Tuesday, September 9, 2008

How Amateurs Always Manage To Screw It Up For The Rest of Us

I came of age in the late-'70s. I've done a lot of recreational drugs. I'm neither proud nor ashamed of this. It is purely a statement of fact. Some of it was purely for kicks. Much more of it was the product of a lifetime spent self-medicating my depression and ADHD.

Due to the ole traumatic brain injury, I can no longer do my fave recreational drugs.(Actually, I can do them. I'd like to do them. They just don't get me high anymore so what's the damn point?) Nevertheless, as I've previously mentioned, I have a great deal of personal knowledge of and respect for the subject.

It's with great curiosity I've watched the medical community again turn its interest to hallucinogens:

Before hallucinogenic drugs became popular with the counter culture, they were at the forefront of brain science. They were used to help scientists understand the nature of consciousness and how the brain works and as treatments for a range of conditions including alcohol dependence.
The explosion of recreational drug use, the resulting legal issues and pressure from the mainstream medical research community made it impossible for this line of research to continue. Thankfully, that has changed:
Scientists are exploring the use of psychedelic drugs such as LSD to treat a range of ailments from depression to cluster headaches and obsessive compulsive disorder.

The first clinical trial using LSD since the 1970s began in Switzerland in June. It aims to use "psychedelic psychotherapy" to help patients with terminal illnesses come to terms with their imminent mortality and so improve their quality of life.

Another psychedelic substance, psilocybin - the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, has shown promising results in trials for treating symptoms of terminal cancer patients. And researchers are using MDMA (ecstasy) as an experimental treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.

Now my shrink laughs when I bring this up as a possible course of treatment (I am joking, really I am). However, I do see an eventual benefit from this line of inquiry. Now I ever was hugely into hallucinogens. (I hated to feel out of control tho' every now and then I did like to add a little special sparkle to the proceedings). I personally know how, when taken in a controlled setting, a high-quality sample of any of the above can safely open your mind right the fuck up.

Who knows what could be learned from new research? There's always the chance of a happy accident such as that which led to the discovery of penicillin and, yes, LSD, too. And let's face it, without penicillin, billions would be dead. More importantly, without LSD, popular music would absolutely suck.

I've never tried Salvia Divinorum. I have read a lot about it mostly in anthropologic books & journals. It's widely considered to be the most powerful of hallucinigenic herbs. What makes Salvia such a crucial research subject is its one-of-a-kind mechanism of action:
Its primary psychoactive constituent is a diterpenoid known as salvinorin A, which is a potent κ-opioid receptor agonist.
In layman's terms, nothing else works this way.

Thus it angers me to read that a valuable avenue of research could be closed due to a bunch knuckleheads getting blasted and posting it on YouTube. Yesterday's NY Times has the dope:
Though older Americans typically have never heard of salvia, the psychoactive sage has become something of a phenomenon among this country’s thrill-seeking youth.
The problem lies in that Salvia is currently legal in 37 states. Powerful high + power of the internet = amateur hour. A massive amateur hour. The US government estimates that a whopping 750,000(!!!) tried Salvia in 2006 alone. Lawmakers nationwide are scrambling to get Salvia outlawed. That's bad for scientists. More Times:
“We have this incredible new compound, the first in its class; it absolutely has potential medical use, and here we’re talking about throttling it because some people get intoxicated on it,” said Dr. John Mendelson, a pharmacologist at the California Pacific Medical Center Research Institute who, with federal financing, is studying salvia’s impact on humans. “It couldn’t be more foolish from a business point of view.”
Even by my admittedly loose standards 750,000+ is a tad more than "some people." But the good doctor is correct. Though it will certainly result in a bunch of people getting wasted, that is not this particular type of research's goal. This research is to learn about that most important, and still most mysterious, of all our organs: the brain. It's about finding ways to help people in physical and emotional pain.

Regardless of the legal future of Salvia amongst the masses, we cannot allow this type research to stop as it did with LSD (when acid was outlawed in '66). With the current neuvo wave o' ignorance and Puritanism sweeping the nation, I'm not terribly optimistic.


Just for the record...
I liken recreational drugs to the ocean: you disrespect them at your peril.

NP: "Rainy Day, Dream Away."