I’m reading (listening to, actually) Why Buddhism is True by Robert Wright, a visiting lecturer at Princeton. It turns out he has created a free online course with the material.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has released statistics on life expectancy and causes of death for 2016. Some interesting findings:
- Overall average life expectancy fell by 0.1 year, from 78.7 to 78.6 years.
- The average masks the finding that for women, life expectancy held steady at 81.1 years while for men, it decreased by 0.2 years from 76.3 to 76.1 years.
- Deaths from disease were down in almost every category. The increases come from “unintentional injury” and suicide. Unintentional injury sounds like car accidents and falling off a ladder, and it does include those things. But dig a little bit and it includes “poisoning”, and poisoning in turn includes drug overdose.
The Guardian explains that life expectancy has fallen two years in a row and how unusual that is:
Drug overdoses killed 63,600 Americans in 2016, an increase of 21% over the previous year, researchers at the National Center for Health Statistics found.
Americans can now expect to live 78.6 years, a decrease of 0.1 years. The US last experienced two years’ decline in a row in 1963, during the height of the tobacco epidemic and amid a wave of flu.
“We do occasionally see a one-year dip, even that doesn’t happen that often, but two years in a row is quite striking,” said Robert Anderson, chief of the mortality statistics branch with the National Center for Health Statistics. “And the key driver of that is the increase in drug overdose mortality.”
The article goes on to explain that the last time we saw three years of decline was during the Spanish flu epidemic 100 years ago.
Comparing any two years could easily be a statistical blip, as any climate science denier could tell you. But it seems clear that over time the U.S. is losing ground to its peers in the developed world. The solution our elected politicians have identified, of course, is to take away health care and mental health coverage from the working class.
This is according to Science:
In people with PTSD, a small sensory trigger such as a sound or a smell can bring a traumatic memory rushing back. “The disabling element of PTSD is the fact that when the memory starts, the emotions completely override you and overwhelm the brain,” Nutt says. Studies suggest that MDMA can dampen the emotional response to the memory, allowing people to relive their trauma and work through it, he says. The MDMA-treatment consists of several sessions of psychotherapy, some conducted while the patient is under the influence of the drug…
A small U.S. study that first suggested MDMA could help treat PTSD was published in 2011. Since then, researchers in Canada, Israel, and the United States have jointly carried out larger phase II trials funded by MAPS; their results, which remain unpublished but have been reviewed by the FDA, were very good, says Doblin. Overall, 107 participants who had suffered from PTSD for an average of 17.8 years were treated in the phase II trials, Doblin says. Of the 90 patients who were available to be studied 12 months later, 61 no longer had PTSD.
In late July, says Doblin, MAPS and FDA agreed on how the coming phase III trials—usually the last hurdle before seeking a drug’s approval from regulators—should be conducted.
910 deaths from drug overdoses last year. That’s the depressing stat in the video below. This is a way bigger problem than homicides (278 in 2016).
To put this number in a little more context, I looked up some statistics on all causes of death in Philadelphia – the most recent year I could find was 2015. Here are a few highlights:
- “diseases of heart”: 3,418
- “nontransport accidents”: 823 (I imagine this includes everything from drowning to falling off a ladder to kids playing with guns – it’s a surprisingly large number of people, but possibly also the hardest category to do something about)
- “diabetes mellitus”: 365
- homicide: 291
- “intentional self harm (suicide)”: 160 (the teen rate is relatively low, then suicides reach a pretty steady rate for people in their 20s through 50s)
- “motor vehicle accidents”: 98 (I’m surprised this isn’t higher, but still, most of these should be preventable. It doesn’t tell us how many of these are pedestrians and bicyclists.)
- HIV: 67 (the majority are deaths are people in their 50s and 60s)
- “all other causes”: 2,542
It’s not that I enjoy thinking about death. But if you were looking for public policies to help people and politics and institutional baggage were not issues, you would look at the causes that kill the most people the youngest, and the ones where policy is likely to have the greatest impact. Getting people on maintenance medications to control blood pressure, diabetes, and cholesterol is obviously important – perhaps some sort of universal health care program could be considered. Dealing with drug overdoses and the underlying economic and mental health issues would be crucial. Dealing with mental health in a serious way would also help with the suicide problem.
Here are a bunch of new studies on drugs, both legal and illegal. Now, I am not advocating drug use. I am just advocating being aware of scientific research and making responsible decisions that reflect one’s personal risk tolerance. I would also point out that some legal drugs, like alcohol, tobacco, and prescription pain killers, are absolutely proven to cause harm to a lot of people, while some illegal drugs are not. I don’t take illegal drugs personally, because the idea of not knowing where they came from or what is in them is too scary for me. Nonetheless, here we go.
Recent studies have found that:
- There is no association between marijuana use and heart disease.
- There is a strong association between common pain killers, including ibuprofen, and heart disease, in “high doses”. I do not know if high doses include the Extra Strength Advil I can buy over the counter.
- There is no clear link between marijuana use by pregnant women and any adverse effects on babies, although there is the “theoretical potential“. There is a strong link between alcohol and adverse effects on babies – I won’t even bother citing studies, they are easy to find.
- “Magic mushrooms” are considered nontoxic, but they can have profound psychological effects. People who already have suicidal tendencies somewhat frequently attempt suicide while taking them, which is disturbing.
So I think there are pretty clear reasons to support medical use of marijuana and hallucinogens, and any side effects of recreational use should probably be treated as social or medical problems rather than law enforcement ones. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a gradual trend toward legalization, and eventual co-opting of access to these drugs by the mainstream government and corporate world. And next time I have a headache, I think I will just drink a glass of wine and go to bed rather than reaching for the ibuprofen bottle.
Did you ever want to go to sleep to ambient noise from the Star Ship Enterprise? or the Death Star? Well, now you can. The guy who does all this has just added 72 hours of ambient noise from Blade Runner, and while the others are relaxing, this is just creepy.
This is a very simple idea but I like it.
The second good idea is to use a Venn Diagram to improve your practice and/or your life. Basically, the circle on the left is your ideal practice/life. The circle on the right is your current practice/life…
The amount of overlap determines how happy you are. Drummond says if the overlap is 60% or more, you are likely very happy and unlikely to burn out. If it is 20% or less, watch out! You are very likely to burn out very soon.
The first good idea, by the way, is to create a “transition ritual” between your work and personal lives. I like that idea to, and have actually been doing it for many years without having such a good name for what I was doing.
This article says that teenagers in green environments are less aggressive, even after controlling for socioeconomic factors.
The researchers describe several “possible pathways” that could explain their results. Easy access to the natural world may reduce maternal stress, which can lead to children acting out. It can encourage physical activity, reduce air pollution levels, and “act as a buffer for ambient noise.”
In addition, they write, green space in urban areas has been shown to preserve “the microbial biodiversity needed to drive immunoregulation, and to optimize brain health.”