Psychiatric Drugs and Healing

Regular readers of the blog know Bill Van Ornum, a professor at Marist College and a regular contributor to "In All Things" who writes on psychology, spirituality and prolife issues. (Bill is pictured right with his son, William.) You may not know that he also blogs for the American Health Foundation, where he serves as director of research and training. Here is a sample of his latest post on "Street Drugs, Psychiatric Drugs, and Healing":

A recent article in the Los Angeles Times presents an optimistic yearning toward the possibility that certain street drugs offer a hope for healing in the future. "Magic mushrooms, LSD, ecstacy, and ketamine are being studied for legitimate therapeutic uses....In their next incarnation, these drugs may help the psychologically wounded tune in to their darkest feelings and memories and turn therapy sessions into heightened opportunities to learn and heal."

The journalist writing this article cites one published peer-reviewed study, with a small number of patients suffering from advanced stage cancer who reported a three-month improvement in mood, to justify these sweeping conclusions.

I am not even sure if this is halfway responsible journalism. As Edward R. Murrow was fond of saying, there are two sides to every story, and the other side to this story is the incredible addictive potential of any fast-acting substances that alter mood. As noted above, the most valuable psychiatric drugs, those helping persons with severe depression, bipolar disorder, schizoaffective disorder, and schizophrenia, act slowly and do not produce a rapid high or "rush." Those that do, such as amphetamines, create problems.

A possible unintended consequence of developing more fast-acting psychiatric drugs based on LSD, psylocybin, and so forth must also take into account the pharmacies that would dispense them. Recently the execution-style killing of four people at a Long Island drugstore brought into awareness the risks of running such a business. The shooter was addicted to pain medicine (note: this is not considered a psychiatric medication), but one wonders what security enhancements would need to be taken at the local pharmacy were it to store LSD, mushrooms, and related chemical derivatives? Or if anyone would want to take the increased risk of working behind what is already a risky counter?

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Read the rest here. And learn more about the AMHF here.

Tim Reidy

 

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PJ Johnston
6 years 7 months ago
Crystal,

Thanks for the information.  I am a pretty "straight" person when it comes to this kind of thing, but I have a newfound respect for ethno-botany and those interested in it.  I'm glad to hear there are interesting and open-minded Catholics even in the United States!  :)

I wasn't aiming my remarks at you, nor would I argue that every psychoactive substance is helpful.  (I've been on some prescription medications that despite my doctor's wisdom I am convinced were not good for me or probably for most people in most circumstances, and I imagine the same thing is probably true of many street drugs, which could very often simply be harmful).

My nterest in all this:

A well-meaning doctor once prescribed me a medicine with a pronounced depressive effect that can be used as a means of suicide which caused an equally well-meaning pharmacist friend in another state to privately recommend pot instead - which may or may not be effective for PTSD and its side-effects such as insomnia (the jury is out on this), but at the very least is not potentially lethal.  As marijuana is not legal in my state even for medical purposes, I politely declined and found a legal herbal supplement that helps somewhat which is popular amongst the organic food/alternative medicine crowd.  I've been following research on the use of marijuana in treating PTSD and it looks like it's banned as a treatment more for political reasons than for clinical ones and that a good part of its lack of a proven clinical track record is the federal government actively interfering with research that might lead to the reclassification of marijuana as a controlled substance.  This was a real eye opener for me about the politics of medicine in our culture - we have an entrenched political status quo which is joined at the hip to big agribusiness and the pharmaceutical industry which often manages to "buy" the psychological establishment's support for its products through personal perks and research grants, which uses a great deal of its muscle in the form of the FDA and DEA to actively suppress its potential competitors.

I perceived something something different in Van Ornum's remarks than I did in yours - something closer to "psychoactive drugs are always bad, period, unless prescribed by a Western-trained medical doctor with clinical trials to back up his/her judgment," which would be a gross form of biomedical and epistemological imperialism.  It is possible that I misperceived and I would greatly appreciate further clarification, however.

A question for everyone to ask themselves when appealing to "common sense" and "the sum of human knowledge" on a particular topic is WHOSE common sense and WHOSE human knowledge they are appealing to and why.  (Even the conservative Catholic Alasdair MacIntyre - who theorizes ethics as virtue-based and hopes for cultures to be socialized in a single normative set of ethical habits - is forced to concede that there are multiple justices and multiple rationalities and therefore multiple competing habits of virtue).  It would be gross epistemological imperialism for a shaman to force psychologists to travel to the Amazon basin and demonstrate the efficacy of their drugs through curing soul-flight or making people fall in love with their clients or other indications of efficacy in traditional shamanic culture, and I submit that it is equally imperialistic to make shamanic cures meet the standard of a Western clinical trial.  Might there be urban subcultures in the contemporary United States with their own expectations about what counts for medical efficacy in which "street drugs" (those not approved by the FDA) have an integral therapeutic role?  I suspect that this is very likely.  (Possible candidates:  the New Age movement and the remnants of the 1960s counterculture).  The US government is (at least nominally) medically pluralist, funding research on alternative and complimentary medicine at the NIH.  Perhaps psychologists should be as well.
Crystal Watson
6 years 7 months ago
PJ,

 There has been a past of big pharma companies taking advantage of medicine men in underdeveloped countries .... an example: the rosy periwinkle of Madagascar and Lilly Drug Company  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commercialization_of_indigenous_knowledge). I got interested in ethno-botany after reading a book by Wade Davis, an anthropologist who did some work in the Amazon and Haiti, and also a book by Mark Plotkin, an ethnobotinist.  I grew up in California - recreational drugs are pretty commonplace in high school/college here  :)
PJ Johnston
6 years 7 months ago
I'm not certain exactly which subjects I am being asked to provide recent articles about - a historical survey of Catholic moral teaching concerning the use of psychoactive substances pre-20th century to present, anthropological material about contemporary Catholic subcultures where the use of psychoactive substances for spiritual or healing purposes is mainstream and accepted as "healthy," whether certain substances are medically harmful or beneficial from the perspective of Western biomedicine, or what exactly.  Some of these questions would be pretty remote from my original concerns in raising my earlier objection.  (If I can help in any way, however, I'll be happy to do so).

To be clear, the main concern isn't the psychoactive substances per se but the apparently unexamined freight of assumptions about what is normative or healthy social functioning and whether or not responsible use of psychoactive substances could ever be therapeutically appropriate within the norms of a given culture or subculture.

It appears (correct me if I am wrong) that you're saying that there is a single set of norms for mental states and optimal social functioning, and that psychoactives which aren't currently approved for clinical use are always "damaging" to mental and social functioning because they encourage brain states and behaviors that work at odds to this particular notion of health.  Perhaps you would say that the norms about what is "healthy" are those held by the mainstream US psychological establishment, with major deviations from those norms ("pathologies") being codified in diagnostic and statistical manuals like DSM-IV.

That's a problem.  DSM-IV does a fairly good job of describing complexes and conditions which result in behavior that makes it difficult to fit into a white, male, Euroamerican, Protestant, upper middle class dominant culture with minimal friction.  In principle it is also plausible that one could prove that the typical effects of certain psychoactive substances will encourage the kinds of deviations DSM-IV labels as pathologies.  (My understanding is that this is doubtful with regards to some substances, e.g. marijuana and ayahuasca, however).  At best conventional psychology offers you a take on "health" from one particular cultural perspective (elite Euroamerican culture) and a set of pathologies based on what is detrimental to social functioning within that culture.  Its pharmacopeia in turn encodes the set of substances currently believed to have therapeutic value for meeting the health objectives of that particular culture.

That isn't every culture in the world, or even every subculture within the United States.  What is normal and functional in one setting is not the same thing as what is normal and functional in another one.  What is "healthy" and what is "damaging" is entirely parasitical on what your particular culture or subculture regards to be normative functioning, and unless we understand that and are sensitive to it, we are going to continue to do stupid things like considering women "hysterical" (for having a typical pattern of emotional reaction different from men), colonized people "irrational" (for valuing mental states divergent from the post-Cartesian Western ideal of lucid rationality), and Catholics as gluttonous wine-bibers (for not exhbiting the same kind of asceticism of the body as puritanical Protestants).  We may find kiinder language for it (a shaman dissociating under the influence of a ayahuasca is perhaps explained as suffering from a schizophrenic episode, for instance), but it's the same kind of cognitive imperialism using more clinical-sounding names for the mental states of which we disapprove.

Wouldn't that be a problem if one wished to understand and appreciate on their own merits (rather than merely dismiss) cultures and subcultures in which psychoactives are mainstream - e.g. Catholicisms other than that of Protestantized Notre Americanos, or black or Hispanic urban youth cultures within the United States?

What would a multicultural pharmacopeia look like, which took the mental states and social roles that are mainstream in other cultures and subcultures as seriously as we take our own?
PJ Johnston
6 years 7 months ago
I need to finish revising my dissertation prospectus before students start handing in their exams for me to grade, so at some point I'm going to have to withdraw.  (Maybe this can go on a little bit longer though).  In case I suddenly disappear, thanks for a great conversation, everyone!  Happy Holidays!

Norman Costa:

Check out the books already mentioned on the subject of mestizo and indigenous Catholic shamanism.  There's a lot more naterial where that came from, and if you consult the bibliographies included with those books, you'll easily find it.  Indigenous cures have worked very well for indigenous psychological conditions.  Anecdotally (from Steve Beyer and my dissertation director), I've heard that the Western disorders that are beginning to spread in the third world are much more resistant to cure than the older conditions, even when given Western treatments, so the overall therapeutic success rate has actually _declined_ with the advent of Western biomedicine in these regions with people appreciably _less_ pscychologically healthy than they were when they were treated according to traditional medical paradigms.  (I don't have any published articles on that, so take it with a grain of salt - though someone who was interested in exploring the issue probably could ransack some journals on ethnomedicine or comparative medicine and get a sense of whether or not it's true).

Amy Ho-Ohn:

Do we know for sure that medical marijuana is a farce, or that possible therapeutic uses for other drugs would be?  It's easy to be suspicious given the politics of medicine at work here, because there's circularity in US drug scheduling that makes it difficult for medical researchers who want to challenge the existing classification of controlled substances to get access to the substances to do their clinical research.  The federal government does everything it possibly can to impose barriers on research aimed at proving a beneficial effect for controlled substances. You mentioned one of the most notorious cases in your comment, which is marijuana PTSD research.  (A friend with PTSD who worked as a psychiatric social worker and substance abuse counsellor for the city of Chicago before her death was keenly interested in this question for personal and professional reasons, and was convinced enough of the therapeutic benefits to - like my pharmacist friend - recommend that I move to a state with medical marijuana provisions in order to get treatment for PTSD symptoms).  Most of the serious research on marijuana and PTSD being conducted right now is being pursued in Israel because the US government doesn't want it to proceed.  Here's are a couple of journalistic takes on the issue: http://tinyurl.com/7vngjzu and http://tinyurl.com/3z9ll9m.  I don't see why the government would treat studies about the possible therapeutic effects of other street drugs any differently.  If drugs are schedule I for having "no recognized therapeutic benefit" but cannot be researched for possible therapeutic benefit because they are currently schedule I, how do we really know how whether they are beneficial or not without appealing to the research of those in countries with less restrictive drug scheduling or anecdotal reports from people within our own culture who take them?

David:

It's very difficult, even in this most insular of places (Iowa) to lock yourself into a single culture, which I find deeply reassuring for the future of humanity.  I heard that the UIHC was one of the last major university hospital systems in the US to embrace alternative and complementary medicine and that the UI was one of the very last state university programs to require ethnomedicine/medical pluralism training - but even here, monocultures of the mind proved untenable in the end.

Bill Van Ornum:

OK, that's definitely an area where you would have better luck than me.  If you will be satisfied if I give you the short narrative I have pieced together while researching a  different topic (remember that my interest in this is somewhat accidental to my interest in a slightly different topic - supernatural healing traditions in folk Catholicism), I can do that here.

The basic starting point is that there was no "war on drugs" before the 20th century.  It started in America as a rider on the alcohol prohibition movement, but was fuelled by American racism and anti-immigrant sentiment.  (Anti-Chinese sentiments were involved in the illegalization of opium, anti-Mexican sentiments were involved in banning marijuana, cocaine legislation was fuelled by a moral panic about blacks supposedly becoming assertive and sometimes violent when using cocaine, etc.  You see this racism at work even today:  crack cocaine, used more often by blacks than by whites, gets harsher legal penalties attached to it than cocaine as such).

Medicine before the 20th century possessed a primarily herbal pharmacopeia and was almost entirely legally unregulated, so you will encounter completely non-judgmental mainstream Catholic texts about the medical use of psychoactive substances.  (I'm thinking primarily about Hildegard of Bingen writing about nutmeg as a cure for insomnia and general mood-lifter, and Jesuit missionaries in North America writing about how to use New World psychoactives and documenting their cultivation of a few of them as useful cash crops).

When you find pre-20th century Catholic texts condemning drug use, the drug is usually alcohol and the reason is not use per se (unlike Protestants Catholics have never argued for alcohol prohibition), but abuse leading to chronic intoxication.  Sometimes you find texts condemning other psychactive substances as tools in sorcery and witchcraft.  This happens first to folk Catholic healers in medieval Europe, who were accused of being "witches" and making pacts with the devil for practicing herbal medicine accompanied by rituals which were not approved by the Church.  (The same herbs minus such rituals, or blessed by a priest instead of an unauthorized lay person, would not encounter objection - there are even official forms of priestly blessings for herbs in the Rituale).  In the New World, shamans practicing herbal medicin  became subject to the same condemnation as old world "witches".  The missionaries believed indigenous religions to be demonic, and the ritual tools used by shamans were considered part of a counterfeit form of worship.  The same substances used for medical purposes by the Jesuit missionaries encountered no such objections.

The 20th century changes that - here, the West came up with the idea that certain substances are intrinsically bad and confer a kind of moral contagion however they are used.  I suspect that the root impulse behind this is Protestant mental culture and asceticism of the body.  On the one hand, there is the Protestant work ethic which marginalizes recreation and pleasure and insists that one should discipline the body to be as economically productive as possible - "wasteful" recreational activities are condemned for not being economically productive, so "drugs" that help you relax or achieve pleasure apart from hard work are condemned.  Then there is the orientalist construction of Catholics, Orientals, and "savages" as excessively emotional and "irrational," as opposed to the ideal of calm stoic rationality espoused by Protestants.  Between those two factors, substances which are consumed recreationally, to make people experience extreme emotional states, conferring "unearned" and "unproductive" personal happiness, associated with despised minorities from "uncivilized" cultures could not help but be condmned.  I suspect that medical rationales for prohibition (while sometimes prudent) were mostly invented after the fact as rationalizations for condemning cultural practices which American Protestants did not share and mostly considered the inversion of their own cultural values.

The last paragraph is mostly interpretation.  I think that up to that point if you just dig around a little you'll find all the same information.

I wish I could be more help, but you asked about something that is a little far from my academic research and the issues that have been raised in my own life about whether there is an appropriate medical use of psychactive substances.
6 years 7 months ago
Thank you, Tim, for bringing attention to the work of the American Mental Health Foundation.  I hope readers will take advantage of the many blogs, such as this one, to further our education on matters relating to the fields of psychology, psychiatry and social work.  They are an excellent way to keep up with issues and trends in those fields.  Thanks, too, for highlighting the accomplishments of Bill Van Ornum.  He selflessly contributes a great deal to the betterment of individuals with mental disorders.  Though, as a parent myself of children with mental disorders, I suspect that his care of his precious son (pictured with him) is the most rewarding and challenging of all.  My thanks to him, also and prayers for his continuing work with "all of our kids".
Crystal Watson
6 years 7 months ago
I agree with Bill that this seems pretty scary.  Ketamine is an anesthetic that's rarely used on humans anymore because it causes such awful nightmares, and drugs like LSD heighten sensitivity to any emotional problems already existing - I guess that's why the study says that it helps people get in touch with their darkest fears, but I think such a therapy strategy sounds dangerous.
Gabriella Necklas
6 years 7 months ago
I think that while the idea of using street drugs for psychiatric purposes sounds frightening it should perhaps be at least studied if the potential for benefit is there. I don't think this is something we should rush to embrace, but I don't think it is necessarily something we can simply rule out without studies being done to determine what benefits and costs are associated with using these drugs for therapeutic purposes. If they can alter these street drugs to turn them into a slow release form maybe then some of the potential risks would be lessened.
Marie Rehbein
6 years 7 months ago
Bill's next to the last paragraph:

"My professional background included working in a topnotch psychiatric hospital in the 1980s and seeing the effects of cocaine on otherwise highly successful businesspeople. For a number of years, I served as a Disability Examiner for the New York State/Social Security Administration. Represented among the over 1,000 persons I evaluated were many addicted to heroin, cocaine, amphetamines, and yes! marijuana. Many of these individuals (even some with long-term marijuana dependence) showed substantial brain damage on neuropsychological tests. They would never work or function fully in this world again."


The problem with these drugs is that they damage the brain, so who cares if they make people feel better along the way or get them in touch with their deepest fears, etc.

On the other hand, it was recently reported that people in vegetative states were helped by Ambien.
PJ Johnston
6 years 7 months ago
If the journalist had been much more modest in his rhetoric rather than making sweeping claims for the possible therapeutic benefits of entheogens on the basis of a single clinical study, would the tone of Van Ornum's reply have been different?  If so, how?

I have been working through Stephen Beyer's "Singing to the Plants," a major anthropological study of mestizo religion on the upper Amazon.  There are various manifestations of folk Catholicism in Brazil (and, for that matter, in other mestizo cultures throughout Latin American) in which shamanism is a major component.  Particularly interesting are groups like Santo Daime in Brazil who imagine the Virgin Mary as "Our Lady of the Forest" who guides healers in the proper selection of "medicina," or psychoactive plants.

I find it unsettling and disappointing that right as I am exploring issues of medical and epistemological pluralism - is Western biomedicine the only valid healing paradigm, and are "rational/lucid" states of consciousness the only normative states of consciousness or might altered states of consciousness contain their own wisdom - and celebrating folk Catholicism as a champion of diversity, we get a bit of dismissive medical and epistemological imperialism on the part of the resident psychologist.

Are psychologists really so protective of their own turf that they are unwilling to consider the possible merits of longstanding Catholic traditions of alternative medicine, or paradigms of utility other than the clinical?
PJ Johnston
6 years 7 months ago
Also relevant:

http://www.amazon.com/Crazy-Like-Us-Globalization-American/dp/141658708X

From Publishers Weekly
If you thought McDonald's and strip malls were the ugliest of America's cultural exports, think again. Western ideas about mental illness-from anorexia to post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, general anxiety and clinical depression-as well as Western treatments have been sweeping the globe with alarming speed, argues journalist Watters (Urban Tribes), and are doing far more damage than Big Macs and the Gap. In this well-traveled, deeply reported book, Watters takes readers from Hong Kong to Zanzibar, to Tsunami ravaged Sri Lanka, to illustrate how distinctly American psychological disorders have played in far-off locales, and how Western treatments, from experimental, unproven drugs to talk therapy, have clashed with local customs, understandings and religions. While the book emphasizes anthropological findings at the occasional expense of medical context, and at times skitters into a broad indictment of drug companies and Western science, Watters builds a powerful case. He argues convincingly that cultural differences belie any sort of western template for diagnosing and treating mental illness, and that the rapid spread of American culture threatens our very understanding of the human mind: "We should worry about the loss of diversity in the world's differing conceptions of treatments for mental illness in the same way we worry about the loss of biodiversity in nature."
Crystal Watson
6 years 7 months ago
PJ,

I'm interested in ethno-botany too, the work of guys like Richard Schultes.  It's not that I think drugs like LSD are inherently bad for prople -  what bothers me is the idea of therapy designed to use  drugs like ketamine (which may be used as a street drug but which is also an anesthesia drug formerly used on people but now mostly only on animals  because of its pretty awful effects) to purposely produce "bad trips" for patients.  Maybe the therapist should try that on himself first and then decide if it's ethical to inflict it on patients.  
Susan Murray
6 years 7 months ago
A comment to pass along to Bill, if you would, please:

Thanks for injecting some much-needed common sense into the arena.  Your remarks are more charitable than I think I would be tempted to be in your place.  It seems to me we Americans ought to know better than to try to go back down the path your colleague is suggesting, for this is not really a novel idea - it's been tried before.  You've been criticized for being "dismissive", but we need to reccognize that not all idea by virtue of their expressoin have th same merit.  Some ideas have little merit, based on our existing knowledge and experience, and should be dismissed on that basis, particularly when we're talking about such serious risks in human lives. 

In this culture of ours, we worry so much about being "open-minded" that we simply forget or ignore what we should already know and we get ourselves into a heap of trouble and misery along the way.  When open-mindedness goes so far as to ignore past experience or common sense at the most basic level, it's not the intellectually superior approach it holds itself out to be.  What it is at that point is heedlessness.  Thanks for being the countervailing voice here.
6 years 7 months ago
This issuie made the front page of our newspaper today.
it just struck me that we are still at a point of uncertainty about the value of using psychotropics, but the field of professionals should be best situated to make a judgemen tabou tusage.
we vnornm
6 years 7 months ago
Well, certainly a lot of diffferent thoughts on this! I hope everyone reads the full AMHF piece. GN (#4) certainly understands one of the main themes and gives an extremely relevant scientifific idea. Thanks.

Perhaps the discuss could even go in other directions. I suspect Catholic moral theology could have some input here, but I lack the necessary understanding.

There have been some (many?) articles in AMERICA on the importace of reversing global warming, living in a manner so that we don't destroy the Earth's God-given natural resources. Humankind, by its interventions, has done damage to Creation, yes?


Is the human brain a similar resource? I think so. It's one to be cherished. "Do No Harm."

Perhaps someone would like to comment here on what young people "hear" from the Church about drugs and what they learn about them. I know what they hear from society. I'm not sure what they pick up from their parents, etc. who are in the parishes. We certainly don't need messages like in the old health classes (or do we?), but I wonder what message young people are getting. Young people are very good at picking up our beliefs, even when we don't say them.

Thanks to all who wrote. I hope this thread continues.

As science learns ways to intervene with the human brain, this topic wil need further examination. Do we want our inner cerebral atmosphere to resembe the biosophere?

bvo

PJ Johnston
6 years 7 months ago
I'm not really young anymore, but maybe youngish enough to contribute.

My parents were busted for growing marijuana together when they were young, but it was California in the 1960s and they were hippies, so that behavior might have been culturally inevitable.  Otherwise I heard the same thing from them as I did in school and in church, which was the whole Reagan "just say no" spiel, though I've subsequently heard that Dad (whom I never see) is a libertarian and in more adult company advocates legalization.  It worked - I've never even been tipsy, and I'm probably the only scholar who has ever spent a year doing research in South Asia without trying a bhang lassi or something like that.  There was no drug or alcohol experimentation in my friendship circle, at least that was known to me, as we are all a bunch of moralistic uber-geeks.  Recently, my grandmother (who raised me) wanted to obtain marijuana when she was terminal with cancer out of some combination of poorly-managed pain and curiosity about what everybody was up to in the 1960s, but nobody in the family was willing to fulfill her dying request.

I was actually a little surprised in an anthropological grad seminar on religion and healing to learn that contemporary RCC moral theology is not where the Church has historically stood on drug/alcohol use.  The current position is much more characteristic of the same Protestant theology that resulted in Prohibition, but apparently the historical norm for Catholicism is that in instances where psychoactive substances were condemned, they were condemned when there was abuse such as chronic intoxication (not simple use) or where there were negative attitudes towards other religions whose adherents used psychoactives so that the behavior was associated with idolatry or witchcraft.  (So you had the Inquisition trying to root out psychoactives in the New World because of a negative theological evaluation of shamanism, not because of the substances).  Interesting material.
we vnornm
6 years 7 months ago
PJJ:

Many thanks for the info on RCC scholarship-especially for the perhaps-overly-simple notions expressed in the past & which I'm not sure have been adequately updated. If you come across recent artciles, etc. pls. post links and I'll be checking back.

I worry about how young people "experiment" and how adults don't challenge this enough. We know from neuropsychology that many young people (10% or so?) have genetic predispostions to alcohol/drug abuse and if they start "experimenting" they will find it very hard to stop. Other neuropsychologists point out that the brain is immature until age 25. (Maybe we should then RAISE the drinking age? Just kidding...) I don't think young people are hearing this enough from schools-media-churches. Yet we bombard them on how precious the biosphere is and how much carbon emissions are damaging the atmosphere. Seems a big disconnect to me. Are brains as precious as air/trees/water and endangered species? From what I know, brains are damaged easily & their inner destruction is not easily undone.

You noted: "There was no drug or alcohol experimentation in my friendship circle, at least that was known to me, as we are all a bunch of moralistic uber-geeks." Gosh, this is something to be proud of: careful and responsible stewardship of perhaps the most precious resource to which you have been entrusted.

Thanks for all the ideas, which I know have evoked much thinking. bill





Marie Rehbein
6 years 7 months ago
Bill,

It has been my experience that children do not hear particularly much about drugs and alcohol in church or religious education classes.  Education on this matter is left mostly to community DARE programs.

We have lived in three different states over the course of our children's education.  In each, the DARE program was for fifth graders in Catholic school and public school and was run by the local police department.  The emphasis, from what I could gather from the children, was on not getting arrested and ruining one's future.  There were "drunk" glasses that the children tried on to experience how the world seems to the inebriated.  They met the drug sniffing dog.  The program ended with an essay contest and graduation attended by government dignitaries.

In the Catholic middle school where we currently live, the eighth graders participate in a week long class that has to do with abstinence of all kinds.  There is a similar class for young people preparing for Confirmation.  I am not sure how this impacts young people who come from homes where there is drug abuse or premarital sex. 

I cannot imagine that any of my children would make poor choices even without the classes, but I do think these classes help to emphasize that they are not alone in following the standard that is set in our household.
we vnornm
6 years 7 months ago
Marie,

I suspect that "the standard set in the household" may be the most important one of all. thanks! bill
6 years 7 months ago
It always interests me reading blogs and comments how much our own personal experiences shape our responses to a topic such as his one.  And how valuable these experiences are in searching for answers and possible solutions to problems.  Reading the LA Times article,  I noted how my own social work experience effected my response.  In the late 50's and early 60's I worked for Catholic Charities, a rehab facility and a mental hospital.  At this time, there were no child protection laws and alcohol abuse was the substance of detriment to children and families.  When I returned to the field after an 18 yr absence as a C.P.S social worker in a large county I experienced culture shock.  Illegal drugs were added to alchol as detrimental substances.  As part of my job I entered homes (sometimes with police and sometimes alone or with another social worker) to check on the welfare of children. We often had to make life or death decisions for them.  I saw "drug houses" that were filthy, roach infested, chaotic;  parents whose brains were "fried" from drugs. My family never knew the danger I was in, on my job.  Drug use in itself was not a protective issue.  We had to prove to the Court that the drug use was detrimental to the children.
I saw malnourished babies, school age children kept out of school to babysit younger sibs, little girls exposed to a never ending coming and going of drugged men, children physically abused by parents when high or coming down from a high.  It was tragic what these adults were doing to their brains and bodies, but the innocient were the children who suffered the most.  How many of them turn to drugs themselves as they reach adolescence and adulthood and in turn, become neglectful, abusing parents?
After 15 years of this I could no longer stomach the suffering and I retired early.  This experience and the unholy alliance of big Pharma, some scientists and doctors make me very leery of what is proposed in the L.A Times article.
Crystal Watson
6 years 7 months ago
I just read in the news that being sexually abused as a child damages one's brain structure  .... http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/g/a/2011/12/05/bloomberg_articlesLVQLYH0D9L35.DTL

So many different things affect us and our choices.  I used drugs in high school but was it because my parents didn't talk to me about it, because I was abused, because I didn't know my father, because my friends all tried it?  People as diverse as Sigmund Freud and Steve Jobs tried drugs - it's hard to pin drug use to any one source.  But having said that, I do think using drugs and drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes are all pretty counter-productive.  I wonder why people so much want to be in 'altered states'.
we vnornm
6 years 7 months ago
Crystal,

Excellent point-brain damage from experiences such as abuse can interact in destructive ways with psychoactive drug use. Another message to get to young people. Those at-risk need to be especially careful. thanks, bill

6 years 7 months ago
What a revelation the fifth commandment, and the CCC. was to me, as I examined my conscience prior to my first Confession in many decades:
2290 The virtue of temperance disposes us to avoid every kind of excess: the abuse of food, alcohol, tobacco, or medicine. Those incur grave guilt who, by drunkenness or a love of speed, endanger their own and others' safety on the road, at sea, or in the air.
2291 The use of drugs inflicts very grave damage on human health and life. Their use, except on strictly therapeutic grounds, is a grave offense. Clandestine production of and trafficking in drugs are scandalous practices. They constitute direct co-operation in evil, since they encourage people to practices gravely contrary to the moral law.

I suspect that if our priests taught us the truths of our faith and instructed us in the liberation of Confession,  many "mental health professionals" might encounter a sharp decline in their income.

 
we vnornm
6 years 7 months ago
Maria,

The parts of the Catechism you have cited deserves to be re-read and reviewed by everyone.
I agree with you that mental health professionals have a fiduciary interest in encouraging people to go into therapy. [Maybe we should Occupy Psychology? :-)] The parish I attend has Confession/Sacrament of Reconcilitation every morning before Mass, excepting weekends. A good role model,  I think. bill
6 years 7 months ago
Occupy psychology. Ha!  All those things which they would have us believe are disorders and illnesses turn out to be, oh, my goodness, sin! No problem. The Divine physician is ever at hand. And, he doesn't charge :) Nice to have you back, Bill. Dear photo of you and your son.
6 years 7 months ago
Maria, #21

Thanks for your reference to the CCC, a document that contains much wisdom.  Recently, I was on a pilgrimage to Mexico City to visit the Basilica of our Lady of Guadalupe and other shrines and churches.  While we were in a small chapel of the Basilica (which holds 10,000people and is often filled) our chaplain's Mass prayers were drowned out by the extremely loud homily and the priest's knocking on the ambo.  It sounded like a fire and brimstones sermon.  But, my Spanish -speaking friend told me it was all about illegal drug use, the cartels and the extreme violence in Mexico.  I'm sure what he had to say came from the CCC.  It is an ongoing tragedy in Mexico and to our country's shame a good deal of the drugs are used by Americans.
Also thanks for the reminder about confession! 

Crystal, #19

I'm reading a book I think you will find enlightening ......Mary Karr's memoir:  "Lit".  It is giving me some insights in the question you ask about why people so much want to be in altered  states.  It was reviewed in "America Magazine".
PJ Johnston
6 years 7 months ago
Maria,

The passages from the catechism you cite prove the opposite of what you try to argue from them.  They accept the responsible, non-excessive use of legal substances, and the therapeutic use of any drug which is not illegal within a given locality.  It does not offer any guidance on the question of which substances should be legal for either non-excessive recreational use or authorized for therapeutic use given the health norms of a particular locality.  It merely tells you not to use any illegal substance, or any legal substance excessively.
Crystal Watson
6 years 7 months ago
Janice,  thanks for the book recommendation  :)

Thinking of books, one I read in college that perhaps touches on some of the stuff PJ has mentioned - The Doors of Perception by by Aldous Huxley ... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Doors_of_Perception
PJ Johnston
6 years 7 months ago
David,

I don't know about ice cream per se :) but I am thinking about anything with mood-altering effects as subtle as chocolate, caffeine, Jesuit tea (http://www.rain-tree.com/yerbamate.htm), and of course most mainstream psychiatric medicines to substances with massive mood changing potential like nicotine or alcohol or cocaine.  You're right that the line between food, medicine, and drug is pretty fuzzy and ultimately arbitrary (I would say "culturally conditioned"), and cultures draw them differently.  (US:  alcohol is a beverage not a drug and is not illicit but marijuana is a dangerous "drug" which is always illicit; India:  alcohol is an illicit drug which only the most depraved people consume, but marijuana is a valuable physical and psychological cure with an important role in the traditional ayurvedic pharmacopeia).  Massive complications ensue in cases where the US and Europe have been able to use their political and economic clout to enforce non-indigenous drug scheduling on cultures that do not share their taxonomies about the difference between "foods" and "medicines" and "drugs".

In theory you might be able to work out relatively objective list of which psychoactive substances are _physically_ toxic and likely to create _physical_ illnesses.  (Chocolate:  not usually dangerous; cocaine:  usually very dangerous).  This principle is not evident in US drug scheduling, in which extremely dangerous substances like nictotine and alcohol have relatively small social stigma and are legal, whereas substances with virtually zero toxicity like marijuana possess massive stigma and are usually illegal even for medical purposes.

Assessments of the _psychiatric_ benefit or damage of psychoactive substances are  going to be based largely upon demarcations between "normative" and "deviant" mental states that frequently are not shared across cultures or subcultures, and upon competing cultural constructions of "health" and "illness" and corresponding prudential judgments about which substances appropriately belong in the pharmacopeia of a culture with a given set of values.

I still recommend "Crazy Like Us" (about the cultural construction of mental illness and how the US has been changing the forms that illnesses take in various cultures by exporting its understanding of mental health and its range of treatments, displacing indigenous models) and some in-depth anthropological work about a particular culture with ideas about mental health very different than our own.  One possibility already mentioned: psychologist Steve Beyer writing about ayahuasca shamanism among mestizo Catholics in the upper Amazon.  Another book on Catholic folk medicine I have not read:  Bonnie Glass-Coffin's "The Gift of Life: Female Spirituality and Healing in Northern Peru".  I will try to go over the bibliography for my seminar and suggest other works as appropriate.

My university requires its medical and psychological students to take courses on ehtnomedicine and medical pluralism so that these future practitioners of Western biomedicine will cooperate with (rather than counterproductively fight against) the health goals of their patients from other cultural backgrounds.  The Religion and Medicine class I mentioned before was designed to allow students to meet this requirement.  The university hospitals routinely ask you what herbal or non-traditional treatments you may be pursuing along with your conventional medical treatment when they ask you what medicines you are taking, hoping to minimize destructive medical conflicts.  (A classical example of a case where physician rigidity led to a wholesale breakdown in treatment is Anne Fadiman's "The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down," about a Hmong patient treated for epilepsy by doctors who could not or would not accomodate Hmong medical goals, to tragic effects).
we vnornm
6 years 7 months ago
PJ, any articles on psychoactive substances as viewed by theological thinking. tx
Amy Ho-Ohn
6 years 7 months ago
On the one hand: even very dangerous and addictive drugs have close relatives which are extensively and helpfully used in medicine. Morphine is still a battlefield and burn ward staple and codeine is (I think?) still often prescribed by dentists after out-patient oral surgery.

On the other hand: this effort looks suspiciously like an attempt to piggyback on the "medical marijuana" farce. I myself have been a confirmed pothead since adolescence, but I am unimpressed with the effort to legally classify my favorite vice as "medicine" which supposedly treats "illnesses" like "low libido" and "insomnia." Any attempt to perpetrate this same fraud with drugs like LSD could well prove a disaster.

The biggest problem is one of justice. The system makes it possible for the rich and well-connected to freely indulge, while leaving the poor and working classes subject to often preposterously draconian drug laws, while simultaneously removing the incentive for the rich and powerful to work toward reform of the drug laws.
6 years 7 months ago
The one Holy Cathlic and Apostolic Church and her teachings are not culturally contingent. They are universal; however, you provide interesting commentary re cross cultural psychology. A wholly separate kettle of fish, no?
PJ Johnston
6 years 7 months ago
Even the one holy Catholic and apostolic Church recognizes that some things are culturally conditioned and changeable - culinary tastes, etiquette, whether you drive on the right hand of the street or the left, and (apparently) which substances are evil intoxicants and which are valuable medicines, or else it would have provided an authoritative list of substances that Catholics shouldn't take in any cultural setting rather than saying that you shouldn't take the ones that are illegal where you live.








Amy Ho-Ohn
6 years 7 months ago
All I can say is that I am closely related to a physician in California who has worked in a "clinic" which "prescribed" medical marijuana, and as far as I could tell, he and all of his "patients" regarded the whole thing as a joke. (His idea was that it was a joke, but also a good way to get people who really do need to see a doctor but would not do so otherwise to come see one. As long as there were there, he could measure blood pressure and ask about chest pain and possibly refer them to a more comprehensive clinic.)

My personal experience is that marijuana is more likely to exacerbate PTSD than to treat it. But each user reacts slightly differently.
we vnornm
6 years 7 months ago
PJ, thanks for all the info. Best wishes at school. bvo
we vnornm
6 years 7 months ago
Amy, thanks for your first-hand experiences. bvo

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