Eric Shepperd: I often write here about legal and social issues surrounding drug use, but rarely about the drugs themselves and why we use them.
Stigma and criminal prohibition make drugs a difficult topic to discuss. Drug use is usually talked about in terms of abuse, addiction, and crime — a problem to be solved, a war to be won. Certainly there are harmful elements; overdose deaths and debilitating dependence are some of the biggest social problems of our time. But it’s not all like this.
Really, almost everyone uses drugs. The vast majority of Canadians drink alcohol sometimes, and very few of us don’t start the day without a cup of caffeine. Cannabis, soon to be legalized, acts both as a soothing medicine and a fun social lubricant.
Many of us take drugs from a doctor. Medical science has produced all sorts of life-saving interventions, but also tools for the mind. In these strange times, incidents of mental illness continues to rise; according to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, one-in-five Canadians will experience a mental health or addiction problem in any given year, with 50 percent experiencing a problem by age 40.
With so many suffering distress, prescriptions of psychiatric medications continue to rise. For those who use these interventions, myself included, life is improved dramatically — allowing us to function when we otherwise couldn’t.
Most people also self-medicate sometimes, using alcohol, cannabis, opiates, or other drugs to help ease pain. Some prefer to overwhelm their senses with stimulants like cocaine and nicotine, loud music, and social media to block pain out. This can be where addiction starts; when the pain of isolation, poverty, and hopelessness becomes all-consuming, anesthesia seems like the only relief.
In fact, most of these drugs act as anesthetics. Whether prescribed or self-administered, legal or illegal, our society is driven to dull our senses, to alleviate our pain. Where does all this pain come from?
There’s no easy answer. It’s a complex mix of politics, economics, social structure, and technology — everything from urban planning to looming geopolitical instability.
But part of the problem is a deficit of fun.
Working long hours, worrying about money, and burdened with obligations, it can be difficult to snap out of routine for authentic enjoyment. Binge-watching Netflix is great for unwinding, but it can’t replace having really-free time and genuine human connection. For those not born into it, financial wealth comes at the expense of time-wealth. A healthy balanced life is a luxury we simply can’t afford.
And so we use drugs.
There’s certainly no shame in it; sometimes anesthesia is just what’s needed. Social anxiety is wiped away by a beer or two, and a puff of pot might make sleep a little easier. The pills perk us up, and the wide-screen TV soothes like a charm.
But something’s missing. With so much emphasis on anesthesia, what effect might a pro-esthetic drug have?
Psychedelics, like “magic” mushrooms and LSD, alter the senses unlike those previously mentioned opening new ways of thinking and feeling. Psychological studies suggest these drugs can have dramatic, often permanent benefit for people suffering depression, anxiety, and addiction. Many spiritual traditions use psychedelics as part of their ritual lives — a form of medicine for the soul.
Used effectively, these drugs represent not just a psychomedical intervention, but also a vehicle for social change, and a way to balance our fun deficit. Of course, these tools shouldn’t be used lightly, and sadly they remain illegal for now.
Our society’s changing, and with it so is our relationship to drugs. Could this be the next frontier? – Our London