Category Archives: the mind

Marijuana reduces Intelligence Quotient in adolescents

The opium poppy and marijuana have been used for millennia in traditional medicines for the relief of pain and serious illnesses. However, their potential for addiction and the social problems that they cause has led to government regulations that make the possession of these herbal products illegal.  Morphine, which is generally 8 to 14 percent of the dry weight of opium, is a powerful analgesic that is used in modern hospitals to control pain for dying patients and for patients with serious injuries.

Marijuana, a variety of hemp plant, has had a more difficult transition into the modern medicine chest because it is often abused as a recreational drug.  The active components of marijuana are called cannabinoids.  Hashish is produced from Cannabis indica plants that are traditionally cultivated in India, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan.  Cannabidiol (CBD) is a main psychoactive component of hashish.  Marijuana is produced from Cannabis sativa and its main active component is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).


Tetrahydrocannabinol

Medical cannabis has been documented as an effective treatment for nausea, vomiting, neurogenic pain, glaucoma, and many other conditions.  Cannabidiol has also been found effective at stopping breast cancer from spreading throughout the body.  Several states, like Colorado and Washington, have legalized the purchase and possession of marijuana, but it is still banned under the federal Controlled Substances Act.

Approximately 1100 metric tons of marijuana are smuggled each year from Mexico to supply the recreational drug market, and large quantities are also grown within the United States.  Young people often believe that regular marijuana use is not harmful, and many high school age students use cannabis on a daily basis.  A study at Duke University[1] followed 1037 individuals from age 13, before initiation of cannabis use, to age 38.  Neurophsychological testing found that persistent cannabis use was associated with a broad decline in cognitive function.  Impairment was concentrated among adolescent-onset cannabis users, with more persistent use associated with greater decline. The changes were permanent.  Cessation of cannabis use did not fully restore neuropsychological functioning among adolescent-onset cannabis users.

Learn more about drug addiction

[1] Madeline H. Meier, et al., Persistent cannabis users show neuropsychological decline from childhood to midlife, PNAS, October 2, 2012, (109) 40, E2657–E2664, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1206820109

 

Omega-3 deficiency will shrink your brain

Baked SalmonBaked Salmon Recipe

Brain tissue contains about 60 percent fat.[1]  Two essential fatty acids, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) are necessary for the proper development and function of the brain and the eyes.  Deficiencies of these long-chain fatty acids can lead to psychiatric disorders, including depression.[2]  Fortunately, these fatty acids are found in fish oil, and eating fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel or sardines several times per week can provide enough of these necessary nutrients to maintain good health.

Essential fatty acids are called “essential” because they have to be obtained from the food that we eat and cannot be created from monounsaturated or saturated fats.  Strict vegetarians who do not consume animal products, including fish, can potentially develop omega-3 deficiency.  However, flax seed oil is a good vegetable source of alpha linolenic acid (ALA) which is an omega-3 fatty acid with 18 carbon atoms that can be converted by the body into EPA with 20 carbons, and DHA with 22 carbons, although at low efficiency.

A recent study tried to find out why higher dietary intake of omega-3 fats and higher blood levels of DHA and EPA have been associated with a reduced risk for dementia.[3]  The researchers performed cognitive tests and measured the brain volume of 1,575 dementia-free participants of the Framingham Study.  The participants with the lowest blood levels of DHA had lower total brain volumes.  Participants with lower omega-3 levels also had lower scores on tests of visual memory, abstract thinking, and executive function which includes cognitive processes such as planning, memory, attention span, problem solving and verbal reasoning.  The study concludes that lower blood levels of DHA are associated with smaller brain volumes and cognitive impairment even in persons free of clinical dementia.

Learn more about dietary fats

[1]Roy Walford, M.D., “Beyond the 120 Year Diet: How to Double Your Vital Years“, 2000.

[2] Edwards R, et al., Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid levels in the diet and in red blood cell membranes of depressed patients, J Affect Disord. 1998 Mar; 48(2-3):149-55. PMID: 9543204

[3] Tan, Z.S., et al., Red blood cell omega-3 fatty acid levels and markers of accelerated brain aging, Neurology, February 28, 2012 78:658-664

Spectacular Sunrise improves your mood

There is something magical about a pretty sunrise.  It sets the mood for a wonderful day regardless of the problems that you have to face.  The small picture above gives but a tiny glimpse of the beauty of the day.  You get a different perspective when you actually see the beautiful colors of the sunrise across the whole horizon and you smell the crisp, fresh air.  All your senses wake up.  The progression of the colors as the sun relentlessly approaches the horizon is breathtaking.  First you see the purples and dark reds.  A few moments later, the reds turn to hues of orange that progress to yellow.  When the sun finally peeks over the horizon, the whole sky is aflame with light.  It is good to be alive to enjoy the beauty of nature.

See more pictures taken from the top of the penthouse.

What is Faith?


Faith is the firm belief in something for which there is no proof.  We act on faith for many decisions in our life because we do not have enough data to make an informed decision and because we cannot predict the future.

Faith is the basis of all religions.  The belief in God, an afterlife, and the practice of a system of religious beliefs is based on faith because it cannot be proved that God exists or that there is an afterlife.  People disagree about the concept of God and this has resulted in the creation of hundreds of different religions.  Throughout history, people have believed in many gods.  The Romans had a polytheistic religion that included gods for war, love and many other specialties.  The Aztecs offered human sacrifices to their gods in the belief that these sacrifices sustained the Universe and made it possible for the sun to rise.

In the Bible, the gospel of Matthew describes faith in terms of a challenge. After Jesus casts out a demon that had been causing a boy to have seizures, the disciples asked him why they had not been able to do it.  According to Matthew 17:20:

He replied, “Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

Science, which is based on logical proof or material evidence, assumes that there is an order in the Universe that may be discovered and explained logically or mathematically.  All physical phenomena are assumed to have a scientific explanation when sufficient data is obtained to create a model or hypothesis that can be incrementally refined through the scientific method.  This expectation has been called a faith-based belief system, but the difference between religion and science is that religious beliefs are based only on personal convictions whereas scientific theories can be physically verified through experiments and observations.

How do we know what to believe?  We are imprinted with many aspects of our faith and belief systems by our parents and our social environment when we are still young.  These belief systems may change when we mature and become capable of independent thought, but social pressures may not allow us to express our ideas freely.  A large percentage of the population retains the belief systems adopted in youth and never ventures outside of the comfort zone provided by these traditions.

Exposure to new environments and different cultures can provide perspectives that shake the foundation of our beliefs and may lead to the adoption of new philosophies.  In the modern world, where international travel is relatively easy, we are exposed to immigrants and travelers with different customs and religions.  An introspective person will start to analyze misconceptions accepted in youth and modify his beliefs to encompass a broader perspective of the world.

Faith supports the guiding principles of how we live, whether it is a reliance on the methodology of the scientific method, or a belief in God and an afterlife.

Optical illusion with three colors

The eye provides us with basic perceptions that are interpreted by the brain.  Sometimes, these perceptions differ so much from reality that we understand that our senses are fooling us.

The image above consists of only three colors: a greenish blue (RGB 0, 255, 150), dark orange (RGB 255, 150, 0), and bright pink (RGB 255, 0, 255).  When the greenish blue field is overlaid with pink lines, the blue color predominates, whereas the green color predominates when the greenish blue field is overlaid with orange lines.  The figure appears to be made of four colors, rather than three.

Patches of color that are physically close to each other are interpreted by the eye as being a single color.  This is the principle used for color halftone printing which overlays dots of several basic colors of different sizes to simulate a wide spectrum of colors.  The technique is used extensively for cartoon illustrations.

An image of Charlie Brown in the Sunday comics page, when enlarged, reveals the pattern of dots that form the picture. The rows of tiny dots are oriented at different angles to avoid Moiré patterns.

Learn more about optical illusions

Ginkgo Biloba does not improve brain function

Ginkgo biloba

The leaf of the maidenhair tree, Ginkgo biloba, has been used as herbal medicine in China since the fifteenth century. The leaves were traditionally used for benefiting the brain and for treatment of lung disorders. In modern times, Ginkgo biloba is a popular supplement that is widely used for its potential effects on memory and cognition. A standardized extract is widely prescribed for the treatment of a range of conditions including memory and concentration problems, confusion, depression, anxiety, dizziness, tinnitus and headache.

The mechanism of action of Ginkgo is supposed to be due to components that increase blood supply by dilating blood vessels, reducing blood viscosity, and reducing free radicals, but recent studies show that the purported benefits of ginkgo for the brain are exaggerated and cannot be demonstrated scientifically. One study concludes that Ginkgo biloba appears to be safe in use with no excess side effects compared with placebo, but the evidence that Ginkgo has predictable and clinically significant benefit for people with dementia or cognitive impairment is inconsistent and unconvincing.[1] A second study shows that Ginkgo biloba taken at a dose of 120 mg twice a day was not effective in reducing either the overall incidence rate of dementia or Alzheimer disease incidence in elderly individuals with normal cognition or those with mild cognitive impairment.[2]

The good news is that Ginkgo is not harmful. The bad news is that many people have been wasting their money on an ineffective supplement.

The leaves of Ginkgo biloba trees turn bright yellow in the autumn. The trees are popular ornamental trees which are survivors from the days of the dinosaurs.

Here are some puzzles to exercise your mind

[1] Birks J, Grimley Evans J., Ginkgo biloba for cognitive impairment and dementia. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2007 Apr 18;(2):CD003120.

[2] DeKosky ST, Williamson JD, Fitzpatrick AL, et al., Ginkgo biloba for prevention of dementia: a randomized controlled trial, JAMA. 2008 Nov 19;300(19):2253-62.

Nicotine is highly addictive


Today, President Barack Obama signed the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act.  The new legislation will put cigarettes under the control of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and will allow regulation of the manufacturing and marketing of tobacco products.  The bill is expected to make it harder for minors to start smoking.

Before signing the bill at a White House ceremony, Obama said:

Almost 90 percent of all smokers began at or before their 18th birthday.  I know — I was one of these teenagers, and so I know how difficult it can be to break this habit when it’s been with you for a long time.

President Obama has unsuccessfully fought against tobacco addiction.  His wife Michelle has asked him repeatedly to quit, but he has not been able to do it completely.  Obama has tried to quit smoking by chewing Nicorette Gum which contains nicotine.

Although nicotine is highly addictive, there are many social situations and daily rituals that establish Pavlovian reflexes and strengthen the urge to smoke.  Put a cup of coffee in front of a smoker, and immediately they reach for their cigarettes.  The nicotine addiction can be eliminated by gradually decreasing the daily dose, but the psychological factors that make it hard to quit require a radical restructuring of the smoker’s social life.

Learn about the psychological reasons for smoking

Shooting at the Holocaust Museum in Washington

The Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. opened in 1993 as a memorial to the Jewish victims of the Nazi persecution during World War II.  The museum contains belongings of some of the victims, film footage of witnesses, testimony of the atrocities committed by the Nazis, and pictures of the ghettos, gas chambers, and detention camps.  The museum is a gruesome place that serves to remind us of the malice that one person can inflict on another.

On June 10, 2009, an 88-year old man who had a record as a white supremacist, brought a rifle into the museum and shot a guard.  The shooter was immediately shot by security staff, thus preventing further chaos.  At the time, there were many school children touring the museum and they fortunately escaped injury due to the fast action of the security staff.

In trying to find the motivation for the shooting, the news media have reported that the shooter had a long history of writing hateful racist and anti-Semitic diatribes, and that he had been arrested in 1981 for entering a Federal building with a handgun and a shotgun for the purpose of holding hostage the chairman of the Federal Reserve Board so that he could voice his opinions through the news media.

How is it that someone who emanates so much hatred and who has shown dangerous tendencies is free to walk the streets?  It is equally incomprehensible that Muslims, Christians, and Jews should hate each other, given that the Biblical patriarch Abraham established the principles of monotheism practiced by all three religions.  Frequently, Christians often forget that Jesus himself was Jewish.  Is a harmonious world too much to hope for?

Learn about Famous Jews

Remote Control Chaos

Remote controls

The first TV remote control that I owned was connected by a wire to the television.  You could not take it more than twenty feet away from the TV because that was the length of the wire, but it never got lost.  Cordless infrared remote controls became popular in the late 1950s, and soon they were being used not only for televisions, but for audio systems and cable television boxes.

Unfortunately, every manufacturer set up their own coding system and a remote control could not be used for two different appliances.  Remote controls proliferated because one was needed for the TV, another one for the cable box, and a third one for the DVD player.  There are several “universal remote” controls which promise to manage all your devices, but the programming is so hard that the average person prefers to use multiple controls.

This week, I have had calls from two little old ladies.  One of them accidentally pressed some button on one of her two remote controls and lost the picture on her TV completely.  She tried and tried but could not get the picture back.  The other lady subscribed to a cable channel to watch some programs in her native language.  She ended up with one cable system for her American programs and another cable system for her foreign programs.  Each cable system has its own remote control, but to switch between them or to turn the TV on or off it is necessary to use a third remote control.  This is too complicated for her and now she cannot watch her programs because she cannot get past the barrier of complexity.

Technology was so simple half a century ago.  Remote controls had wires and telephones were connected to the walls.  Today, you have to keep your mind sharp to be able to change the channels on the TV.

How to avoid Alzheimer’s disease

Beta Amyloid plaques
Amyloid plaques consist of protein strands misfolded
as beta-pleated sheets through hydrogen bonding

Alzheimer’s disease affects approximately 4.5 million Americans, according to The U.S. National Institutes of Health.  About 5 percent of people ages 65 to 74 and almost half of those ages 85 suffer the disease.  There is no cure for Alzheimer’s. People with the disease experience memory loss, difficulty remembering recent events or the names of familiar people or things.   This disease does not result from normal aging.

Autopsies of people suffering from Alzheimer’s have shown a substantial number of amyloid plaques in their brains.  Amyloids are insoluble clumps of fibrous proteins that have misfolded into beta sheet structures.  Amyloids may also accumulate in other organs and cause amyloidosis which is determined by microscopic histological examination and is characteristic of several different diseases such as inclusion body myositis, a muscle disease, and cerebral amyloid angiopathy.

The increase of Alzheimer’s disease and the increase of obesity in the last 20 years, have caused scientists to explore the idea that specific diets may be beneficial or harmful for brain function.  Indeed, it has been proven that obesity-related leptin levels contribute to the formation of beta amyloid plaques[1,2], and that caloric restriction prevents age-related neuronal damage.[3,4]

If you are overweight, now is the time to get back in shape.  Don’t wait until your body has been damaged beyond repair.  You should exercise regularly and adopt a nutritious, low-calorie diet to maintain your ideal body weight.  You will be a little bit hungry, but you will be healthier.

[1] Fewlass DC, Noboa K, Pi-Sunyer FX, Johnston JM, Yan SD, Tezapsidis N., Obesity-related leptin regulates Alzheimer’s Abeta. FASEB J. 2004 Dec;18(15):1870-8. PMID: 15576490

[2] Jefferson Scientists Discover Mechanism Tying Obesity to Alzheimer’s Disease

[3] Gillette-Guyonnet S, Vellas B., Caloric restriction and brain function, Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2008 Nov;11(6):686-92. PMID: 18827571

[4] Qin W, Yang T, et al, Neuronal SIRT1 activation as a novel mechanism underlying the prevention of Alzheimer disease amyloid neuropathology by calorie restriction, J Biol Chem. 2006 Aug 4;281(31):21745-54. Epub 2006 Jun 2. PMID: 16751189