Multiple times each day, we all reach for an upper. It may be a piece of chocolate, an espresso, a Coke, a candy bar. Then, after a day of stressful work, we often switch to a downer: a cocktail, a beer or a marijuana joint (now legal in at least eight states). All of these are brain supplements, neural nutrition or attitude modifiers. And where do you think this constant up-and-down, unscientific brain modulation is leading?
The state of happiness in America is not very highly ranked. Most people seem to be stressed, overworked, emotionally frazzled, angry and sometimes even violent. To counteract these traits, we seek stress reduction through yoga, meditation, and sports activities, which, while sometimes competitive, leave us in a happier place. We also turn to reading, arts appreciation and shared group interactions.
A surprising number of people have spent years seeking solace in psychotherapy, in retreats designed to calm the brain and in counseling of all sorts. All these strategies attempt to put us in control of our out-of-control mental states. Mindfulness is the goal; yet, the paths to get there are filled with anxious efforts.
The most common brain modification activities surround the foods we put in our bodies. Those foods have been corrupted for decades by the sugar industry’s realization that while a little sugar is good, a lot is addictive. Worse than the nicotine lobby, the sugar lobby entered our lives through our children’s cereals and has stayed there in our soft drinks. The negative health effects from conditions like diabetes and obesity dwarf all other self-induced illnesses.
Yet, in parallel to the sugar industry’s effort, our government waged a “War on Drugs” that effectively crushed experimentation on mind-altering substances. Research on MDMA, LSD, mescaline, Ketamine and marijuana was suppressed. The development of thousands of other compounds that could helpfully affect our brain receptors never got any funding.
This is changing.
Marijuana, while proven not to be a gateway to the use of other drugs, is actually opening the path to research on mind expansion in a variety of ways. It has been have discovered that there are defined receptors — the cannabinoids being just a single example — that can be stimulated to provide pain relief without addiction. Other receptors may help release creative energies, open blocked memory passages (both for people with healthy brains and those with dementia), intensify mathematical acumen, unleash musical skills, empower empathy, suppress violent thoughts, cure depression, provide satiety to inhibit overeating and trigger a thousand other useful traits yet to be identified.
Our days of living in fear that the use of “drugs” is always a crutch, and leads inevitably to addiction, are fading fast. We are all using drugs or supplements in the form of sugar, chocolate or caffeine uppers and downers. Yet, we have been held back from access to effective, targeted interventions that could streamline our paths to happiness, productivity and peacefulness.
Throughout Silicon Valley and the Bay Area, many professionals are experimenting with microdoses of various drugs, including LSD, to enhance their work performance. However, this is a lousy way to develop the body of scientific research we need to measure the brain’s receptivity to targeted therapies.
I suggest we take the high road, fund massive amounts of brain nutrition research and cure what ails us in the most productive, safe and scientific ways. I look forward to my daily glass of brain juice and hope everyone toasts to a happy life with theirs.
Dr. Kevin R. Stone is an orthopedic surgeon at The Stone Clinic and chairman of the Stone Research Foundation in San Francisco.