The Great Adderall Shortage

Kelly Bourdet writes for Vice Motherboard:

To prevent hoarding of materials and their potential for theft and illicit use, the Drug Enforcement Agency sets quotas for the chemical precursors to drugs like Adderall. The DEA projects the need for amphetamine salts, then produces and distributes the materials to pharmaceutical companies so that they can produce their drugs. But with the number of prescriptions for Adderall jumping 13 percent in the past year, pharmaceutical companies claim that the quotas are no longer sufficient for supplying Americans with their Adderall.

I hadn’t realized that it wasn’t known how these drugs work:

Despite the millions of prescriptions written each year for ADHD, the scientific community isn’t entirely in agreement on how these drugs actually work. Ritalin increases focus and energy through inhibiting the re-uptake of both dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. These neurotransmitters then remain in the synapse longer, and their effects are felt in the form of heightened focus and awareness. Adderall, however, works via a slightly different mechanism. While it’s postulated that Adderall also inhibits the re-uptake of these same neurotransmitters, amphetamines also trigger the release of dopamine. This affects the brain’s reward mechanisms, so it’s not only easier to focus on mundane or repetitive tasks, it can also feel positively delightful to do so.

Motherboard: Anatomy of the Great Adderall Drought

The article also goes into some of the shadier aspects of the shortage – such as Shire’s missed shipments to competitors and the creation of its newer, more expensive alternative Vyvanse.

Why so much demand? From a recent Portland Tribune article:

Ritalin and Adderol are commonly prescribed for attention deficit disorder. But a recent study showed that as many as one in four students at an Ivy League university were using one of the two not because they had a diagnosis, but because it helped them study.

And it’s not just the students:

“I’ve had several colleagues say to me, ‘You’re a stupid guy if you’re not using Ritalin to stay up all night.’ You’re much more productive, your career takes off much faster,” says Paul Zak, director of the Center for Neuroeconomic Studies at Claremont Graduate University in California.

Zak isn’t sure that those Ivy League students and his college professor colleagues are doing anything wrong.

“I’m very conflicted,” he says.

And, on the subject Adderall, here’s an interesting paper: When we enhance cognition with Adderall, do we sacrifice creativity? A preliminary study. The study concluded that Adderall might actually improve creativity for those who score poorly on tests of creativity (for some background on creativity testing see here).

Why Are Anti-Psychotics the Most Common Prescription Drugs in America?

Has America become a nation of psychotics? You would certainly think so, based on the explosion in the use of antipsychotic medications. In 2008, with over $14 billion in sales, antipsychotics became the single top-selling therapeutic class of prescription drugs in the United States, surpassing drugs used to treat high cholesterol and acid reflux.

Once upon a time, antipsychotics were reserved for a relatively small number of patients with hard-core psychiatric diagnoses – primarily schizophrenia and bipolar disorder – to treat such symptoms as delusions, hallucinations, or formal thought disorder. Today, it seems, everyone is taking antipsychotics. Parents are told that their unruly kids are in fact bipolar, and in need of anti-psychotics, while old people with dementia are dosed, in large numbers, with drugs once reserved largely for schizophrenics. Americans with symptoms ranging from chronic depression to anxiety to insomnia are now being prescribed anti-psychotics at rates that seem to indicate a national mass psychosis. […]

What’s especially troubling about the over-prescription of the new antipsychotics is its prevalence among the very young and the very old – vulnerable groups who often do not make their own choices when it comes to what medications they take. Investigations into antipsychotic use suggests that their purpose, in these cases, may be to subdue and tranquilize rather than to treat any genuine psychosis.

Al Jazeera: Mass psychosis in the US

(via Mindhacks)

Scientists Want to Make a Lysergic Acid Factory from Microbes

Lysergic acid

The headline for The Guardian article about this says the scientists want to make LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide), but the article itself says they want to make lysergic acid (with no diethylamide), a precursor to LSD with other uses.

They said developing biofuels was a terrible business strategy, because fuel was so cheap. Why not make expensive compounds, like pharmaceuticals, instead?

The advice got Wintermute thinking. What was the most valuable compound they could make with the toolkit of synthetic biology? Some research came up with a few candidates including a few very sophisticated cancer drugs. But another compound was up there in monetary terms: LSD. The value by weight was astronomical.

Wintermute and his colleagues had a good laugh about that. But the more they looked into it, the more interesting – and viable – the drug looked. Around 20 tonnes of lysergic acid, a precursor of LSD, are made each year and turned into real medicines, such as nicergoline, a treatment for dementia. The drug is purified from big vats of fungus (which make the compound naturally) using technology developed decades ago.

The Guardian: Harvard scientists to make LSD factory from microbes

(via DrBenway23)

Life Without Serotonin


I had no idea the link between serotonin and depression was in doubt. Very interesting:

Via Dormivigilia, I came across a fascinating paper about a man who suffered from a severe lack of monoamine neurotransmitters (dopamine, serotonin etc.) as a result of a genetic mutation. […]

Overall, though, the biggest finding here was a non-finding: this patient wasn’t depressed, despite having much reduced serotonin levels. This is further evidence that serotonin isn’t the “happy chemical” in any simple sense.

On the other hand, the similarities between his symptoms and some of the symptoms of depression suggest that serotonin is doing something in that disorder. This fits with existing evidence from tryptophan depletion studies showing that low serotonin doesn’t cause depression in most people, but does re-activate symptoms in people with a history of the disease. As I said, it’s complicated…

Neuroskeptic: Life Without Serotonin

See also:

Serotonin and Depression: A Disconnect between the Advertisements and the Scientific Literature

Psychiatric treatment of ghost possession

I can’t remember who sent this along, it was a while ago and I just got around to reading it. Interesting comment at the end:

It’s not clear to me why the cure of possession by the use of psychoactive drugs would seem unreasonable if, in fact, the vulnerability to this state had been induced by some ingested substance. I believe that practitioners of Voodoo, as well as shamans of numerous cultures, are reported to use ingested substances to facilitate their possession by discarnate entities. Many pharmaceuticals have an antidote which produces the opposite effect, and the anti-schizophrenia drug administered could well have brought about this effect, closing the open portal in the central nervous system of the patient.

Full Story: Mind Hacks: Classic case: Psychiatric treatment of ghost possession

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