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Hallucinogens: A Way to Soothe Mental Illness, Even Get Ahead
Psychedelics came en vogue in the 1960s and since then have been maligned as inducing psychosis. Today, some evidence suggests that tiny doses of these drugs may be useful for curing psychological disorders such as depression, PTSD, and social anxiety, among others. But more research is needed and there are hurdles to overcome.
Psychedelics have been with humans for over two millennia. Ethnobotanist Terence McKenna’s “stoned ape theory,” postulates that the development of language may have started with our ancient ancestors taking psychedelics, as they have the propensity to make one talkative and interested in sounds.
Shamans and medicine men of Africa and the America’s have used hallucinogens for thousands of years in religious practices—to divining prophecy, as a rite of passage, and more. These have been so paramount to certain cultures that Native Americans in the West have won court cases to be allowed to continue their use in rituals. Some anthropologists say these ancient cultures respect for such substances, within the confines of ritual, have safeguarded their users from addiction, and allowed for great insights. As for ancient civilizations, it is thought that the soma beverage of the Vedas, the sacred texts of Hinduism, contained psilocybin or “magic” mushrooms as an ingredient.
In Western society how hallucinogens were regarded has swung back and forth like a pendulum. Ergot is a parasitic fungus that grows on rye and rye bread which can cause hallucinations. During the Black Death and again in the 16th and 17th centuries, bouts of insanity, which were sometimes interpreted as witchery or demonic possession, was often caused by ergot poisoning. In Medieval times and during the Renaissance, ergot victims suffered from what was known as St. Vitus dance, or the Dance of Death. The latter can be found throughout medieval iconography. Some historians have linked certain weather conditions and the likelihood of ergot with the witch hunts of Europe and colonial America—most famously in Salem.
The Salem witch trials may have been from accidental ergot poisoning.
Fast forward to the 20th century, and we have Swiss chemist Albert Hoffman who in 1938 created a synthetic version of ergotamine that within a few decades would be all the rage with young hippies. He accidently discovered lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), trying to find a drug that stimulated breathing and circulation. While experimenting on himself, he found that he experienced incredible and sometimes horrific hallucinations. Soon the U.S. government became interested. From 1953 to 1964 the CIA conducted a series of LSD experiments as part of Project MK Ultra. In this program, American citizens were given different biological and chemical agents, often without their knowledge. The documents surrounding this program were destroyed before a 1973 Senate investigation came underway.
The program included Secret LSD experiments which took place at 30 universities. Author Ken Kesey was one such subject. Later on, he experimented with mescaline while conducting his nighttime duties at a psychiatric institution, at which he worked, and wrote One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. As for the CIA experiments, many speculate that they were to see whether or not a person would be more susceptible to hypnosis, in order to brain-wash them into becoming a CIA assassin. Project MK Ultra became the basis of The Manchurian Candidate and George Clooney’s character in Men Who Stare at Goats.
The counterculture movement of the 1960’s gleaned onto psychedelics, and many artists over the years admit to being inspired by them. Two camps quickly formed. Those in the quite, contemplative Eastern aesthetic flocked to Dr. Timothy Leary, who took LSD with groups of followers to accentuate meditation. A more ecstatic group admired Ken Kesey and his merry pranksters, whose antics are laid bare in, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Concurrently, in the 1950’s thru the early 1970’s, medical experiments using psychedelics to treat addiction and mental illness were considered cutting-edge.
LSD and other psychedelics were thought mind-expanding in the 1960’s. That attitude may be back.
The 1980’s brought the War on Drugs and so the end of such research. Some say the baby boomers who embraced psychedelics in the 60’s, didn’t want their kids doing them. But now that they are older and have fond memories of their former years, public opinion on has once again shifted. In the last two decades or so, a resurgence of research in LSD and psilocybin—the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, has occurred.
A 2006 study out of the University of Arizona found that psilocybin helped reduce the symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Research at both UCLA and NYU have helped relieve the anxiety of cancer patients using psilocybin. A small 2014 study found that LSD reduced feelings of anxiety permanently from those suffering anxiety disorder. A British study last year found that psilocybin decreased depression symptoms without any serious side effects. Other studies have shown remarkable results.
In one, published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, 10 alcoholics given psilocybin. It reduced cravings even months after treatment. In a 2014 Johns Hopkins study 15 smokers were given psilocybin. 12 out of 15 remained smoke free at the six month follow-up. There is some evidence that the hallucinogenic drink Ayahuasca can help with anxiety and depression, according to Evan Wood. He is a psychiatric researcher at the University of British Columbia. Also MDMA, the active ingredient in Ecstasy, may help ease the symptoms of PTSD.
Wood says psychedelics allow an individual to feel a spiritual or mystical experience. They often have profound realizations about themselves, and it is through this that they are able to transform, and drastically change their behavior. Wood says the standard procedure for conditions like depression or anxiety, or even addiction is certain prescription drugs. These are considered lifelong chronic conditions. With psychedelics however, one dose is effective long-term. Though Drug War propaganda would have you believe that such drugs induce permanent insanity, a recent review in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found no lasting effects.
Dr. Timothy Leary proponent of LSD in the 1960’s.
Some patients today, who struggle with anxiety, depression, or even things like migraines, are taking matters into their own hands and microdosing. This is not “tripping” but taking a tiny sliver of the recommended dose in order to get an uplifting effect, without any significant side effects. No hallucinations are induced. Psychologist James Fadiman is a pioneering researcher in psychedelics who came up with microdosing. To do it with LSD for instance, one would take one-tenth of a normal dose, around 10-20 micrograms, rather than the 100-200 micrograms needed to “trip.” The microdose would be ingested once every four days in the morning. Just take it and go about your day.
Some patients are doing it to alleviate anxiety or depression. They believe this type of treatment is better than the current pharmacological approaches. A writer for the website Refinery 29 recently wrote about microdosing psilocybin mushrooms for migraines. She takes 1/100t of a dose, about 0.2-0.5 grams. A growing number of psychedelic enthusiasts are even microdosing to get creative ideas or solve problems in the work space. Wouldn’t the hippies be horrified? Rolling Stone recently uncovered this trend among young professionals in Silicon Valley.
Still, one must understand that currently there is limited research and most of the studies have been small. Another problem studying such things as LSD, such a low dose in the system is hard to detect, and so it’s effects difficult to objectively deduce. According to Fadiman, when coupled with yoga or meditation, troubled patients say with depression or anxiety sleep better, eat better, and generally feel better after taking psychedelics. Fadiman has gathered hundreds of testimonials, and is aiming for an FDA approved study. Even with some promising data in hand, most medical professionals say that hallucinogenics are dangerous and highly illegal.
Even so, with the opioid addiction epidemic raging, and the prevalence of depression and other serious disorders, many believe that microdosing psychedelics may be the future of mental health and addiction remediation, and the medical community need only shed their prejudices and catch up.
To learn more about the so-called psychedelic renaissance click here:
So much for rest in peace.
- Australian scientists found that bodies kept moving for 17 months after being pronounced dead.
- Researchers used photography capture technology in 30-minute intervals every day to capture the movement.
- This study could help better identify time of death.
We're learning more new things about death everyday. Much has been said and theorized about the great divide between life and the Great Beyond. While everyone and every culture has their own philosophies and unique ideas on the subject, we're beginning to learn a lot of new scientific facts about the deceased corporeal form.
An Australian scientist has found that human bodies move for more than a year after being pronounced dead. These findings could have implications for fields as diverse as pathology to criminology.
Dead bodies keep moving
Researcher Alyson Wilson studied and photographed the movements of corpses over a 17 month timeframe. She recently told Agence France Presse about the shocking details of her discovery.
Reportedly, she and her team focused a camera for 17 months at the Australian Facility for Taphonomic Experimental Research (AFTER), taking images of a corpse every 30 minutes during the day. For the entire 17 month duration, the corpse continually moved.
"What we found was that the arms were significantly moving, so that arms that started off down beside the body ended up out to the side of the body," Wilson said.
The researchers mostly expected some kind of movement during the very early stages of decomposition, but Wilson further explained that their continual movement completely surprised the team:
"We think the movements relate to the process of decomposition, as the body mummifies and the ligaments dry out."
During one of the studies, arms that had been next to the body eventually ended up akimbo on their side.
The team's subject was one of the bodies stored at the "body farm," which sits on the outskirts of Sydney. (Wilson took a flight every month to check in on the cadaver.)Her findings were recently published in the journal, Forensic Science International: Synergy.
Implications of the study
The researchers believe that understanding these after death movements and decomposition rate could help better estimate the time of death. Police for example could benefit from this as they'd be able to give a timeframe to missing persons and link that up with an unidentified corpse. According to the team:
"Understanding decomposition rates for a human donor in the Australian environment is important for police, forensic anthropologists, and pathologists for the estimation of PMI to assist with the identification of unknown victims, as well as the investigation of criminal activity."
While scientists haven't found any evidence of necromancy. . . the discovery remains a curious new understanding about what happens with the body after we die.
Metal-like materials have been discovered in a very strange place.
- Bristle worms are odd-looking, spiky, segmented worms with super-strong jaws.
- Researchers have discovered that the jaws contain metal.
- It appears that biological processes could one day be used to manufacture metals.
The bristle worm, also known as polychaetes, has been around for an estimated 500 million years. Scientists believe that the super-resilient species has survived five mass extinctions, and there are some 10,000 species of them.
Be glad if you haven't encountered a bristle worm. Getting stung by one is an extremely itchy affair, as people who own saltwater aquariums can tell you after they've accidentally touched a bristle worm that hitchhiked into a tank aboard a live rock.
Bristle worms are typically one to six inches long when found in a tank, but capable of growing up to 24 inches long. All polychaetes have a segmented body, with each segment possessing a pair of legs, or parapodia, with tiny bristles. ("Polychaeate" is Greek for "much hair.") The parapodia and its bristles can shoot outward to snag prey, which is then transferred to a bristle worm's eversible mouth.
The jaws of one bristle worm — Platynereis dumerilii — are super-tough, virtually unbreakable. It turns out, according to a new study from researchers at the Technical University of Vienna, this strength is due to metal atoms.
Metals, not minerals
Fireworm, a type of bristle wormCredit: prilfish / Flickr
This is pretty unusual. The study's senior author Christian Hellmich explains: "The materials that vertebrates are made of are well researched. Bones, for example, are very hierarchically structured: There are organic and mineral parts, tiny structures are combined to form larger structures, which in turn form even larger structures."
The bristle worm jaw, by contrast, replaces the minerals from which other creatures' bones are built with atoms of magnesium and zinc arranged in a super-strong structure. It's this structure that is key. "On its own," he says, "the fact that there are metal atoms in the bristle worm jaw does not explain its excellent material properties."
Just deformable enough
Credit: by-studio / Adobe Stock
What makes conventional metal so strong is not just its atoms but the interactions between the atoms and the ways in which they slide against each other. The sliding allows for a small amount of elastoplastic deformation when pressure is applied, endowing metals with just enough malleability not to break, crack, or shatter.
Co-author Florian Raible of Max Perutz Labs surmises, "The construction principle that has made bristle worm jaws so successful apparently originated about 500 million years ago."
Raible explains, "The metal ions are incorporated directly into the protein chains and then ensure that different protein chains are held together." This leads to the creation of three-dimensional shapes the bristle worm can pack together into a structure that's just malleable enough to withstand a significant amount of force.
"It is precisely this combination," says the study's lead author Luis Zelaya-Lainez, "of high strength and deformability that is normally characteristic of metals.
So the bristle worm jaw is both metal-like and yet not. As Zelaya-Lainez puts it, "Here we are dealing with a completely different material, but interestingly, the metal atoms still provide strength and deformability there, just like in a piece of metal."
Observing the creation of a metal-like material from biological processes is a bit of a surprise and may suggest new approaches to materials development. "Biology could serve as inspiration here," says Hellmich, "for completely new kinds of materials. Perhaps it is even possible to produce high-performance materials in a biological way — much more efficiently and environmentally friendly than we manage today."
Dealing with rudeness can nudge you toward cognitive errors.
- Anchoring is a common bias that makes people fixate on one piece of data.
- A study showed that those who experienced rudeness were more likely to anchor themselves to bad data.
- In some simulations with medical students, this effect led to higher mortality rates.
Cognitive biases are funny little things. Everyone has them, nobody likes to admit it, and they can range from minor to severe depending on the situation. Biases can be influenced by factors as subtle as our mood or various personality traits.
A new study soon to be published in the Journal of Applied Psychology suggests that experiencing rudeness can be added to the list. More disturbingly, the study's findings suggest that it is a strong enough effect to impact how medical professionals diagnose patients.
Life hack: don't be rude to your doctor
The team of researchers behind the project tested to see if participants could be influenced by the common anchoring bias, defined by the researchers as "the tendency to rely too heavily or fixate on one piece of information when making judgments and decisions." Most people have experienced it. One of its more common forms involves being given a particular value, say in negotiations on price, which then becomes the center of reasoning even when reason would suggest that number should be ignored.
It can also pop up in medicine. As co-author Dr. Trevor Foulk explains, "If you go into the doctor and say 'I think I'm having a heart attack,' that can become an anchor and the doctor may get fixated on that diagnosis, even if you're just having indigestion. If doctors don't move off anchors enough, they'll start treating the wrong thing."
Lots of things can make somebody more or less likely to anchor themselves to an idea. The authors of the study, who have several papers on the effects of rudeness, decided to see if that could also cause people to stumble into cognitive errors. Past research suggested that exposure to rudeness can limit people's perspective — perhaps anchoring them.
In the first version of the study, medical students were given a hypothetical patient to treat and access to information on their condition alongside an (incorrect) suggestion on what the condition was. This served as the anchor. In some versions of the tests, the students overheard two doctors arguing rudely before diagnosing the patient. Later variations switched the diagnosis test for business negotiations or workplace tasks while maintaining the exposure to rudeness.
Across all iterations of the test, those exposed to rudeness were more likely to anchor themselves to the initial, incorrect suggestion despite the availability of evidence against it. This was less significant for study participants who scored higher on a test of how wide of a perspective they tended to have. The disposition of these participants, who answered in the affirmative to questions like, "Before criticizing somebody, I try to imagine how I would feel if I were in his/her place," was able to effectively negate the narrowing effects of rudeness.
What this means for you and your healthcare
The effects of anchoring when a medical diagnosis is on the line can be substantial. Dr. Foulk explains that, in some simulations, exposure to rudeness can raise the mortality rate as doctors fixate on the wrong problems.
The authors of the study suggest that managers take a keener interest in ensuring civility in workplaces and giving employees the tools they need to avoid judgment errors after dealing with rudeness. These steps could help prevent anchoring.
Also, you might consider being nicer to people.