Category: Reward Systems (Brain)

Tripping in context

Let’s say you’re sitting at a bar. You’re 1.5 drinks in: confidence blows in the sail of your diaphragm, smiles are beginning to seep from your cheeks, and the voice in your head informs your sad, previously sober-self: What the hell – I really can achieve my goals, and I really do take myself too seriously, and thank the lord for alcohol! We have to do this more often, you mopey fuck!” As GABA floats across the lanes of your head-highways your brain – rather, you – find yourself settling into a disorganized and disinhibited state of bliss. Euphoria is too complicated a word for a feeling this normal. You’re calm once more.

You’re alone in that sense. Somehow your eyes receive some brainspace from your nose, which has utterly hijacked your experience with an awful perfume smell. An older woman 2 seats over is the hare to your tortoise and the current colonizer of your nostrils. You see that she is already a walking (sitting) vessel for a bottle of wine. She orders another. Some song that your dad really likes plays on the bar speakers as you peek down at her right ankle. No mistaking the Louis Vuitton purse at her side, nor the 3 prescription bottles inside of it. Your background in medicine, druggery, and institutionalization have taught you about privacy, but being medication savvy, 3/4 of a second is all you need: notice that the pill bottles all look fresh but bear different logos: St. Paul Corner Drug, CVS, Walgreens Pharmacy. Citizen-healthy-voter you shouldn’t peek, shouldn’t judge, so you look away and try to mind your drink. Hospital-you sees the after-image of the bottles in your mind’s eye. Amphetamine, Xanax, Prozac. Yet another rich lady with a gaggle of doctors. A gaggle of neuroses, sure, and based on her medication choices she’s well aware of her own difficulties. The problem is, these medications shouldn’t be prescribed together. Any legitimate care provider would know not to prescribe an antidepressant with a benzo with a stimulant anywhere other than a college basement. The bartender asks if you want another – in the 1/2 second before answering you have a moment of sadness for all the doctors who are persecuted for prescribing. Yeah, America, blame the doctors for your kids taking adderall. Keep blaming the doctors for Prozac being ineffective. Keep blaming a bunch of debt-laden medical students for doing their best to please you. And then jump onto the next miracle cure, why don’t ya, until the next miracle cure fucks you up. And fuck wine, you think to yourself loudly. You try to remember that there’s no need to be judgmental. Even though you won’t ever relate to this lady she’s ruined your state of mind, which honestly isn’t her fault. So much for the calm.

Then, Grandma-Glamorous yells something that actually resonates: GOSH, I MEAN FOR A MAJORITY OF PEOPLE WITHOUT MAJOR DEPRESSIVE DISORDER, NONE OF THESE ANTIDEPRESSANTS WORK ANY BETTER THAN LIFESTYLE CHANGES ! THEY SAID ON THE NEWS THAT THEY’RE USING THOSE MAGIC MUSHROOMS TO MAKE THE BLUES GO AWAY, HAVEN’T YOU HEARD? DOESN’T A LITTLE WOODSTOCK SOUND MORE FUN THAN WHINING? Fearfully, you almost glance down at her purse again to see if she’s carrying any tabs. She isn’t. What is this lady onto, anyways? She’s not like you: She’s never hallucinated (recreationally or clinically), she prefers medication over lifestyle changes, she drinks like a fish, and – despite her ability to rattle off study findings – appears completely medically irreverent. She’s also upper class and has uttered words supportive of the Trump administration. You wonder if she has a therapist and realize that it doesn’t really matter. She is a consumer and she wants what she wants what she wants. So how do these folks, abusive yet wary of all things prescription, come to love magic mushrooms?

What about the clinicians who are eager to publish? Their credibility requires that they not abuse medication, and that they be less wary of prescriptions. In fact, they must plunge headfirst into pharmacological interventions despite any wariness they experience. Their patients rely on it.

What about you? The nerdy, liberal-leaning undergrad? You have seen in your own body the disastrous effects of various prescription drugs. You’ve also seen in your own body the disastrous effects of various psychedelic drugs. You’ve also seen the benefits of both of these classes of drugs. So, let’s get serious.

What do psychedelics have to offer to the everyman? To the world of clinical psychiatry? Are psychedelics like psilocybin, LSD, or MDMA beneficial for mental health? Are they harmful for mental health? How do their effects differ between younger and older people? Between men and women? Are these drugs more effective for people with diagnosed illnesses? Less effective? Dangerous? If I have major depressive disorder, and medications aren’t working for me, should I ask the young fella at the bar if he knows where to buy some shrooms?

 

 

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Do you cry after caffeine intake?

I do. It’s weird

Coffee is a devilish drug with a tendency to cultivate dependence and craft caffeinated chains between itself and the user. As I type this I’m maybe a few ounces (probably 30-50mg of caffeine) into a cup of coffee &, as often happens, I started crying in what totaled to a brief 10-second spurt. Playing on my mental radio was a sudden dialogue with a formless stranger about how beautiful my cats are, how grateful for them, etc. An image of myself much older came to mind; I was seeing an old picture of the cats and hadn’t seen that old picture in some time and I was crying tears of gratitude.

This mental trip took place in less than 4-5 seconds, was profound, colorful, and detailed, and took me straight out of the room I was sitting in. There was a glowy feeling of being decades older and shown these gorgeous pictures of these gorgeous cats. It was less a thought process and more of a vision or fleeting headline on the newsreel of my frontal lobes.

It immediately passed and I felt funny for having had the experience yet again. Self aware, un-emotional, and nonreactive to what had just occurred. This type of thing occurs very often after coffee but it was quite some time before I realized that. I thought I was the type of person who had an early morning cry session, or a few chaotic ones (always of about 10-20 seconds maximum) but the link with caffeine became clear after a long period of daily journaling. Will post an excerpt soon but just wanted to leave this note here for myself later. With that said, I’m off to finish this coffee

F&c% you, NAC

And no, I don’t mean N-Acetyl Cysteine. I’m talking about the nucleus accumbens. This devilish bit of brain tissue is one that seeks for its larger meat-sack the experience of reward and short-term pleasure. To be honest the NAC isn’t the only zone related to that tendency: the frontal striatum and a few other areas are instrumental as well. To finally reach the end of the fall semester a bit bruised and battered reveals to me that my own proclivity for pressuring pleasure to pop up in the present is pretty problematic.

So the quest now is to develop skills and habits that enable the delay of gratification. In order to conduct this oversized ganglion through larger and longer movements I’ll be getting in touch with some professionals in the area who focus on this issue specifically. How exciting! Will post updates as that moves along. Here’s some soul food for any of you mind-wanderers wondering what to read about to get a sense of the issue.

Delay of gratification in childhood linked to cortical interactions with the nucleus accumbens

Frontostriatal White Matter Integrity Predicts Development of Delay of Gratification: A Longitudinal Study.

Reduced delay of gratification and effortful control among young children with autism spectrum disorders

 

A Train Without Rails

One way to really waste your time is reading on and on about mindfulness. And there is surely no end of long long long books books books offering a thousand lifetimes’ worth of answers about mindfulness. Complex, marketable, secular answers. Let’s set those answers and those long books on the shelf for now. When I was 18 years old, a scientist in Madison posed a question in the first half of a brief article. That question was Are questionnaire-based self-reports of mindfulness valid?

Now I’m 25 years old. Unresolved is ‘the questionnaire question’, but absolutely certain to me this morning was my own mindlessness. Here’s a small sample of the day’s distractions, brought to you from first-semester chemistry (via self report…validity to be determined):

 

11:15am Distracted by goal-flavored thoughts about writing a memoir of high quality, visualizing the steps associated with such a venture
11:15:30am Writing-thoughts bubbling up to account for the possibility or inevitability of memoir-thoughts
11:19am Anger-thoughts about institutional life, hot heated word-thoughts offering critiques of abusive power structures and their creations, which stemmed from thoughts about writing
11:24am What’s the best way to steal a lot of stuff from Whole Foods?
11:26am Anger-Argue thoughts about my old job, and the gross inability of my former boss to do her job (or live her live generally)

 

My intent for that 15-minute period was to simply write those thoughts that were most distracting for me. So when I noticed that my attention was unstable even for a moment, or that my mind’s eye had been occluded by some material other than coursework, I wrote down that material non-judgmentally and as it presented itself. It can be hugely valuable to understand and observe our consciousness without responding to or agreeing/disagreeing with it.

Do you have a wobbly attention span? Are you seeking more FOCUS? Go back to the shelf, pick up those conversations about secular mindfulness, and have some Mental Training™ today!