September 2, 1994


Reality is a crutch for people who can't cope with drugs.

Lily Tomlin

We are all locked into our own experiences. I have no way of knowing how you feel about something unless you tell me. Still, I, and most people, assume that I would feel the same way that you would feel under the same circumstances.

Any dentist will tell you that there are people whose teeth he can drill on without their feeling much pain. There are others who go through the ceiling at the sound of the drill. It's not just a matter of stoicism or bravery, people feel things differently. There is a rare child who is born without pain sensation. These kids usually don't live to be adults because the normal warnings of physical danger are missing. He might hold a flame to his hands to amaze his friends, not knowing that the flame is destroying his hand.

I know from my own experiences that my reaction to drugs is different from other people and that it can be different for me at different times.

My first reaction to a cigarette was that it made me ill, and my friends delivered me home in less than optimum condition. I later became addicted to nicotine and then kicked the addiction when I found out that it would probably kill me.

I used to find that one beer was enough to relax me and loosen my inhibitions. Then, for a period of my life, it didn't seem to matter how much I drank, it would have no effect. If I drank a lot, I would feel no effect, but would end up with a hangover.

I took part in a legal experiment in which I was given what was considered an average dose of marijuana, by mouth. I have never been so drunk in my life, nor as hung over on the following day. Marijuana users tell me that that's not supposed to happen. Later, when I tried smoking some, it made me nauseous. So much for the benefits of marijuana.

Opiates give me a wonderful feeling, followed by physical addiction and withdrawal symptoms afterwards. They affect me so profoundly, even in very small amounts, that I have to avoid them; unless I reach a stage in my life when addiction doesn't really matter -that is, if I'm dying.

What this essay is about is not how I react to drugs, but to deal with the commonly held belief that people react similarly to the same substances.

When I took a course in human genetics, the professor distributed small pieces of paper that were impregnated with PTC(phenyl thiocarbamide). People who have the gene for tasting this substance find it very bitter. People without the gene taste nothing at all. That sounds sort of like Zen and the sound of one hand clapping. Can you not-taste a bitter substance? This is one of a number of well defined genetic differences.

We are all different. To do things, or take drugs, based on the assumption that we are all the same is not only foolish, but very dangerous. Yet, that assumption is made often. For some people, their lives end then and there.

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