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Cancer is a brutal disease on both the body and mind. Not only do treatments like chemotherapy take a massive toll, but the emotional side effects can be hard to bear. Depression and anxiety are high among people with cancer, including those in remission. But two new studies offer promising relief through an unlikely source: hallucinogenic drugs.
In two new studies released simultaneously by researchers at New York University and Johns Hopkins, doctors reveal that a single dose of psilocybin—a compound from magic mushrooms—can ease anxiety and depression for up to six months. The results have great potential for people dealing with the fear associated with a cancer diagnosis, but also for people with psychiatric disorders that haven’t responded to traditional treatments like psychotherapy or antidepressants.

The studies, both published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, are accompanied by 11 editorials of support from leaders in psychiatry, including two past presidents of the American Psychiatric Association. “Our results represent the strongest evidence to date of a clinical benefit from psilocybin therapy, with the potential to transform care for patients with cancer-related psychological distress,” says NYU study author Dr. Stephen Ross, director of substance abuse services in the Department of Psychiatry at NYU Langone in a statement.
The NYU Langone Medical Center study involved 29 people who had serious psychological distress, like anxiety or depression, stemming from advanced cancer. (Some were in remission.) Each person received either a capsule of psilocybin or a placebo capsule; in a second session, they were given the pill they hadn’t yet taken. The sessions lasted from four to six hours in a room equipped with music to listen to, a couch and a sleep mask.
People had their own individual experiences with the drug. But the results were remarkable: 60-80% of people in the study reported reductions in their depression and anxiety symptoms that lasted six months after the treatment.
The Johns Hopkins study, which involved 51 adults, had similar results. They each received one large dose of the drug, and six months later, 80% of the people in the trial continued to show decreases in depression and anxiety symptoms. Eighty-three percent of people reported increases in their well-being and life satisfaction, and 67% said the trial was one of the top five most meaningful experiences in their lives.
Several people described experiencing an overwhelming feeling of love while on the drug and felt they had changed immediately. “The feeling of immense love lingered for weeks, and four years later I still feel it at times,” says participant Dinah Bazer, who was experiencing severe anxiety about a possible ovarian cancer recurrence. “My fear and anxiety were completely removed, and they haven’t come back.” (You can read more about Bazer’s experience in her personal essay here).
Lisa Callaghan’s late husband, former TV news director Patrick Mettes, was also in the NYU trial. Mettes eventually died from cancer of the bile ducts, but undergoing the trial gave him a sense of peace, says his wife. “In his trip there was an evolution through all of these stages of emotional development,” says Callaghan. “He was reborn into this place of personal and universal love. He said he felt it all around him, and he felt a sense of forgiveness too.”
The potential therapeutic use of psilocybin has been recognized for years, but strict drug laws implemented 45 years ago stalled research. In the 1950s and 1960s, several teams in the United States studied psychedelic compounds for potential mental disorder treatments. But widespread recreational use of the substances became cause for concern and overshadowed the possible therapeutic benefits. In 1971, psilocybin and other psychedelic compounds were classified as schedule 1 drugs, meaning that the government believes they have high potential for abuse. This classification makes it very difficult for research to continue, despite the fact that experts argue adverse side effects from psilocybin (when used responsibly) are rare.
“I tried to understand how something this big had been buried,” says Ross. Due to these restrictions, Ross says it took the hospital a couple years to get their study off the ground.
Some of the men and women in the studies did experience side effects, like nausea and headaches, but none were severe. It’s unclear precisely how psilocybin works, but the study authors say that the drug may activate parts of the brain that are impacted by serotonin, which can play a role in anxiety, mood and depression.
Significantly more research is needed before psilocybin could be considered as a clinical therapy. The researchers stress that psilocybin in the trials was given in a very controlled environment with multiple investigators present, and that people should not attempt the drug on their own. There’s also some concern that pharmaceutical companies may not see financial incentives in single-dose therapies.
Still, many people in the medical community are hopeful. “We’re excited about finding a medicine that can be helpful to people suffering from conditions not successfully treated by standard treatment,” says Dr. George Greer, medical director of the Heffter Research Institute, which helped fund the studies. “There’s a lot of interest.”



'People are taking safer choices': six alternative artists on today's musical underground

Thurston Moore, The Black Madonna and other underground musicians discuss how the scene continues to mutate – and why quantum physics is where today’s avant garde truly resides

The Black Madonna, DJ and producer

The first time I ever heard of a rave was in a Big Audio Dynamite record, then I saw them on TV. So the second I heard there was a rave in America I was literally out of the window of the place I had been staying. And that was it, I was gone. I barely remember high school. I quit to work in raves full time the second I realised there was another world that you could go to. The idea of living a second life that other people were not aware of was delicious.

I was in the dance underground as it was going through its birth in the US in 1991. We had no road map at all. Now, it’s easy to link that to a better thing than it was; a lot of things that get gilded in nostalgia are actually really shitty. It meant smiling and nodding while women around me were not getting paid. There were a lot of voices that got squashed. There was this “you’re harshing the mellow of the party” if you talk about the fact that there’s a thousand teenage girls here on ecstasy who are not able to give consent.

Dance music is different now. You can only have a total lack of self-awareness once – now, no matter what, there is at least a nominal reference to history in it. It’s also so much bigger now, and there are places I play that are deeply public. The cops know what we’re doing – there’s transparency there, and surely something is lost in that. Having said that, I do still believe that the act of dance music is in fundamental opposition to acts of war and acts of violence. In this world, you can do a lot worse than taking a whole shit-ton of people and having them dance instead of kill each other.

Thurston Moore, guitarist and co-founder of Sonic Youth 


Sonic Youth in London, with Thurston Moore far right, 1987

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 Sonic Youth in London, with Thurston Moore far right, 1987. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo




Underground music, as a genre, was a way to distinguish artists as genuine and hip in distinction to those with commercial ambitions. We first hear about it in the 1960s in connection with the underground press – International Times, OZ, Rolling Stone et al. The underground press was in opposition to capitalism, racism, sexism and, particularly, the daily horrors of the Vietnam conflict. So was underground music, though hardly without conflicts of interest. Most artists defined as “underground” recorded for mainstream record labels like EMI, Warner Bros and Atlantic, and were seemingly inhibited and potentially censored by the social mores held over from earlier, less progressive generations. Artists desiring total freedom of expression could either self-produce or record for like-minded and independent record labels.

Anathema to anyone working within the framework of underground music was the notion of “selling out” – accepting significant sums of money and the promise of recognition through competitive distribution, in exchange for their self-identity being challenged by management and promotion departments. True underground music did not necessitate such trifle, and it remains this way. Contemporary artists have the privilege of history – where working in any context of music production, whether wholly independent or in some negotiation with a mainstream construct, is entirely possible without “selling out”. I called my band Sonic Youth to be emblematic of underground music, where a playful dialogue with the mainstream could incur. The idea was to be all inclusive yet unwaveringly anti-fascist, -sexist, -racist, -war, -violence, -nuclear energy, -guns and anything personified by the current cesspools of the reigning demagogues of human catastrophe.

Penny Rimbaud, co-founder of Crass

Crass pictured at their Dial House base in North Weald, 2000, with Penny Rimbaud far right
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 Crass pictured at their Dial House base in North Weald, 2000, with Penny Rimbaud far right. Photograph: Martin Argles for the Guardian
Essentially, the avant garde is about changing the world. It must be, otherwise it wouldn’t exist. But I always think terms like underground and alternative are a bit disingenuous – a way of pushing stuff to the side. That certainly happened in the punk domain, when you had overtly commercial music being made by people like the Clash and the Pistols, and then you had what was called anarcho-punk, which apparently wasn’t a part of that. Well, actually, Crass – as the creators of the anarcho-punk movement – were outselling most people.
Crass were activists with rock’n’roll pretensions. You can’t really expect rock’n’rollers to have activist pretensions – rock’n’roll is just part of the entertainment industry. The scream doesn’t seem to be coming through musically as much as it might have been doing 40 years ago – punk created a new standard of disrule, which will be hard to beat. But people tend to think nothing’s happening because it’s not happening in music. It’s happening in quantum physics. If you want to read the new avant garde, read quantum physics – scientists are just artists of a different kind.

Holly Herndon, electronic musician

Holly Herndon at the Ace Hotel in London
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 Holly Herndon at the Ace Hotel in London. Photograph: Sarah Lee for the Guardian
In the 90s, underground artists were able to sell hundreds of thousands of records and have their own economic viability, so they could make whatever music they wanted without having to compromise at all. You could have a pretty out-there artist making a middle-class salary, not having to worry about doing brand partnerships or any of that stuff because it was sustained by the public. And that doesn’t exist in the same way. The economics of the situation have shifted so dramatically, it’s like a house on fire.
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When I was in high school, I went to music for ideas and to understand what my identity could be – and I think that’s shifted. I’m not sure music is the place where radical thought is happening any more. I’m interested in the crypto community, people who are interested in radically changing the infrastructure that organises our society. Those kinds of totally out-there ideas and thought processes I don’t really encounter in music quite so much.
Everything is documented and immediately public now, so I don’t feel like people in the underground have the ability to mess up and experiment in the same way they once did, because there’s such scrutiny on people at a really early stage. I’ve had some brutal shows in my life but I needed them to figure out my process, that’s idiosyncratic to me. I see people taking safer choices because they don’t want to fail as they’re being watched from every angle. What you get then is these baby clones, where everyone’s looking really polished but they’re all dressing as each other, and that’s not good for the health of the music community.

Mist, rapper

Rapper Mist
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 ‘I can’t go anywhere without getting noticed’ ... Mist. Photograph: Ashley Verse
The underground scene is basically an A&R system in the streets, which allows the mainstream to know about music. When you make enough noise in the underground scene, the mainstream is bound to hear it. It worked for me through word of mouth – my manager met me through his nephew showing him one of my songs.
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Coming from Birmingham, you’re knocking on the London doors, trying to get on the London radio stations, even the London YouTube channels. SBTV was the first channel outside of Birmingham that I went on. And then the rest just follows: Link Up TV, GRM Daily. Then when you get Fire in the Booth [on BBC 1Xtra], you’re not so underground any more – I can’t go anywhere without getting noticed.
I remember listening to pirate radio growing up, and a lot of the MCs didn’t really get much out of their career. Now with the internet platforms and social media, it’s easy for you to get your music out there for people to listen to it. While I’ve been coming up a lot of social media sites have been coming up as well. Instagram, for instance, wasn’t used as much – when I first started it was just for pictures. Social media plays a big part. I met [producer] Banglez through social media. If I didn’t have it, I don’t know how any of us would have connected with each other.

Dani Filth, frontman of metal band Cradle of Filth

Cradle of Filth in concert at Academy 2, Manchester
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 Cradle of Filth in concert at Academy 2, Manchester earlier this month. Photograph: John Gilleese/REX/Shutterstock
At the time Cradle of Filth started in 1991 you had the onset of grunge, which really killed metal off. It just all became a bit uncool. Grunge was very mainstream, so it drove heavy metal underground, and heavy metal got more extreme. When we began making music, you had to be Don Johnson to own a mobile phone, so people kept in communication via home phone or telephone boxes. And that’s how our underground functioned, by word of mouth and swapping tapes by post. Flyers were very popular. You’d get a thick letter through the post, one tape and the rest would be about a hundred flyers, which you’d then pass on with your next correspondence. At that point I was perpetually drawing fanzine covers to pay for inclusion of the band in fanzines, or just writing letters to penpals and distributors.
I don’t want to sound like an old rocker, but I think people have become a little bit more fickle because of the immediacy of technology. The attention span goes. Metal is exceedingly loyal, but I don’t know how strong people’s commitment to any one band or anything is nowadays.
I have another band called Devilment, and the people I’m in the band with are all from the local music scene in Suffolk. So it’s been like putting your foot back into the waters of the underground. It’s changed quite a bit, I suppose. The metal scene is very crowded because it’s very easy to make music these days as well – after a while, everyone starts sounding the same. When you’ve got thousands and thousands of bands and it’s been going on for 25 years, it’s all going to cross over. The originality is lost.



John Carpenter
On Sunday, Nov. 22, 1987, viewers watching "Doctor Who" on WTTW-TV experienced one of the oddest things ever to cross Chicago televisions: a 90-second hijacking of the airwaves, featuring a person dressed as Max Headroom. This is the Tribune's original report about the prankster, who has never been identified.
An off-color skit starring a bare-bottomed imitator of television character Max Headroom showed up on Chicago-area TV screens Sunday night, evidently the work of a sophisticated video pirate with an unsophisticated sense of humor.
Officials of the Federal Communications Commission were not amused as they searched Monday for clues to the identity of the pirate, who somehow managed to override the signals of two television stations in two hours.
The bizarre 1 1/2-minute skit, which ended with "Max" pulling down his pants and getting paddled with a fly swatter, interrupted a WTTW (Channel 11) broadcast of the British science fiction series "Dr. Who" at 11:10 p.m.








Two hours earlier, the "Max" character made an unauthorized 28-second appearance in the middle of a newscast on WGN (Channel 9), but was zapped by an alert engineer before the imposter could do anything offensive.
Television engineers speculated that the stations had been victimized by a practical joker with an expensive transmitter. They said it would take extremely high-powered equipment to squeeze out the microwave signals that carry the programs from the stations' Northwest Side studios to downtown skyscrapers, where they are retransmitted to television sets throughout the Chicago area.
"You need a significant amount of power to do that," said Robert Strutzel, WGN's director of engineering, who was reluctant to discuss the prank in detail for fear of providing a "how to" guide for others. "The interfering signal has to be quite strong."
"This guy had to have quite a rig," said Larry Inman, chief engineer of an Urbana station, WILL-TV. "Transmitters with Bears game on WGN's newscast. A character wearing a Max Headroom mask gyrated for almost half a minute but did not make audible sounds.





Strutzel said an engineer quickly changed the frequency of the signal that was transmitting the news show to the Hancock building, thus breaking the lock established by the video pirate. Sports reporter Dan Rohn apologized for the interference and continued the sports report.
Two hours later, a "Dr. Who" episode called "Horror of Fang Rock" on Channel 11 was interrupted by wobbling black and white lines.
Then the character in the "Max Headroom" mask appeared and swayed back and forth while saying a number of barely audible words.
Among the words that could be heard were "Chuck Swirsky" (the name of a WGN sportscaster), "TV studio," "great newspaper" and "but it's dirty." "Max" picked up a can of Pepsi-Cola (the real Max Headroom advertises Coca-Cola) and threw it away, then picked up another can and threw it away.
He then put on what looked like a glove.
"Max" bent over, exposed his bare buttocks and was paddled several times by a fly swatter that appeared to be wielded by a woman standing off camera.
"By the time our people began looking into what was going on, it was over," said Anders Yocum, vice president for corporate communications at Channel 11. "Initially, we checked our internal video sources before thinking about something from the outside.
"We've spent most of today figuring out what we can do to prevent this sort of thing in the future, and we believe we will be able to avoid it," he said.
Channel 9 officials said they, too, were studying ways to improve security over their broadcast signal.
The legitimate Max Headroom, a wisecracking, stuttering, computer-generated character, originated on British television in 1985.
His own American prime-time television show, carried on ABC, was canceled earlier this year.
The original story line for the Max character involved a futuristic world dominated by television, where video piracy-such as what occurred Sunday night-was punishable by death.
Video piracy in the U.S. carries a criminal penalty of up to $10,000 in fines and up to one year in prison, an FCC official said.
"We consider this a serious matter," said Maureen Peratino, the FCC's deputy director for public affairs.
She said she was unaware of any previous thefts of a TV station's signal. The most celebrated case of video piracy occurred in April, 1986, when a pirate calling himself "Captain Midnight" intercepted the satellite transmission of Home Box Office, a cable television programmer, and broadcast a message criticizing the company for scrambling its signal to prevent non-subscribers from receiving it on privately owned satellite dishes.
Captain Midnight later was identified as John R. MacDougall, a satellite dish salesman from Ocala, Fla. He was fined $5,000 and sentenced to a year's probation.
In October, 1985, an electronic bandit overpowered the signal of the popular Wally Phillips show on WGN-AM radio and made sexually explicit comments.

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