by Ronald Siegel
Siegel is a psychopharmacologist from UCLA, who has extensive experience studying animals and humans under the influence of mind-altering substances, in both laboratory settings and in the field. This book, Intoxication
, is an extremely thought-provoking treatise based mainly on his own researches. Siegel presents his hypothesis that the pursuit of alternate states of mind is a basic biological drive -- like hunger, thirst and the desire for sex -- which he dubs "the fourth drive".
Siegel's account is behavorist: you won't read about neural pathways and neurotransmitters in this book. Instead, the pages are packed with eye-opening records of how animals and humans behave under "the fourth drive". Siegel traces out the histories behind each major groups of drugs (tobacco, alcohol, opium, cannabis, hallucinogens, and cocaine), noting how their use transend cultures, social classes, and even species -- birds, mammals and insects deliberately seek out and ingest psychoactive plants, then behave in atypical ways; and when the effect wears out, they go again for another helping -- sometimes continuing until they die of the toxicity.
Even more uncanny is the observation that animals tend to consume greater amount of psychoactive substances under environmental stress: the water buffalos in South East Asia would browse on opium crops (which they normally shun) when their habitat is ravaged by human warfare. Lab monkeys locked in a pitch-black box will overindulge in hallucinogens. Do animals use drugs to alleviate stress and to relieve boredom, as many humans claim to do?
As Siegel claims the pursuit of intoxicating substances is a hard-wired biological drive, he has controversial stance about the legistration of controlled substances. This is a sensitive area, and I won't say any more about it in this forum. Interested reader will want to read about it themselves.
Controversy aside, Intoxication
is a marvellous read -- the discoveries of a seasoned researcher culmulated, presented in colorful, enthralling prose. A required reading for anyone who to have an intelligent discussion on the subject of mind-altering drugs.