Category Archives: drugs

Fury as experts say Ecstasy is harmless | Mail Online

I have been having this long (and interesting) debate with my teenage daughter about whether or not drugs should be legalised. She is adamant that MDMA is harmless. The Daily Mail think otherwise…..

one pill makes you larger and one pill makes you small
molly, e, mdma: one pill makes you larger and one pill makes you small

Controversial claims that Ecstasy may not be dangerous and that its adverse effects could be imaginary caused outrage yesterday.
A research team criticised ‘biased’ studies which said the drug causes long-term brain damage and mental problems.
But other experts and parents of Ecstasy victims were horrified by the claims, made in The Psychologist magazine, pointing out that dozens of people die after taking the drug every year.
Paul Riddell, whose 23-year-old son Graham died last year after taking the drug, said their conclusions are ‘ridiculous’.
‘Ecstasy boils the blood and organs,’ said Mr Riddell, 48, of Normanton, West Yorkshire.
‘If it is doing that to the organs, what is it doing to the brain? My son lost his life after taking it on a night out – how can it possibly not be dangerous?’
In July, the Daily Mail told how deaths from the Class A drug have doubled to 56 in the past year, with some young people dying after a single tablet.
The shocking figures, compiled by the independent drug monitoring unit at St George’s Hospital in London, came as Ecstasy claimed its youngest victim, ten-year-old Jade Slack, from Lancaster. She accidentally swallowed five pills she found at a friend’s house.
But researchers Dr Jon Cole and Harry Sumnall, of Liverpool University, and Professor Charles Grob, a director in psychiatry at the Harbor-UCLA medical centre in California, claim the adverse effects of Ecstasy could be imaginary and brought about by the widely held belief that the drug causes long-term harm.
They say this belief has come about through flawed research.
They say that many psychological problems begin in adolescence anyway, Continue reading Fury as experts say Ecstasy is harmless | Mail Online

Guatemala elects a new president and his name is Charlie.

This disturbing article from the Washington Post, which consistently knocks British papers into a cocked hat for the quality of its reportage, shows that Mexican drug gangs have become a force powerful enough to subvert the progress of democracy in Central America.

SAN SALVADOR — Drug cartel violence in Mexico is quickly spilling south into Central America and is threatening to destabilize fragile countries already rife with crime and corruption, according to the United Nations, U.S. officials and regional law enforcement agents.

The Northern Triangle of Central America — Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras — has long been a major smuggling corridor for contraband heading to the United States. But as Mexican President Felipe Calderón fights a U.S.-backed war against his nation’s drug lords, trafficking networks are burrowing deeper into a region with the highest murder rates in the world.

The Mexican cartels “are spreading their horizons to states where they feel, quite frankly, more comfortable. These governments in Central America face a very real challenge in confronting these organizations,” said David Gaddis, chief of operations for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

U.S. attention has mostly focused on Mexico. But the homicide rate there — 14 for every 100,000 residents — is dwarfed by the murder statistics in the Northern Triangle, where per-capita killings are four times higher and rising.

In El Salvador, the region’s most violent country, homicides jumped 37 percent last year, to 71 murders per 100,000 residents, as warring gangs vied for territory and trafficking routes. Police and military officials in El Salvador said cartels are increasingly paying local smugglers in product, rather than cash, driving up cocaine use and the drug dealing and turf battles that come with it.

“The more pressure there is in Mexico, the more the drug cartels will come to Central America looking for a safe haven,” Gen. David Munguía Payés, El Salvador’s defense minister, said in an interview here.

The amount of cocaine moving through the region has risen sharply, although the overall volume entering the United States is falling. Cocaine seizures in Central America nearly quadrupled between 2004 and 2007, according to the most recent U.N. data.

The United States has allocated $258 million in anti-narcotics assistance for Central America since 2007 as part of the three-year, $1.6 billion Merida Initiative. But a report this month by the Government Accountability Office found that only 9 percent of the money promised under the initiative has been spent and that U.S. officials had no reliable way to determine whether it was making a difference in the drug war.

‘A paradise for criminals’

In remote, lawless regions of Guatemala, the Mexican organized crime syndicate known as the Zetas is setting up training camps and recruiting elite ex-soldiers to serve as assassins, arming them with weapons diverted from the country’s military arsenals.

Last month, four human heads were left near the Guatemalan Congress and elsewhere in the capital. The national police spokesman, Donald González, said the grisly display was the work of the Zetas and other Mexican traffickers.

“Guatemala has become a paradise for criminals, who have little to fear from prosecutors owing to high levels of impunity,” the International Crisis Group, a conflict research organization, said in a June report. “High-profile assassinations and the government’s inability to reduce murders have produced paralyzing fear, a sense of helplessness and frustration.”

Over the past two years, Guatemala’s top anti-narcotics official, two national police chiefs and the former president have been arrested on charges related to drug trafficking or corruption. Two former interior ministers are fugitives. In May, the Guatemalan president appointed, then removed after international protests, an attorney general who U.N. prosecutors say has ties to mobsters.

In Honduras, where a military coup last year toppled the president, Mexican cartels have established command-and-control centers to orchestrate cocaine shipments by sea and air along the still-wild Caribbean coast, often with the help of local authorities, according to DEA and U.N. officials. Ten anti-narcotics officers were caught smuggling 142 kilos of cocaine last July. In December, Honduras’s drug czar, Gen. Julián Arístides González, was killed after trying to shut down clandestine landing strips Continue reading Guatemala elects a new president and his name is Charlie.

Facebook flash mob goes AWOL

This story just had everything: social networking, police, anti-banks, riots, drink, drugs, parties you name it it’s all there. Quite a few papers ran it at the end of the week — — the version I’ve chosen is from the Telegraph

A Facebook-organised party at a squat in a Park Lane town house was broken up by police after hundreds of youths caused havoc in the streets around the £10 million property.
Riot police dispersed crowds in the streets and cleared the building after partygoers pelted them with bottles and bricks from the roof and balcony.

Officers had been summoned to the party, allegedly organised by two teenagers from London, at 11pm after a wave of complaints from terrified neighbours.

Two members of the public were thought to have been injured as the partygoers jumped on cars, threw fire extinguishers and plant pots from windows and drew graffiti before the chaos subsided in the early hours of yesterday morning.

The property was bought for £10m in 2007 by Continue reading Facebook flash mob goes AWOL

Rabbi takes other services.

I suppose we all enjoy stories which involve a holy person’s fall from grace. Lucifer Star of The Morning springs to mind. This story – again brought to my attention by the noble Richard Dean – ran in today’s Times. I was going to make some politically incorrect remark about having a nose for a toot, but as I am going to invite my Manchester Jewish friend Kevin to read this story, perhaps not.

An eminent rabbi was so exhausted after three days of constant cocaine-fuelled partying with escorts that his pimp grew worried and cancelled that day’s supply of girls, a jury was told.
Rabbi Baruch Chalomish, 55, who has a £6 million fortune, was a scholarly academic, an accomplished businessman, a charity giver and a dutiful family man until his first wife died of cancer and his world fell apart.
He turned to alcohol in his depression, then took refuge in cocaine, spending up to £1,000 a week. He lived in squalor, seeking comfort from prostitutes, Manchester Crown Court was told.
The prosecution said that Chalomish was the financier in a commercial cocaine supply business while Nasir Abbas, 54, a convicted drug dealer, provided the drugs and the customers.
The pair rented a luxury flat in Manchester and for ten days over the new year enjoyed a non-stop party. Mr Abbas admitted to police that he procured a supply of girls from an agency called Pure Class. They were also offered cocaine.
The court was told that on the ninth day, and after the rabbi had stayed up for three straight days, Mr Abbas was so concerned about his health that he scrapped that day’s supply of prostitutes. In a text message to a woman called Clio he wrote: “Hi Clio, I have tried to wake Shel up but I don’t want to wake him. He was very tired because he had no sleep for three days, needed to rest, because he is going to his office to work on Monday at 8. Please cancel the party today.”
Michael Goldwater, for the prosecution, said that at 9am on January 5 police raided the flat finding evidence of a substantial drugs operation including cocaine, cutting agents and scales. Officers found an equal amount of the drug at Chalomish’s home in Prestwich, in the heart of Manchester’s Orthodox Jewish community, as well as cutting agents and more than £15,000 in cash.
Chalomish denies supplying the drug but admits having it. Mr Abbas, who said that he was too scared to attend the trial after the rabbi “sent around some heavies” to threaten him, faces charges of having cocaine with intent to supply.
Jonathan Goldberg, QC, for the defence, said that the rabbi’s fall from grace was a tragedy. He said that his client never supplied the drug but hoarded large supplies of pure cocaine to evade “unscrupulous dealers” known to use rat poison and other dangerous mixing agents. The trial continues.

Dixon of Dock Green picks up a shooter.

One of the good things about British society has been our unarmed police policy. However, by some strange back door manouevre, it’s suddenly vanished and armed police are here on the streets of London in Brixton and Haringey. Right here, right now. Maybe some part of us doesn’t want to admit what the nice Rasta in Brockwell Park said to me the other morning about where my wife and I used to live in Brixton: “It’s like a war zone, so it is man.”  What bothers me, is that like the villains, the police are toting automatic weapons. Machine guns in streets of crowded people. Has it really come to this? This coverage is from the Independent.

Armed police officers are to patrol the streets of London for the first time in an attempt to tackle a rise in gang-related gun crime.

Traditionally officers from the Metropolitan Police’s specialist firearms unit – codenamed CO19 – have been deployed on the streets only when a response to incidents of gun crime is necessary or to protect VIPs.

The new initiative, announced yesterday, will see CO19 officers patrolling the capital’s most dangerous streets and housing estates alongside neighbourhood officers. It has been described as a “proactive” response to the 17 per cent increase in gun crime over the past six months.

But it was immediately denounced by members of the Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA), the body which governs the actions of Scotland Yard, which was apparently not consulted on the controversial decision. One MPA member described the move as “totally unacceptable” while another called for an emergency meeting.

Joanne McCartney said: “We want fewer guns on the streets not more, and people to feel safe in their community – not scared of those who are supposed to protect them.

“There has been no debate, no consultation and apparently no consideration to the strong opposition that exists to arming the police. This is more than just an operational decision and should be brought before the police authority as a matter of urgency.”

Jenny Jones, another MPA member, added: “This is a totally unacceptable departure from normal policing tactics. I can’t believe that the sight of a policeman with a machine gun will make people feel safer.

“Are we heading down a slippery slope towards armed rather than community policing? I hope the Met will rethink this terrible decision immediately and think of a genuinely proactive way to prevent gun crime.”

Pilot patrols have already begun in Brixton as well as Haringey and Tottenham, where three Turkish men were shot dead earlier this month in an apparent war between rival heroin gangs.

It is the first time the Metropolitan Police has deployed armed officers for routine patrols outside of protected sites such as Parliament and Royal homes. However a similar project did run in Nottinghamshire in 2000 in an attempt to address the issue of drive-by shootings that afflicted the city.

Yet the fact that Britain’s police officers, unlike their American counterparts, remain predominately unarmed is a source of continuing pride to traditionalists who believe that officers should police through consent rather than force.

But Inspector Derek Carroll, who leads the armed unit, said officers have received positive feedback from residents.

He said: “Historically, CO19 was only called out when someone rang up to report a gun crime. But a lot of streets in London have young people in postcode gangs, aged 14 and upwards, and a lot of communities feel that they are controlling areas of estates. We are looking at gangs that have access to firearms and will be robust in dealing with them.”

You get more than kicks on route 36.

Thanks again to Richard Dean for this story from the Guardian – it’s a bar in Bolivia where they serve you a drink and….yes a toot of your choice. Hmmmmmm. I have seen something similar in Thailand but of course it wasn’t a toot on offer. Coming soon to a British city of your choice? To be honest, despite my determinedly liberal outlook part of me hopes not.

Tonight we have two types of cocaine; normal for 100 Bolivianos a gram, and strong cocaine for 150 [Bolivianos] a gram.” The waiter has just finished taking our drink order of two rum-and-Cokes here in La Paz, Bolivia, and as everybody in this bar knows, he is now offering the main course. The bottled water is on the house.

The waiter arrives at the table, lowers the tray and places an empty black CD case in the middle of the table. Next to the CD case are two straws and two little black packets. He is so casual he might as well be delivering a sandwich and fries. And he has seen it all. “We had some Australians; they stayed here for four days. They would take turns sleeping and the only time they left was to go to the ATM,” says Roberto, who has worked at Route 36 (in its various locations) for the last six months. Behind the bar, he goes back to casually slicing straws into neat 8cm lengths.

La Paz, Bolivia, at 3,900m above sea level – an altitude where even two flights of stairs makes your heart race like a hummingbird – is home to the most celebrated bar in all of South America: Route 36, the world’s first cocaine lounge. I sit back to take in the scene – table after table of chatty young backpackers, many of whom are taking a gap year, awaiting a new job or simply escaping the northern hemisphere for the delights of South America, which, for many it seems, include cocaine.

“Since they are an after-hours club and serve cocaine the neighbours tend to complain pretty fast. So they move all the time. Maybe if they are lucky they last three months in the same place, but often it is just two weeks. Route 36 is a movable feast,” says a Bolivian newspaper editor who asked not to be named. “One day it is in one zone and then it pops up in another area. Certainly it is the most famous among the backpacker crowd but there are several other places that are offering cocaine as well. Because Route 36 changes addresses so much there is a lot of confusion about how many cocaine bars are out there.”

This new trend of ‘cocaine tourism’ can be put down to a combination of Bolivia’s notoriously corrupt public officials, the chaotic “anything goes” attitude of La Paz, and the national example of President Evo Morales, himself a coca grower. (Coca is the leaf, and cocaine is the highly manufactured and refined powder.) Morales has diligently fought for the rights of coca growers and tossed the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) out of Bolivia. While he has said he will crack down on cocaine production, he appears to be swimming against the current. In early July, the largest ever cocaine factory was discovered in eastern Bolivia. Capable of producing 100kg a day, the lab was run by Colombians and provided the latest evidence that Bolivia is now home to sophisticated cocaine laboratories. The lab was the fourth large facility to be found in Bolivia this year.

Nowhere in South America is cocaine production growing faster than Bolivia. Reports by the UN show that in Colombia, production dropped 28% last year [2008], while in Bolivia it rose nearly 10%. “There is more interest and and investment in purifying coca paste here and exporting it, rather than sending it to Colombia for purification,” Oscar Nina, Bolivia’s top anti-drug official, said recently.

As the US and Colombian military put pressure on drug traffickers, operations are migrating into nearby countries, especially Bolivia, where the turf for illegal operations is as fertile as the valleys where the locals have grown coca for the last five centuries. Stopping cocaine tourism in La Paz could be as difficult as keeping Americans from drinking during prohibition.

Down in Route 36’s main room, the scene is chilled. A half-hearted disco ball sporadically bathes the room in red and green light. Each table has candles and a stash of bottled water, plus whatever mixers one cares to add to your drink. In the corner, a pile of board games includes chess, backgammon, and Jenga, the game in which a steady hand pulls out bricks from a tower of blocks until the whole pile collapses. If it weren’t for the heads bobbing down like birds scouring the seashore for food, you would never know that huge amounts of cocaine were being casually ingested. There’s a lot of mingling from table to table. Everyone here has stories – the latest adventures from Ecuador, the best bus to Peru – and even the most wired “why-won’t-he-shut-up?” traveller is given a generous welcome before being sent back to his table, where he can repeat those stories another 10 times.

“Everyone knows about this place,” says Jonas, a backpacker who arrived two days earlier. “My mate came to Bolivia last year and he said, ‘Route 36 is the best lounge in all of South America.'” It is certainly the most bizarre and brazen. Though cocaine is illegal in Bolivia, Route 36 is fast becoming an essential stop for thousands of tourists who come here every year and happily sample the country’s cocaine, which is famous for both its availability, price (around €15 a gram) and purity.

The scene here is peaceful; there seems no fear that anyone will be caught. (“The owner has paid off all the right people,” one waiter says with a smile.) A female backpacker from Newcastle slips on to one of the four couches arranged around the table. “We’ve brought some [cocaine] virgins here. This will be their first time, so we are just rubbing it on their lips. But they are lucky – you could never get such pure coke back home. In London you pay 50 quid for a gram that’s been cut so much, all it does it make your lips numb and sends you to the bathroom.”

Travellers’ blogs also give the place a good writeup. “I travelled the world for nine months, and for sure La Paz was the craziest city and Route 36 the best bar of my entire trip,” writes one, while another says, “Like to burn the candle at both ends? Well, here you can bloody well torch the whole candle.”

And torch your brain as well. Cocaine, as everybody knows, is highly addictive, destructive and easy to abuse. The rationale for outlawing cocaine was to protect public health – but instead the now 40-year experiment in prohibition has done little to protect the lives of millions of users worldwide who will snort whatever white substance is placed before them. The billions in annual profits have corrupted governments worldwide, and La Paz, without intending it, seems to have mutated into the front line of this failed drug war.

A tale of two brothers.

This story is about a pubic school educated terrorist, found in today´s Telegraph

The picturesque village of Frenchay on the edge of Bristol with its expansive green and imposing Grade II listed church, backing onto open countryside should have been the perfect setting for Andrew Ibrahim to grow up. His father, an eminent consultant pathologist at the nearby hospital and lecturer at the university, had bought an imposing Victorian stone house at the end of a private lane and could afford to send his two sons to the 300-year-old Colston’s private school, housed in a former palace of the Bishop of Bristol in nearby Stapelton.

For one son it was a recipe that led to success in athletics, school prefecture, Oxford University, bar school and a career with a US law firm in the City of London.

For the other it led to a series of obsessions with drugs, computer games, Islam and terrorism, and eventually to the dock of Winchester Crown Court.

“The two brothers could not be more different,” a senior police officer involved with the case said. “It’s a perfect example of nature versus nurture.”

Their father Nassif, 61, a Coptic Christian originally from Egypt, is a collector of antique pottery, stamps, coins and, his son says, Nazi memorabilia.

His wife, Victoria, known as Vicky, originally from West Yorkshire, is a church-going Christian who took the children on coach holidays and works as an administrator at Bristol University Medical School.

Andrew was always in the shadow of his older brother Peter, six years his senior, and reacted by constantly seeking attention.

Overweight but far from stupid himself, he played the class fool so successfully that he was expelled from a series of private schools, becoming every middle class parent’s nightmare.

He smoked cannabis at the age of 12, became hooked on “role playing” computer games, and used his father’s computer to look up material on Osama bin Laden and explosives alongside his Latin homework.

“I didn’t like football,” he said. “It’s difficult to know how to put it, it made me feel cooler. I didn’t have friends or a social life and it made me feel better about myself. I felt not such a sad loser.”

His parents moved him from Colston’s junior school to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital School, an even older public school in the centre of Bristol which boasts the Queen as its patron, where they hoped he would escape from the shadow of his brother.

Instead he hung around with older pupils and started taking cannabis to be “different from the other kids of that sort of age,” he said.

He bragged about using drugs to his fellow pupils, leading to his suspension on January 24 2002, the day before his 13th birthday.

Returning to Colston’s, Ibrahim’s weight and lack of sporting ability helped other pupils label him a “loser” and his increasingly unruly behaviour led the school to ask him to leave in December 2002, shortly before his 14th birthday.

His next stop was Downside, a Catholic boarding school near Bath founded in 1606 that counts the journalist Auberon Waugh and hotelier Sir Rocco Forte among its old boys.

Bullied and laughed at, he again turned to cannabis and experimented with ecstasy, sneaking out at night and inviting local boys back to his dormitory, leading to his suspension.

Ibrahim joined Bristol Cathedral School in September 2004 – then the bottom of the heap of Bristol private schools and now a government academy – but the school helped him pass eight GCSEs in June 2005, including English language at grade A, five at grade B and one each at grades C and D.

But he had once again alienated fellow pupils and by the end of the year he was experimenting with drugs again, this time magic mushrooms, ecstasy and cocaine.

Ibrahim had also become addicted to on-line computer games involving “role playing” such as Diablo II, Mass Effect and Metal Gear Solid.

During the school holidays he would play from 7am until midnight but after leaving school, the addiction led to him dropping out of City of Bristol College where he was supposed to be studying for A-levels.

His father became increasingly exasperated with his behaviour and asked Vicky to move out with their son when Ibrahim came home drunk from a party with his eyebrow pierced.

Mother and son moved into a flat nearby but Ibrahim walked out when his mother found ecstasy and ketamine tablets in the flat.

Despite his increasing addiction, his parents stood by him, splitting the rent with him on a flat in Kingswood, a suburb in North East Bristol, with his mother doing a weekly food shop for him.

At the flat, Ibrahim had videos of women’s feet he had taken on his mobile phone at college without their knowledge, which he admitted were part of a “sexual interest” and he had searched for pictures of Kiera Knightley’s feet on the internet.

He had become hooked on heroin and crack cocaine, using the drugs several times a day and stealing to fund his habit.

He was reprimanded by police for possessing heroin in May 2006 at the age of 17 and warned for shoplifting on two occasions in September and October 2006.

By the end of 2006, Ibrahim had lost what little he had built up around him – his girlfriend of 18 months, teetotal and clear-headed, eventually walked away when he started injecting heroin in front of her.

“In the end she didn’t want it any more. I was quite upset, I was heartbroken,” he said.

He was still holding down a job at Lloyds Bank but turned to a new addiction  steroids, attending the Empire Gym in the run down area of St Paul’s in Bristol where he took up body building and started injecting Deca-Durabolin and Sustanon 250.

Alongside his various addictions, Ibrahim had five tattoos done during 2005 and 2006, including “Hardcore” across his stomach and “HTID” on his right bicep to represent “Hardcore Till I Die” after a style of rave music.

He also had a variety of hairstyles and colours along with a series of facial and intimate piercings.

On his Myspace internet account in April 2006, Ibrahim was pictured with spiky red hair and described himself as “Andy” and his religion as “Muslim.”

By early 2007, Ibrahim was forced to move into the St George’s House hostel in central Bristol because he was not paying the rent.

He sold the Big Issue magazine for the homeless on the street, using the money to fund his £60-a-day drug habit.

When his father came across him outside the Broadmead Shopping Centre he started meeting him once a week to buy him food and take him for a meal.

Already struggling with their son’s various obsessions, his turn to Islam came as yet another blow to Ibrahim’s parents – his mother’s reaction was simply: “Don’t start that now.”

Ibrahim said he traveled to Birmingham in the summer of 2006 with a friend of his father’s and converted at the Green Lanes mosque around the time of the anniversary of the July 7 bombings.

He decided to study to be a Muslim scholar in the Yemen but instead settled on a seven year course in Birmingham, which his mother agreed to pay for.

By December he had grown a beard and was wearing white robes, sandals and an Islamic headscarf.

But he soon dropped his interest and returned to drugs until, returning to City of Bristol College to study for AS and A-levels in chemistry, biology, history, English language, and science of public understanding, he started praying again with fellow students at a room at the college.

Ibrahim said, he “wasn’t so much interested in Islam as the politics” particularly Palestine and Iraq and he used a college computer to download videos of US troops being killed in Iraq, along with speeches by the jailed cleric Abu Hamza.

But his most serious obsession became that of the suicide bomber, looking at the videos made by the July 7 bombers and Asif Hanif, Britain’s first suicide bomber who died in Israel.

“I did spend a lot of time looking at [internet sites]. It was an obsessive interest, I accept that,” he said.

He was eventually given a council flat in Westbury-on-Trym, Bristol where he began building bombs.

Ibrahim had been playing the computer game Assassin’s Creed and claimed he was just “role playing” the part of a terrorist.

As he struggled to come off drugs, he said he decided to make a suicide vest to “occupy my time,” using a video he found on the internet for instructions.

“I wanted it to look good because I was going to film it like I did with the explosives and put it on YouTube,” he added.

Easter Island holds key to longer life.

I read this story this morning in the Independent written by Michael McCarthy. The soil in Easter Island appears to contain a substance that actually prolongs life. Is that what those lovely Modiliagni style heads have been trying to tell us all these years? Do you think maybe the ancients were showing us an emblem of people who were “longer”?  Geddit? OK call me stupid, you’re right…..

A drug originating on Easter Island, the mysterious South Pacific home of a lost statue-building people, may become the first substance to slow down human ageing, new research indicates.

Rapamycin, a pharmacological product used to prevent rejection in organ transplants, has been found to extend the lifespan of mice by up to 38 per cent, raising the possibility that it may delay ageing in people.

Hitherto a matter for science fiction, the idea of an anti-ageing drug which would allow people to prolong their natural lifespan and also to avoid age-related diseases is now being seriously considered for the first time as a result of the findings by American researchers.

Rapamycin is a bacterial product originally found in a soil sample from Easter Island, the Polynesian extinct volcano famous for its monumental statues erected hundreds of years ago by the island people, and known in the region as Rapa Nui – hence the drug’s name. Originally developed as an anti-fungal agent, rapamycin was soon found to have powerful immuno-suppressant properties and thus be valuable for preventing rejection of transplanted organs. It was also found to delay the ageing process when used experimentally with three sets of lower organisms: yeast, nematode worms and fruit flies.

Now, however, it has been shown to affect the ageing of mice – the first time that this has ever been shown with a mammal.

A team of 14 researchers from three institutions, led by David Harrison from the Jackson Laboratory at Bar Harbor in Maine, fed rapamycin to mice late in their life – at 600 days of age – and showed that both the median and maximal lifespan of treated animals were considerably extended. Currently, the only way to extend the life of a rodent is by severely restricting its diet, so this marks the first report of a pharmacological intervention that lengthens the life of mammals – with clear implications for humans.

The results, published today in an online paper on the website of the journal Nature, are attracting considerable excitement, and an accompanying article in Nature by two of the world’s leading experts on the ageing process, Matt Kaeberlein and Brian K Kennedy from the University of Washington, Seattle, headed “A Midlife Longevity Drug?” openly asks the question: “Is this the first step towards an anti-ageing drug for people?”

Their answer is that it may well be. Dr Kaeberlein and Dr Kennedy first issued a warning to people not to start taking rapamycin at once in the hope of prolonging their lives – “the potential immuno-suppressive effects of this compound alone are sufficient to caution against this,” they advised.

But they added: “On the basis of animal models, however, it is interesting to consider that rapamycin … might prove useful in combating many age-associated disorders. Also … it may be possible to develop pharmacological strategies that provide the health and longevity benefits without unwanted side-effects.

“So, although extending human lifespan with a pill remains the purview of science fiction writers for now, the results of Harrison et al provide a reason for optimism that even during middle age, there’s still time to change the road you’re on.”

Rapamycin was known to have an influence on ageing in the lower organisms by disrupting the influence of an enzyme known as TOR, which regulates cell growth. Dr Harrison and colleagues found that this was also the case with mice, and found that rapamycin feeding could extend mouse lifespan even when started late in life.

The maximum lifespan went up from 1,094 days to 1,245 days for female mice, and from 1,078 to 1,179 for male mice – a striking increase of life expectancy of 38 per cent for females and 28 per cent for males.

Dr Harrison and his colleagues conclude: “An effective anti-ageing intervention that could be initiated later than the midpoint of the lifespan could prove to be especially relevant to clinical situations, in which the efficacy of anti-ageing interventions would be particularly difficult to test in younger volunteers. Our data justify special attention to the role of the TOR pathway in control of ageing in mammals and in the pathogenesis of late-life illnesses.”

Also known as sirolimus, rapamycin was first discovered as a product of the bacterium Streptomyces hygroscopicus, which was found in an Easter Island soil sample.

Probably the world’s most remote and least-visited inhabited island, Easter Island is globally famous for its haunting monumental stone statues of human faces, set up around the coast, known as Moai. Weighing as much as 80 tonnes, they were carved by a lost people, whose society may have collapsed, according to the American environmental geographer Jared Diamond, when they overexploited their forests. Volcanic, hilly and now treeless, and a territory of Chile, the island is situated 2,180 miles west of Chile itself and 1,290 miles east of Pitcairn Island; its European name comes from its discovery on Easter Sunday 1722, by the Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen. Its oldest known Polynesian name is thought to be Te Pito O Te Henua, meaning “the navel of the world”. Rapa Nui is a name given to it by Tahitian sailors in the 19th century.

Poisoned by one of our pies? Your fault for bad cooking

In this “can’t cook” society – can it be right that food manufacturers are relying on the fact that consumers have to get foods to the right temperatures to kill the bugs inherent in their products? This article in the New York Times shows that 27,000 people in the States were affected by salmonella in just one incidence this year. Nine died. Me, I make my own pies.

The frozen pot pies that sickened an estimated 15,000 people with salmonella in 2007 left federal inspectors mystified. At first they suspected the turkey. Then they considered the peas, carrots and potatoes.

The pie maker, ConAgra Foods, began spot-checking the vegetables for pathogens, but could not find the culprit. It also tried cooking the vegetables at high temperatures, a strategy the industry calls a “kill step,” to wipe out any lingering microbes. But the vegetables turned to mush in the process.

So ConAgra — which sold more than 100 million pot pies last year under its popular Banquet label — decided to make the consumer responsible for the kill step. The “food safety” instructions and four-step diagram on the 69-cent pies offer this guidance: “Internal temperature needs to reach 165° F as measured by a food thermometer in several spots.”

Increasingly, the corporations that supply Americans with processed foods are unable to guarantee the safety of their ingredients. In this case, ConAgra could not pinpoint which of the more than 25 ingredients in its pies was carrying salmonella. Other companies do not even know who is supplying their ingredients, let alone if those suppliers are screening the items for microbes and other potential dangers, interviews and documents show.

Yet the supply chain for ingredients in processed foods — from flavorings to flour to fruits and vegetables — is becoming more complex and global as the drive to keep food costs down intensifies. As a result, almost every element, not just red meat and poultry, is now a potential carrier of pathogens, government and industry officials concede.

In addition to ConAgra, other food giants like Nestlé and the Blackstone Group, a New York firm that acquired the Swanson and Hungry-Man brands two years ago, concede that they cannot ensure the safety of items — from frozen vegetables to pizzas — and that they are shifting the burden to the consumer. General Mills, which recalled about five million frozen pizzas in 2007 after an E. coli outbreak, now advises consumers to avoid microwaves and cook only with conventional ovens. ConAgra has also added food safety instructions to its other frozen meals, including the Healthy Choice brand.

Peanuts were considered unlikely culprits for pathogens until earlier this year when a processing plant in Georgia was blamed for salmonella poisoning that is estimated to have killed nine people and sickened 27,000. Now, white pepper is being blamed for dozens of salmonella illnesses on the West Coast, where a widening recall includes other spices and six tons of frozen egg rolls.

The problem is particularly acute with frozen foods, in which unwitting consumers who buy these products for their convenience mistakenly think that their cooking is a matter of taste and not safety.

Federal regulators have pushed companies to beef up their cooking instructions with the detailed “food safety” guides. But the response has been varied, as a review of packaging showed. Some manufacturers fail to list explicit instructions; others include abbreviated guidelines on the side of their boxes in tiny print. A Hungry-Man pot pie asks consumers to ensure that the pie reaches a temperature that is 11 degrees short of the government-established threshold for killing pathogens. Questioned about the discrepancy, Blackstone acknowledged it was using an older industry standard that it would rectify when it printed new cartons.

Government food safety officials also point to efforts by the Partnership for Food Safety Education, a nonprofit group founded by the Clinton administration. But the partnership consists of a two-person staff and an annual budget of $300,000. Its director, Shelley Feist, said she has wanted to start a campaign to advise consumers about frozen foods, but lacks the money.

Estimating the risk to consumers is difficult. The industry says that it is acting with an abundance of caution, and that big outbreaks of food-borne illness are rare. At the same time, a vast majority of the estimated 76 million cases of food-borne illness every year go unreported or are not traced to the source.

Home Cooking

Some food safety experts say they do not think the solution should rest with the consumer. Dr. Michael T. Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said companies like ConAgra were asking too much. “I do not believe that it is fair to put this responsibility on the back of the consumer, when there is substantial confusion about what it means to prepare that product,” Dr. Osterholm said.

And the ingredient chain for frozen and other processed foods is poised to get more convoluted, industry insiders say. While the global market for ingredients is projected to reach $34 billion next year, the pressure to keep food prices down in a recession is forcing food companies to look for ways to cut costs.

Mexico falls further into war zone territory

America’s real president speaks out against the drug wars that are turning Mexico into another Colombia. Failed State? War Zone. The picture below shows a relatively small haul from an army raid in Mexico City recently.
The main story is from  The Washington Post, more even handed than me, that’s for sure.

MONTERREY, Mexico, March 26 — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Thursday that Mexico and the United States had agreed to develop a “checklist” of tasks for both sides to intensify the fight against Mexican drug gangs engaged in a bloody turf war.

Speaking near the end of a two-day visit, Clinton said the list would include timelines committing the United States to speed up delivery of drug-fighting aid and getting Mexico to move faster on reforming its judicial and law enforcement institutions.

Clinton also said she was “confident” that a trade tiff with Mexico over trucking would be resolved quickly and that Mexico’s recent decision to slap tariffs on dozens of U.S. products “will be withdrawn.”

Clinton’s visit came as the U.S. government expressed alarm over the surge of drug violence in Mexico, where President Felipe Calderón has deployed the army in a desperate effort to restore order. More than 7,000 people have been killed since January 2008 in attacks by traffickers on their competitors and security forces.

Clinton called on Mexicans to support their government’s fight against the gangs and urged students to use the Internet to send tips on illegal activity to authorities.

“This is the responsibility of citizens as well as leaders,” she said at a speech at the Tecnologico de Monterrey university. “It is a mutual responsibility, and it’s particularly important for the young people of Mexico, who have enormous power right now, to strengthen your democracy, to call for more reforms, to shine a bright light on corruption.”

Monterrey, about 130 miles south of the U.S. border, is Mexico’s third-largest urban area. It is home to some of the country’s most prosperous families, known for their multinational businesses and pricey collections of modern art. But it has seen its former tranquillity shattered by drug violence.

On the eve of Clinton’s trip, authorities announced the arrest of a man they called a leading cartel figure in the Monterrey area, Héctor Huerta Ríos. Days earlier, they picked up a suspect accused of organizing a gun-and-grenade attack on the U.S. Consulate in the city last October.

During her trip, Clinton emphasized that the United States shares responsibility for the drug war because of the millions of Americans who abuse cocaine, heroin and other drugs that fuel the trade, as well as the traffickers’ easy access to U.S. guns. That stance won her glowing headlines in Mexico, where many people say the American government has neglected its responsibility for the problem.

On Thursday morning, Clinton visited a gleaming new police training facility in eastern Mexico City that is receiving funds through the $1.4 billion Merida Initiative, a U.S. effort started last year to help train and equip Mexican security forces.

She watched police with dogs practice sniffing suitcases for drugs and carrying out a hostage-rescue exercise. She then walked through a hangar to observe two new Black Hawk helicopters purchased by the Mexican government for drug-fighting operations. The U.S. government has pledged to provide more helicopters, but the delivery has been delayed, to the dismay of Mexican authorities.

Among other priority topics during her visit was the dispute over the U.S. Congress’s recent decision to end a pilot program that allowed some Mexican trucks to transport goods in the United States.
U.S. labor unions fought the program, arguing that the vehicles were not safe. Mexico said the move violated the North American Free Trade Agreement and imposed tariffs on such U.S. products as wine and sunglasses.

Between meetings, Clinton met with indigenous students and visited the Basilica of Guadalupe, a shrine to Mexico’s most beloved religious icon.

Fernando Alvarez, 48, was part of a crowd of people who gathered outside a police line to catch a glimpse of Clinton. “Mexicans like her because of President Clinton,” he said. “President Clinton is worshipped. He is very human. He is not very formal. That’s kind of the Mexican way of living.”

In Washington, Dennis C. Blair, the top U.S. intelligence officer, sought to crush perceptions that the United States was worried about Mexico’s stability.

“Mexico is in no danger of becoming a failed state,” he told journalists. Blair said the spike in violence in Mexico showed that the CalderÃn government’s anti-drug policies were having an effect.

Blair said recent U.S. aid to Mexico included assistance in intelligence-gathering to give CalderÃn an advantage against the cartels. He offered no

Cast of thousands.

This plaster cast was made entirely of cocaine.

I have to say I was amused at the audacity of this smuggler who made a “plaster cast” out of cocaine in order to smuggle it through Spanish customs. This story is from Yahoo news today. His broken leg was genuine however – which makes me think he’d broken it in pursuit of his goal….

Spanish police said on Friday they had arrested a 66-year-old Chilean at Barcelona airport after discovering his broken leg was supported by a “cast” made out of cocaine.
The man, who had hobbled off a flight from Santiago, was carrying more of the drug in fake beer cans and two hollowed-out stools.
“The man had a fractured leg and the ‘plaster cast’ that was immobilising it was entirely made from cocaine,” a statement said.

He “displayed an open fracture of the tibia and the fibula, and has been transferred to a clinic for an operation.

“Investigators are examining the possibility that these injuries were brought about voluntarily… to facilitate trafficking through security checks,” the statement said.

Spanish police are particularly wary about so-called “hot flights” from South America and had their suspicions about this man, which proved to be well-founded.

In total, the Chilean had 4.85 kilogrammes (10.7 pounds) of cocaine stuffed in the cans, the stools and forming his would-be “cast”, police said.

Spain is one of Europe’s main points of transit for cocaine from South America, mostly from its former colony Colombia, the world’s top producer of the drug.

The country has become the biggest consumer of cocaine in continental Europe, and is one of the world’s top users of the drug, according to a 2008 United Nations report.

Chinese snakeheads on skunk

I found this story in the Scotsman yesterday – but the background story behind it featured below is even more interesting, reminding me of a novel by Timothy Mo called Sour Sweet – well worth a read if you are interested in Triad  activity in England (or in Scotland as the case may be)

MORE than 600 cannabis plants, with a street value of £180,000, were seized by Tayside Police yesterday in a raid on a flat in the Perthshire village of Alyth.
The raid on a flat at the Old Mill Buildings in the village’s Banff Road was carried out as part of an intelligence-led operation by the Tayside force. A 25-year-old Chinese man was detained.

(back ground story by MICHAEL HOWIE)
THE Scotsman today reveals the massive scale of cannabis production by Asian gangs in Scotland – an expanding and increasingly violent trade generating hundreds of millions of pounds for organised crime.
Scotland has, for the first time, become gripped by illegal drug production on a huge scale, with hundreds of Chinese, Vietnamese and Malaysian gangs operating a network of cannabis factories.

Police have smashed 143 factories run by south-east Asians since the gangs set up business in Scotland two years ago.

But detectives say the problem is getting worse, with more cultivation being set up, increased violence between rivals, and stronger links emerging with human trafficking, prostitution and counterfeit goods.

Houses, flats, farm buildings and disused warehouses have been taken over, with “gardeners” going to extreme lengths to cover their tracks.

Nearly 70,000 plants capable of producing £21.6 million worth of the drug have been recovered. But senior officers say this is “the tip of the iceberg” and have stepped up the fight against the Chinese-led gangs, who have increased their stranglehold on the drug trade in recent months.

A national task force has been set up in response to the problem. Its job will be to track down the “Mr Bigs” at the top of the organised crime chain.

Some 127 people from south-east Asia have been arrested since the gangs set up business in October 2006. But police admit a clampdown, known as Operation League, has failed to bring down the most senior figures. Despite judges setting tough sentencing guidelines for those involved, the number of new cannabis factories appears to be increasing.

Detectives do not know if the “skunk” cannabis – an extremely potent variant of the drug – is being produced for the domestic market or for export. But what has become clear is the increasingly violent tactics employed by gangs to protect their illegal enterprises, including abductions and attempted murders.


number of cannabis farms uncovered in Scotland run by south-east Asian gangs.

number of cannabis plants found.

number of years growers face in jail if caught.

£21.6 million
potential yield of plants seized.

number of plants recovered from Scotland’s biggest cannabis farm, in a warehouse in Ayr.

number of people arrested.

A growth industry hidden in suburbs

IT HAS become the growth industry that no-one wants. No-one, that is, except the Chinese gang leaders making millions of pounds from the production of cannabis on an unprecedented scale in Scotland.

The drug factories could not be more unassuming – or unlikely. The production lines in what has fast become one of Scotland’s biggest criminal enterprise are typically found in quiet suburban housing estates.

From the outside, few people would guess what lies inside the modern, detached houses favoured by the gangs. Inside is an astonishing sight, as whole rooms are transformed into hothouses, with hundreds of cannabis plants covering almost every inch of floorspace.

Sophisticated growing systems are installed to create perfect conditions for the plants to flourish. A morass of wires powers a complex array of growing equipment, including feeders, lamps and ventilators. Each factory costs about £15,000 to set up. But the profits can be immense, with each plant capable of producing more than £300 of cannabis.

In June, police uncovered a massive cannabis factory in a house near Dornoch, in the Highlands, that contained more than 1,000 plants – capable of producing more than £300,000 of drugs.

A complex network of criminals is employed by each cannabis gang, each with a specific role. Detectives say they resemble a business, with various departments overseen by a “board of directors”.

“There are various levels of the organisation,” says Detective Chief Superintendent Stevie Whitelock, head of intelligence at Strathclyde Police and the man who led Operation League. “They will have individuals responsible for identifying the property for lease, going round looking for vacant warehouses and vacant houses. There will then be individuals who will come in and do the joinery work, the electrical work. Then you will find people coming in to set up the cultivation, the lights, the plants.

“After that you have the gardeners who tend to the plants and harvest the commodity. You will then have a group of people who come in to take the commodity away, sell it on. There are also individuals responsible for moving the money about.”

Police have significant successes at the department level, closing in on a number of managers as well as scores of rank-and-file workers. But the directors, on the whole, remain elusive. It is not yet known whether they are operating within Scotland, elsewhere in the UK or from their power bases in south-east Asia.

The operations are understood to be headed by Chinese, with an army of Vietnamese and Malaysian “foot soldiers” carrying out the risky dirty work. Many are illegal immigrants living in cramped, squalid conditions inside the factories.

The recent emergence of serious violence among those involved – including arson attacks on cannabis factories – has led police to believe turf wars have broken out between rival gangs in Scotland.

Some of these gangs are known to have links to cannabis factory operators south of the Border. Police in Scotland initially feared the gangs had been displaced from England as a result of detectives there getting wise to their operations. But the phenomenon has become a global issue – with Italy, France and Australia among those hit by the cannabis crime wave.

In response to the explosion in production in September the Home Office announced the appointment of the UK’s first cannabis factory co-ordinator. Mark Matthews, a former Merseyside chief superintendent, is spending the first few weeks in the job getting to grips with the true extent of cannabis cultivation.

Last year, police discovered some 3,000 operations in England and Wales – almost all found in anonymous, ordinary homes.

Police say the lives of the gardeners, and unsuspecting neighbours, are seriously threatened by the risk of fire. Since late 2006, five serious fires have been reported at cannabis factories in Scotland, although no-one has so far been injured.

One way the gangs keep their costs down, as well as their profile, is by tapping directly into the electricity mains. It is thought each factory is effectively stealing an average of £24,000 a year – costing power companies millions of pounds.

One way the criminals have evaded detection is by thoroughly insulating their factories so that heat-seeking cameras cannot pick up the intense heat given off by the growing lamps that send temperatures in the factories soaring above 40C.

Factory operators are also placing mothballs near letterboxes and keyholes to disguise the pungent smell given off by the plants.

The industry has shown a remarkable growth since a cannabis farm was found in the Kilmarnock area in 2006. Within a short time, more were discovered in Lanarkshire, Paisley and Glasgow.

But they have since spread. While 95 Asian-run cannabis factories have been uncovered in Strathclyde, another 13 have been discovered in Grampian, 11 in Lothian and Borders, ten in Tayside, seven in the Highlands, five in Fife and two in the Central Scotland police area.

“I’m convinced this is just the tip of the iceberg, not only for Scotland but across the UK,” says Mr Whitelock.

Those involved in cannabis growing are also involved in other organised crime activities. “We have had indigenous crime groups for many years but what we have here is crime groups who are using Scotland as a base to produce cannabis.

“But it’s not just about cannabis – they are also involved in the DVD markets. The money from these activities is going into the coffers of organised crime and will be used to facilitate human trafficking, including the prostitution of young girls from south-east Asia.”

Heath Ledger was not alone. Self-medication deaths have risen by over 3,000 percent in recent years

I found this story published by UCSD – San Diego, University of California – with the story written by Paul Mueller – the first thorough study looking at what happens when we, the general public, are left to monitor our own medications. The answer is simple, thanks to a variety of causes including (and I’m not saying this is what happened with Heath Ledger because there is no evidence) accidental combinations with street drugs or alcohol – which happens a lot with ordinary people apparently – stands to reason really.

Asking patients to monitor their own medications can be fatal, as exemplified by the recent death of actor Heath Ledger. In the first large-scale study of home medication consumption, sociologists at the University of California, San Diego have found a 3,196 percent increase in fatal domestic medication errors involving alcohol and/or street drugs.

Their study examines nearly 50 million U.S. death certificates from 1983 to 2004, and focuses on a subset of 200,000 deaths from medication errors. The study appears in the July 28 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine, an official journal of the American Medical Association.

“The decades-long shift in the location of medication consumption from clinical to domestic settings,” the authors say, “is linked to a dramatic increase in fatal medication errors.”

“Increasingly,” says principal author David P. Phillips, professor of sociology at UC San Diego, “people take their medications at home, away from hospitals and clinics. But most studies of fatal medication errors have focused on those clinical settings. We wanted to know three things: how many of these fatal errors happen at home; how many involve alcohol and/or street drugs; and are these numbers going up?”

Phillips and his co-authors Gwendolyn E.C. Barker and Megan M. Eguchi, all at UC San Diego, examined trends in four types of fatal medication errors. They note that the increase in fatal errors varies by astonishing amounts based on where the errors occur and the particular combinations of drugs.

Type 1 errors – deaths at home from combining medications with alcohol and/or street drugs – skyrocketed by 3,196 percent.

In sharp contrast, type 4 errors – non-domestic fatal errors not involving alcohol or street drugs – show the smallest increase, just 5 percent.

The intermediate types of errors increased by intermediate amounts. Type 2 errors – domestic medication fatalities not involving alcohol or street drugs – increased by 564 percent. Type 3 errors – non-domestic medication fatalities involving alcohol and/or street drugs – increased by 555 percent.

“Thus,” the sociologists say, “domestic fatal medication errors, combined with alcohol and/or street drugs, have become an increasingly important health problem.”

In addition to possible changes in policy and clinical practice, Phillips says, “it also seems advisable to expand research on medication errors. Much of this research has focused on elderly patients and clinical settings. The present findings suggest that more research should be devoted to middle-aged patients and domestic settings.”

The study was supported in part by a grant from the Marian E. Smith Foundation.

Ledger, the actor, was cast as the Joker in the current hit movie “The Dark Knight,” shortly before dying, on January 22, 2008, from an accidental prescription-drug overdose at age 28.

A PDF of the paper is available here

Is it OK to use brain-boosting drugs to enhance your academic performance?

I first heard this story on BBC Radio 4 when they were discussing the use of cognitive brain enhancers to boost academic performance. It appears to first come from an article in Nature magazine by Barbara Sahakian and Sharon Morein-Zamir – but I found a version published here.Basically, you’re about to take an exam – would you like an espresso with a double shot of methylphenidate…..or just soft brown sugar?

Would you boost your own brain power? Cognitive-enhancing drugs are increasingly being used in non-medical situations such as shift work and by active military personnel. This is where the debate about their use begins
in earnest. How should the use of cognitive-enhancing drugs be regulated in healthy people? Should their use always be monitored by healthcare professionals? If offered by a friend or colleague, would you, the reader, take a pill that would help you to better focus, plan or remember? Under what conditions would you feel comfortable taking a pill, and under what conditions would you decline? The answers to such questions hinge on many factors, including the exact drug being discussed, its short-term and long-term benefits and risks, and the purpose for which it is used. There are instances in which most people would agree that the use of cognitive-enhancing drugs should be prevented or at least regulated and monitored, such as by healthy children or in competitive settings (including entrance exams to university). There are also situations in which many would agree that the use of drugs to improve concentration or planning may be tolerated, if not encouraged, such as by air-traffic controllers, surgeons and nurses who work long shifts. One can even imagine situations where such enhancing-drug-taking would be recommended, such as for airport-security screeners, or by soldiers in active combat. But there are no straightforward answers and any fruitful debate must address each situation in turn.
How would you react if you knew your
colleagues — or your students — were
taking cognitive enhancers?
In academia, we know that a number of our scientific colleagues in the United States and the United Kingdom already use modafinil to counteract the effects of jetlag, to enhance productivity or mental energy, or to deal with demanding and important intellectual challenges . Modafinil and other drugs are available online, but their non- prescription and long-term use has not been monitored in healthy individuals. For many, it seems that the immediate and tangible benefits of taking these drugs are more persuasive than concerns about legal status and adverse effects. There are clear trends suggesting that the use of stimulants such as methylphenidate on college campuses is on the rise, and is becoming more commonplace in ever younger students.
Universities may have to decide whether to ban drug use altogether, or to tolerate it in some situations (whether to enable all-night study sessions or to boost alertness during lectures).
The debate over cognitive-enhancing drugs must also consider the expected magnitude of the benefits and weigh them against the risks and side effects of each drug. Most readers would not consider that having a double shot
of espresso or a soft drink containing caffeine would confer an unfair advantage at work.
The use of caffeine to enhance concentration is commonplace, despite having side effects in at least some individuals
Often overlooked in media reports on cognitive enhancers is the fact that many of the effects in healthy individuals are transient and small-to-moderate in size. Just as one would hardly propose that a strong cup of coffee could be the secret of academic achievement or faster career advancement, the use of such drugs does not necessarily entail cheating. Cognitive enhancers with small or no side effects but with moderate enhancing effects that alleviate forgetfulness or enable one to focus better on the task at hand during a tiring day at work would be unlikely to meet much objection.
And does it matter if it is delivered as a pill or a drink? Would you, the reader, welcome a cognitive enhancer delivered in a beverage that is readily obtainable and affordable, and has a moderate yet noticeable effect
on your concentration and alertness?……
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I will be looking for more threads on this story in coming weeks.

Confessions of a Ketamine addict.

No not me…….a guy called David Eggins writing his true confession this week in the G2 part of the Guardian. It makes for gripping reading and reminded me a bit of a Million Little Pieces by James Frey which of course was scandalous in itself because it proved to be partly made up – whereas Mr Eggins is writing about something that is so true it is uncomfortable – but useful. He called his piece “Enslaved by K”, read it and take it all in.

I first took ketamine in 2002, between my second and third years at university. I was mourning the end of a long-term relationship with a massive bender. It was a weekday afternoon and I was necking ecstasy and playing pool when a mate asked me if I’d ever tried “K”.

We didn’t even finish the game. We went back to my flat and it was love at first snort.

One of the problems with K is trying to explain what a “K-hole” is like. Nothing can prepare you for the chaos. All you can say is that it is really weird, but until you have taken it, even the most drug-fried mind can’t comprehend what “weird” can mean. Most people hate it; it’s just too much. Many are sick because of a sort of mental travel sickness. But I didn’t throw up: I adored it. The K-hole has been described as an endless dimension to explore, and that’s exactly what it is. Space, time and language either have no meaning or become ridiculously distorted. It can seem as if you are travelling through time or seeing into the future, as if you are living multiple lives or not living at all. And you feel something coming, something huge with you at the centre, because there is a massive messiah complex in there as well.

I have been at one with the cosmos, communicated with the universal forces that are our true gods, and been told that death should be embraced as the next level of everything. All complete bollocks, of course, but I never got that from a wrap of coke.

For a little while I had my ketamine use under control and found it therapeutic.

K – which was originally developed as an anaesthetic and is still used to treat animals and occasionally humans – did wonders for my ego. I lost my sense of shame and fear of death, I felt liberated. I got an unexpected first at uni, I was writing book reviews for a national magazine, and I had a new, beautiful girlfriend. I hung out with fellow K-heads, or “wrong ‘uns”, as we were known to other druggies, whose company I loved. I felt part of something and life was good, but all the time I was using more and more K.

It is the tolerance that gets you. When you start, a gram might see you through three or four nights out. Before long it will be enough for only a few hours and, sooner or later, you start using it at home. I started selling it to pay for my habit.

Today, ketamine is a class-C drug, on a level with cannabis, but until a few years ago it was regulated only by the Medicines Act, and although it was still illegal to deal in it, the police took less of an interest. I used to buy it in liquid form and then cook it in a pan or microwave to create powder. The liquid came from India, often disguised as rose water. Someone would have it posted to their house and I would buy a litre from them for £300. That litre would turn into 50 grams, which I sold for £15 or £20 a gram. It never felt like a risk, at least as far as the police were concerned. But I couldn’t have that much K around me without doing it, all the time.

If I wasn’t at work – I had become a chef after leaving university – I was taking K.

I would take a gram during the break in my split shift. I would get home and sniff three grams in front of the television, and then take another three to bed with me. I had a line before work, not knowing if I had slept. And I was starting to get ill. I have always liked drink and drugs but, other than tobacco, I had never been truly addicted to anything before. I never used heroin or crack, and could tell when any substance was becoming a problem. I usually just got bored of something and moved on – but not this time. K may not be physically addictive, but it is compulsively psychologically addictive.

I stopped dealing when my girlfriend asked me to, hoping that this would help, but I was too far gone. I still did as much, but I started to hide it from her.

After about two years of using ketamine, I was spending more and more time in the toilet, and urinating was beginning to hurt.

I developed a stoop because my penis was always burning. One day, on a train, I had my first cramp attack; I thought my lung had collapsed. I went to a doctor, who told me to stop taking K or I would die, but then an older user told me not to worry, it was “just K cramps”. He said that they wouldn’t kill me, but I might wish that they would. Apparently they could last for days.

I still didn’t stop. The cramps got worse, the blood and mucus began to appear frequently in my urine and I had to pee every 20 minutes. I lied more than I told the truth, particularly to my girlfriend, and I hated myself. I couldn’t stand to be around myself and wanted to cause myself harm. K worked on both fronts.

I stopped going out because my friends didn’t want to see me like that, I quit my job because I was in too much pain to work, and I lost the review gig because I could no longer read a book. I fell further into debt.

By the time I realised that ketamine was ruining my life, I no longer cared. I didn’t want to die as such; I just didn’t mind if I did. My girlfriend couldn’t save me. She begged me to leave the west country town where I was living, surrounded by other K-heads, and move back to Devon, where I had grown up.

I told her I would, but I was lying. I didn’t want to give up. I was positive I was going to die whether I did or not.

One evening, about a year ago, when I was supposed to be watching a friend’s band play at our local, I found myself naked, writhing on my kitchen floor, racked with abdominal cramps and self-loathing, and praying.

Praying to a God I don’t believe in to show Himself, to intervene, to give me something to believe in other than ketamine, and the certainty that my life was over. He didn’t, but when the pain subsided, the relief was almost like a drug in itself.

In the end change was forced on me. A local street gang had tried to break into my flat on several occasions. They held a knife to my flatmate’s throat as he left for work. We managed to fight them off, but I could hardly walk by then and weighed nine stone. It was the street or home. I called my mum.

Once back home, I could barely sleep and suffered from night terrors and sleep paralysis. I started to smoke cannabis, scored black-market codeine and Valium. And I kept begging my K dealers to send me some. I offered them silly money, but they still said no, because they truly were worried about me. Later, when I did find another source of K, I used the bare minimum to get me through the craving.

So here I am, living on my mum’s settee. I’ve got my health back but lost everything else, including my girlfriend. She had lost all trust, and in the end she realised she would be glad to see the back of me.

Do I think that ketamine should be higher than its class-C listing? No, but people should know what they are dealing with. By the time I did, it was too late. There is so much media coverage of illegal drugs, yet K is rarely mentioned, although it is everywhere and spreading fast. Most people who try it won’t develop any major problems, but a minority of users get very sick. A friend of mine lost so much control over his bladder that he had to have a catheter fitted when he was 21, and there are going to be a lot more cases like this. He didn’t know it was addictive either.

The one bright spot in all this is that the human body has amazing powers of recovery. If there is any addict of any substance reading this who thinks that they have destroyed their body beyond hope, you might be surprised what happens if you give it a break. Within a month of moving home, I got a job as a builder. I even pee like a normal person. Do I drink too much and smoke too much pot now? Yep. Do I still crave K when I’m down or depressed? Sometimes. Do I ever give in to those temptations? Never. Am I still a liar? Of course not, darlin’, I promise.