Sunday, 3 August 2014

Response to a Cocaine Study Which Bore a Non-Observable Conclusion

Beneath is my response to the 2013 study:
Cocaine’s effect on mice may explain human drug-seeking behavior

A simplified overview of the researchers' conclusions is here:
Cocaine use boosts learning and decision-making... but only as part of increasing dependency



These other posts also supplement my responses given here:
Earlier instance of the same study-scenario - different result
Additional instances of same study

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A short version of my response, targeted towards the simplified "overview" article is:

I don't actually see support for the latter portion of the headline, "but only as part of increasing dependency", in the mentioned observations from the study. I don't see any measurement of dependency, or changing degree of dependency in the given information. I also don't see a sound relation between seeking cocaine and the growth of dendritic spines.

What it appears to discover is that as the mice exert more effort to think and decide, more dendritic spines are formed... and confirms that cocaine improves learning, complex thinking, and memory - period.

Within the environment in which they have been placed, the number one motivation for the mice to think hard is to figure out where the cocaine came from, and where it will next be. If their minds were used for other processes of equal strength, they would surely display the same rate of dendritic spines growth. If this were studied in humans, and the humans were to use their time while cocaine-stimulated to learn a new subject, or perform other mental challenges, they would display the same growth, or more - but towards those new subjects.


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My fuller response, which I sent to the university that carried out the study, is this:




Hello. This is feedback for the article study-based article "Cocaine’s effect on mice may explain human drug-seeking behavior".

I don't see a sound relation between seeking cocaine and the growth of dendritic spines.

What it appears to discover is that, under the influence of cocaine, as the mice have gained ability to exert greater effort to think and decide, more dendritic spines are formed - and that, specifically in this lab environment where they have been placed, their primary (or even only) possible motivation to process thought happens to be to figure out where cocaine might be. If their minds were used for other processes of equal strength, they would surely display the same rate of dendritic spines growth - but they are unlikely to face such a possibly, if for no other reason than that they are just mice and which lead the lives of lab mice. If this was studied in humans, and the humans were to use their time while cocaine-stimulated to learn a new subject or perform other mental challenges, the results would most likely display the same growth, or more.

In the study, mice always preferred the side of the chamber from where they had received cocaine. You could replace cocaine with any positive stimulus, and the result would likely always be the same as it was with the cocaine. In a chamber containing a straight male human with a high sex drive, you could put pornography or a naked companion of the kind they like on that side of the chamber, and they would likewise always head to that side.

There is nothing about the cocaine being cocaine, or a drug, that is a significant factor in this.

There are two similar compartments, one thing makes them stand apart, and that thing is enjoyable/pleasurable/satisfying - like offering a meal to somebody who needs to eat. The choice is merely 'pleasurable and satisfying' versus 'nothingness', and, in this case, the nothingness is even below simply nothing... in reality there is no choice for the mouse, and only one direction offered. Which will somebody, anybody, any creature choose? The only thing that's there, at all.

The quote from one of those who studied, "Our images provide clear evidence that cocaine induces rapid gains in new spines, and the more spines the mice gain, the more they show they learned about the drug," seems partially potentially misleading. The study does indeed show that cocaine induces rapid gains in new spines, and therefore enhances learning and cognitive abilities.

But, as previously mentioned, it didn't clearly show that the direct result is that they learn specifically about the drug, but it suggests that they were capable of learning faster and more solidly, regardless of where they focused that learning. When it comes to lab mice whose lives consist of a lot of nothingness and then some cocaine, anything assumed based on their direction of response being towards the cocaine is undependable data.

"Learned about the drug" probably means "were able to recall where the drug last was", and I am wondering how much there would be for a mouse to learn during subsequent trials. I am assuming that the mice would have done a backtrack through their memories to allocate all the places in which the cocaine had been administered, and then focused on the locales where it was most commonly given, which would maybe then be where they would think that there is the best chance of cocaine being again.

It seems like a simple study from which data may be being slightly misconstrued to fit pre-expected or designated meanings, by whoever is testing.

I think there is interesting data to learn here with additional tests, but I would not be eager to derive any assumptions about dependency from a lab rat who has nothing going for it other than the occasional dose of cocaine. If you take a lab-kept human, and occasionally let it out of its cage to receive some sex... since it doesn't even know anything apart from its cage and sex, is is ever going to show an inclination towards anything other than sex, when it is let out of its cage?

If possible to be approved, this study should be done with humans who don't know what the goal of the study is, who don't know specifically what they are being given, and who should then be instructed to study subjects which are first measured for how taxing they are to a particular individual, for the duration of the drug. The growth of dendritic spines should then be measured. I think that the more a person tries to think, the greater the growth of dendritic spines will be, and that cocaine will boost this growth dependent on the subject's exertion, regardless of motive or subject.



Shrapnel

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