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The Big Trip: How psychedelic drugs are changing lives and transforming psychiatry

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For decades, hallucinogens have been associated with technicolour dance floors, sitar-driven Beatles tunes and the controversial evangelism of Timothy Leary.

But today, drugs like LSD and MDMA are undergoing a radical transformation — from party drug to potentially revolutionary treatment tool.

Around the world, clinical trials are examining psychedelic drug therapy as a possible treatment for everything from PTSD to cigarette addiction.

Listen to our special, hour-long radio edition of The Big Trip, a special Day 6 program about the latest in psychedelic drug research.

Researchers believe psychedelic drug therapy could help treat everything from PTSD to cigarette addiction. We explore hallucinogens’ transformation from party drugs to potentially revolutionary treatment tools. 54:00

To date, many of the studies have been preliminary, with small sample sizes.

But experts say MDMA and psilocybin — better known as ecstasy and the key ingredient in magic mushrooms — could be available for prescription use within the next five years.

Earlier this year, Day 6 spoke with the researchers behind the studies — and the patients who say psychedelic therapy has changed their lives.

Here are some of their stories.

The army veteran

Sergeant Jon Lubecky says MDMA-assisted psychotherapy saved his life. (Submitted by Jonathan Lubecky)

On Christmas Eve in 2006, Sergeant Jon Lubecky put a gun to his temple and pulled the trigger.

He was at peace with the decision to end his life. But the bullet never came.

Earlier that year, Lubecky had suffered a traumatic brain injury during a mortar strike on the base where he’d served in Iraq. When he returned to the United States, he was diagnosed with severe post-traumatic stress disorder.

“I’d wake up hearing explosions that weren’t there,” he recalled.

For eight years, Lubecky struggled with traumatic flashbacks and severe depression. None of the treatments he tried made a meaningful difference.

Then, in 2014, a medical intern handed him a cryptic note that said: “Google MDMA PTSD.”

Later that year, with a trained therapist at his side, Lubecky took ecstasy for the first time.

A gloved hand holds three tablets of MDMA, more commonly known as Ecstasy. (Ross Land/Getty Images)

He was one of 24 participants in a small study in Charleston, South Carolina using MDMA-assisted psychotherapy to treat severe, treatment-resistant PTSD.

Years later, he says his PTSD symptoms are largely gone.

“It was a miracle that changed my life.”

Lubecky says MDMA-assisted psychotherapy empowered him to work through his trauma. 1:00

He wasn’t alone: 67 per cent of the study’s participants were still PTSD-free one year after their treatment.

In 2018, researchers launched a Phase 3 clinical trial looking at MDMA-assisted psychotherapy in collaboration with Health Canada and the FDA.

If their findings line up with earlier studies, they say MDMA could be a legal prescription drug by 2021.

Other psychedelic compounds could be on a similar path — and mental health advocates aren’t the only ones taking note.

George Goldsmith first became aware of the renaissance in psychedelic drug research when his son, who suffered from treatment-resistant depression, was treated with ketamine.

In 2016, Goldsmith became the co-founder of Compass Pathways, one of the first for-profit companies seeking capitalize on psychedelic drug research.

He believes psilocybin, the key ingredient in magic mushrooms, could be a legal prescription drug as early as 2022.

Lubecky believes psychedelic therapy has the potential to eradicate PTSD.

“I have really high hopes.”

For more about Jon’s story and the burgeoning psychedelic drug industry, check out Part One of The Big Trip.

The medical student

Octavian Mihai says psychedelic therapy helped alleviate his severe anxiety after a cancer diagnosis. (Submitted by Octavian Mihai)

Octavian Mihai was officially declared cancer-free in 2013, but his mental health was steadily getting worse.

At 21, the NYU student was terrified that the cancer might come back. After his treatment ended, those worries spiralled out of control.

“It was just crippling anxiety,” he said.

Deeply concerned for his mental health, his doctor put Mihai in touch with a team of researchers at NYU who were studying psychedelic therapy as a possible treatment for anxiety in cancer patients.

Later that year, after weeks of careful preparation, Mihai put on a pair of noise-cancelling headphones and ingested a little white capsule of psilocybin.

One gram of psilocybin, the psychoactive ingredient in hallucinogenic mushrooms, is seen on a scale at New York University. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

He spent the next eight hours on an intense psychedelic journey — one that lifted him outside himself, and ultimately helped him overcome his fear of dying.

“I lost complete sensation of my body, and I just lifted myself to a different plane,” he said.

During his eight-hour psychedelic trip, Octavian says he felt his anxiety fall away. 1:17

Researchers are still working to determine exactly how psychedelic drugs affect the mind.

According to psychologist Alison Gopnik, psilocybin decreases activity in the brain’s “default mode network,” which is responsible for generating our sense of self.

Gopnik believes the disruption of that network could increase our flexibility in thought, paving the way for new perspectives.

“What psilocybin seems to do is to push an adult brain back more to that state of exploration and learning,” she said.

Five years later, Mihai’s cancer-related anxiety has never returned.

“I’ve lived every day not worried about it.”

For more about Octavian’s story and the science behind psychedelic drug therapy, check out Part Two of The Big Trip.

The lifelong smoker

Alice O’Donnell underwent psilocybin therapy in 2012 as part of a smoking cessation trial. She never smoked again. (Submitted by Alice O’Donnell)

For nearly 40 years, cigarettes were Alice O’Donnell’s constant companion.

“Cigarettes were the crutch,” she said. “I finally reached the point that I could not go to sleep at night unless I knew I had at least a half a pack of cigarettes available for morning.”

Over the years, she tried unsuccessfully to quit many times. But after a Pilates class left her on the verge of collapse, she decided to ditch the habit for good.

Shortly thereafter, in 2012, she enrolled in a Johns Hopkins University study using psilocybin as a tool for smoking cessation.

The drug induced powerful hallucinations, including a disturbing vision of her own damaged lungs.

According to Johns Hopkins University, 80 per cent of participants in the smoking cessation trial that Alice joined still hadn’t touched a cigarette six months after their psychedelic experience. (Sebastien Bozon/Getty Images)

Alice never smoked again, but she says the drugs had other benefits as well: “Just the whole expansion of my thought processes; realizing how great the universe is out there,” she said.

Researcher Matthew Johnson, who helped facilitate Alice’s psychedelic therapy, likened the experience to a “crash course in meditation.”

During her psychedelic therapy session, O’Donnell says she felt as though she travelled inside her own body. 0:49

Those apparent benefits lead some academics, including Jules Evans, a philosopher who studies “ecstatic experiences,” to speculate that psychedelic drug therapy could eventually become a mainstream wellness practice.

Evans believes many people could benefit from access to the drugs. But he also warns that experiences like Alice’s are far from inevitable.

Rather, they tend to be shaped by the expectations of researchers and therapists who serve as guides.

“The music that they play is going to affect your trip; the instructions that you get on the trip are going to guide it,” Evans said. “The way that your therapist helps you to make sense of your experience will shape it as well.”

Moreover, for people who are predisposed to conditions like schizophrenia, the drugs can have negative long-term consequences.

Nonetheless, O’Donnell hopes clinical psychedelic therapy will become more widely available in the future.

“I definitely think more people could benefit from it.”

To learn why some researchers believe psychedelic therapy could become a mainstream wellness tool, check out Part Three of The Big Trip.


For more from Jon, Octavian, Alice and many others whose lives have been changed by psychedelic drug research, follow this link for our special, hour-long radio edition of The Big Trip.

The Big Trip was written, reported and produced by Day 6 producer Annie Bender. 

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Post-vaccine surge? Michigan’s spring coronavirus case spike close to previous year’s autumn high

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(Natural News) The spike in new Wuhan coronavirus infections recorded in Michigan over the spring is similar to a spike seen during the 2020 fall season. According to a Wall Street Journal analysis, the state’s daily coronavirus case count averaged more than 7,000 for almost two weeks – before taking a slight dip to 6,891 on April 20. This echoed similar figures back in November and December 2020, which saw sharp rises in infections for those two months before plunging.

Back in autumn of last year, Michigan averaged more than 7,000 cases per day for a span of 10 days. New infections dropped slightly, then briefly spiked as the December holidays approached. It then fell to the low 1,000s for the succeeding two months – until ascending again in March.

According to University of Michigan internal medicine professor Dr. Vikas Parekh, the sudden increase in new infections could be attributed to several factors. Among the factors he cited was re-openings, which increased people’s interactions and mobility. Parekh said the loosened restrictions contributed to the spread of the highly contagious U.K. B117 variant.

“As the B117 variant spreads nationally, we will likely see other stats [with] their own surges – although I hope none are as bad as Michigan,” the professor remarked. He continued: “The milestone just tells us we are not yet in the clear, especially as we still have large portions of our population who are not vaccinated yet.”

Parekh also expressed optimism over the lower daily caseloads the Great Lakes State reported. He said he believes both cases and hospitalizations have plateaued and will likely decline soon. The professor commented: “[COVID-19] positivity has been declining now for one week, which is usually a leading indicator of case decline.”

Meanwhile, the state cited younger populations and youth sports, such as basketball, wrestling and hockey, to increase new COVID-19 infections. Because of this, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer called to suspend youth sports and indoor dining in the state. She also exhorted high schools to conduct remote class sessions for two weeks to curb the spread of the pathogen.

Michigan still experienced the spike in cases despite having one of the highest vaccination rates in the country

During the opening stages of the U.S.’s immunization drive against COVID-19, Michigan boasted of having one of the highest vaccination rates nationwide. A report by Bridge Michigan even noted the initial “frenzy for vaccines” that “far exceeded the state’s limited supply.” But things have appeared to turn around for Michigan, as it now struggles to reach the 70 percent vaccination rate needed for herd immunity.

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Scottish mom’s legs turn into a pair of “giant blisters” after first dose of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine

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(Natural News) Sarah Beuckmann of Glasgow, Scotland, felt a tingling sensation in her legs and noticed a rash flaring up around her ankles a week after getting her first dose of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine on March 18.

She also had flu-like symptoms right after the vaccination.

Beuckmann called her doctor to arrange an appointment the morning she noticed the rash, but by the afternoon her skin was already breaking out into blood-filled blisters. Blisters also appeared on her legs, hands, face, arms and bottom.

“I ended up asking my husband to take me to A&E,” said Beuckmann, referring to “accident and emergency,” the equivalent of an emergency room (ER). “When I got there, my heart rate was sitting at 160bpm, which they were very concerned about. I got put on an ECG machine.”

Doctors determine AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine triggers the rash

Medics carried out tests for HIV, herpes and other skin conditions to work out what triggered the rash, but all results came back negative. Doctors finally determined that the vaccine caused her rare reaction after carrying out two biopsies.

“Once they found that it was a reaction to the vaccine, they put me on steroids and that really seems to be helping my progress,” said Beuckmann. She had been advised by her doctor not to get the second dose of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine because of her reaction.

Beuckmann spent 16 days at Queen Elizabeth University Hospital. She was discharged to recover at home. The 34-year-old mother of one is currently wheelchair-bound due to the bandages on her legs and blisters on the soles of her feet. She may need physiotherapy to help strengthen her leg muscles.

“They are starting to heal and they’re looking a lot better than they were but as the blisters started to get worse, they all sort of merged together,” she said. “I didn’t know what was going on.”

With the blisters merging, her legs have looked like a pair of “giant blisters.” Beuckmann admitted that at one point she feared her legs might have to be amputated.

Dermatologist agrees COVID-19 vaccine causes the blisters

Dr. Emma Wedgeworth, a consultant dermatologist and spokeswoman at the British Skin Foundation, agreed that Beuckmann had likely suffered a reaction to the vaccine.

“Vaccines are designed to activate the immune system. Occasionally people will have quite dramatic activation of their immune systems which, as happened in this case, can manifest in their skin” Wedgeworth told MailOnline. “This poor lady had a very severe reaction, which thankfully is extremely rare.”

It is not clear why Beuckmann, who works in retail, was invited for a vaccine. Scotland’s vaccine rollout was focused on people over the age of 50 when she got vaccinated, although vaccines are available to those who are considered at risk from the virus, or live with someone considered vulnerable.

At least 20 million Briton have had AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine, which drug regulators say causes a rash in one percent of cases. They say rashes caused by the jab tend to go away within a week.

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Trojan labs? Chinese biotech company offers to build COVID testing labs in six states

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In 2012, BGI acquired Complete Genomics, a DNA sequencing company and equipment maker. The funds for the $117.6 million purchase were raised from Chinese venture capitals. The company has expanded its footprint globally. According to its website, BGI conducts business in more than 100 countries and areas and has 11 offices and labs in the U.S.

People are concerned about China’s access to American DNA data

Some said that with Complete Genomics providing an American base, BGI would have access to more DNA samples from Americans, helping it compile a huge database of genetic information. Some also worried about the protection of the genetic information’s privacy.

According to a 2019 report from the U.S.–China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC), BGI “has formed numerous partnerships with U.S. healthcare providers and research organizations to provide large-scale genetic sequencing to support medical research efforts,”

There are three main reasons why many people in the biotech community and government have expressed concerns about China’s access to American DNA data.

In the “60 Minutes” interview, Evanina discussed the very likely scenario in which Chinese companies would be able to micro-target American individuals and offer customized preventative solutions based on their DNA.

Evanina asked: “Do we want to have another nation systematically eliminate our healthcare services? Are we okay with that as a nation?”

The second concern is that China may use DNA to track and attack American individuals. As the USCC report states: “China could target vulnerabilities in specific individuals brought to light by genomic data or health records. Individuals targeted in such attacks would likely be strategically identified persons, such as diplomats, politicians, high-ranking federal officials or military leadership.”

The third concern is that China may devise bioweapons to target non-Asians. Steven Mosher, president of the Population Research Institute, discussed it in his article “What Will China Do With Your DNA?” published by The Epoch Times in March 2019.

He wrote: “We know that the Asian genome is genetically distinct from the Caucasian and African in many ways. … Would it be possible to bioengineer a very virulent version of, say, smallpox, that was easily transmitted, fatal to other races, but to which the Chinese enjoyed a natural immunity? … Given our present ability to manipulate genomes, if such a bio-weapon can be imagined, it can probably – given enough time and resources – be realized.”

An article from Technocracy said: “China’s aggressive collection of American DNA should be doubly alarming because it can only spell one ultimate outcome: biowarfare. That is, genetically engineering viruses or other diseases that will be selectively harmful to U.S. populations.”

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