For most of us, the word Heroin evokes the idea of something evil, something with a life of its own, a hunter of souls bent on destroying lives. We believe that heroin “hooks” those who try it, dooming them to ruin and even death, omnipresent in their lives, omnipowerful. After all, it’s a “monkey on their backs,” and a malevolent monkey at that. Those who try heroin have no choice–they become addicted, junkies for life, or so we believe.
Like anything said often enough, heroin stereotypes become accepted as truisms, which isn’t always the case. Heroin stereotypes serve society in that they warn us of danger, and heroin is a very dangerous drug. In spite of this warning, however, heroin stereotypes fail society when the danger signals becomes transformed. One result of this transformation is that we begin to anthropomorphize heroin. A metamorphosis takes place. Heroin takes on a mysterious life of its own, stripping people’s will from them and determining them to a life of addiction, suffering, and eventual death. We begin to think of heroin as some sort of entity.
I was seriously interested in understanding the attraction to this drug, an attraction powerful enough (according to The Household Survey On Drug Abuse and The Statistical Analysis of the United States) that in 1996 2.4 million people had used heroin at some point in their lives and 265,000 people were addicted. Understandably, the anthropomorphic confusion and stereotypical inaccuracy girdling the subject of heroin did not satisfy my interest. I was under the impression, from the stereotypes on heroin, that the first feeling was so wonderful, that the individual trying it couldn’t help but try it again and again, until the afflicted individual was completely addicted.
Due to my confusion regarding heroin’s appeal, I decided that subjective experience was a necessary condition for a clearer understanding of heroin’s allure. I know, I know, “What if the stories were true, and I would have become a hopeless junkie?” What if, indeed. What if I yank out a molar, put it under my pillow, and the tooth fairy leaves me a million dollars? Reason and logic are no more our enemy than heroin is. After years of studying philosophy and logic both in and out of school, I have learned to distinguish the difference between coherent and consistent information, the foundation of knowledge, and that of metaphorical hyperbole. In this case, the problem of coherency and consistency manifests itself in the contradictory belief that heroin is an inanimate object devoid of life, but at the same time, and in some mysterious way, controls people.
Yet a first hand experience of heroin would come with a price–Once I experienced heroin, I would be stereotyped myself. An eternal fact about experience is that you have it forever, and no amount of thinking or wishing can undo that fact. The cost of knowledge is sometimes high. With this in mind, I set out to find this infamous drug. I made the decision beforehand to smoke it, not inject it (injection is the preferred method). Once I put myself in an environment conducive to such acquisitions, one question was enough to obtain a dose large enough for two inexperienced people. (Having the foresight that my inexperienced fumbling might ruin a portion, I requested double my needs.)
In less than thirty minutes, I had the heroin. The cost: $20.00. It looked like a ball of road tar, black and sticky, with a sharp and unpleasant chemical smell, about the size of a large house fly. This form of heroin is the California version. It comes from Mexico, and from its appearance, it gets its name: “Mexican Tar Heroin.” Anyway, I finally arrived home, and in great anticipation, fabricated a crude tin foil pipe to smoke the heroin from. Tar heroin melts when heated, boils, and then begins to evaporate into a thick, white smoke. The smoke is then inhaled. Heating and inhaling heroin from a small piece of tin foil is called “Chasing the Dragon,” which exemplifies the metaphorical hyperbole behind this drug.
Well I did just that, sat down, and waited for the heroin monster to manifest itself, a monster said to enslave the will of men and women and determining them to ruin. Immediately I noticed that my eyes would not focus. The words on the page jumped around. I gave up trying to read. The best description regarding the cerebral aspect of the experience that I can muster is that of a strong, thick, and gluey feeling, greatly diminishing the analytic aspect of thought. The physical aspect was relaxing, and my entire body felt heavy and dense. Despite that fact, the physical feeling wasn’t nearly the ecstasy I had expected.
I wanted to understand why people dedicate their lives to a routine of searching for and using this drug. I couldn’t understand why before I smoked it, and I felt like I was no closer to understanding why now. After about fifteen minutes, I decided to smoke a bit more. After all, a dose large enough to justify the experience of the drug was necessary.
Once again, I was rewarded with an increased sense of druggedness: a heavy physical feeling and a general slowing down of my thought processes. The feeling was again agreeable. Yet I couldn’t help thinking that this couldn’t be what keeps so many people coming back in the face of physical addiction, the dismantling and destruction of their lives, and in many cases, death. So I indulged myself yet again.
This time what needed to be done was done. I was lapsing in and out of consciousness, if consciousness is what one might call it. The lapsing in and out of consciousness is called, colloquially and quite accurately, “nodding off.” I wouldn’t equate the heroin induced state of consciousness with our generally accepted understanding of the term “consciousness,” however. They are not similar. For instance, while nodding off, I couldn’t think or contemplate in any normal sense. I also felt nauseous unless I lay, unmoving, flat on my back. So there I was, lying flat on my back, unable to think, not wanting to move, and nodding in and out of what I will call a between state–that is, between consciousness and unconsciousness. I am at a loss to better explain it. The experience is definitely not one of thought and contemplation, as I simply couldn’t think much at all. Upon reflection, the best I can put into words my experience is that of missing time, lasting about five hours. And as Einstein said, no time, no knowledge–no nothing as far as our cognitive understanding of the world is concerned!
After a while, I set out for bed and slept well, except for fits of itching, which I am told is a symptom of heroin use. I drifted off to sleep thinking, “How could that experience be attractive to anyone?” The next morning, and once again in full possession of my thinking faculties, I had at least one answer. Here’s why.
Heroin virtually destroys the act of higher thought: Worry, fear, want, need–these thoughts are virtually nonexistent. It does this by inhibiting the brains ability to think abstractly. Contemplation, of fear, worry, want, need, even joy is the product of abstract thought. For example, happiness is the product of our ability to reflect upon our experiences. As humans, we know we are happy, and we know it by reflecting upon ourselves and our experiences: “Oh yeah, I’m having fun skiing! I’m enjoying myself in the company of my friends,” and so on. We acknowledge that we feel good, bad, or indifferent, and that acknowledgement is the result of our ability to think abstractly. We are, that is, cognitively aware of our states of consciousness.
When on heroin, thinking abstractly is nearly, if not completely, impossible. Hence, heroin, at certain dosages, can be a total escape into oblivion, for the ability to think abstractly is devastated. Thinking becomes rudimentary at best. This is not to say that people who are addicted to heroin cannot function in society and cannot think. The person who I received the heroin from has worked his entire life.
The act of thinking on an abstract level, however, is greatly diminished, if not obliterated completely. What this means is that some people who are addicted to heroin can function in society and complete their tasks, but I seriously doubt that anyone could accomplish, for instance, theoretical physics, abstract philosophy, or learn calculus while high on heroin. This is, of course, a matter of degree depending on the dosage and the time before and after the drug is introduced into the individual’s system. The main point is that heroin, at some point, greatly restricts our ability to think on an abstract level, a level necessary for feeling emotions such as fear and pain. In other words, depending on the dosage and the time elapsed after the introduction into the system, heroin takes the edge off or completely obliterates the pains of life, .
My admittedly inexperienced estimation is that at some point the pains and stresses of life become such a burden that a thoughtless-ness existence, as far as abstract thinking is concerned, is preferable. For where there is an absences or great diminishing of abstract thought, there is also the absences or great diminishing of psychological stress, trauma, and pain.
Again, when on heroin, there is no worry, fear, want, or need, for the brain’s ability to produce those thoughts has been arrested. The human brain becomes much the same as a lower animal in the sense that it is cognitively unaware of the psychological aspects of worry, fear, and pain. That is to say, a dog, for instance, hasn’t the ability to contemplate such things: When experiencing the full power of heroin, neither have we. This is not to say that heroin users are dogs, for they are not. The point is that our normal ability to think abstractly is greatly diminished, resulting in a decrease, if not obliteration, of the user’s psychological pains.
This was my epiphany: The reason for using heroin isn’t because of physical ecstasy or because heroin controls people, but to escape the thought processes that bring with them the psychological pain those processes produce. Heroin use is a temporary escape from the human condition–hopelessness, purposelessness, the future, depression, and even day to day processes incurred simply by being a living, breathing person.
The attraction to heroin, as I experienced it, is that there is nothing, nothing to worry about, fear, want, or need, for the brain’s ability to bring such thoughts into existence has been destroyed, or at least greatly diminished (Yes, it’s a matter of degree). When under a dose of heroin, you do not choose to stop contemplation because the very ability to contemplate is on holiday.
For these reasons, then, once the user is back in the “real world,” the urge to return to cognitive nonbeing is preferred. What’s more, once the user is physically addicted, that urge is further justified by physical need. I said in the beginning that all experiences have their consequences, and the heroin experience is no exception. By escaping all pain, we also escape that which makes us human–the will, abstract thought, feelings, emotions, even the human idea of self.
The effect of the drug itself is the eradication of abstract thought; the attraction to this drug is the state achieved by the absence of abstract thought, for the absence of abstract thought is also the absence of will and want; the result of the absence of will and want is the absence of psychological pain.
Ironically, the obliteration of pain by the eradication of abstract thought greatly diminishes or destroys the human experience of life. For some, that state of existence is preferred. This is what it is to experience heroin.