Brain Chemistry and Drugs
The huge consumption of drugs and alcohol in this country probably indicates that our modern life style robs us of our quota of euphoria. Our days at school or work are either of a continuing stressful nature or are hopelessly monotonous or both. We do not live in a manner that gives us healthy, mild swings in activity. Instead, we run like crazy in one direction, and then we drug ourselves in the other. Why drugs and other poisons?
To find the answer we must gather together our little red, yellow, pink and white puzzle pieces, put them in an apothecary jar, shake them up, then see what rolls out. In our search for the causes of behavior, our path must cross a few dark alleys, a place or two where the sun rarely shines, where temptation waits patiently in her silent cunning, waiting to reach out of the shadows and grab...... But wait, what is the temptation and why would it exist? If it's bad for us, it would reduce our survival and evolution would surely eliminate it. What possible reason could there be for the observation that people consume alcohol and drugs to their physical detriment, and for what end, but to make themselves feel good? But if nature designed euphoria as a reward for good, healthful behavior, why then do we feel good when we drug or medicate ourselves? The answer lies in the very simplicity of nature's design. Man, sly devil that he is, has found a few unhealthful ways to short circuit the system. In order to demonstrate how this is done, it is necessary to first go into a little more detail about how the system works.
The brain is a beautifully designed machine. It must receive, organize and form a logical reality out of the information chaos. It not only manages to do this, but it does it for numerous separate functions simultaneously. In order for man to walk and chew gum at the same time, it is necessary for the brain to organize its functioning by two types of processes. First, the brain uses the process of excitation. Whatever information the brain receives is passed on and eventually used or expressed. Second, the brain uses the process of inhibition. At some point along its pathway, the information is kept from being expressed. Both of these processes require mental energy.
In order to paint a beautiful picture, it is necessary to decide what is important to put in the painting and where the colors of paint should begin and end. Choices as to what to use and what not to use must made. The brain simply could not function if it used or expressed all the information that it received. On and off, stop and go, are tools to organization. They are tools used everywhere in nature, and they are important tools to the brain.
Inhibition requires mental energy, but that energy is difficult to test because it is not expressed. If the energy required to cause inhibition is lost, then excitation will often result and this energy can be tested because it is expressed. Because of this phenomenon, two of the outcomes from the taking of many psychoactive drugs may be explained, euphoria and hallucination. This combination occurs at two other times in nature without taking drugs. It can occur in the schizophrenic personality and it can be induced in any normal person by simply removing external stimulation for a long period of time. The common condition caused by many psychoactive drugs, alcohol, schizophrenia, and stimulus deprivation must be a falling mental energy level. The falling energy either results in or is caused by the progressive loss of neural activity. If the energy dropped, removing inhibitors and excitors equally, nothing of much note would happen to the personality except that he would gradually lose his ability to function and eventually would lose consciousness. This does not seem to be the case. The experience may stimulate many emotions including euphoria, and a mild to extreme hallucination may occur. Emotion is stimulated by a wave in the mental energy and not by a simply falling energy level (which if steep would cause only depression). The reason for the wave of energy is that inhibitors are lost before excitors. While inhibitors are necessary to the quality of life, excitors are necessary to life itself.
The Hallucinogenic wave is due to the loss of inhibitors, which for a period of time allows an abnormally large number of excitors to be expressed before they too are lost. This results in an observable increase in energy even though the actual mental energy level has decreased. Due to the loss of inhibitors the quality of perception or reality may be lost. Perception is often distorted and much subconscious or dream-like information may pass into the conscious area. Unfortunately, all of this is frequently accompanied by a euphoric wave; therefore the person may enjoy the experience immensely. However, occasionally the subconscious may pass a nightmare-like piece of information to the conscious, or the rise and fall in mental energy is so steep that bad feelings result. It should be remembered that the Hallucinogenic wave might be very small and result in only a small excitement from the loss of a few inhibitors. This often happens after a small amount of alcohol has been consumed; and it is the main reason for the euphoria that the alcohol may produce.
Drugs, in our culture, seem to have acquired the unfortunate adjective of "wonder". There are times when drugs may truly be wonderful, but I know of no drug that does not have unfortunate side effects. Drugs should be used only when necessary and then only with caution, because a price is always paid for their benefits. Many drugs work by simply inhibiting one of the body's natural responses. That makes most drugs poisons, the reason why only very small amounts are taken. This brings risks that should be weighed against benefits.
Among the psychoactive drugs, their classification into stimulants or depressants is often made. And further, it is found that these drugs often work by enhancing, mimicking, or depressing the transmitter molecules that act upon nervous tissue at the level of the synapse in the brain. If the body recognized the drug as a natural compound, such as a neural transmitter, it would likely undergo enzymatic destruction long before it ever reached the receptor site to do its thing. The true transmitters are protected in membrane sacs, called synaptic vesicles, to prevent just such a destructive fate, until they have done their job. The very resistance that drugs seem to possess attests to the fact that they do not behave naturally within the body. These drugs often act by combining with the natural receptor site on the cell, which blocks further action by a true psychoactive compound. Any upset of the system can result in a problem since everything in the brain is carefully regulated and related to everything else. Since the brain uses many different psychoactive compounds in the various brain areas, the different psychoactive mimicking drugs (chemical analogues to natural compound) would disturb different areas of the brain resulting in different psychic effects. These drugs are truly foreign toxic substances and in the last analysis the body eventually treats them that way, which is where the process of drug tolerance or addiction comes into the picture. There is little or no scientific evidence for disorders of brain chemistry imbalance and certainly the consumption of a psychoactive mimicking drug would not fix the problem if there were.
The organs of the body possess a great capacity for adjusting to adverse conditions, and the brain is no exception to this rule. With continued use, many psychoactive drugs become less effective; and the personality actually seems to become dependent on the drug to function properly. This gradual adaptation means that increasing amounts of the drug must be taken in order to get its original effects. The reason for this is because the threshold of effectiveness of the inhibitors and excitors is lowered in order that they may continue to work normally in the presence of the drug. In other words, one ends up with super-inhibitors and super-excitors.
Upon removal of the drug, the super-inhibitors and the super-excitors must return to normal. The super-inhibitors lose their low threshold of effectiveness first, leaving the super-excitors free to cause withdrawal symptoms, which may be large, painful and hallucinogenic. (It must be remembered that it is the excitors that are necessary to life and therefore the super-inhibitors must revert to normal first.) Withdrawal from the drug makes a good analogy with the story of the person who pushes against a door and it doesn't open. So he pushes harder and harder. He moves to the other end of the room and runs to push against the door. This is what the body does when it works in the presence of the drug. In the meantime, someone has opened the door from the other side (withdrawal of the drug). One gets a huge, uncontrolled burst of energy through the door.
From our discussion of drugs, it is seen that drug addiction can be both psychological, due to the euphoric waves of energy, and physical, due to the body's adjustment in order to function in the presence of the drug. Nature has given us a natural little reward system that we apparently often ignore, and then we replace it with drugs and alcohol. Actually a better, longer lasting euphoria can be acquired from a sensible, well-planned day. It is a good lesson to watch people when they are at play, such as at a picnic or on a vacation. If they are enjoying themselves, they form beautiful, natural rhythms of activity, rest. No one can deny that those are the times when one feels good. A classic example of this might be a day at the beach which might involve the following cycles: go to the beach --- rest (sunbathe) --- play volley ball --- rest --- eat lunch --- rest --- swim --- rest --- go home --- rest --- eat dinner --- rest. This is the end of a perfect day, and here you thought it was that nice suntan that made you feel so good!
As we function in life, we work toward our goals to receive a euphoric reward and pleasure. However, rest is also necessary to our health. Therefore, nature regulates our activities further by injecting a shot of pain whenever we travel in one direction too quickly or for too long. It then appears likely that certain rhythms of mental activity stimulate the brain's pleasure center, and the lack of these rhythms, a monotonous, rapid or prolonged increase or decrease in mental energy stimulates the pain of anxiety or depression. If one isolates that mental energy to just the stimulation caused by sound waves, an analogy may be drawn. Listening to the rhythms of music can create euphoria. On the other hand, it can quickly become quite painful to the ear if one listens to a continuous loud or monotonous sound. Sound, after all, merely excites brain tissue to fire, much as does all perceptual stimulation. It is likely that sound is not the only stimulus who's rhythm creates emotion. If one watches his change in feelings over the period of a short activity, many of these principals can be shown to be true. For example, last 4th of July, as I sat quietly in the dark waiting for the fireworks to begin, I noticed that I felt a slight depression. When the fireworks began, I experienced a large rush of euphoria, as my eyes and ears were excited. With the continuation of the fireworks, I began to feel a slight anxiety, and my euphoria subsided. When the fireworks stopped, I again felt a mild euphoria. My feelings changed with the rhythm of the activity. The boredom before the show began was followed by the euphoria of the show, which continued only until its duration began to exceed a natural rhythm of my brain, at which time a small pain set in. When the stimulation stopped, I was again, momentarily rewarded by pleasant feelings.
Every time we do an activity, our motivation is to receive, at some point, a euphoria reward or, at some point, to avoid pain. If we do an activity often, and if we receive enough euphoria rewards, we may begin to feel the positive emotion of love for that which produces those rewards. One can do a great deal of activity with an inanimate object, and one can receive a great deal of euphoria from that object. It certainly can be observed, in this case, that the personality will develop the emotion of love for the object. Just watch some people's behavior toward their car, if you doubt that this is true. Love, then, is a direct result of activity and euphoria. It would seem natural to love that which makes us feel good. This idea fits in very well with the description of love between human beings, because human relationships involve a large amount of activity, remembering that even conversations are an activity. The quality of the relationship and the quality of the resultant love, then, depends of the quality of the activities that two human beings share. There is one form of the emotion of love in which the love ball is started rolling by nature, and that is the love between a mother and child. This feeling is physically stimulated and put into operation at a particular point after birth. However, from that point on, love develops between mother and child by the activity-euphoria method. Taking care of a baby (or a pet for that matter) is very cyclic. One must give frequent attention to the tiny intruder, and this can result in a series of pleasant activities, such as nursing, playing and caring for one's offspring. The love between parent and child, if nature has her way, should be a pleasant experience for both parties. It should be remembered that a child has two parents, and that father-love grows and becomes important as he cares for his growing family also.