The benefits of magic mushrooms

A study of the effects of psychedelic mushrooms is being hailed as revealing positive benefits.  What interests me is what the scientists and the media consider to be beneficial.  The active ingredient in the mushrooms makes people more emotional, puts them in a continual dream-like state, turns down their higher cognitive abilities (that is, makes them less rational), and dissolves their ego, making them less “narrow-minded.”  Note that  in our postmodern culture, such assaults on the mind are all considered good things! [Read more...]

And now, medicinal LSD

The FDA has approved a clinical trial for the use of LSD as a medication for “existential anxiety.” [Read more...]

An actor’s death by heroin

On Monday, a complete stranger came up to me and said, “Hey, you know who you look like?”

“No,” I said.

“That actor who just died.  What was his name?”

“Philip Seymour Hoffman.”

It never occurred to me that we looked like each other, but maybe we did.  I have been lamenting his death–not because now he can’t play me in the movie of my life, but because I have long been so impressed with his work and it’s such a waste that he died because of his taste for heroin. [Read more...]

Drugs and sports

Major league baseball suspended 13 players, including superstar Alex Rodriguez and three All Stars, for using performance-enhancing drugs.  Sportswriter Julian Linden worries that this may be the tip of the iceberg, not only in baseball but also in other sports.

This is because none of the suspended players failed a drug test.  The cutting edge of doping has to do with masking agents and undetectible drugs.  The players were only caught because of records discovered from a lab called Biogenesis, and who knows how many similar labs are out there? [Read more...]

No one elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame

For only the 8th time in history, no veteran ballplayer got elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.  Not the one with the home run record for both a single season and for a career.  (That would be Barry Bonds.)   Not the pitcher with the third-highest strikeout total in history.  (That would be Roger Clemens.)  Not a slew of other players with better records than some of those already enshrined in the Hall of Fame.  Why not?  This is the steroid generation.  From sportswriter Tim Brown:

On a day when 569 voting members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America could not agree on a single worthy candidate, Barry Bonds, the greatest hitter in the game, fell short by 221 votes. Roger Clemens, the best pitcher of his generation, missed by 213.

The outcome will be viewed as overdue justice or an outrageous injustice, depending on your heart and timeline. The system worked or it is irretrievably broken. The ballot was a statement. Or an exercise in mass confusion, coupled with dereliction of duty.

Near the end, Hall president Jeff Idelson, a good man in a difficult spot, withdrew a white piece of paper from a serious-looking envelope, arched his eyebrow and announced the result: bupkis. I’m paraphrasing.

We knew we’d get here. The tepid candidacies of Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro told us so. We didn’t know the degree to which it would leak into the wispier areas of innuendo, and neither Jeff Bagwell nor Mike Piazza cleared 60 percent. (Bonds and Clemens were under 40.)

via Judgment day: Steroid era dealt first big blow – Yahoo! Sports.

Is this “overdue justice or an outrageous injustice”?

Pain medication scandal

One of the biggest drug problems today is addiction to prescription pain medication like OxyContin, Vicodin, and Percocet.  These are “opioids,” derived from natural or synthetic opium. They used to be prescribed for specific cases of acute pain, but back in the 1990s they began to be prescribed longer-term for chronic pain such as back problems.  Most people who get addicted–from celebrities like Rush Limbaugh to untold numbers of coal miners and other physical laborers–got their start from legitimate medical prescriptions for chronic pain.

Doctors started prescribing the opioids for chronic conditions because of research published in the New England Journal of Medicine and other key medical journals that said the drugs posted only “a minimal risk of addiction.”

But it’s coming out now that those scientific studies were not only sponsored by the pharmaceutical companies that sold the drug, but they also systematically failed to consider withdrawal symptoms in the patients they studied.  One participant in the studies now confesses that they were  “trying to create a narrative so that the primary care audience would . . . feel more comfortable about opioids.”

Investigative reporter Peter Whoriskey is digging out the details: Read Rising painkiller addiction shows damage from drugmakers’ role in shaping medical opinion – The Washington Post.

Opium is addictive!  Who knew?  Only 19th century literature fans who know their de Quincy and their Coleridge.  Scientific studies that maintain the contrary should have provoked suspicion.

I think pharmaceutical companies have been unfairly demonized–they are even showing up as stock villains in television and films–since their products do great good.  New drugs require huge investments and the federal approval process demands expensive testing.  Who else can pay for that?  That drug companies paid for a study does not necessarily invalidate it.  Still, scientific research is not always as objective as it appears.  The appearance of commercial bias here, though, in drugs that have become so widely prescribed and that can do so much harm is disturbing.


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