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Jason Silva: Marijuana Legalization is a Huge Win for Civilization

Jason Silva, host of National Geographic Channel’s "Brain Games," calls marijuana legalization a huge win for civilization.

Jason Silva: Well I think that what’s happening now is a transformational moment here in American culture. I think the fact that the majority of Americans now support marijuana legalization is a huge win for civilization, for mankind, I mean for American society. It’s like not just for the sort of limitless medicinal potential that cannabis has. You know cannabinoids have been shown now to even like shrink tumors. I mean it’s an unbelievably therapeutically active substance. But also for the simple issue of cognitive liberty, right. Sort of a country that is founded on the principles of free thought and the idea that everybody should be able to think what they want to think and do what they want to do as long as they’re not hurting anybody else. And this is, you know, nowhere more exemplified than in the right to choose a marijuana joint over a martini if that’s what floats your boat. Also, marijuana consciousness, as Rich Doyle writes, is extraordinarily sensitive to the initial rhetorical conditions. You know, Leary’s ubiquitous set and setting, to the point that there is no drug by itself. There is the context in which the drug is taken. And so when you change the cultural context in which people are able to have marijuana you change the particular flavor of marijuana consciousness.

You start eliminating the association with criminality and the paranoia and the fear of getting caught and instead you create a canvas where people can smoke a joint before going to a boutique movie theater to have a very increased cinematic immersion. Or you can create spaces where people can maybe vaporize some cannabis before going and listening to a symphony orchestra. Or maybe they can go on these beautiful, sort of guided marijuana hikes, where the set and setting would be curated for a particular marijuana flavor. I mean it’s almost like the notion being that intention, you know, you change the intention, you change the stage and that intention could actually transform the subjective experience that people have when they participate in the use of cannabis. And, you know, it’s just very exciting because I think that we’re going to see new forms of entertainment, new forms of sort of — new cultural spaces for people to partake in what they’ve been doing for hundreds of thousands of years, which is altering our consciousness whether it’s through external technologies or internal technologies. I mean mindfulness, meditation, rave concerts, you know, Burning Man, theater.

These are all technologies, techniques — rhetorical technologies that capture and manage attention and are able to elicit transformational interpersonal experiences. Only when we are immersed in some capacity, as Diana Slattery says, can you mediate attention and can you actually have transformational, educational, interpersonal experiences. And people pay money for that. They’re like, "Here’s $20, you know; put me in that IMAX movie theater and take me through a black hole and let me experience Interstellar." You know, where the outer journey becomes a metaphor for the inner journey; the external outer space interstellar becomes a metaphysical head trip. I mean we pay money to be taken out of ourselves. We pay money to dissolve boundaries. We pay money to experience intersubjective life worlds. And anything that helps us get there, as long as it’s not hurting anybody else, it’s cool man. It’s cool. And so I’m interested. I’m interested in what’s going to come out of that, you know; what this boutique, high-end marijuana culture is going to create. The marijuana equivalent of the high-end wine bar or the really, really trendy scotch bar where everything from the lighting to the music to the cups in which people drink the alcohol is created to create a certain mood. What’s going to be the marijuana equivalent of that? A sort of highbrow experience for aesthetically minded types. There’s a great book by David Lenson where he talks about the marijuana consciousness as one which creates this dialectical pattern of reconcilable estrangement. So the first thing that happens — and again reconcilable estrangement with the world of perception. So the first thing that happens is there’s an italicization of experience by distancing you from the set of stimuli. It’s why, you know, why a sort of aesthete might smoke a joint before going to the Guggenheim. He’s going there to experience first an alienation from the world of ordinary perception so things become novel, new, and interesting, and strange. And then there’s a reconciliation with that estrangement. So the world is italicized.

The world is seen as if for the first time. And then right afterwards, there’s a witnessing of that transformation and a reconciliation with the world of objects so that the thing that is seen as if for the first time can be regarded, can be revered. We call this sort of sacred consciousness archetypical consciousness, you know. So that something like an ordinary scoop of ice cream represents the idea of ice cream, you know. A piece of art, a sculpture standing in a museum hallway becomes a sort of archetypical figure of man trying to make a statement using form and function. I just think that what it does to consciousness is very useful because it provides a change in perspective similar to when astronauts go to space and have a change in perspective. What they call the orbital overview effect that transforms the consciousness of the astronauts because they’re able to see reality, in this case Earth, from a different perspective that creates an ontological transformation blasting new tunnels between the mind and the other. So too in the world of everyday life, people will be able to alter their consciousness legally in a safe space and have that change in perspective that results, hopefully, in some kind of transformation, heightened appreciation, increased compassion, increased well-being, and increased creativity. It reminds me a bit of that Stanford study on the subject of awe, where they described awe as an experience of such perceptual expansion or such perceptual vastness that you have to reconfigure your mental maps of the world to assimilate the experience. So maybe the first time you saw the Grand Canyon or the first time you saw the IMAX film with the Hubble Space Telescope. And it turns out that awe, once it passes, leaves us with all these increased feelings of bliss, wellbeing, creativity, compassion, kindness, right. And so if we’re able to mediate and assist eliciting those sensations of awe, in this case by legalizing marijuana in safe context, then why shouldn’t we do that? That’s what kind of excites me, you know. Just the notion that there are new modalities of consciousness that we will be able to safely explore and inhabit.

 

Jason Silva, host of National Geographic Channel’s Brain Games, calls marijuana legalization a huge win for civilization. Beyond cannabis' therapeutic uses, Silva offers an argument that being able to choose to use cannabis represents a step toward cognitive freedom. The decision to legalize will also disassociate the drug with criminality and boost its association with an immersive altering of consciousness.

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Predicting PTSD symptoms becomes possible with a new test

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Image source: camillo jimenez/Unsplash
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  • 10-15% of people visiting emergency rooms eventually develop symptoms of long-lasting PTSD.
  • Early treatment is available but there's been no way to tell who needs it.
  • Using clinical data already being collected, machine learning can identify who's at risk.

The psychological scars a traumatic experience can leave behind may have a more profound effect on a person than the original traumatic experience. Long after an acute emergency is resolved, victims of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) continue to suffer its consequences.

In the U.S. some 30 million patients are annually treated in emergency departments (EDs) for a range of traumatic injuries. Add to that urgent admissions to the ED with the onset of COVID-19 symptoms. Health experts predict that some 10 percent to 15 percent of these people will develop long-lasting PTSD within a year of the initial incident. While there are interventions that can help individuals avoid PTSD, there's been no reliable way to identify those most likely to need it.

That may now have changed. A multi-disciplinary team of researchers has developed a method for predicting who is most likely to develop PTSD after a traumatic emergency-room experience. Their study is published in the journal Nature Medicine.

70 data points and machine learning

nurse wrapping patient's arm

Image source: Creators Collective/Unsplash

Study lead author Katharina Schultebraucks of Columbia University's Department Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons says:

"For many trauma patients, the ED visit is often their sole contact with the health care system. The time immediately after a traumatic injury is a critical window for identifying people at risk for PTSD and arranging appropriate follow-up treatment. The earlier we can treat those at risk, the better the likely outcomes."

The new PTSD test uses machine learning and 70 clinical data points plus a clinical stress-level assessment to develop a PTSD score for an individual that identifies their risk of acquiring the condition.

Among the 70 data points are stress hormone levels, inflammatory signals, high blood pressure, and an anxiety-level assessment. Says Schultebraucks, "We selected measures that are routinely collected in the ED and logged in the electronic medical record, plus answers to a few short questions about the psychological stress response. The idea was to create a tool that would be universally available and would add little burden to ED personnel."

Researchers used data from adult trauma survivors in Atlanta, Georgia (377 individuals) and New York City (221 individuals) to test their system.

Of this cohort, 90 percent of those predicted to be at high risk developed long-lasting PTSD symptoms within a year of the initial traumatic event — just 5 percent of people who never developed PTSD symptoms had been erroneously identified as being at risk.

On the other side of the coin, 29 percent of individuals were 'false negatives," tagged by the algorithm as not being at risk of PTSD, but then developing symptoms.

Going forward

person leaning their head on another's shoulder

Image source: Külli Kittus/Unsplash

Schultebraucks looks forward to more testing as the researchers continue to refine their algorithm and to instill confidence in the approach among ED clinicians: "Because previous models for predicting PTSD risk have not been validated in independent samples like our model, they haven't been adopted in clinical practice." She expects that, "Testing and validation of our model in larger samples will be necessary for the algorithm to be ready-to-use in the general population."

"Currently only 7% of level-1 trauma centers routinely screen for PTSD," notes Schultebraucks. "We hope that the algorithm will provide ED clinicians with a rapid, automatic readout that they could use for discharge planning and the prevention of PTSD." She envisions the algorithm being implemented in the future as a feature of electronic medical records.

The researchers also plan to test their algorithm at predicting PTSD in people whose traumatic experiences come in the form of health events such as heart attacks and strokes, as opposed to visits to the emergency department.

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