Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Four lives, in and out of a cage.

 LAB NOTES:
We wanted to study the effects of heroin on rats. We decided to use a 6 week old male rat weighing 400 grams, which had not been sexually active yet. We placed the lab rat alone in a cage with an ample supply food pellets and two liquid dispensers- one dispensing water and the other with a mixture of water and heroin, equaling 5mg/kg of the rat’s weight per drop. Our hypothesis would be that the rat would become physically addicted to the heroin, to the point of ignoring all other stimuli like food and water. We base this on the literature showing the same behavior in pigeons. We made an ad-hoc decision to increase the dosage of the heroin water mixture in 5mg increments at semi-weekly intervals due to suspected tolerance.

As predicted, the rat showed symptoms of physical addiction. To verify, we truncated the dosage to near zero. This resulted in the rat displaying withdrawal symptoms- mainly limb and head shaking. Having confirmed the rat’s addiction to the heroin and water mixture, we proceeded to increase the dosage in the same fashion as described above. Over the course of several weeks, we observed the rat’s tolerance and usage increase dramatically- quicker than we had anticipated. However in alignment with our expectations, the rat demonstrated a level of addiction so severe that it ignored the food pellets and water dispenser completely. The rat expired due to respiratory depression caused by an overdose of heroin in its bloodstream. In total, from the time of placement in the experimental cage to the time of expiration, 6 months had elapsed. The time period for which the rat ignored food and water dispensers had been 2 months before expiration. We concluded that heroin leads to addiction and ultimately death by self-administration when given to a drug naive rat.    

EXCERPTS FROM A DIARY:
As long as I can remember, I’ve always felt alone. I never felt much connection in my interactions with people. Feeling on the same level as others never became familiar to me. This is the same with my romantic life. I can’t seem to find the right woman. It’s as if no one really understands me. It’s not like I can’t get other people, I just don’t feel like I want to. I may have a problem but I feel the issue is with the world I live in. I just don’t fit here. I have everything I need to live- I’m not struggling to survive- my basic needs met. Yet I long for a sense of content with my situation. Unfortunately, I feel destined to feel like this forever. Maybe something or someone will come along and change all that. That’s my hope. For now though, I live in a cage of depression.

I had recently got my wisdom teeth removed and I've felt something I thought would never be available to me- true contentedness. I came out of the surgery in extreme pain. I was given some Vicodin tablets and told to take one every six hours as needed. Feeling extreme pain, I took one and waited several minutes. Feeling impatient and convinced I didn't take enough- at the time I rationalized that my capacity to feel pain was high than average- I took two more. After twenty more minutes, I started to feel a warm sensation in my chest which started to envelope my entire body like a blanket. I looked out into the world with a sense of deep happiness I've never felt before. Gazing out, I could see my environment as inviting, rather than stressful or indifferent. My normal sense of ambient grief and apathy gave way to an outlook of positivity stemming from a primordial vitality. I wanted and was happy to be alive and experience reality! When I feel this way I am a better person to others. I go from this unhappy and bitter attitude to a happy and sociable person. I must get more of this. I must do it not just for myself, but for those around me.

I've been using for a few months now. I had to find a cheaper supply of opiates as I ran out of my prescription of Vicodin. Buying them on the street was a viable option, but now it has become too expensive. Street heroin is much cheaper, and much more available- and I’m on a budget so…
I think I've hit rock bottom. I’m a shell of my former self. I can’t even shit. I've sold most of my belongings to keep up with the growing drug price and my skyrocketing tolerance. I need so much now just to feel normal- not even happy. I can’t stop this habit. I wish I never started and I don’t know what to do. All I think about is my next dose and the withdrawals that may result if I can’t get any dose. I might lose my job soon if someone rats me out.

POLICE REPORT: A young adult male was found in the county park slumped on a bench and not breathing. The coroner has ruled the death an accidental drug overdose from heroin. It was concluded that the male’s addiction to heroin caused his death and squalor.              

LAB NOTES:
The literature suggests that a variety of alternate choices may mitigate addiction in animals. It was shown that pigeons will not become addicted to a narcotic when given the choice to interact with other pigeons and bird toys. We decide to replicate this condition with a group of male and female rats between the ages of 4-6 weeks. All rats were of average weight for their sex (Male: ~400Grams, Female: ~250 grams) and had not been sexually active yet. Instead of a cage, the rats were placed in an oversized container, which had in addition to food pellets and water dispensers many recreational appliances (spinning wheels and colorful balls) and areas for social interaction. The container also contained another water dispenser with a mixture of water and heroin at a concentration of 20mg/kg per drop. We hypothesized that given the variety of choice, the rats will not show physical addiction to the drug mixture, although being exposed to it.

As expected, it was observed that none of the rats continued to drink the mixture after several initial exposures. The rats showed little desire to take continual doses. On average, a rat would try the mixture a few times, interspersed with social and recreational activities with other rats, and eventually discontinue use all together after a few weeks. There was concern over dosing- some in our lab believed the rats were not drinking the drug mixture properly because of distraction from other rats. To alleviate this issue, we made an ad-hoc decision to forcefully administer heroin to the rats at doses of 40mg/kg 3 times daily. We then abruptly stopped dosing and awaited withdrawal effects. As anticipated, drug withdrawal symptoms were observed in the form of limb and head shaking. Surprisingly, the rats did not seek to self-administer the original drug/water mixture. After recovering from withdrawal, the rats went back to socializing, feeding and playing regularly. We conclude that given ample free choice, exposure to heroin and possibly other narcotics does not lead to addiction and death by self-administration.        

EXCERPTS FROM A DIARY
I am so excited. In a few weeks I will be leaving home heading off to college. Nervousness also creeps in my mind, but that’s natural. I will miss most of my friends here, but I know I will have the chance to meet many more wonderful people. Some of my friends will even attend the same college as me! So I don’t think loneliness will be an issue. I’m not sure what I want to major in yet, but I am enthusiastic to discover what makes me tick.    

I've been here a few months and am fitting right in. My dorm area is pretty relaxed. It’s a co-ed space with fun friends and hot girls that I’m all on great terms with. We have lots of fun together. Weekends are one big party, fueled by many legal and illegal substances, ha-ha. Don’t worry though; I feel very much in control. My use is basically situational and occasional- it’s tied to me having fun with others. People have told me that I will begin to have an issue if I start taking these drugs on my own, outside of a party context. For now, I’m having lots of fun and can’t imagine anything better. I’m so content; I feel free.  


Soon I will be graduating; the partying days have started to fade. Not because I started to have a bad time; rather, my use has slowed down because my major is starting to take over my attention, goals, and will. I have decided to study psychopharmacology because of my experiences with various drugs during my partying phase. Although I did use many of them regularly, like cocaine, heroin, and alcohol, I did not become physically addicted to them. Some would consider me lucky. I disagree; my research has shown me that addiction has more to do with depression and outlook/attitude, than with “chemical hooks” that effects anyone and everyone who is exposed to drug for a specific period of time. I am truly lucky to be not depressed; for if I was depressed, I would be helplessly addicted now. An addiction would be a way to break the bars of that cage called depression. When we see someone addicted, we must recognize not their chemical habit, but the limitations their depression places on their happiness.