Study: Cannabis Component May Treat Psychosis

An ingredient in cannabis called cannabidiol or CBD has shown promise in a clinical trial as a potential new treatment for psychosis, scientists said Friday.

In research involving 88 people with psychosis, a mental disorder characterized by anxiety, paranoia and hallucinations, the scientists found patients treated with CBD had lower levels of psychotic symptoms than those who received a placebo.

They were also more likely to be rated as improved by their psychiatrist, the study found, and there were signs of better cognitive performance and functioning.

The main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. It can induce paranoia and anxiety and other unpleasant psychotic symptoms.

Two ingredients, two effects

But its second major constituent, CBD, has the opposite effects to THC, leading scientists to think it might one day be useful as a treatment in mental health.

Scientists at King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience conducted a placebo-controlled trial of CBD in patients with psychosis and published their findings in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

Small trial

In the trial, 88 patients with psychosis received either CBD or placebo for six weeks, alongside their existing antipsychotic medication. Beforehand and afterwards, the scientists assessed symptoms, functioning and cognitive performance, and the patients’ psychiatrists rated their overall condition overall.

“The study indicated that CBD may be effective in psychosis: patients treated with CBD showed a significant reduction in symptoms, and their treating psychiatrists rated them as having improved overall,” said Philip McGuire, who co-led the trial.

He noted that trial patients also reported few adverse side effects, and added: “Although it is still unclear exactly how CBD works, it acts in a different way to antipsychotic medication, and … could represent a new class of treatment.”


Scientists Working on Writing Five-day Forecast for Solar Storms

Charged particles from the sun are responsible for the brilliant auroras at the earth’s poles. But there can be cases of too much of a good thing. When huge solar storms push massive waves of energized particles into Earth’s path, they can wreak havoc on our satellites and electric grid. That is why researchers are trying to figure out what causes solar storms. VOA’s Kevin Enochs reports.


Space Capsule With 3 Astronauts Returns to Earth

Three astronauts returned to Earth on Thursday after nearly six months aboard the International Space Station, landing on the snow-covered steppes outside of a remote town in Kazakhstan.


A Russian Soyuz capsule with NASA’s Randy Bresnik, Russia’s Sergey Ryazanskiy and Paolo Nespoli of the European Space Agency descended under a red-and-white parachute and landed on schedule at 2:37 p.m. local time (0837 GMT; 3:37 a.m. EST).


The three were pulled out of the capsule within 20 minutes and appeared to be in good condition.


Bresnik, Ryazansky and Nespoli spent 139 days aboard the orbiting space laboratory. The trio who arrived at the station in July contributed to hundreds of scientific experiments and performed several spacewalks.


They left behind Alexander Misurkin, commander of the crew, and two Americans, Joe Acaba and Mark Vande Hei.

During their stay at the station, the crew had a phone call with Pope Francis who talked with them about Dante’s verses and Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s “The Little Prince.”


Bresnik, a U.S. Marine who flew combat missions during the Iraq war, told the pope what strikes him is that in space there are “no borders, there is no conflict, it’s just peaceful.”


Kentucky-born Bresnik also celebrated Thanksgiving in space, feasting on pouches of turkey with his colleagues.

The space station will go back to a six-member crew when NASA’s Scott Tingle, Russia’s Anton Shkaplerov and Japan’s Norishige Kanai take off from Kazakhstan on Sunday.



Study: Drought Caused California Mountains to Rise

A study of California’s Sierra Nevada during the state’s extreme drought has led NASA scientists to new conclusions about how our planet stores water.

The study by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, found that the mountain range rose nearly 2.5 centimeters in height from October 2011 to October 2015, when the state experienced its most extended drought.

In the following two years, with abundant snow and rain, the range lost about half, or 1.3 centimeters, of its new height.

“This suggests that the solid Earth has a greater capacity to store water than previously thought,” study leader Donald Argus said in a statement released Wednesday.

“One of the major unknowns in mountain hydrology is what happens below the soil. How much snowmelt percolates through fractured rock straight downward into the core of the mountain?” said Jay Famiglietti, a Jet Propulsion Lab scientist who participated in the research. “This is one of the key topics that we addressed in our study.”

The scientists reasoned that the Earth’s surface sinks when it is weighed down with water and rebounds when the water evaporates or is otherwise lost.

The study used data from 1,300 Global Positioning System stations in the mountains of California, Oregon and Washington that were placed for measurement of subtle tectonic motion in active faults and volcanoes and can detect elevation changes of less than 0.3 centimeter.

The scientists determined that the water lost in the four-year drought was about 45 times the amount that Los Angeles uses in a year.

The study also took into account other reasons for the change in height of the mountain range that runs 644 kilometers along California’s border with Nevada, including tectonic uplift or the extensive pumping of groundwater during the drought.


British Baby With Heart Outside Body Survives 3 Surgeries

English hospital officials said Wednesday that a baby born with her heart outside her body had survived three surgeries to mend her condition. 

Glenfield Hospital in Leicester said Vanellope Hope Wilkins was born in late November with her heart growing on the outside of her body. The unusual condition is called ectopia cordis.

She underwent the first surgery to put her heart back inside her body within in an hour of her birth. 

Dr. Nick Moore said the baby was in the hospital’s pediatric intensive care unit.

Only eight babies in 1 million are born with ectopia cordis. The vast majority are stillborn or die within three days.

Cardiologists said they didn’t know of another case in Britain in which a baby had survived this condition. Several babies have survived the surgery in the United States, including Audrina Cardenas, who was born in Texas in 2012. 

The English baby’s parents, Naomi Findlay and Dean Wilkins, told BBC news that they named their daughter after a character in the Disney movie Wreck-It Ralph.

“Vanellope in the film is a real fighter and at the end turns into a princess, so we thought it was fitting,” Findlay said. 


Half of World’s People Can’t get Basic Health Services: WHO

At least half the world’s population is unable to access essential health services and many others are forced into extreme poverty by having to pay for healthcare they cannot afford, the World Health Organization said on Wednesday.

Some 800 million people worldwide spend at least 10 percent of their household income on healthcare for themselves or a sick child, and as many as 100 million of those are left with less than $1.90 a day to live on as a result, the WHO said.

In a joint report with the World Bank, the United Nations health agency said it was unacceptable that more than half the world’s people still don’t get the most basic healthcare.

“If we are serious – not just about better health outcomes but also about ending poverty – we must urgently scale up our efforts on universal health coverage,” World Bank President Jim Yong Kim said in a statement with the report.

Anna Marriott, health policy advisor for the international aid agency Oxfam, said the report was a “damning indictment” of governments’ efforts on health.

“Healthcare, a basic human right, has become a luxury only the wealthy can afford,” she said in a statement.

“Behind each of these appalling statistics are people facing unimaginable suffering – parents reduced to watching their children die; children pulled out of school so they can help pay off their families’ health care debts; and women working themselves into the ground caring for sick family members.”

The WHO and World Bank report did have some positive news: This century has seen a rise in the number of people getting services such as vaccinations, HIV/AIDS drugs, and mosquito-repelling bednets and contraception, it said.

But there are wide gaps in the availability of services in sub-Saharan Africa and southern Asia, the report found. In other regions, basic services such as family planning and child immunization are more available, but families are suffering financially to pay for them.

Yong Kim said this was a sign that “the system is broken”.

“We need a fundamental shift in the way we mobilize resources for health and human capital, especially at the country level,” he said.


Growing Levels of E-Waste Bad for Environment, Health and Economy

A new report finds growing levels of E-waste pose significant risks to the environment and human health and result in huge economic losses for countries around the world.  Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from the launch of the International Telecommunication Union report in Geneva.

The global information society is racing ahead at top speed.  The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) reports nearly half of the world uses the internet and most people have access to mobile phones, laptops, televisions, refrigerators and other electronic devices.

But ITU E-waste Technical Expert, Vanessa Gray, said the ever-increasing expansion of technology is creating staggering amounts of electronic waste.

“In 2016, the world generated a total of 44.7 million metric tons of e-waste—that is, electronic and electrical equipment that is discarded,” Gray said. “So, that basically everything that runs on a plug or on a battery.  This is equivalent to about 4,500 Eiffel Towers for the year.” 

The report found Asia generates the greatest amounts of E-waste, followed by Europe and the Americas.  Africa and Oceania produce the least.

Gray warned improper and unsafe treatment and disposal of e-waste pose significant risks to the environment and human health.  She noted that low recycling rates also result in important economic losses, because high value materials – including gold, silver, copper – are not recovered. 

“We estimate that the value of recoverable material contained in the 2016 e-waste is no less than $55 billion US, which is actually more than the Gross Domestic Product in many of the world’s countries,” Gray said.

The report calls for the development of proper legislation to manage e-waste.  It says a growing number of countries are moving in that direction.  Currently, it says 66 percent of the world population, living in 67 countries, is covered by national e-waste management laws.


Waddling into History: Huge Ancient Penguin Inhabited New Zealand

Scientists have unearthed in New Zealand fossil bones of what might be the heavyweight champion of the penguin world, a bird nearly 6 feet tall (1.77 meters) that thrived 55 to 60 million years ago, relatively soon after the demise of the dinosaurs.

Researchers said on Tuesday the ancient penguin, called Kumimanu biceae, weighed nearly 225 pounds (101 kg), and was much bigger than the largest of these flightless seabirds alive today, the emperor penguin, which grows to about 4-1/4 feet (1.2 meters) and about 90 pounds (40 kg).

The only ancient penguin yet discovered that might have been larger than Kumimanu is known only from a leg bone, said ornithologist Gerald Mayr of the Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum Frankfurt.

“Gigantism in penguins evolved more than once,” Mayr said.

Kumimanu, named after a creature from Maori folklore and the Maori word for bird, is the second-oldest known penguin. The older one, also from New Zealand, was 61 million years old.

Kumimanu’s partial skeleton lacks the skull. Mayr said other fossils indicate that the earliest penguins possessed much longer beaks than their modern relatives, useful for spearing fish.

“It would have been very impressive: as tall as many people, and a very solid, muscly animal built to withstand frequent deep dives to catch its prey,” said Alan Tennyson, vertebrate curator at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, another of the researchers in the study published in the journal Nature Communications.

“It would not have been the kind of bird that someone could catch alive. It would have been considerably more powerful than a person.”

Kumimanu and other early penguins had already developed typical penguin features including flipper-like wings and an upright stance. Studies suggest early penguins were brownish, not the trademark black and white of today’s penguins, Mayr said.

Penguins are thought to have evolved from a flying ancestor perhaps resembling a cormorant, Mayr said. The asteroid that doomed the dinosaurs 66 million years ago also eliminated the large marine reptiles that dominated the seas, clearing the way for fish-eating divers like penguins.

Kumimanu lived long before Antarctica’s glaciation. At the time, New Zealand and Antarctica were subtropical.

“It’s a common myth that penguins only live in very cold environments such as the Antarctic region,” Tennyson said.

“Today, Galapagos penguins live at the equator, and many fossils show that early forms of penguins lived in warm seas.”


Trump’s Climate Politics Propel US Scientist to New Start in France

When U.S.-based scientist Christopher Cantrell heard President Donald Trump pull the United States out of the Paris climate accord, he did not imagine that six months later he would be shaking the French leader’s hand and starting anew in France.

Hours after Trump’s announcement in June, President Emmanuel Macron made a dramatic TV announcement in English, responding that he would not give up the fight against climate change and adding in a dig: “Make our planet great again.”

That later became the name of a research grant program sponsored by the French presidency to attract U.S.-based scientists — like Cantrell, 62, an expert in atmospheric chemistry at the University of Colorado Boulder.

“It was all over the news in the United States and on social media,” he told Reuters on the sidelines of a summit in Paris marking the Paris accord’s two year anniversary.

“I found out about a week ago that I was successful. This is going to be fun,” he said.

Moving for the funding

For Cantrell, the decision to move to France is not a political one, but a response to a gradual decline in public funds in his field, which he did not expect to get better under Trump.

“I’ve been disappointed with this whole administration, as to how they … view the world of science and policy-making,” Cantrell said.

“I wouldn’t say I’m coming to France to get away from the Trump administration, but it was an opportunity that wasn’t available in the United States,” he added.

Macron, who repeatedly tried to persuade the U.S. leader to reverse his decision, also sees an opportunity to raise the profile of French research institutes and attract top talent.


Some 1,822 researchers applied for the program, the French presidency said, with almost two thirds of them coming from the United States.

Thirteen of the initial 18 grants awarded on Monday were given to U.S.-based scientists, including some from prominent Ivy League universities such as Princeton, Stanford and Harvard.

A second batch of grants will be awarded early next year.

Cantrell, who works on air quality and what happens to pollution when the atmosphere tries to process it, will be based at the University of Paris-Est in the suburb of Creteil. He will study the Paris plume — the cloud of pollution that regularly shrouds the French capital. 

“This laboratory that I’m going to be associated with has world-class expertise, state-of-the-art computer models to simulate the atmosphere, so this place I’m going to is actually perfect for the kind of work I’m interested in,” he said.

Salary covered for five years

The 1.5-million-euro ($1.76-million) French grant means the constant hunt for funds to finance his research that was part of his daily life in the U.S. was now less of a concern.

“It’s been tough. Now I’ll be able to not have to worry about that part of it. My salary is covered for five years, I can focus on science,” he said.

He and his wife are now busy brushing up on their French.

“I came for a week to visit the lab, see the kind of things they did, I got to meet the staff, English works fine for all the people that work there,” he said.