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Drug War Briefs: Illegal Cures

This week, US prisoners are increasingly being required to pay for their imprisonment; psychedelic drugs are again gaining credence as therapeutic agents; and marijuana's chemical components are shown to battle brain tumors.
 
 
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August 13- The New York Times reports: Crime doesn't pay, but criminals just might.

That is what more and more local governments are hoping, as they grapple with soaring prison populations and budget pressures.

To help cover the costs of incarceration, corrections officers and politicians are more frequently billing inmates for their room and board, an idea popular with voters.

Here in suburban Macomb County, 25 miles north of Detroit, Sheriff Mark Hackel has one of the most successful of these programs in the nation. Last year, the sheriff's department collected nearly $1.5 million in what are being called "pay to stay" fees from many of the 22,000 people who spent time in the county jail.

Inmates are billed for room and board on a sliding scale of $8 to $56 a day, depending on ability to pay. When they are released, the sheriff's office will go to court to collect the unpaid bills, seizing cars or putting some inmates back in jail. The wife of one inmate, a Chrysler truck factory worker who is serving half a year for drunk driving, dropped off a check for $7,212 this week to cover part of his bill, the largest single amount ever collected by the sheriff.

Though the idea is not new – in fact years ago federal prisons adopted a similar policy that has fallen into disuse – the squeeze on local budgets in recent years has propelled more local officials to assess incarceration fees. In all, more than half of states collect some sort of fees in their prisons, according to the American Correctional Association.

But the fees raise thorny ethical and constitutional issues, say advocates of prisoner rights and some other corrections experts. The costs place an unfair burden on a population that is almost by definition impoverished, making it harder for inmates to get back on their feet after release, some groups argue. Others contend that the fees deprive inmates of due process or constitute cruel and unusual punishment. In a few cases, courts have sided with the inmates on specific issues.

August 15- BBC News reports: Could illegal hallucinogenic drugs like LSD and psilocybin ever become credible prescription medicines?

It might sound far-fetched, but just a decade ago it seemed unlikely that the prohibited and mildly hallucinogenic drug cannabis would become a mainstream pain-killing medicine.

But it is happening: Cannabis pain-killing pills and sprays are being developed to help people with multiple sclerosis, cancer and Aids.

Now some scientists and psychotherapists think more powerful psychoactive drugs like psilocybin, found in 'magic mushrooms,' could have a future as medicinal agents for a number of conditions.

In the US, the Food and Drug Administration ( FDA ) has approved, but not funded, a pilot study aiming to see if the euphoria and insight of a mild psychedelic 'trip' can ease the physical and emotional pain experienced by thousands of terminal cancer patients each year.

Charles Grob, Professor of Psychiatry and Paediatrics at the Harbor-UCLA Medical Centre, California, and lead scientist on the cancer-psilocybin trial, said: "There is great potential.

"A significant patient population may gain benefits from these treatments."

Professor Grob will be one of the first scientists in 25 years to administer psilocybin to a person in a therapeutic setting.

He wants to see if people's lives can be improved if psychoactive drugs are used under carefully controlled conditions.

August 15- Scotland on Sunday reports: Cannabis is set to be used in the battle against deadly brain cancers that affect around 4,000 people in the UK each year, it has emerged.

Scientists have shown that cannabinoids – the active ingredients responsible for the drug's 'high' – hold back the growth of blood vessels which feed tumors.

Tumors of the brain and the central nervous system kill about 340 Scots each year, and many more undergo extensive surgery in a bid to save their lives.

The cannabis findings hold out hope for brain tumor sufferers that they could live longer and be treated using less invasive techniques. The new research, which was conducted by scientists at Complutense University in Madrid, saw cannabinoids injected into mice with gliomas, which are fast-growing brain tumors.

The cannabinoids appear to block genes making a protein called VEGF ( vascular endothelial growth factor ) that stimulates the sprouting of blood vessels. Cutting off the blood supply to a tumor makes it unable to grow and spread.

In studies, cannabinoids significantly reduced the activity of VEGF in laboratory mice. They also lowered VEGF levels in tumor tissue samples taken from two patients with glioblastoma multiforme, the most lethal type of brain tumor.

About 4,400 new cases of brain tumor are diagnosed in the UK each year. A small percentage of these are grade four gliomas, the most aggressive and dangerous brain tumors.

Send tips and comments to Kevin Nelson .