Browsing Tag

february 2018

DRUGS - February 2018 Jessica van Horssen

What’s in a Name?

Written by Jessica van Horssen

When I was 17, I was hanging out with squatters and others in the alternative scene where drugs were common at parties. People who use drugs recreationally may feel like they’re part of a special club, but the membership isn’t that exclusive. I tried and experienced it all, but more than just being fun and exciting, drug put men on a journey of self-discovery and healing. When they couldn’t give me any new insights into myself, I quit them all together.

After that I was diagnosed with ADHD and prescribed Ritalin, which I quit even faster because it turned me into some kind of speed zombie. I was able to operate better with a strict regime of physical exercise. Still, drugs may creep back into my life because life seems to less and less doable without some medication.

What’s in a name?

Being Dutch has given me a particular perspective on the word and the phenomenon of drugs. In Dutch we have separate words for prescription drugs, medicijnen, and recreational drugs, drugs (yes, we have adopted the English word). Then within the framework of the word drugs, we make a distinction between soft drugs (hash/marijuana), smart drugs (mushrooms), and hard drugs (your typical schedule 1 drugs).

Rationally making a harsh distinction between prescribed and recreational drugs is hard to justify when you have the facts. Looking at the workings of both prescription and recreational drugs, one will find that they are in fact quite similar. Ritalin, for example, looks very similar to cocaine molecularly. There is a slight difference in effect though, making cocaine a bit more addictive than Ritalin. Nevertheless, there are also many people addicted to Ritalin.

A piece of history

Over the course of human history, mankind has been using drugs. Drugs such as opium, caffeine, cannabis etc. have been extensively used for both pleasure and medical treatment. Psychoactive mushrooms have been used by shamans of indigenous cultures. Ethiopian priests started roasting and boiling coffee beans to stay awake through nights of prayer after a shepherd noticed his goats frolicking after eating coffee shrub. Opium was once prescribed for melancholia. You don’t need to look to distant cultures for prolific uses of what are now illegal substances. My own country has a long history with drugs as well.

The Dutch and drugs

World famous for our coffeeshops, where people over 18 can smoke a joint without being prosecuted, the Dutch used to lead in progressive drug policies. But there are also dark chapters in our history.

The Netherlands made a fortune selling opium in Indonesia at the end of the 19th century with a state-run opium factory in Java. In the early 20th century The Netherlands had the biggest cocaine factory in the world. The government made tons of money during WW1 supplying warring countries with that cocaine. Theodor Aschenbrandt, a German scientist wrote in his 1883 report “Die psychologische Wirkung und Bedeutung des Cocain” how cocaine increased German soldiers’ stamina, and how it decreased their hunger and fear, and made them get worked up much easier. That’s not even the end of it, because the same cocaine factory sold amphetamines to German soldiers during WW2. Soldiers who eventually occupied our country.

The end of the war wasn’t the end of the factory. It continued producing narcotics and funding for the Dutch government until 1963 when surrounding nations stepped up the pressure for it to shut down.

Photo by Katherine Hanlon

Healing properties of drugs

The Dutch case is a clear sign of abuse; they used drugs as a weapon. There is another side of drugs, as alternative medicines.

We know people have better lives because of the use of antidepressants or ADHD medication. Are they cured? Maybe not, but they sure as hell operate on a better level than without those meds. In a similar vein, people claim to have healed childhood trauma and addiction through drugs such as ayahuasca, also known as entheogens. I’ve tried it myself and it was quite healing indeed. It’s a shame it didn’t last for me, but for others it did. Why should one treatment be criminal but not the other?

Personally, I have had some healing experiences on MDMA. I got closer to the people I took it with. I’ve seen others get closer to their spouses. People who, after 50 years, finally started to talk honestly about their feelings. I have seen people change tremendously (in a good way) because of drugs like MDMA or LSD. Good thing there are organizations like MAPS who are researching the healing properties of recreational drugs like MDMA.

There is no one size fits all kind of approach. Everyone must find their own way. And that’s hard with the war on drugs going on. While some benefit from prescription drugs, others can be healed by smoking hash or taking XTC.

Who is the addict?

I am obviously not saying that no-one is helped by prescription drugs. I’m expressing my deepest concern for how many people and children are (over)medicated, and all the finger-pointing that’s been done.

Most politicians are publicly against recreational drugs. They seem to be very opinionated about people who occasionally pop a pill at a rave, use MDMA with their partners, or trip on mushrooms to get a spiritual experience. Funnily enough, I’ve also met recreational drug users very much against people taking prescription drugs. It’s clear there is still a lot of independent research is needed on both prescription and recreational drugs.

Being baselessly anti- something doesn’t make for an open mind, but being blindly pro- something doesn’t either. Drug policies in the USA, for example, turn recreational drug users into criminals, while 44.5% of the nation is using or has used prescription drugs. Nearly half the people! It just isn’t right to criminalize recreational users when pharmaceutical companies are the biggest drug dealer in the country.

We need to keep the debate going. And we need to listen to everyone involved. Keep an open mind, experiment with some if you desire, and inform yourself about what you’re taking. Whether it’s a pill at a party or meds prescribed by your psychiatrist. There is a lot of nasty business involved on both sides, but there are many positive possibilities too.

Keep your eyes open people. Unless you’re  tripping balls, in which case you might want to close them.

Christian Hazes DRUGS - February 2018

Up in Smoke

Written by Christian Hazes, Staff Writer

I have had the privilege to enrich my life with numerous fascinating trips. Be it the vast and pristine landscapes of arctic Norway or the quaint, calm and sun-soaked French villages; every journey is unique and provides a different experience. Lately, however, I started to realize that all these trips have one thing in common: that there is one ever-recurring question that is dropped shortly after telling people that I was born and raised in Amsterdam. I am talking about the simple and obvious question, fired at me before I can finish my sentence:

“How is the trip?”

I refrain from snapping and answer politely that the trip is amazing, ditto for the country and people, before being bluntly interrupted again:

“No dude, I’m talking about the drugs! You’re from Amsterdam!”

In my mind, images of me facepalming myself play; I ought to know by now this is to be expected. It’s proof that the Netherlands, and predominantly Amsterdam, are still the very embodiment of everything that comprises vice and complete liberty for many outsiders. Question is, for how long will I be confronted with drug-driven curiosity?

Without a doubt, the marriage of Amsterdam with weed is largely a result of the coffeeshop – and they are an endangered species these days. Despite still being omnipresent in the typical streetscape of Amsterdam, the number of coffeeshops is in swift decline.

In 1995, there were 350 coffeeshops in Amsterdam. Since then, 183 Amsterdam coffeeshops had to shut up shop, predominantly due to political pressure from governing bodies. That’s about half. In The Hague, the Dutch political capital, ferocious plans have been devised to combat the soft drugs industry in the Netherlands. However, in the case of Amsterdam, the approach has merely led to the deterioration of the situation and, due to its numerous adverse effects, cannot only be characterized as deeply flawed.

Amsterdam has a reputation for being one of the most liberal and progressive places in the world, which has a long history. The Netherlands was a hub for early enlightenment thinkers, among them Baruch de Spinoza, Erasmus of Rotterdam or Hugo Grotius. Already in the 17th century, the Dutch embraced individualism and had a dynamic entrepreneurial class. And the harbor town had state-enforced laws to make its diverse citizenry engage in their different religious practices and respect other faiths. So one would assume that some core liberal principles such as tolerance are embedded in Dutch culture.

Notwithstanding the fact that there is some truth to the claim, this point of view is not wholly correct. Especially in relation to the present-day Netherlands and Amsterdam. When it comes to soft drugs, tolerance has its limits, and they are tighter than one might expect. Many refer to the supposedly detrimental effect of consumption on society and particularly abhor the cannabis industry that attracts tourists to Amsterdam en masse. Amsterdammers are sick and tired of tripping over and confronting the near-comatose tourists that overflow the streets. Even Eberhardt van der Laan, the beloved-and-habitually-permissive former mayor expressed his concerns back in 2014, saying to the then-incumbent mayor of London, Boris Johnson, that he should visit Amsterdam and watch his compatriots loudly running around scantily clad. Despite the subliminal mocking sentiment, it is clear that the situation is getting out of hand and it is hardly to be denied that the soft drugs industry is mainly a tourist attraction.

And yet, the number of tourists that visit the Dutch capital is rising. One in four of these tourists will visit a coffeeshop. The perceived negative effects of soft drugs and surging drug tourism in the Southern parts of the Netherlands, have pushed the Dutch government to come up with an action plan to eradicate drugs tourism, and reduce the scale of the soft drugs industry. A policy that forced many coffeeshops to close makes it compulsory for coffeeshops located in Amsterdam to be at least 250 meters away from schools. Allegedly, young people would then be less exposed to soft drugs. Furthermore, a project called “Project 1012” aims at improving the image of the area of de Wallen, the center of Amsterdam’s Red Light District, required the closure of multiple coffeeshops. Also worth mentioning, the city council of Amsterdam employs a “no-growth policy” which means that the city will not give out any licenses for new coffeeshops at all.

Amsterdam’s coffeeshop supply is rapidly declining as a result of the advocacy of those that seek the end of the weed industry. On the other hand, it’s not blowing smoke if we say that the path chosen by the Dutch government is not heading in the right direction. In part because the demand for coffeeshops is skyrocketing to unparalleled heights.

But isn’t the elimination of competitors a blessing for the surviving coffeeshops? At first glance, yes. In reality, the decimation of Amsterdam-based coffeeshops has numerous grave drawbacks. The remaining coffeeshops are unable to facilitate the enormous demand. Increased appetite for the good stuff culminates in several undesirable consequences, such as people smoking on the streets due to a lack of space and coffeeshops turning into cannabis supermarkets instead of being cozy and serving a social function. Moreover, imbalanced supply and demand increases the number of illegal street dealers and this exacerbates the degeneration of neighborhoods; exactly what Amsterdam was trying to prevent. Lastly, the amount of cannabis a shop is allowed to have in store is limited, so shops must resupply multiple times on a busy day, increasing the probability that couriers will be robbed. The current policy approach is simply riddled with cracks.

Amsterdam prevails when it comes to attracting tourists and having a reputation for being one of the most tolerant, open-minded and liberal places in the world. So the only way I can see to avoid the “How is the trip?” question is to never bring up my roots, but I’d rather do that than see the city continue on its restrictive path.

 
Contributing Writers Creative Pieces DRUGS - February 2018

Mind-Altering Holiday

Written by Reinilde Jonkhout

It’s a little-known fact that Sinterklaas has a long lost psychedelic loving lesbian twin-sister, Cindy Claus. Her existence is little known because for the last few centuries she’s been peacefully dreaming in the far-off cosmos. In that time Sinterklaas became a dominant world destroyer, grinding “bad kids” into holiday treats, roasting non-Christians on open fires the size of entire forests, and otherwise being aloof.

Thankfully Cindy has returned to Earth! After weeks of partying with his sister Sinterklaas has penned the following confession:

What is the best holiday gift, but an altered mind, illuminating for us the darkest days of the year and seeing the return of the light before it actually happens?

Children who need presents the most don’t get them. I have been giving presents to the wrong children all along. I won’t let children work in slave labor conditions anymore. Constructing presents for other children, made with water they can no longer drink. I will close my factories. Instead, I will show children the gift of giving.

It was MDMA that made me unafraid to touch the same sex, and I will research that further. MDMA made me realize all my fears are not a given. Touching another man was inconceivable to me before, being a traditional Catholic. Thinking of all the hugs I missed out on, physically reminds me of that deficiency by way of a cold current shooting through my body.

When I was on LSD, I saw the magnitude of things that aren’t me. Trees were majestically towering over me. They suddenly looked so much bigger, and the wind I normally hate I admired. Sitting in a swing under a tree, I felt the tree itself swinging me. I never understood those outdoorsy,  mountain climbing folks, but I get it now. Even in the grey and rain, I wanted to be near nature and outside. The water of the river was an ever-changing abstract painting, sometimes even a pastel van Gogh. It was as deep as my lover’s eyes. I challenge every world leader to take LSD.

On ayahuasca I have gone through everything that I have repressed. And truthfully, I have been abused sexually as a child. In society that’s a secret and shame I can’t talk about. While tripping, I came across a drawing I had made as a child. Suddenly I realized, I can be that child again, that child not ruined by adults, and the drawing was beautiful. It was a flower, that I drew, and suddenly the flower was towering over me like a 90 story building. The sheer amazement of things I never considered possible or could never visualize, when did that end? When did I stop taking creativity seriously?

I am still that child. We who forget the potential of a flower drawn in the corner of a page, we destroy children, and our future, with our lack of empathy and imagination. Realising all the wrong I’ve done, and that we’re beyond the point of really saving the world, I need to give up my immortality and pass the torch onto my sister Cindy Claus.

What I need is to be born again as an ant to be stepped on and crushed soon after birth. We can see where the universe will take me from there. Birth is wonderful. In LSD hypnotherapy I have given birth, a magnificent and unexpected experience, showing that the soul has no gender.

My last realization is that a person can have too many dogs. While ending my journey I saw a woman walking maybe, nine dogs. Nine similar little, yappy dogs. That’s just too much.


Reinilde Jonkhout, is an Amsterdam-based artist from Curaçao. You can check out her other work at http://www.reinilde.com.

Chloe Gregg DRUGS - February 2018

Change the System, Not Your Brain

Written by Chloe Gregg, Staff Writer

Smart drugs, study aids, cognitive enhancers. They’ve taken over Madison Avenue and hacked the offices of Silicon Valley. If you’re studying at university or have a job in a competitive workplace, I bet that you’ve already heard of them. Maybe you’ve already tried them?

These little pills, also known as ‘nootropics’, are prescribed to treat neurological disorders such as sleep-deprivation, narcolepsy, Alzheimer’s, and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). One of the most prominent nootropics, Modafinil, was introduced to me through a legitimate prescription.

I had to use Modafinil during my high school final exams to counter the sedative effects of the sleeping pills I had also been prescribed. All I knew about them was that they helped me snap back from the fog my brain was kept in by the sleeping pills. The only times I took Modafinil were on the mornings of an actual test.

I suffered less and less from insomnia during the first year of my bachelor’s degree, so I decided to drop the sleeping pills, and naturally forgot about Modafinil. Then the second year came. Spending entire days with my classmates at the library, we came to discuss ways of keeping up with the workload. Ignorant as I was to the other uses of Modafinil, some mentioned they were using the medication to help them study. They didn’t suffer from sleep-deprivation or any other medical condition that would have allowed for a prescription, rather this was self-medicated, brain-boosting doping.

Scanning through scientific journals and opinion articles, I found that there was an abundance of substances out there that qualified as nootropics. I discovered a multitude of cognitive enhancers ranging from special herbal supplements, ADHD medications such as Adderall and Ritalin, to even legally prescribed methamphetamines. While certain articles warned against the consumption of the most recently developed drugs, for lack of research, many more articles touted a number of benefits which would appeal to the young university student or start-up entrepreneur.

For my fog lifting drug, the effects on reducing fatigue, and enhancing cognition were most noticeable in studies involving sleep-deprived doctors and military personnel, while research conducted in 2012 showed an increase in motivation and performance in completing tasks amongst perfectly healthy individuals. A more consistent and significant result has been the improvement of working memory, which supports the use of Modafinil in preparation for exams. Fewer studies also support claims of an increased sense of well-being and increased attention.

Even with the short-term side effects of using nootropics, like headaches, loss of appetite and insomnia, the potential gains of their occasional use to manage intense periods of work and study can easily outweigh the costs. Especially since the average price of a Modafinil pill sold online is lower than your ordinary take-away coffee.

So why shouldn’t you take it? I’m not here to lecture you on the moral objections against taking cognitive enhancers. Neither am I going to convince you that you should hold off using them because of the gap in scientific knowledge regarding their long-term side effects. Rather, I’d like you to look at the bigger picture. Imagine the way society would look if everyone were to become accustomed to using nootropics.

On the individual level, a person would no longer be able to identify the fruits of his or her labor, and those of the drug. It’s not much of a stretch to imagine this may lower self-esteem, and create a detachment from the self that could eventually lead to much greater alienation. Such an estrangement would only deepen the anxieties that have propagated under the development of Western capitalism.

On the social level, the concentration of nootropics among the academic and professional elite would only deepen the current social inequalities that traverse the industrialized world. Today, the academically privileged often hold an advantage over those left within the traditional education system; even without cognitive enhancers. This is exacerbated by the way smart drugs have infiltrated the lives of healthy human beings – through society’s elite. Their most prominent use is amongst students from high-ranking universities and cutthroat businessmen or entrepreneurs. Spheres that are already ahead of the game. These drugs risk widening the socio-economic gap that persists in post-industrialized societies. Smart jobs draw smart drugs. Giving everyone access to Modafinil would bring all people to a higher cognitive capacity, yet the gap would remain.

As our society becomes increasingly narcotized, it seems that we’re losing touch with our fundamental human nature, which may be tied to consequences we cannot even conceive of yet. In one of his blog entries describing the effects of a variety of cognitive enhancers Dave Asprey, a US entrepreneur who boasts of successfully hacked his own biology, states that “When you first start taking nootropics, sometimes you’ll feel like nothing is happening. That’s what I experienced. Then, a week later, I quit taking them, and noticed their absence immediately”. This statement is a chilling reminder of how close we are to the dystopian novel Brave New World, where most people are numbed and controlled through drugs.

Whether you decide to take ‘noots’ or not, you’re playing a part in defining what our society should look like.

With the intensifying pressure created by competition, it is only natural to seek better ways to keep up the pace. However, self-medicating doesn’t seem to provide a definitive solution. Rather it is a symptom of the neoliberal machinery that has spun out of control, a new tool for perpetuating the system that is compelling us to alter our brain chemistry to better compete.

So let us slow down a moment and imagine where we’re heading. Let us evaluate the consequences of using nootropics and determine whether they promise enough to make it worth exploring their potential. We cannot blindly accept them as another quick fix.

Contributing Writers DRUGS - February 2018

Doping Music

Written by Jonny Walfisz

I think Lance Armstrong deserves to keep his trophies.  

As a self-aggrandizing non-sports guy, it’s possible that I just don’t get it. The only conceivable justification I find is that, perhaps, he had an unfair advantage on account of his testicles. Specifically, how the void in place of his testicles may have made the ride a little smoother, on account of the bicycle seat’s continual insistence on being unendurably uncomfortable.

Moving away, momentarily, from the subject matter of balls and bicycles, I really do believe that Lance Armstrong earned his Tour de France wins.

The competition is straightforward: We’ve got a really long road here, and we’d love to know who can do the spinny thing with their legs the quickest to get to the end first. I may not be a sportsman, but the simplicity is elegant, also in its conclusion. Lance is the one who did the spinny thing with his legs the best.

Yeah, sure, he took performance-enhancing drugs, but most of the other riders did too. This only speaks to how widespread the issue is. So let’s be real here. When should a person’s achievement be disregarded because they enhanced their performance in some way? We decided that the line should be drawn before steroids, but after protein shakes.

Lance took his drugs and that’s one reason he won the Tour de France. But the guy that came second couldn’t have done it without the bowl of muesli he had that morning. I fully expect his tearful apology on Oprah to follow shortly.

What if the same arbitrary rules, so casually demarcating what constitutes real human achievement, were applied beyond sports?

Photo by Ryan Loughlin

While researching this article I came across a rather incredible piece of journalism by one of Duke University’s music professors Carl Schimmel on doping in the music industry. The article contained outlandish claims about the use of a drug called ‘ÜBERnunu’ by famed musicians, a rank including Schoenberg and John Cage. These composers have been using ÜBERnunu to stimulate their orbitofrontal lobe, giving them an incredible advantage in their composition abilities. As societal pressures rose around these figures they were forced to drop the drug and it quickly disappeared from the medicine cabinets of talented musicians worldwide.

Now to clarify, the article is a satire. Nu-nu is a reasonably obscure drug from the Amazon and its relation to John Cage is one that can only be found in this lone article. What’s clearly the issue here is that this so-called professor-cum-journalist wrote without the necessary eye-winking candour that typically comes hand in hand with a satirical piece. The mini-bio at the bottom of the page boasting of Schimmel’s Yale-based education only serves to add gravitas to any wild statements he made previously. The tell, for those reading the article is one dime of a sentence, which I’ll quote:

“Authorities have discovered that some users have been unwittingly buying nunu that has been cut with dangerous fillers such as powdered bleach, rat poison, and French postmodernism.”

In a long article, this comes as a schism in the unique process of reading a piece of genuinely brilliant journalism. That nunu may be being cut with both rat poison and Derrida’s Writing and Difference, is both, (1) a dear worry to any frontal lobe’s health, and (2) effectively a train in wall scenario for the perception of the article as a great bit of journalism. Now it’s left in tatters as either eloquent satire or shoddy fiction at best.

But the experience of reading it was real. I had a great time finding out that Cage was an ÜBERnunu fiend and that this was the secret to his success. Cage wrote great music regardless of his drug habits. John Lennon created stunning art in the midst of a decade-long acid binge. Many great names produced brilliant work on drugs including Huxley, Bowie, Lou Reed and so on.

We value many artists for their ability to share an intimate part of their humanity with us. Yet much of the time they’re in an affected mental state.

Artists have always had their achievements credited to them regardless of their conscious cognizance, why not extend the same courtesy to those expressing themselves with their bodies and physical prowess?

This leads me to a few conclusions, truth is old-hat, participation is 80% of success, and Lance Armstrong deserves his medals back.

He lost his balls for Christ’s sake!