Pipeline Drug in the Works for Age Related Cognitive Decline

confusion

We don’t need science to tell us that we lose some of our sharpness and wit as we age. Most have experienced first hand the slow decline in cognitive faculties that occurs when one moves on from their more youthful years and into their 40’s. Scientifically speaking the decline is thought to begin around the age of 45 and one’s mental abilities peak sometime in their 20’s. The severity of one’s cognitive decline depends on the individual but the fact remains it is always there waiting and for some elderly folks it can be a real issue, even a detriment to their quality of life.

Cognitive Enhancer for the Elderly

An aspect of mental decline that can affect our daily lives with dramatic effect is known as working memory. Working memory degrades as one moves into their elderly years and is very much responsible for task related problems the elderly have. What exactly does this memory function allow for? It allows us to remember small bits of information and process these bits into a whole.

The idea behind this cognitive function is to allow a person to put the pieces of the puzzle together pertaining to actions related to daily activities. An example of how the degradation of working memory would apply to an elderly person would be to imagine them picking up their keys from the coffee table, putting said keys into their pocket, going outside and locking the door behind them, going for a walk, and then finally returning to their home. Now, let’s say that this elderly person returned to their home just fine but is now faced with a locked door of which they must unlock and perhaps they forgot where they put their keys.

Working memory is essential in this scenario because they must remember where they have placed the keys (their pocket) in order to once again enter their home. Ideally, this elderly person’s mind would have visually processed the keys entering their pocket, embedded this memory, and finally integrated this into their short task (going for a walk and returning home to a locked door). It’s situations like this that can present a real problem for elderly individuals.

Researchers are working hard to make sure that there are drug therapies available to elderly individuals facing cognitive decline such as the degradation of working memory. Recent research has shown that a certain neurotransmitter, GABA, may play a crucial role in mental decline. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter meaning that it is the calming agent of the brain. Drugs such as benzodiazepines and ethanol work to increase baseline levels of GABA (among other mechanisms of action) with the net effect being a calmer and anxiety free state of mind for the individual using these substances.

The researchers contributing to this study used rats to determine how GABA played a role in cognitive decline. They found that rats with mental decline showed highers levels of GABA as well as GABA receptors. When the researchers administered a GABA receptor antagonist (blocking effect) to the older rats with memory issues the effect was a restoration of working memory to the same level as younger rats.

The most interesting aspect of this research is the reassurance that their are reliable agents being developed for elderly people with cognitive decline. Time waits for no man and we will all enter a point in our lives where this decline will become relevant. For some individuals this will be severe and such is the need for cognitive enhancing drugs for any shot at a meaningful life during the last chapter.

Another interesting point to bring up is that there are other experimental drugs known as nootropics that manipulate GABA receptors as the drug in this research did. These drugs, nootropics as they’re often called, work to increase one’s cognitive capacity and are the essence of enhancing cognition. They are highly sought after by individuals looking for a mental edge whether it be a creative pursuit, academic, work related, or even just a test of what the mind can achieve. In addition to working on GABA these drugs manipulate acetylcholine and dopamine among other neurotransmitters and are even a testament to what current researchers are doing in the field of cognitive decline relating to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

Quit Cigarettes and Quit Feeling Down and Out

Single cigarette

If you are a smoker or you know someone who smokes then you know that many smokers claim that cigarettes calm them down, improve their mood, and generally allow them to live a more stress free life. The world renowned cancer stick is the devil like that – it firmly plants itself in the individuals brain and convinces them that they need it, that it does make them feel better. Around 42.1 million Americans smoke so there’s bound to be millions who sincerely believe that cigarettes “keep them together”. The question is whether these common anecdotes, many of which you can find online if you look hard enough, hold any sort of weight. Do the constituents of tobacco actually provide mental health benefits when smoked?

The Study Kills the Killer’s Notion

It’s 2014 and so we all know by now that smoking cigarettes is a fast track to the deterioration of an individual’s health. Cigarettes are nicknamed cancer sticks for a reason. They also lead to disease of several vital organs such as the lungs and the heart. It’s a sickening and sad reality for lifelong smokers who can’t seem to kick the habit as many will succumb to serious and fatal health conditions.

Good physical health is something that it not be be ignored and by avoiding tobacco you can save yourself from a world of hurt in your later years. However, one’s mental health must also be in check and taken into account. Ignoring your mental health would be like taking a brand new 2014 BMW M3 through a ride in hell. What good is a body in peak physical condition if a person’s mind is experiencing mental health ailments such as clinical depression, anxiety, mood swings, and so forth?



This is the part that has yet to have been fully realized and that is smoking in relation to a person’s mental health. And if a recent study published in BMJ  is anything to go by then the all too common anecdotes we hear about smoking aren’t anything to go by. Researchers found that all participants in the study, those with and without preexisting mental health issues, experienced an increase in mental health across the board.

Scores for anxiety, depression, positivity, stress and psychological quality of life were all improved upon smoking cessation. In short, they found the exact opposite of what smokers believe to be true when it comes to smoking’s impact on a person’s mental health. So, why is it that so many smokers feel the exact opposite to be true when they attempt to quit cigarettes? The short answer is withdrawal. However, there is certainly a possibility that some smokers actually do experience positive mental health benefits from cigarettes.  There is also an inexpensive way to circumvent the many negative health effects of cigarettes while still experiencing the mental health benefits.

Withdrawal – It Isn’t the Real You

While there may be some who benefit from cigarettes when it comes to their mental health there are many smokers who are unaware that what happens to your mind immediately after quitting isn’t revealing the real you. If you have ever tried to quit smoking cigarettes and found that you were incredibly depressed, anxious, lethargic, unmotivated, unfocused, and so on, you should know that these are symptoms of withdrawal. Yes, much like any other addictive substance on the planet such as heroin or benzodiazepines there are withdrawal symptoms from discontinuing nicotine, the main psychoactive substance found in cigarettes.

Withdrawal happens because your brain gets used to being supplied with nicotine from cigarettes many times a day every day and it doesn’t quite know what to do with itself after it is deprived of nicotine. The constant nicotine supply causes changes in the brain and when you cut it out of the picture it needs to return to how things were before you ever introduced nicotine, something called homeostasis. For the most part when you are reaching for that next cigarette in order to lighten the mood you are actually relieving yourself of withdrawal symptoms. You don’t know what to do with yourself until you get your next fix.

The good news is that nicotine withdrawal symptoms usually peak between 2-3 days. The bad news is that nicotine withdrawal can be rather intense and because of all of the other chemicals and substances in modern tobacco cigarettes (some of which act as MAOI’s) the withdrawal from quitting smoking is actually more unpleasant than that from nicotine alone. One can expect to feel really out of it and generally “off” (sometimes even to the point of derealization). Some other withdrawal symptoms from smoking cessation that are documented in studies and through anecdotal data include:

  • Loss of concentration
  • Loss of focus
  • Loss of motivation
  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Spasms and twitches
  • Increased hunger
  • Cravings
  • Fatigue
  • Depersonalization and derealization
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches

The list is extensive and you’ll find that smokers report even more symptoms than this when quitting cigarettes. For some these symptoms can persist past the acute stage of withdrawal. Most will find that within a week or two most of these symptoms will have been abated aside from cravings which can persist for a very long time. If the recent study is anything to go by then you might even start feeling better mentally compared to how you felt while smoking once the withdrawal symptoms have passed.

It’s Been Months and I Still Feel Crappy after Quitting – A Case of Post Acute Withdrawal

Post acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) in relation to quitting smoking is a controversial topic. Post acute withdrawal is most often related to traditional addictive narcotics like opiates, benzodiazepines, alcohol, and amphetamine. There aren’t really any studies documenting cases of PAWS when it comes to individuals ceasing to use cigarettes but you will find anecdotes online of users talking about how they just don’t feel right for some time after quitting tobacco.



You may be suffering from post acute withdrawal if you are still experiencing symptoms after a week. Nicotine withdrawal typically peaks within 2-3 days (acute withdrawal) and then begins to taper off. Nonetheless individuals have discussed experiencing symptoms long after this initial acute withdrawal period. Again, it’s not documented in studies but it also isn’t unheard of and in fact could be quite common considering all ex-smokers don’t take to the internet to discuss their experience with quitting.

The symptoms of post acute withdrawal for nicotine are much like those of acute withdrawal. The most common withdrawal symptoms that people experience past the acute stage are diminished focus and concentration, fatigue, loss of motivation, and depression. Remember, the post acute withdrawal phase is a much less intense version of the acute phase and you won’t experience the overwhelming depersonalization, derealization, and feeling really off kilter that you experience after initially stopping smoking.

The most important thing to remember is that the occurrence of PAWS is not nearly as common as the initial withdrawal phase. If you do think you are experiencing a prolonged version of withdrawal you have the option of riding it out and using coping techniques as it will pass eventually or using an alternative method of consuming nicotine.

Quitting Without Withdrawal Symptoms (I Need Nicotine!)

If you are looking to bypass the withdrawal symptoms of stopping smoking or you truly feel that smoking enhances your mental well being (whether it acts as an anti-depressant or a nootropic for you) but you don’t want to smoke tobacco to get the benefits, there is a safe option. That option would be the electronic cigarette. Electronic cigarettes (e-cig) are gaining a lot of traction these days as they are rather harmless and are able to successfully satisfy the cravings for a real cigarette.

While you will still feel a little off from your transition from traditional cigarettes to e-cigs it won’t be nearly as harsh as completely ceasing tobacco use without any kind of nicotine replacement. Add that to the fact that nicotine on its own has very few adverse health effects and an electronic cigarette will both deliver you nicotine with all its benefits and satisfy your oral fixation, and you have a winner. An e-cig habit is also very cheap compared to a tobacco habit.

You’ll be able to get your nicotine fix, breathe again, not have to worry about disease and cancer, and save money. This is the perfect solution for those who don’t want to suffer the withdrawal effects of quitting smoking or truly enjoy the effects of nicotine. However, there is no reason to use an electronic cigarette if you have already quit smoking cigarettes for some time. There is one thing to be certain of and that is that quitting tobacco cigarettes is one of the best things you can do for yourself, both for your mind and body.

Cognitive Behavorial Therapy as an Alternative to Antipsychotics?

cognitive behavioral therapy

For some individuals with schizophrenia, a mental illness that affects approximately 2.1 million Americans, modern treatment options can be more troubling than the actual symptoms of the illness itself. One of the main classes of drugs used to treat schizophrenia are antipsychotics. Medications that fall under the umbrella of antipsychotics include Risperdal, Seroquel, Geodon, and Abilify among quite a few others (for a comprehensive list of start here). These medications carry nasty and sometimes very serious side effects. However, recent research suggests that for some individuals cognitive behavioral therapy could act as a replacement for such medications.

A Much Milder Option

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is aimed at correcting flawed emotions and thought patterns that a patient might have through talking to a professional such as a psychotherapist. And since one is not ingesting any foreign substance through this process there are no side effects. As a result it’s a great option for individuals with schizophrenia who are hesitant to take pills for their illness.

According to the study, published in The Lancet, it was found that after 18 months (the final assessment) 41% of the 17 who participated in cognitive behavioral therapy showed a minimum of a 50% improvement. For comparison, only 18% of the 17 who did not participate in CBT and only received normal care showed improvement.

The way the researchers measured the improvement of the patients was by using a metric known as the Positive and Negative Syndrome Scale (PANSS). It was first developed in 1987 and it is a way of measuring the severity of the symptoms of schizophrenia. Positive refers to the positive symptoms of schizophrenia which include hallucinations, delusions, and grandiosity. The negative refers to the negative symptoms which include anhedonia, social withdrawal, and emotional withdrawal.

While the study used a small sample size and a much larger size would be needed to draw definitive conclusions this is still a great finding. This isn’t to say that this is the end of the use of antipsychotics in the realm of schizophrenia treatment. This just isn’t true. There will always be those that absolutely require this type of medication for any type of stability much less remission.

For those that could take part in CBT as an alternative this is absolutely astonishing considering the side effects that antipsychotics as a class of medications bring to the table. It’s a sad reality for some that this class of medications can actually worsen some of the symptoms of schizophrenia, namely the negative symptoms.

Paving the Way for CBT

At the very least cognitive behavioral therapy certainly seems to be a very worthy adjunct treatment option for individuals with schizophrenia. CBT has a proven track record and it could very well be what people need. It’s not just a superb option for individuals suffering from schizophrenia but for those suffering from all types of mental illness. This includes (but is not limited to) anxiety disorders, major depression, drug addiction, OCD, and even ADHD.

The only drawback to CBT is the cost. Even if one has health insurance it can still be a burden. The cost is especially disheartening when you consider the fact that around 60-80% of people with mental illness are unemployed. That number is very worrisome. When one can barely afford to breath air, drink clean water, and eat food how will they be able to pay for therapy?

Nonetheless, cognitive behavioral therapy is without a doubt proven to be an effective treatment option for all types of folks. It may not work for everyone but there is a significant chance it will work for a large amount of the population.

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