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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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Researchers warn about the severe psychological distress caused by eating junk food

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(Natural News) Does junk food make you sad? While the current state of the American food industry is more than enough to make anyone feel depressed, new research from Loma Linda University demonstrates a link between junk-laden diets and psychological distress. Based on their findings, it appears that what you eat can and does affect your mental health — and that the prepackaged garbage peddled as “food” can have a seriously deleterious effect on your emotional well-being.

Even after adjusting for other external factors, the scientists found this relationship held steady: The more junk food a person ate, the more distress they reported feeling. When you consider the physiological effects junk food has on the body, it is no wonder that people report feeling like they are more distressed: They are in distress, they just don’t know it’s because of what the “food” they’re eating is doing to them on the inside.

Estimates suggest that the average American gets 60 percent of their daily calories from processed or junk food. Junk food consumption is a widespread problem here in the United States. Now, there are questions about whether or not junk food is a driving force in the plague of insanity (and stupidity) striking the U.S.

Scientists link junk food to poor mental health

Published in the journal International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition in early 2019, a study from Loma Linda University scientists finds a link between poor diet and poor mental health. Even after adjusting for external factors such as gender, age, education and income level, the association between junk food intake and mental illness remained.

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Study leader Jim E. Banta, Ph.D., MPH, an associate professor at the school, says that their conclusions support the findings of previous research. To conduct their study, Banta and his team looked at data from the California Health Interview Survey (CHIS). The scientists used 240,000 phone surveys conducted by CHIS between 2005 and 2015, and included data on socio-demographics, health status and health behaviors.

“This and other studies like it could have big implications for treatments in behavorial medicine,” Banta said of the findings.

“Perhaps the time has come for us to take a closer look at the role of diet in mental health, because it could be that healthy diet choices contribute to mental health. More research is needed before we can answer definitively, but the evidence seems to be pointing in that direction,” he added.

The fact that scientists in the 21st century are only now just beginning to even consider the possibility of a relationship between nutrition and mental health is truly disturbing. Natural health practitioners have long been aware of the importance of good nutrition for total well-being, including mental state.

Is poor nutrition turning America insane?

Vitamin D deficiency is a well-known cause of depression. B vitamins, iron, selenium and magnesium also support good mental health and deficiencies in these nutrients can also cause depression and anxiety. There is a growing body of research which strongly supports poor nutrition as a causative factor not only in depression, but in other mental illnesses — including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, OCD and more.

For example, Dr. Banta notes that some research has linked high sugar consumption to bipolar disorder, while fried foods and processed grains are linked to depression. There is no ignoring the link between diet and disease — whether it is of the body or of the mind makes no difference.

Nearly 60 percent of the American population’s diet comes from disease-causing food, and it is hard not to wonder if obesity, heart disease and death aren’t the only problems being caused by junk food diets.

Are the increasingly insane leftists just running around in a nutrient-deprived, sugar-spiked frenzy? Whether you’re talking about the inanity of “social justice” score-keeping or the rapid acceptance of censorship to silence conservatives, it’s clear that the far left is missing a few bolts upstairs. A diet of GMOs, pesticides and toxic food additives will do that to you, though.

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Eat healthier to improve your physical and mental well-being

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(Natural News) The physical health and mental well-being of a person depend a lot on nutrition and the food that he eats. Diet also influences the risk of developing chronic diseases. While the relationship between physical health and diet is well-understood, little is known about how diet and its quality influence the development of mental disorders. In a recent study, researchers from the University of Regensburg in Germany investigated the behavioral effects of a Western diet on pattern separation – the process of keeping items distinct in memory. They discovered that a diet consisting of increased amounts of sugar and saturated fatty acids, reduced levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids, and an increased ratio of omega-6/omega-3 fatty acids (Western diet) harms memory. The results of their study were published in the journal Food Science and Human Wellness.

The Western diet impairs pattern separation

In this study, researchers investigated the utility of spatial separation – a behavioral process associated with the hippocampus – in the assessment of dietary interventions and the behavioral effects of the transgenerational administration of a Western diet on pattern separation. Pattern separation is the process of keeping items distinct in memory and is mediated by the hippocampus. Previous studies have suggested that there is a relationship between hippocampal function and diet quality in both humans and animals.

To examine the association between them, the researchers used rats, feeding over seven generations a diet containing increased amounts of sugar and saturated fatty acids, reduced levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids, and an increased ratio of omega-6/omega-3 fatty acids. This diet composition is characteristic of a diet known as the Western diet. The researchers administered it transgenerationally because previous studies have shown that interventional diets need to be implemented over several generations to induce behavioral effects.

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They compared the spatial pattern separation (or local discrimination) performance of these animals with that of rats fed a standard diet. For the test, they presented the rats two locations and allowed them to learn across trials to respond to the correct location. During spatial discrimination training, they designated a location as the correct one and rewarded the rats if they touched the correct location. They reversed the correct and incorrect locations every time the rats successfully got the correct ones nine times out of 10 trials.

The researchers found a separation-dependent difference between the standard and Western diet groups in the number of discriminations performed in the pattern separation task. The rats fed with a Western diet performed fewer discriminations. Rats with lesions in the dorsal hippocampus showed impaired pattern separation when the locations were close together but not when they were far apart. The researchers associated this impairment with hippocampal dysfunctioning. Their results align with previous studies which demonstrated that consumption of a Western diet impaired cognitive functions, damaged brain regions, and contributed to the occurrence of neurodegenerative diseases. Their results confirmed that pattern separation could be negatively affected by transgenerational administration of a Western diet.

The researchers concluded that spatial pattern separation can help detect the effects of dietary interventions and that the Western diet can impair pattern separation.

How to make your diet healthier

A healthy diet can provide many benefits, the most important of which is the prevention of chronic diseases. Here are some things that you can do to make your diet healthier:

  • Eat slowly
  • Choose whole grains
  • Add probiotics to your diet
  • Increase your protein intake
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Avoid frying food and eating fast food
  • Take vitamin and mineral supplements
  • Try new and healthy recipes
  • Eat vegetables first before every meal
  • Eat fruits instead of drinking them
  • Exercise regularly
  • Stop drinking sweetened beverages
  • Get adequate sleep

Eating healthier and becoming aware of your nutritional needs will not only improve your physical health, but these will also benefit your mental and emotional well-being.

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Apples: Eat them to keep the doctor away – and boost stem cell therapy

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(Natural News) There is some truth behind the saying, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Apples are superfoods, and they are good sources of antioxidants that protect cells from oxidative damage and boost the immune system. They also contain dietary fiber, which is good for digestion and the maintenance of gut microbiota. But there is more to apples than just being healthy, antioxidant fruits. In a recent study published in the journal Nutrition Research, researchers from Sungkyunkwan University in South Korea showed the beneficial effect of apple extracts on the proliferation of adult stem cells. They also identified the possible molecular mechanisms underlying apple’s pro-proliferative effects.

Apple ethanol extracts can enhance the proliferation of stem cells useful for tissue regeneration

Tissue regeneration using adult stem cells (ASCs) has significant potential in the treatment of many degenerative diseases. It also provides a promising means of repairing chronic tissue or organ failure due to injuries, congenital defects, and aging. Stem cells are essential in regenerative medicine because they can be used directly in cell replacement therapies. However, studies on their application in clinical settings suggest that age negatively affects the proliferation status and differentiation potential of ASCs. This presents a possible limitation in their therapeutic use.

In the hopes of addressing this limitation, researchers turned their attention to the pro-proliferative activity of apples. Apples are rich sources of valuable phytochemicals that are known to be beneficial to human health. They possess anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and even anticancer activities. These antioxidants can help maintain human cells and protect them from harmful oxidation products. In addition, apples contain metabolites that could ensure longevity and increase the number of human cells in culture. (Related: Apples could hold key for increasing lifespan.)

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Because of this, researchers hypothesized that apple extracts might exert beneficial effects on ASCs. They obtained apple extracts using ethanol as the extraction solvent and tested these on human adipose tissue-derived mesenchymal stem cells (ADSCs) and human cord blood-derived mesenchymal stem cells (CB-MSCs). They also used 3-(4,5-dimethylthiazol-2-yl)-2,5-diphenyltetrazolium bromide and Click-iT 5-ethynyl-2?-deoxyuridine flow cytometry assays to evaluate the pro-proliferative effects of the extracts.

The researchers found that treatment with apple extracts promoted the proliferation of ADSCs and CB-MSCs. Apple extracts also induced the stepwise phosphorylation of p44/42 MAPK (ERK), mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR), p70 S6 kinase (p70S6K), S6 ribosomal protein (S6RP), eukaryotic initiation factor (eIF) 4B, and eIF4E in ADSCs. p44/42 MAPK (ERK) is a signaling pathway involved in the regulation of cell proliferation and differentiation. Inhibition of this pathway results in cell apoptosis. mTOR is a key signaling node that coordinates cell cycle progression and cell growth. p70S6K is a cytokine that regulates cell growth by inducing protein synthesis. eIFs, on the other hand, are proteins or protein complexes involved in translation and protein biosynthesis.

The researchers also reported that apple extracts significantly induced the production of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) and interleukin-6 (IL-6) in both ADSCs and CB-MSCs. VEGF is a potent angiogenic factor, which means it promotes the formation of blood vessels. VEGF also plays a role in other physiological functions, such as hematopoiesis, wound healing, and development. IL-6 is a promoter of proliferation. The researchers further confirmed that the apple extract-induced proliferation of ADSCs under serum-free conditions is mediated by ERK-dependent cytokine production because when they pre-treated cells with PD98059, a specific ERK inhibitor, it inhibited the phosphorylation of the mTOR/p70S6K/S6RP/eIF4B/eIF4E pathway.

Based on these findings, the researchers concluded that extracts from apples are potent pro-proliferative agents, and the beneficial effect of apple extract on the proliferation of ASCs may overcome the limitation in their therapeutic use in tissue regeneration.

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