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Volcanoes are erupting in The Philippines, but on-fire Australia received some welcome rain. The Iran war cries have been called off and The Donald’s military powers are about to be hamstrung by the Senate. Meanwhile, his impeachment trial is starting, and we’re all on Twitter for a front-row seat.

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What Could Go Right? The psychedelic renaissance

A surge of psychedelic research shows promising signs, and human composting catches on in the US

Brian Leli

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Psychonautic science

Long stigmatized and still broadly illegal in most countries, psychedelics have garnered renewed interest in recent years, sparking a flurry of research into their use as treatments for mental illness and addiction. While some of that research is bound to end up in the “hype only” bin, there have been a number of encouraging advancements in psychedelic studies recently. We take a look at a few of them below.

Research into psilocybin, a compound found in psychedelic mushrooms that has shown promise in treating depression, found that the substance may also be effective in treating alcohol addiction when combined with psychotherapy. In a study of people with alcohol dependence, participants given psilocybin-assisted therapy reduced heavy drinking by 83 percent within an eight-month period, compared to 51 percent among those who received an antihistamine placebo. Eight months after their first dose, 48 percent of participants who received psilocybin stopped drinking entirely, compared to 24 percent in the placebo group.

Like psilocybin, ketamine and mescaline have both emerged as potential treatments for depression and are now in clinical trials. Researchers found that more than half of participants in a study responded positively to ketamine therapy, with their scores on a depression questionnaire falling after the therapy by 50 percent or more. According to Nature, “Of the 356 participants who had previously had suicidal thoughts, 73 percent experienced a reduction in them.” For many, that effect was a lasting one. On average, people who responded to the ketamine treatments had around an 80 percent chance of still experiencing relief after four weeks, and a roughly 60 percent chance after eight weeks. 

In a separate article on the medical value of mescaline, Nature says that at least two-thirds of survey respondents “who had depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder or drug-use disorder reported improvements in those conditions following their ‘most memorable’ mescaline experience.”

The potential benefits of psychedelics extend to other mental health improvements as well. In another recent study, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine researchers found similar, positive shifts in attitude among people who had gone through near-death experiences as well as those who had had psychedelic experiences with LSD, DMT, psilocybin, or ayahuasca. “Almost 90 percent of both groups reported decreased fear of death following the experiences,” Roland Griffiths, director of the Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research at Johns Hopkins, told Inverse. “Both groups rated the experience very high for personal meaning and spiritual significance, and both groups reported persistent positive changes in personal well-being, life satisfaction, life purpose, and life meaning.”

For those interested in the mental health benefits of psychedelics minus the trip, rest assured—scientists are already looking into the efficacy of non-hallucinogenic versions of the drugs. As they do, a growing list of cities and states are moving to ease regulations on some psychedelics, including San Francisco, which just voted to decriminalize plant-based psychedelics like psilocybin, ayahuasca, and mescaline.

Nutritious human waste

In a win for proponents of the circle of life, California has become the fifth state to legalize human composting, joining Washington, Colorado, Oregon, and Vermont. Under the new law, Freethink reports, residents “can now opt to have their bodies turned into nutrient-dense soil after their deaths, rather than being buried or cremated.”

While some see human composting—also known as terramation or natural organic reduction (NOR)—as a more natural method of “disposition,” others are more drawn to the environmental benefits. “This is an alternative method of final disposition that won’t contribute emissions into our atmosphere and will actually capture CO2 in our soil and trees,” Cristina Garcia, the California lawmaker who drafted the bill, told Freethink. “For each individual who chooses NOR over conventional burial or cremation, the process saves the equivalent of one metric ton of carbon from entering the environment.”

For a look inside one of the world’s first human composting facilities, The Verge has a fascinating new feature on Washington state’s Return Home center.

Before we go

Remember the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge that went viral in a now-unrecognizable world around 1,000 years ago 2014? Well, it turned out to be a huge success, with $2.2 million raised from the challenge going to fund the development and trial of the new ALS drug that was approved by the Food and Drug Administration last week. The drug, Relyvrio, doesn’t cure the neurodegenerative disease, but it does slow its progression.

This bionic pancreas—which uses an algorithm to calculate carbohydrate consumption, then automatically releases insulin when needed—could help people with type 1 diabetes to manage their blood-sugar levels more easily.

I am digging The Progress Network Member Robert Wright’s new “extended experiment in book-Substack synergy.” Wright is researching and writing a book about the radical power of cognitive empathy, and this draft of the book’s intro chapter (paywalled, but with a solid preview) has me stoked. 

And finally, let’s all pause for a moment of humor and reflection: The Onion has filed a Supreme Court amicus brief defending the right to parody and supporting a man who was prosecuted for parodying his local police department on social media. The man later filed a civil lawsuit claiming his constitutional rights were violated, but that case was dismissed when a federal appeals court granted the police officers qualified immunity. The Onion‘s brief, which is both very real and very satirical, is ultimately genuine, and we’re keeping an eye on it as it aims to persuade the Supreme Court to examine qualified immunity and free speech rights.

Anyway, congratulations, reader. You made it to the end of the internet.

Below in the links section, factory-restored coral in the Bahamas, Zoom weddings for same-sex couples in China, loads of money for electric school buses in the US, and more.


Have you ever wondered what the most visited website is in each country? Excluding search engines, Facebook, and YouTube? Wonder no more, with this handy map. | Credit: Hostinger

Why Is Violent Crime Rising?

This week on the What Could Go Right? podcast: Is Italy returning to fascism? Are we closer to a cure for cancer? And why is the violent crime rate climbing in the US? Economist Jennifer Doleac talks us though her research on the economics of crime and discrimination. | Listen to the episode

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Brian Leli is The Progress Network’s editorial assistant. Originally from the American Midwest, he is currently living in northern Thailand.