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Is "Super-Weed" More Dangerous?; New Malaria Vaccine; Baby Apps Claim to be Brain Boosters

Aired August 11, 2013 - 07:30   ET


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN HOST: Hello and welcome to SGMD.

You know, iPads and tablet computers, they are so ubiquitous nowadays. And you might have noticed that children, even babies, are immediately drawn to that screen. But how young is too young? And is in any of it good for them? I'm going to show you what I learned.

Also, the most important thing that people tend to overlook when they're trying to get healthy and lose weight.

But, first, my investigation on weed.


GUPTA (voice-over): People are lighting up all over the country.


GUPTA: They call it the green rush. Marijuana has moved out of the back alleys and into the open.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Happy cannabis cup, you all.

GUPTA: In some states it's legal to grow, to sell, to smoke. And marijuana could be legalized in a city near you. So, easy to get, and many think so harmless. But when the smoke clears, is marijuana bad for you? Or could pot actually be good for you?


GUPTA: You know, I came in with a lot of questions on this topic and I tell you, I traveled all over the world to try and get some answers as well. I even went to Israel where they literally have patients using marijuana as a treatment right in the hospital. Of course, I did spend a lot of my time in the United States. I spent time in Colorado, where they recently passed a lawmaking marijuana legal for all adults.

On one hand, I went to a treatment center where the director of that center says he literally cried after that vote was passed. He saw nothing but trouble.

But I also met people, even children, who are being saved -- saved literally by marijuana as a medicine. It's literally the only thing that helps them, in some cases they have life threatening diseases.

On a personal note, I've done somewhat of a turnaround on this. I used to take a very negative view of marijuana like a lot of doctors do, but I think in many cases, we have been actively and terribly misled, and I do now think that at a minimum this is an intriguing medicine that is helping patients right now and it certainly deserves more study.

All that said, I understand the concerns and I've been looking in to those as well. One big one I tell you is that some people think marijuana today is decidedly different than that was being smoked a generation ago. They say it's stronger, a lot stronger.


GUPTA: See the barbed wire obviously on the fences.

(voice-over): Here on the campus of the country's oldest universities, Ole Miss, a huge stash of marijuana is under lock and key.


GUPTA (on camera): This is some pretty tight security. Look at this door.

(voice-over): Dr. Mahmoud Elsohly runs what's called the Marijuana Potency Project.

(on camera): What's the potency of this?

ELSOHLY: This is about 8 percent.

GUPTA: For three decades now, his team has analyzed weed confiscated from drug busts.

ELSOHLY: This is 36 percent THC. You can smell it. It has a good aromatic smell.

GUPTA (on camera): How much does this worry you, 36 percent THC confiscated?

ELSOHLY: Very, very dangerous material. For someone that does not experience in marijuana smoking, take some of this and they're going to go into the negative effects of the high amounts of the THC, the psychosis, the irritation, the irritability, the paranoia and all of this.

GUPTA (voice-over): And while not all the plants are this high, there's no question he's seeing a trend. In 1972, the average potency was less than 1 percent THC. Now, it's nearly 13 percent.

(on camera): Are people becoming more obsessed with high THC marijuana?

ELSOHLY: I think so. I think they are. (END VIDEOTAPE)

GUPTA: And for my documentary on "Weed", I also just spoke with Dr. Julie Holland who is a psychiatrist and expert on cannabis. She's also editor of "The Pot Book."


GUPTA: With regard to this high THC, the higher levels of THC in marijuana today versus the '60s and '70s, is this more toxic to their brains today than it was 30, 40 years ago?

DR. JULIE HOLLAND, EDITOR, "THE POT BOOK": Well, it could be more toxic to your thinking or your behavior. Like, for instance, seizures -- you know, low-dose THC prevents seizures, CBD at any does seems to prevent seizures. But high-dose THC can actually induce seizures, same thing with nausea and vomiting.

You know, there's a wide range of THC that will stop nausea, vomiting, but if you really go to the ultrahigh THCs or the synthetic cannabinoids, then you can induce vomiting. So, dose does matter and, you know, too much of a good thing is not great, especially it's very disorienting to have high-dose THC, and you can become paranoid and disorganized thinking, you can get disoriented. It can be uncomfortable -- it can lead to panic attacks or anxiety attacks in people who aren't comfortable of being that sort of separated from reality, even if it's for 15 or 30 minutes.

GUPTA (voice-over): Like any drug, cannabis can have different effects depending on whether it's smoked, eaten or taken in other ways.

(on camera): Taking aside kids for a second, do you worry about it for adults if it's not smoked?

HOLLAND: The problem with eating cannabis is it can be really altering and very, very strong. One thing that happens when you eat cannabis is that your liver metabolizes THC into 11 hydroxy THC. And 11 hydroxy THC is very psychedelic. It's very, very altering.

And sometimes you don't feel it coming on for two hours and you end up eating more. I mean, sometimes the dose with these edibles is, you know, half a cookie or a quarter of a cookie, and I don't know 20 people who can eat just half a cookie.

So there's really a risk of having too much when people use orals. But, again, the risk is not that you'll stop breathing or that you'll die, the risk is that you'll become very altered, disoriented and sometimes, you know, you can get anxious and panicky in that situation.

GUPTA (voice-over): There's also the question of addiction. Compared about other drugs marijuana is not highly addictive.

The most widely cited number, 9 percent of users go on to become dependent. That's compared to 23 percent with heroin, 17 percent with cocaine, 15 percent with alcohol. But could the more potent pot change the equation?

(on camera): With the amount of THC being so high, much higher than it was 30, 40 years ago, it can be more addictive, you say.

GUPTA: You know, this -- the 9 percent rate of people getting addicted to cannabis, I don't -- it's a pretty old number, so my assumption is that it's based on sort of weaker pot than we have now. So, you know, we -- I do keep hearing about with these, you know, with the skunk or, like, the higher THC strains that people are getting into more trouble with compulsive use, so it's my assumption that higher THC percentages can lead to more addictive behavior.


GUPTA: So, you hear all that and the question is, is marijuana bad for you? Can pot actually do some good? You're going to leave -- you're going to see what led to some of my own change of heart tomorrow night 8:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN.

And still ahead, babies on the iPad. What's educational? What's not?

But next, good news for travelers and billions of people around the world because of a potential new malaria vaccine. We've got details coming up.


GUPTA: You know, there was a big headline this week about a new vaccine against malaria. This could be big stuff. That's the disease that kills in pretty high numbers, 660,000 people died in 2010 alone, most of them African children, 219 million people are sickened worldwide every year.

Joining me to talk about this is CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.

Barbara, great to have you on the show. Thanks for joining us.

Given that you're the Pentagon correspondent reporting this, gives us some idea of where this is all coming from, but who made this announcement?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, actually, it came from the U.S. Navy, Sanjay, along with the National Institutes of Health and a pharmaceutical company. They've been working on it for some time, even the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that you know so well has been involved in some of this work. It's really important for U.S. troops around the world, they encounter malaria very often.

And basically what they've done in this very small study is achieve 100 percent protection against malaria, very small population, but it's a real beginning and if they can scale it up, if they can get some large-scale testing going, if they can get it licensed, get it into production, it may be something that makes a real difference.

GUPTA: Yes. I mean, you've probably taken some of the existing drugs to prevent malaria in all your travels. I know I have. And there can be some side effects, FDA -- I don't know if you heard this, Barbara -- just issued a warning about Lariam, malaria saying it can have permanent neurological side effects. That's a commonly taken medication to prevent malaria.

Are they saying anything about the potential side effects of this new vaccine?

STARR: Well, I've talked to the chief navy researcher, and what she tells me is because it's a vaccine as opposed to a pill which is what we all take when we travel overseas, they really do believe there will be much less side effects, essentially a live agent. So, it won't have -- they hope, they don't believe, the same types of side effects.

Now, look, they do have to do a lot more research, a lot more trials, a lot more studies, but it's that key thing that in a very small sample they got 100 percent protection. And what they want to do now is build off of that and see where they can take this program.

GUPTA: I mean, do we have any idea when this might -- what it might cost? When it might actually be a real option for people?

STARR: Well, the company, we are told, hopes to get into the FDA licensing process in the next three to five years. As for the cost, they don't know yet. Nobody's really got the data on that.

And as I said, other entities like the gates foundation are also working on similar programs. So, I suspect, Sanjay, if some of this research comes together from a lot of different areas, we may see some additional advances in all of this.

GUPTA: Fascinating stuff. Thanks so much for bringing it to us.

STARR: Sure.

GUPTA: Great to have you on the program.

Coming up, you've probably seen the pitch, learning tools and technology to make your baby smarter. Who doesn't want that?

We're going to find out what's real and what's not. But, first, "The Human Factor."


GUPTA (voice-over): Kettle bells, pull- ups, sit-ups, squats. Just completing a crossfit workout is impressive for everyone, but for Steph Hammerman, the feat is more than impressive. It once was inconceivable.

STEPH HAMMERMAN, ADAPTIVE ATHLETE: I was born three months premature. I lost a lot of oxygen and a bunch of blood through that process.

GUPTA: Steph has cerebral palsy. That develops after trauma to the brain during or after birth. Now, people with the condition are often unsteady on their feet. They have impaired motor function, muscle coordination problems, and all of this could make crossfit training dangerous.

But for Steph, it's just another obstacle to overcome.

HAMMERMAN: All of my other brothers and sisters are completely able- bodied and growing up in that world, there was no -- there was no other way to live.

GUPTA: She was always active, but the inevitable freshman 15 in college made her really want to get in shape.

HAMMERMAN: And so I found a gym. I walked in, I said, "I want to become stronger, I hear crossfit's awesome, would I be able to do this?"

GUPTA: Within an hour, she was hitting the mats. With each push-up, she got stronger. With each pull-up, more intense.

HAMMERMAN: I'm determined to prove not only to the world but to myself that I'm good enough to do this.

GUPTA: Not only is she good enough to do it, she's now good enough to coach.

HAMMERMAN: Fight for it, guys. Let's go.

GUPTA: Earlier this year, she became the world's first certified crossfit trainer with cerebral palsy.

HAMMERMAN: There's no reason in this world people have to say they can't do something. If somebody really wants to do something, they're going to find a way to make it work.



GUPTA: I think I can safely say that every new parent wants to entertain but also educate their baby. And technology being the way that it is, there's a lot of apps out there, some promising help, like this one, this is one we've used for our youngest child recently. It's called let's count. Basically you play this game and it's -- and basically teach you how to (INAUDIBLE). You sort of go through it and you go through.

And it's pretty simple, but, again, for a young child this could be something quite influential. This and other types of apps are pitched as influential. But just this week, an influential group filed complains with the Federal Trade Commission arguing that this and many other apps -- they're not what they claim to be.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: B, F, G. GUPTA (voice-over): Jody Fratz is a busy mom of three and sometimes she knows she can rely on these simple apps to help 20-month-old Steeger have some fun.

Makers of these apps say they're not only fun but also educational. With claims like teaches numbers and counting 1 to 10, first words, and action reaction.

JODY FRATZ, MOTHER OF THREE: If we're choosing, I'd rather have an educational app than just something that's empty calories.

GUPTA: But the consumer advocacy group Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood says the education angle is false advertising and they filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission on Wednesday.

SUSAN LINN, CAMPAIGN FOR A COMMERCIAL FREE CHILDHOOD: It's kind of like the Wild West out there and there needs to be some kind of regulation of the claims that they make.

GUPTA: Previous complaints from the same group led to Disney withdrawing claims about the popular "Baby Einstein" series and also a $180 million settlement from another toy maker.

LINN: It's not fair to parents to claim that something's educational when, in fact, there's no evidence that it is.

GUPTA: According to the campaign, there have been nearly 3 million downloads of Fisher-Price's "Laugh and Learn" apps.

In an e-mail statement to CNN, Fisher-Price said, "Development of our toys begins with one goal, to create age-appropriate toys for the way children play, discover and grow."

Open Solutions, they also stood by their product in an e-mail telling CNN, "We think we have apps that can help parents with babies, either by entertaining babies or helping them to see new things, animals, hear their sounds, et cetera."

FRATZ: You feel a little less guilty about letting them use if it's something that's educational, but I don't think anyone thinks it's a substitute for parents and teachers.


GUPTA: And joining me now is Dr. Ari Brown, back to the show. She's a pediatrician and author of the baby "411 Series."

Back in 2007, she actually wrote the American Academy of Pediatrics position paper which said no screen time at all for children younger than 2. I have small children, I paid attention to that paper.

Welcome back to the show, Doctor.

DR. ARI BROWN, PEDIATRICIAN: Thanks so much for having me.

GUPTA: So, what do you make about the claims that the apps are claimed to be educational and this complaint about the fact that there's no evidence of that?

BROWN: Well, I think the complaint stems from the fact that it's importance to have truth in advertising and truthfully we don't have any science that shows that these products are educational, so parents need to be informed consumers about what they're purchasing and whether we know whether they're educational or not, and the answer is, the truth is, we don't know.

GUPTA: Yes, you know, and it's tough, I guess when you look at these things like "Baby Einstein" and stuff, I always sort of assume it's not going to make my kid an Einstein, obviously, but could it -- is it helpful at all?

BROWN: And that's a great question. And unfortunately, technology goes a lot faster than the pace of science, and so researchers are looking at that very question right now. Does interactive media have a role in educating our kids, particularly our youngest kids?

GUPTA: And, you know, and it is changing fast. I mean, a lot of these apps are very new. I mean, I have three young girls, as I mentioned, a lot of these apps weren't around when they were younger. Is there a different concern about the impact of these kind of apps on children's development? I mean, you've written about screen time before. What about these iPad apps?

BROWN: Well, you know, when the American Academy of Pediatrics came out with the policy statement in 2011, when that policy statement was written, iPads didn't even exist and so we were really looking at passive media use, so screen time for kids where they were sitting watching a televised program, whether it would be on a traditional TV screen or a smaller tablet screen and what we knew then was that there was no benefit educationally for that type of a program, and there was a concern for risk.

But when it comes to interactive media, you know, nobody knows that answer. There may be a benefit.

The one thing I can say that's really important for families to know is that although these things can be virtual approximations of games that we all played as kids and things that, you know, maybe kids can learn phonics and maybe kids can learn math skills and such, but you're never going to be able to replace the ability for a child to learn by putting two blocks in her hand. You know, put two blocks in your daughter's hands and let her figure out how to stack them on top of each other and kids really need that unstructured play time to stimulate problem-solving skills and creativity and they also need social interaction and talking to mom and dad and watching mom and dad is tremendously powerful.

GUPTA: You know, it's interesting because my youngest right now has this game where she -- on her iPad where she matches all the states and then she has a puzzle as well where she actually puts the states into the right position on the map, it's interesting, I thought the iPad app did a lot of that but the actual tactile putting the blocks together may make a bigger difference. You know, let me ask you this, because a lot of parents out there, myself included, the science isn't there yet.

So what do you tell the parents, you know, the parents of your patients when they ask should I let my kids play with these apps now. What is the right answer?

BROWN: The take-home message for parents is this -- everything in moderation. So if you are going to let your child spend some time doing interactive app, make sure they're not spending too much time in front of a screen and make sure that they're having a healthy balance of other activities.

GUPTA: I think that's always good advice, you know, you know, we try and do our best as parents but sometimes those screens are just -- they're so testing to give us a little bit more time. But, Dr. Ari Brown, I appreciate your time, thank you.

BROWN: Thanks so much.

GUPTA: And as if new parents don't have enough to worry about, there's also lack of sleep. We're still going through this in our family. A new study finds that sleep may be the key to staying fit. We'll explain, after the break.

Stay with us.


GUPTA: You know, we're about a month away now from the Malibu triathlon, kind of scary. Six of our viewers on the Fit Nation team along with me and some of my staff will be swimming half a mile in the Pacific Ocean, biking 18 miles along the Pacific Coast highway and running four miles on the beach. It's going to be the culmination of seven months of intense training.

I can tell you it's changing each one of our teammates from sedentary to fit, happy and healthy. They're doing really great. I can't wait to see all of them, at the finish line.

When it comes to getting fit, people always talk about diet and exercise -- obviously, very important things. But a new study reminds another key to being healthy is getting a good night's sleep. Not only does sleep give you the energy you need, it also gives you the willpower to not reach for that bag of chips the following day.

Let me show you what I mean by that. Take my brain over here. The new report finds that less sleep means less activity in this part of your brain, the frontal part of your brain. That's the part of your brain that helps you make decisions about what to eat. Consider this your judgment. And you need good judgment to try to make good food choices.

So if you are trying to keep the weight off or simply chase life, don't sacrifice your sleep if you can help it.

That's going to wrap things up for SGMD. But stay connected with me at, let's keep the conversation going on Twitter @DrSanjayGupta.

Time now, though, to get you back into the CNN NEWSROOM with Don Lemon.