Drug Use

As many people probably know already, last week the DEA refused to reschedule marijuana. They will continue to view weed as a “Schedule 1 Drug”, which means it “is a dangerous substance that has no recognized medical use and that has a high potential for abuse”. There are lots of problems with this that should infuriate people of all political persuasions… Conservatives should be angry that an un-elected federal bureaucracy is going to enforce rules against states that have found overwhelming medical use for weed. Liberals should be angry (and in my experience they are) at the erosion of civil liberties, particularly against people of color, by militarized police all because of the War on (Some) Drugs. (I do find it kind of strange that conservatives, who claim to be Constitutionalists, tend to just ignore the violations of several amendments in the Bill of Rights because of the war on drugs… but whatever).

The crazy, evil, tyrannical War on Drugs is not really what I wanted to talk about. I am more interested on how those of us are fighting the war on drugs could learn from the ridiculous ruling by the DEA.

In my experience, the government overplayed it’s hand with the war on drugs and made an entire generation skeptical of the dangers of drug use. I was part of the DARE generation who faced fear-based propoganada when it came to drugs, particularly weed. I was told that weed would drive me insane, I wouldn’t be successful, and just smoking it once will ruin my life. As I go older I realized that weed won’t drive me insane, you can win gold medals and start revolutionary businesses while smoking weed, and generally the only way weed ruins your life is if you get caught with it (the drug itself isn’t that bad). Once I realized the government lied about weed, it made me wonder if they lied about other drugs as well (particularly MDMA and psychedelics, which always appealed to me).

So yes, marijuana is a gateway drug, but only because the government built that gateway and started waving everyone in. If DARE had been based on harm-reduction and actual science then it could have been an effective way to minimize addiction and deter people from irresponsible use.But, instead, the government decided to show us eggs being hit with frying pans. We were told that our brain on drugs was scrambled, but then we met people who used all sorts of drugs and their lives were just fine.

Unfortunately, I think a lot of people fighting against the drug war go too far in the other direction. Some (not all, and maybe not even the majority) of people view many drugs as harmless, particularly weed. Hell, it is even sold to us as a panacea that can cure everything under the sun. Yes, there are medicinal benefits, but it is not a cure-all, and there are risk associated with it (as there is with everything). Pretending those risks don’t exist only supports the government.

When it comes to healthy behavior with weed (or MDMA, shrooms, video games, exercise, or anything that can be an addictive activity) we shouldn’t pretend that it is harmless. If I had a friend who woke up in the morning and the first thing they did was take a shot of vodka to get a buzz going and then all day took frequent breaks to keep it going and then after work went to happy hour only to stumble home drunk nearly every night, I would see that as a problem. It may not be destroying their lives, they may be relatively happy and healthy, but that need for persistent reality modification would raise red flags for me, and a I think many people would agree. But, if that behavior was weed instead (wake and bake, spliffs all day, bong rips when you get home, etc) we kind of laugh about it and pretend it is harmless, and maybe it is harmless for the moment, but it is still a red flag if someone feels the need for a drug to get through the days. There are already addictions that we can’t avoid (water, food, air, etc), adding more onto them only reduces our freedom and autonomy. If there is a drive to do something from morning until night, that might be a problem, whether that thing is alcohol, weed, exercise, working, or playing video games.

I think everyone should be able to peacefully do whatever they wish with their bodies (which includes their minds). It is a gross violation of our rights to say we can’t take drugs, preventing someone from taking a drug is making the claim that you own their life, their body, their mind. It is to claim them as your slave and property. But, that doesn’t mean we should ignore our friends if they are engaging in harmful or destructive behavior, and we certainly shouldn’t make the claim that because something is our right that it is completely harmless or shouldn’t be done in moderation.

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Will I Have Regrets?

The modern philosopher T.K. Coleman recently published a blog post that really struck me. The whole thing can be found here and it is really short (as his musing tend to be). It is this final paragraph get me thinking:

When your time on this earth runs out, you don’t want to be one of the ones who say “I wish I hadn’t spent so much time making nuanced arguments in the comments section of a Facebook post I didn’t really care that much about.”

It makes me wonder, is this what the new generation is going to regret in the future? Our parents and grandparents lament spending so much time at the office, but we seem to have traded the work office for social media. Instead of grinding away like a cog in a machine in order to make money to buy things we don’t need, we sit in a chair and scream at a screen in order to try and change minds that won’t listen.

The generation alive today has more access to leisure and a higher standard of living than has ever been seen in the history of humankind, and many of us (myself included) spend time and mental resources trying to change minds or surrounding ourselves in a like-minded online circle jerk where we feel superior to the dumb masses who won’t listen to our wisdom.

There are exceptions, of course, as there are with all things. Social media can be an amazing tool that makes our lives better. I have been exposed to incredible conversations, met some amazing people, and had my life expanded in uncountable ways because of the internet. I wouldn’t have the political and spiritual beliefs I have without the internet. I wouldn’t have found comfort when I was struggling with my bisexual feelings without the internet. I wouldn’t have found a partner who desires sexual variety that can include other people without the internet. I wouldn’t have discovered the healing power of MDMA and other drugs without the internet.

But, the internet (and the social media it includes) is a tool that can cut both ways. It is a chef’s knife that can cut vegetables to provide nurishment for the body or it can be used to slit the wrists of yourself and others. Dosage matters, intention matters, and how responsible and healthy we are when we use this tool matters.

I won’t be giving up Facebook, but I do know that it can be a drug for me that damages my life. It can make my life worse, so I put up blocks to prevent me from having future regrets. The app on my computer keeps my time on Facebook to less than 45 minutes and I’ve deleted Facebook from my phone. I know my areas of weakness. Maybe if I lived 50 years ago I would be a workaholic and my life would have been a shadow of what it could have been. Today, I could easily be a Facebookaholic and neglect my relationships and my own life for the short-term positive feedback of seeing  a new “like” or the feeling of superiority that comes from having people agree with you in an echo-chamber.

Recognition is half the battle. I know my areas of weakness and who I desire to be. I know that my life will be better off if I go for a walk on the beach, read some books on science or poetry or Buddhism or evolution or psychology, meditate, write, exercise, make new friends, flirt with new people, or try some new sex stuff. Life should be experienced with all the senses, our energy should go towards maximizing our potential, not staring at a work ledger or refreshing Facebook newsfeeds.

My Worst Addiction

Yesterday, an acquaintance of mine wrote this blog post which really resonated with me. The post discusses his relationship with politics and political news and is well worth the short read. For me, my relationship with politics has become increasingly painful. What used to be an exciting hobby (or even a career passion) has become a source of pain and discomfort.

The more rational I get about politics the more I realize it is a waste of my time, particularly when it comes to sharing political news. Not only is it a waste of my time, it is something that is actively making my life worse. It sucks up my time, makes me angry, and reinforces an “us vs them” tribe mentality. Make no mistake, politics is a drug (especially in the form of Facebook). I know that not all drugs are equal, and some can be incredibly beneficial. My own use of MDMA makes me open to experimentation and I recognize the benefits.

The problem forms when the drug starts to take over your life. When the need to argue with people (even though it won’t change anyone’s mind) or the desire to have the most updated news (even though it literally doesn’t matter) starts to interfere with your health, career, and life. News can actually have value if it leads to other positive change. If you find out about a natural disaster and donate blood or money, that is a wonderful use of news, but that doesn’t require hours of scrolling Facebook each day. This is something that Tim Ferris talks about in his book “4 Hour Work Week”, if news is important then you will find out about it, you don’t need to go searching. It is a waste of time to need minute-to-minute updates on the world, 99% of what you encounter will have no effect on your life and will be completely irrelevant in a matter of days or hours.

When I realize I’ve spent three hours on Facebook scrolling and sharing articles instead of meditating, writing, working out, going for a walk, having sex with my partner, reading, studying, sleeping, socializing with friends, or working, then I have a problem. When I feel the impulsive need to check certain websites the moment I wake up, or “just one more time” while lying in bed, then I have an addiction. When I have a regretful hangover at the end of the day when I realize I didn’t do the things I wanted to do or that I didn’t take care of my personal health, then I have a problem. Politics has stopped being a hobby and started becoming heroin*… and maybe worse, I’ve become a drug dealer to those I care about.

So, I think it is time to make another focused effort at weaning myself of the drug. I love Facebook for a lot of things, including getting news that is positive (we live in the safest, most awesome time in human history and science is doing some fucking awesome things) and communicating with friends, but it is terrible for true change in the world. Sharing an article about the homeless issues that effect LGBT individuals replaces volunteering at a shelter to help those individuals. Sharing an article about yoga replaces going to a yoga studio. Sharing an article with writing tips replaces actual writing. Facebook allows us to signal who we are without actually producing anything of value. Sharing a post is literally the least you can do to help change the world.

I know, despite my best efforts, I will probably back chasing that political dragon looking for a fix. But that’s okay, the effort matters and with effort, support from family and friends, and some tools (ie StayFocused app on Chrome) I can improve my life. Research on addiction shows that it isn’t as much about the drug as it is about the community, if I can build a community without politics then I can escape it’s clutches and focus my creative energy on something of actual value, something that actually matters. Hopefully, the community that I have will stay with me if I shake of politics completely, I would like to imagine our friendship is deeper than libertarianism.

*I actually kind of hate using heroin as the evil drug example. I know people who use heroin recreationally without any addiction, and I’m not really in a place to judge other’s drug of choice. Hell, their use of heroin is healthier than my use of politics and some of my food habits. But, it is the drug that most people are familiar with as having a really high level of addictiveness. Maybe I should have used nicotine instead…

Addiction

I’m not a huge supporter of the 12-step model to help with addiction. I know it helps some people, but it doesn’t seem to address the root of the problems, and I find the need for a “higher power” to be problematic. That being said, a variation of the first step has some value: admitting that there is a problem.

Being on the bike ride has highlighted some of the addictions that I have in my life. When you are outside of a normal, stable life you start to crave some of the addictions. For me, the two primary addictions appear to be the internet and beer. I am not an alcoholic, I don’t get drunk, but I do drink beer regularly enough that I miss it and find it hard to concentrate on work if I am not drinking. I’ve started substituting tea for beer while working and that helps a bit, I think it is more of an oral fixation than anything else.

As for the internet, that addiction is causing me some problems. I find it hard to sleep at night if I don’t watch Netflix first, but opening up a computer to watch a show (and the inevitable rabbit hole that is Facebook) makes it more difficult for me to sleep. It becomes this vicious cycle where I need to watch something mindless like The Office to sleep but using my computer makes sleep difficult. Next thing I know it is 3am and moments of my life have wasted away.

The bike ride helps somewhat, I am usually pretty physically tired by the end of the day. The limited amount of electricity available to me (not to mention limited data on my phone) means that I’m not dicking around online before bed. Instead, when the sun sets I lay down and drift to sleep. I do experience cravings from time to time, like a compulsion to refresh my Facebook browser or surf political sites.

To be honest, I’m not sure what to do to stop this. I think recognizing the problem does help though. Research into drug addiction points to having a purpose in life as a key to breaking the addiction. The actual drug has very little hold on the body and mind, even for heavy drugs like nicotine and heroin. The key is to find a social community and life purpose that replaces the drug. In short, you find an addiction that makes your life better instead of worse.

My need for beer while working and the internet is a pretty weak addiction. I’m not going to lose my job, my partnership, or my life because of them. But, eliminating this addiction and freeing myself from an outside force would make my life better. I just don’t know how exactly to do that yet.

The Myth of Sex Addiction

I just finished “The Myth of Sex Addiction” by David J. Ley. The book was pretty good and I recommend it if you have an interest in sexuality or psychology. As you can probably tell from the title Ley does not believe sex addiction is a real thing. Though, like a good scientist, he is skeptical and more of a sex addiction agnostic than atheist. His main complaint is that the people who treat sexual behavior as an addiction have not done anything to prove that is an appropriate label, or that their treatments work.

The definition(s) of sex addiction are numerous and they often include conflicting definitions or definitions so broad and arbitrary that it tells you nothing. For example, seven orgasms a week is considered a sex addiction. Well, that is just a normal week for some men who masturbate daily (particularly during the teen years) and can be one sexual session for some women I’ve been with. Placing an arbitrary number, absent any other factors and without any peer-reviewed data, in order to make money off of the diagnoses is not medicine, it is fraud.

The truth is, there have not been any research done to properly determine if sex can be addictive, much less what that would look like or how to properly treatment. “Sex addiction” is mostly an unholy alliance between people who don’t want to take responsibility for their actions, a “medical” industry that is mostly religious but makes millions of dollars annually, and a modern media that cares more about sensation than journalism. It is sexy and good for ratings to focus on the sexual exploits of the rich and powerful, and the rich and powerful (particularly white) are the ones diagnosed as sex addicts. Sex addiction is a privileged diagnoses for those that can afford it.

Ley’s criticism about the sex addiction industry and lack of scientific rigor was spot-on to me and made a lot of sense. He didn’t try to prove that sex addiction didn’t exist, but that isn’t his responsibility. As he said in the book,

In the realm of scientific investigation, it is the responsibility of the believers to evaluate the validity of their hypothesis. If they cannot then the null hypothesis, that the believers are wrong, is assumed to be true. Despite the challenges I have received in writing this book, it is not my burden to prove that sex addiction doesn’t exist. Instead, the field of sex addiction must proves scientifically that it does exist. And to date, that proof is not forthcoming. Telling men with problems that they have a sex addiction and then having them become evangelists for sex addiction does not constitute proof. It is possible that investigations of hypersexual disorder may demonstrate that there is some kernel of truth here, but even that will not prove that the addictive process at work. Until then, the scientific answer is that sex addiction most likely does not exist if it cannot be scientifically demonstrated.

The problems and harm from “sex addiction”, like cheating on your spouse or spending large amounts of money on pornography or prostitutes, are symptoms of other problems in a person’s life or society. Sex is not like a drug and can’t meet the necessary requirements to be classified as an addictive drug. Ley hypothesis that the real thing that sex addiction therapy is supposed to “cure” is normal male sexuality. Men and women are sexually different on a physiological and psychological level. Evolution has made the genders pursue different priorities when it comes to sex, and for men things like variety are evolutionarily important. By stigmatizing this you force men underground and unable to discuss their feelings and desires, and by making it an illness you take away their personal responsibility.

Sex, like many urges, are strong, but we are not slaves to our urges. By allowing for an open and honest conversation about what men tend to want out of sexual partners and finding a middle ground without religious judgement can allow for greater mental health.

Things I Wrote: One Million Dollars, Thankful, Meditation

$1 Million

On one of the podcasts I listen to the host, Isaac Morehouse, was discussing imagination and mentioned one of the exercises he occasionally does is think long and hard about how he would respond to certain events, including receiving a bunch of money. The amount of money varies from experiment to experiment but the important thing is to give it some real though and itemize instead of just saying “Travel” or “Donate to charity”. Those things can happen but getting into the details allows our imagination to flourish, as well as keep us tethered to reality. This type of thinking (particularly thought experiments about how we would respond to bad events) is very Stoic in nature, so it definitely appeals to me.

So, I am going to itemize how I would spend $1,000,000 (tax free) as best I can. I don’t have internet access to look up particulars but hopefully I can really break it down and go into detail about how I would realistically spend that money.

  1. $67,000 – Pay off student loans. Getting out of debt would be my first move. While I feel no particular ethical obligation to pay back my student loans it does make pragmatic sense to do it.
  2. $250,000 – Set up a personal loan account to buy up my friend and families student loans or other debt. We could make repayment agreements where the payments and interest rate are very low. This is a system that would help me so much right now, it isn’t the minimum payments that kill me, it is the interest rates that basically guarantee I’ll have debt hanging over me for decades. I’d be thrilled if someone offered to consolidate my loans and give me a low (or zero) interest rate, I’d even set up a direct deposit so they are sure they would get their money.
  3. $200,000 – This would go into a safe, conservative (though hopefully interest bearing) account to provide for my future. Right now I can maintain the life I have for about $24,000 per year and this amount would keep me going without a need to work for the next 8 years or so. Not a lifetime but it is something.
  4. $125,000 – One time donations to non-profits I support
    1. $25,000 to DanceSafe to expand their harm reduction program
    2. $25,000 to MAPS for their MDMA therapy program
    3. $25,000 to Karma Rescue to help run the No-Kill Shelter in LA that we adopted Higgins from
    4. $25,000 to SSDP for scholarships to help get students to their conferences
    5. $25,000 to Wikipedia
  5. $100,000 – Provide financial support for 2-3 of my friends who are artists and would like to focus on their craft instead of working to make ends meet. This would probably be monthly payments.
  6. $75,000 – Build a “tiny house” to live in.
  7. $30,000 – Buy a used Subaru Outback
  8. $10,000 – Pay for myself, Anna, and some other friends to go to Burning Man
  9. $100,000 – Provide support for people on GoFundMe (and similar crowdsourcing programs).
    1. $75,000 – Those in financial need
    2. $25,000 – Those advancing technology that I support or have cool inventions
  10. $20,000 – Put aside for moving and set-up costs wherever we go after the bike ride
  11. $20,000 – Honeymoon in Iceland (and maybe other Nordic countries)
  12. $3,000 – Personal Purchases
    1. $500 – Get some really sweet home brewing equipment and start brewing more beer
    2. $1250 – A cool gaming computer
    3. $500 – Books
    4. $1,000 – Health stuff (cooking equipment, weights, nootropics, etc)
    5. $750 – MDMA for a year or more

Post Script: This was more difficult than I expected. $1 million is a lot of money and my estimates are probably a bit conservative here. I’d also like to really nail it down and get accurate in the future.

Thankful

There are many attributes that make up who I am. Some of them are all beyond my control and some I have a bit of control over. I have made decisions in the past that have lead me to where I am today, but much of my past (particularly in my early life) is, for lack of a better term, luck. I was born a white male in the USA to a stable family, that has given me an advantage over many people. I wasn’t born into money, but I also never wondered if I would have a meal or a safe place to sleep. I think it is important to reflect on the ways I am blessed and remember that other people are fighting through life without some of the advantages I have. So, here is a quick list of specific things that I am thankful for, some of them are a product of my choices but some are not.

  1. Teeth – I have healthy teeth. They aren’t particularly straight or white, but I’ve only had one cavity and I have taken pretty shitty care of my teeth. I rarely brushed daily and never flossed until Anna and I moved in together.
  2. Lack of Risk Aversion – I tend to take risks and not really worry about the downside. I don’t act without thinking, but having a bit of a risk involved in quitting my job or going on a bike journey or whatever doesn’t really deter me. I probably would be a business owner like my grandfather if I knew of something I cared enough about to create.
  3. Upbringing – I don’t see eye-to-eye with my parents on much but they were good parents who did their best. They were both around to support my education and personal development. I knew there would be food to eat and a place to sleep, even though sometimes we crammed several kids into a room. It was a loving and stable family.
  4. Immune System – I very rarely get sick. Part of this is genetics and part of it is lifestyle, I try to exercise regularly and eat fairly healthy.
  5. Stoicism – I tend to easily cope with bad situations. Some of this is natural to me but a big part of it is a combination of using MDMA as medicine and practicing ancient stoic techniques.
  6. Network of Friends – Due to growing up in Oregon, joining the Army, going to college in South Carolina, working in DC, living in Los Angeles, and travelling by bicycle I have a vast and diverse network of friends. We don’t always get along but I know that if I need support someone will be there to lend a hand, and I hope they know they can come to me for the same. Having a network that extends beyond a limited geographic region or political/economic/religious/social/racial bubble is something I am incredibly thankful for. I learn so much from having different viewpoints shared on my Facebook wall or in my life.
  7. Late Bloomer – Despite my current thoughts on sex and recreational drug use I was a late bloomer in these areas. I was a virgin until 23 and never even smoked pot until 24. MDMA wasn’t in my life until I was 28. Other drugs like shrooms, LSD, 2-CB, cocaine, ketamine, and 25-I trickled into my life after that. I am incredibly thankful that was the case. I am able to handle my drugs, and introduce myself to new drugs, in a responsible way. I am afraid that I would have made some pretty terrible mistakes if I had encountered drugs or sex in my teens, I was relatively immature socially. That doesn’t mean that I think the abstinence-only scare tactics that were employed against me is the best option, education in all these areas is a far better choice.
  8. Postponing marriage – I had two opportunities to get married before meeting Anna. The first would have been a disaster. The second could have been great but our life goals didn’t match up well. I am really, really happy I waited until I found someone that matched up with me in the important areas (kids, lifestyle, etc) instead of settling for someone. I don’t think people should have long lists of things they need in a partner, but you also shouldn’t give up things that are important to you. If one of you wants kids and the other one doesn’t then it is probably best to break up, there is no middle ground and guilting someone into doing something they don’t want can lead to resentment. The same can apply to desire to travel, importance of money, recreational drug use, etc. Sometimes love isn’t enough and no matter how much two (or more people) love each other their lives are just not going to match up well long term.
  9. Smoking and Addiction – I never really smoked. I used to carry a pack of Marlboro Reds with me when I went out drinking in DC but it never really materialized into an addiction. I don’t seem to be prone to addiction and have very easily stopped something cold turkey when I wanted to, even beer. Smoking seems like the worst habit in the world to me, and as much as I try not to judge I do tend to get a feeling of “eww” anytime I see someone smoking. It just seems to be the opposite of everything I value, but I recognize I am kind of an asshole for having this type of knee-jerk reaction.
  10. No Sweet Tooth – I don’t have a sweet tooth anymore. At some point in my life I just stopped desiring things like soda, candy, and cookies (except when stoned… then I will all the Oreos). Anytime I occasionally want something sweet I can eat on pop-tart or a handful of raisons. I do crave savory things a lot, but even that can be handled with some hummus or French fries.

Meditation

Meditation is one of those things that I know I need to add to my daily routine but have a lot of trouble with. I am convinced that the benefits are well worth my time but still keep having trouble doing it. I have the time, I just don’t use it wisely. There are plenty of opportunities throughout my day to spend 10 minutes in meditation. Well, starting at 10 minutes, I do hope to work my way up to more. But, alas, I spend too much damn time in the morning and at night staring at my phone or dicking around on Facebook. I need to find a better way to minimize my time on social networks, they produce a lot of value for me but at some point that value is sucked away and I realize I have been just scrolling and “liking” mindlessly for 30 minutes. I use Facebook to stay informed about the world and share articles that I find interesting, but I usually get that done in the first 10 minutes of logging on. Maybe I should limit myself to 15 minutes on Facebook in any given session, and also limit the sessions per day. In addition to my poor use of time, meditation is difficult for me. I can rarely get through one full breath without my mind wandering. I know I shouldn’t be hard on myself, and I know it will get better with practice, but I still get frustrated at times. Oh well, I am going to keep trying.