October 23, 1998 (Ira Pilgrim)

Changing Your Mind

I liked morphine from the start. It made me graciously tolerant of every form of human imbecility, including my own.

Alexander King

I read an article in the San Francisco Examiner about a book by a psychiatrist who touts the drug Prozac as a new wonder drug. I am not surprised; I've heard that tune many times before. First it was Omar Khayyam touting the virtues of "the grape". In the sixties, it was Timothy Leary on the virtues of "mind expanding" drugs like marijuana and LSD.

The medical profession has never had a dearth of pill and shot pushers. It seems that every few years there is a new wonder drug to cure the ills of mankind. There is a long list from alcohol, to opium, to reserpine to chlorpromazine (Thorazine), halperidol (Haldol), and now fluoxetine (Prozac).

All drugs can be very useful. In the days when I had a house full of very noisy small children, a before dinner drink or two in the evening made my dinners bearable. After a shattered leg, pentobarbital allowed me to sleep for three hours at a stretch. More recently, morphine, oxycodone and hydrocodone allowed me to live in the midst of pain. All of these drugs are beneficial to many people, although some work for some people and do not work for others. Sometimes they have severe, sometimes disastrous, and sometimes lethal, side effects. The relatively innocuous drug alcohol has been directly or indirectly responsible for more deaths and suffering than any drug in history.

When I heard the claims that drugs could "expand your mind," I thought it ridiculous. It was the equivalent of saying that you could alter the music on your stereo by manipulating the volume and tone controls. Sure, you can change the quality of the music by doing that, but you can't add or subtract anything. You can't produce what isn't there. Much of this so-called mind-expanding philosophy of the sixties was reflected in the music of the period, where lousy music was disguised by turning up the bass and volume. The main job of mind altering drugs is to distort reality; the reality of what is, or the reality of what is happening in your brain. The last time that I heard drug guru Timothy Leary speak, he didn't have much of a mind left to expand.

Periodically chemicals are touted that will make you more intelligent. They don't work either.

There are all sorts of things that will alter your mental state: a hot bath, a cold shower, a cup of coffee, silence, music, noise, sex...the list goes on and on. None of these things will add or subtract from what is in your head. Most people who live successfully learn to alter their mental state by things other than drugs. Note that I said "live successfully." Some people who are considered successful live pretty miserable lives. Neither money nor success can buy happiness. Happiness is usually a result of what you do and how you feel about it and the pleasant things that happen to you.

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