Turn on, tune in, get out

No sooner than we post something about psychedelic drug research becoming mainstream than a newspaper reports on a psychologist being barred entry to the US because he wrote an article on a 1967 LSD experience.

Dr Andrew Feldmar (pictured right) is a Vancouver based psychologist and psychotherapist who was attempting a regular cross-border visit, this time to meet a friend in Seattle.

When crossing the border, he was stopped for a random check and security typed his name into Google – bring up a link to a 2001 paper on the hot topic of psychedelics and psychotherapy.

The official said that under the Homeland Security Act, Feldmar was being denied entry due to “narcotics” use. LSD is not a narcotic substance, Feldmar tried to explain, but an entheogen. The guard wasn’t interested in technicalities. He asked for a statement from Feldmar admitting to having used LSD and he fingerprinted Feldmar for an FBI file.

Then Feldmar disbelievingly listened as he learned that he was being barred from ever entering the United States again. The officer told him he could apply to the Department of Homeland Security for a waiver, if he wished, and gave him a package, with the forms.

Feldmar trained under R.D. Laing, the radical psychiatrist and psychotherapist who himself took LSD in an attempt to better understand psychosis and altered states.

As a curious aside, the article notes that Feldmar first tried LSD after being offered a 900 microgram dose (that’s one big hit of acid), not by Laing, as you might have guessed, but by cognitive neuroscientist par excellence Zenon Pylyshyn, who was his collaborator at the time.

Pylyshyn had reportedly tried LSD out of curiosity but had since become interested in other things and had some of the compound left over.

Link to article ‘LSD as Therapy? Write about It, Get Barred from US’ (via BB).
Link to Feldman’s article ‘Entheogens and Psychotherapy’.

Psychedelics: resurgence or flashback?

Time magazine has recently published two articles on psychedelic drugs: the first on the recent publication of successful psychedelic treatment studies and the other suggesting LSD was first taken up by the cultural and business elite before becoming a staple of the 60s underground.

We covered some of the research investigating the therapeutic potential of various psychedelic compounds in December last year if you want an idea of what sort of studies are being conducted.

The first article notes the slowly changing attitude of the authorities towards doing scientific studies on these drugs, and name checks MAPS, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, an organisation who have done much to promote trust between government and scientists on the issue.

The second article uncovers a few interesting anecdotes about key establishment figures (including one of the Time Inc. founders!) trying psychedelics when they were first being discovered by the USA in the 1950s.

Link to Time article ‘Was Timothy Leary Right?’.
Link to Time article ‘When the Elite Loved LSD’.
Link to the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies.

Encephalon 21 arrives

The 21st edition of the Encephalon psychology and neuroscience writing carnival has just been published on neurobiology of aging blog Ouroboros.

A couple of my favourites include Dr Deborah Serani discussing a to-be-released psychotherapy game for the Nintendo DS, and Neurophilosopher with a wonderfully in-depth article on Dostoyevsky’s epilepsy.

There are many more fantastic articles in this edition, and it looks beautiful. Head on over.

Link to Encephalon 21.

Health Report on ADHD and child eating disorders

ABC Radio National’s Health Report had a recent programme in two halves, one looking at how eating disorders manifest in childhood and adolescence and another on girls diagnosed with ADHD.

Unexpectedly, the guest for the second section, psychologist Prof Steve Hinshaw, is asked about his work on stigma and mental illness and has some interesting comments to make about how scientific models of mental illness can influence how stigmatised someone feels after being given a particular diagnosis.

As well as this interesting detour, the programme examines how ADHD and eating disorders can start, and are treated, in childhood.

mp3 of whole programme.
Link to transcript of eating disorders section.
Link to ADHD in girls section.

Wear your brain on your sleeve

Shirt and t-shirt site Hide Your Arms has just reviewed a fantastic t-shirt that has a wonderful exploded brain picture on the front and a recent neuroscience news story on the back.

The shirt is from a company called T-Post who send subscribers a new t-shirt every six weeks based on a recent news story.

This t-shirt is based on the findings of a research study that found that activation in an area of the right temporal lobe when viewing others’ actions was associated with self-reported altruism.

Link to Hide Your Arms shirt review.
Link to T-Post.

SciAmMind on body image and coma-like states

A new edition of Scientific American Mind has arrived with two freely available articles online: one on the distortion of body image in eating disorders and the other on whether brain scans could be a communication channel for people in coma-like vegetative states.

Perhaps the key feature of eating disorders such as anorexia is not just that the person wants to be thin, but that they have a disturbance in their body image so they think they are fat, even when dangerously undernourished.

The SciAmMind article looks at research which attempts to understand how and why body image becomes disturbed and how this can contribute to disorded eating patterns.

This second article discusses the implications of a study [pdf] published recently by Adrian Owen and colleagues suggesting that some patients in a persistent vegetative state or PVS might actually have conscious awareness which they can’t outwardly express (see previously on Mind Hacks).

The first step is getting a general understanding of the patient’s state of mind. Clinicians divide disorders of consciousness into three categories: coma, in which a patient is neither awake nor responsive; vegetative, in which a patient is awake but unresponsive; and minimally conscious, in which a patient is awake and responds to stimuli but has limited capacity to take willful actions. Typically doctors make these categorizations by observing a patient at the bedside. By this method alone, a patient thought to be vegetative could actually be aware.

“It’s really a conundrum. The way that consciousness is typically measured is by basically asking somebody to tell you that they are conscious,” Owen says. “So if someone wasn’t unconscious but couldn’t respond and tell you that, they would be classed as unconscious.” In Owen’s team’s case study, reported in the September 8, 2006, issue of the journal Science, the researchers asked the vegetative patient to imagine herself doing various tasks, including walking through the rooms of her home, while they scanned her brain using fMRI. The resulting images showed that her response matched that of healthy test subjects – she understood the commands and intentionally decided to comply.

Other articles available in the print edition or to subscribers tackle food addiction, brain development in adolescence, perceptual integration, the psychology of stalkers, lithium in the treatment of neurological disorders, pain disorders and implanted ‘brain chips’.

Link to contents for April 2007 issue.
Link to article on body image and eating disorder.
Link to article on communicating in vegetative state.

Journalists at risk from electronic smog

The Independent on Sunday has the dubious honour of publishing one of the worst pieces of science journalism I have ever read on today’s front cover – claiming to ‘reveal’ that children are at risk from Wi-Fi computer networks because of their developing nervous systems.

The headlines include “Children at risk from electronic smog”, “Revealed: radiation threat from new wireless computer networks”, “Fears rise over health threat to children from wifi networks” and “Danger on the airwaves”.

This is despite the fact that not one single study has found a health risk for wifi networks.

In fact, a recent study that measured wifi emissions found “In all cases, the measured Wi-Fi signal levels were very far below international exposure limits (IEEE C95.1-2005 and ICNIRP) and in nearly all cases far below other RF signals in the same environments”.

Personally, I’m more concerned about the smog that comes from whatever they’ve been smoking at the Independent on Sunday.

Link to abstract of recent study on wifi exposure.