By Deborah Fields, BSc (Hons), PgDip, MCIPR
Various research teams are investigating the impact chemical substances have on human behavior and how these results can be harnessed for improved medical care.
The studies below illustrate the wide variety of research currently being carried out in study teams across the world.
Connections between psychedelic drugs and domestic violence reduction
Researchers at the University of British Colombia have determined that LSD (psilocybin or magic mushrooms) appears to exert a positive impact on the behavior of adult male inmates.
The study examined the behavior of 302 inmates over a period of six years following release from prison. It found that 42% of inmates who had not taken the psychedelic drug—versus 27% of inmates who had—were arrested for domestic violence.
Researchers believe that LSD triggers spiritual-type emotions and/or profound personal or spiritual insights. These effects often lead users to become more compassionate and kind following usage.
The scientists researching this drug also believe that these observed outcomes have the potential to shape treatment for people who are feeling marginalized and isolated. As with most psychedelic drugs, further research is needed.
Impact of cumin on memory
Scientists at the Swinburne University of Technology in Australia have identified a possible link between cumin and cognitive performance.
Observational studies have found that communities that regularly use cumin in foods (such as curries) experience a lesser incidence of dementia compared with other cultures.
Researchers in one study used this observation as an impetus to investigate the impact of the related compound curcumin on the brains of healthy 60- to 85-year-old people over a period of four weeks.
The team at the university that led this study has been researching the impact of herbs and spices on the brain for the last two decades.
The study was funded by Verdure Sciences and found that in individuals who regularly consumed curcumin, memory and attention capabilities improved. Curcumin also seemed to inspire calmness, contentedness, and improved energy levels in observed subjects.
How a lack of sleep affects cholesterol
Researchers at the University of Helsinki in Finland have been examining what cumulative sleep deprivation does to cholesterol metabolism.
It is known that sleep deprivation can have an dramatic impact on the activation of the immune system, inflammation, hormones, and carbohydrate metabolism.
These negative impacts can trigger the development of cardiovascular disease, among other health concerns.
This study monitored the impact of sleep deprivation in a laboratory-induced sleep loss experiment by observing gene expression and blood lipoprotein levels.
The scientists discovered that there were lower amounts of high-density lipoproteins (HDL), or the “good” cholesterol, in people who did not receive an adequate amount of sleep.
The study also found that genes regulating transport of lipoproteins in the body were less energetic.
How exercise and methamphetamine helps addicts
Researchers at the University of California have found that the brain seems to develop new dopamine receptors when patients undergo exercise therapy during methamphetamine addiction treatment. Developing solutions that exploit this discovery could help patients recover more easily.
Methamphetamine encourages a rise in dopamine which results in feelings of pleasure; however, this drug can also lower the levels of dopamine receptors in the brain. Recovery times from the addiction can depend on how long it takes for receptors to recover.
The scientists in this study worked with a group of 19 people. Over a period of eight weeks, ten of these people exercised three times a week for an hour and the other nine underwent health education training.
The scientists studied PET scans of the people to assess whether there were more dopamine receptors in the striation part of the brain connected to reward.
The beginning of the study saw no significant difference in the number of receptors. At the end of the study, however, participants who exercised experienced a 15% increase in receptor activity. This study shows that exercise training may be a beneficial component in addiction treatment.
Impact of psilocybin on feelings of social rejection
Some people with mental health disorders can feel the impact of social rejection more intensely than healthy individuals.
Scientists at the University of Zurich assessed the effects of psilocybin on people with mental health disorders and found that receptors of serotonin, a neurotransmitter, were triggered with psilocybin.
Researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and magnetic resonance spectroscopy to analyze the changes. There was less of an impact on the brain areas connected to social rejection and the patients ended up feeling less excluded.
Reviewed by Brandon May
Last Updated: Jul 21, 2016