Humans are curious, it’s one of our greatest traits which means we are natural explorers. Through our explorations of the world around us, we came upon plants that secreted molecules that, when consumed, stimulated pleasure in the brain. Due to the pleasurable effects, these plants were harvested and grown for recreational use by the people. The plants that produced the highest concentration of pleasure-causing molecules were replanted causing artificial selection to strengthen the potency.
Any substance that has the means to chemically alter your consciousness is called a drug. In ancient times, drugs were most often used during religious events, allowing the user to consciously access new regions of the brain. Many religious drug users would experience revelations that they could not otherwise have without increased access to their mental plane. Unfortunately, many drugs stimulate so much pleasure that the neural path of that drug becomes more important as expectations focus on the memory of the pleasure.
Addiction is the an expectation to experience pleasure from a specific source. The source can be a TV show, a game on your phone, but the most common source is drugs. The large pleasure release caused by a drug can raise the importance of that neural path. Our brains are adapted to treat pleasure as reinforcement meaning behavior leading to pleasure is encouraged. In the case of drugs the more we do, the lower the effect on our brains as our neurons become habituated. Habituation to a drug is also called an increased tolerance and more drugs must be taken to experience the same pleasure.
The world’s most common drug is actually one that is not even called a drug. Alcohol is the product of plants attempting to respire without the presence of oxygen. The result is a buildup of acidic molecules mixed with the flavor of the plant being fermented. You already know the source of a few types of alcohol: wine comes from grapes, sake comes from rice, rum comes from sugarcane, and vodka comes from potatoes. Fermentation takes a long time which means alcohol was originally a drug for the rich. However, alcohol is probably the cheapest drug on the planet today.
Alcohol is an acid which means it can damage your cells. The reason you feel drunk is because resources are allocated away from the consciousness to fix the damage being caused by the alcohol entering your system. The acid is a very small molecule and can therefore quickly slip into your bloodstream and travel throughout your body. Alcohol was popularized in colder countries as a means of numbing the cold.
As your body tries to repair damage, your consciousness shrinks, meaning you lose some brain functions. As you get more drunk, you lose more functions and eventually you’re only left with the Basic Functions of the Organism. There is a reason drunk people tend to focus on eating, fighting, having sex, and sleeping.
Sleep is your body’s attempt to shut down the Organism so that it can repair the damage you’ve done to yourself. The consciousness is removed from the motor center and senses as a way to ensure no more poison is consumed. There’s a reason you feel awful after a night of drinking, your body is trying to tell you something.
The second most common drug comes from plants whose beans or leaves contain caffeine. Caffeine is a drug that stimulates a part of your brain to wake up, similar to a stress reaction but without the fear. Coffee and tea were the first drinks containing caffeine before the modern era introduced more synthetic beverages. Caffeine does have addictive qualities since the stress reaction will cause a low energy state called a “crash.” The quickest way to stop the crash: drink more caffeine.
The three most commonly smoked drugs are tobacco, cannabis and opium from the poppy flower. These drugs are smoked because the heat from the fire activates the brain altering chemicals. The effect of smoking these plants is a feeling of euphoria, called a high, in which neurons all over the brain and body are stimulated. People who are high often enjoy socializing, laughing and eating because neural paths release even more pleasure when synapsed while high. Sometimes these drugs have hallucinogenic effects, meaning your perception of sight partially moves to the mental plane.
As scientists studied natural drugs, they discovered that the feelings came from a specific chemical and not the whole plant. With this knowledge, scientists could now manufacture synthetic drugs meant to highlight the active ingredient of the natural plant. Drugs like LSD, methamphetamine and ecstasy are concentrated versions of the specific chemical to induce pleasurable effects.
Unfortunately, isolating a specific compound often requires stabilizing compounds which can have harmful effects on the rest of the body. Individuals addicted to synthetic drugs are more interested in getting another hit than their biological well-being. Our innate curiosity, and desire to get high, drives us to diversifying and creating new drugs for new highs, despite the potentially harmful side-effects.
Some natural drugs are modified to alter the potency of the drug. Cocaine, for example, comes from the cocoa plant and has a similar effect to coffee but with more kick. The version of cocaine on the market today is one that has been technologically concentrated to increase its effects.
Tobacco in cigarettes actually has significantly less hallucinogenic potency than the natural plant but the addictive stimulating molecule, called nicotine, remains as a way to increase sales. Many other harmful chemicals are added to cigarettes leaving the addicted consumers vulnerable to health problems and even shorter lives.
One of the most dangerous drugs today is not even called a drug despite its effects on both the brain and body. High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a condensed form of organic sugar from corn that is meant to give a stronger flavor. Our brains are adapted to release pleasure from eating, a necessary part of staying alive, and they release a lot of pleasure this high a concentration of sugar is eaten.
The high concentration of energy in HFCS means people who eat until they are full will consume much more energy than they need. The excess energy will be stored as fat on top of underused muscles. The habituation of HFCS in our culture today is an attempt to drug the food supply of the public. Sodas, beverages filled with HFCS and caffeine, have replaced water as the drink of choice during meals. The lack of drug label and addictive qualities keep customers coming back to buy more and more.
The laws against drugs were made with the intention of keeping harmful drugs away from citizens, especially children with developing bains. In our society today only five of these drugs are completely legal to buy and consume: alcohol, caffeine, tobacco, high fructose corn syrup, and opium in the form of pills prescribed by doctors. Tobacco and HFCS are part of a huge industry with a strong hold on its addicted customers. Alcohol and caffeine are two drugs whose effects need to be examined to understand why they are legal.
Caffeine wakes you up in the morning to go to work and keeps you awake to do your job. When you go home, alcohol makes you forget the hardships of the day and puts you to sleep. This combination of drugs is incredibly efficient for a society built around a five day, 9am-5pm work week. Add in opiate pills prescribed by doctors and you’re left with a numb population and a few very successful companies.
Cannabis, whose name changed to “marijuana” when it became illegal, is a drug that makes you think and question. The War on Drugs statistically targets dark skinned citizens using cannabis. There are several reasons a government would choose to crack down on cannabis users, but those reasons are starting to look frail compared with the piling evidence of the medicinal uses of cannabis.
Drugs can offer spiritual journeys and revelations and they can also offer an escape from reality. It’s important to have an intention when using drugs so they don’t become a habituated part of your life. Addiction is a problem many drug users face but that desire for another hit is all in your head: if you can understand it, you can control it. Remember to always use drugs responsibly and consider listening to your body after it recovers from a drug trip, you’ll usually give yourself pretty good advice.