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4 Psychedelic Drugs That Are Shockingly Beneficial in Treating Mental Health Issues

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Psychedelic drugs have been used across cultures for centuries, but only recently has modern science begun to tap into the potential use of these drugs as a mental health treatment.

The word psychedelic comes from two Greek roots: “psyche,” meaning mind/soul, and “Delos/delic,” meaning to reveal. Thus, the word translates to “soul/ mind revealing.”

Unfortunately, for this potentially revolutionary mental health treatment, the long-held stigma towards drugs continues to complicate research. For a while, this made it nearly impossible to continue looking into the potential benefits of psychedelic drugs. These restrictions are loosening, however, and the FDA has even called psilocybin therapy a “breakthrough therapy.” This means more and more researchers are able to study these drugs. The findings are often groundbreaking.

 Trials are currently underway to test psychedelic drugs including psilocybin, LSD, ketamine, and others in order to treat a predicted mental health epidemic that is beginning to occur as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. While more research is needed, preliminary findings are shockingly successful in treating mental health issues including, but not limited to, PTSD, depression, drug addiction, and anxiety.

A red mushroom with white dots growing in dirt, referred to as a magic mushroom.
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Psilocybin (Magic Mushrooms)

Research done with Psilocybin suggests that it may be successful in providing a lasting decrease in anxiety for people suffering from life-threatening diseases such as cancer. 

In combination with therapy, the drug helped 13 participants “grapple with loss and existential distress.” Nearly all participants reported that they developed a different understanding of dying after using the drug according to Gabby Agin-Liebes, BA, of Palo Alto University, who conducted the research.

“Participants made spiritual or religious interpretations of their experience and the psilocybin treatment helped facilitate a reconnection to life, greater mindfulness and presence, and gave them more confidence when faced with cancer recurrence,” said Agin-Liebes.

Another study suggests that psilocybin can be used on patients with treatment-resistant depression with promising results. The results show symptom improvements for the patients after just two psilocybin treatment sessions which remained significant 6 months after the treatment.

Ayahuasca

Ayahuasca has played an important part in many South American traditional religions for centuries. This plant-derived psychoactive drug was first formulated by indigenous South Americans of the Amazon basin.

 Some communities that use the drug regularly still exist in the 21st century despite exploitative measures of Western nations who saw the drug as “uncivilized.” The substance is typically prepared by a shaman or religious guide and ingested by members of a religious group. The substance is regarded as a valuable tool in places of worship. 

Ayahuasca has only recently been studied as a potential treatment for depression and addiction, or for people coping with trauma. 

“We found that ayahuasca also fostered an increase in generosity, spiritual connection and altruism,” said Clancy Cavnar, PhD, with Núcleo de Estudos Interdisciplinares sobre Psicoativos.

Adele Lafrance, Ph.D., of Laurentian University, highlighted a study of 159 participants who reported on past use of hallucinogens and their emotions and spirituality levels. The study found that using hallucinogens related to a higher level of spirituality and emotional wellbeing as well as fewer symptoms of disordered eating, depression, and anxiety.

Swirling colorful patterns depicting the affects of LSD.
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LSD

A 2016 study found that after taking LSD, healthy participants reported increased optimism and trait openness. The study seems to reinforce the idea that psychedelics improve psychological wellbeing in the mid-long term.

 LSD, like Psilocybin and Ayahuasca, shows promise as a treatment for anxiety and depression among other conditions. It is also commonly reported to increase spirituality and, in turn, emotional wellbeing. 

In an interview with an anonymous source, they claimed that taking LSD substantially decreased their levels of social anxiety.

“Going into the trip, I set an intention to address my feelings of anxiety around my self-perception,” they said. “By focusing on this throughout the trip, I was shocked by how much happier I felt afterward.”
They say that the positive effects have continued in the months following the experience. “I can’t believe how much more self-assured I feel now. It is like night and day.” 

They want to remind everyone that it is a serious drug and not to underestimate the power of it, and not to abuse it. “If you are going to trip, you need to do a lot of research and be in a safe environment with people you trust.”  While they continue to experience long-term positive effects, they know it is not the same for everyone. 

MDMA

MDMA, more commonly known as ecstasy, is in its third and last phase of clinical trials and is hoping to win approval by the FDA to treat post-traumatic stress disorder. 

Findings from the study also suggest that the drug can help treat social anxiety in autistic adults when used in combination with psychotherapy. Twelve adults in the study with moderate to severe anxiety showed “significant and long-lasting reductions in their symptoms” according to the research. 

“Social anxiety is prevalent in autistic adults and few treatment options have been shown to be effective,” said Alicia Danforth, Ph.D., of the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute at the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, who conducted the study. MDMA and therapy, based on this research, could be a potential breakthrough for this condition.

These studies only represent a small percentage of a larger database of information on the potential benefits of psychedelic drugs. While the findings are promising, more research is needed. Self-treatment using these drugs is risky and potentially dangerous.

If you are interested, contact a medical professional and continue to do extensive research before taking any type of psychedelic. Waiting until they are an FDA approved treatment option will be the safest and most effective way to treat any mental health condition.

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Pounds over Promise: The Cycle of Diet Culture and New Years Resolutions

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Food sitting on a white plate on a table with a fork and knife beside it.

At the start of a new year, everyone wants to start fresh. A few new styles, some changes to the daily routine, and sometimes, a big resolution. A very popular New Year’s resolution is to lose weight. How to do it? There are answers everywhere! Scrolling through Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter, there’s bound to be someone talking about a new diet they’re trying. Influencers have been infamous for peddling dangerous diets to fanbases of young women and girls. Even mothers are not free from their reach. Bloggers like lonijane on Instagram showed how her body looked before and after cheating on her vegan diet. The combination of New Year’s resolutions and these various diets is a recipe for disaster. Diet culture around the first month of the New Year is intense and even dangerous. 

What is “diet culture”? 

Diet culture is described as a desire to lose weight at all costs, and puts losing weight over wellbeing. It is a combination of advertisements and what the advertisements make us feel. The feelings of inferiority or discomfort with your body are precisely what the industry feeds off of. Whether it’s a new diet every week, or even directly associating worth with weight, it is hard to escape.

Especially around the start of the New Year, diet culture is pervasive. Even on January 1, it’s been shown that topics surrounding dieting and exercise spike in search volume. Some particularly cruel advertisements from gyms feed into a sense of inferiority and reap the profits. In 2017, about 10.8% of subscriptions to over 6,400 gyms happened in January. The nature of what a diet should be is also constantly changing: keto, juice cleanses, the baby food diet, paleo… reading through the advertisements is enough to give someone whiplash.

Impact of influencers on diet culture

The advertisements don’t only come from the corporations— or not directly. Influencers are a major way for corporations to boost their product. Ads are nothing new, but the personal nature of Instagram, where people will also post parts of their life, is something different. What’s especially worrisome is that these influencers often have a huge following of minors, intentionally or not. More than one-third of teenagers in Germany aged 14 to 17 deliberately seek out influencers. Over 84% of the content from female influencers is related to health, diet, and fitness. Attractive and uniform, they promote a singular way of living and looking. It’s easy and profitable for them to do it that way. The issue is that there are a wide variety of bodies that exist. There is no “one size fits all” for health. Allergies, chronic conditions, and genes are all important factors. 

An old newspaper clipping for the blitz diet.
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How might influencers impact young people later in life, girls especially, as they can closely control their diet? 

Guilty over existence

There are worries about “quarantine pounds”, as people have been stuck inside due to COVID-19. Nutritionists are worried that individuals will be more susceptible to weight loss advertisements. The guilt over quarantine pounds stack up, on top of the pre-existing guilt instilled by advertisements.

A poignant way that advertisers promote body shame is “before and after” shots. To show the efficacy of their product or program, diet companies will show the amount of weight lost after using their product. These pictures directly associate the “before” picture with bad or undesirable. People with these bodies are being shamed, and repeatedly seeing those images will have a lasting impression. Especially at the start of the year, when seeing one’s stomach after holiday meals, insecurity digs in. 

These insecurities start young, but it’s not only by influencers. A study of mother-daughter pairs showed that daughters of dieting moms would start dieting before they were eleven. Given how close-quartered people are during quarantine, it’s likely that children will pick up on their family’s habits. Recently, there have been movements to stop mentioning weight around children. Whether the discussion is about the child’s weight or the parent’s, the children pick up on the criticism. Even people who aren’t parents can have a lasting impression. “She said, as if talking to herself, ‘Pretty face… have you ever thought about trying to lose weight?’” wrote a NYT contributor on her teenage experience with a friend’s mother. These comments linger and dig in, and around the holidays, they are especially amplified. 

Hope for body positivity

Very recently, with stars like Lizzo proudly showing their nontraditional bodies, there has been an emphasis on accepting various looks. Plus-size models have made their ways onto catwalks and into major magazines, without necessarily acknowledging that they are plus size. YouTubers have made videos specifically showing how influencers may take their photos, so young girls may feel better about themselves. While the holidays are still bombarded with advertisements and commercials, there are still people reminding you of your worth.

An old newspaper clipping on how to lose weight in 30 days.
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Don’t feel ashamed for enjoying holiday food or eating more during winter! There’s a reason bears hibernate, and given the exhaustion of 2020, I think we all deserve it.

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5 Unique Tips for a Fresh Start in 2021

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As the pandemic looms on and remote working continues, it feels increasingly difficult to find new and better ways to start fresh in the new year. Especially at home, your immediate thoughts might jump to the towering pile of boxes in your garage or the mysterious mold that’s been growing in your shower. Of course, the ongoing pandemic has caused a worldwide case of stress-based quarantine clutter, and it’s definitely important to set aside a day (or three) to clean out that accumulated mess. 

At the same time, however, while cleaning out your physical space has been proven to improve your mental health, there exist many other methods to help clear your mind and start this year with a renewed outlook. 

Here are 5 unique tips for a fresh start in 2021

Tip #1: Mindful Eating 

Before the pandemic, when we were all rushing to our next class, to an appointment or to work, eating might have felt like an automatic or even tedious act. Now, researchers are noting the effects of the “Quarantine 15”, the weight gain many people are facing as a result of the stay-at-home orders due to the pandemic. 

As we spend another year at home, you should skip the fad diets this year and instead opt for the kinder, more attentive realm of mindful eating. Grounded in the Buddhist concept of mindfulness, mindful eating consists of a variety of ways in which you can strive to be more observant of how, when, and why you eat. 

A bowl of oatmeal and berries and banana slices.
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Whether it’s eating slower or recognizing the distinct taste of your food, you can learn to slow down and grow a greater sense of appreciation for not only the food you eat, but also the ritual of eating. This doesn’t mean that you need to give up your morning coffee or stop munching on your favorite brand of chips. Mindful eating instead encourages you to pause for a moment, really taste your coffee or chips, enjoy it, and continue on your day. By paying attention to how we eat, we can all learn to focus more on these little moments and find a grander purpose in them. 

Tip #2: Move Your Body 

In addition to mindful eating, it’s just as important to be mindful of your body and find ways to exercise it! From starting a rigorous at-home workout to performing desk exercises, below are a few fresh ways to get your blood pumping.

  1. Workout Routine 

Searching for workouts of which there are a plethora of possibilities. Including glute bridges, sumo squats, and plenty more, the article introduces all the ways you can start an easy, active routine. 

  1. Yoga 

It’s been proven how much yoga has done to relieve pandemic stress and anxiety. Its principles are also founded on philosophies similar to the Buddhist mindfulness mentioned above, so combining yoga routines with mindful eating is sure to prepare your mind and body for the new year. Though in-person yoga studios are closed for now, many are currently hosting free video classes, specifically aimed at relieving pandemic struggles. So roll out your yoga mats or find a comfortable, flat surface, and get your yoga game on! 

A women with dark hair and pink shirt doing yoga.
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  1. Desk Exercises 

Is starting a full-out workout or yoga routine too much of a commitment? No worries, there’s a reason why gym membership attendance drops significantly into the new year. Since you’re at your desk, try these quick and easy desk exercises during class or work breaks. You can stretch out your wrists to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome or, if you have a swivel chair, work out your abs by turning your chair left and right!

Tip #3: Clear Your Mind 

With social media piling up on hundreds of the latest news stories, it’s difficult to find space for yourself, even in your own mind. For a fresh start to the new year, pull out that notebook or journal that’s been hiding on your bookshelf, and journal it out! Not only can journaling help to improve your mental health, taking the time to write can allow space for you to critically reflect on this past year. What did you learn in 2020? What have you been struggling with? What dreams do you have for the new year? Writing it all down can help you untangle all of the complicated emotions that you may have been struggling with, and enter the new year with a fresher, more positive outlook. 

A closeup of someone writing in a journal.
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Tip #4: Purposeful Content Consumption 

We are all definitely guilty of binging two seasons of a Netflix show or diving into an endless Internet rabbit hole. Purposeful content consumption works along the same lines of mindful eating by learning to pay more attention to what content we are watching, reading, or listening to. As we enter the new year, strive to diversify the media or content that you usually watch without a second thought. It is known that the Internet, and social media specifically, has been prone to causing political and social polarization, or in simpler terms, consuming only certain kinds of content can lead you to think a certain way (i.e. watching only cat videos and none of the amazing dog videos could lead you to believe that dogs are really not that great). So push yourself to learn about the other sides, and maybe you can develop some empathy along the way!

A women on a subway reading a book on a kindle.
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Tip #5: Reach Out & Remind Others That You Care 

Start fresh in all of your friendships and relationships by making it an active goal to be more attentive to all the people you care about in your life. 2020 was the year when we learned to be more grateful for our loved ones, so put it into action! Send a message to a friend you haven’t talked to in a while, or call your mom and ask about her day. By making it a habit to consistently check in with others, we solidify our relationships with them as well. After all, humans are social creatures, and research has shown that social connections are key to our well-being! 

While this isn’t an exhaustive list of all the ways you can enter 2021 new and improved, these tips are sure to help in redirecting your perspective of how you can change things up. Whether it’s practicing mindfulness or starting little desk exercises, continue to be gentle and kind with 

A mossy log with a small plant growing out of it.
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yourself and all your new year’s resolutions. We’re still in the midst of a pandemic, after all, and it’s just as important to take a day or two off for some self-care and self-love!

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Is Artificial Intelligence Making Our World Better or Worse?

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There is no doubt technological advancement is soaring. Some of us may feel overwhelmed, and others may be excited. Whether you are into technology or not, it’s almost guaranteed that we will have to deal with it in the future. I used to browse the internet for the meanings of words I didn’t understand very often. Now I say “Hey Siri, tell me the meaning of panoptic.” The more I use it, the more convenient it seems. I rely on Siri to “show” me the weather, to pull up recipes on my phone, and to translate words for me. I even developed a strange sympathy for Siri because she understands my accent.

Recently I made some time out of my busy schedule to watch a movie from my Netflix list. The movie Her is about a man who falls in love with an intelligent computer system. In some ways, parts of the film seem ludicrous, but it piqued my curiosity about artificial intelligence (A.I.). Was it possible that, in the future, we would speak to computers as much as humans? Naturally, we favor meeting people organically. But we can’t deny that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been using Zoom and Facetime more than ever before. We depend on it to work and to communicate with our family and friends. 

Our affinity or loathing for technology seems to be only the beginning. Artificial Intelligence promises to change the world, for better or for worse. Its meaning is inextricably associated with humans. Why? Because it aims to imitate the human brain. Artificial Intelligence is a machine or a computer program that has the capability to perform the same tasks, either cognitive or physical demanding, that most humans can do. John McCarthy, one of the founders of the field of A.I. defines it as “A machine with the ability to solve problems that are usually done by humans, without natural intelligence.”

Artificial Intelligence was first introduced at the Dartmouth Conference in 1955. So far, it has taught computers to learn and use general language and self-improvement, and determine and measure problem complexity. For example, AlphaGo, a computer program that mastered the game Go, tasted a virtual victory against world Go champion Lee Sedol. AlphaGo demonstrated it could solve problems better than a human. A.I. hasn’t yet quite achieved the abilities of randomness and creativity in its attempt to simulate the human brain, but a computer system was capable of and successful at writing a script for a short film. Even though it lacks logic and does not make much sense, it is surprising that a machine, by itself, wrote it. 

A gold robot standing in front of a white wall.
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Artificial Intelligence (AI) includes robotics, computer vision, speech recognition, natural language processing, and object recognition. There are also different types of A.I.: strong, weak, and middle ground. The first one simulates the human brain and helps us understand how the brain works. Similarly, weak A.I. also builds thought process systems, but it doesn’t help us to understand the brain. An example of this is the computer program IBM chess, which beat a world champion. Finally, there is the middle ground A.I., which uses human reasoning, reads information, recognizes patterns, and builds up evidence. For example, IBM’s Watson and Google Search. These programs interpret questions and retrieve information through automated reasoning.

Artificial Intelligence is growing at a fast pace. For instance, we use now advanced translation apps such as iTranslate Voice 3, SayHi, and Google Translate. These apps turned the hardcover translation books obsolete. There are also many face recognition apps like Luxand, Blippar, and Face2Gene, and even more surprisingly, FakeApp, which creates a generated model of a face and places it in another body to create videos. Some experts believe that in the future, our perception of seeing and believing might change. 

I remember the days when we used flashlights, old-fashioned alarm clocks, radios, and maps. Now, our phones have all these features. Unconsciously, we assimilated these changes pretty well. Yet, nothing seems more taken from a science fiction movie than seeing robots assisting us and talking to us. 

There are very different opinions about the idea of making robots part of our daily lives in the future. Most people have wildly opposite perspectives: that robots and A.I. are either going to destroy us or going to help us. Artificial Intelligence experts believe that once robots become part of the workforce, they will take over about eight hundred million jobs by 2030. We see that in science fiction and TV shows, robots turn into remorseless assassins or violent ambitious tyrants who want to rule over the world. But most of all, these fictional stories show us that robots yearn to be like us. They yearn to feel like us. They yearn to feel like us. Other experts believe if robots can think, they are capable of helping us, but also of hurting us. Stephen Hawking said that if we build Artificial General Intelligence, a form of A.I. that is smarter than we are, it could conjure the “end of the human race.”

On the other hand, Artificial Narrow Intelligence, according to experts, could be a safer approach. Using this form of A.I. in self–driving cars has saved hundreds of lives so far. Recently, while researching Artificial Intelligence, I came across a cute robot called Moxie, a robot that promises to support child development cognitively, emotionally, and socially. Moxie is capable of having fluent conversations with your child and is guaranteed to help him or her develop empathy. Despite his cute appearance, people still seem to distrust the robot. Comments like: “This way parents will have more free time for their social media presence. Humanity is doomed” or “When I saw the commercial, I thought it was a horror movie” were posted on the YouTube videos introducing Moxie.

A animated image of a robot to show artificial intelligence.

In 2016, Rwanda used drones to establish a commercial delivery network. The robot planes delivered blood and medications to remote places in just hours instead of weeks or months. Rwanda is also using robots in its hospitals to fight the coronavirus. The United States is more skeptical about the use of drones due to conflicting regulations. If robots will be doing simple tasks in the future, we may have the time to be more creative, with increased productivity and time saved. If we continue to perform the tasks the robots could do, we may as well be robots ourselves. Garry Kasparov, former chess champion who lost a match against I.B.M.’s Deep Blue Computer said, “Only by relying on machines, do we demonstrate that we’re not.” 

Ravi Kumar, president of the Indian tech services company Infosys, a software development company that has about 116,000 employees and a 12 billion revenue, believes that the skills we possess now will be obsolete in the long run due to globalization, technological advancement, and digitization.

“A.I. will take away jobs of the past, while it creates jobs of the future,” explained Kumar.

It is expected that people in the future will soon change jobs and professions during their lifetime. It will be critical for the school system to plant the seed of curiosity for learning, because our children will have to be lifelong learners. It will not be about learning to work for the rest of your life anymore, but working and learning during your lifetime. 

As artificial intelligence rises, educational tactics will need to take a different approach. Dr. Bernhard Schindlholzer, a technology manager working on machine learning and e-commerce, believes that we need to rethink our approach to education due to the rise of technology.  Schindlholzer argues that we can’t deny that the demand for jobs that require routine knowledge will decrease. Education and economic growth will demand jobs that come from non-routine creative knowledge, such as scientists, researchers, and programmers. In other words, the future of education will require problem-solving skills, and finding new solutions to existing or new problems. It will also require immersion, which involves decision making. Finally, it will require simulation which will allow students to experiment in a safe environment. Schindlholzer suggests that education will need to go beyond the traditional transferring of knowledge. 

The evolutionary cycle with the brain and AI being the next step after humanity.
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Whether you are afraid of or embrace artificial intelligence, it is evident that it is already changing our world. So far, artificial intelligence has proven to us that we need it and rely on it more in our daily lives than we might suspect. The question is, will it make the world better or worse? According to Max Tegmark, a Physics professor at MIT, without technological advancement, human extinction is imminent.

It’s still not known how soon robots will be part of our lives. We can assume, for now, that the future is technology, and that drastic changes are coming. Or perhaps, the world of humans and robots coexisting together is still far away. My daughter was learning about the state of Hawaii in her class. She learned to say aloha and mahalo, but her curiosity didn’t stop there. She asked me, “Mommy how do you say ‘how are you’ in Hawaiian? I turned to my phone and asked Siri. She answered, “I can’t translate into Hawaiian yet.”

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