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Fossil of plant-eating reptile discovered in New Mexico

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Fossil of plant-eating reptile discovered in New Mexico

The earliest example of a reptile that eats plant has been discovered in the fossil record in southern New Mexico, the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science told.

The museum announced this week, saying that the unique structure of the jaws, teeth and skull of the sail-backed reptile clearly shows that it was an herbivore. Not only that, but it also indicated that such specialized plant-eating wasn’t earlier known in reptiles older than approximately 200 million years.

The fossil bones were found by Ethan Schuth near Alamogordo while he was on a class field trip to University of Oklahoma geology in 2013. The bones were known to be part of a well preserved but incomplete skeleton.

Field crews spent almost a year for collecting the bones from the site and a lot more time was spent to remove the hard sandstone which surrounds the fossils so that the research could ensue.

Paleontology curator Spencer Lucas along with his team from the museum determined that the bones were almost 300 million years old, which means that the reptile lived during the early Permian Period, or over 50 million years before the dinosaurs started originating.

Lucas and research associate Matt Celeskey have been able to identify the skeleton as belonging to an absolutely new genus and species that they named as Gordodon kraineri. The world ‘Gordodon’ is derived from the Spanish word gordo, which means fat, and the Greek word ‘odon’, or tooth, as the species had quite large pointed teeth at the tips of its jaws.

The species name kraineri actually honors Karl Krainer, who is an Austrian geologist who is known to contribute to knowledge about the Permian period in New Mexico.

“Gordodon actually rewrites the books by pushing back our understanding of the evolution of such specialized herbivory by almost 100 million years,” Lucas told in a statement that was issued on Wednesday.

Gordodon was known to be about 5 feet long and weighed approximately 75 pounds. It was believed to be a selective feeder that was dependent on high-nutrient plants because of the advanced structure of its teeth, skull and jaws.

Experts at the museum say that other early herbivorous reptiles were not known to be selective, chomping on any plants that they came across. They say that Gordodon had some of the same specializations that were found in modern animals such as deer and goats.

Michelle has been a part of the journey ever since Bigtime Daily started. As a strong learner and passionate writer, she contributes her editing skills for the news agency. She also jots down intellectual pieces from categories such as science and health.

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Science

University of Health Sciences Antigua Professor Discusses the Benefits of Psychedelic Medicine on Mental Health

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Dr. Manuel Flores is a man of science. Being a member of the scientific community, he is always open to new ideas and searching for the emergent truth. 

“I know everything can be proved through science,” Dr. Flores explains. “Human beings think we know everything, but we don’t. A thousand years ago, people saw lightning, and they thought God was mad at us.”

As an award-winning educator, accomplished healthcare professional, and a professor at the University of Health Sciences Antigua, Dr. Flores is leading a study to determine the benefits of psychedelic therapy on mental health. “With science, you need to have an open mind,” he says. “The scientific community has always been open to new ideas. For decades, they have demonized psychedelic substances in our culture. I’m pleased to see that the public seems to be more open.”

Dr. Flores is correct about a growing openness to new information on drugs. According to a survey conducted by the Journal of Psychopharmacology, a vast majority of adults in the US, UK, and EU say that they consider psychedelic drugs — such as psilocybin-containing mushrooms — less dangerous than other mind-altering substances like alcohol, tobacco, opiates, and other substances.

What Are Psychedelics?

Dr. Flores and his team are studying the psychedelic alkaloid psilocybin, a substance found in a variety of “magic mushrooms” which are typically consumed for their hallucinogenic effects. They belong to a group of compounds known as psychedelics, which trigger changes in perception, mood, and thought. When psilocybin is taken, it’s converted to psilocin, a chemical with psychoactive properties.

“Psychedelics produce certain effects on the human mind,” says Dr. Flores. “These are alkaloids that produce sensory effects that don’t actually exist. For example, when taken in large doses, one might experience hallucinations.”

However, after decades of campaigns encouraging the public to “just say no” to drugs, extensive research shows the many benefits that psychedelic therapy has on people with mental health conditions, such as depression and PTSD, especially in areas where other treatment methods have failed. This is because psychedelics have been shown to create new neural pathways in the brain, resulting in the ability to increase serotonin production and unlock new avenues of thinking. As a result, patients are more likely to embrace their present situation rather than past trauma.

“The compound we’re studying, psilocybin, has shown many benefits in people with depression or anxiety when used in small doses,” Dr. Flores tells us. “The doses that were used back in the 1960s were quite large, which causes you to experience hallucinations and the negative effects.”

He continues: “In the 20th century, basically all drugs became demonized, including cannabis. Since the late 80s and early 90s, we have realized that some of these drugs have benefits if they are used properly.” For instance, the positive uses of substances like marijuana in treating cancer patients are well documented. When used properly, cannabis can help cancer and chemotherapy patients revitalize their appetite.

A Brief History of Psychedelics

Using natural substances like mushrooms and hallucinogens — both for recreation and medicinal purposes — predates recorded human history. In many cultures, spiritual leaders such as shamans used them as a means of communication with the gods.

“Historically, [these substances] were used by oracles and other people to predict the future or commune with spiritual deities. These drugs put you in that state where you see things you otherwise wouldn’t see, hear, or feel.”

Dr. Flores believes the demonization of drugs began in the Victorian era. “Culturally, the United States has always been a child of England and the United Kingdom, so the stigma around these drugs had a lot to do with Victorian-era beliefs regarding drug use and addiction.” For example, between the mid-1800s and 1900s, alcohol and drug addiction in the US became heavily stigmatized as a result of conservative influence stemming from Victorian-era England.

“In the 1960s,” Dr. Flores adds, “a very particular group of people that everybody called ‘hippies’ used LSD. When conservative people saw these hippies on LSD doing their dances and movements while using these substances, they became more demonized, and later — as a result of that demonization — completely illegal. So now, when you see somebody using drugs, you don’t see a sick person. You see a bad person.”

While caution is always essential when using mind-altering substances, especially considering the severe ramifications of the misuse of alcohol and drugs, Dr. Flores says that these same drugs possess the potential to do good.

What are the potential impacts and benefits?

According to Dr. Flores, the reason behind his research is that we currently only understand the short-term effects of psychedelic drug use. “We do not know for certain the long-term effects,” he says. “The side effects of these drugs are minimal, but we don’t know what will happen ten years from now.”

Dr. Flores isn’t alone in his work, though. In 2019, a study conducted by the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine used psylocibin to treat patients suffering from depression found similar results and benefits of the substance. Additional studies conducted by scientific and medical researchers and professionals at other institutions around the US, such as New York University and Mount Sinai, have also been conducted with the same conclusion. Their findings show that psylocibin and psychedelic substances show overwhelming promise to treat patients with a variety of symptoms and mental health disorders.

Nevertheless, the scientific process of understanding the potential impacts and benefits of long-term psychedelic drug use is complicated, involving observation, hypothesis, testing, and experimentation. Dr. Flores hopes that this process will lead to more peer-reviewed journals and — eventually — an emergent truth.

“It’s critical that we conduct this work without bias,” he mentions. “Science is the best thing we have to prove to our natural world because it is tested and retested, and one day, somebody will say, ‘this is an emergent truth, this is what’s happening.’”

The science community knows that these drugs have benefits for people with certain psychiatric disorders, specifically depression, anxiety, and PTSD. But what about any adverse side effects, like what is commonly referred to as a “bad trip?”

“Because the doses we use are so small, there are no bad trips,” Dr. Flores clarifies. “Bad trips came about because the doses used back in the 60s were high, because people were looking for those trips.”

The Importance of Research, Science, and Asking Questions

Science improves our lives. It makes our technology better and faster, provides life-saving discoveries, and can make us healthier. “It’s important to promote science because it’s the key to a better world. There’s nothing more important than learning and asking questions,” says Dr. Flores. “If you don’t know something, educate yourself, learn about it, and have an open mind.”

In this age of instant Google knowledge and WebMD, a bit of information can be dangerous.

“There’s one thing that doctors say,” Dr. Flores says with a laugh. “I went to college for four years, medical school for four years, and did a residency for three to five years. Then, suddenly, someone Googles something and thinks they know more about it than me. If you come to me, I will educate you, and then you can decide what you want to do. It’s called informed consent. It’s vital to educate yourself and then trust science.”

Dr. Manuel Flores is an experienced doctor who has risen in authority and is now the Dean and Vice President of academics of the University of Health Sciences Antigua. He’s an award-winning educator, superbly-rated senior academic administrator, and accomplished healthcare professional with over 18 years of experience in medical, clinical, and health science education, student, and patient-driven environments. 

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