Columbus discovers tobacco: Oct. 15, 1492
Soon after landing with his crews in the New World on the island he names San Salvador, Christopher Columbus meets natives who offer him presents of fruit, wooden spears and “certain dried leaves which gave off a distinct fragrance.” The men eat the fruit, but throw away the leaves.
A few weeks, later, however, while exploring the island that’s now Cuba, a few of Columbus’ crew members observed more natives smoking the same herb wrapped in palm leaves. They learned from the natives that the leaves seemed to keep them from getting tired or hungry. One of the Spaniards, named Rodrigo de Jerez, tried it and liked it, and, in doing so, became the first European to smoke tobacco. He took some seeds–and his new habit–back with him to Spain.
But some of his neighbors became upset at the sight of smoke billowing around his head and reported him to authorities. The Spanish Inquisition ruled that “only the Devil could give a man the power to exhale smoke from his mouth” and sent Jerez to prison for seven years.
However, a Spanish monk named Ramon Pane, who accompanied Columbus on his second voyage across the Atlantic in 1493, also became intrigued with tobacco and wrote lengthy descriptions of how the natives used it, including smoking it in Y-shaped pipes. He took more seeds back to Spain and slowly smoking tobacco started to catch on.
As early as 1525, the smoking was being described as something that could “clarify the mind and give happy thoughts.” By the middle of the 16th century, tobacco was seen as something of a wonder drug, and given to patients as a treatment for headaches, colic, hysteria, hernia, and dysentery, toothache, falling fingernails, worms, bad breath, lockjaw, and yes, even cancer.
There were, however, powerful people who saw smoking as a dangerous trend. In 1604, England’s King James I called it “loathsome to the eye, hateful to the nose, harmful to the brain and dangerous to the lungs.” In 1634, Czar Alexis of Russia decreed new penalties for smoking. A first offense resulted in a whipping and slitting of the person’s nose. A second offense brought execution. And, in China, at about the same time, the use or distribution of tobacco was made punishable by decapitation.
But that wasn’t enough to slow its growing popularity in Europe, where most people consumed tobacco in long-stemmed clay pipes and then, in 18th century France, as snuff inhaled through the nose. Opposition to tobacco diminished as it became a bigger part of European economies. In colonial America, meanwhile, it was not only a key to the growing economy, but also a major factor in the burgeoning African slave trade.
Cigars became the tobacco source of choice during the 19th century, followed by a huge cigarette boom in the 20th century, driven largely by the two world wars. Between 1930 and 1979 consumption of cigarettes in the United States almost tripled, increasing from 972 to 2,775 cigarettes per person per year.
In 1930, researchers in Cologne, Germany, made a statistical correlation between cancer and smoking. Eight years later, Dr. Raymond Pearl of Johns Hopkins University reported that smokers do not live as long as non-smokers. By 1944, the American Cancer Society began to warn about possible ill effects of smoking, although it admitted that “no definite evidence exists” linking smoking and lung cancer.
In 1952, Reader’s Digest published “Cancer by the Carton,” an article detailing the dangers of smoking. Similar reports began appearing in other magazines and newspapers and the following year, cigarette sales declined for the first time in more than two decades. The cigarette industry responded by marketing filtered and low-tar brands and sales picked up again.
But in 1964, the U.S. Surgeon General’s office came out with its landmark report concluding, in unequivocal terms, that “cigarette smoking is causally related to lung cancer in men” and that the evidence pointed in the same direction for women. The report didn’t mince words. The average smoker, it said, was nine to 10 times more likely to get lung cancer than the average non-smoker.
Kissing helps size up potential partner
Kissing may help people judge the quality and compatibility of a potential partner, concludes a new study from Oxford University.
The researchers conducted an online survey of 900 adults to examine the role of kissing in choosing mates. The results, published in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior, showed that the men and women who were more selective in choosing mates also valued kissing more.
One of the researchers, Robin Dunbar, said the study suggests that kissing is used as an assessment between partners in the more intimate, “courtship” stages that occur beyond initial attraction. Beyond the “courtship” stage, kissing may also play an important role at different times in committed, long-term relationships, she said.
Women, in particular, were found to value kissing in long-term relationships more than men because kissing plays a role in increasing feelings of affection and attachment among couples.
Brain releases painkillers during social rejection
A new study from the University of Michigan Medical School suggests that the brain pathways activated during physical pain also kick in when a person experiences social pain and rejection.
The study, published in Molecular Psychiatry, involved a bran scanning technique that tracked the chemicals released in participants’ brain when they were socially rejected in an online dating model.
Participants included 18 adults, who were asked to view photos and fictitious personal profiles of hundreds of adults. They were then asked to select who they were most interested in romantically.
Participants were then told that their attraction to another individual was not reciprocated, while they were in a brain imaging machine. Scans showed that the brain regions involved in physical pain released opioids when they were socially “rejected.”
The scientists said that the overlap between physical and mental pain implies that there is an opportunity for research in both chronic pain treatments and psychiatric treatments. The findings may be particularly significant for people suffering from depression or anxiety, the researchers said, because they may have an abnormal opioid response to social rejection.
Possible treatment for marijuana abuse found
Researchers at the University of Maryland say they may have found a new way to help marijuana abusers break their dependence on the drug.
A substance in the brain, called kynurenic acid, was able to block the brain receptors that increase good feelings caused by the chemical dopamine—a key ingredient involved in drug abuse. The researchers said kynurenic acid, produced by the breakdown of a chemical found in bananas and turkey, may prove effective as a treatment for people who are trying to quit marijuana.
In a study involving rats and squirrel monkeys, the scientists examined the effects of kynurenic acid on THC—the chemical in marijuana that activates dopamine in the brain. The animals were allowed to self-administer THC by pushing a lever.
The findings, published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, showed that the rats and monkeys were less likely to administer themselves the THC when they had more kynurenic acid. More importantly, boosting kynurenic acid levels prevented the animals from returning to their previous drug abuse patterns.
The researchers said that these results are promising, but further study is needed to validate these findings in humans.
Exercise may ward off Alzheimer's
Exercise may help preserve brain health and could even help slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s and other cognitive disorders, according to new research.
Previous studies have shown that endurance exercise improves brain function, but this study brings researchers one step closer to understanding the molecular mechanisms behind these findings.
The study, published in an online issue of the journal Cell Metabolism, examined the effect of endurance exercise on mice. The mice ran on an exercise wheel for 30 days, during and after which researchers studied the animals’ brain function.
Researchers found that exercise caused mice to produce more of certain protein (BDNF) that helps protect the brain’s hippocampus, the part of the brain involved in learning and memory.
By understanding the specific molecular pathway that links exercise to increased BDNF levels, the researchers said they will be better able to develop drugs that have the same qualities, which may be able to help slow the progression of cognitive diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.