Is Kratom Safe Enough for the Fight Against Opioids?

A new study says “yes,” and finds it relieves anxiety and reduces negative moods, too.

A review of 57 years of international scientific evidence may help change the perception of kratom and restore its potential as a public health tool that deserves more research.

As the nation grapples for solutions to the opioid epidemic—now claiming more than 33,000 American lives each year—the potential of the psychoactive plant kratom to become a useful tool in the battle has been the subject of hot debate.

While some in the medical field and many in the general public attest to kratom’s ability to help curb opioid addiction and relieve pain, governmental agencies continue to warn against its dangers to mental health, citing links to psychosis and addiction. In 2016, the DEA briefly recommended criminalizing kratom possession and distribution, before withdrawing the proposal.

The study not only points to the potential benefits of kratom as a safer substitute for opioids, but also suggests the plant’s potential to reduce negative mood and relieve anxiety. Published online this week in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, it represents the largest systematic review of the scientific literature on kratom use and mental health.

“There is a lot of confusing information about kratom in the media that makes it difficult for clinicians and the public to make informed choices,” says lead author Marc T. Swogger, associate professor in the University of Rochester Medical Center’s psychiatry department. “This study clarifies that there is no good scientific basis for claims that kratom causes psychosis, suicide, or violence, and the available data do not indicate that kratom is a significant public health problem.”

Coauthor Zach Walsh, associate professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia notes that current approaches to addressing the opioid epidemic are leaving large numbers of high-need individuals without effective treatment.

“We need to explore all options, and our findings suggest it’s time to carefully examine the potential of this ancient plant,” says Walsh.

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Swogger and Walsh reviewed the combined results of 13 studies conducted between January 1960 and July 2017, using data from 28,745 individuals.

“There is a clear need for more rigorous, well-controlled, prospective studies to support a sophisticated, nuanced understanding of the plant,” says Swogger. “But data across cultures indicated that kratom has a legitimate role to play in mitigating harms associated with opioid dependence. The bulk of the available research supports kratom’s benefits as a milder, less addictive, and less-dangerous substance than opioids, and one that appears far less likely to cause fatal overdose.”

Kratom (Mitragyna speciosa; also known as krathom or ketum) is part of the coffee family and has been used medicinally for centuries in Southeast Asia to relieve symptoms of opioid withdrawal, to relieve pain, diarrhea, and cough, and increase stamina and energy. People chew raw leaves of the kratom plant, boil them to serve as tea, smoke, or vaporize them.

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In recent years, kratom’s use has expanded beyond Asia, and its leaves, powders, gums, capsules, and extracts are widely accessed through retail outlets and the internet in North America and Europe.

“We need more and better research to be able to outline the risks and benefits of kratom in greater detail,” Swogger says. “Only through well-controlled studies can we elucidate kratom’s potential for good and harm, and give the public, policy makers, and health care professionals the information needed to make informed decisions.”

Source: University of Rochester

Original Study DOI: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2017.10.012

 

 

 

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Google expands booking features for travelers with price tracking and deals

Google

We are a week and a half away from Christmas, but it’s still not too late to fly away for the holidays — it’ll just cost a pretty penny to do so. If you’re okay with that, Google updated its suite of travel applications and services to feature price tracking and deals.

Starting with Google Flights, the search giant is leveraging its machine learning chops to take a look at historical price data to let you when is the best time to book a flight. Once you let Google Flights know where you want to go, you can choose to have it send you tips like “prices won’t drop further” or “prices are less than normal.” That way, you can be better informed as to whether you should book your flight now or wait a bit longer.

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Moving right along, Google’s hotel search results offer similar information. Because you’re dealing with hotels, Google lets you know if rates for a specific room are higher or if the surrounding area is busier due to a local event. That way, you can better plan when to make a hotel room reservation, though you can opt for email alerts whenever prices fluctuate.

Finally, Google’s Trips app now features a “Discounts” section. As the name implies, the section nets you deals for things like tickets, tours, activities, and attractions. Discounts vary based on where you’re located, though the app also leverages Google’s travel-booking features.

Overall, the new features sound very familiar to what services like Kayak and Hopper already offer. The main difference is, since many folks are already deeply immersed in Google’s ecosystem, these are just more reasons why they shouldn’t leave that ecosystem.

The flight and hotel price tracking are currently rolling out worldwide, whereas the Discounts tab inside of the Trips app will be available in English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, and Portuguese.

Another Positive Factor From the Alabama Election That Republicans Don’t Want to Talk About

Tuesday’s turnout by race fit historic patterns, but the party white Alabamians voted for didn’t.

There’s one feature of the voting in this week’s Alabama special election that elected Democrat Doug Jones to the U.S. Senate that Republicans aren’t talking about—tens of thousands of white voters who were reliable Republicans voted for the Democrat.

This observation is missing from the mainstream media narrative that correctly, but incompletely, points to historically through-the-roof black voter turnout as a core pillar of Jones’ victory, as Matt Bruenig, who blogs on politics and economics, noted.

“The overwhelming mainstream narrative of Doug Jones’s victory over Roy Moore in Alabama has been focused on black turnout,” Bruenig wrote, citing the New York Times, which reported, “According to CNN exit polling, 30 percent of the electorate was African-American, with 96 percent of them voting for Mr. Jones. (Mr. Jones’ backers had felt he needed to get north of 25 percent to have a shot to win.) A remarkable 98 percent of black women voters supported Mr. Jones. The share of black voters on Tuesday was higher than the share in 2008 and 2012, when Barack Obama was on the ballot.”

But as Bruenig notes, “if you actually look at the exit polling, it is pretty clear that the real story of Jones’ victory was not inordinate black turnout but rather inordinate white support for the Democratic candidate.”

He compiled and compared “the black share of the electorate, black support for Democrats, and the election result for the 2008, 2012 and 2017 Alabama elections,” in which each election saw 28 or 29 percent voter turnout. He then compared the white share of the Alabama electorate, which was also virtually unchanged and between 65 and 68 percent. 

“The white share of the electorate is virtually unchanged, but white support for the Democrat changes dramatically, rising all the way to 30 percent in the Jones-Moore election,” Bruenig said. “This white swing towards the Democratic candidate is basically solely responsible for the fact that Jones won rather than losing by over 20 points, which is the typical outcome of a statewide Alabama election that features this level of black turnout.”

Bruenig’s observation doesn’t detract in the slightest from the historic turnout by all the communities of color in Alabama. But it does reveal that many Republicans are not diehard partisans who would never vote for a compelling Democratic candidate.

Some of those white voters were 18 to 44, as media exit polls noted, but others were “white women and college graduates… likely to recoil from Trump’s campaign and swing in Democrats’ direction than white men and those without college degrees.”

However you slice it, Alabama’s special election shows that red-state America is not as monolithic as Republicans would have you believe. That’s another hopeful sign to emerge from Tuesday’s vote.

 

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Robert Mueller Has the Trump Team Panicked, No Matter What the President Says

The special prosecutor has reportedly obtained thousands of campaign emails.

Donald Trump responded to questions on Sunday saying he had no intention to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller. But while Trump was making this statement, both his team inside and outside the White House and Republicans in Congress continued to beat the drums for Mueller’s dismissal.

The president’s comments came a day after a lawyer representing Trump’s transition team accused Mueller of wrongfully obtaining thousands of emails sent and received by Trump officials before the start of his administration — a legal and public relations maneuver seen as possibly laying the groundwork to oust the special counsel.

The revelation that Mueller has obtained a large number of emails issued during the transition period had clearly sent Trump’s team scrambling. It’s not just that Mueller had this material now, but that he seems to have obtained it weeks ago, meaning that recent questioning of everyone from Jared Kushner to Hope Hicks may have been responding to questions for which Mueller already had the answers in hand. Considering that half the people Mueller has already indicted were convicted for lying, that has to have everyone in the White House carefully reviewing their time with the special counsel.

The Republican play on Mueller’s acquisition of the emails is that it is “illegal”—a charge made without bothering to state just what law might have been broken. On Sunday, Trump joined in the vague grumbling.

Trump criticized Mueller for gaining access to those emails, telling reporters the situation was “not looking good.”

But the letter from Trump’s lawyer and additional charges of partisanship by Mueller’s team, was enough to generate a rare statement from Mueller’s spokesman, Peter Carr.

“When we have obtained emails in the course of our ongoing criminal investigation, we have secured either the account owner’s consent or appropriate criminal process.”

Mueller’s gathering up the transition emails is giving Donald Trump a sad.

“It’s quite sad to see that,” Trump said. “My people were very upset about it.”

The potential for additional indictments over lying under oath gives Mueller even more leverage in his efforts to collect testimony directly concerning Trump … but Trump is maintaining an attitude of reduced concern.

Trump has spent much of his first year in office so enraged by the federal investigation into Russian meddling in last year’s election that lawmakers who work with him tried to avoid the issue entirely and his friends worried that Trump might rashly fire the special counsel. But in recent weeks, Trump has privately seemed less frustrated about the investigation, according to multiple sources who have spoken with the President.

Trump has been telling people that he expects to soon be cleared “in writing,” and keeps insisting that Mueller’s investigation will soon be over.

“The President’s mantra is ‘All this Russia stuff, it’s all going to wrap up soon.’ He repeats it as fact,” said one source who speaks to Trump. “Part of me is like — ‘Are you serious? You believe this?'”

But there’s no indication that the special counsel is running out of either witnesses or information. Just eight months in, Mueller’s investigation is a less than a quarter of the length of the average special counsel or special prosecutor investigation, and less than a tenth of investigations like Iran/Contra or Whitewater. It could easily proceed through the length of Trump’s time in office—whether or not that time is shortened.

For the investigation to end anytime soon, as Trump indicates, it will likely be because Trump and the Republicans step in to halt the process before it can complete. But while others are working to tear down Mueller’s reputation and attack the integrity of the investigation, Trump himself seems to be spending time in fantasyland.

Three sources familiar with the President’s recent conversations about the investigation said Trump has become convinced that he will receive a letter of exoneration, which would be unusual. One source worried Trump would have a “meltdown” if that doesn’t happen.

Maybe he expects that letter to come with the signature of Jefferson Sessions. Or new special counsel Sean Hannity. And maybe they’ll also give him a gold star.

 

 

 

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Deal: Razer throws in a free Leviathan Mini if you buy the Razer Phone

Available since November, Razer doesn’t appear ready to discount its flagship Razer Phone just yet. What the company is ready to do, however, is throw in one of its Bluetooth speakers for free if you buy its smartphone.

For 48 hours, if you pick up the $700 Razer Phone through the company’s website, you can get its Leviathan Mini Bluetooth speaker for free. Reported by PhoneArena, just make sure to use the promo code PHLVLUP (get it?) at checkout and you won’t pay a dime for the speaker.

I can’t personally attest to the quality of the Leviathan Mini. What I can say, however, is that it originally goes for $180 and was recently discounted to $100 for the holidays. The speaker also sports NFC for quick pairing and is roughly the same size as the popular UE Boom 2, though the Leviathan Mini doesn’t share the latter’s rugged protection. In other words, Razer’s speaker was not built to withstand water, dust, and drops — it’s a speaker meant for the table, not for the outside.

As for the Razer Phone itself, we thought it was a great first effort from Razer. It may not have adopted the near bezel-less design of some of its contemporaries, but the Razer Phone manages to still look unique, thanks to its dark aluminum build and dual speakers that crank out great sound.

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Also, we can’t talk about the Razer Phone without talking about its Quad HD display, which is capable of up to a 120 Hz refresh rate. This gives the phone a sense of fluidity and smoothness that only Google’s Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL can rival.

The Razer Phone isn’t without its hiccups, however. The display might lend the software a great amount of fluidity, but we found it a bit too dim for our liking. Also, even though our terrible photography experience has improved a bit with software updates, the images still aren’t that great. Finally, even though a dongle is included in the box, you will not find a headphone jack.

With that being said, we would not blame you if you pick up the Razer Phone, so why not do so while getting a Bluetooth speaker for free. You have until the end of tomorrow, December 19 to take advantage of the promotion at the link below.

Get the Razer Phone

John Kelly Reportedly Working Toward Bipartisan DREAMers Solution

He attended a meeting with senators from both parties.

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly was seen on Capitol Hill Tuesday as part of the Trump administration’s push to reach a bipartisan solution for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

As Politico reports, Kelly attended a meeting with close to a dozen senators from both sides of the aisle and assured them that the White House “will soon present a list of border security and other policy changes it wants as part of a broader deal” for DACA recipients, also known as DREAMers.

“We couldn’t finish this product, this bill, until we knew where the administration was,” Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), one of the senators working on the compromise, told Politico. “And that’s why this meeting was so important.”

Though senators who left the meeting said Kelly insisted the president’s terms may be released in a matter of days, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said the upper chamber would not vote on DACA before they break for the holidays this Friday.

“That’s a matter to be discussed next year,” McConnell said in an interview with Fox News earlier on Tuesday.

 

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Sarah Palin’s Son Track Palin Was Arrested in Alaska on Domestic Violence Charges

This is not the first time the former governor’s son has been arrested for violent behavior.

Track Palin, oldest son of former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, was arraigned Sunday on charges of felony burglary, assault in the fourth degree and criminal mischief for causing property damage.

The charges are all related to domestic violence, of which Palin has a history.

An attorney representing Sarah Palin and her husband Todd said he was unable to comment on the situation.

“Given the nature of actions addressed last night by law enforcement and the charges involved, the Palins are unable to comment further,” attorney John Tiemessen told NBC News in a statement. “They ask that the family’s privacy is respected during this challenging situation just as others dealing with a struggling family member would also request.”

Last time Track was arrested following allegations of domestic abuse, Sarah used it as a disturbing political talking point to suggest Americans don’t have enough respect for the military.

 

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Nintendo Switch game pricing

I haven’t played anything on my Nintendo Switch yet, as I technically only get it for Christmas. That hasn’t kept me from looking what games there are for the console. Apart from the two “system seller” games Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey there are quite a number of Nintendo and third party games on offer. So the choice is quite good. What is not so good is the pricing.

Prime example: Skyrim. I can overlook the fact that the game is 6 years old. I can overlook the fact that it doesn’t look as pretty on a TV screen as it looks on a PC screen. I can overlook the fact that playing it handheld means you run out of battery after a few hours. But why does this game which is sold on Steam for €14.99 cost €59.99 on the Nintendo Switch? Unless you really, really want to play Skyrim on a handheld tablet (unlikely), or don’t have a PC able to run a 6 year old game (even less likely), why would you want to pay 4 times more for the same game? But yet sales are quite good.

For me as a PC gamer the era of €60 games looks like ancient history. I haven’t bought a €60 game on Steam for years. Most full price games on Steam are cheaper than that, and I don’t usually buy full price games; I have enough games in reserve to be able to wait until I get the same game for half price or less. If Bethesda can sell Skyrim for €60, I imagine there must be a lot of console gamers out there who aren’t as price sensitive as the PC gamers. For me that just doesn’t look like good value for money.

YouTube TV app for Apple TV and Roku to launch Q1 2018

  • The YouTube TV app will be launching on Apple TV and Roku in Q1 2018.
  • The app was originally supposed to be out by the end of the year.
  • Older Samsung and Sony smart TVs will also see the app early next year.

One of the limiting factors when choosing an over-the-top streaming service is the ability to stream the content to your TV. Most services allow some sort of casting from your phone or tablet, but that’s not a perfect solution. To do this, you’re relying on multiple pieces of hardware that could fail at any time. Additionally, some programming like the NFL don’t currently allow mobile streams of their content.

That’s why, when YouTube TV started to roll out its standalone app, I started doing a happy dance. I can now use the app on my smart TV or Xbox, and the experience is great. It saves me on Sundays and allows me to watch my beloved (but terrible) Bengals.

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Unfortunately for some users, they’re still lacking the app. Users with Apple TV and Roku devices were slated to get the app before the end of the year. Now, with only 12 days left in 2017, we’re getting word the apps are being pushed back to Q1 2018. In addition to Apple TV and Roku, the YouTube TV app will also come to older smart TVs in the first quarter. These TVs include some Samsung sets from 2013 and 2014. Older Sony TV’s that use a Linux-based OS instead of Android TV will get the app too.

Most of YouTube TV’s competitors like Sling, Hulu, DirecTV Now, and PlayStation Vue are all on numerous platforms. YouTube TV lags a bit behind the others as they’re all on Apple TV and Roku already. Where you won’t see YouTube TV is on Amazon’s Fire TV or the PlayStation 4. Google and Amazon have had very public battles (although things do appear to be getting better) and Sony refuses to let other streaming services on its gaming system while its pushing PlayStation Vue.

Despite all of that, YouTube TV is one of the popular options for cord-cutters right now. The lineup of channels is fantastic, and at just $35 a month, it’s very affordable. The service initially rolled out to only a few cities in the US when it first launched, but that number has recently pushed past 80.

The GOP Tax Bill Rammed Through Congress on Tuesday Paves the Way to Defund and Dismantle Federal Government

Financial experts call it unworkable—and that’s what many Republicans want.

As the GOP tax bill raced through both chambers of Congress Tuesday, hurtling like a runaway train toward President Trump’s desk, Americans should see this GOP effort for what it is in the sweep of history—the Republican dismantling of federal government.

The tax bill’s specifics, with almost all of the benefits going to the very rich, confirm that the GOP’s lock on federal power is as bad as many predicted before the 2016 election. But the tax bill is also Republicans’ opening move to defund government—apart from national security, the military, infrastructure, and corporate welfare.

“The United States Senate should be doing more than providing 83 percent of the benefits in a tax bill to the top 1 percent,” Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-VT, said during the Senate debate Tuesday. “We cannot go home unless we address the very serious crises facing the working families and the middle class of this country.”

Sanders cited a long list of ignored crises—including some intentionally created by President Trump and the red-run Congress—that show the GOP is bent on destroying social safety nets. That unfinished business includes legalizing 800,000 Dreamers, or young people raised here who are the sons and daughters of non-citizens; funding community health centers that serve 27 million people; funding the Children’s Health Insurance Program serving 9 million children; real disaster relief for Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands; fixing a multi-employer pension fund that has 1.5 million retirees at risk of losing 60 percent of their anticipated income; reforming student loan debt for 40 million people; addressing a nationwide opioid epidemic; filling 30,000 vacancies in the Veterans Administration; and funding the Social Security Administration (in 2016, 10,000 people with disabilities died while awaiting review of their benefit applications).  

“And on and on it goes,” Sanders said, without citing specifics from the tax bill, such as how its cost, triggering past legislation controlling spending, will cut Medicare’s budget by 4 percent. (Congress still has to pass a 2018 federal budget, which envisions cuts to social welfare programs, science and the environment.)

The thread that ties together this willful neglect is simple. Republicans want to devolve government back to the local level. That’s been the political right’s rallying cry ever since Franklin D. Roosevelt created Social Security in the 1930s and Lyndon B. Johnson created the Great Society’s health safety nets in the 1960s.  

The tax bill gives the GOP a way to do this. Most everybody knows the bill’s fiscal benefits accrue to the already rich. But the tax bill has also been called unworkable by academics specializing in tax law.

On Tuesday, before the House passed it, business reporters noted the bill was moving so fast that the IRS would not be able to implement it when it goes into effect. For example, employers won’t know how much to withhold from January payrolls. That “puts the onus on workers to make adjustments later in the year if too much or too little of their money is being withheld,” Patricia Cohen wrote in the New York Times. 

The New Yorker’s John Cassady noted the bill is likely to bring in less revenue than projected, because it will launch an avalanche of new loopholes to exploit.

“What isn’t yet fully appreciated is how porous and potentially unstable the rest of the tax code will be after the bill is passed,” he wrote. “With a corporate rate of just 20 percent, and a big new break for proprietors of unincorporated businesses and certain types of partnerships, the new code will contain enormous incentives for tax-driven restructurings, creative accounting, and outright fraud. Every tax adviser and scammer in the country will be looking for ways to reclassify regular salary income.”

Cassady noted these contortions are destined to undercut federal revenues, which many Republicans welcome as an avenue to shrinking the federal government.

“The shortfall in tax revenues could be enormous. Perhaps that is what Republicans want to happen,” Cassady said. “Undoubtedly, there are some in the Party who would like to see the tax base decimated, the I.R.S. crippled, and the federal government forced to slash spending on domestic programs, particularly entitlement programs. But, for anybody who believes in a properly functioning government, a rational, clearly defined tax system is essential. The Republican reform doesn’t meet that standard.”

But today’s Republican leadership doesn’t want a functioning government outside the security state, military and infrastructure that buoys corporate America.

It’s hard to know what they are thinking as one looks ahead to the 2018 elections. If the GOP doesn’t want to talk about character—which seems to be the ascendant issue, as seen by Roy Moore’s loss in Alabama and the widespread backlash against male predatory sexual behavior, driven by suburban women who are voting in droves this year—then all the Republicans can point to is their tax bill. While the GOP’s opponents will emphasize intentionally widening inequality, don’t be surprised if Republicans recast their only major legislative achievement in 2017 as a victory against the phantom enemy they love to hate: big government.

Unfortunately, as Sanders pointed out on the Senate floor Tuesday, millions of Americans are getting hurt and are going to be hurt by this needless legislation and similar moves that are sure to follow.  

 

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