This Will Change Your Mind About Psychedelic Drugs - Canadanewsmedia
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This Will Change Your Mind About Psychedelic Drugs



For years, the field of mental health has been largely barren of meaningful treatment advances. But now, scientists have new hope in the least likely of places: psychedelic drugs. Recent research suggests that certain psychedelic substances can help relieve anxiety, depression, PTSD, addiction and the fear surrounding a terminal diagnosis.

“The biggest misconception people have about psychedelics is that these are drugs that make you crazy,” says Michael Pollan, author of the new book How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence. “We now have evidence that that does happen sometimes — but in many more cases, these are drugs that can make you sane.”

In the interview below (and video above), Pollan talked with TIME about the therapeutic promise of the drugs, their fraught history and the sheer terror he felt after smoking toad venom.

Walk me through a brief history of psychedelics.

If you ask people about psychedelics or LSD, they’re going to think about the psychedelic ’60s — Timothy Leary, this flamboyant psychology professor who was at Harvard for a few years, studying psilocybin and LSD, and then telling everybody they should take it in a very public way. The drugs kind of escaped the laboratory and were embraced by the counterculture.

The result was a full-scale moral panic against the drugs. President Nixon said Timothy Leary was the most dangerous man in America, which is pretty amazing for a washed-up psychology professor. But before that, there had been more than a decade of very promising research using these drugs in a therapeutic context in a very responsible way.

What do psychedelics do to the human mind?

The honest answer: nobody quite understands. We’re really just at the beginning of exploring that frontier. But psychedelics appear to diminish activity in one very important brain network called the default mode network. That network is very involved with operations having to do with our sense of self: how we integrate what’s happening to us in any given moment, with our abiding sense of who we are.

The interesting thing about psychedelics, both LSD and psilocybin — the ingredient in magic mushrooms — is that they take this network offline. When that happens, you have this sensation of ego-dissolution: that your self is evaporating or dissolving. And that seems to lead to new connections in the brain temporarily forming. Your emotion center starts talking directly to your visual cortex, let’s say, and you see things that you’re hoping or fearing. New connections are made that could produce new insights, new perspectives, new ways of looking at the world.

Your book talks a lot about the scientific approach to psychedelics. What do scientists believe that psychedelics can offer people?

The feeling among the scientists is that these chemicals allow us to essentially reboot the brain. If the brain is stuck in these narrow grooves of thought — whether it’s an obsession or a fear or the story you tell yourself — all those deep grooves that lock us into patterns of both thought and behavior are dissolved and temporarily suspended in a way that allows us to break those patterns.

What psychedelics do you think show some therapeutic potential?

There are two drugs that show the most potential and will probably be legalized for medical use soon. One is a drug that isn’t always considered a psychedelic: MDMA, also known as Ecstasy or Molly, which has been shown to be incredibly useful in the treatment of trauma, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in soldiers or in rape victims. A study recently came out that showed great effectiveness at treating those problems. That’s very encouraging, and that may be the first of these drugs to get approved.

The second is psilocybin. It appears to be very useful in the treatment of anxiety, depression and addiction in both smoking and alcohol.

What happens to a person who has these mental health issues after they take a dose of psilocybin in clinical trials?

Well, it’s important to remember that when psilocybin is used in a medical and healing context, it’s very different than the recreational use of the drug. This isn’t doctors giving you a pill and sending you out into the world. For a period of four or five hours, you are in a room that’s decorated like a cozy den or study. You’re lying down on a couch, you have eye shades on and headphones, which are playing a very carefully curated playlist to make you go inside to have an internal experience. And you’re with two guides at all times, who are there looking out for your interests. It’s an incredibly safe environment in which to let down your defenses, and that’s essentially what happens.

All of our customary defenses that we use to deal with life and the world will be suspended for a period of time, and that creates this opening, this plastic moment where people can reexamine themselves and get some perspective on their habitual ways of thinking and doing.

Then, you come out of this experience, which can be very difficult for some people. It’s not all fun and games. Some people are put in touch with childhood traumas, some people have encounters with death — it can be very dark.

But with the help of the guides, you use that material and try to understand it. After the session, you always come back the next day and have what’s called a period of integration, where the guides, who are trained therapists, help you interpret what happened and figure out ways to put it to good use in changing your life.

How do some people change after taking psilocybin in clinical trials?

One of the big questions about this is: what endures from this experience? One of the interesting studies they did when they crunched the data on the first groups of people who had had a guided psilocybin session was that these were adults, but one of their personality traits that psychologists call openness — openness to other people’s views, openness to new experience, openness to new ideas — increased. To find an actual measurable change in personality as adults is a very unusual finding. Normally, our personalities are fixed by the time we’re in our 20s. But here was a very positive aspect of personality that could change and did change.

You tried various psychedelics for the book. Tell me about your best journey. What did it feel like?

My best was a fairly high-dose psilocybin journey that I had with a guide, a woman in her 50s who was a very skilled therapist and who worked in other modalities as well. I had to work with someone illicitly, and I learned that there is a thriving underground of psychedelic therapists. These are serious professionals, but they are doing something illegal.

What was stunning about it was I had an experience of complete ego-dissolution. I reached a point where my “self” just kind of fell apart into these little pieces of paper. I saw myself get scattered to the wind, but I was all right with it. I didn’t have any urge to stack the papers back up together. Then I looked out; I saw myself spread over the landscape as a coat of paint. And I was fine with it.

The consciousness that was perceiving all of this was not my usual ego. It wasn’t upset or defensive or trying to do anything. It was dispassionate, objective. And I learned a really important lesson in that moment, which is that I’m not identical to my ego. My ego is one of a couple of characters in my mind, and not always the best. The ego is very important — the ego got the book written. But it’s also what punishes us, what keeps us locked in our grooves of thought, and it’s what defends us against the world and against our own consciousness.

What was your worst journey?

My worst journey was on this psychedelic called 5-MeO-DMT, which is the venom of the Sonoran Desert Toad. Apparently you can milk the toad repeatedly and kind of squeeze the glands on its side or its arm onto a sheet of glass. It dries overnight and looks like brown sugar crystals. Then you smoke it, and it’s instantaneous. Before I even exhaled, I felt like I’d been shot out of a rocket.

I had not only the experience of ego-dissolution, but the dissolution of everything: of my body, of any kind of perceiving consciousness, of material reality. It was all gone. It was just a pure Category 5 storm of energy, and I didn’t know where I was in it. I felt like I was in the middle of an atomic blast or in a world before the Big Bang, when there was only energy and not yet matter. These are metaphors that don’t begin to capture how horrifying it was. I thought this could be death — this could be what it’s like to leave your body, because I had lost my body.

The best thing about this trip is it only lasted about 15 minutes. After a period of time, I felt a perceiving “I” kind of come back. And then I could feel my body. I was like, wow! This is so great, I have a body, and then there’s a floor. And there’s stuff that’s back — matter is back. I ended with this incredible feeling of gratitude such as I’d never felt — not just for my own existence, not just for life, but for anything, that anything exists, that there is something rather than nothing. So I guess that’s a valuable takeaway, but I had to go a long way to have it. And I wouldn’t wish that experience on anybody.

Did you feel your personality changed after trying these drugs?

I kind of feel like I went back to baseline. My wife thinks it’s changed in some ways. Not in a profound way, but I think she would say that I’m more open and more patient, that I deal with emotional situations with a little more availability.

I think she may well be right. Simply spending this much time observing my mind and having experiences where I got to sneak up on it in various ways does have an effect. It’s the same effect that 10 years of psychoanalysis probably would have, although it didn’t take me nearly that long.

How do psychedelics bring together the worlds of science and spirituality?

We often think about science and spirituality as these opposed terms, but in fact a lot of this research is forcing scientists to deal with spiritual questions, and some spiritual people to deal with scientific questions, which is very exciting.

The very first study in the modern era of psychedelic research, of any importance, was a 2006 study done at Johns Hopkins by a scientist named Roland Griffiths, a very prominent drug-abuse scientist. He found that what the psychedelics did in about 80% of cases was induce a mystical experience, which is a spiritual experience that was studied closely by William James 100 years ago. It has various aspects to it. Prominent among them is this dissolving of a sense of self, but that is followed by a merging with the universe, or with nature, or other people. It’s called the noetic sense — this sense that what you’re seeing or feeling or learning on this experience has the status of revealed truth. It’s not just an opinion — it’s objectively true.

We see this experience all over religious literature: people who have had an experience of meeting with the divine. These traits are common, and the fact that you could induce such a spiritual experience with a single administration of a drug was quite remarkable. These people reported that this experience was one of the top two or three in their lives, comparable to the birth of a child or the death of a parent. Now that we can actually induce a spiritual experience using a drug, we can study the phenomenon.

How has the experience of writing this book changed your mind about death?

It made me more curious and a little less afraid. I wouldn’t say it eliminated my fear, and I wasn’t trying to do that, but I was able to kind of look at it with this equanimity.

On this psilocybin trip, I saw the faces of people close to me who had died over the last few years. You understand why traditional cultures would take plant medicines to reconnect with the dead. You can see them and talk to them and they can talk to you. I’m not saying this is a supernatural phenomenon. It’s a psychological phenomenon — at least that’s how I understand it. It made people who were gone more present in my life, and I’m happy for that. I wrote this book during a period when my dad was dying. He had terminal cancer, and I dedicated this book to him before he died.

One of the things the psilocybin research is doing is helping open that conversation — to make people more comfortable talking about it, to get patients to actually deal with it. Oncologists don’t do a very good job of that, and we have very little for the treatment of the psychology of people who are dying. So a drug that takes you into these spiritual realms where you can begin to think it through seems to me an enormous gift.

What role are psychedelic drugs going to play in your life going forward?

I don’t know if they’ll play any role moving forward. I had the experiences I needed to have. I met people who have a psychedelic experience once a year on their birthday, and that seemed about right, to do that sort of stock-taking. But the drugs are illegal, and now I’m out talking about it publicly, so that option has been closed to me until they’re made legal.

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Purple bacteria may help harvest green fuel from wastewater




London, Nov 14 (PTI) A purple bacteria — which store energy from light — can help harvest hydrogen fuel from sewage, and recover carbon from any type of organic waste, scientists have found.

Organic compounds in household sewage and industrial wastewater are a rich potential source of energy, bioplastics and even proteins for animal feed — but with no efficient extraction method, treatment plants discard them as contaminants.

A study, published in the journal Frontiers in Energy Research, is the first to show that supplying electric current to purple phototrophic bacteria can recover nearly 100 per cent of carbon from any type of organic waste, while generating hydrogen gas for electricity production.

“One of the most important problems of current wastewater treatment plants is high carbon emissions,” said Daniel Puyol of King Juan Carlos University in Spain.

“Our light-based biorefinery process could provide a means to harvest green energy from wastewater, with zero carbon footprint,” said Puyol.

Purple phototrophic bacteria capture energy from sunlight using a variety of pigments, which turn them shades of orange, red or brown — as well as purple.

“Purple phototrophic bacteria make an ideal tool for resource recovery from organic waste, thanks to their highly diverse metabolism,” said Puyol.

The bacteria can use organic molecules and nitrogen gas — instead of carbon dioxide and water — to provide carbon, electrons and nitrogen for photosynthesis.

This means that they grow faster than alternative phototrophic bacteria and algae, and can generate hydrogen gas, proteins or a type of biodegradable polyester as byproducts of metabolism.

Which metabolic product predominates depends on the bacteria’s environmental conditions — like light intensity, temperature, and the types of organics and nutrients available.

“Our group manipulates these conditions to tune the metabolism of purple bacteria to different applications, depending on the organic waste source and market requirements,” said Abraham Esteve-Nunez of University of Alcala in Spain.

“But what is unique about our approach is the use of an external electric current to optimise the productive output of purple bacteria,” he said.

The researchers analysed the optimum conditions for maximising hydrogen production by a mixture of purple phototrophic bacteria species.

They also tested the effect of a negative current — that is, electrons supplied by metal electrodes in the growth medium — on the metabolic behaviour of the bacteria.

The first key finding was that the nutrient blend that fed the highest rate of hydrogen production also minimised the production of CO2.

“This demonstrates that purple bacteria can be used to recover valuable biofuel from organics typically found in wastewater — malic acid and sodium glutamate — with a low carbon footprint,” said Esteve-Nunez.

This is published unedited from the PTI feed.

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'A big piece of the puzzle of life': New gallery will tell the story of life's origins through Canada's geography




Jean-Bernard Caron, senior curator of invertebrate paleontology at the Royal Ontario Museum, is awaiting a shipment of fossils from Quebec.

They won’t be much to look at, he says, just microscopic flecks in stone, invisible to the naked eye. But they will be different from the collection of 500-million-year-old fossils in black shale laid out on his desk in a corner office overlooking the provincial legislature.

The recently discovered Quebec fossils are something like 4.2 billion years old. That is almost as old as the planet Earth itself, which is about 4.6 billion years old.

He is understandably excited. The dawn of life is being pushed ever farther back in time, and the vastness of Canada’s geography — which overlays ancient tropical seas and prehistoric forests of ferns — has been the key to many of the discoveries that prove this.

It’s a big piece of the puzzle of life we haven’t told yet

Canada, as Caron puts it, tells the whole story of life on Earth, from the mostly bacterial life forms that arose in the earliest eras, through the first complex organisms that became plants and animals, into the time of dinosaurs, and eventually the more familiar creatures we know today. From the oldest bacterial fossils in Quebec, through the “proto-animals” of Mistaken Point, Nfld., the diverse creatures in the Burgess Shale of British Columbia, the fish transitioning to land life at Miguasha, Que., the giant plants and first evidence of eggs at Joggins, N.S., to the dinosaurs of Alberta’s Badlands, Canada has it all.

But this museum, Canada’s largest, has not told this evolutionary story in all its glory. It’s got mammals down, with their own gallery. The dinosaur gallery is famous. But that only takes you back a quarter billion years. The life forms that predate the dinosaurs, most long since extinct, could fill a museum many times over. Nearly four billion years of life’s history have got short shrift.

“It’s a big piece of the puzzle of life we haven’t told yet,” Caron said.

The Burgess Shale is home to some of the planet’s earliest animals.

There was, for example, one particular Acutiramus, a giant monster lobsterish creature as long as a man and wide as a pig, with claws like lacrosse sticks, that hunted the warm waters over Ontario 420 million years ago, only to be buried in some catastrophic mudslide, and unearthed in the last century. That terrifying slab of stone is now safely stored in the ROM’s back rooms. The museum also has a smaller specimen, from the Fort Erie, Ont., area, that is preserved so well you can not only see its eyes, but the cells that compose them.

“It’s a giant shrimp. You don’t want to meet him in the sea when you scuba dive,” Caron said. “I’m glad he’s extinct.”

So work has begun in earnest on a new gallery dedicated to the “Dawn of Life,” set to open in 2021, financed largely by philanthropists Jeff Willner and Stacey Madge. Nearly all of the artifacts on display will have come from Canada.

It’s a giant shrimp. You don’t want to meet him in the sea when you scuba dive

“We want people to be fascinated by their own history,” Caron said. So the gallery will be designed not only as a journey back in time into the ancient Cambrian Sea, but a journey across Canada, from Newfoundland and Nova Scotia westwards through Ontario toward the Rocky Mountains. Each will represent a new step in evolution: the origins of multicellularity, complex organs, sex, eggs, and the various modifications that let animals escape the water for the land and sky.

There is an old joke that evolution is a tale of teeth mating to produce slightly different teeth. After all, teeth are what gets left behind. Most else rots away. But most animals that existed on Earth had no hard parts, let alone teeth. Finding the soft parts of extinct animals has long been a tricky part of paleontology.

The Burgess Shale cut through this conundrum.

story slug   A big piece of the puzzle of life: New gallery will tell the story of lifes origins through Canadas geography

Dr. Jean-Bernard Caron in the Marble Canyon Quarry in Kootenay National Park.

This is Caron’s specialty, an area in the Rocky Mountains in Yoho National Park where a collapse of a huge amount of sediment half a billion years ago exquisitely preserved the earliest creatures of the Cambrian explosion, one of the most productive periods of evolutionary history. It is “a window into a world that normally would have disappeared,” Caron said. Sometimes you can even make out the creatures’ intestines and their final meals. One of the ROM’s fossils from the Burgess Shale is a 500-million-year-old fish that is the ancestor of all modern vertebrates.

Mistaken Point, on the southern tip of Newfoundland’s Avalon Peninsula, is the oldest of the four fossil sites, at 565 million years old. One fossil the ROM has from there, for example, is of Bradgatia linfordensis, a strange organism that shows a kind of fractal symmetry. Caron says scientists used to think it was a plant or fungus or algae, but now it is regarded as an early and extinct branch of animals. “They are still very mysterious,” he said.

Miguasha, Que., on the south shore of the Gaspé Peninsula, is 375 million years old, and has given up evidence of the evolutionary changes that later enabled fish to transition from sea to land. Joggins, N.S., on the Bay of Fundy, is a bit more recent, and shows evidence of animals on land in the Carboniferous period, when there was an explosion of plant life and a rise in atmospheric oxygen levels. Caron called it the dawn of the age of giants, such as dragonflies the size of dogs and ferns that grew as high as a 10 storey building.

Josh Basseches, the ROM’s director and CEO was to formally announce the gallery at an event Wednesday morning. Jeff Willner, one of the namesake donors, said the gallery will be “a story for all people, told from a uniquely Canadian perspective, which will help us understand not only our past, but also the world we’ll live in tomorrow.”

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Menu for astronauts in space includes variety, comforts of home




By Rachel Feltman

Special To The Washington Post

Neil Armstrong may have taken that first small step for man onto the moon, but it was John Glenn who took the first slurp of applesauce for humankind.

Until he ate while orbiting Earth in 1962, scientists at NASA weren’t sure humans could swallow and digest food while in space. Luckily, he chowed down in zero gravity with no trouble. Today’s astronauts sometimes spend months at a time living in the International Space Station, so they’d get pretty hungry without a few snacks!

Of course, while the human body is happy to take in a meal while hovering 250 miles above Earth, the process of cooking and eating food isn’t exactly the same as it is back home. That’s why NASA scientists are working hard to perfect astronaut menus. A healthy diet is even more crucial for space travelers than it is here on the surface, because spending time in space makes your body start to lose bone and muscle mass. NASA has to figure out how to send food up in a rocket, store it for as long as possible and make sure it delivers a perfect balance of nutrients — and it has to keep astronauts from getting bored, too!

“Imagine trying to eat the same food for every meal for six months. You may get tired of the food and eat less than you need to maintain weight, health and performance. That’s why we have to make sure there’s a large variety of healthy food available for the astronauts to make choices,” says F. Ryan Dowdy, ISS food system manager at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

Astronauts have about 200 food items to pick from. According to Dowdy, a lot of the options are surprisingly similar to meals we eat on Earth.

“Whether it’s macaroni and cheese or chocolate pudding cake, it’s important for the astronauts when eating to be reminded of home,” he says. “Food can be an important psychological comfort in the stressful environment of space.”

It’s the preparation that’s unique: Food often has to sit in storage for six months before it even goes into space — and last for weeks or months at a time once it’s up there — so NASA designs everything with a shelf life of at least two years. Macaroni and cheese is freeze-dried (meaning that most of the moisture is removed, which makes it safe to store at room temperature), and astronauts add hot water to it on the space station. Chocolate pudding cake is preserved similarly to canned food, but NASA puts it in a flexible pouch so it takes up less space.

Some Earth foods are perfectly fit for zero-gravity consumption. Tortillas, for example, are a great alternative to bread — they last a long time in storage, and they don’t form crumbs that float around and get caught in important parts of the ship. Astronauts can request small quantities of fresh fruits and vegetables whenever NASA sends supplies up, but for the most part, they’re eating various combinations of super-durable stored foods.

As NASA looks to the future of spaceflight — with missions to Mars, and perhaps even farther — the agency has to design even more durable food. It takes about eight months to get to Mars, and astronauts will have to bring food for the journey home, too. Dowdy says NASA is working to extend the shelf life of its foods to around five years, but experiments in space farming are also part of the plan.

Astronauts on the ISS are able to farm plants such as lettuce in small quantities, but Dowdy says it will take some time before this is a sustainable source of calories.

He thinks 3D printed treats may also be on the menu someday soon. One thing is for sure: It’s going to take a lot of scientific know-how to feed the space explorers of the future.

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