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 By Simon Hazelwood-Smith, MSc student in Science & Technology Policy at the University of Sussex. Tweets as @simonthazelwood

It’s high time to re-evaluate laws and attitudes to psychedelic drug research. There is a gigantic, hulking elephant in the UK policy room. Attempts to curb and reduce recreational drug use through strict criminalisation laws have failed. Vulnerable people are sent to jail, take substances of unknown quality and origin and support an often hyper-violent, caustic and predatory global underground drug trade. More than this, the ranking of severity of punishments for drug related crimes defies logic and evidence, pandering to fear and misinformation. These arguments are familiar tropes in the popular media, yet decriminalisation remains a taboo topic. And although there are a few encouraging voices beginning to make themselves heard, UK policy continues to be frustratingly stubborn to reform.

There is another, perhaps less obvious consequence of the UK’s attitude to drugs: it is incredibly difficult to conduct research to investigate precisely how psychedelic drugs affects the body and brain. Researchers hoping to study these effects will invariably meet twin barriers of excessively cautious funding bodies and prohibitively restrictive licensing and procurement regulations. Although there is massive potential for these drugs to be used medicinally, the fear of damaged reputation by both scientists and research councils is significant.

In spite of this there are still some who are attempting to probe this potential to combat mental illnesses; and with good reason, a recent publication showed depression to be more costly to human productivity than any other condition, mental or otherwise. Professor David Nutt of UCL is one such scientist, who has for many years been a champion of the value in researching drugs traditionally used for recreational purposes.

It is a great shame that research in this area is so restricted; the Human Brain is one of the most intriguing and mysterious objects in science, yet researchers have only scratched the surface of its complexities. By studying the way psychedelic drugs such as LSD, psilocybin (found in magic mushrooms) and ketamine affect the brain in controlled settings, there is a good chance that some of the mysteries of the fundamentals of consciousness may be revealed. This in turn could pave the way for new mental health interventions.

Research into psychedelic drugs as medicinal therapies, in particular to combat mental illnesses such as depression shows great promise. In recent years research into ketamine’s uses as an antidepressant have been a revelation with symptoms being lifted in a matter of hours in some cases. It is hoped that research into the properties of LSD may prove as fruitful, yet the difficulties of studying this drug are magnified significantly. Where ketamine is a class B drug, LSD is class A and schedule 1, making it more dangerous in the eyes of the law and more difficult to obtain for research than heroin. The upshot of this is that just 4 laboratories in the UK have a licence to work with the drug, stymieing progress hugely.

The scientific crowd-funding concept as is being developed by Walacea.com has tremendous potential to be positively disruptive in science funding. The UK is placing ever more emphasis on ensuring that research has impact outside of academia. What better way to demonstrate public interest and support for a project, than through crowd-funding in which the public choose those projects that they feel are needed.

The world is in great need of a re-think in its approaches towards the regulation of drugs. The possibility of appropriating these drugs as treatments is tantalising, but will be far easier if restrictions are relaxed. With a little luck, projects like Prof Nutt’s Walacea study will be a red flag to government that the UK demands change.

Resources:

http://www.nature.com/news/rave-drug-holds-promise-for-treating-depression-fast-1.16664

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/dr-robin-carhartharris-is-the-first-scientist-in-over-40-years-to-test-lsd-on-humans–and-youre-next-9667532.html

http://www.nature.com/news/mental-health-a-world-of-depression-1.16318

 

 

 

 

What an AMAZING Day!!!

We would like to raise a toast to our wonderful supporters of the first ever LSD brain imaging study!!

For all of you who have been following, supporting, sharing, and tweeting about our recent LSD research launch alongside the Beckley Foundation, we raise a glass to you.

At the end of an unbelievably fast day, we are proud to announce that you all have already raised over 60% of all the funds that will cover…gratuitous drum roll…the final stage of the world’s first ever fMRI and MEG scan on the effects of LSD! Can we mention once again, that we are talking about the span of one day?

Sure, there have been many monumental scientific firsts that have mired public fascination. However, few have achieved more than half of all their funding in one day…by the public…by means of social media and the press.

Here’s to exploring the mystery of the brain. A huge thank you to everyone who has supported the team so far!! With an extra special thank you to the many news outlets who propelled the work of Professor David Nutt, Amanda Feilding, and Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris into the curious, craving, internet eye!  Thank you all so much, we truly are touched by the response.

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Make some noise: Thunderclap edition

Earlier this week, we sent out a social media post [link Thunderclap] so that we could boost a wild social media signal to raise awareness for our drone project. We definitely have the best community ever with over 100 people supporting the project.

With the help of the Walacea science community, we were able to reach just over 60,000 people on various networking sites (Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr), and that is just 60,000 more possibilities to connect with people who feel the same way about conservation and deforestation. It is just icing on the cake if those people also find this leopard cat from our scientists in Borneo ridiculously cute and want to chip in a bit of money to help us understand more about its habitat and survival skills.

Leopard Cat

In other exciting news this week, our scientist friend Emma Stone is currently in Malawi studying the migration of African Wild Dogs, and we got to shoot some footage of her telling us about her work. Be prepared to encounter a super cute dog you did not even know existed!

One of our upcoming projects revolves around researching the strip of land between Malawi and Zambia to figure out how Wild Dogs are surviving, even though they are endangered. Emma Stone is just our gal for the job, and we couldn’t be more excited to add her project to the Walacea pipeline.

Last week, we signaled a Twitter Warzone, and we can definitely say, it’s been a good week for scientific innovation. For example, in the past week, we ran across: how deforestation helped spread Ebola, how clean energy can be the future of the world by 2050, and how scientists are looking at a pulsar brighter than 10,000,000 suns. It’s been one busy week for science, and we are still pushing for more innovation to come!

 

 

 

Innovation: Can we crowdfund ‘Sexy’ Science?

Sexy Science!

So we think this is a good time for some teasers of what’s to come. We were particularly inspired by the Paris auto show this past week, which exhibited some ultra special cars that run on…oh you know, air. Say What!!!?

The idea behind the engineering comes from the French manufacturers Peugot. In a sci-fi twist, they replaced fuel with compressed air. The product is a magical hybrid car that is almost as cool as the DeLorean (though let’s be honest, the air powered car has yet to master time travel). All this inspiration has got our brain juices flowing for our queued projects, so, let us just paint a little teaser…

Cosmic Ray Detectors…

In our pipeline we have a cosmic ray detectors project measuring the cosmos from far and wide. The detectors will help us demystify what cosmic rays are, how they influence weather as well as seismic activity and who knows what else.  And, one of the most exciting parts is the research will be completed not by experienced professors in their labs at prestigious universities but at schools by A-level and GCSE students!! Who said you need a degree certificate to conduct meaningful research, certainly not us or Wallace for that matter!!

How LSD works in the brain!

We will be raising money for the world’s first images of the brain on LSD using fMRI and MEG. This is exciting stuff…more soon!

And Brain Plasticity

Prof Bruce Hood is interested in how the plasticity of the brain varies between adulthood and childhood…

This is all the tip of the iceberg, my friends! And if you thought Walacea was solely based on conservation, we’ve got one giant news flash, right now, right here on this blog, to tell you that we’re always looking for new ideas! Our realm of crowdfunding science finds its roots in all sorts of scientific inspiration. From humanitarian to technological to biological, we are certain that the best ideas start from the ground. Even better yet, because our crowd funding community can be anybody, you all are our foremost knowledge-hungry watering hole. And we want to join in on this watering hole of knowledge. So let’s move onto another bright idea shall we?

Our challenge, or rather, interactive game, this week is going to be a twitter warzone. Our plan is this: we want you to hashtag in #Walacea to shoot any science related questions, links, fun trivia facts, photos, etc. at us, and we’ll start bridging together our community. From every small idea to big revelation, we’re ready to be there right with you.

 

Join our thunderclap to protect the rainforest

Hey guys,

On the 14th of October, we are trying to make some noise for one of our research project that would like to use drones to track rainforest mammals in Borneo following deforestation in a bid to create more robust data to lobby the governments who are legally chopping down the forest. They want to track all kinds of amazing mammals from urangutans and slow lorises to clouded leopards and civet cats. This will be the first time this kind of data has been recorded at the same time as legal deforestation. It’s also pretty cool to track rainforest mammals from the sky and should lead to some interesting footage.

We’re using Thunderclap, which enables people to donate a tweet and/or Facebook post to the cause but we need your help to reach 100 supporters or our message disappears into the ether. The posts are then launched at the same moment on the 14th October.

Get on board here, it is quick and easy: http://thndr.it/1udkhBL

Thank you for your support! And please feel free to send this around and get more people involved!

Natalie

 

The dirt, the smudge, the low down on Palm Oil and Drones

You might have noticed this week (hello, grand launch!) that we have advocated what could be the most epic tracking project in the world. And all right, we’re not the international space station, but we can definitely say that we are all for promoting a healthy global eye on the Earth. So, let’s dive right in on how drones, endangered species, and Borneo are all related to palm oil.

Believe it or not, palm oil is not a cosmetic necessity for some scaly hands. It IS however the ultimate cash crop for plantations in Malaysia Borneo. What do we use palm oil for? Excellent question! Palm oil is most commonly found as a substitute for trans fat in processed foods. In fact, it commonly gets written down in ingredients as a type of vegetable oil. Now, that doesn’t sound too bad with some sugar coating. However, the damage extends much further than your belly. Palm oil is the most ecologically destructive oil to harvest. And we mention this destruction in order to seamlessly transition into what Borneo and endangered species have got to do with palm oil.

Borneo is a tropical lush home for not only palm trees but also furry endangered animals (we’re looking at our orang-utans especially). With the lucrative business of harvesting palm oil rising, thousands upon thousands of animals are pushed out of their homes. We’ve seen campaigns everywhere that advocate for the halt of such destructive harvesting, but we would like to one-up the ante. Cue, dramatic introduction to drones.

DRONES. So, hear us out on the friendly use of drones. Pretty frequently in the news, they have a terrible reputation as a strong arm of war, but we’re harnessing the technology for good, to save some of our dear endangered friends. We’re using the drones to drop knowledge, not bombs. To track, not attack. And finally, to save, not destroy Borneo. There is so little research on what happens AFTER deforestation, that we’re going to need all hands, or should I say, eyes, on deck to help out our scientists track the ousted species in Malaysia.

Here is the campaign video!

 

 

 

The evil twin of climate change: Ocean Acidification

So, ocean acidification. That term seems like a title card of a movie sequence right before a documentary on the BP oil spill, so we’ll spare you the Google search. If you’re thinking that this sounds like the ocean is becoming more acidic, you’re pretty much in the ballpark…just a bit (and by a bit, we mean, a lot).

The ocean ends up absorbing the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere- and that includes the CO2 that we land-dwellers give off. When carbon dioxide ends up in bodies of water, there is a chemical process to compensate for the acidity and lo and behold, our waters tend to become more acidic. Now, if we were to end the story there, perhaps it would just send you a little mental note to avoid some acidic water before hitting the beach. However, we’re thinking of something murkier…dirtier…more endangered than just us.

Molluscs. So, it turns out that our shelled clams, oysters, and mussels really suffer as a by-product of ocean acidity. In fact, our mollusc-y (and let’s admit it, tasty) friends are naturally inhibited to form shells because of lower pH levels. But wait- it doesn’t end there. While losing shells can be a problem in your local bay or coastline, it’s also a problem around the world. California, New Zealand, Spain, the Mediterranean, the UK, and many more all report empty patches of once lively mollusc breeding ground. The ultra scientific term for this is “slough-off” so that’s what we’re going to refer it as. Slough-off around the world’s coastlines is alarming, but it’s not just the molluscs we are working to care for. It’s the fish that are exposed to behavioural changes, it’s the harmful algae that gain toxins like a bad superpower, and it’s the loss of food security. To us, ocean acidification seems to be largely unreported, but that’s what we’re about.

Here is the crowd funding video for one of our scientists who wants to find out what is going on underwater in the UK and how it is affecting some of our most loved species, at least food wise…we’re talking mussels, crabs and lobsters!!

 

 

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