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 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 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 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.

TIME Research

Do LSD and Magic Mushrooms Have a Place In Medicine?

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Getty Images

Experts say it's hard to do research on the drugs under their current status

LSD and magic mushrooms are illegal for recreational use, but some medical experts see major benefits from the drugs. In a commentary published in the journal The BMJ on Tuesday, a London-based psychiatrist argues in favor of legally reclassifying the drugs so that they can more easily be used in medical research.

In his paper, James Rucker, a psychiatrist and honorary lecturer at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s College London, argues that psychedelic drugs like LSD are less harmful and addictive than other controlled drugs like cocaine or heroin. But strict restrictions on the drugs make it difficult to conduct medical trials, he says.

Rucker writes that psychedelic drugs were frequently used in clinical research until they became classified as schedule 1 drugs—considered the most dangerous, and which aren’t used medically—in the UK in the late 1960s. “Hundreds of papers, involving tens of thousands of patients, presented evidence for their use as psychotherapeutic catalysts of mentally beneficial change in many psychiatric disorders, problems of personality development, recidivistic behavior, and existential anxiety,” Rucker writes.

It’s now challenging for researchers to conduct research on the drugs, largely due to stigma, cost and reluctance of funders to back such research. “These restrictions, and the accompanying bureaucracy, mean that the cost of clinical research using psychedelics is 5-10 times that of research into less restricted (but more harmful) drugs such as heroin—with no prospect that the benefits can be translated into wider medical practice,” argues Rucker.

Though Rucker is based in the UK, the United States has similar restrictions. According to the Atlantic, the world of research has in recent years seen a revival of interest in studying these drugs, but there’s currently no legislation to reclassify LSD and psilocybin, the main ingredient in magic mushrooms, for medical purposes.

Rucker says that in controlled settings like research laboratories, there’s little evidence to suggest that these can be harmful. But such drugs can be abused, and there’s some evidence to suggest that they can lead to health consequences that range from increased heart rate and nausea to memory loss among people who have abused the drugs for a long time.

“Importantly, and unlike most other drugs, the effects of hallucinogens are highly variable and unreliable, producing different effects in different people at different times,” the National Institutes of Health writes on its website. “Because of their unpredictable nature, the use of hallucinogens can be particularly dangerous.”

More research is needed to determine the safety and medical potential of psychedelic drugs —but in the UK, only four hospitals hold the expensive license necessary to conduct research on schedule 1 drugs, Rucker says.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Here’s Why Living on a Noisy Street Could Make You Fatter

man driving a car, eating a burger
Getty Images

Living next to a busy thoroughfare may affect more than just your mental well-being

The overwhelming hum from nearby traffic is often annoying, but it could also be making individuals more obese, according to new research from Sweden.

In an article featured in the Occupational and Environmental Medicine journal this week, researchers said they found that residents of Stockholm exposed regularly to noise from trains, aircraft or road traffic, all experienced growth in their respective waistlines.

For individuals that were unlucky enough to have been consistently exposed to all three categories, “the risk of a larger waist doubled from the 25% heightened risk among people exposed to only one noise source,” reports the Guardian.

The research team was unable to draw a conclusive link between noise pollution and obesity, but suggested that the increase of stress caused by audible irritants may be a possible culprit.

“Traffic noise may influence metabolic and cardiovascular functions through sleep disturbances and chronic stress,” said Andrei Pyko, lead author of the study at Sweden’s Karolinska Institutet, according to the Australian Associated Press.

And when a person’s sleep patterns are disturbed, it can easily affect “immune functions, influence the central control of appetite and energy expenditure as well as increase circulating levels of the stress hormone cortisol.”

[Guardian]

TIME Research

Living at High Altitudes May Increase SIDS Risk, Study Says

A new study looks at how residential altitude affects newborns

A new study suggests babies that live at high altitudes may be at a greater risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) compared to infants living at lower altitudes.

Each year, around 3,500 infants under age one die unexpectedly in the United States. Still, public health experts remain uncertain for why SIDS occurs.

In a new study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics, researchers sought to determine whether altitude might play a role in SIDS risk. The researchers looked at residential altitude of over 393,000 Colorado infants, as well as their birth and death certificate data between 2007 and 2012.

After accouting for a variety of complicating factors, the researchers found that babies that lived above 8,000 feet had slightly over double the risk of experiencing SIDS compared to infants that lived under 6,000 feet.

The study did not determine why higher altitudes might increase the risk, but others have suggested that hypoxia, not having enough oxygen, may play a role in SIDS. Researchers suggest the findings should be kept in mind when coaching new parents.

TIME Research

Babies Who Are Breast-Fed Are Better Protected Against Pollution, Study Finds

Human milk counters impact of airborne pollutants

In a newborn infant’s initial four months, exposure to pollutants like nitrogen dioxide and airborne particles can cause negative effects on motor and mental development, but a new study reported on in Science Daily says those effects are countered in babies who are breast-fed by their mothers.

Researchers in Spain began monitoring rural, pregnant women in 2006 and analyzed samples from 638 women and their infants at 15 months. They discovered that babies who are breast-fed did not suffer from the potentially harmful developmental impact of PM2.5 (pollution particle matter) and NO2 (nitrogen dioxide).

Read more at Science Daily.

TIME Research

The Scientific Reason Why Airplane Food Tastes Bad

It has to do with the dry cabin air

Why does airline food taste so lousy? A new study from Cornell University has come up with an answer, and it ain’t bad cookin’.

Turns out, the noisy environment inside a claustrophobic airplane cabin may actually change the way food tastes.

In the study, 48 people were handed a variety of solutions that were spiked with the five basic tastes: sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami (basically, a Japanese word for the savory flavor found in foods like bacon, tomatoes, cheese, and soy sauce). First, the testers sipped in silence, then again, while wearing headsets that played about 85 decibels of noise, designed to mimic the hum of jet engines onboard a plane.

What the researchers found: While there wasn’t that much of a change in how the salty, sour, and bitter stuff tasted, the noisy surroundings dulled the sweet taste, while intensifying the savory one—which might explain why a meal eaten on a plane will usually seem a little, well, off.

“Our study confirmed that in an environment of loud noise, our sense of taste is compromised. Interestingly, this was specific to sweet and umami tastes, with sweet taste inhibited and umami taste significantly enhanced,” said Robin Dando, assistant professor of food science. “The multisensory properties of the environment where we consume our food can alter our perception of the foods we eat.”

This isn’t the first time airlines have tried to figure out the reason behind funky in-flight food. The Fraunhofer Institute, a research institute based in Germany, did a study on why a dish that would taste just fine on the ground would taste, “so dull in the air,” as Grant Mickles, the executive chef for culinary development of Lufthansa’s LSG Ski Chefs, put it to Conde Nast Traveler.

German researchers tried taste tests at both sea level and in a pressurized condition. The tests revealed that the cabin atmosphere—pressurized at 8,000 feet—combined with cool, dry cabin air numbed the taste buds (kind of like when you’ve got a bad cold). In fact, the perception of saltiness and sweetness dropped by around 30% at high altitude. Multiplying the misery: The stagnant cabin dries out the mucus membranes in the nose, thus dulling the olfactory sensors that affect taste. All of which adds up to a less-than-fine dining experience.

The good news: This research may help airlines find a way to make in-the-air meals more palatable. (That is, for flights and airlines that still offer any food at all!)

The key, according to Mickles, may be using ingredients or foods that contain a lot of umami to enhance the other flavors. He may be on to something: The folks at the Lufthansa have found that passengers guzzle as much tomato juice as beer (to the tune of about 425,000 gallons a year). Turns out, cabin pressure brings out the savory taste of the red stuff.

Good to know. Now pass the earplugs—and bring on the Bloody Marys.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

More from Health.com:

TIME Research

Study Finds Possible Association Between Autism and Air Pollution

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Getty Images

Research suggests that early exposure to air pollution may have wide-ranging negative effects

A new study from the University of Pittsburgh suggests that exposure to fine particulate air pollution from pregnancy up and through the first two years of childhood may be linked with developing autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public Health conducted “a population-based, case-control study” of families living in southwestern Pennsylvania, which included children with and without ASD, reports Science Daily.

The research team was then able to estimate an individual’s exposure to specific categories of air pollution based on where their mothers lived before, during and after pregnancy.

“There is increasing and compelling evidence that points to associations between Pittsburgh’s poor air quality and health problems, especially those affecting our children and including issues such as autism spectrum disorder and asthma,” said Grant Oliphant, president of the Heinz Endowments, which funded the research project.

However, the members of the study stressed that their findings “reflect an association” but does not ultimately prove causality.

[Science Daily]

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