Turn on, tune in, heal yourself

When I first tried psychedelics in the 1970s, I wasn’t trying to heal myself. I was curious to find out how psychedelics, including LSD and “magic” mushrooms, could alter my consciousness.

image: New Scientist

My trip into hallucinogenic world of psychedelics wasn’t as studious as Aldous Huxley’s. He took notes as he journeyed into a state of altered perception. In his book, The Doors of Perception, he says:

“Half an hour after swallowing the drug I became aware of a slow dance of golden lights . . .”

That’s pretty much the way my experience went. It wasn’t always a joy ride –not something you tried casually. It required commitment and was truly a “trip.” Once you stepped onto that path, more like a conveyor belt, there was no turning back at for many hours.

“Turn on, tune in, drop out” was a phrase first popularized by Timothy Leary in 1966. He was a promoter of psychedelics as part of the hippy counterculture. Leary borrowed the phrase from the Canadian media guru, Marshall McLuhan.

Regrettably, after psychedelics became “recreational drugs,” they were made illegal. That’s when serious investigation into the medicinal applications of that family of drugs stopped.

One of those early studies in the 1950s was at the Saskatchewan Mental Hospital in Weyburn. That’s when the term “psychedelic” was first coined.   Saskatchewan was home to some of the most important psychedelic research in the world at the time. Treating patients with a single dose of psychedelic was seen as an attractive, cost-effective approach. It fit with the goals of a new, publicly funded health-care system started by Saskatchewan’s new premier, Tommy Douglas. The treatment was aimed at restoring health and autonomy to patients who had long been confined to asylums.

Since then, the prohibition of drugs has been a disaster. Instead of limiting drug use, making them illegal under the criminal code has increased the use of unregulated, contaminated and dangerous street drugs. This is especially true of synthetic opioids such as Fentanyl.

The trouble with opioids is that they are addictive with ever-increasing doses.

Now that the hippy era just a nostalgic memory and acid trips are no longer in vogue, the medical uses of psychedelics are being investigated again.

Health Canada has only approved psilocybin treatment for people in palliative care. The Vancouver Island based company, Numinus Wellness, is one of many who are looking go beyond that to the treatment of mental illness, addiction and trauma. Dr. Evan Wood, chief medical officer at Numinus says:

“With one in five Canadians currently grappling with debilitating mental-health conditions, we can’t afford not to look at psilocybin seriously (Globe and Mail, Sept. 4, 2021).”

The pandemic has further increased the incidence of mental illness.

The difference between using opioids versus psychedelics is that one or two treatments of psychedelics can completely change your view of reality.

“A session with psilocybin seems to disrupt this network,” adds Wood, “reset it and decrease its activity, thus alleviating the symptoms. The changes it appears to be bringing about with people are really profound. It gets at the root of what’s driving people to these mental disorders. Instead of giving them chemicals that numb those feelings, these treatments help you put that trauma behind you.”

Why carbon storage won’t save us

Politicians can be expected to act irrationally during election years. By that measure, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall is acting as expected.

SaskPower

A rational, albeit flawed, argument is that Saskatchewan can produce clean electricity from dirty coal by capturing the carbon and selling it. It’s the equivalent of selling your garbage.

Carbon capture holds promise to rescue Premier Wall from a problem of geography. Unlike B.C., Saskatchewan has few hydro dams and lots of coal. In promoting carbon capture, Wall attempts to position himself both as a climate defender and friend of Big Coal.

At first glance carbon capture seems magical. The technology works some of the time and Cenovus Energy of Calgary agreed to buy the carbon dioxide from Saskpower. The plan is for Cenovus to buy all of the CO2 produced by the Boundary Dam generating/capture site, a total of one Mega tonnes a year. Cenovus use some of the CO2 to pressurize old oil wells near Weyburn, forcing the remains up to the surface and some would be simply be stored in underground caverns.

Irrationality number one: CO2 would be captured, then used to recover more fossil fuels which would be burned to produce more CO2.

Then there’s Wall’s obstinate posturing in advance of the meeting of the premiers with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for talks on a national climate strategy on March 3. The feds hope to have a deal in place for a minimum carbon price that would allow provinces to use their own mechanisms to achieve the pricing. They aim to have a deal with a minimum of $15/tonne in six months.

Wall flatly rejects a broad-based carbon tax: “I’ve already made it clear … that if we’re re-elected, our government will not be pursuing any tax increases or new taxes, and neither would we support any new national taxes.”

Irrationality number two: The Saskatchewan premier doesn’t want a level playing field. He wants other provinces to pay for carbon pricing so his province would have a competitive advantage. Alberta has plans for a price of $30/tonne. “I don’t want a level playing field for our province. I want this to be the most competitive place that it possibly can be … and that does not include a new carbon tax, especially now, given the state of the economy.”

That leads to the third irrationality. My question is this: “If your carbon capture technology works so well, premier, why worry about pricing carbon that you won’t produce?” Carbon in the ground won’t cost producers anything.

The embarrassing answer is that the technology doesn’t work that well. When the plant is working properly, it captures 90 per cent of the carbon dioxide but, in fact, because of mechanical issues, the facility has only operates 45 per cent of the time. It works so poorly that Saskpower has to pay penalties to Cenovus for not supplying enough CO2 as specified in their contract.

The problem is not unique to Saskatchewan. There are only 15 such sites in the world. China has abandoned theirs. The costly, complicated technology is wishful thinking. Its chief product is political irrationality in election years.