Thursday, May 31, 2012

Cannabis, teenagers and schizophrenia

cannabis-stash

Cannabis or marijuana use by teenagers and adolescents is highly associated with the onset of psychosis and schizophrenia. Cannabis goes by many names including hash, pot, grass, weed, or ganja. This gateway drug is falsely thought to be innocuous and as having no lasting effects. Cannabis use by teenagers is often not recognised as a problem. Cannabis is cheap and easily accessible in most student populations. Pune is a major hub for the cannabis drug trade. This week a quarter tonnne of ganja was found dumped in a well. Cannabis use is rampant in Pune colleges and hostels, where students assiduosly guard and maintain their 'stash'. During the 57th National School Games the highest number of students testing positive for marijuana came from Maharashtra.

Regular cannabis use increases the risk for schizophrenia and psychosis by upto 4 times. There is increasing evidence that cannabis use can precipitate schizophrenia in vulnerable individuals. This is especially so with early onset use of cannabis. Cannabis also exacerbates symptoms of schizophrenia in those who have already developed the disorder. Psychotic disorders like schizophrenia involve disturbances in the dopamine neurotransmitter systems of the brain. Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) - the key neurochemical in cannabis - interacts with dopamine to adversely affect its functioning by multiple mechanisms.

Teenagers are especially vulnnerable to the schizophrenia-inducing effects of cannabis. Cannabis like substances (anandamide) called endocannabinoids, produced by the body, play an important role in several processes of brain maturation. Regular marijuana use affects this process of brain maturation in teenagers. Schizophrenia is also a disorder of brain maturation. Disruption of the endocannabinoid system in the adolescent brain by exposure to cannabis interferes with brain maturation. This provides a mechanism to increase the risk for development of schizophrenia in adolescence.

How to cut down and stop cannabis use

  1. Write down a list of reasons for wanting to stop - you will need to review this at times when you are feeling low or experiencing craving.
  2. Tell someone you trust that you are quitting
  3. Get rid of the paraphernelia for smoking cannabis - the stash, wrappers, lighters, matches. You may be surprised at the number of places where small amounts are hidden. Get rid of it all.
  4. Take measures to prevent fresh procurements - avoid places and people associated with replenishments
  5. Make a list of things to do to occupy the time freed-up from procuring and using cannabis.
  6. Review your list of reasons and things to do when you feel low and when craving is intense.
References
  1. Paola Casadioa, Cathy Fernandesb, Robin M. Murray, Marta Di Forti. Cannabis use in young people: The risk for schizophrenia.  Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews. Volume 35, Issue 8, August 2011, Pages 1779–1787. doi:10.1016/j.neubiorev.2011.04.007
  2. Degenhardt L, Hall W. Is cannabis use a contributory cause of psychosis? Can J Psychiatry. Aug 2006;51(9):556-65.
  3. Deepak Cyril D’Souza,Richard Andrew Sewell,and Mohini Ranganathan. Cannabis and psychosis/schizophrenia: human studies. Eur Arch Psychiatry Clin Neurosci. 2009 October; 259(7): 413–431. Published online 2009 July 16. doi: 10.1007/s00406-009-0024-2

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Alcohol and Happiness - do they mix?

Alcohol and happiness don't mix - definitely not when taken in excess, and definitely not in the long term. The relationship between adverse alcohol use and unhappiness is reciprocal - unhappy people tend to drink hazardously, and vice versa. This effect increases over time as demonstrated by a 15-year study that followed-up adult twins in 1975, 1981, and 1990.

alcohol blackouts unhappiness
Passing out while drinking is significantly more likely in dissatisfied people

Blackouts or passing out while consuming alcohol is an indication of unhappiness.


binge drinking unhappiness
Dissatisfied people are more likely to have a pattern of binge drinking.

Binge drinkers are more likely to be dissatisfied with life. A pattern of binge drinking on weekends negates any beneficial effects of moderate alcohol use.


alcohol excess unhappiness
Excessive alcohol use increases overr time especially in dissatisfied people

Excessive alcohol use increases dissatisfaction and unhappiness. Alcohol, even in moderation does not reinforce feelings of well being, pleasure, happiness or joy. Moderate drinking does not reduce unpleasant feelings.
Don't drink alcohol to regulate your mood, it leads to more grief.
References
  1. H. Koivumaa-Honkanen; J. Kaprio; T. Korhonen;, R.J. Honkanen; K. Heikkilä; M. Koskenvuo. Self-reported Life Satisfaction and Alcohol Use: A 15-year Follow-up of Healthy Adult Twins. Alcohol and Alcoholism. 2012;47(2):160-168.
  2. R. Curtis Ellison, Marjana Martinic. The Harms and Benefits of Moderate Drinking: Findings of an International Symposium. May 2007 supplement to Annals of Epidemiology.
  3. Gustafson R. Does a moderate dose of alcohol reinforce feelings of pleasure, well-being, happiness and joy? A brief communication. Psychol Rep. 1991 Aug;69(1):220-2.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Aggression in children - need for parental intervention

aggression-prevalence
Aggression is uncommon in school children and should be addressed

A Pune teenager was kidnapped and murdered by his school friends a few weeks ago. The victim was deliberately selected and his parents were manipulated for a ransom. Violence, theft and destructiveness are end stage behaviours of conduct problems in children and adolescents.


Trajectories of aggression in children

The commonest path of violence in children is 'adolescence-limited'. The antisocial behaviours usually occur when the adolescents are 'hanging out' in a group.  This type of aggression reflects an anti-authoritarianism. Anti-authoritarianism results from frustration over being denied the benefits of full adult independence despite reaching physical maturity. Adolescent limited aggression is less violent, relies on peer encouragement, and generally diminishes by adulthood  These adolescents are usually able to integrate into society as young adults.

A less common path of violence is 'life-course-persistent'. In this group of antisocial children, problem behaviors unfold in a sequence at home and school
  1. Early noncompliance - with excessive arguing and disobedience
  2. Poor rule adherence - staying out late, playing in prohibited locations
  3. Low frustration tolerance - temper tantrums, abusiveness, aggression
Aggression is common among preschoolers. The prevalence rate of aggression in children reduces dramatically once they enter school. Children whose fighting does not  reduce in the early school years are at high risk for persistent violent behavior. This important subgroup of proactively aggressive youth is profoundly indifferent to the consequences that their misbehavior has upon others. They rarely display genuine remorse. Their personality of 'callous-unemotional traits' is characterised by a lack of empathy, self-centeredness, and shallowness. As youths they are responsible for a large number of violent offenses. Their aggressive behavior is often persistent as features of psychopathic or sociopathic personality.

Parenting can prevent violence

  1. Make aggression irrelevant by modifying the setting
  2. Aggression is significantly affected by the parent-child relationship. Children with conduct problems tend to have acrimonious and negative interactions with their parents. The parent is perceived as just an agent of coercion. It is important to change this environment. Positive interactions between the parent and child serves to reinforce the perception of the parent as a source of positive attention, affection, support and encouragement. This makes the child responsive to parents' authority and to the rewards and punsihment that  the parent dispenses.
  3. Make aggression ineffective by modifying its consequences
  4. The reactions of others to the aggressive behavior sustains and reinforces it. They may give in to what the child wants, give up trying to get compliance, or even bar the child from school -  which may be exactly what the child wants. To render the aggression ineffective parents/ teachers have to respond by ignoring milder misbehaviour and handing out consequences. These include time outs, loss of privileges (TV, cell phone, Facebook) that the child will want to avoid, and limit setting (curfew times, restricting location).
    Parents need to establish  their authority and implement some of these measures in aggressive children. This teaches children that aggression is an ineffective means of fulfilling a particular wish. These lessons are better learned early under caring parents rather than later in a centre for juvenile delinquents.
References
Brennan LM. Toddler-age externalizing behaviors and school-age academic achievement: independent associations and the impact of parental involvement University of Pittsburgh. Thesis presented 27-Aug-2010.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Healthy Baby Contests - judging psychological development objectively

health-baby-contest

Psychological development is a key aspect of any ‘Healthy Baby Contest”. Pathfinder Clinic judged the psychological development of toddlers participating in one such local event. Healthy baby contests are among the most attractive activities organized by many preschools and communities. Assessment is a sensitive issue at any Healthy Baby competition. Parents of contestants are concerned regarding partiality and subjective errors. Judging a Healthy Baby Contest objectively is crucial to the credibility of the event.

Can psychological development be objectively assessed in 5 minutes?
Psychological assessment can be time consuming and difficult to operationalize. The child’s development is captured in speech, social interaction, and manipulation of every- day objects. Usually a child’s developmental milestones are judged ‘objectively’ based on the parents responses to available screening questionnaires.

We decided to get our knees dirty and go down to toddler level to get a direct assessment of where they were at. The caveat, the organisers wanted us out of the way in two hours. We judged 39 toddlers aged 2 to 4.5yr. We took three hours; less than 5 minutes per child on an average.

Method

The atmosphere around the play rooms was intense -  mainly contributed by parental anxiety. Pre-school coordinators ensured each child walked into the room with their parents. Despite some adult anxieties each family was safely seated at toddler level. Every child was greeted and asked their name. They were then asked to point to and name parts of the body and animal figures;  draw age-appropriate figures; manipulate wooden blocks or coloured beads; and catch a large ball.

Children were assessed on these categories
  1. Speech and language
  2. Social function
  3. Fine motor function
  4. Gross motor function
  5. Cognitive function
The scores were entered into a proforma and results tabulated

Are healthy baby contests a waste of time?

Of course things didn’t always go smoothly, but under all the levity some serious assessment work was done. We learnt from the kids. Fans and lights are passe as objects to point out - a laptop will always bring out a prompt pointing index finger. The advantages are apparent
  • With a reliable scoring system, the results are easy and quick to interpret and more acceptable.
  • The results can be explained scientifically
  • The protocol can serve as a guideline for educating caregivers and teachers regarding simple criteria for monitoring the child’s health status. These also serve as a checklist for their activities.
  • Screening of at risk children - one child screened positive for autism (prevalence rate in the literature is 1 in 110). The parents were advised the need for follow-up.
  • Data obtained is used to establish local norms for child development

Healthy Baby Contests can have a positive impact on the community when conducted scientifically. Psychological development of infants and toddlers can be effectively judged through direct observation in a short time-frame.

References
  1. Bhat G, Pardeshi S, Kakrani V, Pratinidhi A. Making healthy baby contests more objective. Indian J Med Sci [serial online] 2001 [cited 2012 Mar 23];55:553-8. Available from: http://www.indianjmedsci.org/text.asp?2001/55/10/553/12035
  2. M.L. Kulkarni, G.L. Mohan. Healthy Baby Contests-Beyond show, Beyond Objectivity Towards Health Education Indian Pediatrics 1999; 36:417-418 http://www.indianpediatrics.net/apr1999/apr-417-418.htm

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Bipolar disorder and hypomania - irritability and depression

hypomania-irritability-depression

Chronic unstable mood with irritability and superimposed bouts of depression is a common form of bipolar II disorder or hypomania. Persons with this pattern of illness tend to have an unstable course and stormy interpersonal relationships. They also have more irritable and hostile hypomanic episodes. The classical Bipolar II disorder or hypomania of mild elevation of mood, sharpened and positive thinking, and increased energy and activity levels is less disruptive.

Persons with this irritable type of hypomania and bipolar illness have unrealistically high expectactions of those with whom they interact; whether at the workplace, at home, or other casual day-to-day interactions. When these expectations are not met they pass on their irritation and negative mood to unsuspecting others.

There is usually a grain of truth in their version of the incident, but the growing number of incidents with various people at all levels reduces their credibility. At the workplace they are frequently in search of a new job and personally they have problems sustaining meaningful relationships.

Anger management alone is usually not effective. It needs to be combined with specific treatment for the bipolar illness. At the clinic couples and individuals come in for anger and interpersonal issues that are not resolved with counselling.

"I never realised how much my moods controlled my actions"

Treatment for bipolar disorder including hypomania hinges on medication and psychotherapy. Treatment requires patience by all parties in the therapy. Relapses are frequent when medication is stopped.
"I can see the difference when he stops his medication;
help me get him back, doctor"
It takes time for the affected person to accept he or she has hypomania or bipolar illness. The degree of realisation fluctuates during the course of therapy. Regular psychiatric review is essential to prevent relapse in bipolar illness and hypomania