Conquering Those Growing Pains
Some good news for those plagued with pimples
For years, doctors have regularly tested the blood of patients on isotretinoin, or Accutane, the brand name of the drug, for high levels of cholesterol, triglycerides, and liver enzymes. Now one of the largest studies of the acne medication confirms that abnormal blood tests are common, but they are not usually dangerous. A study published in the August issue of the Archives of Dermatology of nearly 14,000 people between the ages of 13 and 50 found that these side effects are no cause for alarm. In the majority of people, the higher counts are mild and return to normal once the patient stops using the drug, says lead author Lee Zane, a dermatologist at the University of California San Francisco. "There are risks, but they can be managed."
Worry over the risks, specifically of severe birth defects, has plagued Accutane for years and was the impetus behind iPledge, a mandatory, national registry for those taking the drug (requiring women to be on at least two forms of birth control) that went into effect in March. Yet, despite the worry of some patients and regulators, the drug continues to work miracles for people whose acne can't be treated any other way. Isotretinoin "is undeniably the most effective therapy for acne that we have now," says Zane.
Be forewarned. Kids have a new refrain: Hey, it's "legal"!
Studies routinely show that many parents are clueless about how often their children are exposed to drugs and how often they try them. Now there's something new to add to the need-to-know list: Salvia, an herb that when smoked can produce powerful hallucinations, has become increasingly popular among teens. Although legal in most states, three have banned the leafy green, making its possession-like that of heroin or cocaine-a felony. At least seven other states are trying to outlaw it, while others are calling for a federal ban.
Salvia comes in liquid and powder form and is usually smoked. It costs anywhere from $20 to $60 a gram, depending on potency, and is easy to buy, especially on the Internet, where it is marketed as a "legal high."(A salvia high has been described by users as a 20-minute acid trip.) But lately, it has been finding an audience among teenagers looking for a legal alternative to marijuana and LSD. "Five years ago, maybe 3 percent of kids you asked about salvia would know what it is," says John Lieberman, director of operations for Visions Adolescent Treatment Centers in Southern California. "Now it's more like 50 percent." Lieberman notes that the "legal" moniker makes kids think the herb is harmless, but the same argument was made years ago about ecstasy. "Now we know it's one of the most brain-damaging drugs out there," he says.
New science shows teen drinking threatens brain development
Now there's a new worry about underage drinking. Emerging research suggests that alcohol harms teen brains more than previously thought. In fact, it could make teens more prone to alcoholism. A recent report in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine surveyed more than 43,000 adults and found that 47 percent of those who began drinking before age 14 had alcohol problems later in life, compared with just 9 percent of those who started drinking at age 21. "The younger they are when they begin to drink, the more likely they are to develop heavy drinking problems," says lead author Ralph Hingson, director of epidemiology and prevention at the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. The correlation held even when the researchers accounted for family history of alcoholism and other common risk factors. "The fear and the hypothesis are that alcohol may affect the way in which the brain matures," says David Rosenbloom, director of the Youth Alcohol Prevention Center at Boston University. Those changes,he says, could hardwire the brain toward alcholism later in life. The new findings and previous rodent studies showing more damage from alcohol in the brains of adolescent rats suggest that early alcohol consumption could have severe and long-lasting neurological consequences. Whether that can be proved is "the million-dollar question," says Hingson.