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What If a Pill Can Change Your Politics or Religious Beliefs? – Scientific American

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How would you feel about a new therapy for your chronic pain, which—although far more effective than any available alternative—might also change your religious beliefs? Or a treatment for lymphoma that brings one in three patients into remission, but also made them more likely to vote for your least preferred political party?

These seem like idle hypothetical questions about impossible side effects. After all, this is not how medicine works. But a new mental health treatment, set to be licensed next year, poses just this sort of problem. Psychotherapy assisted by psilocybin, the psychedelic compound in “magic mushrooms,” seems to be remarkably effective in treating a wide range of psychopathologies, but also causes a raft of unusual nonclinical changes not seen elsewhere in medicine.

Although its precise therapeutic mechanisms remain unclear, clinically relevant doses of psilocybin can induce powerful mystical experiences more commonly associated with extended periods of fasting, prayer or meditation. Arguably, then, it is unsurprising that it can generate long-lasting changes in patients: studies report increased prosociality and aesthetic appreciation, plus robust shifts in personality, values and attitudes to life, even leading some atheists to find God. What’s more, these experiences appear to be a feature, rather than a bug, of psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy, with the intensity of the mystical experience correlating with the extent of clinical benefit.

These are undoubtedly interesting findings, but should any of it matter? However unusual a treatment’s consequences, shouldn’t we prioritize the preferences of an informed, consenting patient? Yes, I understand that this might change me in strange ways. But my depression is debilitating. I will roll that dice. Putting aside the matter of how well-informed one could really be about such radical transformations, political realities make things more complicated, with the case of psilocybin— currently a Schedule 1, highly illicit drug—showing vividly how values, politics and social narratives can influence the development of biomedical science.

The taboo of the illicit is not an insuperable obstacle. The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), an organization that advocates for “careful uses” of psychedelics, has gone an impressive way in rehabilitating MDMA (i.e., ecstasy) into a legitimate medicine. MAPS’s masterstroke was to focus on demonstrating its potential for treating PTSD. By articulating how MDMA-assisted therapy could help veterans, support for whom enjoys a rare level of bipartisan agreement, MAPS have attracted supporters from across the political spectrum, receiving positive coverage from MSNBC and Fox News alike.

Advocates of psilocybin-assisted therapy tout it as the solution to the burgeoning mental health crisis. But, like MDMA, psilocybin is far from a culturally neutral drug, carrying both the shame of Schedule 1 status and a checkered social history. It too may need to build the kind of politically heterogeneous coalition of supporters that MDMA-assisted therapy enjoys.

But to generate a breadth of appeal, one challenge stands out: psilocybin seems to make people more liberal. Scientific reports associating psychedelic use and liberal values stretch back as far as 1971, and although these findings have been replicated more recently, a noncausal explanation is readily available. Those with conservative attitudes tend to look more disapprovingly on illicit drug use, making them less likely than liberals to try a psychedelic drug in the first place.

However, emerging evidence suggests the relationship could be causal, with clinically administered psilocybin actively shifting political values, just as it shifts many other nonclinical characteristics. Notably, one study of psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression reported that the treatment decreased authoritarian political views in patients. That clinical trial also detected another effect that had previously been reported in healthy participants: psilocybin use leads to increases in the personality domain of openness, itself a predictor of liberal values.

If psilocybin does change political values, the significance of this effect goes deeper than which politicians or media outlets will seek to support or impede psilocybin-assisted therapy. A well-established consensus on the secular democratic state is that it should remain neutral and agnostic on a number of matters, allowing a diversity of values, political attitudes and religious beliefs among its citizens. Where such states have universal health care systems, is it permissible to not only endorse, but fund through taxpayer contributions, a treatment which shifts values in one direction?

With sample sizes currently small, more research is needed to understand whether there truly is a causal relationship at work, and, if so, what its nature might be. Perhaps psilocybin doesn’t so much induce liberal values, but rather consolidates whatever values were present before treatment. A health care modality that entrenches preexisting political sentiments is, at the least, unlikely to make enemies. The same could not be said of a treatment that shifts patients in one direction along the political spectrum.

To overcome this obstacle, advocates of psilocybin-assisted therapy need an inspiring banner that members of any political tribe could rally around. With few things that unite us as powerfully as politics can divide us, perhaps the most alluring banner will be the one thing that unites us all: death. While psilocybin is neither a cure for, nor a prophylactic against, death, studies have repeatedly demonstrated that it could play a profound role in the future of palliative care. The existential distress experienced when faced with a life-threatening or terminal illness can steal away what little quality of life remains for the dying. Such distress responds poorly to our standard pharmaceutical approaches, but the powerful mystical experiences induced by psilocybin consistently transmute demoralization, anxiety and depression into acceptance, peacefulness and meaning, as patients prepare to meet their death.

However else they differ, conservatives and liberals are united in knowing that they, and their loved ones, will eventually die. And for conservatives and liberals alike, psilocybin could help them welcome the end with greater acceptance and less fear. Psilocybin looks set to become a licensed medicine by 2022. But how many ultimately benefit from it will be a matter not just of how well it works, but also the narrative surrounding it when it arrives: does psilocybin underline how we are different, or how we are the same?

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Commons showdown highlights tension between politics and science – The Battlefords News-Optimist

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OTTAWA — Monday’s vote on a Conservative motion to launch an in-depth review of the Liberal government’s COVID-19 response highlights a key challenge of pandemic politics: how to hold a government accountable for decisions based on science, when the science itself is changing nearly every day.

The opposition wants a committee probe into everything from why regulators are taking so long to approve rapid testing to an early decision not to close the border to international travel, and what concerns the Liberals is how that probe is being framed.

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“One of the narratives that I find most distressing coming from the opposition, is that somehow because advice changed at some point that the government was hiding information or that the government was giving misinformation,” Health Minister Patty Hajdu said late last week.

“And nothing could be further from the truth.”

It’s not the science itself that’s up for debate, said Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole.

“In a pandemic, borders, since the Middle Ages, have been part of a stop of spreading of the virus and that was a failure of elected officials to put the health of Canadians first,” O’Toole told reporters last week.

“There has been conflicting information on masks and other things. My concern is that the Trudeau government relies more on open source data from China than our own science and intelligence experts.”

The relationship between a nation’s scientists and their senior politicians is a challenging one, said Ian Culbert, executive director of the Canadian Public Health Association.

Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam provides the scientific evidence there is, but at the end of the day, it is the politicians who make the call, he said.

A decision on whether or not to close the borders is a good example, he said.

In the early days of the pandemic, the World Health Organization cautioned against widespread border closures. Scientific research has suggested there’s little medical benefit to them and the economic impacts can be severe and wide-ranging.

But the optics of border closures, the idea that if countries can keep out a virus out they will be immune, creates political pressure to act, Culbert said .

“The tension between what is in the public’s good, as opposed to all of the varying political considerations the politicians have to take into consideration — there’s always a tension there,” Culbert said.

While heated, the interplay between Liberal government and Opposition Conservatives is a far cry from the hyper-partisanship around pandemic response in the U.S., where even the president has circulated misinformation and challenged that country’s top scientists.

Canadian researchers studying the response of political elites here in the early days of the pandemic found no evidence of MPs casting doubt on the seriousness of the pandemic, or spreading conspiracy theories about it. In fact, there was a cross partisan consensus around how seriously it needed to be taken.

“As far as we can tell, that story hasn’t changed,” said Eric Merkley, a University of Toronto political scientist who led the study.

Both he and Culbert said a review of the Liberals’ pandemic response is warranted, but a balancing act is required.

“Everyone has 20/20 hindsight and thinks that they can go, look back, and and point to points at which bad decisions were made,” Culbert said.

“But that’s with the knowledge that we have today. We didn’t have that knowledge back in March.”

The Liberals have sometimes hit back at criticism by pointing to how the previous Conservative government handled the science and health files, including budget cuts and efforts to muzzle scientists.

But critics can’t be painted as anti-science for asking questions, Merkley said.

“There’s plenty of scope for democratic debate about proper responses to the pandemic, there’s plenty of scope for disagreement,” Merkley said.

“And just because there’s that disagreement and an Opposition party holding government accountable, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, that’s a sign of a healthy democracy.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 25, 2020.

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Vote to review Liberals response to COVID-19 highlights showdown between politics and science – National Post

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Article content continued

“In a pandemic, borders, since the Middle Ages, have been part of a stop of spreading of the virus and that was a failure of elected officials to put the health of Canadians first,” O’Toole told reporters last week.

“There has been conflicting information on masks and other things. My concern is that the Trudeau government relies more on open source data from China than our own science and intelligence experts.”

The relationship between a nation’s scientists and their senior politicians is a challenging one, said Ian Culbert, executive director of the Canadian Public Health Association.

And nothing could be further from the truth

Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam provides the scientific evidence there is, but at the end of the day, it is the politicians who make the call, he said.

A decision on whether or not to close the borders is a good example, he said.

In the early days of the pandemic, the World Health Organization cautioned against widespread border closures. Scientific research has suggested there’s little medical benefit to them and the economic impacts can be severe and wide-ranging.

But the optics of border closures, the idea that if countries can keep out a virus out they will be immune, creates political pressure to act, Culbert said .

“The tension between what is in the public’s good, as opposed to all of the varying political considerations the politicians have to take into consideration — there’s always a tension there,” Culbert said.

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Students learn provincial politics in mock vote at Saskatchewan schools – Global News

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They are too young to vote in Monday’s provincial election, but Saskatchewan elementary and high school students have learned how to cast a ballot when the time comes.

A total of 420 schools across all 61 provincial ridings took part in Student Vote Saskatchewan 2020 ahead of election day on Oct. 26.

Non-partisan Canadian charity, CIVIX, provides teachers with the necessary materials for its civic education program, which has been running since 2003.

“The purpose of our project is to get engaged now, so that when they turn 18, we hope that they not only vote then, but that they will always vote,” said Dan Allan, CIVIX director of content.

Read more:
Ridings to watch in the 2020 Saskatchewan election

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Grade 12 student Brenna Metz said before the program, her class did not know much about who was running for election in their local riding.

“Realizing we need to be informed when making these decisions because they are really big decisions about our lives,” Metz said, adding her biggest takeaway was learning how the provincial government relates to important issues.

“I know mental health was a huge thing that we discussed in our classes because it definitely affects everyone in the school and for many students it is a large problem in Saskatchewan.”

After learning the ins and outs of provincial politics, students from as early as Grade 4 cast mock ballots on Oct. 22 and Oct. 23.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, schools were offered the option of online voting. CIVIX noted, however, the majority still chose to use paper ballots with added precautions.

Teacher Lyle Morley said classes at Dr. Martin LeBoldus High School in Regina voted at their desks using paper ballots sealed in envelopes — akin to mail-in ballots.

Read more:
Next Saskatchewan government will have to juggle budget, pandemic economy

“In past years we’d have them bring ID and go to the library and vote like you would usually vote,” Morley said, adding students are looking forward to seeing the provincewide results.

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“They want to know what the schools did and they’re definitely interested to see who won,” he said.

CIVIX will release the final student vote results, broken down by riding and school, on election night Monday at 8 p.m. CT.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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