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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Pot can damage young brains

Dr. Elizabeth Osuch asks:Is pot as harmless as we think?"
As a grandfather with a young granddaughter, the talk by Dr. Elizabeth Osuch on the dangers threatening young pot smokers was of great interest to me.

"Is pot really harmless?" This is the question asked by Dr. Elizabeth Osuch. The answer: She doesn't think so, certainly not when it's being smoked by young people. The mix of chemicals, she said in a recent talk, "can disrupt and kill (young) brain cells."

Osuch is the Rea chair of affective and anxiety disorders with the department of psychiatry at the UWO Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry. She is also the founder and executive director of the First Episode Mood and Anxiety Program (FEMAP) at London Health Sciences Centre.

On Wednesday night Dr. Osuch discussed her research with an interested public at a well-attended presentation which almost filled the Wolf Hall in the London Central Library.
Sampling pot second only to alcohol.

Recently the Ottawa Sun reported a Leger Marketing poll commissioned by QMI Agency that found more than half of Canadians believe marijuana possession should be decriminalized.

This acceptance of marijuana by a majority of Canadians may be part of the reason that cannabis is second only to alcohol as the drug of choice among young people in grades seven to 12. Osuch made this point with a graph from the Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey of 2009. Almost 30 percent of students surveyed reported having used pot at some point in their young lives.

Dr. Elizabeth Osuch talks to the media.
The doctor said, "The adolescent brain is a work in progress." It is more vulnerable to substance abuse. And some youths are more at risk than others as vulnerability is mediated by genes.

"The risk for addiction is based on genetic make-up," said Osuch. But, the risk of brain damage is faced by all and is based primarily on two factors: One being age. The younger the brain the more danger of damage.

Osuch said a study by Eric Downer and Veronica Campbell revealed that exposure to marijuana during pregnancy could have damaging effects on the unborn child and " . . . early-onset (before age 17) marijuana use might also have damaging effects on brain composition." In adults the findings were not as clear.

A second major factor is the strength or potency of the marijuana being smoked. The question of whether or not the potency of common pot has increased substantially since the '60s has been an ongoing debate for years. Osuch firmly believes potency of pot has increased dramatically and backs her position with numbers released by the London, Ontario, police department. These figures show the effective THC concentration in 2010 can be from 20 to 30 times greater than that found in marijuana confiscated by the force just 25 years ago.

The scales are tipping for THC.
Decades ago the two main active ingredients in marijuana, THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol), were found in almost equal concentrations. This is not true today. THC, which impairs and destabilizes brain function and causes acute psychotic symptoms in some users, is no longer balanced by CBD which does not impair performance or induce psychosis and actual may reduce anxiety and stabilize brain function.

Cutting marijuana with tobacco, a practice of some teenage users, actually enhances THC absorption and increases the dangers posed by the drug. Osuch said rather than diluting the effect of pot, "It is an interesting way of getting more THC." Plus, tobacco smoke adds its own set of dangers to the mix.

According to Osuch, regular marijuana use in adolsecence also increases the risk of schizophrenia but this is not the old Reefer Madness scare story. This is a measured warning. This is a real and reported danger faced by a minority of users. Why a minority? These people have a genetic make-up making them more likely to exhibit psychotic symptoms from marijuana use, especially when using cannabis with high THC potency.

Doing dope when young is playing Russian roulette with a smoking joint. Risky behaviour? Most certainly. But adolescents are more likely than adults to take risks.

The dangers posed by pot smoking are not as clear cut when it comes to adults, but when pressed by a questioner Osuch said firmly, "You don't want to make a habit of it (smoking dope)."

I don't smoke --- not tobacco and not pot. If you have followed my blog you will know that I don't have the brain cells to donate. If marijuana was legal and controlled, maybe I would willing to sample the stuff but I doubt it. Breathing in pollutants is not my idea of a bright way to get a buzz. Smoking junk of unknown composition, unknown potency, unknown origin is not my idea of a wise way to take a drug. And make no mistake about it --- pot is definitely a drug.

As for wondering if young people and pregnant woman should refrain from using pot, why would that even by a question?

Note the short black column far right. This represents pot smokers' performance.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

So, what do you know about religion?

the Holy Bible: image by David Ball
The test is a little skewed towards Americans but it is still a neat little quiz. The Pew Research Center's U.S. Religious Knowledge Quiz isn't tricky. The questions are actually quite easy. I took the test and, I am ashamed to admit, I got two answers wrong. Yet, my results put me in the top 7% of those taking the quiz.

I have always thought many religious folk don't know much about their own religion or about the beliefs of others. They are quite in the dark, but won't admit it.

As a boy I had a close friend who was a Christian Missionary Alliance member. At times, I would attend religious functions with him. I think his parents wanted to save me.

Once we went to a big festive meeting in the largest auditorium in town. The night was designed for kids. First, we saw a movie, an Australian film with a Christian theme. Next, we heard a young speaker, just out his teens, confess that before he found Christ he had consumed beer. Now, thanks to having found salvation, no alcohol ever touched his lips. A Christian takes joy in honouring God and to honour God a Christian does not drink.

As the night ended, we were told that the organizers wanted to take a simple hand count. Everyone was asked to bow their heads and those who didn't consider themselves saved, according to stuff they had heard over the course of the night, were asked to raise a hand.  I raised my hand. I saw nothing wrong with drinking a beer or enjoying a glass of wine. Hey, in my Anglican church, those taking communion actually touched their lips to wine right there at church.

It seemed that no sooner did my hand go up than I was asked by a sidesperson to come with them. I wanted to resist but resistance was futile. It would make a fuss and folk would look up and see that I was a sinner. I quietly got up and left with the Brylcreemed young man in the well pressed suit, white shirt and narrow tie.

I found myself with a few dozen other kids and teens at the front of the auditorium. The preacher on stage told everyone to raise their heads and see the sinners, those who by their own admission were in need of salvation.

He pointed at us and bellowed. Oh-so-embarrassed little girls trapped in the gaze of hundreds of damning eye cried and sobbed loudly. We sinners were humiliated. When were were marched out of sight into little discussions groups, we were all relieved.

I was asked why I had raised my hand. I told the group that I saw nothing wrong with drinking wine and by the standards of the night I as a sinner. In my defence I said that even Jesus turned water into wine when supplies ran low.

The discussion group leader quietly corrected me. "Son," he said, "Jesus turned water into grape juice, not wine. It takes time to make wine, wine must ferment. Jesus, our Lord and Saviour, miraculously turned water in grape juice. It was a miracle done by the Son of God."

"What's a miracle," I asked.

"Son, a miracle is when something good happens that is impossible."

"And Jesus could do miracles?"

"Yes son, Jesus could do miracles. He is the Son of God."

"So, Jesus could do the impossible?"

"Yes son, He could. He is our Lord Almighty"

"So, why couldn't He have turned water into wine just like the bible said He did?"

And that a night I saw a miracle. The fellow leading our discussion group was speechless. He didn't have an answer.

Take the test and see how you score.


Friday, September 24, 2010

I finally put the Hunt brothers behind me!

100 ounce silver bar: My doorstop for almost three decades.
Do you recall the infamous Hunt brothers and the great silver corner of about three decades ago? If you do, read my post recalling those days and celebrating the recent climb of silver back into the lofty $20s. I was finally able to sell my 100 ounce doorstop.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A better picture

Yesterday I featured an image taken with a long lens to highlight the number of cars parked on driveways in my neighbourhood. Tonight I am posting an image that is a little more indicative of the way the neighbourhood looks to those walking about the area.

Many folk spend lots of time and money landscaping their property. I find my neighbourhood is very much like a park and I enjoy walking here. Now that I am retired, maybe I will start focusing some energy on landscaping my place.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Buses, Cars and New Urbanism


Recently I had to take a Via train to Toronto and then grab a Go Transit bus to a small town outside T.O. I was the only person on the full-sized city bus that could have carried 60 passengers.

Noticing I was his only fare, the driver called ahead to see if any riders were waiting for the bus at my stop, the second last stop on the run. No one was at the terminal. It was deserted. The driver asked me exactly where I was going and, as he had no more passengers, he left the scheduled route to take me the final three kilometres to my destination. I had planned on walking.

I am not giving many details as I don't want to get this driver in trouble. But think about it. A bus taking a regular, daily run through Canada's biggest city, through dense suburbs to a small, outlying town often makes the trip empty. I was the only passenger the day I rode that bus and I'm from London. Not one resident of Toronto or any of the suburbs through which we drove had any interest in taking that bus.

Whenever I read an article about new urbanism, the claim is made that new urbanist communities have densities that encourage the use of mass transit, read buses. My bus ride calls that belief into question. With tens of thousands of potential riders, if not hundreds of thousands,  there is often not one rider. Not one!


Neighborhoods today require lots of parking.
I am not blogging as much as I once did; I am now grandparenting almost daily. This is like babysitting but done by a senior for love rather than by a teen for money.

The other day, while taking my granddaughter for a walk, I noticed a picture. I confess that it was taken with a long lens. The street does not actually look like a parking lot but that is not my point.

Most of these homes have two car garages and yet their driveways are filled with cars. Curious, I interviewed a few folk. It seems, that with both the husband and the wife working, two cars are the minimum number in my neighbourhood for each home.

Why don't these folk just take the bus? Hey, read the paragraphs above titled Buses. People, even people who have a bus route just a few feet away, hate riding buses.

Now, these couples often have children and if they are old enough, that explains the cars parked on the driveways. When our daughters are home, we often had five cars parked at our home: a Morgan, a Chevy, a Pontiac, a Ford and a Saturn.

Holiday weekends are worse. Christmas can be a real problem, even for us. I can park six cars on my property and I can use every one of those spaces at Christmas. This is a fact that brings us to new urbanism.

New Urbanism

Parking garages behind new urbanist homes in Oakville.
If  the ideal new urbanist community has lane ways to access the garages, where will the kids park their cars? And at Christmas, where do all the visitors park their cars? With the deep banks of plowed snow, this may present a problem.

I know a couple living in Cornell Village in Markham. It's one of the best known new urbanist communities in Canada. The next time we get together I am going to ask them about these apparent parking problems. And yes this couple has two cars and neither walks to work nor to the store. Why? See Buses and Cars above.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Cardiac imaging breakthrough at the UWO

Monday the University of Western Ontario announced the formation of the Biomedical Imaging Research Centre (BIRC). Thursday Western announced a breakthrough in cardiac imaging. The two announcements are closely linked.

Dr. James White, a cardiologist and core research scientist with BIRC led the team responsible for today's announced breakthrough offering cardiologists and surgeons a new imaging technique producing a single, 3D high-resolution image of the heart.

White successfully visualized the heart's blood vessels and a myocardial scar at the same time. A first!

Dr. S. de Ribaupierre
At the announcement of BIRC, Neurosurgeon Sandrine de Ribaupierre said advances in medical imaging are needed to improve safety. "It needs to be really accurate."

It was pointed out that these technologies are known to occasionally to give false positives or false negatives. Possibly the best known example of this was reported by neuroscientist Craig Bennett, then a graduate student at Dartmouth College, who scanned the brain of a dead salmon and the natural noise inherent in the fMRI data 'revealed' the dead fish was thinking.

This fMRI date 'revealed' the dead fish was thinking. BIRC holds the promise of improved imaging with increased diagnostic accuracy and fewer false positives.
With medical professionals placing more and more reliance on diagnostic imaging, accuracy is paramount - and increased accuracy in cardiac imaging is what Thursday's breakthrough announcement delivers with BIRC promising more to come.

Injuries to the heart from heart attacks or viral inflammation can result in permanent damage or scarring of the heart muscle. Using a 3-Tesla MRI White and his team constructed a three dimensional model of a patient's heart clearly showing the relationship between the heart's blood vessels and a permanent injury. Dr. White said, "This will help direct surgeons and cardiologists to better target the blood vessels that lead to (healthy) muscle . . . " and improve the outlooks for patients requiring pacemakers, bypass surgery or angioplasties.

Dr. A. Fenster
The London research will not be restricted to MRIs. Dr. Aaron Fenster, BIRC director and Robarts Research Institute scientist, said London has all the necessary medical-imaging technologies for extensive research: MRIs, PET scanners, CT equipment, X-ray machines and SPECT imaging.

The Biomedical Imaging Research Centre is about more than scanners it is about people. BIRC brings together researchers from Western's Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry, Lawson Health and Research Institute, Robarts Research Institute, the biomedical-engineering graduate program at the UWO and more. 150 graduate students plus 50 associate scientists in basic and clinical research will work with dozens of BIRC core scientists.

Fenster said, "We assembled the centre with the vision to become the most successful integrated biomedical-research program in Canada . . . to become one of the top five in the world . . . "

This is research with almost immediate practical applications. According to de Ribaupierre, there is no point in pushing scanning technology "if you are not going to use it clinically." To this end, the researchers will be working closely with clinicians.

Dr. M. Strong
Dr. Michael Strong, Dean of the Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry at the University of Western Ontario, said, "It does us absolutely no good to bring a group of individuals together and say we are going to call you a centre if it doesn't mean something at the end of the day . . . Otherwise it is just a name . . . "

Today's breakthrough announcement adds weight to Strong's strong words.

As someone who recently had an MRI with another yet to come, two 25 minute trips through a nuclear scanning device, a transesophageal echocardiogram and  looking at the possibility of undergoing a cardiac ablation, I know how important accurate imaging is to the successful outcome of some very serious medical procedures. When I heard about the Biomedical Imaging Research Centre press conference, I just had to attend and report.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Incredible Car Ads

This post has been re-written to reflect the wealth of imaginative, amusing car ads. Some I don't believe are shown in North America. The first ad from Nissan is witty but take car with some of the others --- a few shocked my wife. I wouldn't want to play some of these on a computer at work.

If you liked the Polar Bear ad, check out Kidzilla with a sound track featuring a little rock and roll by the King --- Elvis. Or, this one, Baby, showing how having a family doesn't mean having a boring car.

If you are not a work, and you are in an 18+ environment, these three are good. I do wonder if the first two are real ads. The bouncing breasts ad is reminiscent of the Lucky Airlines ad in Putney Swope by Robert Downey Sr. Is reality really catching up with the mad ad campaigns of old Putney?

Nissan ad - may contain etc.
Toyota ad - I love Air Conditioning - may contain etc.
This Toyota ad is funny and not shocking. It is suitable for all but the really young would only get the slapstick humor.

And if you are wondering how Putney Swope back in the '60s approached airline advertising in a hip world, here is the link:
Lucky Airlines