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How Stanley Tucci’s Big Night helped kick off an American dining revolution

The 1996 Stanley Tucci film about an Italian eatery in the 1950 s is a culture milestone, tells Mario Batali and it foresees the future of the business

Theres this new eatery you gotta try no one knows about it yet. Its called Paradise, and its Italian, real Italian, near the water in a little east coast port township a couple hours drive from here. The dining room is spare and simple, with a lovely curved wooden bar up front, an antique espresso machine, and charming paintings on the wall donated by some local artist, I think in exchange for dinner.

Yeah, a real mom-and-pop spot, except mom and pop are two brothers from Italy who dont always get on. But the food? They say the seafood risottos the equal of anything in Venice, and on special occasions theyll stimulate timpano, this drum-size cake of pasta, meatballs, hard-boiled eggs, sauce, and, well, magical. Unbelievable. You free Saturday?

One hitch: Paradise doesnt exist.

Or rather, Paradise exists, but merely in Big Night, the great food movie starring Isabella Rossellini, Tony Shalhoub, and Stanley Tucci. Premiered at the Sundance Film Festival 20 years ago on January 24, 1996 Big Night focuses on the volatile concerning the relationship between two immigrant restaurateurs, the uncompromising chef Primo( Shalhoub) and his younger sibling, Secondo( Tucci ), who runs the dining room and is trying urgently to keep the business afloat.

Thats a particular challenge because Big Night is set in the late 1950 s, when Italian-restaurant customers demanded spaghetti and meatballs , not delicate Venetian rice dishes. Over the course of a few days, the brothers cook, bicker, court women( Rossellini, Minnie Driver and Alison Janney ), and host a wild, hours-long feast for the musician Louis Prima, in an attempt to drum up the good press they need to stay alive. It is not exposing too much, I hope, to say that this big night does not run entirely according to plan.


Big Night is set in the late 1950 s, when Italian-restaurant clients demanded spaghetti and meatballs. Photograph: Allstar

In the year after its premiere, Big Night get great reviews( 96% fresh, according to Rotten Tomatoes ), won multiple awards for its screenplay( written by Tucci and his cousin Joseph Tropiano) and its co-directors( Tucci again, with Campbell Scott ), and earned nearly $12 m against its calculated $4.1 m budget, according to IMDb.

More important than that, Big Night helped kick off a revolution in American food culture. It wasnt only that restaurants were changing, with authenticity the new watchword. How we looked at and thought about food shifted, in both minor( the band Cibo Matto released its first album, featuring food-mad tunes like Know Your Chicken and White Pepper Ice Cream) and major ways.

In 1996, the Food Network dedicated shows to Mario Batali, Bobby Flay, and Emeril Lagasse, promptly establishing its dominance over the nascent world of food porn. While its impossible to say if Big Night is basically responsible for these innovations, it did encapsulate them and in some ways predicted the future of the business.

It was a culture milestone for me, said Batali, who says hes watched it roughly 40 days since it came out, most recently over Christmas vacation. At the time of the movies release, Batali was making a name for himself as the chef at Po( where Tucci was a regular ), shooting Molto Mario, the Food Network present on which he demonstrated his encyclopedic knowledge of Italian regional cooking and proving, as Big Night did as well, that there was more to the cuisine than red sauce.

The notion that the Italians had violated the snack into distinct antipasto, pasta, and farinaceous products, followed by a main course, was still news to Americans back in the 1990 s, Batali said this despite the efforts of restaurateurs like Lidia Bastianich, whod expend years gradually introducing notions of regionality, authenticity, and meal structure into her New York eateries. The movie, however, served that home, as Batali put it, in a way no single eatery could.( It didnt hurt, he added, that Isabella Rossellini was so hot .)

In one of the movies most well known scenes, Primo flips out when a customer, having ordered risotto, asks for a side order of spaghetti and meatballs. Who are these people in America? the mustachioed chef fumes, calling the customer a bitch, a criminal, a philistine. How can she want? They both are starch. Perhaps I should make mashed potato for another side. Secondo, meanwhile, pleads with two brothers: Make the pasta. Attain it. Construct it. Make the pasta!

This idea that the kitchen was, versus the dining room, often at intellectual and physical odds was a new one as well, Batali told. American diners were always used to the idea that the front-of-the-house guy ran the whole store, and then they started realizing that the cook had an opinion. And maybe not only had an opinion but was, like Primo, an artist, a heretofore-unheralded visionary. No matter how much you might empathize with Secondo, when Primo rhapsodizes, To eat good food is to be close to God, you are virtually required by movie logic to side with the cook in all matters culinary.


Mario Batali calls the movie a culture milestone. Photo: BEI/ BEI/ Shutterstock

That widespread epiphany clearly benefited chefs like Batali, who became such hotshots in the decade and a half following the movies release that its almost hard for diners under 40 to imagine a food world dominated by maitre ds.

For a long time, and surely in part thanks to Big Night, the Primos have been persisting , not just in the form of authentic cuisine but with lengthy tasting menus and an overall sense that diners should submit themselves to a chefs vision, rather than necessitating a kitchen to live up to their own savors and expectations.

Recently, though, that dynamic has seemed to switching, with Secondos philosophy gaining ground among diners and restaurateurs alike.

This is kind of a bigger argument that everybody is talking about right now, right? Theyre sick of savouring menus and chefs dictating how you feed, said Sara Jenkins, the cook at Porsena and Porchetta, who grew up in Rome and Tuscany and has been cooking in the US for more than 30 years. I believe most successful restaurateurs ultimately wind up becoming more accommodating , not less, you know?

Thats true at Del Posto, the serene palace of Italian fine dining that is one of simply five eateries to be given four superstars by the New York Times. Executive cook Mark Ladner, whos been cooking Italian since 1998, said he guess of himself as a Primo although I respect both sides of the conversation.

Despite the sophistication of the restaurant, which serves dishes such as slow-roasted Abruzzese lamb and a pasta with tuna belly and porcini, we still have people who expect spaghetti and meatballs, Ladner said. And after years of fighting against it, I realise I like spaghetti and meatballs as much as the next guy, and theres no reason not to sort of play with this tongue-in-cheek interpretation of some of these Italian American classics, because theyre classics for a reason.

Other restaurateurs, however, are natural-born Secondos. Take Mario Carbone, who in 2013 opened Carbone, a throwback Italian-American restaurant in the West Village that looks like a high-end version of Paradise, complete with tuxedoed waiters and Louis Prima on the sound system. Carbones a total Secondo, his partner Rich Torrisi a Primo.

Rich is the one who wants to know who ordered risotto while they want spaghetti, Carbone said. Im like, Can you just fucking give it to them, please? Just give them the spaghetti. That is my relationship, me and my other business partner. He would totally agree.

Regardless of which philosophy currently holds sway, perhaps the movies signal achievement was to bequeath the restaurant world this set of archetypes and references against which everyone from cooks and busboys to waiters and owners can compare themselves. Am I a Primo or a Secondo? Is this the kind of customer whod order risotto with spaghetti? How can we put one over a big night of our own and maybe get some much-needed media attention? Numerous cooks told me about reenacting scenes from the movie in their kitchens, especially the risotto-spaghetti combat and another in which Primo sarcastically offers to set a hot dog on the menu. So powerful is the set of references that both Del Posto and Carbone have employed clips from the movie to train faculty( including at Carbones Hong Kong outpost ).

Did Big Night, I wondered, actually fabricate the phrase big night? Possibly.

Originally, Stanley Tucci said by phone from London, the movie was to be called The Paradise. But, he told, this thing kept coming up, this phrase hey, the big night, the big night and we just thought why dont we call it Big Night?

The name stick, and so did the idea. The big night, two decades after Big Night, is what restaurateurs and diners alike seem to want. The San Francisco company that owns the restaurants Marlowe, the Cavalier, S& R Lounge, and Park Tavern calls itself Big Night eatery group. And Carbone wants all meals to feel like the movies climactic feast. I dedicate oranges and nuts at the end of the meal here, Carbone said, because I want it to be a total shitshow. I want wine stains, I want orange peels, I want nut cracks, I want crap everywhere. When someone leaves, it should look like a bomb went off at the table.


Apart from the big-night feast, theres not really that much food in the film. Photograph: Allstar/ SAMUEL GOLDWYN COMPANY

Nothing represents the big night more than timpano, the epic cooked pasta dish that is the movies droolworthy centerpiece. Existing all over Italy in different versions, it often involves days to prepare its constituent elements: sauce, meatballs, eggs , noodles, and more. In recent years, as large-format dishes have become trendy again, timpano has begun to appear at New York eateries.

On Sunday evenings at Sessanta, in Sohos Thompson Hotel, cook Jordan Frosolone makes a Sicilian rendition, dubbed Timballo di Zanghi ($ 42, serves 3 to 5 ), sheathed in eggplant shingles rather than pasta, with an interior of ring-like anneletti and pork ragu. Similarly, Del Postos version ($ 100, serves four) is wrapped not in noodles but in focaccia dough, employs escarole leaves to keep the interior moist, and is scooped out to serve, rather than dramatically sliced, as in the movie.

If it was to form a slice, said Ladner, it would have to be so dry and bind with so much egg that it doesnt actually eat very well.

For that are important, Tucci said the movies own timpano was awful: All the food was spat out by all of the actors. The audience walked out of the theater starve, and the actors walked away from the situated sick.

Which brings up an odd aspect of this food film. Apart from the big-night feast( tricolor risottos, a whole roasted pig, that timpano ), theres not really that much food in the film, and very few of the overhead, close-up, detail-obsessed shoots that define present-day food porn. But what imagery is there has a realism to it, and its accessibility merely deepens its appeal.

You didnt want to attain the food look too kind of beautiful. It simply had to look appetizing , not beautiful, Tucci told, adding that hed attain significant changes if he were shooting today. Sometimes I think it appears a little too shiny, a little too posed. The timpano doesnt really look the style its supposed to look. But that said, thats merely me being difficult, as usual.

Indeed, to watch Big Night today is to realize how vastly the food world has changed, and how speedily. In the late 1950 s, a small-town mom-and-pop restaurant specializing in authentic Italian food seemed as though a clear recipe for failing. Even in the mid-1 990 s, it was a risky proposition. In 2016, however, its brilliant. Who among us now is unwilling to travel for a bite of something unbelievable weve merely find on Instagram? In Camden, Maine, for example, Long Grain serves serious Thai food, employing local seafood, mushrooms, and sometimes rabbit. In upstate New York, restaurants such as Fish& Game have turned the town of Hudson into a major culinary destination.

If Primo and Secondos Paradise were to open today in, say, Keyport, New Jersey( where Big Night was shot ), beating the Yelpers to it would be a major takeover, Batali told. Having it genuinely be an unknown is kind of the dream of every gastronomic person that follows the world around. They want to be the first one to discovery this traditional, authentic, magnificently perfectly run place that looks like it was art-directed by Stan Tucci.

Tucci, he said, was an oracle. And Im inclined to agree: Big Night feelings as real, and as relevant, as ever. But did it bring todays food world into existence? Or simply predict how we feed now, with food at the center of nearly every relationship? And does it even matter, as long as were eating well?

If you want to give me credit, Ill take it, Tucci told. All of us who made that movie, well take the credit.

To horribly misquote another epic Italian American movie: take the credit, Stanley, but leave us the timpano.

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‘Very Angry Badger’ Seizes Part Of A 500 -Year-Old Scottish Castle

It’s like something from a Monty Python sketch: Sections of a 16 th-century Scottish palace were lately closed to the public due to a “very angry badger.”

The tunnel at Craignethan Castle was shut last week because of the animal, said Historic Scotland, which manages the property. The badger apparently wandered in from the nearby forest, per the BBC.

It’s not clear what the animal did to leave the impression that it was “very angry” 😛 TAGEND

Observers on Twitter suggested feeding mushrooms, peanuts and peanut butter to the badger, but cameras sent in on Saturday revealed that Historic Scotland’s cat food plot may have worked, as the animal appeared to have fled the scene.

However, the badger dug through loose soil and stonework, leaving behind a mess, the Scotsman reported. Although the passageway will stay shuttered while it’s cleaned, the rest of the castle will be open to tourists.

Built in 1530, Craignethan is noted for its castles, which were built to protect it from cannon and considered ahead of their hour. Although a rampart was demolished in 1579, its ruinings remain on the grounds.

Badgers are Scotland’s largest wild carnivores. While they are generally not aggressive toward humen, a wounded or cornered animal may assault — and in a tunnel such as the one at Craignethan, a badger encountering a human could indeed feeling cornered.

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Grayson Perry:’ As an artist I find Brexit exciting. No doubt it will be a disaster’

Britains finest transvestite potter is hard at work investigating the nature of masculinity. Over a game platter near his London home, he discusses motorbikes, body image and more

For a while, perhaps all their own lives, Grayson Perry has been making a study of what it means to be a human. So, what do two blokes nursing a beer in the corner of a saloon talk about of a Tuesday lunchtime? The topics of conversation with Britains greatest ever transvestite potter-cum-tapestry-maker kick off as follows: what do net draperies truly signify( he was working on a hypothesi on his way here ); the difficulty of taking corners at speed on a 9ft-long pink motorbike( he is having a more wieldy model custom made in Sussex ); books as the last talisman of taste( they are the knick-knacks of thought, arent they ?); and the distinction, if any, between bohemians and hipsters( as soon as something becomes a phenomenon its already died ).

We are in the Drapers Arms in Islington , north London, a place in which we both feel something of a proprietorial interest. I lived in a flat across the road 20 -odd years ago, when this place was more a rogues tavern than gastropub. Perrys association goes back further. He moved into his wife Philippas house near here in the mid-1 980 s, and watched the region become a byword for gentrification. Hes more normally found in an unreconstructed caff on nearby Upper Street, he insists, but the Drapers is a good option if he is going posh. One way of looking at his career, he suggests, is that he has expended half a lifetime working and saving enough money to move his studio from Walthamstow to within a five-minute motorcycle ride of his home. He calculates that the relocation of space cost him 220,000 a mile( seven in all ).

We are alone in the saloon at noon, save for a guy who has just finished painting the far wall. Perry , now 57, is in civvies T-shirt and zip-up jacket and jeans and straggly hair. The previous time I find him he was full Bo-Peep and platform clogs at the opening of an exhibition of The Vulgar at the Barbican( Dedicated the topic I had to make an effort, he tells ). The fact that he seems equally at ease in both incarnations suggests that he has long since got his own version of manhood definitively cracked.

He is less certain of what to order. His wife away on holiday and hes not that much of a cook, so he wants to make sure he has a decent feed. I often get ordering incorrect and then I hate myself, he says, gruffly. Im a fan of the restaurant where they only have one thing and maybe a vegetarian option. You get what you are given.

The Drapers offers a full nose-to-tail choice for the red-blooded male, though it seems a bit early in the day for ox heart. Im looking at my tactics here, Perry says. Do I want fish for main or fish for starter? Suet crust lamb and carrot tart: I like the sound of that, and theres a donation to Action against Hunger. He rules out the Arbroath smokie. Im loath to eat anything in a restaurant that involves toast. I can get that at home. Im struggling. Im overwhelmed

Given that we are ostensibly here to talk about manliness we opt to bond over a shared plate of game: partridge and teal. Perry sips at a pint of lager. Hes got another do tonight so hes got to go careful on the booze, he says. He finds it harder these days to get drunk twice in a day. Starting out as an artist he would pitch up with Francis Bacon at the Colony Rooms in Soho at lunchtime and drink through to when the saloon opened in the evening, and then carry on. Times change.

Of late, he has been touring the country with his prove Typical Man in a Dress, and chatting with different groups of men for some documentary raw material. He has a book-length manifesto, The Descent of Man , that dismantles the default male, that construction that still dominates boardrooms and bar rooms. He induces the lawsuit for vulnerability and playfulness. These men have a fear of colouring. Its because theyre frightened of making a mistake maybe. They all wear what I call cowards black. I glance down at my nondescript dark navy attire, and dig into my starter, the ox heart.

Does he ever get heckled on stage?

He doesnt hear much from conventional loudmouths, he tells, with some regret, more from alpha creative humen in big glasses I can feel them bristling, because they dont like the idea of me, a non-academic, getting to do the Reith Lectures in a frock.

He is constantly amused by the way that in any devoted group of men, petty hierarchies instantly emerge. I was with a group of trans people the other week. I heard one say behind someones back, Yeah, but hes a only a cross-dresser. No surgery: a lightweight. So, its like, you cant win.

He is not immune to any of that himself, but amused and sometimes angry about it. Hes grown up through therapy, as well as art. As a teen in Essex with an absent parent and violent stepfather he not only tried on womens clothes for sizing, but also was obsessed with war games, airplanes and motorbikes. He would remove gaskets in his front garden, and roar around the lanes.

Now he looks for that abandon on his mountain bike in Epping Forest. He cycles with a mate. They cycled to Madrid once, though he wouldnt recommend cycling across northern Spain in the summer. You come across these amazing hilltop townships, but the bit in between is truly horrific, hot, dry, and on an -Aroad. Still, they proved that they could.

Our game platter arrives, two roasted birds, side by side. Perry engraves them up, has a mouthful of teal: Its good, he says, but its a bit of a violin. Teal will stay in my lexicon as a colouring rather than dinner. I use quite a lot of teal orange in my pottery.

Hes in his studio most days. He loves the stimulating side of what he does more fun than stripping motorbikes, though it appeals to a similar sense. Because he works on quite a small scale, he needs an awful plenty of ideas to fill a prove. Its not like I come in with a memory stick and tell blow it up to fill the wall.He has a big one-man exhibition coming up at the Serpentine in the summer, so hes hard at it. Trump and Brexit have been a bit of godsend in this respect, devoting an edge to his examination of the destructive male ego. These things act as smelling salts, he tells. As an artist I find it exciting. No doubt it will be a disaster, but also any chance to stick it to my fellow Islington liberals is great.

They eat: Curried apple and parsnip soup, 5.50( Grayson ); ox heart and sweet and sour cauliflower with almonds, 7.50( Tim ); partridge, teal, potato gratin, mushrooms and kale platter, 32( both ). They drank: Norwich lager, 4.20( Grayson ); IPA, 4.80( Tim ). The Table The Drapers Arms, 44 Barnsbury Street, London N1 1ER; 020 7619 0348 Photograph: Katherine Anne Rose for the Observer

We talk about how every generation seems to have to make its own mistakes. He spent hour trying to get some sense out of gangs of teenage boys for his volume. Does he believe rites of passage are harder for them than for him?

The big difference, he supposes, is the obsession with body image. We never thought about what our bodies were like, you might get a bit anxious if your pubes were slow growing but that was it. We werent instagramming our six packs. He hesitates to blame technology, but it clearly doesnt assistance. He tries to avoid social media himself. When mobile phones came out, the latter are a status symbol, he says. Now the status emblem is having someone to manage your mobile phone for you.

Technology is another thing for men to hide behind. Its like humen very often default to the lowest common denominator in dialogue, he tells. I always believe, that guy who is saying to you, The Arsenal did well at the weekend, what he is really saying is, Please like me, Im nice. If we keep going Ill tell you about my divorce.

Its interesting that Perry himself does not seem needy in that route. Though he preaches openness he has a few red lines in what he wants to talk about. A couple of periods I ask him about his relationship with his family, and he deflects to talk about the partridge. Before we go, I ask him whether the scheme was always to become a member of the arts establishment or whether that ambushed him?

Probably a bit of both. And since I cant pretend to be anything else, Ill play with it as much as I can. Early on in my career when I first started selling work, a friend who put great store in, you know, youth culture, said to me, Grayson, youve sold out. I was like: Get over yourself, candidly! Do you actually want to be a squatter all of your fucking life?

He felt hed done his time?

Yeah, he tells, I suppose I did.

The Descent of Man is out in paperback( Penguin, 8.99 ). To buy a copy for 7.74, go to

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‘Ayahuasca is changing global environmental consciousness’

David Hill: Interview with US scientist Dennis McKenna on powerful Amazon hallucinogen, plant intelligence and environmental crises

Ayahuasca, as it has come to be known internationally, is a plant medicine that has been used in the Amazon for centuries for mending and spiritual intents. Renowned for the often extraordinary visions it induces – not to mention the deep vomiting – it is made from an Amazonian vine known to western science as Banisteriopsis caapi and usually at the least one other plant.

Over the last 25 years or so ayahuasca has gone global, with many 1000 s of people travelling to Peru and other South American countries to drink it, and expert healers – curanderos, shamans, ayahuasqueros, maestros – leaving the country to hold ceremonies. Many drink ayahuasca because theyre go looking for healing, some are just curious, some mistake it for a recreational drug.

One of ayahuascas innovator scientific researchers is Dennis McKenna, a US ethnopharmacologist and younger brother of the legendary ethnobotanist and writer Terence. Some years ago, in an article titled Ayahuasca and Human Destiny published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, McKenna emphasised the contribution ayahuasca can stimulate to physical and spiritual healing – if it is ever afforded its rightful place in medical practise – and addressing potential environmental catastrophe.

[ Ayahuasca is] the conduit to a body of profoundly ancient genetic and evolutionary wisdom that have all along abided in the cosmologies of the indigenous peoples of the Amazon who have guarded and protected this knowledge for millennia, who learned long ago that the human role is not to be the master of nature, but its stewards, McKenna wrote. Our destiny, if we are to survive, is to foster nature and to learn from it how to nurture ourselves and our fellow beings. This is the lesson that we can learn from ayahuasca, if only we pay attention.

Below are edited an extract from an interview between McKenna, in the US, and the Guardian, in Iquitos, a city in Perus Amazon which the scientist calls the epicentre of the global ayahuasca movement:

DM: What can[ ayahuasca] do for the environmental movement? I suppose a lot of people, especially if they come to South America, come away with a really renewed expressed appreciation for our connection to and the importance of nature. I think that ayahuasca is a catalytic influence in changing global environmental consciousness, which is something thats got to happen if were going to get out of the mess were in. The main challenge we have as a species is – getting on the soap-box for a minute – we have forgotten our connection to nature. Weve come to the conclusion that we own nature, it exists for us to exploit, and were busy doing that. Were destroying it in the process. Were destabilising all of these global mechanism that keep the biosphere habitable by life. I believe ayahuasca is waking up a lot of people and reminding them that, No, thats not the route it is. You monkeys are not running the reveal. The plants are running the demonstrate, by sustaining life on globe, if nothing else. There needs to be a global shift of consciousness. People need to understand this before they can really begin to change, and so in that sense I suppose ayahuasca is an ambassador from the community of species. The message is basically, Wake up, you monkeys! Youre wrecking the place! Its very important and interesting that so many people come away with this strong message that theyve truly been moved and touched by something that they feel is an intelligent entity – an intelligent representative of the natural world.

Sina Ramirez Rios, a Shipibo curandero sing to ayahuasca before a rite near Pucallpa in Perus Amazon. Photo: Emilie Lescale

DH: Why is that? Why does it make clear to people our connection to nature? How does it do that? Because it told us that the plants and trees are alive, in a sense, and are intelligent and sentient?

DM: I dont think there is a scientific answer. Its more like a philosophical answer, or a spiritual answer. This is the challenge of our time: we have divided ourselves from nature and we really need to re-understand that relationship, and as part of the community of species, which we are – we may deny it, we may forget it, but we are part of the community of species. And I think that the community of species is concerned about this problematic primate that they have let loose on countries around the world. As a species, we are simultaneously the most hazardous thing that has appeared in the course of evolutionary hour and were also the most promising. Indigenous people have this perspective that[ ayahuasca and other plants] are teachers. They exist to give us guidance and wisdom – and I believe that, actually.[ Indigenous people] have been the stewards of the plants, the stewards of this knowledge, but I think that now things are getting desperate on a world scale in terms of the environmental catastrophes that are looming. I think theres a sense in the community of species weve got to step up the game and these are their tools to contact human being and basically say, Pay attention because you need to re-understand your relationship to nature, and once thats understood then you have to start attaining changes. I suppose one of the challenges of our species – one of our problems – is that were very, very clever. We can do amazing things with our big brains and our opposable thumbs and our ability to use and generate technology. No doubt that were clever. The problem is were not wise – and thats the whole thing. I guess the message from ayahuasca and all these other teacher plants is, Wise up. Literally: Get wise. So that we can use the technologies weve invented in a way that supports and sustains life, rather than threatens life. Thats actually the message. Its a profound message, but its a simple one.

The Banisteriopsis caapi vine, the key ingredient to ayahuasca, known by numerous different names throughout the Amazon. Photograph: Emilie Lescale

DH: Do you feel Peru is the centre of what you call the global ayahuasca motion, or is it more Brazil?

DM: I think its Peru. In words of its interfacing with the West, or Western culture, in Brazil, where you find it is through churches[ like the Uniao do Vegetal ], which have adopted ayahuasca as their sacrament. I dont think theres a big ayahuasca tourism industry in Brazil. It may be happening, but Iquitos is definitely the epicentre. People have been coming there regularly since about 1995 and it has grown a lot.

DH: Do you think more clinical analyses[ on ayahuasca] need to be done? That that would be positive for ayahuasca in general?

DM: I dont need clinical studies to convince me ayahuasca is good medicine, that its helping people, but you can publish them[ and its] a good way to persuade skeptical colleagues in biomedicine, rather than just some guy raving about how great it is. . . This also grades over into some ethical issues. There are multiple ones. This is something that has characterized the context of traditional medicine. It has already, in a certain route, been co-opted by the West through the ayahuasca tourism phenomenon and so on. Is it ethical to try and take a medicine like this and stuff it into a biomedical research structure? Is that the right way to approach it? Im not saying that it is and Im not saying that it isnt. I just think that we have to be clear that there are aspects here of taking something out of its traditional context. Can it be used that effectively in biomedicine, or do you need the ceremonial ambience? It goes back to these hoary principles of defining. Which are very important. Does it have to be traditional? I dont think so, but you could say, Well, why not? Because this is a Peruvian patrimony. Peru has declared ayahuasca their own nationals patrimony, and you could tell, Well, if youre going to develop therapeutic protocols and programs around ayahuasca, why not do them in Peru? Youre not taking it away from anybody. Youre actually creating opportunities for Peruvian physicians, scientists and curanderos to work together to develop therapies that can help people – essentially taking a page out of the idea of medical tourism. Tourists are going to come to take ayahuasca for psycho-spiritual reasons. Why cant they come and take it for medical reasons? Thats merely an idea.

Miguel Ochavano Uquia, a Shipibo maestro working with ayahuasca at the Temple of the Way of Light near Iquitos in Perus Amazon. Photograph: Temple of the Way of Light

DH: Medical tourism. Have you heard that word used by anyone else[ considering ayahuasca ]?

DM: Medical tourism is kind of a buzz term now, especially in the State because of the crazy expense structure of so many medical procedures . . . Ayahuasca therapy is not something you can get[ here ], at least , not legally, so if you want to access it you can go to South America. In that sense its medical tourism . . . I guess the ayahuasca tourism thing is definitely a two-edged sword. Its having a lot of negative impacts on indigenous communities, but at the same day its benefitting a lot of people and, in some manner, maintaining the tradition alive. But its also changing that tradition, as people start to cater to Western tastes and requires. So what needs to develop, I believe, is some kind of a fusion of traditional and medical practices that takes the best from both and creates some kind of new paradigm. I hope thats where it goes.

DH: What you said there about negative impacts on indigenous communities . . . What kind of impacts?

DM: There are multiple ones, but a lot is related to economics: the foreign tourists come to a place like Iquitos with their pockets full of fund and their values and their interests and it can totally skew the economic situation . . .[ But] it can also be good. Economic influx in communities can be a good thing if its properly done. Another aspect is that most of the centres[ offering ayahuasca] around Iquitos arent owned by Peruvians. Theyre owned by foreigners. Thats fine. Theyre the ones that have the resources to set these things up, but then theres a temptation to not treat their people well , not compensate them well, and then theres the issue that you get in any kind of cult-like situation where you have a very powerful medication, you have people coming in to have these experiences, often theyre put in a vulnerable position because the whole point of the exert is to go to a place which allows you open up and analyze your deepest, darkest anxieties and secrets and so on. If you happen to be with a curandero who doesnt inevitably have your best interests in intellect – there are plenty of those – you can be mistreated. As you know, sexual abuse of foreign tourists in ayahuasca centres is not uncommon. Ayahuasca, like anything else, is a technology. Its a tool. It truly doesnt have any inherent moral qualities. It can be used in really positive ways and really negative styles because the ethics of it originate in the ones who employ it and how they use it and what they use it for.

Ayahuasca being prepared near Pucallpa in Perus Amazon. Photograph: Emilie Lescale

DH: Only to pull back a second. If asked, Are plants intelligent, would your answer to that be, Well, plainly, ayahuasca is a good example?

DM: Yes, ayahuasca is intelligent. Yes, plants are intelligent. Not in the way that we are, but in some ways theyre much smarter than we are. It depends on how you want to define intelligence, right? If intelligence doesnt require nervous systems, it it doesnt involve brains . . . if intelligence is when something reacts to their surrounding in a way that optimises its adaptation. Under that rubric plants are definitely intelligent – but not like we are. They dont have brains and they work on different time-scales. This is part of a co-evolution were ensure. Co-evolution works on vast time-scales and ayahuasca has only been known to the West for less than 150 years. Thats a tiny slice of historical time . . . I think were only beginning to learn how to use ayahuasca, how we use it as a tool to wake up other people because, if you havent noticed, theres a great deal of willful ignorance, at least, in the States, particularly with regard to environmental issues. Our legislators – at least, the Republican side of the equation – are proud of the fact they dont know anything about climate science and they deny that it is even important. This is the attitude that needs to be changed. Stupidity is not going to solve our problems and yet theyre behaving as though it will . . . Are you familiar with the author Michael Pollan?

DH: Yes. Food Rules[ the title of a volume by Pollan ].

DM: He wrote a wonderful article in The New Yorker. The Intelligent Plant. I think it really well summarises some of the issues right now that science is looking at, in terms of plant intelligence. I entail, a few years ago, you bring that up, youd just be laughed at. Now , not so much. Theres actually compelling evidence that plants are capable of planning, remembering, dealing with other plants and other things . . . Something else were learning about intelligence: you dont have to have a brain. Brains are over-rated, you know. What you have to have is neural networks – very extensive networks of connections. If you look at eco-systems, if you look at woodlands, if you look at things on the macro-scale, these are tremendous, enormous neural networks. You can think of them from that perspective, like the connections between the roots of plants and the fungi in the soil. These are mycelial networks that can sometimes cover many miles. The biggest organisms in the world are actually mushrooms, believe it or not. Not psychedelic ones, as far as we are aware, but theyre mushrooms that grow in the woods in Oregon, places like this. Theyre a cubic mile in magnitude. Theyre 80,000 years old. Because the mushroom part is just the reproductive body. Whats really going on is the mycelial networks in the clay: the hyphae of the fungu is closely associated with the roots of plants, so its a very, very close symbiotic association. This is the intelligence of plants. This is the real thing. This is not just a romantic notion. This actually is real. Its sometimes called the Gaia Hypothesis, originated by James Lovelock, a geophysicist and geochemist . . . His basic notion is that the entire biosphere is regulated, working together in such a way to keep it within these somewhat narrow parameters that will support life.

DH: One more thing on plant intelligence . . . There was a volume recently published, Brilliant Green, written by an Italian, Stefano Mancuso.

DM: Hes one of the leading researchers on this right now.

DH: I read the book by Mancuso, which really got me thinking. One of the things he doesnt address is the idea that plants teach humans, that there is that kind of relationship.

DM: Its a bit of a leap for him, but it is definitely where this is trending.

DH: Are you continuing with your scientific research into ayahuasca at the moment?

DM: Well , not so much, but Im interested in moving in to the therapeutic region and I would like to do some structured chemical, clinical surveys. But I want to do them in Peru. And I organize retreats in the Sacred Valley[ in the Cusco region] at Willka Tika.

DH: Can I only finish with one more question, Dennis? You say in Human Destiny[ the article published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs] You monkeys merely think youre operating things. And thats quoted, as if someone else said it. Is that what your friend Terence said, or is that what you said at some point?

DM: Its what the ayahuasca said.

DH: To who?

DM: Me.

DH: Ok. And what does it entail? Is the play on You monkeys only believe youre operating things? or am I reading too much into it?

DM: When I took ayahuasca with the Uniao do Vegetal for the first time, in Sao Paulo in 1991, I had a very impactful ayahuasca experience in which I was demonstrate photosynthesis at the molecular level. Being a plant biochemist I sort of understand these processes. It was highly inspiring to me at the time. The take-home lesson was, You monkeys only think youre running the display. Its in my volume[ The Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss ].

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Gathering morel mushrooms in Montana: What you need to know – | Q2 | Continuous News Coverage … – KTVQ Billings News

KTVQ Billings News

Gathering morel mushrooms in Montana: What you need to know – | Q2 | Continuous News Coverage …
KTVQ Billings News
With new burn areas in the state, the U.S. Forest Service is anticipating a bumper crop of morel mushrooms. Mushroom gatherers will need to get their Incidental Use Permit or Personal Use Charge Permit from the Forest Service. The Incidental Use Permit

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‘ My therapist gave me a pill ‘: can MDMA help remedy trauma?

The party drug is synonymous with rave culture, but an ambitious clinical study could demonstrate it has an extraordinary power to treat PTSD

For as long as Alice , now 32, can remember, her father, a major drug dealer with freezers full of cocaine, was physically abusive towards her and her mom. My first memory is of him backing us to the front door with a firearm, saying hed kill her, kill me and kill himself one day.

Alices post-traumatic stress ailment( PTSD ), a debilitating mental condition that can be caused by experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event, ran misdiagnosed for many years. The panic attacks, body shakes, nightmares and insomnia took their toll, while doctors treated her for depression and nervousnes. There were many triggers: physical contact, left alone, raining, seeing someone who resembled a family member, loud sounds, even a red baseball cap the kind her parent wear. He and his friends also sexually abused her on numerous occasions. The ailment imprisoned Alice; she couldnt answer the phone or go to the stores on her own. I would get triggered by something and Id shake or shiver, she says.

Over the years, she tried talking therapy, somatic therapy, and eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing( EMDR ), in which a therapist moves his or her fingers left and right in front of a patients face as they recount their trauma( the eye motions seem to stifle the memories ). Nothing worked.

Then, two and a half years ago, Alice enrolled in a clinical trial for a treatment combining psychotherapy with MDMA, near her home township of Erie, Colorado. She took 125 mg of the medication, the same dose a clubber might take recreationally, three times over the course of 12 weeks. Her trip-ups were accompanied by eight-hour therapy conferences. I sat on a comfy couch and my therapist “ve given me” a pill in a little handmade ceramic cup, she tells. It had a ritualistic feel to it. I was terrified the first time. Having taken the capsule, Alice was given an eye mask and headphones, and lay back listening to drum music until the medication, which shed never taken before, kicked in.

The MDMA only pulls things out of you, she tells now. It supports you. You can start looking at all your experiences and how they are affecting you. There were periods when I merely sat up and started talking. Or Id cry. Or there were moments of re-enactment. Physically, I felt like my whole body was vibrating for a while.

During the session, her psychiatrist guided the conversation according to goals she had defined with Alice beforehand. I had the first few minutes of peace Ive had in years, Alice tells, though its present session werent all plain sailing. Some components were wonderful and others were various kinds of hellacious. I was super-sad and couldnt stop crying. It was not just an automatic love drug. But I was always able to come back to feeling good.

Alices recovery was astounding. The gold-standard evaluation tool for this kind of trauma is the clinician-administered PTSD scale, or Caps, which utilizes a lengthy questionnaire to decide the severity of a patients symptoms( sample topic: have there been hours when you felt emotionally numb or had difficulty experiencing feelings like love or happiness ?). Any score over 60 is severe. Alices score went from 106 to two. Its now at zero. In other terms, her PTSD is gone.

Alice is one of 136 patients who have undergone MDM-Aassisted psychotherapy in trials run by the not-for-profit Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Study( Maps ), are stationed in Santa Cruz, California. Maps was founded in 1986 by Rick Doblin, then a trainee therapist, and now an effervescent 62 -year-old who has dedicated their own lives to studying the medical uses of psychedelic drugs, including psilocybin( magic mushrooms) and marijuana. Its taken 30 years to get to this point, he tells. Ive always known MDMA would work, but its been really gratifying to assure such tremendous outcomes. He has studies nearing completion in Vancouver, Colorado, South Carolina and Israel, with plans for more in Australia.

Doblin and his colleagues want to make the drug a prescription medicine. It is currently listed as a Schedule 1 substance by the US Drug Enforcement Administration( DEA) and a Class A drug by the Home Office in the UK, along with heroin, cocaine and LSD. So far, the Maps surveys have been relatively small, but the results are encouraging. One South Carolina study involved 20 patients, mostly victims of sexual abuse, who had suffered from PTSD for more than 19 years. It was a placebo-controlled analyze, so all patients were given the same therapy, but merely some were given the MDMA; 83% of those given the MDMA no longer met the criteria for PTSD following therapy, compared with 25% of those who were not given the narcotic. Best of all? The results have held for several years.

Rick Rick Doblin, founder of Maps, has expended 30 years examining the medical uses of psychedelic drugs. Photo: Gretchen Ertl

But the real exam will be next years phase three trials, the final stage of validation required to ensure that MDM-Aassisted therapy is to be legalised.( Around 50% of all medical treatments fail at this stage .) A phase three trial necessitates bigger groups, at least 230 people, around the world. Once two trials are completed, and provided the results still appear positive, the data can be submitted to the US Food and Drug Administration( FDA) and the European Medicines Agency for approving. In theory, MDMA could be legalised for therapeutic employ by 2021.

MDMA is not a silver bullet: treatment is heavily reliant on the accompanying therapy, and there is a lot of therapy: three monthly conferences with the drug, lasting eight hours each, punctuated by nine weekly 90 -minute sessions without it.

International guidelines recommend the first line of therapy for PTSD should be EMDR or cognitive behavioural therapy; but it can be very hard to treat. Perhaps 50% of people will have resistance, says Jonathan Bisson, professor in psychiatry at Cardiff University. We require new treatments.

Antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications are already big business for pharmaceutical companies. According to a 2008 US Veteran Association analyze, about 80% of veterans diagnosed with PTSD are given psychiatric medications. But a 2015 analyse in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that about two-thirds of veterans still meet the criteria for a PTSD diagnosis after treatment.

Nevertheless, the US military continues to spend huge sums on drugs and disability pays. The Veterans Association says that, of the nearly 1.5 million former soldiers receiving compensation, 870,000 have PTSD, and their treatment expenses the governmental forces as much as $17 bn( 12.7 bn) a year.( In the UK, the Ministry of Defence pays 875 m ($ 1.16 bn) a year to those bereaved or injured through service; this figure encompasses mental and physical disability .) Doblin argues that if even a small portion of those funds were allocated to MDM-Aassisted therapy, significant savings could be made. To make MDMA into a medication will cost around $30 m, he says. If it works, it could save hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars a year.

If the FDA approves the medication, the DEA will have to decide whether to declassify it to Schedule 2, alongside morphine, opium and codeine drugs that have a high possibilities for abuse but can be used under supervision. It is tempting to draw comparings with the style medical marijuana has been legalised in many US countries. If MDMA were to follow the same pattern, it wouldnt be long before any entrepreneurial drug user could cry trauma to gain access to a steady creek of highly potent ecstasy. But Doblin emphasizes this wont happen. These narcotics are fundamentally different: marijuana is the therapy itself; were talking about MDM-Aassisted psychotherapy.

These different approaches reflect the level of risk associated with such narcotics. No one succumbs from a marijuana overdose; 50 people succumbed after taking MDMA in the UK in 2014 alone. There is no figure for MDM-Arelated deaths in the US, but there has been a sharp rise in hospitalisations, from around 4,500 people aged under 21 in 2005 to more than 10,000 in 2011, the latest data available.

Used recreationally, MDMA is not without risk. It mucks about with the bodys thermostat and pushes up the body temperature, which can lead to organ failure and be fatal, explains Harry Shapiro, director of the UK charity DrugWise. But its use under medical supervision is a world away from person necking a load of pills at a rave.

When James CJ Hardin , now 36, is coming to the US from his tour of Iraq in 2006, he knew something was wrong. He was having nightmares and difficulty sleeping; loud voices, mob of people and flashes of lighting would send him into a country of anxiety. Id get tunnel vision and become hypervigilant, pulse racing and breath shallow.

There were no flashbacks while he was awake, but he had nightmares about combat almost every night. He self-medicated with alcohol, be included with prescription sleeping pills and antidepressants. The Veterans Association offered CJ group therapy, but he found it a dick evaluate contest, where participants engaged in one-upmanship over the atrocities they had experienced. When the sleeping pill became less effective, he also took the sedating antihistamine Benadryl, and drank rum until he passed out.

After leaving the military in July 2010, CJ moved to North Carolina. I isolated myself and continued my bad habits, staying at home, drinking and smoking marijuana the working day. Then Id wake up, eat and do it all again. A chance meeting with a Maps researcher led him to sign up for one of its studies this one led by psychiatrist Michael Mithoefer and his wife Annie, a nurse, from their home and clinic in Charleston, South Carolina. The couple , now in their 60 s, developed with the Czech psychedelic therapy pioneer Stanislav Grof, and have been working with MDMA since 2000.

James James CJ Hardin was having nightmares and difficulty sleeping after his tour of Iraq. Photograph: James CJ Hardin

By that time, CJ was having frequent suicidal guess: Id resigned myself to believing my life wasnt going to change. But during his first session, once the narcotic had taken effect, he started to open up about his trauma. All of a sudden I knew I was safe. I realised Id been treating my life like I was in Iraq the whole day, when Im not. I am back in the US. That left me immediately.

He was able to talk about his fears of mortar assaults, and how he felt in a constant country of peril, as if he might die at any moment. I felt like there was no lighting at the end of the tunnel. After that first conference, the light clicked on. It wasnt right in front of me, but it was there. I had hope. The MDMA alone wouldnt have worked, he says; it was the catalyst that constructed the therapy run. It disarmed me, opened my mind and allowed me to feel at peace and safe as I talked about the things I did. After years thinking youre a horrible person and not safe, its the biggest vacation.

Like Alice, CJ had three sessions. And, like Alice, his Caps score plummeted: from 87 to just seven, falling to three the following year.

MDMA( full name 3,4 -methylenedioxymethamphetamine) was first synthesised in 1912 by the German pharmaceutical company Merck, which had been looking for a substance to stop bleed. It wasnt until the 1970 s that its potential was investigated more fully, when a California chemist called Alexander Shulgin started to experiment with cooking up psychoactive drugs. He made a batch of MDMA and started testing it on himself. In 1976, following a 120 mg dose, he wrote, I feel utterly clean inside, and there is nothing but pure euphoria. I have never felt so great or believed this to be possible I am overcome by the profundity of the experience.

Shulgin introduced the medication to California psychotherapist Leo Zeff, who had previously developed LSD therapies. Zeff was so impressed by MDMA, describing him as penicillin for the soul, that he came out of retirement to introduce the medication to therapists across America and Europe. But just as its therapeutic potential was being explored, it started to make its style into the rave scene; in 1985, it was banned by the DEA.

MDMA is highly volatile in one person but not the next, says DEA spokesman Melvin Patterson. You and I could both take it, and I would have no reaction and your organs would start to shut down. There were tons of raves happening, and a lot of people being rushed to hospital and packed in ice to get their temperature back to normal. It was rare that people overdosed or died, but it happened next, and at such a frequency that we had to step in.

The Mithoefers began researching MDM-Aassisted therapy in 2000. It seemed to build particular sense for PTSD, Michael tells. Most of the treatments that have been effective involve revisiting the trauma in a therapeutic decided, but a lot of people are unwilling or unable since they are get overwhelmed by anxiety. MDMA lessens dread and defensiveness, while increasing confidence and empathy. He worked with Doblin to develop a plan for a clinical study, approved by the FDA in 2001.

Psychiatrist Psychiatrist Michael Mithoefer and his wife Annie, a nurse, have been researching MDM-Aassisted therapy for a decade. Photo: Hunter McRae

So far, all the Maps trials have utilized dosages of MDMA from a 31 -year-old batch with 99.8% purity induced in a laboratory at Purdue University, Indiana. But for phase three trials, the drug needs something called good manufacturing practice certification: Maps has to be able to show that, if MDMA were legalised, it could be produced on an industrial level at the same quality. This is where the pharmaceutical company Shasun comes in.

Shasuns factory is in the Northumberland village of Dudley, located a few miles south of Cramlington, a small town with the highest life expectancy in the UK. It is not a secret facility: taxi drivers know the plant without being given the address, which is on a main road opposite a row of red-brick semis and shops. But they may be surprised to learn that, inside, chemists are synthesising MDMA, perfectly legally.

Security is high. Guests must first report to the lodge inside the gates and in front of the red-and-white roadblock, the kind more often insured at military basis. Mobile telephones must be surrendered, along with laptops, pagers, cameras and electronic vehicle key fobs. The confiscation has less to do with secrecy than with the fact that the equipment could ignite and cause an detonation a huge security danger on a site processing volatile chemicals.

Shasun has been given a licence from the Home office to fabricate Schedule 1 substances. About 20 of the companys 325 UK staff are involved in the production of 1kg of MDMA worth close to 300,000 ($ 398,000 ). After that, it will be shipped to licensed distributorsin the US and Europe.

British CEO Kevin Cook gratified Doblin two years ago in Boston, after being introduced by someone Cook describes as a friend in big pharma. He came away from the meeting reassured that Doblin knew what he was doing, and was doing it for a good cause; Shasun was prepared to leap through all the regulatory hoops to maintain everyone on board.

Getting the Home Office licence was not easy. The firm has had to comply with a very long list of health and safety regulations, and security procedures. The medications they make, and their key ingredients, are now stored in an alarmed vault to which just a handful of staff have access, their movements monitored by CCTV. We can handle products here where there is a high risk of diversion products that can be used for recreational as well as medical benefit, says Cook, who has worked for Shasun for 27 years. Shasuns business development manager, Mike Hopkins, jumps in to stress: Were not doing a Breaking Bad here.

Kevin Kevin Cook, CEO of the British company manufacturing MDMA for medical utilize. Were not Violating Bad here. Photo: Christopher Thomond for the Guardian

The MDMA lab is in Shasuns growth centre, a prefab in a corner of the site. A rabbit hops around on the grass outside. Oh, hes fine, dont mind him, Cook says. There arent any chemicals out here he needs to worry about. To access the building, visitors must wear white lab coats and protective goggles. Inducing the MDMA is much like following a recipe one that was acquired from a German firm and emailed to Shasuns chemists as an attachment. Add X of this, stir to Y, heat to Z. Its like cook, but to get a really good-quality end product, you have to experiment a lot, Cook explains. Robert Smith, a chemist with a degree from Cambridge and a PhD from Manchester, demonstrates the equipment his small team uses to synthesise the medication. Unlicensed manufacturers would face many years in jail, but inducing MDMA does not devote Smith any kind of illicit thrill. We just treat it like any other project. He shrugs.

Recruiting a squad was not difficult, Hopkins says; no one cited ethical concerns. We always try to inspire our squads to understand what they are making and why. In this case, they are working for a non-profit trying to help people with severe PTSD. They find that kind of thing very motivating.

After fundraising, Maps second biggest challenge is developing therapists, who must undergo the same treatment as their patients, to understand how it works. In November last year, Ben Sessa, a British psychiatrist based in Bristol, travelled to South Carolina for a 10 -day stay with the Mithoefers, during which he underwent his own MDM-Aassisted therapy conference. I havent got any psychological trauma, he tells. I had a lovely upbringing, stable household. But its really important to learn this mental state in order to guidebook my patients through it.

On the day of his session, all of it captured on video, Sessa takes his first dosage of MDMA just before 11 am, rinsed down with a swig of Gatorade. Its a double blind survey, so he doesnt know if its a placebo. He hopes it isnt.( I opted the red pill and not the blue pill, he tells, referencing The Matrix .) Garmented in jeans and a T-shirt, Sessa reclines on a bed with Michael in a chair facing him, to his right, and Annie to his left. Propped into a seated posture by a fortress of pillows and a large red and gold cushion, he has a blood pressure monitor wrapped around his left limb while the Mithoefers small white puppy, Flynn, snuggles next to his leg.

The conversation is led by Sessa, with occasional inspires from the Mithoefers. Music plays in the background, starting with a gentle piano piece and building to higher tempo as the narcotic kickings in. The Mithoefers tell him to lie back, close his eyes and go inside. Annie regularly checks in on him, offering sips of juice, extra blankets and terms of encouragement.

Around two hours into the session, Sessa takes a supplementary dose. Even though hes in a darkened room, he asks for his red-rimmed sunglasses. That second dose genuinely hit the spot, human, he tells the Mithoefers. He breathes heavily and purposefully , nodding his head to the music with his eyes shut, his lower jaw changing subtly from left hand. Clearly, he did not take the placebo.

Sessa had taken MDMA in a rave context in the past but tells me: This was very different from taking ecstasy recreationally. Imagine taking all that external energy that keeps you pumping all night on the dancing floor and turning it inwards.

Much of his session is expended lying down with an eye mask and headphones on; at times he hums and moans or reaches out to hold one of the Mithoefers hands. I felt very safe and secure, but when I went to the toilet in the harsh lighting and stood looking at myself in the mirror, thats when it felt like rave. I was entirely fucked. I wanted to rushed back into the bed and get under the coverings and go back inside.

At other times, he is encouraged to sit up and talking here personal issues, psychotherapy, his constant required to busy. Lifes too short, he tells the Mithoefers. All these trinkets we adorn ourselves with are meaningless. Its time thats the only gift. So I dont like to waste time.

By around 4pm, the effects of the drug are wearing off, though Sessa says he experienced no comedown. He supposes ravers comedowns are mostly hangovers. Most people who take ecstasy will go to the tavern, drink three pints, then go to a club and stay up until five, take coke, drink more wine and beer, then get some soup and sleep on Sunday. Of course they feel bad on Monday!

Three days later, Sessa had a second session. It was the same setup, but this time without the medication. It was unbelievably cathartic, he says. I was in deluges of tears at times and talking about all sorts of issues. It was as if the MDMA had unlocked them three days earlier. Its not just the medication sessions themselves where the run takes place the real work is how the material thats unlocked is then prosecuted in the non-drug sessions.

Sessa, who has worked with many children and adolescents battling trauma and cravings, believes MDMA could be an unbelievably powerful tool for his patients. We dont have any medications that allow patients and their therapists to approach trauma. Antidepressants merely treat the symptoms, so this could be a very important step forward.

Trauma is incredibly hard to treat, he tells. You sit in a room with a stranger and ask them to tell you about their child abuse and expect them to do it. They dont. They cant. So their mental health problem becomes a chronic ailment. In 20 years time, people may say: Do you recollect when we are applied to do psychotherapy without psychedelics?

A MDMA could be legalised for therapeutic utilize by 2021. Imagine taking all that external energy that maintains you pumping all night on the dance floor and turning it inwards. Photo: Aaron Tilley for the Guardian

Despite his exuberance, Sessa remains pragmatic and is put off by some of the more evangelical factions in the pro-psychedelic movement, as well as its strong links with anti-establishment hippy culture; for him, this detracts from the science. Some people want to live in a chemical utopia. This is not a panacea. We need a cautious, methodological approach with sound scientific evidence.

Sessa has brought what hes learned back to the UK, where he is hoping to start two Maps-funded MDMA surveys in 2017; for now, he says, hes in a fragile period of getting ethical approval.

One of these studies is in Cardiff and will involve dedicating patients either MDMA or a placebo and putting them in an MRI scanner, where they will be subjected to a narrative script of their trauma to see what happens in their brain. The second study, in Bristol, will treat patients with alcohol dependency, post-detox. Well put them through a course of MDMA psychotherapy and look at the rates of recovery. The link between trauma and addiction is unambiguous, Sessa says.

In anticipation of the narcotics legalisation, Maps has set up a benefit corporation, a socially responsible company that, unlike Maps, is allowed to manage prescription sales of a medicine. All earnings from the MDMA developed by Shasun will be funnelled back into Maps research. The patent for MDMA has long expired but, thanks to a statute signed by Ronald Reagan in 1984 , no other pharmaceutical company would be able to use Maps research data for five years after the drug is approved.

Big pharma likely wouldnt be interested anyway, Doblin tells, because the therapy involves so few dosages of MDMA. Most pharmaceutical companies want to make a drug people take on a daily basis, that treats symptoms , not their own problems, so when you stop taking it, the problem coming through. Its a money-making formula. We are the opposite of that: you take the medication a few times, hopefully it cures you and you go on your way.

For Alice and CJ, legalisation cant arrived soon enough. Alice says the biggest change since therapy has been her relationship with her husband and two young children. It allowed me to connect I could step into now, instead of living back then. For the first time, she was able to hug her husband, whom she married 11 years ago, when she was 21, and to undress in front of him. I could hold on to my childrens hands and snuggle them without feeling gross. She is now working as an optician and training to become a psychotherapist herself.

For CJ, the treatment led to a 100% turnaround in their own lives. Like Alice, he no longer has therapy or takes medication for his mental health. He has given up drinking and observed a undertaking with an aviation company. He marriage his long-term girlfriend at the end of August. He still thinks about his time in the army, but now remembers the good things, the person or persons he bonded with. He wishes other people could experience the benefits: It feels as though theres a remedy for cancer that I know of and its not being used.

Alice is a pseudonym. Additional reporting: Helen Pidd.

Drugs in therapy

Licensed for utilize as an anaesthetic on humans and animals, ketamine is also use illegally as a party narcotic, and links with powerful hallucinations. In 2014, a small controlled trial by the NHS and the University of Oxford found that some people with severe depression responded well to small quantities of the drug.


It helped the 60 s swing but some medical experts hailed LSD as a potential treatment for addiction and anxiety long before it was banned. Though still illegal in the UK and US, a controlled survey this year by Imperial College London looked at brain scans of users and found the networks that deal with vision, attention, movement and hearing became more connected.

Magic mushrooms
The hallucinogenic fungus is a popular illicit medication, but preliminary research by the University of Arizona found that psilocybin the psychedelic compound produced in some mushrooms helped in the treatment of obsessive compulsive disorder in a trial in 2006. This year, a clinical trial showed it was effective in treating severe depression.


Advocates of marijuana used only for the therapy of post-traumatic stress ailment are eagerly awaiting the outcome of a recent $2.15 m( 1.6 m) trial in the US, backed by the state of Colorado. Anecdotal evidence from traumatised ex-service personnel who utilize marijuana suggests that it controls their anger and aids sleep.

Compiled by Jason Rodrigues. Model-making by Kerry Hughes.

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I Did The Keto Diet Where I Ate All Fat And No Carbs& It Went Better Than You’d Expect

Welcome to the fourth installment of the Fad Diet Diary: a series of experiments, where I willingly put myself through diets that range from challenging to questionable to downright abhorred by the medical community and then record my experience so that other people can learn from my mistakes. Both my doctor and my metabolism are thrilled.

While in the past I’ve tested out crash cleanses, obscure 90 s fad diet, and completely arbitrary food challenges, to be prepared by people at, this round of dieting was a truly unique experience. Why? Because it was kind of healthy.

For the past two weeks I have been living the ketogenic lifestyle, which I’ve been describing to people as Atkins on Crisco. It entails cutting out basically all carbs and sugars and sustaining yourself on a diet of high-fat foods. If this sounds like a dream to you, it’s because it kind of is. For instance, if you’ve ever determined yourself in bed at 10 pm on a Thursday night, wishing you had a bowl of sour cream and carnitas in front of you, you’ll want to keep reading.

The purpose of this diet is to put yourself into a metabolic country called ketosis, which is a natural process that your body initiates when carb uptake is low. Basically, instead of burning carbs for energy, your body is burning fats. You are quite literally eating fats to burn and lose weight, and it voices fake until you abruptly fit into a pair of gasps you haven’t been able to wear since junior year of college.

This website will explain the scientific side of this better than I will ever be allowed to and serves as a really great introduction for people who are looking to dive into a keto lifestyle.

While keto is more of a lifestyle than a fad diet, I’ve decided it falls into the realm of this series, because people won’t stop talking about it. Originally promoted as a style to assistance regulate epilepsy and diabetes, keto is receiving a seal of approval from fitness fanatics, professional athletes, and people who just really like high-maintenance diets. On the other end of the spectrum, you have your usual skeptics and assorted physicians that actually wish that people would stop generating fad diets so that their patients will stop coming in quoting Dr. Oz. This sounded like an debate that I wanted to drop myself immediately into the middle of.

The diet breakout looks something like this: 70% fat, 25% protein, and 5% carbs. You can get your own specific macros calculated on any number of online keto calculators, which induce you do inhumane things like try and figure out your body fat percentage. My requirements were 1,531 calories a day, 119 g of fat, 95 g of protein, and a mere 20 g of carbs.

For reference, there are 48 g of carbs in one bagel. Half a bagel would max out my entire carb intake for one day and likely destroy any ketosis that I had established. I know most of you likely just checked out, but stay with me here.

And the thing is, the allowed 20 g of carbs aren’t fun carbs like bread or apple cider donuts that a girl in your office had shipped fresh from New York on day 2 of your diet. They’re hidden carbs that live in foods you thought were safe, like arugula and mushrooms. What I began to refer to as “sleeper carbs” were nearly my downfall and the cause of one of the most dread-filled Sunday nights of my entire life. Don’t worry, we’ll get there.

In order to ensure that you’ve reached ketosis, you get to pee-pee on these little strips that tell you if your body is expelling high levels of ketones with a colouring scale that quite easily allows you to mistake one level for another, and will have you sitting and examining a strip of paper, covered in your own urine, for longer than you’d like to admit it. Accept this as your new normal.

The test strips are a bit controversial in that they don’t work for everyone, and for some, are less of a measure of your level of ketone creation and more of a litmus test for simply whether you’re in ketosis or not. If you’re a die-hard follower and want the real measurement, the best route is a blood exam, for which you can buy a handy gadget and perform at home. My needle-phobic ass will stick to investigating my own pee, thanks.

Other things that will become your new normal: devouring 100+ grams of fat a day, drinking butter, having meltdowns at 8: 30 pm when you realize you’re still 60 grams of fat short of your daily aim, being that asshole at a restaurant who orders deconstructed burgers with every imaginable sauce removed, and in a moment of weakness, expending $30 on the most pretentious ingredients you can find at your nearest New Seasons, so you can splurge on a keto-safe cookie dough concoction that you’re really going to detest yourself for eating.

The hardest part of this diet wasn’t necessarily following it, but getting into the mindset that not only is it okay to be feeing fats, but that you have to do it to keep yourself going.

I, like most women, have grown up in a body-shaming, lady-hating, diet-purporting society that has conditioned me to avoid fats like my life depended on it. In fact, we’ve been received information that our lives do actually depend on it, lest we fall victim to such horrors as high blood pressure, bad cholesterol, or, God forbid, being bigger than a sizing 6.

But I only expended the last two weeks indulging in eggs fried in butter, bacon, cream cheese, and all the avocado my heart desired, and guess what? I lost nine pounds, was downed an entire gasp size, and suffered what can only be described as an existential crisis, when I realized that I don’t know how the fucking food or my body works.

If this sounds equal proportions enjoyable, eye-opening, and entirely overwhelming, that’s because it was. I know I’ve painted the whole experience as a dream come true, but there were considerable downsides as well. For one, in order to live as true to the lifestyle as possible, I committed to tracking my macros to ensure I was gratifying my daily requirements( spoiler alerting: I rarely did ). This entailed painstakingly measuring out–or in my instance, wildly estimating–the exact sum of each individual ingredient I was devouring and putting it into an app that would tell me whether or not I was failing.

Is failing the right word to utilize, considering I still lost weight and reaped the benefits of a keto diet? Probably not, but that’s surely what it felt like. While the food was enjoyable, and I’m agreeably surprised by the end results, a diet shouldn’t make me feel the style that AP Test and the SAT did; I shouldn’t be having stress dreamings about eating an entire cake and instantly throwing my body out of ketosis.

A regular diet is stressful in its own right, but one that attains you meticulously track everything you put into your mouth is a giant undertaking. There were hours that I just opted not to eat, because the believed to be recording a dinner voiced deplete.

Other negative side effects that one could experience include: muscle cramps due to lack of magnesium( check ), sudden drop-offs in energy while your body adapts to this new reality( check ), the keto flu–a period of during the course of its induction phase where 1 might suffer flu-like symptoms due to a lack of electrolytes( thankfully avoided ), and zero tolerance for any bullshit from anyone( potentially merely me ).

What was shocking was how quickly I adapted to this new way of life. Unlike most of my diets where each day brought a new obstacle, either physical or emotional, the reality of keto set in promptly. The second half of the journey moved along smoothly, and I didn’t even find myself wishing for it to end, but that first week was a whirlwind of discovery.

Day One

This first day was arousing in the way these experiments always are in the beginning. I’m out here trying something entirely new and haven’t stooped to the phase of disliking myself for it yet. Everything is still a novelty, and I haven’t had to embarrass myself at a restaurant by asking for the sugar content of the house Bloody Mary Mix. Everything was bright and shiny.

I learned a couple things really quickly, both through the route I felt and the sage wisdom of my keto coach, a friend who willingly lives like this as an actual predilection and not just so she can publish a bunch of gags about it online. Some people are just enlightened, I guess.

The first lesson: Bodies in ketosis require almost doubled the amount of water as normal, because your liver is doing a lot more work than usual. This was rough to hear, considering that, on a good day, I drink about half as much water as an adult human should. In light of this news, I downloaded an app to remind me to drink water, because I’m the kind of person that needs technology to remind her to gratify the baseline requirements for survival. All in all, things were off to a good start.

Day Two

On day two, I discovered butter coffee, which is exactly what it sounds like: a tablespoon of grass-fed butter and sixteen ounces of black coffee, hurled into a blender. What comes out tastes more like a latte than anything else, and drinking it for the first time felt like what I would imagine it’s like to live life in all caps. I don’t suppose I’ll ever again reach the level of euphoria that I experienced that first buttery morning, but I’ll dream of it for the rest of my days, chasing that butter coffee dragon.

To be clear, there’s a method behind the madness of drinking a tablespoon of butter first thing every morning. First and foremost, as previously mentioned, I had a hard time squeezing all recommended 119 g of fat into my diet, so starting out my day with a steaming beaker of butter was actually really helpful. Beyond that, your body takes longer to metabolize fats, which entails butter coffee is supposed to keep you energized longer, rather than offering a spike of caffeine in the morning and falling off by lunch. I find this to be true, because I no longer required my usually mandatory 2pm beaker of coffee to make it through the work day.

If a 7am butter coffee was the high of day 2, then you could say the low was a mere 12.5 hours later, when I observed myself sitting on my patio in the dark, feeing rotisserie chicken directly out of the purse, an event spurned by the fact that I had finally checked my macros for the day, and received I was insufficient in just about everything but carbs, which I’d already maxed out at 20 g.

It was at this point that I realized that this diet had a definite learning curve, something that I truly wasn’t accustomed to. Rather than depriving myself and accepting the agony, I needed to plan my entire day around fulfilling dietary requirements that I couldn’t really even fathom. Fortunately, there are hundreds of forums, Facebook groups, and Pinterest pages dedicated to this very idea. Did I check any of those? Utterly not, but it probably would have been a good idea.

Day Three

Day three was when the reality of what macro tracking entailed genuinely set in. I am but a simple American, who scarcely has a comprehend on our standard system of measurement, let alone the metric one. Keto does not care about my mathematical inadequacies. This diet is out here asking me to estimation the number of grams of salmon I’m consuming in a single day.

“Idk, like a handful of spinach” isn’t an option on my tracking app, and my kitchen is sorely lacking in basic measuring tools, which left me frequently Googling conversion calculators and trying to rationalize quantities of food by comparing them to items that had their weights listed. In short, it was a fucking train wreck.

After the great rotisserie chicken debacle of the night before, I vowed to never fall victim to macro inadequacy again and grabbed a pack of bacon on the way home from run. The second major hurdle of this diet was the fact that I had to expend a substantial amount of day cooking every night. Although it’s been covered in every installment of this series, it probably bears significance in repeating that I am not a cook by any stretching of the word, and any meal that takes more than 15 minutes to prepare just seems exorbitant.

And yet, I procured myself that night spending 45 minutes frying up an entire pack of bacon. Should it take that long to cook bacon? Probably not. But things like logic and cook periods have never applied to me, and they weren’t about to start this week.

My next lesson was in sleeper carbs and the fact that even if you’re positive you haven’t touched a single carbohydrate all day, you can still rack up about 12 g too many of them. The culprit? Vegetables, whom I’d always considered to be a safe and reliable friend, were secretly carrying carbs and betraying any trust established between us. Et tu, arugula?

Day Four

Day four was a turning point, one of the first times I thought to myself, “Maybe this should be something I just do all the time.” What could possibly drive me to consider a lifetime without carbs and sugar? It’s simple actually: natural energy, something this body hasn’t experienced since the tender age of 12.

On this momentous day, I woke up on my very first alarm. To some, this is just a mundane requirement of being an adult and making it to work on time, but for me? Unheard of. I am a five alarm girl, set at five-minute intervals for optimal suffering. I usually drag my lifeless body out of bed about 10 minutes after that fifth alarm and proceed to caveman around the house until I’ve deemed myself presentable enough to wander into work and directly to the coffee machine.

But on day four, I sprang out of bed at a chill 6:40 am with a sizable craving for butter coffee and the drive to get out of the house as soon as humanly possible.

Improved energy is, in fact, a side effect of this diet. Fat is the body’s largest and most efficient source of energy, and you’ve just about doubled your uptake of it. The result is that you aren’t spending day running through heavy carbs anymore, only burning through these high-energy molecules, which are building you feel truly awake for the first time in your curst life.

In my lawsuit, it was also stimulating me second-guess a lot of things that I had never questioned before. For instance, I am now almost 99% assured that I’ve spent my entire life mistaking the signs of dehydration for anything but that. On my route to work that morning, I supposed, “Hm, I’d really love another beaker of coffee, ” and then stopped myself, because that wasn’t actually what I wanted at all. I was thirsty and finally acknowledging it for what it was. Natural selection is truly slacking in my case.

You might be asking yourself how I’ve stimulated it a full 25 years without being able to tell if my body was in need of water or not, and I’m here to tell you that I have no idea. But now that I’m drinking 2.5 liters of water a day, I’ve finally begun to understand what a baseline craving for hydration feels like. Let me tell you, it’s wild.

Day Five

I had stimulated it to Friday and had done pretty well for myself, so on day five, I decided it was time for a treat: professional butter coffee. It’s actually called Bulletproof Coffee, and it’s basically butter coffee with the addition of MCT oil, a naturally occurring petroleum that is supposed to boost energy and burn fat like crazy.

Was it weird at first? For sure. I had grown accustomed to my butter lattes, and this was less of a allaying morning ritual and more so on par with what I would expect it’s like to do angel dust for the first time. I didn’t truly know how to process it until I was about a third of the style through and my body took over. Abruptly, I needed to drink the rest of it, and it needed to happen as quickly as humanly possible.

It was like I had transcended mundane things like taste bud in favor of becoming omnipotent. I could see new colours. Dialogues around me slowed down. I got more run done on that single day than I had all week, and it was all due to this$ 6 oily, buttery, bitter concoction that I will never stop thinking about. I was riding on an absolute high, ready to adopt a keto diet for life, until abruptly I wasn’t.

There was a flurry of reasons for that abrupt turn of events that all culminated in one thing: alcohol. Naturally.

Maybe it was the Bulletproof coffee, or my intense focus, but I didn’t drink nearly as much water as I should have on Friday. Realise this around 4pm was the first red flag that set me off-kilter. A run happy hour led to a birthday party, which led to a bar, which led to another bar, which ultimately led to me standing in front of a Mediterranean food cart at 2am trying to rack up the 1,000 calories I was supposed to have eaten throughout the day, while explaining to a confused, bemused, but accommodating Middle Eastern man what exactly ketogenic diets entail.

All week I had been shaping my schemes and schedule so specifically around this diet, but day five was the first day that life intervened. Sometimes, you’re going to be out and about and won’t be able to find a high-fat, moderate protein snack that adheres precisely to your needs. Sometimes you’re going to fall off the wagon, because you’ve had a shitty day and you need to. Sometimes you’re going to accidentally get super drunk on a Friday, because you would have been racked with FOMO if you hadn’t gone to the cool rooftop happy hour.

And all of that is okay! You can have those off days, as long you wake up the next morning and rededicate yourself to your goals.

Let me say to you, that is exactly what I did.

Day Six

I don’t know how to explain the way I felt Saturday morning. I woke up … energized?

The three tequila Diet Cokes( it pains me to write that) and two vodka sodas I ate the night before? Gone.

Any exhaustion that may have stemmed from the fact that I went to bed at 3am and woke up naturally at 8am? Gone.

A sudden need to grocery store, clean my room, do the dishes, buy a wall calendar to map out the rest of these diets, and only generally get my life together ARRIVED.

Here I was, making the most of a Saturday morning, planning for my week ahead and feeling slightly guilty for consuming alcohol. It wasn’t even the “I blacked out and embarrassed myself” guilt but a altogether foreign “I didn’t truly need to drinking alcohol at all last night” kind. It was during those extravagantly productive hours that I first questioned whether this diet was turning me into a functional adult. Or at the least, someone who could pass for one. I bought a relaxing nighttime tea, for God’s sake. What next? Learning how to build sous vide eggs?

Day Seven

All the tranquility of Saturday was completely spent by the time Sunday rolled around. I was coming up on one week of this diet, and the only thing I really felt was stressed out. Well, skinny and stressed out. I had yet to figure out a solution to sleeper carbs and was on the verge of a nervous breakdown, trying to reconcile this newfound, entirely one-sided conflict with veggies that I was harboring.

I hadn’t experienced a Sunday night woe like this since high school, at which point I consulted my keto coach-and-four who fostered me to throw caution to the wind and indulge in a snack consisting solely of eggs, butter and meat. Decadent doesn’t begin to describe the route I felt.

Sunday night was a true breakthrough in both keto and probably just my adult life: I had finally permitted myself to eat something that a past me would have deemed wildly unacceptable. I’d dismantled the mental block that told me a meal wasn’t complete if it wasn’t 50% green and leafy. I wasn’t “treating myself” or “having a cheat meal.” I was feeing fucking dinner, and it was glorious and liberating, and I was evolving my relation with food.

From that moment forward, I was a new person. I no longer shied away from the high-fat foods, that I was supposed to be espousing. I committed to drinking water , not just for the diet, but also for myself. I slowly began to relax my dinner planning, allowing myself to eat out and not slave over tracking subtleties. I eat a shit ton of bacon. And come the two-week mark, I’d lost nine pounds.

Every diet in this series has taught me something about myself: that I am capable of superhuman high levels of self-control when I need to be, that I can eat an inhumane quantity of ice cream and still kind of function, and that I can accomplish just about anything that I define my intellect to, even if my body is begging me not to.

But this is the first diet to show me that maybe my regular habits aren’t all that much better than the ones I force upon myself, for the sake of these articles. Feeing healthy is all well and good, but not if you’re punishing yourself after a moment of weakness. Hell, perhaps they shouldn’t be called moments of weakness, but moments where I actually wanted a muffin, and so I ate a goddamn muffin.

Does this mean I’m fully committed to a keto lifestyle from here on out? Not necessarily. Lazy keto, a diet that still follows ketogenic rules but doesn’t force you to track your macros or anxiety over vegetable carbs, seems more up my alley and is something I could see myself adopting between diet ventures. But I’m also acutely aware that fall is here and with it the great love of my life: kettle corn. I won’t deprive myself of that, and I also won’t ravine myself with it. I’ll enjoyed a responsible quantity and determinedly not feel bad about it.

In the end, the ultimate irony is that a high-fat, indulgent diet brought along a sense of balance to my life that I hadn’t realise I was missing. Somehow, on this never-ending quest to test every possible limit my body possesses, I’ve managed to stumble upon something worthwhile.

No promises that it will ever happen again, but I’m pretty happy with myself in the meantime.

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Where to discovery the world’s best sake

( CNN) “No moon , no bloom. Just me drinking sake, altogether alone.”

This melancholy haiku was penned by Japanese poet Matsuo Basho in 1689, shortly before he set off on a 1,200 -mile journey through Tohoku, Japan’s vast northeast that reaches up to Hokkaido.

The trip is recollected in his celebrated travelog, “The Narrow Road to the North, ” a classic of Japanese literature.

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‘It’s very scary in the forest’: should Finland’s wolves be culled?

Europes wolf population is on the rise and in Finland, their future hangs in the balance. Are they a threat to humans, or should they be protected?

The story of a kill is tell in the snowfall. On the Finnish island of Porosaari, we find the first paw print. Thats a male, tells Asko Kettunen, retired border guard, hunter and tracker. How can he be sure? Its big.

Five ravens rise from dark pines, croaking in the icy stillnes; they will scavenge anything caught by the wolves. We wade through knee-deep snow. Theres a place of vivid blood and a tuft of moose hair, cleanly cut, which Kettunen deduces has been rent from a living animal. This, he says, is the moment the wolves constructed contact. First they try to puncture the intestines; if they succeed, the moose may run on, but the damage is done.

We find moose ways, each hoof publish far apart: the animal was operating. Kettunen points to wolf publishes on either side, to where a second and third wolf joined the chase. There are blood places and more hair and a pine sapling snapped in two. The moose collided with a tree, so it was not that well, Kettunen tells, with Finnish understatement.

There are spots of blood by every moose publish now. Ultimately, up the hill, is the kill zone. A young moose has been reduced to two front legs and a scalp detached precisely from the body, bowels that spill like butchers sausages and a mound of freshly chewed grass where its stomach once was. Kettunen thinks that five wolves feasted here the previous night. We find faeces and a curved bed of snow where a contented wolf took a postprandial doze.

Finland has a wolf problem. Five and a half million humans share the country with an estimated 235 wolves, and thats too many, tell rural Finns, whose livestock and hunting dog are being killed. Some parents are frightened that wolves will assault their children. Before, wolves were afraid of people, Kettunen tells me. Now people are afraid of wolves. For the past three years, the government has assuaged these anxieties with a wolf cull. Last wintertime, 43 wolves were killed in a management hunting, while total fatalities numbered 78, including problem wolves shot by police and road casualties.

A European grey wolf in Finland. Photo: Alamy

This winter, Helsinki authorised another cull, permitting the death of 53 wolves, to include those shot by police and traffic fatalities. The cull is controversial: the wolf is a protected, endangered species. Critics tell Finland is in breach of EU law. A candlelit vigil for slaughtered wolves took place in Helsinki last month, and a wolf hunt saboteur group has sprung up on social media. Hunters say theyve been disturbed by fireworks, vandalised trail-cameras and a hunting shelter burned to the ground. One angry hunter offered a bounty of 50( 42) to Russian hunters for each wolf they kill, promising to tip-off them off when they place a wolf crossing from the Russian border.

In this apparently soothes and phlegmatic country, the wolf polarises opinion.


All across Europe, the wolf is on the rise. Driven to extinction by the middle of the 20 th century, it trotted back into France in the 1990 s and into Germany in 1998. Wolves are roaming through Denmark, the Netherlands and, late last year, reached the Belgium-Luxembourg border for the first time in 118 years. Europe( excluding Russia, Ukraine and Belarus) now hosts more than 12,000 wolves, twice as many as the United States( excluding Alaska) despite being half the size and more than twice as densely populated. Recent reports of wolves on the leading edge of Paris have been treated sceptically by scientists, but they are nevertheless flourishing in suburban Germany and other densely populated areas.

Inevitably, there has been a human backlash. Last year, Norway announced plans to kill 70% of its wolf population of just 68, to protect sheep flocks, before outrage inspired the authorities to backtrack and propose a cull of only 15 wolves. Two years before that, Tuscan farmers dumped wolf carcasses in town centres in protest at their burgeoning population. French farmers have also demanded that its authorities shoot more wolves. For them, the wolf constituted a threat to their way of life; for others, it stirs deep anxieties still dedicated culture expression in everything from fairytales to music videos. The animal may be a symbol of freedom and natures ability to bounce back, but it also exemplifies two very contemporary tensions: the gulf between countryside and city, and the chasm between ordinary people and an uncaring political elite.


Pia Ikonens family life is recognisably 21 st century: inside her modest bungalow, her eldest infant, Lukas, nine, is transfixed by a tablet; Lotta, eight, and Lucia, six, watch Kung Fu Panda 3 on the telly, while Linda, four, reads a scene volume showing a wolf pulling a sledge carrying two happy kittens. But during her 10 years living a mile and a half from the Russian border, Ikonen has watched wolves become ever bolder. Four years ago, her dog, Ninni, was snatched in broad daylight from her garden and killed by a pack. This wintertime, she has found two sets of wolf tracks in her snowbound yard.

Dusk is falling. Would she let their own children play on the trampoline outside? If we have wolves circling, they cant be outside in the daytime alone, and in the darkness , not at all, Ikonen tells. It is very much a problem if you cant let your children run around or stroll your puppy freely.

The local community pays for an expensive wolf taxi to transport her children, and 31 others of the states of the region, from their front doors to school, so they dont have to wait at remote bus stops. Is Ikonen tempted to move to a safer town? She giggles. It should be the wolves who dont stay, she tells. This is a territory dispute.

Pia Ikonen with her children, who take a wolf taxi to school, to avoid waiting at remote bus stops. Photo: Davide Monteleone for the Guardian

Wolves were driven to virtual extinction in Finland after a spate of assaults on children at the end of the 19 th century. The story of a pair of rogue wolves that killed 35 children over 18 months in the early 1880 s is still widely recurred. Are such fears of wolves rational, I ask Ilpo Kojola, research prof at the Finnish governments National Resources Institute( its acronym is Luke and its newsletter is Leia; Finnish scientists have a sense of humour ). The danger of a wolf attack is actually, really tiny nowadays, he says, explaining that the historic attacks happened in an era when children led kine into the forests, and when there were no moose for the wolves to eat.

Wolves can kill people a jogger was killed in Alaska in 2010 but a scientific study in which humen approached wolves 125 hours in Scandinavia procured no occasions of aggressive behaviour: on 123 occasions, the wolves ran away; on the other two, an alpha female exhibited harmless defensive behaviour near her pups.

Instead, the aggression towards wolves in rural Finland is mostly because they take hunting dogs. Finland has 300,000 amateur hunters, more than 5% of its population. Helsinki airport is decorated with stuffed hares and wolverine, and much of its rich animal life beavers, lynx, bears can be shoot under a strict licence system. Moose hunting is especially popular, a quest that has evolved over decades, with GPS collar-wearing puppies chasing moose up to 15 km beyond the hunter, who follows it on a screen. They bark when they stop the moose, explains Kai Tikkunen of the Finnish Hunters Association, and then its like an ice-cream truck calling the wolves.

So the wolf is a challenger, killing moose that hunters would like to catch? The big problem is not that they eat the moose; the big problem is that they kill the dogs. Its sometimes very scary when I go to the forest: I dont know if my dog is going to come out alive. Hunters are compensated for dogs killed by wolves, but it can take 18 months and does not bring back a pedigree animal they may have expended years training.

The snowbound track sparkles under my headlights as I drive 18 km beyond the nearest store to meet Ari Mttnen, who lives alone with Minni, his Finnish Spitz. This goody, bird-hunting dog is on a long leash in his snowy yard, as some dogs are still kept in Finland. I like the countryside very much, Mttnen tells. Its just nature and its free. Theres no noise and I can see the stars. He also enjoys all but one of his dangerous fellow species. I like the bears, the lynx, the adder, he says. If 10 bears are around this house, thats fine. But one wolf? I do not like it , not at all.

Ari Mttnen, whose last puppy was killed by wolves. Photograph: Davide Monteleone for the Guardian

Mttnens beloved previous dog, Kessu, was killed on 22 January last year. His description of the loss sounds like the abduction of a child. He watched two wolves 30 m from his window in December 2015. They dont jog for pleasure, he tells. They were looking for food. And after that, the wolves knew I had a puppy. The wolf circle, whereby a pack of five or more wolves scour their 1,000 sq km territory for food, takes two and a half weeks in Mttnens neighbourhood. They took one circle and the dog was not outside. But on the second circle it was there. It was 12.30 pm and I recollect Kessu was staring into the forest. He started strolling in that direction he points to a place where his garden blends into the forest and faded from sight.

Later that afternoon, a neighbour called to warn him that two wolves had traversed the road nearby. I went out with a gun but it was too late. He found scuffle marks, then wolf ways. They had been waiting 100 m away for my dog. They had invited the dog to play and then … he pauses. My dog ran into the wolf mouth. There had been no barking. There was no blood. The wolf was so strong it took Kessu without a sound. How does he know the wolf was big? Because on Sunday the hunters shot it, he tells. Local hunters had quickly procured a permit to kill this problem wolf.

Mttnen hurls a fluffy object on to the kitchen table. Thats whats left of my beautiful puppy, he says. Its Kessus tail. A few days later, hunters found something else in the snow. Mttnen indicates me a photo on his telephone: Kessus head, so neatly severed it looks like a surgical operation.

Ari Turunen, a paramedic who lives with his wife and two young children in a wooded village, is the leader of the local hunting group in Ilomantsi. Underneath his snowsuit, a white and grey camouflage for wintertime hunting, he wears a black T-shirt that says, in English, 99% bear hunter.

According to Turunen, the local wolf population has grown from two packs to seven or eight. Five years ago, it was rare for normal people to consider wolves. It would be written about in a newspaper. Now they insure them daily, he tells. We should never let the wolf population grow this quickly, because it interrupts the balance of nature.

One reason for the wolf resurgence is rural depopulation. Outside its cities, Finland does not look prosperous: the mechanisation of forestry has stripped jobs from the countryside and picturesque cottages lie derelict in snowy woodlands. For those who remain, hunting is a social glue. We dont have any ice-skating dormitories here, Turunen says. All my friends and friends spouses hunt. Its part of everyday life. I spend a lot of time in nature, angling, and picking mushrooms and berries with the kids. Im a nature conservationist.

A remote bungalow in wolf country. Photo: Davide Monteleone for the Guardian

Five days ago, Turunen and his fellow hunters went after two wolves. One of them had been attracted to lard put under for songbirds. It also encountered a jogger near a village. It was a very bold one, Turunen says. He has taken his three-year-old son hunting since he was a baby, but he doesnt take him wolf-hunting: theres too much waiting around in the cold. On last weeks hunt, they began at 4am and killed both wolves by midday. The bodies were then dispatched to government scientists for Dna exams; these help to map the wolf population, and confirm the animals are wolves and not wolf-dog hybrids.

Hunting a wolf is tightly governed: only a few permits will be issued for each region, and hunters stand more opportunity of obtaining one if they identify a problem wolf. Wolves cant be chased on snowmobiles, and no more than 50 people can hunt at a time. Usually, a few hunters on skis will move through the forest with dogs, attempting to flush resting wolves towards a circle of waiting guns.

Across the nearby border, the Russian authorities reward hunters for killing some of their 50,000 wolves, which are considered vermin. Turunen tells it is illogical to have two such different approaches, when wolves move freely between the countries. Its stupid that, on the other side, its considered a pest and you get fund for killing it, and on this side you go to prison. His own opinion is that the wolf should be a valuable and respected game animal, a hunting prize.

Does the Finnish government understand the concerns of rural people? No, Turunen says. This discussion is dominated by people who have never seen a wolf or lived in a wolf region. The matter should be decided in the areas where it takes place, and not in Helsinki. If I managed street cleaning in Helsinki they would be equally screwed, he chuckles. And the problem is, some things are not decided in Helsinki but in Brussels, where they understand it even less.


On the train from rural Finland to Helsinki, I chat to a young suburban Finn. He says he can understand both sides of the wolf debate; but when I ask him how many wolves there are in Finland, he guesses at 5,000. I tell him there are scarcely 200 and he changes his mind. This animal should be protected, he declares.

Most Finns, says Sami Saynevirta, administrator of Luonto-Liitto, a Finnish wildlife charity, have no idea the country has so few wolves. Finnish people are really surprised when we tell them its an endangered species. They dont realise we have so much poaching. Saynevirta argues that Finland requires help from the EU, punitive or otherwise, to stop the wolf cull. This is not good for Finlands reputation for ecotourism, he tells. Wolves could be more valuable for Finland alive than hunted.

The Finnish government has calculated that if it maintains a minimum of 25 wolf packs, it wont be breaking EU law. The first year of its wolf hunting, 2015, was considered a success; but the second, last wintertime, was not, because eight alpha females were killed too many.

Filmmaker Stefan Gofferje has lodged a criminal complaint against Finnish officials for violating EU law. Gofferje, a German who lives in Finland, tells me he has loved wolves since he was a son. His pet dog is 55% wolf; he lives in my apartment, sleeps in my bed, goes for a 30 km walking every day and is a local superstar here in my village. Its practically impossible to train a wolf. When I ask him to do something, I ask him Im not telling him.

Gofferjes legal complaint is currently undergoing what he calls client ping-pong, shuffled between government departments and jurisdictions. He schemes farther challenges, contrasting the Finns apparent willingness to shoot any wolves detected near homes with Germany, where problem wolves spotted close to human habitation are first tracked with GPS to understand their motions, then deterred and destroyed only if displaying direct and threatening behaviour towards humans. Germany has invested millions in public education programmes focused on its new wolf population; and merely education will help people and wolves coexist, Gofferje argues. Its not enough for the governmental forces simply to stimulate regulations or prosecute poachers. They must educate people, he tells. If your child is afraid of something, do you remove the cause of the fear, or do you educate the child to combat the dread itself?

We have people standing on both sides of us kicking our ankles. If both our ankles are sore, then weve done something right, tells Sami Niemi, the likable official in Finlands Ministry of Agriculture, who oversees its wolf policy( and doesnt hunting himself ). This is not an issue where you can find a solution that suits all: we have to find the middle way. That leaves everyone unhappy: there are either too many licences or too many wolves, so we cant win.

Trackers stop for lunch in the wood. Photograph: Davide Monteleone for the Guardian

The stated purpose of Finlands cull is to reduce poaching. When the wolf was completely protected, Niemi explains, illegal hunting was a big problem for us. If the population grew to 140 or 150, the next year it went back down. Its not just hunters, its local people in general. They put pressure on the hunters to deal with the issue[ illegally ], so we had to do something.

But conservationists say this argument is equivalent to introducing government burglaries to reduce stealing. The only winner is the government. With the ministry doing this legal hunting, they get fewer phone calls and emails from angry hunters, says Mari Nyyssl-Kiisla, chair of Luonto-Liittos wolf action group. They think this is a good thing: Weve get more peace. The people are happy.

In a recent analyze, ecologists Guillaume Chapron and Adrian Treves analysed wolf population growth rates in Michigan and Wisconsin, and found that government-sanctioned culls in those US nations caused a change in wolf population, which they suggested was most likely the outcomes of illegal killing. Wolf culling may have sent a negative message about the value of wolves or acceptability of poaching, they concluded.

In that sense, culling is a political act, Chapron explains on the phone from the Swedish University of Agricultural Science. The wolf conflict is not strictly about wolves, he tells. Its a conflict between people about who controls the land. The wolf was made in association with wilderness merely in our minds it is a species that can live everywhere. Im not saying that wolves do not create damage. But the wolf is just a predatory roe deer, and we dont associate roe deer with wilderness. Hunters often consider that wild animals are their property to harvest, while environmentalists are more fired up by the wolf than the roe deer.

Moose antlers emerge from a frozen lagoon. Photo: Davide Monteleone for the Guardian

The wolf asks very disturbing topics, Chapron continues. In France, when wolves kill livestock in their national parks, farmers say, We cant survive with wolves, they are destroying our livestock. But environmentalists ask in return: Why do we even have sheep in our national parks? The farmers will say that it is a tradition. But is subsidised overgrazing a tradition? The debate becomes very heated, because the wolf is questioning economic practices, land use and the allocation of power in the countryside.

Even in consensus-loving countries such as Finland, wolf-haters and wolf-lovers do battle online, trading threats, insults and wild conspiracies about illegal poaching or zoos intentionally releasing wolves. On the border with Russia, fearful locals share pictures of what they assert is a burgeoning population of Russian wolf-dogs.( The research professor Ilpo Kojola tells me that genetic testing of 450 Finnish wolves over 20 years has exposed only three cases of wolf-dog hybrids .) A mistrust of experts, scientists, entrenched power and political upper-class is a common thread in many of these discussions.

Among local people who dread wolves, there is a particular detest of the EU. Chapron is not making a political phase but tells me his research has led him to conclude that EU protection has been key to the wolfs resurgence, as well as that of other major predators including the brown bear and lynx. If there wasnt this strict legislation, there would be very few or no big carnivores in Europe.

Back in snowbound Finland, I ask local hunter Asko Kettunen, who is also a wildlife photographer, if ecotourism( spotting live wolves) could replace hunting. No, he responds securely. Feeding or photographing the wolves gets them comfy with people and more problems will come.

Does he disliked the wolf? No. I dont like that they kill my dogs, but I dont detest the animal , not at all. Its so intelligent, its so difficult to catch and it adapts to its surrounds so quickly, faster than other species. The wolf belongs in Finnish nature, only not in yards and gardens. Many people say that hunters detest wolves, but we tolerate them and hope they dont do any damage. Its not hatred its realism.

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