Narcotic Drugs

A. Introduction

The word “drug” is generally applied to any substance used as a medicine or in making medicine. Aspirin, which alleviates pain and helps lower body temperature, and quinine, used in the prevention and treatment of malaria, are drugs; so are the sulfonamides (sulfa drugs) and the antibiotics, which have revolutionized medical practice and saved countless lives. Certain drugs, however, are taken not as medicines, but to satisfy a craving that has become an ingrained habit. These habit-forming drugs have brought misery to millions in every quarter of the globe.

Habit-forming drugs fall into two main groups: stimulants, or excitants, and sedatives, also known as depressants.
The stimulant drugs excite the nervous system and keep the user alert, at least for a time; they include cocaine, marijuana and Benzedrine.

The sedatives do not stimulate but lull. Taken in moderate quantities and upon the advice and prescription of a physician, they are legitimate remedies. They relieve anxiety and pain, cause mental and physical relaxation and often produce badly needed sleep. Taken in too large doses, however, these drugs may have very unfortunate physical and psychological effects. Opium and its derivatives are depressants; so are the synthetic substances demerol and methadone, used as substitutes for morphine. The depressants are also called narcotics (torpor-producing drugs), a term applied to certain stimulants as well.

It has long been known that many Indians of Peru, Chile and Bolivia chew the leaves of the plant called Erythroxylon coca and that these leaves produce extraordinary effects. The chewers can do an incredible amount of work without showing signs of fatigue or hunger; they also seem mentally stimulated. Other effects, however, are not so desirable. Among other things, the chewers lose their desire for food and are very likely to suffer from malnutrition.

B. Alcohol

When an alcoholic beverage is consumed, approximately 20% of the alcohol is absorbed in the stomach and 80% is absorbed in the small intestine. After absorption, alcohol enters the bloodstream and dissolves in the water of the blood where it is quickly distributed to body tissues. When alcohol reaches the brain, it affects the cerebral cortex first, followed by the limbic system (hippocampus and septal area), cerebellum, hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and lastly, the medulla, or brain stem. Some of these regions are similar to those affected by cannabis, but alcohol also affects sexual arousal/function and increases urinary output.

After drinking [alcohol], the brain works inefficiently, taking longer to receive messages from the eye; processing information becomes more difficult and instructions to the muscles are delayed. Alcohol can slow down reaction time by 10 to 30 per cent. It also reduces ability to perform two or more tasks at the same time.
“Alcohol reduces the ability to see distant objects and night vision can be reduced by 25 per cent. Blurred and double vision can also occur. Ability to perceive what is happening at the roadside is weakened. Loss of peripheral vision could be crucial. Alcohol may also create a sense of overconfidence, with the result that people are prepared to take greater risks.

Alcohol thus ranks at the dangerous end of the toxicity spectrum. So despite the fact that many adults enjoy an occasional drink, it must be remembered that alcohol is quite toxic. Indeed, if alcohol were a newly formulated beverage, its high toxicity and addiction potential would surely prevent it from being marketed as a food or drug

C. Cocaine

The active principle of Erythroxylon coca is an alkaloid called cocaine, one of the stimulant drugs; it was first isolated in 1853 (1859, according to some authorities). In its pure form cocaine consists of shiny crystals, which are bitter to the taste and produce numbness of the tongue.

The numbing properties of cocaine led a group of young physicians in Vienna to experiment with it as an anesthetic. One of these doctors, an ophthalmologist (a physician specializing in defects and diseases of the eye) decided to use the drug as a local anesthetic in an operation for the removal of a cataract. The operation was performed without causing the patient the slightest pain. It was found that cocaine could be used as an anesthetic in other areas of the body; it could be injected under the skin, or, in dental treatment, under the gums.

As cocaine came into more general use as an anesthetic, the medical world became aware that it is a habit-forming drug. Synthetic chemists, therefore, set to work to develop a substance that would produce the numbing effects of cocaine but would not be habit-forming. The result of their researches was a synthetic agent called procaine, a nonhabit-forming drug also known by its trade name of Novocain. Procaine is the most widely used anesthetic in dentistry today; it is often mixed with other drugs, such as tetracaine and propoxycaine.

Cocaine still serves to a limited extent as a local anesthetic; it is also used illegally as a powerful stimulant. The cocaine powder used by addicts is called “snow”; it is generally snuffed into the nostrils. Some addicts prefer to mix cocaine with heroin, producing what is called a “speedball.”

Cocaine produces a temporary sensation of alertness, physical strength and increased working capacity. This stimulation is short-lived; it is followed by a feeling of utter fatigue and mental depression. To restore his sense of well-being, the victim seeks more cocaine. The drug is very unpredictable; the user may not be stimulated at all but may pass into a depressed state or even unconsciousness.

If a victim is deprived of the drug, irritability, sleeplessness and marked depression set in as a reaction to the previous effects of the drug. This reaction state may have dangerous consequences. The victim may have hallucinations and delusions of persecution, and as a result, he may commit a major crime.

D. Marijuana

The stimulant known as marijuana, or marihuana, in North and South America, is derived from the hemp plant, Cannabis sativa. The fibers of this plant are used in making rope and cord; the seed is an ingredient in bird-feed mixtures. The habit-forming drug is derived from a resinous substance in the flowers and leaves of the plant.

One of the earliest stimulants derived from , the hemp plant was hashish. The word “assassin” comes from hashish. At the time of the Crusades a Mohammedan sect committed secret murders while under the influence of hashish; they came to be known as hashshashin, or men addicted to hashish. The word hashshashin, transformed to “assassin,” later came to refer to any hired or appointed murderer. Hashish is still used, particularly in the Middle East.

Marijuana is really a kind of hashish, in less concentrated form. It is sometimes taken by mouth; generally, however, it is prepared in the form of cigarettes, called “reefers,” made by mixing tobacco with crushed hemp leaves. Most of the marijuana sold in the United States comes into the country illegally from Mexico; a considerable quantity, however, is prepared from plants grown in the United States. As a matter of fact, Cannabis sativa often flourishes unnoticed in vacant lots and along roadsides. The cultivation of the plant is not permitted in the United States. The medical profession does not use it in any form.

Marijuana cigarettes look homemade; they are sometimes wrapped in brown paper. When lighted, they have a distinct and unforgettable, smell. Marijuana produces a sort of composite effect. It acts on the higher functions of the brain in the same way that alcohol does. It serves as a depressant on the inhibitory functions; in other words, it releases the brakes of restraint. It also acts as a powerful stimulant. A curious effect of the drug is to make the user unduly sensitive to light; many marijuana addicts wear dark glasses.

E. The depressant, or sedative, drugs

Opium and its derivatives-particularly morphine and heroin – are the most dangerous of the habit-forming narcotic drugs. Opium is a product of the opium poppy plant (Papaver somniferum). The use of this plant goes back to prehistoric times; its original home was probably Mesopotamia. The Egyptians knew about opium hundreds of years before the birth of Christ; Greek and Roman doctors used it in their practice. Galen, a famous Greek physician of the second century A.D., wrote a glowing EULOGY OF Opium. This drug, said he, “resists poison and venomous bites, cures inveterate headaches, vertigo, deafness, epilepsy, apoplexy, dimness of sight, loss of voice, asthma, coughs of all kinds, spitting of blood, tightness of breath, colic, iliac poison, jaundice, hardness of the spleen, stone, urinary complaints, fevers, dropsies, leprosies, the troubles to which women are subject, melancholy and all pestilences.”

Early Arabian physicians used opium too, particularly for headaches. During the ninth and tenth centuries, it was prepared in Asia Minor and carried to other parts of the world by Arab camel trains. In this way, the drug was introduced into Persia, India and China.

Opium became a very profitable article of trade after the sea route to the East was opened in the fifteenth century. The drug became so widely used in India that eventually the poppy plant was introduced there. Several hundred years later, in 1767, the East India Company started a thriving business, exporting opium from India to China. The opium-smoking habit became quite prevalent in China. It developed into such a menace in time that the Chinese government sought to prevent the importation of the drug. This ban was one of the causes of the so-called Opium War of 1839-42 between Great Britain and China.

The use of opium by drug addicts is now largely restricted to Asiatic lands. In the countries of the West, thrill seekers in the nineteenth century sometimes became addicted to the drug; the most illustrious of these victims, perhaps, was Thomas De Quincey, author of the famous CONFESSIONS OF AN ENGLISH Opium EATER. Nowadays, however, the derivatives of opium, particularly heroin and morphine, constitute the chief menace in the West.

Morphine is the best-known of those derivatives. First isolated about 1805, it was found to be more stable than opium; since it was more concentrated, it could be transported more easily. It became the “wonder drug” of the nineteenth century. Physicians hailed it (quite erroneously) as a cure for all kinds of ills, including cancer, asthma, tuberculosis and heart disease. The drug really came into its own after the invention of the hypodermic syringe in 1845. It was found that when morphine was injected through the skin by means of a hollow needle, it produced a much more rapid and far-reaching effect upon the body than when taken by mouth.

F. Is there a cure for the drug habit?

The only infallible “cure” for the narcotic-drug habit is not to fall victim to it in the first place. Therefore prevention is the chief objective of those who combat the evil. In any preventive program, it is vital to control the cultivation of the plants that yield potentially dangerous drugs; it is just as important to regulate the manufacture and distribution of these drugs. Various attempts have been made to draw up international agreements that would be binding on all nations; but these measures have met with only moderate success.