The Trouble with Nature - Part 2
23 September 2021 | or Everything's Going to Pot
What could possibly go wrong?
Well, quite a lot, as it happens.
If you cast your mind back to the opening salvos of this sordid little tale, you will recall me blethering on about natural genetic variation. Well, it seems that I don't even listen to myself.
We cooked up a batch using the latest delivery from UberSpliffs and I took a seven gramme slice of cookie before setting about preparing dinner. I first noticed that there was something out of the ordinary going on about 20 minutes later. This in itself was unusual as previous batches had taken between 40 minutes and an hour and a half to kick in. Liz asked me something and I turned to face her. As my head and eyes turned, the room lagged behind, only to suddenly speed up and overtake me before springing back, overshooting, and finally settling down in the right place. Needless to say, I found this rather disorientating. I shook my head to try to clear it. This was not the wisest decision I've ever made. Never mind, the sensation of being unpleasantly like being drunk (1) passed after a couple of minutes and something approaching normality returned. I finished preparing the starter and poured the drinks.
I knew something had gone seriously awry when I returned my glass, unsipped, to the table. Not even a Leffe Brune tempted me. Several attempts at conversation petered out when my tightly reasoned (and characteristically opinionated) monologues descended into gibberish. I started to worry that Liz might think I was having a stroke. Or that I had unaccountably decided to conclude the discussion in Klingon.(2)
Then things really started to get weird. Whatever this stuff was, it had to be the most hallucinatory substance I've ever come across, more so than LSD, psilocybin or mescaline. The strange thing was that the hallucinations weren't visual, or auditory - no distorted faces or phantom voices. This stuff played fast and loose with basic concepts of identity and self. Primarily, it distorted my sense of time, my sense of self and my sense of setting, both physical and social.
It started in a mundane, yet bizarre, way; I had an overwhelming and disproportionately vivid sense that I was wearing a hat. I knew I wasn't. I could see in the mirror that I wasn't. I repeatedly tested this surreal sensation by patting the top of my head with the flat of my hand. Nope - definitely no hat. Liz's mental equanimity was not helped one iota by this strange tic that I appeared to have developed. This was rapidly followed by a low level, but persistent, background sense that there were three of us there in the room.
The real scary humdinger, though, was the time distortion. This was erratic, disturbing and yet fascinating at the same time. It seemed to me that my mental processes chugged steadily along at a constant rate. The world around me, though, was all over the place. About 50% of the time the two worlds coincided and coexisted, if not in harmony, then at least in a state of truce. After an hour or so I started to get used to it, but when it first happened it scared the bejasus out of me. I was, by this time, laying on the sofa, while poor Liz was left trying to square the circle on our little local difficulty. She got up and went to the kitchen. As my eyes followed her, she seemed to progressively slow down, not in a jerky fashion á la old black & whites, but smoothly and elegantly like a modern slo-mo. As she approached the kitchen she slowed right down and finally froze motionless. Every aspect of the room now took on the aspect of a still 3D photograph. The wall clock remained motionless, as did my watch. Still my thoughts continued to race. It was impossible for me, in my altered state, to conjure up any real idea as to how long this tableau vivant lasted. I had the brainwave of counting my pulse and estimating the time from that, but I lost track at doo humble and threebly sticks.
After an indeterminate period of stasis, the rest of the world kicked itself back into gear. Everything started moving again, slowly at first, then accelerating. Mimicking the visual phenomenon at the start, it overshot, leaving Bobbyworld trudging along in its wake at plod factor one. It oscillated around Bob Standard Time for a bit until the two universes matched up enough to settle into an uneasy truce.
These time distortion episodes recurred with increasing frequency, which gave me the opportunity to practice and hone my heart rhythm-based timing ploy. Still no luck, although my best effort got as far as sticks bumble and toobly jive before I completely lost the plot.
When all this nonsense started, I was quite sanguine about it all, and viewed the whole, bizarre business with a mixture of calm, detached fascination, and smug, sardonic amusement. OK, this was orders of magnitude more psychoactive than anything I had previously experienced, but it was received wisdom that it was impossible to get a fatal overdose of cannabis. The only way, it was generally agreed, that dope could kill you was if 20 kilos of it landed on your head from a great height.
All I needed to do, I told myself, was to lay back, enjoy the ride, and wait for the bloody stuff to wear off - shouldn't take more than a couple of hours. In response to this challenge, it intensified its time distorting activities. Then it started to play dirty, to nibble away at my sense of self and my deep-seated assumptions about the constancy of the world around me.
According to no lesser authority than The Journal of Neuroscience, "The cannabinoid (CB) system is a key neurochemical mediator of anxiety and fear learning in both animals and humans. The anxiolytic effects of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the primary psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, are believed to be mediated through direct and selective agonism of CB1 receptors localized within the basolateral amygdala, a critical brain region for threat perception. However, little is known about the effects of THC on amygdala reactivity in humans." (3)
Glad I told you that? Thought you might be. In English: THC is the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis. It interferes with connections in the part of the brain that evaluates possible threats. As a result, it reduces fear and anxiety.
Well it didn't bloody reduce mine.
In a brief interval when the time distortions paused for breath, the clock indicated that this nonsense had been going on for nearly three hours and was showing no signs of subsiding. If anything, it was intensifying. This was somewhat in conflict with my expectations, and all my carefully repressed worries, anxieties and fears took the opportunity to bubble up from my grubby little subconscious. OK, dope can't kill you, but what if this wasn't dope? What if it doesn't abate and I'm left in this pathetic state long-term, or even permanently? That's the problem with unregulated supply chains.
Having worked myself up into a frenzy of doubt, fear and self-loathing, I was in no condition to deal with the coup de grâce - serial room 101.(4) This is a tactic of such ingenious sadism that Torquemada himself would have been jealous. Dig, probe, and pry into the deepest recesses of your victim's psyche until you know every night terror, every secret fear, every shameful indiscretion, every soul-crushing failure. Then make him truly believe that they are, in all their full horror, being visited upon him. It doesn't matter a jot whether it is real or an illusion, as long as he believes that it is real. He will suffer equally, and illusions are cheaper.
I certainly believed that whichever one was current was real. They culminated in my Winston Smith moment, which took advantage of my desperately needing a pee. As my physical co-ordination at this time verged on paralysis, Liz had to help me get off of the couch and traverse the eight metres or so to the bathroom. As I looked in the mirror, the setting switched. I was no longer in our bathroom. In a sudden wave of clarity, I saw that I was in a nursing home, experiencing a brief, agonising flash of lucidity, breaking through the dismal fog of end-stage dementia - probably my greatest dread.
I turned to my carer, who was somehow still Liz, but not Liz. "This is it, isn't it?" I asked. "This is reality." Even in my drug-addled imagination, even as both Liz and not-Liz, she was still, as always, totally incapable of telling a bare-faced lie. She looked me in the eye and nodded.
That cheered me up no end.
What did cheer me up was that this vicious little episode had been the final heave; after over four hours of this purgatory the malign little bastard's influence was beginning to weaken. It was starting to wear off. After another half an hour I was able (with the help of my long-suffering carer) to crawl up the stairs on my hands and knees and collapse into bed. I slept like a baby for ten hours.
And the moral of the story is fourfold:
1. Never underestimate the extent of genetic variation, especially if it's reinforced by selective breeding.
2. He who has knowledge but fails to apply it is a complete dickhead.
3. The intelligent man learns from his mistakes. The wise man learns from the mistakes of others. The complete dickhead learns from neither.
4. Knowing a lot about something in no way precludes a complete dickhead from being a complete dickhead with it. In fact, it frequently makes things worse.
Nevertheless, the stuff does seem to suppress the tremor, so further research is needed, but only under the strict supervision of a responsible adult (like Liz).
Even then, a real, top-notch, complete dickhead can still cock things up.
(1) © Douglas Adams
Ford Prefect: "This is unpleasantly like being drunk!"
Arthur Dent: "What's unpleasant about being drunk?"
Ford Prefect: "Ask a glass of water."
(2) Subsequent discussion of this with Liz elicited the opinion that she hadn't noticed any significant deviation from my normal, usually incomprehensible, standards of discourse
(3) Journal of Neuroscience. 2008 Mar 5; 28(10): 2313-2319.
Cannabinoid Modulation of Amygdala Reactivity to Social Signals of Threat in Humans
K. Luan Phan,et al
(4) This is the real, terrifying room 101, as in '1984', not the occasionally mildly amusing self-promotion vehicle on The Beeb.