Category Archives: Drugs

An honest and sensible post about drugs.

drugs

I had intended to write a fairly humorous post called “Sophie’s Scary Bong” in which I would talk about how Sophie corrupted me and reintroduced me to the pleasures of weed with her her bong, which is indeed a scary looking piece of equipment.

Sbong

But then as we were discussing the post Sophie and I realised that in many people’s opinion you can’t really talk openly about this subject and certainly not with any sense of reality. We have friends in other countries who would never talk about the various substances they use for various reasons for fear that some kind of authority may be monitoring what they write. Perhaps they do…

So let’s start from the beginning. There is so much misinformation and hypocrisy about drugs. We grow up in a world where drugs exist in a kind of twilight world between reality and fantasy, between legality and illegality and between insanity and common sense. In some ways all drugs are ridiculously lumped together as if they are a single terrible thing; and then they are split up arbitrarily between good drugs and bad drugs. Good drugs are the ones that reduce pain and cure illnesses (unless that drug is cannabis, of course) the bad drugs are the ones which can do you harm but which have enjoyable effects like alcohol and tobacco (except of course that alcohol and even tobacco are still socially acceptable pleasures in most parts of the world).

Still, when we are young we are told that drugs are bad. Drugs are the province of bad people, weak people and criminals. Nice people don’t do drugs. But then we begin to read and watch TV and we discover that in some walks of life some drugs seem to be pretty much part of the furniture. It seems that everyone from Sherlock Holmes to Elvis Presley; religious shaman, scientists, artists and writers all use drugs sometimes. But of course that is in that other world of other people who we read about and see in the media; but it’s not “real”people, not “nice” people, not the boy or girl next door… And then, shock horror, we see that nice boy next door smoking a spliff and we hear that dear old Aunty Alice was once arrested for being in possession of some illegal substances. Our comfortable world where nice people don’t do drugs is looking rather fragile.

But still we know the mantras. If we try drugs we are going to become junkies, our skin will age, we’ll start thieving to buy more drugs, we’ll lose our minds and our souls and we’ll die young, broken and unloved. Yet we have a few friends by this time who use recreational drugs and they don’t seem to be depraved junkies at all. And then we are offered something in a nightclub, and perhaps we try it, and perhaps we don’t die and perhaps we feel great…

Now before you go thinking this is going to be a blatantly pro drugs post that is completely dismissive of the dangers drugs can involve; you are wrong. From personal experience I can say the worst thing that ever happened to me was drug related, and it was very bad and it took me quite a long time to recover from. I would not wish that on anyone. I have also had to stand by helplessly when some of my friends have been suffering due to their own drug addiction or the addiction of people they love. And yes, I have cried at a few funerals of people who died far too young mainly as a result of drug use. And yet I do still smoke cannabis. I have experimented with quite a few things and enjoyed many of them. I don’t feel any desire to take any other drugs at this time of my life but I don’t rule out the possibility that I might one day…

So can we have an honest and sensible talk about drugs? Could we say something that can help our daughter to make sensible decisions when these temptations came her way?

The first thing is that we are not going to be hypocritical. We both smoke cigarettes, we both drink alcohol and for most of our adult lives we have both been occasional drug users. To begin from any other perspective would be a lie that any intelligent young person would soon see through. Moreover, our limited experience of the twilight world of drugs is not unique at all; most of the people we know and associate with have very similar life experience. I would venture to suggest that the reality is that most people in the western world have more experience of drugs than it is generally acceptable to admit. For many people drugs are part of life in one way or another.

Our view begins with the obvious fact that drugs are not all the same. Every chemical substance we introduce into our bodies has different effects, different advantages and different dangers. Some substances can kill you very quickly, while other substances may never kill you but could still change you or cause damage. Some substances can cure disease and or reduce pain and suffering but those very same things could also kill you if you take too much. In view of all this it seems utterly ridiculous to lump all drugs together as if they are the same thing.

People need to make informed choices and that means information should be openly available and discussed. And discussion should always begin with honesty.

Our second point is that the criminalisation of drug use only serves criminals, in fact it creates a whole industry for them and removes any possibility of control or standardisation for legal authorities. Pretty much all the the organised crime in the world and a large amount of terrorism is completely funded by illegal drug mafias. Moreover, what possible good does it do to brand hardened drug addicts or occasional drug users as criminals? In what way does that help them to overcome their problems?

Where we live it is legal to possess a certain amount of cannabis for personal use so Sophie and I are not breaking any laws. However even here we are aware that not far down the chain of supply there must be illegal activity going on at an international level. We wish that were not the case.

Personally we don’t think cannabis is any more harmful than tobacco or alcohol unless it’s used obsessively (and that would apply to practically anything else you can buy legally). It makes us angry that in some places you could in theory be arrested just for possessing cannabis while the bottles of spirits in your cupboard would be ignored and seen as harmless. We don’t want to make this whole post about cannabis/marijuana but would like to note that this substance has many beneficial medical effects and if it could be farmed legally it could become a life saving cash crop in many deprived parts of the world. Again we are appalled at the stupidity of gift wrapping this entire industry to the criminal fraternity.

We’d like to make the point that for as long as humans have existed they have used substances with mind/mood altering capabilities for pleasure, for medicine and for religious/shamanistic ritual. It is nothing new. It is nothing inherently bad. It is something human beings have always wanted, needed and enjoyed.

No drug is bad in itself. But how humans use, control and administer drugs can be damaging, harmful (in many ways) and incredibly stupid.

As we said, not all drugs are the same. We have never used heroine but we have known people who have and it nearly always ends badly. Therefore, based on real life experience we would strongly advise people not to use or even experiment with heroine. However even in this case we don’t think criminalising heroine use helps anybody except the criminals. Here in Switzerland there are several schemes by which heroine addicts can bypass the criminal fraternity and get their fixes in a legal and controlled way. Controlled meaning there is help and support to reduce their heroine use or get off it completely. Isn’t that a better philosophy?

Between heroine at one end and alcohol and cannabis (and even caffeine) at the other end of the scale there is a vast spectrum of substances that can be classified as drugs. Some are naturally occurring things like mushrooms while others are man made chemical cocktails. All of them can do harm but all of them can also be pleasurable to experience; if that were not the case nobody would ever use them.

And the fact is people do use them whether they are legal or not. A lot of people. Perhaps even the majority of people.

We have a daughter who is the most precious thing in the world to us. Of course we want her to live a very long, very happy and very healthy life. We don’t want her to suffer any problems or any ill health ever. But we do want her to live. When it comes to the time that she has to make choices about drugs we want her to be able to make informed choices based on facts and honesty. We hope she will find plenty of ways to enhance her life and have fun without using any drugs at all. But we are aware that like us, she may sometimes decide to take some risks in the ways she lives and enjoys her life. We want those to be informed risks. We want her and all young people to grow up in a world where there is some honesty and clarity. A world where the adults she meets don’t say one thing while secretly doing the opposite.

A world where adults are free and empowered to make adult decisions.

A world where law and taboo don’t make it impossible to speak openly and honestly about serious issues. Where we don’t have to lie about our lives.

And in that world we think there would be far fewer problems and far less risk to health associated with drugs.

For all our children.

 

Personal Freedoms and wider responsibilities.


How far should our personal freedoms be limited by the needs of others or by the needs of the wider community?

In principle I am a libertarian and I resent the state imposing on my own freedoms and choices. But I am also quite socialist in some ways or at least I think it is important for the state to care and make provision for those who, through no fault of their own, lack the means and opportunities to live as well as others. Moreover I am passionate about the idea that good education and healthcare should be the right of all, whatever their means.

In everyday life however I lean strongly in the direction of personal freedom and personal responsibility and I hate the idea of the nanny state telling people what they can and can’t do, and how they should live their lives. For example I believe all people who choose it should be able to marry; whatever their sexuality. I am totally against religions or other institutions imposing their dress code or other values on anyone else. I believe all drugs should be legalised (which doesn’t mean I think all drugs are good or harmless or that being under the influence of drugs is any kind of excuse or defence for harming others). In short while it might be right and proper for the state to offer advice to help people remain safe and healthy it is not right for the state to actually limit or control the individual’s lifestyle choices.

Recently however there was new legislation proposed in the UK which I think highlighted the grey area between personal freedom and the “good” of society as a whole. A law has been suggested which would make it illegal to smoke in a car while children are present. Now, I am a smoker and regular readers of my blog will know I am very much against the ever more draconian restrictions on smoking in public places. My first reaction was that it was ludicrous to try and dictate what people can or can’t do in their own cars. I also question how such a law could ever be monitored or enforced…

Now I rarely smoke inside a car and would never do so if there was a child present. Most of the smokers I know would think similarly and would never dream of smoking in any small enclosed space while a child was present. But what about the people who are not so considerate, or who are selfish or just uneducated? More importantly, what about the children of such people?
Children have rights and I am a firm supporter of children’s rights. The problem is that children are sometimes not in a position to even ask for their rights, let alone demand them. I am quite sure that if they were able to, most children would wish to breathe clean air and not be forced to breathe concentrated amounts of second hand smoke in a confined area. So while considerate smokers would never subject children to that, who should protect the children of less considerate smokers?

Clearly the answer is the government and the law should. That is one of the main reasons for their existence. And that is why I couldn’t go to the extreme end of libertarianism which is anarchy. We actually do need governments to protect the vulnerable. We cannot always rely on good will and common sense because some people have ill will and no sense at all.

As a smoker I think I have the right to enjoy my legal vice openly and there should be provision for people like me just as much as there should be provision for those who choose not to breathe in tobacco. I will continue to protest and complain when my rights as an adult to live as I choose are needlessly restricted. However I’d be the first to admit the rights of a child trump most other rights and in this particular situation I think the government might be justified in legislating. In this case however I think the rights of the individual verses the government’s duty to protect the vulnerable are easy to differentiate. That is not always the case.

In Belgium this week the government passed a law making voluntary elective euthanasia legal; even for children. I think that was a brave decision and I support it. It was in fact a very libertarian piece of legislation. But I admit I think the issues here are far more complicated and I could have understood and accepted if the Belgian decision had gone the other way.

Sometimes the rights and freedoms of the individual verses the obligation to protect the vulnerable are not so easy to differentiate. The problem is however that discussion of such things is often very polarised with those who are passionate on both sides not really considering the opposite arguments.

I think I am guilty of that sometimes.

Cannabis/Hemp

Hemp is one of the earliest domesticated plants known. It has been cultivated by many civilizations for over 12,000 years Hemp can be used to make paper, textiles, clothing, biodegradable plastics and construction materials. It has many agricultural uses and benefits and can even be used as a bio-fuel.

Hemp can also be used as food. Hemp seeds can be eaten raw, ground into a meal, sprouted, made into hemp milk, prepared as tea, and used in baking. The fresh leaves can also be consumed in salads. Approximately 44% of the weight of hempseed is edible oils, containing about 80% essential fatty acids. Hempseed’s amino acid profile is close to “complete” when compared to more common sources of proteins such as meat, milk, eggs and soy. Hemp protein contains all 21 known amino acids, including the 9 essential ones adult bodies cannot produce. Proteins are considered complete when they contain all the essential amino acids in sufficient quantities and ratios to meet the body’s needs. The proportions of linoleic acid and alpha-linolenic acid in one tablespoon (15 ml) per day of hemp oil easily provides human daily requirements for EFAs.

Hemp can also be used to purify soil and water and to control weeds.

Hemp can be grown in many geographic and geological areas including areas where the soil is generally poor. In fact it is one of the fastest growing biomasses known yet it has a low ecological footprint and is environmentally friendly in many ways. Increased production of hemp could improve the environment and decrease poverty in the poorest corners of the world and in our own countries. Greater use of hemp as a food-stuff could improve our health and our economy.

So why, oh why aren’t we taking advantage and making greater use of this natural wonder-stuff? Well, because it is cannabis of course, and cannabis is evil and bad and gives you spots!

Yes hemp is a variety of the cannabis plant. These days most legally grown hemp does not contain the intoxicating substance THC, but even so, it is essentially the same plant. However there are so many restrictions placed on it’s cultivation that the environmental and economic benefits are not being realised.

I am sure I have rehearsed the arguments for and against cannabis in my blog before. It will probably come as no surprise that I am in favour of the full legalisation of cannabis for recreational and medicinal use. Medically cannabis has many proven applications. It can be used to relieve pain. Studies have shown cannabis has many well-documented beneficial effects. Among these are: the reduction of nausea and vomiting, stimulation of hunger for chemotherapy and AIDS patients, lowered intra-ocular eye pressure (shown to be effective for treating glaucoma), and treatment of gastrointestinal illness.

And yes, it can be used recreationally. Just like tobacco and alcohol there are risks as well as benefits to using cannabis and the choice to indulge or not should be made by mature, responsible adults. If only the authorities would let us make that choice in peace instead of beating us with sticks if we make a choice they don’t approve of. I’m not a regular “stoner” but I do use cannabis occasionally for my own enjoyment and I don’t see why I should feel more guilty or be penalised more severely for that than for drinking a glass of wine or smoking a cigarette.

But just for a second let’s imagine a world where cannabis and hemp could be grown legally and without restriction for all the positive benefits mentioned above. A world where there is less threat to the diminishing forests or to the environment in general… A world where we were all a little bit more healthy… A world where the economy was a bit more sustainable and the poor were rather less poor… A world where medical marijuana was more easily available for those who needed it. A world where the huge profits possible in cannabis cultivation went to support our own communities rather than gang-land criminals.

Is it madness that prevents this world from happening or are there more sinister vested interests hiding behind our draconian laws and restrictions?

Dis-jointed

This is more personal and sombre than the things I normally post here. It just happens to be what is on my mind at the moment.

We all have episodes in our lives that we are not very proud of (or is it just me??) Anyway, some years ago I went through a period where I was smoking far too much weed and taking all sorts of other things too. Luckily I am the sort of person who has always been able to learn from my mistakes, sometimes however it takes a bit of a crisis to make you realize just how far down the wrong road you have traveled. For me that came one night when I split up with my boyfriend and was generally unhappy with life and lacking direction. I picked that moment to get very drunk, smoke some very strong skunk and pop some pills I assumed to be Ecstasy but in fact had no idea what they were.
And then my mind stopped working.
Thoughts… Got stuck. I could see the thoughts I was having but they didn’t seem…
To belong..
To me..
Everything was…..dis…..jointed.
Some thoughts…. repeated.
Some thoughts repeated.
Some thoughts repeated
Some…. thoughts…repeated.
Again and again and again and again and again. I thought they would never stop. Echoing… In my empty brain.
And there were dreams. Horrible dreams which I couldn’t escape from. But they were interlaced with things… that might have been real. Dancing somewhere… Kissing somebody… Falling in the snow… Throwing up… Strange faces staring at me. A voice of a distant me saying things which made no sense. What language is she speaking I wondered. And that question repeated, over and over…. And there was this other me in a distant universe who was getting naked, and these two guys she had never met before were taking turns at her. And I wanted to hate them but I couldn’t because that other me had probably said yes at some point while the real me was struggling with these echo thoughts that wouldn’t go away. But I was less afraid of being raped than I was afraid that my mind… might stay… like this… forever…

Well I got better and I got over it. I came round sometime in the next day or so and had enough residue of sense to get myself to a hospital. I confessed everything I had done and felt utterly humiliated. A physical examination confirmed that I had indeed had sex but I had absolutely no recollection of who I had been with or even where I had been, so there was no criminal case to pursue. To my great relief subsequent tests showed that I hadn’t been infected with anything. I was kept in hospital for a couple of days until all the toxins had left my system and then was released back into the world again. The next few weeks were excruciating, all my confidence had gone and I was so embarrassed by the whole thing I felt like I was wearing a badge which told everyone what had happened to me and how stupid I had been. But I did get better, I did learn and I did grow up.

So why do I mention all that now? It’s because when I think back to that time it is still that terrible fear that I had lost my mind forever that hurts and haunts me the most. And today after visiting my Mum in the care home it struck me that that is exactly what is happening to her but she has done nothing to deserve it.

In previous blog entries I have written a little about the fact that my mother is suffering from early onset dementia. Last November as her condition continued to deteriorate I had to put her in a care home. Since then she has got worse and worse both mentally and physically, despite the best care and supervision we can pay for.

I recently returned from my longest working trip abroad since Mum has been in the home. I knew from conversations on the phone with my mum herself and with staff at the home that her condition had declined, but it was still a shock to see it for myself now that I am back for a few weeks.

She used to take great pride in her appearance; that is now gone completely despite the nurse’es efforts to dress her well. She insists on putting layer on over layer or stripping off completely in the middle of the public areas. She still remembers me, which is a blessing, but her conversations make no sense at all and remind me painfully of the episode I have just described. Her mind is totally disjointed. Thoughts came and go at random. She has no sense of order, time or place. The ghosts of her past mix with what is going on around her and strange dreamlike happenings merge with reality.
“What did you have for dinner today Mum?”
“Dinner? I don’t know. I think the children put it in boxes… With the dress I am wearing… We put it all out on the table… I didn’t sleep… The dog kept barking…”

Disjointed.
Insane.

And yet there is still enough of her left inside to know that something isn’t right. She is not in some blissful dream-world, she knows at some level that her mind isn’t working and the thought terrifies her, as it once did me. With me it only lasted a day or two… For her it is all that is left.

And so I leave her and walk out into the sunshine. I do my daily chores. I prepare some lessons, listen to some music, call a few people on the phone, arrange to meet some friends for a drink, write some reports about my last courses, go shopping, basque in normality while knowing that Mum can never do that again. I tell myself that I have done everything I can to help her. But I still feel guilty for every normal thing I enjoy.

Drugs Hypocracy

It occurred to me the other day (not for the first time) that western society has a very confused and schizophrenic attitude towards drugs. I was listening to a talk show on the radio where they were discussing what young people get up to on their gap year travels around the world. The participants in the discussion were decidedly middle aged and middle class;- this is not a criticism but an important observation because they all spoke about drug taking as if it was a normal part of young people’s adventures, and some of the speakers even implied that they had all indulged themselves at various times. They were the respectable type of intelligencia that make up the bulk of BBC Radio 4’s audience. “Yes, most of their travel tales include frequent misadventures with sex and drugs, but they always survive and are able to laugh about it later. You are left with an overwhelming sense of young people’s resilience; and confidence that they will make a better job of running the world than we have…”

But I am pretty sure that those same sort of people will be the voices on the radio, on TV, and in government grandstanding about how evil drugs are and arguing against any attempt to relax or change the laws pertaining to them. I have even had friends and acquaintances who are doctors, lawyers or police officers who take drugs in private (or accept other people doing so) and yet take a tough and unforgiving line with drug users they meet in the course of their jobs.

Why this  schizophrenic attitude and what does it achieve? I think it makes people have less respect for authority and the comfortable classes because they seem so hypocritical. More importantly people are likely to pay less attention to educators and information concerning the real dangers that can genuinely be associated with drug use. Meanwhile people continue to take drugs. Legitimate authorities have less and less control or responsibility concerning drugs and the economy around them, and the worst kind of organised crime syndicates go from strength to strength. In addition to all that, ordinary people like myself can be intimidated into not discussing the issue realistically and intelligently because to do so might leave you open to accusations of law breaking.

Well I guess I have broken the law in the past (along with almost every person I know or know of) because I have taken drugs. The fact that I rarely if ever take any illegal substances now has nothing to do with the fact that they are illegal; it is simply that I have learn’t from experience how various substances affect me and have made adult decisions about pleasures versus health risks. I seriously doubt that many people are influenced much in their lifestyle choices by whether an activity is legal or not. I am not an anarchist or a hippie, I do think that law and order has an important place in society; I just don’t think the way it is currently applied to drugs has any beneficial effects at all. Furthermore, respect for the law as a whole diminishes when it is seen to be stupid and hypercritical.

Mexico and much of South America seem to be dominated by huge, international and illegal drug cartels who appear to be totally above and beyond the law. Extreme violence and murder is part of their way of doing business and they have total contempt for the governments and authorities of the states they operate in. The local economies in many of these places are totally controlled by gangsters and thugs and the peasant farmers are totally at the mercy of these bloodthirsty criminals. There is no quality control over the final product and, because they are deemed to be criminal themselves just for buying the product, the end-users have no say, control or consumer rights concerning the thing they choose to buy. And unlike alcoholics, drug addicts are treated primarily as criminals rather than sick people. How does any of this help anybody except the criminal fraternity?

Does the fact that I may have smoked marijuana and experimented with a few other things make me a bad person? Does it mean my behaviour is somehow akin to being a mugger, a bank robber or some other sort of criminal? To me these ideas are ridiculous… And apparently in a cosy radio studio when the theme is not specifically “the evils of drugs”, it is okay to talk politely and intellectually about the fun and hilarity we can have as a result of using drugs.

So why isn’t it okay to talk and act intelligently and realistically regarding drugs the rest of the time?