Marijuana and the Brain Briefing


Med-MarThis Tuesday, May 12, join us on Capitol Hill for a public luncheon briefing about marijuana and the brain. Top experts in the
field will speak about medicinal marijuana and the drug’s effect on the brain, as well as research on the impact of state marijuana policies.

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From the Archives: The State of Pain Research

cerebrum_0612_painNearly four years ago, we ran a news story that asked, “Is the neuroscientific study of pain lagging?” From the 2011 story, by Kayt Sukel:

Earlier this year, scientists, politicians and other healthcare advocates came together to share their hopes for the next decade of neuroscience research at the One Mind for Research (OMR) Summit in Boston. At a session highlighting the neurobiological consequences of war, Clifford J. Woolf, a pain researcher at Harvard Medical School and Children’s Hospital Boston, stated, “We have made enormous progress in promoting survival…but, in fact, an area that has really lagged behind relates to the pain associated with combat injury.”

The word that many locked on to in that statement was lagged. In a variety of publications and meetings in the past few years, the idea that the study and treatment of pain, particularly chronic or neuropathic pain, is somehow behind where it should be keeps coming to the surface—and that is whether it’s pain associated with combat, cancer, or some other disease state. But with more than a dozen research journals dedicated solely to the topic of pain and thousands of new pain-related papers being published each year, does a word like lagged accurately reflect the state of its study?

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Seeing Pain

From left, Mark Frankel of AAAS, Cindy Steinberg, David Thomas, Edward Bilsky, and David Borsook.]

From left, Mark Frankel of AAAS, Cindy Steinberg, David Thomas, Edward Bilsky, and David Borsook.

Chronic pain affects more than 100 million people in the United States and is a leading cause of suicide as well as an economic drain of more than a half-trillion dollars a year, according to the Institute of Medicine. It’s also one of the “invisible” disorders, like depression, and people who have chronic pain can find themselves misunderstood, shunned, and locked out of the treatment they need. Worse, in many cases, there is no good treatment.

“We really need to accelerate research into the neuroscience and neurobiology of pain,” said activist and chronic-pain patient Cindy Steinberg during a panel discussion on the topic at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Washington, DC, on Wednesday.

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Families Welcome at AAAS Meeting in San Jose

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The annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), in San Jose’s convention center this weekend, includes one of my favorite events of the year—Family Science Days. Saturday and Sunday from 11 to 5, everyone is invited to come and learn more about science, all for free.

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The Science of Illusion

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Most talks on the brain science of illusion feature slides or recordings, but the presentation last night at AAAS in Washington, DC, offered illustrations in four dimensions—a live performance by mesmerist Alain Nu. “The Man Who Knows” treated us to a series of experiences hard to explain but easy to enjoy. I’m going to describe a bit of what happened but you may want to just jump to the event’s video below to see for yourself, for reasons I’ll get to in a minute.

For example, Nu showed us a can of soda, popping the top, pouring soda into two ice-filled glasses, crumpling the can a bit as he invited two volunteers to quaff it down. After they had, Nu’s hands danced around the can, and its bends slowly straightened—and then it was full of soda. He popped the top, and poured more soda out, to the evident enjoyment of the two volunteers, who got a second helping. How did he do it? After his set, Nu joined three scientists who told us we’d only fooled ourselves.

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