The Lure of Easy Options

I recently read Rave new world: Scientists pry apart party drug’s therapeutic, addictive qualities [1] which reports a breakthrough in delineating the beneficial/therapeutic effects of MDMA from its addictive and harmful mechanisms. MDMA induces prosocial effects, which may help clients build trust bonds required for useful therapy more readily.

The idea is that eventually a chemical that only triggers the therapeutic, positive socialising effects of MDMA could be developed and targeted towards “psychiatric conditions marked by withdrawal and social awkwardness.”

Where’s the Problem?

This type of development can only be beneficial, right? Of course, like everyone else, I can only support anything that can help sufferers of severe conditions.

But, does anyone believe that a side effect free drug that made social interaction awkwardness free would remain an exclusive product?

I suggest that it would be the biggest seller ever. Rather than treating “psychiatric conditions marked by withdrawal and social awkwardness” as mentioned in the study I suspect withdrawal and social awkwardness will be considered the psychiatric conditions in much the same way that currently low mood is often usurped by depression. Are they already?

Our tolerance for the inconvenience of awkwardness or low mood seems ever diminishing despite these conditions regularly being the springboard of growth, change and increased performance. Is this just me?

Brave New World?

In Aldous Huxley’s book Brave New World, [2] by taking Soma, a side effect free drug that distracts from unpleasant feelings people eliminate negative emotions. “A gram is better than a damn” being the overriding sentiment of the time. Interestingly, those that lived outside of this model were considered savages. By not being happy and reasonably oblivious all the time those that didn't partake of Soma and the associated lifestyle were considered odd and ill. Arguably, this problem exists now, as any sentiment but being happy is often considered abnormal.

The natural human tendency for relief can have us seek the quickest way out of challenging situations to escape them. Immediate relief can work well in the external world, but it tends to work less well for our inner lives. Moving away from the learning opportunity born of life not going the way we expect and understand denies us that opportunity. Growth is stilted as a result as are any performance gains.

In Brave New World, the residents become dependent on Soma to nullify negative emotions. However, in the process, all emotions become dulled. There is no individual performance as we would understand, as in the process of nullifying everyone you also standardise them; no one excels.

Life’s not that easy, and would we want it to be?

Even if you could live a “Soma” life would that make life rewarding or make you feel content? In the absence of actually experiencing your life, it seems very unlikely.

Medication is not going to make you feel content with your life. It might remove despair at the moment, but drinking can do that too.

A life of meaning and contentment regardless of circumstances does not require yet another way to escape our experiences but skills and capacity to grow from them. No drug can give you that.

In particular we need to be able to manage stress (psychological and physical) and know how to optimise our mental health so we can execute our life and perform at the best of our capabilities rather than run from life experiences.

To live richly, we need the strength to endure not an easy life. If you look to others or anything outside you to make you happy and content, you are looking in the wrong place (according to Buddha and every other teacher humanity has had). Psychiatrist Thomas Szasz said “The proverb warns that 'You should not bite the hand that feeds you.' But maybe you should, if it prevents you from feeding yourself”, and I would add living your life and reaching your potential.

[1] “Distinct neural mechanisms for the prosocial and rewarding properties of MDMA”. Boris D. Heifets, Juliana S. Salgado, Madison D. Taylor, Paul Hoerbelt, Daniel F. Cardozo Pinto, Elizabeth E. Steinberg, Jessica J. Walsh, Ji Y. Sze and Robert C. Malenka. Science Translational Medicine doi:10.1126/scitranslmed.aaw6435.

[2] Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World. New York: Harper Brothers, 1932.