Our society is completely wacko about drugs. People who have some actual experience they're willing to talk about, for instance me, can get a little testy about it. But that's just the way it is; the long tradition of spewing disinformation and outright lies on virtually any topic associated with drug use is more than anything else a government-sponsored attempt (not unlike the anti-fun aspects of Calvinism) to keep the people from having access to useful and reliable information about things that are important in their lives.
I have first-hand knowledge of nonmedical uses of nicotine, caffeine, alcohol, cough suppressants containing hydrobromides, librium, marijuana, hashish, cocaine powder, psilocibin mushrooms, and LSD. That's all. I've never used amphetamines or other uppers, opiates or other downers, other tranquilizers, or designer drugs like Ecstacy. What I have to say about drugs rests on these experiences and my personal opinions, and concerns only recreational uses, not medical uses.
The question of whether people should do drugs needs to take into account that people do use drugs -- everywhere, in all human cultures.
I think the criminalization of drug use is one of the worst mistakes our society has ever made. Criminalization is not only not a deterrent, it alone been a major cause of most of the worst aspects of drug use and drug abuse in the US in the 20th century, including such things as providing a major boost to organized crime.
For a considerable and certainly reputable exegesis on this topic, by all means read Licit and Illicit Drugs, by Edward M. Brecher and the editors of Consumer Reports, published in 1972. Before reading this book I thought I knew a fair amount about the subject, but I found it a great eye-opener, believe me! And not even the most rabid or self-serving anti-drug nut could impeach the good will of the major sponsors of the book, Consumer Union.
This point of view in no way argues that drugs do not cause damage to individuals or to the society. But there are no pro forma solutions to the problems of drug use, no matter what the drug. All such issues take place in a personal, social, and political context that is always relevant to the particular case.
Another very important thing about drugs is to understand that our reactions to them, including to the term itself, are strongly conditioned by social and cultural traditions. Food is a drug, in this sense, and drugs are food; in my opinion, the distinction is entirely arbitrary and culturally loaded.
Furthermore, each individual person has a unique relationship to all such substances, which after all come from the earth and the stars. As a result, what's harmless for one can be dangerous for another, or what's dangerous in one context can be harmless in another. All this has to be kept in mind. I must emphasize, partly for my own protection, that I do not advise anyone to do drugs.
The primary purpose of this writing is to address the personal context, detailing what I know first-hand about certain drugs. I also think the personal perspective is of paramount concern, far outweighing the social and political aspects of drug use, though as I've said those are naturally very important. Notice: naturally important. Another purpose is to serve as an antidote to the toxic tissue of lies and disinformation available from the more usual sources.
Nicotine is almost certainly the most addicting substance there is. People should never try it, because it is one of the hardest addictions to break. The book I mention above says most smokers have become addicts already on only the third cigaret; they may still think it tastes disgusting and it certainly smells awful, but nevertheless, they are going to keep on using the drug.
But once they have become addicted -- remember, it's to nicotine, not to tobacco -- they should certainly have all the help they can get not to smoke. The patches should be cheap, not require a prescription (or if they did, then the insurance companies should be glad to pay for them, since they're a whole lot cheaper than paying for illness smoking causes). But oh no, not in our insane society, we could never get the government or business involved in pushing drugs, could we? It's such baloney, really: the government is already the biggest pusher there is, through its benighted, mendacious policies concerning drugs!
As drugs go, nicotine (without the smoke) is relatively benign, except for folks with high blood pressure, cardiac arrhythmias, and a few other conditions. Most addicts would tolerate the drug quite well and not get at all sick from it, if only they could get it without (a) smoke and (b) hideous expense. As a smoker, I was paying about $1000 a year for cigarets. I would be quite willing to fork over, say, half that to get a constant supply of patches at the low end of the three dosage ranges now in use. But nicotine is not of itself a bad drug, though I advise against fooling around with anything that's so addicting.
One thing to be aware of is that for most people, caffeine is a fairly effective diuretic, so that if you use it, you should probably be aware of the tendency to void water-soluble nutrients, and also make sure to drink additional water routinely.
People should be free to choose, I think. A drink can be an important social asset, helping people relax. Of course, there are other ways to get relaxed, too, ones that don't involve this drug or any other. Wine and beer are delicious and possibly not very harmful beverages if taken in small amount, especially with meals. Most human cultures have used alcohol for ritual matters, and eating is an important ritual (except, arguably, in the modern mass culture, where it's often a grim experience done with little attention to much beyond gluttony).
Driving (anything) while drunk is a completely different matter, of course. In fact, getting drunk at all is probably a really bad idea, because the toxic aspects of the drug manifest very clearly for most people, especially after they reach about 30 years of age.
There's enough evidence to suggest that women should avoid alcohol completely during pregnancy, for it definitely appears to cause the fetus problems, and why would anyone who isn't a complete barbarian do that knowingly?
Then there's alcoholism to be considered. A very complex subject, but one I know something about -- in a very intense and often cruel fashion -- from my own family experiences. At least two of my four grandparents, both my parents, and not coincidentally both of my step-parents were alcoholics. I really don't like the medical model of alcoholism, that it's a sickness, but one thing the model has going for it is that everybody in an alcoholic's family suffers from the illness, that is, the pain and psychological or emotional problems it generates, even in those who never touch a drop of the stuff themselves.
I didn't drink at all until I was 21, but when I started, I started for real, believe me! I drank quite a lot until I was about 30. Then I started getting really bad hangovers, the kind where you can't get out of bed for three days and begin to think it would be better to die, maybe, than to wake up again feeling that rotten. Clearly, for me it had become completely toxic if I took more than one or two drinks.
At 60-plus I'm so unhabituated to it that I'm half in the bag on one drink, enough not to want to risk driving my car, still less my motorcycle. In the last 13 years I've been drunk only three times, and these times were very special occasions, the details of which I will skip here.
In those early years, though, I got plastered every day, starting right after work. My entire social life revolved around drinking, for most of it took place in bars or at dinner or drinking parties.
Bad drug, very bad, don't do it, but do notice that your government doesn't make you a criminal if you do unless you're a minor.
I called my doctor to ask about the drug, though (he was a drug abuser too, and knew all about these things). He thought it was a bad idea, because hydrobromides have a long half-life in the blood, he said, so if you did it much, you could end up with a very high serum level of the stuff. Furthermore, regular users were not easily distinguishable from clinical schizophrenics, he said. Bad drug, don't do it.
I think tranquilizers lend themselves pretty readily to being abused. Despite their great similarity, it's almost impossible to overdose on valium. Not so librium; it can kill you outright. When I was using it, I was suffering from anxiety and severe depression. I was often dangerously loaded on the stuff, to the point where my speech was slurred and I wasn't making a lot of sense to people around me. This is clearly abuse of the drug. I stopped because I got scared of it. Confine it to legitimate medical uses and don't exceed the prescribed dosage.
The medical uses of cannabis notwithstanding -- relief of pressure in the eye for glaucoma patients and stilling of nausea for AIDS or cancer patients being treated with very toxic chemotherapies -- one of the remarkable features of the drug is that it does almost nothing to you; its pharmacological effects are very small.
But small or not, the effects include a significant alteration of one's cognitive processes for a while. These distortions are what constitutes being "high." I always experienced some bending of time; things seem like they're taking much longer than normal, especially if you're going somewhere.
Quite a few people have reported feeling paranoid when under the influence of pot. I never understood this until the first time (of two times) that I had too much. I had never heard anything about overdosing before the first time it happened. It was a little like being seasick; nausea and a vague feeling of malaise, and in my case a great fear that I would stop breathing unless I made an effort to continue, yet the effort seemed overwhelming. Fortunately that first time, a friend was right there to remind me: it's just the drug, you're in no real danger, and it will pass in under an hour, which it did.
One time in the Baraboo Hills with a friend, he was suddenly very scared. Things might have been too intense for him because we were coming down from acid when we finally smoked. I hugged him, told him everything was OK, he was completely safe, and not to worry. We just sat down on the grass and I held his hand until his anxiety passed. Looking back on such experiences, I think they have in common the notion of being adrift, unattached and somehow needing reassurance that stability will return in due course.
At any rate, it's the high-test form of marijuana and much more enjoyable to use, because the smoke has a kind of sweet smell and isn't anything like so harsh in the lungs.
I think you should be relaxed innerly, have no great pressures on you from life, not be worried about anything, not be in a hurry, not be needing to do anything, have plenty of time on your hands, allow a full day for recovery, and be very sure there is someone immediately available to help you and care for you if needed, especially the first time, because this is generally a very powerful drug with very major effects.
In addition, maybe the main big effect is the likelihood that your sense of reality is going to be altered, probably forever, when you do acid. I found this to be a very good thing, very positive and insightful. But it's true the world was never the same afterward, and for some people that's just too much to deal with. After the first time (1975; I've done it ast least 50 times), I wished the world was such a place that everyone could have this experience safely.
For me, it swept away 40 years of accumulated nonsense in a few hours and helped me realize that much of what we "know" is based on a very limited contact with what really is, out there in the world. But some people's entire personality seems to be built on feeling secure in the knowledge that things are a certain way, and those people could easily have a bad trip when confronted with such a radically different experience of everything.
I thought it was very exciting, however, to be seeing energy flowing in plants and inanimate objects, I mean seeing it directly with my eyes. I was with a friend once, camping on a high bluff along the Wisconsin River and it was beautiful warm summer day, bright sun and a fairly stiff breeze. As the wind swooped and turned through the dense trees on the hill next to ours, we could see bright golden showers of light at the edges of the wind currents, flashing brilliantly around the trees. The copper-colored water 90 feet below was shimmering and pulsating in a manner unlike anything I'd ever seen before. I guess I would say the sensorium was so enriched that it becomes pure joy to just let it wash over you.
The idea of having hallucinations seems to frighten some people. I suppose they think of demons and monsters and nameless dreads somehow materializing in an uncontrollable fashion. I never had any of that, not did I have paranoid flashes except one time in the plains of Canada when I went into a McDonald's and thought I must be grinning like an idiot and everyone would know. Mirth was always a big part of it, lots of "oh wow" and "this is so terrific."
Though I've done it many times alone, after having gained some experience with it, I always enjoyed doing it with somebody who was an intimate friend. For me one of the liberated forces was libido, at least during the first couple hours, and I found the drug to be a powerful aphrodisiac. Everything is heightened, prolonged, enhanced, enriched; touching and just looking assume almost orgasmic intensity, foreplay lasts and lasts, and when at last the climax arrives it's an incredible eruption of love, joy, and pleasure. Sex was never the same after that; it was always better, even without any drugs. It just opens one to a much larger, more inclusive experience.
[to be continued]