Addiction

Does Pot Cause Schizophrenia?

 

Here is a report about smoking pot during formative teen years and schizophrenia, and another study showing pot smokers with an impaired dopamine system. The Daily Mail carries these and it seems every month there’s another study out, obscured by the cry for individual rights and the unfairness of the justice system over the relatively harmless practice of occasional use. Lots’s of truth to that and I’m generally on board.

But can pot smoking bring on schizophrenia in the susceptible? Sure it can.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2377581/Teenagers-smoke-cannabis-damage-brains-LIFE-likely-develop-schizophrenia.html

These are the kinds of articles which tend to bring out the apologists en masse. I’m not judging pot users. I simply can’t, having smoked it for 40 years. I’m not against occasional use at all. And if you’re life is so pathetically affected by pain or malaise that pot is the only solace you can find, more power to you.

But let’s not pretend it’s good for us. Or, for our children. That would be stupid.

Granted, the low numbers of cases where schizophrenia occurs in no way justifies a ban. And the last thing I want to see is people thrown in jail for smoking a plant. We also shouldn’t kid each other.

I dealt as a kid, grew great plants, made killer hashish and smoked for decades. I’ve pretty much seen it all. These kinds of studies have been around for years for good reason.

I suppose one glaring case in my experience is this one. A single case study if you like.

Mikey was a Lebanese immigrant who arrived as part of the diaspora to Canada, sent abroad without his father. I met him in his early teens when I picked him up at some town homes nearby, where he lived with half a dozen siblings. Mike had a huge nose, big booming voice, not at all handsome by western standards. We put him to work selling flowers and he did well. After a few years, I moved to BC and left the operation to one of the guys with a license.

I heard later that in his senior year, one of the crew began providing him with joints to sell at school. He went from ignored to popular almost overnight. Of course, encouraged this way, he dove in to pot culture. He was suddenly getting attention from peers after years of neglect at home and at school. His job was his only source of significance to then. Now girls actually knew his name.

In his 20s, he called me out west one day He sounded troubled and so I helped him fly out for a visit. Mikey was happy to see us and we welcomed him into our home like family. He seemed pretty normal to me. Until we were smoking a joint one end of night when he told me that sometimes when he smoked with his brother Abdul he was convinced he was out to get him. He felt like his life might be in danger. What??

This got my attention. I’ve been around crazy people my whole life. I’ve seen this turn of events before and could see now all the familiar symptoms. In the three years we hadn’t seen each other, Mikey had changed. In those three years, dope was a big part of his life.

I asked him a few questions without putting him off. He let his guard down and let me in, detailing how his thinking was progressively going off the rails. He knew it but couldn’t trust anyone he knew to confide his secrets. Mikey was cracking under the combined weight of his traumatic life and usage.

Eventually, I told him I was mildly concerned about his mental health. I reassured him that he needed some help with this and that it was most certainly something he could get a handle on. I then suggested he return home, pack his stuff and come back immediately. He agreed and seemed relieved that someone understood what was going on.

Mike returned to Hamilton to arrange a move out west. He never made it.

Apparently, while packing in the 7th floor apartment he shared with his brother, he wound up on the concrete in the parking lot below. As far as I know, it was ruled a suicide. Given his expressed paranoia, this was plausible. Though he never expressed a willingness to hurt himself, we don’t know for absolute certainty what really happened.

That Mikey was in fear I had no doubt. But there are two additional points I’d like to make. One is paradoxical fear seeking. The other is the sensory inputs confidence continuum.

And what of fear? Physiologically, the heart rate goes up, blood pressure rises, breathing shallows and thinking narrows. Classic symptoms of adrenaline and cortisol’s effects on the body.

And what happens when you smoke a joint, drag on a cigarette, or even have a couple of beers?

Well, your heart rate goes up, as does your blood pressure, while your breathing shallows and thinking narrows. Classic fight or flight.

Paradoxically, I contend regular users are not so much addicted to the substance, rather are wired to adrenaline and cortisol; they actively seek out fear physiologically because on some level they are comforted or attracted to  this state.

And their usage is masked by a temporary dopamine buzz that lasts only the first bit of the high. Drink all night and you’re really just chasing that first two beers buzz. It can’t be caught. It’s the same with all substances. Hell, there’s no cupcake like the first one either.

Keep ramping up that dopamine artificially and in time, you won’t feel much of anything at all. Pain is one of life’s best teachers. Kill it and shrink in the face of growth; instead of expanding, contract. And the more you disconnect the body from its intuitive self, the harder it is to form an appropriate response to people and events around you.

 

If someone is susceptible to schizophrenia, adding regular doses of fear is one way to ensure it manifests itself. You couldn’t prescribe a better method of bringing it on than to recommend pot.

Looking to become schizophrenic like some of your relatives? Want to crack under the pressure of your dysfunctional family, with your country at war, your attachments fractured, and adolescent peer issues weighing upon you while your brain is still forming?

Here: smoke this daily.

I’m not even mentioning childhood trauma from unmet emotional needs; or PTSD from various causes; or the after-effects of heavy illness.

 

Nietzche said, “All credibility, all good conscience, all evidence of truth comes only from the senses.” So, what is filtered through the senses is the raw material you have to make decisions and in part create your emotional state. You fuck with your sensory inputs enough and the brain can’t tell what’s real anymore.

And both of these kill confidence. You cannot be both confident and fearful at the same time. They are mutually exclusive emotions. And if your brain is unsure of its inputs, that’s another blow to confidence. Can you really be in chronic doubt and expect to live your destiny?

Who needs confidence, you say? You do. It’s your juice. It’s what takes your thoughts and turns them to actions. Otherwise, smoke each day and dream of a future that never arrives.

Know anyone like this? I thought you might. It was surely me at one point. And you may know someone whose confidence is so far gone they suffer from what is referred to as learned helplessness. That’s confidence buried so deep that they don’t even entertain the notion of a better way. All growth is stifled, or even retreating.

And how do we get confidence? Mostly from confronting fear resulting in victories big and small, from which we derive an emotional state of progressive mastery. Life gets better when we get better at life.

Our discomfort often drives our motivation. We need the contrast of pain and pleasure to consider our approach. There’s the hunt and the feast. Most happiness comes from the hunt.

It’s also why I don’t smoke it regularly anymore. I solved that riddle years ago. I realized I was inhaling fear and exhaling my confidence one joint at a time. It’s unavoidable. Indeed, when you drink you are sipping on fear and pissing out your confidence.

Most people don’t get schizophrenia from smoking pot. That’s a sure thing. There’s a lovely optimism bias in young people which provides some immunity from even considering it.

But you could. You could wind up like Mikey. Bless his heart and too short life. Another man down and out. And at the very least, you will live life more afraid. Assuredly, you will exist with less confidence.

That is not what the universe intended when you won the gift of life.

Over time, you will find that ten years have gone by. And you will realize you have not really lived ten years. Rather, you have lived one year ten times…

 

© Christopher K Wallace 2017, all rights reserved

Please share this if you like. Reach out to me or Book me here.

[sgmb id=”1″]

 

 

FOOD ADDICTION and CONFIDENCE

cake-picture

I don’t know much about food addiction, but know a bit about addiction.

In my view, most substance abuse is seeking fear–or a fight or flight response. It’s paradoxical fear-seeking behaviour.

If you are afraid, generally, you’re breathing shallows, your thinking narrows, blood pressure rises and heart beat increases. These are your classic fight/flight responses.

About two beers in, a few hauls on a joint, 6o seconds after lighting up a smoke, etc. the same thing happens: narrowed thinking (which shuts out the bigger picture and its accompanying thoughts), breathing shallows, blood pressure and heart rate goes up.

For some reason, no one talks about this. I contend that a lot of substance abuse is an attempt to put oneself into a fight or flight state, and that the real addiction is to cortisol and adrenaline.

I also think most people learn this very young—even pre-memory, especially in the case of trauma or illness—though it can be learned at any time in the life-cycle. PTSD is an example of stress learning. Other’s are particularly sensitive to their environments. At some point, fight or flight carried the day and that response becomes entrenched as a way of dealing with the world. It’s what keeps them alive at an unconscious level.

I’m not sure what the parallels would be for food addiction. There are actually four Fs in the fear model. Fight, flight, freeze and faint. I’m guessing here, but maybe freeze and faint play a role in food addiction.

Here’s the kicker. Can you be fearful and confident at the same time?

I’d contend that answer is no. The two are mutually exclusive states.

And what is confidence good for? Well, confidence is what is needed to take your thoughts and turn them into actions. Pretty vital stuff in my view.

So if we repeatedly put ourselves into a fear state, over time, we are decreasing our confidence. Over a longer time frame, that decrease in confidence can become something called “learned helplessness.”

That’s where you see no way out, that excellence or mastery in life is something for “other people.” You just hang on. Compromised.

What are the similarities for food addiction? I’m not sure. I’d be grateful if you could help me understand.

I suppose, feeding the pig in all of us puts a person into a state of comfort, while at the same time exerting control, while at the same time feeling guilt and even shame, and somehow also blocking these things in a great narrowing of thinking. Maybe all of those are a form of faint and freeze. We put ourselves on hold using food.

Or does that excess of sugar, or other long-chained sugar molecules from carbohydrates, provide an excitation reaction at the cellular level akin to what happens when I give my five year old too many sweets? Does my greater bulk simply allow me to absorb the reaction better when compared to a child’s? I think so.

Though, without the obvious physiological responses that smoking, cannabis or drinking has. Or, is this true? Is there a definite physical reaction to eating food that is describable, and measurable at the level of blood pressure, heart rate, breathing and thinking? I think you could easily make the case that there is.

There is little doubt in my mind that eating a row or two of cookies changes my state. Is it the “freeze” and “faint” equivalent of the four Fs? I think there might be something to this.

Many former addicts become addicted to sugar. My father quit drinking when I was a boy and used to have bulk boxes of chocolate bars delivered to the house from wholesalers he knew. We kids thought it was great. About a third of people who quit smoking put on weight–trust me, that’s not happening from a diet of vegetables and meat; carbs rule their cravings.

There’s another consequence that is rarely talked about. When we compromise our sensory inputs, the ones our brain relies on to make sense of our environment, we also experience a decrease in confidence.

If the brain can’t discern properly what is going on around us because we are a little drunk, high from smoking dope, agitated on speed or cocaine, or our breathing has slowed and all pain is absent while on opioids, it cannot also be confident. Oh sure, there’s a dopamine rebound effect that can propel us into action. People get high and clean their whole house, or get drunk and start fights. In my opinion, this is the body trying to stay alive–it’s being pushed and it pushes back. In the end, real confidence gets lost in the confusion.

And don’t we compromise sensory inputs while overeating? Doesn’t the overwhelming sensory experience remove us temporarily from having to deal effectively with our environment? Too full to move? I doubt many disagree that escapism is involved.

Escapism being entrenched by conditioning. Rewarded, are we really doomed to repeat the behaviour? Do we become slaves to this conditioning? And what about confidence then? If your control is relinquished, where is your confidence?

I suggest that overeating has a huge effect on confidence. It’s a dirty little secret—like the closet drinker nipping at a hidden stash.

The problem is overeating carbs wrecks your body and leptin/insulin regulation. This further kills confidence as you go from a bit of healthy weight and a pear shaped body, to “big boned” to “chubby” to “a little fat” to “fat” to “morbidly obese.” For many of us, control over our physical destiny gives way to a certain resignation about our fate. We rationalize it until we can no longer.

The questions about confidence then become:

How much confidence am I willing to give up for a fear, or flight, or freeze or faint state?

And,  “How much confidence do I have to lose before I make myself helpless?”

Or, “How much confidence do I have to give up just to give in to a bad habit?”

I don’t know about you, but for me, this won’t do.

I have found value in this simple sentence learned from Glen Livingston’s book, Never Binge Again:

“I’m not the type of person who eats a row of cookies. It’s just not me.”

It works more and more as I use it regularly. I say this to myself as I contemplate a binge of carbs.

I am choosing confidence, I tell myself.

I am choosing self-concept by design, not one created from happenstance as I react to my environment.

Having solved the riddle of addiction when it comes to heroin, cocaine, alcohol and tobacco, food addiction is next.

I’m learning just like anyone. I’m interested to know what people think.

 

© CKWallace, October, 2016. All rights reserved

[sgmb id=”1″]

Teen Drinking Tragedy

Cobourg-20111017-00516

A few days ago, I shared on Facebook a CBC story about the death of a young man I didn’t personally know. Though he’d graduated high school and was learning to be a welder, Brad Grattan was still a teenager when he succumbed to the effects of playing a game of “beer pong” with hard alcohol. I offer my condolences to his friends and family.

You can read the full article here: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/new-brunswick/brady-grattan-drinking-game-death-1.3458093

To be honest, the idea of teenagers chugging hard liquor scares the heck out of me. I’ve lived too long and too faulted a life to not realize that that could have been me, or that it could have been friends of mine. Sadly, at times, it has been.

I can’t say I have the best answers to this. Brad had good parents and people in his life that cared and loved him. None of them could have predicted his fate. It can only serve to remind us all to be vigilant, to be parents to our children to the best of our ability. The dangers of drinking hard alcohol at that age are great, and most kids don’t know how lethal it can be. That’s the message his parents, Cody and Tracey Grattan, want people to know.

 

As a teen fresh out of the house in the 1970s, drinking and drugging parties were the norm in my world. Working with teenagers over the decades confirms things have not changed much since. Absent parents or other positive influences, things can get out of control pretty fast. Many of the kids I hung around with back in those days had brushes with death of their own. Two of my first three girlfriends had been hospitalized to have their stomach pumped because of alcohol. That’s how they did it back in those days. But even if the relationship between parents and teen is good, hard liquor represents one of the ways things can go awry really quickly. We never see it coming, do we?

 

When I was just sixteen and living on my own at a rooming house in downtown Ottawa, I used to hang out with my best friend at his father’s apartment on weekends. His dad was a medically retired lawyer who had contracted malaria during the 1950s Korean conflict which eventually left him in a wheelchair after developing multiple sclerosis. He managed to wrangle a full military pension but his marriage fell apart as he deteriorated into drinking more and more. The daughters had stayed with their mother while his only son moved into this tiny apartment with his father. There, it was party central most of the time, with every disillusioned young teen from our school area dropping by. Old man Nash would often send us to the liquor store across the street at Billing’s Bridge Plaza, where producing a note from him to the store clerk would get us his gin. Of course, we added our own purchases to the list of provisions too.

I was out of school by then, a high-school dropout. Dad and I had fallen out and I was on my own… something about two roosters living under the same roof and one of us had to go. Leaving a large family of siblings behind, the only world I’d known, meant I’d lost my rudder in life. I worked during the week at menial jobs and spent weekends at my friend’s drinking and getting high with the crowd there. It was where I felt welcomed. I used to sleep on the floor of my buddy’s room in a sleeping back after getting shit-faced.

One time, I drank a whole bottle of rye over the course of the night and blacked out completely. I woke up in my sleeping bag fully clothed and realized I had puked all over myself. To my horror, I then noticed that I’d actually shit and pissed my pants in my sleep, and then slept, unconscious more like it, in puke, shit and piss for the rest of the night. In the morning, all of this was partially dried and caked to my body, great scabs of human detritus of my own making, stuck to me like dried blood from battle. It was all we could do but carefully remove my wallet from my pocket with two fingers, and undress in the bag. I carefully emerged, first a head, then a naked torso, then the rest of me, dried puke on my arms and neck, shit caked against my ass. I headed to the shower and the soiled clothing stayed in the bag. My friend closed off the top of it, pinching it shut with one hand as he pinched his own nose from the stench with the other, and carried the lot of it straight down the hallway to the garbage chute. There it was tossed to everyone’s relief. He lent me fresh clothes so that I could go home. It was my first blackout, and first hangover. Not my last.

 

Many years later, my own son Corrie approached the age where drinking experimentation would be inevitable. Going off to meet his friends on a Friday night at someone’s house posed the same risk. There’s always a more tolerant parent somewhere who grants access to their basement or garage for mild partying, often as a way of keeping an eye on their own teen as they make their way into adulthood. Better here than out there, they figure. Sometimes, they have substance use issues of their own, but just as often not. It’s someone who wants to keep the fading connection of influence with their child at any cost.

So how did I handle this critical time with my son? Well, I knew that if I lost influence with my boy his peers would take my position pretty quickly. In fact, after around the age of fourteen, I noticed that his peer group had become such a big factor in his life that it was unlikely I’d ever regain what we once had. This was my sweet little boy, the kid who up until age ten automatically put his hand in mine as we prepared to cross a road or walk through a parking lot. I had given up so much to be his father; it was a role that had defined me for many years. How would I protect him from himself?

More importantly, how could I prevent him from becoming me?

 

Communication was the key, of course. That’s what I did my best to preserve no matter what. It meant suspending judgment and listening, and moving from parent to acting as an adviser most of the time. Easier said than done, that’s for sure, and I was far from perfect at it. But I realized that if I could position myself as his backup adviser, where he could come and rely on safe counsel without me jumping ahead to impose my views on him, I might stand a chance at keeping the connection. However awkward, it worked. People ask me about what my goal was with my boy during those years. My answer was always the same: to make sure he lives past the statistical danger years of fifteen to twenty-five. That’s still my best advice.

I had a big talk with Corrie about the insanity of drinking straight booze.  We talked all about blackouts, hangovers, and about me pissing, puking and shitting all over myself. I told him about some of the teens who worked for me, kids he knew growing up by name, and some of their mishaps with alcohol. Sadly, Brad Grattan isn’t the first kid to die this way. When newspaper articles from that era reported how another kid lost his life to this folly, I’d seize upon it and we’d talk about it. We can honour the Grattan family by doing the same here.

Back in the days when I talked to my boy about drinking hard liquor, inadvertently, spontaneously, I ended up blurting out more than I had planned. Desperate, I took a gamble.

I told him I was so serious about this, that if he’d agree to never drink straight alcohol—to be wary of it, to be the guy who says no—I would instruct his mother to buy him his own beer to take to his friends. I remember thinking at the time, did I just say that? At this, his eyes lit up. “Really?” he asked. “Really,” I said. “If you drink a couple of beers in your friend’s basement that’s one thing, but the straight booze thing can’t be part of what you risk. I want to you to promise me and really mean it. Swear on it with me as a man.” He answered, “That’s awesome, dad, sure I’ll take you up on that promise, no problem. I will not drink straight alcohol.” I was crossing my fingers.

 

So, there it was that his mother and I dropped him off at his friend’s place a few blocks away on a Friday night. In he went, barely concealing the grin on his face as he stepped up to the curb to face his buddies, several of whom where outside, probably waiting to see if he’d actually appear with beer his parents bought him. Holding his little twelve pack of Coors light cans, he showed up like he was a rock star, his status assured at a critical time in his life. And all he had to do was not drink the hard stuff. He’s in his thirties now. He still drinks but has never been a big drinker. Though, I’ll worry a bit when he moves to Ireland later this year. Of all the places…

 

I suppose I just got lucky. It was the connection between us I worked hard to preserve that seems to have carried the day. I’m probably the least able to judge other’s behaviour given my own past. I don’t condone using my particular method, but that’s part of what worked for me. The important thing is to have the conversation with your teen, and to do whatever you can to keep the connection good between you. People need their attachments and our children naturally want to attach to their parents first. As that connection wanes, they will have no choice but to attach to their peer group. Nature makes it so.

And what do peers know? Not much if you ask me.

 

CKWallace, 2016, all rights reserved.

Contact me here if you need help getting through to your teen about alcohol.

Photo credit: CKWallace. Son and father with their Dodge pickups 2012.