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Metro Science: Zapping addiction, the fate of sugar maples, and one giant molecule

If you've hit a roadblock in your New Year's Resolutions, science has a new experiment for treating addiction.

Scientists are looking at addiction works in your brain and what can be done to change that.

Dreamstime

Scientists are looking at addiction works in your brain and what can be done to change that.

DECODED: Zapping addiction

Anyone who has struggled with drugs or alcohol, or watched a loved one do so, knows how devastating it is when someone honestly wants to get clean, but can't seem to physically stop themselves. Things are misfiring in the brains of people with addictions, and new research is shedding light on what it is — and what might fix it.

There's a pathway in the brain, nicknamed the "cold circuit," that is sluggish and under-active in people with addictions. It involves the dorsolateral pre-frontal cortex and parts of the midbrain that control executive function. They help you exercise self-control and make rational decisions, even ones that go against your desires in the moment.

Meanwhile, in some people with addictions, the "hot circuit," which controls rewards, pleasure and cravings, seems overactive. This includes the ventromedial pre-frontal cortex and different parts of the midbrain. They light up when a hungry, healthy person sees a picture of pizza. And they go nuts when a person with an addiction sees a crack pipe, a bottle or a needle.

Is there a way to cool down the hot circuit and kick-start the cold one?

Maybe. Enter: Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS).

A magnetic coil is placed on a patient’s head, directing painless pulses of electricity through the brain.

Certain frequencies and patterns of stimulation with TMS seems to make brain cells wake up and fire more of these electrical signals, while others do the opposite.

No one knows exactly how this works or whether it could benefit people with addictions. But a pilot study at the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse has shown promise in people with addiction to cocaine.

SCIENCE STORY: Waffles with a side of tears

Sugar maples are in danger because of climate change, a new U of Michigan study says.

Arpad Benedek

Sugar maples are in danger because of climate change, a new U of Michigan study says.

Sugar maples around the Great Lakes are threatened by climate change. A 20-year study of four Michigan forests found warmer temperatures and a drying climate are threatening this drought-sensitive species. Scientists once thought a concurrent increase in nitrogen pollution (normally not good) might help offset the effects. But it won't be enough, the study says.

SCIENCE STORY: Raw food is bad for dogs

An Utrecht University study has found listeria, parasites and E.coli (in 80 per cent of samples!) lurking in commercial raw-meat pet foods.

SOUND SMART: Your science vocabulary word for the week is Macromolecule

Macromolecule — use it in a sentence and impress your peers.

Andres Plana

Macromolecule — use it in a sentence and impress your peers.

A macromolecule is a huge molecule, often made up of a thousand atoms or more. It can be natural, like DNA, or human-made, like the polymers found in plastics.

USE IT IN A SENTENCE: All the plastics we’re dumping into the ocean are turning it into a toxic macromolecule soup.

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