Developmental neuroscientist Lewis (Human Development and Applied Psychology/Radboud Univ., Netherlands) examines his odyssey from minor stoner to helpless, full-blown addict.
It all started when he was sent to boarding school in New England, where each student had their own host of problems and despair. But it was when he attended UC-Berkeley that he began to explore the world of drugs beyond the occasional bottle of cough syrup, to smoke marijuana and hash throughout the day and pop psychedelics a few times a week. As he now understands it, the drugs were talking to his brain “in the language of dopamine and peptides, neuromodulators and receptors,” tricking the brain into releasing the neurochemicals of reward. As Lewis unspools one pungent drug episode after another, he capably knits into the narrative an accessible explanation of the neural activity that guided his behavior. Lewis chronicles his drug life shuffling from California to Malaysia to Calcutta to Canada, and he provides sharp place portraits intermixed with cringingly prismatic descriptions of intoxication and the bite of boredom, loneliness and shame. “I saw myself as a pathetic creature,” he writes, “a fool, completely obsessed with a stupid drug that I was impervious to the riot of life, the celebration of everyday sensation, that even the poorest people on earth were enjoying all around me.” And though it is cheering that Lewis was finally able to shake the monkey off his back, it’s a shame that neuroscience couldn’t give him an answer about why: “I don’t actually know the answer. I believe that further research in the neuroscience of addiction will help me get closer to finding it.”
From opium pipe to orbitofrontal cortex, a smoothly entertaining interplay between lived experience and the particulars of brain activity.