I am a rather hairy chap. I have big head, a big nose and have worn a beard all my life now. I also have long hair and, yes, I should take greater care of my appearance. But then I don’t think too often about how I look. I also have something of a sleepy look in my eyes, something I have noticed on looking at photographs of myself. To the untrained eye I would look like a regular drug user, which I was – but all of them prescribed by a trained medical practitioner until I stopped using them and consequently felt immensely better – but more of that later.
So when I use the phrase ‘regular drug user’, I am of course referring to non pharmaceutical drugs, drugs supplied by criminals, which I never use and know nothing whatever about. I do know a bit about the other kinds of drugs, drugs we all use:- cigarettes, tobacco, alcohol, aspirin, paracetamol, caffeine, chocolate, coca cola, and the hundreds of other mind altering substances we consume casually every day.
Coca Cola, used to clean blood off crime scenes, with a billion cans day consumed, is really, really bad for you. (I succumb to a can or two when I get Chinese take out)
Check this out:
* sorry I couldn’t properly source above – apologies to the creator/s of very interesting meme poster*
Ok, forget about Coca Cola and paracetamol and such like. Try chocolate. I like Chocolate. Chocolate is sold to billions of children and adults all day every day worldwide. Chocolate contains small amounts of anandamide. Anandamide is an endogenous cannabanoid receptor in the brain. It gets you a tad high.That’s what gives one that happy sleepy gentle euphoric feeling that chocolate effects on the brain and body. So we get just a little stoned every time we have a Milk Tray or a Snickers. Chocolate also contains a substance called Phenylethylamine. This releases dopamine in the mesolimbic pleasure-centres. Phenylethylamine peaks during orgasm. So we are giving our kids a cannabis activating aphrodisiac for good behaviour, or as a treat.I know it sounds a little odd the way I have just written that, but not untrue. Shouldn’t chocolate bars carry a warning of sorts?
I remember a disturbing experience coming through customs in JFK airport around 2009 or so. I remember being stopped by two incredibly obnoxious NY cops and being questioned as to who I was and what my business was coming upon the virgin soil of the USA. I said I was a writer flying over to do readings and launch a book. Again they looked at me, looked at each other and, using their height and their voices (I am 5 foot 8 inches) made it unequivocally clear that they didn’t believe me. Trapped as I was in the devils bind of trying to prove a negative – i.e. that I was not whatever they thought I was, I became somewhat stroppy and told them to go Google me. They did, and thankfully there were a few photos of me online, as well as the very odd biography. So they let me through. I even remember they yelled at me to ‘keep moving buddy’ after I stopped to laugh nervously and breathe a sigh of relief after they did let me through. Perhaps they were annoyed that someone who looked like me would not be arrestable material. Prejudice is an odd thing.
Another moment of prejudice happened just yesterday. I have a rather sensitive constitution and have to be careful what I eat and drink. I abstain from beers and spirits and prefer usually to drink one type of wine. Having drunk one, I know- just one glass of wine from a brand away from my usual drink – a smooth cherry blend of Cabernet called Cotes du Rousillion de Villages, I woke up yesterday morning with a bad hangover, one that grew steadily worse. Aside from a blinding headache and the feeling of sawdust in my tummy, my muscles ached. I decided radical action was necessary. I went to the chemist and asked for some – yes – you guessed it – Solpadeine.
And I was subjected to an interrogation by the post pubescent assistant behind the counter. She maintained a steady friendly gaze, as she was trained to do and didn’t raise her voice as she was trained to do. But she had a job to do – and she had the steely determination of a DEA agent as she persevered in her line of questioning. She wanted to know what I wanted it for. The drugs. I said I was hung over Very ill. Rarely take the stuff. I was of a sensitive constitution.
She suggested Paracetemol. Dioralite. Or Panadol Actifast?
Or plain old Aspirin?
No I said. I wanted the good stuff. I wanted Solpadeine. I was quite ill and it was getting worse. I was badly hung over on one glass of wine. I was too ill to even sleep off the hangover. This drug would work. Now I was told I was only allowed take it for three days. For the tenth time I was told that Solpadeine contained codeine. That was addictive. Did I know codeine was addictive? I nodded sagely. I said I had a hangover I was only going to take two. Maybe four in any twenty four hour period. This didn’t satisfy my politically correct chemist’s assistant. She again pressed me to try anything except Solpadeine. I mentioned that I had gone into a chemist, not gone to some street corner looking for codeine, and by the beard of Odin, I had a mighty hangover. That was all. I must confess being furious as well as being hung over after I left that chemist, swearing never to return.
Caffeine, which is the worlds most commonly consumed psychoactive compound, is also in sweets, soft drinks, pills, and in Solpadeine, which by the way worked wonders on my horrible hangover. Along with a few of those wonderful soluble analgesics, I had a few cups of black coffee. Coffee contains Caffeine. Caffeine stops the uptake of a substance called Adenosine. Adenosine is that molecule which binds to Adenosine receptors in the neurons which slows down the brains signalling facility. Actually caffeine and Adenosine kinda look like each other. Caffeine binds to Adenosine and is known in the trade as an Adenosine antagonist. It keeps you from getting drowsy and is probably the reason why its always available in offices as it keeps people pepped up. The problem is that this is not a good idea for the body. If you keep caffeinating (as we all to a greater or lesser degree do) it causes another important organ in the body to kick in, the Adrenal Gland – which releases adrenaline, which puts the body in a fight or flight mode. One begins to live on ones nerves, food isn’t properly digested, one feels tired quickly after consuming coffee, which leads one to drink more of the stuff, which causes improper sleep, digestion issues, mood disorders, poor sleep, poor levels of concentration, and something of a breakdown in general health and well being over a longer term. And yet coffee does not come with a warning either, does it? Its a completely unregulated psychoactive drug consumed by billions.
And then there are, well, drugs. The drugs you take every day, drugs I take every day. Drugs we really need. I mean we all would have died probably without really important drugs that have at one time or another saved our lives. No question. But then the drug industry is a multi billion multinational worldwide concern. These are the other drugs I am talking about. Drugs with labels and lists and lists of side effects. We are being massively over-prescribed. Look at the labels. May cause drowsiness. May cause memory loss. May cause osteoporosis, heart attack, chronic fatigue. Its actually scary to read the fine print. I can go a little further on this whole issue around prescribed medication. You have a one in five chance of getting seriously ill from any new drug that comes online. It’s far, far better to wait five years before trying out a new drug. Why? Because it hasn’t really been tried out on humans. They test them out on animals. But then, non human animals just aren’t like human animals. At all.
“Few know that systematic reviews of hospital charts found that even properly prescribed drugs (aside from misprescribing, overdosing, or self-prescribing) cause about 1.9 million hospitalizations a year. Another 840,000 hospitalized patients are given drugs that cause serious adverse reactions for a total of 2.74 million serious adverse drug reactions. About 128,000 people die from drugs prescribed to them. ” ( June 27, 2014 by Donald W. Light Edmund J Safra Centre for ethics seehttp://ethics.harvard.edu/blog/new-prescription-drugs-major-health-risk-few-offsetting-advantages )
But illegal drugs don’t have these kinds of adverse reactions. 28,000 die per anum from drug related deaths in the USA for instance. In ireland last year (2014) 4,600 died from drug overdoses. And yet nobody ever mentions the 1.9 million hospitalizations and the 128,000 deaths from drugs prescribed to people by medical professionals. The CDC estimates 88,000 deaths from alcohol and a staggering 2.5 million years taken off peoples lives as a result of alcohol consumption. In ireland we lose about 88 people per month from alcohol. Again alcohol is pretty freely available.
And then there is Professor David Nutt. Sad rain-coated hairy nerds like me have heard of him, which may or may not be a good thing. But he is a truly interesting thoughtful chap who did a lot of work on the psycho-pharmacology of drugs, their effects on the brain, the dynamics of neurotransmitters, and the dangers of drug use. In 2007 he published a rather controversial study on the harms of drug use in The Lancet. This led to his dismissal from his position in the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD). Subsequently, Nutt and a number of his colleagues who had subsequently resigned from the ACMD founded the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs. (see wiki Article on David Nutt)
So, anyway, about this article on the levels of dangers and ill effects of drug use published in the Lancet in 2007. The weighting of each drug’s dangers is an important consideration before I actually give the results. If a drug, call it drug A – has a weighing of 10, it is therefore half as dangerous as, say Drug B, which has a weighing of 20, and so on. The maximum weighing is 100 and the minimum is 0, which means no ill effects at all.
“Overall, MCDA modelling showed alcohol was the most harmful drug (overall harm score 72), with heroin (55) and crack (54) in second and third places. Heroin, crack, and crystal meth were the most harmful drugs to the individual, whereas alcohol, heroin, and crack were the most harmful to others. The other drugs assessed followed in this order in terms of overall harm: Crystal meth (33), cocaine (27), tobacco (26), amphetamine/speed (23), cannabis (20), GHB (18), benzodiazepines (eg valium) (15), ketamine (also 15), methadone (14), mephedrone (13), butane (10), khat (9), ecstacy (9), anabolic steroids (9), LSD (7), buprenorphine (6), mushrooms (5).”
And this cost Dr. Nutt his job. He got a phone call saying he was no longer on the Blair Government Advisory Board. And the rest is history. I would imagine that someone in the position Nutt held back in 2007, publishing a report saying alcohol is more dangerous than heroin or crack cocaine, would cause something of a ripple amidst industry professionals.
Lets just say that our views on drugs their uses and misuses are somewhat driven by a cocktail of propaganda, hard information, misperception, ill informed discussion, and most of all, television. We see drugs as that thing taken by our kids who have disappointed us, or died from overdoses, drugs peddled by the Pablo Escobars of this world, the types of people hunted down by trusty DEA agents. We don’t see them as pushed by massive corporations on to doctors and hospitals and psychiatrists, drugs taken by mom and pop just to get through another suburban day, prescribed by their GP, and slowly ruining their livers and their mental acuity. It just couldn’t be like that. The reality of things are rarely simple, straightforward, and rarely have the kinds of answers that give us comfort. But then, who wants to live that comfortably?