‘Magic Mushrooms’ Can Improve Psychological Health Long Term

Via TIME

Image Source: Getty Images

The psychedelic drug in magic mushrooms may have lasting medical and spiritual benefits, according to new research from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

The mushroom-derived hallucinogen, called psilocybin, is known to trigger transformative spiritual states, but at high doses it can also result in “bad trips” marked by terror and panic. The trick is to get the dose just right, which the Johns Hopkins researchers report having accomplished.

In their study, the Hopkins scientists were able to reliably induce transcendental experiences in volunteers, which offered long-lasting psychological growth and helped people find peace in their lives — without the negative effects.

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“The important point here is that we found the sweet spot where we can optimize the positive persistent effects and avoid some of the fear and anxiety that can occur and can be quite disruptive,” says lead author Roland Griffiths, professor of behavioral biology at Hopkins.

Giffiths’ study involved 18 healthy adults, average age 46, who participated in five eight-hour drug sessions with either psilocybin — at varying doses — or placebo. Nearly all the volunteers were college graduates and 78% participated regularly in religious activities; all were interested in spiritual experience.

Fourteen months after participating in the study, 94% of those who received the drug said the experiment was one of the top five most meaningful experiences of their lives; 39% said it was the single most meaningful experience.

Critically, however, the participants themselves were not the only ones who saw the benefit from the insights they gained: their friends, family member and colleagues also reported that the psilocybin experience had made the participants calmer, happier and kinder.

Ultimately, Griffiths and his colleagues want to see if the same kind of psychedelic experience could help ease anxiety and fear over the long term in cancer patients or others facing death. And following up on tantalizing clues from early research on hallucinogenic drugs like LSD, mescaline and psilocybin in the 1960s (which are all now illegal), researchers are also studying whether transcendental experiences could help spur recovery from addiction and treat other psychological problems like depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

For Griffiths’ current experiment, participants were housed in a living room-like setting designed to be calm, comfortable and attractive. While under the influence, they listened to classical music on headphones, wore eyeshades and were instructed to “direct their attention inward.”

Each participant was accompanied by two other research-team members: a “monitor” and an “assistant monitor,” who both had previous experience with people on psychedelic drugs and were empathetic and supportive. Before the drug sessions, the volunteers became acquainted enough with their team so that they felt familiar and safe. Although the experiments took place in the Hopkins hospital complex in order to ensure prompt medical attention in the event that it was needed, it never was.

As described by early advocates of the use of psychedelics — from ancient shamans to Timothy Leary and the Grateful Dead — the psilocybin experience typically involves a sense of oneness with the universe and with others, a feeling of transcending time, space and other limitations, coupled with a sense of holiness and sacredness. Overwhelmingly, these experiences are difficult to put into words, but many of Griffiths’ participants said they were left with the sense that they understood themselves and others better and therefore had greater compassion and patience.

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“I feel that I relate better in my marriage. There is more empathy — a greater understanding of people and understanding their difficulties and less judgment,” said one participant. “Less judging of myself, too.”

Another said: “I have better interaction with close friends and family and with acquaintances and strangers. … My alcohol use has diminished dramatically.”

To zero in on the “sweet spot” of dosing, Griffiths started half the volunteers on a low dose and gradually increased their doses over time (with placebo sessions randomly interspersed); the other half started on a high dose and worked their way down.

Those who started on a low dose found that their experiences tended to get better as the dose increased, probably because they learned what to expect and how to handle it. But people who started with high doses were more likely to experience anxiety and fear (though these feeling didn’t last long and sometimes resolved into euphoria or a sense of transcendence).

“If we back the dose down a little, we have just as much of the same positive effects. The properties of the mystical experience remain the same, but there’s a fivefold drop in anxiety and fearfulness,” Griffiths says.

Some past experiments with psychedelics in the ’60s used initial high doses of the drugs — the “blast people away with a high dose” model, says Griffiths — to try to treat addiction. “Some of the early work in addictions was done with the idea of, ‘O.K., let’s model the ‘bottoming-out’ crisis and make use of the dark side of [psychedelic] compounds. That didn’t work,” Griffiths says.

It may even have backfired: other research on addictions shows that coercion, humiliation and other attempts to produce a sense of “powerlessness,” tend to increase relapse and treatment dropout, not recovery. (And the notorious naked LSD encounter sessions conducted with psychopaths made them worse, too.)

Griffiths is currently seeking patients with terminal cancer to participate in his next set of experiments (for more information on these studies, click here); because psychedelics often produce a feeling of going beyond life and death, they are thought to be especially likely to help those facing the end of life. Griffiths is also studying whether psilocybin can help smokers quit.

Griffiths and other researchers like him are hoping to bring the study of psychedelics into the future. They want to build on the promise that some of the early research showed, while avoiding the bad rep and exaggerated claims — for example, that LSD was harmless and could usher in world peace — that became associated with the drugs when people started using them recreationally in the 1960s. The resulting negative publicity helped shut down the burgeoning research.

This time around, caution may be paying off. Dr. Jerome Jaffe, America’s first drug czar, who was not involved with the research, said in a statement, “The Hopkins psilocybin studies clearly demonstrate that this route to the mystical is not to be walked alone. But they have also demonstrated significant and lasting benefits. That raises two questions: could psilocybin-occasioned experiences prove therapeutically useful, for example in dealing with the psychological distress experienced by some terminal patients?

“And should properly-informed citizens, not in distress, be allowed to receive psilocybin for its possible spiritual benefits, as we now allow them to pursue other possibly risky activities such as cosmetic surgery and mountain-climbing?”

The study was published in the journal Psychopharmacology.

TR10: $100 Genome

Via Technology Review

Nanoscale sorting: A tiny nanofluidic chip is the key to BioNanomatrix’s effort to sequence a human genome for just $100. Bionanomatrix

In the corner of the small lab is a locked door with a colorful sign taped to the front: “$100 Genome Room–Authorized Persons Only.” BioNanomatrix, the startup that runs the lab, is pursuing what many believe to be the key to personalized medicine: sequencing technology so fast and cheap that an entire human genome can be read in eight hours for $100 or less. With the aid of such a powerful tool, medical treatment could be tailored to a patient’s distinct genetic profile.

Despite many experts’ doubt that whole-genome sequencing could be done for $1,000, let alone a 10th that much, BioNanomatrix believes it can reach the $100 target in five years. The reason for its optimism: company founder Han Cao has created a chip that uses nanofluidics and a series of branching, ever-narrowin­g channels to allow researchers, for the first time, to isolate and image very long strands of individual DNA molecules.

If the company succeeds, a physician could biopsy a cancer patient’s tumor, sequence all its DNA, and use that information to determine a prognosis and prescribe treatment– all for less than the cost of a chest x-ray. If the ailment is lung cancer, for instance, the doctor could determine the particular genetic changes in the tumor cells and order the chemo­therapy best suited to that variant.

Cao’s chip, which neatly aligns DNA, is essential to cheaper sequencing because double-stranded DNA, when left to its own devices, winds itself up into tight balls that are impossible to analyze. To sequence even the smallest chromosomes, researchers have had to chop the DNA up into millions of smaller pieces, anywhere from 100 to 1,000 base pairs long. These shorter strands can be sequenced easily, but the data must be pieced back together like a jigsaw puzzle. The approach is expensive and time consuming. What’s more, it becomes problematic when the puzzle is as large as the human genome, which consists of about three billion pairs of nucleo­tides. Even with the most elegant algorithms, some pieces get counted multiple times, while others are omitted completely. The resulting sequence may not include the data most relevant to a particular disease.

In contrast, Cao’s chip untangles stretches of delicate double-stranded DNA molecules up to 1,000,000 base pairs long–a feat that researchers had previously thought impossible. The series of branching channels gently prompts the molecules to relax a bit more at each fork, while also acting as a floodgate to help distribute them evenly. A mild electrical charge drives them through the chip, ultimately coaxing them into spaces that are less than 100 nanometers wide. With tens of thousands of channels side by side, the chip allows an entire human genome to flow through in about 10 minutes. The data must still be pieced together, but the puzzle is much smaller (imagine a jigsaw puzzle of roughly 100 pieces versus 10,000), leaving far less room for error.

The chip meets only half the $100-genome challenge: it unravels DNA but does not sequence it. To achieve that, the company is working with Silicon Valley-based Complete Genomics, which has developed bright, fluorescently labeled probes that bind to the 4,096 possible combinations of six-letter DNA “words.” Along with ­BioNanomatrix’s chip, the probes could achieve the lightning-fast sequencing necessary for the $100 genome. But the probes can’t stick to double-stranded DNA, so Complete Genomics will need to figure out how to open up small sections of DNA without uncoupling the entire molecule. Continue reading

Ten Principles To Live By – Tony Schwartz

Via Fast Company

If you’re like most people I work with in companies, the demands come at you from every angle, all day long, and you have to make difficult decisions without much time to think about them. What enduring principles can you rely on to make choices that reflect openness, integrity and authenticity?

Here are ten that work for me:

1. Always challenge certainty, especially your own. When you think you’re undeniably right, ask yourself “What might I be missing here?” If we could truly figure it all out, what else would there be left to do?

2. Excellence is an unrelenting struggle, but it’s also the surest route to enduring satisfaction. Amy Chua, the over-the-top “Tiger Mother,” was right that there’s no shortcut to excellence. Getting there requires practicing deliberately, delaying gratification, and forever challenging your current comfort zone.

3. Emotions are contagious, so it pays to know what you’re feeling. Think of the best boss you ever had. How did he or she make you feel? That’s the way you want to make others feel.

4. When in doubt, ask yourself, “How would I behave here at my best?” We know instinctively what it means to do the right thing, even when we’re inclined to do the opposite. If you find it impossible, in a challenging moment, to envision how you’d behave at your best, try imagining how someone you admire would respond.

5. If you do what you love, the money may or may not follow, but you’ll love what you do. It’s magical thinking to assume you’ll be rewarded with riches for following your heart. What it will give you is a richer life. If material riches don’t follow, and you decide they’re important, there’s always time for Plan B.

6. You need less than you think you do. All your life, you’ve been led to believe that more is better, and that whatever you have isn’t enough. It’s a prescription for disappointment. Instead ask yourself this: How much of what you already have truly adds value in your life? What could you do without?

7. Accept yourself exactly as you are but never stop trying to learn and grow. One without the other just doesn’t cut it. The first, by itself, leads to complacency, the second to self-flagellation. The paradoxical trick is to embrace these opposites, using self-acceptance as an antidote to fear and as a cushion in the face of setbacks.

8. Meaning isn’t something you discover, it’s something you create, one step at a time. Meaning is derived from finding a way to express your unique skills and passion in the service of something larger than yourself. Figuring out how best to contribute is a lifelong challenge, reborn every day.

9. You can’t change what you don’t notice and not noticing won’t make it go away. Each of us has an infinite capacity for self-deception. To avoid pain, we rationalize, minimize, deny, and go numb. The antidote is the willingness to look at yourself with unsparing honesty, and to hold yourself accountable to the person you want to be.

10. When in doubt, take responsibility. It’s called being a true adult.

 

Reprinted from Harvard Business Review

Tony Schwartz is President and CEO of The Energy Project, a company that helps individuals and organizations fuel energy, engagement, focus, and productivity by harnessing the science of high performance. Tony’s most recent book, Be Excellent at Anything: The Four Keys to Transforming the Way We Work and Live?, is a The New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller. Follow him on Twitter @TonySchwartz.

What Does English Sound Like To A Foreigner?

Via Matador Abroad

Photo by lemasney

Even if you don’t speak a word of a language, chances are you can identify it based on the sounds you hear.
GLOTTAL STOPS, LILTS, PITCH – there’s a lot more to hearing a language than just the words. Do you speak German? If not, do you know when you hear someone speaking German? Probably so.

And what about English? More than once, I’ve attempted to hear English through the ears of a non-speaker by eavesdropping on a conversation and going into an almost meditative state, focusing on the sounds and not the words. It only lasts for a few seconds at a time.

This short film, entitled “Skwerl,” gives us an idea of what English sounds like. I have to applaud these actors for managing to get through this without laughing. Their “English-ish” language seems to be a mix of actual English words and sounds in a nonsensical order. (See if you can catch “Elton John” and “make the pope cream.”)

“Give It Away” – Red Hot Chili Peppers

What I’ve got you’ve got to give it to your mamma
What I’ve got you’ve got to give it to your pappa
What I’ve got you’ve got to give it to your daughter
You do a little dance and then you drink a little water
What I’ve got you’ve got to get it put it in you
What I’ve got you’ve got to get it put it in you
What I’ve got you’ve got to get it put it in you
Reeling with the feeling don’t stop continue

Realize I don’t want to be a miser
Confide with sly you’ll be the wiser
Young blood is the lovin’ upriser
How come everybody wanna keep it like the kaiser

Give it away give it away give it away now
Give it away give it away give it away now
Give it away give it away give it away now
I can’t tell if I’m a king pin or a pauper

Greedy little people in a sea of distress
Keep your more to receive your less
Unimpressed by material excess
Love is free love me say hell yes

I’m a low brow but I rock a little know how
No time for the piggies or the hoosegow
Get smart get down with the pow wow
Never been a better time than right now

Bob Marley poet and a prophet
Bob Marley taught me how to off it
Bob Marley walkin’ like he talk it
Goodness me can’t you see I’m gonna cough it

Give it away give it away give it away now
Give it away give it away give it away now
Give it away give it away give it away now
Ooh… Ooh yeah
Give it away give it away give it away now
Give it away give it away give it away now
Give it away give it away give it away now
I can’t tell iff I’m a king pin or a pauper

Lucky me swimmin’ in my ability
Dancin’ down on life with agility
Come and drink it up from my fertility
Blessed with a bucket of lucky mobility

My mom I love her ’cause she love me
Long gone are the times when she scrub me
Feelin’ good my brother gonna hug me
Drinkin’ my juice young love chug-a-lug me

There’s a river born to be a giver
Keep you warm won’t let you shiver
His heart is never gonna wither
Come on everybody time to deliver

Give it away give it away give it away now
Give it away give it away give it away now
Give it away give it away give it away now
I can’t tell if I’m a king pin or a pauper

What I’ve got you’ve got to give it to your mamma
What I’ve got you’ve got to give it to your pappa
What I’ve got you’ve got to give it to your daughter
You do a little dance and then you drink a little water

What I’ve got you’ve got to get it put it in you
What I’ve got you’ve got to get it put it in you
What I’ve got you’ve got to get it put it in you
Reeling with the feeling don’t stop continue

Realize I don’t want to be a miser
Confide wisely you’ll be the wiser
Young blood is the lovin’ upriser
How come everybody wanna keep it like the kaiser

Give it away give it away give it away now
Give it away give it away give it away now
Give it away give it away give it away now
Give it away give it away give it away now