Methland HIGHlights (Get It?)

20 Apr

Meth addicts featured in a 2005 Newsweek article.

Even though I categorically slammed Methland this week, there were a few parts of the book that I found pretty interesting, particularly as someone who knows very little about meth. Here are some of the passages that piqued my interest:

On how meth works: 

“The high Jarvis has built his life (and at one point his livelihood) around has five parts: the rush, the high, the shoulder, the tweak and the withdrawal.  Snorting just a couple of lines of reasonably pure meth kept him involved in this continuum for at least twelve hours. Twelve hours is roughly the length of meth’s half-life, and a measure of how long it takes one’s body to completely metabolize the drug, as well as an indicator of how powerful the drug is.  (The half-life of crack is only twenty minutes, or about thirty-six times less than meth.) The rush is just what the term suggests: an initial feeling of tremendous euphoria.  Dr. Clay Hallberg describes it as “taking all of your neurotransmitters, putting them in a shot glass, and slamming them.” The high is the hours-long period of an exceptionally vivid confidence and sense of well-being that Jarvis experiences while dopamine and epinephrine literally pool around his brain’s neuronal synapses: a biochemical bacchanal.  The physical effects include a litany of the body’s most ecstatic and powerful reactions.  Core temperature spikes and blood flow to the heart increases dramatically. For men, so, too, does blood flow increase enormously to the penis, and for men and women both, there is an increased need and desire to have sex …

The rest of the meth high, though, is not high at all. The shoulder period is when Jarvis’s euphoria first plateaus and then decreases dramatically, on its way to falling completely to the floor.  The fall itself is what’s called the tweak, so named for the physical manifestations of what amounts to the brain’s running on empty. The stores of neurotransmitters are now depleted, and their synaptic effect no longer consistent with a sense of well-being, Jarvis becomes increasingly agitated….

Jarvis begins to show physical depletion.  Shaking hands, severe sweats, muscle cramps, and shortness of breath are all symptoms of the impending withdrawal.  So, too, does the paranoid conviction set in that he’s being followed—like the belief that a black helicopter was hovering above his house.  (This hallucination is common; I heard the exact same story from dozens of addicts in Alabama, Illinois, Kentucky, Georgia, and California.) The desperation to make more meth, at whatever cost, and the hallucinations have been the defining features of Jarvis’s life for nearly a decade.  Every time he came home from jail, he was cash-stricken and eager to feel good, and he redoubled his lab’s output.

On America’s categorization of drug addicts:

Douglas Constance is a rural sociologist at Sam Houston’s State University in Huntsville, Texas.  Constance says the United states is “psychological, not a sociological nation.” What he means is that we will always hold the individual responsible over the group, blaming the drug addict instead of investigating the environment in which he grew up, and (conversely) celebrating the quarterback above the team following a win.  In a small town, the distance between the winner and the loser is negligible, though the instinct to insulate is just as strong as in New York City.  What connects people in New York and in Benton, Illinois, in fact, is that both resist believing that they have anything in common…

The extension of Constance’s analysis is that during a drug epidemic, instinct demands that we find something wrong with those who are addicted; the epidemic in effect tricks us into thinking that the relatively small number of addicts are anomalies, even as we acknowledge the drug’s large-scale presence.  In August 2005, Newsweek printed a now-famous series of photos of meth addicts, whose faces first seemed to age and then practically to disintegrate over time. I remember thinking the pictures looked like propaganda paintings from World War II of German soldiers, or “Huns,” who had been deliberately dehumanized.  Similarly, these addicts shown in Newsweek were so gaunt and lifeless that they seemed utterly disengaged from humanity.  Those photos served in some way to distance not only the addicts themselves but also the rural United States, from which the addicts invariably came, from the nation at large.

On shifts in food production: 

Douglas Constance characterizes the changes in rural America in terms of Karl Marx’s critique of the theory of political economy posited by Adam Smith.  With many buyers and many sellers, says Constance, there is perfect competition and no need for government intervention.  Smith’s “invisible hand of capitalism” works, in theory, to effect the highest amount of economic blood flow at all levels.  In reality, says Constance, Marx’s countertheory has unfortunately proved more insightful.  Strapped with the mandate to “grow or die,” businesses are encouraged to cannibalize competition, until there are no longer many buyers and many sellers, but rather, many buyers and increasingly limited number of sellers.  The flow of capital is dammed up.  Once competition has been annihilated, Constance says the surviving companies, like Cargill, begin to effect political decisions through their enormous lobbying capabilities.  The government no longer governs unimpeded: it does so in tandem with the major companies, just as Marx predicted.

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