Can a party drug stop the increasing rate of suicide?
Ketamine is showing promise in alleviating suicidal thoughts.
- The popular party drug has shown promise in stopping suicidal thoughts in a number of small clinical studies.
- First synthesized in 1962, the anesthetic was used to treat Vietnam War soldiers in the early seventies.
- Though the accompanying hallucinations are a roadblock to widespread therapy, innovations in psychiatry are necessary.
The dirtiest drug I ever tried was ketamine. Besides having a general aversion to snorting powder, I vividly recall one evening in 1995 when, after ingesting a hearty dose of the anesthetic, I could no longer tell the difference between standing, sitting, and lying down. Fortunately I was in a safe environment; the effects eventually wore off, my relationship to gravity restored. The following morning was rough, causing me to swear off the drug forever.
Bad experiences create aversions. There are too many horror stories to count about the curious traveler landing in Los Angeles to partake in recreational marijuana who ends up eating fifty milligrams when five would have sufficed. Once that experience is locked into memory it's doubtful you'll ever enjoy an edible again. Dosage matters. If you're not careful, you're writing off a potential beneficial therapy due to ignorance and over-enthusiasm. Getting back on the horse, as it goes, takes a certain determination.
Ketamine isn't actually dirty, I just took too much. Others are finding a lot of benefit to the chemical. The recent uptick in clinical cases promoting ketamine as an antidote to suicidal thinking is one such victory.
This isn't exactly new. In June, 2017 I covered this study, discussing the means by which ketamine works:
Ketamine is responsible for blocking the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor, which causes an immediate alleviation of depressive effects, while another metabolite in the drug helps the effects last for hours. This blockage is also what causes the hallucinogenic effects.
First synthesized in 1962 by Wayne State University chemistry professor, Calvin Stevens, it was first tested on human prisoners (following animal trials). Regardless of the ethics of testing on the prison population, it was approved for clinical use by the FDA in 1970. Shortly thereafter it was used an anesthesia in the Vietnam War.
Ketamine was also immediately used outside of clinics and hospitals, quickly "discovered" by the psychedelic community. By the time I stumbled into it in the nineties, it was synonymous with ecstasy on the rave scene. It wasn't until 1999 that the US government labelled it as a federally controlled substance. It has never been an especially blacklisted drug, not to the level of other clubbing substances.
Now, with life expectancy dropping in America for the second straight year due to the opioid crisis and increased rates of suicide, ketamine is being looked at more closely. There is no single reason for these data about declining life spans, Moises Velasquez-Manoff writes in the NY Times,
The trend most likely has social causes — lack of access to mental health care, economic stress, loneliness and despair, the opioid epidemic, and the unique difficulties facing small-town America. These are serious problems that need long-term solutions. But in the meantime, the field of psychiatry desperately needs new treatment options for patients who show up with a stomach full of pills.
Ketamine might be that treatment, he continues, noting that it has been shown to "halt suicidal thoughts almost immediately." Not that there aren't hurdles to overcome. Cultural associations are one, but there is evidence that ketamine causes brain damage, cystitis, and persistent hallucinations in abusers. Abuse is key here. Like my dreadful evening, too much is too much.
Current treatments for depressive and suicidal disorders can take weeks to months to kick in, however, some of which actually increase the likelihood of suicide. Velasquez-Manoff writes that ketamine operates differently from antidepressants by working on the brain's glutamate system rather than the serotonin system—most of the body's serotonin is produced in the gut, anyway.
Animal research suggests that partly blocking certain glutamate receptors increases brain plasticity — the ability of the brain to make new neuronal connections — and corrects some of the abnormalities that result from chronic stress. These salutary effects on the brain, coupled with how quickly ketamine works, have inspired a flurry of research.
The hallucinations present another hurdle for clinical usage. If you're not accustomed to such mind states, doing so while lying back in a doctor's chair might not be the place to start. Or...it might be. "Setting" has long been an integral part of the psychedelic experience, as important to the outcome as strength and dose of the substance. Feeling safe under the guidance of an experienced professional might allow for mind wandering without the accompanying fear.
Which has, in fact, always been a part of the psychedelic experience. Ayahuasca should not be consumed alone or out on the scene; the shamanic ritual is a necessary component. Separating substance from context is certain to result in a terrifying experience, which is a shame given the potential therapeutic applications of these substances.
Ketamine might not have the stamp of approval yet, but the fact that it's being treated seriously is a good start. We know our current drug program is not working. All options should be on the table. That we live in one of the most advanced civilizations ever, with a wealth of resources and information, yet cannot take care of an increasing number of citizens is problematic. There is no singular solution, so we have to exhaust all possibilities.
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Scientists discover the inner workings of an effect that will lead to a new generation of devices.
- Researchers discover a method of extracting previously unavailable information from superconductors.
- The study builds on a 19th-century discovery by physicist Edward Hall.
- The research promises to lead to a new generation of semiconductor materials and devices.
Credit: Gunawan/Nature magazine
Students who think the world is just cheat less, but they need to experience justice to feel that way.
- Students in German and Turkish universities who believed the world is just cheated less than their pessimistic peers.
- The tendency to think the world is just is related to the occurence of experiences of justice.
- The findings may prove useful in helping students adjust to college life.
The world is just? That’s news to a lot of people.<p>The study is the most recent addition to a long line of work focusing on the belief in justice, our behavior, and our reactions to evidence that might suggest injustice occasionally occurs. This study focuses on a personal belief in a just world, (PBJW) rather than a general belief in a just world (GBJW). The difference between them must be highlighted.</p><p>GBJW is the stance that justice prevails all over the world and that people tend to get what they deserve. PBJW is more focused on the individual's social environment and their belief that they tend to be treated justly. While several studies show PBJW correlates with a higher sense of well-being and a variety of other positive effects, a high GBJW is associated with less life satisfaction, negative behavior, and callousness towards the suffering of <a href="https://link.springer.com/book/10.1007%2F978-1-4939-3216-0" target="_blank">others</a>. This study controlled for GBJW, and focused on PBJW as much as possible. </p><p>To assure that culture was not a factor, the study included students at universities in both Germany and Turkey. </p><p>The researchers gave students at the four participating universities a series of questionnaires that asked if they ever cheated in class, if they perceived the world to be just, if they though that justice always prevailed everywhere, their tendencies towards socially appropriate behavior, their life satisfaction, and if they felt like they were treated justly by their teachers and fellow students. </p><p>The answers were statistically analyzed for relationships. While some of the connections seem trivially true, others were surprising. <strong></strong></p><p>PBJW turned out to only be an indirect predictor of if a student was likely to cheat. Both a belief in a just world and a lower likelihood of cheating were mediated by the justice experiences of the students, with more of these positive experiences lowering the rate of cheating and improving their belief in justice. This was also associated with higher levels of life satisfaction. </p><p>These effects existed across all demographics in both countries. </p>
What does this mean? Is a belief in justice a self-fulfilling prophecy?<iframe width="730" height="430" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/6oMv-azHNCA" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe><p>In a way, it seems to be. People who have reason to think the world is just to them tend to interpret events in a way to sustain that belief and behave in a just manner. In a larger sense, the take away from this study is that experiences of justice, both from peers and instructors, is vital to student's wellbeing and understanding that the rules that exist about cheating are part of a larger, legitimate, system. </p><p>The researchers, citing previous studies on the perception of justice, note that "justice experiences (1) signal that university students are esteemed members of their social group, which in turn conveys feelings of belonging and social inclusion and (2) motivate them to accept and observe university rules and norms. These cognitive processes may thus strengthen their well-being and decrease the likelihood that they cheat."</p><p>The authors also suggest that if you want people (not only students) to act justly; consider treating them with "civility, respect, and dignity."</p><p>Sometimes, all it can take to help somebody act virtuously is to treat them well. Likewise, people treated harshly can rarely find reason to play by rules that don't protect them. The findings of this study will certainly add to the literature on how we perceive justice in the world around us, but might also help us remember that there are real consequences to our actions which can be much larger than we imagine. <strong></strong></p>
This could change how researchers approach vaccine development.
- The reason children suffer less from the novel coronavirus has remained mysterious.
- Researchers identified a cytokine, IL-17A, which appears to protect children from the ravages of COVID-19.
- This cytokine response could change how researchers approach vaccine development.
A member of staff wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) takes a child's temperature at the Harris Academy's Shortland's school on June 04, 2020 in London, England.
Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images<p>Experts don't want to place kids at the back of the line, regardless of how strong their immune systems appear. At least one company, Moderna, <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/coronavirus-vaccine-for-kids-moderna-plans-pediatric-trial-2020-9" target="_blank">hopes to begin testing</a> vaccines in pediatric volunteers by year's end.</p><p>Innate immune response is especially high during childhood (compared to adaptive immunity). This makes evolutionary sense: nature wants an animal to survive until its ready to procreate. Turns out the children in the study possessed high levels of cytokines that boost their immune response. The biggest impact is made by IL-17A, which appears to protect the youngest cohort from the ravages of the coronavirus. </p><p>While both age groups produced antibodies to fight off the infamous spike protein, adults that produce neutralizing antibodies actually suffer a <em>worse</em> fate. Herold says this "over-vigorous adaptive immune response" might promote inflammation, triggering acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). </p><p>This matters for vaccine development. As Herold says, </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Our adult COVID-19 patients who fared poorly had high levels of neutralizing antibodies, suggesting that convalescent plasma—which is rich in neutralizing antibodies—may not help adults who have already developed signs of ARDS. By contrast, therapies that boost innate immune responses early in the course of the disease may be especially beneficial."</p><p>Herold says current vaccine trials are focused on boosting neutralizing-antibody levels. With this new information, researchers may want to work on vaccines that boost the innate immune response instead. </p><p>With <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/science/coronavirus-vaccine-tracker.html" target="_blank">at least 55 vaccine trials</a> underway, every piece of data matters. </p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
Researchers from the University of Toronto published a new map of cancer cells' genetic defenses against treatment.