Can You See Us Now? – Naked People on Bikes (NSFW)

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Arriving in the park, it’s impossible to deny: that sure is a lot of cock.

I know, I know, it should technically be ‘a lot of cocks‘. But damn – the overwhelming impression from so many raw bodies is of an amount.

I soon realise there are quite a few women too. In fact, there are all sorts of bodies: slender, wobbly, pale, muscular, hairy, tattooed, tanned, sagging.

I’m on the scene at the Melbourne 2015 World Naked Bike Ride (WNBR), surrounded by about 200 bikes and people in various stages of undress.

While Germans have been into “active nudity” since the early 1900s, the global naked cycling movement is relatively young, dating back to 2004 when events were organised concurrently in ten countries. Since then, the movement has grown to encompass over 70 cities across 20 countries and 6 continents.

So why naked cycling? And more importantly, isn’t it damn uncomfortable?

The comfortableness or lack thereof, I’m about to experience first hand. As for the reason, the WNBR website lists three core objectives:

  • To celebrate cycling and the human body
  • To demonstrate the vulnerability of cyclists on the road
  • To protest against oil dependency

So the people standing idly around me, with their pasty nether regions shining in the sun, are basically a pack of pro-sustainability cyclists, as well as a few hippies. A smattering of nudists have also snuck into the mix – people more or less supportive of the cause, but mostly just looking for an excuse to get naked in public.

It feels bizarre undressing in front of all these strangers. I came for the full experience though, so off everything comes.

I’m crouched down painting swirls on my arm when a French guy wanders over and introduces himself, his shaved penis dangling precariously close to my face. His name is Nicholas and he also came alone. It becomes clear that this isn’t his first rodeo. He’s telling me all about a bunch of nudist festivals he attends when he recognises Richard, a friend from his all-male naked hiking group. Richard, painted in rainbow stripes, waves hi.

The thing the strikes me is just how funny the human body actually is, especially with a little paint. A redheaded woman has her boobs painted to look like daisies. An older man has ringed his tackle with multi-coloured halos. Nipples everywhere are adorned with love hearts and stars and paw prints. A Peruvian guy has drawn eyes on his hairy butt cheeks to watch you while you ride behind him. It’s… different. Backs have become billboards for all sorts of slogans:

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Less gas, more ass baby.

A rotund naked man in a fluro vest and hardhat pulls out a bullhorn and calls the group to attention. It’s finally time to hit the streets.

We mount up and roll out. I can’t speak for people with lady parts, but what I discover is that it’s surprisingly comfortable! As WNBR explains in their FAQ:

Surprisingly, for both women and men, riding naked isn’t especially less comfortable than riding clothed. When riding with clothes on you’re often rubbing against the seams, so in some ways naked riding is comfier!

We come to a busy intersection and drivers go wild, honking and cheering. One of the cyclists has rigged a speaker to the back of their bike, and ’90s music breaks forth. People dance in their seats. The lights change and we continue past an elderly couple on a walk. They grin with scandalised delight, and the woman covers the man’s eyes.

We experience a quirk of modern human psychology: as we come upon unsuspecting pedestrians, time after time, their immediate response (after a moment’s gleeful shock) is to pull out their phone and start filming. We must have been filmed by hundreds, thousands of people throughout the day.

Word of our coming spreads rapidly over the airwaves, and pre-informed spectators start appearing en masse to watch and grin and film. At the Carlton gardens, they spill onto the street in swarms, waving and chittering and filming. Richard the nudist calls out to them repeatedly, “Get naked! Join us! Being naked is awesome!” I feel distinctly uneasy.

We turn onto Sydney Road, one of Melbourne’s most notorious sites for bike accidents. Alberto Paulon was recently killed here when a motorist opened their door without looking, knocking him into the path of an oncoming truck. This is the exact kind of accident that the WNBR hopes to eliminate.

We fall quiet and stop to bow our heads as we reach his memorial – a white bicycle surrounded by flowers and handwritten messages of grievance and solidarity. Compassionate words are spoken by one of the organisers, and we leave shortly after with a strange mingling of emotions.

Alberto Paulon’s memorial on Sydney Rd

World Naked Bike Ride is an annual event that happens all over the world – probably in your own city. It attracts people of all ages, nationalities and body shapes. I found it to be an overwhelmingly positive event: a day of spreading smiles, spicing up the days of innocent strangers, and showcasing the true diversity of the human form.

If the cause resonates, but you’re a bit shy about your jiggly bits, remember you don’t have to get naked. The tagline is “As Bare as You Dare”, and there were plenty of people who only dared shorts or underwear. It’s also a good idea to bring a friend for moral support. Despite how welcoming and respectful everyone was, it can be draining to spend hours naked amongst strangers.

And even if the cause doesn’t move you, still consider checking out the ride route on the day. After all, how often do you get to see a flock of naked humans?

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Chocolate, Cannabis and Chemistry of the Brain

About two decades ago, a team of scientists at the San Diego Neuroscience Institute found themselves in the enviable situation of having spare grant money lying around. During a particularly dull lab meeting, one of the scientists – who was fantasising about chocolate instead of paying attention* – drifted into a wacky line of thought:

Why was chocolate so damn addictive? Could it possibly be because it contains psychoactive compounds? Compounds like maybe… tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active ingredient in cannabis?

 

The daydreamer put the question to the group, and after a brief debate the scientists all agreed that they had to find out. They grabbed the grant money and popped down the street to buy some chocolate.

They ground it up to analyse its chemical structure†, and what they learned was quite amazing: the chocolate contained tiny amounts of anandamide. Anandamide is a compound produced naturally by your brain, and it has a very similar structure as THC in cannabis. In fact, it has the same effect on your brain. Anandamide is your brain’s way of getting itself high, if just a tiny little bit.

 

They published their findings in Nature. In typically sciencey language:

“Cannabinoid drugs [such as anandamide and THC] are known to heighten sensitivity and produce euphoria. A possible side effect of elevated brain anandamide levels could be to intensify the sensory properties of chocolate thought to be essential to craving.”

In other words, eating chocolate might give you a little case of the munchies.

 

A note on the munchies, courtesy of Urban Dictionary:

“Contrary to popular belief, when you have the munchies you are generally NOT HUNGRY. It’s more like… eating feels really really good. Imagine everything tasting like the best-tasting thing you ever ate in your life.”

Does that sound suspiciously like chocolate to you?

Notably, the researchers found no anandamide in white chocolate. And in a way, this isn’t surprising. Has anyone ever craved white chocolate? No, of course not.

While the discovery was intriguing, it wasn’t clear whether chocolate contains enough anandamide to affect people’s brains in any meaningful way. A group of scientists based in Naples, Italy came in to tackle the question. Their plan: they were going to get a bunch of mice high.

I approve of this plan.

 

They reasoned that they could feed the mice different amounts of anandamide, and find the smallest dose needed to noticeably change their behaviour. They would then compare this dose to how much anandamide was in chocolate. If chocolate contained at least as much, it was probably affecting the brain. Being Italians, as a control treatment they used… olive oil. Seriously. Olive oil.

While some of the mice probably quite enjoyed the experiment, the result came out negative – there was nowhere near enough anandamide in chocolate to affect their behaviour. They published the findings in Nature:

“Our results show that the amounts of anandamide… are several orders of magnitude below those required, if administered by mouth, to reach the blood and cause observable ‘central’ effects.”

The Californian scientists wrote back a snarky response, criticising the Italians’ methodology and pointing out that of course chocolate didn’t get you high. Any psychoactive effects it might have would be subtle and subjective.

At its peak, this chocolate-cannabinoid question burst into the courtroom. A man had been accused of smoking and dealing marijuana after showing positive in a urine test. His lawyer had heard about the recent research, and decided to try it out as a defence. He argued that his client had eaten a huge amount of chocolate just prior to taking the urine test, and it was actually the anandamide from the chocolate that had made him fail. The judge, uncertain how to proceed, called in the scientists.

They synthesised pure anandamide, mixed it with urine, and then checked whether the concoction could trigger a positive result on a standard test. It couldn’t, and the man was convicted.

And this is where the story might have ended. Following the case, everyone seemed to lose interest in the chocolate-cannabinoid question. No further research was done, and the idea was forgotten.

Until, that is, a new group of Italian scientists entered the scene in the late ‘00s. By this time it was known that both THC and anandamide work by turning on a brain protein called CB1. CB1 then triggers a bunch of changes in your brain that create all the fun effects of cannabinoids. CB1 is also somehow involved in people’s motivation to eat “highly palatable” foods – anything sugary, fatty and delicious. In your brain it looks a bit like this:

Anandamide-THC-neuron

 

The Italian scientists had a colony of rats that they were raising on a diet of water and standard rat chow. It was healthy and filling, but not especially palatable.

To see what would happen, the scientists started offering the rats a highly palatable chocolate drink. It turns out that rats are just like humans and love chocolate – they started sipping it all the time. Now the rats were hooked on the chocolate, the scientists gave some of them a drug that turned off CB1 in their brains. This meant that cannabinoids like THC and anandamide wouldn’t affect them any more.

What happened? The rats without functioning CB1 lost interest in the chocolate drink. They still ate whenever they were hungry and maintained their weight, but they no longer seemed to care what they ate. Bland rat chow was just as good as chocolate. They had lost their ability to appreciate deliciousness.

 

*               *               *

 

To this day it’s still unknown whether there’s enough anandamide in chocolate to turn on CB1 in our brains at all. It’s clear though that this pathway is critical to our enjoyment of food. Without cannabinoids such as anandamide or THC turning on CB1 in our brains, we wouldn’t crave that delicious cheesy pizza or that caramel swirl ice cream. In line with this, drugs that block CB1 are currently being investigated as a possible tool for weight loss.

If, on the other hand, you’re someone who likes to supplement their brain with the occasional bit of THC, next time you’re enjoying that delicious junk food, you’ll know which protein to thank.

 

marley choc

 

Sources:
  • Brain cannabinoids in chocolate; Di Tomaso, E; Beltramo, M; Piomelli, D; Nature August 22, 1996, Vol. 382 Issue 6593, p677
  • Trick or treat from food endocannabinoids? Di Marzo, V; Sepe, N; Petrocellis, L; Berger, A; Crozier, G; Fride, E; Mechoulam, R; Nature, UK; Vol. 396 (6712), 1998, 636.
  • Cannabinoid mimics in chocolate utilized as an argument in court; Tytgat, J; Van Boven, M; Daenens, P; International Journal of Legal Medicine; 20000509, Vol. 113 Issue: 3 p137-139, 3p, 2000
  • Suppression by the cannabinoid CB1 receptor antagonist, rimonabant, of the reinforcing and motivational properties of a chocolate-flavoured beverage in rats; Maccioni, P; Pes, D; Carai, MA; Gessa, GL; Colombo G; BEHAVIOURAL PHARMACOLOGY; MAY, 2008, 19 3, p197-p209, 13p.

*This sentence is a complete fantasy with no basis in fact

†The chocolate also contained two related compounds which act to stabilise anandamide and prolong its effects. These other compounds were synthesised and included along with anandamide in the legal case.