From the monthly archives: "February 2016"

Part 2

Brain statesIn part one of this series, I discussed how former drug users might benefit physically by taking up a regular meditation program. I also touched on how former drug users are at an advantage when it comes to “finding the Self”, as the mind-altering action of some drugs approximates the deeper states of meditation. In this piece, I will address a few mental and inspirational elements that regular meditators enjoy, which will also help former drug users find what we are all ultimately looking for—a deeper connection to our true Selves—all while keeping them off dangerous drugs.

The Way I Cope

Drugs not only make the body feel good, they make the mind feel invincible. Amphetamines were given to World War II pilots as a way to keep them awake and alert on numerous sorties throughout the war. Even today, speed-like drugs are given to ADD-labeled children and adults to help them concentrate. Drugs do, in fact, enhance our mental capacities in the short-term. Whether talking stimulants for alertness and concentration, or the mind-expanding quality of hallucinogenics: the primary use of many recreational drugs is for altering mind-states.

Stress copingGoing within via meditation also alters consciousness states. As we deepen our meditative practices, we pass through states of consciousness that simulate dream states or even deep sleep (albeit consciously). It is for this reason that former drug users have a hand up on most non-users—they know what it feels like to pass through these varying stages of consciousness. When meditating, the former drug user will recognize and feel a sense of calm, ease and comfort passing through these stages. Call it an acquired skill to feel comfortable as one makes it through these transitions. The average person often must take several passes through a consciousness state to feel comfortable enough to allow it to happen on its own without a mental disruption or dispersion of the state.

From a mind perspective, meditation has also been shown to decrease anxiety—a godsend to anybody who uses, or has used, drugs at one time or another “to cope.” Studies have shown meditation increases stress adaptability as well. Or plainly, regular meditators handle stress better—one reason some people turn to drugs to begin with. Further, meditators have been found to feel less lonely. It is well known that loneliness is associated with increased incidence of illness and death. A regular meditation practice, then, goes a long way to preserve the psychological, emotional and physical wellbeing.

Finally, regular meditators have been found to have increased brain activity in the prefrontal cortex, the area responsible for executive function, while simultaneously decreasing activity in the amygdala, the area of emotional reaction. Executive function encompasses a number of mental processes, but put simply, this region is responsible for inhibiting emotional outbursts or impulsive behaviors. The amygdala, on the other hand, is the area where memory, decision-making and emotion work together to elicit quick responses. These two regions are regularly at odds with one another, balancing how we wish to act—venomous anger for example—with how we contain ourselves. The amygdala in teens, for instance, develops much more rapidly than the prefrontal cortex, leading to more reactionary decisions and impulsive behavior (one reason teens are at higher risk for accidents). But by meditating regularly, executive function is enhanced while reactionary amygdala function is depressed, and thus the practitioner becomes more poised and disciplined, thinking things through rather than exploding in unrestrained emotion.

The Voice I Hear

Woodstock-1969Some people have had spiritual experiences on drugs, as attendees at Woodstock or today’s raves might attest. This is because chemical substances acting on the brain can open doors to insights, compassion and even a feeling of “oneness,” things we ultimately all crave as human beings. For this reason, many habitual drug users return again and again to drugs to relive a temporary experience which we intuitively feel should be more permanent.

Users who have spiritual experiences are correct in their intuition—feelings of oneness are our birthright, and they should persist beyond the temporary high felt from drugs. The only way to tap into this eternal unity is by going within and awakening to the Self. While the term Self is actually interchangeable with many others—God, the absolute, the final reality, etc—it is incomplete and incapable of fully describing what yogis would call the source of all things. No matter which name you give it, this source is what we all truly want: reconnecting with the Self is the inner drive which underlies all human desire. And it is exactly this which is the basis for people turning to drugs.

When we uncover our true Selves, however, we concurrently uncover the bliss inherent in our source of being. Through this uncovering we come to realize that we exist in this material dimension (our form) for a purpose, and the deeper we go within, the stronger our realization of our life’s purpose becomes. But interestingly for the former drug user is that this realization also brings to light the purpose of the chosen path of substance abuse. Most people enter professions where they wish to make a difference, either in an area which they perceive themselves to have failed in the past, or in an area which they themselves have been helped. It is not surprising then that many former drug users, myself included, look to make a difference in the world of recovery—helping other addicts shake the illusions of the high drugs provide, and in finding the truth inherent in uncovering the Self.

Helping Drug AddictsRegular meditators have also been found to cultivate greater compassion—for themselves and others. Why is this important? Because it is so easy to beat oneself up for perceived mistakes one has made, and every other shame and guilt that comes along with drug addiction. Having compassion for one’s choices comes from a deep understanding that one receives as a result of going within. By understanding the greater purpose of our choices, we can open up to a world of gratitude for the life we have lived, and how it has lead us down our current inspired path. The highest service in life comes through giving from a place of compassion—the I-have-been-there-before state of empathy. Nobody can relate to this more than former drug users who have dedicated their lives to helping others, and this compassion is enhanced by a regular meditation practice.

Meditation has also been found to improve a person’s skill at introspection—the ability to reflect on one’s life and oneself mentally and emotionally. People who have a strong ability for introspection come to know themselves better, make better choices, and experience greater growth spurts emotionally and spiritually. As a consequence, meditation also opens the floodgates to inspiration, so creativity is enhanced as one quiets the mind of its incessant chatter and allows the Self to reflect unimpeded. Most creative geniuses have a way of tapping in—meditation is one surefire way to unleash our inherent potential and express creative genius. Start today to take advantage of this power we all possess.

OnenessPeople typically return to drugs to recreate an experience that brought them close to feeling the bliss of oneness with all things. That is because drugs open doors to states of consciousness which simulate stages we pass through along the path to union—the known deeper states of meditation. Drug-induced altered states of consciousness, however, are short-lived and they come with many unwanted side effects, most treacherously death. But what drug users are searching for is what all people ultimately search for: the bliss that comes from awakening to our true Selves. While many paths to the Self exist, meditation is time-tested and proven; its effects are long-term, and its many changes are permanent. Drugs will never bring the seeker what he or she is looking for, because like all external experiences, they are transitory and illusory by nature. Only by going within and uncovering the true Self will an individual find what he instinctively seeks: union with the entire universe. Meditation is a tool available to all of us—rich, poor, young, old, male or female—to bring us in-touch with our true essence, while enhancing our lives in body, mind and spirit. But even more astoundingly, former drug users may be at an advantage as they have experience in passing through various altered states in which the average, non-drug user is not so immediately comfortable. These reasons seem overwhelmingly encouraging for those in recovery to take on a meditation practice. Turn on and tune in, if you will, and you will find exactly what you have always been looking for.

prozac_cake_by_h0p31355-d4iys4qIt was only a matter of time. How long could the wool be pulled over society’s eyes before questions would arise? Antidepressants have been some of the most overprescribed meds in all of history, yet the “science” behind them is tainted with selective publication, where research groups leave out negative outcomes, and only publish favorable ones. But the real tragedy is in how western culture could buy in to the mass drugging  of society, the medicating of an illness of questionable etiology, and the anesthetizing of its children; all for one reason only: It was the easiest thing to do. Time is not on the side of the current pharmaceutical solution to depression, however, as larger, more scrutinizing eyes peer into the dark hole that is the antidepressant industry, and some of the truths revolving around the popular SSRI medications will finally be brought to light.

A recent comprehensive study carried out in Copenhagen, Denmark, and published last week in the BMJ (the British Medical Journal) showed that pharmaceutical companies were not presenting the full extent of serious harm in clinical study reports, which are detailed documents sent to regulatory authorities such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) when applying for approval of a new drug. Researchers examined documents from 70 double-blind, placebo-controlled trials of two common types of antidepressants—selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) and serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRI)—and found that the occurrence of suicidal thoughts and aggressive behavior doubled in children and adolescents who used these medications.

dt_140827_rope_hang_suicide_depression_800x600 (Copy)This should come to no surprise for readers of this blog, as I have reported extensively on similar occurrences taking place within the antidepressant manufacturing industry since 2008! Remember when I told you how “one third of antidepressant drug studies are never published in the medical literature, and that virtually all of those that are hidden happen to show the drug being tested did not work”? Or how about when I brought you the 60-Minutes piece that disclosed that many of the studies that show antidepressants not doing much more than placebo have been hidden by the manufacturers who lead the studies. Hmmm…see a pattern here? How about when I told you of the government’s black box warning on antidepressants which were causing increased suicidality in young adults taking the medications. Or maybe you have checked out my book, The Six Keys to Optimal Health, where I delve in to detail of the shameful practices of antidepressant industry. And remember…I told you that antidepressants were the third most common prescription drug taken by Americans of all ages between 2005–2008, and that  more children are on psychoactive drugs today than on any other drug ever before in history. Well if you actually have no clue as to what I am talking about do not feel ashamed, you are right in step with the rest of society, because you were never meant to know, you see. That was the idea. And if you did happen to find out, you likely let it gloss right over you, even if your child was on these same drugs, because you have been conditioned by a system to believe in your cultural health authority—your medical doctor. Little did you know that your trusted doc was being fooled as well.

BMJ-study-329 (Copy)According to the Scientific American article, The Hidden Harm of Antidepressants (February 3, 2016), “Last September a study published in the Journal of Clinical Epidemiology revealed that a third of meta-analyses of antidepressant studies were written by pharma employees and that these were 22 times less likely than other meta-studies to include negative statements about the drug. That same month another research group reported that after reanalyzing the data from Study 329*, a 2001 clinical trial of Paxil funded by GlaxoSmithKline, they uncovered exaggerated efficacy and undisclosed harm to adolescents (emphasis mine).”

This latest Danish study discovered that some of the most useful information was in individual patient listings buried in the appendices. For example, they uncovered suicide attempts that were passed off as “emotional lability” or “worsening depression” in the report itself. This information, however, was only available for 32 out of the 70 trials.

“[This study] confirms that the full degree of harm of antidepressants is not reported,” says Joanna Moncrieff, a psychiatrist and researcher at University College London who was not involved in the study. “They are not reported in the published literature, we know that—and it appears that they are not properly reported in clinical study reports that go to the regulators and form the basis of decisions about licensing.”

Medical report (Copy)Here is an interesting tidbit on the dynamic between the pharmaceutical industry and the government regulatory system meant to keep an eye on it: The FDA requires pharmaceutical companies to fund and publish studies on all their products. As you might imagine, that is loads and loads of paper. To accommodate the reporting agents who must read these papers, thousands upon thousands of studies are combined in the form of a meta-analysis—a study of studies—where certain parameters are established, and these studies are collectively analysed and reported on. And who do you think prepares these meta-analyses? Yup…representatives with ties to pharmaceutical companies themselves. Duuuuuuuuuhhhhhhhh….

When the researchers from the Nordic Cochrane Center in Copenhagen attempted to secure the appendices from the EMA they were flatly denied.

“We found that a lot of the appendices were often only available upon request to the authorities, and the authorities had never requested them,” says Tarang Sharma, a PhD student at Cochrane and lead author of the study. “I’m actually kind of scared about how bad the actual situation would be if we had the complete data.”

“They talked about commercial confidentiality although there was absolutely nothing in these reports that was commercially confidential,” Peter Gøtzsche, a clinician researcher at Cochrane and a co-author of the study.

It took three years, repeated requests and complaints to the European Ombudsman—elected by the European Parliament to investigate claims against European Union institutions—for the research team to receive the documents. While the EMA vowed to increase public access to clinical-trial documents, no equivalent has been proposed for the U.S.

Medicine-Costs (Copy)You can see that the antidepressant industry—from publication to regulation—has had the cards stacked in its favor for decades. But as a result of the fine work carried out in Copenhagen, more attuned eyes are now on the case. It will be much harder to deceive the greater scientific community as it has been to fool the public and its pushers: the medical establishment. How the medical community has eaten up the fabrications conjured by Big Pharma without so much as a question: “Hey, why aren’t my patients doing significantly better?” “Gee how did we ever make it this far as a species without antidepressants if they are so crucial?” “Do my patients really need to be medicated from the time they are very young til the day they die?” “Are lifestyle drugs really the answer for a modern humanity?” I mean, really, no doctors ever had those thoughts? Ever? That’s what really blows me away. And to this day, doctors will defend their paradigm, “I know its helped my patients.You don’t have a competing theory.” But they can no longer say the science backs them up (as so many had assumed in the past).

31drug-inline1-650 (Copy)But, again, this entire fiasco is simply a dynamic: Individual doctors would naturally accept a paradigm taught in medical college as a sacred cow. What reason would compel the average medical doctor to question what seems to make sense. Isn’t that how we do it? Take the smoothest, easiest run down the river; why wouldn’t we? People want that. And we got it. What’s easier and more miraculous than pharmaceuticals? Seriously. AND…we get cool stuff for pushing it—pens, all-expenses paid trips, and updates from sales reps on the latest breakthroughs, science and public health figures along with Starbucks and muffins. Parents are happy because it appears something is being done. But don’t mind Junior—he just wants to kill himself… Listen, it’s a dynamic. If a doctor is not forced to make a change he or she will not. Even highly-discriminating professionals are susceptible to stagnancy.

High waves hittingEasy, solution, and profits are three words that make for a powerful force—elements of an unharnessed wave that can sweep over a village and wipe away its foundation before anyone knows what hit them. But a study like the one carried out in Denmark is a wake-up call for an inherently more powerful force, the force of the public good. As more accurate information gets out to the masses—like the dangerous side-effects of suicidal thoughts and aggression in young people taking antidepressants—people will be less inclined to make that choice for their own children, doctors will become less enamored with the pharmaceutical option for treating depression in children, and the regulatory agencies—under public pressure—will have to become more scrutinizing (which essentially means “more paper”).

And pharmaceutical manufacturers? Well they will merely look for newer drugs to replace the current antidepressants. In fact, they are already in the works now. A dynamic it will continue to be, just with different parameters to fool us for the next while.

*Please read up on study 329


Lottery winner“Dr. Campos,” the office manager said in her best business voice, “Would you like to contribute ten dollars to the office lottery pool?”

Ugh…we aren’t going to win. Greater chance of getting struck by lightning, twice! But I couldn’t stand to let my colleagues get rich without me, not for ten dollars…so I bought in.

I am relieved we did not win. It is not that I am above the fantasy…but I know something: Nobody unprepared to handle such a massive sum of money will keep it for long, or at the very least, the work it takes to manage a jackpot will stagger them. Very few people realize this fact, but many lottery winners rue the day they hit the numbers.

“You know, my wife had said she wished that she had torn the ticket up. Well, I wish that we had torn the ticket up too.” ~ Jack Whittaker, West Virginia, Powerball lottery jackpot winner, $315 million

BlingSpending sprees are the first order of business. Gotta buy the bling, and the houses, and the boa constrictors, and the stripper pole…you know, lottery-winner necessities. But ask any big-name athlete or celeb who has squandered away millions (Mike Tyson, Michael Jackson), it goes fast…like water through the fingertips if you are not careful. About 70 percent of people who suddenly receive a windfall of cash will lose it within a few years, according to the National Endowment for Financial Education.

Today, after spending almost all her winnings — “big house, fancy cars, designer clothes, lavish parties exotic trips, handouts to family, loans to friends” — [Sharon Tirabassi] is back in the working class: riding the bus, working part-time, living in a rented house.

But not just the spending, the people coming out of the woodworks with hands outstretched. Numerous lottery winners talk about friends and family who have come asking for assistance, only to get offended if the new millionaires say no or ignore their calls. On Good Friday 2004, Sharon Tirabassi and her sister, Shavaughn, walked to a variety store to buy lottery tickets.  Shavaughn also wanted a renters’ guide, but at the first store there were none, so they moved on without buying tickets. Next store, same thing, no renters’ guides. They continued walking for several blocks, entered the third store, where Shavaughn grabbed a renters’ guide. She went to the counter and bought a Super Seven ticket. Sharon followed and bought her ticket.

When Sharon won the $10 million lotto, Shavaughn believed it was because of herself; it was her wanting the renter’s guide (and purchasing two random pick tickets before Sharon) that allowed Sharon to be in the right place at the right time. Without Shavaughn, there would be no lottery winnings. For this reason, Shavaughn thought she deserved a payout. Sharon gave her $500K. Shavaughn wanted more. Today the sisters no longer speak.

I had to endure the greed and the need that people have, trying to get you to release your money to them. That caused a lot of emotional pain. These are people who you’ve loved deep down, and they’re turning into vampires trying to suck the life out of me.” ~ Sandra Hayes, split $224 million Powerball jackpot with a dozen co-workers in 2006

outstretched handsBesides the challenges of managing newly acquired wealth, many lottery winners make grave mistakes which affect their psychology and support networks. Some cut contact with old friends, family and their familiar neighborhood in order to move among the rich in a fantasy paradise. New neighbors are often not friendly to the ‘nouveau riche’ and as a result lotto winners have difficulty with social integration.

But the most macabre outcome for a number lottery winners is the death that seems to follow after hitting the jackpot. Take young Craigory Burch Jr., 20-year-old forklift driver-turned-lottery winner, who won nearly half a million dollars in Georgia; he did not live long to enjoy his winnings, as he was killed in a home invasion last month, only two months after purchasing a winning ticket.

Abraham Shakespeare Or take the story of Abraham Shakespeare of Sebring, Florida, $30 million lottery jackpot winner, found murdered and buried under a slab of cement in the backyard of his new lady acquaintance’s home.

Or Jack Whitaker, our $315 million jackpot winner from West Virginia, whose granddaughter was found dead, wrapped in a plastic sheet, dumped behind a junked van. The cause of death listed as ‘unknown’, but likely due to her drug lifestyle which Whittaker says is a direct result of his lottery winnings. He believes the Powerball win had become a curse upon his family. ”My granddaughter is dead because of the money,” he said.

According to a 2009 study by the Paris School of Economics, sudden windfalls can in fact increase one’s risk of death.

“Positive individual income shocks produce changes in lifestyles which may well be prejudicial to health. Exogenously higher income“—that is, wealth that comes, poof, out of the blue—”produces unhealthy living.” ~ Anneli Rufus, Lotto Death Curse

Out Of MoneyAdd 46-year-old Urooj Khan, who was found poisoned with cyanide following a $1 million jackpot win. And 47-year-old Deborah McDonald who was run over by a car near Sandusky, Ohio, after leaving a bar where she had been celebrating her win on the Ohio Lottery’s official TV show. And the bus in 2003, carrying a group of Germans, which overturned, killing 28—they were on a trip to Spain that they had won in a lottery. And the list goes on and on…

No I am grateful that neither me nor my colleagues hit the numbers last month. We are here to provide service to the world, and any windfall of big-time money is not going to get us there; it will serve the least amount of people—not the staff, not the clients, and not the community. I played the game for $10 to stay cohesive with my mates, but in the end I had to sigh a big, fat, “Phew…” Tragedy prevented by mathematical improbability. And on to play another day.

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