Are over-the-counter psychedelics in our future?
Mycologist Paul Stamets believes they should be.
- Mycologist Paul Stamets believes psilocybin should be offered over the counter.
- Numerous studies on psychedelics over the past few years are helping to build the case for therapeutic usage.
- Potential benefits include positive mental outlook and reduced depression and anxiety.
Though Alexander Fleming's fame as the father of penicillin took nearly two decades to manifest, the discovery had a profound effect on humankind. Amazingly, every single dose in existence is derived from a single cantaloupe purchased in Peoria. Within a year of scraping mold from that fruit, American pharmaceutical companies were producing 100 million units per month.
The timing was fortuitous as medicine was in great demand during World War II. Antibiotics have since played an essential role in medicine (although sometimes negatively). That could soon change. As Bill Bryson writes in his new book, The Body: A Guide For Occupants, from the fifties through the nineties, Big Pharma churned out three new strains per year. Now the pace is one every other year, and declining.
The reason? We're becoming resistant to antibiotics. The money is drying up. Big Pharma would rather focus on drugs that hook us for life, such as statins and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
Even beyond the serious problem of disappearing antibiotics, this profit-driven approach to medicine could be our undoing. Except in cases of medical necessity, no human should take a pill for life. For all the seemingly beneficial qualities of SSRIs, they're proving woefully ineffective (and sometimes downright deadly) over the longterm. We need better solutions.
Enter Paul Stamets, one of the world's foremost experts on fungi. The mycologist was recently a guest on the Joe Rogan Experience, where he's preached the benefits of mycelia before. Discussing psilocybin, the psychedelic strains of mushrooms that have received much attention of late for their potentially therapeutic applications, Stamets noted that there is early research evidence that "the neurogenic benefits of microdosing are greater than the neurogenic benefits of macrodosing."
That's a big claim, but an important one, if true. Microdosing has predominantly been relegated (in the popular media's eyes) to tech workers using various protocols of psilocybin and LSD for productivity gains. Stamets touches on this when saying, "Any new businesses populated in pinnacle by young people who are not doing microdosing are going to be at a competitive disadvantage."
More relevant to the larger population is the potential for psychedelics to treat depression and other mental health disorders. Unlike current medications, serotonergic psychedelics appear to "reboot" certain brain regions, resulting in an improved mental health outlook. One recent study confirms their role in neurogenesis; the authors write, "psychedelics cause both structural and functional changes in cortical neurons."
Another recent study investigated how microdosing affects creativity. Though "creativity" is often treated as an artistic endeavor, it is actually a fundamental aspect of cognition. One effect of depression is an inability to imagine a better future; the depressed feel "stuck." One method for overcoming this mindset is to creatively imagine different outcomes to the problems we face. English drug policy reformer Amanda Feilding calls psychedelics "tools for creativity, because they enable different parts of the brain to work simultaneously, allowing for new combinations of ideas to come together."
For the microdosing study, researchers examined the effects of psychedelic truffles (masses of mycelia that contain psilocybin) in the Netherlands. (Though the Dutch government outlawed psilocybin mushrooms in 2007, they continue to allow the sale of truffles.) Psilocybin binds to serotonin 2A receptors, the result being "enhanced cognitive flexibility, improved associated learning, and hippocampal neurogenesis." It has also been shown to improve optimism and provide a sense of subjective wellbeing.
Researchers did not use a control group for this study, so, as with the gamut of psychedelic research, more research is needed. But we do need it. The FDA is seeking better treatments for chronic mental heath problems. The agency has labeled MDMA research as a breakthrough therapy for PTSD due to positive early evidence of its efficacy. The same agency allows the usage of the psychedelic ketamine (under the name esketamine) to address treatment-resistant depression. Psilocybin has been shown to be effective in treating this condition as well.
Meanwhile, DARPA, part of the United States Department of Defense, is attempting to tamp down the hallucinatory effects of MDMA and psilocybin to treat PTSD and depression in the military. Perhaps the agency should consult with Stamets, who noted the beneficial effects of combining psychedelics with niacin (vitamin B3). According to the mycologist, that helps prevent abuse, dilates blood vessels to better deliver the neurogenic effects of psychedelics, and excites nerve endings.
Beyond government agencies, Stamets's therapeutic model includes local pharmacies.
"I hope to see, in the future, psilocybin mushrooms being sold as over-the-counter vitamins approved by the FDA and stacked with niacin."
Paul Stamets holding up a mushroom.
Beware the danger: the list of maladies that psychedelics are being associated with helping is extensive and must not prematurely be considered therapeutic (as is the case with CBD, for example). That said, the old models are not working and early evidence of the efficacy of psychedelics is positive. The fact that you don't need a heroic dose to treat a number of mental health problems means that a clinically relevant path of investigation lies ahead.
Stamets claims he only takes ritual-sized doses of psilocybin two times a year. (His recent dose of 20 grams is worthy of its own study; my own experience with four grams was harrowing enough.) Following the mycologist's lead, we need to consider both relevant in our culture: trip-sized rituals that provide context and meaning and therapeutic-sized doses that address the greatest mental health issues of today.
Stamets has recently helped launch a microdosing study (which I am beginning next week). It's an anonymous, crowd-sourced correlational study that will track self-reported cognitive performance and mental health attitudes. Since there is no control, the results will be anecdotal, but we mustn't overlook the relevance of personal experiences. As much as we need to lean on science for creating trustworthy therapeutic models, the individual outlook on existence is an equally relevant aspect of mental health.
In The Body, Bryson discusses the fact that our brains don't distinguish between physical and emotional pain. "In many ways," he writes, "we feel the pain we expect to feel." While we should never write off certain forms of chronic pain, perception greatly influences how you physically and emotionally feel. Acts such as having sex, eating food you love, and listening to great music all reduce pain levels, proving its malleability and transiency.
By whatever mechanism they work, psychedelics have long been shown to increase positive outlooks and decrease negative sentiments. That is valuable and needed medicine. We've exhausted the alternatives and found them insufficient. This is not medical advice—just common sense.
Northwell Health CEO Michael Dowling has an important favor to ask of the American people.
- Michael Dowling is president and CEO of Northwell Health, the largest health care system in New York state. In this PSA, speaking as someone whose company has seen more COVID-19 patients than any other in the country, Dowling implores Americans to wear masks—not only for their own health, but for the health of those around them.
- The CDC reports that there have been close to 7.9 million cases of coronavirus reported in the United States since January. Around 216,000 people have died from the virus so far with hundreds more added to the tally every day. Several labs around the world are working on solutions, but there is currently no vaccine for COVID-19.
- The most basic thing that everyone can do to help slow the spread is to practice social distancing, wash your hands, and to wear a mask. The CDC recommends that everyone ages two and up wear a mask that is two or more layers of material and that covers the nose, mouth, and chin. Gaiters and face shields have been shown to be less effective at blocking droplets. Homemade face coverings are acceptable, but wearers should make sure they are constructed out of the proper materials and that they are washed between uses. Wearing a mask is the most important thing you can do to save lives in your community.
Two massive clouds of dust in orbit around the Earth have been discussed for years and finally proven to exist.
- Hungarian astronomers have proven the existence of two "pseudo-satellites" in orbit around the earth.
- These dust clouds were first discovered in the sixties, but are so difficult to spot that scientists have debated their existence since then.
- The findings may be used to decide where to put satellites in the future and will have to be considered when interplanetary space missions are undertaken.
What are they?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xODgyMDA0NC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNTM1ODc0Mn0.NH33LuauIo__sUBi4tvhwxDcsvhflDFD-Nhx9FjlSNk/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=148%2C0%2C149%2C0&height=700" id="cec96" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="acb78abe2ab46a17e419ad30906751d6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Artist's impression of the Kordylewski cloud in the night sky (with its brightness greatly enhanced) at the time of the observations.
G. Horváth<p>The<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kordylewski_cloud" target="_blank"> Kordylewski clouds</a> are two dust clouds first observed by Polish astronomer Kazimierz Kordylewski in 1961. They are situated at two of the <a href="https://www.space.com/30302-lagrange-points.html" target="_blank">Lagrange points</a> in Earth's orbit. These points are locations where the gravity of two objects, such as the Earth and the Moon or a planet and the Sun, equals the centripetal required to orbit the objects while staying in the same relative position. There are five of these spots between the Earth and Moon. The clouds rest at what are called points four and five, forming a triangle with the clouds and the Earth at the three corners.</p><p>The clouds are enormous, taking up the same space in the night sky as twenty lunar discs; covering an area of 45,000 miles. They are roughly 250,000 miles away, about the same distance from us as the Moon. They are entirely comprised of specks of dust which reflect the light of the sun so faintly most astronomers that looked for them were unable to see them at all. </p><p>The clouds themselves are probably ancient, but the model that the scientists created to learn about them suggests that the individual dust particles that comprise them can be blown away by solar wind and replaced by the dust from other cosmic sources like comet tails. This means that the clouds hardly move but are <a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2018/11/news-earth-moon-dust-clouds-satellites-planets-space/" target="_blank">eternally changing</a>. </p>
How did they discover this?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xODgyMDAzNi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1Nzc4MjQ4MX0.7uU9OqmQcWw5Ll1UXAav0PCu4nTg-GdJdAWADHanC7c/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C180%2C0%2C181&height=700" id="952fb" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="a778280a20f1c54cd2c14c8313224be2" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
"In this picture the central region of the Kordylewski dust cloud is visible (bright red pixels). The straight tilted lines are traces of satellites."
J. Slíz-Balogh<p>In their study published in the <a href="https://academic.oup.com/mnras" target="_blank">Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society</a>, Hungarian astronomers Judit Slíz-Balogh, András Barta, and Gábor Horváth described how they were able to find the dust clouds using polarized lenses.</p><p>Since the clouds were expected to polarize the light that bounces off of them, by configuring the telescopes to look for this kind of light the clouds were much easier to spot. What the scientists observed, polarized light in patterns that extended outside the view of the telescope lens, was in line with the predictions of their mathematical model and ruled out other possible sources. </p>
Why are we just learning this now?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xODgyMDAzOS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2MjUyNDMyMH0.Zl8GmQ_rJHiL4b7hN0r_YBmgb6_ZqIRvqOVuko2ubpw/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C141%2C0%2C185&height=700" id="87afe" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="dd4c0b5088e601d7279cc5eb226f8b7b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
"Mosaic pattern of the angle of polarization around the L5 point (white dot) of the Earth-Moon system. The five rectangular windows correspond to the imaging telescope with which the patterns of the Kordylewski cloud were measured."
J. Slíz-Balogh<p>The objects, being dust clouds, are very faint and hard to see. While Kordylewski observed them in 1961, other astronomers have looked there and given mixed reports over the following decades. This discouraged many astronomers from joining the search, as study co-author Judit Slíz-Balogh <a href="https://ras.ac.uk/news-and-press/research-highlights/earths-dust-cloud-satellites-confirmed" target="_blank">explained</a>, <em>"The Kordylewski clouds are two of the toughest objects to find, and though they are as close to Earth as the Moon are largely overlooked by researchers in astronomy. It is intriguing to confirm that our planet has dusty pseudo-satellites in orbit alongside our lunar neighbor."</em></p>
Will this have any impact on space travel?<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c3d797fff5430c64afcb5a49bddc3616"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/Ou8N3v9SFPE?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Lagrange points have been put forward as excellent locations for a space station or satellites like the <a href="https://jwst.nasa.gov/about.html" target="_blank">James Webb Telescope</a> to be put into orbit, as they would require little fuel to stay in place. Knowing about a massive dust cloud that could damage sensitive equipment already being there could save money and lives in the future. While we only know about the clouds at Lagrange points four and five right now, the study's authors suggest there could be more at the other points.</p><p>While the discovery of a couple of dust clouds might not seem all that impressive, it is the result of a half-century of astronomical and mathematical work and reminds us that wonders are still hidden in our cosmic backyard. While you might never need to worry about these clouds again, there is nothing wrong with looking at the sky with wonder at the strange and fantastic things we can discover. </p>
New cancer-scanning technology reveals a previously unknown detail of human anatomy.
- Scientists using new scanning technology and hunting for prostate tumors get a surprise.
- Behind the nasopharynx is a set of salivary glands that no one knew about.
- Finding the glands may allow for more complication-free radiation therapies.
PSMA PET/CT technology<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="676e611b970c9b516cace0870447b325"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/RHAyoQF09X4?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>PSMA PET/CT is a new combination of <a href="https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/pet-scan/about/pac-20385078" target="_blank">PET scans</a> and <a href="https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/ct-scan/about/pac-20393675" target="_blank">CT scans</a> that is believed to offer a more reliable means of locating prostate cancer metastasis. A <a href="https://www.cancer.gov/news-events/cancer-currents-blog/2020/prostate-cancer-psma-pet-ct-metastasis" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">study</a> published last spring suggests it may be the most accurate way to diagnose prostate cancer metastasis than any method previously available.</p><p>Prior to PSMA PET/CT, the primary way to look for metastatic prostate cancer was to image the body using x-ray-based CT scans and to perform bone scans, since bone is where prostate cancer often spreads. CT scans, however, often miss small tumors, and bone scans can generate false positives as a result of other damage or abnormalities that have nothing to do with prostate cancer.</p><p>PSMA PET/CT scans track the travels of an intravenously administered radioactive glucose tracer throughout the body. For hunting down prostate cancer, this tracer contains a molecule that binds to the <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1472940/" target="_blank">PSMA</a> protein that's present in large amounts in prostate tumors. The molecule is linked to a radioisotope, <a href="https://netrf.org/2018/11/13/gallium-68-scan-for-neuroendocrine-tumors/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">gallium-68</a> (Ga-68).</p><p>In last spring's research, PSAM PET/CT was shown to be 27 percent more accurate than previous methods at finding metastases (92 percent accuracy as opposed to 65 percent). In addition, it was found to be much less likely to produce false positives, and it was particularly good at detecting tumors far removed from the prostate.</p>
A good kind of avoidance behavior<p>"Radiation therapy can damage the salivary glands," says Vogel, "which may lead to complications. Patients may have trouble eating, swallowing, or speaking, which can be a real burden."</p><p>The researchers looked back through the cases of 723 patients who had undergone radiation treatment, interested in seeing if inadvertent radiation of the tubarial glands was associated with the complications experienced by the patients. It turned out that this <em>was</em> the case: In cases where more radiation had been delivered to this area, patients did indeed report more in the way of complications of the type one would expect when salivary glands are radiated.</p><p>Now that we know the tubarial salivary glands exist, therapists can stay out of their way. Vogel says, "For most patients, it should technically be possible to avoid delivering radiation to this newly discovered location of the salivary gland system in the same way we try to spare known glands."</p><p>He's hopeful that that things may be about to get at least a bit better for cancer patients: "Our next step is to find out how we can best spare these new glands and in which patients. If we can do this, patients may experience less side effects which will benefit their overall quality of life after treatment."</p>
A new survey found that 27 percent of millennials are saving more money due to the pandemic, but most can't stay within their budgets.