Tree-Hugging Dirt Worship

June 4, 2014

Sasha Shulgin: a Light in the Dark

The great chemist and psychonaut Sasha Shulgin died peacefully of liver cancer on June 2, 2014, at 5 in the afternoon. He was surrounded by caregivers and listening to Buddhist meditation music, and passed with little struggle. I know his work better than the well-meaning obituary writers out there, and I want to tell you what he accomplished in his lifetime. It’s not to a honor the great man, which I could only do an inadequate job of, but to pull away the veil of establishment taboo and show something of the scope of his underappreciated work.

I have to skip right over his prodigal childhood and World War II Navy experience, not to mention his graduate work at Berkeley and his early professional work at Bio-Rad.

Moving right along: in the 1960’s, Sasha worked for Dow Chemical and invented Zectran, the first biodegradable synthetic pesticide (a huge ecological advantage over pesticides like DDT, which linger in the environment and accumulate up the food chain.) He was rewarded with free reign over a generously-appointed corporate lab. Not long before, someone had introduced him to mescaline on a sunny California day, and he’d been totally impressed by the experience (you can see his original write-up in the first of his lab books posted online.) So it was natural enough that mescaline was the substance Shulgin wanted to tinker with in his new lab. He experimented with alterations of the molecule, at first pursuing the all-too common medicinal chemistry approach of sifting for the most potent compounds through animal tests. Dow soon lost interest in Shulgin’s forays into medicinal chemistry (they prefer bulk chemicals and paint to pharmaceuticals, and on top of that, psychedelics became taboo over the course of the 1960’s.)

Shulgin became an independent consultant and set up a ramshackle laboratory on an old farm near San Francisco. He often found paid work testifying for either drug enforcement agencies or defendants accused of drug crimes, while continuing to make new variants of mescaline.

Shulgin believed in investigating new drugs as pure exploration, but hoped to find therapeutically useful drugs and even promote an expansion in human self-awareness as an antidote to human self-destructiveness.

He tested new drugs first on himself. He was aware of Albert Hoffman’s 1943 experience with LSD: Hoffman had started testing LSD at the 250 microgram level, believing that that was the smallest amount of any drug which could possibly have an effect… but Hoffman was knocked on his butt by a drug more potent than any discovered before! Therefor, Shulgin started with miniscule doses, and then took a nearly doubled dose a week or two later, until some hint of activity was found (poisons are just as likely as the next great breakthrough.) This work led to the Shulgin Rating Scale for rating the power of drug experiences, ranging from ” – ” for no perceptible effect up through ” ++++ ” for perceived omnipotence.

If Sasha found something worthwhile, he might take some with his wife Ann (married 1981), and then with a research group made up of close friends. The research group met on Sundays and enjoyed dinner and wine after an experiment. They included psychologists and lawyers and were able to help Sasha publish his work by qualifying as their own Institutional Review Board, for a time. The group soon found that the compounds differed in their qualities as much as in duration and potency. They investigated hundreds of Shulgin-designed derivatives of mescaline and spice rack oils (as from the peyote cactus and parsley,) and information about their synthesis and proper use was eventually collected into the book PiHKAL. Later, Shulgin tinkered with the structures of DMT and psilocin (as from ayahuasca brews and magic mushrooms,) and he wrote up over a hundred novel compounds in the sequel TiHKAL. Some of his more recent synthetic work began from new inspirations found naturally in various psychedelic cacti and poppies.

As the institutional environment became more oppressive, the research group was unable to continue getting published in the peer-reviewed scientific literature. The Shulgins started Transform Press as a vehicle for self-publishing, and published PiHKAL and TiHKAL as fiction during the 1990’s. As a result, Chemical Abstracts, repository of the list of all chemicals known to humankind, has rejected some of Sasha’s compounds as fictional!

In 1976 a graduate student (whose name I will try to find) called Sasha Shulgin on the phone to report smashing results with a chemical gleaned from the literature: 3,4-methylenedioxy,N-methylamphetamine, better known as MDMA, ecstasy, or molly. At first Shulgin treated MDMA as a “low-calorie martini,” but as he shared it with the research group he saw it help people make remarkable personal breakthroughs. The drug lacked the colorful or disorienting effects of LSD or other infamous psychedelics, which suggested it would make an ideal drug for psychotherapists to give their patients.

A member of the research group, Leo Zeff, used MDMA in his therapy practice and began sharing the secret with other therapists. He developed new techniques for working with patients under the influence and was known as “The Secret Chief.” People said MDMA was like “six months of therapy in one session,” which is immensely gratifying to both patient and practitioner. Therapists worked with qualified chemists to obtain the chemical, and the practice was perfectly legal.

Someone with less discretion found out and decided that MDMA should be made available to everybody. Larry Hagerty and others in the inner circle of Dallas MDMA dealers were motivated not only by the ample profits, but also by the desire to save humanity much as Sasha himself had described in an especially zealous talk! Thousands and thousands of doses were sold in the Dallas dance club scene. In 1985 the DEA noticed and acted to ban the drug, not only from clubs but from therapists’ offices as well.

MAPS, a non-profit that runs on donations, today funds studies into MDMA to treat the fear of death in the terminally ill, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in veterans and rape survivors, and social anxiety in the autistic. MDMA’s capacity to quell human suffering is well-demonstrated, vast and legally forbidden. MAPS faces an uphill battle to fund the extensive testing required by the FDA, which only a few cartelized pharmaceutical companies have ever been able to fund.

Sasha Shulgin produced many interesting compounds besides his role in passing along MDMA. 2C-B is a sense enhancer and aphrodisiac; DiPT disrupts the perception of pitch and harmony; TOMSO is a psychedelic which manifests no effects until combined with alcohol; CPM leads to eyes-closed fantasy, yet the structurally similar MAL leads to visual chaos with the eyes open. ARIADNE has been investigated as an anti-depressant. 5-MeO-DiPT enhances orgasm. All of these compounds may present uses for therapy or creative work, and certainly all of them present clues and new puzzles for brain science. Investigation into them is a legally tortured pursuit, especially in the United States. The vast bulk of Shulgin’s compounds have been only very superficially investigated.

Shulgin’s work is carried on by chemists and therapists around the world, often quietly.

His one-time student David Nichols has worked within the system, and extensively probed the molecular mechanism of MDMA at Purdue’s pharmacology labs. He also is the founding President of the Heffter Institute, which conducts research into psilocin mushrooms as medicine.

Sasha inspired his friends Earth and Fire Erowid to provide the best information about drugs available online. Erowid.org is especially sharp at keeping current with new synthetics that appear on the grey and black markets. The site helps users understand what they are getting into and stay safe, and even to get the most out of their drug experiences just as a therapist would help a patient to do.

Paul Daley came to the Shulgin farm in 2007, to help in the lab after Sasha’s eyes failed due to macular degeneration. Recently the pair was working on techniques for growing peyote, for such time as this becomes legal for the Native American Church. Another project seeks to help cluster headache sufferers with an efficient synthesis for 2-bromo-LSD. 2-bromo-LSD is not a psychedelic or an interesting head drug of any sort, except that it aborts clusters of “suicide headaches” said to be among the most physically excruciating of all human experiences. Shulgin and Daley were working on improving the synthesis of an unapproved drug with little hope for running the approval gauntlet — suggesting that they might have been hoping for others to distribute 2-bromo-LSD in an underground fashion, just as earlier circles of doctors did with MDMA. Their allies in the 2-bromo-LSD project are the Cluster Busters, a patient organization.

In 2013, Daley reported that 87-year-old, blind, dementia-addled Sasha was still joining him in the lab every day. Sasha was no longer on top of the work but he hung around in the lab and cracked corny jokes about whatever was going on. Those are some of the best things about working as a chemist anyway.

Sasha is survived by his wife Ann, a writer and lay therapist with valuable contributions in PiKHAL and TiKHAL. I find her work on integrating the shadow to be especially interesting and useful. She was also a great support to Sasha, taking care of him when he was ill, and cooking meals for the Sunday experiments.

There is every reason to believe that when these drugs are freed from their taboo status, they will allow us to make strides towards physically understanding the brain-mind correlation, and relieve vast amounts of human suffering. It will take dozens of scientists decades just to chase down all of the suggestions mentioned in PiKHAL and TiKHAL.

Some may eulogize Shulgin as a colorful character, “Dr. X, the inventor of ecstasy” or the like, but understand that Shulgin’s work is just the beginning of an unfolding Big Bang in mind science and medicine. After the superstitious and ignorant Church (of unlimited government authority) stands out of the way, we’ll recognize Shulgin as a giant of science like Galileo or Einstein.

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April 18, 2013

Sasha Shulgin on Animal Research

Filed under: science, Soapbox — Tags: , , , , , , — paragardener @ 5:18 pm

From “PiKHAL, a chemical love story:”

This (MME) is one of the very few compounds with which I actually risked (and took) the lives of experimental animals. I was still impressed by the scientific myth that pharmacological research wasn’t really acceptable without animal support data. And I had access to an experimental mouse colony at the University. I injected one mouse with a dose of 300 mg/Kg., i.p. That sounds pretty scientific. But what it really means is that I picked up a mouse by the scruff of the back with my left hand, then turned my hand over so that the mouse was belly-up. I put the ring finger over a hind leg to keep things relatively immobile. Usually at this point there is a little urine evident where there had been none before. And I took a syringe equipped with a very fine needle and containing about 8 milligrams of MME in a fraction of a mL of a water solution and pushed that needle into the mouse at about where the navel would be if one could see the mouse’s navel, and then I pulled the needle back just a little so that there should be nothing at the business end but the loose folds of the peritoneum. Then I pushed the syringe plunger home, effectively squirting the water solution into the area that surrounds the intestines. I dropped the mouse back into his cage, and watched. In this case, the mouse went into a twitching series of convulsions (known as clonic in the trade) and in five minutes he was dead.

Fired with the lust for killing, I grabbed another mouse, and nailed him with 175 mg/Kg. Dead in 6 minutes. Another one at 107 mg/Kg. Dead in 5 minutes. Another at 75 mg/Kg. Well, he looked pretty sick there for a while, and had some shakes, and then he seemed to be pretty much OK. One final orgy of murder. I injected 5 mice at 100 mg/Kg i.p., and watched four of them die within 20 minutes. I took in my hands the sole survivor, and I went outside the laboratory and let him loose on the hillside. He scampered away and I never saw him again.

And what did I learn, at the cost of seven precious lives which I can never replace? Not a damned thing. Maybe there is an LD-50 [the dose lethal to 50% of the animals] somewhere around 60 or 80 mg/Kg. This is for mice, not for men. I was intending to take an initial trial dose of 300 micrograms of this completely untested compound, and it would have made no difference to me if the LD-50 had been 600 mg/Kg or 6 mg/Kg.  I still took my trial dose, and had absolutely no effects, and I never killed another mouse again. No, that is simply out-and-out dishonest. I had an invasion of field mice last winter coming up through a hole in the floor behind the garbage holder under the kitchen sink, and I blocked the hole, but I also set some mouse traps. And I caught a couple. But never again for the simple and stupid reasons of being able to say that “This compound has an LD-50 in the mouse of 70 mg/Kg.” Who cares? Why kill?

If you believe in something you are creating, there should be no problem in trying it out for yourself first. Shulgin’s usual protocol for trying new drugs is to start with perhaps 1/500 of the expected active dose, and then taste again next week with double or 1.5 times as much. If there are signs of activity, whether amusing or toxic, the next dose will only be a small increment more.

Shulgin’s intent is purely to make new compounds for exploring the mind, which generally fall near the psychedelic category. Not very much is known about the possible health effects of most of the (over 200) new compounds he’s synthesized.

Yet, I feel a lot better with the idea of taking an exploratory compound cooked up by an eccentric and earnest scientist, than buying shampoo at the store that was rubbed into bunny eyes as a Cover Your Ass move, but which was actually created by people whose only interest lay in making money. Monsanto represents an ultimate in ugly innovation, removing GMO items from their own cafeterias because their employees don’t want to eat what they are growing.

If corporate scientists don’t want to test their new creations on themselves, I understand why. They are just working on orders from above, acting as competent technicians. I am all in favor of testing on the people in charge: the Board of Directors, the CEO and management team, and the major shareholders.

April 14, 2013

On the belief in spirits in disease

Filed under: magic, science — Tags: , , , , , — paragardener @ 8:18 pm

Recently, I have read much of an ignorant superstition regarding disease: this, the concept of diseases being caused by malevolent spirits. These spirits are invisible creatures, which live in the air and seek to wreak mayhem on any human animal they come into contact with. They will attach themselves to a person, and even spread from person to person, or linger in the victim’s home. It is believed by the ignorant, that the home of the afflicted may be “cleansed” with herbs and smoke such as sage and wormwood, to drive the spirits out; for, these dark-minded individuals believe that the spirits of plants may be called upon to battle the evil spirits of disease. (Thus, the fools deny themselves the true and helpful medicines known to our doctors of today, such as preparations of arsenic and mercury.)

This belief in invisible agents of disease is known to be false by all Men of science, who know disease to be caused by an imbalance of the four humours (phlegm, black bile, yellow bile, and blood.) Thus, the barefoot primitive and the superstitious peasant will rely on the magical qualities of the witch-doctor’s plants, such as ephedra or belladonna, to treat asthma, to their great detriment, instead of looking to a medicine with the empirically-validated phlegm-drying virtues of “warmth” and “dryness,” such as Indian tobacco.

As one cannot argue with the willfully ignorant, I can only pray that our Legislators take decisive action for the licensing of doctors and pharmacists, and to punish swiftly and surely the selling of false and deleterious medicines.

[Disease really is spread by invisible organisms. Sage and wormwood are antiseptic. Arsenic and mercury were really put into medicines. Ephedra dilates bronchioles and belladonna reduces inflammations and spasms. And, tobacco was used to treat asthma under the Four Humours system of medicine, with rather limited success.]

March 23, 2013

Regulate Breathing

My life’s ambition, my abstract love and enthusiasm for life, is to study psychoactive substances, or mind-altering drugs as you might call them. This is a bit frustrating, like being a born musician in Taliban country.

The Lords of the US gather in Bohemian Grove every year, surrounded by acres of empty forest, to privately party and drink and get down with Sasha Shulgin, inventor of most every designer psychedelic or party drug ever. Then they fly back to Washington, D.C. to publicly give speeches about the evils of drugs and vote for increased penalties and ban new substances (usually Shulgin’s inventions after about an eight-year lag time.) To coordinate the message that “drugs are bad, m’kay,” the Office of National Drug Control Policy writes pieces of television scripts and pays the networks to include them in their programming. Most people accept the message: to be “into drugs” isn’t an innocent thing like being “into music” or “into cars,” it’s tantamount to being a thieving junkie.

Sometimes I hear people say, “oh, drugs are an inferior way of exploring altered states. You can get to the same places with breathing exercises and meditation, whilst maintaining the virgin purity of your blood.” Okay, that’s not exactly what they say, but you get the idea…

I used to mentally respond to them, “yeah, right. I’m sure that is almost true if you withdraw from the world and spend years training in a Himalayan monastery, but in the real world meditation only gets me a few minutes of relaxation. And even if meditation brought me to the Ultimate Enlightenment, I kind of liked seeing the pretty colors, too, and I’m sure that that was a specific effect of the drugs.”

Now, new information has come to light, and I do believe that I may have been missing something about the breathing. A certain Pau reported a pretty heavy trip from doing breathing exercises right before bed:

Some years ago , just a few weeks after I learned about mediation and pranayama breathing exercises, I was practicing pranayama for a few minutes before I went to bed. At the same time I was attempting to quiet my mind (which I believe is easier to do while doing pranayama).

I broke through, with infinite power…I lost all sense of body, and my consciousness expanded in a fraction of a second to fill and become the entire universe … I “felt” there was nothing I could not know or see about the past present and future of everything. There had not been any psychedelics in my system for a year. Yeah, the speck of “I” that was rapidly disappearing during this event got freaked out and decided with great effort to switch the experience off before the “I” was gone for good. But the same thing happened the following night. (both times, before the blastoff, there was a period of maybe half a minute where everything around me, including empty space, seemed like it was made of sparkling blue dots).

This, in the context of a thread about boosting endogenous DMT, the powerful and illegal psychedelic that is a natural component of your body, everyone else, hundreds of plant species, and most higher animals. Is this a case of manufacturing illicit drugs? Pranayama seems to be a widespread practice with many variations, go ahead and look it up and you will find dozens of teachers providing you the training online. It seems foremost like an exercise to make breathing more conscious, although it goes beyond the simple Zen-derived techniques I’ve studied in the past.

Another way to breathe your way into an altered state is to suck a mixture of carbon dioxide and oxygen. During the 1960’s, when scientists could work with psychedelics and not be charged with witchcraft, there was a great interest in psychedelics as part of psychotherapy. There was some risk of giving a dose of LSD to a client and then watching helplessly as they experienced an eight-hour trainwreck of anxiety and confusion, so there was a desire to find a way of inducing a briefer altered state to test the waters. Such a way already existed, and it was called carbogen: typically, a mixture of 70% oxygen and 30% carbon dioxide.

People who were administered carbogen in a clinical setting, as a trial of their ability to weather altered states, typically freaked out. But not always:

“After the second breath came an onrush of color, first a predominant sheet of beautiful rosy-red, following which came successive sheets of brilliant color and design, some geometric, some fanciful and graceful …. Then the colors separated; my soul drawing apart from the physical being, was drawn upward seemingly to leave the earth and to go upward where it reached a greater Spirit with Whom there was a communion, producing a remarkable, new relaxation and deep security.”

Wow! Pretty colors and all!

Society’s controllers have been obsessed with preventing the common folk from having religious experiences since the Christian church merged with the Roman Empire almost 2,000 years ago (a few visionaries were sainted, more were burned at the stake). So, the fact that one can manipulate one’s own lungs and atmospheric gasses to induce such experiences presents a challenge to authority.

Perhaps the situation can be brought back under control. Progressive Insurance offers drivers a device called “Snapshot,” which monitors basics like acceleration and stopping time, and gives drivers a discount for safe practices. All Americans who have two pennies to rub together will soon be looking for discounts for their newly mandatory “Affordable Care” very soon. Why not strap a Snapshot consisting of a pedometer and a polygraph to every American, and offer them discounts for “safe biometrics?”

One strap around the abdomen, and one around the chest, and any hanky-pranayama that might occur will signal your insurance company to jack up your premiums. If you aren’t abusing your ability to breathe, you have no reason to object to such a proposition.

Breathing should be subject to reasonable regulation, just like food, water and medicine. Breathing is too important a matter to leave to individuals with their pesky notion of “rights” and their ignorance. After all, people like you and me were never properly trained or licensed to breathe. Breathing disorders are a leading cause of death.

Not funny? Sorry, but…

I’m suffocating over here!!!

February 24, 2013

The Great Nutmeg Question

Nutmeg is the seed or kernel of Myristica fragrans tree fruits, grated down into a musky-smelling spice. Lately, it seems as if few people are cooking with nutmeg except to sprinkle it on Christmas cookies or other holiday dishes. It was once greatly popular and expensive in Europe, as people liked it for medicine and flavor, but they had no idea where it came from. The fact that people had to buy the spice from Sindbad-like Arab traders who would not reveal the spice’s faraway source lent it a certain mystique.

It turns out that nutmeg is more than it seems, a potent mind-bending drug, which can induce long journeys away from the everyday perception of reality. The fact that a totally innocuous kitchen spice can do this raises certain questions about people’s relationships with the plant, and the relationship of the essential oils in spices to psychoactive drugs.

Firstly, the human-plant relations side of it: as nutmeg is a powerful plant drug, I would assume that there are indigenous people somewhere in the world who are familiar with its use in ritual. I would assume wrong. By the time Europeans and history discovered the Banda Islands, the secret source of nutmeg, the natives were already exporting the whole lot to meet world demand for nutmeg as a flavoring and make money. Nutmeg does have traditional uses as a sedative, sleep aid and analgesic. Writers occasionally note it as a mood elevator or health tonic. As the kernels traveled the world, people occasionally used them in smoking mixtures, snuff or chew, to nobody’s concern. And then, around the turn of the twentieth century, things took a strange turn.

A rumor went around the United States that nutmeg was an abortifacient. Perhaps this is true at a dosage that drives one to death’s door… in any case, young women would sometimes take down spoonfuls of nutmeg hoping to cause an abortion, and then, to their surprise, become highly inebriated with untrustworthy senses and delusions about the nature of the world. Nutmeg’s effects can last for over twenty-four hours after taking it. Some women thought that they were going mad or did mad things and ended up in newspaper stories. In 1902, a Dr. E.E. Hinman reported on treating nutmeg poisonings to the Northwestern Lancet: “In all cases of nutmeg poisoning there was prostration with partial or complete coma. Most of them had vertigo, delirium, chiefly hallucinations of sight, rapid, feeble pulse, and free urination. In five instances the nutmegs were taken to produce abortion, and in every case without accomplishing the desired result.”

Hysterical woman falling out of chair.

Prostrated by nutmeg.

Soon, prisoners caught on to the story about nutmeg causing delirium and hallucinations, and they were smuggling it out of the kitchen to experience the terror and insanity for themselves, such is the human drive to experience altered states. Actually, the experience may not run so terribly for everybody (prisoner Malcolm X measured doses out in a matchbox, and described the effects as being like four or five joints). Still, the seed is surprisingly strong stuff. Fortunately, most people don’t like it as a drug — the heavy effects of higher doses come with heavy side effects — so it is little abused, and the US government hasn’t snatched it out of our spice racks yet. Periodically, the news media notices that teenagers or ultra-poor people are getting high on nutmeg, and there is almost a big deal made of it. Occasionally, someone takes enough to do themselves in.

So, that is the anthropology of nutmeg in brief. There is still the question of how nutmeg does its thing. Since we don’t really understand how the human brain correlates with consciousness all that well, we can’t really truly describe the mechanism of action of any psychoactive drug whatsoever. We can, however, take a stab at relating the chemical constituents of the seed to better-understood drugs and their pharmacology.

One of the first strong efforts at dissecting the action of nutmeg took place in the mid-1960’s, to be published in 1967. Alexander “Sasha” Shulgin, a prolific American inventor of synthetic psychedelics, and two Chilean colleagues, Thornton Sargent and Claudia Naranjo, submitted an article to Psychopharmacology Bulletin: “The Chemistry and Psychopharmacology of Nutmeg and Several Related Phenylisopropylamines.” The team assumed that nutmeg’s power lay in the volatile or “essential” oil fraction of the spice, not in its fatty butter or pulpy cellulose structure. So, they pressed the kernels to express the butter, and steam distilled the essential oil from the crushed remainders. They fractionally distilled the oil, meaning that it was distilled and redistilled until each individual compound was almost completely separated from every other compound. By analyzing each fraction, the team could determine exactly which compounds were in nutmeg oil and how much of each.

Many of the chemicals in nutmeg oil are common throughout nature or well-understood, and thus were seen as poor candidates for explaining its psychoactivity (for example, pinene and sabinene are present in high concentrations across many plant species. However, the most interesting thing known about their pharmacology was that they are irritants.) Other chemicals are present in such tiny amounts that they are probably not the main contributors to nutmeg’s action (unless they are extremely potent).

Eventually, the researchers focused their attention on three “phenylisopropylamine” compounds: safrole, myristicin, and elemicin. These components of Oil of Nutmeg bear a striking resemblance to a series of synthetic psychedelics Sasha Shulgin was working on, modifications of the mescaline molecule. — — The researchers hypothesized that the human liver adds nitrogen to the three phenylisopropylamines as they pass through, so converting them into their psychedelic amphetamine counterparts — safrole to MDA, myristicin to MMDA, and elemicin to TMA. The liver is known to “transaminate” many kinds of compounds, lending the hypothesis some plausibility.

Nutmeg oil components and their hypothetical products

Phenylisopropylamine Psychedelic Amphetamine

SAFROLE

SAFROLE

MDA

MDA

ELEMICIN

ELEMICIN

TMA

TMA

MYRISTICIN

MYRISTICIN

MMDA

MMDA

If the researchers’ hypothesis is true, the effects of nutmeg should roughly correspond to the effects of MDA, MMDA, and TMA in the same proportions as nutmeg oil contains safrole, myristicin, and elemicin. All three psychedelic amphetamines have been explored somewhat as single compounds. MDA catalyzes an opening of empathy and creates sparkling visual changes. MMDA is a psychedelic generally reported as being relaxing, while exhibiting the wrinkle that impressive visual effects are only achieved with the eyes closed. TMA is definitely psychedelic and nausea-causing, but I cannot find enough reports on it to comment as to the particular character of its activity. In general, psychedelics activate certain serotonin receptors which cause “sensory gating channels” in the brain and mind to open up, increasing awareness and the sense of novelty, as well as sometimes creating special effects such as synesthesia. Psychedelics do not necessarily act as stimulants, even though many are chemically described as “amphetamines.”

Sasha Shulgin devised a way to challenge the transamination theory. He prepared a cocktail of psychedelic amphetamines to imitate the effects of 5 grams of average nutmeg, assuming that the phenylisopropylamines would be metabolized with 100% efficiency. It consisted of 100 mg of white powder, divided into 1 part (by mass?) MDA, 2 parts TMA, and 5 parts MMDA. He reports that the cocktail “produced quite a sparkle and considerable eye-dilation. But then, I have never taken 5 grams of nutmeg, so I cannot make any comparisons.” Nice experimental design, Dr. Shulgin! Couldn’t you have taken 2 or 3 days out of your busy life to get high on nutmeg (as an experimental control)? Writing in the Entheogen Review, Ibo Nagano describes 5 grams of nutmeg as a threshold dose “marked by euphoria, relaxation, mood elevation, hilarity and enhancement of the senses,” which I suppose could mean the same as “quite a sparkle.” Please note that nutmegs vary considerably in their potency and exact composition, and you cannot presume to get certain effects at certain dosages unless you know already know your source pretty well — and in that case, put down the shaker bottle, you addict!

Shulgin’s imitation nutmeg amphetamine cocktail superficially supported the transamination hypothesis. However, on another occasion, human volunteers consumed myristicin in the amount present in almost 40 g nutmeg — a dosage seen in typical emergency room visits — yet the volunteers experienced only subtle effects. As myristicin is by far the most abundant aromatic in Oil of Nutmeg, and it makes such a lame psychedelic, we can rule out the idea of it being converted efficiently by the liver. If 100% of the material was converted, each volunteer would have synthesized about 400 mg of MMDA in their own body, and likely been knocked on their butt. Additionally, while the transamination reactions were made to work in laboratory liver cultures, several investigators have not been able to demonstrate such a reaction in living animals.

There is still a possibility for partial transamination of the phenylisoproylamines in the human body. Perhaps small amounts of nutmeg oil are transformed into psychedelic amphetamines, which act synergistically to create a stronger effect than any one would produce alone. On the other hand, the phenylisoproylamines might be active at some of the same receptors as psychedelics, but at a weaker level. In the end, the 1967 research suggested a lot of things and proved almost nothing.

No one seemed interested in the problem again until 2000, when Bernard C Sangalli and William Chiang submitted a paper to Clinical Toxicology. A young woman swallowed roughly 20 g of nutmeg on a friend’s advice without really knowing what it was. When she woke up the next morning still feeling drunk and high after dreaming of being covered in centipedes, she asked her mother to take her to the hospital — thus, becoming the case study that spurred Sangalli and Chiang to investigate nutmeg. (She recovered after a few days’ rest.)

The duo list many components of nutmeg oil with notes about any known actions of those compounds. Some are stimulants, others depressants, others anesthetics, and so on. Where information is lacking, the authors suggest a strategy of comparing nutmeg to other plant materials containing some of the same or similar chemicals. For example, methysticin and kavain are two compounds from kava kava, which contain within them structures strongly resembling myristicin. The kava compounds are known local anesthetics, which work by inhibiting voltage-operated sodium channels (making nerves less conductive). Thus, the anesthetic medicinal/side effect of nutmeg may be tentatively pinned on myristicin and its interaction with the voltage-gated sodium channels. To hypothesize about each nutmeg effect and compound in this way, and then to test each hypothesis, sounds like a fun project to amuse a few research teams for the next several decades. Nutmeg is not amenable to a simplistic, reductionist approach — there are clearly multiple compounds working together to create the nutmeg syndrome, and quite possibly none of these compounds will create impressive effects working alone. I must say that this is less satisfying than Shulgin’s transamination hypothesis, but it does seem to be the truth: this is one tough nut to crack. At least it is providing us with good questions to ask.

One final note. Sangalli and Chiang lament that nutmeg’s “use is perpetuated in easy access resources such as the Internet.” Nutmeg use was perpetuated throughout the twentieth century, mostly in the absence of the Internet. I believe that having a lack of information perpetuates nutmeg use. People with adequate information would probably turn nutmeg down, or at least keep the dose limited to levels that others report enjoying. People who end up in the E.R. were usually working from ignorance or faulty information, so the researchers’ attitude of “let’s keep this information locked up in libraries where no one will look at it” is completely counterproductive. I kind of have to celebrate the honest people who share their awkward nutmeg experiences via Youtube and Erowid and the like. This young woman didn’t regret her experience but I hardly think she’s going to inspire a thousand imitators (I believe that she is a smaller person who took about 20 g, based on her previous “Nutmeg High” video):

January 13, 2013

They put mind-control drugs in the drinking water.

Filed under: magic, Vinting — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — paragardener @ 5:55 pm

Imagine that your government mandated your drinking water supply be laced with a pharmaceutical agent — a drug that causes sedation, depression in a certain proportion of patients, loss of sex drive and sometimes male impotence. This would seem to be a vile New World Order scheme for cowing a sheep-like populace, preventing revolts and dwindling the population.

Indeed, the drinking water was drugged to control behavior among the masses. I’m not talking about the fluoride in your city water, though — I’m talking about hops in the beer, and the scene is Europe in the late Middle Ages / early Renaissance.

Medieval Europeans didn’t know how to sanitize water to make it safe, but they did know that beer was safe. They drank it all day long (although some of the beers were too weak to go to market today.) In the Dark Ages, there were many beer recipes in circulation… some called for malt and water only, but that was not most people’s favorite beer. Plain beer has no bitter element to balance the sweetness, and doesn’t keep as long as beer infused with bitter herbs. Other beers were brewed with juniper or wormwood, or with specific herbs to treat specific maladies.

The most popular beer was the one backed up by Church authority. In many places, the local monks held a monopoly on making gruit, a brain-bending combination of herbs such as marsh rosemary, yarrow, and sweet gale (Myrica gale.) The village people would pony up cash for the secret-formula gruit, and proceed to brew their own beer with it. Gruit beer is said to be stimulating and highly inebriating. To Protestants, the gruit system was a big problem, because 1) it supported the authority of the Church and 2) it was too much fun, too indulgent, and had to be sinful.

Their solution appeared in the form of hops. Very late in the Middle Ages, brewers were experimenting with hops as an alternative to gruit. Its main advantage was that it could be grown in one’s own beer garden, avoiding the priestly layer of secrecy and control. Hops is bitter and preservative, and it can be bred into varieties producing a decent range of different aromas. The downside of hops is that it causes sleepiness, weakens the male libido (through estrogen-like chemistry), and is contraindicated for depressives. It’s not an evil plant; the other side of the coin is that it’s good for menopausal symptoms and for people who suffer anxiety without depression.

Apparently, the side effects of hops were of no concern to the Protestants. I don’t think that they consciously set out to sedate people — it’s just that sedating people didn’t rate as a disadvantage. Hops was considered an anti-drug, the tame alternative to everything from heather to henbane. Hops was mandated into Bavarian beer in 1516, with the Reinheitsgebot or German Purity Law — the only ingredients allowed in beer henceforth would be barley, water and hops. The Purity Law would spread to many European nations and locales. To the modern Westerner, the Purity Law is an assurance that there is no cheapass rice or maize in the brew. To someone living almost 500 years ago, it meant something different… it meant that to drink something that was safe and dysentery-free, you had to dull yourself down with hops: that is a mass drugging of the population through the drinking water supply, no doubt.

This could be a sad tale of the subjugation of my ancestors. However, this story points to a wide-open new frontier in brewing… everything from pine branches to saffron has been used in beer. Yet we today rely almost exclusively on hops, even reflexively hopping beers with other spices added. There is no need to do so, especially with bitter herbs!

A homebrewer can easily buy some unhopped malt extract and brew it with the addition of any plant product they choose. The starting place for reclaiming our centuries-dormant brewing traditions has got to be “Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers” by Stephen Harrod Buhner. I will double-check his information for assurance of safety, as I am just too self-conscious to converse with plants as Buhner does, and therefore I need empirical data regarding safe dosage! This also raises the question of what I can brew into a beer, and just hand it to someone as a beer, as against when a beer becomes a “drug.” I suppose I shall have to embark upon a serious, long-term effort to bioassay these strange brews, using the researcher as test subject.

Meanwhile, the struggle between “puritans” and the free-minded goes on. The high priests of public health are considering what level of lithium to put in city water in order to reduce violent behavior. Wild people of the world, take some joy in the fight! It won’t end in our lifetime!

July 16, 2012

Naked Face-Chewing Bath Salt Zombie Crime Wave?

Filed under: Soapbox — Tags: , , , , , , — paragardener @ 4:59 pm

Within hours of Rudy Eugene chewing the face off of Ronald Poppo, members of the news media were speculating about imminent zombie apocalypse and blaming the incident on “bath salts,” a marketing term for mephedrone and mixtures thereof. By July 5, David Edwards wrote a piece for Raw Story about a nationwide naked crime wave, in which bath salts are “suspected.” Suspected by who, exactly? This story smells… cooked up.

Some police suspect bath salts behind every sort of deranged behavior. Phoenix Police Sgt. Eric Wyckoff notes that “I wouldn’t approach naked people running around the streets of Phoenix,” which is sad, because I like to approach the naked and deranged and have some fun with them.

“Did you forget something back at the house?” I’ll ask. “Nice cool breeze, don’t you think?”

Sgt. Wyckoff continued, “Generally speaking, if you run into a naked man out here, we found there’s usually some kind of illicit narcotic on board.” This raises questions for me. Weren’t there insane people who wandered about naked before we had today’s great variety of drugs available? If we pulled people off the street at random and drug tested them, wouldn’t we find a great number of otherwise normal people with illicit narcotics on board? I can certainly imagine someone having a psychotic reaction to their drug of choice, and getting publicly naked in the confusion. But I don’t trust that the relationship between illicit drugs and naked crime is all that tight. Could someone show me some numbers?

David Edwards’ piece goes on to link to various naked crime stories. In one case, a Texas mom crashed her car, left it there with three children inside, and wandered to the drug store where she proceeded to strip naked and eat ice cream. The bath salt connection? From Reuters: “Some online commentators are also speculating about the possible use of drugs like bath salts, which can raise a person’s body temperature.”

A Florida woman stood in the intersection, rather forcefully flashing passing drivers with each of her naughty bits until sheriffs arrived to take her in. The bath salt connection? At least David Edwards suspects that she may have been high on bath salts.

Hysterical mugshot.

Broward Sheriff’s Dep’t.

In Georgia, a half-naked man was arrested for disorderly conduct on a golf course. He admitted to being high on bath salts and threatened to eat the faces of the arresting officers. Do bath salts lead directly to the urge to get naked and eat faces? Or did Karl Laventure get himself deranged with the original Miami zombie attack influencing his expectations?

There is no reason to fear that bath salts lead straight to naked face-chewing. We now have toxicology reports from the Miami-Dade medical examiner, who found nothing remarkable in Rudy Eugene’s system. The original naked face-chewing bath salt zombie attack was not caused by bath salts. For some reason, everyone just assumed that it was. “Oh, this is odd. It must be connected to that scary new drug.”

A June 14 story in “Hollywood Life” makes flat and unsupported statements that a woman who attacked her own son and dog on a violent and nude rampage was high on bath salts. Since the story also cited Rudy Eugene as a bath salt user, I see no reason to treat the story as credible. Rampager Pamela McCarthy was tased to death by responding police. How convenient for them if she were a nearly invincible yet mindless zombie attacker, and therefor had to be taken down at any cost.

Connecting bath salts to a naked crime wave is a pretty fine drug scare. It is reminiscent of vintage drug scares like Old South cocaine (making black men into superhuman rapists), or Reefer Madness-era marijuana (giving fine upstanding youths uncontrollable violent impulses). Yet, there is a note of ghetto-terror PCP (its ability to cause utter, violent confusion and immunize one against pain), with even a whiff of the club drug scene from our latest round of being frightened about MDMA. This is the most complex, fullest-bodied drug scare we’ve enjoyed in a long, long time!

You can’t have a drug scare without doctors getting their two cents out. So, addiction specialist Dr. Ravi Chandiramani captures the richness of the bath salt scare in one line: “It’s different than anything else we typically encounter because it’s almost like having cocaine, ecstacy, LSD or acid and amphetamine in one substance.”

Bath salts are a capitalistic, loophole-finding, make-money-first-and-ask-questions-later way to skirt around drug prohibition (don’t sell drugs as drugs. don’t even label them.) You could grouse about corporations being more socially responsible but it’s a little late for that. The other problem is that people need to have better ways of getting drugs! In the meantime, don’t trust what you hear about bath salts and don’t panic about naked zombie attackers.

//

April 30, 2012

Tea: the Drug Epidemic that Ruined Families and Home Breweries

Filed under: food, Vinting — Tags: , , , , — paragardener @ 4:06 am

This isn’t the first time I’ve floated caffeine as a hard drug. In The Devil’s Bean, I imagined a world where caffeine is illegal, and people see it as an addictive, life-ruining drug.

Too bad I hadn’t read William Cobbett’s tract on homebrewing — I could have really punched up my anti-caffeine propaganda. Cobbett, political champion for the poor and a noted hater of potatoes, wrote a book published 1824, called “Cottage Economy.” It’s basically a DIY manual for England’s laborers, who have a little land to grow their own crops on. In it, he argues that England’s poor are being ruined by a switch from homebrewed beer to tea.

“Only forty years ago,” laments Cobbett, “to have a house  and not to brew was a rare thing indeed.” By 1824, money printing had eroded workers’ purchasing power, and the sale of malted barley and hops was severely taxed. Yet, “even at present prices , home-brewed beer is the cheapest  drink that a family can use, except milk , and milk can be applicable only in certain cases.” (Note that drinking water was out of the question!)

Tea, subsidized by England’s global imperial might, was generally replacing beer. Tea has no nutritional value, and “besides being good for nothing, there is badness in it, because it is well known to cause a want of sleep in many cases, and in all cases, to shake and weaken the nerves. It is, in fact, a weaker kind of laudanum, which enlivens for the moment and deadens afterwards.”

By Cobbett’s analysis, workers spent approximately one-third of their income on tea and the associated sugar, milk, tea tackle, and fires. “But I look upon the thing in a still more serious light. I view the tea drinking as a destroyer of health, an enfeebler of the frame, an engenderer of effeminacy and laziness, a debaucher of youth, and a maker of misery for old age.” Any good and scary drug steals peoples’ money, health, and drive. Tea takes its users all the way down into the moral ruin, as well, since “the gossip of the tea table is no bad preparatory school for the brothel,” and England was filling up with hopeless young women who knew no skills except the tea-making ritual.

Tea causes workers to arrive late and die early: “He was up time enough; but the tea kettle kept him lolling and lounging at home; and now instead of sitting down to a breakfast upon bread, bacon and beer, which is to carry him until the hour of dinner, he has to force his limbs along under the sweat of feebleness… … to the wretched tea kettle he has to return at night with legs hardly sufficient to maintain him; and thus he makes his miserable progress towards that death which he finds ten or fifteen years sooner than he would have found it had he made his wife brew beer instead of making tea.” Wow! I think I’ll pass on tea and stick to methamphetamine and crack! (Scientific studies pretty consistently show that caffeine has no effect on overall life expectancy. It can, however, exacerbate stress.)

It’s funny how Cobbett’s Evil Tea story sounds just like an Evil Marijuana story, or an Evil Cocaine story, or so on and so forth. The real-world differences between drugs seem to be infinitely mutable to tellers of tales. That said… imported tea was probably a worse staple beverage than home-brewed beer. It is less nutritious for those in search of calories, and taking it with sugar causes tooth decay (did laborers in 1824 brush their teeth?). The worse tragedy was for people in Britain’s empire, who often went from some kind of homesteading, village life, into hard labor on sugar and tea plantations.

I had to share my weird encounter with the opposition to tea, there. What I’m more excited about is Cobbett’s homebrew recipe — it’s from before the time of Louis Pasteur, sterilization and the dried yeast packet! That’s what you might call a traditional sour-mash method of brewing. Until I get that going, I’ve got a Mr. Beer kit with its plastic barrel fermenter (bubbling away on an end table in the living room), and envelopes and cans of premixed ingredients. At least that will be enough to keep me away from drinking tea!

February 11, 2012

I’m all fo’ Zohydro

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paragardener @ 7:57 pm

Lately I’ve seen rumors flashed about Zohydro, a new super-painkiller “10 times stronger than Vicodin” that will create a new category of pill addict. This appears to be some mix of brazen scaremongering and bleak ignorance. I think, if released for doctors to prescribe, Zohydro will be less problematic than Vicodin for both pain patients and “street” users.

The scaremongering began December 26 of last year, when the Associated Press issued a hatchet job on the proposed new pill. The piece was entirely focused on the potential abuse potential of Zohydro. It quoted anonymous “critics” and anti-drug activists frequently, and barely laid out manufacturer Zogenix’s case for the pill. Newspapers and CBS News then repeated the story, sometimes making it more sensational in the process, thus creating the impression of widespread panic amongst authorities. I will now put this scare to rest with my incredibly influential blog.

What is Zohydro, really? It is time-release hydrocodone, an opioid drug already available in the popular form of Vicodin. Zohydro may be considered as time-release Vicodin, without the second ingredient acetaminophen (aka Tylenol).

Pain patients must take Vicodin every four to six hours, which is unpleasant. The pills aren’t small, and you have to carry them around like an addict because otherwise you’ll end up in pain and far away from relief. People lucky enough to sleep through the night will unluckily wake up unmedicated and in pain. To solve the problem, Zohydro contains several doses that gradually dissolve in your stomach. If the “super-pill” Zohydro contains 10 times Vicodin’s dose of hydrocodone, it also takes 3 times as long to release it. Clever people may be able to defeat Zohydro’s time release technology and get the entire dose at once, but even very stupid people can chew up a handful of Vicodin pills and achieve a similar effect. IMHO, extended release medication is nothing to be afraid of.

Each Vicodin pill also contains 500-750 milligrams of acetaminophen, aka Tylenol. That’s the equivalent of an extra-strength Tylenol, or more. According to a poison-control resource buried within NIH’s website, no one should consume more than 4,000 mg of acetaminophen in a day. Overdose causes the usual nausea-abdominal pain-convulsions pattern of poisoning, possibly leading to liver and kidney failure and death. Guess what, NIH? Vicodin addicts blow out that 4,000 mg limit each day and every day. They are killing themselves because there is simply no source of hydrocodone available that is not mixed with a second drug.

The safety of acetaminophen is questionable. Personally, I’d rather pop a hydrocodone (or heroin) pill than a Tylenol if I had an annoying headache, because acetaminophen stresses your liver and I drink enough alcohol to stress my liver already. A literature review published in the Annals of Pharmacotherapy found that patients with no risk factors were having their livers hurt by taking acetaminophen daily, even when they stayed below the accepted 4,000 mg limit. In January 2011, FDA asked pill manufacturers to keep acetaminophen to below 325 mg per pill, to limit the damage. Vicodin manufacturers are still putting out the same old formulations.

I wholeheartedly agree with my mortal enemy, the FDA, on this issue. Crank down the acetaminophen levels in our medicines! Tylenol is mixed into many, many common medicines for cold, flu and so on, despite all of the people with risk factors against it, and despite the risk of combining multiple medications that contain acetaminophen and accidentally overdosing.

So why are people slamming Zohydro for not  containing a deadly drug? Apparently, some people believe that lacing hydrocodone with poison is an appropriate “abuse deterrent.” According to the AP’s miserable excuse for a story:

At a conference for investors New York on Nov. 29, Zogenix chief executive Roger Hawley said the FDA was not pressuring Zogenix to put an abuse deterrent in Zohydro.

“We would certainly consider later launching an abuse-deterrent form, but right now we believe the priority of safer hydrocodone — that is, without acetaminophen — is a key priority for the FDA,” Hawley said.

Something that makes you puke when you take too much might be a good abuse deterrent. Something that gradually eats your liver without giving you symptoms is a sadistic and violent punishment on drug abusers, not a deterrent.

Apparently, the folks at FDA get it, but AP’s Zohydro story was driven by statements from organizations like National Coalition Against Prescription Drug Abuse, Advocates for the Reform of Prescription Opioids, and Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing. I have to suspect that these groups are driven by a pleasure-hating Puritanical streak quite as much as they’re driven by a genuine concern for patients and addicts (I’m being totally unfair, to the Puritans).

Dave Masko, writing on Huliq, voiced the claims that “people in real pain live with it” (implication: people taking pain pills are all whiny hypochondriacs) and suggested that pain relief is a luxury comparable to getting drunk. Once we’ve identified painkiller users as escapist subhumans, I guess it is acceptable to deny them any relief or launch a deadly attack on them through their livers.

Hopefully there is reform in the medical establishment, based on evidence and reason, to allow safer pain pills onto the market. Hopefully, the AP will give equal billing to drug manufacturers and FDA as it gives to anti-drug scaremongers in future stories (maybe patient advocates could even sneak a quotation in there).

I’m all for Zohydro. Everyone has a right to try to manage their pain, damnit! These people raising trivial concerns about a less-dangerous version of Vicodin should really take a long, hard look at where they’re coming from. I hate it when people I know are hurt or killed by drugs — but would you really “protect” addicts from their own stupidity over and above patients’ rights to live without extraordinary pain?

November 26, 2011

The Devil’s Bean

Filed under: science, Soapbox — Tags: , , , , , , — paragardener @ 7:18 pm

One morning, I was in a hurry to get some herbs weighed out and packaged, so I skipped breakfast. Instead, I drank three or four cups of straight black coffee as I worked. The caffeine mobilized enough stored energy to float me through the task. By the time I was done, though, I felt pretty woozy and I had to go lie down. “Man,” I thought to myself, “this is worse than any drinking hangover of recent memory. I can’t get up and do anything — I might as well be dozing in a heroin nod, and that would feel much nicer anyways (so I’m told). Why is it that caffeine is treated as a soft drug, or even a non-drug? It’s clearly an evil, disabling substance!”

The acceptance or rejection of drugs into American society has been a bit arbitrary, as cultural taboos often are. Packaging and promoting tobacco like candy turned out to be a clusterfuck of global proportions — we probably should have left tobacco with its traditional indigenous users. On the other hand, ibogaine has mainly been used in this country as a one-shot cure for hard drug addiction, so you would think that the anti-drug folks would be promoting the stuff instead of banning it. I guess it’s too weird and African. There is a whole lot of culture and history reflected in the drug laws, sometimes pretty ugly. They weren’t exactly handed down by God on numbered tablets, you know what I’m saying?

So, let’s go together down the rabbit-hole of caffeine-inspired delusion, and imagine a world in which coffee, cocoa and tea have never been accepted into American society. For a long while, various state and local caffeine bans targeted Arab, Chinese or Latin American immigrant populations. Finally, in the late 1960’s, the federal government put caffeine into Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act — that is, the lawbooks declared coffee to be dangerous and without medical benefit.

You can’t get coffee from a nice, safe grocery store in this world. “Coffee house” has all the sinister connotations of “crack house.” (Starbuck’s still exists, slinging different flavors of coca tea). Skinny, twitchy “caffiends” prowl the streets, committing petty thefts and muggings to raise cash for their next cup, because coffee is pleasurable, highly addictive, and illegal — much like heroin. It is also known to cause paranoia. Caffiends are totally consumed by a cycle of obtaining coffee, drinking coffee, acting wild under its influence, sleeping off the drain on their bodies, and then looking to score some more coffee before the dreaded withdrawals hit them. In this alternate reality, John Lennon still wrote the song “Cold Turkey,” but it’s entitled “This Headache.” Users are afraid to seek treatment for their addiction, or even discuss caffeine use with their doctor.

Coffee now costs $200 a pound, and it’s a crumbly, pale-tan bean you can expect for that price. Often, the bean is processed into crystal caffeine by laboratories in the coffee-growing countries. The beans are crushed by exploited children working giant mortars, and then a mixture of acetone and other solvents is poured over the grind, collected in drums, and evaporated to leave a somewhat pure white powder behind. Crystal caffeine is more dangerous than the natural form, and overdose cases are common in most emergency rooms across the United States. The massive illegal profits of the coffee business have supported violent criminal cartels, who wage civil wars in Columbia and (of course) Java.

Lately a new form of caffeine has hit the inner cities, a liquid form cheaper than the crystal. “Snap” is manufactured by basement cooks who dissolve the caffeine in dilute carbonic and phosphoric acids, and then add flavoring and a chemically modified form of sugar. Especially appealing to children, snap causes an ugly condition of dental decay and gum disease known as “snap mouth.”

Tens of thousands of Americans are locked up for caffeine or coffee-related offenses, though critics of the drug war point out that rehab would be a better option than jail. Some also point to coffee’s spiritual use in certain Muslim prayer traditions, and its medical use by migraineurs, as reasons to accept use of the drug in limited contexts. Police and prosecutors claim that the reformers are just trying to get their foot in the door for full legalization — it’s a thought that scares everyone but the hardest-core libertarians and radicals. Society would surely fall apart. Do you want to see a coffee house on your block, or what?

Well, that’s just a drug-fuelled fantasy. Is it realistic? Some American consumers would still want coffee if it were illegal, and it’s a truly addictive drug, to boot. So I would expect a black market to form, something that would fuel organized crime and gang violence, as well as promoting purified caffeine over bulky (hard to smuggle) coffee and tea. Coffee addicts might well feel paranoid, face social stigma, and just possibly go broke supporting their habit. I’m not trying to minimize the danger of hard drug use by comparing it to caffeine, but many of the health problems hard drug users experience are related to issues like irregular eating and sleep or sloppy injection techniques, and they’re just not inherent to any particular substance. Use caffeine stupidly enough, and you could wind up looking pretty rough.

The government would propagandize against caffeine and Hollywood and the local news would follow, so people would drink coffee with fears of addiction and insanity in mind, and lots of health problems and insane behavior would be blamed on caffeine.  The relative dangers of coffee against other foods and drugs would be almost impossible to weigh rationally. (If coffee turned out to be socially and medically benign even under harsh prohibition, the establishment would fall back on the “gateway drug” theory — coffee users are driven to find something stronger, like methamphetamine or cocaine. Since you’d have to break drug law taboo and talk to a drug dealer to get coffee, it might well be the beginning of a broader relationship with illegal drugs.)

It looks to me as if the danger in a plant or a chemical has a little bit to do with what the chemical does to the human body, and everything to do with how we treat it. We’re a multicultural country with access to basically the entire world of drugs, traditional or designer, and we’ve not found a way to handle that yet. Pop (aka snap), alcohol and Zoloft are aggressively marketed by their makers, their dangers downplayed to a disclaimer at the most. Coca and opium products, and methamphetamine are used secretly, and frequently with the expectation of self-destruction, which enhances their dangers. And a pariah like marijuana would cause very little harm were it not legally outcaste — the big downside is the risk of being caught, which can lead to paranoia and secretive behavior, besides the possible financial loss and jail time.

I drank some more coffee to fuel this rant. Now I’m sweating and my hands are shaking, I’m wondering if I can eat with my appetite ruined by this powerful stimulant, and I might be raving like a lunatic. I’ve tried to quit coffee (on account of worker exploitation and rainforest destruction), broken the physical addiction, and relapsed weeks later because of the hold the stuff has on my psyche. I’ve also enjoyed its flavor and buzz, stayed awake when needed, and bonded socially over coffee. By a certain logic, I ought to be arrested and thrown in jail or rehab with years of urine testing ahead of me, but I think that it’s better for both society and me if I’m allowed to handle my issue with a little more independence. Anyways, in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Most Prisoners, you can at least make up your own mind, as to what’s your cup of tea, and which cup of tea you think ought to be spiked with stigma and prison time.

Coffe and Tea

Drugs of abuse.

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