Blue Marble

Illegal Drugs Making a Legal Comeback

| Thu Apr. 26, 2007 11:41 PM EDT

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This is trippy. Time Magazine asks, "Was Timothy Leary right?" LSD and Ecstasy are making a comeback in high-level psychiatric research.

Last year two top journals, the Archives of General Psychiatry and the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, published papers showing clear benefits from the use of psychedelics to treat mental illness. Both were small studies, just 27 subjects total. But the Archives paper--whose lead author, Dr. Carlos Zarate Jr., is chief of the Mood and Anxiety Disorders Research Unit at NIMH--found "robust and rapid antidepressant effects" that remained for a week after depressed subjects were given ketamine (colloquial name: Special K or usually just k). In the other study, a team led by Dr. Francisco Moreno of the University of Arizona gave psilocybin (the merrymaking chemical in psychedelic mushrooms) to obsessive-compulsive-disorder patients, most of whom later showed "acute reductions in core OCD symptoms." Now researchers at Harvard are studying how Ecstasy might help alleviate anxiety disorders, and the Beckley Foundation, a British trust, has received approval to begin what will be the first human studies with LSD since the 1970s.

Legal, clinical studies, that is. People never stopped "studying" LSD at home. The intersection of illegal drugs and prescription medicine is fascinating, because the difference between them is not material. It's one of authority. What's illegal about most narcotics, of course, is not taking them, specifically, but taking them unsupervised. So many now-illegal drugs got a head start in the mental health field, including LSD, Ecstasy, and cocaine. While elementary schools in recent years have legally forced parents to make their children take Ritalin, adults have been legally prosecuted for crumbling up and snorting it.

Here's a story about a girl forced to take drugs. And here's a story about a medicine people are denied.

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Ecuador Wants Us to Pay for the Amazon

| Thu Apr. 26, 2007 4:51 PM EDT

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This dilemma cuts to the core of environmentalism today. Ecuador is asking for international compensation to leave alone a major oilfield in the heart of the Amazon. Ecuador's president says he will wait up to one year for a response before drilling. At stake are not only plant and animal species, but also the homeland of several tribes living in voluntary isolation. These tribes are among the fiercest on Earth, renowned for giant spears.

"Ecuador doesn't ask for charity," said President Rafael Correa, "but does ask that the international community share in the sacrifice and compensates us with at least half of what our country would receive, in recognition of the environmental benefits that would be generated by keeping this oil underground." That could come out to about $350 million per year.

Environmental groups are in disagreement. To pay or not to pay?

Arguments against: 1) Biodiversity is priceless. Destroying this part of the Amazon is evil. But paying for abstention would implicitly legitimize its exploitation. 2) Ecuador might be ethical enough to leave it alone anyway. If we pay, who else will come out of the woodwork to demand compensation what they might have left alone? There's no money pot to pay for everything. 3) Paying for what should be a given might exacerbate the situation. A slightly-related case: When well-meaning Christian groups bought modern-day slaves in Africa in order to set them free a few years ago, they put enough cash into the system to promote more slave raids, after the market would have died on its own. Talk about a road to hell paved with good intentions.

Argument for: 1) For environmentalism to work, we need to integrate it into the economy, not just morality and law. 2) With $4,500 income per capita, Ecuador is among the poorest half of nations. Oil is its biggest source of income. 3) Again, biodiversity is priceless. Ecologists and economists have estimated that the value of all natural ecosystems across the world--in terms of their services to humanity--is about 30 trillion dollars a year. That's more than the GNP of all nations combined. But in this case Ecuador is making it easy for us by asking for just half of potential oil revenue. So the question becomes, who would pay, and how?

Next American Species To Go Extinct May Be Two Hawaiian Birds, Global Warming Amplifies Threats

| Wed Apr. 25, 2007 9:12 PM EDT

There's been a dramatic drop in sightings of the Akekee and the Akikiki. These two birds from the Hawaiian Island of Kauai may be on the brink of extinction, according to the American Bird Conservancy (ABC). Hawaii leads the U.S. in the total number of endangered and threatened species (329), and in extinctions, with over 1,000 plants and animals having disappeared since humans colonized the islands. Several Hawaiian bird species, the Poouli and the Ou are assumed to have recently gone extinct before captive-breeding or other protection measures could be implemented.

David Kuhn and Doug Pratt who lead birding tours on Kauai recently alerted scientists, state officials, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to their concerns about the drop in sightings. "I and others paying attention to Kauai's endangered endemics have supposed that the Akikiki would be the next species to disappear--now it is more like a race to the finish," said Kuhn. "While the Akikiki depopulation and range contraction has been linear and relatively slow, Akekee is suddenly crashing." Doug Pratt says the Akekee "was common when I was last here in fall of 2004, and has apparently crashed drastically in the last three years."

The Akikiki is a small bicolored bird from the wet montane forests in central Kauai, with less than 1,500 remaining individuals occupying less than 10% of its former range, the population declining 64% due to habitat loss and alteration, the introduction of invasive species, mosquito-born diseases such as avian malaria and pox, and the impacts of hurricanes. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced in 2005 that the Akikiki should be officially designated an endangered species, but declined to move forward with the listing for budgetary reasons, reports the ABC.

The Akekee, a small yellow and green bird that lives in the high-elevation rainforests of Kauai, was until recently thought to have a stable population, estimated at 20,000 individuals. It's also threatened by habitat loss, invasive species and disease. Evidence suggests that rising average temperatures could allow mosquitoes to survive at higher, elevations, exposing the birds to deadly diseases. Researchers for the U.S. Geological Survey conclude that even a small increase in temperatures in Hawaii's forests will eliminate much of the mosquito-free safe zone that once existed for Kauai's birds.

Read gone, and why many biologist consider the sixth great extinction underway a more dangerous threat to life on Earth than even global warming. --Julia Whitty

Good News In Uganda, Mountain Gorillas Increase In Number

| Wed Apr. 25, 2007 8:33 PM EDT

The most recent census of mountain gorillas in Uganda's Bwindi Impenetrable National Park finds the population has increased by 6 percent since 2002. ScienceDaily reports Bwindi's gorilla population now numbers 340 individual gorillas, up from 320 in 2002, and 300 in 1997. Bwindi is one of only two places in the world where the rare gorillas exist. "This is great news for all of the organizations that have worked to protect Bwindi and its gorilla population," said Wildlife Conservation Society researcher Dr. Alastair McNeilage, who is also the director of the Institute of Tropical Forest Conservation in Bwindi. "There are very few cases in this world where a small population of a endangered primates is actually increasing."

Reading this makes me realize how rare good news is in this trade and what a strange, alien feeling hope is. May there be more of it.

For more on the sixth great extinction underway and the fate of at least half of all lifeforms on Earth, read MoJo's latest cover piece. --Julia Whitty

One Down, 33 To Go, Rare Leopardess Found Shot

| Wed Apr. 25, 2007 8:07 PM EDT

A female Amur leopard has been found killed. She was one of only 25 to 34 of the Amur or Far Eastern leopard (Panthera pardus orientalis) remaining in the wild, according to a report by the World Wildlife Fund. Anonymous tips led an anti-poaching squad to the body of the leopardess about two miles from Bamburovo village in the territory of Barsovy National Wildlife Refuge in the Russian Far East.

The next day veterinarians from the Zoological Society of London found the 77 pound mature female leopard had been shot in the back side, the bullet coming through the tail bone, crushing the hip bones, and lodging in the belly. She was then beaten to death with a heavy object. "The killing of even one female is a huge loss for a cat on the brink of extinction, " said Darron Collins, managing director of the Amur-Heilong Program, World Wildlife Fund. "This year's census showed a desperate situation, with just seven female Amur leopards left in the wild and four rearing cubs. Now we've lost a mature, reproductive leopardess and her potential cubs in a senseless killing. This is the third leopard killed within this area over the last five years and underscores the desperate need for a unified protected area with national park status if the leopard is to survive in the wild."

Just in case you're entertaining the notion that the loss of remote leopards won't impact your life, read on--MoJo's latest cover story, GONE.--Julia Whitty

Arnold Serves Notice at EPA

| Wed Apr. 25, 2007 7:37 PM EDT

California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger officially notified the EPA today that he will sue in 6 months if the agency hasn't granted California a waiver for stricter air quality standards by then. (Six-months' notice is required by law.) The state first started trying to implement the standards in 2005, but officials had to wait for the ruling in this month's Supreme Court decision, which debunked the EPA's claim that it doesn't have the authority to regulate emissions. You go, Manlie Man!

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PCBs Cause the Equivalent of Autism in Baby Rats

| Wed Apr. 25, 2007 5:18 PM EDT

PCB exposure caused defects in rats similar to autism in humans, in a study at the University of California at San Francisco.

Marla Cone, who wrote Dozens of Words for Snow, None for Pollution for us in 2005, broke the PCB story today in the Los Angeles Times. She writes:

Rats exposed to low levels of PCBs in the womb and during nursing had disorganized, malfunctioning auditory centers. The auditory cortex controls the brain's processing of sounds, which is essential for language development.
PCBs were one of the world's most widely used chemicals, their use peaking in the 1970s, mostly as insulating fluids in large electrical equipment. Although banned in the United States in 1977, they are still among the most pervasive contaminants on the planet, and exposure is difficult to avoid because they have spread globally and built up in food chains.
Last year, two internationally known environmental scientists reported in a medical journal that industrial chemicals may be causing a "silent pandemic" of learning disorders. Dr. Philippe Grandjean of Harvard School of Public Health and Dr. Philip J. Landrigan of Mount Sinai School of Medicine identified 202 chemicals — including PCBs and mercury — that could be contributing to autism, attention deficit disorders and other neurological disorders, and they urged more human studies.

In 2004, we investigated whether the CDC, the FDA, and other health agencies were covering up evidence that a mercury preservative in children's vaccines has contributed to a rise in autism. About 1 in every 150 children now has autism or a related disorder.

Sheryl Crow Under Fire for Toilet Paper Proposal

| Tue Apr. 24, 2007 4:00 PM EDT

I've come across less than effective environmentalism over the years. The least effective ever had to be bathwater recycling in an area with no drought at all. This was accomplished by plugging the bathtub drain, scooping out the water with a bucket, and using it to flush the toilets. Standing in previous bathers' scummy water made showering quite unpleasant. But none of those radicals ever scolded me to conserve toilet paper.

That's why I was surprised to read that Sheryl Crow had literally proposed rationing toilet paper to stave off global warming. She had also designed washable clothing to take the place of napkins at the dinner table, the BBC reported. In fact, she was just clowning around on her blog:

I propose a limitation be put on how many sqares [sic] of toilet paper can be used in any one sitting. Now, I don't want to rob any law-abiding American of his or her God-given rights, but I think we are an industrious enough people that we can make it work with only one square per restroom visit, except, of course, on those pesky occasions where 2 to 3 could be required. When presenting this idea to my younger brother, who's judgement [sic] I trust implicitly, he proposed taking it one step further. I believe his quote was, "how bout just washing the one square out.
I also like the idea of not using paper napkins, which happen to be made from virgin wood and represent the heighth of wastefullness.[sic] I have designed a clothing line that has what's called a "dining sleeve". The sleeve is detachable and can be replaced with another "dining sleeve," after usage. The design will offer the "diner" the convenience of wiping his mouth on his sleeve rather than throwing out yet another barely used paper product.. I think this idea could also translate quite well to those suffering with an annoying head cold.

What's funniest was how many news reporters took the spoof seriously, after the BBC took the quotes out of context. Today, she had to spell out "just kidding" to the gullibles: "We're just so happy that people are talking about global warming, even if it's brought on by a joke." Sorry to disappoint, guys, but the "dining sleeve" clothing line will not hit stores anytime soon.

Canadian Sealer Admits Hunting is All About Fun Not Money

| Tue Apr. 24, 2007 2:21 AM EDT

The Canadian sealing fleet is still stuck in the ice off Newfoundland. The Toronto Star reports conditions are moderating, the icebreakers are free, and many of the longliners, which hunt seals on the side, may be freed tomorrow. But the Star also reports a Newfoundland sealer, Desmond Adams, as saying, "we all go out for the love of it rather than the money, which isn't there anymore." He adds, "No one's going to stop hunting if they don't have to. We need someone to tell us, 'No, this is too dangerous. You can't do it.' Newfoundlanders are good at following orders. They've told us we can't fish and we can't do this or that. And we don't."

"No one's getting rich from the seal hunt," he said, "at least not among the hunters. The price of pelts is down to about $55, about half what it used to be." That means the Canadian taxpayer is footing a bill worth millions of dollars to provide four full time ice-breakers, plus the cost of the Canadian Coast Guard flying in groceries, to assist the lads on their seasonal slaughter gone bad.

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society reports that over 60,000 seal pups are available under the quota of 275,000. Over 200,000 have already been clubbed or slaughtered, not taking into account the estimated 250,000 pups killed by melting ice from global warming in the Gulf of St. Lawrence last month.

The Canadian government has acted very irresponsibly in allowing vessels that are not ice-strengthened to venture into these conditions, says Sea Shepherd founder, Captain Paul Watson. "There is a double standard. My ship the Farley Mowat is an ice-class ship and I have more experience in navigating in ice conditions than most of these sealers, but the Coast Guard did everything they could to prevent us from going into the ice to save seals citing their concerns for our 'safety'."

Come on, Canada. Stop it. Stop lying about the economic necessity of the hunt. Stop awarding the permits. Stop wasting money on the seaboys with clubs and a twisted sense of fun. --Julia Whitty

Omega Fat Ratio Linked to Depression and Heart Disease

| Mon Apr. 23, 2007 10:16 PM EDT

A recent study buttresses one explanation for the rise of depression and heart disease in recent generations: an increase in processed vegetable oil in the diet. Doctors at Ohio State University measured blood ratios of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids and found....

The more omega-6 fatty acids people had in their blood compared with omega-3 fatty acid levels, the more likely they were to suffer from symptoms of depression and have higher blood levels of inflammation-promoting compounds.... The 6 individuals diagnosed with major depression had nearly 18 times as much omega-6 as omega-3 in their blood, compared with about 13 times as much for subjects who didn't meet the criteria for major depression.

That's a striking correlation.

Omega-3 fatty acids are found in foods such as fish, flax seed oil and walnuts, while omega-6 fatty acids are found in refined vegetable oils used to make everything from margarine to baked goods and snack foods. The amount of omega-6 fatty acids in the Western diet increased sharply once refined vegetable oils became part of the average diet in the early 20th century.

According to the Vegetarian Society of the United Kingdom, a reliable source of omega-3 is ground flax seed. Tofu, apparently, is only so-so.