Saturday, September 03, 2011


Sooner or later, son, we need to talk about drugs. In the last week I have seen the second friends family embark on the distressing journey into having a family member fight against substance abuse.

Last night Louis C K described drugs as 'such a complete solution...they are wonderful...' he went on for quite a bit about how great drugs were before making perhaps, the obligatory concession that they were such a complete solution that they 'destroy your life.'

Lisa Pryor I noticed has written a book about the whole drug debate I haven't read, who also wrote 'the pinstripe prison' which I did read. But I did read the blurb, where she points out many people use drugs and are fine.

To be honest, I DO begrudge people's choices when it comes to drugs, but I've been trying to do less so. I have come to accept that people can, do and indeed have to make their own choices and my harsh judgement of these choices perhaps is of benefit to nobody.

I guess for reasons I don't think about I got annoyed in the 90s at how drug taking seemed to be mandatory for artists. So ever being a contrarian I refused resolutely to take any... Plus like my dad didn't drink alcohol until 3rd year uni or something, so I tried to emulate that... Oh and I have a relative that has schizophrenia, which was beginning to be suggested that drug use could trigger it in people predisposed, so why take the risk?

But experiences like euphoria, love and shit, can be stimulated by drugs, opiates. I had these painkillers when I had kidney stones in Spain and they were magnificent, I still have a stash of them that bring me immense comfort and sometimes I kind of wish I'd get injured to have an excuse to take them again, because I'm terrified of getting addicted. Anyway, I imagine heroin in terms of stimulating chemical reactions in our brain normally reserved for falling in love or whatever is 10 x better than those painkillers. (I can't read the ingredients, my spanish pain killers may for all I know contain heroin, morphine).

I don't know much about drugs, I've never come close to taking an illicit substance. And so in the particular style of people talking about things that are ignorant I'm going to say...

There's two kinds of people in this world. People who when told 'drugs can accurately simulate the feeling of love whenever you like.' see an immediate problem, and people who don't. Which is perhaps, what Louis C K meant when talking about drugs as a complete solution. I am one of the first kind, and I believe this is the majority of people. A minute proportion of the population is the latter and perhaps goes to the additional extreme of finding comfort and hope in the knowledge that drugs can stimulate the same chemical reactions that evolved to reward attracting a mate etc.

Like falling in love is, unrequited, pretty easy to do. Being loved is kind of hard. Buying a drug and smoking, snorting, licking or injecting it is relatively easy. And addictive, I have a number of friends that have used drugs to a variety of extents with varying degrees of success.

By that the variations range from 'harmless' to 'disastrous'. The disastrous are the number of people I know who used drugs and wound up with some form of psychosis. I don't know if I'm unlucky, but it is close to 80% of my WEED smoking friends. Crucially I am yet to come across a 'benificial' or truly 'benign' outcome from drug use. I remain highly skeptical about drugs ability to improve people's lives. I would take a hardline stance too, I'm not talking about illicit substances, I would find it hard to justify ultimately any benefits for painkillers, alcohol, coca-cola etc. all of which probably have a hidden-in-plain-sight social cost higher than the illegal drugs.

I have for example read Aldous Huxley's (or most of anyway) 'Doors of Perception' where he chooses the most common interpretation of drug apologists for the mind altering state induced by drugs that makes ones pants the most fascinating object in the room, that he has reached some higher plain of perception. Whereas there's an alternative interpretation available that is almost never taken, that the drug has impaired and narrowed your perception to the point that trouser material seems miraculous and fascinating. In the same way that retards find 'Two and a Half Men' funny or Nascar an exciting sport.

I have been impressed and surprised and inspired by things said by people who are sober, educated and intellectually curious and never in my experience by people under the influence of some drug. I mean when people are drunk, depending on how drunk they are, they are capable of being intelligent and insightful, whilst more relaxed than usual. Somebody like me generally gets much dumber and obnoxious after ingesting a relatively small amount of alcohol.

I'm aware though of artists that use drugs and manage to produce great works, but:

I find it hard to accept such direct causation, when you look at artists like Hendrix, Clapton, Cobain, Brett Whitley, Amy Whinehouse etc. regardless of their relative talents, you see a high correlation of depression/personal problems/absentee parents etc. that correlate highly with drug use as well as suggesting a familiarity with the human condition at an extreme that may also have caused their artwork to be meaningful. This suggests that somebody like me, whom through no fault (and no merit) of my own grew up in a stable and secure home with an absence of any known mental illnesses may not have been aided in my artistic pursuits by taking up a drug habit.

I also notice that many of these artists whilst creating works that are truly immortal have a tendency to die, usually from complications of being extremely depressed, unhappy and insecure. This suggests to me that perhaps creating a great and lasting work is rather meaningless to the individual without establishing a foundation of all the other shit that makes us happy. If you were charitable (to drugs) you might point to Hendrix and say he was killed by stupidity rather than depression, but I find it hard to entertain that the decision to take enough sleeping pills to sleep through the entire next day in a house full of relative strangers is not one often made by happy and secure people.

Then there's the afore mentioned survivors of drugs, Clapton being an example, Perry Farrel, Anthony Kiedas, Dave Navarro, John Frusciante, etc. are 'survivors' of heroin, there are myriad more for drugs like marijuana. What can never be determined is if they would have succeeded without their drug use (unless of course they develop the habit after producing their seminal works) but one thing is clear and that is generally they have stopped using. Quitting heroin is to my understanding a very unpleasant and difficult thing to do. Thus I find that in their evaluation, it was not worth continuing... a powerful argument that drug was not crucial or even positively correlated with their general sense of wellbeing.

But ultimately I can only speculate. One of my friends that was institutionalised with psychosis from the use of 'benign' marijuana, left me with a lasting bias that it is hard to defend drug use as even a balanced risk to indulge.

I will gladly, happily concede that drug use is made worse by many of the social stigma's sorrounding it, the fact that drugs have to be bought from criminals, and parents destructive reactions to the percieved personal attack/failure in a child's drug usage serve to make a poor decision a worse one. But the unfairness of drug use as judged by society don't make it a better decision for an individual to make, it just increases the downside.

I think much of what I have written naturally comes from a place of ignorance. It is all speculative and I have no motivation to do the kind of Gonzo journalism to discover what drug use is really like. I'm generally against it, though I don't believe the prevention of drug use is managed well.

I also think almost none of my speculation is controversial. I got to experience from the parental side, the emergance of yet another child admitting they have a drug problem this week. (not my child, but my friend's child) what was clear (though not to the parents) that the user knew that getting addicted to drugs was a bad idea. Their admission was one of error. They had made a mistake. It suggested to me a compelling desperation to find the kind of love and care and wellbeing from drugs that they felt they lacked. Fortunately we got to intervene in the parental response and edit out the anger and upset from the response and keep it loving and supportive.

I am not comfortable concluding that all drug users have some emotional deficiency that they seek drugs as a synthetic solution. My experience doesn't disconfirm this view though, I have friends who are emotionally stable and mature that use drugs even in the Aldous Huxley sense of intellectual curiosity and trying to open doorways of perception. Most commonly these friends maintain their use of marijuana, and am yet to hear any profound insights they had from smoking it, or indeed anything at all remotely interesting about marijuana itself. Otherwise they flirt with pills and shrooms and whatnot and stop using them quite quickly. These drugs encroach little on their identity or the time they spend with myself and others. These I guess are the many of drug users Lisa Pryor refers to in her latest book that use drugs harmlessly.

I am probably more anti-smoking and drinking than the other more glamorous and illicit drugs, and I haven't mentioned pills because I find it hard to identify with anybody who is a fan of raves and probably take a darwinian stance on the use of pills. Instead I will turn to the words of Dr. Gordon Livingstone and his approach to combating drugs to conclude, written I presume while sober and quite profound in his approach to drugs:

Fear, while effective in the short term, is not useful in promoting lasting change. The use of it as a motivator for behaviour ignores the fact that there are no more powerful desires than the pursuit of happiness and the struggle for self-respect. If means can be found that move people in these directions: better jobs, education, the chance to improve one's life, and a sense of fairness and opportunity, the seductive and short lived bliss provided by drugs will lose its appeal. Punitive emphasis on the "supply side" has not worked. Reducing the demand by emphasizing treatment and social alternatives to hopelessness offers the only prospect of winning this struggle between transient pleasure and lasting satisfaction.
(my emphasis)

No comments: