Alexander “Sasha” Shulgin, who has died aged 88, was a pioneering and fearless scientist, but his chosen discipline – the design and synthesis of psychedelic drugs – was one of the most maligned and least understood. Shulgin invented hundreds of new psychedelic drugs, which he tested on himself, his wife, Ann, and friends, documenting their preparation and effects. But he wasn’t satisfied with mere discovery – he argued passionately for the rights of the individual to explore and map the limits of human consciousness without government interference.
He was most famously responsible for the emergence of one of the world’s most enduringly popular recreational designer drugs, 3,4-methylenedioxy-N-methylamphetamine, also known as MDMA, or ecstasy. He did not invent it, since MDMA had been designed by the pharmaceutical firm Merck in 1912 in a bid to produce a blood-clotting agent. However, Shulgin was responsible for creating a new and easier synthesis of it.
Full Story: The Guardian: Alexander Shulgin obituary
Erowid profile with lots of information, interviews and other links.
And here’s a documentary about Sasha and Ann Shulgin:
For the drone spotters out there:
One such man, an unnamed 33-year-old, told the Halesowen Newsthat after finding a property with a cannabis farm he and his crew either burgle or “tax” the victim.
“They are fair game,” he said. “It is not like I’m using my drone to see if people have nice televisions. I am just after drugs to steal and sell, if you break the law then you enter me and my drone’s world.
“Half the time we don’t even need to use violence to get the crop. Growing cannabis has gone mainstream and the people growing it are not gangsters, especially in places like Halesowen, Cradley Heath and Oldbury.”
A fleet of surveillance drones once deployed in the skies over Iraq is being repurposed to provide aerial Wi-Fi in far-flung corners of the world, according to Darpa.
RQ-7 Shadow drones that the Army flew in Iraq for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions are now becoming wireless hubs for connectivity in remote conflict zones where challenging communication environments can mean the difference between being ambushed and getting reinforcements.
“What does it mean that I’m able to be throwing these strokes up and across a canvas that is 30 feet wide and is suspended 25 feet in the air?,” he asks. “Painting in these ways just wasn’t previously possible.” Much in the way that smartphones have become an extension of our minds, Katsu wonders if drones could someday serve as a commonplace way to extend our physical selves. Of course, in that sort of drone-filled future, you’d have to imagine that cops would have their own drones, too–anti-graffiti UAVs that chase rogue robot artists through alleyways and across rooftops, or else just clean-up quadcopters that scan walls for illegal art and clean them autonomously with high-powered water weaponry.
Previous studies have found that cannabis users were more likely to develop psychotic disorders than non-cannabis users, but were unable to determine a causal relationship between use of the drug and psychosis. A new study suggests that there is no causal link.
In the new study, by comparing families with and without a history of marijuana use, the Harvard researchers were able to address this question.
They recruited four groups:
-87 non-psychotic people who had used no drugs.
-84 non-psychotic people who had used marijuana.
-32 patients who had schizophrenia but hadn’t used drugs.
-76 patients with schizophrenia who had used marijuana.
They then looked at the relatives of those with schizophrenia in comparison to the relatives of those in the control groups.
The results showed an increased risk of developing schizophrenia in the relatives of patients who already had schizophrenia, whether or not those patients used marijuana.
This study, then, finds no evidence that marijuana is associated with developing schizophrenia.
Full Story: PsyBlog: Marijuana Does Not Cause Schizophrenia
Georgia’s WALB reports:
Trying to get contraband into a prison is nothing new, but there is a new method. This week, some creative crooks tried to get tobacco to South Georgia prisoners by using a remote controlled helicopter, but they didn’t get away with it.
A lieutenant from the Calhoun State prison noticed a small helicopter flying over the gates of and a search began. Sheriff Josh Hilton says about an hour later deputies noticed a suspicious black dodge car with Gwinnett County tags on Edison Street.
Full Story: WALB: Crooks get creative to smuggle contraband
The Quietus just published a long piece by Peter Bebergal on Coil, John Coltrane, LSD and consciousness. Peter takes a contrarian point of view on LSD and consciousness. He doesn’t condemn drug users, and acknowledges its role in art, but is skeptical about its role in understanding consciousness:
[Hoffman] immediately recognised the possibilities for psychology, medicine, and maybe even religion. What he could never have known was that he changed the world. The amount that has been written on Hofmann, on LSD, and on the nature of the LSD experience, could seemingly fill the universe that one often imagines is in their fingernail when tripping on the very same drug. Certainly important work has been done, and the recent collapse of fearful prohibitions on research of psychedelic drugs could prove beneficial in exactly the ways Dr. Hofmann had hoped. But psychedelic drugs, despite their contribution to the spiritual revolution of the 1960s – a revolution that essentially changed the course of American culture and beyond – have become something of a drag on any attempt to understand altered consciousness.
It started with Aldous Huxley, who had once understood mystical-oriented experiences as being rare, requiring spiritual exercises, philosophical introspection, and maybe even a little bit of luck. In his writing on the mescaline experience in his now infamous but slight manifesto The Doors Of Perception, he became a kind of mystic turncoat, arguing that the experience was available to anyone. More damning, however, was his view on the primacy art once held to be the key to transformative experiences. After his own night sitting comfortably in his drawing room grooving on the patterns in the curtains, Huxley came to see art as a pretender to the throne of direct experience, calling it the method for “beginners”.
This reminds me of a piece by Erik Davis from a year ago. He who wrote:
And now there is a new competing narrative. Studies recently carried out at Yale, and published last month in the journal Science, have confirmed earlier reports that ketamine offers remarkable, nearly instantaneous relief for people who suffer from forms of major depression impervious to other treatment methods. Interpreting depression as a hardware problem largely caused by the loss of synaptic connections, the researchers argue that ketamine works by encouraging sprightly neural growth in brain regions correlated with memory and mood. Journalistic reports also linked this research with the development of a new vein of antidepressants, including Naurex’s GLYX-13, that have the neurone-fertilising power of ketamine without, as one report describes them, the ‘schizophrenia-like effects’.
Rarely has the new neuro-reductionism been so naked in its repackaging of human experience. Nowhere in the research or the journalism does anyone suggest that heavily depressed people feel better because ketamine sends them on a first-person voyage through profound, sometimes ecstatic, and certainly mind-bending modes of transpersonal consciousness whose subjective power might itself boot the mind out of its most mirthless ruts.
But I think the opposite is true as well: the psychedelic community needs to prepare for the possibility that hallucinogens are just drugs. That any therapeutic role they play can be replicated through less mind-warping means. Or, put another way: what if the “neuro-reductionists,” as Davis calls them, are right? What if they can succeed in creating an effective anti-depression drug without the disassociative properties of ketamine?
Part of the problem with banning hallucinogenic research for so long is that it’s allowed a community of pseudo-scientists to dominate the conversation about what the meaning these drugs are, raising expectations and creating dogmas about their effectiveness.
For example, you’ll run into people in the counter culture (such that it is) that believe ibogaine a 100% effective wonder drug for treating all types of addiction. But many ibogaine patients do relapse — which, to their credit, people who are actually involved in the ibogaine therapy community do openly admit. The truth there’s a dearth of scientific research on the substance and its efficacy. MAPS is trying to solve that problem. It might turn out that it doesn’t actually work. It could also turn out that it’s only effective for opiate withdrawal because it acts on opiate receptors, reducing withdrawal symptoms, and that the psychological effects of the 48 hour trip are not actually all that important. Or it could turn out that it works wonders for exactly the reason that psychonauts expect.
The point is, we don’t know, and that once rigorous, peer reviewed science gets back to work in the field, the come down may be harsh.
The scheme sounds like a work of near science fiction. But police in the Netherlands and Belgium insist its true, and say they have the evidence to prove it: two tons of cocaine and heroin, a machine gun, a suitcase stuffed with $1.7 million, and hard drive cases turned into hacking devices.
The plot, which began in 2011, reportedly involved a mix of international drug gangs and digital henchmen: drug traffickers recruited hackers to penetrate computers that tracked and controlled the movement and location of shipping containers arriving at Antwerp’s port. The simple software and hardware hacks—using USB keyloggers and more sophisticated purpose-built devices—allowed traffickers to send in drivers and gunmen to steal particular containers before the legitimate owner arrived.
The scheme was first noticed last year, when workers at a container terminal in Antwerp began to wonder why entire containers—said to contain cargo like bananas and timber—were disappearing from the port. In January, the plot appeared to culminate in a daring raid in the province of Limburg, near Antwerp. A truck that had left the port and was unwittingly carrying containers stuffed with drugs was attacked by suspects armed with AK-47 assault rifles. According to police, the gang had assumed the driver, who was not killed, was from a rival drug gang.
Vaughan Bell on the shift from psychiatric drugs that act on one specific neurotransmitter in favor of a “circuit” driven model of treating mental and neurological disorders:
In its place is a science focused on understanding the brain as a series of networks, each of which supports a different aspect of our experience and behaviour. By this analysis, the brain is a bit like a city: you can’t make sense of the bigger picture without knowing how everything interacts. Relatively few residents of Belfast who live in the Shankill spend their money in the Falls Road and this tells us much more about the city – as these are the key loyalist and republican areas – than knowing that the average income of each area is much the same. Similarly, knowing that key brain areas interact differently when someone gets depressed tells us something important that a measure of average brain activity would miss. […]
Perhaps more surprising for some is the explosion in deep brain stimulation procedures, where electrodes are implanted in the brains of patients to alter electronically the activity in specific neural circuits. Medtronic, just one of the manufacturers of these devices, claims that its stimulators have been used in more than 100,000 patients. Most of these involve well-tested and validated treatments for Parkinson’s disease, but increasingly they are being trialled for a wider range of problems. Recent studies have examined direct brain stimulation for treating pain, epilepsy, eating disorders, addiction, controlling aggression, enhancing memory and for intervening in a range of other behavioural problems.
The biggest story of the week is that the Feds (claim to have) busted Silk Road, the anonymous, Bitcoin driven marketplace for illegal drugs and other wares. Here are some of the most interesting follow-up stories I read this week:
Kim Zetter reports for Wired:
The FBI has arrested the San Francisco man they say ran Silk Road, the notorious underground digital bazaar that allowed traffickers to anonymously peddle heroin, cocaine and nearly anything else illegal.
Ross William Ulbricht, 29, who allegedly operated the site as “Dread Pirate Roberts,” was charged with narcotics trafficking conspiracy, computer hacking conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy. […]
Hundreds of illicit drugs were available for anyone to purchase on Silk road, from Afghani hash to LSD and ecstasy, though the terms of service did provide some limitations – they prohibited the sale of weapons of mass destruction, the solicitation of murder, or the sale of stolen bank card data or anything else whose purpose was to harm or defraud.
Ulbricht allegedly violated his own rule, however, when earlier this year he allegedly solicited a murder-for-hire of another Silk Road member who was threatening to release the identities of thousands of users of the site, according to the criminal complaint unsealed this morning. Ulbricht hasn’t been charged with conspiracy to commit murder, however.
Previously: A Bitcoin-based E-Bay for Illegal Drugs
Dose Nation‘s James Kent writes:
Adderall is a clever brand and a deceptive brand. In America, amphetamine has traditionally been associated with tweakers, speed freaks, bikers, truckers and all-night sex orgies. Adderall changed all that. Stimulants like Ritalin have long been shown to help people with ADD and ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder) concentrate for longer periods. So in 1996, Shire Pharmaceuticals introduced Adderall, a patented blend of amphetamine salts, to compete in the market for ADD/ADHD medications. The product was so successful that in 2001, Shire introduced the Adderall XR capsule in order to supply a low but steady dose to users all day long. Adderall XR is marketed as a productivity drug to help people with ADD, ADHD or narcolepsy remain alert and focused, but because it’s essentially pure pharmaceutical amphetamine, it quickly became the prescription stimulant of choice for college students, wage laborers, the military, and pretty much everybody else.
Previously: The Nazi Origins of Meth — AKA “Tank Chocolate”