Racing to Build the Starbucks of Weed


The next gold rush in legalizing cannabis is public consumption. Entrepreneur J.J. Walker is already one step ahead.

From my article in Marker posted October 3, 2019

Several states and cities are already cautiously opening the door to the so-called social consumption of marijuana. These new laws would permit any adult who purchases cannabis in a specially licensed business to also consume the products right there. In other words, a legal future in which enjoying weed is as simple as walking into a bar or restaurant and enjoying a glass of chardonnay. Currently there are no credible projections of the size of the social-consumption market, but there’s enough relevant math to suggest it will likely be massive….Read more

Reaction to my Atlantic article on “the world’s worst patients”

Letters from readers about my July article, and my response, from the September, 2019, issue of The Atlantic

AtlPatients“I found this article to be a refreshing departure from most writing about health care. Of course culture matters. As a medical anthropologist, however, I thought David H. Freedman missed a key factor in health outcomes. Many people who have the worst compliance rates and outcomes (Freedman lists smokers, diabetics, and people with sedentary lifestyles as examples) also have the same socioeconomic status. In other words, they’re broke or too busy to do everything they’re supposed to….” Read more

Why autoimmune diseases are hard to diagnose


Even specialists often struggle to make sense of the puzzling symptoms that come with these slow-moving disorders

From my article in Elemental posted September 30, 2019

Some 1.5 million Americans have been diagnosed with lupus erythematosus. And lupus is just one of more than 100 autoimmune diseases affecting nearly 25 million Americans, diseases that together present a challenging and often frustrating path to diagnosis for doctors and patients alike. “These patients often get sent on a long journey before they get an answer,” says Robert Lahita, M.D., the chairman of medicine at St. Joseph’s Healthcare in Wayne, N.J. “Some physicians will tell them it’s all in their head. It’s not, and they can be miserable for years until they get diagnosed.” Read more

How the five senses impact health


Hacking the sensory-health connection can improve well-being in surprising ways

From my article in Elemental posted September 5, 2019

About a quarter of the human brain’s mass is devoted to processing information from the five senses. Given that the brain plays such a central role in health, it’s not surprising that the five senses are closely tied to well-being.

But beyond merely proving those connections exist, researchers have recently started to explore ways to purposely manipulate them for people’s benefit. “Interventions based on what we see, feel, and even taste can have a seemingly dramatic effect on health,“ says Charles Spence, an Oxford University PhD researcher who runs a lab dedicated to studying the role that perception plays in behavior and health. “They can reduce pain, speed recovery from illness, and much more.” Read more

CBD: Looking Beyond the Hype

Pop culture says CBD cures everything—here’s what scientists say

From my cover story in the September 6, 2019, Newsweek


Hardly anyone had heard of CBD three years ago, but now two-thirds of Americans are familiar with it, according to a recent Gallup survey. One in seven Americans use it as an over-the-counter treatment for pain, anxiety and sleep problems. They have also turned to CBD for depression, muscle spasms, digestive issues and skin ailments. One in three pet owners give it to their dogs and cats, says a survey by market-research firm Packaged Facts. It’s also been touted as a treatment for cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. One medical clinic reported that CBD relieved 90 percent of all symptoms in all its patients.

Trouble is, almost all of the claims are currently unsubstantiated. “Consumers are participating in one of the largest uncontrolled clinical trials in history, and no one really knows what it is they’re taking,” says Pal Pacher, an investigator at the National Institutes of Health and president of the International Cannabinoid Research Society. “It’s scary”….Read more

Do I Have a Drinking Problem?


The standard tools that flag high-risk imbibing don’t always send the right people for help

From my article in Elemental posted August 8, 2019

There are two fairly reliable ways to discern whether you may have a biological disposition for alcohol trouble, says one psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital who specializes in substance abuse. One is obvious: Look for alcohol trouble in your family history. The other is much less obvious: If you handle your alcohol better than most people around you, you’re at higher risk of a long-term problem….Read more

Precision Medicine Is Crushing Once-Untreatable Cancers–But There’s a Catch


For tens of thousands of patients, precision medicine is rewriting their cancer stories. But only a fraction of patients benefit. Can medicine close the gap?

From my cover story in the July 26, 2019, Newsweek

Linda Boyed, an energetic 52-year-old occupational therapist, was thrilled to be on vacation with her family in Hawaii, hitting the beaches and taking long walks. But she couldn’t shake a constant feeling of fatigue. When she returned home, her doctor delivered the bad news: Cancer of the bile ducts in her liver had already spread too far for chemotherapy or surgery to do any good. He offered to help keep her comfortable for her final few months.

But then Boyed’s husband found a doctor at Ohio State’s cancer center who was running studies of experimental drugs for gastrointestinal cancers. That doctor gave her an experimental drug called BGJ398. Boyed’s symptoms cleared up, the tumors stopped growing, and she regained the weight she had lost….Read more


Can you work better high?


Many insist that toking on the job improves their performance. Scientists and other experts are lending some surprising support to the claim.

From my article in Elemental posted July 17, 2019

Besides their outsized reputations in the annals of literature, Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, Charles Baudelaire, and Honoré de Balzac had something else in common: their interest in weed. They were all members of the Club des Hashischins — the “Hash Club” — formed in the 19th century as a way to provide opportunities for these towering figures and other celebrated creatives to explore the benefits of writing while high.

There’s reason to believe mixing pot and work may not be as problematic as once thought for others, too. Some scientists, physicians, and other experts are going as far as to suggest that for some people, pot can even be a tool for increasing productivity….Read more

The Worst Patients in the World


Americans are hypochondriacs, yet we skip our checkups. We demand drugs we don’t need, and fail to take the ones we do. No wonder the U.S. leads the world in health spending.

From my article in the July 2019 issue of The Atlantic

I was standing two feet away when my 74-year-old father slugged an emergency-room doctor who was trying to get a blood-pressure cuff around his arm. I wasn’t totally surprised: An accomplished scientist who was sharp as a tack right to the end, my father had nothing but disdain for the entire U.S. health-care system, which he believed piled on tests and treatments intended to benefit its bottom line rather than his health. He typically limited himself to berating or rolling his eyes at the unlucky clinicians tasked with ministering to him, but more than once I could tell he was itching to escalate….Read more


The Neuroscience of Cravings


Research explains why people have intense urges for specific foods — and reveals ways to train our brains to resist them

From my article in Elemental posted June 5, 2019

Serving as an experimental subject in the lab of Peter Hall means eating chocolate or potato chips — as much or as little of either as you want. And there’s no catch.

Well, maybe just a tiny one. While you’re scarfing down the goodies, you have to wear a device on your head that scrambles some of the signals in your brain with a blast of magnetic energy. It’s all in the service of advancing science. The science of food cravings, that is….Read more