Recreational drugs

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.

Ecstacy (MDMA)

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.

Other drugs

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.

The sunshine of our lives

We evolved 150 to 200 thousand years ago in eastern Africa. The climate was lovely, like a permanent beach holiday, which had two consequences that are of interest to us. Firstly our ancestors were black (even the ancestors of the Klu Klux Clan were black) this is because their skin produced very large quantities of the pigment called Melanin which was necessary to protect their naked or near naked bodies from the UV radiation in the sun. The second consequence was that they used the sun to synthesise a vital chemical that the human body needs in order to work properly. That chemical is known as vitamin D.

Vitamins are chemicals that cause diseases if we are deficient in them and a lack of vitamin D leads to about 30 different diseases. These include rickets, inadequate hair growth, peripheral vascular disease, cancer, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, juvenile diabetes, Alzheimers, Parkinsons, osteoporosis, heart disease, cognitive impairment and depression. So it is pretty important that we get enough of the stuff.

Of course there was no danger of vitamin D deficiency whilst our ancestors were running round naked in the African sun, but around 60,000 years ago some of them became more adventurous and went exploring, leaving Africa. Gradually they spread, north, south, east and west to occupy most of the planet, but the people who interest this story at the moment are those who set up home in northern Europe.

When they migrated to the north there were a couple of pretty major problems, firstly there was a lot less sun, especially in winter, and secondly it was colder, so it was necessary to cover up most of that black skin with clothes and to spend more time sheltering in a cave or hut. It is easy to imagine what these both did to vitamin D production, it must have been a disaster with all those nasty diseases afflicting the population.

Then evolution came to the rescue. Melanin was no longer needed for sun protection in the north so individuals who happened to have less of it had a competitive advantage because they could make more vitamin D, a classical survival of the fittest situation, Darwin’s natural selection. This meant that they were more likely to survive to breed and to pass on their low melanin genes. Repeat this process many times and we have people with white skin, purely because it gives a vitamin D production advantage when living in the north. Exactly the same process happened with homo neanderthalensis (neanderthal man) who had evolved before us and who also populated Europe before us. So when we first arrived in Europe we were black and the neanderthals were white.

This same evolutionary mechanism happened to a lesser or greater extent everywhere that mankind settled, dependent on the amount of sunshine that the climate provided. So people of the Indian subcontinent tend to have a somewhat lighter skin than the native Africans they were descended from, whilst Chinese people are somewhat lighter again. It is all just a matter of adapting to the environment.

These days the white people of the north (who are now, as a consequence of Empire, spread around the world) have another problem, their ancestors were hunter gatherers who were forced to spend much of their lives outdoors in the environment that provided their sustenance. Nowadays we get that sustenance from the supermarket and spend most of our lives indoors, where there isn’t much sunshine. And when we do go out, in a massive over-reaction to health scares, we often put on sun screen which makes the situation even worse. Hardly surprising then that so many of us are vitamin D deficient and are suffering from all those diseases as a result.

Doctors at the Canadian McGill University Health Centre found that about 59 percent of people tested suffered from vitamin D deficiency and in about 25 percent this was severe. Many other studies in other countries have come to similar conclusions, so worldwide this is causing huge amounts of diseases with the consequent suffering.

Obviously the darker our skin pigmentation is, all other factors being the same, the more likely we are to be vitamin D deficient, as the dark melanin pigment stops the sunlight from doing its job. This is borne out in the worldwide studies, so the darker a person is and the less sunlight they receive the more likely they are to be in danger.

The answer to the Vitamin D problem is obvious, get out more and when we do, uncover more of our skin and go easy on the sun screen. It doesn’t even need to be sunny as lots of UV light from the sun gets through clouds. In the summer, whilst wearing light clothes with arms and face exposed, about ten minutes of sun exposure per day is needed. With less light and more clothes in the winter considerably longer is needed. We cannot overdose on vitamin D from sunshine because there is a feedback loop in our bodies that cuts off production once sufficient has been made.

There is another way and that is to eat foods or take supplements that are rich in dietary vitamin D, fish oils are best for this, most notably cod liver oil, but the vitamin content levels are pretty low. It is probably better if we get vitamin D3 in tablet form. It is also available as D2, but this is chemically less accessible by our bodies, especially as we get older.

Vitamin D has a half life of about three weeks in our bodies. So after 3 weeks half of an initial dose is consumed, after a further three weeks half the remaining dose is consumed (so there is a quarter left), a further three weeks sees half of the remaining dose consumed, and so on. This means that we don’t have to go out in the sunshine or pop a pill every single day.

If we do the sensible thing by supplementing our Vitamin D, especially in the winter, then it is important to realise that large doses are poisonous and will cause us harm. Dosage is measured in International Units (IUs) and most adults need around 600 IUs daily with a maximum of 4,000 IUs, some of this will come from light on our skin, so we need to adjust our dose according to our circumstances.

We have seen how sunshine in our lives prevents loads of diseases by enabling us to produce vitamin D, yet there is even more of importance that it does.

It is noticeable that most people are awake during the day and sleep at night. This is governed by an internal clock known as the circadian rhythm or diurnal cycle. One of the mechanisms that controls this is a hormone called melatonin which is produced by the pineal body which lives in the middle of our brain and which receives messages from our eyes about the presence or absence of light.

The mechanism is very simple, our body doesn’t make Melatonin when there is light and does make melatonin when it is dark. In fact in countries where it is legally available some people use melatonin as a sleeping tablet and if we lived in the land of the midnight sun this could prove very useful.

The big problem comes in the winter when our bodies can start producing melatonin during the day. This helps to cause a common (suffered by 9.7% of the population in New Hampshire) and major mental depression called Seasonal Effective Disorder (SAD), winter depression or seasonal depression. The answer, once more of course, is to get outside as much as possible, exposing ourselves to lots of natural light.

When we travel across time zones our circadian rhythm becomes mightily confused in a phenomenon known as jet lag. But with the knowledge we now have we can see that there are ways to reset our body clocks more quickly to our arrival destination. Travelling west the answer is to stay outside in the bright light in the late afternoon and early evening (not wearing sunglasses!), till dusk basically, this gives our body the information it needs about its new time zone. Likewise travelling east we need to get up at a normal time in the morning for where we are and then get outside as soon as possible to halt melatonin production. Also, whilst sorting our jet lag out, melatonin pills are very effective just before going to bed.

So it is possible to see that sunlight is wonderful stuff which makes us healthier and happier. But unfortunately it has its dark side. Excess exposure to sun can cause DNA damage, premature skin ageing, a variety of cancers, cataracts in the eye and sundry other problems, especially in light skinned people, who as we know are evolved for a relative absence of sunlight.

What we have here is a matter of balance and common sense, of ensuring we have enough sun for the fantastic health benefits that it brings whilst not exposing ourselves to damaging levels. Certainly we shouldn’t put on high factor sunscreen and dark sunglasses every time we go out, this is unhealthy. But definitely we need to stay in the shade during the summer and whilst in the tropics and to avoid exposure in the middle of the day when the light is at its most intense.