Art of Healing magazine, Winter 2006, Issue 15, p.10-12
‘Speed’, or methamphetamine, is now the most commonly abused illicit drug after cannabis. Like cocaine it is a stimulant but rather than being natural it is a derivative of amphetamine, a synthetic stimulant which emerged in the 1920s. During WWII Japan, Germany and the USA provided the drug to their armies to increase endurance and stamina (Anglin et al 2000) and it was widely prescribed in the 1950s and 60s as a treatment for depression and obesity. But in the context of recreational drug-taking, speed does much more than that: it can make you feel that you are spiritually, emotionally and physically perfect, a ‘master of the universe’ (UNODC 2004).
However, if I interpret its action using TCM, speed gets you high by exploiting your inner energy, your Jing, which eventually makes you feel really bad. Jing is the life force given to us during conception and later during delivery. It is partially provided by parents and partially by the universe. Jing is the raw energy or fuel for all our physical and emotional activities. It is a kind of advance payment or savings account for the job ahead in the physical plane. Jing executes ‘will’, it is like material will. All recreational drugs unleash this force prematurely, this is how they make you feel so good. The incredible rush from a drug like speed comes from a massive freeflow of energy through your body but this is fuelled by your own Jing not the drug.
Because speed draws energy from Jing rather than from nutritional food and drink that has been converted via the Stomach and Spleen into energy, there is no hunger stimulus (this is why amphetamines are used in many diet drugs) and regular speedusers rarely eat. This accelerates the development of serious side effects. Because Jing is being depleted, the body needs nutrient-rich food and drink more than ever, but as the signal to eat is bypassed, more Jing is exploited. Jing is supposed to be treasured and conserved as it is either difficult or impossible to replenish, depending on what school of thought you subscribe to. But getting high on speed wastes your Jing and accordingly reduces the quality of your life. As a therapist but also an ex-addict, I have both personal and experiential knowledge of this and regardless of how good you feel initially, there will eventually be a day of reckoning when the symptoms can no longer be suppressed.
In TCM, the Spleen, which produces Chi and Blood, is the major organ adversely affected by speed, and after a period of speed abuse it develops a condition called Spleen Chi deficiency. This means that all functions of the Spleen will be lessened. The Spleen influences the capacity to think, concentrate and focus and it also processes and ‘transports’ thought and emotionality. As its function deteriorates thoughts will no longer be transported smoothly. The Spleen is also associated with the Earth element which enables the establishment of healthy boundaries and forms the basis for sound ego development. With Spleen Chi deficiency and depleted Earth energies, not only can you no longer communicate effectively but the process of cognition becomes inhibited and the idea of ‘self’ becomes hard to grasp; just as you can’t grasp a complex mental concept when you are exhausted. Earth energies provide reference to centre; as they decline you start to feel that your centre has been shifted outside of yourself. Then you begin to perceive this displacement as someone else standing behind you. This triggers the classic speed or cocaine-fuelled paranoid belief that you are constantly being followed.
Most heavy speed-users become pale because they develop a condition which is called ‘Blood deficiency’ in Traditional Chinese Medicine. This is not the kind of condition that would show up in a Western blood test as, in TCM, ‘Blood’ is an entirely different concept. It is considered a dense and material form of Chi (Maciocia 1989 p.48), so Blood deficiency is a kind of vital force deficiency. Trying to operate on deficient Blood is like trying to run a car on low-grade fuel. All the engine parts will be under stress and nothing will work properly. Continuing to take stimulants like speed or cocaine after developing Blood deficiency seriously affects the Heart as well. Stimulants force the Heart to work hard but the deficient Blood is unable to provide the nutrients and Chi necessary to support this action so the Heart can suffer not only physiologically, as in the case of drug-related heart attacks, but also emotionally. In TCM, the Heart supports the mind, and as the functions of the Heart become affected, the pathologies of the Heart and mind — mental restlessness, depression, anxiety and insomnia — will arise.
After a couple of years of speed use I experienced all of these symptoms. I was thin, white, constantly fatigued and often convinced that people were following me or talking about me. Communicating with people had become a major problem. I would know what I wanted to say but when I started to speak my mind would suddenly feel like a void: a threatening, blank, space. I’d lose the thread of what I was talking about and then say something that had no relevance to the topic or conversation. The more speed I took, the more often the void hit. People started to look at me as if I was weird and eventually I became anxious about every interaction, particularly if there was a group of people involved. I started to wear a wide-brimmed hat to prevent eye contact with anyone and thus preserve some sense of identity. I should have stopped then but without speed I had no sense of centre and I felt scattered, anxious, off-grounded, dizzy and shaky in the limbs. I also had the frequent sensation of imminent fainting. The only thing that could make these symptoms go away was more speed or amphetamine, but each time I came down I felt worse and absolutely everything annoyed me. The way people looked, the way the walls looked, the way the furniture looked, the way doors opened and closed, it all made me want to cry or scream. These side effects became so bad that to keep them at bay I started ‘topping myself up’ every three or four hours.
I knew that something was fundamentally wrong with me. I didn’t want to be the only one so screwed-up though, so I desperately looked for evidence of psychological disorders in other people. Then I didn’t feel so alone. If I came into contact with people who seemed happy and normal I would try and trigger discomfort, anger or unease in them, then I was in my comfort zone. Then I could relate to them. This is not only the behaviour pattern of a speed-user of course, anyone who has serious organ imbalances that manifest emotionally and mentally may act in a similar manner. They can’t help but aggravate, annoy or accuse you until they can make you react emotionally: its as if they need to get you in a similar emotional state to them so that they can somehow relax. In the end though, it just makes people want to avoid their company.
I can see now that my long-term speed and amphetamine use ended up creating a combination of Blood deficiency, Spleen Chi deficiency, Earth energy depletion and Heart imbalances. This generated intense agitation and anger and instead of being a hippie pacifist I became a reactive ‘activist’. I was angry with the society that had rejected me, with the people who had betrayed me and with the way my life had turned out. I could only see was what was wrong with everything. When these feelings got to the stage where they could no longer be suppressed, I turned on society. At that time, in the late 70s in Germany, scores of terrorist groups were active and there were constant bomb-blasts, political demonstrations and street battles with the police. I would join in regardless of the cause, screaming abuse and battling the armies of police.
In the midst of all this violence I discovered a surprising sensation of harmony. This was because the external environment now perfectly reflected my internal state. From then on anger, anarchy and violence became part of my world. My dreams were gone and my life had become nothing more than pain and violence. I felt sick and I looked sick. I was so far gone I took pride in the evidence of my physical destruction. Speed was the only thing left that gave my existence meaning so I sat back, took my speed and detached myself from the world. My own purpose and destiny were no longer relevant. When I reached this point, I could have easily taken the next step in the gateway drug cycle which would have been to remove all my pain, fear and guilt with a better drug, but the only drug that can override that degree of organ dysfunction is heroin. Heroin is a totally Yin drug. It centres you and cocoons you from the harshness of reality. On heroin I could have continued to fool myself into thinking that I was doing something meaningful with my life. However, fate intervened and I left Germany and started the long hard road to recovery.
I believe that speed is one of the biggest problem drugs in Australia because it can provide a glimpse of how good you could feel naturally or even perhaps how humans are truly destined to feel. According to Traditional Chinese medicine, powerful stimulants such as speed intensify mental and physical experiences because they make the organs function at peak level and this is a euphoric and exhilarating experience. Spiritual masters, leaders and gurus devote their whole lives to achieving that kind of state without drugs. Regardless of which practice they follow, Taoist, Buddhist, Hindu etc., they all describe achieving similar states of bliss, of vibrating with euphoria. They feel invincible. One spiritual leader I met even described it as being in a permanent state of orgasm. But the masters feel like they do because they have created an organ condition and Energy Field capable of experiencing bliss and euphoria on a permanent basis. Combined with their commitment to attain perfection, they have built Blood, Chi and Jing through disciplined daily practice, correct action and appropriate diet. We can all aim to do this by following the same path.
Copyright © Jost Sauer 2006