Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Parenting, the anti-drug

By Philip Copitch, Ph.D.

Dear Dr. Phil,

Last year my family came to see you for some help after I was a victim of a crime. We greatly appreciated your help. We learned a lot.

The kids got shirts from your waiting room with ideas on things to do with the family. On a rainy day my son was complaining about being board. He had on the shirt. We decided to do some of the things. So we wrote a song. Then we just kept doing stuff on the shirt. Just want to let you know that we did them all. It was lots of fun.

Thanks form, Mary, Sally, Bobby and Chris.

Thanks Mary it was wonderful to hear from you.

The shirts are a lot of fun. I like the message... Parenting, the anti-drug.

Dr. Phil

Monday, April 8, 2013

Can a computer read your dreams?

By Philip Copitch, Ph.D.

People regularly ask me about their dreams and what they mean. Our fascination about dreams seems to have been a part of the human condition since the beginning of time.

With all the curiosity concerning dreams (and sleep in general), science seems to have a hard time understanding what dreams are and why we even have them.

This week in the journal Science, researchers from Japan explain their novel approach to looking into our dreams.

Lead author, Yukiyasu Kamitani of Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International, and his colleagues, "taught" a computer to identify the brain activity of subjects while they were looking at specific objects; such as furniture, a street, or a girl. With this identification information they compared similar brain activity during sleep. The categories are course (rough estimates) at this time, for example "girl" versus "Mary."

The researchers gathered electronic brain activity of three male subjects while they slept. They also woke the subjects up during REM sleep (rapid eye movements often associated with dreaming) and asked them specifically what they were dreaming about.

Next, the researchers developed the course categories of items in their dreams.

Again the test subjects' brains were monitored, this time while they looked at objects from the developed categories.

The researchers used computer algorithms (set of rules to be followed in calculations) to compare the wake and sleeping brain activity with category items. The computer scored about 70% accuracy.

This early research points towards the conclusion that the brain in dream state is processing real information. Other researchers have shown that dreams are influential in storing long term memories and in the understanding of complexities of emotional thought.

Can a computer read your dreams? The simple answer is: not yet... but I do wonder how long it will take.

Recommended reading on the science of sleep and dreams:

 Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep

An engrossing examination of the science behind the little-known world of sleep.

Like many of us, journalist David K. Randall never gave sleep much thought. That is, until he began sleepwalking. One midnight crash into a hallway wall sent him on an investigation into the strange science of sleep.

In Dreamland, Randall explores the research that is investigating those dark hours that make up nearly a third of our lives. Taking readers from military battlefields to children’s bedrooms, Dreamland shows that sleep isn't as simple as it seems. Why did the results of one sleep study change the bookmakers’ odds for certain Monday Night Football games? Do women sleep differently than men? And if you happen to kill someone while you are sleepwalking, does that count as murder?

The Cleveland Clinic Guide to Sleep Disorders (Cleveland Clinic Guides)

From the nation’s top-ranked clinic for neurology, the most important health information and advice on how to avoid and cope with or overcome sleep disorders

Drug Overdose Deaths in the US.

By Philip Copitch, Ph.D.

When we think of drug overdose, we probably think of the drug addict we have seen in movies shooting up behind the dumpster. The police bag and tag the unfortunate soul, and one detective turns to another and says, "Another junkie that got a hot load!"

But drug overdoses aren't really like that 

The National Center for Health Statistics, the number crunchers for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that drug overdose deaths increased for the 11th consecutive year in 2010. The  drugs that are pushing the statistics up are prescription drugs, especially opioid analgesics (painkillers).

The CDC offers this overview of the commonly abused drugs.

The most recent data was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, by Jones CM, Mack KA, Paulozzi LJ. Pharmaceutical Overdose Deaths, United States, 2010. JAMA. 2013;309(7):657-659. doi:10.1001/jama.2013.272.

The numbers are staggering

Drug overdose death rates in the United States have more than tripled since 1990, and have never been higher. In 2008, more than 36,000 people died from drug overdoses, and most of these deaths were caused by prescription drugs.

Although many types of prescription drugs are abused, there is currently a growing, deadly epidemic of prescription painkiller abuse. Nearly three out of four prescription drug overdoses are caused by prescription painkillers—also called opioid pain relievers. The unprecedented rise in overdose deaths in the US parallels a 300% increase since 1999 in the sale of these strong painkillers.* These drugs were involved in 14,800 overdose deaths in 2008, more than cocaine and heroin combined.*

The misuse and abuse of prescription painkillers was responsible for more than 475,000 emergency department visits in 2009, a number that nearly doubled in just five years.*

More than 12 million people reported using prescription painkillers nonmedically in 2010, that is: using them without a prescription or for the feeling they cause.*

Further reading: Get the Policy Impact: Prescription Painkiller Overdoses, as a free PDF report.