TL neuro

June 30, 2015

The primary translational product of drug-abuse science is information

Filed under: CPDD, Op/Ed, Public Health — mtaffe @ 11:16 am

This is an excerpt of a CPDD News and Views piece* that has been accepted for publication in Drug & Alcohol Dependence. I’ve been working on this idea for several years now and it has gone through various iterations. The list of people I need to thank for shaping my thinking on this since discovering the “science blog” around 2006 or so is long and I will no doubt forget some of them. Nevertheless, I am particularly indebted to David Kroll, Janet Stemwedel, Peter Lipson, Jessica Palmer, Isis the Scientist, DrugMonkey, Bethany Brookshire, Zen Faulkes, Virginia Hughes, J. David Jentsch, Allyson Bennett and Carl Hart. I participated in a Media Forum at the 2014 CPDD annual meeting and made a presentation which touched on many of these themes.

Drug Abuse Scientists Should Use Social Media to Engage the Public Because Their Primary Translational Product is Information


Increasing numbers of people are relying on the Internet to rapidly provide health information and preliminary medical diagnoses on the basis of key word searches (Jones and Fox 2009; Lagu et al. 2008; Moretti et al. 2012). In the most recent survey the Pew Internet & American Life project found that 59% of adults in the US had looked online for health information and 35% had gone online to gain information on a specific medical issue (Fox 2013; Fox and Duggan 2013). It is hardly news that exposure to high budget entertainment, informational and advertising media can influence the nonmedical use of psychotropic drugs (Brown and Witherspoon 2002; Nunez-Smith et al. 2010). However, current social media tools and the near universal use of Web searches to find information on health-related topics provide a new opportunity for individual scientists to communicate more directly with the lay public, health care providers and policy makers at the expense of minimal time and effort. This is of particular interest since so much of the most readily available information on psychotropic drugs is poorly informed by the existing scientific knowledge and may be substantially influenced by sociopolitical biases or agendas. Drug abuse scientists should therefore use social media to engage the public in a discussion of their ongoing scientific results.

Substance Abuse Information on the Internet

“When we confronted him, my teenage son assured me that he had done extensive research on the Internet which confirmed that pot is totally harmless”

-neighbor of Dr. Taffe, Aug 2011

Many individuals, from teens to adults, seek information about relative risks of cannabis and other recreational drugs so as to inform their day to day decision making. In the case of nonmedical drug use, the public faces an Internet dominated with inaccuracies and even pro-drug advocacy messaging in many cases. In one study of online information on the popular drug Ecstasy (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine, MDMA) found that although half of Websites located by search engines were characterized as “anti-drug” (Deluca and Schifano 2007), 16% were harm-reduction and about 25% were pro-drug advocates. Perhaps of more functional significance, the pro-drug sites dominated the top ranks of Internet search returns. More anecdotally a simple perusal of comments in mainstream local newspapers whenever issues related to MDMA/Ecstasy (e.g., reports of Ecstasy-associated fatality) or cannabis (drug seizures, scientific findings of note) arise will illustrate a depth of scientific confusion and ignorance in the general public combined with a reflexive anti-science tone from drug advocates. Even more main-stream sources can be dangerously inaccurate. For example a recent public health advisory effort in California advised Ecstasy users to consume water (CBSLosAngeles 2011), a position that is not supported by deaths due to hyponatremia (Halpern et al. 2011; Rogers et al. 2009) and evidence that MDMA increases antidiuretic hormone production thereby causing the body to retain fluid (Wolff et al. 2006). Although ultimately not enshrined into law, the text of the 2010 California Ballot initiative to legalize recreational marijuana (Ballotpedia 2010) contained a Finding that “Cannabis is not physically addictive, does not have long term toxic effects on the body“ which is inconsistent with current scientific understanding (Allsop et al. 2012; Allsop et al. 2011; Budney et al. 2008).


Information is Translational Science.

Problematic substance use continues to be, in many senses, a behavioral disorder over which individuals have some degree of conscious control. There are a number of complex, overt behavioral acts required for the individual to continue substance use. Drugs must be procured, often from illicit sources, oftentimes prepared in some way and taken into the body in acts as simple as swallowing a tablet and as complex as inhaling smoke/vapor or injecting intravenously. Evidence for a single use of a compound instantly addicting an individual is poor, thus it is also the case that these complex behaviors must be completed many times for the person to develop some of the more severe and distressing consequences. That is, compulsive use and the inability to cease taking a drug even in the face of palpable adverse effects on health, vocational success and family life, which may often include legal consequences.

Humans often use information about the potential consequences of actions to guide and shape their behaviors. This can be a decision to act or refrain from acting on the part of an individual, on the part of groups (via laws and regulations) and, perhaps most pertinently for substance abuse, on the part of parents guiding the development of their children. Drug abuse science has contributed immeasurably to a greater understanding of the harms posed by various psychoactive drugs and had consequent influence on behavior. Scientific information has contributed to a broader understanding that nicotine in cigarettes is an addicting substance, to the appreciation that cocaine can induce dependence (even if it doesn’t look like opiate dependence in the acute withdrawal/discontinuation epoch) and to a recognition that MDMA can cause lasting disruption of brain serotonergic function, as just a few examples. Greater knowledge about the health consequences of recreational drugs has been shown to decrease adolescent use (Brown et al. 2007; Martins et al. 2008; Morgenstern et al. 2009; Twombly and Holtz 2008).

Social Media Tools for Information Dissemination

Many scientists who focus on substance abuse issues are funded by the Public Health Service of the United States or similar bodies within their own respective countries. Yet because of the way we disseminate scientific research, most of the findings are inaccessible to the lay public for 6-12 months at a minimum. It is time to take a modest amount of our professional effort to return the information we generate to the taxpayers who have paid for it in advance. Second, scientists should use the tools of social media (blogs, Facebook, Twitter, etc) to share findings within their own fields of work, preferably using language that is accessible to nonspecialists. Official outlets such as the National Institute on Drug Abuse, ONDCP and even the CPDD websites have value but are often viewed, accurately or not, as driven more by a political agenda than by a sober assessment of the science. Individual scientists have the opportunity for generating greater trust by doing what scientists do best; weighing what are often conflicting sets of evidence to come up with a tentative conclusion, with skepticism ever held in reserve pending any additional new findings that might emerge. Individuals can generate a degree of trust with a social media audience by virtue of back-and-forth exchanges, by developing a distinct personal “voice” in their writing, and by explaining why and how they conduct the science in their own laboratory.


*News and Views are not peer-reviewed. They are considered for appropriateness by the CPDD Publications Committee on which Dr. Taffe has served in the past. Dr. Taffe currently serves on the CPDD Media committee which interacts in some degree with the Publications Committee.

Literature Cited (this is the entire ref list, may contain somethings that I didn’t explicitly include here in my abridged version. There is also some missing citation information that I corrected in the proof stage)

Aarde SM, Angrish D, Barlow DJ, Wright Jr MJ, Vandewater SA, Creehan KM, Houseknecht KL, Dickerson TJ, Taffe MA (2013a) Mephedrone (4-methylmethcathinone) supports intravenous self-administration in Sprague-Dawley and Wistar rats. Addict Biol doi: 10.1111/adb.12038

Aarde SM, Creehan KM, Vandewater SA, Dickerson TJ, Taffe MA (2015) In vivo potency and efficacy of the novel cathinone α-pyrrolidinopentiophenone and 3,4-methylenedioxypyrovalerone: Self-administration and locomotor stimulation in male rats. Psychopharmacology (Berl)

Aarde SM, Huang PK, Creehan KM, Dickerson TJ, Taffe MA (2013b) The novel recreational drug 3,4-methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV) is a potent psychomotor stimulant: self-administration and locomotor activity in rats. Neuropharmacology

Allen JH, de Moore GM, Heddle R, Twartz JC (2004) Cannabinoid hyperemesis: cyclical hyperemesis in association with chronic cannabis abuse. Gut 53: 1566-70

Allsop DJ, Copeland J, Norberg MM, Fu S, Molnar A, Lewis J, Budney AJ (2012) Quantifying the clinical significance of cannabis withdrawal. PLoS One 7: e44864

Allsop DJ, Norberg MM, Copeland J, Fu S, Budney AJ (2011) The Cannabis Withdrawal Scale development: patterns and predictors of cannabis withdrawal and distress. Drug Alcohol Depend 119: 123-9

Ballotpedia Text of Proposition 19, the “Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010” (California) 2010 [cited] Available from,_the_%22Regulate,_Control_and_Tax_Cannabis_Act_of_2010%22_%28California%29

Ballotpedia Colorado Marijuana Legalization Initiative, Amendment 64 (2012) 2012 [cited] Available from,_Amendment_64_%282012%29

Baumann MH, Ayestas MA, Jr., Partilla JS, Sink JR, Shulgin AT, Daley PF, Brandt SD, Rothman RB, Ruoho AE, Cozzi NV (2012) The designer methcathinone analogs, mephedrone and methylone, are substrates for monoamine transporters in brain tissue. Neuropsychopharmacology 37: 1192-203

Baumann MH, Partilla JS, Lehner KR, Thorndike EB, Hoffman AF, Holy M, Rothman RB, Goldberg SR, Lupica CR, Sitte HH, Brandt SD, Tella SR, Cozzi NV, Schindler CW (2013) Powerful cocaine-like actions of 3,4-Methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV), a principal constituent of psychoactive ‘bath salts’ products. Neuropsychopharmacology 38: 552-62

Brown CH, Guo J, Singer LT, Downes K, Brinales JM (2007) Examining the effects of school-based drug prevention programs on drug use in rural settings: methodology and initial findings. J Rural Health 23 Suppl: 29-36

Brown JD, Witherspoon EM (2002) The mass media and American adolescents’ health. J Adolesc Health 31: 153-70

Budney AJ, Hughes JR, Moore BA, Vandrey R (2004) Review of the validity and significance of cannabis withdrawal syndrome. Am J Psychiatry 161: 1967-77

Budney AJ, Roffman R, Stephens RS, Walker D (2007a) Marijuana dependence and its treatment. Addict Sci Clin Pract 4: 4-16

Budney AJ, Vandrey RG, Hughes JR, Moore BA, Bahrenburg B (2007b) Oral delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol suppresses cannabis withdrawal symptoms. Drug Alcohol Depend 86: 22-9

Budney AJ, Vandrey RG, Hughes JR, Thostenson JD, Bursac Z (2008) Comparison of cannabis and tobacco withdrawal: severity and contribution to relapse. J Subst Abuse Treat 35: 362-8

Caburnay CA, Kreuter MW, Luke DA, Logan RA, Jacobsen HA, Reddy VC, Vempaty AR, Zayed HR (2003) The news on health behavior: coverage of diet, activity, and tobacco in local newspapers. Health Educ Behav 30: 709-22

CBSLosAngeles (2011) Buzz Kill: LA County Wants You To Take Ecstasy Safely

CBSMiami (2012) Medical Examiner: Causeway Cannibal Not High On Bath Salts CBS Local (Miami). CBSMiami, Miami, FL

Centers for Disease C, Prevention (2011) Emergency department visits after use of a drug sold as “bath salts”–Michigan, November 13, 2010-March 31, 2011. MMWR. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 60: 624-627

Clayton RR, Cattarello AM, Johnstone BM (1996) The effectiveness of Drug Abuse Resistance Education (project DARE): 5-year follow-up results. Prev Med 25: 307-18

Correll C, Linden M (2005) Psychotropic drug presentation in medical and lay press journals. Pharmacopsychiatry 38: 161-5

Cottencin O, Rolland B, Karila L (2014) New designer drugs (synthetic cannabinoids and synthetic cathinones): review of literature. Curr Pharm Des 20: 4106-11

DEA (2011) Schedules of controlled substances: temporary placement of three synthetic cathinones in Schedule I. Final Order. Fed Regist 76: 65371-5

Deluca P, Schifano F (2007) Searching the Internet for drug-related web sites: analysis of online available information on ecstasy (MDMA). Am J Addict 16: 479-83

Editors (2009a) It’s good to blog (Editorial). Nature 457: 1058

Editors (2009b) Lines of communication (Editorial). Nature Methods 6: 181

Fantegrossi WE, Gannon BM, Zimmerman SM, Rice KC (2013) In vivo effects of abused ‘bath salt’ constituent 3,4-methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV) in mice: drug discrimination, thermoregulation, and locomotor activity. Neuropsychopharmacology 38: 563-73

Fox S 2013. Health Online 2013: Overview 2013 [cited] Available from

Fox S, Duggan M (2013) Health Online 2013 Pew Internet & American Life Project. Pew Research Center

Hadlock GC, Webb KM, McFadden LM, Chu PW, Ellis JD, Allen SC, Andrenyak DM, Vieira-Brock PL, German CL, Conrad KM, Hoonakker AJ, Gibb JW, Wilkins DG, Hanson GR, Fleckenstein AE (2011) 4-Methylmethcathinone (mephedrone): neuropharmacological effects of a designer stimulant of abuse. The Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics 339: 530-6

Halpern P, Moskovich J, Avrahami B, Bentur Y, Soffer D, Peleg K (2011) Morbidity associated with MDMA (ecstasy) abuse: a survey of emergency department admissions. Hum Exp Toxicol 30: 259-66

Huang CM, Chien LY, Cheng CF, Guo JL (2012a) Integrating life skills into a theory-based drug-use prevention program: effectiveness among junior high students in Taiwan. J Sch Health 82: 328-35

Huang PK, Aarde SM, Angrish D, Houseknecht KL, Dickerson TJ, Taffe MA (2012b) Contrasting effects of d-methamphetamine, 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine, 3,4-methylenedioxypyrovalerone, and 4-methylmethcathinone on wheel activity in rats. Drug Alcohol Depend 126: 168-75

Iversen L, Adebowale V, Abdulrahim D, Arr-Jones G, Barnes M, Birtwistle M, Bray S, Carlin E, Clancy C, Crome I, Doran R, Gibbons S, Hargreaves P, Healy C, Hickman M, Measham F, Liddell D, Mathewson H, Pearce T, Philips J, Phillips R, Roberts H, Rowlands M, Tomlinson M, Wing A (2010) Consideration of the cathinones. Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs

Johnston LD, O’Malley PM, Bachman JG, Scheulenberg JE (2012a) Monitoring the Future national survey results on drug use, 1975-2011. Volume I, Secondary school students University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, pp 760

Johnston LD, O’Malley PM, Bachman JG, Schulenberg JE (2012b) Monitoring the Future national survey results on drug use, 1975-2011. Volume II, College students and adults ages 19-50. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, pp 314

Jones S, Fox S Pew Internet & American Life Project: Generations Online in 2009 2009 [cited] Available from

Kehr J, Ichinose F, Yoshitake S, Goiny M, Sievertsson T, Nyberg F, Yoshitake T (2011) Mephedrone, compared to MDMA (ecstasy) and amphetamine, rapidly increases both dopamine and serotonin levels in nucleus accumbens of awake rats. Br J Pharmacol

Lagu T, Kaufman EJ, Asch DA, Armstrong K (2008) Content of Weblogs Written by Health Professionals. J Gen Intern Med

Leggatt-Cook C, Chamberlain K (2012) Blogging for weight loss: personal accountability, writing selves, and the weight-loss blogosphere. Sociol Health Illn 34: 963-77

Lisha NE, Sun P, Rohrbach LA, Spruijt-Metz D, Unger JB, Sussman S (2012) An evaluation of immediate outcomes and fidelity of a drug abuse prevention program in continuation high schools: project towards no drug abuse (TND). J Drug Educ 42: 33-57

Martins SS, Storr CL, Alexandre PK, Chilcoat HD (2008) Do adolescent ecstasy users have different attitudes towards drugs when compared to marijuana users? Drug Alcohol Depend 94: 63-72

Marusich JA, Antonazzo KR, Wiley JL, Blough BE, Partilla JS, Baumann MH (2014) Pharmacology of novel synthetic stimulants structurally related to the “bath salts” constituent 3,4-methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV). Neuropharmacology

Mastroianni FC, Noto AR (2008) Newsmaking on drugs: a qualitative study with journalism professionals. J Psychoactive Drugs 40: 293-300

Moretti FA, de Oliveira VE, Koga da Silva EM (2012) Access to health information on the internet: a public health issue? Rev Assoc Med Bras 58: 650-8

Morgenstern M, Wiborg G, Isensee B, Hanewinkel R (2009) School-based alcohol education: results of a cluster-randomized controlled trial. Addiction 104: 402-12

Neighbors C, Lee CM, Atkins DC, Lewis MA, Kaysen D, Mittmann A, Fossos N, Geisner IM, Zheng C, Larimer ME (2012) A randomized controlled trial of event-specific prevention strategies for reducing problematic drinking associated with 21st birthday celebrations. J Consult Clin Psychol 80: 850-62

Nicolson SE, Denysenko L, Mulcare JL, Vito JP, Chabon B (2012) Cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome: a case series and review of previous reports. Psychosomatics 53: 212-9

Norman CD, Yip AL (2012) eHealth promotion and social innovation with youth: using social and visual media to engage diverse communities. Stud Health Technol Inform 172: 54-70

Nunez-Smith M, Wolf E, Huang HM, Chen PG, Lee L, Emanuel EJ, Gross CP (2010) Media exposure and tobacco, illicit drugs, and alcohol use among children and adolescents: a systematic review. Subst Abus 31: 174-92

Pearson JM, Hargraves TL, Hair LS, Massucci CJ, Clinton Frazee C, 3rd, Garg U, Pietak BR (2012) Case Report: Three Fatal Intoxications Due to Methylone. J Anal Toxicol

Prochaska JJ, Pechmann C, Kim R, Leonhardt JM (2012) Twitter=quitter? An analysis of Twitter quit smoking social networks. Tob Control 21: 447-9

Rogers G, Elston J, Garside R, Roome C, Taylor R, Younger P, Zawada A, Somerville M (2009) The harmful health effects of recreational ecstasy: a systematic review of observational evidence. Health Technol Assess 13: iii-iv, ix-xii, 1-315

Rosenbaum CD, Carreiro SP, Babu KM (2012) Here today, gone tomorrow…and back again? A review of herbal marijuana alternatives (K2, Spice), synthetic cathinones (bath salts), kratom, Salvia divinorum, methoxetamine, and piperazines. J Med Toxicol 8: 15-32

Schifano F (2004) A bitter pill. Overview of ecstasy (MDMA, MDA) related fatalities. Psychopharmacology (Berl) 173: 242-8

Schwartz J, Andsager JL (2008) Sexual health and stigma in urban newspaper coverage of methamphetamine. Am J Mens Health 2: 57-67

Sebens S (2014) Legal toking still months away despite pot votes in Alaska, Oregon Reuters News Agency

Sedefov R, Solberg U, Gallegos A, Almeida A (2010) Europol–EMCDDA Joint Report on a new psychoactive substance: 4-methylmethcathinone (mephedrone). European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, Lisbon, Portugal

Shanks KG, Dahn T, Behonick G, Terrell A (2012) Analysis of first and second generation legal highs for synthetic cannabinoids and synthetic stimulants by ultra-performance liquid chromatography and time of flight mass spectrometry. J Anal Toxicol 36: 360-71

Sollum J (2015) Fear Of Flakka: Anti-Drug Hysteria Validates Itself LLC, Jersey City, NJ

Soriano-Co M, Batke M, Cappell MS (2010) The cannabis hyperemesis syndrome characterized by persistent nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain, and compulsive bathing associated with chronic marijuana use: a report of eight cases in the United States. Dig Dis Sci 55: 3113-9

Sussman S, Sun P, Rohrbach LA, Spruijt-Metz D (2012) One-year outcomes of a drug abuse prevention program for older teens and emerging adults: evaluating a motivational interviewing booster component. Health Psychol 31: 476-85

Twombly EC, Holtz KD (2008) Teens and the misuse of prescription drugs: evidence-based recommendations to curb a growing societal problem. J Prim Prev 29: 503-16

Vandrey RG, Budney AJ, Moore BA, Hughes JR (2005) A cross-study comparison of cannabis and tobacco withdrawal. Am J Addict 14: 54-63

Watterson LR, Kufahl PR, Nemirovsky NE, Sewalia K, Grabenauer M, Thomas BF, Marusich JA, Wegner S, Olive MF (2012) Potent rewarding and reinforcing effects of the synthetic cathinone 3,4-methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV). Addict Biol doi: 10.1111/j.1369-1600.2012.00474.x

Wikipedia 2014. Washington Initiative 502 2012 [cited Jan 8] Available from

Winstock AR, Mitcheson LR, Deluca P, Davey Z, Corazza O, Schifano F (2011) Mephedrone, new kid for the chop? Addiction (Abingdon, England) 106: 154-161

Wolff K, Tsapakis EM, Winstock AR, Hartley D, Holt D, Forsling ML, Aitchison KJ (2006) Vasopressin and oxytocin secretion in response to the consumption of ecstasy in a clubbing population. J Psychopharmacol 20: 400-10

Leave a Comment »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at

%d bloggers like this: