This News in Mentalists – We Did Not Say Andrew Lansley Should Be Smacked with a Wet Fish Edition

Hi all. Zarathustra from The Not So Big Society here. Here be the news.

A study by Professor David Nutt suggests that magic mushrooms may have benefits for people with depression. The Guardian gets trippy.

Six thousand years ago palaeolithic hunters painted images on the walls of the Selva Pascuala caves in Spain that look remarkably similar to locally abundant Psilocybe hispanica, one of the many “magic mushrooms” that contains the hallucinogen psilocybin. The same or similar mushrooms have been used throughout the ages to induce states of religious ecstasy, spiritual enlightenment, mystical meanderings or simply to have a great time. But how do they work? Timothy Leary, who famously told a generation of Americans to “turn on, tune in, drop out”, claimed these “mind-expanding chemicals … acts as a chemical key – it opens the mind, frees the nervous system of its ordinary patterns and structures”.

But a few weeks ago an Imperial College-based research group headed by Professor David Nutt (who was sacked as the government’s chief drug adviser in 2009 after claiming that ecstasy and LSD were less dangerous than alcohol) reported a study that appears to show that, far from expanding the mind, psilocybin shuts it down. The researchers claim that by closing down certain regions of the brain that normally keep our minds on the reality rails, psilocybin may “enable a state of unconstrained cognition”. More “turn off, tune in, drop out”.

But before you ditch the fluoxetine and head out to the fields on a mushroom-hunting expedition, the Nursing Times has some words of caution.

The study itself looked at how the brain was affected by a hallucinogenic chemical in the mushrooms, rather than using them in a medicinal manner.

As this study did not look at whether psilocybin had any beneficial effects for depression, it will take further study to see whether it does have any beneficial effect and if it is safe.

It’s a funny old week for The Right Honourable Andrew Lansley MP (or, to use his full formal title, That Complete Turd Andrew Lansley). The Prime Minister has had to deny he wants him shot.

Government officials are reportedly exasperated with the Health Secretary’s failure to win more support from critics. The Times quoted one “Downing Street source” as saying: “Andrew Lansley should be taken out and shot. He’s messed up both the communication and the substance of the policy.”

An “insider” told the paper that Mr Lansley has proved to be “a disaster” and was “a law unto himself”.
However, a spokeswoman for the Prime Minister insisted she did not “recognise” the views.

Asked whether Mr Cameron believed Mr Lansley should be “shot”, she said: “No. The Prime Minister backs Andrew Lansley and backs the reforms that we are pushing through Parliament in order to deliver a better health service.”

This is welcome clarity from the Prime Minister. However, he should continue in this vein and give a clear answer as to whether Michael Gove “should have his arse kicked from Lands End to John O’Groats”.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the benches, Labour wants more mental health support for combat veterans.

Labour is to call on the government to set up a £1m fund to monitor the mental health of veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts and allow charities to bid for the money.

The move follows concern expressed by armed forces charities about the timelag between service personnel leaving the services and experiencing mental health problems and that current support is focused on people still in service. Labour says it does not want those who have served to be “forgotten” after 2014.

The fund would come out of part of the savings obtained by cutting the number of senior ranks in the armed forces. There are more admirals than ships in the navy and proportionately more officers in the UK military than in other countries. The number of army brigadiers, and commodores in the navy and RAF has risen by a third since 1990.

The rhetoric of benefit cuts is fuelling abuse of disabled people.

Tom Madders, head of campaigns at the National Autistic Society, said: “The Department for Work and Pensions is certainly guilty of helping to drive this media narrative around benefits, portraying those who receive benefits as workshy scroungers or abusing a system that’s really easy to cheat.”

He added that ministers such as the work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, were being “deeply irresponsible” in conflating Disability Living Allowance (DLA), which helps disabled people hold down jobs, and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), a payment for those unable to work. This “scrounger rhetoric” was already having an impact on people’s lives, Madders said, citing a woman who rang the charity to say a neighbour who formerly gave lifts to her autistic child had stopped doing so following press articles about disabled people receiving free cars under a government scheme.

Some disabled people say the climate is so hostile they avoid going out, or avoid using facilities such as designated parking bays if they “don’t look disabled”.

Depression is on the rise among GPs.

Senior GPs said pressure on the profession was rising bec­ause of a combination of NHS reforms, the pay freeze on general practice and steadily rising workload.

They warned of a rise in clinicians quitting the profession altogether.

Chief executive of Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire LMC Dr Peter Graves said he had seen a ‘significant number’ of GPs coming forward with stress, depression and addiction problems, some of whom required psychiatric referrals or time off work.

‘We used to see two or three people a year, but now it has risen to the teens,’ he said.

He said NHS cuts were ‘beg­inning to bite’. ‘They revolve around getting work out of hospitals and all this extra work falls on GPs,’ he said.

For the wildcard, enjoy this hilarious commentary from Charlie Brooker after the Daily Mail website reported a study that claimed right-wingers are less intelligent than left-wingers.

As you might expect, many Mail Online readers didn’t take kindly to a report that strived to paint them as simplistic, terrified dimwits. Many leapt from the tyres they were swinging in to furrow their brows and howl in anger. Others, tragically, began tapping rudimentary responses into the comments box. Which is where the tragi-fun really began.

“Stupidest study of them all,” raged a reader called Beth. “So were the testers conservative for being so thick or were they left and using a non study to make themselves look better?” Hmmm. There’s no easy answer to that. Because it doesn’t make sense.

“I seem to remember ‘academics’ once upon a time stating that the world was flat and the Sun orbitted the Earth,” scoffed Ted, who has presumably been keeping his personal brand of scepticism alive since the middle ages.

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About Zarathustra

Trained as a nurse, currently working in Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS). Co-editing the Not So Big Society blog. May possibly be an incorporeal being called Phil Dore. All views expressed are in a personal capacity and not necessarily the views of my employer.

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