"without the hot air"

Drugs Without the Hot Air: the best book I've ever read on drugs and drug policy, in an expanded new edition

I first read "Drugs Without the Hot Air," David Nutt's astoundingly good book about drug policy back in 2012; in the eight years since, hardly a month has gone by without my thinking about it. Now, there's a new, updated edition, extensively revised, and it's an absolute must-read.

Crowdfunding controlled experiments with long-neglected, promising psychedelics

The War on Drugs hasn't just destroyed cities and families by imprisoning millions while enriching organized crime syndicates: it's also denied millions more access to promising therapies for crippling psychological and physiological ailments. Read the rest

What technologists can do about climate change

Bret Victor complained on Twitter that technologists were wasting their imaginations, energy and talent on things that wouldn't matter after climate change reduced the world to a drowned cinder; his followers pushed back and asked what they, as technologists, could do about climate change. Read the rest

Majority of UK booze-industry revenues come from problem drinkers

69% of the alcohol sold in the UK is sold to "harmful," "hazardous" or "increasing risk" drinkers, accounting for more than 60% of the industry's revenues. The number of alcohol-related hospitalisations in the UK has doubled in the past ten years, to more than 1m/year. Read the rest

Urban Transport Without the Hot Air: confusing the issue with relevant facts!

Steven Melia's Urban Transport Without the Hot Air joins Drugs Without the Hot Air, Sustainable Materials With Both Eyes Open and Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air as a highly readable, evidence-based look at a contentious and politicised area that offers a refreshing dose of facts in a debate dominated by ideology.

I Think You'll Find It's a Bit More Complicated Than That

Over the past decade, pharma-fighting Dr Ben Goldacre has written more than 500,000 words of fearlessly combative science journalism.

10% of Americans have 10 or more alcoholic drinks every day

The eye-popping stat comes from Philip J Cook's 2007 booze-economics book Paying the Tab. Read the rest

First clinical LSD trial in 40 years shows positive results in easing anxiety of dying patients

In Safety and Efficacy of Lysergic Acid Diethylamide-Assisted Psychotherapy for Anxiety Associated With Life-threatening Diseases, a new paper published in The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, a Swiss psychiatrist named Peter Gasser and his colleagues report on the first controlled trial of LSD in forty years. Gasser used LSD therapeutically to treat 12 people nearing the end of their lives, and concluded that their anxiety "went down and stayed down."

Many psychopharmacologists believe that psychedelics such as LSD have therapeutic benefits that could be realized if the strictures on them were loosened. David Nutt, the former UK government drugs czar, called the ban on psychedelics in therapeutic settings "the worst case of scientific censorship since the Catholic Church banned the works of Copernicus and Galileo". He devotes a whole chapter to psychedelics in his brilliant book on drug policy, Drugs Without the Hot Air. If you only read one book about drug policy, read that one.

Gasser's trial is positioned as a major move in the struggle to end the damage the War on Some Drugs has wrought on legitimate medicine. It used a randomized double-blind protocol to dose some dying patients (most with terminal cancer) with LSD as part of an anxiety-reduction strategy. The results were dramatic and positive. In a NYT story, some Gasser's patients relate their experiences with the therapy: Read the rest

David Nutt wants to make non-addictive, safer synth-booze that comes with a sober-up pill

David Nutt is a brilliant psychopharmacologist who once served as the UK's drug czar, until he was ousted for refusing to suppress the data that showed that many legal drugs were as bad or worse for you than illegal drugs, and that the war on drugs was a losing battle that wasn't reducing abuse or crime.

Now he's back in industry, and he's got an awesome idea he's trying to get funded: a tailored variation on alcohol that has exactly the same intoxicating effect but inflicts none of the physical damage of booze, and lets you get instantly, totally sober just by taking an antidote. Read the rest

Bruce Alexander's Rat Park: a ratty paradise that challenges our assumptions about addiction

This article from Garry Tan reminded me of the tremendous work of Bruce K Alexander, a psychology professor who retired from teaching at Simon Fraser University in 2005. I read Alexander's first book, Peaceful Measures: Canada's Way Out of the 'War on Drugs' when it was published in 1990, and it had a profound effect on my outlook and critical thinking about drugs and the way that drug addiction is reported and discussed.

Alexander is well known for his Rat Park experiment, which hypothesized that heroin-addicted lab rats were being driven to drugs by the emisseration of life in a tiny cage, tethered to a heroin-dispensing injection machine. Other experimenters had caged rats with heroin-injecting apparatus and concluded that the rats' compulsive use of the drug proved that their brains had been rewired by addiction ("A rat addicted to heroin is not rebelling against society, is not a victim of socioeconomic circumstances, is not a product of a dysfunctional family, and is not a criminal. The rat's behavior is simply controlled by the action of heroin (actually morphine, to which heroin is converted in the body) on its brain.").

Alexander's Rat Park was a rat's paradise -- spacious, with plenty of intellectual stimulus and other rats to play with. He moved heroin-addicted rats into the park and found that the compulsive behavior abated to the point of disappearance -- in other words, whatever "rewiring" had taken place could be unwired by the improvement of their living conditions.

Alexander's work appears in Drugs Without the Hot Air, one of the best books on drug policy I've ever read, written by former UK drugs czar David Nutt. Read the rest

My most popular book-reviews: Part II (Fall 2012)

As said yesterday, I love reviewing books on Boing Boing. A lifetime spent flogging books has addicted me to the rare pleasure of helping other people fall in love with my favorite books. This week, I'm looking at the past year's most popular book reviews and rounding them up quarter-by-quarter. Here's today's installment, Fall 2012: Read the rest

Former UK drug czar calls banning marijuana and psychedelics "the worst case of scientific censorship since the Catholic Church banned the works of Copernicus and Galileo"

Former UK drug czar David Nutt (and author of the amazing and indispensable Drugs Without the Hot Air) has published a paper in the journal Nature Reviews Neuroscience called "Effects of Schedule I drug laws on neuroscience research and treatment innovation" where he, and his co-authors (Leslie A. King and David E. Nichols) call modern drug policy "the worst case of scientific censorship since the Catholic Church banned the works of Copernicus and Galileo." The Independent summarises the paper:

The paper, which is published to coincide with a conference on scientific research with psychedelics at Imperial College London, points to evidence that cannabis, MDMA and psychedelics such as LSD and psilocybin (the compound found in magic mushrooms) have unexplored medicinal benefits and argues that laws should be updated.

Small clinical studies of MDMA, which was originally used in the USA in the 1970s to improve communication in psychotherapy sessions, suggested that it could play a highly beneficial role in the treatment of PTSD patients. The paper’s authors said the drug could also help with “end of life anxiety” and couples therapy”.

Medical use of marijuana is already legal in 17 US states, and the drug has been shown to have benefits such as anxiety reduction and pain relief. However, Professor Nutt said that UK restrictions had blocked development of therapeutic applications for any of cannabis’ 16 active ingredients.

LSD, meanwhile, was widely researched in the 1950s and 1960s, with more than 1,000 papers investigating outcomes for more than 40,000 patients, with evidence suggesting that the drug might be an effective treatment for alcoholism, before bans on the drug around the world ended further research.

Read the rest

Gift Guide 2012

Welcome to this year's Boing Boing Gift Guide, a piling-high of our most loved stuff from 2012 and beyond. There are books, comics, games, gadgets and much else besides: click the categories at the top to filter what you're most interested in—and add your suggestions and links in the comments.

Drugs: Without the Hot Air, now in the USA!

I wrote last June about Drugs: Without the Hot Air, the best book on drug policy I've read, written by David Nutt, the UK drug czar who was fired because he refused to bow to political pressure to repudiate his own research on the relative harms from illegal drugs and legal activities. Nutt's book has now been published in the USA. As I said in June, this is a book that everyone should read. From my review:

Like the other writers in the series, Nutt is both committed to rigorous, evidence-based policy and to clear, no-nonsense prose that makes complex subjects comprehensible. He begins and ends the book with a look at the irrationality of our present drug policy, recounting a call he had with then-Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, who was furious that he'd compared horseback riding harms to the harms from taking MDMA. Smith says that "you can't compare harms from a legal activity with an illegal activity." When Nutt asks why not, she says, "because one is illegal." When he asks why it is illegal, she says, "Because it is harmful." So he asks, "Don't we need to compare harms to determine if it should be illegal?" And Smith reiterates, "you can't compare harms from a legal activity with an illegal activity." Lather, rinse, repeat, and you'll get our current drugs-policy disaster.

Nutt has been talking about harm reduction and evidence-based policy for drugs policy for years, and he often frames the question by pointing out that alcohol is a terrible killer of addicts and the people around them, and a disaster for society.

Read the rest

Drugs Without the Hot Air: the most sensible book about drugs you'll read this year

Cambridge's UIT Press has established a well-deserved reputation for publishing clear, engaging, evidence-based books on controversial subjects. Titles like Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air and Sustainable Materials - with Both Eyes Open remain two of the best books I've read on the relationship between environmental responsibility, climate, material wealth, science and engineering -- books that profoundly changed the way I understood these subjects.

The latest in this series is Drugs: Without the Hot Air (UK), by David Nutt. If Nutt's name rings a bell, it's because he was fired from his job as UK drugs czar because he refused to support the government's science-free position on the dangers of marijuana, and because he wouldn't repudiate a paper he wrote that compared the harms of taking Ecstasy to the harms of horseback riding (or "equasy").

Like the other writers in the series, Nutt is both committed to rigorous, evidence-based policy and to clear, no-nonsense prose that makes complex subjects comprehensible. He begins and ends the book with a look at the irrationality of our present drug policy, recounting a call he had with then-Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, who was furious that he'd compared horseback riding harms to the harms from taking MDMA. Smith says that "you can't compare harms from a legal activity with an illegal activity." When Nutt asks why not, she says, "because one is illegal." When he asks why it is illegal, she says, "Because it is harmful." So he asks, "Don't we need to compare harms to determine if it should be illegal?" Read the rest

Sustainable Materials: indispensable, impartial popular engineering book on the future of our built and made world

Julian Allwood and Jonathan Cullen's Sustainable Materials - with Both Eyes Open: Future Buildings, Vehicles, Products and Equipment - Made Efficiently and Made with Less New Material is a companion volume to Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air, one of the best books on science, technology and the environment I've ever read.

We review a lot of popular science books around here, but Sustainable Materials (like Sustainable Energy) is a popular engineering text, a rare and wonderful kind of book. Sustainable Materials is an engineer's audit of the materials that our world is made of, the processes by which those materials are extracted, refined, used, recycled and disposed of, and the theoretical and practical efficiencies that we could, as a society, realize.

Allwood and Cullen write about engineering with the elegance of the best pop-science writers -- say, James Gleick or Rebecca Skloot -- but while science is never far from their work, their focus is on engineering. They render lucid and comprehensible the processes and calculations needed to make things and improve things, touching on chemistry, physics, materials science, economics and logistics without slowing down or losing the reader.

The authors quickly demonstrate that any effort to improve the sustainability of our materials usage must focus on steel and aluminum, first because of the prominence of these materials in our construction and fabrication, and second because they are characteristic microcosms of our other material usage, and what works for them will be generalizable to other materials.

From there, the book progresses to a fascinating primer on the processes associated with these metals, from ore to finished product and back through recycling, and the history of efficiency gains in these processes, and the theoretical limits on efficiency at each stage. Read the rest

Guest blogger - Saul Griffith's "Energy Literacy Series"

I'm very happy to introduce our new guest blogger, Saul Griffith. He's a friend and a long time contributor to MAKE, where his Making Trouble column and Howtoons comics are reader favorites. A visit to Saul's workshop is a mind-boggling treat -- home-made bikes, giant kites, modded dune buggies, cheap eyeglass making machines, hand-held human-powered generators, and other wondrous prototype devices are all over the place. He comes closer to being a real-life Professor from Gilligan's Island than anyone I know. Saul was named a McArthur Fellow in 2007.

I'm looking forward to what Saul writes for Boing Boing over the next two weeks. I promise it will be very interesting. -- Mark

I'm guest blogging at Boing Boing! I'm excited, not only because I've long been a fan, but also because you, as readers here, are out there at the edge thinking about the future and how to build it and participate in it.

I'm failing at finishing a book (with my colleague Jim McBride who will hopefully join me in the postings) that we've been writing on climate and energy issues for what seems like forever.  As we are approaching the Copenhagen UN Climate Change conference (http://en.cop15.dk/) on December 7th, I thought I may as well summarize the contents of my book in a 12(ish)-part series here at Boing Boing.  Sadly it already appears the world has given up hope on reaching any sort of agreement on targets at Copenhagen, which is unfortunate, but lucky for me, because the entire book is about how you might choose such a target, and how you would plan appropriate responses, personally, locally, nationally, and globally. Read the rest

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