Drug Interactions

Upon reading the responses to my previous statements, I cannot help but feel that my position is not being fully recognized for what it is, and this induces in me a desire to defend it.

It’s a foolish desire, but one I’ll indulge moderately.

Aspirin is a neurotoxin. A very weak one – estimated to be one ten-thousandth as potent as curare – that has a variety of effects: ototoxicity, impairment of the hypothalamic hemeostasis, damage to the stomach lining, minor impairment of the peripheral nervous system that includes inhibiting the transmission of pain signals, and inhibition of clotting factors.

Those are not reasons not to take aspirin.

If you have a headache, taking aspirin will not make you healthier; it will not make you better; it will not resolve the cause of your pain. Those are also not reasons not to take it.

If you are at-risk of suffering a clot-induced stroke or heart attack, taking aspirin daily can reduce the chances you’ll develop one, and thus decrease the likelihood of your death. If you aren’t at-risk, the increase in risk of a bleeding stroke or inability to clot when needed offsets the decrease of harmful clot risk, so at best there’s no net benefit and there is likely to be a net harm.

Plus, ingesting the aspirin measn that your liver has to detoxify the substance, which is a minor but real cost, and its overall efficiency will be somewhat reduced. (We can only really detoxify one substance at a time, which is part of why combining drugs is such a bad idea.)

None of these points argue against the taking of aspirin. I do not regard someone who takes aspirin for a headache or a stubbed toe or whatever as having made a mistake; I do not regard them as foolish; I do not even presume them to be ignorant, although in all likelihood they are. Ignorance does not automatically lead to error.

But someone who claims aspirin makes them healthier? Unless they have very specific health conditions, they’re foolish, or ignorant, or both. Probably both.

Aspirin is one of the safest and most useful drugs known to man — some have argued it is the very safest.

The various psychoactive drugs are not that safe. They are not that useful. And there are generally simpler and better ways of deriving the desired effects (when the effects themselves are not necessarily a form of harm) than those drugs.

Hoping to produce a psychoactive that has no ‘harmful side effects’ is like hoping to produce an aspirin-like drug that reduces fever without impairing the hypothalamus. You can’t do that, because that’s how aspirin reduces fevers!

Some of aspirin’s effects, in the right circumstances, can be useful – like when you have a headache. Similar points could be made for various other minor drugs, and a few of the more serious ones. Caffeine is a neurotoxin plants use to paralyze and kill insects. That doesn’t mean ingesting it is a bad idea for humans, and in the right conditions a person could easily find caffeine’s effects to be useful. Similar arguments hold for, say, nicotine, although it’s far more poisonous than caffeine, and is far more harmful to humans.

A person can easily argue that they benefit from drinking a heavily-caffeinated beverage before taking an exam, or studying all night, or what have you.  They can certainly be right.  But suggesting that the caffiene makes their brain work better is ridiculous.  The effects may be useful, but they are almost certainly not a general improvement, in the same way that being intoxicated by acetosalicylic acid can be useful without being better.

It’s a trade-off:  slightly impairing well-being in some ways to produce a useful result in other ways.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  There’s a great deal wrong with denying that it’s a trade-off.

All of that said, I hold that many of the recreational drugs have an undesirable trade-off, a net decrease in utility, most especially when they are not considered by themselves but in the context of alternative ways to produce similiar or identical results.  Whether this is true depends on the drug, its means of administration, and various other factors unique to each individual and their circumstances.  But in general, recreationals are an inferior means to reach (sometimes) desirable ends, and often inferiors means to reach ends that are perceived as desirable but are quite harmful.

Erdős may have found a way to increase his mathematical skills; maybe the altered equilibrium of his brain on amphetamines really was better at handling mathematics.  Or… maybe not.  It’s hard to say, one way or another.

What we can reasonably say is that if everyone started consuming amphetamines as Erdős did, the result would be a vast net harm.


One Response to “Drug Interactions”

  1. michael vassar Says:

    My experience with caffeine is that I can use it to reduce my sleep requirements in the very long term with no apparent loss compared to non-use and large benefit compared to the same sleep level without it. OTOH, modern eating and sleeping habits and lighting are highly unnatural, and sleeping less is probably not adaptive or we would be evolved to need less sleep. Frequent and sometimes prolonged fasting seems to reduce my sleep requirements by more than caffeine does and the benefit is non-cumulative. We are probably evolved to sleep more than we need to if we are nourished and have a good place to sleep. Safer that way.

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