For a long time I didn’t know that cocaine had medical benefits, or that various forms of the drug found in the coca plant were being used every day in American medicine. All I knew is that rats in laboratories would choose cocaine over food until they died of starvation. I heard that statistic way back when I was a kid, when my little brain was hungry for anything that might present itself as knowledge. It freaked me out, and made me terrified of any mention of the drug. When I found out that it was a medicine, and a commonly used one at that, I did a little more research.
It turns out that the rat study is wrong, in that the premise itself is fundamentally flawed. But we’ll get to that.
First, let’s talk about the coca plant.
It turns out that indigenous people have been chewing this leaf for untold generations, with no ill effect. Apparently, the coca leaf is one of the few plants on the planet with both a complete amino acid profile and medicinal properties. When eaten in its natural form, it is quite healthy and mildly invigorating. The effects are reportedly similar to drinking a cup of coffee, without the common crash afterward.
Why doesn’t everyone know this? Further, why can’t we legally cultivate this healthy and medicinal crop in our country? Our farmers grow so much corn that they had to find a way to liquify it and put it in nearly everything, despite the fact that it has deficit nutritional value. Wouldn’t those fields be better used by cultivating one of the rare plants with enough nutritional value to sustain life on its own if need be?
We won’t talk about the other crop Americans can’t grow; prohibition is slowly being peeled back on the plant that is largely responsible for many advances in western civilization, and current voting trends have already started to turn that tide.
Let’s talk about rats in cages, instead.
I heard about that study when I was very young, ten at the outside. The study stated that rats in laboratory cages chose cocaine over food to the point where they actually starved to death.
Well, we know that heterosexual men change their behavior when we put them in prison: the only choice we give many of the people who get caught committing crimes in this country is to rape or be raped. This is a situation that only exists when human men are locked up, and unable to leave the situation. We’ll talk later about who’s being locked up, and how they’re being treated; all we need to acknowledge now is that everyone’s behavior changes when their freedoms are removed. Humans of all ages fight against restriction of all kinds, and there is no greater restriction than imprisonment.
It turns out that rats aren’t fond of being locked in cages, either.
They’re so affected by imprisonment, in fact, that their behavior is completely different than that of rats with at least some sense of freedom. When this same study was done in a different environment, it yielded considerably different results.
We can still say that rats in cages prefer cocaine over food, just as we can say that non-violent offenders often become acclimated to violence in prison. There are more breaths to take, however, after saying it; and there are some things that should be mentioned in the next breath, or at least the one after that.
Rats in a playground type of setting, with lots of activities available that are apparently of interest to these creatures, are perfectly willing to try cocaine. They might even enjoy it. They don’t, however, eschew food to get high again. In fact, after experimenting with the drug they generally ignore its presence in this environment. They have too many activities to choose from, and it turns out that those activities are more appealing than getting high all the time.
Choosing a drug over food…well, that doesn’t come into play at all; at least, not when a rat has choices. Recreational activities are of way more interest to the little vermin than recreational drugs, when given the choice. Harmful addiction only happens in situations where individuals feel oppressed, imprisoned by circumstance or locked in actual cages.
But we knew that, didn’t we?
The more you restrict a rat’s behavior, the more extreme avenues it will pursue to escape that restriction. What’s the point of living another day if you don’t have freedom?
Wait, isn’t there a saying like that?
Is it at all possible that a more complicated network of neurons might be driven even more crazy by having their freedom taking from them? Is there a study somewhere that shows what a man or woman is likely to do, when they are born in an environment that is or appears to be working against them on many levels?
We could call society an experiment, and the United States a study within a study. It doesn’t matter if the study is deliberate or not; it is being conducted either way. As one of the youngest countries in the world, it has gone from no income tax to one of the highest in the world in that very short amount of time. It has tried prohibition in so many shapes and sizes, on so many substances that other societies consider helpful or medicinal, future generations will surely see it as an experiment; or a pathological split personality disorder expressed on a massive scale.
Either view is hardly flattering to the common man or woman in modern America; but it’s hard to speak or see clearly on something that helped form who you are from the beginning. No one alive today in America knows what it’s like to work without being taxed for that effort, unless they’re willing to risk their freedom for the feeling. Those folks that don’t get to feel paranoid, another common American experience, the whole time they are working to feed themselves or their family.
Is it ridiculous to say that people act differently, when they have a different set of freedoms and restrictions? Is it not possible that the folks who founded our country knew how important freedom is to an individual, and that their knowledge was a primary motivator in laying out the template for future generations to pursue that freedom?
Is it possible that society itself is the reason people are drawn to dangerous addictions, why they act out violently and also why some minds get twisted to the point where they have trouble fitting in to said society? Is there any way to know how we would behave in a free environment, when every place we have to go is ruled by someone who tells us what we can and cannot do?
These are questions that it is impossible to answer in anything but the hypothetical. Yet they lead my mind to wonder: what is the perfect environment for a human to grow in? There’s that old adage, that seems it may have been trying to say more than many of us heard in the words. We’ll talk about it next week, in a post called ‘It takes a village!’.
Thanks for reading!
All the best,