one pill, two pills, red pills, blue pills

an entry addressing a couple of questions about drugs, arising from EDC, being tired, and a friend/guest blogger who was thinking about the same questions and started a one-month substance-free (substance = alcohol, caffeine, pot, etc etc) experience to see how that would affect emotions/mood, etc. 

1) (an oldie but a goodie) if life/performance-enhancing drugs had no negative side effects, should we encourage utilization of those drugs? 

i remember reading this economist article and then bringing it up all the time.  like “do scientists have a moral obligation to take drugs so that they can stop sleeping and help humanity?” examples of drugs (though some obviously have proven side effects):

  • modafinil/caffeine – drugs to stay awake
  • adderall/ritalin – drugs to focus/learn/be productive
  • steroids/creatine – drugs to become stronger
  • smoking/pot – drugs to help relax
  • ecstasy/etc – drugs to enhance life experiences

i remember cornering jason in a conversation about steroids, and basically it ended with a “… well then you would be stupid NOT to take steroids [if they had no side effects], right!?”

argument to use drugs: you only live once. “productive lifespan” is much more relevant than “numerical lifespan”, and we should focus on maximizing productivity and caring about quality of life rather than just staying arbitrarily healthy for a longer period of time at a lower quality.  why settle for a sober life?  don’t be stupid.  whenever people use the line “i don’t drink because i can have fun without drinking,” i just want to yell at them and be like “FINE WHATEVER 1) get off your high horse and 2) it will be even MORE fun with drinking!!!!”

argument not to use drugs: why be unnatural when you don’t have to. it’s fine to use drugs to allow a person to reach “healthy” levels (e.g., using adderall for kids with ADHD so that they can function like healthy kids), but we shouldn’t use them to go from healthy to superhuman.  if you can experience life in a healthy manner, why would you still choose to utilize unnatural substances?  additionally, encouraging taking performance-enhancing drugs creates an unhealthy arms race and will create an unhealthy norm of drug use. 

side note, but i have always found the difference between “performance enhancement drugs” and “things that improve performance” extremely arbitrary. see lzr racer, the swimsuit that was banned after the beijing olympics because it was the equivalent of “technological doping”.  why are steroids “unfair” when there are a trillion of other non-inherent ways that people can boost performance (like other nutrition supplements, advanced coaching, having lots of money/better equipment).

2) are there benefits to staying “all natural”?  should we try to avoid ingesting synthetic products whenever possible? 

argument for drug-use: fearing “unnatural” substances is irrational. obviously there are substances with negative effects on your body, but if they have been shown in medical trials to increase risk of disease, why should we still be afraid of them?  there is nothing inherently better about something natural vs. something not natural. 

argument against drug-use: why risk it when you don’t have to? drugs are never worth the risk.  to quote someone who was chastising me, “if you ever mess with your hormone levels, you will be increasing your risk of cancer.” why play with fire when you have a perfectly good body? 

2a) should you avoid reliance on drugs whenever possible? 

i recently have been struggling with caffeine.  i think my life would be better if i drank coffee everyday.  however, i would survive without coffee, i would just be more sleepy and grumpy.  should i just give in and drink coffee, or are there merits to being able to survive without coffee. 

i think the first objection is “but that will make you so tired when you don’t get coffee”, but… i think we live in a world where you could always get coffee if you wanted to.  and with most other daily-use drugs that i think about.

(i ended up trying to curb my caffeine usage…. only because the “addiction” seemed a bit scary to me, and i didn’t want coffee to have that power over me.  but i’m totally open to the idea that fear of addiction is irrational.  aren’t we “addicted” to food/water/air/love/sleep/etc?  just add coffee to the list.)

i used to be unwilling to take aspirin unless i had a truly intolerable amount of pain.  but is this desire to not use unnatural substances totally irrational!?

3) are emotions while you feel while on drugs “real”? just because you don’t experience the same emotions when you’re sober, does this make those emotions not real?  are chemically induced feelings (e.g., happiness, love) less valuable/trustworthy than natural feelings? 

i asked this.  mars gave me a lot of grief.  “DO WE ALL LIVE IN THE MATRIX!??!?!”

ignore authenticity issues; you’re still having an awesome time.  i get it, the question is more semantic than anything.  sure, i will go with “the emotions are real.  you ARE having fun, you ARE experiencing certain feelings of euphoria, you ARE feeling a soul-consuming sense of love.”   but more importantly, it doesn’t matter whether the emotions are real or not.  you will take away with you the memory of an awesome night. 

you should not expect to feel the same the day after.  PLUR (peace, love, unity, respect) is a common rallying cheer within the rave community. someone pointed out that ravers are extraordinarily, crazy-friendly at raves (WHICH IS VERY TRUE) …. and then you leave in the parking lot and people are cussing at each other and cutting people off, etc. for all the love shared at burning man, does any of that translate back to the “default world” (ugh, groan)? a burner swears that they are nicer for the month following burning man. 

apparently ecstasy was first authorized as a “couples drug”, used to enhance the feelings of intimacy between two people.  enhance, not create.  (note, this fact could not be verified.)

3a) is escapism bad?

the burning man question!  is a week-long hippie commune/drug bender/party in a desert/art show/social experiment a good thing or a bad thing? 

but i guess where it comes into play is, if you were faced with a choice of experiencing a chemically-induced awesome, lifechanging high that may or may not be totally fake or having an average time that is totally natural and maybe sucky AND AUTHENTIC, what would you choose?

ultimately, where i shake out is that escapism (with or without drugs) is fine as long as it doesn’t affect your ability to appreciate and be complacent about the “real world” and affect your life functionality.

escapism has the potential to cause negative impacts on your life. it’s the sex-on-ecstasy argument that you hear, that having sex while high is SO MUCH BETTER than normal sex that you basically become dissatisfied with normal sex.  like if you were to get plugged into the matrix, how could you not be totally dissatisfied with that post-apocalyptic hellhole with mush and tentacle robots?  YES, BURNERS, PEOPLE ARE ASSHOLES IN THE DEFAULT WORLD, I’M SORRY.

escapism has the potential to cause positive impacts on your life. i have a friend who met/decided to date his last 3 boyfriends while under the influence of ecstasy. which…. knee-jerk reaction, i would raise my eyebrows to? like i understand why it would happen. people talk about lsd all the time and how it changes how they view the world (which… is sort of scary). but experiencing something TOTALLY DIFFERENT has the ability to cause people to change for the better, view things in different ways, change behavior, etc.  my being drunk has led to experiences that have definitely shaped me as a person. 

chris made the following point (stated more radically): do we ever want to encourage problem solving behavior that involves “try to ignore the problem as best you can, even if it involves plugging yourself into a pretty awesome life-simulator called the matrix”?  at the end of the day, life is messy and hard, and at the end of the day, isn’t it selfish and unproductive to be escapist?

4) are you ever allowed to say “i liked you more when you were on substances”? 

in contrast, are you ever allowed to say “i liked you more when you were sober”?  i had a DARE moment and told a friend that i liked them better when they were off drugs.  it was not terribly well received, largely with a “drugs don’t affect my temperament, i know myself better than you know me” and then accused me of being judgmental with other people’s drug use. 

i think ultimately this question is a variant of “do you believe in unconditional love.” and, as we all know, james the robot thinks that love, especially platonic love, is inherently conditional.  i think the comment is “allowed” in the sense that people who love each other should be honest about their emotions and pretending that you love people unconditionally without opportunities of improvement is incredibly short sighted.  and at the end of the day, drugs have the ability to affect temperament, and you may like the sober or drugged version and not like the other one.  it’s a hard/not great conversation, but hopefully a productive one. 

i definitely have friends who i enjoy when they’re on something.  i also have friends who i like more sober. 

GUEST BLOGGER (who did the month-long experiment)

i was an exemplary substance-free individual. i just didn’t get the allure. moreover, i judged* those that did use substances regularly. weakness, mentally unstable, unhappiness, unhealthy, unaware, lacking direction, and, my favorite, escapism are all terms i used to describe the practice of regularly using substances, generally defined as caffeine, alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs from thereon.

i’m not going to say i made a 180, but the angle my change in opinions has made is definitely obtuse. i now drink regularly, although mostly socially and almost always in the company of friends. alcohol doesn’t really “do it for me.” marijuana is more my thing. i love it. it relaxes me, calms my anxiety and stress, and it helps me focus. i take it to feel better…and to feel EVEN better. i’ve come to consume it regularly. and even more regularly lately, possibly because of the circumstances of my life or possibly just because i like it that much. i understand the desire to unwind, the need to self-medicate, and the mentality that “yes, it might kill me, but it’s my decision and i’m fine with it.” i’ve updated my views. now i understand where so many people are coming from – a point of view i didn’t empathize with at all only a couple years ago.

considering this drastic change in my opinions on the subject, i’ve been doing some serious self-exploration. why do i like it so much? why now? why so regularly? why at all?

i asked my aunt, a trained psychologist, recently – “what’s the difference between use and abuse.” her response – “use is when you consume a consistent amount to get a desired effect. abuse is when you need to consume more and more to get that desired effect.”

i found that response to be very satisfactory, but not completely satisfying. so if i consume half a dose of marijuana tincture in the morning before i go to work and smoke a few drags of a joint in the evening, every day, for the rest of my life, is that acceptable use? i still found myself questioning my consumption, so i decided to conduct an experiment.

i went off all “substances” for one month. no caffeine. no alcohol. no marijuana. the first two were almost no problem. the third was a bit more difficult, but my willpower won out. it was weird to be the most sober person at the bar, but i relished telling the story of my experiment almost more than i relished my self-discipline. i completed almost the entire month (as if a month is a heroic amount of time to go without substances that most people in the world can’t even afford…perspective), shy only a couple of days. at that point i had proven what i had to prove to myself, and i had a bad (bad) (bad) day, so i cut myself a break. i consumed.

there….THAT. did you see what i did there? that’s what concerns me. that’s the crux of the question. it wasn’t about the willpower. it was about the desire. i don’t feel like a borderline addict or some permutation of an addict because i can’t NOT consume, but because i WANT to consume.

it’s inevitable. substances can significantly improve our moods, productivity, and overall happiness. caffeine gives us energy when we just want to put our heads down on our desks and take a nap. alcohol helps us strike up a conversation with the person sitting next to us at the bar. it’s not that it would be weird to strike up a conversation otherwise, but there is something undeniable about the nature of our “civilized” social interactions that leads to alcohol providing us with an edge in those interactions.

a working coping mechanism i have for this self-exploration is that not all substances are created equal. drinking a cup of coffee every day is not the same as shooting one dose of heroine every day. everything is a spectrum, and it’s our job to determine where to draw the line. ultimately it is a personal decision, although we have some mechanisms in place (governmental, social/reputational, economic) to prevent our decisions from impacting other people. 

productivity is my line. if consuming a substance, with whatever degree of regularity, improves my productivity, then it’s okay. if it hinders my productivity, or anyone else’s, it’s crossed the line. productivity can be very literal – how much work i can finish in one hour on my computer – or it can be more subjective – how positive i can make my social interactions.

i’ve been told by some friends that they prefer me high. i’ve been told by others that they prefer me sober. funnily enough, i don’t think either set of friends really understands when i’m high and when i’m sober, so i don’t pay too much attention to some of those opinions on this matter. 

on this very sensitive point – judging friends for their substance use and abuse – i have a few thoughts. i want to spend enjoyable time with people that i like, engaging in fulfilling interactions. i don’t much care about their context, as long as they’re self-replicators**. i’m very careful to not extrapolate specific experiences, whether pleasant or unpleasant, into the determination of future experiences. day-to-day attitudes and circumstances are so varied that i’d have to document some extensive consistency in behavior to make such a judgment about specific contexts leading to particularly pleasant or unpleasant interactions. while some people may be affected by the actual act of consumption (smoke, having to witness someone putting a needle in their arm, or just the psychological impact of knowing that the other person is consuming and simply not liking it), my friends have always cited supposed effects of the consumption as being particularly favorable or unfavorable. they are using consumption or non-consumption as the diving board for their opinions and conclusions. my two cents is – tell me what you like about me, or what you don’t like about me. that’s much more straightforward, and easy to act upon or change. leave out the consumption. that’s a personal choice. 

sure…consuming substances can be interpreted as escaping from the real world. and people are certainly entitled to believe that this escapism is inherently bad. i don’t believe that anymore. my perspective has changed. the successful science fiction and fantasy author, Piers Anthony, recently said on This American Life, “people sneer at escapism, but there are those of us who need it.” i think the trick for me was just accepting that i need it.

*let’s be clear by what i mean when i say “judge.” it’s a loaded word. and by loaded i mean everyone means something different by it, so you always run the risk of being misinterpreted. alas, the limitations of verbal language. merriam webster defines judgment as “a formal utterance of an authoritative opinion.” so, one could say judgment is passing an opinion as if your opinion carries particular validity. i think judgment is simply stating that something is good or bad. 

**read Daniel Gilbert’s Stumbling on Happiness for more on one of my new favorite terms. i’ll define it with some examples – sex, love, and confidence are self-replicators.


One thought on “one pill, two pills, red pills, blue pills

  1. phenothebest says:

    haha, interesting. but walking a slippery slope when you really want to find the “line”!

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