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Urine survey reveals Europe’s favorite drugs
Coke, meth, ecstasy, amphetamines: each drug has a different 'capital'
- A large-scale survey of wastewater across Europe shows which illicit drugs are popular.
- The use of four main drugs was up across the board last year, but regional variation persists.
- Cocaine is popular in the west and south, meth in the east and north.
How to trace illicit drug use
Some examples of MDMA, a.k.a. ecstasy, in pill form.
DM Trott / The Drug User's Bible - CC BY-SA 4.0
Europe's drug capitals? Antwerp for cocaine use, Stockholm for amphetamines. Prague tops the list for crystal meth, Amsterdam for ecstasy. So says a study by the EU's official drug monitory body, analysing sewage samples from 68 cities in 23 European countries. The standardised surveys of urban wastewater, conducted since 2011, are a good indicator of regional preferences in illicit drug use, and their evolution over time.
It's not easy to establish the size of Europe's appetite for illicit drugs. Most users would prefer not to discuss their habit, and seizures of drugs shipments provide only a very partial picture. Fortunately for the scientists, urine doesn't lie.
Since its original use in the 1990s to monitor the environmental impact of liquid household waste, wastewater analysis has rapidly improved, and is now able to provide near real-time data on the quantity, the geography and the evolution over time of illicit drug use.
The most recent study, published earlier this month by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), took samples in March 2019 at treatment plants processing sewage for a total of 50 million Europeans, concentrated in the continent's major urban centers.
The sewage was tested for traces of four illicit drugs: cocaine, MDMA (popularly known as ecstasy), amphetamines and methamphetamines (a.k.a. crystal meth). These leave clearly detectable biomarkers in sewage, unlike cannabis or heroin.
- Compared to previous years, consumption was on the increase for each of the four drugs.
- Residues for all four drugs were higher in larger cities – a reflection of the fact that this is where younger people tend to congregate.
- Three out of four cities reported higher levels of amphetamine, cocaine and ecstasy use during the weekend, indicating recreational use.
- Crystal meth use tended to stay even over the whole week, indicating more chronic, problematic use.
Cocaine: popular in west and south
The Belgian port city of Antwerp tops the list for highest average cocaine use
The Belgian port city of Antwerp – and in particular the district of Antwerp-Zuid – topped the list of European cities with the highest average cocaine use, both on weekdays and at weekends.
The figures – expressing average mg/day of cocaine biomarker per 1,000 persons – show the Belgians out-consuming the runners-up in Amsterdam by a considerable margin. Also remarkable: four of Europe's top 10 coke cities are Swiss; and London barely makes the list.
As recently as 2015, London was Europe's cocaine capital, with a wastewater count of 909mg of benzoylecgonine (BE) per 1,000 people. BE is the compound produced by the body when it breaks down cocaine. Other research at that time showed 4% of Londoners between 15 and 34 years of age had taken cocaine in the preceding year.
But recent figures show the BE count in London's sewage has been dropping for years now, from 895mg in 2016 to 619mg in 2019 – a reduction by nearly a third. Why is that? Wastewater research can't tell you that. But the three most likely theories are:
- The samples are non-representative anomalies.
- The London market for cocaine is saturated.
- After consistent rises in the previous years, the purity of the product has gone down.
The actual answer could be any combination of those three possibilities.Seen across the whole of Europe, cocaine use is highest in western and southern European cities, particularly in Belgium, the Netherlands, the UK and Spain. Despite some increase, cocaine use remains low in eastern Europe.
|Cocaine capitals of Europe||mg|
|3||St Gallen Hofen||Switzerland||909.8|
Ecstasy: from 'niche' to mainstream
Ecstasy is now being used by a broader range of young people in mainstream nightlife settings.
MDMA, commonly known as ecstasy, is most popular in Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany. Until recently, overall MDMA use seemed to be declining from a peak in the early to mid-2000s; however, more recent data provides a mixed picture, with MDMA consumption falling in London, for example, but remaining high in some cities. Sharp increases were noted in particular for Antwerp, Amsterdam and Eindhoven.
In fact, the study reports an increase in MDMA use for more than half of the 42 cities with comparable data for 2018 and 2019 – leading the researchers to conclude that ecstasy no longer is a 'niche' drug, linked to the sub-culture of dance clubs. It's now being used by a broader range of young people in mainstream nightlife settings, like bars and house parties.
|Ecstasy capitals of Europe||mg|
Meth: breaking out of its Czech heartland
Prague is Europe's meth central.
For years, methamphetamine was popular particularly in the Czech Republic. In recent years, the drug has made inroads in surrounding countries – Slovakia and eastern Germany – but also further afield, in various Nordic cities, in Cyprus and Spain.
Overall 21 of the 41 cities with data on meth use for both 2018 and 2019 showed an increase. Despite this, meth use remained negligible outside the established hotspots.
In 2015, Oslo and Dresden topped the meth league tables, in 2016, Slovakia's capital Bratislava took the crown. In 2019, Prague was Europe's meth capital.
|Meth capitals of Europe||mg|
Amphetamines: popular in the north
Germany, Belgium and Sweden occupy all but two spots in the amphetamine top 10.
Antwerp was Europe's amphetamine capital back in 2016, but the city has to content itself with its top spot in the cocaine ranking, having gone down a few places in this league table. Sweden rules the roost, occupying first and second place; with Belgium and Germany occupying three spots each.
No wonder then that the highest levels of amphetamine use were reported in northern European cities, with much lower levels in southern Europe.
Wastewater analysis has its limits when trying to establish quantities or patterns of illicit drug use, but it offers support to other indicators of drug consumption, for instance the amounts of drugs seized by the authorities, and it confirms the picture of a remarkably divergent market across Europe.
Strange Maps #1018
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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 light 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
Milgram's experiment is rightly famous, but does it show what we think it does?
- In the 1960s, Stanley Milgram was sure that good, law-abiding Americans would never be able to follow orders like the Germans in the Holocaust.
- His experiments proved him spectacularly wrong. They showed just how many of us are willing to do evil if only we're told to by an authority figure.
- Yet, parts of the experiment were set up in such a way that we should perhaps conclude something a bit more nuanced.
Holding a clipboard and wearing a lab coat makes you a very powerful person. Add in a lanyard and a confident voice, and you're pretty much in Ocean's Eleven.
Though we believe ourselves to be contrarians, most of us like to obey authority. We answer questions, help with any number of tasks, and obey commands unthinkingly. The vast majority of the time, this is relatively harmless and even requisite for a functioning society, but it can also lead humanity to very dark places.
It could happen here
As we've seen with Asch's experiments on conformity, the post-World War II community was determined to answer how and why the Holocaust took place. Just after the trial of Adolf Eichmann, the American media and public came to see German society as some special kind of monster in just how willing they were to follow orders unthinkingly, at odds with any sense of duty or morality.
Into this came Stanley Milgram. In 1961, Milgram set out a series of experiments to show, in his view, how the German people were more susceptible to authoritarianism than Americans. Milgram believed, as a lot of people did, that the American people would never be capable of such horrendous evil.
The experiment was to be set up in two stages: the first would be on American subjects, to gauge how far they would obey orders; the second would be on Germans, to prove how much they differed. The results stopped Milgram in his tracks.
Shock, shock, horror
Milgram wanted to ensure that his experiment involved as broad and diverse a group of people as possible. In addition to testing the American vs. German mindset, he wanted to see how much age, education, employment, and so on affected a person's willingness to obey orders.
So, the original 40 participants he gathered came from a wide spectrum of society, and each was told that they were to take part in a "memory test." They were to determine the extent to which punishment affects learning and the ability to memorize.
Milgram believed, as a lot of people did, that the American people would never be capable of such horrendous evil.
The experiment involved three people. First, there was the "experimenter," dressed in a lab coat, who gave instructions and prompts. Second, there was an actor who was the "learner." Third, there was the participant who thought that they were acting as the "teacher" in the memory test. The apparent experimental setup was that the learner had to match two words together after being taught them, and whenever they got the answer wrong, the teacher had to administer an electric shock. (The teachers (participants) were shocked as well to let them know what kind of pain the learner would experience.) At first, the shock was set at 15 volts.
The learner (actor) repeatedly made mistakes for each study, and the teacher was told to increase the voltage each time. A tape recorder was played that had the learner (apparently) make sounds as if in pain. As it went on, the learner would plead and beg for the shocks to stop. The teacher was told to increase the amount of voltage as punishment up to a level that was explicitly described as being fatal — not least because the learner was desperately saying he had a heart condition.
The question Milgram wanted to know: how far would his participants go?
Just obeying orders
The results were surprising. Sixty-five percent of the participants were willing to give a 450-volt shock described as lethal, and all administered a 300-volt shock described as traumatically painful. It should be repeated, this occurred despite the learner (actor) begging the teacher (participant) to stop.
In the studies that came after, in a variety of different setups, that 60 percent number came up again and again. They showed that roughly two out of three people would be willing to kill someone if told to by an authority figure. Milgram proved that all genders, ages, and nationalities were depressingly capable of inflicting incredible pain or worse on innocent people.
Major limitations in Milgram's experiment
Milgram took many steps to make sure that his experiment was rigorous and fair. He used the same tape recording of the "learner" screaming, begging, and pleading for all participants. He made sure the experimenters used only the same four prompts each time when the participants were reluctant or wanted to stop. He even made sure that he himself was not present at the experiment, lest he interfere with the procedure (something Phillip Zimbardo did not do).
But, does the Milgram experiment actually prove what we think it does?
First, the experimenters were permitted to remind the participants that they were not responsible for what they did and that the team would take full blame. This, of course, does not make the study any less shocking, but it does perhaps change the scope of the conclusions. Perhaps the experiment reveals more about our ability to surrender responsibility and our willingness simply to become a tool. The conclusion is still pretty depressing, but it shows what we are capable of when offered absolution rather than when simply following orders.
Second, the experiment took place in a single hour, with very little time either to deliberate or talk things over with someone. In most situations, like the Holocaust, the perpetrators had ample time (years) to reflect on their actions, and yet, they still chose to turn up every day. Milgram perhaps highlights only how far we'll go in the heat of the moment.
Finally, the findings do not tell the whole tale. The participants were not engaging in sadistic glee to shock the learner. They all showed signs of serious distress and anxiety, such as nervous laughing fits. Some even had seizures. These were not willing accomplices but participants essentially forced to act a certain way. (Since then, many scientists have argued that Milgram's experiment is hugely unethical.)
The power of authority
That all being said, there's a reason why Milgram's experiment stays with us today. Whether it's evolutionarily or socially drilled into us, it seems that humans are capable of doing terrible things, if only we are told to do so by someone in power — or, at the very least, when we don't feel responsible for the consequences.
One silver lining to Milgram is in how it can inoculate us against such drone-like behavior. It can help us to resist. Simply knowing how far we can be manipulated helps allow us to say, "No."
As the American population grows, fewer people will die of cancer.
- A new study projects that cancer deaths will decrease in relative and absolute terms by 2040.
- The biggest decrease will be among lung cancer deaths, which are predicted to fall by 50 percent.
- Cancer is like terrorism: we cannot eliminate it entirely, but we can minimize its influence.
As the #2 leading cause of death, cancer takes the lives of about 600,000 Americans each year. In comparison, heart disease (#1) claims more than 650,000 lives, while accidents (#3) take about 175,000 lives. (In 2020 and likely 2021, COVID will claim the #3 spot.)
Headlines are usually full of terrible news about cancer. Seemingly, you can't get away from anything that causes it. RealClearScience made a list of all the things blamed for cancer — antiperspirants, salty soup, eggs, corn, Pringles, bras, burnt toast, and even Facebook made the list.
The reality, however, is much more optimistic. We're slowly but surely winning the war on cancer.
Winning the war on cancer
How can we make such a brazen statement? A new paper published in the journal JAMA Network Open tracks trends in cancer incidence and deaths and makes projections to the year 2040. The authors predict that around 568,000 Americans will have died of cancer in 2020, but they project that number to fall to 410,000 by 2040. That's a drop of nearly 28 percent, despite the U.S. population being projected to grow from roughly 333 million today to 374 million in 2040, an increase of 12 percent. That means cancer deaths will decrease in both relative and absolute terms.
What accounts for this unexpected good news? The lion's share is the number of deaths attributable to lung cancer, which is projected to decrease by more than 50 percent, from 130,000 to 63,000. This drop is largely due to the decreasing use of tobacco products. Other deaths predicted to decline include those from colorectal, breast, prostate, and ovarian cancers, among others, such as leukemia and non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL).
The authors credit screening and biomedical advances for saving many of these lives. For instance, lead author Dr. Lola Rahib wrote in an email to Big Think that "colonoscopies remove precancerous polyps." She also noted that targeted therapies and immunotherapies have helped reduce the number of deaths from leukemia and NHL.
We'll never cure cancer
Now the bad news: We'll never cure cancer. There are at least three reasons for this. The first is obvious: We all die. The lifetime prevalence of death is 100 percent. The truth is that we are running out of things to die from. After a long enough period of time, something gives out — often your cardiovascular system or nervous system. Or you develop you cancer.
The second reason is that we are multicellular organisms and, hence, we are susceptible to cancer. (Contrary to popular myth, sharks get cancer, too.) The cells of multicellular organisms face an existential dilemma: they can either get old and stop dividing (a process called senescence) or become immortal but cancerous. For this reason, the problem of cancer may not have a solution.
Finally, there isn't really such a thing as a disease called "cancer." What we call cancer is actually a collection of several different diseases, some of which are preventable (like cervical cancer with the HPV vaccine) or curable (like prostate cancer). Unfortunately, some cancers probably never will be curable, not least because cancers can mutate and develop resistance to the drugs we use to treat them.
But the overall optimism still stands: We are slowly and incrementally winning the war on cancer. Like terrorism, it's not a foe that we can completely vanquish, but it is one whose influence we can minimize in our lives.