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Psychedelics are having a moment and women could be the ones to benefit

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Psychedelics are having a moment and women could be the ones to benefit


“We started our company knowing that women over 40 are prescribed antidepressants at more than three to four times the rate of men, which has led to one in every five women taking an antidepressant to get through the day,” says Juan Pablo Cappello, cofounder and CEO of the ketamine therapy platform Nue Life, which is FDA approved and raised $23 million in April.  

Through platforms like Nue Life, or in one of the hundreds of ketamine therapy clinics across the US, patients can take a controlled amount of a psychoactive substance under the careful guidance of a trained clinician to induce an altered state of consciousness (a trip). Having received tons of airtime in recent years for its supposed ability to treat PTSD, anxiety, and substance abuse, ketamine is now being studied as an effective way to alleviate symptoms of postpartum depression as well. 

A recent study in the Journal of Affective Disorders suggests that in patients at high risk of postpartum depression, a single dose of ketamine administered before anesthesia during cesarean sections could be effective in preventing it. Another ketamine therapy startup, Field Trip, is also about to start in-person, phase I clinical trials for FT-104, a psychedelic molecule that’s similar to psilocybin but has a much shorter trip time. (Nikhita Singhal’s father, Sanjay Singhal, an entrepreneur who started audiobooks.com, is an advisor to Field Trip.) “FT-104 has all the characteristics that make psilocybin so interesting and attractive from a therapeutic perspective—safety and efficacy—but with a very short duration of action,” Field Trip cofounder and executive chairman Ronan Levy told me. According to Levy, Field Trip’s existing preclinical studies signal that FT-104 will leave the body after 12 hours, meaning breastfeeding can hypothetically resume within 24 hours—something that will need to eventually be validated in human trials and undergo scientific peer review. 

Kelsey Ramsden, the former CEO of Vancouver-based psychedelics company Mindcure (which was researching MDMA-assisted psychotherapy to help women with a lack of sexual desire until it shut down earlier this year for lack of funds), also says the postpartum depression market is appealing for psychedelic development because there’s currently only one drug for the condition (Zulresso). Ramsden is a believer in part because psychedelics worked to alleviate her own symptoms after she had her first child. “The change in my lived experience resulted in recurring depressive cycles, and it wasn’t necessarily a hormonal thing that was the ongoing problem,” she says. “It was just the change in my experience as the result of becoming a mother in a society that expected me to be a certain way.” She says she tried SSRIs and traditional therapy at first, but she finally arrived on stable footing after trying psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy.

Ramsden believes that the entire psychedelic industry is still in its earliest days. But she can envision a culture where it is normal for women to openly take psychedelic drugs. When something health-­related works for women, she believes, the good news spreads like wildfire.

Allison Feduccia, who has a PhD in neuropharmacology, believes that the best evidence we have of how psychedelics affect women is still mostly anecdotal. For example, there are accounts suggesting that peyote boosts milk production, an idea supported by preliminary research from the 1970s. For years, folks have reported the ways psychedelics have altered their menstrual cycle, linking them to heavier periods, a period that arrives early, or—alternatively—a more regular cycle. Research has shown that estrogen intensifies the brain’s dopamine reward pathway, so it’s also possible that a woman’s reaction to a particular drug is more pleasurable depending on the phase of her menstrual cycle.

Feduccia posits that psychedelics might be particularly helpful for the “rites of passage” that most women go through. “Psychedelics could bring better perspective when you get your first period, have your first child, and then go through menopause,” she says. “I just hope that women can benefit [from psychedelics] without having to drop $20,000 for a guided approach.” 

That guided approach is not only expensive but fraught with ethical concerns. Multiple high-profile cases of abuse in psychedelic therapy have made headlines in recent years. Richard Yensen, an unlicensed therapist who was a sub-­investigator for MAPS, was accused of sexually assaulting a PTSD patient during a MAPS clinical trial on MDMA. Allegations of sexual abuse were also made against Aharon Grossbard and his wife, Françoise Bourzat, leaders of a prominent group in the Bay Area that has been practicing psychedelic-­assisted therapy for over 30 years. 

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How do I know if egg freezing is for me?

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How do I know if egg freezing is for me?


The tool is currently being trialed in a group of research volunteers and is not yet widely available. But I’m hoping it represents a move toward more transparency and openness about the real costs and benefits of egg freezing. Yes, it is a remarkable technology that can help people become parents. But it might not be the best option for everyone.

Read more from Tech Review’s archive

Anna Louie Sussman had her eggs frozen in Italy and Spain because services in New York were too expensive. Luckily, there are specialized couriers ready to take frozen sex cells on international journeys, she wrote.

Michele Harrison was 41 when she froze 21 of her eggs. By the time she wanted to use them, two years later, only one was viable. Although she did have a baby, her case demonstrates that egg freezing is no guarantee of parenthood, wrote Bonnie Rochman.

What happens if someone dies with eggs in storage? Frozen eggs and sperm can still be used to create new life, but it’s tricky to work out who can make the decision, as I wrote in a previous edition of The Checkup.

Meanwhile, the race is on to create lab-made eggs and sperm. These cells, which might be made from a person’s blood or skin cells, could potentially solve a lot of fertility problems—should they ever prove safe, as I wrote in a feature for last year’s magazine issue on gender.

Researchers are also working on ways to mature eggs from transgender men in the lab, which could allow them to store and use their eggs without having to pause gender-affirming medical care or go through other potentially distressing procedures, as I wrote last year.

From around the web

The World Health Organization is set to decide whether covid still represents a “public health emergency of international concern.” It will probably decide to keep this status, because of the current outbreak in China. (STAT)  

Researchers want to study the brains, genes, and other biological features of incarcerated people to find ways to stop them from reoffending. Others warn that this approach is based on shoddy science and racist ideas. (Undark)

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A watermark for chatbots can expose text written by an AI

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The Download: watermarking AI text, and freezing eggs


For example, since OpenAI’s chatbot ChatGPT was launched in November, students have already started cheating by using it to write essays for them. News website CNET has used ChatGPT to write articles, only to have to issue corrections amid accusations of plagiarism. Building the watermarking approach into such systems before they’re released could help address such problems. 

In studies, these watermarks have already been used to identify AI-generated text with near certainty. Researchers at the University of Maryland, for example, were able to spot text created by Meta’s open-source language model, OPT-6.7B, using a detection algorithm they built. The work is described in a paper that’s yet to be peer-reviewed, and the code will be available for free around February 15. 

AI language models work by predicting and generating one word at a time. After each word, the watermarking algorithm randomly divides the language model’s vocabulary into words on a “greenlist” and a “redlist” and then prompts the model to choose words on the greenlist. 

The more greenlisted words in a passage, the more likely it is that the text was generated by a machine. Text written by a person tends to contain a more random mix of words. For example, for the word “beautiful,” the watermarking algorithm could classify the word “flower” as green and “orchid” as red. The AI model with the watermarking algorithm would be more likely to use the word “flower” than “orchid,” explains Tom Goldstein, an assistant professor at the University of Maryland, who was involved in the research. 

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The Download: watermarking AI text, and freezing eggs

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The Download: watermarking AI text, and freezing eggs


That’s why the team behind a new decision-making tool hope it will help to clear up some of the misconceptions around the procedure—and give would-be parents a much-needed insight into its real costs, benefits, and potential pitfalls. Read the full story.

—Jessica Hamzelou

This story is from The Checkup, MIT Technology Review’s weekly newsletter giving you the inside track on all things health and biotech. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Thursday.

The must-reads

I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.

1 Elon Musk held a surprise meeting with US political leaders 
Allegedly in the interest of ensuring Twitter is “fair to both parties.” (Insider $)
+ Kanye West’s presidential campaign advisors have been booted off Twitter. (Rolling Stone $)
+ Twitter’s trust and safety head is Musk’s biggest champion. (Bloomberg $) 

2 We’re treating covid like flu now
Annual covid shots are the next logical step. (The Atlantic $)

3 The worst thing about Sam Bankman-Fried’s spell in jail? 
Being cut off from the internet. (Forbes $)
+ Most crypto criminals use just five exchanges. (Wired $)
+ Collapsed crypto firmFTX has objected to a new investigation request. (Reuters)

4 Israel’s tech sector is rising up against its government
Tech workers fear its hardline policies will harm startups. (FT $)

5 It’s possible to power the world solely using renewable energy
At least, according to Stanford academic Mark Jacobson. (The Guardian)
+ Tech bros love the environment these days. (Slate $)
+ How new versions of solar, wind, and batteries could help the grid. (MIT Technology Review)

6 Generative AI is wildly expensive to run 
And that’s why promising startups like OpenAI need to hitch their wagons to the likes of Microsoft. (Bloomberg $)
+ How Microsoft benefits from the ChatGPT hype. (Vox)
+ BuzzFeed is planning to make quizzes supercharged by OpenAI. (WSJ $) 
+ Generative AI is changing everything. But what’s left when the hype is gone? (MIT Technology Review)

7 It’s hard not to blame self-driving cars for accidents
Even when it’s not technically their fault. (WSJ $)

8 What it’s like to swap Google for TikTok
It’s great for food suggestions and hacks, but hopeless for anything work-related. (Wired $)
+ The platform really wants to stay operational in the US. (Vox)
+ TikTok is mired in an eyelash controversy. (Rolling Stone $)

9 CRISPR gene editing kits are available to buy online
But there’s no guarantee these experiments will actually work. (Motherboard)
+ Next up for CRISPR: Gene editing for the masses? (MIT Technology Review)

10 Tech workers are livestreaming their layoffs
It’s a candid window into how these notoriously secretive companies treat their staff. (The Information $)

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