Sign the Resolution for a Federal Commission on Drug Policy
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Canadian Government Commission of Inquiry
316. The recommendations of the Minister of National Health and Welfare which gave rise to the appointment of the Commission, and the Commission's terms of reference, place particular stress on the desire to understand the causes of the non-medical use of drugs. We regard our inquiry into these aspects of the phenomenon to be one of our most important functions. The terms of reference speak of motivation, and they speak of the social, economic, educational and philosophical factors that have led to such use.
317. By cause we understand not merely the immediate, direct motivation for a particular drug experience, but the larger social significance of the phenomenon - how it relates to various aspects of life today - family relations, education, work, institutions, and conditions of life generally. In what way is it a response to the problems of modern living? What are its philosophical or spiritual implications? What does it say about our value structure? How does it reflect the way people think about the future?
At this time it is clearly impossible to provide a full and comprehensive statement of cause in these terms. At best we can hope to convey some of the interpretive themes and to describe some of the characteristics that have struck us as significant that seem to have the merit of illuminating from one perspective or another this complex phenomenon. We seek to do this for a variety of reasons: to report in general some of our reactions and impressions; to assist in a preliminary way to add to the common understanding of a phenomenon that has aroused great interest, but that has also caused concern and anxiety, and has brought anguish to many parents; to suggest to citizens, especially parents and guardians; avenues of approach that may be helpful to them in understanding with sympathy and perhaps empathy a social fact that is to them strange and bewildering.
But we must emphasize the to tentative nature of these comments. They are not to be taken as a conceptual framework for an understanding of the changes or responses about which we are concerned. They do not constitute such a framework for the Commission. They are impressions. We intend to test them as rigorously as possible by intensive investigation. We invite critical comment from all quarters. In this way the interim report may serve a useful dialectical function, assisting us in consultation with our fellow citizens, to arrive at a full and sound understanding of this phenomenon.
318. The first problem we face is how to get at the facts of motivation and other related factors. What are we to accept as evidence of these facts? These are very subjective matters. Can we ever be sure that we know the truth? Whether we can or not, it seems to us that we must rely primarily on what drug users themselves say about their personal motivation and other factors predisposing them to use drugs. These statements must be weighed for credibility and carefully considered for proper interpretation but they are the primary and best source of an understanding of motivation. This was the approach followed by William James in his Varieties of Religious Experience, a phenomenon which has certain affinities with the subject-matter of our inquiry. The best evidence of the experience, the subjective effects of which may be presumed to be the primary motivation of cause, comes from the words of those who have undergone it. This is not to say that insight cannot be gained from the observations and interpretations of psychologists, social philosophers, sociologists and other informed and qualified students of our society. Thus we shall have recourse, in trying to explain this phenomenon, to both the words of drug users and the interpretations of observers. Finally, we shall offer our own interpretation, although this can only be a tentative one at this time - one that is offered as a basis for further consideration and discussion by the people of Canada.
319. Our inquiry has taken several forms: the public hearing of the traditional kind in which briefs have been submitted but in which there has been a full opportunity for questioning and discussion by everyone present; private hearings with groups and individuals; numerous discussions with drug users and various experts having not only theoretical insight into the problem but active points of contact with it through some professional involvement; presentation of evidence regarding law enforcement and correction; and we have heard from experts in the areas of education; medical services; family life and social welfare. Although we intend to inquire further into motivation (as well as extent of use, perception of the problem, and general attitudes) in the surveys to be carried out this year, we do not necessarily rely on the answers to survey questionnaires as the most reliable evidence of motivation. Motivation is too subtle, complex, and full of nuance to be adequately elicited through questionnaires. We place as much or more reliance on the impressions derived from hearing individual drug users speak at length in public and private meetings about their experience and what they think to be the causes. In many ways we are closer here to the art of the novelist than that of the social scientist. We can only offer hypotheses - the validity and acceptance of which will depend on their ability to make sense of this phenomenon - to provide a meaning which is satisfactory to Canadians. It is like the ultimate test of any philosophy or religion. But it is important to emphasize once again that what is recorded here is merely our first impression gleaned from initial contacts during the first six months or so of our inquiry.
320. The explanations of motivation and the other related factors vary considerably. They vary between the different drug-using populations and they vary within a particular population. It is idle to seek a single, unifying explanation or theory. This whole area is characterized by bewildering diversity and conflicting impressions, but certain dominant themes do seem to emerge.
321. The motivational patterns underlying drug use also vary to some extent from drug to drug. In the case of cannabis, a major factor appears to be the simple pleasure of the experience. Time after time witnesses have said to us in effect: 'We do it for fun. Do not try to find a complicated explanation for it. We do it for pleasure.' This is the explanation frequently offered for the use of cannabis, particularly by college students and adults in the working world. A mother of four and a teacher said: 'When I smoke grass I do it in the same social way that I take a glass of wine at dinner or have a drink at a party. I do not feel that it is one of the great and beautiful experiences of my life, I simply feel that it is pleasant and I think it ought to be legalized.'
A person involved in work with drug users expressed it this way: 'I think maybe it is time we stopped all the sociological nonsense about social milieux, and how your daddy fell off a horse, and how your mommy burnt the pablum or whatever it is - or what kind of sociological trip you want to blast off on, and just say in front what you mean which is "I get loaded because I love to do it".'
322. Many of us think of human behaviour in general as a consequence of needs that are either inherited or learned. There is some tendency to think of behaviour such as drug use as a consequence of pathological need patterns. However, we feel it would be a serious error, at least as far as cannabis use is concerned, to think of use as symbolic of or manifesting a pathological, psychological or even sociological state. Simple pleasure, similar to that claimed for the moderate use of alcohol, or food, or sex, is frequently offered as the general explanation for most current drug use. This is particularly true of the growing number of adult users (who share perhaps little else but their taste for cannabis with the members of the 'hip' culture). It is no doubt true that for some the use of drugs is a reflection of personal and social problem. But the desire for certain kinds of psychological gratification or release is not peculiar to the drug user or to our generations. It is an old and universal theme of human history. Man has always sought gratifications of the kind afforded by the psychotropic drugs.
323. They will vary with the particular drug used and, to some extent, with the personality of the user. In the case of cannabis, the positive points which are claimed for it include the following: it is a relaxant, it is disinhibiting; it increases self-confidence and the feeling of creativity (whether justified by objective results or not); it increases sensual awareness and appreciation; it facilities concentration and gives one a greater sense of control over time; it facilitates this way makes it easier to accept others; it serves a sacramental function in promoting a sense of spiritual community among users; it is a shared pleasure; because it is illicit and the object of strong disapproval from those who are, by and large, opposed to social change, it is a symbol of protest and a means of strengthening the sense of identity among those who are strongly critical of certain aspects of our society and value structure today.
324. Those who have used cannabis are not unanimous in its praise, although clearly the vast majority am to regard it as either a harmless pastime or the source of real advantages and gain. Those who have used the drug and then criticize it tend most often to say it can dominate a weak personality; it can take too much time; it can become an excuse for procrastination; it lessens the ability to persevere with unpleasant, boring or routine tasks.
325. Often a cannabis user has said, 'We can't explain it to you. Why don't you try it?' It has been implied that there is something ineffable about the experience, although this is more often the case when speaking of the effects of LSD. Sometimes one wonders if what is being conveyed is not a certain sense of exclusiveness, a smugness of the initiated. But we prefer to believe that it is the subtle and multifaceted aspect of its psychological and social significance for the average user that makes words seem inadequate to convey the whole of its meaning. Indeed, many users have insisted that the makers of cannabis are able to communicate without the use of words; that they recognize and understand one another and share important assumptions and attitudes. Whether this silent communication is more than the knowledge of a common experience is not clear. But users speak of a sense of affinity, a larger consciousness, of which they are made to feel a party by the drug experience.
326. Thus there is unquestionably a strong suggestion of community, of cultural solidarity, among cannabis users. And there is a definite tendency to proselytize, to encourage others to take up the practice. It may be partly due to the illicit status of the practice which makes users want to increase the numbers involved and thus the concern of society about its present policy. But there is also a definite impression that the cannabis user seeks to convert others to what he sincerely believes to be a superior outlook and life style. The smoking of cannabis becomes a rite of initiation to a new society and value system. These are aspects of cannabis use, particularly among the younger, more idealistic members of our society, which merit serious consideration in any attempt to measure its potential for growth.
327. We gather from the statements of cannabis users that the drug is predominantly used in groups to enhance, enrich and ease social intercourse. However, the statements of LSD users imply that their experience is much more. LSD is spoken of as a very profound experience, not to be lightly entered into. With some it is never to be repeated; with others, its profound character, the sense of venture into the unknown, the very real risks of adverse effect, make it a practice which seems likely to remain fairly restricted. It is cheaper than psychoanalysis but appears to carry with it some of the same implications- the promise of greater, self-knowledge and self-acceptance but at the same time uncertainty as to the personality that will emerge. Except for a relatively few devotees, LSD is not a regular experience having social or communal significance. It is rather a venture into self-discovery which sometimes takes on turning point significance for the subject. The self-revelation experienced may or may not become a basis for attitudinal change. It is thus a foundational experience rather than a casual one, as is the case of cannabis.
328. It is with reference to LSD that the most serious claims for spiritual significance are made, Timothy Leary has spoken in terms of a new quest for religious truth and experience. 'It's the same old pursuit. The aims of our religion are those of every religion of the past: we work to find the God within, the divinity which lies within each person's body.'1 Users frequently speak of the LSD experience in mystical terms. There is repeated testimony to a feeling of oneness with others - of a loss of the sense of personal identity in a sense of being a part of everything that is around one. There is a pantheistic sense of affinity and identification.
329. While pleasure, curiosity, the desire to experiment, and even the sense of adventure, are dominant motivations in drug use, there is no doubt that a search for self-knowledge and self-integration and for spiritual meanings are strong motivations with many. We have been profoundly impressed by the natural and unaffected manner in which drug users have responded to the question of religious significance. They are not embarrassed by the mention of God. Indeed, as Paul Goodman has observed, their reactions are in interesting contrast to those of the 'God is dead' theologian. It may be an exaggeration to say that we are witnessing the manifestations of a genuine religious revival, but there does appear to be a definite revival of interest in the religious or spiritual attitude towards life. As one drug user put it: 'The whole culture is saying, "Where is God?" I don't believe in your institutions, but now I know it's there someplace.' Another witness said, 'I just find that a lot of people are becoming a lot more aware of what's happening and joining in on a universal cause, a cosmic sort of joyousness and people are getting interested in spiritual things as well, because this is what our generation and the previous generations have lacked .'
330. Drug use is by no means indispensable to the new outlook. Some people are fortunate enough to be what users call a natural 'turn on'. It is conceded that you can be 'turned on' without drugs - vital, human, and aware of all your senses, enjoying authentic, non-exploitative human relations, and alive to beauty and the possibilities of the moment. Indeed, there is an active doctrine of transcendence which sees drug use as a catalytic or transitional thing to be abandoned as soon as it has enabled you to glimpse another way of looking at things and of relating to life and people. The doctrine of transcendence carries much hope for the future. One witness said.- 'I don't do too many drugs anymore because I have gone beyond them. They have taught me the lesson and there isn't so much need for them any more. I mean it's still fun to get stoned but there's a lot more to it. There is more to it than just fun. After you have learned the lesson, you have fun in virtually anything.'
331. Many users have stated that the insights gained through drug use have carried over and remained with them, continuing to shape their attitudes and outlook and style of relating when they were not using drugs. In other words the drug has been a means of discovering a new way to be more relaxed and self-accepting, more accepting and indeed loving, more appreciative of the intensity and value of being human in the moment, less anxious about time and specific goals. In listening to these statements one can not help feeling that this discovery was often made in other ways in the past - through traditional religious experience, for instance.
Modern drug use would definitely seem to be related in some measure to the collapse of religious values - the ability to find a religious meaning of fife. The positive values that young people claim to find in the drug experience bear a striking similarity to traditional religious values, including the concern with the soul, or inner self. The spirit of renunciation, the emphasis on openness and the closely knit community, are part of it, but there is definitely the sense of identification with something larger, something to which one belongs as part of the human race.
332. Young drug users are highly critical of many aspects of our modern life. In this they are perhaps not much different, than the critical minority that one finds in each generation. But one has its own unique history and has lived through a formative period unlike any other. What are the distinguishing features of that background? In what way is it truly different from the one which shaped the outlook of previous generations of young people? The distinguishing marks would seem to be: a generalized middle-class affluence, a very rapid rate of technological change; the oppressive, almost foreboding character of certain problems or menaces which cast a serious doubt about man's ability to survive - nuclear power, overpopulation, environmental pollution, racial hostility and the widening gap between wealth and poverty. All these and other aspects of the human predicament today impart a distinctive character to the outlook and response of our youth. An example of the criticism of the economic system is the following statement by a university student:
I think it is essential that there should be some manner by which we could break down the economic system. We still need productivity. But you can get away from the economic basis, from the competitive basis on which people, once they have gone into something, have to beat you down. You have this aspect of wanting to share which we should develop. You should be willing to share together. But you can still have productivity without competition.
333. To this point we have been concerned largely with the statements and interpretations of drug users themselves. We turn now to interpretation - our own and that of other commentators. Present-day affluence plays a curious role. Without it there could not be the freedom for speculation and experiment - the luxury of cultivating the inner self. At the same time it repels. It is both taken for granted and repudiated. There is a love-hate relationship. The drug-taking minority of this generation cannot be inspired by the goals of their fathers. They do not feel the same urgency to achieve material success and do not seek self-fulfilment that way. It may be that they see no way of achieving their own sense of personal identity in attempting to repeat, probably with less success, what their fathers have already done. There is reason to believe that young people from less comfortable circumstances are more strongly motivated towards traditional career patterns and material success. But there would seem to be more than merely trying to find a role different from that of one's father. The materially more sophisticated young people, those more familiar with material well-being and less anxious about their ability to maintain it, think they see a future in which it will be impossible to avoid. They envisage a society which will be obliged to assure a sufficient amount of material security to everyone in order to maintain itself politically and economically. They therefore conclude that it is a goal for which it is now unnecessary to plan or to which it is futile to devote a significant amount of ones time and energy.
334. There is also a strong impression that young people are, as it were, unconsciously adapting time when there will be much less work to go around. The rapid rate of technological change and the pervading threat of work obsolescence makes them very uncertain about their own occupational future. They seem to suspect that a high proportion of them may have to learn to live happily with relatively little work. Those of us who are well-established in work tend to talk glibly of a future in which there will be increasing leisure. Little thought or practical effort has been devoted to the problem of how to fill that leisure in constructive and satisfying ways. The exploration of the inner self, the expansion of consciousness, the development of spiritual potential, may well be purposes to which young people are turning in anticipation of a life in which they will have to find sustaining interest in the absence of external demands and challenges.
335. Young people speak often of a desire to overcome the division of life into work and play, to achieve a way of life that is less divided, less seemingly schizophrenic, and more unified, They seem to be talking about the increasingly rare privilege of work that one can fully enjoy - of work that is like one's play. They claim to he prepared to make considerable renunciations or sacrifice of traditional satisfactions like status and material success for work in which they can take pleasure. Indeed, one of their frequent commentaries on the older generation is that it does not seem to enjoy its work, that it does not seem to be happy. This is said sadly, even sympathetically. It is not said contemptuously. The young say, in effect, 'Why should we repeat this pattern?' The use of drugs for many is part of a largely hedonistic life style in which happiness and pleasure are taken as self-evidently valid goals of human life.
336. Role rejection is an important theme of the cultural reaction that is associated with much of contemporary drug use. One young person suggested that letting one's hair grow was in part at least a rejection of the manhood role. Young people do not deny the historic validity or necessity of these roles for the older generation nor the positive achievements which must be credited to them; they simply say that they are no longer relevant or desirable. The role which many reject is that of the achievement-oriented male, committed, body and soul to the big corporation, and feeling increasingly the need to give proofs of his masculinity. Some have spoken of drugs as dehabituating, desophisticating, and deconceptualizing - as helping the personality to break out of old moulds. They speak of a release or recovery of child-like innocence - the essential perspective of the artist.
337. There can be no doubt that there is a search for authenticity in thought, in stance, in personal relations. The drug becomes a means of dissolving the mask, of escaping from pretence, affectation and stereotyped reaction and attitude, although their place may be taken by other stereotypes - a cultist enthusiasm which expresses itself in knowing smiles and a private language. What happens under LSD is far from clear, but users speak of blowing holes in the conscious mind through which bits of the subconscious emerge, to be always accessible in the future. It is the language of self-discovery - the eternal search for the main-springs of one's personality - the attempt to find liberation from psychological burdens, from 'hang ups', as they are popularly called.
These human desires, these goals, are not new: they may be summed up as the attempt to become a 'real person'. This has been a goal of religious or spiritual concern down through the centuries; the attempt to pull together the dispersed or fragmented pieces of the self. It is often expressed as the search for an identity.
338. There is in man a powerful and long-term tendency to attempt to weave the experience and perceptions of the individual into a logically consistent whole, centred when possible on a single cosmological principle or theme. In such a whole, man seeks for a meaning to life in the broad sense, for goals towards which to direct himself and the means by which he can reasonably hope to attain these goals. Through such a structure man hopes to find the nature of his own relationship to existence in general and to his fellows. When such a synthesis of experience is available, not only to an individual but in a form that can be shared and accepted by some large numbers of people, it can become the ideological basis for social life and, as such, serve as a unifying principle for a society. Such syntheses of experiences were achieved by minds such as those of Saint Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin and Karl Marx. In the absence of such syntheses, man and society suffer. The responses that are made by man in periods of ideological vacuum often appear strikingly similar. For instance, there seem to be striking parallels between the orientation of the stoics and cynics at the time of the collapse of the Greek world, and the response of the 'Beat Generation' and the 'Hippies'. In both instances the individual seems to withdraw from his society and to seek reality within himself.
339. Are there special elements in the present human situation that impose particular stresses and burdens that would account for the increasing dependence of old and young on drugs? In this context we repeatedly encounter the term 'alienation'. The use of this term has been discussed by Kenneth Keniston in these words:2
Although formal discussions of alienation itself are largely limited to the last 150 years, the theme of alienation - of estrangement, outcastness and loss - is an archetypal theme in human life and history.... The ambiguous concept of alienation has in recent years become increasingly fashionable and, partly as result, increasingly devoid of any specific meaning. More and more the term is used to characterize whatever the author considers the dominant maladies of the twentieth century; and since views differ as to what these maladies are, the meaning of alienation fluctuates with each writer. . . . Writers like Fromm, Kahler and Pappenheim use 'alienation' to describe a variety of conditions ranging from separation of man from nature to the loss of pre-capitalist work relationships, from man's defensive use of language to his estrangement from his own creative potential, and from the worker's loss of control over the productive process to the individual's feeling of social or political powerlessness. Of course, the purpose of such writers is to suggest that all of these different phenomena are connected, that all result from some characteristic of modern society.
In the testimony we have heard, the term 'alienation' is most often used to refer to the estrangement of many young people and adults from the institutions, processes and dominant economic, social and political values of our society; to this inability to think of a good and meaningful life being available to them in the society; to their sense of inability to affect or influence the course that society will follow or the great issues of peace and war, poverty, pollution and others.
340. Many of our modern youth are undoubtedly suffering from too great self-expectation. This is partly the result of exaggerated paternal expectation - parents confusing their own affluence (which may be as often the product of an aggressive acquisitiveness as innate intelligence) with the inherited characteristics which they are capable of passing on. It is also partly the result of a sense of wider opportunity reflected in universal education. More is possible; more is expected. There develops a disquieting gap between expectation and ability. Dr Vivian Rakoff said: 'We use drugs to find out how far we can go, rather than as a device for passivity. Drugs can be a spurious way to fill the gap between aspiration and capacity.'
341. Witnesses appearing before the Commission have sometimes referred to the word 'anomie' to express one of the possible 'causes' of the non-medical use of drugs. Whether these speakers referred to the literal 'Anomie' or to some other state of confusion or estrangement closer to 'alienation' is not easy to determine. But, in fact, and in any case, the Commission was told that a certain anomie in which the Canadian society lives does call for a response, a reaction: self-search, integration, new values, evasion, etc. Literally, anomie means 'normlessness'. This state, well described by the French sociologist, Emile Durkheim (especially in relation to suicide), does not often result from the total absence of norms but emerges from the co-existence of conflicting norms, rendering the aiming towards precise goals very difficult; contradicting values are expressing themselves through co-existing norms.
The Commission thinks that the concept of anomie and the existence of anomie situations may be part of the explanation that it will be trying to discern, in the course of its mandate. However, anomie and alienation are used all encompassingly as two of the 'causes' of nearly all social problems, these concepts will have to be treated carefully, and critically. The term 'anomie' is neither specific nor very useful operationally (it cannot account for a specific problem. e.g., How is it that all people living under anomic conditions do not resort to drugs?)
342. Contemporary drug use is also associated with a loss of faith in reason and a new emphasis on emotion. As one young high school student put it, 'Young people today want to learn feelings more than facts.' Paul Goodman has described the loss of faith thus:3
There is a lapse of faith in science. Science has not produced the general happiness that people expected, and now it has come under the sway of greed and power; whatever its beneficent past, people fear that its further progress will do more harm than good. And rationality itself is discredited. Probably it is more significant than we like to think that intelligent young people dabble in astrology, witchcraft, psychedelic dreams, and whatever else is despised by science; in some sense they are not kidding. They need to control their fate, but they hate scientific explanations.
Keniston has spoken of a 'cult of experience' and declares:4
Central to this cult is a focus on the present - on today, on the here-and-now. Thus, rather than to defer gratification and enjoyment for a distant future, immediate pleasure and satisfaction are emphasized. Rather than reverence for the traditions of the past, experience in the present is stressed. Psychologically, then, such human qualities as control, planning, waiting, saving, and postponing on the one hand, and revering, recalling, remembering and respecting on the other, are equally de-emphasized. In contrast, activity, adventure, responsiveness, genuineness, spontaneity and sentience are the new experimental values. Since neither the future nor the past can be assumed to hold life's meaning, the meaning of life must be sought within present experience, within the self, within its activity and responsiveness in the here-and-now.
343. This emphasis on feeling, and immediate experience reflects itself in an interest in the arts and in nature. Many young people speak of a heightened appreciation of the beauties of nature. This is related to the aesthetic repugnance they feel towards many of the physical aspects of modern urban life. One student said that he did not feel any desire for drugs for two weeks when he was on a canoe trip in the Canadian north. The drugs may often be an attempt to escape from a pervading urban ugliness into a world of interior beauty.
344. We suspect that much contemporary drug use simply serves the purpose of relieving the stress and tension which most people, young and old, experience in modern living. Certainly this is a dominant function of alcohol and nicotine which are still the most prevalent drugs in all age groups, (see Chapter Three). It is also true of the large quantities of barbiturates consumed by adults. In the vast majority of cases it is idle to look beyond the relief of tension for an explanation. This is the pleasure or gratification most generally sought by the drug user.5
Chemical comforts are extremely varied in their chemical nature, but what they do have in common is their ability to produce pleasure. In this it can be noted that people only become dependent on substances which they report produce pleasure and the dependency potential of any substance, drug or food, may be predicted by seeing how much pleasure it gives to the patient. The pleasure they produce is reduction of tension, in addition to any other social or physical effects they might have.
345. Some commentators have identified a degree of strain that is peculiar to the impact of communications in our age. Keniston has referred to it as 'stimulus flooding and psychological numbing'. Dr Paul Christie, the superintendent of the Queen Street Mental Health Centre in Toronto has spoken of 'chronic confusion'. As Keniston puts it: 6
One of the conditions of life in any modern technological society is continual sensory, intellectual, and emotional stimulation which produces or requires a high tendency towards psychological numbing the quantity, intensity and variety of inputs to which the average American is subjected in an average day probably has no precedent in any other historical society.... The problem arises, however, because the shells we erect to protect ourselves from the clamours of the inner and outer world often prove harder and less permeable than we had originally wanted.... Thus, in at least a minority of Americans, the normal capacity to defend oneself against undue stimulation and inner excitation is exaggerated and automatized, so that it not only protects but walls off the individual from inner and outer experience ... the feeling and fear of psychological numbing leads to a pursuit, even a cult, of experiences for its own sake.
346. Many observers tend to characterize the psychological predisposition to the use of methamphetamines ('speed') as one of deep depression. Wilfrid Clement, who has had extensive clinical experience with 'speed freaks', has expressed the opinion that 'we are faced with major generalized social depression as a reaction to our technological society'. Both Mr Herb Tookey and Mr Barry Luger, who have had a great deal of contact with the 'speed' community through their work with The Trailer in Toronto (see Chapter Six), have emphasized this depression. Tookey says, 'The methedrine user is usually chronically depressed with a passive-dependent personality.'7 The depression seems to come from the feeling of powerlessness and inability to cope with various environmental problems and the demands of modern life. Luger puts it this way: 'Most potential speed freaks are depressed because of their past environmental and institutional problems and see no positive experiences in the foreseeable future. They were not able to cope with the problems at home, at school or with their middle-class group.'8 The depression, Tookey says, is 'often manifested behaviourally by a lack of goal orientated behaviour. The methedrine user has considerable difficulty in constructing and carrying out long range plans (i.e. getting and maintaining a job, going to school, etc.)' The feeling of being able to cope is very important. 'Coupled with chronic depression', says Tookey, 'is episodic angry agitation which appears to result from, feelings of impotency, rejection, inferiority, and lack of control over the environment.'9
The 'speed freak' can be seen as a casualty of the increasing complexity of the demands for adaptation and survival in a technological society. Says Tookey, 'The "speed freak" usually hits poor interpersonal skills and invariably is unable to make the discriminations necessary to deal with a complex technological society.'10 Clement sees the problem as one of adaptation in a time of rapid change and contrasts the 'speed freak' with what he calls the 'super-adaptive' youth. Clement expresses the view that the 'speed freak's' depression relates to his perception of his peers and their relative ability to cope with the demands on them - not only the demands of the educational system but also the demands of social adaptation. They experience anxiety about their function and identity in the future. They can see peers able to tolerate the speed and bewildering demands of modern life. The sight of the 'super-adaptive' peer fills the average young person with a sense of inadequacy. The contrast in abilities is shown most clearly in after-school activity - in response to the demands of sociability.
The desire for a supportive, reinforcing community is a strong motivation for the use of speed. 'For the vast majority', says Tookey, 'the speed community provides a very strong, though anonymous identity. Paradoxically, identity is found by losing personal identity to the group. "I'm a speed freak".'11 The speed freak community has few moral standards but it shows a rough loyalty to its members. John Bradford, President of Rochdale College, said, 'One reason why kids use speed is that they are trying to imitate a life style they're not part of and don't understand.' He was referring to the life style of the 'heads' - the users of psychedelics.
347. Many young people profess to have little belief in the future - to find it difficult to visualize a future for themselves. In one small group we met with during our hearings one of the women said, 'Very few in our generation believe we are going to live to be forty.' There was general agreement in the group, with this statement. Paul Goodman in his article, 'The New Reformation', has emphasized this point: 'Again and again students have told me that they take it for granted they will not survive the next ten years. '12
348. There is also a suggestion that this emphasis on experience in the present reflects a reaction against the constraints on the personality produced by the habit-forming, role-imposing, conformity of modern society. It is a reaction against role and rule - an attempt to find spontaneity, variety, and unstructured expression in personality and experience. This reflects again the importance of the dehabituating effect of the drugs - their capacity to break down moulds into which behaviour and personality are threatened with confinement by the various pressures towards conformity. Benjamin DeMott has written very perceptively of this reaction in an article entitled 'The Sixties: A Cultural Revolution'. He emphasizes that it is common to all age groups. DeMott sums up this new longing and reaching out which cuts across all age groups as: 13
The will to possess one's experience rather than be possessed by it, the longing to live one's own life rather than be lived by it, the drive for a more various selfhood than men have known before. ... Young, old, black, white, rich and poor are pursuing the dream of a more vital experience ... at the root of our yearning stand the twin convictions: that we can be more, as men, than we're permitted to be by the rule of role and profession, and that the life of dailiness and habit, the life that lives us, precedes us, directs us to the point of suppressing moral conscience and imagination, is in truth no life at all.
One witness reflected something of the same emphasis in his explanation of the effects of drugs:
Marijuana makes a person child-like. LSD and mescaline are a ticket to childhood. They are desophisticators, they break down the conceptual structure through which the person interprets or views the world. Categories which were always perfectly acceptable are now of questionable value, things which were never noticed or were always taken for granted now jump out to the person presenting unsolvable metaphysical problems. Every event has deep meaning, every thought is profound.
349. This phenomenon can also be viewed from the perspectives of psychiatry and abnormal psychology. There are many in the public who tend to view the non-medical use of drugs as symptomatic of a pathological psychological state. There is no doubt but that some of those who use drugs such as cannabis or LSD are mentally ill; this is also true of some proportion of those who use alcohol and the mental illness is causative to some degree of their use. However, it is the view of the Commission that the majority of drug users do not take drugs as a result of pathological motivation. Nevertheless it is desirable to draw attention to some of the psychological and psychiatric problems that are suggested to be contributing factors underlying non-medical drug use.
350. From the psychological point of view, overstimulation and exposure to an overwhelming stressful and complex environment, which requires the individual to perform too many and too difficult differentiations and to solve problems which surpass his coping ability, are likely to lead to a disturbance ('a jamming') of his capacity to deal effectively with the excessive in-put to his central nervous system. In animals, such situations produce pathological states of maladaptive behaviour which are often referred to as 'experimental neuroses'. In man, it is likely that similar mechanisms prevail, and pathological states of neurosis or personality disorder, even psychosis, may develop under these conditions.
Looking once more at the experimental animal model, it is interesting that animals whose behaviour has become severely disturbed through environmentally-produced stress can be temporarily 'normalized' by the administration of tranquillizing drugs. Animals under these conditions prefer, in fact, water with added alcohol or tranquillizing drugs to plain water.
This suggests that severely disturbed humans, too, may often resort to drugs which produce relaxation of 'instant rest' as a temporary escape from intolerable tensions in a world which offers less and less natural opportunities to do so. It is noteworthy and apparently paradoxical, that amphetamines - the stimulating 'speed' drugs - are among the most effective medical means of alleviating states of pathological nervous over-activity in children, and that these drugs can often help such children to regain increased self-confidence and greater powers of concentration. Claims for similar effects of 'speed' are often made by the teenager who is plagued by the awareness of his own inadequacy. This may be interpreted as the choice of a different 'chemical defence' against the threat of an overwhelming environment - instead of 'instant rest', the young person chooses 'instant efficiency'. Thus, the non-medical use of psychotropic drugs may frequently be an abortive and poorly directed attempt by an emotionally sick person to treat his own condition. But because he does not know precisely how, when and in what dosage to apply these drugs, he not only usually fails in his attempts but more often than not makes things worse.
351. In the language of ego psychology, a person's ability to cope with external demands depends on his ego structure; that is, that part of the personality which mediates between inner needs and outer reality. Ego strength, in turn, depends on undisturbed processes of growth, development and maturation throughout childhood. Since a child is an extremely vulnerable organism, disruptive early experiences may lead to imbalanced development and result in a poorly adjusted personality structure. Such a maladjusted person would then be inadequately equipped to deal with the complex demands of today's world.
352. The Commission has very often been told by young people that they reject all that is traditional conventional and stereotyped, because they consider it to be hypocritical, phony, dehumanizing, threatening, and ugly. As a result, they may, become alienated and some may be plunged into a frantic search for an identity which may be acceptable to them by their own standards. This search for identity may go in two directions, one leading to a pathological adjustment - the other simply to a non-pathological parting from conformity.
In the pathological outcome, the individual may substitute a spurious identity for an authentic one, for instance, by accepting his belonging to a drug community as his new identity. Also, by displacing his inner needs, projecting his aspirations and denying his limitations, the person might settle for a drug-induced illusion of false power, rather than real achievement, and for chemically induced comfort rather than true resolution of conflicts and tensions.
By contrast, in the non-pathological choice, the drug user may opt exclusively for the inner world of personal experience and genuine emotional awareness instead of the despised external hall-marks of success in the world of our present-day society, as we have often been told by young people. In making this choice, the young individual apparently replaces the prevailing social, technological and scientific values which require consensual verification, with the immanent and immutable values of emotional, interpersonal, spiritual, creative - but not necessarily productive - achievement. It might well be reassuring to him that personal experience, emotional awareness, spirituality and creativeness are forever free from the danger of being usurped by dehumanizing automation (the one power the neo-nonconformist hates and fears perhaps more than anything else, as we have repeatedly been told). However, this choice of deliberate withdrawal and restructuring of his value system is probably only open to a highly differentiated, sensitive and introspective person.
353. Many others who reject today's society probably do so for more personal and less philosophical reasons - for instance, because of unresolved conflicts with their parents and with authority in general. Many also adopt more pathological defences, rather than an orderly withdrawal, as their way of rejecting the 'establishment'. Such defences - when induced and sustained by psychotropic drugs - may consist in the vicarious building of an illusionary world with LSD or in frenzied and aggressive overstimulation with the help of 'speed', or in a passive walling off and isolation of the self from all contacts, with cannabis.
354. Even more pathological responses may occur as disguised self-destructive behaviour. For instance, some 'speed' users who inject almost suicidal doses of methamphetamine into their veins without any regard for their safety and health, may actually be trying to test the truth of the youth slogan 'Speed Kills'. The role of the doomed person who is at once a martyr sacrificing himself, a hero braving the confrontation with certain destruction and a gambler playing dice with death, is a role which seems to have a strong seductive pull for some young people who are morbidly hungry for compassion, admiration and excitement. For these individuals the slogan 'Speed Kills', may, paradoxically, carry more attractive than deterrent power - and thus may not serve the purpose for which it is being promoted.
355. The sick individual who relies on cannabis, speed or other psychotropic drugs, almost as his only means of escape, who uses them always as a crutch, and structures his whole existence around them as the only providers of pleasure (the 'pothead', the 'speed-freak, and the 'acidhead'), is in need of medical and psychiatric, or psychological treatment. Prolonged counselling, psychotherapy and comprehensive social follow-up care are usually required. Medically prescribed and supervised drug treatment may also be indicated in many cases.
On the other hand, the neo-noncomformist who is using drugs but is not sick in the medical or psychiatric sense, may not need treatment. If it seems desirable to bring about a change in his behaviour, only a philosophical and spiritual reorientation, which would have to touch the cultural roots of his values and existential attitudes, could achieve this goal.
1. Leary, T. Statement prepared for a Canadian audience in 1967.
2. Keniston, K. The Uncommitted Alienated youth in American society. New York: Delta, 1965.
3. Goodman, P. The new reformation. New York Times Magazine, September 14,1969.
4. See reference 2.
5. Holmes, S. J. Keeping perspective re: Chemical comforts. Paper delivered to the College of Family Physicians of Canada, October 2, 1969.
6. See reference 2.
7. Tookey, H. The increasing use of methamphetamine ('speed') among young people. 1969. Mimeo.
8. Luger, D. Basic facts on speed. 1969. Mimeo.
9. See reference 7.
12. See reference 3.
13. De Mott, B. The Sixties: A cultural revolution. New York Times Magazine, December 14,1969.
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Canadian Government Commission of Inquiry