It is now one hundred years since drugs were first banned — and all through this long century of waging war on drugs, we have been told a story about addiction by our teachers and by our governments. This story is so deeply ingrained in our minds that we take it for granted. It seems obvious. It seems manifestly true. Until I set off three and a half years ago on a 30,000-mile journey for my new book, Chasing The Scream: The First And Last Days of the War on Drugs, to figure out what is really driving the drug war, I believed it too. But what I learned on the road is that almost everything we have been told about addiction is wrong — and there is a very different story waiting for us, if only we are ready to hear it.
If we truly absorb this new story, we will have to change a lot more than the drug war. We will have to change ourselves.
I learned it from an extraordinary mixture of people I met on my travels. From the surviving friends of Billie Holiday, who helped me to learn how the founder of the war on drugs stalked and helped to kill her. From a Jewish doctor who was smuggled out of the Budapest ghetto as a baby, only to unlock the secrets of addiction as a grown man. From a transsexual crack dealer in Brooklyn who was conceived when his mother, a crack-addict, was raped by his father, an NYPD officer. From a man who was kept at the bottom of a well for two years by a torturing dictatorship, only to emerge to be elected President of Uruguay and to begin the last days of the war on drugs.
I had a quite personal reason to set out for these answers. One of my earliest memories as a kid is trying to wake up one of my relatives, and not being able to. Ever since then, I have been turning over the essential mystery of addiction in my mind — what causes some people to become fixated on a drug or a behavior until they can’t stop? How do we help those people to come back to us? As I got older, another of my close relatives developed a cocaine addiction, and I fell into a relationship with a heroin addict. I guess addiction felt like home to me.
If you had asked me what causes drug addiction at the start, I would have looked at you as if you were an idiot, and said: “Drugs. Duh.” It’s not difficult to grasp. I thought I had seen it in my own life. We can all explain it. Imagine if you and I and the next twenty people to pass us on the street take a really potent drug for twenty days. There are strong chemical hooks in these drugs, so if we stopped on day twenty-one, our bodies would need the chemical. We would have a ferocious craving. We would be addicted. That’s what addiction means.
One of the ways this theory was first established is through rat experiments — ones that were injected into the American psyche in the 1980s, in a famous advert by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America. You may remember it. The experiment is simple. Put a rat in a cage, alone, with two water bottles. One is just water. The other is water laced with heroin or cocaine. Almost every time you run this experiment, the rat will become obsessed with the drugged water, and keep coming back for more and more, until it kills itself.
The advert explains: “Only one drug is so addictive, nine out of ten laboratory rats will use it. And use it. And use it. Until dead. It’s called cocaine. And it can do the same thing to you.”
But in the 1970s, a professor of Psychology in Vancouver called Bruce Alexander noticed something odd about this experiment. The rat is put in the cage all alone. It has nothing to do but take the drugs. What would happen, he wondered, if we tried this differently? So Professor Alexander built Rat Park. It is a lush cage where the rats would have colored balls and the best rat-food and tunnels to scamper down and plenty of friends: everything a rat about town could want. What, Alexander wanted to know, will happen then?
In Rat Park, all the rats obviously tried both water bottles, because they didn’t know what was in them. But what happened next was startling.
The rats with good lives didn’t like the drugged water. They mostly shunned it, consuming less than a quarter of the drugs the isolated rats used. None of them died. While all the rats who were alone and unhappy became heavy users, none of the rats who had a happy environment did.
At first, I thought this was merely a quirk of rats, until I discovered that there was — at the same time as the Rat Park experiment — a helpful human equivalent taking place. It was called the Vietnam War. Time magazine reported using heroin was “as common as chewing gum” among U.S. soldiers, and there is solid evidence to back this up: some 20 percent of U.S. soldiers had become addicted to heroin there, according to a study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry. Many people were understandably terrified; they believed a huge number of addicts were about to head home when the war ended.
The 21st century belongs to China: Why the new Silk Road threatens to end America’s economic dominance – Beijing is building a trans-Siberian railway system that rivals the Marshall Plan in its ambition and global reach
PEPE ESCOBAR, TOMDISPATCH.COM TUESDAY, FEB 24, 2015 10:15 AM +0000
BEIJING — Seen from the Chinese capital as the Year of the Sheep starts, the malaise affecting the West seems like a mirage in a galaxy far, far away. On the other hand, the China that surrounds you looks all too solid and nothing like the embattled nation you hear about in the Western media, with its falling industrial figures, its real estate bubble, and its looming environmental disasters. Prophecies of doom notwithstanding, as the dogs of austerity and war bark madly in the distance, the Chinese caravan passes by in what President Xi Jinping calls “new normal” mode.
“Slower” economic activity still means a staggeringly impressive annual growth rate of 7% in what is now the globe’s leading economy. Internally, an immensely complex economic restructuring is underway as consumption overtakes investment as the main driver of economic development. At 46.7% of the gross domestic product (GDP), the service economy has pulled ahead of manufacturing, which stands at 44%.
Geopolitically, Russia, India, and China have just sent a powerful message westward: they are busy fine-tuning a complex trilateral strategy for setting up a network of economic corridors the Chinese call “new silk roads” across Eurasia. Beijing is also organizing a maritime version of the same, modeled on the feats of Admiral Zheng He who, in the Ming dynasty, sailed the “western seas” seven times, commanding fleets of more than 200 vessels.
Meanwhile, Moscow and Beijing are at work planning a new high-speed rail remix of the fabled Trans-Siberian Railroad. And Beijing is committed to translating its growing strategic partnership with Russia into crucial financial and economic help, if a sanctions-besieged Moscow, facing a disastrous oil price war, asks for it.
To China’s south, Afghanistan, despite the 13-year American war still being fought there, is fast moving into its economic orbit, while a planned China-Myanmar oil pipeline is seen as a game-changing reconfiguration of the flow of Eurasian energy across what I’ve long called Pipelineistan.
And this is just part of the frenetic action shaping what the Beijing leadership defines as the New Silk Road Economic Belt and the Maritime Silk Road of the twenty-first century. We’re talking about a vision of creating a potentially mind-boggling infrastructure, much of it from scratch, that will connect China to Central Asia, the Middle East, and Western Europe. Such a development will include projects that range from upgrading the ancient silk road via Central Asia to developing a Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar economic corridor; a China-Pakistan corridor through Kashmir; and a new maritime silk road that will extend from southern China all the way, in reverse Marco Polo fashion, to Venice.
Don’t think of this as the twenty-first-century Chinese equivalent of America’s post-World War II Marshall Plan for Europe, but as something far more ambitious and potentially with a far vaster reach.
“A good thing to think about is what kind of face to make when you say please,” Ruth Krauss wrote in her magnificent final collaboration with Maurice Sendak. “That coat will be the last gift [your mother] gave you. You will regret the small thing you didn’t say for the rest of your life. Say thank you,” Cheryl Strayed counseled in her endlessly soul-stirring Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar. But how did these commonest of courtesies, “please” and “thank you,” actually originate? That’s precisely what anthropologist and activist David Graeber explores in one of the most absorbing semi-asides in his altogether illuminating Debt: The First 5,000 Years (public library):
Debt … is just an exchange that has not been brought to completion.
It follows that debt is strictly a creature of reciprocity and has little to do with other sorts of morality. . . . But isn”t that just the same old story, starting with the assumption that all human interactions must be, by definitions, forms of exchange, and then performing whatever mental somersaults are required to prove it?
No. All human interactions are not forms of exchange. Only some are. Exchange encourages a particular way of conceiving human relations. This is because exchange implies equality, but it also implies separation.
Graeber goes on to offer a counterexample via the history of two of our most common cultural habits of civility:
Consider the custom, in American society, of constantly saying “please” and “thank you.” To do so is often treated as basic morality: we are constantly chiding children for forgetting to do it, just as the moral guardians of our society — teachers and ministers, for instance — do to everybody else. We often assume that the habit is universal, but … it is not. Like so many of our everyday courtesies, it is a kind of democratization of what was once a habit of feudal deference: the insistence on treating absolutely everyone the way that one used only to have to treat a lord or similar hierarchical superior.
February 19, 2015 | by Justine Alford
It’s probably the last thing you’d consider administering to children, but a new study has found that a psychedelic drug, called (R)-DOI, potently prevents the development of allergic asthma in mouse models of the disease, suggesting that the chemical could represent a novel treatment avenue for asthma in humans. But don’t worry, we won’t have asthmatics tripping left, right and center every time they puff their inhalers because even if this does eventually lead to an approved therapy, it’s effective at doses up to 100 times less than those that would influence behavior.
While people may raise one eyebrow at the idea, there is a lot of interesting research into the use of psychedelic drugs like LSD in the treatment of various medical conditions, mainly those related to the brain such as depression, anxiety and addiction. That’s primarily because these drugs increase the levels of a neurotransmitter called serotonin in the brain, our body’s natural mood balancer that is also implicated in the development of these disorders.
But serotonin isn’t just found in the brain; it also acts on other neurons throughout the body, such as those in the gastrointestinal tract to regulate appetite and digestion. Furthermore, it’s also been known for some time that it is involved in inflammation. Although asthma is an inflammatory disease, no one knew whether serotonin played a precise role in the disease.
‘I’m sure the Oxbridge admissions tutors who are giving white students the benefit of the doubt don’t think of themselves as racist’ by Sophie Heawood 14 Feb
You know what it’s like, you’re driving to meet someone and you send them a message saying you’re 10 minutes away. And then you arrive a full hour later, because you’ve been pulled over by the police, who suspect you of dealing drugs, although they don’t actually tell you that in so many words as they go rifling through your things.
Actually, I have no idea what that feels like, never having been stopped by the police for anything, even though I’ve walked around with drugs on me several times in my life. (I was younger, foolisher, things change.) But this week, when I was waiting to interview George the Poet, a musician recently nominated for a Brit award, this is what happened to him. He’s black, he drives a decent car, he wears Nike, and says it happens all the time. Every day he leaves his London home aware that random and unwarranted police attention might divert him from his path, and that he has to remain diplomatic rather than make it worse for himself by revealing how upsetting he finds it. Me, I just leave the house, idly wondering if I’ve remembered to put my phone charger in my bag.
The report just published by race equality charity the Runnymede Trust, proving that it is harder for black and Asian students to get into the country’s most selective universities (even armed with the same A-level grades as white applicants), comes as a further kick in the teeth to optimists who want to believe that institutional racism is in decline. George the Poet, real name George Mpanga, is a Cambridge graduate: even if you make it through the university selection process, the assumptions about how you paid for that car are still waiting for you on the other side.
I’m sure the police who stopped Mpanga’s car don’t think they’re racist. I’m sure the Oxbridge admissions tutors who are giving white students the benefit of the doubt, while extending less confidence to other applicants, don’t think of themselves as racist, either. Many of them would probably say, “I don’t have a racist bone in my body”, always the first sentence uttered by someone who hasn’t had to address their assumptions. A racist bone – as if racism was an alien substance that God used to build the bad people, rather than something that any one of us is capable of at any time. Casually, quickly; a glance, a hunch.