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

What’s the Magic Behind Graphene’s ‘Magic’ Angle?


A new theoretical model may help explain the shocking onset of superconductivity in stacked, twisted carbon sheets.

From my May 27, 2019, article in Quanta Magazine

The blockbuster discovery last year of superconductivity in a material called twisted bilayer graphene caught theorists off guard. None of them had even speculated about the sudden loss of all electrical resistance when two sheets of graphene — honeycomb lattices of carbon atoms — were stacked and twisted at a relative angle of 1.1 degrees. But one prominent proposal from Harvard University condensed matter theorists offers a detailed picture of what might be going on….Read more

The Superbugs Are Here


Antibiotic-resistant bacteria will kill millions in the coming decades. Can we fix the broken economic and research models that could produce new treatments?

From my cover story in the May 31, 2019, Newsweek

In January, Columbia University revealed that four patients at its Irving Medical Center in New York had been sick with an unusual version of E. coli , a common gut bacterium. NwswkSuperbugsCoverAlthough the news largely escaped attention in the media, it ricocheted through the world of infectious disease experts. The Columbia E. coli had a mutation in a gene, MCR-1, that confers a terrifying attribute: imperviousness to colistin, the final-line-of-defense antibiotic for the bug. “We’re looking to the shelf for the next antibiotic, and there’s nothing there,” says Erica Shenoy, associate chief of the infection control unit at Massachusetts General Hospital….Read more

The Munchies Paradox


Researchers are trying to untangle the surprisingly complex relationship between pot and appetite

From my article in Elemental on May 13, 2019

Convenience stores in about 2,000 of the United States’ 3,200 or so counties saw a jump in junk food sales between 2006 and 2016. The indulgent counties were all in or close to states that legalized recreational marijuana at some point during that 10-year time period, just before sales surged.

The new data fits well with the experiences of hundreds of millions of people who use cannabis and with what science knows about pot. Or does it? In hundreds of studies of pot and appetite, the results are, well, disjointed. If there is any sort of consensus, it’s that longer-term use of pot is more closely associated with people maintaining what doctors classify as healthier weights than it is with people ending up glued to the couch, overeating….Read more

With a Simple Twist, a ‘Magic’ Material Is Now the Big Thing in Physics

QuantaGrapheneImage2The stunning emergence of a new type of superconductivity with the mere twist of a carbon sheet has left physicists giddy, and its discoverer nearly overwhelmed.

From my April 30, 2019, article in Quanta Magazine (also published in Wired)

Pablo Jarillo-Herrero is channeling some of his copious energy into a morning run, dodging startled pedestrians as he zips along, gradually disappearing into the distance. He’d doubtlessly be moving even faster if he weren’t dressed in a sports coat, slacks and dress shoes, and confined to one of the many weirdly long corridors that crisscross the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Jarillo-Herrero has never been a slacker, but his activity has jumped several levels since his dramatic announcement in March 2018 that his lab at MIT had found superconductivity in twisted bilayer graphene — a one-atom-thick sheet of carbon crystal dropped on another one, and then rotated to leave the two layers slightly askew….Read more