Friday, November 18, 2011

Layer 496 . . . Thunder, Euphoria, Spiritual Transcendence, Connectedness, Rev, Ecstacy, Adam, Colin, The War On Drugs and Tackling The Causes

Maybe everybody should get blissfully stoned at least a few times in their life - if only to have some sort of benchmark against which to assess other states of bliss, or ecstacy.

I was thinking about this whilst listening to Pink Floyd's Delicate Sound of Thunder live CD - and getting carried away by the sheer genius of the musicianship and the performance. To say nothing of the incredible music itself - and the sublety of the lyrics.

There's no instrument that can do the things an amplified guitar can do, and no musician who can do them better than Dave Gilmour. To be in an audience when his band does its thing is bliss indeed - although listening to a CD through decent speakers or quality headphones can get you there as well.

One of the things I think I've learned in life is that the only worthwhile and sustainable highs are natural highs. Drugs are not only unreliable and potentially dangerous - they can even prevent natural highs occurring, to say nothing of many unpleasant and harmful side effects.

We do all seem to need, however, heightened states of spiritual transcendence, in which we feel intense wellbeing, connectedness and gladness in being alive. Sometimes it might take only a walk in a place of beauty to get you there; sometimes you can feel it sitting in front of a log fire watching flames flickering; sometimes music will take you there.


In this week's episode of "Rev" (BBC2) the eponymous Rev - Adam Smallbone played by Tom Hollander - inadvertently takes Ecstacy (MDMA), which has been diluted in a whisky and ouzo cocktail and given to him by Adam's fruitcake parishoner, Colin.

Consequently the Rev becomes blissfully stoned - which is a real contrast to his usual state of fretfulness, frustration and anxiety.
MDMA can induce euphoria, a sense of intimacy with others, and diminished anxiety.
- Wikipedia
Adam does indeed float away on a cloud of euphoria, feels enormous closeness and intimacy with everyone, and loses his anxiety.

"I'm off my tits, Lord. This is wonderful. I love you, Lord. I love your world and all the people in it."

Sounds OK, but the problem is he's not able to function in his job, and the comedown isn't too pleasant either. Colin tells him, "You'll be best off drinking through it."

Prior to experiencing the drug-induced high, Adam had tried explaining to Colin what it feels like to experience "God's love" - "I feel a sense of peace, a real sense of connection to others, and an absence of anything bad. There are moments when I feel like I'm surfing on a great wave of hope and love."

"A bit like doing Ecstacy, then?" says Colin.

"No. And most importantly you feel part of a huge loving family . . ."

"So it's exactly like doing Ecstacy then!"

"No! What I'm talking about is a permanent spiritual state that underpins my entire being."

"Have you ever taken an E?"

"No, Colin. Mind-altering substances aren't that big in the Church of England."

"Apart from drink. All vicars drink loads. And you smoke fags."


People like Colin will always take drugs, until they decide not to. Why? See above. They can make you feel good, and can make life feel bearable, and sometimes wonderful. They can also seriously mess up your life, especially through impurity. Proper control and regulation of the trade in drugs would at least deal with the impurity issue. But there are other reasons for adopting a more enlightened approach to the trade in drugs. You can't actually prevent young people, in particular, being curious about drugs, and wanting to experience their effects. Some people have to actually experience the downside of drugs in order to decide to no longer to use them.

The war on drugs is a waste of time

It is not only very expensive and misdirected activity, but counterproductive and harmful..

by Tom Lloyd, former chief constable

Despite all the money and effort poured into the so-called "war on drugs", the inexorable spread of drugs and the accompanying damage is powerful testament to failure. What we are doing is not only very expensive and misdirected activity, but actively counterproductive and harmful.

If your child was found in possession of drugs, would you want them to be arrested, charged and convicted (with all the stigma that entails) or advised, supported and treated if necessary? Every drug user is someone's child and, sadly, often the victim of emotional, physical and sexual abuse.

Drug-taking blocks the pain and yet we ostracise and criminalise rather than understand and support. "Drugs are bad, ban them!" is an easy mantra, but it ignores the history of alcohol prohibition in the US and our own recent experience of spending more than £10bn a year on the criminal justice system and losing more than £15bn to crime that has merely accompanied the rise in the drug trade. The criminals make around £6bn a year. They are the success story.

Nowhere in the country is free from drugs and the associated crime epidemic. Criminals continue to make huge profits, corroding and corrupting public and private lives. They target each new generation of children and create addicts who are ostracised, become diseased and die unnecessarily.

More recently, I have been working abroad and the problems that exist worldwide are recognised at the highest levels, with most acknowledging the harmful unintended consequences of the current approach. A huge criminal market (with enormous financial incentives) has been created using corruption and violence to make its huge profits.

The Swiss people voted by a two-thirds majority last year to ratify their successful heroin prescription programme as official government policy. For 15 years, heroin has been prescribed in special clinics under controlled conditions, resulting in less crime, death and disease and fewer new users. After this "medicalisation" heroin is no longer cool. Importantly, of the previously hopeless individuals many now hold down a job and live normal family lives. All we have managed is three trial runs, obviously successful, involving just over 100 heroin users. This is good news, but we must move more quickly.

As we wring our hands and close our eyes to the lessons from abroad, delay in expanding heroin prescribing will inevitably lead to more people who will die, contract HIV and Hepatitis C, continue to commit crime and prostitute themselves to feed their habits.

Prosecuting users is misguided and counterproductive; prosecuting dealers without tackling demand or their profits does not work. If the money wasted on misinformation, low-level enforcement and condemnation had been spent on tackling the underlying causes, so many blighted lives could have been different. There are other options, but sadly we cannot hold a rational public debate as serving officers or politicians who dare challenge the "war on drugs" orthodoxy justifiably fear being pilloried by our national press.

Politicians will not even conduct a cost-effectiveness analysis of the current approach. The drug policy thinktank Transform has calculated savings of up to £14bn a year if drugs were controlled and regulated. It's not as if we could not do with the money.

So, where are we? Law enforcement spending is up, criminal profits are up but drug use is also up. The game's up!

We know that we must change and we also know that police officers like to make things happen. This is the time for police leaders throughout the world to challenge the status quo and focus resources on serious, organised criminals, not blighted users, and to focus on harm reduction not some pie-in-the-sky dream of a drug-free society. Where they lead, politicians will follow.


"Tackling the underlying causes." 

If the underlying causes of drug use are curiosity and a search for alternative ways to experience reality; if they're the seeking of fun and good times; if they're self-medication for feeling physical, mental and emotional pain - then you can forget about "tackling" these causes. There's no way in the world to eradicate them.

If, however, the underlying causes are poverty or feelings of uselessness and worthlessness, then there are lots of things we need to do to tackle such things. Some of the answers are economic and financial; some are related to inadequate education and parenting.

If the cause is a need to feel a sense of peace, or a real sense of connection to others, to feel closeness and intimacy - then there is plenty we can and should do. Personal,emotional, and social intelligence are within everyone's grasp - give or take a few psychopaths.

If the need is to feel what some Buddhists call 'satori' - spiritual ecstacy or bliss - then we need to offer much better opportunities to understand and to develop spiritual intelligence.

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