It’s time to spiral back down into the wonderfully wicked world of drugs. Like I explained in previous instalments, these are not the views or beliefs of CVLT Nation as a whole. I have personally done every drug we are exploring, but have not used recreational drugs in thirteen years, following fourteen years of use that ended with me having to deal with some serious addictions. If you have read my other work, it should come as no surprise my views on drugs differ greatly from the largely Christian recovery community. I feel all drugs should be legal, and do not take a militant straightedge like view of them; just because I can’t use them doesn’t mean other people should not. I had some very positive experiences on certain drugs and adhere to the hallowed words of the Butthole Surfers: “it’s always better to regret something you have done than something you haven’t done.
My most dysfunctional romance was not with a human, but with a chemical. English chemist C.R. Edgar White first synthesized heroin in 1874. White was trying to cook up a less addictive form of morphine, but instead came up with the more acetylated and potent opioid heroin. Bayer – the company who brings you aspirin – tried marketing it in 1888 as painkilling cough medicine, until they saw how addictive it was and ceased production 15 years later. Like most opiates, heroin reduces dull pain, like post-operative pain, but would not be sufficient for surgery. Heroin provides temporary relief from psychological pain – feelings of anxiety, inadequacy or hostility. The high is thought of as a rush or whole body orgasm, though chronic use leads to a reduced sex drive and impotence. Even years after use, higher levels of stimulus are required to reach sexual arousal, with the mental element becoming more important than the physical. For me, the initial high felt like I was submersed in a comforting (numbing) womb of light that radiated in blissful waves from my heart; granted, six years later it was not as impressive and I mainly compulsively injected so I didn’t get sick.
Along with the euphoria of its high often comes a fuzzy, spaced out feeling, forgetfulness and lack of focus. Many musicians claim to enjoy the drug because it takes away the anxiety, but doesn’t impede the muscles needed for playing. Jazz music steered away from the big band sounds and became more abstract and dissonant. An album like Miles Davis’ Sketches of Spain is an excellent example of music made under the influence of heroin. Aside from the obvious track marks of intravenous use, pinpointed pupils are a tell-tale sign of the drug’s use. The drugs themselves do damage the body, but the lifestyle that comes with the addiction – such as poor nutrition and unsanitary conditions – does far worse. Addicts have lower immune systems, making them more vulnerable to the things like pneumonia, which falls just behind A.I.D.S. and liver damage as the most common causes of death for addicts. Chronic exposure can alter the body’s ability to synthesize and regulated endorphins. Even after being clean from the drug for almost 15 years, I am forced to take medication daily to deal with the depression caused by this permanent change.
While it’s not true that if you try it once you will become an addict, unlike many drugs, heroin is not a recreational drug as very few use it in a non-compulsive, non-dependent way. Addictive cycles force the addict to find more effective ways of ingesting, and with heroin all roads lead to shooting up. Shooting up was one of the things I told myself I would not do, since that is what drug addicts do, and I certainly wasn’t one of those; and at the time, aside from tattoos, I had an aversion to needles, and when that became a part of my daily routine, I shot up in my feet. They became swollen with infection and I could only wear a pair of Kiss bedroom slippers with soles I reinforced with duct tape. On one trip to get my stomach pumped in the emergency room, they had to cut them off my feet. I wish I could have had those gruesome things bronzed. While we are speaking of trips to the emergency room: those never occurred while just using heroin, but from mixing drugs, which I did frequently, thinking the real problem was just finding the right chemical cocktail. In the more romantic period of use, I had a ritual where I would make a circles on the dining room floor, and arrange four speakers on the ground around that, then try to press play right before I shot up in hopes the high would spike right as one of the ascending notes of “Plain Song” hit. If that occurred, I thought it would be a perfect moment. Granted, I have some other obsessive-compulsive behaviors and this is not typical of your average junkie, though most have certain romantic rituals, an album or place they find safest to get high in. Eventually, you can get MacGyver with a lighter and spoon riding on the subway or in the stall at a truck stop bathroom.
Over recent years, the Swiss have become the most pro-active in the approach to treating heroin abuse. Their methods have ranged from creating “Needle Park” in Zurich, a public shooting gallery that became unmanageable, and after a second attempt at this model, had the doors shut on it for good in 1995. They were more successful at prescribing it to addicts; this did not produce a black market, and the health of the addicts improved when it was used in a controlled and hygienic condition. The narcotics problem in the States came after the Harrison Tax act in 1914, where physicians could still prescribe the drug to addicts. Being the control freaks that they are, it wasn’t long before authorities were allowed to prosecute physicians who prescribed narcotics. Even though across the pond now the British lean more toward a methadone program, the United Kingdom made different choices and allowed heroin to still be prescribed until the late 90’s. Then came a shift to more monitored use and the push toward methadone came about. Methadone, the drug commonly given to addicts trying to wean themselves off heroin, is less potent when administered subcutaneously, but is more effective than heroin or morphine when taken orally, due to how the drug needs to be metabolized. Methadone withdrawal can be harsher than heroin’s, but it is normally closely monitored when administered. Unlike alcohol (yes, we shall get to that one soon enough) the withdrawal is not life-threatening unless there are pre-existing conditions such as cardio vascular problems. For me, methadone always felt like throwing the emergency brakes on a car that already crashed; in fact, I felt worse on it than when I got dope sick. The fear of getting sick was worse than what happened, though it was heartbreaking, and in my mind felt like being in a toxic relationship that you did not want to believe could let you down. Quitting “cold turkey” refers to the period of withdrawal where the skin becomes cold and clammy. Withdrawal kicks in anywhere from six to 12 hours after last dosing, and is like having a bad case of the flu for a few days. Even with the drug out of your system, cravings can be triggered even several months after kicking it if exposed to something that is in context to the ritualistic lifestyle that comes with the addiction.
Ever since the classic era of jazz in the 40’s, heroin has been linked to musicians. This played a big part in the idea of the drug as more glamorous than the reality of it is, since the is more noted users include Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Sid Vicious. Not all have died from the drug; Al Jorgensen is currently still breathing, and even the late Lou Reed did not directly die from it, though a liver ailment certainly could have been a byproduct of his days chasing the dragon. Even Elliot Smith’s death could be traced back to his usage, as many rock ‘n roll suicides are connected to the depression that sets in when you come to the realization the romance is over and this is as good as it’s going to get. Then there is William S Burroughs, one of the most noted junkies, who just died of natural causes at 83.
With other drugs, I have sometimes suggested parameters of experimental use. I can not do that here, but I believe everyone has to do what everyone has to do. While I will not judge someone for what drugs they do (as long as they are staying away from my child and not in my home), I would suggest looking at the emotional or psychic pain you are medicating before trying to kill it with heroin. This, however, will not dissuade me from listing my ten favorite albums to listen to on it:
The Cure – Disintegration
Mogwai – Come on Die Young
Cocteau Twins – Heaven or Las Vegas
Life of Agony – Ugly
Bloodless – Entheogen
Skinny Puppy – Too Dark Park
Stark weather – Into the Wire
Tricky – Pre-Millennium Tension
David Bowie – Low
Swans – Love of Life