Irvine Welsh on Drugs

Question: How have drugs affected your writing?

 

Irvine Welsh: Yeah. The transition for me, really, was… when I first became a drug addict it was… It sort of… This is something I’ve only kind of realized in retrospect. There are some people who are basically kind of, basically drug addicts because they’re kind of, in some ways, kind of physically or emotionally disequilibrated, and the drug kind of, they fill some kind of way of stabilizing them because the world just has too many sharp edges. For me, I’ve kind of realized this now.

There’s more of a react, an inappropriate reaction to kind of adverse circumstances at the time, . I think, it probably, I was a self made drug addict rather than an [natural] one. So, it was…. Again, it was a series of making the wrong choices and sort of… And kind of, there was a willful kind of stupidity about and this is what I’m doing because I can, to an extent. And I think you get kind of immersed in that.

Again, because of the way that see yourself and your whole self image becomes kind of in some ways tied up with it. But, what I found was when I kind of go over that was I don’t… it doesn’t have any kind of real pull on me. It’s not like a physical need that I have,

Once I kind of detoxified and got on with stuff it wasn’t a physical need that I had to get back into that. So, that was quite interesting. But, then again, I kind of… My experience with drug addiction really, it was like… I’ve known people that have been junkies for, like, 30 years and they’ll turn to me and say, “Oh, God. You’re, like, in 6 months, or a year, whatever…” that’s just putting it, on some extent, it is I think that this…

I think it’s an element and a kind of, there’s almost like a sort of… I think, probably, in every novelist, in a way it comes out. In every writer, I think there’s an element of wanting to sort of, to try different things and to immerse yourself in a whole different way of life, . So, I think I think a lot of it has to do with that.

 

Question: What’s the most challenging thing about writing?

 

Irvine Welsh: Yeah, it is. It’s tough sometimes. It’s not an easy thing. There’s always… The first if I have a big session on a book the first couple of days I’m really enjoying… I lock myself in a room. The first couple of days, I’m really enjoying it. I think, this is exactly where I want to be, . And then, about the third day the kind of, the opportunity [to cause] things starts to kick in. What is everybody else doing? It’s a nice day outside. They’ll all be having a good time. They’ll be down the pub having a laugh. I should go down there. I should meet everybody. And then, by the fourth or fifth day, you realize that you can’t anyway, because you’ve just become such a kind of an introverted retard.

You wouldn’t be able to say anything of you went to the pub. You just stand there, kind of, and just start knocking back drinks until you fell over. So, it is kind of, it’s a difficult thing. You basically, well, once you’ve finished a big, kind of long sort of writing session on a book, you have to kind of reboot yourself socially because you really ready for company. If I’ve been about 5 or 6 days writing solo, I can basically talk to the wife. I kind [don’t] talk to anybody else. If anybody comes to the door, I [say to myself], “Oh, my God! [IB],” . “[Nice and full in the…]” whoever, . So, it just takes me a little while to decompress, really, and to get back into the kind of social zone again.

 

Question: What’s you stance on drug policy?

 

Irvine Welsh: I don’t think there’s a war on drugs. This is the biggest sort of [calling] ever. There’s never been a war on drugs. I mean, it’s like, I think that the… it’s a [IB] drugs. The whole idea of, [if you give me], in the West, the whole idea that we could have… Well, everything is a festival. Everything is an event, and the whole events culture. The whole idea of having that without intoxication is just nonsense. It’s always been nonsense.

Well, there is an attempt to prescribe which ways, by what methods we get intoxicated, and I don’t think that the war on drugs is serious. I think that they know that if they legalize and license drugs, they would kind of, they would stop it straight away, they would cut out the whole criminal underclass and the whole kind of, all these criminal relationships and… But, there would be no…

That would just put so much, … There would be no kind of need for sort of kind of law and order and that kind of sort of this whole kind of security oriented society. The [IB] is like, eliminates any pretext for social control, and I think that’s what people politicians and sort of power mongers, they don’t want that. They want this very pretext for social control as possible, so I think they’re happy to keep staging this phony war on drugs for as it, as long as it goes on.

 

Recorded on: September 8, 2008

 

Irvine Welsh talks about addiction, recovery and drug policy.

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  • Scientists working on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) devised a method for trapping dark matter particles.
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Yale scientists restore brain function to 32 clinically dead pigs

Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.

Still from John Stephenson's 1999 rendition of Animal Farm.
Surprising Science
  • Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
  • They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
  • The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.

The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?

But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.

What's dead may never die, it seems

The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.

BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.

The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.

As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.

The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.

"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.

An ethical gray matter

Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.

The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.

Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.

Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?

"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."

One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.

The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.

"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.

It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.

Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?

The dilemma is unprecedented.

Setting new boundaries

Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."

She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.

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