Blessed

Music is on my mind and in my ears, loud, pulsing bass turned up and all delightfully amplified through my new birthday laptop speakers. Yes, I gratefully regret my lack of developing any proficiency with an instrument, though my vocal volume and guitar strumming has been a locus of much inebriated fun in the past. But what has improved is my enjoyment and appreciation of other’s abilities, even performances.

I am slowly becoming a proper Deadhead able to discriminate and even recognise a few parameters shaping why certain concerts caught fire and brought it down from heavenly spheres via Jerry especially but also Phil on bass for me.

So, being also blessed with enjoyment of others through reading, I have started “Searching for the Sound, My Life with the Grateful Dead” by the originally more classical musician become bass player Phil Lesh. I can do no better here than employ his quotation from Henry Miller:

“I was permitted to hear an incredible music…I heard the gestation of the new world…the sounds of stars grinding and chafing, of fountains clotted with blazing gems…Music is planetary fire, an irreducible which is all sufficient; it is the slate-writing of the gods”

Prohibition Ends, therapy takes off

‘The ketamine blew my mind’: can psychedelics cure addiction and depression?

Illustration of woman on psychedelic trip
‘We prepare a client for their drug experience; allow them to feel safe and warm.’ Illustration: Frieda Ruh/The Guardian

This week sees the opening of the first UK high-street clinic offering psychedelic-assisted therapy. Could popping psilocybin be the future of mental healthcare?Words: Alexandra Jones Illustration: Frieda RuhSat 13 Mar 2021 11.00 GMT

In the summer of 1981, when he was 13, Grant crashed a trail motorbike into a wall at his parents’ house in Cambridgeshire. He’d been hiding it in the shed, but “it was far too powerful for me, and on my very first time starting it in the garden, I smashed it into a wall”. His mother came outside to find the skinny teenager in a heap next to the crumpled motorbike. “I was in a lot of trouble.”

Grant hadn’t given this childhood memory much thought in the intervening years, but one hot August day in 2019, it came back to him with such clarity that, at 53, now a stocky father of two, he suddenly understood it as a clue to his dangerously unhealthy relationship with alcohol.

The day before, a team of specialists at the Royal Devon and Exeter hospital had given him an intravenous infusion of ketamine, a dissociative hallucinogen, in common use as an anaesthetic since the 1970s, and more recently one of a group of psychedelic drugs being hailed as a silver bullet in the fight to save our ailing mental health. To date, more than 100 patients with conditions as diverse as depression, PTSD and addiction have been treated in research settings across the UK, using a radical new intervention that combines psychedelic drugs with talking therapy. What was once a fringe research interest has become the foundation of a new kind of healthcare, one that, for the first time in modern psychiatric history, purports to not only treat but actually cure mental ill health. And if advocates are to be believed, that cure will be available on the NHS within the next five years.

Thanks to its world-leading academic institutions, the UK has become a home to many of the biotech companies developing these treatments. But while investment money pours in and new experimental trials launch almost weekly, ketamine remains the only psychedelic drug that’s actually licensed for use as a medicine.

Under its influence, Grant had an out-of-body experience he struggles to put into words. “It was like I was sinking deeper and deeper into myself,” he says. “Then I became white… and I left my body. I was up on the ceiling, looking at myself, but I was just this white entity. I felt very serene and humbled; I finally understood my place in the universe, just a white speck of light, I wasn’t the centre of everything and that was fine.”

The next day, in a therapy session at the hospital, the motorbike story andother memories swirled up from his subconscious: being caught smoking at school and caned, and other instances of “playing up” as a child. Most vividly, he remembers the consequences: “I got my parents’ attention.”

I realised feeling overlooked as a child drove my drinking. It hadn’t been on my radar – but with ketamine I got there

His parents were evangelists; Grant’s father was a teacher and lay preacher, and his mother ran a nursery from home. They were also fosterers who, over the span of their marriage, gave a home to more than 200 children. “Growing up, love was never in short supply,” Grant says. What was in short supply was his parents’ attention. “They had a lot of commitments, they were very busy people,” he says. “I suppose what I realised in that therapy session was that I’d felt overlooked as a child and that had caused me pain.”Over the years, that pain crystallised, and alcohol became a crutch. “I could see it was the root of the negative emotions that drove my drinking, and a lot of other bad habits and behaviours.” He says it’s a realisation he might have taken years to come to with standard talking therapy. “It wasn’t even on my radar, so it blew my mind. To understand myself and my drinking, and why I behaved the way I did… With the ketamine therapy I got there in a few weeks. I feel free.”

In recent years, research into psychedelic-assisted mental healthcare has shed its outsider status. As far back as 2016, Robin Carhart-Harris and his team at Imperial College London published promising findings from the world’s first modern research trial investigating the impact of psilocybin (the active ingredient in magic mushrooms) alongside psychological support, on 19 patients with treatment-resistant depression (TRD). This is when a person doesn’t respond to two or more available therapies; it is particularly debilitating and, recent data shows, affects about a third of all people with depression. In the study, two doses of psilocybin (10mg and 25mg, seven days apart), plus therapy, resulted in “marked reductions in depressive symptoms” in the first five weeks, which “remained significant six months post-treatment”. This new treatment proved so promising that, in 2018, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) awarded breakthrough therapy status to psilocybin (given only to drugs that “demonstrate substantial improvement over available therapy”) as a treatment for TRD. In December 2019, a ketamine-like drug – esketamine – was licensed for use in the UK as a rapid-onset treatment for major depression: it starts working in hours, compared with weeks or months with traditional antidepressants. In April 2020, after running their own psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy study, with 24 participants who had depression, experts from Johns Hopkins University in the US issued a press release stating: “The magnitude of the effect we saw was about four times larger than what clinical trials have shown for traditional antidepressants on the market.”

All this, and other early-stage evidence, is fuelling larger, more ambitious investigations. The London life sciences company Compass Pathways, whose research led to the FDA award, is coordinating one of the biggest psilocybin for TRD studies in the world, involving 216 patients across Europe and North America. The aim is to develop a new style of therapy that harnesses the psychedelic experience, as well as to change these substances’ classification, so they can be licensed as medicines. This wouldn’t change the legal status of MDMA or psilocybin (banned for recreational use in the UK), but it would mean treatments using these compounds could be prescribed.

From left: Dr Laurie Higbed, Dr Ben Sessa and Steve O’Brien at Awakn in Bristol, the UK’s first on-­the-high-street provider of psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy, March 2021
Laurie Higbed, Ben Sessa and Steve O’Brien at Awakn in Bristol, the UK’s first high-street provider of psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy. Photograph: Joel Redman/The Guardian

In the meantime, practitioners of this new kind of mental healthcare can use ketamine as their psychedelic agent; and some studies, such as the one Grant participated in, are even government funded. The Ketamine for Reduction of Alcoholic Relapse (Kare) study is a novel attempt to ease the huge burden on the NHS caused by alcohol-related illnesses. (Two years ago, a major review of inpatient records found that 10% of people in hospital beds in the UK were alcohol dependent, and one in five were doing themselves harm by drinking.) As the Kare study lead, Professor Celia Morgan, tells me, “Three-quarters of people who stop drinking and go through detox will be back drinking within 12 months: that’s not a good recovery rate.”

Patients aren’t merely given a dose and left to their own devices; a new style of therapy was developed for the study which, Morgan says, uses principles from cognitive behavioural therapy, mindfulness and relapse prevention. “We designed it to go with the ketamine effects. We wanted something evidence based, a therapy that has been shown to help people avoid alcoholic relapse. But also something that would work with what we know about the brain in the ketamine state.” The patient is primed for new learning, she says, and more able to view the self from an outsider’s perspective.


Until now, in the UK, therapy using psychedelics has remained the preserve of academic institutions – available only in research trials with highly specific criteria for inclusion. This week, though, with the opening of its clinic in Bristol, Awakn Life Sciences has become the UK’s first on-the-high-street provider of psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy. The clinical-biotech company is “researching, developing and delivering evidence-based psychedelic medicine to treat addiction and other mental health conditions”. This means it will be developing its own type of psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy (with a focus on MDMA to treat addiction) via experimental trials. And alongside it, delivering ketamine-assisted psychotherapy.

“Our USP is the clinics,” says Dr Ben Sessa, consultant psychiatrist, psychedelic therapist and chief medical officer at Awakn. “We’re aiming to open 15 to 20 across the UK and EU in the next 24 months. Patients will be able to self-referor be referred by their GP (including NHS).” They will need a formal diagnosis and will most likely have to prove they have already tried a number of other therapies.

See a psychiatrist at 20 and chances are you still will be at 60. We’ve come to accept we can’t cure patients. Why not?

Sessa is scathing about the psychiatric profession as it currently operates: “We need innovation in this industry, desperately and now.” The problem, he argues, is that outcomes within psychiatric treatment fall far short of the gold standard set for the rest of the medical profession. “If you broke your leg and went to an orthopaedic specialist, you’d expect it to be fixed,” he says. “You wouldn’t expect to be prescribed painkillers for the rest of your life. But if you present to your psychiatrist in your early 20s with a severe mental illness, there’s a good chance you will still be seeing them when you’re 60. You’ll still be on the same daily drugs.” According to the most recent NHS figures, only half of talking therapy patients recovered from their condition. “What about the other 50%?” Sessa asks. “As an industry, we’ve come to accept that we can never cure our patients. But why not?”

Psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy, he says, may be “the holy grail – curative psychiatry”, arguing that these interventions offer relatively fast-acting alleviation of symptoms and don’t require the same level of maintenance (with drugs or talking therapy) as the treatments currently available.

Though alcoholism is a focus, Awakn will also offer psychedelic-assisted therapy to treat depression, anxiety, eating disorders and most addictions.

On a Monday in late February, the Bristol clinic is abuzz with builders and workmen. Formerly the site of an Indian restaurant, it sits in a 19th-century building on the corner of Regent Street and Hensmans Hill in Bristol’s chi-chi Clifton area. Its position, next to a barber shop and cocktail bar, and overlooking a small park, was picked for its ordinariness. As Awakn’s CEO Anthony Tennyson explains, “Our strategy is to normalise the industry; we want to integrate into the mainstream, so that popping in for mental health treatment is as normal as… ” he trails off. Getting your teeth whitened? “Something like that,” he laughs.

Inside, the clinic is painted a tasteful dove grey, with exposed brickwork and wooden floors. “It’s going to be sort of Scandinavian chic in design,” says Steve O’Brien, the operations manager. “That will be one of the treatment rooms.” He points up a flight of stairs to a room separated from reception by a reinforced glass partition. “We’re waiting for the beds to be delivered.” “Set and setting” (ie the mental state and physical environment) have been shown to be vital to the psychedelic experience – and a bad setting can equal a bad trip.

This is something O’Brien has experience of. “Years ago I took [the powerful hallucinogen] ayahuasca in Iquitos, Peru. It was all a bit dodgy. I ended up in this dark little hut with breeze-block walls covered in sheets and 12 Peruvian ladies in deck chairs watching Friends really loudly next door. I thought I was going to be ritually sacrificed,” he says. The clinic’s attention to the furnishings and feel of the space isn’t just elegant window dressing: “It’s about preparing a client for their drug experience, allowing them to feel safe and warm. It’s about as far from that Peruvian hut as you can get.”

Patients will be assessed by Awakn’s team, including Sessa and Dr Laurie Higbed, a clinical psychologist who specialises in complex trauma and addictions, who has been part of research trials using both psilocybin and MDMA as adjuncts to psychotherapy. “I was the clinical psychologist, alongside Ben [Sessa as consultant psychiatrist], in an addiction service,” Higbed says. “We used to chat over coffee about how our caseload was full of clients who had experienced trauma in their lives, particularly in childhood. We were treating their heroin or alcohol use, but really that was just a symptom, rather than the cause.”

Her job was to help addicts uncover and work through those underlying traumas via talking therapy. But being forced to remember a trauma we may have spent a lifetime trying to suppress can be very daunting. “Often you get a little bit worse before you get better,” Higbed says, and this requires “a lot of faith that it’s worth the effort”.

Crop of illustration of woman on psychedelic trip
‘Psychedelic compounds free thoughts to move in new ways.’ Illustration: Frieda Ruh/The Guardian

Metaphors abound for exactly how psychedelics work on a neurological level but one of the most popular involves considering the brain as a snow globe, showing a pristine scene at birth. As we age, our experiences, habits and the traumas we live through create tracks in the snow for our thoughts to run along. The older we get, the more worn the tracks become, making it harder for us to escape established thought patterns. “So with things like depression,” Higbed says, “you might have this negative worldview which can be very difficult to break free from.” Psychedelic compounds shake up the snow globe. Old ruts are destabilised and thoughts are free to move in new ways.

“This is why therapy is an important part of the treatment,” says Morgan who, as well as running the research trial Grant was a part of, will be consulting on treatments for alcoholism at Awakn. “The drugs alone might prompt big epiphanies, but the therapy helps you to learn from them and create lasting change.” She has seen this process in action. “One patient had been drinking seven bottles of wine a day, and had seen his life crumble,” she says. “His wife left, his daughter stopped speaking to him.” The patient had been abused as a child, and over his lifetime had spent increasing amounts of energy trying to avoid the emotions thrown up by that early trauma. “He had a very strong reaction to the ketamine infusion,” Morgan says.“He said he felt a kind of love and safety that he hadn’t felt for a long time. At one point he felt like he was back in his mum’s tummy.”

As part of the psychedelic experience, he also encountered his abuser, his father. “He said he felt pity for him. This was a massive step because he was able to understand his experiences from the perspective of an observer; the pity also extended to himself, which alleviated a lot of the shame and guilt he’d been feeling because of his alcoholism.” Eighteen months later, the man was still sober – having previously only ever managed a month.

A treatment course at Awakn lasts six weeks, with four drug-assisted sessions in that time. “And a follow-up session at week nine, so it’s 11 in total,” Higbed says. “It’s intensive.” Though, ultimately, they hope to work primarily with MDMA, they’re hamstrung by the current globallegislation, which says the drug can be used only in an experimental setting. In the meantime, they’ll offer ketamine injections, more fast-acting than the infusion Grant received, but likely to yield similar results. It will cost “around £6,000”, Tennyson says. “Though our ultimate aim is to make it available on the NHS, to help as many people as possible.”

It’s not a magical cure. People should definitely try talking therapy first. It does work, and is much less invasive

Tennyson comes from a corporate finance background (Merrill Lynch, Bank of Ireland and 10 years in the risk consulting arm of the insurer Aon, . Like Sessa, he’s evangelical in his belief that the services offered by Awakn have never been more necessary. “Twenty per cent of the population have a mental health issue on an annual basis. The industry that is meant to be fixing this is significantly underperforming,” he says.In fact, according to figures from the mental health charity Mind, that figure is closer to 25%.

Tennyson’s job is to drive sales and generate investor interest.Financially, Awakn needs the clinics to be a success, but it’s also gearing up for a round of funding to help start its own research trials. Tennyson is coy about exactly how much this might cost (one academic confirms it runs to tens of millions) but says, “Ultimately, you can’t solve problems of this magnitude without capital.”


The capital, it seems, is following the science into a psychedelics gold rush. Peter Rands is the CEO of Small Pharma, a London-based life sciences company preparing to run the world’s first formal trial evaluating the combination of DMT (a short-acting but powerful hallucinogen) and psychotherapy to treat patients with major depressive disorder. “2020 was a relatively easy year to raise money into a psychedelics company,” he says, partly because investors understand the proposition now more than ever: “I don’t think this seems like a niche industry any more.” But it’s also because the pandemic proved drugs can suddenly have global demand. “Covid showed how much value there is in responding quickly to a major unmet medical need. Pre-pandemic, the biotech industry was worth a fraction of the price it is now. When drugs were suddenly being touted as a Covid cure, there was huge investor interest.”

A lot of investment, Rands says, is coming from Canada. Small Pharma plans to list on the Toronto stock exchange, and Awakn is incorporated in Toronto. “The Canadian investor community has a higher risk appetite to emerging industries,” Tennyson says. Rands agrees, pointing out that, “until recently, Canadian companies were pretty much all mining companies. And mining has a similar risk-return profile to drug development.” In both industries, he says, huge sums are invested upfront to excavate the necessary goods: “In drug development, that’s through clinical trials.”

In September 2020, Compass Pathways floated on the Nasdaq exchange. In October, it was valued at $1.3bn.

The company was founded in 2016 by Dr Ekaterina Malievskaia and her husband, George Goldsmith, after a years-long battle to find adequate mental healthcare for their son, who had OCD and depression. Goldsmith is quick to correct the narrative about his work. “We don’t see ourselves as part of a ‘psychedelics industry’ – we are a mental healthcare company.”

He is sanguine about how quickly these interventions could become more widely available, likening the process to climbing Everest. “A medicine is a drug plus the evidence that says it’s safe and effective to use for a certain type of patient. We’re about halfway through the process of collecting that evidence. But I think if everything works out well, by 2025 psilocybin-assisted therapy could be prescribed on the NHS for treatment-resistant depression.”

Sessa, whose focus is MDMA-assisted therapies to treat addiction, has a shorter timeline in mind. “MDMA is further along than psilocybin in the regulatory process,” he says. “It is thought it will be approved as a medicine by late 2022 or early 2023.” By that point, if Awakn has realised its ambitions, it will have a clinic in every major city in the UK.

Despite the widespread evangelism from within the psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy field, Higbed resists the idea that it is some kind of panacea. She points out that it doesn’t work for all people, and that many would be put off by the hallucinogenic experience. “It’s not a magical cure,” she insists. “People should definitely try talking therapy first. It does work, and is much less invasive.” She also points out that antidepressants and other kinds of medications work “incredibly well for many people. This is really only for the subset of sufferers who aren’t being helped by what’s currently out there. It’s an innovation in an industry that hasn’t innovated in a long time.”

Dr Andrea Cipriani, a professor at the department of psychiatry, University of Oxford, shares the enthusiasm about the potential for psychedelics, but cautions that there is still a long way to go before they are more widely used. “These are very potent medications which, from a public health policy point of view, means it’s not a straightforward path to delivering this in a wider clinical setting,” he says. “I don’t think ketamine will ever get into the NHS as a first-line treatment; you reach this option only if previous ones have failed. And for the other psychedelics, I think it’s more difficult.”

Meanwhile, Grant hasn’t picked up a drink once since his ketamine treatment. “I haven’t even thought about a drink,” he says. “Problem drinkers struggle so much to control this – they avoid aisles in the supermarket, they carry all this shame. If everyone who needed it had access to this, I truly believe it would change the world.”

 This article was amended on 13 and 14 March 2021. The insurer Aon was previously referred to as “an Irish insurance broker”; Awakn plans to open 15 to 20 clinics in the UK and EU in the next two years, not just the UK as Dr Ben Sessa told us in an earlier version; and we incorrectly referred to “John Hopkins University” in the US, rather than Johns Hopkins University.Topics

Ben Debney

MARCH 14, 2021

Pathological Entitlement and the Supremacist Mindset

BY BEN DEBNEY

In recent days, the CPAC conference has brought us a number of most unusual spectacles. It has brought us (1) the militantly tawdry respawning of Donald Trump, (2) the platform constructed using the serif odal rune shape of the SS, (3) the golden calf cult idol (and laughs for all eternity), and (4) the inclusion of a member of Happy Science, a Japanese ‘new religious movement’ whose leader claims to be the incarnation of a 330 million-year-old deity.

The spirit of this deity, it is said, has transmogrified through every other deity known to humankind, and wound up, thanks to some superhuman (and therefore totally not self-serving) coincidence, manifest in the flesh as the founder of CPAC Japan. As another coincidence of mind-melting proportions, this deity is also deeply fiscally conservative and politically reactionary of a bent that views compassion as a weakness. If I didn’t know better, I would think Happy Science (as this ‘new religious movement’ is known) were pulling the entire thing out of their asses, like an even nastier L. Ron Hubbard.

This latter fact in particular must inevitably raise a few questions—principally, whether or not the GOP remains a gaggle of thieves willing to sell each other’s grandmothers out at a moment’s notice to save their own skin politically, an end-of-times spectacle of an increasingly unstable oligarchy too drunk on its own material excess to save itself from its own decadence and corruption? Another question that springs to mind is whether it’s now in fact degenerated even further into something even more horrible again—a raging collective psychosis of pathological entitlement, collective narcissism, hypernationalist tribalism and jingoism, and death-cult supremacism.

For sheer lunacy, the sight of a Trump supporter, flag wrapped around neck, kneels hands-raised to worship the Cheeto God-Emperor, easily contends with the paranoid, sadomasochistic ecstacy of book burnings in 1930s Germany, or the endless thundering applause after one of Stalin’s speeches by terrorised party cadre unwilling to be the first one to stop. Perhaps this new variant on the theme is not yet in a position to be so destructive as some of its predecessors, but the operant word here is yet. If all the spidey senses of history aren’t blaring like an air raid alert, you do really need to read a lot more. We might as well be halfway to sleepwalking your way into the rolling inferno of systemic downward spiral and collapse ourselves.

What is it then, this collective psychosis of pathological entitlement, this rabidly fanatical and militantly ignorant orgy of death-cult supremacism? What does it even mean to be subject to this kind of end-of-days acting out, as the poisonous world you made begins to envelop you like the fires of hell done escaped and you’re dead in every sense bar the biological already?

One might argue that collective psychosis is just that—paranoid delusions that are normalised because everyone inside the cult thinks exactly the same. The truth of an idea is determined by the number of people who believe it, doing what you’re told rather than what’s right is more important than doing what’s right rather than what you’re told, and I’m told that if you think for yourself the terrorists win.

You’re tempted to imagine a conversation between two delegates attending the CPAC conference: —Isn’t it so nice that we can all agree that casting doubt on the allegation that the class interests of transnational corporate oligarchs and the common interests of humanity are the exact same gives aid to the forces of global communism, or muslamic fundamentalists, or witches? —Hang on, I’m confused now. What were we talking about again? Was it what a great substitute the ideological conformity of the ingroup centred around the individualist consumerism and narcissistic culture of the ruling class is for being in touch with who I am and what I’m about as an individual? —I think it might have been, yeah. —Oh well that’s good, that makes sense. If you can’t see what’s good about worshipping money with the fanaticism you problematise in the case of Islamic fundamentalists you’re clearly a communist, whatever the hell that is, so I don’t even need to see you as a human being anymore. —Agreed.

The pathological entitlement on display in the set of assumptions and the value system and its attendant priorities here is impossible to miss—a characteristic feature, one might argue, of a magical universe of ideological fantasy constructed out of a desire to turn the living, breathing world rooted into empirically verifiable causality into a Live Action Role Play simulation, with the most privileged and powerful actors as the noblest and most superior. Privilege and virtue are the same thing, and anyone who says otherwise loves Joseph Stalin.

What is the great value of LARP, its imaginativeness? What if we could weaponise a gaming tool to enforce total obedience and conformity with a performative parody of reality where causality, honesty and human feelings like compassion and empathy didn’t have to matter? Wouldn’t that just be SO much less work? What if we could take healthy and constructive interpersonal and social relations predicated on reciprocal justice, fairness and respect, and crush them with all the prejudice we can muster as threats to power and privilege, but do so with a self-serving fantasy where we could cast ourselves as the heroes rather than the villains?

As long as we have enough people to play the game we can rely on tribalism, groupthink, ostracism, the collective narcissism of privileged ingroups, moral panics and a permanent victim complex to avoid facts that don’t fit the narrative; look at Ben Schapiro, he juggles them all at once. Every self-absorbed, self-centred money cultist is having orgiastic conniptions as they wet themselves.

To a class that has usurped the public realm and reversed the democratic burden of proof on power to justify itself to the individual, a cultish worship of total power and those who wield it is the ideal condition for the maintenance and preservation of the kind of power formerly associated with kings. The transnational corporate oligarchy is, however, more powerful now than medieval kings ever were; their rolling back of the gains of the democratic revolutions of recent centuries a central part of their purposes in constructing a New Feudalism.

Just like the kings of old, the corporate aristocracy abides the entitlement of hereditary power—not primarily political power, in this instance, but economic power. Class power. The corporate aristocracy dances with the corpse of liberal democracy, an entity it owns like any other of its many, many subsidiaries, and claims that the hereditary power of kings is dead, as it is.

At the same time, the infernal dance also serves to hide the hereditary power of inheritance—the death of liberal democracy insofar as transnational corporations have equal rights under the law, as they do. The law cannot serve two masters, a problem it resolves by deferring to the greater power. And the greater power these days is one drunk on its own power, so drunk that it imagines its hereditary class tyranny more important than the freedoms of the individual and human rights.

So drunk is the corporate aristocracy on its autocratic, indeed increasingly hereditary power that it imagines itself entitled to lord over the world with even greater and more total power than even the worst monarch. The consequences, from the increasing immiseration of most of the world’s population alongside unprecedented concentrations of wealth to corporate capture of the political process and the annihilation of the natural ecology, are becoming ever more impossible for them to hide.

And so we find ourselves, as usual, beset with all sorts of phantoms and external threats to society—the defence of which, it is alleged, requires strong leaders, whose class interests, by some incredible coincidence, are the exact same thing. We do not need to tolerate this lie, however, any more than we need to tolerate any of the abuses and harms it serves to hide. We can, on the contrary, identify one another by common class interests and organise to defend rights and advance interests. We can do what’s right rather than what we’re told, and stand in front of freedom and defend it for all, instead of hiding behind it like cowards.

On this basis then, we can organise and right for reforms to ‘expand the floor of the cage,’ while using means consistent with ends (as means determine ends from a casual standpoint) to rise above the supremacist thinking and mentalities that creates all these problems in the first place. But we have to appreciate exactly what it is we’re dealing with first, lest we apply the thinking that created the problem in the first place in the process of trying to combat it, and turn into everything we claim to oppose. If things have been allowed to get this rotten, maybe this has something to do with the reasons why.

Ben Debney is a PhD candidate in history at Western Sydney University, Bankstown. He is the author of The Oldest Trick in the Book: Panic-Driven Scapegoating in History and Recurring Patterns of Persecution (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020).   

CULTURE & REVIEWS

CounterPunch Magazine Archive

Read over 400 magazine and newsletter back issues here

They lied to you

“Absolutely nobody is talking about threatening our place in the single market”. Daniel Hannan, 12/5/15.

“The day after we vote to leave, we hold all the cards and we can choose the path we want”. Michael Gove, 9/4/16.

“British people will still be able to go and work in the EU; to live; to travel; to study; and buy homes and settle down. There will continue to be free trade and access to the single market”. Boris Johnson, 26/6/16.

“Getting out of the EU can be quick and easy – the UK holds most of the cards”. John Redwood, 17/7/16.

“There will be no downside to Brexit, only a considerable upside”. David Davis, 10/10/16.

“The free trade agreement that we will have to do with the European Union should be one of the easiest in human history”. Liam Fox, 20/7/17.

“Most of the EU states are very sympathetic to our view”. David Davis, 15/5/17.

“I believe that we can get a free trade and customs agreement concluded before March 2019”. David Davis, 18/1/17.

“Within two years, before the negotiation with the EU is likely to be complete, and therefore before anything material has changed, we can negotiate a free trade area massively larger than the EU … The new trade agreements will come into force at the point of exit, but they will be fully negotiated”. David Davis, 14/7/16.

“There is no plan for no deal, because we’re going to get a great deal”. Boris Johnson, 11/7/17.

“But we didn’t vote to leave without a deal. That wasn’t the message of the campaign I helped lead. During that campaign, we said we should do a deal with the EU and be part of the network of free trade deals that covers all Europe, from Iceland to Turkey. Leaving without a deal on March 29 would not honour that commitment. It would undoubtedly cause economic turbulence.” Michael Gove, 3/3/19.

“I’ve looked carefully at ‘no deal’. That outcome would be a failure of statecraft”, Boris Johnson, 9/9/19.

“I can indeed assure the hon. Lady that there will be no crashing out, because we will negotiate a great new friendship and partnership within the timescale. I know that hon. Members on both sides of the House have every confidence in the Government to do that. ” Boris Johnson, 22/10/19.

“We have an ‘oven ready’ deal, let’s put it in the microwave, as soon as we get back after the election on 12 December.” Boris Johnson, 31/10/19.

They lied to you…

Drugs winning drugs war

NBC news

Psychedelics as health and wellness aid? Not a hallucination.

“People are now coming out of the psychedelic closet, but it’s a risk you take,” said Melissa Lavasani, who led legalization efforts in Washington, D.C.

Image: A minds eye sits on a therapists couch surrounded by growing magic mushrooms in the clouds.

Bolstered by a growing body of research and greater acceptance of cannabis for recreation and medicine, psychedelics are experiencing a renaissance as voters and lawmakers rethink the so-called war on drugs.Max Loeffler / for NBC NewsNov. 15, 2020, 9:30 AM GMTBy Alicia Victoria Lozano

Melissa Lavasani never expected to grow psychedelic mushrooms in her Washington, D.C., home or become a force behind a successful measure that makes cultivation and possession of plant and fungi medicines the lowest priority for local police and prosecutors.

But the mother of two grew desperate in 2018 as her mental health suffered from a years-long battle with postpartum depression and chronic pain. She had tried everything: antidepressants, talk therapy, meditation and even cupping. None of it seemed to work.

After listening to a podcast about the use of psilocybin, a naturally occurring chemical compound found in certain types of mushrooms, Lavasani became part of a movement she never intended to join.

“People are now coming out of the psychedelic closet, but it’s a risk you take,” she said. “There’s a stigma to it.”

Bolstered by a growing body of research and a greater acceptance of cannabis for recreation and medicine, psychedelics are experiencing a renaissance as voters and lawmakers rethink the so-called war on drugs.

When voters in Washington, D.C., passed Measure 81 on Nov. 3, their counterparts in Oregon approved a ballot initiative to legalize the use of psychedelic mushrooms in therapeutic settings. The Canadian Minister of Health recently granted permission to four terminally ill patients to use psilocybin to treat end-of-life anxiety.

A Push to Legalize Psilocybin Mushrooms
Psilocybin mushrooms, including Galindoi variation of Psilocybe mexicana mushrooms, two middle, and Psilocybe cubensis mushrooms, left and right.Jahi Chikwendiu / The Washington Post via Getty Images

In California, state Sen. Scott Weiner, D-San Francisco, said last week that he will introduce a bill next year to decriminalize psychedelics. In New Jersey, lawmakers amended a cannabis bill on Thursday to include language that will downgrade penalties for possessing up to an ounce of mushrooms.

The cities of Oakland, California, and Denver each adopted resolutions in 2019 decriminalizing mushrooms.

Wiener said he was encouraged by developments around the country and is talking with experts about what form his proposal should take, The Associated Press reported. He said he was leaning toward Oregon’s supervised-use approach while allowing for the use of synthetic psychedelics such as LSD.

Wiener, who said he does not take psychedelics himself, noted that cultures all over the world have been using them since the beginning of time.

“Any substance can be harmful, so I’m not suggesting that anything is like nirvana,” he said. “But we know that psychedelics can be used safely. We know they appear to have significant medicinal uses.”

For Lavasani, mushrooms proved to be a revelation.

After delivering a healthy baby in 2017, Lavasani, a budget officer in the district’s Department of Energy and Environment, started to hear voices and experience panic attacks. She gradually spent less time with her husband and children. She eventually feared she would take her own life.

Concerned, a friend recommended listening to an episode of “The Joe Rogan Experience” podcast featuring mycologist Paul Stamets, who extolled the benefits of mushrooms. Looking back, Lavasani calls it her “Hail Mary” moment.

“It blew my mind a little bit,” she said. “I do try to keep my life as natural as possible. I eat well, try not to use too many chemicals at home. This made sense to me.”

Lavasani and her husband scoured the internet for tutorials on how to grow the fungus at home. They dedicated the top shelf of their bedroom closet to the experiment and waded through trial and error before the mushrooms blossomed.

At first, Lavasani, who had never used psychedelics, took only tiny doses, or microdoses, of the fungi. She said it was like “waking up after a great night’s sleep.”

As Lavasani became more comfortable with mushrooms, she decided to experiment with ayahuasca, a psychoactive tea often ingested during shamanistic rituals. She attended a few guided ceremonies and returned home with a new perspective.

“Our health care system doesn’t have solutions for mental health issues,” she said. “I think people are fed up with being prescribed medications that don’t work.”

Therapeutic hallucinogens have been studied in the U.S. since the discovery of LSD in the 1940s. But research stalled when psychedelics became illegal in the 1960s. Interest renewed in the last 20 years as institutions around the world, including Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, received regulatory approval to kickstart research in the field.

Medical associations appear largely united in supporting more studies and psychedelic therapies. The American Psychiatric Association opposed Oregon’s measure but only because psilocybin has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration and requires more scientific understanding.

Still, advocates and researchers have started to recommend mushrooms, ketamine, a prescription pain reliever and sedative, and MDMA, sometimes called by its street name Ecstasy, to treat a host of mental health disorders, including depression, PTSD and anxiety.

In a recent study conducted by Johns Hopkins, researchers found that psilocybin, the active ingredient found in mushrooms, combined with psychotherapy was more effective at treating major depressive disorder than traditional antidepressants.

Participants in the study received two doses of psilocybin weeks apart between August 2017 and April 2019. The doses were administered in a comfortable, supervised setting with facilitators standing by to offer physical or emotional assistance if needed. Each treatment, which included supportive psychotherapy, lasted about 11 hours with the participants lying on a couch, wearing eye shades and listening to music on headphones.

“The magnitude of the effect we saw was about four times larger than what clinical trials have shown for traditional antidepressants on the market,” said Alan Davis, co-author of the study and a faculty member at Johns Hopkins medical school. “Because most other depression treatments take weeks or months to work and may have undesirable effects, this could be a game changer if these findings hold up in future ‘gold-standard’ placebo-controlled clinical trials.”

A Push to Legalize Psilocybin Mushrooms
Psilocybe cubensis mushrooms.The Washington Post / The Washington Post via Getty Images

In a separate Johns Hopkins study, patients received synthetic psilocybin to help with cancer-related depression and anxiety. Eighty percent said their symptoms faded, and the effects lasted six months.

Dr. Evan Wood, an addiction specialist at the University of British Columbia, said psychedelic therapy is radical because it aims to cure disorders not just manage them.

“If you look at the existing medications to treat mental health disorders, a number of them are very addictive, others have nasty side effects,” he said. “These therapies are not about symptom management – it’s about approaching disorders with a curative intent.”

The recent Johns Hopkins research comes less than two years after the FDA approved a nasal spray containing ketamine for treatment-resistant depression.

Jackie Stang, a Southern California resident and co-founder of Delic Corp., a wellness company focused on destigmatizing psychedelics, has been using doctor-prescribed ketamine for the last year to treat her anxiety and depression. When combined with psychotherapy, ketamine has done more for her in one year than a lifetime of traditional medications.

“It takes away the doubt monster on your shoulder and shoves it in the closet,” she said.

Psychedelics clinics started popping up around the country after the FDA approved ketamine nasal spray. Field Trip Health, a Toronto-based company, has three locations in the U.S. where patients can combine talk therapy with the drug.

The experience is more like a luxury spa than the raves and nightclubs often associated with ketamine, according to Ronan Levy, Field Trip co-founder and executive chairman. He credits the cannabis industry with the emergence of a legal psychedelic market driven by science not activism.

“Supportive therapy is as important as the drug,” he said. “That is where the magic happens.”

Kevin Matthews, the driving force behind Denver’s decriminalization effort, described a “fog lifting” when he started using psilocybin to self-treat his depression. The former West Point cadet was forced to leave the academy in 2008, one year shy of graduating, because his mental health was crumbling.

He turned to mushrooms first for fun and then for wellness. Eventually, he weaned himself off sleep aids and antidepressants. He remembers his initial experience with psilocybin as “joyous” yet challenging. He cried, but he also “plugged back into life,” a feeling that had been erased when he was taking traditional pharmaceuticals.

“Drugs are winning the drug war right now,” he said. “Prepare to see a lot more of this.”Alicia Victoria Lozano

Alicia Victoria Lozano is a Los Angeles-based digital reporter for NBC News. 

Handwriting expert looks at Trump’s, years ago.

Many have commented on the oddity of Donald Trump’s huge and illegible signature.  When Trump announced his candidacy,  I was reminded of the time in about 1988 when his handwriting was analyzed by Felix Klein, a world-renowned  graphologist, author and court-recognized document examiner. It was during a master-level seminar that I attended in NYC while pursuing my doctoral degree in clinical psychology. I had become interested in graphology several years earlier after reading that it was taught in European and Israeli graduate-level psychology programs and used clinically and for business personnel selection.  I was further intrigued after learning how clinical projective tests, such as the House-Tree-Person and Kinetic Family Drawings Test, shared many interpretative similarities with gestalt handwriting analysis. Although children learn cursive using a standard writing form template (New York schools through the 1960’s taught the Palmer Method or one of its derivatives), within a year or so most children’s writing starts to differentiate from that model. These writing changes, which are unconscious symbolic representations, can reveal a person’s developmental history, either positive, when their physical and emotional needs were met, or traumatic, if they were not.  Personality characteristics and subsequent behaviors are largely determined by our primal and childhood experiences, for better or worse.

Klein had presented our study group with a full page of Trump’s adult handwriting, with only his gender, age (about 40) and handedness (right), but without his signature which might identify him.  We were all taken aback, having not seen anything quite like it before, and we each took a turn analyzing it. After this exercise, Klein revealed who the writer was and showed us Trump’s overly large, narcissistic signature (with which we are all too familiar now, as he loves to show it off when he signs bills).  Klein began his analysis saying that Trump’s writing revealed his immense insecurity, aggressiveness and rigid inability to think and perceive the world accurately. He said Trump was grandiose, extremely narcissistic and paranoid, so much so that he considered him delusional. Moreover, Trump was unable to relate to other humans with any degree of emotional attachment or consideration. People to him were objects, only useful to feed his insatiable need for adoration and attention.  In looking specifically at his signature, Klein explained that Trump’s rigidly angular letter connections formed what he called shark’s teeth, which is indicative of rage and the capacity for extremely aggressive, acting out behaviors.LISTEN: Mark Cuban Joins The New Raw Story Podcast!

Now I should explain that Felix Klein was a very soft-spoken and mild-mannered gentleman in the old-school Viennese tradition.  However, as he continued to speak, he became visibly upset and agitated which surprised me.  Attempting to calm him, I said something to the effect that, since Trump was just a vulgar real estate developer, there was no need to get upset.  He continued that Trump was a very dangerous individual, capable of all manner of criminal behavior and was a menace to society.  He went on to say that Trump was hypomanic and determined to get whatever he wanted, describing him as a “screaming locomotive running down the tracks without brakes,” adding, “and God help anyone who tries to stop him!”  Once again I tried to talk him down without success, whereupon he stopped me in my tracks, with these unforgettable, exact next words: “I’ve probably examined well over 200,000 handwriting samples over more than 60 years, and Trump’s writing is one of the worst I’ve ever seen.  In fact, the only writing that comes to mind that is as bad is Charles Manson’s.”

To say I was dumbfounded would not be an exaggeration, but I have had a long time to reflect on why Klein became so upset, as this presidency has proven him right.  I believe Trump’s writing triggered such a strong emotional reaction because of the year Klein had spent in Dachau and Buchenwald concentration camps where he was forced to “entertain” his captors by analyzing their handwriting at their parties.  I cannot imagine if he were still alive how he would have reacted to Trump becoming president, not to mention his setting up his own “concentration camps” and traumatizing little children by separating them from their parents and placing them in cages.

As Trump’s re-election is looking more remote and his legal and financial predicaments are looming large and threatening to destroy him, I am left fearing how he might react to defeat.  Being so desperate and vindictive, he is capable of extreme destructiveness, not just of our democracy and its governmental agencies, but as Commander-in-Chief much worse.  This is the reason I am putting out an analysis that was done over 30 years ago, which resonates as uncannily accurate today.  I can only hope that the danger we face is clearly understood, so we are prepared to fight for our country and our very lives.

Gerry Langer, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist residing in Southern California.

despair

Is it the tension? I do not believe if Trump succeeds that I will be able to have the news switched on, any channel, at all. The world ‘out there’ will be so abhorrent, so distressing it will be unwatchable.Today I feel feckless, cannot settle, pointless. Is it reasonable to attribute it to this evil this malevolence surrounding us? This is new in my experience of the world, other rough times and disagreeable politics and politicians, Brexit was and is bad enough, but these are entirely new feelings about new depths, new dark imaginings.

Prediction

“As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”

This is from a hundred years ago and written by H.L. Mencken in The Baltimore Evening Sun, July 26, 1920

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: