The drug bans don’t work…

Paul Raven @ 20-04-2010

… they just make you worse. Mere days after the UK government – against the recommendation of its scientific advisors – banned mephedrone in a glorious knee-jerk election-season appeal to the hand-wringing floating voters of the chattering classes, the next borderline-legal designer recreational pharmaceutical is being pushed into the spotlight by the relentless twinned forces of global economics and the human urge to get high and have fun.

Sound and fury, singifying nothing. I guess you’re never too old for Whack-a-Mole.


Gross $4,000 a day with Viagra spam

Paul Raven @ 29-09-2009

Ever wonder why the flood of emails plugging funny-shaped blue pills for gentlemen shows no sign of relenting? The simple answer is that enough people keep clicking on them to make it an extremely lucrative business – according to Ars Technica, a detailed trawl of sales ledgers reveals that pharmaceutical affiliate spam networks can pull in $4,000 a day of orders:

Samosseiko discovered a wide-open PHP backend to GlavMed that contained evidence that the company is indeed set up to benefit largely from spammers. This involves e-commerce software for spammers to launch their own GlavMed copies or to simply set up domains that redirect to GlavMed. Additionally, some of the documents Samosseiko discovered were sales records, giving a glimpse into the purchasing behavior of GlavMed’s targets.

According to the sales records from GlavMed, there were apparently more than 20 purchases per day per spam campaign, with GlavMed claiming a 40 percent commission on each sale. With an average purchase of around $200, that adds up to over $4,000 total per day per campaign (or $1,600 for GlavMed).

Those are the sort of figures that would make even the most moral code-monkey think hard about trading in their sysadmin cubicle for the easy life. It’s abundantly clear that no amount of effort is ever going to stop people clicking on spam emails, and while the market is willing to line people’s pockets to the tune of hundreds of dollars a day they’re not going to stop coming… all the while funding other organisations with more nefarious aims and purposes.

This also highlights the problem with nation-states in a networked world restricting certain products and services to their citizens, as recent adventures in attempting to restrict online gambling sites has demonstrated. As geography continues its slide into irrelevance, attempting to ban something that’s openly available anywhere else in the world becomes an exercise in bombastic futility that does little beyond undermining your credibility and authority.

Perhaps opening up legal avenues for the purchase of the more popular and controversial pharmaceuticals is the answer? After all, serious thought is being given to relaxing prohibition on more dangerous drugs as it becomes clear that their restricted availability plays into the hands of criminals… why not make the drugs safer for consumers by controlling quality and distribution, and hobble an easy income stream for the underworld?

That said, there’ll always be something that people want to buy but can’t; I guess it’d be a case of finding where the tipping point between easy profits and risk of operation is. Then all we’ll be left with are dodgy refinancing offers and invitations to see fallen pop stars in the buff…

So, how long is it going to be before I have to lock the comments on this post to block the flood of pingbacks? Place your bets, ladies and gents, place your bets…


A drug to help recover "lost" memories?

Edward Willett @ 08-05-2009

492px-Frederick_Leighton_-_MemoriesBack in 2007, researchers at MIT’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, discovered that mice with symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease regained long-term memories and the ability to learn when treated with a new type of experimental drug called a histone deacetylase (HDAC) inhibitor.

Now that same team, led by Li-Huei Tsai, Picower Professor of Neuroscience, has pinpointed the gene involved. It’s called HDAC2. (Via EurekAlert.)

“This gene and its protein are promising targets for treating memory impairment,” Tsai said. “HDAC2 regulates the expression of a plethora of genes implicated in plasticity — the brain’s ability to change in response to experience — and memory formation.

“It brings about long-lasting changes in how other genes are expressed, which is probably necessary to increase numbers of synapses and restructure neural circuits, thereby enhancing memory,” she said.

The researchers treated mice with Alzheimer’s-like symptoms using histone deacetylase (HDAC) inhibitors. HDACs are a family of 11 enzymes that seem to act as master regulators of gene expression. Drugs that inhibit HDACs are in experimental stages and are not available by prescription for use for Alzheimer’s.

As noted in the excerpt, HDAC inhibitors are experimental and not yet available by prescription for use for Alzheimer’s (they’re actually being tested in pre-clinical studies to treat Huntington’s disease, and some are already on the market to treat certain forms of cancer–they help chemotherapy drugs better reach their targets), but now that a specific target has been identified, more potent and safe drugs can be developed…which is what Tsai and her team will be focusing on next.

Of course, the focus is entirely medical at the moment, but if, as Tsai notes,

The fact that long-term memories can be recovered by elevated histone acetylation supports the idea that apparent memory “loss” is really a reflection of inaccessible memories

then this also raises the intriguing possibility of memory enhancement drugs for non-medical purposes…law enforcement, entertainment, remembering a loved one…heck, even an actor returning to a role he hasn’t played in 20 years could benefit from a drug that helps access “lost” memories.

Hmmm. On the other hand, aren’t there things you really don’t want to remember? What if the drug forced everything you thought safely buried into the light?

There’s an SF story in there somewhere…

(Image: Memories by Frederick Leighton, via Wikimedia Commons.) 

[tags]memory,drugs,medicine,pharmaceuticals,brain,Alzheimer’s[/tags]


Fear-free living through pharmaceuticals

Edward Willett @ 13-03-2009

800px-Propranolol_80mg “We have nothing to fear but fear itself!” President Franklin D. Roosevelt famously said (about the time he was enacting policies that may have lengthened the Great Depression, so he may have been wrong about that, but still, it’s a good quote).

But thanks to a team of Dutch researchers, led by Merel Kindt at the Universiteit van Amsterdam, we may not even have fear to fear in the future: using the beta-blocker propranolol they weakened the fear response and fear memories in human volunteers. Not only that, the fear did not return (Via EurekAlert):

Before fear memories are stored in the long-term memory, there is a temporary labile phase. During this phase, protein synthesis takes place that ‘records’ the memories. The traditional idea was that the memory is established after this phase and can, therefore, no longer be altered. However, this protein synthesis also occurs when memories are retrieved from the memory and so there is once again a labile phase at that moment. The researchers managed to successfully intervene in this phase.

During their experiments the researchers showed images of two different spiders to the human volunteers. One of the spider images was accompanied by a pain stimulus and the other was not. Eventually the human volunteers exhibited a startle response (fear) upon seeing the first spider without the pain stimulus being administered. The anxiety for this spider had therefore been acquired.

One day later the fear memory was reactivated, as a result of which the protein synthesis occurred again. Just before the reactivation, the human volunteers were administered the beta-blocker propranolol. On the third day it was found that the volunteers who had been administered propranolol no longer exhibited a fear response on seeing the spider, unlike the control group who had been administered a placebo. The group that had received propranolol but whose memory was not reactivated still exhibited a strong startle response.

The volunteers could still remember the association between the spider and pain stimulus, but it no longer elicited any emotional response. The researchers hope this work may lead to new treatments for patients with anxiety disorders.

Being the SFfish guy I am, I’m thinking more in terms of fearless super-soldiers, but I’m sure that’s just me.

(Interestingly, propranolol is already used by musicians and actors to deal with stage fright.)

(Image: Wikimedia Commons.)

[tags]drugs,medicine,psychiatry,psychology, pharmaceuticals, fear[/tags]


Better living through chemistry? Indian river water contains 21 pharmaceuticals

Paul Raven @ 27-01-2009

assorted pharmaceuticalsThe world is full of ironies. Many people can’t afford or get access to the drugs they need to make themselves well; meanwhile, others get more drugs than they need or want, whether they like it or not. In Pantacheru (near Hyderabad in India), recent samples of river water showed concentrations of an antibiotic high enough “to treat everyone living in Sweden for a work week”.

And it wasn’t just ciprofloxacin being detected. The supposedly cleaned water was a floating medicine cabinet — a soup of 21 different active pharmaceutical ingredients, used in generics for treatment of hypertension, heart disease, chronic liver ailments, depression, gonorrhea, ulcers and other ailments. Half of the drugs measured at the highest levels of pharmaceuticals ever detected in the environment, researchers say.

Those Indian factories produce drugs for much of the world, including many Americans. The result: Some of India’s poor are unwittingly consuming an array of chemicals that may be harmful, and could lead to the proliferation of drug-resistant bacteria.

Good old MSNBC… just in case the plight of the Indians didn’t move you, they reminded you of the drug-resistant nasties that you might encounter in your own country. This is the nasty underbelly of globalisation; industrial production moves to where it can be done most cheaply, regardless of what corners get cut in the process. Outta sight, outta mind, right? [via BLDGBLOG; image by Amanda M Hatfield]


Next Page »