Commentary #74: The “New Science of Psychedelics”

The New Science of Psychedelics

Image Credit: NPR

Many of you know that I enjoy listening to podcasts. One that I listen to regularly is NPR’s Fresh Air podcast.

This week, Terry Gross interviewed Michael Pollan, a world-renowned author. His books have typically focused on food and agriculture.

However, his new book, titled How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence, discusses the history of psychedelics, and the “new” uses of them to help treat anxiety, depression, and helping cancer patients face their mortality.

There have been two phases of clinical trials up until now, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) just approved Phase III, which is “testing of drug on patients to assess efficacy, effectiveness and safety.”

In researching for the book, Pollan himself became a “reluctant psychonaut” with LSD and psilocybin (magic mushroom) to see if these effects were real.

I won’t tell you Pollan’s results, but it’s a really interesting process. I recommend listening to the podcast version of the show, as it’s an extended edition, where Pollan and Gross discuss the history of psychedelics, which is so fascinating to learn. It’s amazing to learn how LSD was first synthesized, and how it has had a turbulent history. Pollan also discusses psilocybin to an extent, which is another interesting part of the story.

For me, I was definitely more than a little skeptical. I’ve never used any drugs or psychedelics in my life. I’ve seen counselors and therapists.

However, Pollan lessened my skepticism a bit during his interview with Gross. One of his interview subjects was a woman who had survived ovarian cancer. She was absolutely terrified of it recurring, and she was paralyzed with fear. She found a guide, a therapist who administered small doses of one of these psychedelics, and helped her along her trip. She discovered this “black mass” underneath her rib cage during the trip, and originally though it was her cancer. The guide helped her understand that it wasn’t cancer, but in reality it was her fear and anxiety. During the trip, she commanded the black mass to leave her body, and it did.

When Pollan’s fact-checker called to verify her account right before the book’s publication, Pollan’s original words were something to the effect of “this black mass was significantly reduced after her experiences with psychedelics.”

The woman corrected the fact-checker over the phone and said, “No, it wasn’t ‘significantly reduced.’ It was extinguished.”

Again, some of my skepticism remains, but as someone who has a diagnosed anxiety disorder (GAD), hearing the woman’s story gave me hope. I truly believe these psychedelics helped her.


For more information, check out the following links:


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

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Commentary #68: “Support Systems” (Reblogged)

I’ve been following Sara’s blog for quite a while. Her poetry is beautiful. She does fun Questions of the Day every now and then.

She also makes the time to reply to every comment that is posted. She’s so sweet, and incredibly supportive!

I wanted to share this post of hers about support systems. It’s a long one, but she pours her heart out. I know I’m glad I took the time to read it.

Sara, you’re an awesome person!


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Sara in LaLaLand

For a large portion of my life, I have felt that I have not had a very strong support system. Growing up, I was not taught how to talk about my feelings, I was encouraged to shut them down. It was not until I was living in “the real world” that I noticed the way I expressed myself was not normal, but it was the only way I knew. I did not have the kind of parents you could talk to about anything and everything.

I first experienced death when I just turned 10 years old and I did not know how to deal with such a thing. I was not talked through loss. I was given the news and then left to my own devices. I even remember some cruel kids mocking how this person died. I was lost at that point and from here is where I started building…

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Commentary #58: “The women who don’t know they’re autistic”

Autism Speaks

Image Credit: Autism Speaks

I stumbled upon this article via Facebook back in July. I thought it was fascinating, and it prompted me to learn more about autism.

Here’s the link to the original post:


The article primarily focuses on what’s known as “high-functioning” autism in women. This means autism without intellectual disability.

According to the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities:

Intellectual disability is a disability characterized by significant limitations in both intellectual functioning and in adaptive behavior, which covers many everyday social and practical skills. This disability originates before the age of 18.


For years, it’s been studied, and widely publicized, that more boys than girls are diagnosed with autism.

Autism is defined as the following:

a mental condition, present from early childhood, characterized by difficulty in communicating and forming relationships with other people and in using language and abstract concepts.

It’s estimated that 1 out of 68 children in the United States are on the autism spectrum. For boys, it’s around 1 in 42.  For girls, it’s around 1 in 189.

Some of autism’s signs can now be recognized as early as 18 months of age, but are usually identified and diagnosed between the ages of two and three.

Parents are encouraged to seek evaluation of their child without delay. Early intervention can improve outcomes.

In 2013, all autism disorders were merged under one umbrella diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Previously, they were distinct sub-types,  including autistic disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder, pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), and Asperger Syndrome.


Despite more childhood diagnoses, it’s becoming more common for people to be diagnosed as adults.

According to the Madison House Autism Foundation:

  • Those with autism may have exponentially acute senses. Bright or fluorescent lighting can be overwhelming. Loud sounds and crowds of people may be as well.
  • The ability to concentrate for long periods of time on one thing, and their attention to detail is something those without autism find enviable.
  • They are often highly visual people, and many have found ways to communicate through multiple mediums besides with words.
  • Those with autism may avoid eye contact with other people and, because they often take language literally, may have difficulty with metaphors, humor, and sarcasm. Interpreting what others are thinking or feeling is challenging because they have difficulty understanding social cues, such as tone of voice or facial expressions.
  • It is a myth that those with autism are unable to feel empathy.
  • Those with autism think, process, and behave differently than neurotypical individuals.

As renowned animal rights activist and professor Temple Grandin says, they are “Different, but not less.” They can, with support and slight modifications, become assets to every community and the workforce.

The main point I’m trying to get at – Individuals with autism are individuals. They are amazing. They may think and behave a little differently than others, but it’s important to recognize them and appreciate them.


The original article provided and cited a variety of sources:


This article shone a spotlight on women and how we can recognize smaller, less noticeable signs of ASD.

  • Compensating for communication impediments they may not be consciously aware of.
  • Not being good at guessing what people are thinking.
  • Hypersensitivities – Smells, sounds, bright lights, etc.
  • Reduced sensitivity to pain.
  • Misdiagnosed psychological disorders.
  • Taste for solitude.
  • Intensity of passions.
  • Talking about one subject / topic for extended periods of time, longer than normal (i.e., spending hours focusing on one thing in particular and not deviating).
  • Not wearing jewelry because of the way metal feels on the skin.
  • Not wearing certain clothing because of sensitivity to fabrics, tags, buttons, zippers, etc.

Given some of these signs and symptoms, it’s fairly easy to interpret or assume that a woman may be an introvert, be shy, have an undiagnosed anxiety disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), a speech impediment, or some form of a developmental or intellectual disability.

As the article indicates, ideally, a lot of women being diagnosed with autism as adults could have / should have been diagnosed as children. Luckily, these childhood diagnoses are improving every day. Leaps and bounds have been made in the last 20-30 years, and research is ongoing. However, doctors and psychologists alike need to remain vigilant, and keep a close eye on young girls exhibiting similar signs and symptoms, especially since autism symptoms in girls have appeared to be less obtrusive than those in boys.


For more information, here are some more links and resources. Education is so important. Continual learning and studying will help all of us better understand ASD, and start to take away the stigma!

I have immense respect for those who work in special education, work with individuals with ASD, and parents that have children with ASD. My hat goes off to all of you!

 


April is National Autism Awareness Month. The Autism Society encourages everyone to join them in promoting awareness, action, inclusion, acceptance, and appreciation.

World Autism Awareness Day is April 2nd of every year. It’s one of only four official health-specific United Nations (UN) days.

Several movies have been released, featuring prominent characters with autism or ASD behaviors. Children of the Stars is an award-winning documentary about children with autism in China.


What do you think? Do you know someone that is autistic?

Do you have any ideas about how to help those with ASD?


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Commentary #46: How The U.S. and Others Work with Mental Health Issues (Follow-Up to “A 700-Year-Old Haven for Mental Health”)

quote-on-mental-health-91-healthyplace

Image Credit: HealthyPlace.com

Back in October (Wow! Where did the time go?) I wrote a post about the amazing town of Geel, Belgium, and their remarkable approach to mental health and helping those in desperate need of care.


In case you missed it, here’s the link to the original post:


In my original post, I mentioned how I wanted to research how the U.S., other countries, and even other continents approach mental health issues, and how they are addressing them.

Are they like Geel? Or completely different?

It’s taken a long time to compile this research, so bear with me. My eyes have certainly been opened!


Through my research, it’s become clear to me that the United States in particular has a long, long way to go before reaching a place like Geel. Stigma is everywhere. However, I found some encouraging articles and resources.

The Washington Post published an article entitled Three innovative ways to address mental health issues in June 2014. This article focused primarily on children’s mental health, but this is as equally important, if not more so, to devote time and resources as adult mental health.

Published through Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, the web page titled Community Recovery in the United States was intriguing. There are established programs modeled after Geel in the U.S., but only in certain states. This makes me wonder if there could be community recovery programs eventually established in every state, so that anyone can have access? Granted, this page has not been updated since 2009, but still, I like that these resources have been highlighted.

In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Temple University has created a unique Rehabilitation Research and Training Center that focuses on helping those with psychiatric difficulties be independent in their communities: Temple University Collaborative on Community Inclusion of Individuals with Psychiatric Disabilities.


Around the world, there are several organizations that have mental health initiatives. However, there is still much work to be done to help those with mental disorders.

In an article from Wake Forest University in North Carolina from November 2009, Addressing mental-health issues around the world discussed the Mental Health Facilitators (MHF) program that started through a request from the World Health Organization (WHO).

From the Huffington Post in April 2016, Addressing Global Mental Health Challenges and Finding Solutions was a blog post about the author’s work with the International Medical Corps and other non-government organizations (NGOs) to help address these crises all over the world. In 2016, it’s incredibly sad that nine out of 10 that have mental disorders do not receive basic treatment.

Published on August 1, 2016 by the BJPsych Bulletin (Royal College of Psychiatrists, a charity registered in England, Wales, and Scotland), this fascinating article entitled Lessons to be learned from the oldest community psychiatric service in the world: Geel in Belgium was an exploration of the family foster care model that’s worked for so long.


On December 14th, I discovered some encouraging news from my own state of Virginia:

This was published by Richmond news station WRIC.

I read and re-read this article, at least three times. This proposal is full of promise, but it’s just a proposal. Thirty-one million dollars is good chunk of change, but I’m a bit skeptical. I hope it will come to fruition, but it’s going to take time.

I plan to keep following this particular story very closely.


In addition, here are other resources that you may be interested in:


Final Thoughts

It was frustrating and a bit disheartening to write this post, hence why it took so long to finally publish. As someone who has Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), it’s hard to read statistics and stories that show so limited resources, historically, being dedicated to mental health.

However, I’m happy that more attention is being given, and that more organizations are working every single day to make changes. I’m glad there are resources available to many, but it would be nice to see equal resources be available to all. That herculean effort takes time, money, and dedication.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Commentary #45: A 700-Year-Old Haven for Mental Health

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An aerial view of Geel, Belgium. Image Credit: Tripwolf

“She made broken look beautiful and strong look invincible. She walked with the universe on her shoulders and made it looks like a pair of wings.”

~Unknown


Thanks to Facebook Memories earlier this week, I was reminded of an exceptional town in Belgium that has adopted a completely different approach on helping those that need help with their mental health.

Here’s the link to the original story:

I shared this story on Facebook in October 2015. I remember reading with great interest at the time, but then I filed it away in my brain.


Then, at the beginning of July, Geel re-entered my life.

Remember my recent post on podcasts?

One of the seasonal ones is NPR’s Invisibilia. I kept hearing about it in promos during other NPR podcasts. I subscribed in the spring of 2016, eager to listen to season 1 and prep for season 2.

Then, on July 1st, they released the episode titled, “The Problem with the Solution.”

The episode focused on Geel, and how the hosts went to Belgium to see this idea for themselves.

I remember being rapt with attention in my car during my work commute, hanging on every word.

I couldn’t get it out my head.


Seeing the article from Upworthy made me curious about how the U.S. helps those with mental health issues. Other countries and continents, too – Not just Europe. I’m thinking about Africa, Asia, and Australia. What about China, or Japan?

Over the next few weeks, I plan to research this and do a follow-up post with my findings.


Final Thoughts:

I find Geel’s approach fascinating. It’s interesting that the boarding population has decreased to due a reduction in the number of host families, but I think that’s part of the cycle. The inference that there’s a decreased need for farmhands makes sense.

It’s hard to believe that this one town has done this giving for 700 years, but i think it’s awesome. I’m excited to do more research, to see how the U.S., Canada, and other countries work with mental health issues.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂