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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.

Part 1

Cocaine BlissDrug addiction is a form of seeking. The high we get from drugs is the closest thing to the altered states of consciousness that are the hallmark of deeper states of meditation, including samadhi, and thus drug users—most unconsciously—are seeking what we all are: the internal source of bliss. Bliss can only be achieved from within, whether it be inspiration, fulfillment, joy or any other state of being; it is an inside job. Drug addiction, then, is like any other attachment to the external world—it is our seeking fulfillment from things outside of us.

The quest for bliss, or a something other than what we experience in the purely physical world, is a real and ubiquitous drive—a universal human yearning. We bounce from experience to experience, desire to desire, and even relationship to relationship—what the yogis would call gaining knowledge—seeking this bliss. And all these quests for the outer are necessary to lead us to the reality of the inner. Drugs and chemical highs are no exception. In fact, former drug users may even be at an advantage on this quest, as the altered states so familiar to substance abusers most closely approximates the different states the meditator passes through on his or her way to Self-realization.

Learning the Self is the most rewarding experience we can have, as it lasts a lifetime. While every former drug user has learned invaluable lessons about herself, only through conscious awareness and awakening can true Knowledge—and all it affords—be had. In seeking the Self the greatest of all fulfillments is ours—the bliss we are never able to find in outer experiences. By taking on this quest, the former drug user has the greatest probability of remaining clean, because what is a temporary high when compared to bliss?

russell brand meditatingThe quest to “find” the Self can be carried out by a number of paths. One such path is meditation. Meditation, the art of silencing the mind and going within, is a profound practice, one which has a number of short and long term benefits for the former drug user. The benefits range from the physical, like a decreased risk of debilitating cardiac events, to the mental (increased emotional control), to the spiritual, like greater creative inspiration. In the following paragraphs, I will touch upon these benefits of body, mind and spirit to encourage former users to take up the habit of going within. I am certain that when I am finished you will see that the enormous advantages the practice of meditation affords are far greater than any momentary highs we get from drugs.

The Way I Feel

Dopamine system

Click to enlarge

Drugs feel good—we can thank the dopamine system for that. But the physiological sensations resulting from drug actions are temporary and come with the risks of tolerance, withdrawal and potential overdose. Going within, on the other hand, particularly via the path of meditation, provides physiological changes which are longer lasting, and many even permanent. These physical changes can feel good too, but they are subtle and come on gradually, so there is really no high with true meditation.

Meditation has been shown to reduce the risk of cardiac events—like heart attack and stroke—by one half. At risk African American men and women were given either a meditation program, muscle relaxation exercises or conventional health education courses. Those participants who meditated had nearly half the risk of suffering a cardiac event. These findings are particularly valuable for recovering methamphetamine and cocaine users, as stimulants can stress the cardiovascular system (heart and blood vessels). Further, the practice of pranayama (breath control) works to slow the metabolism, bringing down heart rate, respiration and blood pressure. These physiological changes are imperative for any person who has been artificially speeding up their cardiovascular system with drugs.

Meditation also has been shown to reduce pain, fatigue and depression. Many people who suffer from chronic illness turn to drugs to alleviate pain. A 2010 study showed that an eight-week course of mindfulness training reduced all three symptoms above, and improved health-related quality of life for people suffering from multiple sclerosis (MS). As any long-term drug user will tell you: part of the package that comes with substance abuse is pain, fatigue and ultimately depression. Here we now have evidence of the power of going within for alleviating these overloading sensations which often plague chronic drug users.

healingFinally meditation may lead to improved healing—something every drug user needs, as repeated use of chemicals can and does lead to breakdown of the body. Both inflammation and immunity are altered by meditation. Inflammatory processes have been observed to diminish, while immune function has been found to increase in regular meditators. As self-healing, self-regulating organisms, we need our innate powers to function unimpeded. While drug use hinders our healing abilities, quieting the mind and going within enhances them instead. Choose meditation and watch your miraculous regenerative powers operate in full force as your body and mind return to their most optimal functioning states.

So what’s the big deal about ADD anyway?  Why do I care about this “disorder” at all?  Why care about a diagnosis that has become so common that the number of children labeled with it has nearly tripled since the 1970s…why?  I care because the primary treatment for children branded with ADD is dangerous stimulant drugs.Ritalin, or methylphenidate, was first synthesized in the 1940s and identified as a stimulant the following decade.  In the 1960s, doctors first started prescribing Ritalin for hyperactivity, or minimal brain damage, as ADD/ADHD was called then.  The 1990s saw an explosion of Ritalin prescriptions, as ADD became the widely diagnosed condition it is today.

Ritalin is produced and consumed primarily in the United State, with 90% of all prescriptions going to American kids.  Strange that the consuming public has yet to catch on to this anomaly.  Hmmm…ADD said to affect 3-5% of kids worldwide, but why is the U.S. the highest consumer of doctor prescribed speed for this disorder???  A newer, time-released version of Ritalin has been on the market for the last decade; it’s called Concerta.

Ritalin and Concerta work by increasing dopamine levels in the brain.  Dopamine is the neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of pleasure and the reward system.  The compound methylphenidate is very similar to amphetamines, including methamphetamine (meth, crystal, crank), as they all belong to a family of chemicals called phenethylamines.  The all act as central nervous system stimulants.  The methylphenidates, however, actually resemble cocaine more in their structure; yet all three substances–cocaine, amphetamines, and Ritalin–all basically do the same thing; they just do it a bit differently, pharmacologically that is.

Like all the other stimulants just noted, Ritalin has a high potential for tolerance and dependency.  As tolerance increases, so does the need for greater doses to achieve the same desired effect.  The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) knows this, as they pointed out at their 2000 Congressional Testimony before the Committee on Education and the Workforce: Subcommittee on Early childhood, Youth and Families.  In response to a 1995 petition by Children and Adults With Attention Deficit Disorder (CH.A.D.D.) and the American Academy of Neurology to lower the regulatory controls on methylphenidate, the DEA conducted an extensive review of the use, abuse liability, actual abuse, diversion, and trafficking of methylphenidate, the DEA said:

The CH.A.D.D. petition characterized methylphenidate as a mild stimulant with little abuse potential – this is not what our review found (emphasis mine) and the petitioners subsequently withdrew their petition. In December 1996, the DEA held a conference on “Stimulant Use in the Treatment of ADHD”. We gathered experts in the fields of ADHD research and treatment, psychiatry, social work, ethics and law enforcement who offered their expertise and unique perspectives to the many controversial topics related to ADHD and its treatment. In addition, the DEA participated in the 1998 National Institutes of Health (NIH) Consensus Conference. In 1998 and 1999, the DEA was invited to the Council of Europe to participate in joint meetings with the Pompidou Group and the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) to discuss the control of stimulants in Europe and the diagnosis and treatment of ADHD with stimulants. Today, I will present a summary of the data we have gathered about the use of Ritalin and like drugs. These data show:

    • The number of children diagnosed as having ADHD is unknown.

 

  • Psychostimulants are effective in treating the symptoms of ADHD. Long-term studies looking at the effects of using these drugs are very limited.

 

 

  • The medical use of stimulants in the treatment of ADHD in children continues to escalate.

 

 

  • The expansive use of these drugs for childhood behavioral disorder in the United States differs significantly from medical practices in the rest of the world (United Nations data)

 

 

  • The NIH Expert Panel (1998 Consensus Conference) concluded that the variability in physician diagnosis of ADHD as evidenced by areas of extremely high and low distribution and prescribing rates of stimulants is suggestive of both over and under-diagnosis (Expert Panel, NIH Consensus Conference).

 

 

  • Poison control data, emergency room data and high school surveys all indicate that the abuse of methylphenidate has increased significantly since 1990. !!!!

 

 

  • A number of questionable practices have contributed to the diversion and abuse of stimulant medication including improper diagnosis, lack of adequate information to youth, parents, and schools regarding the abuse potential of these drugs and lax handling of medication (Consensus statement, 1996 DEA Conference).

 

And in 1997 the United Nation’s International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) has also expressed similar concerns:

  • the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) has observed that world-wide use of methylphenidate has risen from less than 3 tonnes in 1990 to more than 8.5 tonnes in 1994, and continued to rise in 1995.
  • The United States accounts for approximately 90 per cent of total world manufacture and consumption of the substance. The unprecedented sharp increase is due to its controversially extensive use in the treatment of ‘attention deficit disorder (ADD)’ in children. Some other countries have also reported more moderate increases in the use of methylphenidate for this purpose.
  • The INCB shares the concern of the United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) about the increased use of methylphenidate, most commonly marketed in that country under the brand name Ritalin. The latest data indicates that 10 to 12 per cent of all boys between the ages 6 and 14 in the United States have been diagnosed as having ADD and are being treated with methylphenidate. Treatment is more prevalent in middle class communities and is expected to rise in 1996.
  • ADD might be diagnosed too often overlooking other causes for attention and behavior problems and that doctors may be overprescribing methylphenidate. United States investigators found divergent prescribing practices among physicians, only 1 per cent of whom were responsible for the majority of all methylphenidate prescriptions issued. This also has impact on regional variations in the use of methylphenidate.
  • The Board is also concerned that, contrary to labeling, some doctors prescribe stimulants to children under the age of six and, in many cases, other recommended forms of treatment are not applied. The duration of treatment with methylphenidate, which in many countries is restricted to three years, tends to be much longer in the United States and many children remain on it into adolescence and even adulthood. No information on possible side-effects of such long-term treatment with methylphenidate is currently available
  • ***The INCB is also concerned that the use of Ritalin is being actively promoted by an influential parent association, which has received significant financial contributions from the preparation’s leading United States manufacturer. The same parent association has petitioned the DEA to ease the control of this substance, a move which would make methylphenidate even more easily available. Among the changes sought is dropping the requirement that the patient be re-examined by a doctor before a prescription for methylphenidate can be refilled.
  • At present, the unprecedented high level of ADD diagnosis in children, the very widespread prescription of Ritalin and the growing abuse and black market appear to be limited to the United States. But, the INCB foresees the likelihood that this trend will soon take hold in other countries. Some of the parent groups promoting methylphenidate in the United States have announced their intention to extend their activities outside the country. The Board is therefore requesting all Governments to exercise utmost vigilance to prevent the overdiagnosing of ADD and any medically-unjustified treatment with methylphenidate and other stimulants. It has also requested the World Health Organization (WHO) to investigate this matter and to provide expertise to national public health authorities.

Anybody need more convincing?  Ritalin and the other stimulant drugs used to “treat” ADD (Adderall, Concerta, Desoxyn) are habit forming and dangerous (more on this in next post)–the DEA knows it, and so does the United Nations.  But today American doctors prescribe these dangerous drugs freely, to treat a  condition with such wide parameters and potential for subjectivity (despite what the American Medical Association claims), one that has expanded in its definition steadily since its inception–that’s what really concerns me.

ADD matters to me precisely for these reasons…because if I can help even one family, one child, from getting put on these dangerous drugs, to be treated for something that makes them “different” from the norm (the masses), for something that their teachers can’t figure out or deal with, then I’ll have accomplished something; something I’ll be satisfied with.  That’s why I care.

Amazing as it may seem, medicines routinely taken for granted as safe are turning out to be more cause than cure.  This is especially true as they relate to drug overdoses.  For the first time in history, pharmaceuticals have caught up to illicit drugs in the number of overdoses they cause every year, according to a government report released yesterday.

As recently as five years ago, illegal drugs like heroin and cocaine led in ER visits from overdoses as compared to prescription drugs by a margin of 2:1.  But in 2008, ERs saw an estimated 1 million overdoses from over-the-counter and prescription meds–mostly painkillers and sedatives.

When it comes to ODing, painkillers are king, particularly oxycodone and hydrocodone, with ER visits from overdoses more than doubling from 2004 to 2008.  Data was collected from more than 200 U.S. hospitals.  Although many of the cases were overdoses, some were from mixing drugs, or mixing drugs and alcohol.

I find this news particularly disturbing, although not very surprising.  All one need do is take inventory of all recent celebrity drug overdoses to observe the unfortunate trend.  When I was a kid, many a celebrity OD’d and died–John Belushi from speedballs, Jimi Hendrix from barbiturates, and River Phoenix from heroin and coke (to see a list of celebrity drug deaths).  Today seems no different–celebrities dropping like flies–however, they are doing so from legal prescription meds.  Michael Jackson (lethal dose of propofol along with two sedatives), Heath Ledger (oxycodone, hydrocodone, temazepam, and others), Anna Nicole Smith (lethal combination of chloral hydrate and various benzodiazepines), and on and on and on.

As I said, no surprises, though.  Retail sales of five major leading painkillers nearly doubled over an eight-year period from 1997 and 2005, according to Drug Enforcement Administration figures.  The only thing I find real surprising is that “health officials are not sure why painkiller abuse rose so dramatically.”  Well, duh!!!  Doctors today write prescriptions like they are going out of style, for everything from sniffles to hangnails.  What the heck do they think is going to result?  I wouldn’t care that much except many of these arrogant stethoscope holders absolutely refuse to accept so-called alternative methods for treating pain.  Chiropractic, acupuncture, yoga therapy and massage are all possible long-term solutions to pain, but doctors aren’t passing referrals.  Oh, one of those alternatives didn’t work?  Try another–every one of those beats a daily Fentanyl patch.

Counting on painkillers is not the answer, docs.  And consumers better listen, too.  The man in the white coat isn’t responsible for your lack of discipline, your lack of initiative to find a real solution to your physical problems, or your lack of understanding that you aren’t supposed to mix your hydrocodone…with coke!  Geez.

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