Category Archives: Health & Medicine
A bottle of LSD from a Swiss clinical trial for end-of-life anxiety in cancer patients, circa 2007, conducted by Dr. Peter Gasser, sponsored by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies.
Ladies and gentlemen, the ongoing incursion of the new psychedelic research renaissance into the mainstream American mediasphere has officially reached critical mass. Behold NPR:
Today, psychedelic drug research is coming back, and scientists are picking up where Leary and other researchers left off, conducting experiments on therapeutic uses of these drugs. But the research still faces stigma, and funding is hard to get.
. . . Stanislav Grof was one of the leading researchers on the therapeutic applications of LSD in the 1950s and ’60s. He studied the effect of hallucinogens on mental disorders, including addiction. Grof says LSD seemed to accelerate treatment of mental illness exponentially. “It was quite extraordinary,” Grof tells NPR’s Arun Rath. “This was a tremendous deepening and acceleration of the psychotherapeutic process, and compared with the therapy in general, which mostly focuses on suppression of symptoms, here we had something that could actually get to the core of the problems.”
But the pervasive image of LSD was that it was not an acceptable treatment. The Schedule 1 classification of LSD and other hallucinogenic substances in 1970 was a huge blow to research. Grof abandoned his experiments on alcoholism. Through the “Just Say No” campaigns of the 1980s, no researchers were willing to jump through all the hoops necessary to study stigmatized drugs.
But by the ’90s, attitudes had begun to change, and there was a flurry of studies on psychedelic drugs. By the 2000s, a small but growing research community was picking up where Grof and others had left off.
. . . [Charles Grob of the University of California, Los Angeles] has been approved to begin a new study next month on social anxiety in adults on the autism spectrum and the drug MDMA. He says the country needs to recognize that the ’60s are over and that Timothy Leary is gone and no longer on the stage. “I believe we are on the threshold of some very exciting discoveries,” he says, “that the health field can only benefit from.”
Image by Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (http://www.maps.org/images/lsdimages.html) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
Over the last year, I have been working on a new documentary called “Weed.” The title “Weed” may sound cavalier, but the content is not. I traveled around the world to interview medical leaders, experts, growers and patients. I spoke candidly to them, asking tough questions. What I found was stunning. Long before I began this project, I had steadily reviewed the scientific literature on medical marijuana from the United States and thought it was fairly unimpressive.
Well, I am here to apologize. I apologize because I didn’t look hard enough, until now. I didn’t look far enough. I didn’t review papers from smaller labs in other countries doing some remarkable research, and I was too dismissive of the loud chorus of legitimate patients whose symptoms improved on cannabis. Instead, I lumped them with the high-visibility malingerers, just looking to get high. I mistakenly believed the Drug Enforcement Agency listed marijuana as a schedule 1 substance because of sound scientific proof. Surely, they must have quality reasoning as to why marijuana is in the category of the most dangerous drugs that have “no accepted medicinal use and a high potential for abuse.”
They didn’t have the science to support that claim, and I now know that when it comes to marijuana neither of those things are true. It doesn’t have a high potential for abuse, and there are very legitimate medical applications. In fact, sometimes marijuana is the only thing that works.
[. . .] I have. . . come to the realization that it is irresponsible not to provide the best care we can as a medical community, care that could involve marijuana. We have been terribly and systematically misled for nearly 70 years in the United States, and I apologize for my own role in that.
— “Dr. Sanjay Gupta: Why I changed my mind on marijuana,” CNN, August 9, 2013
Also see Gupta’s appearance on a recent CNN program devoted to the question of medicine, marijuana, and the legal restrictions on certain substances:
Did you hear all of that? And did you really listen and consider its implications? Methinks this development could prove to represent an authentic sea change in the marijuana legalization wars. When a person of Gupta’s public status and visibility puts himself and his reputation on the line over something like this, the ramifications are immense.
Nor are they limited to the matter of medicine and marijuana as such. Notice that a statement like Gupta’s carries implications far exceeding its nominal topic. We in America have been “systematically” lied to by our government, he says. As in, deliberately and strategically. This naturally leads to further questions. Read the rest of this entry
Not that anybody should be surprised by this, but it turns out that what we commonly regard as “healthy foods” may be nothing of the sort, not because the specific foods in question (fruits and vegetables) are wrongly characterized in and of themselves, but because farming techniques — the ones we’ve honed and developed over thousands of years of agricultural history, not just during the industrial age — have stripped many of the vital nutrients clean out of the actual produce that we buy from grocery stores:
We like the idea that food can be the answer to our ills, that if we eat nutritious foods we won’t need medicine or supplements. We have valued this notion for a long, long time. The Greek physician Hippocrates proclaimed nearly 2,500 years ago: “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” Today, medical experts concur. If we heap our plates with fresh fruits and vegetables, they tell us, we will come closer to optimum health.
This health directive needs to be revised. If we want to get maximum health benefits from fruits and vegetables, we must choose the right varieties. Studies published within the past 15 years show that much of our produce is relatively low in phytonutrients, which are the compounds with the potential to reduce the risk of four of our modern scourges: cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and dementia. The loss of these beneficial nutrients did not begin 50 or 100 years ago, as many assume. Unwittingly, we have been stripping phytonutrients from our diet since we stopped foraging for wild plants some 10,000 years ago and became farmers.
These insights have been made possible by new technology that has allowed researchers to compare the phytonutrient content of wild plants with the produce in our supermarkets. The results are startling.
. . . The United States Department of Agriculture exerts far more effort developing disease-resistant fruits and vegetables than creating new varieties to enhance the disease resistance of consumers. In fact, I’ve interviewed U.S.D.A. plant breeders who have spent a decade or more developing a new variety of pear or carrot without once measuring its nutritional content.
We can’t increase the health benefits of our produce if we don’t know which nutrients it contains. Ultimately, we need more than an admonition to eat a greater quantity of fruits and vegetables: we need more fruits and vegetables that have the nutrients we require for optimum health.
— Jo Robinson, “Breeding the Nutrition Out of Our Food,” The New York Times, May 25, 2013
Meanwhile, the manufactured food industry has spent decades honing its skill at manipulating our perceptions of food and eating, the better to convince us to keep buying and eating more, more, more. This has evolved, or rather devolved, right down to a finely nuanced propaganda campaign conducted largely by means of a whole new language of food that’s used inside the industry itself:
The massive popularity of these so-called junk foods (a phrase that was added to the language menu in 1973) is a testament to the food industry’s talent for creating feel-good food. Our diets may be richer for it, but so too is the English language, which now boasts many tasty new words and phrases cooked up by food industry scientists and technologists. (I’m indebted to New York Times reporter Michael Moss, particularly for his fascinating new book Salt Sugar Fat, for many of these terms.)
Food companies don’t want their customers to be obese, of course, but what they are dedicated to is increasing stomach share, or the market share within a food category . . . . [P]rocessed-food companies increasingly turn to their legions of scientists to produce foods that we can’t resist. These food geeks tweak their products by varying the levels of the three so-called pillar ingredients — salt, sugar, and fat.
Why not just crank these ingredients up to 11 if we crave them so much? It turns out that although we generally do like more of them, when you go past a certain amount, we like the result less. That optimum amount of salt, sugar, or fat is called the bliss point. Scientists also adjust these ingredients as well as factors such as crunchiness to produce a mouthfeel — that is, the way the food feels inside a person’s mouth — that causes consumers to crave more. Technologists can also induce a flavor burst by altering the size and shape of the salt crystals themselves so that they basically assault the taste buds into submission.
The holy grail of junk-food science is vanishing caloric density, where the food melts in your mouth so quickly that the brain is fooled into thinking it’s hardly consuming any calories at all, so it just keeps snacking . . . . [T]he real goals are either passive overeating, which is the excessive eating of foods that are high in fat because the human body is slow to recognize the caloric content of rich foods, or auto-eating: that is, eating without thinking or without even being hungry.
— Paul McFedries, “The Jargon of Junk Food,” IEEE Spectrum, May 31, 2013
In 1972, Theodore Roszak wrote a brief reflection on the fairly apocalyptic state of mainstream food culture in America and technological society at large. It was later included in one of the most wrenching and inspiring gut punches of a book you could ever read, Less Is More: An Anthology of Ancient & Modern Voices Raised in Praise of Simplicity, assembled and edited by Goldian VandenBroeck and bearing an introduction by none other than E. F. Schumacher. I invite or dare you to read it and contemplate how far we have failed to come — despite the various counter-trends that have arisen in America since 1972 (farmer’s markets, the organic food movement, foodies and foodism, etc.) — since Roszak first offered this disturbing thought experiment as a diagnosis and indictment of how industrial-technocratic civilization has mistreated other peoples and the natural world while developing a wholesale case of neurotic self-delusion about its own moral character:
Those who anguish over a starving mankind on the easy assumption that there just is not enough land and resources to feed the hungry might do well to pay a special kind of visit to their local supermarket. Not to shop, but to observe and to meditate on what they see before them and have always taken for granted. How much of the world’s land and labor was wasted producing the tobacco, the coffee, the tea, the refined cane sugars, the polished rice, the ice creams, the candies, the cookies, the soft drinks, the thousand and one non-nutritional luxuries one finds there? The grains that become liquor, the fruits and vegetables that lost all their food value going into cans and jars full of syrups and condiments, the potatoes and corn that became various kinds of chips, crackles, crunchies, and yum-yums, the cereals that became breakfast novelties less nourishing (as a matter of scientific fact) than the boxes they are packed in, the wheat that became white breads and pastry flours . . . . How many forests perished to package these non-foods? How many resources went into transporting and processing them? (And the less nutrition, the more processing.) How much skilled energy went into advertising and merchandising them? There they stand in our markets, row upon row, aisle upon aisle of nutritional zero, gaily boxed and packed, and costing those fancy prices we then gripe about as the high cost of living.
It is out of such routine extravagances that the technocracy weaves its spell over our allegiance . . . and then assures us we are the hope of the world.
For a visual commentary, see the last half of this two-minute excerpt from Koyaanisqatsi:
For the past several decades, the term mind-body connection has been used to refer to the idea, familiar in both the world of alternative health care and the world of “positive thinking,” that our thoughts and emotions can exert a powerful effect on our physical health. I’ve personally verified and validated this to an extent in my own life by discovering that a proper regulation of inner states and outlooks, aided by much introspection, meditation, and other attentional/concentrative disciplines, undeniably contributes to better physical health. (One of the most interesting and preternaturally effective practices is simply to direct neutral awareness to the site of any pain or discomfort, and to feel it as deeply and fully as possible, searching out its inner “shape” and relaxing into it. But that’s another story.)
Thanks to my being saddled with reactive hypoglycemia, I’ve also had to become hyper-aware of the effects flowing in the opposite direction: the effects not of mind upon body but of body upon mind. Eating the wrong things, or the right things at the wrong time of day, can result in fairly catastrophic deteriorations of my inner state, both cognitively and emotionally.
Today a neat little article at Big Think focuses specifically on this issue (the effects of nutrition on the mind), and is well worth your time:
If you believe your emotions can affect your health, nutritionist-author Nora Gedgaudas would say you’ve got another thing coming. In her view, your emotions are largely a product of your health.
At the Ancestral Health Symposium this month at UCLA Gedgaudas spoke about “the myth of the ‘mind-body connection’ and how diet can powerfully impact mental health and cognitive performance” and she expanded on this in an interview with Age of Engagement. “Emotions are biochemical storms in the body and brain,” she says. “The healthier your biochemistry, of course, the better the emotional and also the cognitive forecast.” Psychological issues have physiological underpinnings, she says, not the other way around. Nor are they a result of outside issues.
But what if we have serious problems in life and they drag us down mentally? “What we choose to focus on is largely a product of biochemistry,” she says. “We see absolutely everything through this lens that is our blood sugar stability (…), our hormones and our neurotransmitters.”
Full story at Big Think.