As Allisons story presents, with any psychoactive substance, the balance between help and harm depends on the person and the circumstances
Before she found heroin, Allison could not get out of bed most mornings. She contemplated suicide. She saw herself as a shitty lazy person who felt like crap all the time. She was deeply depressed, and no wonder. As she explained in an interview with NPR last month, in slow, halting sentences, shed been molested by three family members by the age of 15. One of the three was her father.
Listening to Allison recount the horrors of her young life, most of us feel great pity. If “were in” psychiatrists, wed need little justification to prescribe any narcotic that might help alleviate her suffering. Wed probably start at one end of the long list of approved antidepressants and keep going. But heroin?
Heroin, Allison explained, stimulated me feel as if I could get up and do something. She could function. I was great at my job … and I was doing art on the side. I had energy for the first time in I dont know how long. In other words, she had defeated her depression with an illegal, highly addictive, recreational drug that she bought off the street.
It would be wrong to deny that many heroin users suffer great harm as a result of the position their craving places them in. And I would advise anyone who experiences debilitating depression to seek professional help. But it would also be wrong to classify strong opioid narcotics, and other substances currently belittled by our society, as intrinsically bad or evil.
In some parts of the world, people seem to be getting smarter about recreational drugs. For a couple generations, soft drugs like marijuana and hashish have been increasingly tolerated, more broadly viewed as socially acceptable and, finally, in several European country level a few American states, legalized.
And why not? These narcotics help people relax, enjoy music and philosophize. In fact, pot is far safer than booze in every respect. It constructs you silly but not aggressive, it has none of the well-documented health risks of alcohol, its far less likely to lead to accidents, and its not generally addictive, psychologically or otherwise.( Some people do end up with a cannabis habit that hampers clear thinking and short-term memory, but these effects disappear when they trim down or stop .)
Then arrive the psychedelic drugs: LSD, psilocybin mushrooms, mescaline and the currently stylish( in some circles) ayahuasca. There is ongoing debate about whether psychedelics are good, bad, safe or unsafe. But compare that dialogue to the tyrannical proclamations of the 60 s. When I was an 18 -year-old in Berkeley, California, in 1969, my friends and I had wrenchingly beautiful interactions with forests, seascapes, music, and each other on acid. Like Aldous Huxley and other intellectuals, we assured psychedelics as a gateway to a more all-inclusive, less self-centered sense of reality. We generally couldnt share those views with our mothers nor, surely, with the police or the courts. Yet despite that, societal opinions were in flux.
In fact, the promise of psychedelic psychotherapy has intrigued scientists and clinicians for decades. A recent wave of studies suggests that psychedelics can relieve psychological agony, from depression, nervousnes, PTSD and alcoholism to end-of-life fears. Currently, thousands of young person from Northern america and Europe are trying ayahuasca, a powerful psychedelic used for self-growth and healing by indigenous cultures in the Amazon region. Like their hippie predecessors, many of these psychonauts feel theyve gained something essential from the experience: a broader vision of reality, connect with other people and cultural activities, a bond with countries around the world and a commitment to its wellbeing.
Well, perhaps the soft drugs are better than liquor, and psychedelics have greater potential for good than for harm. But what about drugs such as heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine? In keeping with the punitive policies of the DEA, and the battle cry of the war on medications, most of us still ensure these medications as unequivocally bad.
Indeed, heroin and meth lead to addiction and to misbehaviours ranging from lying and petty steal to full on criminality. After years as an addiction expert and a one-time addict, I acknowledge how dangerous these drugs can be. And I know that the cycling of desire, acquisition and loss leads not only to compulsive narcotic seeking( and associated brain changes) but also to a narrowing spiraling of social isolation, shame, and compunction. Can there be anything good about drugs that are often too attractive to defy?
For Allison, the good was undeniable. Heroin helped her overcome a depression that very likely arose from her history of sexual abuse, a trauma that left PTSD in its aftermath and drained her life of exhilaration, functionality, and any semblance of normality. Allison represents the rule rather than the exception. PTSD often triggers nervousnes and depression, and substance abuse is as high as 6080% among those with PTSD. In fact, the largest epidemiological survey ever conducted received an extremely strong correlation between the degree of childhood adversity and injection drug use .
When Allison got tired of heroin, she was able to quit, as most junkies eventually do. She found a psychiatrist and learned to live without it, though she reports that she continues to rely on antidepressants. The point is that, for her, heroin was an antidepressant a very effective one.
It shouldnt be surprising that a powerful opiate can help people overcome psychological ache. Opioids are critical neurochemicals, helping mammals to function in spite of ache, stress and panic. Rodents play and socialize far more easily after being given opiates. Opioids are even present in moms milk: the objective is natures route of ensuring an emotional bond between baby and mother. Opiates might be too attractive for some people some of the time; plainly craving is a serious concern. But that doesnt build opiates intrinsically bad.
I doubt whether theres much to recommend meth for todays youth, and clearly meth and coke can destroy lives. But coca leaves were used to overcome fatigue in Latin America for centuries before Europeans figured out how to turn them into cocaine. Like opiates, it seems that stimulants can be of benefit in particular contexts.
It becomes impossible to define the goodness or badness of drugs according to drug kind in the abstract. Rather, the balance between potential help and potential damage depends on the person and the circumstances.
The human nervous system is an unbelievably complicated chemistry decide, and we experiment with it continuously through our actions, our love, the things we eat and drink, and, yes, the substances we ingest for that particular purpose. Tinkering with our nervous system is a direct expres of our ingenuity and our fundamental drive for self-improvement. Were not likely to give those up.
The failure of the war against medications should help us recognize that people will never willingly stop taking drugs and exploring their benefits and limitations. Its ridiculous to deal with this human proclivity by labelling most or all narcotics as bad. And its absurd to mete out penalty as a means for eliminating the medications we dont like. Instead, lets expand our knowledge of drugs through research and subjective reports, lets protect ourselves against the dangers of overdose and addiction, and lets improve the lives of children raised in ghastly situations.
Then the problem of bad drugs will no longer be a problem.
Read more: www.theguardian.com