Most people on planet earth use one or more recreational drugs to alter the way that their brain works in a variety of ways, and thus the way that they behave. This abnormal brain behaviour is pleasant, which is why the drugs are used. However drug use virtually always has a downside, they do harm to our mind and body which is the price we pay for the experience. In addition many drugs are addictive and chain us to indefinite use or even to a downwards spiral of self destruction.
Alcohol is created when naturally occurring yeast settle on fruit, they eat the sugars in that fruit and create alcohol as a waste product. This has happened for very many millions of years, which makes alcohol the drug that mankind has evolved alongside. Some wild animals leave fruit to ferment so they can come back and enjoy the alcohol, if more simple animals can do this then it is probable that man has been doing this at least since hominids evolved from the chimpanzees around 2.5 million years ago. Certainly today alcohol use is found in isolated hunter gatherer communities all around the world.
The fact that we are very adapted to alcohol use makes it a fantastic drug. It acts on the central nervous system altering perception and mood. One effect it has on our brains is that it reverses the effects of evolution, stripping away our higher mental capabilities first, then with increased dosages taking us back to the level of primitive beings. We can see this with the whittling away of good taste and inhibitions and, with sufficient dosage, the eventual loss of speech. Basically we become less civilised as we drink.
Our adaption to alcohol is so good that it is one of the few drugs that does us good, in moderate doses it reduces coronary heart disease and by doing so makes us live longer. Also moderate users have improved cognitive function compared to non drinkers and heavy drinkers.
However there is a very dangerous, dark side to alcohol. It is made from fruits and grains that would otherwise be food, so throughout our evolution alcohol was a rare and precious luxury. Something to be savoured in relatively small quantities. But now, with the industrialisation of food production, we have plenty left over to create alcohol from, also on an industrial basis. Alcohol has become very cheap and easily available in our society and very many people consume vastly larger quantities than we are evolved to handle.
Because alcohol reverses our brain’s evolution, large dosages turn us into wild animals. Most violence in our society is alcohol fuelled. Also alcohol is fairly addictive and repeated large doses are very bad for us indeed, rotting away several key internal organs (including the brain) and causing cancer. The problem for our society is immense, in the UK alone alcohol puts a million people a year into hospital.
From society’s point of view it is better to remain civilised by not drinking to the point that we misbehave, but this is difficult to do because the consumption of alcohol is so enjoyable and is woven into the very fabric and culture of that society.
People who are regular drinkers need to stay in control of their drug, they don’t want alcohol running their lives to the detriment of everything else. It is very easy for chemical or psychological dependence to creep up on us. One excellent strategy for preventing this is to abstain for a number of days every week. Three days is ideal as it gives our body enough time to clean itself out. Likewise an annual break of a month or so allows our internal organs (brain, liver etc) a chance to recover and proves that we are not addicted whilst also giving a sufficient break to prevent that addiction.
This is quite simply the very worst drug we can possibly imagine, it gives very little in the way of pleasant effect yet it is highly addictive, forcing users into lifelong regular doses in order to stave off withdrawal symptoms. In exchange it takes their lives away. The World Health Organisation says that it prematurely kills over 5 million people worldwide every year, rising to 10 million by 2020. More than the total of all other drugs, all wars, all road accidents and AIDS combined. Over 400,000 of these are in the USA where about 50,000 non smokers die from the effects of secondary smoking every year. Amazingly commercial firms are allowed to market tobacco, they need to find a continuous supply of new victims to replace the ones that their drug has killed.
Because tobacco is a very recent discovery we have no evolutionary adaptation whatsoever to its use. We are quite simply not designed to handle it in any way or form.
Tobacco, when burned, produces a tar which goes into our lungs and thence its constituent chemicals find their way into the rest of our bodies. This tar contains very many poisons, about 80 of which are known cancer causing agents. These carcinogens then attack every organ in our bodies, commonly causing cancers that are virtually unknown in non smokers. The genetic damage they do causes ageing and also many diseases including sperm damage that leads to malformed children.
Another harmful mechanism is that regularly breathing in the smoke from burning vegetation puts a lot of carbon monoxide into our blood, replacing the oxygen. With reduced oxygen all our organs start to age prematurely. The largest organ in our body is our skin so it is hardly surprising that middle aged smokers often look a decade older than they really are.
The cost of this is that the average smoker loses about 14 years off their life expectancy, around a fifth of their life. This doesn’t get subtracted from their dotage, instead, because of the accelerated ageing, it comes out of the middle years of their lives, the best years of their existence taken away. Human mortality falls under a bell shaped natural distribution curve, smoking effectively moves this whole curve about 14 years to the left, so whilst a very small number of smokers live to a ripe old age an equally small number die in their 30s from diseases like emphysema.
The vascular damage caused by smoking is the main cause of male impotence in the world. Men as young as 30 become incapable of erection and over a lifetime a smoking male will have about half the sex of a non smoking male.
Smokers are the most selfish of people, they go through life poisoning other people with the smoke that they create and the people they poison most are their friends and family. Children born to smoking mothers are damaged both mentally and physically, they are also far more likely to be deformed at birth. It is amazing that our society allows this grievous bodily harm of the unborn. Everyone should have a human right not to be subject to poisoning from other people’s cigarette smoke as they go through their daily business, yet our society fails to provide this protection.
Giving up smoking at 50 years of age halves the damage done to average life expectancy. Giving up smoking at 30 years of age results in no damage being done to average life expectancy by smoking. For anyone who still smokes and who wants to give up the best method is probably to read Alan Carr’s book ‘Easy Way To Stop Smoking’.
Tobacco is the only recreational drug that should be made illegal by governments because its users poison innocent people, which by rights should be a criminal offence. There are some people who are in denial about the effects of secondary smoking but they are very wrong. It has been irrefutably proven by a myriad of scientific studies and as more of these are published the picture looks worse and worse, especially the damage done to children.
Caffeine is a mild stimulant drug that is found in many different plants, where it acts as a pesticide. Most people on earth use this drug in the form of coffee, tea, cola, cocoa (chocolate), guarana and energy drinks. The stimulant effect that it has increases a person’s capacity for mental and physical work.
However the body quickly adapts to caffeine so then regular doses are required just to be normal and if those doses are not received the body goes into withdrawal symptoms, one of which is a severe headache that can last several days.
Around one in ten caffeine users suffers from one or more of the battery of mental disorders known as caffeinism. These include anxiety, phobia, obsessive compulsive behaviour (OCD) and panic attacks. Our society spends many billions treating these mental conditions that could often be prevented by simply avoiding caffeine.
Also caffeine has a very profound effect on the way that our memory works. It increases performance in the narrow area of the task in hand whilst decreasing broad range thinking abilities.
It is certainly worth severely limiting or even stopping our regular exposure to this drug, keeping it in reserve to use as a stimulant when we actually need the effects that it provides. Continuous dosages give no benefit because of the way the body adapts and they have the potential downside of creating profound mental symptoms.
Also the polyphenols in coffee (and tea) can bind to iron molecules and prevent them from being absorbed by our bodies. So it is best not to consume either of these drinks before or after meals.
This is an extremely widely used drug for children in their mid teens, they don’t have enough money to buy harmful quantities and the biggest danger comes from the tobacco that it is usually mixed with. Most users give it up when they grow up, but some persist with it through adult life.
We are almost certainly slightly evolved to handle this drug, it is found in historical record going back to the third century BC and there is no reason to think that we weren’t using it in pre history. Obviously its use was limited to where the cannabis plant grew or within trading distance of that area, so it would not have been as ubiquitous as alcohol.
Whilst alcohol makes people aggressive the effect of marijuana is the exact opposite, it mellows them out, but the active ingredients in cannabis persist for a long time in the body. So pot heads tend to be demotivated people who don’t get on in life. Other than this there is not much scientific consensus on any long term effects that cannabis might have. The tobacco that the cannabis is often smoked with is far more dangerous than the cannabis.
Marijuana is illegal in many Western countries, anyone would wonder why when alcohol and tobacco, which are far more harmful drugs, tend to be legal.
A synthetically created (for the first time in 1912) and extremely widely used “party” drug which creates happiness and euphoria whilst increasing bonding with and empathy for others whilst at the same time aggression and hostility are reduced. It is easy to understand why it is so popular and why it has therapeutic, medicinal uses and why it is used by some Buddhist monks as a meditation aid. We should force feed it to religious fundamentalists to make the world a better place.
MDMA has no short or long term effects on cognitive skills. In fact it is one of the least harmful of all recreational drugs and it is stupid that it is illegal because it hinders controlling the drug purity and the dosages that users are exposed to.
It also has non recreational effects. It blocks the growth of blood cancers. Unfortunately the doses required to do this effectively are so high that they would kill us. But researchers are working on modifying MDMA so as to be effective at this task. It has also been useful in temporarily alleviating some of the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
There are, quite literally, hundreds of chemical substances used by people to alter the way their brain works and all cause harm to a lesser or greater extent. Some, like Khat, LSD and GHB cause a lot less harm than the legal drugs. Others, like Heroin, Crack Cocaine and methamphetamine (Crystal Meth) are so addictive and so damaging that anyone would have to be terminally stupid just to try them.