of the strongest predictors of later child health and development,” added study first author Dr Phoebe Dodge.
Recent work, including the research by Dodge et al., has shown significant effects of cannabis use on newborn size. “Size deficits were largest among newborns exposed to marijuana throughout gestation,” Bailey explained. The babies born after continued in-utero exposure were nearly 200g lighter, and their head circumference was nearly 1cm less than that of babies who had not been exposed. Pregnancy cannabis use did not significantly predict newborn length in this study.
The effects the scientists observed have also shed light on patterns of use. Their study showed that occasional use, such as for first trimester morning sickness, may reduce fetal growth in the same way as continued use throughout pregnancy. The same is true for other use in early stages, including cases when someone uses cannabis not knowing they are pregnant.
Quitting before pregnancy is best recommendation
The authors pointed out that in their study they did not have information about how much or how often participants used cannabis. Their results were based on whether people did or did not use it at certain times in pregnancy. Therefore, the study could not establish if there was a connection between heavy use and more pronounced outcomes in newborn growth.
More studies are needed to determine whether timing or amount of use is most important when it comes to effects on newborn size, they wrote.
“The best recommendation is that women should be advised to quit marijuana use prior to becoming pregnant,” Dodge said. However, quitting as soon as possible after getting pregnant is the second-best option to avoid long term adverse health and developmental outcomes. “There are some benefits of quitting among those who begin pregnancy using marijuana,” she continued.