The end of Writer’s Block

I wrote the rest of this post yesterday here. Thank you again to Bill for giving me a topic I could bite into.

Back to my thoughts on the subject of drug use and mental illness sufferers.

Speaking of sufferers, I am one. I have dealt with a cyclical recurrence of minor depression through out my adult life. Judging from the statistics above, that set me up to be very likely to become someone who used and even abused recreational drugs. Bill wanted to know how I’m not someone who’s done much use. For a background, I am a social drinker with 1-2 drinks a week average. I spent about 6 months smoking an average of one-two cigarettes a day which I quit cold turkey and never went back; it isn’t a lot, but it was enough to be addicted and smell like smoke for weeks. I have tried marijuana once and did not like it in the slightest. I have had only minor pain pills given to me for pain relief after the few surgeries I have had.

So, my use never has even really bordered on abuse and one could say that I avoided a significant use even to be called more than average. How did that happen? I can say that when my symptoms of mental illness came on is a big part of it. My most harrowing bout with depression was when I was 16. I feel I became a different kid at that time. And, by that time, my frontal lobe of my brain was already developing at a nice pace.

You see, I was pretty lucky in my upbringing. My parents kept me busy with mind-occupying challenges, body-wearying activity, and spiritual direction to something higher than myself. They also loved me without condition; no matter how bad I screwed up, I always knew that they loved me. Those aspects of my life prevented me from even being exposed to drugs much until I was in my mid-late teens. I couldn’t steal cigarettes from my mom because she didn’t have any. I was so busy with school clubs that I didn’t even know where I could have gotten any drugs, much less how to use them. The only thing I was exposed to was alcohol, as 95% of kids in Wisconsin are. With a farmer who was a Marine for a father and a teacher for a mother, I couldn’t bring  myself to even steal a swig of alcohol until was almost 16. By that time, I had acquaintances who were already going to drinking parties and getting high in the back woods. I was definitely not up for that. I didn’t want to disappoint my parents. This strict yet loving atmosphere is what I credit with staying out of drugs.

Also, the late onset of my depression symptoms made it so that I was able to develop some coping skills during my preteen years before I got to the point where my brain was attacking me. On top of that, I didn’t have the typical stresses that a teenage girl has. I didn’t start dating until I was 16, again because of my parents’ strict training. I was pretty much a nerd, so school and extra curriculars offered by the school were what I spent my time on. I did not care about fashion, being raised on a farm. Makeup wasn’t even an option for me because it was so expensive and I didn’t want to give up the time necessary to wear it; the same idea went for my hair. Basic and simple was my approach to all things “girly”. Having less stress about these sorts of things kept depression something far away until I was 16.

Being able to develop my brain normally for most of my early and mid teenage years was important for my impulse control. Although I still had slips of impulse control, I was able to reason easier than someone who has mental illness symptoms and substance use from a young age. I also knew that I didn’t want to deal with the consequences of use. I was too lazy to pay for fines and too easily bored to sit in a holding cell. Being sheltered in a small town kept me out of the rings of dealers and having lots of people watching out for me kept me accountable. I also hate feeling out of control of my own body.

It all adds up to me being able to be part of the non-users that experience psychiatric disorders. I’m grateful that I don’t have to wonder if my mental illness is a side effect of my drug use. About 6 months ago, I did notice that drinking lead me to feel more depressed for a few days afterward. You’d think I would have predicted that, considering I have my degree in Chemistry and had extensive classes on recreational drugs in my classes for a Criminalistics emphasis. I guess I hadn’t put 2-and-2 together until I was feeling like staying in bed for 17 hours after having a few beers the night before. Giving up drinking helped me for a time, but the depression symptoms held on. Psychiatric Disorders are not always created by recreational drugs, but are almost always exacerbated by them. I’m glad I noticed before it became danger level depression.

Mental illness and substance abuse are something that obviously go hand-in-hand. We have seen the repercussions of them both in our family. It’s helpful to both of us that we try to keep our noses pointed in the right direction and we have some great support systems to keep us out of a bad lifestyle. We’re hoping that will come soon for our boys too and they’ll be able to be more stable as they grow into the great young men they both are destined to be.

We’ll keep you informed on how our adventures in mental wellness are going. It’s not an easy road and it’s not immediate, but we will continue on this path. Stay safe, all, and we’ll see you on the road.

Writer’s Block

I have always thought of writer’s block as not being able to come up with anything to talk about. BOY was I wrong!! I have so many things I could write about, yet today I had a bout of writer’s block.

My close friend, Emma, over at Trans-Advent told me “write about anything except the things you’re having a block about”… ok… “What do I write about, then?” I thought….And thought… all I could come up with were the topics I wanted to tell you all about. It became a bad cycle of “I’ll write about this….” and getting flummoxed by the swirling of all the information I wanted to impart.

Finally, my friend Bill Strait at Bill Knows What’s Up (who was having the same issues of literary constipation) suggested we pick a topic for each other. He asked me to do a commentary on recreational drug usage, specifically this article about using psilocybin for treatment of depression, and a comment or two about how I have stayed away from recreational drug usage. Challenge accepted, my friend.

First, I need to get some statistics straight in my head so I can really address this article with an informed mind. In 2001, a study of 10,000 citizens of Great Britain revealed that about 12% of their population at large had some form of psychiatric disorder. They also tested the comorbidity (two disorders at once) of psychiatric disorders and substance use and dependence. The percentage of people that had substance use or abuse that also had some form of psychiatric disorder is staggering at up to 45% of those who partake in recreational (not prescribed) drug use. An article in Psychiatric Times in 2007 offered an even more in-depth review of other studies that lead to the discussion of onset of symptoms, approaches to treatment, and prevention of relapses. Through these articles, among others, we can pretty readily confirm that people with psychiatric disorders (what I would call mental illness) have a higher instance of substance use and abuse, and thus are generally more accepting of new drugs being accessed for the purpose of treatment.

That takes me back to the article about psilocybin for depression. This article discusses a very small study placed in the scientific journal Lancet Psychiatry. As a scientist, I have a lot of problems with this article even being spread around. Let’s go over them.

This “study”, if it can even be called that, was with 12 people involved. 12 people can hardly be called even a scratch of the beginning of testing a hypothesis about mental illness. According to The Kim Foundation, it’s estimated that 26.2% of the US are diagnosed with some form of mental illness; that equates to 57 million people!! 12 people in a study only represents less than one millionth of a percent of our population. That is not a reliable study for proving or disproving anything.

Also, there was no control population for this study. This means that the people in the study could have been experiencing more of a mind-over-matter effect called a placebo effect. It is when your brain tells you something is working because you believe the treatment will work. Placebo effects can be a very good option for noninvasive treatment for some things. They are also an important thing to note in pharmaceutical research because they tell you whether the treatment is actually doing the work or the person’s belief in the treatment is what’s helping.

Again, note that this was not a randomized study AT ALL. All of the participants were volunteers and self-referred after only 2 other failed treatments. This means that no one thought “this person would be a great candidate for that study” except the participant themselves. They needed to be more open to the use of psychedelic drugs for treatment because they came into the study knowing what they’d be taking. Just the belief that hallucinogenic drugs could help them COULD have been why they felt better.

Another reason they could have felt better is just the environment that they were in during their “treatment”. All of the participants were in a dark room with a therapist to lead them through the hallucinations. Talk Therapy has been used for decades to treat depression. The power of suggestion could be called into task here as well. With a therapist present, it could be very likely that the therapist had put the idea of recovery in the participant’s head. These two possibilities are just as viable for curing depression and far more tested over the course of time.

Even with the issues that this article brings to the table about the use of the psychedelic drug psilocybin (magic mushrooms) to treat depression, it is something that our scientists may want to look into. Although anecdotal evidence shouldn’t be used to make a decision whether one should partake in a certain treatment, it’s something that could use some more organized research, discussion, and inquiry. The questions that shape a viable study of mental illness treatments come from anecdotal evidence offered by those who suffer and their families.

So, I wouldn’t recommend going out and breaking the law by taking some Magic mushrooms to treat your depression. There are lots of current treatments that are effective. That’s what can be so daunting about treating mental illness; so much of it is mired in mounds and mounds of studies that confirm or deny a treatment; no one treatment works for everyone or even a majority of sufferers.

This became a very long post, so I’m going to finish more of it tomorrow. Check back in to see more about the subject of recreational drug use and how my life has avoided becoming a statistic of abuse.