Question: A friend of mine advised me not to give my baby the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine because of a link between it and autism. My nephew is autistic, and I don't want to do anything that might cause harm to my son. What advice can you give me on this difficult decision?
Answer: Rest assured that the vaccine is safe. The MMR vaccine will protect your son against three serious infectious diseases, and will not cause him to develop autism. The controversy came about as a result of a 1998 research study published in the prestigious British journal The Lancet citing a new syndrome of autism and an inflammatory bowel condition in 12 children who had recently received the MMR vaccine. It turned out that the entire study was fraudulent, with data falsified by its author, Andrew Wakefield. Closer examination of these 12 children indicated: (1) three of nine children did not have autism at all; (2) despite claims that all 12 children were previously normal, five had previously documented developmental concerns; (3) nine of the 12 children had essentially normal colon biopsy reports, which were later changed to "non-specific colitis"; (4) patients were reportedly recruited through anti-MMR campaigners, and the study itself was conceived and funded for planned litigation.
A 2004 investigation by England's Sunday Times reporter Brian Deer discovered that Wakefield had planned to launch a business venture capitalizing on the MMR scare by selling his diagnostic medical tests for the new bogus syndrome of "autistic enterocolitis." Deer believes that Wakefield might have earned as much as $43 million yearly in sales of his testing kits. Wakefield has since been stripped of his license to practice medicine in England. A 2011 article in the Annals of Pharmacotherapy described the MMR vaccine-autism connection as "the most damaging medical hoax of the last 100 years."
Q: Can you explain what synthetic marijuana is and why they say it's dangerous?
A: Synthetic marijuana, sold under names like "K2" and "Spice," is basically various dried and shredded herbal plant materials sprayed with synthetic additives that are THC-like compounds. While packaging states "not for human consumption," it's no secret what the intended use of the product is. THC is the active ingredient in marijuana responsible for its psychoactive properties. When they smoke it like ordinary marijuana, users of synthetic pot experience some effects similar to those produced by marijuana - euphoria, relaxation, and altered perception. But in many cases, synthetic pot's effects are much stronger than marijuana itself. Some users have reported a racing heart, extreme anxiety, paranoia, and hallucinations. There have even been reports of its causing heart attacks and death. Its effects are often quite powerful and unpredictable. This is why governmental and law enforcement efforts are underway to try to block its sale and use.
Synthetic marijuana has high abuse potential and its manufacturers have repeatedly tried to evade legal restrictions by substituting different chemicals in their synthetic formulations. While it is called synthetic marijuana, its effects are different and it is clearly far more dangerous than marijuana. It may also contain heavy metal residues such as lead. A recent survey found that 11 percent of U.S. teens have tried synthetic marijuana. Since it's not detectable on the usual drug screening tests, it's especially important to educate people on the dangers of synthetic pot.
Mitchell Hecht specializes in internal medicine. Send questions to him at: "Ask Dr. H," Box 767787, Atlanta, Ga. 30076.