Can Ecstasy Replace Xanax?

MDMA being used to treat social anxiety

Photo Illustration by Alex Williams/The Daily Beast

by Jay Michaelson

A new study urges trials of MDMA to treat anxiety in autistic adults, and it’s already being tested for PTSD. Is America ready to embrace Molly?

In 1980, “Ecstasy” was “Empathy.”

That was one of the original street names for MDMA, now better known as Molly, and it speaks volumes about what the drug actually does: by increasing the amount of serotonin in the bloodstream, it acts like a turbo-charged SSRI (the leading form of antidepressant). Sure, it makes you feel happy—but equally important to its devotees, it makes you feel open.

Now, science is catching up. A study published this week in the journal Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry is part of a spate of research arguing that MDMA could have psychotherapeutic benefits: this time, to treat symptoms of social anxiety, particularly in autistic adults.

To longtime friends of Molly, this is about as revelatory as learning that a gin and tonic can relieve social anxiety. But this latest study is part of a larger trend that may mark a turning point in our culture’s relationship to this particular substance.

Consider: the data on marijuana (and two generations’ longtime familiarity with it) has helped mainstream culture evolve from Reefer Madness and “Just Say No” to medical marijuana in 23 states and recreational marijuana in Colorado. Will Molly be next?

Conceivably—though there are some important differences.

First, the scientific evidence is encouraging but early. MDMA was first synthesized by Merck in 1912, but had little commercial use, and apart from a 1950s U.S. military experiment, lay dormant until it was “rediscovered” by psychedelic pioneer Alexander Shulgin around 1970. Fascinatingly, therapists and psychiatrists explored the therapeutic use of the drug, but tried to keep its existence under wraps, fearing it would be banned. As indeed it was, in 1986.

That led to twenty years of scientific silence—apart from a handful of poor experiments whose results were widely exaggerated by Drug Warrors, as the new study also describes—while MDMA exploded in popularity, as Ecstasy.. Only it wasn’t really MDMA; in 2007, an analysis of drug shipments showed that only 3 percent of U.S. Ecstasy tablets were pure MDMA.

The doors began to creak open in the late 2000s. By now, MDMA has been administered to over 1,100 individuals in clinical trials, with no serious adverse effects. As legalization activists have long insisted, it seems as though most of the problems with Molly come from impurities, overuse (especially in combination with other drugs), and what aficionados would call bad “set and setting,” like overcrowded dance clubs, dumb frat boys, and plain old bad ideas.

Further, the paper’s abstract notes that “As in the case with classic hallucinogens and other psychedelic drugs, MDMA catalyzes shifts toward openness and introspection that do not require ongoing administration to achieve lasting benefits. This infrequent dosing mitigates adverse event frequency and improves the risk/benefit ratio of MDMA, which may provide a significant advantage over medications that require daily dosing.”

In other words, unlike Zoloft or Celexa orAbilify, you don’t need to take MDMA every day in order to experience the benefits. Thus, potential long-term risks—in extremely high doses over long periods of time, MDMA can cause brain lesions—are significantly mitigated…




Math: Discovered, Invented, or Both?


“The miracle of the appropriateness of the language of mathematics to the formulation of the laws of physics is a wonderful gift which we neither understand nor deserve.”

Eugene Wigner wrote these words in his 1960 article “The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences.” The Nobel prize-winning physicist’s report still captures the uncanny ability of mathematics not only to describe and explain, but to predict phenomena in the physical world.

How is it possible that all the phenomena observed in classical electricity and magnetism can be explained by means of just four mathematical equations? Moreover, physicist James Clerk Maxwell (after whom those four equations of electromagnetism are named) showed in 1864 that the equations predicted that varying electric or magnetic fields should generate certain propagating waves. These waves—the familiar electromagnetic waves (which include light, radio waves, x-rays, etc.)—were eventually detected by the German physicist Heinrich Hertz in a series of experiments conducted in the late 1880s.

And if that is not enough, the modern mathematical theory which describes how light and matter interact, known as quantum electrodynamics (QED), is even more astonishing. In 2010 a group of physicists at Harvard University determined the magnetic moment of the electron (which measures how strongly the electron interacts with a magnetic field) to a precision of less than one part in a trillion. Calculations of the electron’s magnetic moment based on QED reached about the same precision and the two results agree! What is it that gives mathematics such incredible power?

The puzzle of the power of mathematics is in fact even more complex than the above examples from electromagnetism might suggest. There are actually two facets to the “unreasonable effectiveness,” one that I call active and another that I dub passive. The active facet refers to the fact that when scientists attempt to light their way through the labyrinth of natural phenomena, they use mathematics as their torch. In other words, at least some of the laws of nature are formulated in directly applicable mathematical terms. The mathematical entities, relations, and equations used in those laws were developed for a specific application. Newton, for instance, formulated the branch of mathematics known as calculus because he needed this tool for capturing motion and change, breaking them up into tiny frame-by-frame sequences. Similarly, string theorists today often develop the mathematical machinery they need.

Passive effectiveness, on the other hand, refers to cases in which mathematicians developed abstract branches of mathematics with absolutely no applications in mind; yet decades, or sometimes centuries later, physicists discovered that those theories provided necessary mathematical underpinnings for physical phenomena. Examples of passive effectiveness abound. Mathematician Bernhard Riemann, for example, discussed in the 1850s new types of geometries that you would encounter on surfaces curved like a sphere or a saddle (instead of the flat plane geometry that we learn in school). Then, when Einstein formulated his theory of General Relativity (in 1915), Riemann’s geometries turned out to be precisely the tool he needed!

At the core of this math mystery lies another argument that mathematicians, philosophers, and, most recently, cognitive scientists have had for a long time: Is math an invention of the human brain? Or does math exist in some abstract world, with humans merely discovering its truths? The debate about this question continues to rage today.

Personally, I believe that by asking simply whether mathematics is discovered or invented, we forget the possibility that mathematics is an intricate combination of inventions and discoveries. Indeed, I posit that humans invent the mathematical concepts—numbers, shapes, sets, lines, and so on—by abstracting them from the world around them. They then go on to discover the complex connections among the concepts that they had invented; these are the so-called theorems of mathematics…



Searching for Advanced Alien Engineering


Image by Flickr user longan drink, adapted under a Creative Commons license

Picture this: You’re the emperor of an advanced alien civilization. For millions of years, your planet’s engineers have been building bigger and better gadgets: supercomputers, spaceships, flying cars, that sort of thing. All this ultra-tech makes life pretty fantastic, but it takes a lot of energy. Where is all that energy going to come from?

In 1937, the science fiction writer Olaf Stapledon imagined one answer: an enormous, spherical solar collector, built to encircle an energy-hungry civilization’s home star like a giant mylar balloon. This hypothetical mega-structure would grab every last photon of sunlight, providing enough energy to run whatever future technologies engineers could dream up. In 1960, physicistFreeman Dyson fleshed out the scheme: instead of a giant balloon, he speculated, an advanced civilization might crumble up its solar system’s uninhabited planets to create a swarm of rocks that could gather solar energy more efficiently. Dyson also pointed out that, if such a sphere or swarm existed, it would look to us like an unusually dark star, radiating waste heat in the infrared.

“Dyson spheres,” as they’re called (to Dyson’s chagrin), have become sci-fi staples. But they have also gotten some (semi) serious attention from scientists searching for evidence of intelligent life beyond Earth. In two studies, published in 2004 and 2008, Richard Carrigan, a researcher at Fermilab, searched for lopsided, infrared-heavy spectra among some quarter-million infrared sources in a database amassed by the IRAS satellite. IRAS, launched in 1983, surveyed about 96% percent of the sky. The result: no Dyson spheres–or, at least, none that he could confidently distinguish from other potential lookalikes.

If a civilization is sophisticated enough to build a Dyson sphere around one star, though, why should it stop there? Why not outfit a whole galaxy with Dyson spheres? As Jason Wright, assistant professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State, wrote:

Consider a space-faring civilization that can colonize nearby stars in ships that travel at “only” 0.1% the speed of light (our fastest spacecraft travel at about 1/10 this speed). Even if they stop for 1,000 years at each star before launching ships to colonize the next nearest stars, they will still spread to the entire galaxy in 100 million years, which is 1/100 of the age of the Milky Way.

That is, an advanced civilization can fan out across its home galaxy pretty quickly, cosmically speaking, and a galaxy overrun with Dyson spheres and other energy-collecting super-structures would have a global surplus of mid-infrared radiation. With that in mind, Wright and his colleagues have been searching for evidence of such supercivilizations by looking for galaxies whose spectra skew to the infrared. Their campaign, called Glimpsing Heat from Alien Technologies Survey (G-HAT), scoured some 100 million objects observed by NASA’s Wide Field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) satellite. In a paper published in April, lead author Roger Griffith reported that, from all those millions, they found 50 galaxies showing infrared excesses that could maybe, possibly be due to alien technology–but, far more likely, are due to natural astrophysical processes. (Incidentally, as Lee Billings reported in Scientific American, the G-HAT team wasn’t able to secure funding from the usual government sources; their work is supported by a grant from the private Templeton Foundation.)…



These Stunning Photos of New Zealand’s Largest Gang Will Give You Sleepless Nights

Shano Rogue, 2010. C-Type Photograph, 1.9M x 1.5M


In the 1960s, a gang of variously disaffected youth sprang up in Hawkes Bay, New Zealand. They didn’t ride bikes, but they quickly developed all the trimmings of an outlaw motorcycle club: patches, club colors, and a fiercely violent process of initiation. They came to be known as the Mighty Mongrel Mob and today they’re the largest gang in the country, with around 30 chapters across both islands.

Media access to the Mob is rare, which is why this photo series by Jono Rotman is kind of a big deal. Jono, who is a Wellington born photographer now living in NYC, cut his teeth capturing New Zealand’s prisons and psychiatric wards, before he took on gang life in 2007. We asked him how he convinced hardened gang members to sit for large format photography, and what he learned along the way.

VICE: Hey Jono, how did you get access to these guys?

Jono Rotman: Initially I called the gang liaison officer at the NZ police and got a list of numbers of people who communicate between the gangs and the police. When I started it was to cover the gamut of NZ’s gangs, but ultimately I focused on the Mongrel Mob.

How did you convince them this was a good idea?

I explained that I wasn’t trying to “tell their story,” expose them, or some shit like that. Instead I told them I wanted to take martial portraits. And you know, regardless of where the Mob are viewed in the social hierarchy, these men have committed to a creed and fought battles, sometimes to the death. Basically the more they thought it was honest, the more they understood I wanted to produce something more complex than a cultural postcard. Then once there was go-ahead from the top, the guys down the bottom were happy to cooperate. These guys are hierarchical.

Did you feel intimidated?

Of course. Mob history is very bloody and NZ is a country with few guns so these guys don’t earn their stripes without putting their bodies on the line. Perhaps because of this, they have little to prove and are very upfront to deal with. There was always a tacit understanding that they could kill me if I fucked with them.

Denimz Rogue, 2008. C-Type Photograph, 1.9M x 1.5M

Can you describe the first portrait you took?

The first place I went to was in Porirua to photograph Denimz, the guy with the dogs on his cheeks. That’s a largely Pacific Islander and Maori area with a lot of state housing. Denimz’s place is nice though, he’s got a good family and he’s a well-organized guy. I think as they get older their outlook gets wider: it’s less about turf war, and more about the health of their community. When we met I tried to speak as directly as I could. At that stage, I didn’t know what I was dealing with, so I just said what I wanted to do, and he told me what he didn’t want to do.

Bung-Eye Notorious, 2008. C-Type Photograph, 1.9M x 1.5M

Generally speaking, what are their homes like?

Their houses are pretty clean. Many have wives, and a lot of them have been to prison, so they’ve come away with that regimented attitude towards cleanliness. I’ve tended to focus more on the older guys too, so they tend to have their shit together. But I’ve been to some squalid dives, too. In general, they’re not loaded so there’s not a lot of ostentatious wealth.

And what are they like in person?

They’re pretty significant characters forged from the coalface of life. I’ve been a photographer for a long time and I’ve had my fair share of meeting the famous and lauded, but in many ways I found a lot of the mobsters to be more impressive human beings. I’ve taken maybe 200 hundred portraits since I started. Of that, there weren’t any overly negative experiences, maybe just some teething problems to start with. Sometimes someone would get an idea about what you’re doing and, down the grapevine, it’s completely off track.

Greco Notorious South Island, 2008. C-Type Photograph, 1.9M x 1.5M

Did you ever see anything that shocked you?

OK, here’s an anecdote. I was on a memorial run, which is a basically a road trip to visit their fallen brothers around the country. They drive classic V8 Fords, which they call “Henries,” and we were 30-cars deep going through a town that was Black Power territory. That’s their rival gang…



Creativity And The Unremarkable Cerebellum: Motor Region Found To Play Surprising Role

The cerebellum performs its own unique role in the creative process. That said, trying too hard can block, rather than increase, your inspirational flow.


How do scientists capture the euphoric flights of creativity? The answer to this question led to surprising, some might say shocking, evidence of the human brain’s capacity for invention, and quite possibly reinvention. The cerebellum, long considered a drudge-like region of the brain, performs its own unique dance in the creative process, say researchers from Stanford’s School of Medicine and the (Hasso Plattner Institute of Design). Their new study also suggests that trying too hard can block, rather than increase, the inspirational flow.

You can’t exactly command people to alight on an original thought or two while they lie on a cold, hard MRI bed. Considering this problem, Dr. Manish Saggar, a co-author of the study and instructor at the, figured it would be best to simply trick people into revealing their imaginations. With this in mind, he borrowed an idea or two from Pictionary, a game that requires players to draw instead of say words, when designing his experiment.

After selecting a few verbs, Saggar and his colleagues tracked the brain activity of 14 men and 16 women who drew the words while lying in an MRI chamber. For each word, participants improvised an illustration in the allotted time of just 30 seconds — time enough for a decent brain scan but not enough time for anyone to get bored. For comparison, participants also drew a quick zigzag line, an action requiring fine-motor control but minimal creativity. When finished, participants rated the difficulty of drawing each word.

When the experiment concluded, the researchers gathered all the drawings and rated each on five-point scales of appropriateness (the accuracy of depiction) and creativity (elaborateness and originality of design).

Finally, the researchers sat down with drawings and scans and began to compare and discuss, review and analyze. Meanwhile, the hands on the clock spun round and round and the number of coffee rings increased beside the half-eaten sandwiches littering the desks.

Curiouser and Curiouser

A number of brain areas showed more activity when subjects drew words rather than the simple zigzag lines, the MRI scans indicated. In fact, peak activation occurred in the cerebellum and regions of the prefrontal cortex.

The difficult words, as rated by the participants, correlated with increased activity in the left prefrontal cortex, which is involved in attention, evaluation, and executive function (including decision-making and control of emotions).

Meanwhile, the highest scores for creativity (as assigned by the raters) linked to low activity in this brain region along with greater activation in the cerebellum. The cerebellum, which means “little brain” in Latin, accounts for about 10 percent of the total brain’s volume while containing more than half the total number of neurons. Considered a motor structure, the cerebellum does a lot of unglamorous work, such as helping us maintain our posture and balance…




Number of paedophiles in Britain will shock public, warns Deputy Children’s Commissioner for England

An abused child cries in a corner

Photo: Alamy

There is not enough land in Britain to build the prisons needed to house all of the sex abusers in Britain 

By Sarah Knapton

Britain would need a rolling programme of prison building to house all its paedophiles if they were all to prosecuted, Sue Berelowitz has warned

Child sex abuse is so rife in Britain that there is not enough land in the country to build the number of prisons needed to house the perpetrators, the Deputy Children’s Commissioner for England has warned.

Sue Berelowitz, who is currently chairing the government’s inquiry into the problem said the public would be shocked by the sheer scale of the problem when she reports in November.

She blamed the spread of pornography through the internet and social media for the growing problem of an increasingly sexualised society.

Speaking at the Hay Festival, Mrs Berelowitz said: “We live in a highly sexualised world in which for the most part it is considered quite acceptable to do as they want with females, and too many females think that is something they must comply with because they think it is a part of growing up

“Child porn and the proliferation of indecent images of children, and all the stuff we are seeing on social media which is undoubtedly having an impact on young people growing up and their impressions of sex and sexuality.

“I want us to keep in mind that people who sexually abuse children are somehow another breed. They are here and in our midst.

“There certainly needs to be much more awareness to bring it into the public’s consciousness. The figures when I report in November are going to be very shocking indeed.

“If the CPS were to prosecute everyone we would need a rolling prison programme. I would say there probably isn’t the land to build enough prisons.”

Mrs Berelowitz’s report comes in the wake of abuse scandals in areas including Rotherham, where it was reported that 1,400 children were abused between 1997 and 2013.

A previous inquiry into sex abuse by gangs revealed that from August 2010 to October 2011 at least 2,409 children were sexually exploited by gangs and groups across England.

Scotland Yard is also being investigated by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) over claims that it covered up child sex abuse because of the involvement of influential MPs and police officers between the 1970 and 2000s.

Mrs Berelowitz claimed that there were still cover ups happening in local authorities and police stations but said the bigger issue was in homes.

She described how police had refused to prosecute the father of an 18-month-old baby even though the child had shown clear signs of sexual abuse…



Hundreds protest ‘kidnapping’ in Norway’s Child Welfare System

Hundreds of demonstrators gathered in the Norwegian capital Oslo, to protest against the country’s foster care system. They are angry at children being ‘kidnapped’ from their families, which the protesters say is a breach of family rights.

Driving rain in Oslo didn’t put the several hundred protesters off from making their viewpoint heard, as they assembled by the city’s Central Station, before marching towards the parliament building.

Banners were held aloft, with messages including: “Children are not business,” and, “Bring back our children.” They are angry at the Norwegian foster care system ‘Barnevernet,’ (Child Protection Service), which has seen families in the country lose their children for alleged abuses, such as accidently dislodging a child’s loose tooth.

Eva Michalkova, who is originally from the Czech Republic, has felt the wrath of the Barnevernet, after she lost her two children.

“It’s a mixture of feelings. It’s sadness, frustration, it’s a feeling you you don’t know what to expect and all you can say is used against you, all you can do is used against you. So it is very difficult,” she told RT’s Ruptly video agency.

Michalkova’s case stems from an incident in 2011, when her two sons were taken into protective care, after one of her children told a nursery teacher that his father had “groped inside his pajamas,” the Norwegian online newspaper Nettavisen reported.

No charges were ever brought over the incident, but the Barnevernet placed the children into two separate foster families. The children’s parents have since divorced, but Eva is fighting a legal battle to regain custody of her kids.

The incident brought a furious response from the Czech President Milos Zeman, who in February compared the Barnevernet system to Nazi Germany’s infamous ‘Arian breeding program.’

“The boys are in a foster facility similar to Lebensborn. Their mother can meet them for 15 minutes twice a year. She must not talk in Czech to them. In other words, the kids are being estranged from their national identity,” Zeman said, as cited by the Czech News Agency.

In October 2014, the Barnevernet snatched the young son of a Russian couple after the child told classmates that his mother had pulled out a loose tooth.

According to Natalya and Sergey Shianok, their son Oskar, who was five at the time, had told fellow kids at his school that his mother had accidently yanked out one of his baby teeth. Natalya explained that she was helping him to pull a T-shirt over his head and knocked out a tooth that was already loose.

The Barnevernet said this was child abuse and that the mother had deliberately knocked the tooth out.

“For the moment Oskar remains in the care of a Norwegian foster family, and his mother has no idea where,” says Igor Lapitsky, head of the Russian consulate in Norway, reports

In comparison, former US athlete and Olympic gold medal winner, Bryan Clay won praise from across the internet, when he tied a piece of dental floss to a javelin, which he then threw, to dislodge his daughter’s loose tooth.

Marius Reikeras, a human rights activist is critical of the Norwegian government’s spending on Barnevernet, saying that the money could be more effectively channeled elsewhere…