Update: Post mortem has confirmed that the Miami cannibal was not high on bath salts, LSD or synthetic cannabinoids.
A freak attack described as drug induced “zombie face eating” has hit international headlines this week. Until the results of a toxicological analysis emerge, the drug(s) involved is unknown and open to speculation. This has not stopped the newspapers, who understandably have gone absolutely bat-shit over the story. The Daily Mail has claimed the attacker was “high on LSD”, while the Guardian initially claimed the assailant was “under the influence of a potent LSD-like drug called bath salts”, the Guardian went on to make the bizarre claim that the assailant had taken “the delirium-inducing drug, which is similar to cocaine and other forms of LSD” – as if cocaine is a form of LSD. The Guardian have now “corrected” the piece to state that “the delirium-inducing drug, which can have effects similar to cocaine and LSD” – as if the effects of LSD and cocaine are similar. Reading a local news report goes some distance in helping us understand how matters have been confused, a head of Miami police has stated: “We have seen, already, three or four cases that are exactly like this where some people have admitted taking LSD and it’s no different than cocaine psychosis”, clearly misinformed local police have also reportedly used the phrase “bad LSD”. It’s unclear precisely what previous cases of acid-fuelled-zombie-face-eating the Miami police are referring to, it seems the media and the Miami police have jumped on LSD with zero evidence, apparently confusing LSD with the disease in 28 days Later. It seems far more probable that if this attack is connected to drugs, the attacker was in a severe state of stimulant induced psychosis as opposed to being under the influence of psychedelics.
Just in case it isn’t clear from the two reports above, the proposal that the assailant had consumed the famously tranquil hallucinogen depicted below is pure uninformed speculation, the idea that this could be the result of a “bad batch of LSD” is completely nonsensical and appears to be based on utterly uniformed conjecture.
A closer reading of the news reports reveals that rather than LSD, a chemical listed as one of the safest psychoactive drugs in relative terms (Nutt et al, 2010), it is now being reported that the assailant was under the influence of an unspecified drug known as a “bath salt”. Bath salts are not unique to the US, in some areas of the UK, a study (Measham et al, 2011) found that self reported use of “bubble” was higher than for mephedrone or amphetamines. 18% of people asked reported having taken “bubble” whilst amphetamine use in the past month crashed to 3% compared to 9% for bubble. “Survey respondents were not only unclear about, but also apparently unconcerned about the speciﬁc chemical identity of the stimulant white powders they consume”… “a considerable number of respondents were adamant that they had never heard of mephedrone but that they had taken Bubble”.
Both the danger and sudden prevalence of unknown white powders is a direct result of government restrictions on the precursors of relatively safe drugs such as LSD and MDMA and the clamp down on labs producing pure alternatives such as Mephedrone. The end result is that drug developers are rushing endless new drugs on to the market place in order to stay ahead of legislation and now more worryingly, producers are avoiding labelling their produce in an attempt to help distributors stay at least one step ahead of the plods on the ground. This vicious circle is unhealthy in the extreme and is being entirely fuelled by zero tolerance legislation. The zombie case may prove to be just one possible result of what can happen when a policy of harm reduction becomes a policy of harm maximisation.
The million dollar question remains, what were the chemicals in the “bath salts” that are reported to be involved? It is worth noting that this incident is clearly an unusual occurrence, the incident can certainly not be described as typical of any single drug. Far from LSD or even formerly popular legal chemicals such as mephedrone, the consensus among speculators appears to be that the “zombie face eater”, in addition to likely having an undiagnosed pre-existing mental condition, may have been in a state of severe drug induced psychosis and/or may have taken something more along the lines of a PCP analogue. This is obviously pure guess work, however PCP is known for its astounding ability to precipitate psychosis, bizarre behaviour and extreme violence. It has even been linked to cases of cannibalism in the past, cases such as this are of course rare and heavily publicised but the fact that people are now taking drugs blindly as a matter of course, the contents of which may contain substances they are utterly unprepared for is extremely worrying. Another key factor pointing to PCP is that it is well known that PCP users are prone to getting naked and becoming violent. Another popular guess that may be more grounded in reality is that the drug could be MDPV, a drug with a thoroughly unpleasant reputation that has been known to be marketed as bath salts in the past. These guesses are of course, absolute speculation based on the apparently unfounded claim that “bath salts” were involved, judging by the fact that the event occurred in down-town Miami it seems perhaps more logical to propose that the attacker might have been using old fashioned nasties such as crack or crystal methamphetamine. We will not discover what the drug was that the “zombie face eater” had taken until after a forensic investigation, this goes to once again underline the danger of “bath salts”, until they are tested we simply do not know what is in them. It is certainly worth taking this particular horror story with a pinch of salt, the assailant had previous convictions for beating his own mother in 1994, on this day he was the first person to ever be tasered by his local police force. It therefore seems clear that whatever drug he took, it was not the only factor at play.
Measham,F. Moore, K. Østergaard, j. (2911). Mephedrone, “Bubble” and unidentified white powders: the contested identities of synthetic “legal highs”, Drugs and Alcohol Today, 11 (3), 137-146 (PDF)
Nutt, D., King, L., & Phillips, L. (2010). Drug harms in the UK: a multicriteria decision analysis The Lancet, 376 (9752), 1558-1565 DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(10)61462-6 (Subscribe to the Lancet fore free for access)
It’s rare that we get to watch a debate that really makes us think deeply about the big questions. The following two hour polemical marathon of the issues of interventionism and faith will challenge all but the most rigid of thinkers. The 2008 face off was the first time the feuding brothers debated on stage the issues that mattered to them and occurred only three years before the sad death of Christopher Hitchens at the end of last year. The debate is absolutely unmissable and will almost certainly leave you questioning your perspective in one way or another, whatever perspective that may be. It’s perhaps the most heart felt and positively moving head to head debate I’ve seen captured on film.
News broke yesterday that while smoking cannabis himself, Barack Obama observed somewhat different rules to the ones that the US population suffer. According to the leaked pages of a soon to be published biography, members of Obama’s “Choom Gang” would hold in smoke for as long as possible to ensure “total absorption”. Under Obama’s rules “anyone who exhaled prematurely lost his next turn at the joint”. Obama was apparently known for working under a different modus operandi to the traditional “pass to the left hand side”, according to the LA Times, “when a joint was making the rounds, he often elbowed his way in, out of turn, shouted ‘Intercepted!’ and took an extra hit.”
Obama is not the only current champion of prohibition to have completed an abrupt 180° U-turn in their views on drug use, British PM David Cameron famously stated:
“I ask the Government not to return to retribution and war on drugs. That has been tried, and we all know that it does not work” (Image credit: Sharrock)
David Cameron, House of Commons, 5th December 2002
The soul crushing ease with which politicians change their views on drugs upon gaining office is mind boggling. It is equally mind numbing to learn of the reams of drug war champions whom upon leaving office swiftly reverse their view point. Perhaps one day we’ll manage to elect a leader who is able to survive the democratic process without losing sight of their values.
The evidence regarding THC absorption and duration of breath holding is surprisingly limited, the consensus appears to be that the majority of active components in cannabis are absorbed relatively instantly and any negligible effects from extended breath holding are simply a result of excessive carbon monoxide exposure. This is good news, there is no reason to hold cannabis smoke down for much longer than a couple of seconds, in fact doing so actually results in wholly unnecessary additional exposure to smoke and tar. There is more good news, it seems clear that heavy cannabis smoking is not particularly good for lung function but surprisingly perhaps, it seems occasional use may actually have beneficial effects. A twenty year study found that users who smoked up to one joint a day actually had increased lung function and this effect stood the test of time even for long term occasional smokers:
“With up to 7 joint-years of lifetime exposure (eg, 1 joint/d for 7 years or 1 joint/wk for 49 years), we found no evidence that increasing exposure to marijuana adversely affects pulmonary function”
The moral of the story? If you choose to smoke, you don’t need to do a Clinton and not inhale at all, but you certainly don’t need to do an Obama either – failing to exhale will do you more harm than good. More importantly, keep your smoke an occasional habit and you may just end up with stronger lungs than you started with.
THIS POST IS NOT TO BE CONSIDERED MEDICAL ADVICE. NEUROBONKERS BEARS NO LIABILITY FOR YOUR USE OF THE INFORMATION PROVIDED.
Pletcher MJ, Vittinghoff E, Kalhan R, Richman J, Safford M, Sidney S, Lin F, & Kertesz S (2012). Association between marijuana exposure and pulmonary function over 20 years. JAMA : the journal of the American Medical Association, 307 (2), 173-81 PMID: 22235088
Zacny JP, & Chait LD (1991). Response to marijuana as a function of potency and breathhold duration. Psychopharmacology, 103 (2), 223-6 PMID: 2027922
The line below is taken from my undergrad revision notes, it is the same conclusion reached in a profile of Thomas Kuhn posted yesterday on the Scientific American blog.
“Kuhn described what science tends to be, Popper described what it ought to be”
Thomas Kuhn and Karl Popper were two philosophers with opposing views of the nature of science. Popper believed that the only way for science to progress is through testing falsifiable ideas, this theory has become the bedrock of scientific progress. Kuhn argued that this isn’t how science works in practice – according to Kuhn, scientists in reality tend to spend most of their time “mopping up”, which means producing results that fit in with the established view point. Kuhn popularised the term “paradigm shift”, used to describe the event that occurs when a new discovery blows previously held beliefs out of the water, for example when the theory of evolution won the argument over theories based around intelligent design. I’ve always struggled to see why the two theories (Kuhn’s and Poppers’) are so often seen as mutually exclusive, from my perspective both theories are indeed correct and in fact complement each other to serve important lessons in their own right. Testing falsifiable theories is clearly the way forward but at the very same time this must be complemented by replicating results, if this does not happen then we have no way of knowing that we are on the right track and this is a very bad thing for science.
The Scientific American piece adds an interesting angle to the Kuhn-Popper debate, both philosophers are now deceased but the piece describes a fascinating account of how Thomas Kuhn really felt about how his writings were percieved. The piece reveals Kuhn’s sentiment that he was “much fonder of (his) critics than (his) fans”, this will ring true for many that have written about science and felt the frustration of having their views misunderstood. For Kuhn it seems, the frustration really got to him. He was left isolated, frustrated by students who misunderstood his message and fearing to speak to journalists who he felt would only misrepresent his viewpoint. The SciAm piece adds an often neglected aspect to the debate, perhaps “scientists can never truly understand the ‘real world’ or even each other”, the way forward is to balance a healthy scepticism with a genuine openness to new ideas. This argument, was made in a fantastic essay by the late Carl Sagan:
“It seems to me what is called for is an exquisite balance between two conflicting needs: the most skeptical scrutiny of all hypotheses that are served up to us and at the same time a great openness to new ideas. Obviously those two modes of thought are in some tension. But if you are able to exercise only one of these modes, whichever one it is, you’re in deep trouble.
If you are only skeptical, then no new ideas make it through to you. You never learn anything new. You become a crotchety old person convinced that nonsense is ruling the world. (There is, of course, much data to support you.) But every now and then, maybe once in a hundred cases, a new idea turns out to be on the mark, valid and wonderful. If you are too much in the habit of being skeptical about everything, you are going to miss or resent it, and either way you will be standing in the way of understanding and progress.
On the other hand, if you are open to the point of gullibility and have not an ounce of skeptical sense in you, then you cannot distinguish the useful as from the worthless ones. If all ideas have equal validity then you are lost, because then, it seems to me, no ideas have any validity at all.
Some ideas are better than others. The machinery for distinguishing them is an essential tool in dealing with the world and especially in dealing with the future. And it is precisely the mix of these two modes of thought that is central to the success of science.”
I’ll leave this discussion there and implore you to go ahead and read John Horgan’s SciAm piece and Carl Sagan’s essay as well as Ed Yong’s Nature Magazine piece, the debates complement each other perfectly leaving a great deal worth pondering.
Horgan, J. (2012). What Thomas Kuhn Really Thought about Scientific “Truth” Scientific American, Cross-Check
Sagan, C. (1987). The Burden of Skepticism Skeptical Inquirer, vol. 12
Yong E (2012). Replication studies: Bad copy. Nature, 485 (7398), 298-300 PMID: 22596136
Timothy Leary’s floatation tank has been put up for auction on eBay by MAPS, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. MAPS are the world’s greatest sponsor of research in to psychedelics, currently funding countless much needed research programs that government budgets won’t touch with a barge pole. Leary was the controversial Harvard psychologist responsible for much initial research in to LSD and Psilocybin, he is remembered for such timeless catchphrases as “turn on, tune in, drop out”, “set and setting”, and “think for yourself and question authority”. Leary was branded by Nixon as “the most dangerous man in America” and during the 60′s and 70′s was held captive in 29 different prisons around the world. The inventor of the floatation tank, John C. Lilly gave the floation tank to Leary as a gift when he heard that Leary was dying of cancer. Leary sadly passed awat on May 31st, 1996. The tank is now being auctioned to raise money for future psychedelic research.
The BBC have an excellent biopic of the amazing story of Timothy Leary, it’s well worth kicking back for. The documentary tells the story of Leary’s most famous experiments including a project to use Psilocybin to reform convicts and experiments demonstrating the clear effect of Psilocybin on spirituality. Leary’s autobiography reports an experiment in which LSD was given to 300 professors, graduate students, writers and philosophers and 75 percent of the test subjects reported the experience as one of the most educational and revealing experiences of their lives. The film also documents Leary’s troubled relationship with the law, in 1965 Leary overturned his conviction for posession of cannabis in the US Supreme Court. In 1968, Leary was arrested again, for the posession of two cannabis roaches; this earned Leary a twenty year prison sentence due to his status as a cultural icon. When jailed, Leary was given a standard psychological test battery that it just happened he himself had devised. Leary used his knowledge to answer the Leary Interpersonal Behavior Test with answers that led his guards to believe he was a conformist who could be locked up in a minimum security prison. Leary escaped jail by climing out along telephone lines before going on the run to Algeria. Leary was later captured and returned to jail where he continued to write. He was eventually released and lived the rest of his life as one of the most outspoken proponents of the value of psychedelics.
If you happen to have a spare twenty grand you might just be able to grab yourself the tank and the following portrait for good measure. If you don’t, you can help fund the continuation of Leary’s ideas through a donation to MAPS on their website.
Subscribecontact directly by simply hitting reply to the email. You will never receive spam under any circumstances and you can unsubscribe at any time with one click. Alternately, use the link below to subscribe via RSS or your favourite reading platform.
Africa America Bad Science BCI Brain Computer Interfacing breaking news Cannabis Censorship Cocaine Copyright Counterfeit Drugs Daily Fail DailyFail daily mail Daily Mail Demolition Squad Drugs EEG Emotiv Fake Drugs FMRI Health Hoax Independent Misinformation Music Neuroscience Open Science Procrastination Psychology Rat Brain Robot Review Satire Science sex Skepticism Statistics Student Loans Crisis Susan Greenfield Synaesthesia Technology The confederacy of dunces Video walking War on Drugs Wikileaks