While Coal Ash Kills Americans, the EPA Stands By

Elaine Steeles house sits on a hill just above where 5.4 million cubic yards of coal ash spilled after a dike containing the pond ruptured at Tennessee Valley Authoritys Kingston power plant in Roane County, Tennessee, in December 2008. For months later, she watched as men and women workers cleaned up hundreds of acres of thick, toxic gray sludge.

She told The Daily Beast they dug out iceberg-sized mounds of coal ash, a toxic byproduct of burning coal, to clear roads and trees and find buried homes. The workers she saw were always covered in the sludge from head to toe. Wed see them out working day and night, and I never once saw anyone wearing protective gear, Steele said.

The Kingston spill is one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history. Coal ash, which contains toxic metals like mercury, arsenic, and cadmium, smothered the water and soil in rural Roane County, and a decade later, residents like Steele are still unaware of whether the toxins have been removedor if they ever will be.

The long-term effects of the spill on those exposed to the ash cleanup are clear, however. In 2013, more than 30 current and former workers and some spouses filed a lawsuit in U.S. district court against Jacobs Engineering, a company hired to oversee cleanup efforts, claiming the company knowingly exposed the workers to the toxic coal ash. Other workers and their families keep coming forward. In March, 180 new cases of dead and dying workers who had cancer, heart disease, lung disease, and other conditions from working for months or years cleaning up the spill were recently filed in Roane County Circuit Court. The death toll is now more than 30, and those who fell ill have reached at least 200, according to an ongoing investigation by the Knoxville News-Sentinel.

Its shocking how many different bodily organ systems these can affect.
Barb Gottlieb, director of environment and health for the Physicians for Social Responsibility

In the years since the spill, theres been a widespread effort by communities around the U.S. to get utilities to clean up coal ash. To date, utility companies have excavated or committed to excavate about 90 million tons, Holleman said, but thats just a drop in the bucket: in 2014 alone, the U.S. produced 140 million tons of it, according to the EPA. Many utilities mix the ash with water and run it into lagoons or ponds nearby, held in by a dike usually made from earthen material, and others dump the fly ash in landfills. A recent analysis by utility companies showed evidence of groundwater contamination at more than 70 of these sites around the U.S.

The EPA estimates that these sites are responsible for at least 30 percent of all toxic pollution coming from industrial pollution, Frank Holleman, senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center, said. [The Southeast] is much higher because we have more than our sharealmost every major river system in Southeast has one or two facilities near it.

Despite overwhelming evidence that coal ash is a major health risk, President Trumps administration is prepared to roll back federal regulations on the disposal and maintenance of coal ash, giving more power to states to decide how and where to store coal ash and how to clean up spills and leaks. Last month, Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt announced the agency will move forward with more than a dozen changes to the the 2015 Coal Combustion Residuals rulethe first time the federal government finalized regulations for coal ash disposal. The EPA claims the changes will save the utility sector up to $100 million per year in compliance costs.

Pruitt claims the revisions will allow for public comment and flexibility for state regulators, but his agency just dismissed a lawsuit about the health impacts of coal ash, citing insufficient evidence Alabama regulators violated the Civil Rights Act by allowing a landfill company to operate in a black community. During the Kingston cleanup, 4 million tons of coal ash was shipped to a landfill in Uniontown, Alabama, a predominantly black town. Since then, Uniontown residents had been fighting the legal battle with state and federal environmental regulators.

What weve seen over and over again is that when we have fuzzy flexibilities, utilities take advantage to delay any decision on what they have to do, Holleman said. It puts maximum political pressure on the state agencies.

The communities who live and breathe adjacent to coal ash ponds or landfills know the risks all too well, but these facilities have ripple effects throughout the regions theyre located in. Since coal ash is not counted as a hazardous waste and is minimally regulated, there are many possibilities for exposure, Barb Gottlieb, director of environment and health for the Physicians for Social Responsibility, told The Daily Beast.

What weve seen over and over again is that when we have fuzzy flexibilities, utilities take advantage to delay any decision on what they have to do.
Frank Holleman, senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center

The toxinssuch as lead, mercury, and radiumcan leak into drinking water and contaminate the air miles from where facilities are located. Arsenic, also found in coal ash, is particularly dangerous when it penetrates skin or is ingested, as it can lead to heart disease and diabetes, as well as bladder, lung, kidney, and skin cancer. Chronic exposure to cadmium in drinking water can result in kidney disease and obstructive lung diseases like emphysema, bone mineral loss and osteoporosis. Drinking water laced with chromium can cause stomach ulcers, and breathing in the toxin can lead to lung cancer.

Its shocking how many different bodily organ systems these can affect, Gottlieb said.

The chemicals can also be spread in other ways. Through beneficial use policies, the coal industry is allowed to reuse coal ash in some concrete and other construction projects instead of storing it, which has caused its own host of problems. In Town of Pines, Indiana, for example, the product was used so extensively in building roads and building material, the town was declared a Superfund site. A golf course in Chesapeake, Virginia partially built with coal ash led to a years-long legal battle with Dominion Energy over environmental contamination.

Its hard for people to put the pieces together, Gottlieb said. How often are people informed about toxic substances? And some of the harm that will result happens years later, making it harder to determine what was the cause.

Steele said the thought of the damage coal ash caused her community and neighbors weighs on her. She moved to Roane County before the spill to retire and enjoy life on the water; she loves to kayak on the nearby Emory Riverwhere the coal ash eventually spilled intoand often takes her 4-year-old grandson to the beach. We dont know whats in that water to this day, she said. Theres still leaking, its still in groundwater, we still have ponds right up against the river.

Read more: https://www.thedailybeast.com/while-coal-ash-kills-americans-the-epa-stands-by

Alcohol Companies Are Funding Research To Make You Want To Drink More

Health claims about alcohol are back in the news, but this time, the headlines are about the scientists who make those claims — not the actual data.

Recently published investigations by The New York Times, Wired and Stat paint a disturbing picture about the way alcohol companies are trying to influence scientific understanding, and thus public perception, of alcohol as a health tonic.

These stories reveal that officials at the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) aggressively courted alcohol executives to fund a $100 million clinical trial on “moderate drinking” with the expectation that this study would probably conclude that it is safe and lowers the risk of disease.

Alcohol executives were allowed to help pick the scientists and preview the trial’s design, reports the Times, while Wired reported on how dependent the NIAAA is on industry funding to complete the expensive, long-term study. Finally, Stat has a story about how scientists who published unflattering research about the alcohol industry were verbally abused by NIAAA officials and cut off from funding.

Even though prestigious alcohol scientists may insist on their independence, studies show that research funded by the food industry is four to eight times more likely to conclude something that financially benefits the sponsor. Industry-funded research also tends to suppress negative data. When pharmaceutical companies fund studies, the findings are less likely to be published than research funded by other sources.

It adds up to a concerted effort by alcohol companies to make sure customers keep buying and drinking their products ― or even to increase people’s alcohol intake ― by tying alcohol to better health outcomes. And if industry-funded trials can’t convince Americans that their products are good for them, these sponsorships can churn out junk science that muddies the scholarship on alcohol, food or drugs, leaving consumers confused and awash in contradictory news headlines.

“The obvious conflict of interest is that the funder of this research stands to benefit when the research comes out with findings that encourage more people to use its products,” said David Jernigan, a professor at the Department of Health Law, Policy and Management at the Boston University School of Public Health. “It’s kind of the whole reason we have an independent science sector ― to wall it off from conflicts of interest like this.”

It’s kind of the whole reason we have an independent science sector ― to wall it off from conflicts of interest like this. David Jernigan, Boston University School of Public Health.

If you’ve ever seen headlines about how red wine is good for your heart, or how moderate alcohol use is linked to longer life, you’ve seen the alcohol industry’s influence on health science at work. And Americans seem to be swallowing that message. A 2015 Gallup poll found that 1 in 5 Americans believe “moderate” drinking is good for health, and that this was especially true among those who drink alcohol.  

This belief is a boon for the alcohol industry for at least two reasons: It links alcohol consumption to a healthy lifestyle that can improve heart health, and it relies on the concept of “moderation,” a squishy term that in practice ends up meaning whatever drinkers want it to mean.  

Research on the concept of “moderation” reveals that the more a person likes a food or drink, the bigger their definition of what a “moderate” serving is. And food and beverage companies may be using that to their advantage, said Michelle vanDellen, an expert in self-control and eating behaviors at the University of Georgia.  

“I suspect that companies understand that moderation messages, or moderation endorsement, will provide the appearance of looking like they care about health, but they also know that it’s unlikely to affect their bottom line,” she said. “I don’t know if food and beverage companies have done research on moderation, but I have, and I know that moderation messages are poorly defined, they increase the scope of what is considered healthy and they lead to increased intended consumption.”

When it comes to alcohol, at least, there is a seemingly objective unit of measurement for moderation: up to one drink a day for women, and up to two drinks a day for men, as defined by the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans. These amounts form the basis of claims that alcohol may have a positive effect on health.

But careful analyses have debunked the association between moderate alcohol consumption and health by taking the “abstainer bias” into account. People who currently abstain from alcohol include those who have never consumed it and former drinkers. But many former drinkers have quit alcohol for health reasons, so the “abstainer” group is already biased toward worse health overall than a group of people who are still moderate drinkers and haven’t had to quit because of their health.

2016 analysis of 87 former studies that linked moderate alcohol consumption to longer life found that once former drinkers were cut out of the picture, the apparent link between moderate alcohol consumption and long life disappeared.

Tim Stockwell’s research shows that when you exclude people who used to drink but now abstain, the purported benefits of alcohol vanish. This illustrates what’s known as “abstainer bias.”

Similar analyses have been performed for breast cancer, revealing that even low levels of alcohol are linked to a higher risk of the disease. An analysis that removes former drinkers from the results in heart disease research, however, had more positive findings about alcohol: Even after accounting for the abstainer bias, never-drinkers had a higher risk for a handful of heart conditions than moderate drinkers.

This association could explain why the U.S. Dietary Guidelines (the federal government’s advice on eating and drinking) used to explicitly link moderate alcohol consumption to lower risk for coronary heart disease and cardiovascular disease. But in the latest guidelines, which are official recommendations meant to span 2015 to 2020, this language was removed.

This may be because health hazards associated with alcohol consumption ― like violence, car collisions, substance abuse, liver disease and cancer ― more than cancel out whatever marginally positive effects alcohol could have on heart disease risk.

“To put it another way, there are much safer ways to protect your health than starting to drink,” Jernigan said.

Almost 90,000 people die from alcohol-related causes every year in the U.S., making it the third most preventable cause of death after tobacco and the combination of lack of exercise and poor diet. More than 15 million adults and 600,000 teens have alcohol use disorder in the U.S., and more than 10 percent of children in the U.S. live with a parent who struggles with alcohol problems. Alcohol use also increases one’s risk of breast, colon, liver, esophageal, head and neck cancer.

These ties to other diseases and health risks are why some scientists are calling for moderate alcohol guidelines to be even lower than what they are now. A recent analysis of about 600,000 current drinkers from 19 wealthy countries found that the risk of death from any cause begins to increase after a person drinks more than 100 grams of alcohol per week ― the amount in about seven servings of alcohol. But that’s half the “moderate” alcohol serving for men in the U.S.

“The health effects of drinking are so clear,” said Jernigan. “There just aren’t a lot of products that are legally available that kill over 100,000 Americans every year and are still on the market.”

Read more: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/alcohol-companies-want-you-to-drink-more-and-theyre-funding-research-to-make-it-happen_us_5ad123bce4b077c89ce8a835

Why Does Nanny-State California Hate Coffee So Much?

Last week, a judge in California sided with the Council for Education and Research on Toxics, which had filed a lawsuit in 2010 against establishments that sell coffeeStarbucks, gas station vendors, convenience stories like 7-Eleven, and so forthto tack on a warning to their coffee (not unlike a cigarettes Surgeon General warning) that each cup of java contains acrylamide, a chemical produced when coffee beans are roasted.

This, of course, incited backlash from everyday coffee fans to the National Coffee Association, which made a statement calling the ruling misleading, that it did nothing to improve public health.

The Council for Education and Research on Toxics (CERT) is a part of the Metzger Law Group, which describes itself as a "boutique firm" focusing on environmental and toxic chemical exposure in California. In the lawsuit it brought against Starbucks, Metzger is described as "a California corporation, acting as a private attorney general, in the public interest.

The problem with its description as the plaintiff? Its overexaggeration of the carcinogenic potential of coffee consumption is in fact a potential public disservice.

To be clear, CERT isnt technically wrong that coffee contains acrylamides (a chemical regulated by the Food and Drug Administration) and of its cancer-causing potential.

In the National Toxicology Report, a cumulative breakdown of toxins and agents that scientists have found to cause cancer and produced by the Department of Health and Human Services, acrylamides are reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen based on sufficient evidence of carcinogeneity from studies in experimental animals (emphasis their own).

What does this mean? Scientists tested how acrylamides have affected mice and rats and have found symptoms ranging from benign thyroid and adrenal gland tumors to benign lung and mammary gland tumors. Those tumors occurred in a higher number of instances than the baseline level, which suggested to researchers of these studies that there was something about acrylamides that was problematic.

Sure, those are serious and damning results to take away from these experiments. But theres three blaring problems with declaring coffee as a carcinogen on equal footing with, say, cigarettes.

First, these are tumors that were found in rodents. While mice and rats are often used in animal experiments for drugs as a preliminary testing ground and model for humans, the fact is that they are mice and rodents, not humans. The way humans process enzymes and chemicals and additives and so forth can be very different and have effects that can vary wildly from what happens in humans.

Second, rodent experiments often focus on dumping one chemical in large amounts into a rodents system. For mice and rats in these experiments, which not only have smaller bodies than humans but also are intaking inhumanly larger quantities of the chemical being tested, that means that they develop irregularities that might not occur during normal human consumption. Theres no doubt that acrylamide can cause cancer in high doses and has been proven to instigate tumors in rodents. The closest link to cancer between coffee and humans was a study that suggested there might be a link between consuming hot beverages and esophageal cancer.

But the fact is that you would have to intentionally be consuming acrylamide at ridiculous, nearly impossible-to-consume doses to even be at risk of cancer. As Popular Science pointed out with the help of a statistician, it would take an adult at highest risk to consume 160 times as much as the rodents in these experiments. Even then, that would still only be at a level that toxicologists think unlikely to cause increased tumors in mice. In other words, solely focusing your entire diet on acrylamide and practically imbibing the stuff cant even guarantee that youeven micecould get a tumor.

Which brings us to the third problem with the acrylamide lawsuit and hoopla around its apparent cancer-causing properties. Its not just coffee that contains trace amounts of itits any food thats gone through high temperatures. That can be everything from fried chicken to roasted chicken, French fries to baked potatoes, those healthier versions of potato chips made out of root vegetables to roasted produce. To avoid acrylamides would require you to avoid virtually any food that is cooked.

The Report on Carcinogens says as much. They point to a correlation between male factory workers at places that process water soluble polymers (where acrylamides are often used) like oil recovery, water treatment facilities, and paper thickening processes. They also think there might be a correlation between Swedish, French, and American women, their diets, and instances of breast tissue showing signs of cancer, but the link was at best weak, and researchers admitted that other factors like smoking could have played a role. A 2017 meta-analysis in the European Journal of Cancer Prevention backs this up, stating the overall evidence suggests no association of coffee intake with cancers of the stomach, pancreas, lung, breast, ovary, and prostate overall.

So when CERT points to the fact that acrylamides are in coffee and back at Proposition 65which states that California businesses with more than ten employees are required by law to warn consumers if their products contain one of 65 chemicals that the state deems carcinogenic, causing birth defects, or harmful for reproductive systemstheres a need to pause and evaluate the real risk of acrylamides.

If were slapping on warnings on a cup of coffee that declares it to be just as harmful as a pack of cigarettes, thats a dangerous, illogical equivalency that results in confusion and fear mongering. Making coffee consumption the equivalent of slurping poison is ludicrous. Drinking a cup or two or even three of coffee will not be dangerous; at best, youre a little less groggy, at worst a bit jittery. But at risk of developing tumors and cancer? Probably not.

The blatant truth is that coffee can never be as violently carcinogenic as cigarettes, and calling it a cancer causing agent doesnt make sense, especially because no one drinks cups of coffee on end and therefore probably cant be poisoned by coffee in any way. In fact, the National Cancer Institute says as much on its website, noting that acrylamide levels vary and that people are exposed to substantially more acrylamide from tobacco smoke than from food.

And there are certainly worse chemicals to worry about than a minute trace of acrylamides in coffee. Remember the trans fat bans that swept the nation about a decade ago? Hydrogenated fats are legitimately dangerous to consume, and the heightened attention given to their near-ubiquity in processed foods and ties to heart disease, diabetes, and stroke were well documented in humans to cause negative outcomes.

But acrylamides in coffee? Nah.

If anything, Proposition 65 and the case of labeling coffee as carcinogenic is indicative of the messiness of food studies, particularly with respect to those that teeter between sin and healthy indulgence. Theres probably no such thing as eating too many vegetables and facing negative consequences. But foods like coffee, eggs, wine, and chocolate fall in a grey area. Theyre lusciously sinful and offer something almost tantalizingly indulgent with their richness, so it makes sense that were always trying to gauge whether or not these foods that bring us so much joy are good or bad.

The messaging, of course, is frustrating. One minute wine is heralded for its antioxidant properties, the next its vilified for its connection to various liver issues. Chocolate is similarly celebrated for its antioxidant properties, but really, who only has one square of it? Eggs too have sparked debate among industry experts who point to the whites as excellent sources of protein and nutrients, but the yolk is one big nutritional question mark.

Coffee is like these foods, hopping back and forth between linked to a 64 percent decrease in early death and its current status as potential carcinogenic. Its apparent benefits address American health epidemics: reductions in developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease and stroke. Its benefits seem universal, linked to longer lives among Americans across demographic and socioeconomic lines, in both its caffeinated and decaffeinated forms. It might decrease rates of breast cancer and liver cancer. Of course, these are results that should be taken with a grain of salt, but theyre benefits worth noting in light of Californias painting of coffee as a demonic chemical.

The point is this: Everything in moderation is a great nutritional phrase because it rings so true. Every human body is different thanks to the complicated gymnastics of genes and environment and chance that make everyones nutritional needs different. Seeking to figure out if a food is good or bad does nothing but muddle the debate; simply put, foods that dont fall into fruits, vegetables, legumes, water, or their ilk have good and bad qualities to them, and understanding your unique physiology and dietary needs will make their consumption either safe or not so much so for you. And its crucial to remember that niche food industries have well-oiled marketing groups that also fund studies and constantly attempt to veer public attention towards the nutritional benefits of food to eek up their profits. Food is, after all, big business.

Which brings us back to the case of the evil cup of java, Proposition 65, and how coffee might become a villain in the state of California. Putting a warning on a cup of coffee is going to not only confuse customers, it takes away from a daily pleasure for the majority of Americans. A cup of coffee makes people less grumpy, more alert, and simply more awake. Its a bonding activity, a much-needed break in our harried world, and an art form whose most ardent fans will compare its roasting and farming and brewing to those of wine. To make coffee a nutritional devil is a step gone too far (at this rate, any foodstuff that goes through some heating for cooking could contain acrylamides).

The bottom line: Coffee is safe. Labeling it a carcinogenic is not.

Read more: https://www.thedailybeast.com/why-does-nanny-state-california-hate-coffee-so-much

20 Facts About Farts in Case You Want to Add an Intellectual Flair to Your Fart Jokes

Cutting the cheese, breaking wind, letting her rip.

There are a lot of euphemisms for farting, one of the body’s most necessary, but embarrassing functions.

Unfortunately, not much is known about it, outside of its obvious hilarity.

Here are 20 facts to know about farts.


Read more: http://twentytwowords.com/facts-about-farts-in-case-you-want-to-add-an-intellectual-flair-to-your-fart-jokes/

Coffee may come with a cancer warning label in California

(CNN)A preliminary decision from a California superior court judge in Los Angeles could affect thousands of coffee shops including Starbucks, 7-Eleven and even your local gas station.

The shops may have to put up a warning that tells customers there is a possible cancer risk linked to their morning jolt of java. The court said in a statement Wednesday that the companies “failed to meet their burden of proof on their Alternative Significant Risk Level affirmative defense” and ruled against them.
California keeps a list of chemicals it considers possible causes of cancer. One of them is acrylamide, which is created when coffee beans are roasted. The chemical stays in the coffee you drink in what the court called a “high amount.”
    A lawsuit first filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court in 2010 by the nonprofit Council for Education and Research on Toxics targeted several companies that make or sell coffee. The suit asked for damages and a label to warn consumers.
    “It’s not a final decision yet, but I do think this is big news, and I’m much relieved after eight years of work on this,” said attorney Raphael Metzger. “It’s a good day for public health.”
    The initial court documents state that, under the California Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, also known as Proposition 65, businesses must give customers a “clear and reasonable warning” about the presence of high levels of this chemical, that is consider toxic and carcinogenic and can impact a drinker’s health — and that these stores failed to do so.
    The coffee companies argued in court that the level of acrylamide in coffee should be considered safe under the law and that the health benefits of coffee essentially outweigh the risk. The court did not agree.
    At least 13 of the defendants had settled prior to this decision and agreed to give a warning, including 7-Eleven, according to Metzger. The other coffee companies, including Starbucks, waited for a court decision.
    “Coffee has been shown, over and over again, to be a healthy beverage. This lawsuit has made a mockery of Prop 65, has confused consumers, and does nothing to improve public health,” William Murray, president and CEO of the National Coffee Association, said in an emailed statement.
    Coffee has been much studied over the years, and research has shown that it provides several health benefits, including lowering your risk of early death. It may reduce your risk of heart disease, multiple sclerosis, Type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s and even some cancers like melanoma and prostate cancer. However, a review by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a branch of the World Health Organization, found that drinking very hot beverages was “probably carcinogenic to humans” due to burns to the esophagus; there was no relation to the chemical acrylamide.
    The science on human exposure to acrylamide still needs “future studies,” according to a 2014 review of scientific research on the chemical’s relationship to a wide variety of cancers in the Journal of Nutrition and Cancer.
    In addition to coffee, acrylamide can be found in potatoes and baked goods like crackers, bread and cookies, breakfast cereal, canned black olives and prune juice, although its presence is not always labeled. It’s in some food packaging and is a component of tobacco smoke. According to the National Cancer Institute, people are exposed to “substantially more acrylamide from tobacco smoke than from food.”
    In 2002, the International Agency for Research on Cancer classified acrylamide as a group 2A carcinogen for humans based on studies done in animals. Studies done on humans have found “no statistically significant association between dietary acrylamide intake and various cancers,” according to the 2014 research review.
    A few additional studies have seen an increased risk for renal, ovarian and endometrial cancers; however, “the exposure assessment has been inadequate leading to potential misclassification or underestimation of exposure,” according to the 2014 research review.
    Even the studies showing cancer links between acrylamide in rats and mice used doses “1,000 to 100,000 times higher than the usual amounts, on a weight basis, that humans are exposed to through dietary sources,” the research review said.
    Humans are also thought to absorb acrylamide at different rates and to metabolize it differently than rodents, earlier research showed.
    The National Toxicology Program’s Report on Carcinogens considers acrylamide to be “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.”
    The Food and Drug Administration website says it “is still in the information gathering stage” on the chemical, but it suggested ways for consumers to cut it out of their diet. The FDA also provided guidance to the industry intended to suggest a range of approaches companies could use to reduce acrylamide levels. The recommendations are only a guide and are “not required,” according to the website.
    California added acrylamide to its carcinogen list in January 1990, and the state has successfully taken companies to court over it.
    In 2008, the California attorney general settled lawsuits against Heinz, Frito-Lay, Kettle Foods and Lance Inc. when the companies agreed to reduce the levels of acrylamide found in potato chips and French fries.
    In 2007, fast food restaurants in California posted acrylamide warnings about fries and paid court penalties and costs for not posting the warnings in prior years.

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    “We have a huge cancer epidemic in this country, and about a third of cancers are linked to diet,” Metzger said. “To the extent that we can get carcinogens out of the food supply, logically, we can reduce the cancer burden in this country. That’s what this is all about.”
    Companies now have until April 10 to file objections to the proposed decision, Metzger said, and then there should be a final decision. A judge will then help decide what the penalties and remedy should be, if companies don’t settle before then.

    Read more: https://www.cnn.com/2018/03/30/health/coffee-cancer-court-decision-warning-label-california/index.html

    20 Years Later, Viagra Means Something Different For Millennials

    Jason K. was 27 the first time he tried to have sex with a woman and couldn’t get an erection. He knew it wasn’t a physiological problem, because he had no problem getting hard at home while watching porn and masturbating, but the embarrassing episode gnawed at him. Jason grew anxious that it could happen again, so he decided to bring it up at his doctor’s appointment a few weeks later.

    After a brief exam, Jason’s doctor prescribed him a small dose of Viagra to “experiment” with. The next few times he tried to have sex, Jason popped a pill beforehand and his performance anxiety vanished.

    “He gave me a dose that was a little bit more than I needed, but it was enough that it kind of broke my slump,” recalled Jason, who asked to use his middle name and initial to protect his privacy. But over time, as bouts of anxiety or stress came and went, Jason went on to refill the prescription four or five times. He is now 33, and while he tries to use Viagra as little possible, it has become a regular part of his sex life. He wonders if, in a world without Viagra and other erectile dysfunction medications, he would spend more time prioritizing his own mental health care.

    That world is difficult to imagine today. Tuesday marks the 20th anniversary of Viagra’s approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. From its conception to its marketing, the little blue pill embodies the might and ingenuity of the U.S. pharmaceutical industry and is a masterful example of how powerful sexual medicine can lodge itself in the psyche — and the medicine cabinet — of first the American man, and then men all over the world.

    After scientists discovered that the drug could help men get erections, Pfizer executives began tying the ability to get an erection to other markers of health, like diabetes or heart disease, giving the pill legitimacy in the medical community. It was then famously marketed by Pfizer spokesman Sen. Bob Dole as a drug to help cancer survivors and people with other physical limitations overcome what was then known as “impotence,” casting a sheen of respectability and even nobility on the drug’s ability to make men erect.

    Tittered over on television and in the media, the drug was nevertheless hailed by experts for not only providing men with the first non-invasive treatment for erectile dysfunction but also opening up a conversation between men, their partners and their doctors about sexual health issues and how they relate to overall health.

    Over the years, Pfizer continued to break the mold with increasingly racy advertisements that seemed to broaden the scope of the use-case for Viagra, sold the pill directly to consumers online and opened up the pill to generic manufacturing before the patent expired — a smart way to regain some ground lost by competing erectile dysfunction drugs.

    Two decades on, Viagra has so embedded itself in the culture that it has taken on talismanic properties. Millennial men, who came of age sexually in a world where Viagra was always an option, are encountering the drug at younger ages than the men to whom it was originally targeted 20 years ago, and for more diverse reasons beyond diseases like prostate cancer, diabetes or heart problems to include psychological reasons for erectile dysfunction. 

    The handful of studies on this phenomenon suggest that while only a small minority of young men has ever taken erectile dysfunction drugs, men who go to the doctor about erectile dysfunction are getting younger over time, they’re healthier, and they’re exercising more.

    Findings from a study among young men who take pills without a prescription suggest that they’re taking them for psychological reasons. While they generally have the same ability to get erect as men who don’t take the drugs, they have less confidence in their erections and lower satisfaction with their sex lives ― which could mean that young men feel they can’t get erections without the drug.

    When Viagra first came out … there was really a strong belief that these medications should only be used in men who have a physical cause for their erection problem, and it needed to be pretty severe. Dr. Abraham Morgentaler

    HuffPost spoke to five men’s health doctors about younger men asking for Viagra, and they all agreed the pill is so safe that they had no problems prescribing it or a similar drug to patients who may simply need a psychological salve to help them recover from the humiliation of a few episodes of erectile dysfunction with a partner.

    Like other storied blockbuster drugs, Viagra was discovered by accident. Scientists in Pfizer’s Sandwich, U.K., laboratory developed the pill’s active ingredient, sildenafil citrate, in 1989 to treat chest pain and high blood pressure. While trials for these conditions were disappointing, test subjects tipped the researchers off to the pill’s unexpected and pleasurable side effect: more erections.

    After successful trials, Viagra was approved by the FDA in 1998, offering an easy and much-preferred treatment option to men with erection problems who were using penile injections or implants. But while the drug solved a widespread health issue that men were often too embarrassed to talk about, Pfizer executives faced a respectability problem. Lest it be dismissed as a mere “boner” pill, the pharmaceutical company worked hard to tie it to serious medical conditions like the one that left Dole with erectile dysfunction.

    Two years after the drug hit the U.S. market, The New York Times reported that for every million men who had inquired about Viagra, “an estimated 30,000 had untreated diabetes, 140,000 had untreated high blood pressure and 50,000 had untreated heart disease.”

    “When Viagra first came out … there was really a strong belief that these medications should only be used in men who have a physical cause for their erection problem, and it needed to be pretty severe,” said Dr. Abraham Morgentaler, a urologist at Men’s Health Boston and author of the book The Truth About Men And Sex. But Viagra has proved to be so safe, and become so common, that Morgentaler compared downing a pill to having a drink or a cocktail before having sex.

    “It just sort of becomes a lubricant, if you will, for that kind of pleasurable human activity,” he said.

    Jason recognized early on that there was a link between his personal anxiety level outside the bedroom, stressful weeks at work, and his episodes of erectile dysfunction with a partner. Viagra was a way of addressing the symptoms of his angst but not the root causes.

    “It might have kind of allowed me a shortcut on certain things,” Jason said about Viagra. “If I didn’t have that option, I might have been more inclined to dedicate myself to staying a little more stress-free and a little more healthy.”

    And that’s exactly what makes sociologists like Meika Loe skeptical about Viagra’s effect on male psyches. Popping a pill is far easier than facing your own demons or being vulnerable with your sexual partners, said Loe, who authored The Rise of Viagra a few years after the pill debuted. Growing up with outsized expectations for sexual performance, and then needing to buy a pill to fulfill those expectations, could be emotionally harmful.

    “The bar has been raised on what is expected for [men] in terms of sexual performance and optimization (the best, the hardest, the most reliable), and when we buy into this (literally) we can lose a bit of our humanity as individuals in and out of relationships,” she wrote in an email to HuffPost. “Perhaps what we need to do is the opposite ― to be more vulnerable with one another, not less.”

    Bloomberg via Getty Images
    Millennial men, who came of age sexually in a world where Viagra was always an option, are encountering the drug at younger ages than the men to whom it was originally targeted 20 years ago, and for more diverse reasons.

    Patrick Q., 34, first encountered Viagra in high school, where his friends were sneaking pills from their fathers’ medicine cabinets and using it to enhance their sexual performance with girlfriends. But it wasn’t until his mid-20s, when he was dating casually around Chicago and having episodes of erectile dysfunction after drinking, that he started to use it himself.

    Patrick, who asked to use just his first name and initial to protect his privacy, figured that he was too young to actually need a prescription. He didn’t think a doctor would prescribe him something to help him counteract alcohol’s effect on erections. So he turned to Craigslist and started buying Viagra generics from dealers who would meet him on the street and exchange the pills for money in their cars.

    Looking back on those years, Patrick recognizes how reckless the purchases were. He told HuffPost he never knew whether he was getting a legitimate generic pill or something that had been cut with other chemicals. Patrick also said he felt scared getting into cars with dealers whom he didn’t know, and he was always nervous that the transactions could end up being undercover stings. And yet he kept on buying the pills illicitly because he was afraid he wouldn’t have access to the drug through a doctor.

    These kinds of black market purchases are what moved U.K. health officials to designate Viagra as over-the-counter medicine late last year. Instead of getting a prescription from a doctor, men in the U.K. speak to a pharmacist to make sure they don’t have pre-existing conditions or take other drugs that could make Viagra dangerous before purchasing it. There is currently no effort to reclassify Viagra as an over-the-counter drug in the U.S.

    Patrick is especially regretful about buying Viagra on Craigslist because he now knows how easy it is to get a prescription from a doctor. Now a Ph.D. student living on the East Coast, Patrick recently visited a urologist for the first time to get a handle on some other medical issues. When he brought up his situational erectile dysfunction, the doctor had no qualms about writing a prescription for him.

    “He even stated that he uses it,” Patrick said. “He made it seem like its use is so widespread.”

    Viagra and other erectile dysfunction drugs aren’t risk-free. Their use, and especially recreational use, has been linked to risky behavior like having unprotected sex, and interactions with certain drugs can cause serious health problems like heart attack or stroke due to plummeting blood pressure. There’s also the drug’s infamous warning-as-enticement: “Call a doctor if you have an erection that lasts longer than four hours.” 

    Since Jason first started taking Viagra, he has used it through two long-term relationships ― one of which became a marriage a year ago. When he first started dating his wife, he told her early on that Viagra was something that he had to have in the bedroom, and that he may occasionally take the pill before sex.

    Marriage hasn’t changed his relationship with Viagra. While he can be more frank with his wife about how he’s feeling, and may be able to plan when to use it more, pressure from work hasn’t let up, and stress from everyday life can creep into the bedroom. That means Jason still needs the pill.

    Erectile dysfunction “is still very much tied to my mental state outside of a sexual situation,” he said.

    Read more: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/20-years-later-viagra-means-something-different-for-millennials_us_5ab98ab8e4b0decad04d2fec

    Meet the man who lent Stephen Hawking his voice

    A man and a voice who will be missed.
    Image: Karwai Tang/Getty Images

    Stephen Hawking’s computer-generated voice is so iconic that it’s trademarked — The filmmakers behind The Theory of Everything had to get Hawking’s personal permission to use the voice in his biopic.

    But that voice has an interesting origin story of its own.

    Back in the ’80s, when Hawking was first exploring text-to-speech communication options after he lost the power of speech, a pioneer in computer-generated speech algorithms was working at MIT on that very thing. His name was Dennis Klatt.

    As Wired uncovered, Klatt’s work was incorporated into one of the first devices that translated speech into text: the DECtalk. The company that made the speech synthesizer for Hawking’s very first computer used the voice Klatt had recorded for computer synthesis. The voice was called ‘Perfect Paul,’ and it was based on recordings of Klatt himself. 

    In essence, Klatt lent his voice to the program that would become known the world over as the voice of Stephen Hawking.

    Hawking passed away on Wednesday at the age of 76. The renowned cosmologist lived with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, for 55 years. His death has prompted an outpouring of love, support, and admiration for his work and his inspirational outlook on life. It’s also prompted reflection on how he managed to have such an enormous impact on science and the world, when his primary mode of communication for the last four decades was a nerve sensor in his cheek that allowed him to type, and a text-to-speech computer. 

    Though Hawking had only had the voice for a short time, it quickly became his own. According to Wired, when the company that produced the synthesizer offered Hawking an upgrade in 1988, he refused it. Even recently, as Intel worked on software upgrades for Hawking over the last decade, they searched through the dusty archives of a long-since-acquired company so they could use the original Klatt-recorded voice, at Hawking’s request.

    Klatt was an American engineer who passed away in 1989, just a year after Hawking insisted on keeping ‘Perfect Paul’ as his own. He was a member of MIT’s Speech Communication Group, and according to his obituary, had a special interest in applying his research in computational linguistics to assist people with disabilities.

    Hawking has been known to defend and champion his voice. During a 2014 meeting with the Queen, she jokingly asked the British Hawking “have you still got that American voice?” Hawking, like the sass machine that he is, replied “Yes, it is copyrighted actually.”

    Hawking doesn’t actually consider his voice fully “American.” In a section on his website entitled “The Computer,” Hawking explains his voice technology:

    “I use a separate hardware synthesizer, made by Speech Plus,” he writes. “It is the best I have heard, although it gives me an accent that has been described variously as Scandinavian, American or Scottish.”

    It’s an accent, and a voice, that will be missed.

    You can find Hawking’s last lecture which he gave in Japan earlier this month on his website. It’s called ‘The Beginning of Time.’

    Read more: https://mashable.com/2018/03/14/stephen-hawking-voice-origin-story/

    Scientists Confirm Insomnia Is Hereditary And Find Possible Genetic Cause

    Can’t sleep? Well, you might be able to blame your genes. Scientists have just confirmed that insomnia is hereditary, identifying certain genetic mutations that they think could lead to the development of the condition. The study is one of the largest of its kind and could help in the hunt for new insomnia treatments.

    Insomnia affects around 10-20 percent of adults worldwide and can have a serious impact on a person’s health and wellbeing. In fact, chronic insomnia has been linked to heart disease and type 2 diabetes, along with mental illnesses like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

    Many people assume that insomnia just means you can’t fall asleep at night. However, there are actually various different symptoms, such as waking throughout the night, not being able to fall back to sleep after waking early, and waking in the morning feeling unrefreshed.  

    Up to half of military veterans experience trouble sleeping, so the researchers behind the new study published in Molecular Psychiatry turned to veterans to collect their data. They conducted genome-wide association studies (GWAS) using the DNA of over 33,000 soldiers participating in the Army Study to Assess Risk and Resilience in Service Members (STARRS) to see how genes are linked to problems with sleep.

    The team found that insomnia has a heritable element to it, confirming results of previous studies that have often looked at twins. What’s more, they found that insomnia was connected to certain genetic variations on chromosome 7, and on chromosome 9 in people of European descent. The chromosome 7 variant is found close to a gene involved in alcohol consumption called AUTS2, as well as others connected to brain development and electric signaling linked to sleep.

    “Several of these variants rest comfortably among locations and pathways already known to be related to sleep and circadian rhythms,” said lead researcher Murray Stein. “Such insomnia-associated loci may contribute to the genetic risk underlying a range of health conditions including psychiatric disorders and metabolic disease.”

    The researchers also found that there was a strong genetic link between insomnia and type 2 diabetes, and that in those of European descent, there’s also a link between insomnia and major depression.

    “The genetic correlation between insomnia disorder and other psychiatric disorders, such as major depression, and physical disorders such as type 2 diabetes suggests a shared genetic diathesis for these commonly co-occurring phenotypes,” added Stein.

    However, it’s important to note that genetics isn’t the sole root of insomnia, it can also be caused by lifestyle factors like excessive caffeine consumption and working irregular hours as well as certain medications, chronic pain, and various conditions including asthma. 

    Current insomnia treatments include sleep medicines, cognitive behavioral therapy, and learning how to relax. Finding out more about the genetics of insomnia could help improve current treatments and contribute to finding new ones, as well as identify who is most at risk.

    Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/health-and-medicine/scientists-confirm-insomnia-is-hereditary-and-find-possible-genetic-cause/

    23 Science-Backed Health Benefits Of Marijuana

    States around the country — 29 of them, plus Washington DC — have legalized medical marijuana. 

    The American public largely supports the legalization of medical marijuana. At least 84% of the public believes the drug should be legal for medical uses, and recreational pot usage is less controversial than ever, with at least 61% of Americans in support.

    Even though some medical benefits of smoking pot may be overstated by advocates of marijuana legalization, recent research has demonstrated that there are legitimate medical uses for marijuana and strong reasons to continue studying the drug’s medicinal uses.

    Even the NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse lists medical uses for cannabis.

    There are at least two active chemicals in marijuana that researchers think have medicinal applications. Those are cannabidiol (CBD) — which seems to impact the brain without a high— and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — which has pain relieving properties and is largely responsible for the high.

    But scientists say that limitations on marijuana research mean we still have big questions about its medicinal properties. In addition to CBD and THC, there are another 400 or so chemical compounds, more than 60 of which are cannabinoids. Many of these could have medical uses. But without more research, we won’t know how to best make use of those compounds.

    More research would also shed light on the risks of marijuana. Even if there are legitimate uses for medicinal marijuana, that doesn’t mean all use is harmless. Some research indicates that chronic, heavy users may have impaired memory, learning, and processing speed, especially if they started regularly using marijuana before age 16 or 17.

    For some of the following medical benefits, there’s good evidence. For others, there’s reason to continue conducting research.

    Jennifer Welsh contributed to an earlier version of this story.

    The best-supported medicinal use of marijuana is as a treatment for chronic pain.

    A recent report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine said there was definitive evidence that cannabis or cannabinoids (which are found in the marijuana plant) can be an effective treatment for chronic pain.

    The report said that is “by far the most common” reason people request medical marijuana.

    There’s also strong evidence medical cannabis can help with muscle spasms.

    That same report said there’s equally strong evidence marijuana can help with muscle spasms related to multiple sclerosis.

    Other types of muscle spasms respond to marijuana as well. People use medical marijuana to treat diaphragm spasms that are untreatable by other, prescribed medications.

    It doesn’t seem to harm lung capacity, and may even improve it.

    There’s a fair amount of evidence that marijuana does no harm to the lungs, unless you also smoke tobacco. One study published in Journal of the American Medical Association found that not only does marijuana not impair lung function, it may even increase lung capacity.

    Researchers looking for risk factors of heart disease tested the lung function of 5,115 young adults over the course of 20 years. Tobacco smokers lost lung function over time, but pot users actually showed an increase in lung capacity.

    It’s possible that the increased lung capacity may be due to taking a deep breaths while inhaling the drug and not from a therapeutic chemical in the drug.

    The smokers in that study only toked up a few times a month, but a more recent survey of people who smoked pot daily for up to 20 years found no evidence that smoking pot harmed their lungs, either.

    The National Academies report said there are good studies showing marijuana users are not more likely to have cancers associated with smoking.

    It may be of some use in treating glaucoma, or it may be possible to derive a drug from marijuana for this use.

    One of the most common reasons that states allow medical marijuana use is to treat and prevent the eye disease glaucoma, which increases pressure in the eyeball, damaging the optic nerve and causing loss of vision.

    Marijuana decreases the pressure inside the eye, according to the National Eye Institute: “Studies in the early 1970s showed that marijuana, when smoked, lowered intraocular pressure (IOP) in people with normal pressure and those with glaucoma.”

    For now, the medical consensus is that marijuana only lowers IOP for a few hours, meaning there’s not good evidence for it as a long term treatment right now. Researchers hope that perhaps a marijuana-based compound could be developed that lasts longer.

    thematthewknot via Flickr

    It may help control epileptic seizures.

    Some studies have shown that cannabidiol (CBD), another major marijuana compound, seems to help people with treatment-resistant epilepsy.

    A number of individuals have reported that marijuana is the only thing that helps control their or their children’s seizures.

    However, there haven’t been many gold-standard, double-blind studies on the topic, so researchers say more data is needed before we know how effective marijuana is.

    It also decreases the symptoms of a severe seizure disorder known as Dravet’s Syndrome.

    During the research for his documentary “Weed,” Sanjay Gupta interviewed the Figi family, who treated their 5-year-old daughter using a medical marijuana strain high in cannabidiol and low in THC.

    The Figi family’s daughter, Charlotte, has Dravet Syndrome, which causes seizures and severe developmental delays.

    According to the film, the drug decreased her seizures from 300 a week to just one every seven days. Forty other children in the state were using the same strain of marijuana to treat their seizures when the film was made — and it seemed to be working.

    The doctors who recommended this treatment said the cannabidiol in the plant interacts with brain cells to quiet the excessive activity in the brain that causes these seizures.

    Gupta notes, however, that a Florida hospital that specializes in the disorder, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Drug Enforcement agency don’t endorse marijuana as a treatment for Dravet or other seizure disorders.

    A chemical found in marijuana stops cancer from spreading, at least in cell cultures.

    CBD may help prevent cancer from spreading, researchers at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco reported in 2007.

    Other very preliminary studies on aggressive brain tumors in mice or cell cultures have shown that THC and CBD can slow or shrink tumors at the right dose, which is a strong reason to do more research.

    One 2014 study found that marijuana can significantly slow the growth of the type of brain tumor associated with 80% of malignant brain cancer in people.

    Still, these findings in cell cultures and animals don’t necessarily mean the effect will translate to people — far more investigation is needed.

    It may decrease anxiety in low doses.

    Researchers know that many cannabis users consume marijuana to relax, but also that many people say smoking too much can cause anxiety. So scientists conducted a study to find the “Goldilocks” zone: the right amount of marijuana to calm people.

    According to Emma Childs, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Illinois at Chicago and an author of the study, “we found that THC at low doses reduced stress, while higher doses had the opposite effect.” 

    A few puffs was enough to help study participants relax, but a few puffs more started to amp up anxiety. However, people may react differently in different situations.


    THC may slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease

    Marijuana may be able to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, a study led by Kim Janda of the Scripps Research Institute suggests.

    The 2006 study, published in the journal Molecular Pharmaceutics, found that THC (the active chemical in marijuana) slows the formation of amyloid plaques by blocking the enzyme in the brain that makes them. These plaques kill brain cells and are associated with Alzheimer’s.

    A synthetic mixture of CBD and THC seems to preserve memory in a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease. Another study suggested that a THC-based prescription drug called dronabinol was able to reduce behavioral disturbances in dementia patients.

    All these studies are in very early stages, though, so more research is needed.

    The drug eases the pain of multiple sclerosis.

    Marijuana may ease painful symptoms of multiple sclerosis, according to a study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

    Jody Corey-Bloom studied 30 multiple sclerosis patients with painful contractions in their muscles. These patients didn’t respond to other treatments, but after smoking marijuana for a few days, they reported that they were in less pain.

    The THC in marijuana seems to bind to receptors in the nerves and muscles to relieve pain.

    It seems to lessen side effects from treating hepatitis C and increase treatment effectiveness.

    Treatment for hepatitis C infection is harsh: negative side effects include fatigue, nausea, muscle aches, loss of appetite, and depression. Those side effects can last for months, and lead many people to stop their treatment course early.

    But a 2006 study in the European Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology found that 86% of patients using marijuana successfully completed their Hep C therapy. Only 29% of non-smokers completed their treatment, possibly because the marijuana helps lessen the treatment’s side effects.

    Marijuana also seems to improve the treatment’s effectiveness: 54% of hep C patients smoking marijuana got their viral levels low and kept them low, in comparison to only 8% of nonsmokers.

    Marijuana may help with inflammatory bowel diseases.

    Patients with inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis could benefit from marijuana use, studies suggest. 

    University of Nottingham researchers found in 2010 that chemicals in marijuana, including THC and cannabidiol, interact with cells in the body that play an important role in gut function and immune responses. The study was published in the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics.

    The body makes THC-like compounds that increase the permeability of the intestines, allowing bacteria in. But the cannabinoids in marijuana block these compounds, making the intestinal cells bond together tighter and become less permeable.

    But the National Academies report said there isn’t enough evidence to be sure whether marijuana really helps with these conditions, so more research is needed.

    It relieves arthritis discomfort.

    Marijuana alleviates pain, reduces inflammation, and promotes sleep, which may help relieve pain and discomfort for people with rheumatoid arthritis, researchers announced in 2011.

    Researchers from rheumatology units at several hospitals gave their patients Sativex, a cannabinoid-based pain-relieving medicine. After a two-week period, people on Sativex had a significant reduction in pain and improved sleep quality compared to placebo users.

    Other studies have found that plant-derived cannabinoids and inhaled marijuana can decrease arthritis pain, according to the National Academies report.

    Marijuana users tend to be less obese and have a better response to eating sugar.

    A study published in the American Journal Of Medicine suggested that pot smokers are skinnier than the average person and have healthier metabolism and reaction to sugars, even though they do end up eating more calories.

    The study analyzed data from more than 4,500 adult Americans — 579 of whom were current marijuana smokers, meaning they had smoked in the last month. About 2,000 people had used marijuana in the past, while another 2,000 had never used the drug.

    The researchers studied how the participants’ bodies responded to eating sugars. They measured blood-sugar levels and the hormone insulin after participants hadn’t eaten in nine hours, and after they’d eaten sugar.

    Not only were pot users thinner, their bodies also had a healthier response to sugar. Of course, the study couldn’t determine whether the marijuana users were like this to begin with or if these characteristics were somehow related to their smoking.

    While not really a health or medical benefit, marijuana could spur creativity.

    Contrary to stoner stereotypes, marijuana usage has actually been shown to have some positive mental effects, particularly in terms of increasing creativity, at least in some contexts. Even though people’s short-term memories tend to function worse when they’re high, they actually get better at tests requiring them to come up with new ideas.

    Researchers have also found that some study participants improve their “verbal fluency,” their ability to come up with different words, while using marijuana.

    Part of this increased creative ability may come from the release of dopamine in the brain, which lowers inhibitions and allows people to feel more relaxed, giving the brain the ability to perceive things differently.

    Cannabis soothes tremors for people with Parkinson’s disease.

    Research from Israel shows that smoking marijuana significantly reduces pain and tremors and improves sleep for Parkinson’s disease patients. Particularly impressive was the improved fine motor skills among patients.

    Medical marijuana is legal in Israel for multiple conditions, and a lot of research into the medical uses of cannabis is done there, supported by the Israeli government.

    Marijuana may help veterans suffering from PTSD.

    In 2014, the Colorado Department of Public Health awarded $2 million to the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (one of the biggest proponents of marijuana research) to study marijuana’s potential for people with post-traumatic stress disorder. 

    Naturally occurring cannabinoids, similar to THC, help regulate the system that causes fear and anxiety in the body and brain.

    Marijuana is approved to treat PTSD in some states already — in New Mexico, PTSD is the number one reason for people to get a license for medical marijuana.

    But there are still questions about the safety of using marijuana while suffering from PTSD, which this study — which has taken a while to get off the ground — will hopefully help answer.

    Walter Hickey / BI

    Animal studies suggest that marijuana may protect the brain after a stroke.

    Research from the University of Nottingham shows that marijuana may help protect the brain from damage from a stroke by reducing the size of the area affected by the stroke — at least in rats, mice, and monkeys.

    This isn’t the only research that has shown neuroprotective effects of cannabis. Some research shows that the plant may help protect the brain after other types of brain trauma.

    Marijuana might even protect the brain from concussions and trauma.

    Lester Grinspoon , a professor of psychiatry at Harvard and marijuana advocate, recently wrote an open letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. In it, he said the NFL should stop testing players for marijuana, and that the league should start funding research into the plant’s ability to protect the brain instead.

    “Already, many doctors and researchers believe that marijuana has incredibly powerful neuroprotective properties, an understanding based on both laboratory and clinical data,” Grinspoon wrote.

    Goodell said he’d consider permitting athletes to use marijuana if medical research shows that it’s an effective neuroprotective agent.

    At least one recent study on the topic found that patients who had used marijuana were less likely to die from traumatic brain injuries.

    It can help eliminate nightmares.

    This is a complicated one, because it involves effects that can be both positive and negative. Marijuana disturbs sleep cycles by interrupting the later stages of REM sleep. In the long run, this could be a problem for frequent users.

    However, for people suffering from serious nightmares, especially those associated with PTSD, this can be helpful, perhaps in the short term. Nightmares and other dreams occur during those same stages of sleep. By interrupting REM sleep, many of those dreams may not occur. Research into using a synthetic cannabinoid — similar to THC but not the same — showed a significant decrease in the number of nightmares in patients with PTSD.

    Additionally, even if frequent use can be bad for sleep, marijuana may be a better sleep aid than some other substances that people use. Some of those, including medication and alcohol, may potentially have worse effects on sleep, though more research is needed on the topic.

    Cannabis reduces some of the pain and nausea from chemotherapy and stimulates appetite.

    One of the most well-known medical uses of marijuana is for people going through chemotherapy. There’s good evidence that it’s effective for this, according to the National Academies report.

    Cancer patients being treated with chemo suffer from painful nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite. This can cause additional health complications.

    Marijuana can help reduce these side effects, alleviating pain, decreasing nausea, and stimulating the appetite. There are also multiple FDA-approved cannabinoid drugs that use THC, the main active chemical in marijuana, for the same purpose.

    Harrison Jacobs/Business Insider

    Marijuana can help people who are trying to cut back on drinking.

    Marijuana is safer than alcohol. That’s not to say it’s risk-free, but cannabis is much less addictive than alcohol and doesn’t cause nearly as much physical damage. 

    Disorders like alcoholism involve disruptions in the endocannabinoid system. Because of that, some people think cannabis might help patients struggling with those disorders.

    Research published in the Harm Reduction Journal found that some people use marijuana as a less harmful substitute for alcohol, prescription drugs, and other illegal drugs. Some of the most common reasons patients make that substitution are that marijuana has less negative side effects and is less likely to cause withdrawal problems.

    Some people do become psychologically dependent on marijuana, and it is not a cure for substance abuse problems. But from a harm-reduction standpoint, it can help.

    Still, it’s worth noting that combining marijuana and alcohol can be dangerous, and some researchers are concerned that this scenario is more likely than one in which users substitute a toke for a drink.

    Medical marijuana legalization seems to reduce opioid overdose deaths.

    While there are a number of factors behind the current opioid epidemic, many experts agree that the use of opioid painkillers to treat chronic pain has played a major role. It’s very risky to take powerful drugs that have a high risk of causing overdose and high addiction rates. Marijuana, which can also treat chronic pain, is far less risky.

    Several studies have shown that states that allow medical marijuana have fewer opioid deaths. This effect seems to grow over time, with states who pass these laws seeing a “20% lower rate of opioid deaths in the laws’ first year, 24% in the third, and 33% in the sixth,” according to Stat News.

    It’s hard to say that deaths went down because of medical marijuana legalization and not other reasons. But because the effect seems to get stronger the longer marijuana remains legal, researchers think marijuana is a likely cause of the decline in opioid deaths.

    Read the original article on Business Insider. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter. Copyright 2017.

    Read next on Business Insider: The highest-valued marijuana companies of 2017 reveal 2 key insights about the booming industry

    Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/health-and-medicine/23-sciencebacked-health-benefits-of-marijuana/

    Artificial intelligence has beaten Q*bert, the iconic Atari video game

    Image: aaron ontiveroz/ the Denver Post via Getty Images

    Nothing is off-limits to artificial intelligence — even your favorite old video games. 

    An artificial intelligence, developed by researchers from the University of Freiburg in Germany, has beaten the Q*bert arcade game by exploiting glitches in its design. 

    In the game, players take the role of cartoon character Q*bert, who hops around a pyramid of 28 cubes. Every time Q*bert lands on a cube, it changes color. Players are tasked with changing every cube’s color without being captured by enemies that also roam around the pyramid. 

    The AI found two sleazy ways to beat the game. First, it baited an enemy to follow it, then committed suicide by jumping off its pyramid. Though Q*bert lost a life, killing the opponent in the process left the player with enough points to reincarnate and repeat the cycle. 

    Additionally, by jumping around the pyramid in a (seemingly) random fashion, the AI caused the pyramid’s tiles to begin to blink, and was granted more than one million points.  

    The researchers believe that no human has ever uncovered these loopholes before, but this may not be entirely fair. The researchers tested their AI with an updated version of Q*bert — and the game’s developer claims the original version didn’t have such bugs. 

    So it’s possible that humans could have found these loopholes as well. Nonetheless, the AI was able to find them after only five hours of training, which is probably less time than it would take most humans to beat the game. 

    The researchers used sets of algorithms called “evolution strategies.” As the name implies, evolution strategies involve generating many algorithms and identifying those that perform the best through trial and error.  

    In the paper, researchers suggest that evolution strategies can be considered “a potentially competitive approach to modern deep reinforcement learning algorithms.” Deep reinforcement learning algorithms mimic human neural networks and teach themselves effective strategy. A number of well known artificial agents fall into this category, including Alphabet Inc.’s DeepMind, which recently became one of the world’s most dominant Go players

    It’s also possible that these algorithms could end up working together. “Since evolution strategies have different strengths and weaknesses than traditional deep reinforcement learning strategies, we also expect rich opportunities for combining the strength of both,” the researchers wrote. 

    This study is a good sign for our robot overlords, which grow more dominant every day. In a recent study, AI outperformed lawyers in interpreting legal contracts. A Google-trained algorithm has trained itself to recognize patients at risk of heart disease — it doesn’t yet outperform existing medical approaches, but it’s on its way. 

    It’s a serious, but exciting reminder to all humans. When it comes to skilled AI, nothing is out of reach — not even your childhood arcade games. 

    Read more: https://mashable.com/2018/03/01/ai-beats-qbert/