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What Drugs Are Most Popular Globally? Scientists Screened Sewage for Years to Find Out

Scientists spent years screening sewage from some 60 million people for cocaine, amphetamines, and MDMA to build a comprehensive wastewater map of illicit drug use in more than 30 countries around the world. According to the study, which was published Wednesday in the journal Addiction, cocaine use is on the rise across Europe, methamphetamine is…

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What Drugs Are Most Popular Globally? Scientists Screened Sewage for Years to Find Out

Scientists spent years screening sewage from some 60 million people for cocaine, amphetamines, and MDMA to build a comprehensive wastewater map of illicit drug use in more than 30 countries around the world.

According to the study, which was published Wednesday in the journal Addiction, cocaine use is on the rise across Europe, methamphetamine is most prevalent in North America and Australasia, and the Netherlands had the highest rate of MDMA use.

“This is the largest wastewater‐based epidemiology study ever performed in terms of cities (120) and countries (37) involved and of the monitoring duration (2011–17),” said the team, which was co-led by Iria González-Mariño, an assistant professor of chemistry at the University of Salamanca in Spain.

“The extensive data set obtained for cocaine, amphetamine, methamphetamine, and MDMA showed a comprehensive picture of spatial and temporal trends of use,” González-Mariño and her colleagues said in the study.

Sampling wastewater for residue from drugs has become an increasingly popular method to track patterns in the global illicit drug market over the past decade. Previous studies have focused on drug use in select cities or during public events, such as the 2017 total solar eclipse, but González-Mariño’s and her colleagues took an international approach.

The team began sampling wastewater in European cities in 2011, and expanded the survey to Australia, New Zealand, Colombia, Martinique, Canada, the US, South Korea, and Israel from 2014 to 2017.

The team avoided collecting samples during public holidays, when higher-than-average drug use might skew the results, and tried to account for contamination of prescribed drugs that might leave the same chemical fingerprints as their illegal variants. For instance, Seattle wastewater suggests especially high methamphetamine use in the city, but this finding could be influenced by legal drugs prescribed for attention deficit/hyperactivity disorders.

The results showed that overall drug use was most prevalent cities such as Antwerp, Amsterdam, Zurich, London, and Barcelona, while cities in Greece, Portugal, Finland, Poland, and Sweden had the lowest rates of drug residue in wastewater.

Cocaine was most popular in London, Bristol, Amsterdam, Zurich, Geneva, St Gallen, and Antwerp. Amphetamine seemed to be on the rise in Barcelona, Geneva, Berne, Zurich, Dortmund, and Berlin, but methamphetamine use was far lower in Europe than in the United States and Australia. While the Netherlands had the highest rates of MDMA use, the drug was also popular in Helsinki, Oslo, Brussels, Dortmund, Zagreb, Zurich, Geneva, and Barcelona.

Overall, the data more or less lined up with other measurements of illicit drug use. “In general terms, conclusions we got by analyzing wastewater match the ones derived from established drug use indicators like surveys, incaution data, etc.,” González-Mariño said in an email. “The interesting thing of our methodology is that it provides data almost in real time (samples are taken and analyzed within few days) so we get results ‘earlier’ than other indicators.”

As an example, she recalled how her team was perplexed to see a spike in benzoylecgonine, the metabolite compound in cocaine, in European cities from 2016 to 2017. Months later, the researchers found out that cocaine purity had increased during that period, which could account for the higher levels of benzoylecgonine in the wastewater.

González-Mariño also sampled wastewater for signs of cannabis use, but that drug’s psychoactive ingredient— tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)—was more difficult to identify in sewage samples because it easily bonds with wastewater particles.

“The analytical protocol to extract it and analyze it in water had to be improved year by year,” González-Mariño said. “It is a tricky substance but I am confident our new methods will be good enough to include THC also in our next studies.”

This wastewater data is useful for communities aiming to track the flow of illicit drugs, and anticipating the medical and social problems interlinked with them. González-Mariño and her colleagues hope to expand their research to other cities, and potentially start testing for other substances that affect human quality of life.

“This methodology can be extended to assess lifestyle habits (like consumption of legal substances such as alcohol or tobacco) and human exposure to pollutants (such as plasticizers and pesticides), so its field of application is promising and not limited to illicit drugs,” she said.

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Here’s What JUUL Allegedly Thinks of Its Customers

JUUL’s marketing strategy over the years has essentially positioned the company as the Cool Girl of the tobacco industry; JUUL isn’t like the other girls that want to get people hooked on cigarettes that will eventually kill them, JUUL wants to hold its customers’ hands and lead them gently toward a better, and a claims-to-be…

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Here’s What JUUL Allegedly Thinks of Its Customers

JUUL’s marketing strategy over the years has essentially positioned the company as the Cool Girl of the tobacco industry; JUUL isn’t like the other girls that want to get people hooked on cigarettes that will eventually kill them, JUUL wants to hold its customers’ hands and lead them gently toward a better, and a claims-to-be healthier (yet unproven), lifestyle. Its branding and advertising has centered around the idea that cigarettes are bad and JUUL is good. “Make the Switch,” the company encouraged (until a month ago, when the company pivoted away from the slogan in a series of internal decisions). “We certainly don’t want youth using the product,” the company said, as it pulled flavors from shelves.

A lawsuit filed this week by Siddharth Breja, a former JUUL executive, makes it seem like the company never actually believed any of its own moral signaling. The lawsuit claims that former JUUL CEO Kevin Burns brushed off concerns that his company was shipping at least a million contaminated pods earlier this year, dismissing his customers as “drunk” people who “vape like mo-fos.” As BuzzFeed News reports, Breja alleges he was wrongfully terminated in March 2019 for raising concerns about the shipment of bad pods.

Are you a current or former JUUL employee? We’d love to hear from you. Using a non-work phone or computer, you can contact Hannah Smothers securely on Signal on (908) 485-7021, or email hannah.smothers@vice.com.

This is damning for a company that has held its nose above the fray of third-party and counterfeit pods, which JUUL has openly and consistently blamed for containing unregulated, potentially harmful contents. According to details from the lawsuit obtained by BuzzFeed News, in February 2019, Breja protested selling pods that were nearly a year old by the time they shipped, and asked the company to at least include an expiration or manufacture date on the packaging. Burns allegedly shot this down, saying, “Half our customers are drunk and vaping like mo-fos, who the fuck is going to notice the quality of our pods.”

The answer to that is… a lot of people. The problem with having an extremely devoted customer base is they tend to be a bit obsessed with the product. Stan culture misses nothing. A smattering of posts from the r/juul subreddit complain of declining pod quality; while these complaints aren’t necessarily related to the shipment mentioned in the lawsuit, they show how dedicated and attentive avid JUULers are. Posts from the subreddit routinely compare clarity of pod juice and complain of anything suspect, like leaking pods or pods that are already brown (signifying age, perhaps) when opened. It’s impossible to speak to the mental state of the people posting about pod quality online, but even if they are, in fact, “drunk and vaping like mo-fos,” they’re still very much noticing the quality of JUUL’s products.

Update: On Wednesday evening, a spokesman for Kevin Burns passed along the following statement to VICE: “I never said this, or anything remotely close to this, period. As CEO, I had the company make huge investments in product quality and the facts will show this claim is absolutely false and pure fiction.”

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There Is Such a Thing As Too Much Yoga

From not stress-eating entire tubes of unbaked crescent roll dough, to only smoking like one or two cigarettes, and only when you’re drunk, and only every two or three weeks, the key to living a healthy lifestyle lies in practicing moderation. The same goes for yoga, if this latest news is to be believed: A…

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There Is Such a Thing As Too Much Yoga

From not stress-eating entire tubes of unbaked crescent roll dough, to only smoking like one or two cigarettes, and only when you’re drunk, and only every two or three weeks, the key to living a healthy lifestyle lies in practicing moderation. The same goes for yoga, if this latest news is to be believed: A British physiotherapist named Benoy Matthews told BBC News that he has seen a rise in serious hip problems among yoga instructors. The problem lies with people pushing themselves too hard in an effort to achieve all the “prescribed” poses, even when your body is screaming “NO PLEASE NOT THE TRIPLE HEADSTAND WITH LOTUS LEGS I HAVE A WIFE AND KIDS” because it literally can’t stretch that far.

Various outlets and sources have been reporting for years that 2 Much 2 Yoga can cause serious injury, with the associated risks often differentiating by gender. Men often let minor injuries build up until they have to hit up the emergency room for something way more serious because they’re too concerned about seeming brave and invulnerable, while women, who tend to be more flexible, can put wear and tear on their hip joints and other parts of the body if they don’t give their increased flexibility the proper support.

“What’s achievable for one might not be achievable for others,” Matthews said to the BBC. “People tend to do the same set positions, rather than what’s achievable for them.”

In the worst case scenarios, Matthews warns of keyhole surgeries and even total hip replacements.

“We all know about the health benefits of yoga—I practice it myself,” he said. “But, like anything, it can cause injury. We can’t put it on a pedestal.”

The Cut seems to think that this rise in yogi hip injuries has something to do with Instagram—that we’re all trying to do impossible poses that push our bodies beyond their limits for the sake of likes and posi comments. That’s-a spicy take-a-ball! But also a somewhat reachy take-a-ball, since not everyone who does yoga is doing yoga on Instagram.

It’s not clear why we lean so hard on new health activities, especially low-impact ones, that we crush all the life out of it. But what we need instead of “more yoga than a body can possibly bear” is to do things in moderation. You like yoga? Do yoga, but not so much yoga that you hurt yourself. If you feel pain, stop, maybe seek help, and/or rest up. If part of your yoga practice is to put yourself more in touch with your body, why not start by listening to her horrible screams of agony?

“You have to know your limits,” Matthews said. “I don’t want to denounce yoga, after all it’s been going for thousands of years. But you have to understand yourself.”

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Would You Take Poop Pics for Science?

What can be learned from a humble piece of poop? What we expel is but a reflection of what we consume and what lies inside, hidden from view. In this way, to examine our poop is to examine ourselves… Or at least this is what the creators a new, crowdsourced poop database believe. Scientists with…

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Would You Take Poop Pics for Science?

What can be learned from a humble piece of poop? What we expel is but a reflection of what we consume and what lies inside, hidden from view. In this way, to examine our poop is to examine ourselves… Or at least this is what the creators a new, crowdsourced poop database believe.

Scientists with Seed Health, a microbial health company, are crowdsourcing a dookie database with the ultimate goal of using pictures of human waste to train an artificial intelligence platform launched out of MIT to recognize the difference between healthy and unhealthy poop. They hope to collect at least 100,000 poop pics, which a team of seven gastroenterologists will take notes on to train the AI platform. Developers hope that the database will ultimately help people with chronic gut conditions like irritable bowel syndrome, according to the Verge.

Science can often sound kinda boring, but this is one instance where it’s actually very cool. For instance: Before launching the campaign to source real poop pics for the database, scientists started training the app that people will use to submit dump photos to recognize different kinds of poop by molding Play-Doh into poo shapes. Play-Doh kinda looks like poop just straight out of the little plastic tub, but, for accuracy’s sake, the developers molded it along the Bristol stool chart. This means they ostensibly shaped some of the Play-Doh to look like diarrhea, which is… pretty impressive! As the Verge reports, the scientists also 3D printed a whole-ass toilet, to emulate how things would look in real life.

But now the real work begins. Seed just launched its proprietary app for safely collecting the data, along with its campaign to collect the 100,000 poo pics. People who wish to contribute their waste to science can do so by going to seed.com/poop on their phone (not a laptop), and clicking on the button that says #GIVEaSHIT. They’ll then be asked for an email address and whether they’re a morning, afternoon, or evening dumper. From there, one is able to submit poop pics with anonymity—all metadata will be separated from the pics, for privacy and HIPAA compliance, before the photos are annotated by scientists.

It is, apparently, already very much a thing to post pics of poop online: There are multiple subreddits (which I will not link here) developed to poo rating and discussion; posting dookie pics on Instagram is so popular that it has its own community of #Poopstagram-ers (yes, this is allowed by Instagram’s terms of service). This seems extremely intimate and vulnerable, given what poop can reveal about a person’s lifestyle, but I suppose that’s the beauty in posting. Now interested parties can build upon the urge to share their toilet achievements by doing so for science, for the greater good of health and mankind. Onward and upward.

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