From time immemorial mankind has been prolific in finding things in nature that can alter the body and mind. It may well have started early on when the ‘homo’ species found out that certain plants and organisms could be used to beneficial effect – clear sickness, help mend broken bones, provoke sleep, or cause mind changing experiences.
In the modern era, this wonderful 21st Century, we still come across the use of so called ‘natural remedies’ and ‘alternative medicine’, using long ago fixes for our ails. This is despite the exponential growth of so called ‘conventional’ medicine, the never-ending supply of powerful medicating drugs, and the explosion of knowledge about human anatomy and its workings – so we can now replace most internal organs including hearts, transplant limbs and hands or even faces, as well as provide artificial attachments controlled by the mind!
Ah, but mankind is still not satisfied with life – it has everything but still wants more, and wishes to play god and screw up lives galore [a situation reminiscent of the Bible story of Adam & Eve and their compulsion to eat the forbidden fruit – the apple]. So exactly what is mankind up to now? It is DRUGS.
For a start there is Cocaine. This is a white powder drug obtained from the leaves of the coca plant (South America producers Peru & Bolivia). It is one of the most addictive substances known to man. At high doses it is more dangerous than similar substances and can cause a heart attack and sudden death. It is a so called ‘stimulant’ – that means in reality that it gives users a powerful ‘high’ (involving a rush of perceived alertness, energy, well-being, sexuality, competence, and euphoria). As the effects wear off, well within the hour, users get the other end of the pendulum, the ‘low’ (providing a comedown with possible critical heart difficulties, restlessness, paranoia, convulsions, hallucinations, anxiety, tremors, and sweating). Its lesser effects are to be an appetite suppressant and an anaesthetic in low doses.
It causes changes to brain cells and though unsurprisingly it is a highly controlled narcotic, it is used as a “recreational drug,” with users normally smoking it (resulting in chest, lung & throat problems etc), or snorting it (creating acid which destroys the cartilage between the nostrils), or sometimes injecting it (with audio problems and an immediate ‘ringing in the ears’ effect). A derivative is ‘crack cocaine’, incorporating baking soda, which makes the noise when vaporised by heating – a vapour then inhaled by the user.
Cocaine in primate leaf form has been around for a thousand years or more, and in more modern form a couple of hundred years, but today it is a powerful nervous system stimulant that has become a widespread addiction around the World, even in the poorest societies (with the sale of crack), ruining lives and communities – costing countries hundreds of billions of dollars. It is a UK Class A illegal drug, smuggled and distributed by criminal gangs, and sold by low-life criminals on street corners
Then of course we still have readily available the pseudo-legal drug of Tobacco. This is a drug, originating in America made from dried plant leaves, widely grown in many hot countries including India, America, & Turkey, which when smoked produces the moderately addictive substance nicotine, as well as other extremely harmful by products in the smoke. It is also commonly made into merchandise for chewing, snorting/sniffing, or dipping/rubbing. It has become a widely abused psychoactive drug (it crosses the blood-brain barrier to act on the central nervous system). It is another ‘recreational drug’ with consumers’ brain function affected (altering mood, behaviour, perception, cognition and consciousness): users find its effects pleasant with apparent benefits like alertness, but however there are associated serious negative consequences and significant health risks (including some 6 million deaths a year worldwide).
Its use develops into a cycle of physical dependency, which has been religiously and cruelly exploited by tobacco producers to secure ongoing sales. The cigarette and the Tobacco Industry are two accomplices in the crime of killing. Consumption of tobacco has been driven up by rigorous advertising campaigns by the tobacco product manufacturers – initially in the developed world, and because that market started to recede, now in the developing countries (they are making many many thousand millions pounds profit every year). A third of the World’s adult population, a billion people, have been seduced into regularly using tobacco, and this drug is the single greatest cause of preventable death – diseases of lungs, liver, heart, brain (strokes), and presenting a high risk of cancers in many parts of the body. Leading the field in terms of individual consumption we have the Czechs the South Koreans, and the Germans.
It took breakthrough British scientific research in the 1950s to provide evidence that tobacco was a key health hazard & cancer driver (although known about though for some 25 years!). Proof was met with vigorous flat denials by the greed driven tobacco industry and even more strenuous efforts to sell their products to unsuspecting individuals. In more recent times hundreds of counties have enacted legislation to try to put a break on consumption and mitigate harmful effects that include ‘passive smoking’ by children & non-smokers – so we have seen banning of smoking in workplaces, on transport, and in public areas; restrictions on advertising & marketing, and point of sale promotions.
The estimated cost of dealing medically with smoke-related illnesses in Britain alone is possibly £5billion, with lung cancer the biggest killer from 3 thousand people contracting cancer each year – smokers risk more than 50 serious health conditions (some fatal, others causing irreversible damage). The estimated world cost for health care, and other losses like productivity, due to the smoking habit is a mind-blowing colossal 500 billion dollars! Nevertheless tobacco sale remains perfectly legal and legitimate in the UK and in most parts of the World! [though the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan banned sales of tobacco in 2004 – the first to impose such a ban; so what about the rest of us?].
That being said, is there anything worse about? Oh yes, there certainly is. It is a drug that is much more predacious, much more damaging, much more pernicious, much more invasionous, much more malicious, and much more invidious.
Yet, it is a drug legally manufactured without restriction or constraint on a worldwide basis. A drug freely available in the marketplace. A drug that is legitimately and openly sold without any significant restrictions. A drug that is utterly cheap. A drug available to the masses including the most impoverished in their societies. A drug that is frequently addictive. A drug that is available in untold quantities. A drug that is frequently taken by its users to excess on a regular basis – habitually by the most affluent (as is common with most drub abuse).
This drug, though a legal substance, is a scourge of many societies in many lands (involving violence and criminality by users), but supply doesn’t involve the criminal fraternity– so readily available that there is no need or significant profit you see! It destroys families and communities without any direct criminal activity in availability – but users frequently themselves are involved in crime. Its use is characterised by open abuse and unabashed public utilization, in addition to extensive use in private. Nevertheless it is a potentially lethal substance, with a mammoth human toll, annually killing two and a half million people globally, and damaging the health of far far more countless individuals. It has become a $1 trillion global business, with no halt to the trend of death and destruction – and certainly no prosecutions or criminal convictions resulting.
Major abuse of this drug results in severe ill health conditions and death with a prevalence of heart decease/attacks, strokes, organ failure, cancer, anaemia, depression, dementia, seizures, gout, high blood pressure, infections, nerve damage, and stomach problems etc, as well as social consequences including random violence, poverty, trauma, abuse, family breakup, unemployment, and often homelessness.
In Britain the drug is responsible for some two percent of all deaths, and has killed some half a million souls in the past ten years. Disconcertingly, the number of annual deaths are steadily increasing (1 ½ times over the past 20 years), and now number over 8 thousand yearly. Healthcare for addicts and abusers, together with criminal acts resulting, are now costing our economy some twenty billion pounds every year. What a shameful waste isn’t it?
This drug is favoured by all ages from young to old, but the middle aged are proving to be the most frightening age group, with three times increases in addiction problems over the past five years, and with them now making up twenty percent of the hospitalisations of all types of drug abusers. [This drug has replaced heroin/smack (an addictive opioid made from poppies: medically used for severe pain, but abused as a recreational drug – so in the UK is Class A restricted) as the main substance abuse problem In Britain].
In these modern times the World faces a silent but deadly pandemic on this drug, but with eyes firmly shut, and without any drug laws to tackle the immense problem. In Britain only a tenth of the money spent on other individual drug dependants is spent on this drug’s abusers – in other countries it has a higher priority but nevertheless is a hidden and relatively ignored problem. It is a disaster in the making that will surely engulf all the most vulnerable.
[Oh sorry – the name of this ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’ drug? Alcohol of course]