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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. 

From television to the internet platform, Jonathan switched his journey in digital media with Bigtime Daily. He served as a journalist for popular news channels and currently contributes his experience for Bigtime Daily by writing about the tech domain.

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Science

8 Ways To Help Combat Climate Change

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You’re just one person in a world full of billions of people. It may seem like your actions won’t affect the planet that much so it doesn’t matter what you do, but that just isn’t true. If you are passionate about tackling climate change, and you really want to make a difference, here are eight steps you can take:

Reduce energy consumption in your home

If you are in the United States, your average annual carbon footprint is about 16 tons, which is about 4 times the global average. Roughly one third of that is home energy consumption, so this is a great place to start reducing. Even small things like switching your bulbs to LEDs can make an impact, but big things like weatherizing and insulating your home can make a huge difference.

Take some time to analyze your home energy consumption by getting a professional home energy audit. At the very least, conducting an online energy assessment can give you some helpful insights of where to start making changes.

Adjust your transportation habits

The next biggest category for Americans when it comes to energy consumption is transportation. Easy ways to make a difference here will depend on your location and lifestyle, but here are some ideas: get an electric vehicle, fly less, walk or bike to work, use public transportation and carpool. No matter what your lifestyle, there are changes you can make to reduce your impact in this area.

Change the way you eat

Most people know that eating less meat is the number one way to reduce your carbon footprint when it comes to food. But few recognize how important it is to simply waste less food. Americans waste about 40% of the food they buy, according to the National Resources Defense Council.

By planning meals, using better food storage containers and buying only what you need, you can reduce food waste drastically. The good news is that this will reduce your food budget along with reducing your carbon footprint. It’s estimated that wasted food accounts for about $1,800 per year.

Support clean energy

If you can use solar power or wind power and other renewable energies, you can make a huge impact on climate change. Some people are even able to choose which energy cooperative they purchase from. Support clean energy in any way you can.

If you are a homeowner, investing in solar power is an investment that will continue to pay dividends, especially when you factor in net metering. Net metering allows solar customers to create energy during the day when energy use is low, export that power to the grid and reduce their future electric bills. There are also ETFs and solar company stocks that you can invest in to support the industry.

Vote for a climate activist

It might not seem like much, but supporting climate activists can be extremely productive in the fight against climate change. These people are leading the charge in a politically heated arena, and it can get lonely when you are championing controversial ideas. Reach out to climate activists and let them know they have your support. If you can, offer to become a part of their projects or donate to their cause.

Work from Home

While this option isn’t available to everyone, WFH can have a huge impact for those who can reduce their commutes by even one day per week.  There are many benefits to WFH, but your employer might not realize how important this one is to you if you don’t say anything.

Even if you aren’t in a position to WFH, speaking up about the beneficial impacts that working from home can have on combating climate change is a great way to impact climate change issues. Creating awareness is a step in the right direction.

Recycle

In America, there are many communities that are recycling. If your community isn’t one of them, this could be the biggest way for you to make an impact. Don’t try to do this alone, though. Find a group of like-minded people and get them involved. 

Recycling is supported by most people, and it is considered by many to be a priority. But the rate that we recycle in the United States is only 32%, according to a U.S. Census report, so there is a lot of room for growth here.

Buy less

Manufactured goods like household items and clothes end up in our landfills. If you want to make a big change, stop buying items you don’t actually need. Spending accounts for about one quarter of most American’s carbon footprint. In fact, your carbon footprint rises with your income level, so it is those with the highest incomes that can make the biggest difference. Try taking the money you would spend on shopping sprees and use it to support an organization that is fighting climate change.

Do at least one thing to tackle climate change issues

Even if you only take one of these eight steps to combat climate change, it is better than doing nothing. And who knows? You might feel so good about taking that first step that you will want to continue on this path. 

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