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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.


The Wellnss JourneyLater today I will be interviewed (archived podcast here) on The Wellness Journey with Lynnis Woods-Mullins (@PraiseWorks), and we’ll be discussing the wellness aspect of social media. Wellness and social media? You bet. Social media is simply an extension of our already hard-wired nature to form social groups. The stronger (and for some people bigger) the groups, the more mental and physical advantages one has. There may even be a connection to longevity. Dang! Yes, being social is a part of the human evolution.

Our strongest advantage as a species is our ability to organize and manage large groups. We learned early on that we would be more powerful as one thousand than as simply one or a few, and so we took advantage of our capacity to cooperate and form civilizations. Now cooperation is not a purely human phenomenon, as many animal species do it, but in sheer capacity and sophistication, humans take the cake. We’ve expanded our social organization progressively from the beginning of existence, moving from hunter-gatherer tribes to the internet. Social media is just the next leg of that human social evolution.

Scientist have recently become increasingly interested in the social benefits to health. Several 2008-2009 studies showed promising results:

  • computer-cc36a4c4552c434fd40d98e79fa1dabeddea202a-s6-c10 (Copy)A 2008 study of stroke sufferers showed that being able to maintain valued group memberships played as important a role in positive recovery as an ability to overcome cognitive difficulties (e.g., problems with memory and language). After their stroke, people’s life satisfaction increased by 12% for every group membership that they were able to retain.
  • A 2009 study of residents entering a new care home. This showed that those who participated as a group in decisions related to the decoration of communal areas used those areas 57% more over the next month and were far happier as a result. In contrast, the use of space by residents in a control group declined by 60%. Moreover, these differences were still apparent three months later.
  • Another 2009 study looked at the impact of group interventions on the health and well-being of 73 people residing in care. After a period of six weeks the researchers found that people who took part in a reminiscence group showed a 12% increase in their memory performance, while those who received individual reminiscence or a control intervention showed no change.
  • Another 2009 study also studied nursing home residents and looked at the relationship between their sense of identity and well-being and the severity of their dementia. The study’s key finding was that a strong sense of identity associated with perceived membership of social groups, was a much better predictor of residents’ well-being than their level of dementia.

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Professor Jolanda Jetten from the University of Queensland, Australia commented on the findings from these studies: “New research shows just how important groups and social identity are to well-being. This is something that people often overlook in the rush to find medical solutions to problems associated with ageing, but it is time that these factors were taken much more seriously”.

And says Dr Catherine Haslam of the University of Exeter in the U.K.: “On the basis of what is now a very large body of research we would urge the medical community to recognize the key role that participation in group life can play in protecting our mental and physical health. It’s much cheaper than medication, with far fewer side effects, and is also much more enjoyable.”

Other studies that I have reported on in this blog also show the wellness benefits to social interactions. One study (2008) showed that people with large and strong social networks fared better following surgery—in healing time and extent. Another study (2008) showed that our sociability is actually a biological/neurological  trait, giving further evidence to its role and interdependence in human evolution.

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Another in 2009 which showed that repressed emotions can lead to greater risk of dying from a cardiac event, while a 2010 study showed that having strong social networks and interactions actually decreased death, in general, by 50%.

These studies simply confirm why using social media to remain connected, and thus in wellness, is the wisest practice people can adopt. Social media isn’t just digital narcissism, as some skeptics have defined it. It is real interactions, in real time, with real people (and if you really can’t tell the difference, then you really do need to get out more)—the perfect ingredients to rich social health and wellness. Keep Tweeting.

Women, women…is coffee good or bad for you?  I going to tell you something that just might perk you up: A cup of coffee a day may keep stroke away.  Perky?  Good.  Check it:

A recent Swedish study found that women who drank at least one cup of coffee per day had a 22-25% lower risk of stroke than women that drank less or no coffee at all.  Researchers followed 34,670 Swedish women, ages 49 to 83, for about 10 years.  They logged the womens’ coffee consumption habits and then checked hospital records to see how many had a stroke after ten years.  Other risk factors like smoking, weight, high blood pressure and diabetes were adjusted for, coffee drinkers still came out ahead.  Now how’s that for a little boost?

Some doctors warn, however, that this study only proves correlation and not cause.  But I say run with it: If you enjoy coffee, drink away.  No studies have been able to link any negative health effects to drinking a couple cups o’ Joe a day, so you’ve got nothing to lose.  If coffee does in fact offer some protective effects against stroke (it’s a vasoconstrictor, you know), then it’s worth the coffee breath, ladies.


No free ride—dang!  There never seems to be something for nothing. Always a cost, always a price. Anyway, now it looks like a popular blood pressure medication may raise cancer risk. You mean I can’t eat what I want, neglect exercise, or indulge in type-A behavior at any time I want, and then just take a magic little pill that’ll make everything all right? Whuh?

According to a recent analysis of five previous studies following about 60,000 patients, researchers found a link between taking angiotensin-receptor blockers (ARBs) and cancer. ARBs are taken by millions of people worldwide for conditions like high blood pressure, heart problems and diabetic kidney disease. Researchers found that people taking these meds had a one percent higher risk of developing a whole range of cancers, including prostate, breast and a noticeable spike in lung cancer. About 85 percent of the people in the studies were on telmisartan, sold as Micardis, made by Boehringer Ingelheim Corp.

Although the individual risk is modest, the wide numbers of people taking these drugs means that the overall cancer numbers worldwide should increase due to ARB use. It is unknown at this time if the cancer risk is reduced following discontinuation of the drugs.

Of course, Boehringer Ingelheim Corp., makers of the drug Micardis, dispute the results, claiming their hypertension drug is one of the most-studied in the world. The company claimed in a statement that it had “internal safety data” contradicting the recent study. According to studies run by the pharmaceutical company, there was no link between increased cancer risk and Micardis. Yeah, yeah, yeah…

Lead author of the study, Dr. Ilke Sipahi, warned patients not to stop taking their drugs, and recommended they consult their doctor if they were concerned. However, he does say that he now thinks twice before prescribing ARBs himself. Nevertheless, for some people that can’t handle the side-effects of some of the other hypertension drugs, the risk of dying of stroke or heart disease far outweigh those of developing cancer.

Well let me interject my two-cents. Hypertension comes in two flavors, primary and secondary, the former being due mostly to lifestyle behaviors, the latter secondary to other causes, many hormonal. 85 percent of people with high blood pressure have the primary type. I hope you see where I’m going. If you handle your own lifestyle modification, take things into your own hands, why…you could lower your blood pressure and avoid the increased risk of developing cancer by using and ARB, like Micardis. Go figure.

Here are a few simple tips to lowering blood pressure:

  • Get adjusted—studies have shown chiropractic care can reduce blood pressure by 17mmHg systolic and 10mmHg diastolic*
  • Lose weight—obesity increases blood pressure; the heart has to work harder to pump through the fat
  • Reduce sugar intake—yeah I know it’s hard, I live it every day. So what, do it anyway; sugar is a killer
  • Reduce salt intake—this decreases blood pressure in about 33% of people
  • Quit smoking and reduce or quit drinking alcohol—I know, I know, but just so you know, both increase blood pressure immediately
  • Learn to handle your stress—stress is a necessary part of life; however, putting things into balanced perspective is essential (don’t know how? contact me)

Blood pressure medications are supposed to be prescribed after lifestyle changes have been modified. But you know as well as I do that, like pretty much all medications in our arsenal, they are prescribed first and immediately, with lifestyle behaviors touched only obligatorily with the five second, “Oh, and you should probably lose weight and quit smoking,” line your doctor says as he hands you your scrip and walks out the door.

Listen, don’t rely solely on your doctors. They are overworked, and they know that most people won’t comply with suggestions on lifestyle changes (although this is not entirely true, it is a belief of the average medical doctor).  Be good to yourself, take your health into your own hands.  The results are yours and yours alone.  Trust me, there’s never something for nothing.  Nobody can do your exercises for you, and there is no such thing as a magic bullet.  Don’t worry, it’ll be worth all the hard work.

*Thank you Dr. Tim Swift, best chiropractor in San Clemente, for the reminder of my obvious oversight.


Well no doubt that all this talk about health care reform has brought some long overdue can-o-worm opening. Take, for instance, unnecessary surgeries: a medical nuisance of the worst magnitude, and common practice for decades. A recent report discloses that riskier surgeries for low back pain have risen in number and in cost, yet many are unwarranted. Well n-o-o-o chit! You know what they say, “When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

Data on more than 32,000 Medicare patients with low back pain stemming from spinal stenosis (a narrowing of the spinal canal causing a squeezing low back pressure) showed that costlier, more complex spinal fusion surgeries were recommended and performed over a six year period. Less expensive decompression surgeries, costing roughly $20K, were often bypassed for $60-90K spinal fusions, despite the more expensive surgeries having greater complications and even leading to death.

Worse yet, many a spinal fusion was lacking in evidence for appropriateness of care. You don’t say? Our doctors doing the unnecessary? Nah, not McReamy. You bet your assets they are. And I love it, because we chiropractors have known about it for years, and we haven’t been quiet about it, either. We have tried to sway the public toward more natural and highly effective treatment options, but noooo, stay away from them chiropractors, they can hurt you.

Yeah? Listen to these number:

  • Risk of stroke in a $20Kspinal decompression (part of vertebrae hacked out to take pressure off nerve): 1 in 50
  • Risk of stroke in a $80K complex spinal fusion (vertebrae connected and joint removed): 1 in 20
  • Risk of stroke in a $3K round of chiropractic care: 1 in 5.85 million

Frickin’ duh!

According to the study, more than half the patients who had complex fusions had a simple stenosis, which usually calls for decompression alone. Rates of complex fusions in Medicare patients rose 15-fold from 2002-2007, while decompressions declined, and hospital charges grew 40 percent. There have been allegations of kickbacks to spine surgeons for using products of a particular hardware manufacturer. Hey Izzy, them screws you got in ya back sent me and the missus to Reno

Listen, I don’t really think there’s some big conspiracy here: It ain’t rocket science. The medicos are admittedly deficient in their training in treating musculoskeletal issues. Surgery is also notoriously ineffective at relieving low back pain for any significant stretch of time. So why are drugs (equally ineffective) and surgery still the treatments of choice by the cultural health authority? Simple. When all you have is a hammer…

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