I was recently reading a pair of articles (here and here– Premium access may be required) by Larry Smith on Salon.Com concerning his friends experiences with Ecstasy over the years. In it, he refers to the fact that his first experiences and those of his friends with the drug and its corresponding release of seratonin in the brain were warm, embracing, ecstatic experiences. Then, as time went on, both the intensity and quality of those experiences slowly began to degrade. Now he and his group of Ecstasy using friends have an uncertain relationship with the drug; some still sniff after that elusive “good high” while others seem ambivalent about the drug and still others are concerned about whether or not MDMA has damaged the chemistry of their brains.
While reading the articles, I was struck by the sense that this progression of interaction between this group of people and MDMA was natural and inevitable. I’ve never taken Ecstasy, but I have been intoxicated on alcohol, high on marajuana, and even in indulged in the occasional use of nitrous oxide. I think these substances had a much larger appeal for me when I was 20 years old than now, as I approach 35. When I was in my early 20s, an intoxicating high was part of the social experience. It was warm. It felt good. It was intense. It was new. Now that I am an older and (hopefully) wiser man, the experience of intoxication now seems to merely alter who I am rather than enhance my experience. Much of the excitement is gone, and given a choice, I mostly prefer to experience reality in a non-intoxicated state.
Ultimately, I think this is because our perceptions of reality change over time and our ingestion of substances that alter that perception must also change. As darkndeviant recently pointed out, our brains change their wiring in response to stimuli. So I cannot help but think that drugs constitute on form of stimulus that causes our human “wetware” to change.Some people find that they like “better perception through chemistry” and become (psychologically, if not physically) dependent; others find they ultimately like life better without mind altering substances and go without.
I remember taking a course in Asian religion and learning that one phisophical approach to life is that it is seasonal. I cannot remember the exact names of the stages of growth, but the last stage was all about turning perception inward to consider matters of spirituality and philosophy in order to achieve some kind of enlightenment. This seems so very true to me now… not because I’ve achieved enlightenment, but because I’ve lived long enough to see the general shape of where the arc of my life has taken me.