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Under The Radar – 14 May

This week, we discuss:

  1. MDMA being used to treat PTSD

  2. Warnings from the media over the Online Safety Bill

  3. Facebook downgrading its digital currency project…again

MDMA used to treat PTSD

What happened?

Results from a new trial in America suggest that MDMA, commonly known as a party drug, could be more effective than therapy alone at treating PTSD. The results suggest two-thirds of people no longer qualified for a PTSD diagnosis afterwards.

What does it mean?

Undertaken by US charity Maps with the approval of the FDA, the study found 88% of people had a “meaningful reduction in symptoms”, while 67% no longer qualified for a PTSD diagnosis at all after 18 weeks and three sessions of MDMA-assisted therapy.

Although the results are based on just 91 people, they are nonetheless significant. Most psychedelic studies are exploratory, remaining unlikely to receive approval for prescription usage. However, Maps’ study is a stage three trial, meaning the findings can be used to apply for prescribing approval.

In recent years the US has rapidly embraced a liberal approach to psychedelics in numerous states, resulting in changing attitudes that have paved the way for progressive trials. Maps’ chief scientific officer has now said that MDMA could be available for prescription by 2023 in the US, with approval being sought in the UK this summer.

Experts in the UK have urged caution due to the small sample size but have accepted the study adds further weight to the growing conviction that psychedelic drugs have real treatment potential. 

It remains to be seen whether the UK will embrace the potential of psychedelics or continue living in the past.

Alarm bells rung over Online Safety Bill 

What happened?

Campaigners have warned that the government’s Online Safety Bill risks “stifling the free press”. The proposed bill includes safeguards for social media users’ ability to access journalism, including features to protect content deemed “democratically important”. Nevertheless, some have warned journalism is now in the scope of state regulation and under threat.

What does it mean?

Oliver Dowden, the culture secretary, is certainly correct in calling the legislation “groundbreaking” – with its unprecedented curbs to stop the spread of illegal and harmful content.

But in the government’s war on social media, has the free press been caught in the crossfire? Ministers are adamant it has not, pointing to the protections for “democratically important” content and a fast-track appeals process should journalists’ content be removed. But Fleet Street is not so sure.

Commentator, former journalist, and General Secretary of the Free Speech Union, Toby Young, has argued that while the democratic protections are a welcomed exemption, “an important line has been crossed” and “the state has no business regulating the work of journalists, whether it’s in a newspaper or on Facebook”.

Equally, Daily Mail editor emeritus Peter Wright told the House of Lords that the appeals process is completely unworkable for the media, “the shelf life of news is incredibly short. If a big story breaks, and 20 to 30 different news outlets are covering it and the platforms decide to block three of them, the story may have moved on within an hour or two. There is no appeals process you could put in place that would repair the damage that had been done.”

Social media has undoubtedly had a detrimental effect on the quality of journalism. So despite the reactionary outrage, perhaps a slower and more considered news cycle would be a good thing.

Facebook’s digital currency fails to impress

What happened?

Facebook-backed digital currency project Diem has announced it has withdrawn its application for a Swiss payment license and will instead shift its operations to the United States and partner with a domestic bank to issue a US-dollar backed stablecoin.

What does it mean?

Facebook’s digital currency has hit road bump after road bump. It is now a shadow of the former grandiose vision that was supposedly going to change the way we pay for goods and services entirely.

Announced in 2019, it was anticipated that Facebook would revolutionise the world of commerce by creating the Libra Association and the eponymous digital currency. But after Mark Zuckerberg and his Nick Clegg brain-trust failed to win over policymakers and regulators, Facebook scaled back the plan to Libra 2.0, which shared more resemblance to PayPal than a challenger currency.

The subsequent rebrand to Diem hasn’t been enough to shake the reputational damage that dogged Libra, with successor Diem downgrading the project even further. It has given up its global vision, abandoning its application to the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority and relocating its HQ from Switzerland to the U.S.

Diem will now launch a stablecoin, which is tied to the U.S. dollar, while California based Silvergate Bank will issue and manage the reserves.

This Week’s Must Reads

  1. ‘How India’s Covid-19 crisis diminished Narendra Modi’ by

  2. Amy Kazmin, Benjamin Parkin and Jyotsna Singh for the Financial Times

  3. ‘Could the rising Gaza death toll spell the end of Israel’s new friendship with Gulf states?’ by Yossi Mekelberg for The Telegraph

  4. ‘No visitors but teeming with life: what’s going on inside the Natural History Museum?’ by Phoebe Weston for The Guardian

  5. ‘Without total change Labour will die’ by Tony Blair for the New Statesman


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