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The world's first psilocybin research center is opening in Jamaica
FieldTrip is advancing the realm of clinical psychedelic testing.
- FieldTrip Ventures is opening the world's first psilocybin research center at the University of the West Indies.
- More research on magic mushrooms follows mounting evidence of the efficacy of ketamine and MDMA.
- Ronan Levy of FieldTrip believes psychedelics could help treat a wide range of mental health conditions.
When I noticed articles floating around about the opening of the world's first psilocybin research center, I figured they were from satire websites. Sure, the case for therapeutic psychedelics is growing: ketamine is the first psychedelic to be legally prescribed for depression in America; MAPS is entering phase 3 trials for MDMA for the treatment of PTSD; iboga and ayahausca are used in addiction treatment in other nations. And, of course, John Hopkins announced the opening of the first psychedelic research center last month.
But a center focused solely on. . . magic mushrooms?
Thank Toronto-based FieldTrip Ventures for that. Ronan Levy is one of the founders. Having cut his teeth in the Canadian medical marijuana business, I was excited to chat with him about this exciting new project (you can hear our full conversation here). The '60s might have been the golden era of psychedelic experimentation, but we are entering a new phase of clinical research to discover just how effective they are for treating a range of mental health conditions.
Given the results this far, a new era has begun.
Tim Ferriss & Michael Pollan Journey into Psychedelics | SXSW LIVE STUDIO
Derek: On FieldTrip's website, it says the mission is "to heal the sick and better the well." Let's start with the healing.
Ronan: The evidence suggests that psychedelics, broadly speaking, can help treat a number of mental health conditions, ranging from depression to anxiety to OCD to addiction. There are studies now looking at anorexia and eating disorders as well. Not all of them have been conducted at clinical-trial levels, but there's definitely been trials on a small scale for all of those conditions. Psilocybin, in particular, has been studied for use in the treatment of depression as well as addiction. I think almost any mental health condition may benefit from psilocybin and other psychedelics. That seems to be where the evidence is leading.
Derek: Their illegality is especially frustrating considering the efficacy rates of SSRIs. What would you say to someone who is thinking about trying psychedelics but is still on other medication?
Ronan: We don't advocate that anybody attempt to undertake a psychedelic experience on their own. There is evidence to suggest that these molecules can be very effective in the context of psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy. It's not as well understood outside of that. The effects are unknown in terms of "Will it help?" Many people anecdotally say it absolutely does, but then there's broader concerns of whether you're not carefully considering what other medications or supplements you're using. We would say do it under the context of a medical professional, but presently there are no medical professionals licensed to actually provide psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy. At this point, we don't advocate that people try this out on their own until it's better understood.
Derek: Michael Pollan writes extensively about the need for a guide, someone leading you through the experience.
Ronan: That's where the evidence is and we'll follow the evidence. That certainly doesn't mean that it doesn't merit exploring the potential of psychedelics outside of the context of psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy. However, there's no evidence on that yet right now, so we remain neutral.
On site are representatives Johnathan Werynski (left) and Ronan Levy from CanvasRX.
Photo by Richard Lautens/Toronto Star via Getty Images
Derek: Understood. I appreciate your focus on being evidence-based. I'm also an advocate for cannabis. One thing that has perturbed me has been the CBD explosion, when the efficacy rate in all the studies that I've read is4 00 milligrams and above, yet coffee shops sell five milligrams for $8. Do you foresee any dangers of this happening with psychedelics?
Ronan: There is potential danger. They're powerful molecules. They're psychoactive and psychotropic. Anytime you're affecting brain chemistry merits caution and prudence. Do I foresee a future where they're being added to coffee? Not likely, no. Just like you're not going to see THC being added to coffee, at least in a legal context. There are risks that bad actors or people really interested in making a buck create products that aren't necessarily safe, which lead to bad outcomes, which may lead to political backlash. Right now it seems there's a lot of momentum in favor of psychedelics, and we want to keep that momentum. The best way to do that is to make sure to advance in a very thoughtful way.
Derek: You might be wrong on one of those counts. Here in Los Angeles, the first sanctioned cannabis cafe just opened.
Ronan: That's fair. I'm not familiar. It seems that the FDA's stated position is still that CBD is not permitted in any food product. I assume the same applies on the federal perspective on THC. Hopefully, whoever's opening that cafe is doing it really thoughtfully. No one needs a bad experience.
Derek: Speaking of cannabis, you started your work with Grassfed Ventures. Was cannabis your gateway drug into psychedelics?
Ronan: Even before Grassfed Ventures, four of the five founders of FieldTrip had started two sister companies, Canadian Cannabis Clinics and CanvasRX. Canadian Cannabis Clinics is the largest network of specialized medical clinics in Canada. That's where we got our experience with alternative medications or plant-based medications.
We're open-minded, but I'd say a little bit skeptical as to the therapeutic applications of cannabis when we first started. All of us were quite moved emotionally and quite convinced logically and intuitively that cannabis is a very effective medicine for a lot of people in the therapeutic applications. When we left to start the next thing, we became aware of psychedelics and saw the parallels between cannabis and psychedelics in terms of the evidence supporting therapeutic use, which is actually greater with psychedelics than there has been for cannabis. So yes, cannabis was our gateway into psychedelics.
THE HEROIC DOSE - Dennis McKenna on Psilocybin Dosage - Magic Mushrooms
Derek: You're opening the first psilocybin research center in Jamaica at the University of the West Indies, which I find fascinating and important. How did you choose that location? Can you talk about the function of the center?
Ronan: When we became aware of the opportunity around psychedelics in terms of its therapeutic value, we ran into the challenge that anybody looking at the space runs into, which is how to build a business in an illegal industry. We're not interested in doing anything illegal. As we did our homework, we realized that there are a few jurisdictions around the world in which psilocybin mushrooms are legal. Jamaica is one of those places. Through our work in the cannabis industry, we had great contacts down there. We had very constructive conversations and became aware that there's openness to it. It made sense to start with Jamaica.
So we are opening the world's first legal research and cultivation facility focused on psilocybin-producing mushrooms in conjunction with the University of the West Indies. We have the expressed support of various ministers and various levels of government to do this work. The focus of the research facility is to essentially do a lot of the work that's been done on cannabis over the last 10 years: focus on genetics, strain development, and understand the molecular chemistry of psilocybin mushrooms. We want to understand what other molecules are of interest, which may have therapeutic effects, and isolate them, as well as develop the standards for testing for all of these things. Really, doing anything you think may have been relevant to the development of the cannabis industry.
Derek: Why did you specifically choose mushrooms?
Ronan: The business rationale is that there's a lot of white space to be studied and lots of IP to be developed. From a societal perspective, the embrace of psilocybin-producing mushrooms is going to be much easier than with the more robust experiences that you have with DMT or ayahuasca. Our hope for the facility in Jamaica is that we will eventually expand into other plant-based psychedelics, but there's enough work to be done on psilocybin-producing mushrooms, all 200 or so genetic strains.
Roger Lopez, Shaman of a Shipibo community in the Amazon jungle, conduct a session of Ayahuasca.
Photo credit: Fotoholica Press/LightRocket via Getty Images
Derek: When you talk about IP and moving into pharmaceuticals, are there any dangers that you foresee anyone being disturbed by that sort of approach to what some people consider sacred medicine?
Ronan: It's something we're certainly conscious and aware of. I don't anticipate it being an issue. Our perspective is we have no interest in diminishing the heritage or sacred beliefs of any culture. But we do believe that a consciously-operated, for-profit entity is the best way to help make the therapeutic value of psychedelic molecules available to the greatest number of people. We're trying to find the appropriate balance between cultural sensitivity and good business practices.
Derek: I originally discovered mushrooms and other psychedelics in the early nineties. It was in an environment and a community that talked about Terence McKenna and the hero's dose. In the last few years, microdosing has become very popular. I was skeptical at first, but then came to the conclusion that dosage matters and whatever helps is important.
Ronan: It hasn't been studied in depth and therefore the effects, whether it's effective or not, is not well understood. More importantly, if people perceive they're being helped then they are being helped. Whether it's the pharmacology involved in the microdosing or just the placebo effect is of less importance in my mind. The bigger concern is that the effects of long-term use of psilocybin at microdosing levels isn't well understood, so there's potential health consequences around it. A couple of months ago, the first observational study on microdosing came out and it seems very promising, but I think more research needs to be done.
Derek: Have you envisioned any sort of rollout of training courses that would be developed as the research evolves?
Ronan: Absolutely. With clinical trials going on right now, by and large the protocols that they're using are very labor- and time-intensive on part of a psychotherapist. It makes sense because they want to achieve the greatest potential results. There's a lot of work that needs to be done in terms of optimizing delivery of these services and minimize the amount of psychotherapist time that needs to be involved to deliver as good if not better outcomes than currently prescribed by the protocols.
Training people is going to be essential as you scale this, but there's not a whole lot of evidence on what to base training on outside of what exists in the current clinical trials. You can see really effective training materials and courses coming out because there hasn't been a lot of experimentation in terms of how the psychotherapy is being delivered. There are protocols that are being used right now similar to the ones that were developed in the fifties and sixties, which haven't been studied in depth as to whether the amount of psychotherapy work involved is necessary.
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Inventions with revolutionary potential made by a mysterious aerospace engineer for the U.S. Navy come to light.
- U.S. Navy holds patents for enigmatic inventions by aerospace engineer Dr. Salvatore Pais.
- Pais came up with technology that can "engineer" reality, devising an ultrafast craft, a fusion reactor, and more.
- While mostly theoretical at this point, the inventions could transform energy, space, and military sectors.
The U.S. Navy controls patents for some futuristic and outlandish technologies, some of which, dubbed "the UFO patents," came to life recently. Of particular note are inventions by the somewhat mysterious Dr. Salvatore Cezar Pais, whose tech claims to be able to "engineer reality." His slate of highly-ambitious, borderline sci-fi designs meant for use by the U.S. government range from gravitational wave generators and compact fusion reactors to next-gen hybrid aerospace-underwater crafts with revolutionary propulsion systems, and beyond.
Of course, the existence of patents does not mean these technologies have actually been created, but there is evidence that some demonstrations of operability have been successfully carried out. As investigated and reported by The War Zone, a possible reason why some of the patents may have been taken on by the Navy is that the Chinese military may also be developing similar advanced gadgets.
Among Dr. Pais's patents are designs, approved in 2018, for an aerospace-underwater craft of incredible speed and maneuverability. This cone-shaped vehicle can potentially fly just as well anywhere it may be, whether air, water or space, without leaving any heat signatures. It can achieve this by creating a quantum vacuum around itself with a very dense polarized energy field. This vacuum would allow it to repel any molecule the craft comes in contact with, no matter the medium. Manipulating "quantum field fluctuations in the local vacuum energy state," would help reduce the craft's inertia. The polarized vacuum would dramatically decrease any elemental resistance and lead to "extreme speeds," claims the paper.
Not only that, if the vacuum-creating technology can be engineered, we'd also be able to "engineer the fabric of our reality at the most fundamental level," states the patent. This would lead to major advancements in aerospace propulsion and generating power. Not to mention other reality-changing outcomes that come to mind.
Among Pais's other patents are inventions that stem from similar thinking, outlining pieces of technology necessary to make his creations come to fruition. His paper presented in 2019, titled "Room Temperature Superconducting System for Use on a Hybrid Aerospace Undersea Craft," proposes a system that can achieve superconductivity at room temperatures. This would become "a highly disruptive technology, capable of a total paradigm change in Science and Technology," conveys Pais.
High frequency gravitational wave generator.
Credit: Dr. Salvatore Pais
Another invention devised by Pais is an electromagnetic field generator that could generate "an impenetrable defensive shield to sea and land as well as space-based military and civilian assets." This shield could protect from threats like anti-ship ballistic missiles, cruise missiles that evade radar, coronal mass ejections, military satellites, and even asteroids.
Dr. Pais's ideas center around the phenomenon he dubbed "The Pais Effect". He referred to it in his writings as the "controlled motion of electrically charged matter (from solid to plasma) via accelerated spin and/or accelerated vibration under rapid (yet smooth) acceleration-deceleration-acceleration transients." In less jargon-heavy terms, Pais claims to have figured out how to spin electromagnetic fields in order to contain a fusion reaction – an accomplishment that would lead to a tremendous change in power consumption and an abundance of energy.
According to his bio in a recently published paper on a new Plasma Compression Fusion Device, which could transform energy production, Dr. Pais is a mechanical and aerospace engineer working at the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD), which is headquartered in Patuxent River, Maryland. Holding a Ph.D. from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, Pais was a NASA Research Fellow and worked with Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems. His current Department of Defense work involves his "advanced knowledge of theory, analysis, and modern experimental and computational methods in aerodynamics, along with an understanding of air-vehicle and missile design, especially in the domain of hypersonic power plant and vehicle design." He also has expert knowledge of electrooptics, emerging quantum technologies (laser power generation in particular), high-energy electromagnetic field generation, and the "breakthrough field of room temperature superconductivity, as related to advanced field propulsion."
Suffice it to say, with such a list of research credentials that would make Nikola Tesla proud, Dr. Pais seems well-positioned to carry out groundbreaking work.
A craft using an inertial mass reduction device.
Credit: Salvatore Pais
The patents won't necessarily lead to these technologies ever seeing the light of day. The research has its share of detractors and nonbelievers among other scientists, who think the amount of energy required for the fields described by Pais and his ideas on electromagnetic propulsions are well beyond the scope of current tech and are nearly impossible. Yet investigators at The War Zone found comments from Navy officials that indicate the inventions are being looked at seriously enough, and some tests are taking place.
If you'd like to read through Pais's patents yourself, check them out here.
Laser Augmented Turbojet Propulsion System
Credit: Dr. Salvatore Pais
As bad as this sounds, a new essay suggests that we live in a surprisingly egalitarian age.
- A new essay depicts 700 years of economic inequality in Europe.
- The only stretch of time more egalitarian than today was the period between 1350 to approximately the year 1700.
- Data suggest that, without intervention, inequality does not decrease on its own.
Economic inequality is a constant topic. No matter the cycle — boom or bust — somebody is making a lot of money, and the question of fairness is never far behind.
A recently published essay in the Journal of Economic Literature by Professor Guido Alfani adds an intriguing perspective to the discussion by showing the evolution of income inequality in Europe over the last several hundred years. As it turns out, we currently live in a comparatively egalitarian epoch.
Seven centuries of economic history
Figure 8 from Guido Alfani, Journal of Economic Literature, 2021.
This graph shows the amount of wealth controlled by the top ten percent in certain parts of Europe over the last seven hundred years. Archival documentation similar to — and often of a similar quality as — modern economic data allows researchers to get a glimpse of what economic conditions were like centuries ago. Sources like property tax records and documents listing the rental value of homes can be used to determine how much a person's estate was worth. (While these methods leave out those without property, the data is not particularly distorted.)
The first part of the line, shown in black, represents work by Prof. Alfani and represents the average inequality level of the Sabaudian State in Northern Italy, The Florentine State, The Kingdom of Naples, and the Republic of Venice. The latter part, in gray, is based on the work of French economist Thomas Piketty and represents an average of inequality in France, the United Kingdom, and Sweden during that time period.
Despite the shift in location, the level of inequality and rate of increase are very similar between the two data sets.
Apocalyptic events cause decreases in inequality
Note that there are two substantial declines in inequality. Both are tied to truly apocalyptic events. The first is the Black Death, the common name for the bubonic plague pandemic in the 14th century, which killed off anywhere between 30 and 50 percent of Europe. The second, at the dawn of the 20th century, was the result of World War I and the many major events in its aftermath.
The 20th century as a whole was a time of tremendous economic change, and the periods not featuring major wars are notable for having large experiments in distributive economic policies, particularly in the countries Piketty considers.
The slight stall in the rise of inequality during the 17th century is the result of the Thirty Years' War, a terrible religious conflict that ravaged Europe and left eight million people dead, and of major plagues that affected South Europe. However, the recurrent outbreaks of the plague after the Black Death no longer had much effect on inequality. This was due to a number of factors, not the least of which was the adaptation of European institutions to handle pandemics without causing such a shift in wealth.
In 2010, the last year covered by the essay, inequality levels were similar to those of 1340, with 66 percent of the wealth of society being held by the top ten percent. Also, inequality levels were continuing to rise, and the trends have not ended since. As Prof. Alfani explained in an email to BigThink:
"During the decade preceding the Covid pandemic, economic inequality has shown a slow tendency towards further inequality growth. The Great Recession that began in 2008 possibly contributed to slow down inequality growth, especially in Europe, but it did not stop it. However, the expectation is that Covid-19 will tend to increase inequality and poverty. This, because it tends to create a relatively greater economic damage to those having unstable occupations, or who need physical strength to work (think of the effects of the so-called "long-Covid," which can prove physically invalidating for a long time). Additionally, and thankfully, Covid is not lethal enough to force major leveling dynamics upon society."
Can only disasters change inequality?
That is the subject of some debate. While inequality can occur in any economy, even one that doesn't grow all that much, some things appear to make it more likely to rise or fall.
Thomas Piketty suggested that the cause of changes in inequality levels is the difference in the rate of return on capital and the overall growth rate of the economy. Since the return on capital is typically higher than the overall growth rate, this means that those who have capital to invest tend to get richer faster than everybody else.
While this does explain a great deal of the graph after 1800, his model fails to explain why inequality fell after the Black Death. Indeed, since the plague destroyed human capital and left material goods alone, we would expect the ratio of wealth over income to increase and for inequality to rise. His model can provide explanations for the decline in inequality in the decades after the pandemic, however- it is possible that the abundance of capital could have lowered returns over a longer time span.
The catastrophe theory put forth by Walter Scheidel suggests that the only force strong enough to wrest economic power from those who have it is a world-shattering event like the Black Death, the fall of the Roman Empire, or World War I. While each event changed the world in a different way, they all had a tremendous leveling effect on society.
But not even this explains everything in the above graph. Pandemics subsequent to the Black Death had little effect on inequality, and inequality continued to fall for decades after World War II ended. Prof. Alfani suggests that we remember the importance of human agency through institutional change. He attributes much of the post-WWII decline in inequality to "the redistributive policies and the development of the welfare states from the 1950s to the early 1970s."
What does this mean for us now?
As Professor Alfani put it in his email:
"[H]istory does not necessarily teach us whether we should consider the current trend toward growth in economic inequality as an undesirable outcome or a problem per se (although I personally believe that there is some ground to argue for that). Nor does it teach us that high inequality is destiny. What it does teach us, is that if we do not act, we have no reason whatsoever to expect that inequality will, one day, decline on its own. History also offers abundant evidence that past trends in inequality have been deeply influenced by our collective decisions, as they shaped the institutional framework across time. So, it is really up to us to decide whether we want to live in a more, or a less unequal society."
Our love-hate relationship with browser tabs drives all of us crazy. There is a solution.
- A new study suggests that tabs can cause people to be flustered as they try to keep track of every website.
- The reason is that tabs are unable to properly organize information.
- The researchers are plugging a browser extension that aims to fix the problem.
A lot of ideas that people had about the internet in the 1990s have fallen by the wayside as technology and our usage patterns evolved. Long gone are things like GeoCities, BowieNet, and the belief that letting anybody post whatever they are thinking whenever they want is a fundamentally good idea with no societal repercussions.
While these ideas have been abandoned and the tools that made them possible often replaced by new and improved ones, not every outdated part of our internet experience is gone. A new study by a team at Carnegie Mellon makes the case that the use of tabs in a web browser is one of these outdated concepts that we would do well to get rid of.
How many tabs do you have open right now?
We didn't always have tabs. Introduced in the early 2000s, tabs are now included on all major web browsers, and most users have had access to them for a little over a decade. They've been pretty much the same since they came out, despite the ever changing nature of the internet. So, in this new study, researchers interviewed and surveyed 113 people on their use of — and feelings toward — the ubiquitous tabs.
Most people use tabs for the short-term storage of information, particularly if it's information that is needed again soon. Some keep tabs that they know they'll never get around to reading. Others used them as a sort of external memory bank. One participant described this action to the researchers:
"It's like a manifestation of everything that's on my mind right now. Or the things that should be on my mind right now... So right now, in this browser window, I have a web project that I'm working on. I don't have time to work on it right now, but I know I need to work on it. So it's sitting there reminding me that I need to work on it."
You suffer from tab overload
Unfortunately, trying to use tabs this way can cause a number of problems. A quarter of the interview subjects reported having caused a computer or browser to crash because they had too many tabs open. Others reported feeling flustered by having so many tabs open — a situation called "tab overload" — or feeling ashamed that they appeared disorganized by having so many tabs up at once. More than half of participants reported having problems like this at least two or three times a week.
However, people can become emotionally invested in the tabs. One participant explained, "[E]ven when I'm not using those tabs, I don't want to close them. Maybe it's because it took efforts [sic] to open those tabs and organize them in that way."
So, we have a tool that inefficiently saves web pages that we might visit again while simultaneously reducing our productivity, increasing our anxiety, and crashing our machines. And yet we feel oddly attached to them.
Either the system is crazy or we are.
Skeema: The anti-tab revolution
The researchers concluded that at least part of the problem is caused by tabs not being an ideal way of organizing the work we now do online. They propose a new model that better compartmentalizes tabs by task and subtask, reflects users' mental models, and helps manage the users' attention on what is important right now rather than what might be important later.
To that end, the team also created Skeema, an extension for Google Chrome, that treats tabs as tasks and offers a variety of ways to organize them. Users of an early version reported having fewer tabs and windows open at one time and were better able to manage the information they contained.
Tabs were an improvement over having multiple windows open at the same time, but they may have outlived their usefulness. While it might take a paradigm shift to fully replace the concept, the study suggests that taking a different approach to tabs might be worth trying.
And now, excuse me, while I close some of the 87 tabs I currently have open.