Over here we have a new drug. It has one particularly unfortunate side effect: It makes you fat. Or rather, fatter, given how most patients who take it are already quite overweight to begin with.
But that's not all. Other nasty side effects include dizziness, confusion, sleepiness, severe edema (swelling and oozing), among others. What fun. But hey, at least it works, right?
Well, no, not really. It apparently works only about half the time, if that, and even then it doesn't work very well and it certainly doesn't actually cure anything or treat any of the potential causes of your illness or address any of the deeper biological/psychological issues at hand and, in fact, only "works" (they guess, but don't actually know) by essentially numbing the central nervous system and therefore merely blocking out what your body is trying to tell you. Sort of like saying the light hurts your eyes and then taking a pill to make you go blind. There now, all better.
This new drug is called Lyrica. It's from Pfizer, and it was just approved by the FDA to treat an awful, inscrutable condition known as fibromyalgia, an is-it-or-isn't-it illness distinguished by all-over bodily pain the causes of which no one can figure and which few are really sure is even a real disease, per se, given that there's no biological test to diagnose it and no way to accurately validate its existence and given that it has all sorts of seemingly unrelated, scattershot symptoms, like irritable bowel (another suspect ailment) and ringing in the ears and, well, just about everything else.
No matter. After years of doubt as to its effectiveness (and fibromyalgia's existence), Lyrica has been approved, and fibromyalgia has been more or less legitimized. Pfizer stands to make billions, as do the other pharmco titans who are begging the FDA to let them make expensive new drugs to treat this strange condition that no one seems to understand - drugs which may actually exacerbate the condition - but which clearly has enough patients who seem to be suffering from it even though they might very well be suffering from something else entirely.
Ah, the pharmaceutical industry. Tremendous amounts of good, underscored by giant bolts of shameless, exploitive, predatory evil. Isn't it fascinating?
Over here, another drug. This one's been around awhile. World famous, beloved by millions, controversial for all the wrong reasons. It is currently very, very illegal. Producing and selling it in any quantity can result in severe punishment, years in prison.
It has been deemed highly dangerous, potentially toxic, even lethal, and for years the government and the Centers for Disease Control and your own mother have issued all sorts of lies and alarmist B.S. about it, like how it drains spinal fluid, induces brain aneurisms, makes you vote Libertarian. Which is not to say taking it doesn't have its random dangers, but, you know, please.
This drug is famous for producing incredible feelings of euphoria, openness, warmth and love and happiness in almost everyone who takes it. It is staggeringly effective, non-addictive, and when taken somewhat responsibly and with a slight hint of intelligence, has very few, if any, notable or permanent side effects.
Its positives border on miraculous. It can effortlessly break down long-held psychological barriers, remove obstacles to communication and stifled emotion, make patients/users feel open and happy and much better able to handle stress, anxiety, all manner of trauma.
It gets better. Some of the deeper emotional breakthroughs it produces last for weeks, months, or forever. Truly, entire loving relationships have been launched based on the deep bonding and raw emotional honesty a couple discovers while on it, and in many cases, those feelings become the foundation for long-term marriages (or, by way of the same raw honesty, encourage the end of unhappy, dying ones).
Oh yes - this drug also frequently induces profound, life-changing spiritual awakenings, can eradicate neurosis, increase feelings of empathy and forgiveness and peace and overlay it all with an increased love of music and sensual pleasure.
Thank God it's illegal.
This drug, as you've already guessed, is MDMA, or ecstasy. It has finally, after years of governmental ignorance and lack of balls/foresight/integrity in the psychiatric community, earned tacit approval for a precious handful of clinical psychiatric trials. Initial results? Turns out this scary illegal drug just might work wonders for treating post-traumatic stress disorder. Gosh, really?
Yes. As reported by the Washington Post and the Guardian, as far as PTSD alone is concerned, some docs already see MDMA as potentially life-saving, a true wonder drug, which might even be administered to all our traumatized U.S. soldiers. Which could be good news indeed, given how an estimated 24 million Americans suffer from PTSD, whereas only a fraction of that number claim to have fibromyalgia.
Oh, but there are problems. Major drawbacks. Terrible, unspeakable, anti-American issues that seriously trouble our drug-addled nation.
Foremost: MDMA is not patented. Its formula is not owned by anyone. Hence, no single company (or handful of companies) stands to make billions from its potential legalization and the government cannot tax it and organized religion cannot control the power it has to help you totally reject its inane dogma, and they all really, really hate that.
What's more, millions of people already take MDMA recreationally, for the sheer pleasure and joy of it, making it a huge threat to all authority everywhere, because God knows we can't have lots of people feeling peaceful and empathetic and nonviolent, as opposed to fearful and victimized and angry and sick sick sick, all those things governments and religions rely on to keep you meek and beaten down and in check.
I know what you're thinking. That's a dangerous oversimplification, Mark. Read the literature! Ecstasy is scary! People can overdose! "Moderation" is not in America's DNA! With the possible exception of extreme PTSD cases, we should probably keep MDMA illegal forever - you know, just like that other toxic, wildly addictive drug that causes thousands of deaths every year, along with liver disease and violence and spousal abuse and trauma and impaired judgment and unwanted pregnancy and frat boys and which you can order as much as you want right now in any bar in the world. Oh wait.
Maybe it really is just that simple, just that odious. One drug, nasty and of hugely questionable value, essentially designed to numb your body and mock your spirit and shut you down like a land mine shuts down a cat, is legal. Another drug, relatively safe, enormously effective in how it opens you up like a flower and pours white hot life straight down your throat and helps you feel God without forcing you to kneel before, well, anything at all, is violently illegal. And thus doth the brutal irony of the capitalist machine floweth over once again.
It is, you could say, just another tale of the tense, vicious battle ever raging between the government/corporations/church, all of whom seek to control and profit by murdering any notion you may have that you might be far more powerful, divinely connected, empathetic than you imagine, and the humane, common-sensical universe of peaceful reality. Do you know that fight? Do you ever sense that common sense is losing? I have a suggestion for something you might want to try.
Thoughts for the author? E-mail him. Mark Morford's Notes & Errata column appears every Wednesday and Friday on SFGate and in the Datebook section of the San Francisco Chronicle.
© 2008 The San Francisco Chronicle