‘Tis the time of the year for interviewing graduate school candidates. The exact purposes vary from a significant selection process to “just make sure s/he isn’t completely bonkers, okay?”.

Michael Eisen asked on the Twitts:

what do people think are the most useful things to ask in a 30m grad school interview?

After a wisecrack or two I came up with a serious one.

“tell me about the moment you first realized you weren’t the smartest person in the room?”

What would you suggest, Dear Reader?

Deputy Director of the ONDCP A. Thomas McLellan, Ph.D. [ PubMed ] being interviewed on Here & Now from WBUR.
[ Notes on McLellan’s appointment at Terra Sigillata and The Discovering Alcoholic. ]
He was talking about stigma, the addition of prevention, intervention, treatment and recovery to the traditional ONDCP focus on interdiction.
“addiction is an illness”
“drugs that have the greatest harm are those that have the greatest availability”
” [use of] prescription opiates has gone up more than 1,000 percent over past 10 yrs…led to record numbers of overdose deaths… 2nd only to automobile deaths”
same genetics, relapse rate as other chronic illnesses but we treat it differently. “imagine if we treated hypertension that way….”
(on proper treatment, early intervention at primary medical care level) “It’s not more money, it’s less money”
(on anti-drug abuse vaccines) “I think they will be miracles” [DM- Hmmmm….]
[h/t: Occasional commenter SurgPA]

Nature has an interview of neuroscientist J. David Jentsch, Ph.D. who received a recent visitation from the extremist terrorist arm of the Animal Rights movement.

“It was 4 a.m. on Saturday 7 March. I was awakened by a loud bang; then I heard the car alarm go off. I went to the window and saw my car on fire. I ran outside to try to put it out, using a fire extinguisher and a garden hose. It was impossible. The gas tank had exploded. When the windows started exploding, I got out of there. The fire got into the trees. If this was July in fire season, I don’t want to even think about what would have happened. It would have been an enormous fire with many homes threatened. No one was injured.”

As I noted before, this led to the formation of a UCLA chapter of Pro-Test which will be staging a rally in support of animal research on the UCLA campus on April 22. If you are within handy driving distance and can spare the time, please attend. If you are not near UCLA but are on Facebook please consider joining the UCLA Pro-Test Facebook group. One of the primary goals of Pro-Test is to make the supporters of animal research more visible so as to counter the numerically much smaller but more publicly vocal ARA terrorists and supporters. Increasing the membership on Facebook will help with this goal.
Related: The LA Times published a bit on this April 13.
Update: Professor Jentsch on KABC 790 podcast.

Two outstanding science bloggers, Geeka and Katie, have just returned from job interviews, Geeka for a post-doc and Katie for a faculty position. They have posted their fascinating and valuable impressions of their experiences at their blogs.
They have also each thanked PhysioProf for earlier advice that they considered valuable in their interviewing, and I am understandably pleased to have been helpful to them. Below the fold I highlight some of what they say, and amplify on a few things, but I urge readers to visit their blogs for their full stories.

Read the rest of this entry »

Job Interview One-On-Ones

January 15, 2008

In the context of tenure-track faculty job searches we’ve previously discussed CVs, the job talk, and the chalk talk. Now let’s talk about a sometimes underappreciated aspect of the job interview: the one-on-one meetings between the candidate and departmental (and possibly extra-departmental) faculty. Read the rest of this entry »

No, really. It is science.

Sabino Kornrich, Julie Brines, Katrina Leupp. Egalitarianism, Housework, and Sexual Frequency in Marriage American Sociological Review February 2013 vol. 78 no. 1 26-50 doi: 10.1177/0003122412472340


Data are from Wave II of the National Survey of Families and Households published in 1996, interviews from 1992-1994.

The division of labor:

Core tasks include preparing meals, washing dishes, cleaning house, shopping, and washing and ironing; non-core tasks include outdoor work, paying bills, auto maintenance, and driving.

As you can see in the graph, the more of the “core” tasks a man completes, the less sex he gets.

The covariates for overall marital happiness and specific happiness with spouses’ contribution to housework did not change this relationship. The covariate for gender-traditional ideology on household labor likewise did not change this relationship. Thus, none of these factors explains the relationship between sex frequency and the participation of the man in “core” chores.

One interesting tidbit of note in surveys like this:

women reported having sex with their spouses slightly more than five and a half times in the past month, and men reported lower frequencies, about .4 times fewer over the past month. Although it may appear surprising that husbands’ reports are lower than their wives’, existing research comparing husbands’ and wives’ reports has found similar results

I’m sure that won’t cause any hilarious disagreement over which is the true value.

I’m sure the overall finding is entirely intuitive and agreeable to your sensibilities.

h/t: @seelix and @docfreeride

also, The Times is ON it.

A new post at Speaking for Research details the history:

Back in 2003, Neurobiology Professors John and Madeleine Schlag saw their property vandalized at a home demonstration. “The way it proceeded … we felt that the door was going to be kicked in,” they commented in an interview.

In 2006, Professor Lynn Fairbanks was targeted with an incendiary device. It turned out animal extremists got the wrong address and planted the firebomb at the doorstep of an elderly neighbor.

In June 2007 another firebomb was placed under the vehicle of Professor Arthur Rosenbaum, who dedicated his life to pediatric ophthalmology by helping children with strabismus. His wife later received a threatening note which told her to persuade her husband to stop his research or “…we will do exactly what he does to monkeys to you.”

In 2007, Professor Edythe London finds her home flooded by animal rights extremists, and received the threat, “water was our second choice, fire was our first.”  She decided to reply by explaining, in a thoughtful OpEd in the LA Times, the reasons for her work.

In 2008, the UCLA community saw once again an incendiary device char the front door of a home owned by a Professor, the vandalism of three vehicles parked outside the home of a postdoctoral student, and the firebombing of a university commuter van.

Then, in 2009, the car of Professor David Jentsch, parked in his driveway, is set on fire while he was sleeping at home.  He subsequently received a letter containing razor blades and a threatening note that fantasized about sneaking up behind him and cutting his throat

The harassment of UCLA scientists in their homes has continued on a monthly basis every since. This year, the scientists have decided to organize counter protests.

The next counterdemonstration will be February 15, 2014. If you are local these scientists would appreciate your support.


Please join us to defend UCLA, our science, and the hope for medical advances and new cures.

When: February 15, 10:15am sharp!
Where: NE Corner of Westwood and LeConte

Join us to end the decade-long age of terror at UCLA!

The conditional probability of dependence on a given drug is a question that is of substantial interest to users, parents of users, public policy makers and heath care providers. After all, if people simply stopped using a drug once a problem arises then many of the negative effects could be avoided. There is a fair degree of correlation between meeting diagnostic criteria for dependence and someone failing to stop using a drug despite clear and growing negative consequences. (Indeed this is one of the dependence criteria). Therefore, we must consider dependence to be a target of substantial interest.

It can be difficult to estimate the conditional probability of dependence in humans because we mostly have cross-sectional data to work with. And so we must infer conditional probability from dividing the currently dependent population by some denominator. Depending on what one uses for the denominator, this estimate can vary. Obviously you would like some population that uses the substance but what represents a level of “use” that is relevant? One time ever? Use in the past 12 months? Use in the past 30 days?

A new paper by van der Pol and colleagues uses a prospective design to provide additional data on this question.

The authors recruited 600 frequent cannabis users, aged 18-30, and assessed them for cannabis dependence at start, after 18 months and after 36 months using the:

Composite International Diagnostic Interview (CIDI) version 3.0 (Kessler and Ustun, 2004), and required the presence of three or more of seven symptoms within the 12-month period since the previous interview (without requiring the presence of all symptoms at the same time). It should be noted that the CIDI includes a withdrawal symptom, which is not included in the DSV-IV manual.

The study defined “frequent” use as 3 or more times per week for 12 months or more. This is important to remember when trying to assess the conditional probability. It all depends on what you construe as an at-risk population. Here, I’d say these were already rather confirmed cannabis fans.

The authors were interested in the very first incidence of dependence and so therefore excluded subjects who had ever met criteria, this left 269 subjects at intake (retention in the study left N=216 at 18 mo and N=199 at 36 mo). This is another point of interest to me and affects our estimation. Three or more times per week for 12 months or more and 45% of them had never previously met criteria for dependence. There are two ways to look at this. First, the fact that a lot of similarly screened users had already met criteria for dependence suggest that this remaining population was at high risk, merely waiting for the shoe to drop. Conversely it might be the case that these were the resistant individuals. The ones who were in some way buffered from the development of dependence. Can’t really tell from this design….it would be nice to see similar studies with various levels of prior cannabis use.

There were 73 cases of cannabis dependence of the 199 individuals who were followed all the way to 36 months, representing a conditional probability of transitioning to dependence of 36.7% within 3 years.

Now, of course the authors were interested in far more than the mere probability of meeting dependence criteria. They assessed a number of predictor variables to find differences between the individuals that met criteria and those that did not. Significant variables included living alone, mean number of prior cannabis use disorder symptoms, a continual smoking pattern per episode, using [also] during the daytime, using cannabis to “cope”, child abuse incidents, motor and attentional impulsivity and recent negative life events. For this latter, followup analysis identified major financial crisis and separation from someone important as driving events.

As the authors point out in the discussion, the predictors differ from those identified from a more general population. This makes sense if you consider that the range on numerous variables has been seriously restricted by their catchment criteria. The amount of cannabis exposure, for example, did not predict transition to dependence in this study–perhaps because it was well over the “necessary if not sufficient” threshold. This underlines my theme that the denominator matters a lot to our more colloquial estimates of the risks of dependence on cannabis.

Another issue identified in the discussion was the choice to start at 18 years of age for the captured population. Cannabis use frequently starts much earlier than this and many studies of epidemiology suggest that initiation of drug use in the early teens, mid teens, late teens and early twenties confers substantially different lifetime risk of dependence. “The earlier someone starts using, the more likely to become dependent” is the general findings. The authors cite a study showing that the mean age of meeting cannabis dependence criteria for the first time is 18. This is at least consistent with the fact that 65% of their collected sample had previously met criteria for dependence. No study is perfect or gives us the exact answer we are looking for, of course.

A final note on estimating the conditional probability of dependence in the population that uses cannabis 3 or more times per week for over a year. Of the original sample, 331 had already met dependence criteria and were excluded because the interest here was on the first time dependent. If we ignore those 70 people lost to followup during the study, and add the 73 to the 331 then we end up with 76% of those individuals smoking that much cannabis who have already, or will soon, meet dependence criteria.

van der Pol P, Liebregts N, de Graaf R, Korf DJ, van den Brink W, van Laar M. Predicting the transition from frequent cannabis use to cannabis dependence: A three-year prospective study. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2013 Jul 22. pii: S0376-8716(13)00228-7. doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2013.06.009. [Epub ahead of print]. [Publisher, PubMed]

A twitter observation from @tressiemcphd [her blog]

reminds me of a post I wrote some time ago that encapsulates my position on underrepresentation in science, affirmative action strategies, etc. It is informed by my participation on diversity-in-academia committees at every level so far from undergraduate, to graduate student and as a faculty member. It is also informed by seeing the nitty-gritty of affirmative action decision making when it comes to the hiring of faculty (the “Dean’s Hire“, etc), the treatment of said faculty once hired and the outcome (tenure/denied) of such faculty.

It is also a position that I take in reaction to anyone who goes on about how skin-reflectance based affirmative action policies are bad because it may select individuals for whom this is their only apparent handicap in academia. Thereby overlooking people who don’t share that particular handicap but otherwise beat out this person in the Oppression Olympics. Also my response to people who think that socio-economic lack of privilege is the only justifiable motivation for affirmative action policies.

This originally went up Aug 29, 2008.

Watching Michelle Obama speak at the Democratic Convention this week was awe inspiring and hope uplifting for many Americans and others worldwide. I was feelin’ it myself. But what really hammered home the real message here, for me, was listening to various media interviews with African-American women. They explained in both humble and soaring terms how important it was for their dreams, aspirations and parental hopes that Michelle stood up there, brilliant, black, beautiful, charismatic and, let’s face it, just plain fabulous. Her strength and will as an advocate for the downtrodden, her country and her family alike was a big hit for women everywhere who finally, finally see families that are just like theirs making a serious run at the US Presidency.

This reminds me of a phenomenon experienced by a scientist with whom I am familiar.
“The conversation usually ends with ‘Thanks Doc, it means a lot’.”

It is no news that US research science looks like a little bit of apartheid. White folks are overrepresented in the faculty ranks and overrepresented in the trainee ranks down to the undergraduate level, relative to the general US population. Frequently enough relative to local city or state populations as well. African-Americans and Latino-Americans are considerably underrepresented. [Don’t yeah-but me with your favorite allegedly overrepresented group in the comments, it is irrelevant to today’s discussion.]

In the service ranks, this is a different story. Visit a few Universities around the country, attend scientific meetings in the usual hotspots of Washington DC, New Orleans, Atlanta, San Diego, Los Angeles, Chicago and unless you are in complete denial or completely oblivious you notice something. African-Americans and Latino-Americans (and some additional nonwhite ethnic groups) are considerably overrepresented in the service ranks. Administrative assistants, janitors, animal care techs, facilities staff, hotel and convention staff..you name it. These national realities are not just anecdotes, of course. Every time we talk about affirmative action issues in the Academy on a national level, the dismal stats are related.

I make my views on casting a wide net and dismantling artificial barriers to success in science pretty clear in my blogging. I argue this both from the perspective of an advocate for my scientific domain who wants progress made and as an advocate for the individual scientist and his/her career.
Michelle Obama and the scientist who receives the “Thanks Doc” conversations remind me of another important, perhaps more important, reason for dismantling artificial barriers to science career success.

It matters that “people who look like me, are like me, have families like me” are a highly visible part of the landscape. It matters a lot. And this is why I will smack down knuckleheads who bleat on about quotas and “taking slots from the more deserving” and crap like that. First, of course, because those types (almost hysterically, unbelievably, overrepresented in the fizzycyst population) display a fundamental intuitive misunderstanding of populations, central tendencies, variance in the distribution and the rarity of extreme talents. Second, because they disingenuously ignore the warm fuzzies, opportunities and biases associated with the vast majority of the Academy looking just like them. Third because these morally shriveled little wankers are just plain fun to tweak and can be tangled up in their inconsistencies and hypocrisy with little effort. But I digress.

Unsurprisingly, the scientist to whom I am referring looks somewhat other than the vast majority of independent scientists at the University in question. Actually, I think people have a fairly difficult time discerning just what ethnic association fits but lets just say “nonwhite”, pointedly underrepresented in science. Of a variety with which many people who work in support roles at the University in question identify. Ethnicity pegging is not helped in that this person does not speak, act, associate, recreate, hobby-ate, idea-ate, iPod-ate, etc in any particularly ethnically-specific or stereotypic ways that I can detect. This observation is quite important. Unlike Michelle Obama, for whom many aspects of the identity package are consistent with the women being interviewed on the radio this week, this scientist basically only looks “like them”.
My subject scientist relates numerous conversations which follow a common thread. Some staff person will drop by the office to say “Thanks Doc. It’s really important to see one of us in this office doing this job.”

That is the crux of the issue. Image is important. Identity is important. It matters to the larger issues of diversity that we have readily apparent, quotidian, barebones diversity. It matters to our social fabric of opportunity and fairness. It matters to the fundamental principles of what it means to be an American citizen when we are talking politics. It matters to the fundamental principles of the Academy as well.

Additional Reading:

A post on why NOT to make too much of visible diversity.

Quotas/no quotas

Underrepresented Imposter Syndrome (no, something slightly different).

Major, Jack, Willie and Warren

Take the Money and Run

Three Techs

In Science, from Sandra L. Schmid, Ph.D. [PubMed] who is Chair of Cell Biology at UT Southwestern.

The problem:

CVs provide a brief description of past training—including the researcher’s pedigree—as well as a list of awards, grants, and publications. A CV provides little insight into attributes that will ensure future success in the right environment. For example, a CV is unlikely to reflect the passion, perseverance, and creativity of individuals who struggled with limited resources and created their own opportunities for compelling research. Nor is a CV likely to identify bold and imaginative risk-takers who might have fallen—for the moment—just short of a major research success. The same is true for those who found, when they realized their goal, that their results exceeded the imaginations of mainstream reviewers and editors, the gatekeepers of high-profile journals. Finally, for junior hires at early stages of their careers, a CV is unlikely to reveal individuals who are adept at recombining knowledge and skills gained from their graduate and postdoctoral studies to carve out new areas of research, or those able to recognize and take advantage of unique opportunities for collaboration in their next position.

Her Department’s solution:

We will be asking applicants to write succinct cover letters describing, separately and briefly, four elements: (1) their most significant scientific accomplishment as a graduate student; (2) their most significant scientific accomplishment as a postdoc; (3) their overall goals/vision for a research program at our institution; and (4) the experience and qualifications that make them particularly well-suited to achieve those goals. Each of the cover letters will be read by several faculty members—all cell biology faculty members will have access to them—and then we will interview, via video conferencing technologies, EVERY candidate whose research backgrounds and future interests are a potential match to our departmental goals.

She closes with what I see as a deceptively important comment:

Let’s run this experiment!

You have probably gleaned, Dear Reader, that one of my greatest criticisms of our industry is that the members of it throw all of their scientific training out the window when it comes to the actual behavior OF the industry. Paper review, grant review, assessment of “quality”, dealing with systematic bias and misdirection…… MAN we are bad at this.

Above all, we are reluctant to run experiments to test our deep seated beliefs. Our beliefs that GRE quantitative or verbal or subject predict grad school performance. Our beliefs that undergraduate GPA is the key or maybe it is research experience in a lab of some DewD we’ve heard of. Our belief that what makes the postdoc is X number of first author pubs in journals of just exactly this Impact Factor. Our confidence that past performance predicts future success of our new Asst Professor hire….or tenure candidate.

So often we argue, viciously, our biases. So infrequently do we test them.

So bravo to Chair Schmid for actually running an experiment.


April 16, 2013

From Adweek:

Gil Zamora is an FBI-trained forensics artist with over 3,000 criminal sketches under his belt. Dove and Ogilvy Toronto hired him to interview and draw seven different women—two sketches of each. The first sketch was based on each woman’s personal description of herself. The second was based on a description provided by a stranger the woman had just met. Of course, the differences are vast.


Of course they are. This stuff has psychology graduate student work written all over it. Imagine the diversity of studies to be done! Me, I bet I’d describe myself in my 20s rather than the way I look now…

Read the rest of this entry »

Jane Goodall, Plagiarist

March 27, 2013

From the WaPo article:

Jane Goodall, the primatologist celebrated for her meticulous studies of chimps in the wild, is releasing a book next month on the plant world that contains at least a dozen passages borrowed without attribution, or footnotes, from a variety of Web sites.

Looks pretty bad.

This bit from one Michael Moynihan at The Daily Beast raises the more interesting issues:

No one wants to criticize Jane Goodall—Dame Goodall—the soft-spoken, white-haired doyenne of primatology. She cares deeply about animals and the health of the planet. How could one object to that?

Because it leads her to oppose animal research using misrepresentation and lies? That’s one reason why one might object.

You see, everyone is willing to forgive Jane Goodall. When it was revealed last week in The Washington Post that Goodall’s latest book, Seeds of Hope, a fluffy treatise on plant life, contained passages that were “borrowed” from other authors, the reaction was surprisingly muted.

It always starts out that way for a beloved writer. We’ll just have to see how things progress. Going by recent events it will take more guns a’smokin’ in her prior works to start up a real hue and cry. At the moment, her thin mea culpa will very likely be sufficient.

A Jane Goodall Institute spokesman told The Guardian that the whole episode was being “blown out of proportion” and that Goodall was “heavily involved” in the book bearing her name and does “a vast amount of her own writing.” In a statement, Goodall said that the copying was “unintentional,” despite the large amount of “borrowing” she engaged in.

Moynihan continues on to catalog additional suspicious passages. I think some of them probably need a skeptical eye. For example I am quite willing to believe a source might give the exact same pithy line about a particular issue to a number of interviewers. But this caught my eye:

Describing a study of genetically modified corn, Goodall writes: “A Cornell University study showed adverse effects of transgenic pollen (from Bt corn) on monarch butterflies: their caterpillars reared on milkweed leaves dusted with Bt corn pollen ate less, grew more slowly, and suffered higher mortality.”

A report from Navdaya.org puts it this way: “A 1999 Nature study showed adverse effects of transgenic pollen (from Bt corn) on monarch butterflies: butterflies reared on milkweed leaves dusted with bt corn pollen ate less, grew more slowly, and suffered higher mortality.” (Nor does Goodall mention a large number of follow-up studies, which the Pew Charitable Trust describes as showing the risk of GM corn to butterflies as “fairly small, primarily because the larvae are exposed only to low levels of the corn’s pollen in the real-world conditions of the field.”

And here is the real problem. When someone who has a public reputation built on what people think of as science weighs in on other matters of science, they enjoy a lot of trust. Goodall certainly has this. So when such a person misuses this by misrepresenting the science to further their own agenda…it’s a larger hurdle for the forces of science and rational analysis to overcome. Moynihan is all over this part as well:

One of the more troubling aspects of Seeds of Hope is Goodall’s embrace of dubious science on genetically modified organisms (GMO). On the website of the Jane Goodall Foundation, readers are told—correctly—that “there is scientific consensus” that climate change is being driven by human activity. But Goodall has little time for scientific consensus on the issue of GMO crops, dedicating the book to those who “dare speak out” against scientific consensus. Indeed, her chapter on the subject is riddled with unsupportable claims backed by dubious studies.

So in some senses the plagiarism is just emblematic of un-serious thinking on the part of Jane Goodall. The lack of attribution is going to be sloughed off with an apology and a re-edit of the book, undoubtedly. We should not let the poor scientific thinking go unchallenged though, just to raise a mob against plagiarism. The abuse of scientific consensus is a far worse transgression.

Jean Lud Cadet, M.D. [ PubMed, GoogleScholar, DepartmentalPage ] is the Chief of the Molecular Neuropsychiatry Research Branch in the Intramural Resarch Program at the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Within this branch he heads the Molecular Neuropsychiatry section which has maintained major interests in dissecting the toxic effects of methamphetamine, cocaine and MDMA on the brain using rodent models. He has a recent review article Epigenetics of Methamphetamine-Induced Changes in Glutamate Function that you might find of interest.

PhotoCredit: ASBMB

PhotoCredit: NIDA IRP

According to an interview with the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Dr Cadet received his MD degree from Columbia University and completed residencies in Psychiatry at Columbia University and in Neurology at Mount Sinai Medical Center. Dr. Cadet indicates in the interview that it was chance notice of an announcement for a fellowship in Pharmacology at the NIMH IRP (which he secured and spent time as a Neuropsychiatry Fellow) that cemented his interest in research. Going by the PubMed record, it was during this time that Dr. Cadet became interested in movement disorder related to dopamine disruptions which foreshadowed his eventual interest in damage to dopaminergic functions caused by stimulant drugs. After the Fellowship, Dr. Cadet became Assistant Professor of Neurology and Psychiatry at Columbia University and then subsequently moved to the NIDA IRP in 1992.

Dr. Cadet is also the Associate Director for Diversity and Outreach within the NIDA IRP and, per an interview with the ASMBM Dr. Cadet states:

As the Associate Director for Diversity and Outreach, my greatest passion is the recruitment of young scientists from under-represented populations into various NIH programs. I have been in charge of recruiting summer students into the NIDA-IRP since 1995. I am also the chair of the Diversity and Outreach Committee (DOC) that is actively recruiting young scientists from under-represented groups. This committee has recently reached out to Patterson High School, a neighborhood high school. Two Patterson junior students are now serving internships in basic science laboratories at the NIDA-IRP. Using funds that were recently provided by the Scientific Director of NIDA-IRP, the DOC has also established a competitive application process that has helped to recruit 6 post-baccalaureate and/or post-doctoral fellows within the NIDA-IRP. I am relentless in my pursuit of Diversity within the NIDA-IRP and my activities together with those of DOC members are helping our intramural program to serve as a beacon to be followed by others.

I thank you Dr. Cadet for both furthering our understanding of the ways in which exposure to stimulant drugs of abuse can disrupt the brain and your efforts to extend opportunities within science to those who are of underrepresented racial or ethnic backgrounds.

Post-baccalaureate program at NIDA IRP

Prior entries in this series overview the contributions of Yasmin Hurd, Carl Hart, Chana Akins and Percy Julian.

From Kristin Booker at xojane:

But at the end of the day, a simple answer should be sufficient, random stranger. If I decide to answer that question at all, I’m being nice. All further questions past the answer, “I’m Black,” will now be met with one answer and one answer only: “I’ve answered your question.”

I am who I am. Who my progenitors had sex with is none of your business. Kindly stop asking. This interview is now over. *throws mic down*

I saw this from a link to jezebel.

In other news, despite being kinda majority culture this woman puts it well.

To completely switch gears on you, I often think of this song in the context of academic genealogy.

Just as our most fervent defender of pot posted the most scientifically offensive clause in the legalization initiative defeated by California voters:

5. Cannabis has fewer harmful effects than either alcohol or cigarettes, which are both legal for adult consumption. Cannabis is not physically addictive, does not have long term toxic effects on the body, and does not cause its consumers to become violent.[DM- policy statement, false, false, distraction]

a comment on an older post returned our attention to the cannabis hyperemesis syndrome.

The past year I started smoking a lot more than ever before.
I’m 21, and every single morning I wake up with the worst upset stomach. It gets all the way to the point where I’m running to the bathroom to throw up and nothing ever comes out. The doctors think its in my head. Awesome. When this first began happening I would just make myself throw up but once I began it wouldn’t stop for hours and I had to be taken to the emergency room. I feel like I’m dying!! But of course I feel completely better when I go smoke. It’s insane!

So I trotted over to PubMed to see what is new, if anything, with cannabis hyperemesis. I found three new CaseReport publications that I had not seen before including:

Nicolson SE, Denysenko L, Mulcare JL, Vito JP, Chabon B. Cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome: a case series and review of previous reports. Psychosomatics. 2012 May;53(3):212-9. Epub 2012 Apr 4. PubMed

Luther V, Yap L.A hot bath to calm what ails you: the Cannabis Hyperemesis Syndrome. Acute Med. 2012;11(1):23-4. PubMed

Bagdure S, Smalligan RD, Sharifi H, Khandheria B. Waning effect of compulsive bathing in cannabinoid hyperemesis.Am J Addict. 2012 Mar-Apr;21(2):184-5. doi: 10.1111/j.1521-0391.2011.00209.x. Epub 2012 Feb 7. PubMed

There are a total of 6 individuals reported (20-27 yrs of age, 2 female), all of whom presented to medical services (New York, 4; London, 1; Amarillo, TX, 1) with repeated and severe vomiting. All Cases had been smoking marijuana for many years with at least daily smoking in recent months to years. Five of the cases identify multiple uses per day, the sixth just indicates daily smoking.

Medical workups for all six indicated no other detectable gastrointestinal causes. All six Cases include multiple episodes of repeated vomiting in the past which had resulted in emergency department visits or hospitalizations for that patient.

All six had been using hot showers to control their symptoms, selected quotes from different Cases are illustrative:

he persistently demanded to use our showering facilities…He continued to demand to use the showering facilities, and oddly seemed more settled after bathing.

Several times during the interview, he went to the bathroom to put his head under the hot shower, which he said improved his

Ms. B complained that the hospital showers were not warm enough because the best way to relieve her symptoms was to take extremely hot, hour-long showers four times daily.

Three of the cases have evidence that ceasing marijuana smoking prevented further episodes of cyclical vomiting. Three show evidence that returning to marijuana smoking after abstinence led to recurrence of symptoms. Two cases had no followup evidence.

As this evidence starts to accumulate, we need to remember one thing about the Case Reports which is that there is a severe publication/selection bias in this sort of thing. Physicians’ motivations to publish are not like ours and what strikes one group of physicians to bother to publish a Report is entirely opaque to me. It is, however, likely only the tip of the iceberg. As a second caution, it may also be the case that their is a bias for the publication of “clean” Cases. For only bothering when the individual Case seems to fit this growing profile to a T. Thus, it may make things about this syndrome appear more clear cut, more severe, etc. This goes both ways but one thing I would be concerned about are those Cases that are indeed caused by chronic cannabis use but are not diagnosed because they don’t seem to fit the Case Report literature.

Perhaps hot bathing/showers are not always involved? Perhaps the use history is not as severe as it was for this most recent set of six cases? Perhaps there are some cases in which marginal gastro-intestinal concerns have interacted with a lesser degree of chronic cannabis smoking to push an individual over the threshold to cyclic vomiting symptoms?

There is always the unknown factor. People have proposed unknown toxins in the past…contamination of the cannabis being used. Still not impossible, especially given the apparent rarity of the syndrome. But, I would argue, as the cases occur across time and geography this becomes less likely. You would think that contamination might surround particular drug supplies (in time and space) in a way that might turn up as a geographic patient cluster.

For now, however, the evidence is reasonably strong and it is most certainly growing. Obviously, I think it is well past time for scientists with models that are relevant to emesis to get cranking and start up some studies. Unfortunately rats don’t vomit so it is going to require some specialized animal models, perhaps the ferret.