An Open Letter

This is a little rant about junkie behaviour. It is not this author’s intention to preach (too much) about  how to live one’s life, and everybody has the right to make their own lifestyle choices vis. a vis. liquor,  cigarettes or perhaps even substances of a more questionable nature. However, a recent personal  experience involving a friend who had to be institutionalized reminds me that very few people appear  to be giving much thought into all the ramifications of their choices, be it social or physiological.  While a lot can be spoken about the ills of drink and smokes, they are at least legal, regulated  substances and are much simpler to deal with. The picture is much murkier when you look at drug  usage, and that is what this article aims to discuss.

Drug usage is a contentious topic that has been debated to death. While most nation states see fit to  ban them, there are always proponents who believe that it is “irrational” restricting their usage while  letting other substances like alcohol get away scott-free. One may oft hear talk about certain “benefits”  that they endow their user, such as expanded consciousness states, increased creativity, spiritual  experiences, etc. A lot of claims have been made by great minds such as Erdos and Huxley about their  going through the most creative phases of their lives on drugs. But it’s hard to back any of these claims with evidence; if great artists are productive, loving their art and working hard at it are a necessary condition for their success. It is unclear if drugs are even chemically involved with the conception of a new story, painting or song. If drugs indeed boost creativity, the world perhaps would see a lot less “bad” art. As far as higher mental states are concerned, most scientifically studied meditative practices preach the importance of concentration and will-power in order to calm one’s senses. Drugs do the exact opposite. Under its influence, one has an attention span that lasts a few seconds and diminished ability to decide on what stimulus to concentrate on. No truly constructive thoughts can ever come of such an enfeebled mind. No study has conclusively established the “intellectual” benefits endowed by drugs. As far as spiritual benefits go, Timothy Leary’s famous experiments on recidivism in the ’60s with LSD have been criticized for being wholly unscientific in their approach. It’s far more likely that any anecdotal claims of increased creativity were a result of a placebo effect, or merely having a relaxed mindset at the time, and it should be wholly possible to replicate anything you can do on drugs provided the right environment.

It seems that the only real use for them appears to be purely recreational – an opportunity to relax and escape from reality. But how many “recreational” activities do you know that come with such a long string of consequences? Here are some that a drug user needs to deal with:

  • The law is out to catch you. The act of consuming a hallucinogenic substance bars you from numerous governmental and life-critical vocations, as the possibility of temporarily getting “flashbacks” or other psychotic disorders any time in your life makes you a liability for such positions. A drug record is often sufficient grounds for rejection of Visas and job applications. You can drink all the gatorade and electrol you want to flush your bloodstream of THC, but a simple
    hair follicle test (such as the one Rio Tinto conducts on their recruits) on any body hair will out you as a pot-head years after smoking a single joint.
  • Society will disown you. You will be keeping secrets from a lot of people close to you. No matter how harmless you think your drug of choice is, the social stigma is here to stay and you will either have to deal with a lifetime of lies, or risk ostracism from your family. You won’t notice this in the safe cocoon of college, but this becomes a really big deal once you get out into the big bad world.
  • You are participating in and enabling an underground network. All illegally obtained substances, marijuana included, have to be peddled completely under the nose of the law. While one may argue that there are other exploitative yet legal industries such as gutkas or firecrackers that force their workforce into destitution, the fact is that there is absolutely no legal redress for one caught in a drug network. Dealers spend their lives flouting the law and bribing off the police to keep off the heat, or otherwise enlisting the “protection” of local thugs and cartels. Marijuana, by virtue of being a high-volume banned product, requires underground supply chains that span countries and sometimes continents. fueling all sorts of unsavoury social elements like mafia gangs and terrorists along the way. So if you’ve ever bought drugs, then congratulations for directly contributing to a burgeoning black market economy.
  • You’re lending yourself as an example to others who may be looking up to you. Young, impressionable minds are always enamoured by the few success stories – the cool charismatic people who do big things while nursing a junkie habit – and failing to pay attention to the countless others who laid waste to their youths. It certainly doesn’t help matters when a popular person starts to use “stoner logic” and gives credit to the substance abuse for their heightened creativity, when all physiological indicators show that it was despite the drug, not because of it. But then it doesn’t make an interesting story otherwise, right? “The other night I got high and wrote a full chapter!” Such people should consider that their influence might be initiating new people into this underground culture, and not every one of these… kids… has the same kind of will-power. Even if you “know your limits” and do it safely and everything, you cannot guarantee the same for your peers, or anybody else led into this lifestyle directly or indirectly by you. And when a few people inevitably head towards depression or debauchery, can you in good conscience wash your hands of all blame and proclaim that it was each person to himself? (I suppose that’s one way to be able to sleep at night.)
  • Even if it’s just marijuana, it’s still a gateway. You’re already on the other side of the legal fence, and you’re procuring stuff illegally now, so it’s not that much more of a big deal to upgrade to hard substances like brown sugar and cocaine, at least compared to back when you would never buy weed at all. Notwithstanding all common “stoner logic” about how weed is non-addictive, getting high still is. And when there’s a way to get higher there will always be a few takers in the name of experimentation.

Nobody realises that they’ve turned into a junkie until they’re already hopelessly entrenched. The addiction-cycle applies with any sort of high-dosage abuse – acid, speed, heroin, sex, drink or even cigarettes. Starting off gives you instant relief from all your problems by activating your psychological reward system and triggering a heady dopamine rush. But after prolonged exposure, your body starts to compensate by releasing less dopamine every time, even under normal stimuli. This is when dependency kicks in – you feel you need to be on something in order to maintain the high levels of dopamine you’ve become accustomed to, otherwise you feel like crap. You might even begin to delude yourself into thinking that the substance gives you more “strength”. Stay trapped in this cycle long enough, and you’ll slowly waste into away until you’re in a vegetative state. It’s no coincidence that drinkers get sad more often (although they drink to drown their sorrows, as the saying goes) or that smokers have terrible concentration (while they smoke in order to focus). Perhaps some people have emotional issues such as depression or frustration that drive their need for escape, but alcohol and drugs are among the worstthings to turn to under such circumstances. Fix the root cause of your issues first, before attempting to self-medicate yourself with something that will amplify all your woes.

If drugs are the proverbial manna from heaven, why keep its usage secret from one’s parents? Why doesn’t Stephen Hawking “smoke up” before working on theoretical physics? Truth is, simple bacteria are more responsive than you are when you’re high. It is truly amazing as to the effort one’s organs put into filtering them out of the bloodstream. If your body needed them, their absence would lead to deficiencies and disease. You’ve lived a good 18 years without them, and have done well in life to get here, and you can probably go another 60 without them too. In fact, as you all know, drugs can create a host of problems, from chromosomal to brain damage. The interested reader is encouraged to go beyond Wikipedia and into scientific literature to get a better idea of these things.

What begins as an experiment for most people, soon becomes a debilitating waste of at least 4-6 hours of your time on a daily basis. There are those who claim to be “under control” or preach “responsible use”. It speaks very highly of their lack of creativity in spending their free time, as well as a sense of having given up on finding new things to do. There are others, who, after having introduced friends to it, simply shrug it off saying “It’s their choice”, which makes absolutely no sense from any reasonable ethical standpoint. To a person who has seen people lose their minds to drugs, it is an argument that is most abhorrent.

With no provable benefits and possibly fatal side effects, any layman’s cost benefit analysis would tell him that drugs are not a good thing. This makes it so much more laughable when one sees the supposedly brightest of the bright of India indulge in this hypocrisy. Perhaps a more firm hand from the administration in cutting off their supply will begin to force people to look at more constructive ways of spending their time. Unless we heed the advice of our better faculties and stay away, we are doomed to let history repeat itself. The next time you see a friend wanting to “widen his horizons”, you’d be better off giving him books from your literary collection.

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