TIME Research

Mixing Booze and Pot Greatly Increases the Amount of THC in Your Blood

Cannabis
WIN-Initiative—Getty Images/WIN-Initiative RM

That poses serious questions for road safety

Although marijuana and alcohol are frequently used together, there has been little research into how the two substances react. A new study reported on in Science Daily, however, shows that when they are mixed the amount of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — marijuana’s active ingredient — in a person’s blood is far higher than if marijuana is smoked on its own.

Because the combination of alcohol and cannabis is the most common one detected in car accidents, the research looked at the two drugs from the point of view of vehicle safety.

Scientists examined 19 people drinking alcohol, or a placebo, in low doses ten minutes before inhaling vaporized cannabis in either a low or high dose. When alcohol was consumed, a far higher blood concentration of THC emerged.

When the two drugs were taken together, researchers concluded that the possibility of vehicular crashes increased considerably than if only one drug was taken, Science Daily reports.

“The significantly higher blood THC … values with alcohol possibly explain increased performance impairment observed from cannabis-alcohol combinations,” said lead researcher Dr. Marilyn A. Huestis.

Researchers hope the information will create better drug-related driving legislation.

[Science Daily]

TIME Infectious Disease

Bill Gates Thinks This Is the Deadliest Threat to Humankind

Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft and co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, speaks at a breakfast meeting with the theme "Dialogue: Technology Innovation for a Sustainable Future" during the Boao Forum For Asia Annual Conference 2015 in Qionghai city, south Chinas Hainan province, 29 March 2015.
Cui hao—Imaginechina/AP Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft and co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, speaks at a breakfast meeting with the theme "Dialogue: Technology Innovation for a Sustainable Future" during the Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference 2015 in Qionghai city, China's Hainan province, on March 29, 2015

He says it could kill tens of millions

In the next 20 years, is it likely that nuclear war, gigantic earthquakes or asteroids could kill 20 million people? Bill Gates doesn’t think so.

But he did tell Vox that that such numbers could be felled by a major outbreak of disease — something the 59-year-old billionaire believes has a “well over 50%” chance of happening in his lifetime.

“The Ebola epidemic showed me that we’re not ready for a serious epidemic, an epidemic that would be more infectious and would spread faster than Ebola did. This is the greatest risk of a huge tragedy,” Gates said, claiming that a serious epidemic could kill more than 10 million people a year.

Read more at Vox.

TIME Research

How to Know If Your Birth Control Pill Is a Risk for Blood Clots

TIME.com stock photos Birth Control Pills
Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME

See which brands contain ingredients that may be more harmful than not

It’s been known for quite some time that the Pill may increase a woman’s risk for blood clots, but the risk is thought to be low. As TIME reported on Tuesday, the study showed that women on the Pill had around a three times higher risk of blood clots compared to women who weren’t using the oral contraceptives. The risk appeared to be greater for women taking newer versions of the hormone progestogen, including drospirenone, desogestrel, gestodene and cyproterone. Older versions of the hormone, including levonorgestrel and norethisterone, had better results. You can read more here about why these versions may have a higher risk.

So, how do you know if your birth control pills contain ingredients that might be more harmful than not? Drospirenone and desogestrel are both approved for use in the U.S., and can be used in combination with other ingredients. We broke down which birth control brands contain them, according to approval data from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Gestodene and cyproterone are currently not approved for use in contraceptives in the states. There may also be other brands of the contraceptives that contain these ingredients available in other countries.

Drospirenone
Angeliq
Beyaz
Loryna
Nikki
Safyral
Syeda
Yaela
Yasmin
Yaz

Desogestrel
Cyclessa
Desogen
Emoquette
Enskyce
Kariva
Kimidess
Mircette
Ortho-Cept
Pimtrea
Velivet
Viorele

Read next: Why the Best Form of Birth Control Is the One No One Uses

TIME Infectious Disease

Pentagon Accidentally Sends Live Anthrax to Multiple Labs

128627951
Getty Images Anthrax bacteria. Light micrograph of a section through tissue infected with anthrax bacteria (Bacillus anthracis). These Gram-positive bacteria (small red rods) are seen with cells (blue) with oval red nuclei. Commonly a livestock infection, B. anthracis

Officials say there is no risk to the public

The Pentagon acknowledged Wednesday that samples of live anthrax were unintentionally mailed to labs in nine states and South Korea, as officials had believed that the samples were dead.

Col. Steve Warren, the Pentagon’s acting press secretary, told reporters there were no suspected or confirmed cases of infection and no risk to the public, according to ABC News. Anthrax can cause severe illness and even death among people who come in contact with it; dead anthrax samples can be used for research.

The samples were apparently shipped from Dugway Proving Ground in Utah on April 30 to a military lab in Maryland, then distributed to labs in nine states. After a lab in Maryland found out their package included live samples, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was alerted.

The CDC and the Department of Defense are working together to investigate the matter.

[ABC News]

TIME Research

FAA Will Study Pilots’ Mental Health

A committee will provide recommendations within six months

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced Wednesday it would study the mental and emotional health of pilots, a move that comes more than two months after investigators say a German pilot flew a commercial jet into the French Alps, killing all 150 people aboard.

While pilots are required to undergo medical screenings with agency-approved physicians once or twice a year, the study was recommended in the wake of tragedies like the crash Germanwings Flight 9525 in March and the early 2014 disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in the Indian Ocean.

The FAA said in a statement that the Pilot Fitness Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC)—to be comprised of government members and aviation experts, as well as medical professionals whose specialty is aerospace medicine—will look into awareness and reporting practices for emotional and mental issues among pilots. The committee, which will also probe the procedures used to evaluate mental health issues and any barriers to reporting them, will provide the FAA with recommendations within six months.

“Based on the group’s recommendations,” according to the statement, “the FAA may consider changes to medical methods, aircraft design, policies and procedures, pilot training and testing, training for Aerospace Medical Examiners, or potential actions that may be taken by professional, airline, or union groups.”

Read next: German Privacy Laws Let Pilot ‘Hide’ His Illness From Employers

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Are Taco Bell and Pizza Hut Actually Getting Healthier?

'Sort of, but not really,' say experts

Taco Bell and Pizza Hut shook the fast-food world Tuesday when the chains announced they’ll be nixing artificial ingredients in their menu items by the end of 2015. Taco Bell is saying sayonara to artificial flavors, artificial colors, high fructose corn syrup and palm oil in their food. (Artificial preservatives, too, will be removed “where possible” by 2017.) Pizza Hut has an even quicker timeline, saying it’ll phase out artificial colors and preservatives by the end of July.

But will these fast-food tweaks really make a difference for your health? We asked experts what they thought about the particular ingredients being nixed to gauge whether or not these swaps will, indeed, make the food more healthy.

“I think that this general trend is a good thing,” says Dr. David Katz, director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center. “But what the public, I think, has failed to recognize is that the single greatest power over the food supply has been food demand. If we change what we’re willing to buy, then the supply side will change what they’re selling.”

Here’s what else experts say about it.

1. Artificial flavors

The experts agree: taking out artificial ingredients is a positive move. “The kinds of things they are taking out are cosmetics—additives that make processed foods taste or stick together better,” says Marion Nestle, professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University. “They are not necessary. Whether they are harmful at quantities typically consumed is debatable, but why not get rid of them?”

“It’s very much a political ploy on the part of the fast food industry to make their food look like somehow it’s real food, but it’s still not real food,” says Robert Lustig, MD, professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco, and author of Fat Chance. The problems with many processed foods, he says, are a matter of too little—fiber, micronutrients, omega-3 fatty acids—and too much—trans fats, branched-chain amino acids, salt, emulsifiers and sugar.

Selling real food is within the power of fast food establishments, Lustig says. “But they can’t sell it as long as we subsidize corn, wheat, soy and sugar”—the cheap ingredients that make up the bulk of processed food, Lustig says. Until then, he says, real food doesn’t have a fighting chance—and broccoli calories will continue to be more expensive than burger calories.

2. Artificial colors

“It’s good that they’re trying to get rid of food additives, especially artificial colors, because we never needed them,” says Lustig. While some artificial colors have been shown to cause cancer in animals, none have been proven to cause cancer in humans. Still, some experts caution against eating or drinking foods that contain them due to insufficient knowledge about their safety or worries about them triggering allergic reactions. (See this summary by the Center for Science in the Public Interest.)

Some scientists have raised concerns about the safety of some artificial colors, with a recent paper saying: “It is recommended that regulatory authorities require better and independent toxicity testing, exercise greater caution regarding continued approval of these dyes, and in the future approve only well-tested, safe dyes.”

3. High fructose corn syrup (HFCS)

“HFCS has earned a very bad reputation within the general community,” says Lustig. “People see it and go, ‘Oh, that’s the devil.'” But Lustig thinks sugar is the real problem, regardless of whether it comes from—and since food companies aren’t likely to drop HFCS without replacing it with something sweet, we may see sugar appear more often on ingredient lists. “What they ought to be doing is getting rid of HFCS in exchange for nothing,” Lustig says. “If it’s not changing what you’re consuming, what’s the difference?”

4. Palm oil

Fast-food companies use huge amounts of palm oil, which can contribute to vast deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions and harsh land-clearing techniques.”I’m really glad to see this in the mix,” says David Katz. The announcement follows this year’s release of new dietary guidelines, which addressed sustainability for the first time. Big food companies—some of the major clients for palm oil—are the most crucial people to prioritize this, Katz says. “Once you know that sustainability matters because you can see things that are running out, you’re obligated to address it, even if you’ve never addressed it before.” (The two restaurants, by the way, aren’t the first; last year, Dunkin Donuts committed to sourcing 100% sustainable palm oil by 2016.)

5. Artificial preservatives

It’s hard to gauge improvement without knowing what’s replacing artificial preservatives, says Katz. “We have to be very careful that this isn’t just minor tweaking at the margins: maybe they’re taking out food additives but still want the shelf life to be the same, so they’ll put in more salt,” he says. “My hope is that we’ve reached the point where you can’t get away with that anymore.”

TIME Infectious Disease

Hookup Apps May Be to Blame for Rhode Island’s Spike in STDs

Social media and hookup sites are contributing to the "epidemic"

Rhode Island is currently experiencing what health experts are calling an “epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases” — and hookup apps may be partially to blame, officials said.

From 2013 to 2014, infections of syphilis increased 79%, gonorrhea cases went up 30% and new HIV cases increased by about 33%, according to data released by the Rhode Island department of health.

The agency noted that the uptick could be sparked by better medical testing and more people having their STDs checked out and reported. However, the agency also acknowledged the role of high-risk behaviors, including “using social media to arrange casual and often anonymous sexual encounters, having sex without a condom, having multiple sex partners, and having sex while under the influence of drugs or alcohol,” the agency wrote in a health alert.

Overall, the rates of HIV/AIDS and syphilis transmission were greater among populations of gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men. The rates of all STDs in the state were also higher among African-American, Hispanic and young adult populations, the agency reported.

The health department said the uptick is indicative of a national increase in STDs.

TIME medicine

How an Italian Boy Survived 42 Minutes Underwater

It’s unusual, but not impossible to survive that long while submerged

An Italian boy who fell into a canal in Milan is the latest “miracle” drowning survivor. The 14 year old was jumping off a bridge with friends into 6.5-foot water when he failed to come up. It took rescuers creating a human chain and 42 minutes before they could find him in the murky water and bring him back up; he had no pulse and was unconscious.

After a month in the hospital, where doctors attached him to a machine that took over for his lungs and heart to keep his body oxygenated, he woke, apparently alert and able to talk to his parents (and ask about his favorite professional soccer team).

But how did he survive underwater for nearly an hour?

MORE: How the Teen Stowaway Survived His Trans-Pacific Flight in a Wheel Well

Michael isn’t the first to recover from being underwater for so long; there’s a report of a person surviving after being submerged for an hour. Other young boys have recovered after going under in frigid lakes, ponds and oceans for anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes.

Experts say it’s no accident that most of the survivors are young; the automatic reflex to drop the heart rate and divert oxygen to the brain, especially in cold water, is more robust in younger children than in adults. Keeping the brain bathed in oxygen is critical; after about four minutes without oxygen, brain damage can occur.

And the colder the water, the more likely the brain is to be sustained in this way; frigid temperatures help the body divert its resources primarily to the brain. The canal into which Michael fell was about 59 degrees.

Doctors say there is no way to fully explain how the boy survived, much less how his brain remained relatively intact. But Michael’s case, and those of the other survivors, stress how important it is to administer emergency CPR as soon as possible after a drowning.

TIME Cancer

How Herpes Is Being Used to Fight Cancer

Patients whose cells were treated with this STD were 8 times more likely to survive than a control group

A genetically modified strain of herpes can kill cancer cells and stop tumors from growing, according to new research. The strain, called T-Vec, was used to treat patients with melanoma as part of one of the final phases of testing of a new drug.

The research, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, is the latest to show how viruses may be used clinically to kill cancer cells. Unlike chemotherapy, which casts a wide net and kills any proliferating cells, viruses often narrowly target cancer cells, which could make them more effective in fighting the disease. The method also appeals to researchers because it activates the immune system to fight cancer.

Researchers looked at more than 400 patients with aggressive malignant melanoma, the deadliest type of skin cancer. More than 16% of patients given the T-Vec treatment showed a lasting response for six months, compared with 2% of members of the control group given normal treatment.

“We may normally think of viruses as the enemies of mankind, but it’s their very ability to specifically infect and kill human cells that can make them such promising cancer treatments,” said professor Paul Workman, chief executive of the Institute of Cancer Research, in a statement.

The drug, produced by Amgen, now awaits approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration before it will be offered to patients.

 

TIME Research

You Asked: Are Self-Tanners Safe?

You Asked: Should I Use Spray Tanner?
Illustration by Peter Oumanski for TIME

These products are safer than sun exposure—but only if you avoid the sprays.

To bake, or to fake? It’s a classic tanning conundrum. Sitting under the sun causes skin damage and cellular changes that raise your risk for skin cancer, and even among adults under 40, melanoma rates are on the rise.

“In order to get a natural tan from ultraviolet light, your skin has to be injured,” says Dr. Darrell Rigel, a clinical professor of dermatology at New York University. You know this, and you worry about it. But unlike ultraviolet rays, sunless self-tanners don’t mean you have to damage your skin. “These products contain an ingredient that stains the outermost layer or your skin,” Rigel says.

In most cases, that ingredient is dihydroxyacetone (DHA). When it combines with amino acids in your skin, DHA causes a browning reaction—the same type of reaction that occurs when you make toast or grill meat, explains Dr. Adam Friedman, director of dermatologic research at Montefiore-Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

That may sound scary. But the browning only takes place in your skin’s “stratum corneum”—the topmost layer composed of dead cells, Friedman says. “Our bodies make a form of this stuff,” he adds, referring to DHA. “So I’m not concerned about it from as safety standpoint. When used topically, I think it’s the only safe way to have a tan appearance.”

For anyone who’s read up on self-tanners, Friedman’s statements may raise eyebrows. A few years ago, a much-cited report from ABC News raised concerns about spray-tanning salons and the risks of inhaling DHA and other self-tanning ingredients. Subsequent research supported the idea that inhaling spray-on tanning chemicals could potentially raise your risk for asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or cancer.

“Stretched flat, your lungs are the size of a tennis court,” says Dr. Reynold Panettieri, a professor of pulmonary medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. “So inhaling these self-tanning agents could have all sorts of potential health consequences.”

But what about self-tanners you spread on your skin? The ABC News report cited Food & Drug Administration data suggesting that small amounts of DHA might seep through your skin and into your bloodstream. If true, that could also raise health concerns. But since that FDA data came to light, follow-up studies have failed to find evidence that DHA penetrates your skin’s protective barriers.

Dr. Rigel was one of several experts who voiced concern to ABC News following their DHA investigation. But when it comes to DHA in lotions, Rigel says his concerns have since been assuaged. “There’s no data to show that DHA is harmful when applied topically,” he says. “Pregnant women and children may want to avoid it just as a precaution, but this is benign stuff.”

Panettieri agrees. “Based on what we know today, DHA is really pretty safe when applied to the skin correctly,” he says. Correct application means avoiding the sensitive skin around your eyes and on your lips, as well as cuts or abrasions—more reasons to be wary of spray-on options. Panettieri says rubbing DHA into very thin or broken skin could let it enter your system. “Even if DHA got beyond the skin, any risk is hypothetical,” he’s quick to add.

Both he and Rigel say that compared to the well-established risks of sun exposure, topical self-tanning lotions are a safer option. Friedman agrees, and says his only concern is that some people might have an allergic reaction to DHA or other ingredients in self-tanners—a risk that comes with almost any cosmetic.

But Friedman adds one big warning: Self-tanners do not offer your skin any protection from sun damage. “Some people think these self-tanners act like sunscreen,” he says. “They don’t.” In fact, some research suggests DHA may actually increase the amount of damage your skin sustains from sun exposure.

Of course, new research could always surface new risks. And not as much is known about less-common tanning chemicals. But for now, if you’re craving a little color, self-tanning lotions with DHA seem to be your safest option.

Your browser is out of date. Please update your browser at http://update.microsoft.com