Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Intoxicating Minds

Intoxicating Minds: How Drugs Work

Ciaran Regan
Copyright Date: 2001
Pages: 176
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Intoxicating Minds
    Book Description:

    Why do smokers claim that the first cigarette of the day is the best? What is the biological basis behind some heavy drinkers' belief that the "hair-of-the-dog" method alleviates the effects of a hangover? Why does marijuana seem to affect ones problem-solving capacity? Intoxicating Minds is, in the author's words, "a grand excavation of drug myth." Neither extolling nor condemning drug use, it is a story of scientific and artistic achievement, war and greed, empires and religions, and lessons for the future.

    Ciaran Regan looks at each class of drugs, describing the historical evolution of their use, explaining how they work within the brain's neurophysiology, and outlining the basic pharmacology of those substances. From a consideration of the effect of stimulants, such as caffeine and nicotine, and the reasons and consequences of their sudden popularity in the seventeenth century, the book moves to a discussion of more modern stimulants, such as cocaine and ecstasy. In addition, Regan explains how we process memory, the nature of thought disorders, and therapies for treating depression and schizophrenia. Regan then considers psychedelic drugs and their perceived mystical properties and traces the history of placebos to ancient civilizations. Finally, Intoxicating Minds considers the physical consequences of our co-evolution with drugs -- how they have altered our very being -- and offers a glimpse of the brave new world of drug therapies.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-53311-9
    Subjects: Health Sciences, Psychology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. 1 Mists of the Mind
    (pp. 1-8)

    This is a book about drugs and how they affect our minds. Since the beginning of recorded history, drugs have been used for pleasure, for the treatment of insanity, and for relief from the mundane—they are a unique characteristic of human life and society. Virtually all of our important social interactions combine drugs that have the potential to alter our recall of events in one way or another. However minimal, these effects alter how we convey and sustain our experiences of the recent past—those memories that ultimately form our mind. Is alcohol used to eliminate memories that separate...

  5. 2 Matters of Doctrine
    (pp. 9-16)

    Consult any textbook of pharmacology and, if lucky, you may be informed that a drug is any “chemical that affects living processes.” It is more likely that such texts will define pharmacology as “the study of the manner in which the function of living systems is affected by chemical agents” and, in so doing, avoid the drug definition issue completely. It would seem that the originators of these texts wish us to conclude that any chemical agent is a drug and that pharmacology describes the physical effects of these chemicals on the body.

    The term pharmacology stems from the Greek...

  6. 3 Making the Mind
    (pp. 17-26)

    Neural activity in the brain cannot be divorced from the function of its basic units, the nerve cells or neurons. These are specialized to perform one major job: information transfer. Neurons come in all shapes and sizes and are only obvious when viewed with a microscope. Numerous extensions emanate from the main cell body, which contains the nucleus and its DNA, the string of small molecules called nucleotides, which dictate our genetic code. These extensions are called dendrites and axons. Axons are longer and allow communication with other more distant groups of neurons. These distances can be enormous. For example,...

  7. 4 Neuronal Discourse
    (pp. 27-34)

    Since the action of neurotransmitters is to excite or inhibit nerve cell firing, it should not be too surprising that the relative excitability of nerve cells in the brain is dominated by two ubiquitous neurotransmitters. Both of these neurotransmitters are amino acids: glutamate causes nerve cell excitation, and GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) provides the opposite action of inhibition. These two neurotransmitters account for the action of the vast majority of nerve cells in the brain.

    Brain glutamate is particularly interesting because this neurotransmitter can enhance communication between neighboring nerve cells when it is required that an excitatory response be enduring. Neurons...

  8. 5 Nostri Plena Laboris
    (pp. 35-50)

    We do not know when humans started using caffeine or nicotine. Tea, coffee, cola, and cocoa are but some beverages consumed for their stimulating actions. All derive their effects from caffeine and, to a lesser extent, theophylline and theobromine, which are related to caffeine in both structure and action. Similarly, nicotine has been extracted by chewing, smoking, or snorting an array of plant leaves or seeds to obtain its stimulant actions. All have been employed in most cultures since antiquity.

    Tea drinking probably originated in China at the time of the Yellow Emperor, the Divine Healer, some 5,000 years ago,...

  9. 6 An Abyss Yawns
    (pp. 51-76)

    If you want to know the abuse potential of any drug, check out its “street” value. As a simple example, the price of a quarter of a kilogram of tea is, on average, half that of the same weight of coffee. This price difference may relate partly to their manufacture and distribution, but it mainly reflects their caffeine content. Opium provides an even more fascinating example. Addiction was only one of the problems to which opium gave rise in nineteenth-century China—wars were fought over it and an imperial dynasty trembled as China’s social and cultural structure was threatened.


  10. 7 Making Memory
    (pp. 77-84)

    Addiction provides an example of how drugs can alter the basic functioning of the brain. Many of these functional changes appear to be irreversible and have long-lasting consequences for former drug addicts. The amygdala, for example, continues to respond to drug cues, such as the sight of a syringe, long after the addict has overcome the physical effects of drug withdrawal. And we still do not know if drug-induced change in brain function ever returns to the original state. Former alcoholics seem to require the continued reinforcement of abstinence over a lifetime from support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous. This raises...

  11. 8 The Lost Truth and Its Restitution
    (pp. 85-112)

    The translation of experiences into memories seems to occur through a series of events in which enduring neural activity, driven by a bath of ever-changing chemicals, causes the physical alteration of brain structure. Drugs may interact with this bath of chemicals to alter how we process information (recall that caffeine enhances LTP) and have a significant influence on the nature of the memory that is stored. This raises an interesting issue when we consider the drugs used to treat depression and schizophrenia. These are debilitating conditions in which thought and emotion are severely disturbed; they are frightening, not only for...

  12. 9 Funhouse Mirrors
    (pp. 113-132)

    So where do we seek our antecedents of the sacred—the memory of those experiential and emotional components that relate to the more thoughtful, rational components that define the human condition? And is there a pharmacological bridge to transcendence? Can chemical substances really activate latent mental mechanisms in the normal human brain and provoke ecstasy, religious experience, and a sense of cosmic, or mystical, consciousness?

    The Pergouset cave in the Lot valley of southwestern France contains three chambers with fine examples of palaeolithic art, from the end of the last Ice Age, around 12,000 to 15,000 years ago. This was...

  13. 10 The Pharmacology of the Infinite
    (pp. 133-142)

    Anyone dredging through the pharmacy of our prehistory would quickly recognize that many of the substances in this ancient materia medica could only have been inert. The Ebers Papyrus of Ancient Egypt documents 842 prescriptions and mentions more than 700 drugs, including fly specks scraped from the wall, the blood of eunuchs, grated human skull, and, above all, dung—especially crocodile dung. Perhaps this should not be so surprising: after all, for prehistoric humankind drug therapy cannot have been the first option for treating disease, since sickness came upon them in frightening and mysterious ways. Being imaginative and rational, they...

  14. 11 Drug Driven
    (pp. 143-152)

    Genetic information is present in every cell of our body in the form of chromosomes. There are a total of forty-six chromosomes—twenty-three pairs—in each human cell. The main constituent of chromosomes is DNA. This long thread is composed of relatively small molecules, called nucleotides, and their sequence carries our genetic information. The DNA thread is most probably continuous within the chromosome, and its great length is due to the average number of nucleotides—over 100 million—contained there. In spite of the apparent continuity, one can recognize shorter segments in the DNA that have specific functions, and these...

  15. Further Readings
    (pp. 153-156)
  16. Index
    (pp. 157-169)