The Dongola Times

(Anachronistic) Dispatches from the Kingdom of Makuria.
04th of September, 2014

On Drugs, Dependence, and Prudery

Most humans will not eat food without salt, even though they can—even when they should. This is a good thing, as part of what it means to be a human being is that you seek to perpetuate the good things and avoid the negative ones. Whether it is choosing particular friends to hang out with, or arriving early at work, we do these things to achieve or maintain a good mood. We would certainly not die if we changed behaviour, even though we certainly would have withdrawal symptoms of all sorts. (I mean, consider the effect of forcibly parting with habitual company, say by death.)

What I hope to have outline up there is that mood-alteration is human. Opposition to it is simple prudery.
—And if the prudes simply outlawed mood-alteration, they would notice that they have outlawed a central feature of a thinking and independent man. From coffee to peppers, morphine to ephedrine, cannabis to alcohol, humans depend on drugs. There is nothing wrong with that, since there is nothing wrong with being a human. Many people are tricked into making a big deal out of a particular drug, and so they miss the big picture.

Four tangential things; first: addiction and drug-addiction are not the same things. The most-destructive addictions are not drugs. Even tobacco could never ruin a life like gambling does.

Second: not all addictive things are equally-potent. A sex addiction or a crystal meth addiction is worse than a tobacco addiction. I find drunkenness off-putting in a way tobacco just can’t manage.

Third: the substance or activity involved in the addiction is never the problem. —Since it could easily be either womanising or alcoholism, it is stupid to worry and fret about the particular thing-du-jour rather than the person. Every time I see someone pontificating about how bad a certain particular addiction is, how it can “ruin your life”, I laugh inside; but it is a very insidious mistake. For instance, entire governments are campaigning against tobacco addiction, but not against nymphomania or adrenaline rushes, both of which kill sooner. Substances don’t do anything; put them in a bottle ten years and see! But if you have a person with a problem—with an active flesh—you have the problem independent of any particular substances or activities; you will have worse in fact: the problem present, since the flesh is still there, but no awareness of it, since the addiction agents are not apparent.

Lastly: addictions are used to mask real character flaws, as people blame innocent things—alcohol, for instance, or cannabis—for their simple refusal to live up to their responsibilities. Laziness is a bigger problem than intoxication—or Internet distractions, for that matter—whenever I see a case of this type, be it with me or with others.

One or two days ago, a study came out about the withdrawal effects of cannabis. As you may know, cannabis is generally considered non-addictive, as it lacks the kind of withdrawal symptoms one associates with drugs in general. But the study came out arguing against that view; it is here.
Of the 90 cannabis-using participants, 76 (84 percent) met criteria for cannabis dependence – which include increased tolerance and use of cannabis, unsuccessful efforts to reduce or stop using, and persistent use in spite of medical and psychological problems made worse by cannabis. Withdrawal symptoms were reported by 36 participants (40 percent of the overall group), all of whom also met criteria for dependence. At the study’s outset, substance use was likely to be more severe and consequences – such as missing work or school, financial and relationship problems – tended to be greater in participants reporting withdrawal symptoms, who also were more likely to have mood disorders.
Now imagine for a minute that you can get a bunch of heavy tobacco-smokers to quit for a week. Or coffee-drinkers. When I am working—when I need the coffee—good luck taking me away from the drink! Anyway, imagine that you could get a bunch of smokers to quit …
But before we launch into the rest of the discussion on drugs, dependence, and prudery, let us add the paragraph that follows that:
While the presence of withdrawal symptoms is a strong indicator of cannabis dependence, the authors note, it did not significantly impact the ability of participants to reduce their use of cannabis during the 12-month follow-up period. The factor that did appear to make a difference was whether or not an individual recognized having a problem with substance use upon entering the study. Participants who both reported withdrawal symptoms and recognized having a problem had a small but steady improvement in abstinence through the entire study period. Those who reported withdrawal symptoms but did not recognize a substance use problem had a slight increase in abstinence in the first 3 months, but then had some increase in cannabis use during the subsequent 9 months, a pattern that was also seen in participants not experiencing withdrawal.
Well, interesting. Forget tobacco; imagine that you ran into some prude, myself in this case, who was sure that your habit of using Twitter and Facebook were “literally” costing you your life! —And that you should go out and do some jogging!  —And it is true that there is a serious and enumerable loss in productivity across the board, real money being lost, because of this social-networking addiction. —And this is rotting your brain!
All these things happen to be true. I put it to you now that there is more work left undone because of Twitter than because of cannabis. I know for a fact that an addiction to Twitter, Facebook, and Vines is going to cost someone his job—as in, I am going to be the one dealing with this particular case.

But since the Twitter and Facebook people of the World do not accept that they have a problem, I expect them to not only fail to quit, but to not even have a good reason to quit. And why should they? Do I have anything against the thrill of encountering long-lost friends on the Internet? Or the excitement of 140 characters (or whatever)? I can only condemn these things if I condemn mood-alteration in general. Anything else is prudery and nit-picking, the kind we do to make ourselves feel more-pious; we judge harshly what we do not do. Yet there is no denying that the World has developed a serious dependence on Twitter and Facebook. (Entire official government propaganda and communiqué channels would vanish if Twitter went down!) I don’t use these things; I have seen people become wrecks when the battery or Internet ran out; they spend too much on their Internet; they are constantly looking down and fondling their phones; they don’t even accept that they have a problem! Addicts, the lot of them. But whatever.

You see, addictions—especially the Twitter and Facebook kind—are not a bad thing; they are not automatically less-worthy than the thing they replace. The mood that precedes it, in all its serious soberness, is not more-righteous at all, since the human himself—sober or not—is the one with the problem.
The human has a problem; social networking is just a thing with which the human is relating, problems and all. Movies, for instance, are another common addiction around these parts, causing serious drainage and waste of precious time resources in a way that cannabis never could. Nobody mentions them anymore as serious time-wasters (together with novel and headphones) because now everybody indulges; you should see the comments from back then. When these social phenomena were new, their addictiveness was recognised. (And, according to someone I trust, TV with “Coming up next …!” is even worse than basically any drug out there.)

I used to read Internet news aggregation sites, and I was geniunely addicted, burning several hours a day following stupid comment threads. (I don’t regret all of it, but I am glad I recovered.) None of these things is bad to return to, especially since it is the normal thing because they feel good, but certainly humans have the flesh, which—when mixed with either social networks, High Fructose Corn Syrup, cannabis, video games, or whatever—will manage to bring forth the works of the flesh by nature.

I do not use Twitter, Facebook, Vines, or any of these Internet drugs. I know, also, that they are addictive. I have no trouble quitting them; I find them off-putting. I never got addicted to computer games; I actually hate them. But if I indulged in them, and I didn’t believe it to be a problem—regardless of what the non-using version of me would think—I would not be able to quit, and it would not even make sense to try to quit in the first place.

So, people do not smoke weed because it feels bad, but rather they smoke it because it feels good. And just because it is not classically-addictive, does not mean that quitting should be automatic. Quitting cannabis is easy enough, and I have done it more times than I remember. My only problem with quitting cannabis is that it is truly a bad idea, especially because the primary benefit I got from weed is that when I am high I can actually eat and enjoy food, a rare thing for me. (And I speak now as one who is consciously deferring my resumption of cannabis-smoking.) The only times I can actually justify not smoking is if I can convince myself that I could do better with a less-interesting mind-space, and that I do not really need to be eating at the normal levels. Essentially, unless the quitting is itself a beneficial mood-alteration strategy, I find no reason to do it. There is nothing praise-worthy about just opposing things simply because everybody else does. (Yes, even the others are opposing it with moral pretensions because everybody else is opposing it with moral pretensions. And these people are genuinely convinced of their own superior morality!)

The funny thing is that these situations show up often enough, and I have learnt that of all the things I have developed a dependence on, cannabis is the easiest to part with, but also the one I have least reason to part with. When I miss my home, for instance, I can often justify it with having to go to work, in spite of my dependence on being at home (for several reasons). But if the coffee and the sugar follow me to work, why does the cannabis not? I could never leave Vines and Twitter behind, even if I wanted to; why is it so automatic that I leave cannabis behind? Even when fats and sugars are killing you, you would have trouble quitting the stuff, because it is everywhere (but, of course try quitting an addiction to sushi or the runner’s high … easy!)

Being a fanatical Reformed Christian, I just simply don’t have much room for prudery. But this makes it hard to segregate against cannabis in a way I do not segregate against, say, sugar or news sites. I don’t say that dependence is bad, because it is not; it is what humans do with things they get a benefit out of. America’s oil and corn addiction/dependence is worse by far for humanity, the environment, and for moral integrity, than a global cannabis dependence outbreak would be, and I am not even saying anything against oil or corn. So, you see, I have no good reason to quit cannabis (even when I quit).

And since the only workable argument against cannabis is the one about social attitudes, this makes quitting cannabis in any case a simple cowardly decision to bow the head and give in to social bullying of a good thing, even as they almost enforce worse things. This has the effect, at least for me, of weighing the moral decision against quitting cannabis, because there would be a victory for the wrong things; I have to live out my activism. This may be the most-interesting thing I learnt about cannabis: that because the opposition is clearly irrational and evil-minded, smoking it becomes a simple obligation, the first duty of the resistance—if only to achieve more opportunities to oppose and weaken the ridiculous status quo.
(The other reason I’d quit is when I have developed high tolerance, and I need it to taper back down. But that doesn’t count in these cases.)

What about if the addiction was truly damaging? Interesting question. Even something as mild as cannabis can be damaging, and you can see that 800,000 arrests are made in America every year for it alone. So, you see, cannabis dependence can in fact be very damaging—even life-threatening. We are not speaking about hypothesis; people today are being caged for possessing less weed than would get a baby high. We needn’t hypothesise alcohol destroying livers, or heroin overdoses; cannabis is already dangerous enough, carrying death sentences in several Asian countries, and it is illegal everywhere in the open World. (Excluding North Korea.)

If we treat this as a general case about dangerous dependency, here is the answer: it is the flesh, not the agent. Consider porn addictions; people do not quit port because the Internet went away, but because they should (for whatever reason). And if they are not ready to quit, they should not (and they will not). Nobody makes anybody quit something; quitting is not from the outside in. When one has to quit, one does. It is really that easy; from tobacco to porn, you stop when you do not want anymore. The case for quitting should be strong enough to make itself; even when it is simple social disapproval, if it is less-preferable than the high—or, for that matter, less-bearable than the withdrawal—then people quit. It is really that simple. For many people, it takes a threat of death, then suddenly they can quit with no problems. (Usually the disease or over-dose kills them anyway, because it is too late for the quitting to be of any use.)

Interesting research was done about the prevalence of heroin use among people of certain psychological backgrounds. What seems to rise out of that research is that drug addiction, even of that kind, is a pretty predictable response to other mood-altering situations. —Essentially, that addiction problems are in fact solutions for these people. (“How surprising!”) Drug-addiction discussions would be more-useful if they knew that they are trying to replace a solution to a problem.

But perhaps the worst feature of this unthinking anti-dependence prudery is that it lumps together all mood-alteration chemicals, for instance, and says “Bad!” This has the very real possibility of confusing people who are looking to make a good choice for mood-alteration with a good conscience. We are not all hiding our alcohol or cannabis; we don’t mind being high; we just need to have a good and sober discussion of the facts concerning the substances beforehand.
I think I would label laboratory drugs “Bad!”, alright, but what about cannabis? Are you crazy? Can I ever live with myself knowing that I once sided with the unthinking idiots of sick conscience and denounced what may be the only safe way to supply the mood-alteration needs of those who may need mood-alteration? Rather, I side with the truth, and I light up one on principle. (Later, perhaps.)

What makes addiction complex is that we have managed to lie to ourselves that people can return and return to something so often because it genuinely lifts their moods, and yet it be foolishly expected that such weak and pathetic reasons as social disapproval should even suffice to justify to them the perpetuation of bad moods (or avoidance of good ones). What kind of ignorance (or wickedness) would make them buy into such unthinking hysteria, even as they leave Adderall and Ritalin on the shelves—for kids?