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Where in the world is Portsea?
This map of Europe's 20 most populous islands holds a few surprises and unlocks a truckload of trivia.
- Great Britain (pop. 61.5 million) is Europe's most populous island.
- But where exactly is Portsea, number 20 on the list?
- If you're not afraid of a truckload of trivia – read on.
The opera house in Palermo, the capital of Sicily – Europe's third-most populous island.
Credit: Miguel MEDINA/AFP via Getty Images
Maps are rabbit holes. Where they lead depends on how you fall into them. In this case, the trap door was Portsea.
This is a map of Europe's 20 most populous islands. The largest ones are familiar, and not difficult to guess. Yes, Great Britain is Europe's most people-rich island. And many would have gotten number two right as well: Ireland.
As the ranking continues, familiar islands alternate with less familiar ones, and it's interesting to see how some smaller or more obscure ones out-populate others, larger and better known. Spanish island Mallorca has the edge over Cyprus, even though the latter is an entire nation unto itself. And Vendsyssel-Thy, arguably Denmark's least familiar larger island, may be a lot smaller than Iceland but it has slightly more inhabitants.
The kicker, though, is the island at the end of the ranking. Portsea. Never heard of. Is that some kind of magical place that appears only once every century? (No, that's Brigadoon). So we looked it up. But hunting for a single piece of information is like buying a single piece of candy. It can't be done.
Here you have it, then: a truckload of trivia, on Sardinia's black-clad female assassins, a gothic cathedral that faces Mecca, and the tragic fate of Corsica's first and last-but-one king.
Not that there's much else to do during lockdown, but in the time it took us to gather all this info, we could have learned a really easy language or acquired a fairly dumb skill. Thanks a lot, Portsea!
How Britain became ‘Great’
A Top 20 of Europe's most populous islands.
1. Great Britain: 61.5 million
- Great Britain is not just Europe's most populous island (and the third-most populous in the world, after Java, Indonesia and Honshu, Japan), it is also the continent's largest (and the world's ninth-largest).
- There are two explanations for how Britain got the prefix 'Great'. In his Almagest, second-century geographer Ptolemy differentiated between the islands of Great Britain and Little Britain, by which he meant Ireland. In his Historia Regum Britanniae however, 12th-century historian Geoffrey of Monmouth distinguished between Britannia major and Britannia minor, by which he meant Brittany, the now-French region on the European mainland.
- Although the terms are often used interchangeably, Great Britain is not the same as the United Kingdom (which consists of Great Britain and Northern Ireland). However, the terms were synonymous between the Acts of Union of 1707 (uniting England and Scotland) and of 1800 (between Great Britain and Ireland).
- The four countries of the British Isles are closely identified with their patron saints: St George for England, St David for Wales, St Andrew for Scotland and St Patrick for Ireland. Strangely, the island of Great Britain itself has no patron saint. In the past, St Alban–the first-recorded Christian martyr (a.k.a. protomartyr) on the island–had this role. More recently, St Aidan, an early Irish apostle to the Britons, has been proposed.
2. Ireland: 6.4 million
- The most iconic Irish beverage is Guinness, but the Irish are only the second-largest consumers of the famed Black Stuff; in first place are... the Brits. The next-biggest markets are Nigeria, the U.S., and Cameroon. In all, about 4 million of the 10 million glasses of Guinness consumed daily are downed in Africa.
- Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church in Dublin contains a shrine with the relics of St Valentine, donated by Pope Gregory XVI in 1836. It's a popular destination for couples to ask the saint to bless their life together.
3. Sicily (Italy): 5 million
- Sicily is the biggest island in the Mediterranean, and home to Europe's tallest active volcano, Mount Etna. That's the one hogging the limelight; there are at least 10 other volcanoes on or near Sicily, including two active ones – Stromboli and Vulcano (in English: Vulcan). Each is one of the Aeolian Islands, just north of Sicily. The Romans believed the fire-spewing mountain was the chimney of their fire god Vulcan's smithy, hence the latter island's name, which became the generic term for 'fire-spewing mountain'.
- Three Sicilian firsts: it was where pi was first calculated (in the 3rd century BC, by Archimedes), where the first sonnet was written (in the 13th century, by Giacomo da Lentini), and where ice cream was invented (in the 17th century, by Francesco Procopio dei Coltelli).
A canal planned by Nero
The MS Turanor PlanetSolar, the world's largest solar-powered boat, squeezes through the Corinth Canal, which turned the Peloponnese into an island.
Credit: VALERIE GACHE/AFP via Getty Images
4. Zealand (Denmark): 2.3 million
- Zealand (in Danish: Sjælland) is the largest island of Denmark proper and the most populated, home to the capital Copenhagen and other major cities.
- It is home to the oldest and second-oldest amusement parks in the world still in operation, called Bakken and Tivoli, respectively.
- Despite the similarity, Zealand is not the toponymic parent of New Zealand; the antipodean nation was named after the Dutch province of Zeeland.
Of the three larger islands in the western Mediterranean, Sardinia somehow always gets the least attention. Quite undeservedly so, because beaches, nature, old buildings. Etcetera, of course. Here, however, are three standout facts that are truly unique about the island.
- Sardinia contains the first of five 'Blue Zones' discovered across the world, where life expectancy is exceptionally high. The area has about 10 times more centenarians per capita than the U.S. One village called Seulo (pop. 750) has had 20 centenarians in the 20 years preceding 2016, a world record.
- The island's penchant for longevity is actually quite surprising, considering another Sardinian tradition, the Femmina Accabadora, or 'Finishing Woman'. If someone suffered from an intolerably painful illness, they (or their family) could request a visit from one of these folk euthanizers. Dressed in black and with covered faces, they would dispatch their victims swiftly and painlessly by suffocating them with a pillow, hitting them over the head with a heavy wooden hammer, or strangling them with the victim's neck between their legs.
- The capital of Argentina was named after a hill in Sardinia. Bonaria (Italian for 'good air', or 'fair wind') is the name of a hill overlooking Cagliari, as it was free from the foul smell prevalent in the Sardinian capital's swamp-adjacent old town. On top of the hill stands an abbey dedicated to the Virgin Mary, who was venerated by sailors praying for fair winds. The first Spanish sailors to land where the Argentinian capital now stands, gave thanks to her, and Our Lady of Buen Ayre eventually gave her name to the city.
6. Peloponnese (Greece): 1.1 million
In 67 AD, the emperor Nero broke ground on a canal to connect the Ionian and Aegean seas. He wielded a pickaxe and personally carried away the first basket of soil. The mean fiddler then handed over to 6,000 Jewish prisoners of war, who managed to dig across one-tenth of the narrow Istmus of Corinth before the project was abandoned.Only in 1893 was the Corinth Canal completed – finally separating the Peloponnese from the Greek mainland, turning the peninsula into Greece's largest island. The canal is 6.4 km (4 mi) long and just 21.4 m (70 ft) wide, making it impassable for large ships. It has little economic value and is mainly a tourist attraction. 7. Tenerife (Spain): 890,000
Next time you're in Trafalgar Square in London, look up at the statue on top of Nelson's Column: it has no right arm. Next time you're in Tenerife, you can go see the cannon what did it. In the remains of the Castle of San Cristobal, now a museum, in the capital Santa Cruz, you'll find El Tigre, a 3-m-long bronze cannon cast in Seville. This is the weapon that wounded Horatio Nelson during the Battle of Santa Cruz de Tenerife in 1797. Each year on July 25th, Tenerife stages a full-costume re-enactment of the battle. Each year, Nelson loses both the battle and the arm. That's why it's not called Tenerife Square!
A wedding in Cyprus
Berengaria, wife of king Richard I Lionheart.
Credit: Kean Collection/Getty Images
8. Mallorca (Spain): 860,000
Palma de Mallorca's Gothic cathedral, known as La Seu, has one of the world's largest stained-glass windows. Famous architect Antoni Gaudí is responsible for some of the more recent restorations. The iconic building has one even more unique peculiarity. Whereas Christian churches generally face east, this one points towards Mecca. That's because it rises on the foundations of a mosque, which was built when the Moors also ruled this part of Spain.
9. Cyprus: 860,000
- Cyprus is the only place outside Britain ever to stage an English royal wedding. On May 12, 1191 in Limassol's Chapel of St George, King Richard I ('Lionheart') married princess Berengaria, daughter of King Sancho VI of Navarre. From there, the newlyweds proceeded to the Holy Land for a bit of light crusading.
- Present-day Cyprus is the only country in the world with a divided capital. The northern part of Nicosia is run by the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, a country recognised only by Turkey. The southern part of Nicosia is run by the Republic of Cyprus, an EU member state. The two sides are separated by a UN-administered Green Line, which divides not just Nicosia, but the entire island.
10. Gran Canaria (Spain): 850,000
- Neither Gran Canaria nor the Canary Islands as a whole were named after canary birds. It's rather the other way around: the birds derive their names from the islands, where they are endemic.
- The islands were in fact named after dogs. Insulae canariae is Latin for 'Islands of the Dogs'. But it's rather unclear how the name came about.
- One theory is that large dogs roamed the islands when the Ancients first visited (Pliny the Elder mentions this).
- Another theory claims the 'dogs' are in fact 'sea dogs', i.e. seals.
- Or: the native Guanche people worshipped and mummified dogs, a practice perhaps related to the cult of the dog-headed god Anubis in Egypt.
- Canarians have made their mark on the Americas. They founded the cities of San Antonio in Texas, and Sao Paulo in Brazil, among others. And they brought over the peppers, chilis, and salsas familiar in Tex-Mex cuisine.
- In 1936, Francisco Franco was General Commandant of the Canaries, stationed in Las Palmas, on Gran Canaria. This is where he plotted his insurgency against the left-wing Republican government. So you could say that the Spanish Civil War started on Gran Canaria.
11. Södertörn: 800,000
Södertörn is a vaguely triangular peninsula south of Stockholm, separated from the mainland by canals cut at Södertälje and Hammarby. Since 2014, it has been reclassified as an island and is now considered Sweden's third-largest island, after Gotland and Öland. The northern part of the island is a heavily populated southern extension of the Swedish capital region.
Pete Buttigieg, currently the most prominent Maltese-American.
Credit: Stefani Reynolds - Pool/Getty Images
12. Crete (Greece): 620,000
Cretans take their salads seriously. In 2010, the Guinness-attested world record for largest Greek salad ever was set in Ierapetra, Crete. The salad weighed in at 13 tons and 417 kg.
Unfortunately for Ierapetra, the record was broken in 2016, on Moscow's Red Square of all places, where no less than 1,200 volunteers prepared a Greek salad weighing 20 tons.
But if you can take the record-breaking salad out of Crete, you can't take the Cretans out of the record-breaking salad. So to speak. The Muscovite Greek salad was prepared under the direction of Petros Lambrinidis, a chef from Crete.
13. Fyn (Denmark): 450,000
Fyn, in between Zealand and Jutland, is Denmark's third-largest island. In English, it's known as Funen. (The Latin name is Fionia).
The New Little Belt Bridge (Ny Lillebæltsbro, 1970), connecting Fyn with Jutland, is Denmark's oldest suspension bridge.
Since 1997, Fyn and Zealand are linked via the Great Belt Fixed Link (Storebæltsforbindelsen), a combination of road bridge and rail tunnel and bridge. The eastern part of the bridge is formed by a 2,694m long suspension bridge, the longest such bridge in Europe (and the third-longest in the world).
14. Malta: 400,000
On the campaign trail last year, Pete Buttigieg joked that he was the only "left-handed Maltese-American, Episcopalian, gay, millennial war veteran in the race." A pretty impressive rainbow coalition, but not one broad enough to earn him the Democratic nomination.
Nevermind: as Joe Biden's pick for U.S. Secretary of Transportation, Buttigieg may yet remain the nation's most prominent public figure of Maltese descent. Unless Britney Spears makes a comeback, that is.
Yes, the Princess of Pop–a month and a half older than Buttigieg, by the way–also has Maltese ancestry, albeit only one-eighth, via her mother. But that's okay: the Maltese are an inclusive people, happy to celebrate anyone with as much as a drop of Maltese blood.
Other prominent Maltesers? Actor Jason Bateman, Canadian rocker Bryan Adams, U.S.-British royal Meghan Markle, and Scottish singer Sharleen Spiteri.
15. Vendsyssel-Thy (Denmark): 300,000
What's the northernmost island of Denmark proper, and the second-largest Danish island after Greenland? Quite a few Danes won't know the right answer either. It's Vendsyssel-Thy, the northernmost part of Jutland.
It doesn't feel like an island, perhaps because it consists of distinct regions (Vendsyssel, Thy and Hanherred), and its name derives from those parts rather than reflects its geographic distinctiveness (see also the Delmarva Peninsula in the U.S., the name of which derives from DELaware, MARyland and VirginiA).
Or perhaps because it hasn't been one for very long. Only after the disastrous Great Hallig Flood of February 1825 breached Agger Tange, the land link that separated the North Sea from the Limfjord, did it become entirely detached from the rest of Jutland.
The first part of the name Vendsyssel, by the way, may refer to the Germanic tribe of the Vandals.
16. Iceland: 300,000
Iceland is a country of extremes. Of, if you're into lists, 'Best Ofs'. Here's our personal Top 10.
- Reykjavik is the northernmost national capital in the world.
- Around 11 percent of the country is covered by glaciers, 8 percent alone by Vatnajökull, the world's largest glacier outside the polar regions.
- Iceland's parliament is called the Althingi. It was founded in 930, making it the oldest one in the world.
- About two-thirds of children in Iceland are born outside of marriage, the highest rate in the world.
- In 2009, Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir became Iceland's first female Prime Minister and the world's first openly lesbian head of government.
- About 30 percent of Iceland's electricity is of geothermal origin, the highest percentage in the world.
- Iceland is the only country in the world without mosquitoes.
- According to the Global Peace Index, Iceland is the most peaceful country in the world.
- Iceland has the world's smallest overall gender gap, a position it has held since 2009. The pay gap is decreasing, but so slow that parity would be reached only in 2068.
- In a recent survey of 35 countries worldwide, Iceland came out as the best place in the world to raise a family. The U.S., incidentally, finished 34th.
Part of Portsmouth
The Spinnaker Tower, the icon of Portsmouth, and by extension also the most famous landmark of Portsea.
Credit: Finnbarr Webster/Getty Images
17. Corsica (France): 300,000
The first king of Corsica is buried in the churchyard of St Anne's in Soho, London. Theodor von Neuhoff (1694-1756) was a German-born adventurer who helped Corsican rebels rid the island of the Genoese, but only for about eight months in 1736. The last 20 years of his life, he vainly tried to regain his throne. 'Theodor the First' was got out of debtors' prison in London, by signing over his elusive kingdom to his creditors. His epitaph, written by his friend Sir Horace Walpole, reads:
The grave, great teacher, to a level brings
Heroes and beggars, galley slaves and kings.
But Theodore this moral learn'd ere dead:
Fate poured its lessons on his living head,
Bestow'd a kingdom, and denied him bread.
In 1768, Genoa sold the rebellious island to France. In 1794, the British conquered the island and established a short-lived Anglo-Corsican Kingdom, making George III the second (and last) king of Corsica. Two years later, the French were back – for good, for now.
18. Madeira (Portugal): 270,000
- The Portuguese island of Madeira–closer to Africa than to Europe–is famous for the fortified wine that carries its name. The Founding Fathers in particular were big fans. Madeira wine was used to toast the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the inauguration of George Washington, the launch of the U.S.S. Constitution, and the signing of the Louisiana Purchase.
- Madeira's second-most consequential contribution to global culture is the ukulele. Although now entirely associated with Hawaiian music, the instrument (whose name means 'jumping flea' in Hawaiian) was introduced to the islands only in 1879, by Madeiran sugar cane cutters. It is based on similar small guitar-like instruments they knew from home, such as the cavaquinho and the rajao.
- Soccer fans will beg to differ. They would argue that Madeira's most famous export is Cristiano Ronaldo, hailed by many as the greatest soccer player of his generation. Local authorities seem to agree. In 2017, the capital Funchal's airport was renamed Cristiano Ronaldo International Airport.
19. Euboea (Greece): 220,000
'Euboea' means 'land of the well-fed oxen', but throughout history, it's had more aliases than that shifty-looking character on the next street corner.
In ancient times, it was known as Dolicche or Macris (because it is so narrow), and Aonia, Ellopia or Abantis (after the tribes that called it home). The Byzantines called it Chalcis (the name of its capital) or Euripios (after the strait that separates it from the mainland). Under Venetian rule, it was known as Negroponte (a folk etymology, after the 'black bridge' across the strait).
One of the most notable natives of the island is St Porphyrios (1906-91), a Greek Orthodox monk famous for his gift of clairvoyance, which he called 'spiritual television'.
20. Portsea Island (UK): 210,000
Portsea is the third most populated of the British Isles, after Great Britain and Ireland. And the most densely populated one. Yet you've probably never heard of it. That's because Portsea is subsumed by the city of Portsmouth, which covers the entire island.
Portsmouth often calls itself the only island city in Britain. But that's not entirely true, as the city also covers an adjacent part of the mainland, on the southern coast of England.
Map seen here on Reddit. Reproduced with kind permission.
Strange Maps #1066
Got a strange map? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- The World's 26 Biggest Islands, in One Handy Map - Big Think ›
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A new study finds that dogs fed fresh human-grade food don't need to eat—or do their business—as much.
- Most dogs eat a diet that's primarily kibble.
- When fed a fresh-food diet, however, they don't need to consume as much.
- Dogs on fresh-food diets have healthier gut biomes.
Four diets were tested<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTU5ODI1MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NjY0NjIxMn0._w0k-qFOC86AqmtPHJBK_i-9F5oVyVYsYtUrdvfUxWQ/img.jpg?width=980" id="1b1e4" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="87937436a81c700a8ab3b1d763354843" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1440" data-height="960" />
Credit: AntonioDiaz/Adobe Stock<p>The researchers tested refrigerated and fresh human-grade foods against kibble, the food most dogs live on. The <a href="https://frontierpets.com.au/blogs/news/how-kibble-or-dry-dog-food-is-made" target="_blank">ingredients</a> of kibble are mashed into a dough and then extruded, forced through a die of some kind into the desired shape — think a <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Food_extrusion" target="_blank">pasta maker</a>. The resulting pellets are sprayed with additional flavor and color.</p><p>For four weeks, researchers fed 12 beagles one of four diets:</p><ol><li>a extruded diet — Blue Buffalo Chicken and Brown Rice Recipe</li><li>a fresh refrigerated diet — Freshpet Roasted Meals Tender Chicken Recipe</li><li>a fresh diet — JustFoodforDogs Beef & Russet Potato Recipe</li><li>another fresh diet — JustFoodforDogs Chicken & White Rice Recipe.</li></ol><p>The two fresh diets contained minimally processed beef, chicken, broccoli, rice, carrots, and various food chunks in a canine casserole of sorts. </p><p>(One can't help but think how hard it would be to get finicky cats to test new diets. As if.)</p><p>Senior author <a href="https://ansc.illinois.edu/directory/ksswanso" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Kelly S. Swanson</a> of U of I's Department of Animal Sciences and the Division of Nutritional Sciences, was a bit surprised at how much better dogs did on people food than even refrigerated dog chow. "Based on past research we've conducted I'm not surprised with the results when feeding human-grade compared to an extruded dry diet," he <a href="https://aces.illinois.edu/news/feed-fido-fresh-human-grade-dog-food-scoop-less-poop" target="_blank">says</a>, adding, "However, I did not expect to see how well the human-grade fresh food performed, even compared to a fresh commercial processed brand."</p>
Tracking the effect of each diet<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTU5ODI1OC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY3NjY1NTgyOX0.AdyMb8OEcjCD6iWYnXjToDmcnjfTSn-0-dfG96SIpUA/img.jpg?width=980" id="da892" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="880d952420679aeccd1eaf32b5339810" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1440" data-height="960" />
Credit: Patryk Kosmider/Adobe Stock<p>The researchers tracked the dogs' weights and analyzed the microbiota in their fecal matter.</p><p>It turned out that the dogs on kibble had to eat more to maintain their body weight. This resulted in their producing 1.5 to 2.9 times the amount of poop produced by dogs on the fresh diets.</p><p>Says Swanson, "This is consistent with a 2019 National Institute of Health study in humans that found people eating a fresh whole food diet consumed on average 500 less calories per day, and reported being more satisfied, than people eating a more processed diet."</p><p>Maybe even more interesting was the effect of fresh food on the gut biome. Though there remains much we don't yet know about microbiota, it was nonetheless the case that the microbial communities found in fresh-food poo was different.</p><p>"Because a healthy gut means a healthy mutt," says Swanson, "fecal microbial and metabolite profiles are important readouts of diet assessment. As we have shown in <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jas/article/92/9/3781/4702209#110855647" target="_blank">previous studies</a>, the fecal microbial communities of healthy dogs fed fresh diets were different than those fed kibble. These unique microbial profiles were likely due to differences in diet processing, ingredient source, and the concentration and type of dietary fibers, proteins, and fats that are known to influence what is digested by the dog and what reaches the colon for fermentation."</p>
How did kibble take over canine diets?<p>Historically, dogs ate scraps left over by humans. It has only been <a href="https://www.thefarmersdog.com/digest/the-history-of-commercial-pet-food-a-great-american-marketing-story/" target="_blank">since 1870</a>, with the arrival of the luxe Spratt's Meat Fibrine Dog Cakes—made from "the dried unsalted gelatinous parts of Prairie Beef", mmm—that commercial dog food began to take hold. Dog bone-shaped biscuits first appeared in 1907. Ken-L Ration dates from 1922. Kibble was first extruded in 1956. Pet food had become a great way to turn <a href="https://www.dogfoodadvisor.com/choosing-dog-food/animal-by-products/" target="_blank">human-food waste</a> into profit.</p><p>Commercial dog food became the norm for most household canines only after a massive marketing campaign led by a group of dog-food industry lobbyists called the Pet Food Institute in 1964. Over time, for most households, dog food was what dogs ate — what else? Human food? These days more than half of U.S. dogs are <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/03/magazine/who-made-that-dog-biscuit.html" target="_blank">overweight or obese</a>, and certainly their diet is a factor.<span></span></p><p>We're not so special among animals after all. If something's healthy for us to eat—we're <em>not</em> looking at you, chocolate—maybe we should remember to share with our canine compatriots. Not from the table, though.</p>
New study suggests the placebo effect can be as powerful as microdosing LSD.
- New research from Imperial College London investigated the psychological effects of microdosing LSD in 191 volunteers.
- While microdosers experienced beneficial mental health effects, the placebo group performed statistically similar to those who took LSD.
- Researchers believe the expectation of a trip could produce some of the same sensations as actually ingesting psychedelics.
Psychedelics: The scientific renaissance of mind-altering drugs<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="92360c805fe66c11de38a75b0967f417"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/5T0LmbWROKY?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>For the study published in eLife, the team recruited 191 citizen cosmonauts to microdose either LSD or a placebo over the course of several weeks and note the psychological effects. Volunteers were already microdosing LSD, so there was no true control. Each volunteer was given instructions on creating their own low-dose gel capsules, some containing LSD, others not. Then they mixed the capsules in envelopes so they didn't know if they were taking the real thing or not.</p><p>The trial design was ingenious: each capsule featured a QR code that was scanned after the addition of ingredients but before they were placed in the envelope so that researchers knew what they were ingesting.</p><p>The problem: volunteers sourced their own LSD. Lack of quality control could have had a profound effect on the results. </p><p>The results: LSD microdosers reported feeling more mindful, satisfied with life, and better overall; they also noticed a reduction in feelings of paranoia. </p><p>The catch: the control group felt the same thing, with no statistical difference between the groups. </p><p>Lead author Balázs Szigeti comments on the findings: "This suggests that the improvements may not be due to the pharmacological action of the drug but can instead be explained by the placebo effect." </p>
Credit: Alexander / Adobe Stock<p>Psychedelics are notoriously difficult to control for given the intensity of the experience. Yet there is precedent for the above findings. A <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00213-020-05464-5" target="_blank">2019 study</a> found that 61 percent of volunteers that took a placebo instead of psilocybin felt some psychedelic effects, with a few volunteers experiencing full-on trips.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Several stated that they saw the paintings on the walls 'move' or 'reshape' themselves, others felt 'heavy. . . as if gravity [had] a stronger hold', and one had a 'come down' before another 'wave' hit her."</p><p>The Imperial team believes the expectation of a trip might have been enough to produce similar results. Senior author David Erritzoe is excited for future studies on the topic, believing they tapped into a new wave of citizen science that could push forward our knowledge of psychedelic substances.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Accounting for the placebo effect is important when assessing trends such as the use of cannabidiol oils, fad diets or supplements where social pressure or users' expectations can lead to a strong placebo response. Self-blinding citizen science initiatives could be used as an inexpensive, initial screening tool before launching expensive clinical studies."</p><p>As investments into the psychedelics market explode, with one company <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-03-03/thiel-backed-magic-mushroom-firm-atai-hits-2-billion-valuation" target="_blank">reaching a $2 billion valuation</a>, a recurring irony appears in the long arc of psychedelics and research: the power of our minds might be enough to feel greater life satisfaction and a deeper sense of mindfulness. If that's possible with a placebo, we have to question why the rush to create more pharmacology is necessary. </p><p>This is, mind you, a separate conversation over the role of psychedelics and rituals for group bonding. The function of group cohesion around consciousness-altering substances will continue to play an important role in many communities. </p><p>Of course, we should continue to explore the efficacy of psychedelics on anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, PTSD, and addiction. <a href="https://bigthink.com/surprising-science/antidepressant-effects" target="_self">Pharmacological dependence</a> is a stain on the psychiatry industry. Whether or not psychedelics can be prescribed for daily use remains to be seen, but we know a moneyed interest is expecting a return on investment—the above company, ATAI Life Sciences, raised $157 million in its Series D round. </p><p>When it comes to wellbeing, some things money just can't buy. How we navigate the tricky terrain of mainstreaming psychedelics remains to be seen. </p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a> and <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Facebook</a>. His most recent book is</em> "<em><a href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08KRVMP2M?pf_rd_r=MDJW43337675SZ0X00FH&pf_rd_p=edaba0ee-c2fe-4124-9f5d-b31d6b1bfbee" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy</a>."</em></p>
What makes some people more likely to shiver than others?
Some people just aren't bothered by the cold, no matter how low the temperature dips. And the reason for this may be in a person's genes.