In March 1967, the Berkeley Barb, a then-influential underground newspaper published an article about Bananadine, a newly discovered psychoactive substance derived from banana peels. The article was a hoax and was designed to raise questions about the ethics of making psychoactive drugs illegal and prosecuting those who took them. Lots of people didn’t get the hoax part of the deal, and by 1970, “mellow yellow” was being cooked up in ovens nationwide.
Lately there have been a bunch of stories floating around about a practice is called “I-dosing.” Users consume so-called digital drugs with their ears and eyes. They can get a fix any place with an Internet connection and speakers. The story, which has been traced back to the British tabloid The Daily Mail, focuses on YouTube videos that young people have posted, each apparently showing them “freaking out” while I-Dosing.
Now, as we all know, bored teens would never post untruthful videos to YouTube, would they? Well, yes they would. And there’s a sucker born every minute, as can be proved by the various Congressman and parents groups that have already called for this I-dosing to be declared illegal. An Oklahoma TV station has broadcast warnings from State narcotics officials warning that this latest craze could well be a gateway drug leading to…. well, you should know the routine by now, just plug in your favorite horror story.
Not to be outdone, there are hustlers out there on the internet selling MP3’s that claim to reproduce the states of mind associated with marijuana, cocaine, opium and peyote. While street drugs rarely come with instruction manuals, budding digital drug users are urged to buy a 40-page guide so that they learn how to properly get high on MP3s. ….mmmm. Reminds me of a guy named Dennis that used to sell pre-baked banana powder to tourists at the foot of Newport Avenue in Ocean Beach forty years ago….
This is Reefer Madness for the iPod generation. The actual act of I-Dosing isn’t all that new. It’s based on an old audio technique called binaural beats, which was discovered in the 1800s. There has been some research suggesting that this process, which involves listening to differing tones simultaneously through head phones, can be used to reduce anxiety or pain. There is no evidence that this actually works to get people high though, as can be easily documented through the disappointed journals of bloggers around the internet that have tried I-Dosing and failed to catch a buzz.
Meanwhile, over in the scientific community, the glimmerings of insights into the actual functioning of the brain that have been accomplished have led to a big-pharma fueled gold rush over the last twenty five years. The number of Americans ingesting anti-depressants has more than doubled over the past two decades, which interact with the brain chemistry in varying ways to affect mood. Over 27 million people take one of the thirty currently available prescription drugs used as antidepressants—such as Prozac or Zoloft or Paxil or Celexa or Lexapro or Luvox or Buspar or Nardil or Elavil or Sinequan or Pamelor or Serzone or Desyrel or Norpramin or Tofranil or Adapin or Vivactil or Ludiomil or Endep or Parnate or Remeron.
Total sales of drugs in this category add up to over $21 billion annually. In fact, antidepressants have become the most prescribed drugs in the United States They’re prescribed more than drugs to treat high blood pressure, high cholesterol, asthma, and even headaches.
The problem here is that nobody knows for sure just how they work. That’s why drug company advertising—which is only allowed in the US and New Zealand, among major industrialized nations—always tells us that these treatments “are thought to” interact with the brain’s chemistry in ways that make us feel better.
Do these drugs work? Well, yes and no. The “group testing” part of the approval process assumes that our brains’ neuro-chemical processes are all alike. The actual post FDA approval experience of many physicians who prescribe these drugs suggests that this assumption is flawed, which is why doctors often switch medications on patients diagnosed with depression and/or add a second drug to this mix. Eventually, so the thinking goes, the right mix of SSRI and SNRI’s can be found that will alleviate symptoms enough so the patients can lead a “normal” life.
(Let me very clear here: I am not suggesting that these drugs have no value. Please, please, please, don’t make decisions about your medications based on this or any other article you happen to read on the internet.)
I’ve wandered into the field of anti-depressants in this essay because they impact many of the same processes in the brain that street drugs and alcohol do. Given the financial incentives involved, the recreational drugs of the future are likely to originate in the research that is being done in this area.
It is my view, based on the research that I’ve done, that many of the various forms of mental illness, recreational drug (including alcohol) use and abuse are all derived from the same processes in the brain connected with our primitive urges connected to curiosity. Obviously, the more extreme and anti-social behaviors in these arenas represent a threat to the safety of the individuals expressing them and the fabric of society. The point here is to try to get you to understand that these are all health issues. Moderate use can have benefits. Everybody reacts to these chemicals differently. Not all these reactions are good things.
The day is coming when recreational marijuana use will be legalized. Studies show that the mood of the electorate on this issue is evolving in that direction. I say we’re soon to be facing the old saw of “be careful of what you ask for”. I doubt that the danger of legalized drugs will be caused by Big Tobacco taking over the marketplace. Big pharma is probably much more of a threat.
As I’ve pointed out a couple of times in these series, our bodies and brains are now faced with diets, stimuli and conditions that may well exceed our genetic disposition to deal effectively with them. We’re living in hunter-gatherer bodies in an era of over-population, over-stimulation and alienation. In order to understand what is at the root of what many alcoholics call the “God-sized hole in the person”, we have to look backwards to see just what developmental processes have changed along the road to civilization as we know it, and attempt to understand the impact that these changes may have made in the development of our modern day consciousness.
In more primitive times, individuals with genetic and/or environmental development issues would have most likely not survived, meaning their traits would have been less like to be passed into the genetic pool. Things have changed, for now anyhow, and these qualities are leading to health issues that need to be understood and addressed.
At the root of western civilization are “mankind is flawed or original sin” philosophies, expressed in some Protestant theologies as the doctrine of total depravity. Built into this world view is the understanding that many human behaviors are the result of moral weakness. The consequential impacts of this view on mental health, for instance, leads to the fact that there remains a stigma on mentally related disorders, including drug abuse and alcoholism. We as a society will never be successful in dealing with brain related disorders until the moral disgust element in our heritage is removed from the equation.
The first change that needs to happen is that therapies for drug and alcohol abuse need to be separated from the criminal justice process. Am I suggesting that drunk drivers remain unpunished? No, but I am suggesting that in the near future they should be treated with methods that are as unique as their individual neural patterns. I am suggesting that drug rehab programs that the 70% of those arrested for cannabis use that are ultimately placed in are a waste of money. The drug/alcohol wars have turned into “big business” and those who are profiting from these wars have no vested interest in the betterment of our society.
The second change that needs to happen is that research into the brain needs to be supported and made transparent. The drug companies can no longer be in charge, cherry-picking studies that favor their profits and burying “non-relevant data” that could end untold human suffering.
The third change that needs to happen comes after a quick survey of how our lives as people have changed over the past few thousand years. There is a significant amount of data emerging that suggests that many of the compromises that we have chosen in our lifestyles as responses to the demands of the last few cycles of economic development are relevant to creating that “hole” inside us. Questions about the nature and structure of the “family”, the “tribe” and the “village” on the development of the human consciousness are at the core of solutions to the problems of child-rearing/neural growth that represent a first step in resolving the contradictions between the world that we have created and the beings that live in it.
There were a jillion loose ends that I left on the cutting room floor in assembling this series. I know that I oversimplified a lot of stuff. But if I get you thinking for a few moments about what it all means and why we get high, then I will have accomplished what I set out to do. As always, your comments are crucial to our understanding.
Here are the four previous segments:
Part 1 – Why do we do that stuff, anyway?
Part 2 – Why Do We Get High? Hemp History – Racism, Profits & Politics
Part 3 – Why Proposition 19 Could Fail: No Cash, Talkin’ Trash
Part 4 – Alcohol, The 800 Pound Elephant in the Room