Heroin, jazz and the American government

To those of you unfamiliar with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, it’s an unlikely setting for some really quirky films of academic interest, including The Narcotic Farm, which I saw there recently.  It’s a historical documentary with footage from the 40s onwards charting the establishment and running of American’s first ever drug treatment facility, The Lexington in Kentucky.  There were two types of patients – those who were sent there as a result of criminal charges, and those who referred themselves voluntarily.  There was a thriving jazz scene at the Lexington, and Sonny Rollins was just one of the musicians who spent time there.  For the first time, those with drug addiction problems were treated rather than simply incarcerated.  But for the first time, something else happened for those with drug addiction problems – they began to be experimented upon.  Within Lexington was a research facility, but unlike today’s research which looks at treatment as well as causes, this research facility’s main work was observing the effects of drugs, and the way they did that was to give drugs of all types to those in the institution, and watch what happened.  It’s an extraordinary documentary, and it’s available in three parts on youtube.  The first part is here

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Radio 4: Constant Cravings – Does Food Addiction Exist?

Thanks to everyone who contacted me with comments about Constant Cravings, a documentary I presented on whether food or eating can be addictive, which was broadcast on Radio 4 this week.   I’ve answered all of these comments privately. 

The link to the programme is here http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01s4g7v.  Thanks also to the excellent producer Rami Tzabar, and to the people who took part in the programme, for making the whole process such an incredible experience.  The similarities between some of those struggling with food, and those struggling with alcohol are really striking.  After researching it for the programme, and talking to experts as well as those who are overeaters, I instinctively come down on the side of food addiction being a reality for some, but not all, of those with eating disorders.  But the science isn’t there to support it.  Yet.

Constant Cravings

I’m presenting a documentary on Radio 4 next Tuesday 30th April at 8pm.  It’s called Constant Cravings:  Does food addiction exist.   Interestingly, the majority of the contributors are women……

There’s a link here which describes what’s in the programme


It’s the first time I’ve presented a documentary, and it’s on a wider topic than my specialist subject.  It’s been totally absorbing in so many ways, from learning about the process of programme making, to thinking of the right questions to ask the experts, to working out how to present complex science so that it will be accessible.  If you get a chance to listen, let me know what you think.

Can food be addictive?

There is a bit of an unholy triangle, especially in women, between eating disorders, addiction, and self-harm.  I’ve been given an opportunity to explore some of this for Radio 4, and have been interviewing neuroscientists, psychologists and psychiatrists.  As usual, though, the thing that really illuminates the evidence is the testimony of those experiencing the problems.  I’ve interviewed two people for the documentary from Overeaters Anonymous, a self-help group for people with compulsive eating habits.  Both have stolen to feed their habit, and both have lied to those around them, as well as to themselves.  Both have experienced shame, guilt and disgust.  Their stories were striking, in how like the stories of those with alcohol problems they were.  Particularly telling though was that although food or overeating was their main problem, both also had problems with alcohol, and described themselves as alcoholics.

The programme is called Constant Cravings: Can food be addictive?, and will be broadcast on Radio 4 at 8pm on Tuesday 30th April, as part of File on Four series.  I’ll post up a link to it when I have it.