Into Intoxication

Into Intoxication
Posted by FoM on July 17, 2001 at 07:45:46 PT
By Stephane Beauroy, National Post
Source: National Post
'For a moment nothing happens, and then you feel this great wave of massive, totally unhandleable energy rolling through you ... and you know you won't ever do this again. Then you let out your breath and you feel so beautiful." It sounds exhilarating, like bungee jumping, but it is actually an account of a crack cocaine rush, as reported to British journalist Stuart Walton.For Walton, intoxication is a psychological drive, a core element of humanity. He believes it enhances the risky business of living more often than it does damage.
Walton defines intoxication as "the modification of sensate existence." Unlike eating, drinking and breathing, which are necessary for survival, intoxication "just feels more like living than feeding one's self does."Walton's new book, Out of it: a cultural history of intoxication (Penguin, 2001), has its origin in frustration over the refusal of U.S. and British authorities to change drug legislation.Lamentably, he says, any suggestion "that some sort of enlightened reform might be needed in order to stop delivering innocent citizens into the hands of criminal cartels results in a chorus of ululation and disapproval, and then nothing happens." And this attitude persists despite increased use of proscribed drugs.Anthropologists, he remarks in an interview, discovered in Canada's Inuit a rare culture that did not originally have intoxicants."It was the peculiar and singular fate of these people," he says, "to have had no indigenous intoxicants, and so they are a fascinating case of a culture to which intoxication was introduced in a wholly extraneous way. The petrol sniffing of the Inuit children is a ghastly development, as is all use of inhalants. But it shows there is a natural impulse to discover the intoxicating potential in whatever materials lie to hand."Walton calls for an end to the collective embarrassment over the desire for intoxication. Only then will such public health disasters be averted.There is a note of indignation in his voice as he discusses the prevailing notion that addiction is the automatic by-product of drug use."The argument against drugs of addiction-dependency mustn't be allowed to write the script for the rest of us -- because addiction is not the whole story," he says. "The vast majority of humanity uses intoxicants and until we admit it is in itself a blameless, and indeed a possibly civilizing activity, then we will continue to be mired in the current situation."While most drug use does not lead to addiction, he affirms the destructive reality of addiction: "Saying this is not to deny the tragedy and squalor that dependency, particularly in the case of the opiates, can create."Current attitudes toward intoxication are largely unchanged from the early 20th century view that criminalization is the answer to drug use. Opium and cocaine, for instance, were readily available on London streets until 1916. A soldier named Willy Johnson became the first dealer arrested for selling the popular and widely consumed cocaine.This event "led to the framing of Defence of the Realm Regulation 40b," says Walton. "Under the umbrella of emergency wartime provisions," he explains, "and despite the fact that it was acknowledged in the Home Office that such measures would be too controversial to be dealt with in normal legislative terms, the two drugs most prevalent in cafÈ and club society at the time -- cocaine and opium -- were made illegal."And, recently, it took just three hours for the former home secretary, Jack Straw, to dismiss a police research report that advocated relaxing the law on cannabis and Ecstasy, adds Walton, clearly exasperated. He also believes such decisions stall desperately needed medical research."The official position of 'It's illegal, so its use shouldn't arise,' of Ecstasy, say, stops more research from being done on Ecstasy's effect on the brain and other organs such as the liver and kidneys. Since research on clubbers has shown a high level of toxicity in the blood, this is a fatuous and childish response on the part of the government!"Walton analyzes the effects of different drugs."At the centre of the book", he says, "is an examination of which drugs stimulate or impair social life."The cereal fungus ergot produces hallucinogenic experiences, and is the likely drug at the heart of the ancient Athenians' Eleusinian Mysteries. As Walton describes it, "The Eleusinian Mysteries were a vast ten-day ritualistic celebration, attended by thousands every year in the temple at Eleusis, to the west of the city of Athens. They were held in September in honour of Demeter, goddess of agriculture, to acknowledge her providence."The ritual taking of the drug by initiates seems to have had a highly social and spiritual dimension -- the participants "entering a benign state of ecstatic consciousness, the memory of which did not fade." As such, it was a binding, shared experience.However, the spiritual possibilities of intoxication have been downplayed since the advent of Christianity. So, we are left with the secular question of which drugs lead to a user's social isolation.Walton points out that heroin and the other opiates trap the user by placing him in an uncommunicative stupor. LSD, though sometimes sublime, works against social interaction. Cannabis, now "one of the most widely used illicit substances in the world," was seen as a virtual panacea in the 19th century. But Walton says, "Far from calling forth the kind of restlessly questioning intelligence that caffeine did in the 17th century, cannabis seems instead to pour a honeyed salve over one's dissatisfactions, smoothing down ruffled feathers to make it all seem bearable again." Under its effects, a person can have "little meaningful communication."Amphetamine, or speed, breeds an unnatural, alienating energy. Tobacco pollutes one's surroundings.Cocaine, advocated by Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, is unpleasant when mixed with other intoxicants such as alcohol, and "tormentingly" mild in its effects. As coca, the unrefined source, it is an "endurance drug" that helped Indian peoples in South America survive hard labour in heat and at altitude.Vin Mariani, a drink beloved of Queen Victoria, consisted of wine and coca leaves. It was credited by a French cardinal as giving "my European priests the strength to civilize Asia and Africa."Annie C. Meyers' Eight Years in Cocaine Hell, published in 1902, however, altered the perception of coca. A Chicago socialite, Meyers wrote of her devotion to Birney's Catarrh Remedy. It mostly consisted of cocaine. Her book was filled with terrible tales of her cocaine abuse. Among her symptoms were psychotic episodes and a gangrenous jaw. Hence, cocaine became a social evil, and Willy Johnson would eventually be arrested.Hence, too, Coca-Cola's change of recipe. In the 19th century, Walton remarks, "tonic drinks [such as Coca-Cola] were vigorously marketed as cure-alls to societies on both sides of the Atlantic becoming obsessed with self-medication. [The uplifting effect of such drinks] took the form of coca leaves and kola nuts in John Pemberton's 1886 patent recipe Coca-Cola, and did so until 1906, when coca was removed from the recipe."Refined into cocaine, coca is expensive, and using it once creates a craving for more."The first hit of the evening can deliver a cosy low-voltage buzz of electricity," Walton says. "Its cycle of duration, though, is pitifully short, so that more is required far earlier than is the case with amphetamine."Cocaine's muted effect breeds the desire for more -- "a perfect capitalist construct," remarks Walton.Ecstasy, coffee and alcohol, are profoundly social intoxicants. Witnesses to this are legion.Taking the lead from two German philosophers who remain influential today, Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) and Theodor Adorno (1903-1969), Walton believes in the redemptive effects of intoxication."The Nietzschean idea that being is suffering is not something I would dispute. A significant part of the impetus to intoxication has to do with its redemptive power, however temporary it might prove. It is certainly the case that intoxication has the power to generate a kind of esthetic and philosophical apperception [or inner awareness] of the world. I'm not convinced, however, that it catalyses the creative function. That's another thing altogether."Walton concludes, "To his iridescent memory, I offer Adorno's obiter dictum that there is indeed a kind of intoxicated pleasure to be had from the great works of art, but that it pales to nothing beside the pleasure of drunkenness."Note: Over time and across cultures, humanity has consistently demonstrated an instinctive affinity for drunkenness and other highs, but fear of addiction is what shapes the law.Source: National Post (Canada) Author: Stephane Beauroy, National PostPublished: July 17, 2001 Copyright: 2001 Southam Inc. Contact: letters Website: Related Articles:Trade in Stimulant Soars in SE Asia Provoke Culture Clash
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Comment #3 posted by bcg on July 17, 2001 at 09:12:45 PT
 "Refined into cocaine, coca is expensive, and using it once creates a craving for more"This B.S. is still around? I thought this reagan era coca-madness had largely been buried. The same is true of caffeine in some people. Granted cocaine is a powerful reinforcer, but not everyone who uses it wants wants to try it again.Also, I would like to see what this author says about alcohol or benzodiazepines and "social interaction" - I didn't see any listed that stimulated this COMLPETELY objective measure. And, as the author suggests there are some, I wonder if alcohol and benzodiazepines are the ones that do.
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Comment #2 posted by Doug on July 17, 2001 at 08:53:17 PT
On a related book
Another book in the same vein that I'd recommend is Intoxication by Ronald Siegel, now out of print. Both these books put forth the notion that intoxication is a natural state, and we ignore it at our peril. Siegel delivers cases of various animals (robins, elephants, etc.) getting intoxicated, and of course it has been done for millenia. The problem currently is that this natural need, perhaps more necessary now that we are so alienated from the earth and our souls, is visciously repressed; as a result this need for intoxication comes out in all kinds of undesirable, dangereous, and conterproductive ways -- witness the posting on the use of yaba in Thailand.Siegel suggests that the need for intoxication is so paramount that we need a new drug with certain qualities and lack of danger. Upon reading this, I realized, though Siegal didn't, that we already have such a drug, and it's called cannabis. You won't find anything safer or more versatile. But because of cultural conditioning, such as pointed on by Kapt in the first post, people refuse to recognize this fact and still buy into the official propoganda on marijuana.
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Comment #1 posted by kaptinemo on July 17, 2001 at 08:25:30 PT:
Blind spots in journalists' eyes
Isn't it funny how many journalists can get on a hot streak, tell the truth for a large part of their articles...and then something comes along and they print nonsense and fall flat on their faces?" But Walton says, "Far from calling forth the kind of restlessly questioning intelligence that caffeine did in the 17th century, cannabis seems instead to pour a honeyed salve over one's dissatisfactions, smoothing down ruffled feathers to make it all seem bearable again." Under its effects, a person can have "little meaningful communication."Uh, excuse me, sir...but you're full of it.As always, it depends upon what is being communicated. And who is doing the communicating. Dumb ol' Forrest Gump on cannabis would still be dumb ol' Forrest Gump. (Oops, this guy's British; okay, Gumby from Monty Python on cannabis would still be Gumby.) Obviously, the same could be said for some of cannabis's more gifted habitues: scintillatingly brilliant Carl Sagan on cannabis was still the scintillatingly brilliant Carl Sagan. And as was revealled a few years ago, ol' Carl credited his cannabis usage with some of the great theories of modern astrophysics. Theories that have yet to be disproven.So, chillun', it's not just what you say, but how you say it. and judging just from wht I read here, we've little to worry about.Wish I could say the same for the sloppy, violent, loud, profane, vomiting, staggering drunks whose company I've had to suffer. All you need do to convince yourself of the fact that alcohol destroys brain cells is listen to them speak. The truth of this rolls off their tongues with disgusting ease.
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