Thoughts

15 things about caffeine

I’m partial to a well-made espresso. I don’t drink them often, certainly not daily, because I’m aware of the caffeine’s effects on my body. The infographic below tells you about those effects, which are certainly worth knowing.

  • Caffeine occurs naturally in 60 different plants, not just coffee.
  • Caffeine works by increasing your dopamine levels, which makes you happy, and blocking adenosine receptors, which stops you from getting drowsy. Sadly, I can’t depend on it to do that to me when I need it. I find that when I need to stay awake, I’ll have a hard time doing so no matter how much coffee I drink, and when I need to sleep, even if I’ve had coffee at two in the afternoon and it’s now midnight, I still can’t fall asleep.
  • Caffeine is shown to temporarily increase one’s ability to learn, by increasing comprehension, memory, reflexes and clarity of thought.
  • Caffeine also improves endurance in athletes, which is why the Olympic Committee banned it in competitions.
  • Caffeine causes physical dependence. Withdrawal symptoms begin within 12-24 hours and can last from 2 to 9 days. Symptoms include headaches, fatigue, depression and irritability.

15 Things Your Should Know about Caffeine

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Thoughts

15 things about marijuana

I’m one of a growing number of people who think marijuana ought to be legalized. I don’t use it, but I just don’t think a substance less dangerous than coffee and alcohol ought to be illegal.

See the infographic below for some facts about marijuana. Here are a few:

  • It’s nearly impossible to overdose on pot. You’d have to smoke more than 800 joints, and even then, you’d die from carbon monoxide poisoning, not marijuana poisoning.
  • The American colonies grew the hemp plant to make clothing, sails and rope. Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence on hemp paper. Through the 1600-1800s, the production of hemp was encouraged and even required by law at times.
  • Studies done in the 1940s have shown that there is no link between marijuana and violence, sex crimes, insanity or addiction.
  • Marijuana is already legal in a number of countries such as Australia, Czech Republic, Finland, Netherlands, Germany, Portugal, Argentine and Belgium.

15 Things Your Should Know about Marijuana

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Thoughts

Have a look at the infographic below for some sobering facts about pharmaceutical companies in the US. Here are a few snippets:

  • The cost of prescription drugs rises 12% every year; they now cost 3x more than 30 years ago.
  • The markup on prescription drugs varies from 5,000% to 225,000%! That’s pure profit these companies make on every pill they sell.
  • Big Pharma spends over $20 billion per year on advertising for their drugs.

Pharmaceutical Companies

Stats about pharmaceutical companies

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Thoughts

The prohibition and Key Largo

key-largo-movie

In the 1948 movie “Key Largo”, starring Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall and Edward G. Robinson, and one of the phrases in the movie got me thinking. Rocco (Robinson’s character), terrified by the hurricane, commands one of his gangsters to start talking, to say anything.

screenshot-key-largo-movie

The gangster, Curly, starts talking about the prohibition. Here’s what he says:

“I bet you 2, 3 years, we get prohibition back. This time we make it stick. Bet you 2, 3 years prohibition comes back. Absolutely, yeah… The trouble was — see, before — too many guys wanted to be top dog. One mob gets to massacring another, the papers play it up big, see, so what happens… naturally, the papers play it up big, and the public get the idea prohibition’s no good, and if they can get rid of it, prohibition, I mean…”

[here we get a separate scene of Rocco being completely terrified by the power of the hurricane, then the talk turns to prohibition once more, continuing the previous line]

“… so the public votes out prohibition, that’s the end of the mobs. Next time it’ll be different, though. We learned our lesson, alright. Next time the mobs’ll get together.”

Perhaps this is why some drugs are still illegal, like marijuana. I realize the debate is much bigger than this, but still, it’s possible that some stand to lose a whole lot of money if marijuana were to be legalized, just like the mobsters lost a lot of money when alcohol was once more legally available. It’s a good theory, right?

In my opinion, marijuana is no dangerous than alcohol, so I don’t see what the big deal is. I don’t consume it, and am only concerned with the unfair scrutiny all hemp varieties get due to their association with marijuana. Hemp seeds, for example, are very nutritious, and hemp string and rope is quite useful around the house. It’s gotten to the point where you can’t grow any kind of hemp, because you’ll be automatically raided, even though you have nothing to do with marijuana at all. It’s silly.

The prohibition/drugs discussion aside, “Key Largo” is a great movie, definitely worth watching. You can get it from Amazon, or you can rent it from Netflix.

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Thoughts

Don’t play with Tussionex

Late last night, I kept coughing due to a passing cold. After taking several doses of other cough syrups during the evening, which had obviously not done their job, I decided to take some Tussionex — my ultimate weapon against coughing. I try to use it only when I absolutely need it, because it’s fairly expensive and it’s also hard to get (it can only be prescribed by a doctor). But after three days of coughing through the night and keeping my wife and myself awake, I figured the time had come. I took a teaspoon, waited a half hour, and nothing happened. I took another, waited another half hour, and still the coughing continued. I began to worry: had the syrup expired? Was my coughing so bad that I needed to take more? I took another teaspoon. Bad idea!

Tussionex

Soon after that, I started to feel the effects. Tussionex contains a codeine derivative, which means that, along with stopping my cough, it usually gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling that wears off in a couple of hours or so. This time, because I’d unwittingly (and stupidly) overdosed, the effect was very pronounced, and it was mixed with a sensation of nausea. I found it hard to sit up or stand up and went to bed, where I fell asleep immediately.

Here’s the full list of side effects for Tussionex, from the PDR (Physician’s Desk Reference):

“Anxiety, constipation, decreased mental and physical performance, difficulty breathing, difficulty urinating, dizziness, drowsiness, dry throat, emotional dependence, exaggerated feeling of depression, extreme calm (sedation), exaggerated sense of well-being, fear, itching, mental clouding, mood changes, nausea, rash, restlessness, sluggishness, tightness in chest, vomiting.”

I guess I should be thankful the only side effect I’d experienced before this was the “exaggerated sense of well-being”, along with a slight headache which occurred a few hours after taking the medication. Things were going to be very different now.

I woke up early in the morning, around 6 am, feeling rested and alert. I figured the effects of the overdose had worn off. They hadn’t. I got up to go about my business, and shortly after that, a general, overpowering feeling of nausea swept over me. I could not stand up. I couldn’t keep my balance at all. I felt sick, wasn’t seeing straight, I couldn’t control my movements and had trouble putting words together. It didn’t take long after that for me to experience a fuller spectrum of the side effects: decreased mental and physical performance, dizziness, drowsiness, mental clouding, nausea and finally, vomiting. That’s right, I did it again… I vomited more often in these past few months than in the past several years, and I don’t like it.

I’m still in bed as I write this. The moment I stand or sit upright, the nausea comes back, my face turns white, etc. I’ll be in bed for a while, hopefully not the whole day. All this fun gave me a chance to think about the situation. It’s clear that this wouldn’t have occurred if I hadn’t overdosed. The recommended dosage is one teaspoon every 12 hours. The PDR says: “The usual dose is 1 teaspoonful (5 milliliters) every 12 hours. Do not take more than 2 teaspoonfuls in 24 hours.”

I took three teaspoons within 1 ½ hours. That was incredibly stupid and irresponsible of me, and truthfully, I should be thankful I’m still alive. Here’s what one should expect from a Tussionex overdose:

“Blue skin color due to lack of oxygen, cardiac arrest, cold and clammy skin, decreased or difficult breathing, extreme sleepiness leading to stupor or coma, low blood pressure, muscle flabbiness, slow heartbeat, temporary cessation of breathing”

There it is, in black and white: cardiac arrest, stupor or coma. Instead of getting up from my bed last night and doing a quick search for this info last night, I overdosed like a dummy. My wife could have woken up next to my corpse. Thank God that didn’t happen!

I found out this morning that the FDA, since 2008, is also cautioning healthcare providers, pharmacists and patients, to guard against Tussionex overdose. After my own accidental brush with death, I agree with them.

Recommended Site: Many have become so addicted to certain cough medicine brands that prescription drug abuse treatment has become necessary for them. 

Still, I’m not sorry I took Tussionex. I’m definitely sorry I overdosed though. I’ve used many cough syrups over the years, and none stops my coughing like Tussionex. Here’s a sample of the stuff I tried in only the past few months:

Ketof

Coughend Sirop

Stodal

Ketof is the only other cough syrup that helps me marginally. The rest are garbage, particularly that Coughend Sirop. I also used a syrup called Prospan (not pictured here) in the last few days, which I found did a good job at clearing my throat. It tastes great, but still, it doesn’t stop my coughing. And of course I tried plenty of American cough syrups over the years, none of which helped.

Don’t think I cough all the time, either. But I’m stubborn like a mule, and will often go outside when it’s cold and I’m not dressed adequately. So naturally, I catch colds, and when I do, I cough a lot.

This experience also got me thinking about drugs and their effects on the body. Our bodies, you see, are endowed with the capability to heal themselves. That capability works better or worse in people, depending on how well they take care of themselves (diet, exercise, regular sleep, etc.) Drugs will usually only mask the symptoms of a disease, not cure it. Even though I’m not coughing now, that doesn’t mean Tussionex cured my cough and sore throat. It only stopped my coughing. Here’s what the PDR says about it:

“Tussionex Extended-Release Suspension is a cough-suppressant/antihistamine combination used to relieve coughs and the upper respiratory symptoms of colds and allergies. Hydrocodone, a mild narcotic similar to codeine, is believed to work directly on the cough center. Chlorpheniramine, an antihistamine, reduces itching and swelling and dries up secretions from the eyes, nose, and throat.”

You see, it’s used to “relieve” coughs and other symptoms, not “cure” them. They’re not even sure how it works. They “believe” the codeine derivative in it works directly on the cough center. The human body’s internal chemistry is so complex that I don’t know if we’ll ever figure it out properly. Right now, we’re still just stabbing in the dark when it comes to medicating people. We give them a drug and then, oops, we realize the effect isn’t the desired one, or that it interacts with other drugs and causes undesirable side effects. The PDR says about Tussionex that its “side effects cannot be anticipated”. And there’s also a section dedicated to its possible food and drug interactions. Here’s what that says:

“Tussionex may increase the effects of alcohol. Do not drink alcohol while taking this medication. If Tussionex is taken with certain other drugs, the effects of either could be increased, decreased, or altered. It is especially important to check with your doctor before combining Tussionex with the following:

  • Antispasmodic medications such as Bentyl and Cogentin
  • Major tranquilizers such as Thorazine and Compazine
  • MAO inhibitor drugs (antidepressant drugs such as Nardil and Parnate)
  • Medications for anxiety such as Xanax and Valium
  • Medications for depression such as Elavil and Prozac
  • Other antihistamines such as Benadryl
  • Other narcotics such as Percocet and Demerol”

You see, this is what medicine has become these days: the chemistry of drug interactions. Every physician that works in a field where they prescribe lots of medications has to know drug interactions perfectly, or they will put their patients’ lives at risk. Sadly, most do not know all they need to know, because the interactions are so complex.

My dad is a psychiatrist. He made it a point to know all the psychiatric drug interactions and those of common drugs administered by other doctors, such as primary care providers or internal medicine specialists. He studies them all the time and keeps up to date with all the latest medications. He meets plenty of other doctors who aren’t as well prepared as he is, and he’s told me often how shocked he is to find these people are prescribing drugs that readily conflict with others, creating undesired and potentially lethal side effects. The sad part is that when he tries to let them know about it, they usually brush him off. And then we wonder why so many patients do poorly in hospitals… Isn’t it to be expected when most doctors are ill-prepared to prescribe medications for their patients?

I think the takeaway lesson from all this is that prescription drugs can be very dangerous. They are not to be treated lightly, like I treated Tussionex — even though its nature is supposedly benign — it is, after all, “only” a cough syrup, right? A drug’s side effects and its interactions with other drugs need to be known not only by the doctor but also by the patient, so that each of us is aware of what we are putting inside our bodies. The consequences — if we don’t do this — can be fatal at times. I may not realize it fully right now, but I might not have been around today, and it was all because I self-medicated carelessly.

Updated 1/11/10: I’ve gotten a number of rude comments since I wrote this article, none of which were published, where dorm room heroes and couch potato experts called me all sorts of names, all because the dosage that I took was too low by their standards. They’d have been satisfied if I drank a whole bottle of Tussionex and woken up a month later out of a coma, or if I hadn’t woken up at all. What can I say, other than your mileage may vary. People react differently to different dosages. I suppose if my body had been addled by years of alcohol and prescription drug abuse, my tolerance level for the drug would have been higher, and three teaspoons wouldn’t have done much for me. However, when you lead a clean life and are in full possession of your senses, you tend to be much more sensitive to these situations. So please stop criticizing the article. I wrote it not to draw attention to myself, but to put up a warning sign about prescription drug abuse.

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How To

A cure for cold sores

I can’t take credit for this cure. A life-long nurse told me about it a few years ago, and it’s worked for us ever since. I’m not sure if she’d be comfortable having her name revealed here, so I won’t do it. But I’ll always be grateful to her for the advice.

In a few words, cold sores are cured and even prevented by Lysine. Any brand should do. Just go to your local supermarket or drug store and pick up some Lysine pills. They’re white, round, medium-sized as pills go, and they’ll do a number on your cold sore.

I, for example, have had these things since my childhood. Whenever I got stressed, or ate too much sugared stuff, or happened to be recovering from a cold or some other illness and my immune system was down, I got a cold sore. I used to be terribly embarrassed about them, and I still am, to some degree. Sometimes I’d get them four or five times a year, and each one took about 2-3 weeks to go away completely.

Now, whenever I feel that tingle in my skin and know that one’s on the way, I take a Lysine pill. You can take up to 3-4 pills a day, just don’t take them all at once. It’s not a sure-fire, 100% kind of thing, but I would say the overwhelming majority of the time, the cold sore doesn’t even show up on the skin. It just goes away. And when it does manage to break out, taking Lysine while you have it will make it go away sooner.

I don’t know why other cures don’t work, particularly the useless brand-name cremes that cost upwards of $20 for a tiny little tube (they only make things worse for me) — but inexpensive Lysine does the job just great. For less than $10, you get a huge pill bottle that will likely last you more years than you’ll remember.

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Condensed knowledge for 2007-09-19

A bit of a health theme to this edition of condensed knowledge:

  • A new CPR technique was discovered. It’s called OAC-CPR (Only rhythmic Abdominal Compression). As its name implies, you only press on the abdomen, eliminating the risk of broken ribs, mouth-to-mouth, and fatigue from pushing so hard. Definitely worth looking into this!
  • Prozac found in the drinking water in the UK. Apparently so many people are on the anti-depressant in England, that it can now be found, diluted, in the water supply, after having passed through their bodies, into the sewers, through the water treatment plants, etc. Although the “experts” are saying there’s no risk, I doubt it. I mean, this is a drug, found active, in the water supply!
  • WD40 turns out to be a great help for bad joints. Despite the precautions written on the cans, rubbing it into the skin was of tremendous help to a man suffering from joint pain. Not sure that I’d recommend this.
  • Aspartame is the behind the spike in suicides for teen and pre-teen girls. Apparently, it’s a powerful mood-changer — it causes depression. Something to think about the next time you buy your children something with Nutrasweet or Aspartame as the sweetener.
  • Exercising in traffic is bad for your heart. Now that’s something I’ve known was wrong for some time. It just didn’t make sense to me when I saw people running on the sidewalk, next to heavy traffic, breathing in all those noxious fumes. When I run, I want to breathe fresh, healthy air, not someone’s nasty car exhaust. I just couldn’t get why they’d put themselves through something that unhealthy. It turns out the particulates from vehicle emissions decrease our blood’s ability to clot, and restrict the amount of blood that reaches the heart immediately upon exposure.
  • Mobile phones are as dangerous as smoking. So reads a recent headline… People have gone back and forth on the safety of mobile phones for years. Now the EU has finally decided to pick a side and take action. The article’s in Romanian, but what it says is that governments are starting to take mitigating action, first by warning people of the risks, and then by looking at ways to minimize exposure to WiFi radiation. They’re recommending that people go back to using wired Internet connections instead of wireless ones.

Now for some funny stuff:

And some economic discussion:

  • Greenspan on Iraq war, oil link. He confirms what I’ve thought and said for some time. In his talk with Matt Lauer, he touches on the housing bubble and the fiscal irresponsibility of the current administration, but he has no compliments for the Democrats, either. Last, but no least, he says the dollar may be replaced by the euro as the reserve currency of choice.
  • Transparent Investing: what your broker doesn’t want you to know. Here’s a site that offers a purportedly frank discussion of index investing. Definitely worth a look.
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Condensed knowledge for 2007-06-01

Here are the weekend-ready goodies:

  • MS releases the Surface touchscreen computer. Previously code-named Milan, this puppy is manipulated using our hands — no mouse, no keyboard. You might say, whoopee, these displays have been around for years. True, but this is the first time they’re coming to the mass market, and what sets this device apart is that it interacts automatically with other wireless devices. If you put your wireless camera on the Surface, it’ll know to download all of the photos from the camera, wirelessly. If you put your cellphone on it, and it’s got a wireless connection, you can then drag that same photo to your cellphone. Same thing with videos. The built-in, automatic interaction is really, really cool.
  • Have you heard about the MINI Cooper D? It’s a sweet little car! (I have the Cooper S myself, but I’m already drooling for the D). The revised model will get up to 72.4 mpg! Wow!
  • Xerox has developed paper that you can re-use up to 50 times. You can print on it using UV rays, but the characters will start to fade after 24 hours, and when they’re completely faded, you can use it again. Now that’s what I call recycling!
  • A completely innocent American was arrested, handcuffed to a pillar, his feet were chained, and he was interrogated by the Secret Service, all for trying to pay with legal, new $2 bills. The man went to Best Buy to pay an outstanding balance for a stereo installation on his son’s car (after the store promised him it would be free, but charged him regardless), and when he decided to pay it with $2 bills, the clerk called the police, who then took him into custody and interrogated him. What’s more, he was handcuffed inside the store, in full view of everyone! Here’s my take on this… First, I don’t like Best Buy, because their prices are always higher than Circuit City and CompUSA. Second, their employees are rude and haven’t got a clue about the technology they sell. Third, that pathetic cashier owes the man a huge apology. Fourth, that cop who hancuffed and arrested the man shouldn’t be on the force. His powers of judgment are obviously subpar and he has no common sense. And fifth, the excuse of the police spokesman, Bill Toohey, is absolutely inadequate: “It’s a sign that we’re a little nervous in a post 9/11 world.” Just what does a $2 bill have to do with 9/11? That was their apology to the man? That’s it?!
  • The Rattlebuster is a really cool CD that plays vibration-inducing sounds at certain frequencies, helping you pinpoint the annoying rattles and vibrations in your car’s interior. As a MINI owner who’s had a persistent rattle in his dashboard for the past four years, a rattle that countless trips to the dealership couldn’t resolve, I can safely say that every MINI dealership ought to make this product a standard part of their diagnostic procedures.
  • Richard Marcus wrote a really nice piece for BlogCritics detailing what happens to the water in our environment when all of the medications that we take pass from our bodies into the sewers, then into lakes and rivers. The effects of the metabolized drugs on wildlife are shocking, and do not bode well for us, either.
  • Want to know the top ten passwords people use? Have a look at this, and try not to use one of them yourself, eh?
  • It pays to know your photographer’s rights!
  • Steve Jobs and Bill Gates met on the same stage and talked publicly for the first time in decades. What’s more, they complimented each other! 🙂
  • This is why I think public education is getting to be rotten to the core. The public school system endorses events like the one where Joel Becker (irresponsible dolt extraordinaire) from UCLA speak their dirty minds. This dude actually advised kids as young as 12 years old to have sex, do drugs and masturbate… Kids were forced to attend this event by their school, and it was only months after the fact, when pressed repeatedly by parents for an explanation and apology, that they admitted the subject matter was inappropriate. I have to wonder, where is our responsibility as adults to educate our children properly? How can we let the school system continue to chip away at the values we try to instill in our kids? How screwed up is this world when a person as irresponsible as Joel Becker is not only allowed to hold a professorship at UCLA, but also allowed to expound on the virtues of sex and drugs to young, impressionable children?
  • Hey, look, Screaming Beans! 🙂
  • A new spoofing/phishing technique has been spotted in the wild, where some sort of DLL attaches itself to IE, and when people surf legitimate URLs (like their bank website or PayPal), they get asked for unusual extra, private information. This thing isn’t yet detectable by anti-virus/anti-spyware programs, so be sure to follow this story as it develops. And if you get asked some strange questions the next time you visit your bank’s site, don’t answer them, call the bank to verify why they need that information.
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Condensed knowledge for 2007-05-08

Here’s the good stuff:

  • XKCD put together a hilarious map of the online communities. 🙂
  • Steve Jobs published an open letter to Apple users outlining the progress Apple is making toward being a completely “green” company. From the looks of it, Apple is ahead of most other folks in the technology field. Then again, it could also seem this way because of his reality distortion field.
  • A man traveling on a plane from Vietnam to Australia vomited a small bag containing something that looked like drugs. The plane promptly turned back, and meanwhile, the man vomited up two more bags. Apparently, this is quite common, and these people are called “drug mules”. Doctors found 30 more bags containing drugs in his stomach.
  • A flavoring agent used in microwave popcorn, by the name diacetyl, is blamed for bronchiolitis obliterans, an obstructive lung disease that affects popcorn workers. It’s also called “popcorn workers’ lung”, and there is no cure. A transplant is the only solution. Something to think about the next time you eat popcorn…
  • Want to see living conditions for coal miners back in 1938?
  • A remote-controlled robot uses thermal imaging to locate and destroy termites.
  • ProBlogger’s put together a post called “9 attitudes of highly creative people“.
  • Packet Garden is a really cool application that constructs 3D maps of your internet traffic.
  • Mental Floss is running a feature called “8 smooches that shook the world“.
  • Who holds the record for being arrested the most times? It turns out to be a man named Henry Earl.
  • Back in 1946, Mike the Headless Chicken roamed the countryside. Looks like Mike was going to be dinner, but the farmer cut too high, and left just enough brain stem for the chicken to still be a chicken. Although it couldn’t feed, it could walk and “socialize” with the other chickens just fine, and even managed to earn the farmer the equivalent of current-day $50K/week.
  • A Japanese firm has developed special packaging that contains an exothermic agent. Pre-cooked rice placed inside can be warmed up simply by pouring cold water inside the packaging. The reaction with the agent creates steam that warms the rice and gets it ready to eat in about 15 minutes.
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