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Personal weblog.


Eveline Rozing by Sebastiaan Pagano Mirani for C-Heads

Brutalism: The Ugly Duckling
We recently read a great feature on the architectural movement of Brutalism in the late mid 20th century. The fortress-looking, dominating, structures with the bare concrete exteriors are considered the ugly ducklings of the architecture world.
Read the article here about the movement of raw materials, functionality and architectural strength.
Also, revisit Freunde von Freunden’s interview with architect Arno Brandlhuber who’s work has been influenced by the movement.


How do hallucinogens work on the brain?

What do we know about how hallucinogens work on the brain to produce their characteristic subjective effects? This question can be approached from a number of different levels. At the lowest functionally relevant level, how do the hallucinogenic compounds themselves interact with a certain neurotransmitter receptor to alter neuronal activity? Then at the neuronal population level, how does a drug-induced change in neuronal firing interact with the integrated oscillatory activity of large populations of neurons? Finally, how does this all play out at the level of large-scale systems or networks in the brain; and of how do changes in the functional behaviour of these systems map on to specific psychological experiences?

The ‘classic’ hallucinogens – such as LSD (derived from ergotamine found in ergot fungi), dimethyltryptamine (DMT, the major hallucinogenic component of ayahuasca) and psilocybin (from magic mushrooms) – possess a unique and arguably unrivalled potential as scientific tools to study the mind and the brain. For those of us who are currently fortunate enough to be researching them, there is a real sense that we are exploring something destined to become the ‘next big thing’ in psychopharmacology. But how much do we really know about how they act on the brain to produce their many unusual effects? Here, we summarise the relevant research, beginning at the level of single neurons and moving towards networks in the brain.

The level of single neurons

All classic hallucinogens stimulate  a particular serotonin receptor subtype expressed on neurons in the brain, the serotonin 2A receptor. This receptor appears to be central to the action of hallucinogens because blocking it (with another drug called ketanserin) abolishes the occurrence of the hallucinatory state (Vollenweider et al., 1998). Also, the affinity (or ‘stickiness’) of different hallucinogens for the serotonin 2A receptor correlates positively with their potency, or ‘strength’; for example, LSD has an extremely high affinity for the serotonin 2A receptor and is remarkably potent (Glennon et al., 1984). That hallucinogens ‘stimulate’ serotonin 2A receptors means that they mimic the action of serotonin at the receptor by binding to it, altering its conformation or ‘shape’, and ultimately altering the internal conditions and therefore behaviour of the neuron it sits on. For the serotonin 2A receptor, the key functional effect of its stimulation is an increase in the excitability of the hosting neuron.

Serotonin 2A receptors are primarily expressed on an important type of neuron or brain cell in the brain, excitatory pyramidal neurons. More specifically, serotonin 2A receptors are especially highly expressed on excitatory pyramidal neurons in ‘layer 5’ of the cortex. The cortex is organised into layers of different cell types, like the different layers of a cake, and layer 5 is a deep layer, nearer the base than the icing (Weber & Andrade, 2010). Layer 5 pyramidal neurons are especially important functional units in the brain as they are the principal source of output from a cortical region. They project to hierarchically subordinate, or ‘lower’, cortical and subcortical regions (e.g. from a visual association region to the primary visual cortex). Layer 5 pyramidal neurons project heavily onto inhibitory interneurons and so the net effect of their excitation seems to be inhibitory (Bastos et al., 2012). This is important because hallucinogen-induced excitation of layer 5 pyramidal cells has been interpreted by some as evidence of a more general excitatory effect of these drugs, but as will be discussed in the forthcoming sections, recent animal electrophysiological and human neuroimaging recordings have cast further doubt on the assumption that hallucinogens have a general excitatory effect on cortical activity (Carhart-Harris et al., 2012; Wood et al., 2012). Captured by the idiom ‘failing to see the woods for the trees’, these results are a reminder that one should not be too hasty to extrapolate from the activity of certain single units in the brain, since the interconnected nature of cortical circuits means that local excitation can translate into net inhibition, or rather ‘disorder’, at a higher level of the system. If John Donne was a neuroscientist, he might have said: ‘no neuron is an island, entire of itself’.

Populations of neurons 
Much of brain activity is rhythmic  or oscillatory in nature and electroencephalography (EEG), magnetoencephalography (MEG) and local field potential (LFP) recordings are techniques that measure the collective, synchronously oscillating activity of large populations of neurons. Studies in animals and humans have found decreases in oscillatory activity in the cortex after the administration of hallucinogens, and in one of our most recent and informative studies with psilocybin we observed a profound desynchronising influence on cortical activity (Muthukumaraswamy et al., 2013). This effect was evident in all of the frequencies recorded by MEG, from the slowest (i.e. ‘delta’, 1–4 oscillations per second) to the fastest (i.e. ‘high gamma’, 50–100 oscillations per second). Moreover, when a modelling technique was employed to infer the cellular origin of these effects, the results highlighted excitation of layer 5 pyramidal neurons as the most likely cause (Muthukumaraswamy et al., 2013). Cortical desynchrony has also been  found in studies with LSD (Bente et al., 1958) and ayahuasca (Riba et al., 2002) using EEG.

An important question that follows from these findings is: why does excitation of layer 5 pyramidal neurons cause desynchronisation at the population level? Recording simultaneously the activity of presumed layer 5 pyramidals and LFPs in rats has gone some way to answer this (Celada et al., 2008). Specifically, researchers in Barcelona found that layer 5 pyramidal neurons usually fire at a particular phase of cortical oscillations, suggesting that the single units are either entrained by cortical rhythms, exert a pacemaker influence on them, or both. Importantly, when the LSD-analogue hallucinogen DOI was administered to rats, the normal concordance between pyramidal cell firing and the phase of LFP oscillations was abolished, and this decoupling was dependent on serotonin 2A receptor stimulation.

To help illustrate this principle by analogy, the strength of cortical rhythms can be thought of as analogous to the rhythmic sound generated by a population of individuals clapping their hands in synchrony. The presence of an individual clapper among a population of clappers means that his/her rate of clapping becomes quickly entrained by the collective sound generated by the population as a whole. Now imagine  that a number of mischievous ‘ticklers’ are introduced to the scene, inducing sporadic clapping by tickling individual clappers. Although the individuals targeted may be excited into clapping more often, there will be a disruptive effect on the regularity and volume of  the sound generated by the population as a whole. The basic principle is that although hallucinogens excite certain excitatory neurons in the cortex to fire more readily, this has a disorganising influence on cortical activity as a whole.

The system level 
Much of our own research on hallucinogens has focused on human brain imaging and particularly functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), a technique that measures changes in brain activity at a high spatial resolution. In a pair of related studies, we studied changes in brain blood flow (a reliable proxy of brain activity) and network activity in healthy individuals administered psilocybin intravenously whilst they lay in the fMRI scanner.

The results were remarkable because they showed for the first time that characteristic changes in consciousness brought about by a hallucinogen are related to ‘decreases’ in brain activity (Carhart-Harris et al., 2012). The decreases were localised to important hub structures in the brain, such as the thalamus, posterior cingulate cortex and medial prefrontal cortex. These structures are important as they are centres for information integration and routing in the brain. Thus, rather than being restricted to the performance of specific functions (e.g. the visual cortex is concerned with visual processing and the motor cortex with motor action) these structures possess a more general, managerial purpose, essentially holding the entire system together; analogous to a capital city in a country, or a chief executive officer of a cooperation. The observed decrease in activity in these regions was therefore interpreted as permitting a more unconstrained mode of brain function (Carhart-Harris et al., 2012).

To further interrogate this idea we subsequently conducted a number of network analyses, testing the principle that the brain operates in a freer, less constrained manner in the hallucinogenic state. The first analyses looked at the integrity of individual networks under psilocybin and found that these were essentially less integrated, or even ‘disintegrated’, under the drug. Next, we examined how brain networks communicate with each other and found that distinct networks became less distinct under the drug, implying that they communicate more openly but, in doing so, lose some of their own individual ‘identity’. Other analyses have also supported the principle that the brain operates with greater flexibility and interconnectedness under hallucinogens (Carhart-Harris et al., 2014).

The idea that an increase in system-level flexibility in the brain relates to greater cognitive flexibility is supported by several animal studies that have found enhanced cognitive flexibility and associative learning with serotonin 2A receptor stimulation and a retardation of these things with 2A receptor blockade (Boulougouris et al., 2008; Harvey, 2003; Harvey et al., 2004; Romano et al., 2010; Romano et al., 2006). Increased cognitive flexibility may be useful clinically in terms of enhancing cognitive-based psychotherapies for disorders such as depression, obsessive compulsive disorder and addiction, in which pathological patterns of thought and behaviour become entrenched (Carhart-Harris et al., 2014). Non-clinically, hallucinogens may be explored and exploited as novel nootropics; for example, as enhancers of creative thinking (Harman et al., 1966).

To summarise, we have learned that the first site of action of hallucinogens is the serotonin 2A receptor and that their stimulation causes important neurons to fire out of phase with the rhythmic oscillations of large populations of neurons in the cortex. This disruption of cortical rhythmicity extends to large-scale brain networks, where a generalised decrease in system organisation and constraint is observed. We discuss these ideas more fully in a recent review article that characterises the hallucinatory state as ‘entropic’ (i.e. disordered, in relation to normal waking consciousness) (Carhart-Harris et al., 2014).

Drugs that act on the brain have been studied quite extensively with the aim of understanding the neurobiology of consciousness; however, the majority of this research has focused on anaesthetics and sedatives that cause a general reduction in the level of consciousness. However, in our opinion, reducing wakefulness via anaesthetics is a relatively limited strategy for studying human consciousness. In contrast, hallucinogens are much more powerful tools, since they profoundly alter the quality of consciousness whilst leaving arousal or wakefulness intact. In our working model of different dimensions of consciousness and their sensitivity to modulation via different neurotransmitter systems, we suggest a consideration of: 
I    Level: The GABA-A system regulates cortical arousal and when stimulated produces sedation. 
I    Focus: The dopamine system modulates attentional and goal-directed behaviours and enhances alertness. 
I    Flexibility: Serotonin 2A receptor stimulation increases cognitive flexibility. 

Hitherto, we have characterised hallucinogens as agents of disorganisation; however, it must be acknowledged that the picture presented is somewhat incomplete. Specifically, it fails to address some of the most prominent and intriguing psychological properties of hallucinogens, such as their ability to produce complex visual hallucinations (de Araujo et al., 2012) or ‘ego-disintegration’ in the promotion of ‘peak-type’ experiences (Griffiths et al., 2006). Thus, in the final two sections of this article we will offer some empirically informed insights on what may be occurring in the brain to account for such phenomena.  

Chaos above, anarchy below 
The discussion so far has focused almost exclusively on decremental changes in brain activity brought about by hallucinogens (e.g. decreased oscillatory activity, blood flow and network integrity); however, it is important to note that disinhibitory effects have also been observed in certain brain regions.

Before the advent of non-invasive neuroimaging, the only means of recording neuronal activity below the surface of the cortex was to surgically insert wire electrodes deep into target brain tissue. Remarkably, in the 1950s and 60s, under the pretence of research on psychosis, such procedures were carried out in human subjects who were administered hallucinogenic drugs such as mescaline and LSD. Despite the ethically questionable nature of these experiments, they did reveal some interesting clues about the neurobiology of the hallucinatory state. Specifically, phasic discharges in medial temporal lobe (MTL) circuitry (i.e. the hippocampus, amygdala and septal nuclei) appeared in recordings during periods of marked hallucinosis, while the more familiar cortical desynchrony associated with hallucinogens was also present (Monroe & Heath, 1961; Schwarz et al., 1956). Intriguingly, a similar cortical/MTL dichotomy has been observed in rodents administered a DMT-like compound (Riga et al., 2014) and in our fMRI research with psilocybin. Specifically, in our psilocybin studies, in addition to decreased blood flow, oscillatory activity and network integrity in the cortex, we also observed an increase in the amplitude of low-frequency signal fluctuations in the hippocampus and parahippocampus (Carhart-Harris et al., 2014). Increased medial temporal lobe activity is a major characteristic of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which is strongly correlated with dreaming (Aserinsky & Kleitman, 1953), and the increases in hippocampal activity detected in our own analyses correlated positively with volunteers’ ratings of the dreamlike quality of their experiences (Carhart-Harris & Nutt, 2014). LSD given just before waking or during sleep has been found to promote REM sleep and dreaming (Carhart-Harris & Nutt, 2014; Muzio et al., 1966), and with eyes-closed, the hallucinogenic state has often been compared to dreaming (Carhart-Harris & Nutt, 2014).

Electrical stimulation of the medial temporal lobe circuitry has long been known to produce complex dreamlike visions of a similar sort to those associated with dreaming and the hallucinogenic drug state, and direct stimulations of the parahippocampal face and place sensitive regions have recently been found to produce visual distortions/hallucinations such as ‘melting’ faces and visions of complex scenes (Megevand et al., 2014), similar in many respects to reports of hallucinogen-induced visual hallucinations. Thus, it makes sense to look more closely at changes in the activity and network behaviour of the MTL structures in the future, as well as the relationship between REM sleep dreaming and the hallucinogenic drug state, in order to develop our understanding of the neurobiology of 
the hallucinatory state. 

Finding the self by losing the self

One of the most common yet abstract experiences described in relation to the hallucinogenic drug state is a disintegration or dissolution of the self or ego. Such an experience is difficult to fathom from the vantage of normal waking consciousness, where an integrated sense of self is felt as pervasive and permanent. It is perhaps not surprising therefore that the experience of ego-disintegration is described as profoundly disconcerting and unusual (Griffiths et al., 2006). Classic accounts of so-called ‘mystical’ or ‘spiritual’ experiences have placed emphasis on the necessity for self or ego disintegration for their occurrence (James & Bradley, 2012). Thus, in order to investigate the neurobiological basis of ego-disintegration and mystical-type experiences, it is useful to first examine the neural correlates of self-awareness.

Evidence has accumulated in recent years highlighting a relationship between a particular brain system and so-called ‘ego functions’ such as self-reflection (Carhart-Harris & Friston, 2010). This network is referred to as the ‘default mode network’ because it has a high level of ongoing activity that is only suspended or interrupted when one’s attention is taken up by something specific in the immediate environment, such as a cognitive task (Raichle et al., 2001). 
It was a matter of great intrigue to us therefore that we observed a marked decrease in brain activity in the default mode network under psilocybin (Carhart-Harris et al., 2012) whilst participants described experiences such as: ‘Real ego-death stuff! I only existed as an idea or concept… I felt as though I was kneeling before God!’ 

To scrutinise this phenomenon further, we looked at correlations between decreases in oscillatory activity in a certain frequency band (i.e. ‘alpha’), in a certain part of the default mode network (the posterior cingulate cortex, PCC – the major cortical hub) and ratings of ‘ego-disintegration’ post-psilocybin.

In what is perhaps our most intriguing and potentially important finding on the neurobiology of the hallucinogenic drug state to date, we found a highly significant correlation between the magnitude of decreases in oscillatory activity in the PCC and reports of ego-disintegration (Carhart-Harris et al., 2014; Muthukumaraswamy et al., 2013). Thus, those participants that showed the most dramatic collapses in rhythmic activity in their PCCs reported the most extreme ego-disintegration. Adding to the intrigue, alpha oscillations develop to a maximal level in mature adult humans and have been hypothesised to be a marker or ‘signature’ of high-level human consciousness (Basar & Guntekin, 2009). Could PCC alpha rhythms be critical for the development and maintenance of one’s sense of self, and if ‘yes’, what specific functions do they subserve? These are important questions for future research. 

So, stimulation of the serotonin 2A receptor disrupts coupling between the firing of certain cells types and the rhythmic oscillations of larger populations of neurons in the cortex. Hallucinogens have a disorganising influence on cortical activity which permits the brain to operate in a freer, less constrained manner than usual.

These are exciting times, with much still to learn. Unfortunately, this research is unusually difficult to conduct, being fraught with regulatory obstacles and other challenges. However, in the inspiring words of John F. Kennedy about another endeavour that was ultimately accomplished almost half a century ago: ‘We choose to do these things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.’

Robin Carhart-Harris is a postdoctoral researcher at Imperial College London 

Mendel Kaelen is a PhD student at Imperial College London

David Nutt is Professor of Neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London




Cultures of chemically induced hallucinations

Drug-induced hallucinations are often discussed as if they can be entirely understood in terms of their chemical action in the brain. But the social role of hallucinogens varies greatly between cultures, and, conversely, culture has a large effect on hallucinogenic experiences and their significance. As a result, hallucination-producing psychoactive substances can only be fully understood by understanding their interaction with social context which has differed throughout history and across the world.

Traditionally, discussions of culture and mind-altering drugs focus on remote peoples and exotic locations, but it is worth starting by underlining how unusual our own culture is in terms of its acceptance and use of hallucinogenic substances.

In the history of Britain, hallucinogens have had a remarkably minor role in the social fabric of society. This is despite the fact that hallucinogenic plants are common and widespread throughout the country. Perhaps the most striking historical absence is the seeming unawareness of the effects of the ‘magic mushroom’ (Psilocybe semilanceata) until 1799. This first report was written by the physician Everard Brande in an article for The London Medical and Physical Journal after he was called to treat a family who had been acting strangely after inadvertently picking the mushrooms for their breakfast stew in London’s Green Park. Before then, it seemed these common fungi were considered as nothing more than uninteresting and inedible brown pests. Even more surprising is the fact that first record of our native psilocybin mushrooms being intentionally used for their effects, rather than being detected as cases of accidental poisonings,was not until 1970 (Letcher, 2007). In contrast, pre-Columbian societies of Central America used psylocybin mushrooms as a central part of religious practice and based significant parts of their culture around them, probably for several thousand years (Borhegyi, 1961).

The other grouping of hallucinogenic plants native to the British Isles include species from the Solanaceae family (including deadly nightshade, mandrake and henbane) and the fly agaric mushroom (Amanita muscaria). These are probably better described as deliriants rather than psychedelics, as they cause a marked confusion and clouding of consciousness due to their effect on the acetylcholine neurotransmitter system. Although the plants’ medicinal value as a sedative has been known for millennia, the hallucinatory effects have generally been seen in negative terms (Müller, 1998). In Britain the plants were largely associated with poison, enchantment and witchcraft and made up part of witches’ ‘flying ointment’. This consisted of a mix of nightshade plants, grease and sundry ingredients, which was applied to the genitals and upper thighs using an applicator, likely a chair or broomstick. The effects included trance and hallucinations of flying and, according  to their accusers, the experience of ‘cavorting with devils’ (Holzman, 1998). This was possibly the basis for the ‘witch on flying broomstick’ legend.

It wasn’t until the Victorian era that drug-induced hallucinations were treated as a general source of curiosity in Britain.The advancement of anaesthesia led to experiments with substances like ether and laughing gas, while the Romantics discussed their opium-induced visions and the glimmerings of early psychedelic research began as investigators in the New World began to take interest in the local flora – psychologist William James’s experimentation with the hallucinogenic peyote cactus perhaps being the most famous example. Nevertheless, from the perspective of many other cultures, Britain, and many of the countries where mainstream culture stems from British colonisation, must seem like places with a rather stark history of cultural lack of interest, if not active hostility, to hallucinogenic substances.

In contrast, there are many societies that have hallucinogenic substances as an integrated part of their culture and where they have a markedly different social significance. The Americas, and particularly the Amazon, are the global ground zero for hallucinogen-using cultures, not least due to the massive and diverse range of hallucinogenic substances that can be found within the flora and fauna of the region.

Grouped psychopharmacologically, three of most significant substances alter the serotinergic system and lead to broadly LSD-like effects: these include the ayahuasca brew (principal active ingredient: dimethyltryptamine or DMT), peyote and related hallucinogenic cacti (principal active ingredient: mescaline) and a range of hallucinogenic fungi (principal active ingredient: psilocybin).

Ayahuasca or yagé is one of the most well-known to anthropologists and is consumed by indigenous peoples throughout the Amazon and northern South America. It is made from a combination of the Banisteriopsis caapi vine and a locally sourced plant (often one of the Psychotria genus) that has high levels of DMT. Psychotria is ineffective when eaten on its own because DMT is naturally broken down by enzymes in the stomach, but when combined with Banisteriopsis caapi the active ingredient passes into the blood stream due to the high level of monoamine oxidase inhibitor in the vine.

However, a significant quantity needs to be consumed orally as ayahuasca induces forceful vomiting, meaning several drinking/vomiting cycles are usually necessary to obtain the required dose.

The typical Western account of why ayahuasca is consumed usually focuses on ‘getting in contact with the spirit world’, but this fails to capture either the cultural worldviews in which ayahuasca consumption is situated or the motivations behind the ceremonies. The first thing to note is that Amazonian people can differ greatly in how they understand reality in relation to themselves. For example, the Cashinahua, Siona, and Schuar peoples all use ayahuasca as a tool for revelation but differ markedly in how they understand the experiences it produces. The Cashinahua understand ayahuasca  as causing hallucinations that provide guidance (Kensinger, 1973), the Siona believe that it allows access to an alternative reality (Langdon, 1979), while the Schuar take all normal human experience to be a hallucination and take ayahuasca as a way of accessing true reality (Obiols-Llandrich, 2009). These different views of reality clearly have an impact on how any hallucinogenic drug would be understood.

The perceived causal link between reality and consciousness also plays a part in how the experiences are integrated into everyday life. Although ayahuasca rituals are often considered to facilitate ‘healing’ in a way we would understand it (ameliorating a specific state of bodily distress or disability, albeit by tackling one or more ‘predatory spiritual beings’ thought to be responsible for the malady: Langdon, 2007), the therapeutic process can extend to addressing problems of many different sorts. Among the Aguaruna of Peru, people take ayahuasca not just to understand the future, but to shape it through conscious control over the ‘vision of future possibilities’ (Brown, 1985). From this worldview, ayahuasca is a tool for practical problem solving rather just a way of gaining ‘philosophical’ insights that one applies in daily life, as spiritual revelation is often considered in our culture.

The implications of this are that any suggestion that the drug puts users ‘out of touch with reality’ would be widely rejected by indigenous users who see it as doing exactly the reverse. Similarly, discussing the effects of ayahuasca in terms of causing you to ‘see things that are not really there’ with the Schuar people is only likely to get you looks of bewilderment, while suggesting that the substance is purely ‘recreational’ or even ‘damaging to society’ is more likely to cause incredulous offence.

Hallucinogenic substances may also be valued for effects that extend beyond perceptual distortion. Indigenous Australians from Central Australia use the drug pituri of which a major ingredient consists of leaves of the corkwood tree. These contain both nicotine and scopolamine – the latter also being a potent anticholinergic drug which is also common in the Solanaceae (nightshade) family of plants. As well as having the capacity to induce hallucinations, pituri also acts as an anaesthetic, which is likely why it is used during male initiation ceremonies where adolescent males are circumcised and subincised –
a procedure were the penis is ‘split open’ from below (de Rios & Stachalek, 1999). Interestingly, the drug is also thought to increase suggestibility, allowing the inception of key cultural norms transmitted during the ceremony that presumably might otherwise get missed due to distraction.

In many cultures there is also a wider association with hallucinogenic substances as a whole, relating to a common connection between altered states of consciousness and healing (Field, 1999). Anthropological studies have found this association across a number of traditional cultures where methods including drugs, physiological stress (e.g. fasting), intense sensory experiences and group ritual (e.g. chanting and dance) can lead to marked alterations in conscious experience, which are generally associated with their curative function due to the pleasurable and social bonding aspects of the experience (Shaara & Strathern, 1992).

This is not always the case, however, and here the line between ‘hallucinogenic’ and ‘non-hallucinogenic’ substances can become blurred – such as with the use of red harvester ants (Pogonomyrmex) by the Kitanemuk, the indigenous people of California. Red harvester ants have the most toxic venom by weight of any recorded insect and are known for their painful sting. The Kitanemuk initiation ritual ceremony involves swallowing balls of live harvester ants to the point where the initiate loses signs of consciousness and has intense visions for the purpose of acquiring a ‘dream helper’ (Groark, 2001). As harvester ant venom is not known to have any directly psychoactive compounds within it (Hoffman, 2010), it is probable that a significant part of the visionary experience comes from its effects as a toxin and the ‘sensory overload’ from pain.

Although there are clearly similarities between individuals’ experiences with specific drugs due to the psychopharmacology of the substance (e.g. the experience of geometric patterns likely generated by destabilisation of edge-detecting neurons in the primary visual cortex: Bressloff et al., 2001), there is also a huge role for culture in terms of the shaping the hallucinogenic experience through expectation and interpretation. This may be through shared cultural beliefs or through the intervention of specific designated people within the culture – such as a shaman or medicine man who is often involved in giving personalised interpretations that go beyond lay understanding. However, this cultural shaping is not reserved to spiritual or religious contexts and it applies as much to our own drug culture as to the practices of isolated indigenous groups.

In Howard Becker’s classic study ‘Becoming a marihuana user’ (Becker, 1953) he describes how cannabis initiates have to take on both the practice of smoking and the psychological framing of the experience to learn how to ‘get high’. This involves learning how to smoke in a way that will lead to efficient intoxication (e.g. holding smoke for longer in the lungs than you would with cigarettes), as well as learning to recognise the effects, connecting them with drug use, and learning to enjoy the perceived sensations. For example, many aspects of hallucinogenic drug use are not in themselves enjoyable – like the experience of visual trails after perceived motion – but can become so when incorporated into the concept of a ‘good trip’. This is related to Zinberg’s (1986) concept of the importance of getting the ‘set and setting’ right for successful psychedelic drug use with ‘set’ referring to the drug-taker’s mental state and ‘setting’ referring to the environment in which the drug is consumed.

However, since Becker’s study, hallucinogenic drugs have become more mainstream to the point where novice users are likely to bring a range of expectations and beliefs about what it means to ‘get stoned’ to their first try – meaning an experience that was usually framed through social initiation is now much more determined by cultural transmission through mass media (Sandberg, 2013). It is worth noting that it is not just the ‘established media’ that has a tendency to present drugs in terms of the orthodox ‘harms and dangers’ narrative. A recent study looked at some of the many YouTube videos created to document trips on the traditional ceremonial plant of the indigenous Mazatec of Mexico, Salvia divinorum, which is now widely marketed as a ‘legal high’ (Lange et al., 2010). Viewing the effects on other people is likely to shape expectations and, therefore, the experience of the drug, although the fact that these videos are almost entirely by suburban youth wanting to get ‘messed up’ means that they are likely to be no more narrow in their representations than mainstream media. Nevertheless, non-mainstream media websites such as Erowid and Bluelight are specifically designed for users to share both verified scientific and health information as well as folk knowledge about the taking and effects of drugs and do aim for a wider representation of effects.

It is worth noting that this same interaction between culturally derived expectations and experiences also happens with hallucinations associated with psychosis (Luhrmann, 2011). But while hallucinogenic drugs have long been considered for their use as pharmacological models of psychosis, their use as a model of how psychosis-like experiences are culturally moderated has never been explored, and this area may be ready for research.

Although there are clear differences with regard to the acceptance and significance of hallucinogenic drugs between societies, the effects of these substances for the individual can only be fully understood by placing them within the cultural context in which the individual lives. In this sense, all experiences with hallucinogenic drugs emerge from an interaction of psychopharmacology, individual psychology and culture.

by Vaughan Bell
King’s College London, Institute of Psychiatry


Looking back: a brief history of psychedelic psychiatry

On 5 May 1953 the novelist Aldous Huxley dissolved four-tenths of a gram of mescaline in a glass of water, drank it, then sat back and waited for the drug to take effect. Huxley consumed the drug in his California home under the direct supervision of psychiatrist Humphry Osmond, to whom Huxley had volunteered himself as a willing and eager guinea pig’. Osmond was one of a small group of psychiatrists who pioneered the use of LSD as a treatment for alcoholism and various mental disorders in the early 1950s. He coined the term psychedelic, meaning ‘mind manifesting’ and although his research into the therapeutic potential of LSD produced promising initial results, it was abruptly halted in the following decade as part of the backlash against the hippy counterculture.  

Osmond was born in Surrey in 1917, and studied medicine at Guy’s Hospital, London. He served in the Royal Navy as a ship’s psychiatrist during World War II, and afterwards worked in the psychiatric unit at St George’s Hospital, London, where he became a senior registrar. While at St George’s, Osmond and his colleague John Smythies learned about Albert Hoffman’s synthesis of LSD at the Sandoz Pharmaceutical Company in Basle, Switzerland. Osmond and Smythies started their own investigation into the properties of hallucinogens and observed that mescaline produced effects similar to the symptoms of schizophrenia, and that its chemical structure was very similar to that of the hormone and neurotransmitter adrenaline. This led them to postulate that schizophrenia was caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. These ideas were not favourably received by their colleagues.

In 1951 Osmond took a post as deputy director of psychiatry at the Weyburn Mental Hospital in Saskatchewan, Canada and moved there with his family. Within a year, he began collaborating on experiments using LSD with Albert Hoffer. Osmond conducted experiments on himself with LSD and concluded that the drug could produce profound changes in consciousness. Osmond and Hoffer also recruited volunteers to take LSD and theorised that the drug was capable of inducing a new level of self-awareness that may have enormous therapeutic potential.

In 1953 they began giving LSD to their patients, starting with some of those diagnosed with alcoholism. Their first study involved two alcoholic patients, each of whom was given a single 200-milligram dose of the drug. One of them stopped drinking immediately after the experiment, whereas the other stopped six months later. Several years later, a colleague named Colin Smith treated another 24 patients with LSD, and subsequently reported that 12 of them had either ‘improved’ or ‘well improved’ as a result of the treatment. ‘The impression was gained that the drugs are a useful adjunct to psychotherapy,’ Smith wrote in a 1958 paper describing the study. ‘The results appear sufficiently encouraging to merit more extensive, and preferably controlled, trials.’ 

Osmond and Hoffer were encouraged, and continued to administer the drug to alcoholics. By the end of the 1960s, they had treated approximately 2000 patients. Osmond and Hoffer claimed that the Saskatchewan trials consistently produced the same results – their studies seemed to show that a single large dose of LSD could be an effective treatment for alcoholism, and reported that between 40 and 45 per cent of their patients given the drug had not experienced a relapse after a year.

At around the same time another psychiatrist was carrying out similar experiments in the UK. Ronald Sandison was born in Shetland and won a scholarship to study medicine at King’s College Hospital. In 1951 he accepted a consultant’s post at Powick Hospital near Worcester, but upon taking the position found the establishment to be overcrowded and decrepit, with patients being subjected to electroshock treatment and lobotomies. Sandison introduced the use of psychotherapy, and other forms of therapy involving art and music. In 1952 he visited Switzerland where he also met Albert Hoffman, and was introduced to the idea of using LSD in the clinic. He returned to the UK with 100 vials of the drug – which Sandoz had by then named ‘Delysid’ – and, after discussing the matter with his colleagues, began treating patients with it (in addition to psychotherapy) towards the end of 1952. Sandison and his colleagues obtained results similar to those of the Saskatchewan trials. In 1954 they reported that ‘as a result of LSD therapy, 14 patients recovered (av. of 10.4 treatments)…1 was greatly improved (3 treatments), 6 were moderately improved (av. of 2 treatments) and 2 not improved (av. of 5 treatments).’ 

These results drew great interest from the international mass media, and as a result, Sandison opened the world’s first purpose-built LSD therapy clinic the following year. The unit, located on the grounds of Powick Hospital, accommodated up to five patients who could receive LSD therapy simultaneously. Each was given their own room, equipped with a chair, sofa, and record player. Patients also came together to discuss their experiences in daily group sessions. (This all  backfired later, however. In 2002 the National Health Service agreed to pay a total of £195,000 in an out-of-court settlement to 43 former psychiatric patients whom Sandison had treated.)

Meanwhile in Canada Osmond’s form of LSD therapy was endorsed by the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous and the director of Saskatchewan’s Bureau on Alcoholism. LSD therapy peaked in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and was widely considered to be ‘the next big thing’ in psychiatry, which could supersede electroconvulsive therapy and psychosurgery. At one point, it was popular among Hollywood superstars, such as Cary Grant.  

Two forms of LSD therapy became popular. One, called psychedelic therapy, was based on Osmond and Hoffer’s work, and involved a single large dose of LSD alongside psychotherapy. Osmond and Hoffer believed that hallucinogens are beneficial therapeutically because of their ability to make patients view their condition from a fresh perspective. The other, called psycholytic therapy, was based on Sandison’s regime of several smaller doses, increasing in size, as an adjunct to psychoanalysis. Sandison’s clinical observations led him to believe that LSD can aid psychotherapy by inducing dream-like hallucinations that reflected the patient’s unconscious mind and enabling them to relive long-lost memories.

Between the years of 1950 and 1965, some 40,000 patients had been prescribed one form of LSD therapy or another as treatment for neurosis, schizophrenia and psychopathy. It was even prescribed to children with autism. Research into the potential therapeutic effects of LSD and other hallucinogens had produced over 1000 scientific papers and six international conferences. But many of these early studies weren’t particularly robust, lacking control groups, for example, and likely suffered from what researchers call publication bias, whereby negative data are excluded from the final analyses.

Even so, the preliminary findings seemed to warrant further research into the therapeutic benefits of hallucinogenic drugs. The research soon came to an abrupt halt, however, mostly for political reasons. In 1962 the US Congress passed new drug safety regulations, and the Food and Drug Administration designated LSD as an experimental drug and began to clamp down on research into its effects. The following year, LSD hit the streets in the form of liquid soaked onto sugar cubes; its popularity grew quickly and the hippy counterculture was in full swing by the summer of 1967. During this period, LSD increasingly came to be viewed as a drug of abuse. It also became closely associated with student riots and anti-war demonstrations, and thus was outlawed by the US federal government in 1968. Osmond and Hoffer responded to this new legislation by commenting that ‘it seems apt that there is now an outburst of resentment against some chemicals which can rapidly throw a man either into heaven or hell’. However, they also criticised the legislation, comparing it to the Victorian reaction to anaesthetics.

The 1990s saw a renewed interest in the neurobiological effects and therapeutic potential and hallucinogenic drugs. We now understand how many of them work at the molecular level, and several research groups have been performing brain-scanning experiments to try to learn more about how they exert their effects. A number of clinical trials are also being performed to test the potential benefits of psilocybin, ketamine and MDMA to patients with depression and various other mood disorders. Their use is still severely restricted, however, leading some to criticise drug laws, which they argue are preventing vital research.

Huxley believed that hallucinogenic drugs produce their characteristic effects by opening a ‘reducing valve’ in the brain that normally limits our perception, and some of the new research seems to confirm this. In 1963, when he was dying of cancer, Huxley famously asked his wife to inject him with LSD on his deathbed. In this, too, it seems that he was prescient. Several small trials suggest that ketamine can effectively alleviate depression and anxiety in terminally ill cancer patients and, more recently, the first American study to use LSD in more than 40 years concluded that it, too, reduces anxiety in patients with life-threatening diseases.

Eventually, allowing researchers to investigate these drugs could not only reveal their true therapeutic potential, but could also help them to gain a better understanding of how they produce their effects, and of how the brain works.

Mo Costandi trained as a neuroscientist and now works as a freelance science writer


Eye on fiction: heavenly and hellish - writers on hallucinogens

Novelists and poets are forever exploring alternatives to normal perceptions and everyday consciousness. From the heavenly mescaline voyages of British intellectuals like Aldous Huxley to the nightmarish psychedelic visions of William S. Burroughs, writers influenced by hallucinogens have wrestled with both angels and demons. Alcoholism has traditionally been the writers’ black lung disease, but the advent of interest in hallucinogenic drugs among mid-19th-century writers highlighted a growing visionary impulse in fiction, calling into question previous forms of literary expression.

For the early Romantic poets like Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth, the lifestyle of the intoxicated bard required laudanum and alcohol as pilot lights of the imagination. In 1822 Thomas De Quincey, the Timothy Leary of his day, published his own ode to opium, Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, and was roundly blamed for a rise in recreational drug use in England. One critic objected less to laudanum use than to what he called the author’s ‘habit of diseased introspection’ (Shaffer, 2013).

Hallucinogenic plants first came under the modern spotlight in the mid-1800s as botanists and ethnologists expanded their knowledge. Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland (1865), was written by an author who was familiar with English botanist Mordecai Cooke’s early text (1860/2012) on psychoactive mushrooms and their effects. Psychiatrist and romance writer S. Weir Mitchell, who penned an account of peyote in 1896, gave some peyote buttons to the godfather of psychology, William James. British psychologist Havelock Ellis wrote articles about his own experiences with peyote, noting in particular ‘the more delicate phenomena of light and shade and color’ (Ellis, 1898). Ellis, in turn, passed some buttons to William Butler Yeats, but Yeats later reported that he preferred hashish.

The visionary landscape 
In 1932 Aldous Huxley published Brave New World, with its all-purpose control drug, Soma, and by book’s end, it is abundantly clear that Huxley’s Shakespearean title is an ironic counterpoint to his satirical dystopia.

But by the 1950s, with his essays Doors of Perception (1954) and Heaven and Hell (1956), something had changed. That something was mescaline, the synthesised version of peyote, followed shortly by LSD, which both became available to adventurous writers, intellectuals and therapists. Huxley described Heaven and Hell as ‘a long essay… about visionary experience and its relation to art and the traditional conceptions of the Other World. It springs of course from the mescalin experience, which has thrown, I find, a great deal of light on all kinds of things’ (Horowitz & Palmer, 1999).

The essential nature of the mescaline experience, for Huxley, was an experience ‘just of light, of everything flooded with light… a kind of luminous living geometry’ (Horowitz & Palmer, 1999). As Charles Fernyhough noted in his June 2006 essay for The Psychologist, there is ‘the idea of mind as an optic, through which experience is projected, more or less accurately, into the internal theatre’. But the optical theatre, for writers who had experienced hallucinogens, bore little resemblance to the everyday sensorium.

With mescaline and LSD, light, colour, and the significance of ordinary physical objects were all dramatically altered and intensified. In his seminal work, Mescal and Mechanisms of Hallucinations German psychologist Heinrich Kluver (1928/1969) showed that the visions produced by peyote, though unique to the individual, were also part of a characteristic family of visual patterns that remained relatively constant. Huxley characterised these visual effects and common geometric themes as glimpses into the ‘other world’. Milton’s Paradise Lost was Huxley’s touchstone: ‘The mind is its own place, and in itself/Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.’ (For Allen Ginsberg, on LSD, the Heaven and Hell came from William Blake).
The poet and novelist Robert Graves saw in hallucinogens not just otherworldly colours and patterns, both fiendish and divine, but also the key to world mythologies. On mushrooms, Graves reported experiencing the world of Gilgamesh and ancient Babylon (Graves, 1957). And in Huxley’s final novel, Island (1962), the drug of choice is moksha, Sanskrit for liberation, and bearing a strong resemblance to LSD. While Soma had represented the repressive chains of the body, the ceding over of personal agency – ’downward transcendence’, in the author’s memorable phrase – moksha represents the visionary experience of education and enlightenment. The Islanders take moksha, a psychedelic mushroom, and ‘for a little while, thanks to the moksha-medicine, you will know what it’s like to be what in fact you are, what in fact you always have been’.

Huxley’s mescaline books were also a profound influence on a coterie of California-based writers and psychiatrists, including famed nutritionist Adelle Davis, who chronicled her LSD voyages in her 1961 book, Exploring Inner Space, under the pen name Jane Dunlap. Novelist and diarist Anais Nin captured the essence of her own experiments with LSD in this memorable description: The music vibrated through my body as if I were one of the instruments and I felt myself becoming a full percussion orchestra, becoming green, blue, orange. The waves of  the sounds ran through my hair like a caress. The music ran down my back and came out of my fingertips.
I was a cascade of red-blue rainfall, a rainbow. I was small, light, mobile.
 (Nin, 1975)

Huxley once complained that ‘the only people who don’t get anything from LSD or mescalin are psycho-analysts’. He wrote to a relative: ‘Some of the compassion and some of the gratitude remain, even after the experience is over. One can never be quite the same again…’ (Horowitz & Palmer, 1999).

The imaginal realm 
Nonetheless, even Huxley admitted that ‘there is a minority that finds in the drug only hell or purgatory’ (Huxley, 1954). Jean-Paul Sartre tried mescaline, and according to his companion Simone de Beauvoir, had a very bad trip: ‘The objects he looked at changed their appearance in the most horrifying manner: umbrellas had become vultures, shoes turned into skeletons, and faces acquired monstrous characteristics…’ (Boon, 2002). (American Indians said that peyote took them to heaven, but white missionaries said with equal assurance that it offered them only a glimpse of hell.)

William Burroughs and the Beat writers of the 1950s and 60s reconfigured the psychedelic landscape by moving hallucinogens out of the drawing room and into the streets, pursuing their organic roots in the third world. Burroughs and poet Allen Ginsberg took peyote in Mexico and yage in South America. Junky describes Burroughs’s peyote experiences, and portions of Ginsberg’s epic poem Howl were written under the influence of peyote. Ginsberg also wrote a poem while on LSD given to him by anthropologist Gregory Bateson, but noted that the act of writing a poem distracted him from the essential hallucinogenic experience (Boon, 2002).

Burroughs wrote portions of Naked Lunch (1959) under the influence of yage, or ayahuasca, the DMT-containing hallucinogenic brew concocted in South America: ‘New races as yet unconceived and unborn, combinations not yet realized pass through your body. Migrations, incredible journeys through deserts and jungles and mountains…. The Composite City where all human potentials are spread out in a vast silent market’. But in the end, Burroughs came to dislike hallucinogens and distrust beatific visions, warning in his 1964 novel Nova Express: ‘Their Garden of Delights is a terminal sewer…’ and ‘…learn to make it without any chemical corn’.

As Huxley had done, Ginsberg advised Harvard’s Timothy Leary to give LSD to artists and poets, who would then articulate the experience for others. Leary made good on the idea, managing to give LSD to Jack Kerouac (who came up with the classic psychedelic observation, ‘walking on water wasn’t built in a day’), the poets Robert Lowell and Charles Olson, as well as writers Paul Bowles and Arthur Koestler. With the shift from mescaline to widely available LSD, the spotlight also shifted from a focus on vision to a focus on metaphysics and pure mentality. Along with this came a shift from the literary (contemplative) mode to the non-literary (experiential) mode. The experience of hallucinogens was now depicted through other forms of expression, primarily music, and writers faced a dilemma. LSD became a mass cultural experience in the 1960s; it was no longer necessary to read imaginative literary descriptions to know what LSD was like. The alterations of light, the synaesthesia, the geometric forms pregnant with meaning, could all be approximated with strobes, black lights, body paint, and electronic forms of music. The psychedelic rock-and-roll posters of 1960s San Francisco and R. Crumb’s comic books demonstrated where some of the depictions of psychedelia had surfaced, and how these depictions were often shading toward a darker experience.

We began this survey with the garden of visual delights described by Havelock Ellis, Aldous Huxley, and others: A heavenly mental experience, something ineffable and extremely valuable. With the work of William S. Burroughs and Hunter S. Thompson, fictional depictions of the hallucinogenic landscape morphed into terrifying forms, horrific visions, experiences of death, bouts of madness. The warped tour of America offered up by Hunter S. Thompson in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1971), the Dantesque grotesques he encounters at Circus Circus while on acid, represent the hell that results when the American Dream becomes permanently inverted in the funhouse mirror.

Here novelist Ken Kesey enters the picture, as the last of the classic psychedelic writers; a balancing act between the illusion-shattering insights of acid, and the bleak paranoia it could produce. For One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1962), Kesey has admitted that the first several pages of the book – Chief Bromden’s opening monologue – were written under the influence of peyote. LSD and mescaline ‘gave me a different perspective on the people in the mental hospital’, he told Paris Review. Like other writers, including Huxley, he claimed it was ‘impossible for me to write on LSD – there are more important things to think about’. For his novel Sometimes a Great Notion (1964), excerpted below, ‘there were also some sections written when I was taking mushrooms. Again, the effect is more on mood and voice than on vision.’ …the actual river falls five hundred feet… and look: opens out upon the fields. Metallic at first, seen from the highway down through the trees, like an aluminum rainbow, like a slice of alloy moon. Closer, becoming organic, a vast smile of water with broken and rotting pilings jagged along both gums, foam clinging to the lips… A river smooth and seeming calm, hiding the cruel file-edge of its current beneath a smooth and calm-seeming surface.

Another memorable modern effort  that flew under the radar was Rudolph Wurlitzer’s experimental novel Nog (1968), described by Atlantic Monthly as effectively replicating ‘the slight and continuous dissociation of reality… normally achieved by using soft drugs to tinker with the nervous system’.

Intoxicated bards 
We have not even had time to deal with science fiction’s psychedelic corner, where Frank Herbert’s drug-laden Dune (1965) looms large, and the prolific Philip K. Dick prowls through multiple realities.

What did literary novelists want to bring back from these non-normal reality states? In addition to conveying the experience of visions unseen in the ‘natural’ world, they were also attempting to articulate an essentially non-verbal expression of spirit, or transcendence. Boon refers to this impulse as ‘a restatement of shamanic doctrine: the shaman is taught a secret language by the spirits… Language, in this sense, gives imaginal realms their shape: it is a poetic shaping of the world that occurs at every moment’ (Boon, 2002).

Still, there is no doubting that the literary depiction of hallucinogenic experience has been largely replaced by ethnographic and scientific models based on neurochemistry and cognitive psychology. In the end, there is no unanimity in the fictional depictions: Heaven battles inexorably with Hell. Huxley’s uplifting visionary experiences, which Ken Kesey later tried to resurrect, were overtaken by Naked Lunch and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. And today, after an explosion of new tryptamines and phenethylamines produced like so many Athenas bursting from the head of Alexander Shulgin, there are the newer, untested worlds of spice and bath salt drugs, cannabis and amphetamine creations. We have more new things under the sun than ever before. Fiction has only begun to explore these novel avenues. David David Katzman, in A Greater Monster (2011), moves the enterprise forward:no inside only surface no surface  only nothing no nothing only a black snowflake stripped apart gossamer plumes blowing in an undersea breeze breathing water dissolving oxygen as the cool liquid strokes capillaries porous membrane osmotic foreplay a molecule tumbling through pellucid space a phantom frequency
a beat clicks past the boundless and…

Dirk Hanson is a freelance science writer


Four ways you can see the multiverse

Every time you make a choice, you spawn a multitude of universes, leading to umpteen other yous – some of them living very different lives. This raises a myriad of moral conundrums, from what we owe our other selves to the death of hope.

It sounds like a concept from a philosopher’s fevered imagination, but many physicists believe the multiverse is real. And they’ve got evidence – here are four here are four ways that multiverse may show itself in our everyday world.

1 The wave function

This mathematical entity describes the properties of any quantum system. Such properties –– an atom’s direction of spin, say –– can take several values at once, in what is known as quantum superposition. But when we measure such a property we only get a single value: – in the case of spin, it is either up or down.

In the traditional Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics, the wave function is said to “collapse” when the measurement is taken, but it isn’t clear how this happens. (Schrödinger’s famous cat, neither alive nor dead until someone looks inside its box, illustrates this.) In the multiverse, the wave function never collapses: rather, it describes the property across multiple universes. In this universe, the atom’s spin is up; in another universe, it’s down.

2 Wave-particle duality

In the landmark experiment, photons are were sent one at a time towards a pair of slits, with a phosphorescent screen behind them. Take a measurement at either slit, and you’ll register individual photons passing particle-like through one or the other. But leave the apparatus alone, and an interference pattern will build up on the screen, as if each photon had passed through both slits simultaneously and diffracted at each, like a classical wave.

This dual character has been described as the “central mystery” of quantum mechanics. In the Copenhagen interpretation, it is down to wave function collapse. Left to its own devices, each photon would pass through both slits simultaneously: the measurement at the slit forces it to “choose”. One way to explain the interference pattern through many worlds, by contrast, is that each photon only ever goes through only one slit. – Tthe pattern comes about when a photon interacts with its clone passing through the other slit in a parallel universe.

3 Quantum computing

Though quantum computers are in their infancy, they are in theory incredibly powerful, capable of solving complex problems far faster than any ordinary computer. In the Copenhagen interpretation, this is because the computer is working with entangled “qubits” which can take many more states than the binary states available to the “bits” used by classical computers. In the multiverse interpretation, it’s because it conducts the necessary calculations in many universes at once.

4 Quantum Russian roulette

This amounts to playing the role of Schrödinger’s cat. You’ll need a gun whose firing is controlled by a quantum property, such as an atom’s spin, which has two possible states when measured. If the Copenhagen interpretation is right, you have the familiar 50-50 odds of survival. The more times you “play”, the less likely you are to survive.

If the multiverse is real, on the other hand, there always will be a universe in which “you” are alive, no matter how long you play. What’s more, you might always end up in it, thanks to the exalted status of the “observer” in quantum mechanics. You would just hear a series of clicks as the gun failed to fire every time – and realise you’re immortal. But be warned: even if you can get hold of a quantum gun, physicists have long argued about how this most decisive of experiments would actually work out.

By Rowan Hooper for New Scientist


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