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More using pot for depression, but it may not help, researchers say

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Folks struggling with depression are much more likely to turn to marijuana to ease their symptoms these days, and that’s not necessarily a good thing, researchers report.

Depressed people are more than twice as likely to have used pot within the last month and three times more likely to use it nearly every day in 2015-2016, a far higher number than 10 years before, the new study found.

Experts say this boom in use among the depressed is probably linked to the spread of marijuana legalization across the United States, particularly for medical purposes.

“Its accessibility has increased over the specific time period that this study measures,” noted Michael Wetter, director of adolescent and young adult medicine with the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine.

The problem is that previous studies have shown pot actually can worsen mood disorders like anxiety or depression, said Dr. Elie Aoun, assistant professor of clinical psychiatry with the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.

Marijuana does not change anything in the underlying brain pathology that contributes to depression,” Aoun said. “It just numbs your feelings so you can get through a couple of hours without thinking about your problems. When the effect dissipates, you’re going to be more depressed than you were before.” He and Wetter were not part of the research.

The new study relied on data drawn from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, a federal poll regularly conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The researchers, led by Deborah Hasin, from Columbia University Medical Center, analyzed responses from two periods — 2005-2006 and 2015-2016 — to identify people with symptoms of depression and track their self-reported marijuana use.

A depressed person had 2.3 times greater odds of reporting any cannabis use during the previous month in 2015-2016, a nearly threefold increase in risk from the decade before, researchers found.

The odds of daily use were nearly 3.2 times higher, an almost sixfold increase from 2005-2006.

Because the study is observational, it can’t say in which direction this association runs — if depressed people are more likely to turn to pot, or if marijuana use fuels depression.

“I think it’s probably both of these things at the same time,” Aoun said. “Marijuana could be causing depressive symptoms. Also, people who are depressed who are looking for treatment are seeking out options to help reduce the impact or burden of their depressive symptoms. When traditional treatment options are insufficient, they are turning to marijuana.”

THC, the chemical in pot that causes intoxication, has been shown to increase levels of dopamine in the brain, Wetter said. Dopamine is a “feel good” neurotransmitter that directly stimulates the pleasure centers in the brain.

That might make a depressed person feel better temporarily, but it’s really masking feelings that will return, Aoun said.

“Drugs don’t introduce new feelings that you don’t have in you,” Aoun said. “They just allow for disinhibition. If you’re depressed and you smoke marijuana, it’s not going to cure your depression.”

What’s more, these dopamine rushes alter your brain chemistry in ways that can exacerbate your depression.

“It requires more use in order to feel good,” Wetter said. “When you don’t have that, you will start to feel the symptoms of more increased depression. You experience the crash, if you will.”

Eleven states have adopted laws permitting recreational marijuana use, but Aoun said he’s more concerned about the 34 states that have passed laws allowing medical marijuana.

“When states are pushing for the legalization of medical marijuana without credible evidence, you’re sending so many wrong messages,” Aoun said.

Not enough medical research has been done to firmly establish marijuana’s health benefits, but legalization has nonetheless made pot into a seemingly legitimate alternative for folks struggling with a mood disorder, Aoun said.

He compared pot to insulin, a treatment for diabetes tested in large-scale research studies before it became available to patients.

“With marijuana, it’s been a completely different story where these decisions are really driven primarily by companies with a significant financial interest in promoting marijuana use,” Aoun said.

People with depression or anxiety would be better off talking to their doctor about taking an approved prescription medication, Wetter said.

“People will tend to say I would rather use something that is natural and organic versus something synthetic, like Prozac or an SSRI,” Wetter said. “It is organic, it is natural, so it can’t be bad for you. If you’re feeling bad and this makes you feel better, how can it be bad? How can it be wrong?”

The new study was published recently in JAMA Network Open.

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse has more about marijuana and psychiatric disorders.

Copyright 2020 HealthDay. All rights reserved.



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Study: ‘Conscientious, agreeable’ people more likely to follow COVID-19 guidelines

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Oct. 8 (UPI) — People who are “careful and diligent” are 31% more likely to follow measures designed to contain the spread of COVID-19 than those who do not have these personality traits, according to an analysis published Thursday by the journal PLOS ONE.

Similarly, those who “have strong cooperative values and a preference for positive interpersonal relationships” are 17% more likely to comply with social distancing guidelines, the data showed.

Increasing understanding of what personality traits encourage — and discourage — compliance with COVID-19 guidelines such as social distancing and the wearing of face coverings in public can help governments determine the best way to implement health precautions, the researchers said.

“Governments are continuously trying to figure out how to maximize compliance with COVID-19 transmission mitigation behavioral guidelines, such as wearing masks, avoiding gatherings, washing hands, etc., and the truth is [that] there is no such a one-size-fits-all model,” study co-author Ahmed M. Nofal told UPI.

“We encourage governments to trigger people’s predispositions towards specific personality traits — for example, to boost citizens’ sense of belonging and obligation to their communities — which has been suggested to develop conscientiousness,” said Nofal, an assistant professor of entrepreneurship at the Emlyon Business School in France.

A study published last month, also in PLOS ONE, found that older adults in the United States were more likely to comply with social distancing measures.

Although that study also observed that the majority of Americans — 65% — were adhering to guidelines, a sizeable minority — 35% — were not.

For the new research, Nofal and his colleagues surveyed 8,548 Japanese adults aged 20 to 64 years on their compliance with measures designed to contain the spread of COVID-19.

The researchers also assessed respondents’ individual personalities using the Ten Item Personality Inventory, a tool designed to identify specific traits and characteristics based on a number of measures.

In addition to people who are careful and conscientious and more agreeable and cooperative, those more “open to experiences” — or who value “creativity, innovation and intellectual stimulation” — are 19% more likely to comply with measures designed to limit COVID-19 spread than others, the data showed.

Conversely, extraverts — those who are “assertive, dominant, energetic, active, talkative, impulsive and enthusiastic” — are 7% less likely to adhere to control measures than introverts, the researchers said.

“Assessing individuals’ personalities could also be very beneficial to identify people who tend to violate the transmission mitigation behavioral guidelines,” Nofal said.



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Depressed teens may struggle in school

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By about age 16, teens diagnosed with depression have substantially lower educational attainment, a new British study finds.

Targeted educational support might be of particular benefit to teens from poor backgrounds and boys, but all children with depression can benefit from such help, the study authors suggested.

For the study, the researchers used British health and education records to identify nearly 1,500 kids under 18 years of age with depression. Typically, their depression was diagnosed around age 15. Their educational attainment was compared with a group of young people who were not depressed.

Among students with a diagnosis of depression, 83% reached expected educational attainment at ages 6 to 7, but only 45% hit more advanced thresholds in English and math by age 15 to 16. Researchers said that’s much lower than the 53% who met the threshold locally and nationwide.

“Previous research has found that, in general, depression in childhood is linked to lower school performance,” said researcher Alice Wickersham, a doctoral student at NIHR Maudsley Biomedical Research Centre of King’s College London.

But young people who developed depression in secondary school typically showed a performance decline on the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) exams. The exams — taken by most pupils at about age 15 to 16 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland — dovetailed with the time of diagnosis for many young people.

The pattern appeared to be consistent across different genders, ethnicities and economic groups, Wickersham said in a research center news release.

“While it’s important to emphasize that this won’t be the case for all teenagers with depression, it does mean that many may find themselves at a disadvantage for this pivotal educational milestone,” Wickersham said.

“It highlights the need to pay close attention to teenagers who are showing early signs of depression. For example, by offering them extra educational support in the lead up to their GCSEs, and working with them to develop a plan for completing their compulsory education,” she added.

Researcher Dr. Johnny Downs, senior lecturer in child and adolescent psychiatry at King’s College London, said the findings have two key policy implications.

“It demonstrates just how powerful depression can be in reducing young people’s chances at fulfilling their potential, and provides a strong justification for how mental health and educational services need to work to detect and support young people prior to critical academic milestones,” he said.

The findings were published online Oct. 8 in the British Journal of Psychiatry.

More information

For more about teens and depression, head to the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health.

Copyright 2020 HealthDay. All rights reserved.



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Study: New bedside test means faster diagnosis, treatment of COVID-19

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Oct. 8 (UPI) — A rapid, bedside test for COVID-19 delivers results in less than two hours, meaning that appropriate treatment can be initiated earlier for those already hospitalized because of their symptoms, according to a study published Thursday by The Lancet Respiratory Medicine.

The standard COVID-19 test uses polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, technology, which amplifies small samples of DNA in order to identify the presence of virus in samples taken from an infected person’s nose or throat.

The PCR test requires samples to be sent to a centralized lab within the hospital for processing, typically takes more than 20 hours to produce results, the researchers said.

The enhanced speed of the bedside, or “point-of-care” tests, also means patients infected with the new coronavirus can be isolated earlier, reducing the risk for transmission to other patients and healthcare workers.

“Our findings are the first to suggest the clinical benefits of molecular point-of-care COVID-19 testing in hospitals, demonstrating reduced delays, bed moves and time in assessment areas, which all lead to better infection control,” study co-author Dr. Tristan William Clark, of Southampton General Hospital in England, said in a statement.

“We believe that [these] molecular [tests] should be urgently integrated … to reduce coronavirus transmission within hospitals to prevent the next wave of the pandemic overwhelming health services around the world,” Clark said.

Since the start of the global pandemic in March, healthcare systems worldwide have relied on PCR testing of patient samples in centralized hospital laboratories, an approach that is accurate, but also lengthy and resource intensive, according to Clark and his colleagues.

The longer time it takes to generate results with PCR testing means that patients often wait in mixed assessment rooms to be admitted to the correct COVID-19 or non-COVID ward, increasing the possibility of transmission, the researchers said.

However, with point-of-care tests, nasal and throat swab samples are collected and placed into small cartridges for analysis. Unlike PCR tests, which require specially trained lab personnel, the bedside tests can be performed by healthcare workers in the emergency room or other assessment area, they said.

For this study, Clark and his colleagues evaluated the QIA-stat-Dx point-of-care testing platform, manufactured by Dutch firm Qiagen, in 1,054 adults with COVID-19 symptoms being assessed in the acute medical unit and emergency department of Southampton General Hospital between March 20 and April 29.

Nose and throat swabs were taken from all patients and tested for COVID-19 infection, with 499 patients evaluated using the QIA-stat-Dx, while the rest were assessed using only PCR testing. All test results were confirmed using the standard PCR approach as well, the researchers said.

Among those tested with QIA-stat-Dx, 197, or 39%, were found to be positive for COVID-19, while 155, or 28%, of those evaluated by only PCR were positive for the virus, the data showed.

The point-of-care test produced results in roughly 1.7 hours on average, while PCR evaluation took approximately 21.3 hours per patient, according to the researchers.

After testing, patients were transferred to definitive COVID-positive or negative wards, a process that took eight hours in the QIA-stat-Dx group and 28.8 hours in the PCR-only group, the researchers said.

With the bedside testing, approximately 14% of patients were transferred directly to the correct ward immediately and bypassed the assessment area, they said.

In addition, the point-of-care test was found to be more than 99% accurate at correctly identifying those positive for the virus, according to the researchers.

Most of the patients found to have COVID-19 in the study were recruited into a separate clinical trial evaluating treatments for the virus, with those evaluated with QIA-stat-Dx enrolled in the second study two days faster, on average, than those assessed by PCR only, the researchers said.

“Recruiting patients into clinical trials remains an international priority throughout this pandemic and is vital to accelerating the search for effective treatments,” Clark said.

“This is especially true when researchers are investigating the potential of antivirals, which have to be administered at early disease stages to have the greatest benefit,” he said.



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