The US is readying sanctions against Russia over the SolarWinds cyber attack. Here’s a simple explanation of how the massive hack happened and why it’s such a big deal

SolarWinds
SolarWinds Corp. banner hangs at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on the IPO day of the company in New York.

  • SolarWinds was the subject of a massive cybersecurity attack that spread to the company’s clients.
  • Major firms like Microsoft and top government agencies were attacked, and sensitive data was exposed.
  • Here’s a simple explanation of what happened and why it’s important.

SolarWinds, a major US information technology firm, was the subject of a cyberattack that spread to its clients and went undetected for months, Reuters first reported in December. Foreign hackers, who some top US officials believe are from Russia, were able to use the hack to spy on private companies like the elite cybersecurity firm FireEye and the upper echelons of the US Government, including the Department of Homeland Security and Treasury Department.

On Thursday, it was reported that the US government was ready to impose sanctions on about a dozen Russian intelligence officials over their alleged role in interfering with the 2020 presidential election as well as the Solarwinds attack.

Here’s a simple explanation of how the massive breach happened, and why it matters.

An unusual hack

In early 2020, hackers secretly broke into Texas-based SolarWind’s systems and added malicious code into the company’s software system. The system, called “Orion,” is widely used by companies to manage IT resources. Solarwinds has 33,000 customers that use Orion, according to SEC documents.

Most software providers regularly send out updates to their systems, whether it’s fixing a bug or adding new features. SolarWinds is no exception. Beginning as early as March of 2020, SolarWinds unwittingly sent out software updates to its customers that included the hacked code.

The code created a backdoor to customer’s information technology systems, which hackers then used to install even more malware that helped them spy on companies and organizations.

Read more: How hackers breached IT company SolarWinds and staged an unprecedented attack that left US government agencies vulnerable for 9 months

The victims

SolarWinds told the SEC that up to 18,000 of its customers installed updates that left them vulnerable to hackers. Since SolarWinds has many high-profile clients, including Fortune 500 companies and multiple agencies in the US government, the breach could be massive. Microsoft president Brad Smith said in a February congressional hearing that more than 80% of the victims targeted were nongovernment organizations.

Read more: Microsoft said its software and tools were not used ‘in any way’ in the SolarWinds attacks. New findings suggest a more complicated role

US agencies – including parts of the Pentagon, the Department of Homeland Security, the State Department, the Department of Energy, the National Nuclear Security Administration, and the Treasury – were attacked. So were private companies, like Microsoft, Cisco, Intel, and Deloitte, and other organizations like the California Department of State Hospitals, and Kent State University, the Wall Street Journal reported.

And since the hack was done so stealthily, and went undetected for months, security experts say that some victims may never know if they were hacked or not, the Wall Street Journal reported.

At the Treasury Department, hackers broke into dozens of email accounts and networks in the Departmental Offices of the Treasury, “home to the department’s highest-ranking officials,” Sen. Ron Wyden said. The IRS hasn’t found any evidence of being compromised, he added. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on CNBC that the hackers have only accessed unclassified information, but the department is still investigating the extent of the breach.

Read more: Former US cybersecurity chief Chris Krebs says officials are still tracking ‘scope’ of the SolarWinds hack

Who did it?

Federal investigators and cybersecurity experts say that Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, known as the SVR, is probably responsible for the attack. Russian intelligence was also credited with breaking into the email servers in the White House, the State Department, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 2014 and 2015. Later, the same group attacked the Democratic National Committee and members of the Hilary Clinton presidential campaign.

Russia has denied any involvement with the breach and former President Donald Trump had suggested, without evidence, that Chinese hackers may be the culprits. But the Biden White House has said it may respond to the cyberattack in the coming weeks, which could include actions against the Russian government.

Microsoft’s Smith said during the February hearing that he believes Russia is behind the attack, and FireEye CEO Kevin Mandia said based on his company’s forensic analysis, the evidence is “most consistent with espionage and behaviors we’ve seen out of Russia.” However, the execs noted that the full extent of the attack is still unfolding.

Read more: 5 takeaways from the Tuesday Senate hearing over the SolarWinds cyberattack

Why it matters

Now that multiple networks have been penetrated, it’s expensive and very difficult to secure systems. Tom Bossert, President Trump’s former homeland security officer, said that it could be years before the networks are secure again. With access to government networks, hackers could, “destroy or alter data, and impersonate legitimate people,” Bossert wrote in an Op-Ed for the New York Times.

Not only is the breach one of the largest in recent memory, but it also comes as a wake-up call for federal cybersecurity efforts. The US Cyber Command, which receives billions of dollars in funding and is tasked with protecting American networks, was “blindsided” by the attack, the New York Times reported. Instead, a private cybersecurity firm called FireEye was the first to notice the breach when it noticed that its own systems were hacked.

FireEye CEO Kevin Mandia testified in February after the US Senate summoned SolarWinds as well as Microsoft, CrowdStrike to a series of hearings over the sweeping breach.

The hack could accelerate broad changes in the cybersecurity industry. Companies are turning to a new method of assuming that there are already breaches, rather than merely reacting to attacks after they are found, Business Insider previously reported. And the US government may reorganize its cybersecurity efforts by making the Cyber Command independent from National Security Agency, the Associated Press reported.

The attack may also lead to a strengthened relationship between the US government and the cybersecurity industry, with the private sector helping federal officials fight off nation-state attacks and foreign bad actors in the future, as Insider reported.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Here’s what marijuana actually does to your body and brain

woman smoking marijuana out of a pipe at home
  • 1 in 3 Americans now live in a state where adults can legally buy marijuana for recreational use.
  • New Jersey, Arizona, Montana, and South Dakota all legalized marijuana for over-21-year-olds. New York is on the verge of legalization and could soon become the 15th state to legalize weed for all adults.
  • Research has found cannabis can relieve pain, treat epilepsy, and improve people’s sex lives. Marijuana use has also been associated with short-term memory problems, a distorted sense of time, and decreased sperm counts.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Marijuana is legal for all adults in 14 states, but its federal designation as an illegal drug has made studying the substance difficult.

Vaping smoking

Marijuana’s official designation in the US as a Schedule 1 drug — something with “no currently accepted medical use” — means it has been pretty tough to study.

That remains the case, despite the fact that, at a state level, the drug is increasingly accessible for the general public.

As of Election Day 2020, when Arizona, Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota gave the green light to marijuana use for adults, 1 in 3 Americans live in a state where they can legally buy cannabis.

New York will soon become the 15th state to legalize recreational cannabis. On March 28, New York state officials announced they introduced a bill to make the substance legal for all adults and would vote on the legislation as early as Tuesday.

Despite the limitations to scientists studying the drug, a growing body of research and numerous anecdotal reports have found links between cannabis and several health benefits, including pain relief and the potential to help with certain forms of epilepsy.

In addition, researchers say there are many other ways marijuana might affect health that they want to better understand — including a mysterious syndrome that appears to make marijuana users violently ill.

Along with several other recent studies, a massive report released by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in 2017 helps sum up exactly what we know — and what we don’t — about the science of weed.

Here’s what you should know about how marijuana affects the brain and body.

Marijuana use is linked to a rare syndrome that causes nausea and vomiting.

emergency room

Most recently, a March 2019 study looked at over 2,500 cannabis-related ER visits in Colorado. They found that stomach issues like nausea and vomiting were the main driver of the trips, even before psychiatric problems like intoxication and paranoia. 

In 2004, Australian doctors began looking into these stomach symptoms based on the experiences of a local woman who used to be able to smoke marijuana with no issue, and then seemingly out of nowhere began having adverse reactions that paralleled those in the 2019 study.

They gave her condition a name: cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome, or CHS. The rare illness is still fairly new and understudied, but researchers believe it might affect a large population.

“CHS is certainly not very rare,” Andrew Monte, an associate professor of emergency medicine at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital who led the March study, previously told Business Insider. “We see it absolutely every week in our ER.”

Marijuana can make you feel good.

marijuana smoke colorado
In this April 19, 2014 file photo, partygoers dance and smoke pot on the first of two days at the annual 4/20 marijuana festival in Denver. The annual event is the first 4/20 marijuana celebration since retail marijuana stores began selling in Jan. 2014. A year after Colorado’s marijuana tax for schools came in far short of its goal, the fund is setting records and has accrued more money in the first five months in 2015 than it did for all of 2014.

One of weed’s active ingredients, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) interacts with the brain’s reward system, the part that has been primed to respond to things that make us feel good, like eating and sex.

When overexcited by drugs, the reward system creates feelings of euphoria. This is also why some studies have suggested that excessive marijuana use can be a problem for some people — the more often you trigger that euphoria, the less you may feel during other rewarding experiences.

In the short term, it can also make your heart race.

Marijuana

Within a few minutes of inhaling marijuana, your heart rate can increase by between 20 and 50 beats a minute. This can last anywhere from 20 minutes to three hours, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

The NASEM report found insufficient evidence to support or refute the idea that cannabis might increase the overall risk of a heart attack. The same report, however, also found some limited evidence that smoking could be a trigger for a heart attack.

Marijuana’s effects on the heart could be tied to effects on blood pressure, but the link needs more research.

marijuana weed pot cannabis smoke smoker

In August, a study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology appeared to suggest that marijuana smokers face a threefold higher risk of dying from high blood pressure than people who have never smoked — but the study came with an important caveat: it defined a “marijuana user” as anyone who’d ever tried the drug.

Research suggests this is a poor assumption — and one that could have interfered with the study’s results. According to a recent survey, about 52% of Americans have tried cannabis at some point, yet only 14% used the drug at least once a month.

Other studies have also come to the opposite conclusion of the present study. According to the Mayo Clinic, using cannabis could result in decreased — not increased — blood pressure.

So while there’s probably a link between smoking marijuana and high blood pressure, there’s not enough research yet to say that one leads to the other.

Weed may also help relieve some types of pain.

medical marijuana
A worker tends to cannabis plants at a plantation near the northern Israeli city of Safed June 11, 2012.

Pot contains cannabidiol, or CBD, a chemical that is not responsible for getting you high but is thought to be responsible for many of marijuana’s therapeutic effects. Those benefits can include pain relief or potential treatment for certain kinds of childhood epilepsy.

The new report also found conclusive or substantial evidence — the most definitive levels — that cannabis can be an effective treatment for chronic pain, which could have to do with both CBD and THC. Pain is also “by far the most common” reason people request medical marijuana, according to the report.

Pain relief could include the discomfort of arthritis.

Medical Pot

One of the ways scientists think marijuana may help with pain is by reducing inflammation, a component of illnesses like rheumatoid arthritis.

A preliminary 2005 study of 58 patients with RA, roughly half of whom were given a placebo and roughly half of whom were given a cannabis-based medicine called Sativex, found “statistically significant improvements in pain on movement, pain at rest, quality of sleep” for patients on Sativex.

Other studies testing other cannabinoid products and inhaled marijuana have shown similar pain-relieving effects, according to the report.

Individuals with inflammatory bowel disease may also find some relief.

medicinal marijuana
A volunteer displays cannabis buds at the La Brea Collective medical marijuana dispensary in Los Angeles, California, March 18, 2014.

Some people with inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis could also benefit from marijuana use, studies suggest.

A 2014 paper, for example, describes two studies of people with chronic Crohn’s. Half were given the drug and half got a placebo. That study showed a decrease in symptoms in 10 of 11 subjects using cannabis, compared with just four of 10 on the placebo. But when the researchers did a follow-up study using low-dose CBD, they saw no effect in the patients.

Researchers say that, for now, we need more research before we’ll know whether cannabis can help with these diseases.

Marijuana may also be helpful in controlling epileptic seizures.

Marijuana stock photo

In June 2018, the FDA approved a CBD medication called Epidiolex.

The drug can be prescribed to people with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome, two rare forms of epilepsy. In fact, it is the first FDA-approved treatment option for Dravet syndrome.

In the clinical trial for the drug, common side effects included sleepiness, fatigue, decreased appetite, diarrhea, and insomnia.

But it can also mess with your sense of balance.

A man gestures during a demonstration in support of the legalization of marijuana outside the Supreme Court building in Mexico City, in this November 4, 2015 file photo. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido/Files
File photo of a man gesturing during a demonstration in support of the legalization of marijuana outside the Supreme Court building in Mexico City

Marijuana may throw off your balance, as it influences activity in the cerebellum and basal ganglia, two brain areas that help regulate balance, coordination, reaction time, and posture.

And it can distort your sense of time.

woman and clock

Feeling as if time is sped up or slowed down is one of the most commonly reported effects of using marijuana. A 2012 paper sought to draw some solid conclusions from studies on those anecdotal reports, but it was unable to do so.

“Even though 70% of time estimation studies report overestimation, the findings of time production and time reproduction studies remain inconclusive,” the paper said.

In a 1998 study that used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to focus on the brains of volunteers on THC, the authors noted that many had altered blood flow to the cerebellum, which most likely plays a role in our sense of time.

Limitations on what sort of marijuana research is allowed make it particularly difficult to study this sort of effect.

Weed can also turn your eyes red.

Eye

Since weed makes blood vessels expand, it can give you red eyes.

And you’ll probably get the munchies.

mod pizza photos and review 5496

A case of the munchies is no figment of the imagination — both casual and heavy marijuana users tend to overeat when they smoke.

A recent study in mice suggested the possibility that marijuana may effectively flip a circuit in the brain that is normally responsible for quelling the appetite, triggering us to eat instead.

It all comes down to a special group of cells in the brain that are normally activated after we have eaten a big meal to tell us we’ve had enough. The psychoactive ingredient in weed appears to activate just one component of those appetite-suppressing cells, making us feel hungry rather than satisfied.

A 2014 study found that marijuana use had no effect on body weight, despite the munchies phenomenon commonly associated with use.

Some women have reported having more satisfying sex when using marijuana.

love couple kissing sex rain nyc

A small study of 373 women from of varying races, sexual orientations, and marital statuses found that people who said they used marijuana before sex tended to have a more pleasurable experience than those who did not use the substance.

Specifically, some women reported having more satisfying orgasms and an increase in their sex drive.

Researchers weren’t able to pinpoint why marijuana had this effect, but suggested it could be due to the substance’s ability to reduce stress and anxiety.

Marijuana may also interfere with how you form memories.

weed smoking

Marijuana can mess with your memory by changing the way your brain processes information, but scientists still aren’t sure exactly how this happens. Still, several studies suggest that weed interferes with short-term memory, and researchers tend to see more of these effects in inexperienced or infrequent users than in heavy, frequent users.

Unsurprisingly, these effects are most evident in the acute sense — immediately after use, when people are high.

According to the new NASEM report, there was limited evidence showing a connection between cannabis use and impaired academic achievement, something that has been shown to be especially true for people who begin smoking regularly during adolescence. (That has also been shown to increase the risk for problematic use.)

Importantly, in most cases, saying cannabis is connected to an increased risk doesn’t mean marijuana use caused that risk.

In some people, weed could increase the risk of depression.

Marijuana buds are seen at the "Oregon's Finest" medical marijuana dispensary in Portland, Oregon April 8, 2014. REUTERS/Steve Dipaola
Marijuana buds are seen at the “Oregon’s Finest” medical marijuana dispensary in Portland

Scientists can’t say for sure whether marijuana causes depression or depressed people are simply more likely to smoke. But one study from the Netherlands suggests that smoking weed could raise the risk of depression for young people who already have a special serotonin gene that could make them more vulnerable to depression.

Those findings are bolstered by the NASEM report, which found moderate evidence that cannabis use was linked to a small increased risk of depression.

And it may also increase the risk of developing schizophrenia.

marijuana weed pot cannabis joint smoke smoking smoker
A visitor smokes a marijuana cigarrette during the Expo Cannabis fair in Montevideo, Uruguay, Sunday, Dec. 14, 2014. After state regulation of the production and sale of marijuana, Uruguay had its first cannabis expo with stands selling seeds, marijuana growing technology, conferences and cultivation techniques workshops.

The NASEM report also found substantial evidence of an increased risk among frequent marijuana users of developing schizophrenia — something that studies have shown is a particular concern for people at risk for schizophrenia in the first place.

Regular marijuana use may also be connected to an increased risk of social anxiety.

marijuana cannabis
Bob Leeds, co-owner of Sea of Green Farms, shows some of the marijuana he produces during a tour of his company’s facility in Seattle, Washington June 30, 2014.

Researchers think it’s possible that CBD might be a useful treatment for anxiety disorders, and that’s something that several institutions are currently trying to study.

The recent report suggested that evidence of a link between marijuana and an increased risk of most anxiety disorders was limited.

However, the authors wrote that there is moderate evidence that regular marijuana use is connected to an increased risk of social anxiety. As in other cases, it’s hard to know whether marijuana use causes that increase or people use marijuana because of an increased risk of social anxiety.

Marijuana use could also affect sperm count.

sperm and egg

A small study of 37 men found that those who used marijuana had decreased sperm counts than those who never used marijuana. The study did not specify the methods of marijuana consumption used.

Another study, however, found that marijuana increased sperm count in men. This study was larger and looked at 1,215 healthy young men. They found that men who currently or previously used marijuana had both higher sperm counts and higher sperm concentrations than men who never used the substance.

A person could need more sedation medication for surgery if they have a regular marijuana habit.

surgery

A small study in the May 2019 issue of The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association found that people who reported smoking marijuana or eating edibles on a daily or weekly basis needed higher doses of medication for sedation.

The researchers found that people who used marijuana daily or weekly needed 14% more fentanyl, 19.6% more midazolam, and 220.5% more propofol (all medications that are used for sedation) for the full length of their procedures than their counterparts who didn’t use as much marijuana.

Researchers haven’t determined why this was the case, but they believe marijuana could potentially desensitize the body’s receptors that process sedatives.

It’s worth noting that marijuana has likely gotten stronger since the 1980s, and that its ratio of THC to CBD has changed as well.

Cannabis dispensary
A variety of medicinal marijuana buds in jars are pictured at Los Angeles Patients & Caregivers Group dispensary in West Hollywood, California U.S., October 18, 2016.

The THC content of marijuana across the US has tripled since 1995, according to a large recent study in which researchers reviewed close to 39,000 samples of cannabis. While THC levels hovered around 4%, on average, in 1995, they skyrocketed to roughly 12% in 2014.

Meanwhile, the CBD content in marijuana — the part that’s responsible for many of the drug’s therapeutic effects — has dropped, the researchers found, shifting the ratio of THC to CBD from 14:1 in 1995 to about 80:1 in 2014.

Still, tracking THC potency over time can be tricky. The older a weed sample gets, the more its THC appears to degrade. How it is stored matters too. These two barriers could be interfering somewhat with the metrics on pot’s potency.

Most importantly, regular weed use is linked with some specific brain changes – but scientists can’t say for sure whether one causes the other.

girl smoking marijuana weed

In a recent study, scientists used MRI brain scans to get a better picture of the brains of adults who have smoked weed at least four times a week for years.

Compared to people who rarely or never used the drug, the long-term users tended to have a smaller orbitofrontal cortex, a brain region critical for processing emotions and making decisions. But they also had stronger cross-brain connections, which scientists think smokers may develop to compensate.

Still, the study doesn’t show that smoking pot caused certain regions of the brain to shrink; other studies suggest that having a smaller orbitofrontal cortex in the first place could make someone more likely to start smoking.

Most researchers agree that the people most susceptible to brain changes are those who begin using marijuana regularly during adolescence.

FILE - In this April 11, 2018, file photo, a high school student uses a vaping device near a school campus in Cambridge, Mass. U.S. health regulators are moving ahead with a plan to keep e-cigarettes out of the hands of teenagers by restricting sales of most flavored products in convenience stores and online. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)
FILE – In this April 11, 2018, file photo, a high school student uses a vaping device near a school campus in Cambridge, Mass. U.S. health regulators are moving ahead with a plan to keep e-cigarettes out of the hands of teenagers by restricting sales of most flavored products in convenience stores and online. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)

A small study of teenagers in Europe found that people who used marijuana had more gray matter in their brains, which can affect how humans mature over time.

The researchers noticed these brain-level changes in teens who had just one or two joints in their lifetimes.

Although researchers are unsure whether higher brain volume is bad for health, they do know brain volume naturally decreases during the aging process, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

An international meta-analysis of 23,317 young adults also found that marijuana use could increase risk for depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts.

“Although the causes of major depressive disorder are multifactorial and complex, this meta-analysis suggests that the cannabis exposure could be 1 factor contributing to depression in young adulthood,” the researchers wrote.

Marijuana use affects the lungs but doesn’t seem to increase the risk of lung cancer.

marijuana smoke smoking smoker weed pot
A woman smokes a marijuana joint during the “Marijuana March”on Ipanema beach, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Saturday, May 7, 2016. About 1,000 people gathered for the demonstration demanding the legalization of the production and sale of marijuana.

People who smoke marijuana regularly are more likely to experience chronic bronchitis, according to the report. There’s also evidence that stopping smoking relieves these symptoms.

Yet perhaps surprisingly, the report’s authors found moderate evidence that cannabis was not connected to any increased risk of the lung cancers or head and neck cancers associated with smoking cigarettes.

Other forms of marijuana consumption, like vaping or eating edibles, have not been linked to increased cancer risk like smoking has been linked.

“When you combust any plant, you’re creating significantly more carcinogens,” Dr. Jeffrey Chen, the director of the UCLA Cannabis Research Initiative, previously told INSIDER.

Some athletes think marijuana could be used in ways that might improve certain types of physical performance.

Snowboarder snowboarding at Copper Mountain Colorado
A snowboarder gets air on a jump at the Woodward at Cooper terrain park on the opening day at Copper Mountain ski area Friday, November 4th, 2011. This is the first year that the terrain park has ever opened for opening day.

Some athletes, especially in certain endurance and adventure sports, say marijuana use can boost their athletic performance. This may be because of anti-inflammatory or pain-relieving effects that make it easier to push through a long workout or recover from one.

At the same time, there are ways that marijuana could impair athletic performance, since it affects coordination and motivation, and dulls the body’s natural recovery process.

Without more research, it’s hard to know how marijuana affects athletic performance.

There’s evidence that marijuana use during pregnancy could have negative effects.

Pregnant woman

According to the new NASEM report, there’s substantial evidence showing a link between prenatal cannabis exposure — when a pregnant woman uses marijuana — and lower birth weight. There was limited evidence suggesting that using marijuana during pregnancy could cause complications and increase the risk that a baby would have to spend time in a neonatal intensive care unit.

A study published in JAMA Psychiatry in September 2020 found that pregnant women who used marijuana had a higher risk of their children having ADHD and/or psychotic behaviors that have been linked to schizophrenia.

And an analysis, published in Nature Medicine in August 2020, linked cannabis use among pregnant women to autism in their children. The study, conducted in Ontario, Canada, involved data from 3,000 women who used cannabis during pregnancy. 

Still, pregnant and breastfeeding women have reported using the drug to relieve nausea, pain, and depression symptoms since traditional NSAID painkillers are not allowed during pregnancy.

Experts say they have little information about the potential health risks associated with this practice, so they urge mothers to abstain from marijuana consumption.

CBD pills could help people cut down on marijuana use or quit.

medical marijuana cbd hemp weed smoking joint leafly flowers cox 3

Cannabis use disorder is a diagnosis that describes dependence on cannabis, making it hard to consume less of, or none of, the drug.

But in a study published in July 2o2o, UK researchers found that using CBD pills could wean people off cannabis if they have been diagnosed with cannabis use disorder.

“Unlike THC, CBD does not produce intoxicating or rewarding effects and it shows potential for a treating several other medical disorders,” lead author Dr. Tom Freeman said.

There are still so many questions about how marijuana affects the body and brain that scientists say far more research is needed.

marijuana cannabis pot weed bud nug medical

Based on the available evidence and conversations with researchers, there are good reasons to think marijuana has potentially valuable medical uses. At the same time, we know that, as with any substance, not all use is risk-free.

More research is needed to figure out how to best treat the conditions that cannabis can help and how to minimize any risks associated with medical or recreational use.

Staci Gruber, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and the director of the Marijuana Investigations for Neuroscientific Discovery program at McLean Hospital, told Business Insider that marijuana research is essential in determining “how best we can use it, what are the safest ways, and what are the real risks.” 

Kevin Loria contributed to a previous version of this story.

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As virtual reality’s popularity grows, sex-tech companies are making plans for increased online intimacy

Raspberry Dream Labs Haptic Cyber Sex
People wearing Raspberry Dream Labs prototypes in London.

  • The founder of sex-tech company Raspberry Dream Labs said the pandemic may lead to a cybersex boom.
  • “The time is so ripe for it,” Angelina Aleksandrovich told Insider in an interview.
  • Her company is testing a VR cybersex experience with immersive sounds, scents, and haptic pulses.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Has COVID-19 changed the way the world will hook up?

It seems that way, according to Angelina Aleksandrovich, founder and creative director of Raspberry Dream Labs. Her company’s been busy building a rig and software so people who are apart can still enjoy intimacy. The time is right, she told Insider.

Companies like Aleksandrovich’s are positioning themselves for a future with rising remote intimacy, even with the end of lockdowns visible on the horizon. It’s one of a few competing visions of the post-vaccine future. Suitsupply, for example, launched an ad campaign this year featuring zero social distancing, with the tagline “The new normal is coming.”

Raspberry Dream Labs Founder Angelina Aleksandrovich.JPG
Raspberry Dream Labs founder Angelina Aleksandrovich wearing a VR headset she gives volunteers for her cyber-sex experience using XR, a combination of virtual and augmented reality, haptic stimulators, sounds and scent.

In the future envisioned by Raspberry Dream Labs, some people may still be skittish about meeting new partners in person, even as the pandemic fades.The company’s rig is meant to give users who are apart a sense of being intimate, with immersive sounds, visuals, and scents. It also places haptic pulses on their bodies, giving them the sense of being touched. It’s still a prototype but eventually, users will be able to wear the rig and enter the company’s virtual platform, Raspberry Dream Land, to meet others, Aleksandrovich said.

The London-based company recently demoed the experience, hosting a weeklong event that celebrated sexuality, identity, gender, body, technology and futurism. It included talks given by artists and sex-tech proponents, who attempted to demystify cybersex, said its founder.

Now, Aleksandrovich said the company’s prepping for a public launch of Raspberry Dream’s platform. The company tested virtual reality hosting sites, but “faced enormous oppression” and censorship from the companies that ran them, Aleksandrovich said. So it’s building its own platform instead.

Aleksandrovich continued: “As in what the future hold for us: It holds total independence from censoring corporations and freedom of radical expression as we build our own social webXR platform – Raspberry Dream Land – where people can meet in the virtual world, go on the dates, attend events that would be censored elsewhere online, get playful and build meaning connections over the distance.”

Raspberry Dream Labs colored prototype
A Raspberry Dream Labs prototype.

Aleksandrovich said Raspberry Dream Labs was created as a hybrid of her formal training as an artist and her work at creative agencies, where she pitched VR experiences to big brands.

She hadn’t intended to start a company; her plan for the rig was just to create it as a one-off project. But she quickly found that she felt “better about myself doing something meaningful.”

“I’ve been interested in sex since my early childhood. But the lack of early age sex education and growing up in post-soviet eastern Ukraine didn’t help my curiosity,” Aleksandrovich told Insider.

Raspberry Dream prototype backpack haptic rig cybersex
A woman wearing Raspberry Dream Labs haptic rig.

After graduating from the Chelsea College of Art and Design, she built VR and immersive productions for brands. She mostly followed creative briefs, but also started pitching ideas about multisensory experiences, including scents and temperature control.

“But something that would’ve sounded like a great career was actually eating me from the inside,” she said. “I wasn’t feeling happy creating ‘brand experiences’ for brands I didn’t care for, just for the sake of being able to keep up with that life.”

In 2018, she was poking around through files on her computer, when she found a folder filled with stuff she’d made at art school. It was then that Raspberry Dream Labs was born.

“They made me feel very nostalgic and reminded me that I already found my passion, the subject of human sexuality,” she said. “All I had to do was act upon it.”

Read the original article on Business Insider