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There's No Good Evidence that Psychedelics Can Change Your Politics or Religion – Scientific American

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Psychedelics are psychoactive substances that historically have attracted exaggerations of benefits as well as alarmism. As with most subjects that bring out extreme views, the scientific data provide a more grounded perspective. Sometimes, the scientific data require further clarification. We are responding to a thought-provoking opinion piece by Eddie Jacobs published on October 11, 2020 entitled “What if a Pill Can Change Your Politics or Religious Beliefs? Some could mistakenly take away from the piece an unrealistic impression that is not supported by the scientific data. We worry that this may lead to alarmist reactions.

Jacobs’ piece raises ethical questions regarding emerging research suggesting psychedelics may be effective psychiatric treatments. Specifically, the concern is that psychedelic therapy could shift patients’ political beliefs “in one direction along the political spectrum” or “change [their] religious beliefs.” We agree that as with any emerging medical treatment, psychedelic therapy prompts important ethical considerations; however, we believe that the possibility implied in the headline––that psychedelics prompt substantial change in political and religious beliefs or affiliations––is not supported by the current scientific data.

To be clear, Jacobs did not mention affiliations, but we believe readers might reasonably take away this interpretation. We suggest that there is no evidence that people change political or religious affiliations from psychedelic treatments, and current evidence for other kinds of belief changes is weak. Below, we address the three major studies mentioned in the original article.

The concern about political beliefs largely rests on evidence from a small pilot study of psilocybin for treating depression. The study showed an average reduction on a measure of “authoritarianism” from baseline to one week after psilocybin in seven people. Authoritarianism, as it is operationalized here using five questions that were reduced from the original version of the scale, likely does not fit neatly into a particular political party. Many people, for example, would likely disagree with the scale item “The law should always be obeyed, even if a particular law is wrong,” regardless of political affiliation.

It is also not clear that a reduction in authoritarianism (or increase in libertarianism or social/moral liberalism, the other end of the scale spectrum) holds a relation to present political affiliations. There are abundant historical examples of both left-wing and right-wing authoritarian governments (for example, communism and fascism, respectively). Moreover, in a country such as the United States, the major left-and right-leaning parties have generally had no universal leaning toward either individual freedom or state control. The position taken along this continuum is highly dependent on the subject (for example, business regulation, abortion, gun control, social constraints on sexual behavior). In fact, the developers of the scale in question preferred not to use the term “liberal” in reference to the scale because that term had a political meaning in the United States that went beyond what the scale measures.

Beyond the theoretical issues with mapping authoritarianism onto present political parties, there are also statistical concerns with this study. The finding about reduced authoritarianism barely met the threshold of significance –– and with a one-tailed t-test. A one-tailed test provides a lower standard for achieving significance compared to the much more common two-tailed test. It is unclear if the reduction would have been significant with a two-tailed test. In any case, the effect did not last. At the 7–12 month follow-up the decrease was not significant, even according to the lower standards of the one-tailed test.

Jacobs’ piece alluded to another study about political beliefs, a 1971 study exploring the association between LSD increased liberalism. This study compared three groups: 1) people who had taken LSD as a medical treatment, 2) people who had taken LSD on their own, and 3) people who had not used LSD. Only those who had taken LSD on their own indicated more support for policies like “individual freedom” and “foreign policy liberalism” compared to those who had not taken LSD.

It is possible that those who were willing to take LSD outside of medical treatment may have already been more influenced by the liberal hippie movement that encouraged these beliefs at that time (Jacobs notes that this is correlational and not causal data). Importantly, no differences were found in this study between the political beliefs of those who received LSD under medical treatment compared to those who did not take LSD. Therefore, this study actually suggests that medical psychedelic treatments do not alter political beliefs!

In terms of religious beliefs, Jacobs’ piece points to a concern about belief change on the basis of a survey study by our group at Johns Hopkins. This survey specifically recruited individuals who had a “God encounter experience” after taking a psychedelic outside of a research context. Before having such an experience during their psychedelic session, 21 percent retrospectively identified as atheist, whereas only 8 percent did after the experience. This decrease was accompanied by a decrease in identification with major religions, alongside increases in spiritual types of self-identification.

Crucially though, this study was in no way representative of the general public, as only people who reported encountering “God” or a similar phenomenon were included in the study. This was a very specific sample of people reporting a special kind of experience or interpretation of experience. The study cannot provide an estimate of population rates. Belief changes of a religious type would, of course, be massively inflated in this sample, and it is therefore not appropriate to draw generalized conclusions about belief change from psychedelic treatments based on these data.

Lastly, the piece cites the observation that under clinical conditions psychedelics increase, on average, a personality trait called openness to experience, a finding first reported by our group  at Johns Hopkins and now replicated by others. Unlike the political and religious effects, this phenomenon appears more robust. However, while psychedelics might be unique in their ability to prompt a change in a personality trait with a short-term clinical procedure, they are not the only clinical intervention that can cause changes in personality traits. A large meta-analysis of over 200 published studies examining the effect of psychiatric treatments on personality traits found that personality was indeed changed.

Regardless of whether the intervention was a psychotherapy or a medication such as a traditional antidepressant drug, these changes reached a moderate effect size for increases in the trait of emotional stability, similar to the effect size observed for the increase in personality openness to experience from psilocybin. Lastly, the correlation between openness to experience and liberal political views is small, accounting for only around 2 percent of the relationship between the two variables. In other words, the pathway from psychedelics through openness to experience to political belief change is, for all practical purposes, negligible.

While data from studies are always paramount, we note that in the first author’s experience interacting with hundreds of psilocybin study participants, he does not recall any spontaneous claims of changed political or religious affiliation in either direction.

Our primary point here is that that existing data do not suggest that meaningful changes in religious or political beliefs are likely from psychedelic therapy––and certainly not changes in political or religious affiliation. There is some evidence that psychedelic therapy can prompt changes in one’s sense of spirituality, but this term is so broadly and variously defined that it does not even necessarily relate to supernatural beliefs, and it can refer to things like one’s values or sense of connection.

As with many interventions, there are cases in which individuals change in their values, attitudes and/or beliefs after a psychedelic experience. The frequency and magnitude of these occurrences are empirical questions for future research to address, but the current data simply do not support the idea that psychedelic treatments result in meaningful changes in political or religious beliefs or affiliation.

Psychedelic medicine, like any new treatment, no doubt raises important and challenging ethical issues. Consent procedures in psychedelic trials by our research group (and by other groups to our knowledge) already warn that personality and attitude changes are a possibility. Of course, this should also be done with patients if psychedelics are approved as medicine. Psychedelic experiences are sometimes held as among the most meaningful in one’s life, and may be interpreted to have philosophical or spiritual import, likely depending on the orientation of the participant. Such effects present the opportunity for ethical pitfalls by clinicians.

These and other challenges will call for important contributions from ethicists. However, we must also be careful to keep any given concern in perspective and convey realistic risks to the public and patients. From this perspective, we believe, based on the data, that major shifts in political or religious orientation or beliefs are not among the likely risks associated with this treatment. As psychedelic researchers, we believe it is important to remain vigilant against excesses in enthusiasm as well as alarmism.


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OPINION | The politics behind Jason Kenney's 'tepid' response to COVID-19 – CBC.ca

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This column is an opinion from political scientists Duane Bratt, of Mount Royal University, and Lisa Young, of the University of Calgary.

Jason Kenney is a shrewd and experienced politician.

He has years of experience as a cabinet minister in Stephen Harper’s government, and was instrumental in helping Harper win a majority in 2011. Returning to Alberta politics, he successfully merged the Progressive Conservative and Wildrose parties and won a resounding victory in the 2019 provincial election.

And yet, in the face of the COVID-19 crisis, he and his government are floundering.

Alberta has the largest absolute number of COVID cases in Canada, despite having the fourth largest population. For 10 days in mid-November, Kenney did not appear in public despite rapidly increasing case counts, hospitalizations and deaths.

Eight months into the pandemic, his cabinet had to meet for eight hours to devise responses that many dismissed as inadequate. And most recently, a public servant has taken the unusual move of leaking information to journalists to highlight the growing divide between the Kenney government and its chief medical officer of health. 

Opinion polling shows that the Kenney government is paying a price for its handling of the pandemic.

Even in the early days of COVID-19, it was noticeable that the Kenney government missed out on the “COVID bump” that most other political leaders enjoyed. This was despite the fact that, in many ways, the Alberta government had responded effectively to the first wave.

But unlike other provincial governments, Kenney and his cabinet were engaged in a very public fight with doctors at a time when the public was banging pots and pans in appreciation of front-line workers.

Not taking a lesson from this, the government engaged in a broader dispute with health-care workers through the fall, and its poll numbers continued to drop.

A slide in public support

Last week, Leger reported that only 37 per cent of Albertans believed that their provincial government was handling COVID-19 well; the lowest, by far, of any province. Then, ThinkHQ reported that 81 per cent of Albertans would support a province-wide mask mandate.

It is unlikely that the measures announced on Nov. 24 will reverse, or even halt, this slide in public support.

How did a skilled politician like Kenney end up in this situation? We offer a few hypotheses. 

First, Kenney is almost certainly concerned about an electoral split on the right. Public opinion on appropriate responses to COVID is split along partisan lines, with those further to the right more resistant to mandatory measures.

Common Ground Politics survey research conducted in Alberta in August found that UCP voters were more likely than others to think that the reopening was too slow. A national survey conducted by Vox Pop found that Conservative voters were less likely to wear masks.

WATCH | Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announces new COVID-19 restrictions for Alberta

Premier Jason Kenney outlined the new mandatory restrictions coming into effect, including a ban on all indoor social gatherings. 2:35

In his comments on Tuesday, the premier focused a great deal of attention on acknowledging the concerns of those on the right, who argue that restrictions are unconstitutional, for example. 

The Alberta separatist (or “Wexit”) movement has gained momentum since the 2019 federal election and Justin Trudeau’s re-election.

With his experience merging conservative parties at both the federal and provincial level, the premier is presumably concerned about vote splitting on the right. By appeasing conservatives, especially in rural Alberta, Kenney is consolidating his base.

With 41 of the 87 seats in the Alberta legislature outside of Edmonton and Calgary, consolidating that base makes electoral sense.

The restrictions that were announced on Tuesday, and the exemptions that were offered, lend support to this hypothesis.

Certainly, the decision to extend mask mandates only in Calgary and Edmonton (where they were already required through municipal bylaws) speaks to a desire to please conservative rural voters.

Similarly, the decision to permit in-person religious services to continue while junior high and high schools had to close speaks to a desire to keep voters in conservative-leaning faith communities onside. 

Response informed by ideology

Second, Kenney and many of his close advisors are strong partisans prone to demonizing their political opponents.

Although Alberta has elected conservative governments for decades, we have to go back to the Social Credit governments of the 1950s and 1960s to find a more ideologically conservative government than the current UCP. Although Ralph Klein’s government was driven by fiscal conservatism in its early years, its policies moderated in later years. 

The Kenney government’s strong ideological conservatism has informed its pandemic response, particularly since the end of the spring lockdown.

The government’s approach has been to emphasize personal responsibility rather than implementing restrictions.

Citing the economic cost of the lockdown, Kenney has repeatedly minimized the toll of the pandemic while emphasizing the negative consequences of restrictions on the economy broadly, and small business in particular.

This helps to explain why restaurants, bars, casinos, movie theatres and gyms are permitted to remain open, although with some further restrictions.

While other conservative provincial governments — notably Ontario and Manitoba — are placing greater restrictions on retail, Alberta is not. 

WATCH | University of Alberta’s Tim Caulfield says the province needs a transparent approach to pandemic policy

Tim Caulfield, an expert in health law at the University of Alberta, says the province needs  a co-ordinated and transparent approach when making policy around the coronavirus. 5:40

Third, having been elected on a mandate of “jobs, economy, pipelines,” the Kenney government remains focused on economic performance.

Its promise of balanced budgets are, of course, no longer feasible, but the government remains deeply concerned about the province’s balance sheet. This helps to explain the decision to push forward on cost savings in the public sector — including health-care — during the pandemic, as well as decisions that prioritize the economy. 

These three explanations — electoral considerations, ideology, and a focus on the economy — have resulted in a pandemic response that looks weak when compared to other provinces.

This is a moment that tests political leaders, requiring them to set aside political considerations in favour of the public good. Lives are at stake.

As the death toll continues to rise, the government’s tepid response will come under greater public scrutiny, and the political calculations that have informed it will appear increasingly out of touch.

If the Kenney government is unable to adjust to these new realities, it may pay a steep political price in 2023, as the electorate holds it accountable for both the economic and human cost of the pandemic.


This column is an opinion. For more information about our commentary section, please read our FAQ.

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'The Great Reset', politics and conspiracy – CBC.ca

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  • 8 hours ago
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Last week, after a video of one of his speeches went viral, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had to address a growing controversy over “The Great Reset”.

The term means different things to different people. To the World Economic Forum it’s a vague goal to make the world more equal and address climate change in the wake of the pandemic. To Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre it’s evidence of a “power grab” by “global financial elites”.

And to others, it’s part of a baseless and wide-ranging conspiracy theory. CBC senior writer Aaron Wherry has been covering this story in Ottawa. Today he helps us sort the real economics and politics at play… from the conspiracy gaining traction.

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Leo Glavine, close political ally and friend of Premier McNeil, leaving politics – CBC.ca

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Leo Glavine and Stephen McNeil share a political border that spans almost 45 kilometres, but it’s not proximity that has cemented their political and personal friendship during the past 17 years — it’s mutual loyalty and respect.

So it was no surprise that both men talked in glowing terms about the other when addressing reporters Thursday after Glavine formally announced his decision to retire before the next election.

“I’ve had the good fortune to come into political life with Premier McNeil,” said Glavine, noting both men first took their seats at Province House in 2003. Each has been re-elected four times since.

McNeil, who announced his plans in August to retire, called Glavine a friend and described their political careers as “a great journey.”

“I admire you a great deal and I wish you nothing but great health and happiness and you head into the next part, the next chapter of your life,” McNeil said following a cabinet meeting.

Opposition to government

They sat near each other, first on the opposition side of the House, then on the government front benches starting in 2013 when McNeil became premier. Glavine was one of the first in the Liberal caucus to support McNeil’s leadership bid against three opponents. 

McNeil picked Glavine to be his first minister of health, a post Glavine held during the Liberal government’s entire first mandate. During that time, Glavine spearheaded the government’s tumultuous but ultimately successful drive to merge the province’s nine district health authorities into a single entity.

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil waves after addressing supporters at his election night celebration in May 2017 in Bridgetown, N.S. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

At the same time, the McNeil government squared off against the province’s public sector unions, taking away the right to strike from health workers, then forcing a reduction in the number of bargaining units in the sector. Those actions led to many large and noisy demonstrations outside Province House. The governing Liberals also imposed around-the-clock sittings at the legislature to fast-track necessary bills to enact those changes.

Glavine remained steadfast in his support for McNeil and his reorganization plans. In return, McNeil kept Glavine in the job despite the minister’s inability, at times, to properly or succinctly articulate those plans.

‘Everything old is new again’

McNeil’s seemingly unending confidence in Glavine was demonstrated again last month when the premier reappointed him to replace Randy Delorey as health minister after Delorey resigned to run in the Liberal leadership race.

“Everything old is new again,” quipped Glavine as he approached reporters after a brief ceremony Oct. 13 at Government House.

Leo Glavine was named Nova Scotia’s minister of health, again, in October. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

Asking Glavine to take over the portfolio in the midst of a pandemic may have been the ultimate display of confidence in his friend.

Glavine repaid the compliment in his farewell message Thursday.

“We’ve had an exceptional team in Public Health, the premier to guide our province through what may be one of the most challenging and difficult periods in the 21st century,” said Glavine, who characterized himself as “a very ordinary Nova Scotian” who came to Province House to “do the best work possible.”

What the future holds

The one-time public school teacher called his time in politics “a joy,” offering himself a rare bit of self-congratulation.

“While there were lots of challenges and stressful moments, I have not missed a day of work in my 17½ years in political office,” he said.

Glavine will stay on as the MLA for Kings West until the next election is called. He said he plans to go back to private life to “enjoy what the Valley has to offer” and spend more time with his grandchildren.

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