A Nasal Spray for Gambling Addiction
Gambling shows similarities to drug addiction, such as compulsivenes, engagement to the point of self detriment, and release of dopamine in the brain. So why not treat it like an addiction? A group of Finnish researchers is beginning clinical trials to do just that. A group of problem gamblers will administer naloxone or a placebo via a nasal spray whenever they feel the temptation to gamble. A previous attempt to treat compulsive gambling with a pill containing a substance similar to naloxone showed some benefit, but the pill takes at least an hour to be absorbed. Nasally administered naloxone acts in minutes, and is currently used in treating opiate overdose. The Guardian, Jan 8, 2018.

Genetically Engineered Cells Fight Cocaine Addiction
The dream of making the human body resistant to an addictive drug is a step closer, though so far the technique has been used only in mice. Some of their skin cells were genetically altered to produce an enzyme that breaks down cocaine, allowed to multiply, then embedded under the animals' skin. Treated animals no longer responded pleasurably to cocaine, and a dose of cocaine was almost completely eliminated from their bodies within 20 minutes, while it took two hours in control mice. Nature Biomedical Engineering, DOI: 10.1038/s41551-018-0293-z.

Is Marijuana a Gateway Drug?
A frequent argument against legalizing marijuana is that it is a gateway drug to more dangerous ones. To test this common perception, researchers examined statistics from all 50 US states. They found that in the 13 states with legalized medical marijuana the death rate from opioid overdose was 25% less than in the remaining states. The association generally increased with each year after legalization, so the effect apparently wasn't due to existing differences between the states. Later work by others found that opioid prescriptions went down, suggesting that users were substituting marijuana for more dangerous opioids. JAMA Internal Medicine, Vol 174, 1668-1673.

Longevity Declines For Second Year Due to Overdoses
For the second year in a row the U.S. Centers for Disease Control has reported a decline in average life expectancy. The decline is small, but the significance is that it's the first two-year drop since 1962-63. Statistics point to drug overdoses as the biggest contributor, accounting for 63,000 deaths in 2016; two-thirds of those deaths were due to opioids. The greatest increase in mortality was among 25- to 34-year-olds; their death rate increased 11% from 2015 to 2016, and mortality from drug overdoses in the group jumped 50% between 2014 and 2016. The last time single-year decrease in longevity was in 1993, during the peak of the AIDS epidemic; the opioid epidemic is even deadlier. Huffington Post, Jan 17, 2018; The Economist, January 4, 2018; NCHS Data Brief No. 293, Dec, 2017.

New Synthetic Opioid Blocks Pain Without Addiction
Mei-Chuan Ko and his colleagues at Wake Forest University have developed an opioid drug, AT-121, which activates two types of opioid receptor, the mu opioid receptor, which blocks pain, and the nociceptin/orphanin FQ receptor, which blocks the brain's addictive response. The drug was 100 times more effective at reducing pain in monkeys than morphine, without producing addiction. Science Translational Medicine, DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aar3483.

Are Humans Evolving Resistance to Alcoholism?
Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania looked for bits of the human genome that had evolved in the last few thousand years, by studying the genomes of 2500 people from four continents. Among their findings were several variants of the ADH (aldehyde dehydrogenase) gene. The gene speeds the metabolism of alcohol, leading to accumulation of its toxic metabolite acetaldehyde; this causes flushing, nausea, and increased heart rate, and makes alcohol consumption unattractive (p 137 of the text). Nature Ecology & Evolution, Vol 2, 713-720.