Thursday, November 12, 2015

The First Time I Tried Heroin

Disclaimer: The following post is a creative writing project for my neuroscience class at Mac.
The first time I tried heroin was four years ago right around this time of year. It was autumn; the leaves crunched under your foot with every step, and the air was just beginning to bite. I was nineteen; just a month and a couple days from my twentieth birthday. Kenneth, my roommate from first-year year who lived across from me, knocked on my dorm-room door. I opened it and he rushed in red-faced, holding up a clear sandwich bag with a teaspoon of white powder hiding in a corner.
            “What’s that?” I must have asked. 
            “Wait…what? How’d you get that?”
            “Michael gave it to me. Said it was free for being such a good costumer.” Michael was the kid we had bought marijuana from a couple of times. He always met us on University Ave, and at the time I was pretty sure he went to the University of Minnesota.
            “How the hell did he get his hands on real dope?”
            “I have no idea. Wanna try it?”
            “Sure, why not? This is college, right? Gotta try new things.” At that time, I had heard heroin was bad for you. I had heard it was super addictive and that it would suck all the money out of your wallet. I had also heard the same things about marijuana and cocaine; how they would ruin your life, steal everything you cared about, and then jump on it, apparently like some maniacal thief who wasn’t smart enough to run after stealing your wallet. I had tried cocaine though, and had practically lived off of marijuana during my senior year of high school.
            I have the bad habit of over-thinking…well, basically everything I care about in life. My senior year of high school was the worst. Between six AP classes, debating forensics (speech, not dead bodies), and sending out waves of application letters, I simply couldn’t relax without marijuana. When I was high on marijuana, I just felt so good. Homework didn’t matter anymore; my parent’s expectations didn’t matter; Grinnell College’s rejection didn’t matter. And, after the high wore off, I didn’t worry nearly as much. I could focus on one thing without worrying about the ten thousand other things I had to do.
            I knew my parents wouldn’t understand, so I hid it from them. I was smart about it; I never smoked at home or in my car (Actually, it was my dad’s car that we shared, but I still called it mine. Every kid does.) I only smoked at a friend’s house or at the Marina, a small harbor into the Mississippi near my home town. A couple times my parents scolded or grounded me for coming home late (I made a point never to come home high. If I was late, I could make up a story. If I was high, they would know right away.) But, for the large part, the left me alone. I got good grades (better than either of them ever had), I kept myself busy, and I had plenty of friends.  To them, there was nothing wrong with me. To me even, there was nothing wrong with me. Experimentation is a normal part of life.    
            So, when I got to college, it was only natural that I would keep smoking, especially when I first felt the stress of college homework; how no matter how much work you do, there’s always more waiting for you; no matter how well you do on one test, there’s always another one right around the corner. It would have eaten me alive without marijuana. But, with marijuana, I could cope; with marijuana, I could get A’s in four of my classes (even Organic Chemistry, which is easily the hardest A I’ve ever gotten), still compete in every Mock trial tournament, still manage to spend quality time with Laurel – whom I met while high at a party two weeks into my freshman year. –
            But, I suppose I’m getting a little off-track. This isn’t a story about marijuana or Laurel –although they play a big part in the beginning of it – this is a story about heroin.
I can still remember the small lines of ‘real dope,’ as I called it back then, laying on the stained brown coffee table we would use to play beer pong. They weren’t even lines, really, just two tiny piles that looked vaguely linear.
“Who’s gonna go first?” Ken asked.
“I will.” I bent on one knee, covered my left nostril, and snorted the pile.
“What’s it like?”
“It’s…It’s……Well, the snort at least is much gentler than coke. I can’t say about the effects yet.”
“Okay.” He kneels down and tries to snort his line.
“Here, breathe in harder. You have to mean it.” He tries again.
“Ah! It burns. It burns.”
I smile at him. “Yeah, snorting something will do that. You get used to it after a little while.”
“I though you said it was gentle.”
“It is gentle compared to coke.” He nods, and we stand there for a couple seconds, not knowing what else to do.
“How many times have you tried coke?”
I grin, “Only twice, actually. You remember Taylor, right?”
“Yeah, wasn’t she in our first-year Chem class?”
“Yep. She introduced me to it.” He nods again. “Wanna watch TV?” I ask when he doesn’t respond right away.
“Sure, may as well.”     
            We turned on Sports Center, and just sat there for a little while. After the first commercial break, a warmth started easing into me. The O Chem problem set that had been nagging me just kinda stopped nagging me. I still knew it was there, but it didn’t bother me anymore. I looked over at Ken and smiled.
            “This feels great.” I said.
            We sat like that for another half an hour, just feeling content with our lives; just enjoying the beauty of the world, and thinking about how Sports Center was the most perfect show ever. I don’t say that to mean that it was perfect because our minds were dulled in any way, like marijuana, it’s just that it just that it was, quite simply, perfect.  
            “This is it?” I asked Ken after a while. “This is heroin? It’s nothing.”
            “It feels pretty great, man.”
            “I know, but I’ve heard that heroin is supposed to be hell for you. This…This is beautiful.”
            “I mean, it’s nothing like coke. It’s so much more mellow. Like, here’s me.” I hold up my right hand. “and here’s the world,” I wrap my left hand around my right one. “Everything’s cozy.” “But coke… here’s the world” I hold up my right hand again, “and here’s me.” I hit my right hand with my left.
            “Huh. That makes a lot of sense.”
            “You should try coke some time. I think you would like it.”
            “Ah…Maybe. We’ll see how it goes.”
            We sat like that for proabably another hour until the warmth went away and didn’t come back.
            “Ohhhh… I should probably work on my problem set.” I say as I shut off the tv, and stand up.
            “Yeah, I’ve got reading to do. Catch you on the flip.” He waves and walks out the door.
            The next morning, I felt fine. I’m sure all of you (or, at least, most of you) know what it’s like to be hung-over in the morning, and both times after I took cocaine, I felt really exhausted the next morning. But, mornings after heroin are what I call a “golden normal.” You feel normal: fairly alert, fairly awake, but you also feel at peace. You look around, and the world is perfect. You still see its flaws; you still know it can suck, but somehow it just doesn’t bother you. It’s a little like the morning after having sex, only it lasts longer in the day, and it’s just somehow better.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

'Shrooms Man

         Drugs! Psychedelic drugs! Psychedelic drugs that might be able to help people? I’ll admit, when I first heard about the idea behind this article I was a little bit skeptical. When I was growing up, I was always taught by everyone who was supposed to know these things – my parents, my sixth grade teacher, my high school health teacher – that drugs, especially psychedelic drugs, were bad for you. When you took them, you became addicted, or your world got really screwed up, or left pinky finger fell off. “What about legal drugs?” I would ask. “Well,” they would say, “legal drugs are okay. As long as you take them with a prescription in moderation.” 
            The truth is, though, that the line between legal and illegal drugs is almost completely arbitrary. As I read in the article, “Healing trip: How Psychedelic Drugs Could Help Treat Depression,” some illegal drugs, psychedelic mushrooms in particular, can actually be extraordinarily beneficial. On the first page of the article, the author, David Derbyshire, talks about how a dozen people with depression will be given psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms. According to initial studies, psilocybin can help “suppress the part of the brain often hyperactive in depression called the medial prefrontal cortex (2).”
            That’s not all the article talks about, however, the last half of the article reads almost like a pseudo apology for illegal drugs. Derbyshire starts by describing how some drugs, such as LSD, other hallucinogens, and cannabis, were labeled as so-called “schedule 1” drugs (schedule 1 means these substances are dangerous with no medicinal benefit – this means that it is much harder to research them because there is so much red tape –) while other, far more addictive drugs, such as heroin, were classified as “schedule 2” drugs (schedule 2 means that these substances are less dangerous and have some medicinal benefit – and are thus easier to research.) The problem is, though, that because schedule 1 drugs are so hard to research, it becomes exceedingly difficult to get them relabeled as a schedule 2 or 3 drug and their potential benefits go unnoticed.
            Derbyshire goes on to talk about four currently illegal drugs that could have some major medicinal benefits: LSD, cannabis, psychedelic mushrooms, and ecstasy (MDMA).
According to the article, when someone is on LSD, their brain rearranges itself. Different parts of the brain that don’t usually communicate connect with each other, which can help break cycles of addiction and depression.
There are two major chemicals in cannabis: tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) – the latter of which could offer treatment for some health problems without the psychoactivity involved in getting high. – Unfortunately, most cannabis that people encounter is marijuana off the street, which is quite high in THC (pun intended) but low in CBD.
The article’s section on psychedelic mushrooms contained surprisingly little hard facts. (Part of this could be due to the red tape surrounding it. Then again, the red tape might be there for a reason.) It has the potential to combat depression and addiction and could help cancer patients come to terms with their addiction.

The last drug talked about in the article, ecstasy, could help patients with PTSD relieve their traumatic experiences easier, which could make therapy for these people much easier. Also, because ecstasy creates feelings of affection and goodwill, it could be used in couples therapy or to help combat end-of-life anxiety.