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Handle with Care: Popular Stimulants

Cocaine: Ups and Downs
Cocaine is probably the best-known – and most powerful – illegal stimulant. The active ingredient of the coca plant, cocaine was first isolated in the West around 1860. The father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, personally experimented with the refined powdered drug and described cocaine as "magical." While the coca leaf typically contains between 0.1 and 0.9 percent cocaine, concentrated coca paste contains up to 60 to 80 percent pure cocaine. The drug works by blocking the reabsorption of dopamine, which leaves more in the synapse to interact with the receptors.

The coca leaf, as found in nature, is safely used by field laborers in the Andes to maintain energy. The concentrated drug, however, leads to an intense "rush," with enhanced mood, sensory awareness, self-confidence, and sexual interest. Unfortunately, this is generally followed by a crash into anxiety, depression, irritability, and exhaustion. If the vicious cycle of addiction ensues, there is an intense craving for the next hit, and users follow a downhill course of deteriorating physical and mental health – often emerging as severe depression, agitation, and even paranoia.

Amphetamines: Mother's Little Uppers
Popularly known as "speed," amphetamines have been used for years by long-distance truck drivers, students cramming for finals, and harried housewives needing a lift. Like cocaine, amphetamine blocks neurons' reabsorption of the neurotransmitters noradrenaline and dopamine, but it also triggers their release, doubling its potency.

Amphetamines were discovered in the 1930s and commonly prescribed by the 1960s. In contrast with little "happy pills," these were stimulating ones that allowed users to do more, focus better, and feel more energized – until the pill wore off and they needed another fix. These drugs were later used as diet pills and as a treatment for attention deficit disorder (ADD). We have seen how women with food cravings, weight problems, depression, and even ADD were given the perfect happy pill for their condition – until the prescription ran out.

Doctors thought they were helping these women but actually turned them into addicts. Legislation then became more rigorous, and in the 1980s, the number of these prescriptions fell. The 1990s brought a resurgence, with the mushrooming of medical diet centers, dispensing stimulants such as Fen-Phen and Redux, later found to be dangerous and subsequently removed from the market.

Chronic stimulant users find it difficult to relax, and so they use relaxants such as alcohol, sleeping pills, tranquilizers, and marijuana to bring them down. This addictive cycle impairs performance, promotes stress, and depletes energy.

Amphetamines such as dexedrine and its relative, Ritalin, continue to be prescribed for children with ADD. While stimulants may work for ADD in the short term, we have found that we can prescribe natural nutrients (including amino acids) that not only work just as well in many cases but also provide the missing elements, rather than just covering the symptoms. Children show marked improvements in both behavior and grades after strategic foods such as sugar (from breakfast cereals to doughnuts) and caffeine (in the form of cola drinks) are removed from their diet. A good resource on the subject is Marcia Zimmerman's The ADD Nutrition Solution (www.thenutritionsolution.com).

If you are well nourished and your chemistry is well balanced, there is simply no need – or, generally, no desire – to use any of these stimulants. Then, on the odd occasion when you really need an extra lift, a small amount will have a big effect. However, in the next section, we introduce natural alternatives without the costly downsides.

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From NATURAL HIGHS: Supplements, Nutrition, and Mind/Body Techniques to Help You Feel Good by Hyla Cass and Patrick Holford. Copyright © Hyla Cass, M.D., and Patrick Holford. Used by arrangement with Avery, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit www.penguin.com. Get a 15% discount with the coupon code FENPARENT.


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