Yearly Psychoactive Recap

This Year in Psychoactives - 2018

Estimated reading time: 90 minutes

Estimated reading time: 90 minutes

The end of the year has finally arrived, and with it comes my gift to you—a thorough recap of psychoactive drug news from 2018. Before we get into it, let me provide a bit of background on what it took to create this year’s column.

I wrote the first “This Year in Psychedelics” column back in 2015, but ended up skipping it in 2016 because I greatly underestimated the time it would take to complete and failed to finish that post. However, I did come through with another edition in 2017. The gap in coverage bothered me the last couple years, so I committed to finishing the 2016 column during this year before starting work on the 2018 post that you’re now reading. So I spent the first nine months of this year working on the 2016 post, which was finally published this September. (You may notice that the publish date is 12/31/16, which was done so that it shows up in correct order when viewed on this page.) The 2016 column is much more detailed than the 2017 version, but I don’t plan to go back and rework the 2017 version because I’d like to move on and focus my efforts on making next year’s edition the best one yet.

While working on the 2016 column during the first nine months of this year, I kept up with throwing links into this year’s post, but it didn’t really start to take shape until October. So this year’s edition was essentially written in a mere three months. It’s far from perfect, but I learned a lot of things that will improve the column in the future.

Earlier this month I polled the Think Wilder audience on Twitter and Facebook about the overall scope of the blog, asking if I should narrow my focus to exclusively write about psychedelics or expand it to cover other psychoactive substances as well. Thank you to those of you who responded. Most people seemed to be interested in psychedelics, but a few reported that they found information about other drugs to also be valuable. After mulling it over for a few weeks, I decided to expand the scope of the blog to focus on all psychoactive substances. First of all, I wanted to avoid practicing drug chauvinism, the belief that some drugs are inherently “better” than others. I also feel like there is significantly more honest reporting about psychedelics than there is about drugs like stimulants and depressants and wanted to help balance things out. But most importantly, I realized that although I’m far more familiar with psychedelics and am by no means an expert on other drugs, I still have a healthy interest in psychoactive substances in general and want to see them fairly covered. I added a “cocaine” section to this year’s post, and you can expect to see news about other psychoactive substances like benzodiazepines and deliriants in the near future.

Scattered throughout this blog post are links to a few of my own pieces that were published in Psychedelic Times and Kahpi. Overall, this year’s column is fairly in-depth, and as a result it’s quite long. Writing it took a ton of energy and effort, so I’d like to encourage you to support me by becoming a patron, making a one-time donation, or sharing it with a friend if you feel moved to do so. Without further ado, let’s get started.

Cannabis

Cannabis is a highly complex plant. It is a mild psychedelic that possesses both stimulant and depressant qualities. Although it remains a mostly illegal drug in most parts of the world, some places have been relaxing their laws. It also has a long history of medical, recreational, and industrial use.

Researchers kept themselves very busy, with marijuana research growing exponentially due to successful legalization efforts around the world. Tens of thousands of peer-reviewed studies concerning medical cannabis were published during the last decade. This year’s research into marijuana’s effects on physical health found that smoking weed long-term isn’t linked to poor lung health One study found that it may not be as effective at treating chronic pain as it was once thought to be while another found that chronic pain relief efficacy is directly related to the concentration of THC and CBD. Other studies revealed a few of the ways that cannabis can treat different types of pain. Marijuana was also found to be effective at treating fibromyalgia, Chron’s disease, and epilepsy. Scientists also tested cannabis on animals, finding that when CBD is combined with chemotherapy it tripled survival rates in mice, reduces symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease in mice, and can effectively treat dogs with arthritis. Using marijuana was found to not affect the outcome of kidney transplants and doesn’t cause behavioral problems in youth. Upcoming studies will look at the efficacy of using cannabis-infused suppositories to treat menstrual cramps and whether cannabis oil can treat a potentially fatal skin condition called Epidermolysis Bullosa.

Studies looking at mental health uncovered a lot of new data too. A meta-analysis of 69 studies found that marijuana’s potential to harm teenagers’ brains was overstated. One widely-reported study claiming that cannabis harms the human brain turned out to be extremely misleading, as it didn’t look at marijuana or humans at all. Instead, it was investigating the effects of a synthetic cannabinoid on mice brains. Other brain studies found that cannabis use is unrelated to brain morphology, doesn’t change the structure of the brain at all, removes a toxic Alzheimer’s protein, improves working memory, and has similarities with coffee’s effects. An ongoing study is looking at whether cannabis can treat PTSD, heavy marijuana users were found to hold on to negative feelings, and weed helped people suffering from insomnia. Brain scans demonstrated how cannabis extracts could help people with psychosis and schizophrenic patients were accepting of a high-CBD/low-THC cannabis substitution. Although cannabis is amazing for many medical issues, liverwort may actually be more medically effective.

Marijuana has observable effects on drug use. Several studies found that states with legal recreational or medical marijuana did not increase teen use: a meta-analysis in Addiction, a study in the Journal of Adolescent Health, a meta-analysis in Current Addiction Reports, a study in in Prevention Research, the federally-funded “Monitoring the Future” study, and a research letter in JAMA Pediatrics. Legalization also doesn’t appear to increase problematic cannabis use, either. But while the youth are staying away, marijuana use is becoming more common among older adults. A market research report found that cannabis consumers use less alcohol, pain medications, and sleep aids. A string of studies supported the idea that cannabis could help solve the opioid crisis. Studies in the Journal of Headache and Pain and Addiction found that medical marijuana users are able to replace opioids with cannabis. Other studies found that weed can help reduce opioid harms by curbing opioids and preventing overdoses. And a meta-analysis explored the relationship between medical marijuana and opioid overdoses.

Cannabis also impacts crime. Studies found that cannabis dispensaries don’t increase crime and marijuana decriminalization leads to a decrease in arrests. While Washington D.C. decriminalized cannabis possession a few years ago, the ban on marijuana sales has been driving arrests. And speaking of driving, one in seven Canadian cannabis users admitted to driving while high. But, at least in America, traffic fatalities haven’t increased since legalization, and they have actually fallen in Colorado. Other studies found that marijuana consumers can help solve crimes, and legalization disrupts the illicit market and leads to safer borders and less smuggling.

Other studies found that whole-plant cannabis creates an “entourage effect” that helps patients more than pure CBD and that the hops used in beer is related to marijuana. Evidence came out showing that all weed is pretty much the same, and genetically modified cannabis is on its way. A study found that vaporized cannabis produces a stronger high than smoking it. Access to medical marijuana is associated with fewer workplace fatalities and California experienced significant impacts to society after legalization took effect. We also learned about the most and least marijuana-friendly newspapers and blood-sucking flies that love weed.

Cannabis laws changed so much this year that it was nearly impossible to keep up. At the U.S. federal level, Congress protected medical marijuana from Jeff Sessions, Bernie Sanders and Cory Booker co-sponsored the Marijuana Justice Act, and Chuck Schumer introduced a bill to federally decriminalize cannabis. The DEA moved a cannabis medicine to Schedule V for the first time ever and hemp was officially legalized. All of this movement has some folks wondering if 2019 will be the year that cannabis is federally legalized. Cannabis initiatives were extremely successful at the state level too. California’s legal recreational market took effect at the beginning of the year, although its officials eventually disapproved of marijuana-infused alcohol and bars with on-site cannabis consumption. Arizona was on the verge of approving medical marijuana for the treatment of problematic opioid use. Albuquerque’s city council voted to decriminalize cannabis possession. Missouri and Utah legalized medical marijuana during the midterms and shortly afterward a Missouri lawmaker prefiled a bill that would legalize recreational weed if it passes. Wisconsin voters showed their support for marijuana reform by responding positively to non-binding advisory questions, which indicates that the state may be primed to change its cannabis laws in the near future. A legalization measure was defeated in North Dakota, even though the state approved medical marijuana two years ago. Vermont became the 9th state to legalize recreational cannabis, while Michigan became the 10th state, and the first in the Midwest, to legalize weed. The governor of Illinois signed a law that expanded medical marijuana access to people looking to use it as an alternative to prescription painkillers. Five cities in Ohio decriminalized marijuana. Nebraska is hoping to get a medical marijuana measure on its 2020 ballot. An Indiana judge ruled that cannabis is not a holy sacrament following the First Church of Cannabis lawsuit. New York may end up legalizing marijuana next year. New Hampshire’s House of Representatives voted to legalize cannabis possession and cultivation. So did lawmakers in New Jersey. Delaware’s governor signed legislation that would expunge past marijuana convictions of the possession of less than one ounce. Legislators in Maine overrode their governor’s veto of cannabis legalization. Kansas had long been the only state in the nation that banned beer made with hemp, but reversed its decision. Georgia’s governor approved a bill that enabled people suffering from PTSD and pain to use medical marijuana. Oklahoma voters approved a measure to legalize medical marijuana. A Florida Circuit Court judge ruled that a ban on medical cannabis smoking was unconstitutional and voters passed an amendment restoring voting rights to marijuana felons. Out-of-state patients are now allowed to purchase medical marijuana in Hawaii, but registered in-state patients are having a difficult time acquiring firearms. The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands made history by becoming the first U.S. territory to fully legalize cannabis through an act of lawmakers as opposed to a voter initiative. It’s also the first jurisdiction to jump from having cannabis totally illegal to allowing recreational use without first enacting a medical marijuana program.

Although the World Health Organization postponed its recommendation for rescheduling cannabis at the United Nations summit, a lot of cannabis policy reforms succeeded in other parts of the world as well. Several North American countries had a lot to celebrate. Canada became the second country to legalize cannabis, several Caribbean nations agreed to consider legalization, and the Mexican Supreme Court ruled that the country’s ban on consuming cannabis was unconstitutional, followed by the introduction of a legalization bill. In South America, Brazilian politicians introduced a bill to legalize cannabis and later approved medical marijuana. Europe moved the needle in cannabis’ favor too. Luxembourg legalized medical marijuana and is now planning to create a recreational market for its adult residents. The UK allowed doctors to start prescribing cannabis-based medicines, as did Portugal. Israel decriminalized use and later passed a bill allowing exports of medical marijuana. And Georgia decriminalized the consumption of cannabis, but cultivation and sales remain a punishable offense. Australia became the fourth country in the world to allow exports of cannabis-based medicines and the Green Party proposed full legalization, which is strongly supported by the public. New Zealand will soon be holding a referendum to determine whether to legalize cannabis for recreational use in the 2020 general election. Over in Asia, Thailand and South Korea authorized medical marijuana. Down in Africa, Zimbabwe legalized medical marijuana and South Africa decriminalized private possession and cultivation for personal use.

Pushing forward new policies is one thing, but the way that they are enforced is another entirely. The year started out bleak. Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the Cole Memo, signaling that the government might go after states that have legal marijuana. However, medical cannabis protections were extended as a part of a federal budget agreement shortly thereafter. Georgia separated a 15 year-old boy from his parents because they were using cannabis to stop his epileptic seizures. A Michigan police officer made an 80 year-old great grandmother spend a night in jail due to an expired medical marijuana card and cops in New Jersey forcibly searched a man’s anus and genitals for cannabis during a traffic stop. Police in Illinois claimed that they’d have to kill their police dogs if weed was legalized, but an honest cop from Colorado proved them wrong. Prosecutors in New York City dropped more than 3,000 low-level marijuana cases, several of them which had been ongoing for decades. Following the legalization of cannabis in our neighbor to the north, Canadian cannabis users were rumored to be banned from entering the United States, with a top U.S. government official confirming that legal Canadian marijuana workers and investors would be treated like illegal traffickers. However, cooler heads prevailed and the government ended up relaxing its border policy. Yet federal prosecutors still technically have the ability to seek the death penalty for possession of large quantities of pot. We’re talking 60,000 plants or more though, so unless you’ve got a huge weed farm you probably don’t need to worry about being killed for being a gardener. The DEA continued its hunt for “shoes” and “my brother,” which it insists are slang terms for marijuana, but at least seizures are on the decline. Child services continued to go after cannabis-using mothers and their kids, and the Air Force warned its members to stay away from grandma’s “marijuana-infused miracle sticky buns” during the holidays. But some other countries handle things a bit differently. A German police association advocated for the legalization of cannabis. The Canadian military made allowances for its members to use recreational marijuana—with some restrictions, and the country’s legalization forced more than a dozen K-9s to retire early.

Encouragingly, public opinion has continued to evolve its stance on cannabis faster than those that represent us. Poll after poll found that the majority Americans want to legalize pot (Pew: 62%, Quinnipiac: 63%, and Gallup: 66%). 53% of the healthcare industry is in favor of legalization and 65% of Americans told Gallup that it’s “morally acceptable” to smoke weed. One in four young Americans consume marijuana and teetotaling high schoolers are becoming more tolerant of other students to chose to partake. The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) submitted more than 10,000 written comments to the FDA asking for the reconsideration of international cannabis prohibition. The public’s opinion has evolved due to a cultural shift in religious identity, an understanding of marijuana’s low level of harm, and criticism of the criminal justice system. Elsewhere, a study out of Brazil found that popular opinions on marijuana depend on the political party that endorses it, people in Peru and Argentina marched to raise support for new cannabis laws, and a silent movement to legalize weed in India is spreading across the country.

The legal cannabis industry pushed the envelope further than ever before. In the U.S., it created more than 100,000 jobs and billions of dollars in tax revenue. When the Massachusetts recreational market opened, one of its mayors was first in line to get his hands on some fresh bud. The state raised $2.2 million in the first five days of sales alone. Where is all this tax revenue going, you ask? Well, some advocate for it to be allocated toward fixing issues with mass transit or for the funding of public schools, but one compelling argument is to dedicate that money to people who have been hurt by prohibition. Some other vice industries haven’t been all that thrilled with marijuana’s success, though. As cannabis sales overtook alcohol in a U.S. city for the first time and beer sales dropped, at least one Big Alcohol company relented and has announced its intention to enter the cannabis industry itself. Cannabis-infused beer (minus the alcohol) is coming to Colorado, but overall brewers have a lot of hoops to jump through in order to legally manufacture cannabis products. Big Tobacco is also trying to get into the game, and even Big Soda has been thinking about it. Coca-Cola was reported to be considering a possible entry into the market earlier in the year, although its CEO later said that the company has no plans for cannabis drinks. But PepsiCo does appear to be interested. The technology industry has continued its merge with the cannabis industry too. Blockchain technology fused with weed, a “Yelp for pot” called Weedmaps was criticized for its Silicon Valley attitude, and vaporizer manufacturer PAX released an app to help users control their high. Some companies didn’t take too kindly to cannabis though—Google and Facebook wouldn’t allow marijuana ads on their respective sites, but Facebook did loosen up a bit a few months later, by including cannabis pages to show up in its search results. There was some trouble in the vape industry when fake vaporizer cartridges started disrupting the legal weed industry and duping black market buyers, and one company’s CBD vape liquid was found to contain harmful ingredients like cough syrup and synthetic cannabinoids. Both the beauty and food industries wanted in, too. Artisanal edible cannabis honey entered the scene for the first time. Stashing away hard-earned cash has long been a problem for the cannabis industry, but more banks are starting to welcome legal marijuana business accounts and a bill to create the world’s first cannabis bank passed in California. Marijuana extracts for pets started trending, director Francis Ford Coppola launched a luxury cannabis brand, and cannabis shops were found to increase the value of nearby real estate properties. The FDA approved the first marijuana-based prescription drug, the U.S. Senate approved federal funding for a cannabis genetics restoration project, and former House Speaker John Boehner—once a staunch cannabis opponent—is now working at a marijuana firm advisory board. My how the times have changed.

The burgeoning legal cannabis industry expanded into the rest of the world as well. Canada became the second country to institute a recreational market for weed, although it struggled to meet the huge demand for legal cannabis, almost running out of product for sale shortly after legalization. Pioneers in the country brewed the world’s first cannabis beer and Aurora Cannabis Inc. began offering medical marijuana coverage for its employees. Greece held its first government-supported medical marijuana expo and Parisians got in line to purchase low-THC cannabis after drug laws softened. Africa’s first medical cannabis dispensary opened in Durban, and Lesotho has been cashing in on the booming medical marijuana industry.

Celebrities were no stranger to weed in 2018. Elon Musk allegedly smoked weed (he totally didn’t, by the way) on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast, prompting a vicious backlash from the mainstream public as Tesla shares fell and NASA ordered an SpaceX safety probe. And to top it all off, Musk inexpertly puffed on Joe’s joint in California, which is now a legal recreational state anyway. Musician Gene Simmons took $2.5 million to promote cannabis and actress Kristen Bell revealed that she smokes weed once a week and plans to host an ecstasy party, and author Malcolm Gladwell disappointingly came out against cannabis legalization.

In U.S. politics news, after a long time of denying that cannabis legalization is a winning issue, the Democrats are currently fighting the Republications over which party will lead on marijuana in 2019. Michelle Obama talked about smoking weed in her new memoir and Bernie Sanders once again criticized prohibition in his new book, and Michael Moore suggested that putting cannabis on the ballot would drive voter turnout in the 2020 election. I think he’s definitely right about that and hope we see it come to pass.

Marijuana has been used to treat a wide variety of ailments, including irritable bowel syndrome, psoriasis, eczema, cancer, Lyme disease, endometriosis, and trauma. It also has the potential to replace traditional labor medications, help with smoking cessation, and relieve symptoms of menopause. Some fitness enthusiasts tossed their protein shakes and started using cannabis as a workout supplement. And we learned a bit more about the connection between women, cannabis, and psychosis. With all of this great news, many doctors have started to recommend medical marijuana to their patients, and in an inspiring move, even former Attorney General Jeff Sessions admitted that there may be some benefits from using cannabis.

The medical use of cannabis oil continued to get media attention in the United Kingdom. Parents have claimed for many years that it is a highly effective medicine for children who suffer from ailments like epilepsy and autism, but it wasn’t until this year that medical application was approved in that area of the world. A 12 year-old boy and a 2 year-old girl—both suffering from epilepsy—in Northern Ireland became the first children to legally receive medical cannabis in the locale. Meanwhile, in the U.S., an epileptic high school football player was deemed ineligible for college play due to his use of cannabis oil.

More schools are offering cannabis curricula than ever before. Stockton University in New Jersey is offering a minor in “Cannabis Studies” and Florida Gulf Coast University is planning to offer a cannabis degree. Hopefully this education will go a long way toward legitimizing the plant, potentially kicking off ripple effects for other psychoactive substances as well.

Marijuana’s long and complex history got a bit more complete this year. Research found that cannabis used to grow wild in ancient Europe and that super old viruses ended up producing the plant we know and love today. And we learned a bit more about the various ways American colonists used cannabis.

Those of us looking for helpful cannabis guides had a lot to choose from this year. After all, brand-new users need to know how much weed to try if it’s their first time. And people living in Washington D.C. (where it’s legally to possess cannabis but there is no retail industry) have to figure out how to legally purchase marijuana in the nation’s capital without actually buying any cannabis at all. It’s an ingenious workaround, one which may come in handy the next time you go visit the city. And a band photographer wrote “the next bible” after smoking weed just one time.

Popular entertainment opened up a bit more to cannabis this year, as pot-infused cooking shows started to increase in popularity, but things weren’t completely groovy for cannabis fans everywhere. YouTube silently purged a lot of cannabis-related channels, which proved to be a huge loss of cultural history. However, this allowed a competitor—The Weedtube—to become more widely known for its openness to hosting drug-related content on its site, something that many technology companies have been shying away from during the past few years.

An unlikely new group of cannabis consumers has joined the party—namely, moms. And teens are now trying weed before alcohol and tobacco. It turns out they’re not consuming more cannabis, but less of the two more harmful drugs. And firearm-owning marijuana users continue to face a difficult choice—guns or cannabis?

Even though California legalized cannabis at the top of the year, marijuana was still banned at Coachella music festival. A few months later, thousands purchased and consumed weed at the first legal cannabis festival held in the state. And cannabis-based autism treatments were front and center at a suburban conference in Chicago.

Cannabis may be legal in more locales than ever before, but black markets still exist in many of those places. Illegal marijuana farms in California are using toxic pesticides and Vancouver struggled to tame its black market even after weed was legalized in Canada.

In cannabis crime news, longtime cannabis activist Marc Emery was fined $5000 for drug trafficking prior to Canada’s legalization of cannabis earlier this year, and both San Francisco and Seattle started expunging previous marijuana convictions from its citizens’ records.

LSD

One of my absolute favorite drugs, the psychedelic compound lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), can be used for recreational, medicinal and even spiritual purposes. Active at extremely low doses and capable of altering one’s thoughts and feelings, this is one of the best known and well-researched psychedelics around. So it’s no surprise to see it show up frequently in the media each year, and 2018—the 75th anniversary of the first intentional acid trip—was no different. David Nutt, a professor of neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London and an outspoken drug expert made headlines when he gave a ton of reasons to support his opinion that it’s “irrational to deny people access to LSD.” The practice of microdosing LSD has spread from Silicon Valley to other workplaces and more and more middle class folks are giving LSD a try, sometimes at events like dinner parties. A doctor advocated for the use of LSD therapy for people who are dying. One of the best things to happen all year involved a Deadhead named Timothy Tyler, who was convicted of selling LSD in the 90s and spent 26 years in prison. He was granted clemency by Barack Obama in August 2016 but had to wait until May of this year to finally get released from prison. As a fellow Deadhead and lover of LSD, this news filled me with joy when I first heard it. Even though he spent a significant chunk of his life behind bars for such a dumb reason, I’m glad he is now a free man once again.

LSD research hasn’t slowed down in the slightest. New research uncovered all sorts of interesting things this year, like why acid makes the familiar seem more surprising, how it has the capacity to treat mental disorders by performing a harmonic reorganization of the brain, and why music sounds profoundly awesome during an entheogenic voyage. A couple studies looked at the brain, reporting findings that may help explain the chemistry behind depression and schizophrenia and how LSD may help the brain heal from disorders. In one experiment, scientists significantly reduced alcohol consumption in mice by giving them a single dose of LSD. In another, researchers gave the little creatures so much LSD—for a very long time—that it caused retinal damage. This drug was found to change something about the way that humans perceive time. And a case report told the tale of how LSD provoked synesthetic hallucinations in a congenitally blind man. Looking forward to the future, the world’s first-ever LSD microdosing study started in September. I can’t wait to find out what the research shows—does microdosing actually do anything? Time will tell, but I’ll go ahead and lay down my cards now. I’m pretty bullish on it, and I think microdosing does have a wide range of legitimate uses, ranging from things like sharpening focus and kicking productivity into the next gear to mental health benefits—relieving anxiety, treating depression, that sort of thing.

We learned a bit about how LSD influenced Western culture through a virtual reality recreation of the LSD journey that inspired the Whole Earth Catalog and a story about the time a legendary Batman editor was dared to dose Stan Lee’s coffee. Silicon Valley employees debated the rumor that Steve Jobs was tripping when he died. One guide written for newbies gave advice on how to take LSD.

LSD showed up in several popular mediums. There was a hallucinatory novel (dubbed simply Acid) that threw a wrench in the traditional ideas of family and motherhood, one character dosed another with LSD in Gaspar Noe’s film Climax, and a guy wrote a play about his acid trip called All You Need Is LSD.

There were a handful of interesting LSD-related crimes: security troops on a U.S. nuclear missile base took LSD, a delirious naked man—covered in cooking oil—was arrested after being tased twice, a student was found naked at a shopping center, a sky-high babysitter refused to go home and tried to steal toys, and millions in cryptocurrencies were seized in the largest LSD bust in European history.

A lot of people had bummer trips on LSD, kind of like the world’s first-ever acid trip. A 19 year-old was tased by police three times after punching windows and a cop, a man at a Rainbow Gathering strangled a woman and bit someone’s finger off, a man gouged a police community support officer’s face while at a party, and there was a fatal stabbing. The student who stabbed a companion to death in 2016 won his appeal for a reduced prison sentence.

Staying safe while using LSD is extremely important, but not everyone makes it a priority. Two teenagers were hospitalized after buying acid from a dealer on Snapchat, a man was found dead in the Mississippi River after a bad LSD trip during a concert, a 26 year-old man drowned in the ocean after combining LSD, cocaine, and MDMA at a music festival, and an Oregon teen’s dead body tested positive for acid and weed after he was killed by a semi truck.

But not everyone has a rough time; some people spoke out about how LSD helps them, including a woman who claimed that it cured her eating disorder, a writer had mostly positive things to say about a one-month microdosing experiment, and a professional jiu-jitsu fighter who said that acid helps him “whoop ass.” Lucy sure does pack a punch, doesn’t she?

Magic Mushrooms

The naturally-occurring psychedelic compound known as psilocybin can be found in many species of magic mushrooms. These fungi have been used for thousands of years for their spiritual, medical, and recreational effects. Even with such a rich history, there’s still a lot that we don’t know about this topic yet.

To help fill in those gaps in knowledge, tons of psilocybin research was conducted and published, even though scientists who want to study magic mushrooms have to jump through a bunch of kafkaesque regulatory hoops (including paying $7,000 per gram) to do it. However, the studies carried on, uncovering many interesting (and often inspiring) things about psilocybin. A few studies demonstrated that magic mushrooms are effective at treating depression without the emotional blunting that occurs with antidepressants and improving emotional face recognition in depressed patients. Along those lines, the FDA awarded psilocybin-assisted therapy the “breakthrough therapy” designation for use against treatment-resistant depression—a move that may make the drug legal for therapy by 2021. A year after a study that measured the impact of magic mushrooms on people with depression, Professor David Nutt gave an update on how those people are doing now.

But psilocybin research wasn’t limited to depression studies—others found that the chemical reduces authoritarianism and boosts nature relatedness, leads to lasting changes in positive traits (when combined with meditation and spiritual training), and might make for an effective sleep aid. Another found that microdosing psilocybin truffles can enhance creativity. One writer suggested that cannabis and mushrooms should be part of the discussion for treating concussions. Comparing the various cognitive effects of dextromethorphan (DXM) and psilocybin led to new understandings about the differences between classical psychedelics and dissociatives. Two scientists gave fearless feedback to fellow researchers in the field about how they can improve the overall quality of work being done in the psilocybin research space.

Looking at the wilder side of things, we learned that mushrooms may have actually developed psilocybin to ward off insects and that dinosaurs may have eaten magic mushrooms. We were also introduced to a parasite that drugs its hosts with psilocybin, causing their butts to fall off. So while humans might like tripping, it sure seems like the smaller creatures of the world may not enjoy it so much.

There were a bunch of studies that looked at how psilocybin might help people with substance use issues related to other drugs like alcohol, cocaine, and tobacco. And all of that research just focused on one particular chemical found in mushrooms—fungi also have plenty of other cool compounds that scientists should study.

More energy went into psilocybin policy reform in 2018 than any previous year. Earlier on, Denver, Oregon, and California were all hoping to effect change to how they approach psilocybin and magic mushrooms. However, even though reform efforts have started to gain some steam (one poll found that 39% Denver residents support the legalization of magic mushrooms) and researchers recommended that psilocybin be bumped from Schedule I to Schedule IV, none of these states ended up voting on their psilocybin-related initiatives after all. Denver for Psilocybin’s decriminalization attempt, which turned out to be quite a rollercoaster, had the most steam and received the most attention in the media. After trying twice to collect the signatures needed to get the initiative on the November ballot, the team had to throw in the towel—for 2018, that is. Now they’re working toward collecting signatures to get the initiative on the May 2019 ballot. At the time of the publication of this post, they have one more week to get it done. Meanwhile, the Oregon Psilocybin Society is hoping to get a medical initiative on the ballot in 2020.

Although psilocybin is not legal yet, new companies have begun to take shape, coalescing into the foundations of a future legal psilocybin industry. COMPASS Pathways churned out 20,000 doses of magic mushrooms for depression research but was heavily criticized by some in the psychedelic community over concerns involving the companies’ true intent. The team at Psychedelics Today withdrew its support and endorsement for MycoMeditations, a legal psilocybin-assisted retreat center located in Jamaica, after completing its obligations to the company, claiming that there were “some missing pieces around safety" at the retreat center. MycoMeditations responded by stating its intention to incorporate additional safety protocols into its program, including standardized intake interviews, training modules for staff, rigorous treatment protocols, and having an on-site physician’s assistant or registered nurse during sessions. These juicy controversies about the current state of the psilocybin industry spurred a lot of healthy conversation, which will hopefully be used to help direct the direction that this industry will head toward.

There were a ton of feature stories about psilocybin this year, including ones about how magic mushroom retreats could be the future of wellness travel, the ways we could use magic mushrooms to combat America’s opioid crisis, a dive into whether psilocybin can make people feel more empathy toward nature, and an explanation about 920 (which is essentially psilocybin’s 420). A young man wrote a piece about what it’s like to take a high dose of psilocybin in a homeless shelter for HIV+ males. A mother-daughter mushroom trip on the Jersey Shore was captured for a forthcoming film called Are You OK? Cause I’m OK.

While there are plenty of crime stories involving simple possession or distribution of psilocybin, the most interesting crimes included a Washington man who is facing up to five years in prison (and a $10,000 fine) for hunting wild mushrooms in a state park, a magic mushroom lab in Ireland, a man who crashed his vehicle while tripping on the highway and later walked into traffic, and a guy who allegedly killed his cat after eating some magic mushrooms. As a bonus, here is an example of how out of touch law enforcement is with drugs: a man posted pictures of his morel mushroom yield and the cops showed up, mistakenly believing that they were illegal.

Rounding out this section, a few standout psilocybin guides and resources were published this year, including advice on how to prepare a psilocybin mushroom microdose, a multi species psilocybin mushroom dosage calculator, a unique playlist for psilocybin journeys, and a breakdown of the differences between psilocybin truffles vs. psilocybin mushrooms.

MDMA

The “love drug” known as MDMA can be classified many different ways—as an euphoric empathogen, psychedelic stimulant, or a phenethylamine entactogen, just to name a few. It sure has been a long strange trip turning “Molly” into a $100 million FDA-approved pharmaceutical medicine, but we’re closer than ever before. The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) Phase 2 studies were completed this year. One of them even reported an impressive 76% success rate for treating PTSD 12 months after its conclusion. While many people believe ecstasy to be a dangerous drug, new research suggested that it’s far less dangerous than previously thought. For example, MDMA was found to significantly reduce social anxiety in autistic adults, make people more cooperative and help build trust after betrayal, and dampen the encoding and retrieval of emotional memories, allowing patients to work through their trauma without an urge to run away from it. Psychologists gathered together an intentionally-diverse group of participants in an attempt to see whether MDMA would be a good treatment for the trauma of racism but the study was cut short due to several issues. Perhaps the most-covered study was one that found that giving octopuses MDMA causes the typically anti-social creatures to become more social. And more results are right around the corner—scientists began the first clinical trials to find out whether MDMA can treat alcoholism began and MAPS’ Phase 3 trials looking at MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for the treatment of PTSD are now open for enrollment at five sites in the United States.

Outside of clinical research, MDMA is being used to treat eating disorders, PTSD, anxiety, depression, and problematic drug use. The Dutch Green Party has suggested its government begin to regulate ecstasy production.

MDMA found itself right at home in popular entertainment, with hip hop lyrics glorifying “Molly,” a piece of art made out of 4,000 ecstasy pills, and MDMA, a drug-fueled thriller that showed audiences another side of Asian America. A couple celebrities showed up in the news. Kim Kardashian West claimed that she was under the influence during her first wedding and when she made a sex tape. Famous DJ David Morales was arrested at a Japanese airport over an MDMA smuggling claim but was later released without charge. Jada Pinkett Smith says she used MDMA, cannabis and alcohol to cope with depression.

Opinion pieces explored the differences between British and American MDMA users, the possibility of using cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin to bankroll ecstasy research, and why Britain is seeing so many overdoses.

Ravers were joined by a few new members from an unexpected slice of the population when a small group of middle class women introduced the world to a new fad called “brieing", which involves putting MDMA in cheese and eating it during a night in. While the news media tried to make it seem more popular than it actually is, it’s still nice to know that psychoactive drugs are starting to reach people in every nook and cranny of society.

The illegal MDMA market kept busy in 2018. A fresh analysis of the most common ecstasy pills found in America shed some light on geographical trends of MDMA going back all the way to 2002. An investigative journalist went undercover in a Chinese chemical factory and tried to get employees to admit they knew their customers used their products to manufacture MDMA. Ecstasy pills shaped like President Donald Trump started showing up. The strength of pills surged to “potentially fatal” levels, sometimes doubling or even tripling the dose. MDMA producers were caught dumping tons of chemical waste in nature reserves, and $57 million worth of the drug was discovered inside sausage-making machines.

There were several MDMA-related crimes, ranging from the silly (like a man who filled a hotel bathtub with potatoes while high, claiming that “it felt like the right thing to do”) to the tragic (like when an elementary school boy accidentally shared his father’s ecstasy with friends). One pregnant 19 year-old took ecstasy in an effort to kill her unborn son while a 23 year-old mother dropped her baby boy while fleeing from police, ending up cracking his skull. Three people were arrested at a Sonic Drive-In ecstasy was found in a child’s hamburger wrapper. A Russian was given an 18-year prison sentence for smuggling MDMA in Vietnam. And the trend of dealers being sent to prison following their customers’ deaths continued, with multiple suppliers being punished harshly for providing ecstasy to others. One such 19 year-old was jailed for acquiring MDMA for himself and a couple friends was simply more technically capable of purchasing drugs from the dark web than the others, a task that requires more know-how than the average person possesses. It begs the question—do we as a society want to be punishing people who are doing their best to find clean drugs in an illegal, unregulated black market?

It’s rare to find accounts of people assaulting others while under the influence of MDMA, but a couple of men spiked an alcoholic beverage with the drug before forcing a woman to drink it and sexually assaulting her. Each man was later sentenced to more than a decade behind bars for their crimes.

Several warnings about ecstasy were issued, including ones about pills that are too strong, pills that contain other drugs like ketamine and cocaine, pills that were just plain “bad,” and the all-too-common worry that children will eat an ecstasy pill thinking it looks like candy. A few teenagers went to the hospital after taking MDMA. One took so much that his lungs collapsed.

Although alcohol causes 5% of deaths worldwide and kills way more people than ecstasy, it’s far more common for the news media to cover stories about MDMA-related deaths than ones involving alcohol. Several people died from taking ecstasy this year, including: 29 year-old Nathan Dennett, 17 year-old Lewis Haunch, 19 year-old Luke Johns, 19 year-old Michael Trueman, 21 year-old Haakon Bratland, 38 year-old Joel Taylor, 18 year-old Ellie Knowles, 15 year-old Hannah Bragg, 16 year-old Luke Campbell-Tapson, 20 year-old Patrick Coakley, 22 year-old Joana Burns, 14 year-old Bethany Devlin-McCrone, 15 year-old Shakira Pellow, 19 year-old Jack Brereton, 18 year-old Georgia Jones, 29 year-old Stacey Tierney, 16 year-old Joshua Connolly-Teale, 19 year-old Alex Masterton, 46 year-old Robert Niak, and 37 year-old Paul Burns. The first fatal overdose from fentanyl-tainted MDMA may have occurred, but the death is still being investigated at this time. While some of these deaths were attributed to toxic doses of pure MDMA, many also died from combining ecstasy with other drugs, fatal accidents that occurred while under the influence, and/or taking what was thought to be MDMA but proved to be something else entirely.

When young people die as a result of taking MDMA, parents and family members respond in a few different ways. Some issue warnings to other parents. Others share graphic photos of their children in their final hours, suffering and on life support. But many family members correctly identify the true culprit behind these deaths—drug prohibition. Some go as far as to support legalization efforts and public drug checking locations.

There were plenty of MDMA trip reports written, but one caught my eye. It is the story of a writer who began frequently abusing ecstasy and eventually had an overdose. She decided it was time to call it quits after living to tell the tale.

DMT

The powerful psychedelic compound known as N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT) can be found in a variety of plants and animals around the world. Perhaps once an esoteric psychedelic substance, it has gained in popularity during the last few decades to the point where people are now vaping it at concerts. In a bit of obscure news, an Australian grass containing the drug got kangaroos so high that they couldn’t walk straight.

While DMT research is certainly still in its early days, one study worth noting was published, which found that the drug closely models the near-death experience, although there are some significant differences between the two phenomena. Psychedelic researcher Roland Griffiths put out a request to hear from people who have encountered aliens while under the influence of DMT. With any luck, the survey entries will be published in a future DMT study.

It’s rare for celebrities to talk about using DMT, but Paul McCartney talked about how he “saw God” after smoking it during the heyday of The Beatles. One writer explored the idea that DMT might be the perfect drug for our collective crisis of meaning.

We learned a bit more about this drug’s rich history after one journalist unearthed the forgotten music collaboration between Terence McKenna and a practically unknown band called Zuvuya. One of the two albums that featured Terence mirrors a DMT trip. An art exhibit explored the idea that the muslim prophet Muhammad may have been tripping on DMT when he was sitting in a dark cave for extended periods of time. The idea that DMT is produced naturally in the human brain was popularized after researcher Rick Strassman hypothesized in his book DMT: The Spirit Molecule that the drug may be created by the pineal gland. Fellow researcher David Nichols pushed back on that idea, saying that there’s not enough evidence to prove that the pineal gland alters consciousness, much less provoking mystical experiences by secreting DMT endogenously.

There wasn’t much DMT-related entertainment, but musician Jon Hopkins did give an excellent interview where he talked about psychedelic meditation and what it was like to listen to his own music after smoking DMT. As an aside, if you haven’t heard his latest album, Singularity, which came out earlier this year, you definitely should check it out.

DMT-related crimes happen with great frequency, but only one stood out to me this year. It was a case about a man who was given a 10-year prison sentence simply for possessing the stuff. Maybe there isn’t sufficient evidence to prove that our brains produce endogenous DMT, but on the off-chance that they do, how absurd will this seem in the future? It’s already outrageous enough, but after finding out that we’re all walking around with this powerful psychedelic tryptamine in our noggins at all times, it’s going to seem downright archaic.

Ayahuasca

The DMT-containing psychedelic brew known as ayahuasca has been used as a traditional plant medicine in traditional ceremonies among the indigenous peoples of the Amazon basin. It is known for producing extraordinary visions and has the potential to heal a myriad of psychospiritual maladies. Media coverage of ayahuasca has increased steadily year-over-year, and 2018 was no different. To start things off on a jovial—albeit somewhat dark—note, the satirical publication The Onion published a piece claiming that the president of a well-known breast cancer organization (Susan G. Komen) achieved “total breast cancer awareness” during a three-day ayahuasca retreat. It’s a joke of course, and although a lot of people won’t find it funny because it deals with a serious life-threatening condition with which they have personal experience, it’s a sign of the times that ayahuasca is being referenced in The Onion of all places. An editorial titled “Statement on Ayahuasca,” which was penned by a handful of leading researchers in 2012, was republished in Chacruna. Although it’s more than six years old at this point, it still does an excellent job of highlighting concerns that exist surrounding the brew.

Scientific research has a long way to go before it sufficiently understands the mystery that is ayahuasca, but at least it has a head start. New studies this year included one where researchers gave ayahuasca to monkeys and it helped their depression, another that found that drinking ayahuasca tea helped people rapidly overcome their severe treatment-resistant depression, and one that showed that the brew may help with the healing of eating disorders. The first-ever Amazon ayahuasca sustainability study was conducted and a chemical in ayahuasca may be able to treat diabetes.

In regard to ayahuasca drug policies, not much budged this year. However, it turns out that Health Canada granted exceptions last summer to two Montreal religious groups that allowed them to import and serve ayahuasca to their members. While most countries don’t sport legal ayahuasca industries, that hasn’t stopped people from traveling to other countries to work with the brew. A couple folks, including author Graham Hancock, wrote about what it is like to go to Rythmia, a luxury plant medicine retreat center in Costa Rica that serves ayahuasca as one of its healing modalities.

When it comes to ayahuasca, plenty of issues still need to be discussed and explored. A few good editorials explored topics like whether it is cultural appropriation for white people to drink ayahuasca, how the brew is the new frontier for “psychedelic feminism,” and whether ayahuasca tourism in Peru should be regulated.

There were a few helpful guides published, including one in Men’s Health that gave its readers an idea of what to know about “the hallucinogen that blows your mind and makes you puke your guts out.” While it didn’t include anything that was all that revolutionary to a psychedelic-aware audience, the fact that information about ayahuasca is showing up in mainstream publications like this is a sign that psychedelics are becoming more accepted each and every year. Other guides worth mentioning covered what to expect when drinking ayahuasca and everything you need to know about choosing an ayahuasca retreat.

Anyone looking for ayahuasca-related entertainment had a lot to choose from this year, including three films—a look at what doctors think about plant medicines called The Shaman and The Scientist, a “mixed work” that combines augmented reality, 360-degree footage, and virtual reality to give the viewer an idea of what it’s like to go on an ayahuasca journey in the Amazon titled Awavena, and a documentary about ayahuasca and PTSD named From Shock to Awe). In addition to these movies, there was a television series called Kentucky Ayahuasca that followed a former serial bank robber and all-around career criminal who opened up an ayahuasca church in Kentucky after a life-changing experience with the brew.

Although ayahuasca is illegal in many countries, many practitioners are so moved by their experiences with working with the vine that they are willing to break the law to share it with others. Russia made it clear that it isn’t in support of ayahuasca, sentencing a Brazilian shaman to 6.5 years in prison (after being detained for nine months following his arrest) for transporting four bottles of the brew as well as sending a man to prison for 11.5 years (again, after one year of imprisonment following his arrest) for bringing a single bottle of ayahuasca back from Peru in hopes of continuing a medical treatment for his back. 2018 also brought with it the first two ayahuasca convictions in the United States, although the consequences were much less dire than those in Russia. In the first case, a Colombian-American who brought four shampoo bottles containing ayahuasca into the country was sentenced to one year of probation and 100 hours of court-ordered community service, while in the second case, a Canadian citizen was simply charged a monetary fine for simple drug possession. It’s possible that the federal system did not want to prosecute an ayahuasca case and set a precedent, regardless of whether it was positive or negative.

In an extremely bizarre case, a 19 year-old girl and her child were rescued from a doomsday sect in Peru where a man forced a harem of girls to drink ayahuasca and have sex with him. It’s an absolutely horrible story, but at least the group was discovered and a rescue happened. At least one assault occurred—former pro skater Rob Guerrero was shot in the head during an ayahuasca retreat in Peru. He survived the attack and his prognosis is looking fairly good, all things considered. But not all victims of assault were so fortunate. In a bizarre tale, a Canadian ayahuasca tourist was lynched by a mob after being accused of killing an ayahuasca shaman.

Some attendees died, including an experienced ayahuasca practitioner who fell ill after drinking a brew made at Soul Quest Church in Florida and a mother-of-one musician who drank ayahuasca in Wales prior to touring in the Middle East, where she died of a seizure. There was no indication that she died due to drinking ayahuasca, however. Following up on a death from 2014, an inquest determined that ayahuasca directly contributed to the death of a gap-year student who attended a ritual in Colombia. Without knowing the ingredients that went into this particular batch of ayahuasca or any information about contraindications specific to the man’s case, it’s difficult to explain exactly what happened here.

Nothing beats a good ayahuasca trip report, and judging by the brew’s increase in popularity, it’s possible that there were more written in 2018 than any year prior. Some of my favorite anecdotes this year includes an experience that was described as “the brutal mirror,” another that was said to be “a punch in the soul,” and Graham Hancock’s return to ayahuasca after three years away. Suffice it to say that these drinkers got a lot out of their experiences, but it wasn’t a cakewalk—they had to go through some uncomfortable spaces to get to that point.

5-MeO-DMT

Sometimes confused with DMT, but much different, the psychedelic tryptamine 5-MeO-DMT can be found in several plant species as well as the venom of the Sonoran Desert toad. There hasn’t been a whole lot of scientific research conducted with this substance, but that’s starting to change. This year new studies found that spiritual exploration is the top reason people consume 5-MeO-DMT and that it may unlock the mystery of neurogenesis. Another study focused on the intensity of mystical experiences occasioned by the drug and compared it with a prior psilocybin study.

One event—the World Bufo Alvarius Congress, held in Mexico City—focused entirely on this substance. This is pretty rare in the psychedelic world, because events typically cover multiple substances, rather than singling out one in particular.

There’s a thriving underground community of 5-MeO-DMT facilitators, and things got a bit controversial this year. Author James Oroc gave an interesting interview that covered pretty much everything about this network of people.

Since this drug is becoming more popular, it’s understandable that some people would get caught breaking the law to access (or help others obtain) it. People have started hunting for Sonoran Desert toads more often, and thieves were caught on video stealing them from a park in Arizona. And a company out of Oakland was accused of smuggling toad venom from Hong Kong. However, it wasn’t clear whether the substance was 5-MeO-DMT or its cousin, 5-HO-DMT.

Although there were undoubtedly countless reports of peoples’ experiences with 5-MeO-DMT published this year, one that stuck out to me described the way that the substance provoked an experience of coming home.

Mescaline

Mescaline is a naturally-occurring psychedelic alkaloid of the phenethylamine class that can be found in some cacti. Most psychonauts consider it to be a classical psychedelic, but it’s not as commonly used nowadays when compared to LSD, psilocybin, or DMT. For example, if you go to a music festival today you’re likely to find a lot of people using those substances, but you won’t find a whole lot of mescaline users. But for those of us that do love this chemical compound, a helpful essential guide to mescaline came out this year. And actor Jeff Goldblum described his experiences with taking the drug back in the early 1970s.

Peyote

There are several species of cacti that contain mescaline, but peyote is probably the one that most people are familiar with. Arguably the most interesting article on peyote this year was about a “high dose peyote initiation” that was written in true Carlos Castaneda fashion. And it turns out that even though the cactus is threatened and controversial, it’s actually legal to sell it in Texas, assuming you are officially registered with the DEA. There was also a fascinating interview about Huichol plant medicine traditions. American Indians gathered near El Reno to celebrate peyote traditions. Because of its increasing popularity during recent decades, many people are concerned about the long-term availability of peyote. If you’re interested in learning more about this cactus, you can check out the new peyote documentary that just came out.

San Pedro

There’s another mescaline-containing cactus that has grown quite a sizable following, and that’s San Pedro. A TV show called Healing Powers headed to Spain to learn more about huachuma, which originally hailed from Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador and Peru, although it is now cultivated all over the world. It has traditionally been used as a powerful medicine, but many cultures only use it for ornamental purposes. There are plenty of people who work with San Pedro—some even think they can predict the future by consuming it.

Iboga

Tabernanthe iboga is a psychedelic rainforest shrub traditionally used in West African coming-of-age rituals. This plant contains a long-lasting alkaloid called ibogaine, which has been used to successfully treat drug addiction. But exactly what is iboga and does it actually cure addiction?

Ibogaine therapy certainly has the potential to offer relief during opioid withdrawal. An effective medicine, some lawmakers have started to consider using ibogaine for addiction recovery. It’s even capable of resolving and healing childhood trauma. And it might be able to treat alcoholism, too. In and of itself, ibogaine is not unsafe—there are both risks and benefits. It’s too bad that the U.S. is forgoing such a powerful tool, but many people are seeking out underground treatment options. In fact, iboga has become so popular that it is now under threat of extinction. Two anecdotes worth checking out involve a Bwiti iboga initiation and one man’s journey to Mexico to use ibogaine to treat his addiction to heroin. And a guide was published on the different stages of an ibogaine experience.

Salvia Divinorum

The divine sage known as salvia divinorum had a very interesting year. After having been effectively globalized over the past few decades, salvia has started to lead chemists on a psychedelic existential journey. The existing body of scientific research about this plant is quite strange. Along the way, studies have found that this plant could be used as a powerful non-addictive painkiller to help end the opioid crisis, and it might even be an effective treatment for schizophrenia and dementia. And there were also articles that gave an overview of the plant and important tips for new salvia users.

Morning Glory Seeds

Other than articles about using morning glory seeds as a party drug, children eating them to get high (which “could mean trouble”), and a clarification about the punishment for being caught with them in the United Arab Emirates, there wasn’t a whole lot about these LSA-containing psychedelic seeds this year.

Novel Psychoactive Substances

With loads of new psychoactive substances being created each and every year, it’s nearly impossible to keep up. From a wide variety of different novel psychoactive substances to a special group of novel psychoactive substances known as synthetic cannabinoids, today’s drug users looking to experiment with altered states of consciousness have more options than ever before.

The NBOMe family of psychedelic compounds typically shows up fairly often in the news, but it had a bit of a quiet year, which is probably for the best. NBOMes are commonly sold by black market dealers as “acid,” although they’re much different than true LSD. This family of phenethylamine (and a few amphetamine) analogs is active at extremely low doses—like real acid—but they also have much greater toxicity. Many people have overdosed and died from taking NBOMEs, but there have been no deaths attributed to using LSD alone in the history of the drug. The only noteworthy article that I found about NBOMes this year was one that talked about a warning from UK police that was issued after a string of hospitalizations and deaths.

Another common psychoactive research chemical is 4-AcO-DMT, which is a psychedelic tryptamine whose effects and duration are similar to those of psilocybin, one of the primary psychoactive compounds in magic mushrooms. There were a few guides about this compound, and all of them focused on how to microdose with it. To get started, you could read this guide on how to microdose 4-AcO-DMT in seven easy steps. Next, move to the essential guide to microdosing 4-AcO-DMT. And when you’re ready for the next level, graduate from your microdosing course with the everything you need to know about microdosing 4-AcO-DMT guide. Congratulations—now you’re a microdosing master.

Unfortunately for ravers, fake MDMA has weaseled its way deep into the recreational scene during the past couple decades. When festivalgoers had their street ecstasy tested at festivals in the southeast corner of the United States, it turned out that most of them actually purchased bath salts instead of real MDMA. To be fair, “bath salts” isn’t exactly the best term for this particular type of fake MDMA—they’re more correctly identified as cathinones. There hasn’t been a whole lot of research conducted on cathinones so far, but a new PHD dissertation looked at the effects of the most popular among them using liquid chromatography. And the UK media went crazy over a cathinone it dubbed “Monkey Dust.” Another common type of fake MDMA, and the one that showed up the most often in the news media this year, is n-ethylpentylone. This drug freaked out the cops, the DEA placed it in the Schedule I category, and warnings from London came out claiming that taking n-ethylpentylone keeps users awake for three days. A euphoric stimulant called alpha-PVP (also known as flakka) made the news for causing “extreme anxiety, paranoia and hallucinations.”

Synthetic Cannabinoids

The last category of psychoactive research chemicals is the synthetic cannabinoid family of compounds. These drugs are typically sprayed onto plant material and sold as an alternative to natural cannabis. While many are legal, more are made illegal with each passing year due to safety concerns. Synthetic cannabinoids made quite a splash this year, with users being stigmatized more than ever before and prompting UK police to recommend that they be upgraded to a Class A drug. Using synthetic cannabinoids in prison became more popular, which frightened nurses and guards. One former government adviser (Professor David Nutt) went as far as to say that “[drug] testing prisoners for cannabis led to the Spice epidemic.” There were a lot of overdoses—20 people overdosed in a park, eight men were taken to a hospital after taking what they thought was MDMA, but may have actually been a synthetic cannabinoid known as “spice,” there was a huge rise in ambulance calls in the UK to deal with users, and there were even some deaths. (One prison inmate who became delirious after using spice hanged himself in the shower.) All of this mystified hospitals as they scrambled to figure out why they were seeing so many strange drug overdoses. The UK responded by instituting a blanket ban against legal highs, which positioned black market street dealers as the main suppliers of synthetic cannabinoids instead of above-ground shops, which would arguably be a safer alternative. In New Zealand, the government’s science institute started drug testing emergency room patients for synthetic cannabinoids if there is any reason to suspect they have been using them.

Nitrous Oxide

Nitrous oxide, commonly referred to as “laughing gas,” “whippets,” or even “hippie crack,” is a dissociative gas that has been used in dental and surgical procedures for many years. It is commonly used recreationally for a wide variety of subjective effects, and is relatively safe to use. However, a teenager fell off a balcony to his death after a night of partying with alcohol and nitrous oxide earlier this year. His unfortunate death can now serve as an important reminder that while the drug poses a low risk of significant problems on its own, it’s important to take safety precautions when using nitrous, including the need to sit or lay down prior to ingesting it. Some Chicago hospitals began offering nitrous oxide to pregnant women in labor while a hospital in Australia mistakenly administered the drug to newborn babies instead of oxygen, a move that killed one baby and left another with serious brain damage. And it turns out there is a secret world of doctors who love whippits.

Ketamine

The dissociative psychedelic drug known as ketamine has been used medically as an anesthetic for more than five decades. While it is one of the few psychedelics with addiction potential, ketamine has a myriad of legitimate applications. When a Thai youth soccer team got stuck in a cave this year, the boys were given ketamine during the rescue to keep them calm. Police officers in Minneapolis asked medical workers to inject suspects with ketamine, leading one man to sue the cops after being injected with ketamine in a hospital because he was mistaken for someone else. A few months later, a woman sued Hennepin Healthcare after being enrolled in a controversial study that was eventually suspended due to concerns around informed consent. A ketamine clinic in Los Angeles offered an at-home nasal spray to treat depression. English pop star Lily Allen was kicked out of an awards ceremony after accidentally taking ketamine, believing it to have been cocaine.

There was no shortage of ketamine research in 2018. Most of it focused on the drug’s efficacy for treating depression. Studies found that ketamine can rapidly reduce suicidal thoughts and could be a compelling treatment for adolescents with depression, although it does seem that specific features in mood disorders have the potential to affect the outcome of treatment. The drug may even improve “electroshock” therapy, a controversial technique that has been sensationalized in television and film for decades. Although many studies involve injection, one study found that ketamine nasal spray is capable of reducing depression symptoms. Another was stopped due to side effects. Scientists are scrambling to figure out exactly what makes ketamine so effective at treating depression, and they’re coming at the problem from all sides—including marmoset and rat studies. These effects may be due to the fact that ketamine has the ability to suppress the brain’s “anti-reward” center. Or maybe it has something to do with the fact that ketamine behaves like an opioid in the brain, which has led some experts to worry about the potential for it to cause dependence issues. But ketamine’s reach is not limited to depression—there are several other ways that it can be used. Studies looking at its impact on anxiety found that it can be used to treat severe social anxiety, which may be linked to changes in theta brainwaves that it causes. New studies found that it can help with chronic noncancer pain, fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis, and Parkinson’s disease. Ketamine was also found to ease the debilitating side effects of a Parkinson’s treatment drug. Similar to many other drugs in this blog post, ketamine is also successful at treating substance use issues—in this case, alcohol dependence.

Regarding drug policy changes, the United Kingdom may legalize ketamine for depression treatment in 18 months. Ketamine clinics have been popping up all across America, leading to the rise of start-your-own-ketamine-business courses that promise to teach people how to work with the drug. This has sparked concern from some the mental health expert community, who claim that there isn’t sufficient evidence about how to use ketamine to offer training.

In addition to the ongoing research being conducted to find out more about ketamine, there were some articles that showed its potential health benefits. Ketamine has the capacity to treat social anxiety and PTSD, reduce emergency room opioid use, prevent mass shootings by acting as an alternative to traditional antidepressants, and potentially even stop people from killing themselves.

Out of all the ketamine-related crimes that occurred in 2018, the most interesting involved a 22 year-old woman who ended up giving birth in prison after attacking two women while experimenting with ketamine.

One guide had advice on everything you should know about taking ketamine. A few personal accounts stood out. A woman felt that ketamine cured her bipolar condition and severe depression, preventing a potential suicide. Another experienced relief just one day after using ketamine to treat her depression. And an author recounted his entertaining story of how he ended up high on green ketamine with the President of Ireland.

PCP

Significantly more than the other psychedelic substances in this post, the powerful dissociative PCP is highly stigmatized in the media. This drug is almost exclusively involved in negative stories (crimes, assaults, murders, and deaths) rather than receiving any positive coverage.

People sure do get into trouble with PCP. A mom accidentally gave her daughters the substance after confusing a bottle with vanilla extract and officers were allegedly exposed to the drug while checking a vehicle. A woman who was accused of setting a fatal fire was too high on PCP to confess in court. A man who was thought to be high on PCP claimed that white wolves were chasing him, another was shot while trying to carjack someone in a Cleveland pizzeria parking lot, another set fire to his house, another merely said “It’s the PCP” when he was arrested wearing a towel at a shopping center, another who exposed himself while under the influence, another accused of causing a deadly crash was high on PCP, and a naked man was arrested after throwing chairs off of a balcony.

There were a few noteworthy assaults this year, including a man who allegedly bit a deputy after running away, a PCP-fueled melee that left several officers injured, another dude who attacked police officers during a PCP trip, a man who harassed a woman before punching her dad and a valet, and a Salvation Army bell ringer who assaulted a shopper at a Walmart.

Sometimes assaults can turn deadly. A man stabbed his mother to death while “likely high on PCP,” Morgan Freeman’s granddaughter recorder her boyfriend high on PCP before he stabbed her to death, and a Kansas City teenager killed two people during a shotgun spree.

In addition to all of these PCP-related crimes, assaults, and murders, every now and then users are violent toward themselves. At least one man killed himself after smoking PCP this year, and a murder suspect told police that she found a man dead in a motel, allegedly having taken his own life after smoking PCP. Occasionally users are killed by cops—a Chicago teenager, high on PCP, refused commands to drop his knife before being fatally shot by police.

Opiates/Opioids

The class of euphoric depressants and analgesics known as opiates and opioids include drugs like heroin, opium, and the dreaded and highly-misunderstood substance known as fentanyl. While I certainly don’t consider myself an expert on this family of psychoactives, it’s a fascinating area that is rapidly changing with every passing year and I like to stay as up-to-date as I can on the goings-on in this section of the drug world. A fair amount of opiate-related research was conducted this year. For starters, the link between heroin addiction and narcolepsy was examined. A study came out showing that smoking heroin can destroy brain tissue, but it turns out that there may have been some problems with the research. A town in my local state of North Carolina screened human waste to measure opioid use and a study showed just how much doctors prescribe them. We found out more about how opium poppies evolved their powerful painkillers, that they may be largely ineffective against chronic pain, and looked at whether equipping high schools with naloxone is cost-effective.

Both the governor of a Mexican state and the country’s defense chief are in favor of legalizing opium, and there are some in India who are considering legalizing the cultivation of opium poppies. China agreed to make fentanyl a controlled substance after talks with the U.S. at the G20 summit.

Some in the U.S. government strongly encouraged federal prosecutors to seek the death penalty for drug dealers in order to combat the so-called opioid crisis. Police in North Carolina thought that they had seized an impressive amount of fentanyl but found out that it was just 13 pounds of sugar instead. And Facebook started cracking down on opioid dealers after years of ignoring the problem.

There was a ton of opioid-related harm reduction news. The pros and cons of supervised consumption services were debated quite a bit. A major meta-analysis study questioned the evidence for such services and received a lot of media attention. Although it was later retracted, a lot of damage was already done to public perception. While some U.S. cities are interested in opening safe spaces for injecting heroin and other drugs, there are not any above-ground places currently running in the country. There are, however, underground sites operating illegally. Other countries are a bit more open-minded toward supervised consumption services, such as the Netherlands, Norway, and Ireland.

One of the main harm reduction options for opioids is naloxone, a medication that can block the drugs’ effects, often saving people from would would otherwise be fatal overdoses. While some say that using it is a moral hazard, the U.S. Surgeon General actually advised greater use to help save lives. It can be challenging to ensure accessibility to naloxone for those who need it most, so the FDA met to discuss ways to safely make it more available, potentially even selling it over-the-counter. In fact, Purdue Pharma is funding the development of affordable naloxone that could be obtained without a prescription. All sorts of places are starting to recognize the benefits of naloxone—jails, hospitals, and even funeral homes. Knowledgeable parents send their kids off to college with fentanyl testing strips and naloxone. We learned a bit more about how to properly use it this year. Although you shouldn’t leave naloxone in your car over the winter, research has shown that the substance is still stable months after its expiration date. And opioid overdose patients can be safely discharged an hour after receiving naloxone. A K-9 was saved by this drug after being exposed to heroin in jail and a nurse had her life insurance denied just for carrying naloxone. Although this drug is highly effective for many opioids, some experts believe that it isn’t strong enough for stronger synthetic opioids that are starting to flood the market, prompting the search for the “next naloxone.”

While the traditional rehab model leaves a lot to be desired, technology may be able to help those suffering from problematic opioid use. This year, Facebook started redirecting opioid buyers to a crisis helpline, the HopeBand—a wearable device that can detect opioid overdoses—was developed by Carnegie Mellon University students, and Google searches could be used to help predict heroin overdoses.

In miscellaneous harm reduction news, Walmart is planning to offer a product to help curb opioid abuse by enabling customers to dispose of unwanted or expired drugs. Addiction treatment prescriptions like suboxone and methadone can help some people wean themselves off of opioids, but it can be incredibly difficult to access them when you’re away from home. Some opioid users have begun to intentionally use fentanyl instead of heroin, which, when done correctly, could save lives and screw dealers. New evidence in favor of prescription heroin came to light, and a harm reduction journalist had some interesting results after applying hundreds of fentanyl tests to Philadelphia’s street drugs.

Unlike many of the other drugs in this column, there is a flourishing legal opioid industry. Over in the UK, Britain is the world’s biggest exporter of legally-manufactured cocaine and heroin, and prescription heroin might be coming soon to West Midlands. However, the cost of a lifesaving withdrawal drug called buprenorphine rose by 700%, causing alarm at many treatment agencies. In the U.S., fentanyl-related stocks rebounded after China agreed to strengthen its drug management and Walmart started limiting some customers to no more than a seven-day supply of opioids. Big Opium’s fines are approaching those of Big Tobacco’s as lawsuits continue to mount. The Sackler family, some of whom own Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of OxyContin, are facing mass litigation and criminal investigations concerning their involvement in the opioid crisis. And a former CEO accused of bribing doctors to prescribe fentanyl pled guilty to conspiracy and mail fraud.

There was an impressive collection of images and stories from the front lines of America’s opioid crisis called “The Opioid Diaries”. Reporters Public libraries have become one of the latest battlegrounds, and some have started training their staff to identify potential overdoses and administer naloxone. While firsthand reporting from inside the Mexican towns that produce America’s heroin is rare, a new documentary series called The Trade attempted to show the human side of the war on drugs. The Drug Policy Alliance’s Senior Director said in an interview that Prince could still be alive today if America didn’t shame people for using drugs.

There’s a lot of misinformation out there in regard to opiates. Donald Trump’s administration launched a serious of “very bad commercials” (his words, not mine) in a failed attempt at an opioid education campaign for young people. And the false idea that touching fentanyl can kill you was all-pervasive in the media, but at least one media outlet attempted to set the record straight.

An ancient Mediterranean juglet, dating back to more than 3,000 years ago, was found to contain traces of opium, adding evidence to a long-running debate about whether the containers were used to carry the drug.

Compared to other types of drugs, there aren’t a whole lot of opiate-related guides published, but there was a helpful article that instructed readers how to taper off suboxone.

Giant heroin spoons were displayed in public spaces as conversation starters, including one that was placed in front of Purdue Pharma and another that was left outside the Massachusetts Statehouse.

The global illegal opiate market had an interesting year. Some heroin users found lead in their supply. A gap in addiction treatment industry has created a black market for suboxone. Fentanyl made its way into other street drugs, prompting dark web dealers to voluntarily ban the drug entirely. Meanwhile, concerns were raised about China being a major source of fentanyl and other drugs. There were reports claiming that opium production in Afghanistan is at an all-time high and but the United Nations said cultivation is actually down 20 percent. Regardless, the country is producing a lot more opium than before the U.S. invasion although officials remain hopeful that farmers will replace their opium crops with saffron. Meanwhile, Southeast Asia is trying to switch from growing opium to coffee.

Nevada was poised to become the first state to execute an inmate with fentanyl, but the drug’s manufacturer sued to block its use, saying that it would be bad for the drug’s reputation. As a result the execution was postponed. After all that, Nebraska ended up beating Nevada to the punch.

Many lost their lives from overdosing on opiates, often because they mixed painkillers with other drugs. Tom Petty’s 2017 death was ruled an accidental overdose by a coroner, Colin Kroll died after mixing cocaine and opiates, and rapper Mac Miller died from mixing alcohol, cocaine, and fentanyl, although it’s possible that—just like many others who have suffered a similar tragedy, he didn’t even intend to take fentanyl in the first place, but was instead a victim of a poisoned drug supply. In fact, cocaine deaths are rising at an alarming rate precisely because of the infiltration of fentanyl into its market. While fentanyl-related overdose deaths have doubled every year from 2013 to 2016 (new data came out showing that fentanyl actually kills more people than heroin), overall opioid overdoses may be seriously undercounted. Fortunately, there has been a drop in the number of new heroin users, but Chicago’s black communities were hit hardest in opioid overdoses. An Ohio police chief died after overdosing on drugs he stole from an evidence room, including cocaine and fentanyl. And a fatal overdose at a supervised consumption service raised concerns about the possibility of naloxone-resistant drugs.

One father of a heroin overdose victim has reacted to her death in an extraordinary way. Instead of speaking out against the drug, the former chemistry teacher has begun to volunteer with The Loop, a UK-based non-profit Community Interest Company that offers drug checking services at music festivals, nightclubs, and other events.

Cocaine

This is the first year that I started dedicating a section to the popular euphoric stimulant cocaine, and I didn’t even begin to intentionally track cocaine-related news until last month, so this section will undoubtedly be much thinner than it would’ve been if I had been watching this space all year. One of the most important things that happened this year was the prevalence of fentanyl showing up in the world’s cocaine supply, a fact that is extremely depressing for users who want to stick to using the white stuff instead of unintentionally consuming other drugs as well. And cocaine deaths increased amid the ongoing national opioid crisis. Actor Dennis Quaid revealed that he used to use two grams of cocaine every day before he discontinued his use of the drug. In England, mental health hospital admissions linked to cocaine use have nearly tripled in the last 10 years. Colombia made an effort to get farmers out of the cocaine business. And to get people thinking about how to improve the cocaine market, an editorial asked its readers if they would pay more for ethically sourced cocaine.

Absinthe

The depressive intoxicant known as absinthe is an emerald green alcoholic liquor commonly called “Green Fairy.” It’s believed to facilitate creativity and act as an aphrodisiac, and was once thought to engender hallucinogenic effects. Absinthe is a fascinating substance with a rich history. Several months prior to “smoking” weed on Joe Rogan’s show, Elon Musk quietly went to Israel to drink absinthe discuss the future of the company in the Middle East. The drug may even have something to teach us about the nature of moral panics. Some absinthe enthusiasts have been hiding bottles in the woods of Switzerland for years. One Czech distiller even resurrected pre-ban absinthe by following a 200 year-old recipe. Even though it’s not incredibly popular, the absinthe market is expected to grow parallel to the overall alcoholic beverages market. A new basement bar in London dedicated to the drink opened up this month and features old-timey absinthe fountains at each table.

Kambô

Kambô, also known as Sapo, is the skin secretion from the Phyllomedusa bicolor, a blue-and-green tree frog native to the Amazon basin. The art of getting holes burned into your body to administer the substance has become a bit more popular during the past few years, and as a result new urban practices have been developed by neo-shamans.

Kratom

An evergreen tree in the coffee family that possesses both stimulant effects and opioid-like properties, kratom had quite an interesting year. A multi-state salmonella outbreak sent shockwaves through the kratom community. Although the source was never found, a list of brands contaminated with salmonella helped keep users safe. A poison control center in Virginia warned residents about the risks associated with the plant, and the FDA issued warning letters to kratom companies for deceptive medical claims before the agency recalled and destroyed several kratom products. Fears over pregnant mothers using kratom turned out to be overblown. One mother filed a lawsuit alleging that kratom tea caused her teenage daughter to suffer brain damage and a Thai man was electrocuted when he attempted to steal kratom leaves. The American Kratom Association announced Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) standards for kratom vendors and accused an FDA report of being pure “junk science,” arguing that the deaths attributed to kratom should be blamed on adulterated products, not the plant itself. FDA testing later found high levels of toxic heavy metals in kratom products, strengthening the organization’s belief that it is a dangerous substance. The National Institute on Drug Abuse gave $3.5 million to scientists for further research.

The legal status of kratom in the United States has shifted during the past few years, and a few states have banned it, others, like Ohio, plan to ban it soon, however it remains legal in many other states, such as New York, Tennessee, and Florida. Things may eventually change at the federal level—the DEA considered banning kratom in 2018, which prompted 40,000 Americans to sign a petition in support of the plant and dozens of others traveled to Washington, D.C. hoping to prevent the potential federal ban. If kratom does eventually get banned, it will likely create health risks and fuel terrorism. Until then, the FDA’s “shadow ban” of kratom may be causing supply shortages. In other countries’ news, Thailand legalized kratom alongside medical marijuana.

Kratom has a lot of impressive health benefits to offer, including the abilities to alleviate pain, facilitate sleep, ease opiate withdrawal, and help people stop using alcohol. And new research found that it has a relatively low toxicity too—at least when you do the math correctly. Not everyone is convinced about its merit, however. One leading fibromyalgia doctor advised people to abstain from kratom until we have more research and reliable access to safe sources. A case report came out showing that pregnant mothers who use kratom can cause neonatal abstinence syndrome in their newborn babies. And although some people develop dependency issues with kratom, it looks like that can be successfully treated with buprenorphine.

The kratom-focused publication Kratom Guides released several excellent guides this year, including effective ways to deal with kratom constipation, and a primer on whether the substance can be detected by drug tests There are also guides covering specific strains that will help increase your productivity at work, the effects that can occur with low and high doses, how often you can take it, and whether you can smoke kratom powder (and what to expect if you do).

A handful of interesting editorials about kratom were published in 2018. Some argued that the plant might be an important aid in fighting the opioid crisis and helping MMA fighters and combat athletes address their chronic pain. Kratom users in states that have banned it discussed how prohibition has made life worse. A man with a former alcohol use disorder explained his experience with using kratom to deal with anxiety. But not everyone had something nice to say about kratom. One article claimed that kratom supplements won’t make you healthier at all—instead, the substance might just make you sick.

Kava

The tropical evergreen shrub known as kava has continued to gain in popularity over the last few years. Sometimes referred to as “nature’s Xanax” or “anti-caffeine,” kava is a depressant that produces sedative and euphoric effects. In addition to drinking kava tea recreationally, some people use it (in place of supplements and opioids) to alleviate acute pain, sore muscles, anxiety, and lethargy. Studies have even shown that kava consumption has helped reduce alcohol consumption and gang affiliations among young men in New Zealand. A grant was awarded to further investigate the plant’s effects. Kava farmers said that their profits have been increasing during recent years, contrary to “fake news” reports that said otherwise. Dairies across New Zealand started selling the stuff alongside other food items like pie and chewing gum. A lot of kava news comes out of Vanuatu, a Pacific island country located in the South Pacific Ocean. This year, the country’s government tried to protect kava from outsiders, defended its reputation by destroying “non-noble kava” that one exporter was dealing, and welcomed an announcement that Poland has re-legalised kava. Some people fought for improvements in the kava industry, which was followed by an initiative to develop new quality standards for Pacific kava. Fiji Kava became the first kava listing on any global stock exchange. In entertaining news, one kava bar went as far as to hang a “God Hates Beer” sign in front of a nearby brewery and Prince Harry sipped kava tea after landing in Fiji. Unfortunately, one kava bar in West Palm Beach underwent quite a traumatic experience when a man stabbed employees in an unprovoked attack.

Khat

This natural plant stimulant had a bit of a rough year even though it also grew in popularity. To start, plenty of places wanted to make khat illegal, including villages in Cambodia and Kenya. Women in Somalia divorced violent husbands who became addicted to chewing khat. Khat consumption was linked to chronic liver disease, negative physical health effects, and mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and stress. Some Ethiopian farmers chose khat over coffee, although the existing khat farming industry stands to threaten the country’s food security, biodiversity, women, and agroforestry. The legal high started flowing into Bangladesh, prompting the country’s Department of Narcotics Control to ask the government to ban it. There were some noteworthy khat seizures: 4800+ packs were seized in Oman and more than $124k worth of khat was seized at Dallas Fort-Worth International Airport.

Miscellaneous

Although a new report declared that the drug war has been a spectacular failure, the DEA turned 45 this year and promoted Harry Anslinger, a infamous drug warrior, on its Twitter account. The FDA monitored social media for drug abuse trends. There were a few nude psychedelic parades in San Francisco. Parents who want to hire a drug-sniffing dog to snoop on their kids can now do just that, even though new figures revealed that drug dogs are actually highly ineffective. Country music musician Kacey Musgraves revealed that she wrote a song under the influence of psychedelics. In international news, an Iranian religious authority pronounced that psychedelics are considered halāl and Japan executed the leaders of an LSD-fueled doomsday science cult.

Published drug research taught us a lot this year. Studies looked at the similarities between psychedelic states and dreaming, the completed suicides among methamphetamine users, the practice of microdosing to ease anxiety and sharpen focus, the religious and spiritual roots of psychedelically-induced mystical experiences, the varieties of the psychedelic experience, and the links between psychedelics, meditation, and self-consciousness. Scientists discovered that alcohol is more likely to lead to post-sex regret than cannabis or ecstasy, tobacco and alcohol are more harmful than illicit drugs, and testing drugs at music festivals saves lives. Psychedelic drug use was associated with reduced partner violence in men, just one trip can cause changes in personality that can last for years, psychedelics promote structural and functional neural plasticity, and people who microdose scored higher on measures of wisdom, open-mindedness, and creativity. It turns out babies may be perpetually tripping after all, a study showed that EDM and heavy metal fans consume the most drugs and alcohol when compared to other genres, and scientists dosed an artificial brain with methamphetamine. A Trump megadonor donated $1 million to MAPS, black Americans are still being left out of psychedelic research, and even though there’s now a group giving grants to students researching psychedelics, some people have mixed feelings about psychedelic science. Several researchers and philosophers had a disagreement about what psychedelic research has shown thus far as well as what it can and cannot tell us about consciousness. To round out the year of drug research, the world’s biggest anonymous drug survey will stop collecting reports at the end of the date of publication of this post (December 31st, 2018).

Global drug policy news was nothing short of fast-paced and interesting. President Trump appointed a 24 year-old campaign worker to help lead the government’s drug policy office before suggesting that drug dealers should be executed. Attorney General Jeff Sessions resigned, leaving behind a disastrous record on drug policy, but he was replaced by acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, who sought longer-than-usual drug sentences when he was an attorney. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed in other countries, where the Czech drug tsar called for legalization and regulation of all drugs and an Egyptian MP proposed a law to decriminalize all drug use. Canada’s Liberal party also considered decriminalizing all drugs and the newly-passed “Right to Try Act” in America gave critically ill people the right to try psychedelics. Relaxed drug laws in the Netherlands enabled the Dutch to close down 19 prisons because the country didn’t have enough criminals to fill all of the cells. Asia’s newest drug war left more than 90 people dead in less than two weeks, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte may have assassinated opponents under the cover of his drug war, and Sri Lanka decided to start hanging drug dealers in order to replicate the success of the Philippine drug war. It was a bit of a mixed bag in the U.S. as police started going after people who supplied drugs to people who later died of an overdose, federal officers established unconstitutional checkpoints on the road to Burning Man, the DEA and ICE was caught hiding surveillance cameras in streetlights, and a new IRS rule denied tax-exempt status to drug policy reform groups, seemingly violating the first amendment. But it’s not all bad news—at least reform efforts inched forward in the midterms.

There are several approaches to reducing the potential risks of taking psychoactive substances. For example, the harm reduction company known as Bunk Police is actively trying to destroy dishonesty in the black market by performing drug checking at a variety of events. Professional trip sitters are offering their services to help prevent bad trips—for the low fee of $1000, that is. A man who took 140 drugs later wrote a harm reduction bible. Another wrote about the dangers of combining benzodiazepines with other drugs. And a lot of new stuff happened in the harm reduction arena this year. Perhaps the biggest news was the fact that the Department of Justice sanctioned the distribution of free water and drug education at live events. The Greek Health Ministry has started plans to create drug consumption rooms and the Denver City Council approved supervised consumption services in order to help save people from overdoses. But there were a few losses on the harm reduction front too. Stimulants remain a huge and growing problem that aren’t getting the same attention as the opioid crisis, California Governor Jerry Brown vetoed a bill to open safe injection sites in San Francisco, and Russia’s harm reductionists fell under attack again for trying to help people reduce the risks of using drugs.

The legal drug industry was busy in 2018. A study found that antidepressant use leads to worse longterm outcomes and many people who have been taking them discovered that they cannot quit. But the use of depression pills among children was cut in half in Denmark. New technology to automate molecule design is expected to speed up drug development and the FDA called out a vaping company for putting erectile dysfunction drugs in its products. People started talking about how stimulants like cocaine, ecstasy, and methamphetamine would be legally sold. And many in the psychedelic community have begun to worry that the drugs they love will go corporate.

There were plenty of excellent editorials and opinion pieces this year. Writers explored some complex issues, asking questions like which black people are allowed to trip? Can a comedown kill you? Is psychedelic research closer to theology than to science? Should we loosen the restrictions on psychedelics? Is it time to do away with job applicant drug testing? Who will be able to access psychedelic psychotherapy when it finally arrives? Is medicalization the only way to legalize psychedelics like psilocybin and ibogaine? Some had suggestions they wanted to share, like the idea that psychedelics might help our society get through the Trump years, that we should utilize psychedelics to address the increase in suicides in our society, or that psychedelics may be a new class of antidepressant. In a move that surprised many, the coverage of the Mexican drug war published at conservative media outlet Breitbart was pretty impressive. And others opined that we shouldn’t forget the risks of legalizing psychedelics, that addiction doesn’t always last a lifetime, and that the U.S. needs to decriminalize drug possession immediately.

Educating young people about drugs is extremely important and deserves more attention than it typically receives. More people are starting to discuss how we should teach students about drugs and some teenagers are actually receiving harm reduction education, which is highly encouraging.

Nothing beats interesting drug history, not in my book anyway. This year we learned about how Baltimore’s first black mayor tried to end the drug war, the psychedelic nature of Islamic art and architecture, and why animals take psychedelic substances. We also explored global shamanism, Swedish psychedelia, and got a look inside the mind of Amanda Feilding, the countess of psychedelic science.

A handful of helpful guides and resources emerged, including advice about meditating on psychedelics and navigating through the psychedelic field, as well as a couple articles I wrote about how to study psychedelics in college and how to use Sasha Shulgin’s rating scale to describe drug trips. And although it gets mainly positive press, the risks of long-term microdosing were explored.

There was plenty of new drug entertainment, including “very reluctant psychonaut” Michael Pollan’s new book, Tokyo’s psychedelic digital museum, a new documentary showing veterans treating PTSD with psychedelics, and a documentary from comedian Shane Mauss. There were also articles on eroto-psychedelic art and sex on drugs that are worth checking out.

A lot happened in psychonautic culture. Alcohol arrests trended downward while psychedelics made a comeback, the use of smart drugs rose, and people started using Fitbits and Apple Watches to monitor their heart rate while using drugs. Unsurprisingly, doctors weren’t in support of this movement. But a group of psychologists in Australia believe that the country is missing out on the global renaissance of research into the use of psychedelic drugs. There has been a bit of a psychedelic revival in Buddhism, including a new wave of people using them in their practice. Some Indonesian teenagers started boiling menstrual pads to get high while cannabis and MDMA use increased among Irish young people. There was a healthy—albeit sometimes heated—discussion about the need for systemic critique within psychedelic communities that spurred a lot of varying viewpoints about psychedelic capitalism and the mainstreaming of an underground movement.

There were loads of interesting drug-related events in 2018, including the convergence of two separate movements in Mexico at CryptoPsychedelic, a psychedelics panel being invited to a mainstream healthcare conference, and racist language that was uttered at a Women and Psychedelics Forum.

The black market for drugs had quite a year. As mentioned earlier, cryptocurrency and psychedelics was a hot topic for a while, and folks in New Zealand started using the dark web a lot more. So much so that a team is setting out to estimate the volume of drug sales in seven of the major dark web sites. But dark web users are not immune to trouble—sloppy bitcoin drug deals may haunt users for years. While one Harvard researcher concluded that legalizing drugs would boost United States budgets by $100 billion, the DEA freaked out about touching contaminated drug money.

In crime-related news, thousands more drug convictions were thrown out because a chemist tampered with the evidence, an alleged Silk Road mentor was indicted and extradited to the United States, a fingerprint drug screen test that works on both the living and the deceased was developed, and statistics showed that drug-related crimes account for over 25% of women incarcerated in the U.S.

A Philippine court convicted three police officers for the high-profile murder of a teenager as a result of the country’s drug war. Hospital data showed how Britain’s drug problem is getting worse. In the U.S., there were a record 72k drug overdose deaths in 2017 but they fell over the last year. Over in the United Kingdom, alcohol-related deaths among women have reached the highest rate in 10 years.

There were quite a few decent personal drug stories this year, including ones from Michael Pollan, a collection of “trips worth telling” that was published on Medium, and an anecdote about how getting club drugs tested can transform one’s partying habits. There was a brave report from someone who found psychedelics to be helpful for treating bipolar disorder and problematic alcohol use but was giving them up to pursue more mainstream options. A drug user discussed the various relationships one can have with drugs and Psymposia ran a series of moving pieces written by women in the psychedelic community that included one about surviving sexual abuse in the Amazon as well as victim blame when she returned home.

Conclusion

If you’ve made it this far, I’d like to thank you for sticking with me all the way through to the end, and I hope you learned something new. As I mentioned in this post’s introduction, I learned a lot from working on this year’s post, including the importance of chipping away gradually at a project like this (rather than procrastinating) and a better way to structure each section. I welcome any feedback that you may have, especially about writing errors, broken links, and incorrect analysis.

Think Wilder is reader-supported. If you enjoyed this year’s update, please consider helping out by becoming a patron, making a one-time donation, or sharing this post with a friend. Thank you for your support.

Previous Years in Psychedelics

Banner image by Psychedelic Astronaut.

This Year in Psychedelics - 2017

Image by    Dahtamnay   , courtesy of    Creative Commons    licensing.

Image by Dahtamnay, courtesy of Creative Commons licensing.

Happy New Year's Eve! 2017 had a lot in store for the psychedelic community this year. I've attempted to capture as much of it as I could below, although I'm sure there are some important events and items that I have missed.

This year's psychedelic-related news is broken up into various sections, each including the news items that were covered for each substance this year. The final section is a compilation of items that include frequently-seen themes in 2017, psychedelic research updates, and news about individual people in this space.

So without further ado, here is this year in psychedelics:

Cannabis

Cannabis had an extremely busy year in 2017. The new year started with someone changing the iconic Hollywood sign to say Hollyweed, and only got weirder from then on out. There were quite a few political things going on in America, including Donald Trump getting sworn in as the President of the United States. Pot protesters made sure to be there for his inauguration, passing out roughly 9000 joints to help keep the peace during the tumultuous times. No one has been able to get a clear read on how his administration is going to address the existing drug war, with Attorney General Jeff Sessions evading a firm answer on how the federal government is going to treat state marijuana laws and claiming outrageous things such as his opinion that cannabis is only "slightly less awful" than heroin.

Although marijuana prohibition turned 80 this year, there were still some good things to happen. New Hampshire's decriminalization law took effect. Senator Cory Booker from New Jersey introduced a bill that could legalize cannabis nationwide. Vermont's legislature became the first to approve recreational cannabis, but its Governor later vetoed the bill. A legalization coalition in Michigan obtained 360,000 signatures to place the issue on its 2018 ballot and New York added PTSD as a qualifying condition for medical marijuana.

Even with all the positive movement in the cannabis medicalization and legalization efforts, news came out that more people were arrested in 2016 for pot than for murder, rape, aggravated assault, and robbery—combined! California also banned the use of drones and self-driving cars for weed delivery. And Maine's Governor vetoed legislation that would've allowed for retail legalization. We still clearly have a long way to go before the laws in America reflect the fact that support for legalization is at an all-time high.

However, a few other countries have already moved in that direction, and others plan to do so in the near future. Ireland legalized medical marijuana, Israel decriminalized recreational cannabis, Canada plans to legalize cannabis in 2018, Uruguay now allows for the sale of recreational cannabis in its pharmacies, France is getting rid of prison terms for cannabis users, Poland legalized medical marijuana, and Mexico announced that it is going to allow cannabis-based foods, drinks, medicines, and cosmetics beginning early next year.

Cannabis research was also pretty fruitful this year, showing that cannabis could help treat Alzheimer's and even reverse the brain's decline in old age, that cannabis use is linked to lower medicaid costs and often substituted for more dangerous prescription medicines, as well as evidence that it can help treat epilepsy in children and reduce migraine frequency. In addition, another study found that cannabis use is not independently linked with IQ decline, it may be helpful for treating schizophrenia and Tourette syndrome, and that Colorado's recreational market may have resulted in reductions in opioid deaths. Finally, cannabis use was also inversely associated with fatty liver disease, alcohol was found to be 10 times more deadly than cannabis on the road, alcohol sales have fallen since cannabis legalization, and a study found that cannabis users have more sex.

In miscellaneous cannabis news, the technicolor International Church of Cannabis opened its doors in Denver, microdosing marijuana became more popular, adolescent cannabis use hit a 15-year low despite legalization, domestic hemp production more than doubled, a Colorado girl is suing Jeff Sessions to legalize medical marijuana nationwide, and cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin helped the cannabis industry find an alternative to its banking issues. Looking forward to the next year, here are the states that are likely to legalize cannabis in 2018.

LSD

There was also a ton of LSD-related news this year. Norway decriminalized LSD, sentencing people who use LSD to community service instead of jail time. A documentary about two of history's most prolific LSD manufacturers called The Sunshine Makers and a docudrama about the CIA's secret LSD mind control experiments called Wormwood were added to Netflix's catalogue. Shortly after that, one of the chemists featured in The Sunshine Makers, Nicholas Sand, died at 75. An interesting interview with his partner Tim Scully delved into his experience of manufacturing 750,000,000 doses of LSD in order to save the world and another interview asked how 100 therapeutic LSD trips helped Cary Grant prepare for the future. A stash of reel-to-reel recordings called the Sonic Journals, recorded by another big LSD manufacturer by the name of Owlsley Stanley, were released. There was a bunch of coverage of Ayelet Waldman's book about microdosing LSD called A Really Good Day this year.

When it comes to LSD research, it is being studied for depression treatment and some evidence surfaced that shows that it may actually heal the brain. Scientists also figured out why acid trips last so long.

I saw a few articles about a doomsday cult that gave children LSD, which is a pretty interesting (albeit tragic) story. Silicon Valley's microdosing habit, the world's first online LSD microdosing coach, and an article on why it feels like you can communicate with nature while on LSD are also worth a read. I especially enjoyed this article about how ergotism influenced renaissance painting, a fateful hunt for a buried stash of the greatest LSD ever made, and a hilarious video about what it would be like if Mormon missionaries tried LSD for the first time. As you can see, there was a ton of LSD news this year! So much that USA Today even reassured its readers that they're not tripping—LSD really is making a comeback.

Psilocybin/Magic Mushrooms

When it comes to magic mushrooms, the most exciting news is probably that California and Oregon are both considering decriminalizing them for recreational use. Impressively, a study found them to be the safest recreational drug. The potential benefits of psilocybin that were covered this year include the treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder, Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder, cluster headaches, and a decrease in criminal behavior. A study giving psilocybin mushrooms to religious leaders is being conducted to test the effects of psychedelics on religious experience. And an article about Terence McKenna's Stoned Ape Theory and the obligatory article about how Santa Claus is actually a psychedelic mushroom closed out the year.

MDMA/Ecstasy

There were some extremely exciting things that happened in the MDMA space this year, including the fact that the FDA designated MDMA as a breakthrough therapy for PTSD treatment. Several articles talked about how MDMA could be made legal within the next five years, which may happen even faster now that Dr. Bronner's pledged millions of dollars to MAPS for MDMA research. There was a fantastic article about the promise of MDMA for PTSD in The New York Times and Scientific American took its readers on MDMA's journey from Molly to medicine. There were some articles about the highest levels of MDMA consumption in Australia and Ireland, and a study found that young adults with higher education are the most likely demographic to use MDMA. In addition to PTSD treatment, purported benefits from taking MDMA included the curation of tinnitus, saving relationships, and the treatment of alcohol addiction. Finally, a new MDMA overdose drug was developed, an exhibition of ecstasy artwork was put on display, and a father who lost his two songs to MDMA is now advocating for its legalization

Ayahuasca/DMT

The vine of the soul known as ayahuasca had a decent amount of positive media coverage this year. Two new ayahuasca films—The Last Shaman and Icaros: A Vision—were reviewed by mainstream media. Some research came out showing that ayahuasca and meditation change the brain in similar ways, with ayahuasca even stimulating the birth of new brain cells. However, Ayahuasca tourism has been a bit of a mixed blessing for the Amazon, and it is important to understand that over-popularizing ayahuasca sets bad expectations and could potentially give it a poor reputation. The ayahuasca ceremony is going to be studied a bit closer using the scientific method, which is good because there hasn't been a whole lot of scientific research going on in this realm so far. There has been a fight to allow people to use ayahuasca for religious reasons, and the Santo Daime Church was granted religious exemption to use it in Canada. I enjoyed these articles on the spiritual and therapeutic benefits of icaros songs sung in ayahuasca ceremonies and a breakdown of the various plants commonly used in ayahuasca. In addition, Brazil started giving its prisoners ayahuasca as a part of their rehabilitation process and there is some evidence showing that ayahuasca may be able to help in the treatment of eating disorders.

Peyote/San Pedro/Mescaline

When the media covers peyote, it usually focuses on the fact that peyote was approved for religious use by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. However, this year there were articles about how racist thinking still shapes how we understand peyote drinking, a well-done overview of the cactus, tripping on peyote in Navajo nation, and a short video about peyote's complicated history. And when it comes to san pedro, High Existence had a nice piece on how it is one of the most potent psychedelic plants in the world, Reset.me covered how it can be a healing medicine for modern times, and there was an awesome timelapse of the cactus flower blooming that offers up some beauty for your eyes to feast on.

Iboga/Ibogaine

This substance was talked about pretty often in the media this year. Most articles focused on how iboga can treat drug addiction, including its success rate, but some started to wonder if it could even help solve the opioid epidemic. An interview with an ibogaine aftercare provider talked about the process of recovering from addiction using ibogaine, and Psymposia ran an eight-part series called The Ibogaine Conversation that is definitely worth checking out. When it comes to iboga and ibogaine, the coverage was mostly positive and well-informed this year.

Salvia Divinorum

There wasn't a tremendous amount of coverage related to salvia divinorum this year—it's certainly not one of the substances that is covered all that often nowadays. Most important was the fact that scientists synthesized salvia for its opiate-like painkilling effects. In addition, there was a story about how a 15 year-old got sick from using salvia and one about how experts in Lebanon are concerned about the drug's increasing popularity.

Morning Glory Seeds

There also wasn't a whole lot of coverage on morning glory seeds this year. In fact, there were only a couple of articles that I felt were worth sharing here—an explanation of why morning glory seeds get you high and the news story about how morning glory could potentially be one of the first crops that is grown on Mars.

Synthetic Cannabinoids/Psychoactive Research Chemicals

Most of the coverage of psychoactive research chemicals and synthetic cannabinoids was pretty negative, focusing on a couple of NBOMe deaths, the so-called spice epidemic, deaths from unknown substances that were sold as something else, deaths from synthetic cannabinoids in New Zealand, warnings about bath salts, and how much worse synthetic cannabinoids are than actual marijuana is when it comes to leading to harder drugs like heroin and ecstasy. Apparently Hyderabad has become a bit of a hub for manufacturing psychoactive research chemicals, and China was contributing a lot to that effort as well. A man was arrested for selling fake drugs at Bonnaroo and thought he was doing "God's work". During some drug checking, people found that some of their festival-bought drugs contained concrete, of all things. Pentylone was singled out as something that we should keep our eyes on, a German therapist is facing trial for providing banned psychedelics to his patients, and the legend of "zombie drugs" still hasn't died yet.

Dissociatives

Ketamine

There were several articles about the potential benefits of using ketamine, including how it could help alcoholics quit drinking, the ketamine clinics that are showing promise for treatment-resistant depression, the prehospital management of severe asthma, migraine treatment, and healing from PTSD. There is even a handy dosing guide that can be used for ketamine therapy.

PCP

When it comes to PCP, the news coverage is once again almost exclusively negative, including articles on PCP users killing their friends, crashing into ambulances, getting shot and killed by police, setting fire in courthouses, pointing cellphones at drivers passing by like a gun, throwing rocks and running around naked, hitting officers in the face, and stopping rush hour traffic to masturbate. I generally try to keep news articles about simple drug crimes out of my news media roundups, but when it comes to PCP the scenarios are so fascinating that I will often include them. When it comes to psychoactives, PCP seems to consistently get the worst rap of them all. However, there was an article describing how to treat a PCP overdose, a new research project that is going to study PCP's effects on the brain, and some trips down memory lane from when the movie crew for Titanic ate PCP-spiked clam chowder and when David Letterman accidentally smoked marijuana laced with PCP.

Opiates/Opioids

Each year seems to get worse when it comes to opiates and opioids. Heroin and prescription drug use became so bad in 2017 that President Donald Trump declared a national emergency, with the rate of U.S. heroin overdoses quadrupling during the last five years. Even though America is fighting the drug war abroad, Afghanistan still saw its opium production growing at a frantic pace. However, a 14-year trend of rising opioid deaths was reversed in Colorado after recreational cannabis was legalized, safe injection sites in Seattle and Denver are aiming at reducing harms related to opiate use, the overdose reversal naloxone spray Narcan is now stocked by all Walgreens pharmacies, a vaccine was developed that could make the brain immune to opioids, and a study showed that psychedelics could help play a role in tackling the opioid epidemic. In addition, a fish was identified that drugs its enemies with opioids and fentanyl was found in samples of MDMA and cocaine that were drug-checked this year.

Absinthe

The Wall Street Journal probably said it best in its article titled "Absinthe Was Once Banned for Being Evil—Now It's Just Meh". That's because there wasn't a whole lot of interesting coverage of absinthe in 2017. There was an article about five things you should know about absinthe, another about some of the most ridiculous scenes of people tripping on absinthe, and the best absinthe bars in America. But that's about it. Maybe there will be some more coverage about the Green Fairy in 2018?

Kambô

The frog venom medicine known as kambô was featured in the media quite a bit this year, with articles on the complex relationship between migraines and kambô, a guide to increasing fertility and taking kambô during pregnancy, how to stay safe in a ceremony if you have bulimia, how to increase its pain-relieving effects, and the challenges that Western companies face when trying to create synthetic compounds from kambô.

Kratom

Since it was involved in more controversy this year, kratom's coverage in the media is a bit of a mixed bag. Some thought that kratom might be a solution to the opioid epidemic, while energy drink manufacturers, Big Pharma, and the federal government wanted to ban it. Some people claimed that kratom helped them beat insomnia and kratom vending machines popped up in Arizona. There were also some articles that discussed how to avoid overdosing on kratom and whether it is healthy to consume kratom while breastfeeding.

Kava

Kava became quite a deal more popular this year, even getting some positive coverage by The New York Times. Part of that is due to articles showing how kava is a healthier alternative to alcohol or those that focus on its incredible health benefits. In addition, the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries increased their demand on the kava root extract market. Some research came out showing some insight about how kava affects reaction times and urging kava drinkers to not mix the drink with alcohol. When it comes to looking to the future, one article even asked if kava will be the cannabis of 2018. Only time will tell, but what we do know is that 2017 was definitely an interesting year for kava.

Khat

This herbal stimulant is getting more and more attention each year as it increases in popularity around the world. Khat, also known as miraa, was featured as a cheap pick-me-up for truck drivers, listed as a dangerous drug by Kenya's Health Ministry, grew to new levels of consumption as 16 percent of Ethiopians began using it, and some research came out showing how khat can damage one's liver. Considering that khat seemed to be fairly unknown just a few years ago, it's been interesting to watch its coverage pick up steam recently.

Miscellaneous Psychedelics/Psychoactives/Drug Policy

There were a few predominant themes throughout the year that showed up time and time again in the news. Microdosing continued to be frequently presented as an option for increasing productivity in the workplace. The concept of the psychedelic renaissance was brought up a few times as well. Articles about psychedelic honey also showed up a handful of times, probably because most people haven't heard about it before.

As far as psychedelic research goes, researchers gave religious leaders psychedelics to understand mystical experiences, a study came out showing that psychedelics could reduce criminal behavior, scientists came to some conclusions about what psychedelics really do to your brain, and it turns out that people who have taken psychedelics are more likely to be environmentally friendly. Although it's somewhat bizarre, scientists even went as far as growing human mini-brains in the lab and then dosing them with psychedelics—all for research. Support for psychedelic therapy continued to grow, with a majority of Americans now supporting it, and an anonymous donor known as "Pineapple Fund" donated 60 bitcoin to MAPS to assist its research efforts.

When it comes to individual people in this space, there were a few things that stood out from the rest. The Executive Director of Drug Policy Alliance, Ethan Nadelmann, stepped down from his position after nearly 17 years of work with the organization. Jeff Sessions announced his desire to resurrect the failed D.A.R.E. program. Alleged Silk Road founder Ross Ulbricht lost his appeal over his life sentence without parole and has filed a new appeal to the Supreme Court. Finally, the head of the DEA resigned because of his issues with President Trump.

All in all, it's been a very busy year for the psychedelic community. There was a ton to keep up with, and it looks like we're in for even more movement in 2018. Thank you for taking the time to read about this year in psychedelics, and have a great year!

Previous Years in Psychedelics

Disclaimer: "This Year in Psychedelics" does not censor or analyze the news links presented here. The purpose of this column is solely to catalogue how psychedelics are presented by the mass media, which includes everything from the latest scientific research to misinformation.

This Year in Psychedelics - 2016

Image by    Dahtamnay   , courtesy of    Creative Commons    licensing.

Image by Dahtamnay, courtesy of Creative Commons licensing.

Happy New Year's Eve! 2016 was quite an interesting year for psychedelic news. There was a healthy mix of accurate reporting and way-off mainstream media “reports” to choose from, and this blog post shares the major themes and trends that showed up this year.

My approach to the weekly “This Week in Psychedelics” column this year changed a bit. Instead of trying to include literally every drug-related news story I came across each week (which is quite a task, let me tell you!), I attempted to limit the amount of links that I shared by shifting my focus in a couple ways. For one, I attempted to eliminate duplicate stories that were published during the same week, although if the story was repeated in another publication on a subsequent week I did include it. And although there were plenty of drug-related crime reports, I stuck to only sharing the most noteworthy ones.

We’ve got a lot to cover this year, so let’s get started.

Cannabis

This particular herb shows up in the media more than any other psychoactive drug each year, and 2016 was no different. Part of that may have to do with the fact that people tend to have a fondness for cannabis no matter what other drugs they like to take. Regardless of the reason, there was an insane amount of cannabis news this year. We learned a bit about how legalization has affected American youths—places that have loosened up their cannabis laws, like Colorado and Washington, are associated with declining teen access and use. Annual marijuana arrests in NYC dropped a ton in 2015, a leading rabbi ruled that weed is kosher for Passover, and a huge cannabis festival in D.C. pushed for legalization. A British company is developing a field sobriety test for pot, a man ran an enormous cannabis factory next to a police headquarters, a car was built out of hemp, Microsoft partnered with a marijuana software company, the cannabis craze has come to cocktails, and a guy legally changed his name to “Free Cannabis.” If that’s not dedication, I don’t know what is. An ancient cannabis burial shroud was discovered, Tommy Chong asked for Obama’s pardon for a drug paraphernalia conviction, and Allen St. Pierre tendered his resignation after serving 25 years as Deputy Director (and later, Executive Director) of NORML. Meanwhile, Facebook started deleting medical marijuana pages, emergency room visits doubled for cannabis-using Colorado visitors, Montreal police arrested the “Prince of Pot,” and Nevada accidentally leaked thousands of medical marijuana dispensary applications.

Cannabis research studies were published left and right, showing that the facts that weed doesn’t have a direct effect on IQ, doesn’t make biking dangerous, and doesn’t cause anxiety and depression. Others found that alcohol and tobacco typically precede marijuana use, cannabis is associated with decreased migraine frequency, and vaporization is capable of delivering a safe and reliable dose of cannabinoids. CBD oil was found to be “highly promising” in pediatric epilepsy treatment, there hasn’t been an increase in prevalence of cannabis use disorders, and long-term cannabis use is associated with improved pain relief and reduced opioid use. In fact, long-term users are pretty healthy after all—gum disease is the only real health risk. Medical marijuana laws are associated with fewer traffic fatalities, and diseases like Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s, and Parkinson’s were all successfully treated with cannabis. And other studies showed that marijuana may improve night vision, benefit mental health, and could be a efficacious treatment for sports injuries. However, not every study was positive—one found that cannabis use is linked to worse treatment outcomes for psychosis patients. Looking ahead to the future, the NY Health Department sponsored a new medical cannabis study, the DEA finally approved a study on cannabis and PTSD (after spending four decades obstructing marijuana science), and NFL player Eugene Monroe donated $80,000 to medical cannabis research.

Public opinion sure has changed a lot over the past few decades. The majority of voters in the United States and England want to legalize cannabis, and military veterans now strongly support medical marijuana access.

Contrary to what many had hoped after hearing a rumor at the beginning of the year, Congress did not quietly lift the federal ban on medical marijuana. The DEA certainly didn’t legalize cannabis. And the 9th Circuit ruled that medical marijuana cardholders do not have Second Amendment rights. But that doesn’t mean that there wasn’t any progress when it came to drug policy reform and cannabis. After debating about whether or not to allow cannabis clubs in Colorado, Denver ended becoming the first city to allow marijuana use in bars and restaurants. The Vermont Senate approved legal pot and Pennsylvania legalized industrial hemp. There was plenty of action abroad too. Medical marijuana cultivation was legalized in Australia and Canada, Germany is expected to legalize medical marijuana early next year, an ancient village in Croatia received the first-ever legal shipment of cannabis extract ever sent across the pond, medical cannabis in Israel is going to become more accessible and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made a surprising case for legalizing cannabis.

Lots of people have opinions about weed. Ranging from pure endorsement to the traditional misinformed anti-drug stance, there was plenty of commentary about cannabis this year. There were articles about how pot could help stem the heroin overdose crisis, why it’s not a gateway drug, profiles on the best strains for people who can’t sleep, and what we know about using marijuana while breastfeeding. Others focused on things like how women are growing a more diverse cannabis industry and why pro MMA fighters embrace using cannabis in their own practice. We met the cannabis industry’s public enemy number one and found out that adolescents have used less and less as fear and intolerance has declined, The cannabis policy enforcement at Facebook and Google doesn’t make any sense, there is a sneaky reason why federal studies into marijuana are off base, and there was a map that showed the countries that smoke the most.

Contrary to years past, science on cannabis is no longer in short supply. And plenty of news outlets make a name for themselves by covering the latest research studies on marijuana as well as sharing information about how it can help you stay healthy. There were articles about how smoking weed can help you cut back on alcohol, treat epileptic seizures, ease period pain, literally mend a broken heart, treat the emotional trauma behind anorexia, increase creativity, manage pain (even migraines), and cut back or eliminate the use of more dangerous prescription drugs. People wondered whether cannabis might be the secret to curing things like HIV, cancer, and alzheimer’s, and several parents bucked against the system by giving their children cannabis oil. Some people even did it legally. Others gave it to their pets. And an article clarified once and for all that cannabis users can safely donate blood. But not every article sang the praises of good ‘ole Mary Jane. There were articles questioning how marijuana affects memory, driving, neurodegenerative diseases, and even sperm. And a couple resource guides were published that can help people with specific ailments—namely depression and migraines.

Anecdotes are often powerful stories capable of changing public opinion even more than scientific research. This year, a 12 year-old boy with myoclonic-astatic epilepsy explained how cannabis helped him become virtually seizure-free.

Cannabis showed up in the political arena quite a bit in 2016, mostly because the U.S. Democratic Primary pitted Bernie Sanders, a proponent of legalizing cannabis, against Hillary Clinton, who was not only against legalization—she also didn’t support medical marijuana either. Before Donald Trump was elected as POTUS last month, there was an article that went over each candidate’s approach to cannabis legalization. And President Barack Obama was a bit looser on cannabis policy than in years past, cracking cannabis-themed jokes at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner and even suggesting that he thinks marijuana should be legal.

The legal cannabis industry was really busy last year, outselling both Doritos and Girl Scout cookies last year. One especially entrepreneurial scout took notice and started selling cookies across from a cannabis dispensary. And the new legal market ended up cutting the profits of Mexican cannabis farmers by 70 percent. This year, America’s first cannabis resort opened up in Colorado, Wiz Khalifa worked on a new product line with RiverRock Cannabis, MassRoots filed to become NASDAQ’s first cannabis stock, fake nuns grew real weed, and a Californian company started offering a subscription snack box with cannabis-infused treats. On the industry side of things there were marijuana business conferences and blockchain startups considered how to solve the industry’s banking problem. When it comes to other countries, we got a peek into Uruguay’s legal marijuana scene, Jamaica’s airports got cannabis kiosks, and medical marijuana sales soared in German pharmacies. So exactly where is all this money from selling legal weed going? Well, I don’t know about everywhere else, but Colorado is using its extra marijuana revenue to prevent bullying in schools.

LSD

Lysergic acid diethylamide, commonly referred to as LSD or "Acid," is a common psychedelic compound that has been used by people around the world for the better part of a century. And it showed up in the news quite a bit this year.

When it comes to LSD research, the world's first brain imaging study of its kind showed how the substance reduces rigidity and restores a child-like state of imagination. Other studies showed how LSD affects language and that taking the drug can lead to improved psychological wellbeing.

There were a ton of feature pieces this year. One man told a story about how acid helped him stop smoking. Another went to a Donald Trump rally while tripping and decided that it was a really bad idea in hindsight. There was a guy that took LSD 30 years ago and never came down, because he is still suffering from hallucinogen perception disorder (HPPD). A blotter art collector is lucky that the DEA hasn't gone after his LSD museum. Another article was published about Dock Ellis' no-hitter on acid. A new film called Orange Sunshine premiered at South by Southwest. One article attempted to demystify LSD flashbacks by reviewing the scientific data. A neuroscientist gave advice on how to pick music for people on acid. The "Acid King" won a lawsuit against the U.S. government. One article explored the science behind psychedelic ego death and how LSD breaks down reality tunnels. A man claimed to successfully use LSD to break his Facebook addiction. Another piece debunked the urban legend that acid can make you think you're orange juice. An article showed how LSD affected a portrait artist's work. The television show Stranger Things was inspired by a secret LSD experiment that may have been conducted by the CIA to destroy political opponents. There was a look at how microdosing LSD could give employees a boost at work. A scientist claimed that tainted rye, contaminated with a fungus found in LSD, could have sparked the Salem witch trials. Author Ayelet Waldman wrote a book about how dropping acid helped her overcome depression.

Several celebrities spoke out about acid this year. Chelsea Handler admitted to taking her SATs while tripping. Brian Wilson opened up about voices he started hearing after using LSD. Redman told a story about the time he dosed and got shocked with an electric cattle prod. Carrie Fisher talked about her tripping days. Finally, there was a feature piece that talked about Cary Grant's LSD use.

General news concerning LSD was mostly negative, but at least Obama commuted a Deadhead's sentence. Federal authorities told a Minnesota brewery that it couldn't market its beer as “LSD Ale.” Pictures of a naked man, tripping on acid and thinking he was a Siberian tiger, were captured by wildlife cameras. A teenager, also in the nude, accidentally set fire to an apartment and told police he was dead. Another guy jumped through a second-story window. And to round out all of these scare stories, a man, allegedly high on LSD, was accused of biting a chunk of his father's ear off

Psilocybin/Magic Mushrooms

From groundbreaking scientific research to inspiring anecdotes, there was plenty of news concerning psilocybin and magic mushrooms in 2016.

To begin, let's take a look at the new scientific research that uncovered a bit more of psilocybin's story this year. A new peer-reviewed clinical trial showed that psilocybin works where conventional antidepressants don't, with magic mushrooms lifting severe depression in patients who experienced a treatment-resistant version of the mental illness. Other studies focused on addiction treatment, with one demonstrating that psilocybin was able to help smokers quit long term and another showing that it can effectively treat alcoholism. One final study showed that magic mushrooms are capable of making social rejection less painful.

Official scientific research will certainly go a long way toward legitimizing the use of psilocybin and magic mushrooms, but it is also inspiring (and influential) to read non-scientific stories that are written by people outside of the research field. Some of the better ones that I found showed how magic mushrooms can help cure cluster headaches, ease chronic depression, reduce stress for terminal cancer patients, and how microdosing psilocybin can improve one's work. I also stumbled upon some interesting uses of magic mushrooms that I hadn't heard about before, including the ways psilocybin therapy could lead to healthier gender transitions and how magic mushrooms can help sufferers of body dysmorphic disorder see themselves accurately again.

There were a few miscellaneous psilocybin-related articles this year, too. A new species of psychedelic lichen containing psilocybin and DMT was identified, some aggressive coyotes in California were possibly tripping on magic mushrooms, the new holiday '920' may become the 420 of magic mushrooms, author and podcaster Tim Ferriss funded psilocybin research, and magic mushrooms seemed to become more popular among middle schoolers in Alabama. And just like every year, there was another article about the link between Santa Claus and magic mushrooms.

MDMA/Ecstasy

MDMA, the "love drug" that also goes by the names "ecstasy" or "Molly," was featured regularly by the mainstream media this year. In good news, the FDA approved the Phase 3 clinical trials for MDMA research. If they go well, ecstasy may be legalized by 2021. The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) raised $400k to purchase a kilo of MDMA by hosting "Psychedelic Dinner" parties. And a new report showed that nearly 60% of ecstasy sold in the United States is not pure MDMA.

Scientific research looking at MDMA continued full steam ahead this year. We learned a bit about how MDMA affects the brain, the effects the substance can have on one's sex life, and that it may pose a greater damage to women than men. Other studies found that purity levels are at an all-time high at the same time that the world is taking too much MDMA, and that ecstasy can help relieve social anxiety among those on the autism spectrum.

Other articles explored various aspects related to ecstasy and MDMA culture. One took a look at the creativity involved in the diverse world of pill pressing, another discussed whether MDMA could help save a relationship, and one former ecstasy dealer shared his story about what it was like to sell the drug on the 90s club circuit. There were tips on how to reduce ecstasy hangovers, how to stay hydrated on Molly, why it is common for people to experience prolonged jaw clenching while rolling, and an explanation of how a woman's menstrual cycle can affect her reaction to the drug. One woman explained how taking ecstasy helped her mourn the death of her mother. A natural alternative to Molly called KATY showed up on the market this year. And a few articles explored the potential benefits of MDMA, including its potential for treating anxiety and healing from difficult birthing experiences.

But it wasn't all positive news. Warnings involving MDMA commonly show up each year, and 2016 was no exception. The drug safety organization The Loop issued a warning about orange Tesla ecstasy pills that contained a dangerously high dose of MDMA and cops in England warned about a "poisonous" wave of ecstasy pills after they led to the death of a teenage girl during a night out.

Some MDMA users end up being hospitalized due to overdose or unintentionally taking a different drug due to the fact that they don't have legal access to regulated MDMA. This year, a 17 year-old suffered brain damage after taking ecstasy to celebrate her birthday, deadly LEGO pills caused two women to be rushed to the hospital, and three 12 year-old girls ended up hospitalized after taking ecstasy branded as "teddy tablets."

Sadly, many people died from MDMA toxicity or related reasons this year. The number of deaths related to ecstasy pales in comparison to the amount of deaths related to alcohol or tobacco, but while the media makes it a point to call out each death related to MDMA, the deaths from legal (and more dangerous) drugs are not covered as closely. A father spoke of his anguish after his 16 year-old daughter died from a suspected ecstasy overdose, the lethal combination of MDMA and alcohol killed a woman at a music festival, a mother was heartbroken after her second teenage son died from an ecstasy pill just a year after his brother died from an ecstasy overdose, a teenager froze to death after running into a lake wearing just his boxer shorts because he thought demons were in his hotel room, a teenage girl died after attending a house party, and a bodybuilder died from an MDMA overdose.

Ayahuasca/DMT/5-MeO-DMT

The psychedelic brew known as ayahuasca showed up a lot this year. The Canadian man who killed a British guy at a Peruvian ayahuasca retreat spoke out about his experience, the "first legal ayahuasca church in America" was hyped a lot by the media, women started leading Amazonian ayahuasca ceremonies for the first time, musician Sting rehearsed for his death by drinking the brew, and a lot of folks claimed that the rise of ayahuasca tourism is ripping off indigenous shamans. When it comes to the science involving ayahuasca, research found that ayahuasca may be able to completely reverse diabetes, treat depression and chronic migraines, and help people think more creatively. We also learned more about how this substance affects the brain.

There were also a ton of other articles about ayahuasca this year. An anthropologist wrote about her experience drinking ayahuasca with American war veterans. One man told a story of how ayahuasca helped him heal from cancer. Another explained how his experience in Peru gave him the strength to quit a life of partying. Not all of the articles were positive—one claimed that ayahuasca is a new age spiritual scam while another argued that it may be a curse. Some articles offered advice like how having a spiritual practice can support healing with ayahuasca, daily routines that can help you prepare for a ceremony, and the proper pre-diet to eat. A few celebrities tried ayahuasca, including Chelsea Handler and James Franco. And one article even proposed the idea that ayahuasca is changing global environmental consciousness.

DMT was covered a handful of times this year. To start off, some publications explored what DMT feels like and what it does to the brain. A DMT cook was burned and busted while trying to manufacture the drug in his Santa Barbara apartment. Australia's DMT debate may reboot psychedelic thinking. And most interestingly, scientists seem to have figured out a way to make DMT trips last longer.

There wasn't a whole lot of coverage about 5-MeO-DMT this year aside from this article discussing the difference between 5-MeO-DMT and DMT, which also goes into how to choose a DMT therapy.

Peyote/San Pedro/Mescaline

Peyote is a small spineless cactus that contains several psychoactive alkaloids, including the one for which it is most well-known: mescaline. This plant was featured in several articles this year. To start, Reality Sandwich published an excerpt from the book Peyote: History, Tradition, Politics, and Conservation that thoroughly discussed various aspects of the cactus. Other articles that covered peyote's history included one on peyote and the racialized war on drugs and another on the four things that Native American doctors got right long before modern medicine. In current events, an Alabama church is using psychedelic sacraments like peyote to worship God and a new film, Peyote at a Crossroads, entertained audience by exploring the ancient bond between the plant and people.

When it comes to the mescaline-containing San Pedro cactus, which is also known as huachuma, the publication Psychedelic Times published an interview about the raw power of this plant and an article offering advice about how to use San Pedro cactus to facilitate psychospiritual healing.

And there was one article that provided a nice (albeit fairly brief) history of mescaline.

Iboga/Ibogaine

Native to western Central Africa, the perennial psychedelic rainforest shrub iboga is well-known for its addiction treatment potential. And while there wasn't a whole lot of breaking news about the plant this year—other than the fact that the São Paulo government opened the door for prescription ibogaine treatment—there was still a fair amount of coverage about it in the media. 

The vast majority of iboga coverage this year focused on its role in treating addiction. There was a feature piece that dove into how iboga can cure heroin withdrawal (the article also argued against the drug’s efficacy for curing addiction) and another that discussed the progress and resistance in the ibogaine community. A CEO of a prominent health insurance company advocated for "rehabbing" our understanding of addiction, offering his opinion that we should “[treat] substance-abuse disorder like every other medical disorder". And rounding out the addiction-related stories is a powerful anecdote from someone who was previously addicted to opioids that discussed how this ancient African remedy helped her kick her addiction overnight.

There were additional articles published this year that focused on a variety of other topics related to iboga. To start, there was a take on the health risks of ibogaine treatment that focused on what a prospective ibogaine provider should ask you before offering treatment. And there were two stories about traveling to Gabon to work with iboga.

Salvia Divinorum

This year brought us a summary of salvia divinorum from the California Poison Control System's point of view, a nice feature piece from VolteFace, and a write-up from VICE about what it's like to experience a traditional Mazatec shaman ceremony.

Morning Glory Seeds

I only started looking for articles about morning glory seeds this year, and although it's not one of the more popular psychedelic substances, I was still able to find a couple articles that were published in 2016. The first talked about why some people consider morning glory seeds to be a good substitute for LSD—until you vomit. This article explored the wide availability of this substance but cautioned against its use. And that may be for good reason, too—the only other article I found covered the story of high schoolers being hospitalized after consuming morning glory seeds. So maybe this wasn't the most active year for morning glory seeds, but at least it was covered a couple times by the media.

Synthetic Cannabinoids/Psychoactive Research Chemicals

Synthetic Cannabinoids

Fake weed was the complete opposite of chill in 2016, resulting in several health emergencies this year. There was a 33-person overdose in Brooklyn that witnesses said looked a zombie movie. That event may have had something to do with the fact that homeless people have become a target for synthetic cannabinoid sellers. And police in Australia issued a warning after synthetic cannabinoids played a role in the death of a teenager and caused two others to fall critically ill.

Psychoactive Research Chemicals

There was an increase of news about psychoactive research chemicals this year, and most of it centered around the NBOMe family of psychedelic compounds. NBOMes, characterized by the media as a dangerous new drug that can "terrify you for hours on end," caused a ton of trouble in 2016. An Australian man went missing after taking an unknown substance that may have been an NBOMe, an English teen's body was found after being seen running naked toward a river, and a dealer pled guilty to supplying 25I-NBOMe that led to a teenager's death in 2014. NBOMes also showed up on India's Narcotics Control Bureau's radar, New Zealand's Drug Foundation contended that a proposed NBOMe law was too harsh, and experts warned about NBOMes and hundreds of other deadly psychoactive research chemicals that showed up in the Australian market. NBOMes caused several hospitalizations, including six Cork students, a man who had to learn to eat and walk again after a 10-day coma, three people in Panama City, and 16 people on Australia's Gold Coast. And a teenager died from a heart attack that was caused by 25I-NBOMe.

Other psychoactive research chemicals had a brief time in the spotlight this year. An article covered the dangers of DOB and 2C-B, four people were hospitalized after taking 2C-B, a son beat his mother to death believing that she was a witch, and an FSU student killed a married couple (he was found gnawing on the husband's face).

Dissociatives

Nitrous Oxide

This dissociative anesthetic gas doesn't show up in the media a whole lot, however there was one interview this year that explored the various ways that nitrous oxide inspired early psychedelic literature.

Ketamine

Ketamine is arguably the most well-known and popular dissociative anesthetic nowadays, and as a result it has been in the news quite a bit lately. This January the World Health Organization opposed a Chinese request asking to restrict access to ketamine, stating that ketamine abuse does not "pose a global health threat" and that limiting access to the drug would negatively impact people around the world who rely on it. In popular culture, a Brooklyn nightclub created a ketamine musical. And one editorial dove into the topic of why British people love the drug so much.

When it comes to new ketamine research, there was a healthy amount to sift through this year. One study found that ketamine may be capable of regenerating brain cells and relieving depression around the same time that a similar study in Australia and New Zealand began, which is looking at whether the drug could become a new treatment for major depression. Other studies found that ketamine can be effective for various purposes in hospitals, including as a "rescue treatment" for difficult-to-sedate aggressive hospital patients and to treat persistent post-surgical pain. And other research found out that ketamine can help treat addictions to other mind-altering substances, such as alcohol and cocaine. However, it is important to highlight the potential risks that can come with recreational ketamine abuse, such as how it can permanently damage your bladder.

PCP

PCP has a pretty bad rap. This dissociative psychedelic shows up in the news frequently, but it's rarely a positive report. In fact, most of the news about PCP involves various types of crimes, including assaults and murders. There were only a couple general news items about PCP this year. Jersey City police officers got sick from breathing in the fumes from 18 jars of the substance. One law enforcement resource provided 5 safety tips for cops to follow when dealing with a subject who is high on PCP.

There were a lot of assaults involving PCP in 2016. Kicking things off is a story about at woman on PCP who bit her lover's tongue off during a make out session. Next, a mother slammed her kids' heads into the floor, a man stabbed two people, another man groped a woman, and a judge took a moment to speak out against the drug while sentencing a man (who doesn't have any memory of stabbing a man repeatedly in the head) to nine years in prison. PCP also led one man to try to smother a baby, another to assault several women at a Target, and a woman ended up biting a teenager. And there were two stories where men got in violent struggles with police, included one where the guy was high on PCP and punched a cop.

Some of the assaults resulted in a death, including a fatal car crash involving a man under the influence of PCP and a tragic story where a brother shot his pregnant sister, killing her baby.

Other PCP-related crimes weren't violent at all. A toddler swallowed a PCP-laced cigarette and the parents were arrested. Police ended up tasing a man who was wielding a knife while high and a woman walked into her court hearing with a folding knife. There were several incidents involving people who had stripped themselves of all clothes. A naked UGA student dove into a garbage truck hopper, another naked man may have taken PCP before trying to break into a house, and a half-naked man blocked a roadway. One woman stole a car after consuming PCP. And finally, a man urinated in public near children after getting high on the drug. No matter how you slice it, PCP really didn't get any positive coverage this year.

Opiates/Opioids

Opiates and opioids were covered by the media each week. In January, some restaurants in China were caught adding poppies to their dishes in an attempt to get customers addicted to their food. The New York Times ran an editorial about how we should deal with heroin addiction. Prince was planning to meet with an opioid addiction doctor but died from an overdose the day before their initial meeting was scheduled to occur. Some media outlets reported that heroin use reached a 20-year high, exceeding the rate of gun-related deaths for the first time ever, while others reported that heroin use actually fell. Either way, heroin-related deaths have definitely risen.

The Surgeon General wrote to every doctor in the U.S. about the opioid epidemic and more than 7000 candidates took money from opioid companies. Figures came out showing that 90% of the world's supply of heroin comes from Afghanistan. Mexico considered legalizing the opium poppy for medical purposes and Seattle moved forward with its plan to create safe injection sites for heroin users to shoot up.

Some of the history about opium and opioids was unearthed as well. We learned about how opium-soaked tampons were essentially the Midol of Ancient Rome and Purdue Pharma made millions of dollars by faking the science on OxyContin.

Fentanyl, an opioid that is far more deadly than heroin, continued to be a big issue in 2016. Some newcomers arrived on the scene this year as well. Carfentinil led to the overdoses of 96 heroin users in Ohio during the course of just one week, and a couple of teenagers in Utah died from a new synthetic opioid U-47700, also known as "Pink."

Naloxone, a common opioid overdose reversal drug, was also in the news a bit this year. The grocery store Kroger started making it available over the counter. Although it is an effective antidote for overdoses, there are still risks that come with its use—this is what naloxone does to your brain. The FDA approved a tiny implant that may help treat heroin addiction.

Absinthe

When it comes to this year's news about the alcoholic drink absinthe, articles fell into two main categories: general news and guides. To start, there were a couple stories about men who drank a bit too much absinthe—one even ended up finding a huge penis tattoo on his leg the next morning! Next up we have a feature piece about making absinthe in Switzerland. And to round out the news, a distillery in Columbus, OH started selling absinthe this year.

There were a ton of guides that I stumbled upon. The first offered advice about where to get it while another insisted that today's absinthe isn't the same as the one your grandfather drank. There was an article that gave advice on how best to drink it and one that tried to separate fact from fiction. Two provided lists of things that we didn't know about absinthe. And the final article made suggestions about the best absinthes that are available in the United States.

Kambô

I didn't include kambô (an Amazonian frog venom that can be used to cleanse and treat pain) in last year's “This Year in Psychedelics” round-up but I did start paying more attention to it this year. The media featured an account of an experience with kambô and several articles on the benefits of this plant medicine, including how it can help fight depression and alcohol abuse, reduce pain and treat addiction, help process difficult events, and even facilitate bonding. Kambô is definitely starting to show up more and more in the media, and it will be interesting and exciting to continue to learn more about it as time goes on.

Kratom

When it comes to the coverage of naturally occurring painkiller-stimulant hybrid kratom, there was plenty of news this year. To start, The New York Times profiled the plant by pointing out that although it is capable of treating drug addictions, kratom also has the potential to be addictive itself. The FDA showed that it was serious about its approach to the plant by seizing 90,000 bottles of kratom in 2016. The CDC stated that kratom was an "emerging public health threat", a new study showed that kratom hits the same brain receptors as strong opioids, the DEA announced its plan to place the plant under Schedule I, which prompted 45 Congressmen to ask the DEA not to ban kratom. And an article on VICE argued that banning the plant could be bad news for America's heroin addicts. The legal status of kratom is still somewhat up in the air, and it is facing a series of hurdles to become a legal dietary supplement.

There were also several high quality guides and feature pieces about kratom, including ones about how long the substance lasts, which strains are best for opiate withdrawal, sleep, and fibromyalgia, recommendations for storing kratom at home, how to get rid of kratom tolerance, and the ins and outs of using the plant as an alternative addiction treatment.

All in all, kratom got a lot of attention in the media this year. It's in the middle of a battle with various parts of the United States government at the moment, so stay tuned for updates next year concerning its legal status as well as hopefully some more information gleaned from future scientific research studies.

Kava

Kava is a plant that can engender a wide range of psychoactive responses, including sedation, anesthesia, euphoria, and those of the entheogenic variety. It showed up in the news several times throughout the year. In fact, it became popular enough in 2016 that its widespread use was often referred to as "the kava craze." The increasing popularity of the kava bar around the world even inspired a New Yorker piece that explored the healthy trend that many New Yorkers have started to take part in—replacing alcohol consumption with drinking kava instead.

Vanuatu hosted a major international Kava Conference that brought together policy makers, kava farmers, exporters, and other stakeholders in the Pacific kava industry. And the industry has been especially lucrative this year, with kava being treated as an economic commodity and a growing international demand from kava drinkers around the world. The Fijian Ministry even got involved in an attempt to engage more farmers in growing kava to help the local economy.

And while new research studies came out showing that kava could help treat or prevent cancer and reduce anxiety, it wasn't all good news on the health front this year. A future study will be looking at the potential negative effects the plant has on driving, and it's still unclear if kava is toxic for your liver. And for some, it appears that there may not be any noticeable effects gained from consuming it, as one writer tried the ancient drug and found that it "didn't work" for them.

Kava spent quite a lot of time in the spotlight this year, being featured more often in the news than ever before. Will its popularity continue to grow in 2017? We'll just have to wait to find out.

Khat

There was a more significant amount of media coverage on the plant stimulant khat this year. The BBC published a story titled "The African drug some don't want to live without" that profiled the plant and its users. Admittedly, there were a few problems for khat this year—more than 800 Tanzanian farmers stopped growing it and Yemeni officials banned it altogether. And although the Ugandan government outlawed khat cultivation in 2014, the farmers mobilized to protest the relatively-new law.

But not all governments frowned on the plant—the Kenyan government actually offered its support for khat farmers and Somalia agreed to postpone its khat ban in exchange for direct flights and respect for refugees. Although it hasn't maintained the smoothest of relationships with African governments, the khat industry has matured to the level where it now generates hundreds of millions of dollars per year.

Unfortunately the safety of the plant was called into question when doctors in Meru linked throat cancer cases to khat consumption. All in all, khat was treated fairly in the media this year, and it will be interesting to follow news coverage on this somewhat obscure plant for the next few years to see if references to it will continue to grow.

Miscellaneous Psychedelics/Psychoactives/Drug Policy

Some of the year's most interesting news just doesn't fit into more granular substance-based categories, and as you might expect, the best has been saved for last. A new report that found that drugs bought on the dark web have higher levels of purity than those purchased on the black market. An artist created psychedelic illustrations while on 20 different drugs, people started smoking dead scorpions, the ACLU urged a court to throw out 24,000 drug cases based on tainted lab evidence, new maps show how dangerous illegal drugs flow around the globe, and Jay-Z made a video about why the war on drugs is an epic fail. The DEA reared its ugly head quite a few times this year, with stories about how the organization profits off the drug war, promised a TSA agent a cut of passengers' seizable cash, regularly mined Americans' travel records to seize millions in cash, paid millions to confidential informants who could no longer be trusted, and if all that's not enough, they also want to look inside your medical records—to fight their beloved drug war, of course! Another big topic this year was the Philippines' new drug war, which killed hundreds in just over a month and eventually the death toll exceeded 2,400 by September. The Philippine President, Rodrigo Duterte, went on record saying that children killed in his drug war are just "collateral damage." Drug cartel kingpin "El Chapo" was recaptured in Mexico and Obama shortened the sentences of 102 drug offenders.

The modern renaissance of psychedelic research forged ahead in 2016, with scientists getting back in the labs, covering new ground, and discovering valuable information about these powerful drugs. In fact, this year was an especially positive year for psychedelic drugs being used as a medicine. Yale launched a group to examine the use of psychedelics in therapy and the California Institute of Integral Studies started a first-of-its-kind program called the "Psychedelic-Assisted Therapies and Research Certificate Program." There were a few noteworthy scientific studies, including ones that found that psychedelics may decrease acts of domestic violence and help keep ex-inmates out of jail. Comparison studies determined that both alcohol and caffeine are more harmful than psychedelics.

When it comes to global drug policy news, The Lancet Commission recommended legalizing drugs and the United Kingdom banned legal highs like laughing gas, salvia divinorum, and mephedrone with a new law.

On the harm reduction front, TripSit released version 3.0 of its "Guide to Drug Combinations" chart and attendees at a UK music festival were able to get their drugs tested onsite for the first time ever in the country.

There were a few stories about miscellaneous drugs this year, including a hallucinogenic fish, people drinking tobacco in the Amazon, and rare psychedelic honey that is gathered on the edges of treacherous cliffs.

Plenty of people have thoughts and opinions on drugs, and some of them even write them down. Editorials this year asked if psychedelic drug laws violate human rights, why humans have an innate desire to get high, and if Brazil is the world's new epicenter of psychedelic science. Some writers were more concrete in their believes, offering hot takes on why the war on drugs may have misrepresented psychedelics (and why that matters) and how drug cartels operate like Silicon Valley startups.

Some media outlets made it easy to stay up-to-date about the latest science news and how it affects our health. One article explored whether meditation and psychedelics have the same benefits on the mind, another discussed how psychedelic therapy can decrease suicidal tendencies, and we learned how getting high and listening to music games your dopamine reward system. The final science-related articles featured a member of Canada's leading psychedelic research organization who sat down to talk about why we should license psychedelic trip sitters and legendary food writer Michael Pollan explained why psychedelic drugs are the ultimate meal for your mind.

For those interested in psychedelic history, there were a few articles that might tickle your fancy. There was articles about the mainstreaming of psychedelics, how Nazi drug abuse steered the course of history, and the history of psychedelics.

Some articles contained helpful information for people looking to use drugs recreationally. There were guides on learning how to tell if your drugs have gone bad, the way to create a perfect music festival drug schedule, and which drugs make your dick shrink the most and why. There was also a resource list that curated the best psychedelic videos of 2016.

If you were looking for entertainment this year, you could have checked out comedians Duncan Trussell and Shane Mauss, who both toured around the country talking about psychedelics. I actually got to see Shane perform in my hometown and it was an awesome experience—he's absolutely hilarious.

I’d like to close out the year with a few anecdotes, which can be even more powerful than hard scientific research study results or an investigative journalism piece. One man explained the reasons behind his decision to come out of the psychedelic closet, another shared his experience of using psychedelics to deal with excruciating cluster headaches, and dealers revealed the sketchiest places that drugs have been on their path from the manufacturer to the user.

I am excited to compile and publish more news related to psychedelics and psychoactive substances in 2017. I hope that you will join me. Until next time, keep thinking wilder!

Previous Years in Psychedelics

Disclaimer: "This Year in Psychedelics" does not censor or analyze the news links presented here. The purpose of this column is solely to catalogue how psychedelics are presented by the mass media, which includes everything from the latest scientific research to misinformation.

This Year in Psychedelics - 2015

Image by    Dahtamnay   , courtesy of    Creative Commons    licensing.

Image by Dahtamnay, courtesy of Creative Commons licensing.

Happy New Year's Eve! 2015 has been yet another interesting year to follow psychedelic news—both the factual representations and wildly inaccurate media "reports" have brought a lot to the table. This article will present the major themes and trends that were found in the latter half of the year, beginning on the June 5th, which corresponds with this year's first This Week in Psychedelics article.

First, I want to provide a bit of background on what it took to get here. I have been an avid Reality Sandwich reader since 2007, and I looked forward to each new edition of Neşe Devenot's This Week in Psychedelics column. Every week, she posted links to news articles from the mass media that referenced psychedelics and other similar psychoactive substances.

Each week's collection of links attempted to be as unbiased as possible, demonstrating how various forms of mass media represent psychedelic culture and psychoactive substance use. This always included articles that shed psychedelics in a positive light as well as articles that demonized their use (including many articles that are factually incorrect and/or misguided representations of psychedelics).

Devenot gave up "This Week in Psychedelics" more than two years ago to pursue what has proved to be an extremely successful career in academia. This year I was able to successfully bring the column back—first on Think Wilder, and then on Reality Sandwich as well. The following is my analysis of this year's coverage of psychedelics and similar psychoactive substances.

Cannabis

Cannabis was in the news a lot this year, with articles being published on topics including drug policies, newly-discovered medical applications, cannabis scientific research, the fledging cannabis industry, a slew of hilarious poorly-executed drug delivery attempts, and more.

To begin, there were pro-cannabis drug policy movements at the state level across the United States of America, as well as on the international stage in countries like Italy, Australia, Mexico, Iran, and Colombia. Canada legalized cannabis oils and edibles, and its new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has proudly announced plans to completely legalize the plant.

Stories about cannabis oils and their affinity for helping young children with a variety of needs were aplenty. The medical uses for cannabis expanded even further, with focuses on cannabis benefits for ailments such as epilepsycolon and kidney cancers, low sex drives, broken bones, social anxieties, celiac disease, insomnia, schizophreniaAttention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Cannabis was also found to help with weight losspain management, and drug addiction treatment. Cannabis research included studies on cannabis-involved driving and an upcoming study that will look into cannabis for assisting military veterans that have PTSD.

In the area of cannabis-related crime, London police were astonished to find a cannabis "forest" as big as a soccer field. Cannabis dealers missed the mark at least three times this year, including the time that $10,000 of cannabis fell out of the sky onto a family's home, when 50 pounds of pot were accidentally mailed to the incorrect address, and when a man found cannabis stashed in an Arizona Iced Tea can that he purchased at Walmart. The FBI released data showing that there is a cannabis-related arrest every 45 seconds in the U.S.

Candidates involved with the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election have had to confront the cannabis issue several times, and this will most likely continue into next year as the election cycle continues. The cannabis industry was covered thoroughly, with topics including how women are finding success in the industry, cannabis-themed vacation resorts, and tons of cannabis exposCannabis churches began popping up to encourage and celebrate the spiritual use of (and argue for the religious right to use) cannabis. Hemp began to once again make its way as a popular building materialRussia threatened to block Wikipedia over a specific cannabis article. And finally, Australia's pitiful anti-cannabis "stoner sloth" campaign backfired terribly and was ridiculed on social media.

LSD

The main story about LSD throughout the year involved the concept of microdosing, which is not exclusive to LSD but usually involves one of the classic psychedelics (LSD, psilocybin mushrooms, and mescaline-containing cacti). The media seemingly could not get enough of headlines comparing tiny doses of LSD to cups of coffee, and the topic was covered in a generally-favorable manner.

A man died after being left hogtied for an hour by police following a Widespread Panic show, and there have been conflicting evidence found by various autopsies performed as to whether he died from LSD toxicity (which would literally be the first occurrence of a lethal LSD dose) or from rough treatment by the police officers. In fact, LSD was blamed for several fatal "overdoses" this year, although those deaths would likely be more accurately attributed to psychoactive research chemicals like 25i-NBOMe.

Scientific studies showed that LSD can enhance the emotional response to music. Other studies looking at  the potential efficacy of LSD that are currently ongoing focus on the treatment of depression, cluster headaches, and smoking cessation.

This year also birthed the creation and performance of LSD: The Opera, and a fascinating history of the connection between the CIA and LSD.

Psilocybin/Magic Mushrooms

Compared to cannabis and LSD, there wasn't as much media coverage of psilocybin mushrooms (or "magic mushrooms" in general) this year, but two highlights include Russia banning Reddit over a single 'shroom thread and a lot of articles detailing the connection between amanita muscaria mushrooms and the origins of Christmas, including one I published last week.

Current research studies are looking into the application of psilocybin to treat depression, general anxieties, cluster headaches, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), smoking cessation, end-of-life anxiety in terminal cancer patients, schizophrenia, and the effect of psilocybin on longterm meditators.

MDMA/Ecstasy

MDMA and ecstasy experienced a bit of both sides this year, with a lot of negative media coverage focused on things like overdoses and deaths as well as positive reports concerning the findings of ongoing MDMA scientific research studies.

There were many articles covering MDMA-related overdoses and deaths, although it is not certain that MDMA was the actual substance involved in every one of these articles. The media tends to over-report deaths that might possibly be related to MDMA, which are actually few and far between, while ignoring the deaths and other issues caused by alcohol. Due to these incidents, there were many efforts made by authorities to ban raves entirely, which is a bit odd because that seems a bit like throwing the baby out with the bath water. There were also warning about ecstasy tablets being "too pure", which sounds confusing at first but ultimately makes sense within the full context. Although drug users would most likely appreciate receiving extremely-pure drugs, if they are accustomed to taking a large dose because all they have been acquiring in the past is not actually the drug they thought it to be, then when they receive the real thing and take the same dose, it can be too large and cause several issues. As happens every year, parents were warned in October that their children may be given ecstasy tablets disguised as candy, an assertion that doesn't make any sense, as drug dealers sell drugs to make profit, not to give away for free to children.

Regarding MDMA-related scientific studies, the DEA approved a study that will look at treating anxiety with MDMA-assisted psychotherapy, and ongoing studies include MDMA's potential role in helping people on the autism spectrum and sufferers of PTSD. There was definitely more negative coverage of MDMA than positive coverage, but the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) is well on its way to legitimizing MDMA in the eyes of the FDA due to its it's decades-long dedication to psychedelic research, and is still on target to legalize MDMA to be used for psychotherapeutic use by 2021.

Ayahuasca/DMT

A Hebrew professor set forth an argument that Moses was under the influence of DMT when he saw the "burning bush". There have been claims of a legal ayahuasca church in the U.S., but the church's actual legal standing has been called into question.

Sadly, as has been the case for the past few years, ayahuasca was involved in the death of at least two people this year. One man died in Peru as a result of a tobacco purge ceremony, but ayahuasca was mentioned in the story because he was also in Peru to experience the medicine. And another man was stabbed to death by a fellow ayahuasca ceremony participant in a rare display of ayahuasca-related violence.

Ongoing scientific studies regarding ayahuasca include the treatment of depression, anxiety, and PTSD. A study also found that ayahuasca drinkers regularly have improved mental health.

Iboga/Ibogaine

Iboga and ibogaine were mainly presented as detox treatments for opiate and methamphetamine addictions, which has been found to be extremely successful for many. There was also a powerful account of how iboga helped a schizophrenic drug addict reclaim his life.

Salvia Divinorum

Aside from being announced as another potential plant useful for treating substance abuse and addictions, salvia divinorum didn't show up much in the media at all this year.

Synthetic Cannabinoids/Psychoactive Research Chemicals

There was quite a bit of media coverage earlier in the year a scourge of the synthetic cannabinoid blend called "spice" (also known as "K2") in the northeast, but that story has mostly died off as of late. There has been a lot of negative coverage of the compound 25i-NBOMe (also known as "N-Bomb") and there was an interview with the man who originally synthesized it. "Legal highs" have been making their way into jails and prisons by being soaked into letters and pages of books. And a homeopathy conference ended terribly after attendees erupted in panic after being dosed with 2C-E.

Dissociatives

Protesters in the United Kingdom staged a demonstration against the Psychoactive Substances bill by inhaling nitrous oxide in front of the Parliament building. Basically every PCP story was framed in a negative light and played up an illegal act performed by someone high on the substance.

Ketamine had a lot of favorable coverage due to studies showing that it is helpful in treating depression. And due to the increased media coverage, governments around the world began considering placing ketamine under a stricter class of illegal drugs, which has worried veterinarians, pharmacists and medical health professionals because that may prevent them from being able to access the drug, even for legitimate medical reasons. Finally, a lot of time was spent arguing about whether or not a man fed ketamine to a seagull, even though he denied having done so.

Opiates/Opioids

Heroin use is in America is way up and so are overdoses—in fact, heroin usage has been widely described as an “epidemic”. Since it is mainly affecting white and middle class folks, this year's victims of heroin addiction have been mostly pitied, rather than lambasted as in years past. Still, the heroin issue has thrust the horrors of the drug war into even more people's faces, and it may prove to have a positive effect on drug policies overall.

Fentanyl found in heroin has led to an increase in overdoses, and research is showing that legal prescription drugs are leading people to become addicted to heroin and in many cases, die from overdose. The overdose drug naloxone has been in the media spotlight—information about it has spread fairly rapidly, and the FDA approved a nasal spray version for easier application.

Kratom/Kava/Khat

There has been a series of back-and-forth debates on the issues of safety and efficacy with regard to these plants, and kava in particular has been focused on recently with research into the effects of driving under the influence of the plant. Other than those topics the majority of coverage on these plants has been related to seizures by law enforcement.

Miscellaneous Psychedelics/Psychoactives/Drug Policy

Psychedelics have made their way into mainstream entertainment, being talked discussed in songs written by musicians like A$AP Rocky, Kendrick Lamar, and Miley Cyrus. Many celebrities and other well-known people came out of the psychedelic closet, admitting to past usage of psychedelics. These include John Cusack, musician Brian Wilson, Lindsay Lohan, the late neurologist and author Oliver Sacks, Olympic gold medalist Mo Farah, radio personality Robin Quivers, CNN reporter Lisa Ling, musician Vanessa Carlton, former Apple employee Daniel Kottke, and Star Wars animator Phil Tippet. Many others have come out publicly against the drug war, including a strong assertion from David Nutt about why banning psychedelics has been the greatest censorship of medicine in human history.

Ross Ulbricht, the alleged founder of the Silk Road, was convicted and received two life sentences plus an additional 40 years. I encourage everyone to check out the website Free Ross Ulbricht, which has plenty of information about how his trial was mishandled and how he may have even been framed by the U.S. government. Even though the Silk Road is no longer in operation, purchasing illegal substances on the dark web continues to be in fashion and shows no sign of slowing down.

The DEA had an incredibly rough year in 2015. Current DEA Chief Chuck Rosenberg claimed that cannabis is "probably" not as bad as heroin and later corrected himself by admitting that it in fact is definitely not as bad as heroin. Later, he called medical marijuana a "joke", leading medical marijuana patients around the country to officially call for his resignation. DEA agents at JFK airport stole $44,000 from a legitimate nail salon owner who hadn't committed any crimes whatsoever. The two primary agents involved with the Silk Road investigation have been accused of stealing more than $700,000 in Bitcoin from the dark web site. Amtrak passengers have been routinely harassed by DEA agents. The DEA was sued by Human Rights Watch and Electronic Frontier Foundation over the illegal bulk collection of America’s telephone records and lost the case. The U.S. Senate voted to force the DEA to butt out of medical marijuana states. The DEA spent undisclosed millions of dollars the past ten years on cell phone tracking and has refused to release the acquisition documents. Agents were caught soliciting Colombian prostitutes that were supplied by the drug cartels that they are supposedly fighting. And finally, the daughter of a DEA head was busted for selling illegal drugs. So yeah, how long are we going to keep these bozos around, exactly?

Harm reduction has made headlines this year, with an emphasis on the need for drug users to test their substances before consuming them. NASA released a bunch of cool psychedelic images and videos from space. Google took it one step further and developed its "Deep Dream" code, which mimics the visual perception of a machine and resulted in some mind-blowing psychedelic videos. Oddly enough, the sale of Janis Joplin's "psychedelic Porsche" showed up in the news time and time again.  Buddhism and psychedelics showed up quite a bit. It seemed to me that there was a moment in the year where there was almost nothing but positive articles about psychedelics, mostly in regard to the current state and findings of psychedelic research studies. The New Yorker published a fantastic interview with Earth and Fire, the creators of the drug education website Erowid. Perhaps most strikingly, Richard Branson leaked the news that the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) was expected to publish documents advising for the reversal of the drug war, and then it never did, allegedly because it received pressure from a country heavily involved in the drug war.

All in all, it has been quite a year! I am greatly looking forward to bringing you more news related to psychedelics and psychoactive substances in 2016. I hope that you will join me. Until next time, keep thinking wilder!

Disclaimer: "This Week in Psychedelics" does not censor or analyze the news links presented here. The purpose of this column is solely to catalogue how psychedelics are presented by the mass media, which includes everything from the latest scientific research to misinformation.