WSF19: The Promise of Psychedelics

On Nov. 16, 1938, Swiss scientist Albert Hofmann synthesized lysergic acid diethylamide, better known as LSD or “acid,” for the first time while working for Sandoz Laboratories. Although he succeeded, he put his discovery aside. Five years later, while revisiting the experiment, he accidentally absorbed some of it through his fingertips and experienced transcendence. Three days later he intentionally ingested 250 micrograms (0.25 milligrams) and proceeded to ride his bicycle home from his lab accompanied by his laboratory assistant. That day, April 19, is now known by psychedelic enthusiasts as Bicycle Day, or the day that the first acid trip took place.

For the next 25 years, psychedelics were a huge part of psychiatric study in both Europe and the U.S. More often than not, LSD showed positive effects in those who had taken it – one study in the 1950s conducted by psychiatrist Humphrey Osmond showed a 50 percent success rate in a group of recovering alcoholics who had not been able to quit drinking through any other means. However, at some point, the drug escaped the labs and made its way into the hands of not only the general population, but also Harvard psychologist Timothy Leary who, according to author Michael Pollan, became “the LSD evangelist.” Leary ended up being fired from Harvard due to his questionable research and promotion tactics (he was deemed the “most dangerous man in America” by then-president Nixon). Research into psychedelics all but ceased, and the war on drugs all but began.

That is, until fairly recently. Last Thursday night’s World Science Festival event, “Revealing the Mind: The Promise of Psychedelics,” consisted of four panelists discussing the pros – and cons – of psychedelics, which in one form or another have existed since human beings began keeping records. Moderated by Emily Senay, M.D., preventive medicine physician and assistant professor of environmental medicine and public health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, the event opened with an overview of the origins and evolution of psychedelics and how they affect the brain.

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Moderator Emily Senay speaking with the four expert panelists. Photo courtesy of World Science Festival.

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Spring into Action on National Senior Health & Fitness Day!

If you were looking for a reason to start your day with pep in your step, look no further because today is the 26th annual Senior Health & Fitness Day! Join more than 120,000 older adults at over 1,200 participating locations embracing the benefits of physical activity and celebrating Older Americans Month.

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Photo: Shutterstock

The benefits of exercise are many-fold: it can boost mood and reduce the risk of depression, lower the risk of falls and fall-related injuries, reduce the risk of dementia, and potentially slow the rate of cognitive decline in older adults. The Dana Foundation’s publication, “Successful Aging & Your Brain,” a resource on staying sharp as we age, notes that according to many experts, regular exercise is the single most important thing we can do to improve overall health and prevent disease. Continue reading

National Stuttering Awareness Week: May 13-19

In 1988, an act of Congress established National Stuttering Awareness Week. This year, the observance runs from May 13-19, and is geared towards getting the 70 million people worldwide who stutter to “speak out, fluently or not” and to help spread more information about the communication disorder. In the US, about three million people are affected; many have struggled with the disorder since childhood, when it often first develops.

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Addressing Gender Bias in Medicine for National Women’s Health Week

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Yesterday marked the first day of National Women’s Health Week (May 12-18, 2019), and as such it is important to discuss the inherent gender bias in medical research and treatment and the ways in which the medical community are attempting to rectify said bias.

Many women, particularly women of color, often report feeling dismissed or undermined by medical professionals regarding a variety of physical or mental issues. This can and often does have dangerous consequences. Examples include how women of color are at least three times more likely than white women to die from pregnancy-related causes, and how women, in general, are less likely, in comparison to men, to survive a heart attack..

According to the “Women in Pain” survey conducted by National Pain Report in 2018, 65 percent of women patients felt doctors took their pain less seriously because they were female, and 84 percent felt they had been treated differently by doctors because of their sex. Many women would often report that they were told that their issues were psychosomatic or stress-induced, with many symptoms being chalked up to poor diet and exercise. While it certainly is possible for stress or anxiety to cause physical problems, that certainly is not the case every time—and even when it is, the underlying mental issues need to be taken seriously as well. Continue reading

Heightened Awareness for Parkinson’s Disease

Today is World Parkinson’s Day, which was established 22 years ago on April 11, 1997 as a joint initiative between the European Parkinson’s Disease Association (EDPA) and the World Health Organization. The observance fittingly takes place on the birthday of social reformer and political activist James Parkinson (b. April 11, 1755), who first recognized Parkinson’s (then “Shaking Palsy”) as a medical condition.

By next year, it is estimated that nearly one million people will be living in the US with Parkinson’s disease (PD)—that’s more than the number of people diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, and Lou Gehrig’s disease (also known as ALS) combined. Awareness about the disease—and mental health in general—is key in order to work toward new treatments and a potential cure, according to the Parkinson’s Foundation.

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