Swallow A Pill For Perfect Musical Pitch
May 29, 2012 --
A recently released biography on President Barack Obama details a young Obama's high school days smoking marijuana. The president had previously admitted to using the drug in his 1995 autobiography, "Dreams of My Father." Obama's history of drug use is a past behavior that is certainly still frowned upon, but he is by no means the only president to have a drug history. Find out which other presidents had a history of use, going all the way back to the nation's Founding Fathers.
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Obama's immediate predecessor, former President George W. Bush, had a turbulent drug history before his political career. Bush has maintained a policy of silence around his past youthful indiscretions, other than to say he has been clean since 1974. Reports of his younger days, however, suggest that Bush had a wild lifestyle for a time, indulging in marijuana and even cocaine.
Former President Bill Clinton's entry on this list might need to come with an asterisk. Although the former president had publicly admitted to trying marijuana during his younger days, by his account, he never actually felt its effects. As part of MTV's "Choose or Lose" get-out-the-vote campaign for the 1992 presidential race, the cable network hosted a town-hall style meeting with then-candidate Clinton. When asked whether he had smoked marijuana, Clinton answered he had, but he "didn't inhale."
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President John F. Kennedy, Jr., might have the most complex history with drugs out of any president in U.S. history. Like some 42 percent of Americans today, Kennedy tried smoking marijuana during his younger days, according to an ex-girlfriend who knew him during his college years. In a book released last year, she recounts an incident in which Kennedy lit up while on vacation in Jamaica. Kennedy also took many different prescriptions for a variety of health conditions that he kept secret from the American public. These drugs included "codeine, Demerol and methadone for pain; Ritalin, a stimulant; meprobamate and librium for anxiety; barbiturates for sleep" and more, according to medical records.
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President Franklin Pierce may have had an odd way of motivating men on the battlefield. According to contemporary accounts of Pierce, he used to smoke marijuana with his soldiers during wartime. In fact, during the Mexican-American War, Pierce declared that smoking cannabis was "about the only good thing" about the conflict.
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Long before cocaine was a controlled substance that came with a heavy jail sentence for abusers, it was a legally available and widely used pain reliever. The drug, however, was as addictive then as it is now. Stricken with oral cancer, President Ulysses S. Grant used cocaine throat drops regularly to soothe his pain. In fact, Grant reportedly took cocaine while he wrote his now famous memoirs. He would remain addicted to the drug until the illness claimed his life at age 63.
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Andrew Jackson was another president who openly smoked marijuana on occasion. Like Pierce, Jackson smoked with his troops during wartime, along with tobacco cigars.
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Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States and one of the country's Founding Fathers, grew vast fields on hemp of his plantation. In fact, an early draft of the Declaration of Independence was written on hemp paper, a common material at the time. Whether Jefferson actually smoked his crop is a matter of historical debate. One quote attributed to Jefferson -- "Some of my finest hours have been spent on my back veranda, smoking hemp and observing as far as my eye can see." -- hasn't been found in any of his writings and is likely apocryphal. Jefferson's Farm Book, however, does include references to growing hemp that could indicate he was growing them for purposes of recreational smoking.
George Washington, arguably the most admired figure in U.S. history alongside Abraham Lincoln, was not only a user of marijuana, but a major advocate for the spread of hemp as a cash crop in the United States. Washington grew hemp as a fiber, and even has several journal entries detailing his efforts to grow a better crop. Washington also suffered from tooth pain, and it's believed that he smoked marijuana to bring relief.
Read More: American History
Considering the Polar Vortex likely has you in its frigid grip and city governments have ordered you to stay indoors, the only way to stave off cabin fever is to knock back a few hot toddies and fire up the old karaoke machine. Lest you start the neighborhood dogs howling at your off-key singing, thankfully there’s now a pill you could swallow to perfect your pitch.
A new study by Harvard researchers showed that people who took the drug Valproate increased their ability to identify the pitch of sounds after two weeks, compared to those who ingested a placebo.
Also known as valproic acid, the drug is normally used as a mood stabilizer that ”restores the plasticity of the brain to a juvenile state,” Harvard professor of molecular and cellular biology and study co-author Takao Hensch told NPR. Perfect pitch — the ability to identify musical notes by hearing tones — is a gift only 1 in 10,000 people have. Typically, people with perfect pitch learn the skill between four and six years of age. Since there’s no record of adults learning the ability, Valproate’s power of ‘juvenile restoration’ is key.
If suddenly being able to sing like Ella Fitzgerald after swallowing a pill doesn’t blow your hair back, how does becoming fluent in Mandarin Chinese sound? Hensch says the drug’s abilities could also be used to help people acquire a second language, another ability that becomes more difficult as our brain ages.
“I think we are getting closer to this day, because we are able to understand at greater cellular detail how the brain changes throughout development,” Hensch said. “But I should caution that critical periods have evolved for a reason, and it is a process that one probably would not want to tamper with carelessly.”
He added: “If we’ve shaped our identities through development, through a critical period, and have matched our brain to the environment in which we were raised — acquiring language, culture, identity — then if we were to erase that by reopening the critical period, we run quite a risk as well.”
On second thought, just keep belting out that drunken, tone-deaf version of “Living On A Prayer.” Just don’t expect to see me raising my glass and belting out the chorus. You may have poor taste in karaoke songs, but the last thing I want is for you to swallow some pill that would reopen a critical period of brain development and shatter your identity.