Correction to Straight Dope Article: Cat Poop/Birth Defects/LSD

I believe I’ve recognized an error in the Straight Dope article “If cat poop is so toxic to pregnant women, why aren’t there more birth defects? Can cat poop cause schizophrenia?”, at http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/2637/if-cat-poop-is-so-toxic-to-pregnant-women-why-arent-there-more-birth-defects

Specifically, the article states:

“But get this. Forty-five percent of schizophrenics tested positive in one study for both T. gondii and D-lysergic acid diethylamide, better known as LSD. To quote a recent paper: “These results support the hypothesis that T. gondii may cause schizophrenia and may do so by producing or triggering the production of an hallucinogenic chemical”
[…]
A word of caution: our authors’ impressive theoretical edifice is built on some pretty thin evidence. It’s simplistic to say T. gondii works by triggering the production of LSD–among other problems with the idea, acid mainly gives rise to visual hallucinations, whereas the delusions of schizophrenics are primarily auditory (e.g., hearing voices).”

Now, I can see how the mistake was made, and it was a reasonable reading of the article cited if you aren’t familiar with the chemistry/techniques, but what the cited article actually said was that the analyte in question showed the same response in fish chromatophores as LSD. This is not to say that LSD was present- the test is incapable of determining that. This is the same as, say, using a dog that you know chases its tail if you give him LSD and then giving him Substance x. If he chases his tail, that’s a positive result, but it doesn’t mean substance x is LSD or even anything similar to it.

Basically, the error was in presuming the following passage in the cited article referred to a test that determined a match in chemical structure/identity rather than a corelation in biological response.

I notice a number of websites/discussion boards have been linking to this article and discussing it, so it would perhaps be appropriate to correct the article to prevent further confusion.

The section of the cited article from which the mistake likely originates:

" In one set of studies,Toxoplasma-infected schizophrenics
tested positive for D-lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) using a fish chromato-
phore bioassay (Silverman and Varela 1958;Varela,Vázquez, and Torroella 1956).
After showing that the peritoneal fluid of T. gondii infected mice tested positive,
the researchers found that 44.9 percent of schizophrenics tested positive for both
T. gondii and LSD, whereas none of the non-schizophrenic controls tested posi-
tive for LSD" page 331 of Ledgerwood LG, Ewald PW, Cochran GM. Genes, germs, and schizophrenia: an evolutionary perspective. Perspect Biol Med 2003;46:317–48

-John

By the way, this rule is silly: “Drugs that are illegal in the US: You may discuss the effects of drugs, but not where to obtain them. Limited discussion of past use of drugs is OK, but discussion of current use is not. Please include a disclaimer that the drug is illegal in the US.”

I urge you to reconsider such an absurd provision. It is literally impossible to discuss much of biology without discussing (current and ongoing) drug use. In the United States there are no drugs that are neccesarily illegal, there are only drugs that are per se legal or per se illegal- the later simply require licensure or other exceptions and is exactly how the medical research done in this article would have had to have been done if it were to have been done today. Luckily for us, it was done before the restrictive DEA regulations that make it more trouble than its worth to use scheduled substances in many chemical or biological research projects due to the onerous restrictions.

If you wish to have open discussion of such subjects, I’d urge you to adopt a more prudent guideline than one which would prohibit me from making this thread if it referenced current experiments or research on this topic.

We need to protect ourselves legally. A discussion of the biochemistry of drugs is one a thing; a post saying, “Hey, I got some coke for sale” is something quite different. Because of the name of our website, we do from time to time have people popping up here, hoping to find a source of drugs that are illegal in the U.S. We want to actively discourage such things, for obvious reasons.

Thus, our rules: you may discuss the effect of such drugs, the studies that have been done or are being done, the biochemistry or enzymology or whatever. You may NOT discuss how to obtain them. Discussion of the use of illegal drugs needs to be handled carefully, for obvious reasons.

Ok, this is a silly hypothetical, but what if someone were looking to study the biochemistry of a drug or experiment with its effects on mice, worked with an accredited institution and wanted to know a legal supplier for that purpose?

If they asked permission and it was clear they were asking for LEGAL sources, sure, not a problem. Look, with this rule (as with our other rules): we don’t want to try to quantify and qualify every situation in advance. Nor even most of them. We handle things on a case-by-case and situation-by-situation basis. The wording of the post can make a diff. The purpose of the rule is not to stifle discussion, but to be sure that the feds doing google on “illegal drugs” don’t find anything here that would cause them to take action.