Neuroscientist details impact of toxic behavior

Behavioral science expert Michael Nerney speaks to students last week on the dangers of of substance use and abuse. Photo by Adam Cook.

The 1787 Room in the Campus Center was packed to capacity. A line extended from the back of the room all the way to the atrium with students hoping to get in to this presentation. And in the front of the room, microphone in hand, stood Michael Nerney, waiting to make his presentation.

Nerney, an expert in neurobiology and substance use, talked through his presentation for over an hour to the standing room audience and told how part of his research includes going to an island off the coast of Texas with 210,000 college students for spring break.

“I’m the oldest person on that island by about 100 years,” he said, walking around the room. “My job is two parts: one part is observation.”

The other part of his work is interviewing the spring break goers on what they are doing for recreational drugs during that week. He goes to the clubs they go to and notes their every move.

He also stressed that not everyone talks to him.

Nerney’s work centers on the human brain, and the effects of certain external influences- like alcohol, tobacco, and video games. As part of the presentation, he lamented that it is presently impossible to study the helpful effects of marijuana without help from the federal government.

“Scientists have been blocked by the federal government,” he said. “You cannot, in the United States of America, get grants from the federal government, to look at what might be advantageous, or helpful, in the use of marijuana. You can only get grants to prove what is detrimental.”

In addition to covering the difference between men’s and women’s brains and the effects of substances on them, Nerney also covered the difference between brains in certain stages of life.

He said that what this means is that while young people will feel good emotions more than their elder counterparts, they will also feel bad emotions as well. Nerney said that scientists have been attempting for 30 years to reduce attempted or “complete” suicide, but are failing.

“Not only have we not succeeded in reducing it,” he said, “in the last five years the rates have gone up substantially and predominantly among teenage females or young adult females.”

But, even though humans partake in risks, Nerney says this is a good thing.

“If we didn’t have, as human beings, a high incentive for risk taking, we would still all be huddled by our fires outside the caves,” he said.

Nerney’s presentation was cut short, due to students having to leave to head off to their next class. However, he stuck around and talked one on one with students who had questions not covered by the meeting.

“We were just talking about the benefits of CBD oil, which isn’t really well known right now,” student Pauline Evans said of her post-lecture chat with Nerney.

Evans, a non-traditional student, says she uses CBD oil and wished she could see more of Nerney’s presentation, which was cut short.

“I have a son, so the addiction to video gaming thing was a red flag,” she said.

stayed behind to talk with Nerney, said he enjoyed the presentation as well.

“I thought it was a great presentation,” he said. “I personally have a hard time between pain and being able to pay attention, so I asked him and he suggested coffee, exercise, finding times of the day that works best for me to study.”

For those who may have missed Nerney’s lecture on campus, videos of his talks may be found on YouTube.

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