Regarding Alzheimer's: Let's blow Big Pharma's mind, and expand our own
Certainly not the pharmaceutical companies. Despite hundreds of billions in taxpayer dollars, their research has failed spectacularly to provide any real hope. Their best efforts have not only been ineffective -- they have also come, of course, with terrible side-effects and outrageous price tags.
Screw them! We don't need them. We can figure this out ourselves. The remedies have been out there for thousands of years.
Among other strategies, we will ingest MIND-EXPANDING DRUGS in order to defeat a MIND-SHRINKING DISEASE. Does this not make perfect sense?
Mirrrors on the ceiling! Pink champagne on ice! We are all just adventurers here, of our own device!
Psychoactive substances have been enriching, focusing, augmenting, stimulating and healing the human brain since ancient times. In the U.S., as one would expect, a blend of hypocrisy and puritanism -- with a distinct totalitarian aroma -- has brutally eliminated these medicinals from our midst, and made it totally scary even to visualize the word "psychedelic." The failure to study the value of these drugs has perpetuated the suffering of millions of people.
"There is something profoundly amazing about LSD and its effects," the New York Times reported in 2010. "Many people who consume hallucinogens gain the ability to access and relive memories and events from the past. Hallucinogens have played a starring role in the lives of writers, artists, visionaries, escapists, spiritualists, the curious and the bored for thousands of years."
Why are such assessments, shared by neuroscientists around the world, totally ignored? Our culture has remained willfully blind to a resource that could save us all immeasurable heartache if it were conscientiously applied to our Alzheimer's epidemic.
Just last month, the Zurich-based Heffter Research Institute co-sponsored the five-day Psychedelic Science 2013 conference in Oakland, Calif., along with the non-profit Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies  (MAPS), and the world's leading psychedelic research institutes.
Nearly 1,900 people from around the world attended the hundreds of sessions.
'SO KEEP ON PLAYIN' THE MIND GUERRILLA' / JOHN LENNON
More than 100 of the world’s most respected researchers, from 13 countries, presented recent findings into the therapeutic applications of psychedelic drugs such as LSD, psilocybin, MDMA, ayahuasca, ibogaine, ketamine, cannabis, and others.
Doesn't this major conclave seem like something you would expect to learn about from your daily paper, or the evening news? It is vitally important, not just regarding Alzheimer's, but also to an array of common psychological issues.
For all intents and purposes, the vast trove of information that was presented at this gathering was CENSORED from the public.
American media uniformly ignored this conference, with the minor exception of a blog, "Boing, Boing," which referred to it but did not cover it. How can that be? Surely no person or government agency could have ordered the media to pretend it wasn't happening. Why did they shy away from it?
PREPARING TO TAKE THE PLUNGE, BIKINI OPTIONAL
As Elderly Girl contemplates her own likely descent into Alzheimer's, this ancient young lady plans to have one mind-blowing experience after another (and of course, you're all invited) -- a scenario that she is engineering with the assistance of the world's most visionary brain theorists. Their minds are blown already, by her brilliant plan to turn this most heartbreaking reality into the Greatest Bash of All Time, ushering in a sunny flood of flower power, "peace, love and understanding," and some incense and peppermints.
Elderly Girl's blueprint forges mind-expanding drugs and emerging technologies into a fabulous new realm of consciousness. Alzheimer's, she believes, will some day be regarded as a natural stage of life, like adolescence, only way more fun.
 Are we coming or going? Is this entropy or ecstasy? As the '70s rock band Jefferson Airplane might counsel the newly demented:
Have fallen sloppy dead
And the White Knight is talking backwards
And the Red Queen's "off with her head!"
Remember what the doormouse said;
"Feed YOUR HEAD...
Feed your head"
ELDERLY GIRL FLIPS DREAD INTO PLEASANT ANTICIPATION
What better time is there to pull a rabbit out of your hat and see if you feel ten feet tall? What better time to join Lucy in the sky, with all those diamonds?
Ironically, those in nursing homes are already being drugged out of their minds, for the convenience of their keepers. Those opiates and barbituates actually expede patients' cognitive decline.
OPEN UP YOUR MIND, AND DAMN: YOU'RE FREE
There is clear and compelling evidence that mind-altering drugs have the potential to treat the many dementias, including Alzheimer's, and that they can also provide stimulation, pleasure and comfort to those who are suffering. Many of these substances -- most of which are plant-based -- have been used for thousands of years in celebratory, ritual and spiritual realms. Some have been as much a part of daily life as our caffeine, nicotine and alcohol.
Elderly Girl would be perfectly happy to flout the law and experiment with these "illicit" substances immediately, but she can't expect others to share in her heedlessness.
So she's mobilizing scientists to mount a forceful campaign to make research into these medicinals not only legal but also well-funded. The NIH alone is handing out $500 million a year in Alzheimer's research funds to pharmaceutical companies (who of course hope to make billions if they ever figure this whole thing out). Other agencies are also heaping funds on these global conglomerates.
Even the most awesome drugs will unlikely be adequate to provide optimal results in our efforts to harness Alzheimer's. Elderly Girl is also coordinating the development of groundbreaking technologies that can upload and download memories, electrically revive buried memories, and enrapture us in virtual realities that will beat back Alzheimer's with their neuronal excitations. The research that is currently being performed in these areas has not gotten the support it needs, but it is truly exhilarating, as we will describe in our next post.
FLOAT LIKE A BUTTERFLY
Wikipedia offers excellent summaries of "taboo" substances -- virtually all of them found in nature and many with an ancient heritage -- that are inherently interesting, but also strikingly relevant to addressing the Alzheimer's-ravaged mind. I will quote extensively from this material while Elderly Girl tries to decide which ones to try, and in what order:
From Wikipedia: "An entheogen ("generating the divine within") is a psychoactive  substance used in a religious , shamanic , or spiritual  context. Entheogens can supplement many diverse practices for transcendence , and revelation , including meditation , psychonautics , psychedelic  and visionary art , psychedelic therapy , and magic . Entheogens have been used in a ritualized  context for thousands of years; their religious significance is well established in anthropological and modern evidences. Examples of traditional entheogens include: peyote , psilocybin mushrooms , uncured tobacco , cannabis , ayahuasca , Salvia divinorum , Tabernanthe iboga , Ipomoea tricolor , and Amanita muscaria.....More broadly, the term entheogen is used to refer to any psychoactive substances when used for their religious or spiritual effects...Ongoing research is limited due to widespread drug prohibition."
(The reference to uncured tobacco is interesting: Nicotine patches may one day slow the progression of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) to Alzheimer’s disease, according to a study Georgetown professors and other researchers published last year in the journal Neurology. The research indicated that six months of nicotine patch treatment resulted in patients regaining up to 46 percent of normal performance for their age on certain long-term memory tests. The placebo group worsened by 26 percent during that time. A 2010 study had showed that nicotine improves short-term episodic memory-accuracy, and working memory.
These are astonishing outcomes. If a pill had this effect, millions of us would be taking them. Why aren't they handing these things out in the grocery checkout line, or at least telling us about them? There is also evidence that increased concentrations of acetylcholine in the brain, which can be achieved by taking simple cholinesterase inhibitors, can lead in some patients to increase communication between nerve cells and may temporarily improve or stabilize the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. Grape seed-derived polyphenolics—similar to those in red wine—significantly reduced Alzheimer’s disease-type cognitive deterioration in a study reported in the journal Neuroscience. Are any of these therapies being used in nursing homes or recommended by their Pharma-pal doctors? I don't think so! They're still feeding patients Lortab by the spoonful.)
OUT OF THE TWILIGHT ZONE
Elderly Girl is determined to blast open the pathetically small (and small-minded) (and profit-obsessed) armamentarium of weapons against Alzheimer's to include substances such as entheogens and other banned chemicals. How cruel and criminal that this work didn't begin long ago.
Dozens of other substances that are characterized as psychedelic (thus forbidden, for being too much fun), are also described by Wikipedia:
"The psychedelic experience is often compared to non-ordinary forms of consciousness such as trance , meditation , yoga , religious fervor , dreaming  and even extremely moving and reassuring near-death experiences .....
"First, sensory perceptions become especially brilliant and intense...The emotional effects are even more profound than the perceptual ones. The drug taker becomes unusually sensitive to faces, gestures, and small changes in the environment. As everything in the field of consciousness assumes unusual importance, feelings become magnified....In some cases the culmination is a mystical ecstasy in which for an eternal moment all contradictions seem reconciled, all questions answered, all wants irrelevant or satisfied, all existence encompassed by an experience that is felt to define the ultimate reality, boundless, timeless, and ineffable....."
Doesn't this sound worthwhile as an antidote to Alzheimer's, among other things?
GRAND THEFT AUTONOMIC
And does it not sound like an excellent adventure?
There are also the "nootropic" drugs, which have shown great promise in treating memory-related disorders.
Once again quoting Wikipedia: "Nootropics, also referred to as smart drugs, memory enhancers, neuro enhancers, cognitive enhancers, and intelligence enhancers, are drugs , supplements , nutraceuticals , and functional foods  that purportedly improve mental functions such as cognition , memory , intelligence , motivation , attention , and concentration."
The scholarly data on substances such as memantine, piracetam, vasopressin and hydergine show extraordinary promise in providing relief from a variety of medical conditions, particularly those pertaining to perception, learning, alertness, reasoning, improving memory and even reversing memory loss. They are being widely studied overseas, and some are even available over the counter, but they remain in a repressive legal vise in the U.S., except when drug companies try to tweak them into patentable products.
(Why is the U.S. so backward when it comes to issues such as these -- including social justice, climate change, banning harmful chemicals, personal liberties, etc.? Low literacy rates, high incarceration rates, mass murders, income inequality, political gridlock, etc.? We need drugs more than anyone, just to chill out in the face of all this absurdity.)
WE WILL (WE WILL) ROCK YOU
European journals describe ways in which such substances can "open up the mind," and "bring light into darkened and damaged areas." Our health-care system is perfectly content to "tip-toe through the tulips," blithely standing by while the brains of its patients become ever darker and more damaged.
The Heffter Research Institute in Zurich "promotes research of the highest scientific quality with the classical hallucinogens and related compounds (sometimes called psychedelics) in order to contribute to a greater understanding of the mind leading to the improvement of the human condition, and to alleviate suffering," according to its web site. It has aided scientists in the U.S. and elsewhere in providing data on what has worked in previous trials, and it provides a peer-review process for proposals. If their protocol is approved, the organization seeks private funding for it.
THE ELECTRIC KOOL-AID ACID TEST
Certain classes of drugs denoted as psychedelic seem particularly interesting as possible treatments for Alzheimer's.
The effect of empathogen-entactogens, Wikipedia says, is "characterized by feelings of openness, euphoria, empathy, love, and heightened self-awareness." Wikipedia lists 20 of these substances, which include MDMA, more commonly known as Ecstasy. Although Ecstasy is widely known as a "club drug," and can be dangerous if irresponsibly dosed, it has shown promise as an adjunct to psychotherapy.
The effects of cannabinoids (found in marijuana) "may include a general change in consciousness, mild euphoria, feelings of general well-being, relaxation or stress reduction, enhanced recollection of episodic memory, hunger, increased sensuality, increased awareness of sensation, and creative or philosophical thinking," according to Wikipedia. Doesn't it seem far more humane to offer patients a "special" brownie than to numb their minds and dull their senses with central nervous system depressants?
One of numerous natural substances that seem to offer substantial hope for Alzheimer's patients is Salvia divinorum, a powerful hallucinogen, which has become a popular street drug in recent years, providing widespread joy and intensity to our nation's young people -- quite disgraceful, of course. It has been used for centuries in Mexico during healing sessions and to create visionary states.
BRAINS COULD BE 'BRIGHTENED' IF WE WERE MORE ENLIGHTENED
Doctors hope further studies of salvia will unlock treatments for a variety of neurological disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease and illnesses that cause chronic pain.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins Hospital concluded in 2011 that salvia may indeed "brighten" the brains of those with Alzheimer's.
How can we continue to suppress evidence such as this while people are suffering so profoundly?
"Salvia is unlike anything that exists," according to Dr. Matthew Johnson, lead study researcher, psychologist and assistant professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University. Test subjects had a feeling of "leaving this reality completely and going to other worlds or dimensions and interacting with compassionate entities," Johnson told ABC News.
It seems reasonable to assume that psychedelic drugs in general should be studied to see if they can expand, enliven, comfort, entertain and/or help preserve the cognitive function of Alzheimer's patients.
As a class, these drugs enable a state of "unconstrained cognition," according to scientists in the Neuropsychopharmacology Unit at Imperial College London.
Doesn't that sound quite pertinent?
A NEW WORLD SYMPHONY
Here's another good example: As part of a study at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, psilocybin (a "psychedelic" mushroom) was given to emotionally stable individuals who had never taken hallucinogens before. More than a year later, a majority of the subjects, ages 24 to 64, said the experience was one of the most meaningful and spiritual experiences of their entire lives.
Psilocybin can stimulate and protect areas of the brain that might otherwise be succumbing to Alzheimers, the researchers said.
AND WE'LL LIVE BENEATH THE WAVES IN OUR YELLOW SUBMARINE
We have allowed so many of our dear ones with Alzheimer's to deteriorate to a state of paranoia, aversion and catatonia, even though it was widely known that these dozens of nonconventional treatments offered tremendous promise. It is unforgivable. Elderly Girl is determined to bring these people back, to whatever degree is possible, and she is ready to provide them with the substances that will return to them some measure of peace and clarity BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY. Get ready, all you DEA storm troopers. We can't sit by and let this insane repression continue.
We will be liberators, even if we have to create a new Underground Railroad to sneak these helpless people past the DEA goons and into one of our top-secret castles, which will be fabulous retreats, filled with federally prohibited love and stimulation, sunlight and companionship.
Normal brain chemistry is based on chemicals. If we are unable to reason with the Establishment about the medical and moral validity of treating dysfunctional brain chemistry (dementia) with therapeutic chemicals, which directly address the dysfunction, then we will simply have to break the law, preferably on a grand scale.
It may turn into quite a war. If it does, it will be the first "good war" we've had in quite some time.
ELDERLY GIRL HUNGERS FOR A CHANGE OF SCENERY
Elderly Girl is champing at the bit to see things she has never seen before, with a depth, significance and vitality she's never imagined. She expects hours, days, weeks of immersion in a succession of entirely new worlds, in which she will be treated to exquisite sensory escapades that engorge her brain with a fullness that no stupid disease can kill!
And she will invite all those millions of ghostly, wracked, forgotten Alzheimer's patients to come along with her. Their eyes will finally open again, and the sun will rise in there. Elderly Girl would never accept the moniker of "savior," of course, but she is going to save those people. They are still people, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.
She and her wild-haired, paisley-clad posse of the so-called "cognitively impaired" will pop a little pill -- or snort, or puff, or shoot up, or whatever -- and fly through the cosmos, passing scenes of inexpressible beauty. They will be "Space Oddities," a la David Bowie ("Ground control to Master Tom"), reveling in the blueness of Planet Earth and the technicolor dreamworld beyond.
They will be washed over with endless varieties of ecstasy, explosive excitement and comforting reassurance. Elderly Girl has never been the slightest bit spiritual, but she expects that she will at last be enticed into that realm, with its infinite beauty and wisdom.
The brain feels rinsed and rhapsodic! Art by Storm Thurgerson, RIP.
When she is feeling more secular, she will haul out her high-tech tools (to be described in the next post), and then close her eyes and be drawn into delightful getaways: adventures in thrilling exploration and luxury vacation, adventures in gluttonous dining and boozing, without fear of calories or hangovers, adventures in Xtreme sports (she'll fnallly get to surf the Big One, leap off Kilimanjaro to glide through the canyons, take a curve with Danica at 400 mph), adventures in celebrity (she can star in any book or movie she pleases), adventures in men, if she wants, but really: She's had plenty! You other ladies can take your pick!
Her Anonymous Foundation will compile a nice big catalog so you can choose to be and do and feel anything you want. No charge, dear friends! You deserve it!
THE MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR IS COMING TO TAKE YOU AWAY
Elderly Girl is delighted that she is finally going to do drugs, man! She's always been too busy, and frankly too damn scared, but before long, Alzheimer's will chivalrously open the door for her.
There are only four extremely expensive FDA-approved drugs to treat AD, according to the Cleveland Clinic, and all they can do (at best) is improve or delay the worsening of symptoms for an average of 6-12 months.
It sounds pretty pointless and fiscally irresponsible. It sounds unimaginative and thoroughly tight-assed. Big Pharma needs to get some freaks and geeks in there to mix things up and stimulate some creative thinking.
If you've been scared to experiment with these intriguing substances in the past, doesn't Alzheimer's provide the perfect rationale? What do you have to lose? Alzheimer's is already altering that mind of yours in a cruel and twisted way. Why not thwart its creepy machinations with some nights in white satin? Let's all take one toke over the line, sweet Jesus, and go for a magic carpet ride.
Elderly Girl is acutely aware of the inappropriateness of administering controversial treatments without the informed consent of patients. That is why she will soon provide a standardized form that will enable those of sound mind to authorize such therapies if and when they develop dementia.
In the meantime, it seems reasonable for those who hold medical powers of attorney to be allowed to make decisions that could add years of relative comfort, clarity and joy to their loved ones' lives. After all, those who have Alzheimer's didn't give their consent to be virtually erased from Earthly existence with the opiates and barbituates they're currently being fed by the spoonful. If they could just smoke a joint instead, they might actually have a pleasant morning. And they wouldn't get constipated!
BACK TO THE FUTURE: AN OVERVIEW OF U.S. DRUG HISTORY
You are probably too old or too young to remember those glorious years when the consciousnesss-expanding potential of various substances -- herbal, fungal, botanical and laboratorial -- was becoming known within popular culture. In those days, it was not surprising for a lovely waif with flowers in her hair to approach you and remark, "I had too much to dream last night. I can see for miles! I am the walrus!"
Our moralistic, corporate culture -- which so loves its booze, and its uppers and downers (thoughtfully synthesized and profitized by Big Pharma) -- criminalized not only mind-expanding drugs but also legitimate, university-based scientific research into their potential to treat depression, anxiety, OCD, PTSD and many other conditions.
The Big Panic began with the widely publicized studies of Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) at Harvard by Professor of Psychology Timothy Leary, who fervently believed the chemical had great potential for use in psychiatry. His radical lifestyle and "turn on, tune in, drop out" attitude had President Richard Nixon calling him "the most dangerous man in America." In 1970, Nixon passed the Controlled Substances Act, which grouped the psychedelics and marijuana with heroin as drugs that had no medical value and had a high potential for abuse.
Leary, his lifestyle and his philosophies freaked out The Establishment. It was clear that LSD has the potential for negative outcomes, as does pretty much any drug, and "bad trips" were wildly sensationalized in the media. Even though LSD showed great promise as a therapeutic agent when it was introduced by Sandoz Laboratories in 1947, the recreational use of the drug during the 1960s led to its iron-fisted prohibition. Sandoz had found that the drug produced synergistic excitation in the cerebral cortex, affecting serotonin, glutamate and dopamine, long before pharmaceutical companies began marketing antidepressants that did the same thing.
For the next thirty-five years research with hallucinogens assumed pariah status within academic psychiatry, virtually putting an end to formal dialogue and debate, according to Charles S. Grob, M.D., professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the UCLA School of Medicine.
LSD and its close cousin lysergic acid have been under lock and key for decades, strictly regulated by both federal and state laws.
"There's real agents in suits with guns and when we get it, we have to sign it out, and there is a two-key mechanism to open the cabinet that has the lysergic acid. They don't mess around," Harvard Medical School graduate Edwin Jake Wintermute told NPR station WGBH in 2011. New drugs could come from an LSD-related compound — drugs that open up the brain, improving circulation in the brain and enhancing clarity, he said.
But there continue to be seemingly endless bureaucratic hurdles that deter this vital research -- one layer of scrutiny and skepticism after another. "It takes years to get all the approvals," as Grob says. Both ongoing prejudice against hallucinogens and the machinations of Big Pharma thwart progress.
Fortunately, according to The Economist, things are much more free in Zurich, where Franz Vollenweider, of the Heffter Research Institute is scanning people's brains to try to understand how hallucinogenic drugs cause changes in consciousness.
And biotechnology may lead to a new generation of hallucinogenic drugs. Wintermute and his colleagues at Harvard have engineered yeast cells to carry out two of six steps in the pathway needed to make lysergic acid, the precursor of LSD. They hope to add the other four shortly. Once the pathway has been created, it can be tweaked. That might result in LSD-like drugs that are better than the original.
Even if that does not happen, making lysergic acid in yeast is still a good idea, The Economist reports. The chemical is used as the starting point for other drugs, including nicergoline, a treatment for senile dementia. The current process for manufacturing it is a rather messy one involving ergot, a parasite of rye.
MAPS founder and executive director, Rick Doblin, has spent 20 years wrangling with America's blindly anti-psychedelic drug apparatus to gain approval for responsible testing.
The nonprofit is trying to get drugs like psilocybin, LSD, and MDMA approved for medical use. It has already sponsored small clinical trials of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for PTSD, first in survivors of sexual abuse and assault, and now in military veterans, police, and firefighters. It is working directly with the Pentagon.
MAPS is undertaking a 10-year, $15 million plan to make MDMA into an FDA-approved prescription medicine, and is currently the only organization in the world funding clinical trials of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy.
MDMA, of course, is more commonly known as Ecstasy. Wouldn't it be cool if we could bring ecstasy to Alzheimer's? And all of the other radiance that can be had from other "banned" drugs?