Health·Second Opinion

Taking the money out of marijuana, and how to feel like you've won the lottery

Second Opinion is a vital dose of the week's news in health and medicine from reporter Kelly Crowe and CBC Health.

Plus, could an old drug defeat new superbugs?

Forget about buying a lottery ticket. New research suggests you can feel just as good by getting a good night's sleep. (Gabriel Petrescu/Shutterstock)

This week, research shows a good night's sleep can feel like hitting the jackpot, and a Canadian researcher may have found a new weapon in the fight against superbugs. But first, as the government gets set to legalize marijuana, one drug policy expert argues public health and profits don't mix.

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Taking the big bucks out of bud

With Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promising to introduce marijuana legislation by the summer, and growers of medical marijuana grappling with pesticide contamination and other quality control issues, we have a second opinion about how to legalize recreational cannabis without affecting public health. 
Drug policy researcher Michael DeVillaer says the government should set up a non-profit institution to manage marijuana in Canada. (CBC)

It's easy, says one McMaster University researcher. 

No marketing, no advertising, no Big Cannabis. Instead, Michael DeVillaer says the supply and sale of cannabis could be managed by a non-profit institution with a mandate to protect public health and still allow legal recreational use.

"If we were to do this really cautiously, we could do it with a near neutral impact on public health in Canada. But if we don't, if we go down the same path as alcohol and tobacco, I really think 10, 20 years from now people could be looking back on this and saying, 'What were they thinking?'" said DeVillaer, who has released a report detailing his plan for a non-for-profit cannabis authority.

Listen to our full interview here: 

Could an old drug defeat deadly superbugs?

There's an old drug at the back of the shelf that just might help win the war against superbugs. But right now no doctor would think of using it that way.

"It would never enter your head," said Dr. Michael Gardam, a Toronto infectious disease specialist.

The drug is pentamidine and has been used since the 1930s for parasite infections caused by insect bites. It also treats a rare form of pneumonia, although doctors avoid it because of toxic side effects. Now, a Canadian scientist has discovered it could be used to kill antibiotic resistant bacteria.

Eric Brown, a biochemistry professor at McMaster, tested it against those deadly bacteria at the top of the WHO's list of priority pathogens published a few weeks ago. And it worked, at least in a petri dish, and in mice, by breaking down the tough outer membrane allowing an ordinary antibiotic to penetrate and kill the pathogen. 
Could a long-shelved drug be the secret to killing these deadly superbugs?​​ (Kateryna Kon/Shutterstock)

But how does a discovery like that go from the lab to the doctor's office?

"If there was a protocol specifying dose and drug combinations doctors would start using it," said Gardam. But who will do those clinical trials for an old drug long off-patent with no real potential to generate profits? Brown agrees it's a problem.

"Given that pentamidine is an off-patent drug this sort of development research is unlikely to be done by a company," he told us. "So it falls into the realm of drug development research paid for with [public] health research dollars."

Meanwhile pentamidine sits on the shelf, already approved for human use and available to any doctor who dares to use it against a superbug infection without having an established protocol to follow. 

"It would be a pretty gutsy move to prescribe," Brown said.

And so far no one has announced a plan to follow up on Brown's discovery with clinical tests.

Want to win the lottery? Hit the sleep jackpot instead

A good night's sleep feels wonderful, but can it compare to winning the lottery?

Yes. That's what researchers from the University of Warwick report in this month's journal SLEEP. They asked more than 30,000 U.K. residents about their sleep. After four years, those who reported an increased quantity of sleep or a decreased use of sleep medications had better scores on tests for health and well-being. But the biggest change was in those who reported an improvement in the quality of their sleep. 
Researchers say their results show that public health messages should be broadened to focus on improving quality of sleep. (Getty Images/Image Source)

The changes in health and well-being were comparable to those seen in people who completed an eight-week program of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, or even those who won up to a $300,000 prize in the lottery.

The researchers say their results show that public health messages should be broadened to focus on improving quality of sleep as well as reducing use of sleep medication, on top of the current emphasis on getting enough sleep.

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