Monday, February 21, 2005


Today I'd like to discuss tolerance. Oh, not the kind where we leave our neighbors alone no matter how disgusting their beliefs. You know. What Jefferson said. " does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg."

The tolerance I want to speak to is tolerance to drugs. The kind of tolerance where it takes more and more of a drug to get a "rush". That good feeling you get when you first start using. This fact is used to explain why drugs are bad. Because there comes a time when no amount will make you feel better. Why is this?

As far as I know this fact has never been put on a scientific basis. I'm going to give it a go.

Let us start with the fact that drugs have their effect when they bind with receptors in the body. In the brain to be specific for psychoactive drugs. I believe the "rush" is caused by the reduction in pain as the receptors are filled. The going from the pain state to the no pain state makes a person feel really good. Pain empties receptors, creating chemicals in the body or getting them from the outside world fills the receptors relieving pain.

Once the receptors are filled no amout of drugs will give the "rush". Because pouring more water into a full bucket does not fill it any further.

This is all "drug tolerance" is about.

Pretty obvious, huh?

Yet in 90+ years of the study of drugs very little scientific thinking has gone into the subject. Oh, we get a lot of hysterics. Drugs are bad because once you start it takes more and more to get that good feeling until no matter how much you take the "rush" never comes back. And this is called drug tolerance. Which is bad.

What it really means is that once you are no longer in pain you cannot feel less than no pain. Doh. Well you know. In Calvinist America to be pain free is bad. If your addiction is to the "rush" obviously to be pain free is very bad.

In S&M practices pain is inflicted to empty the receptors. Then sexual stimulation is applied to fill them. Big rush. And sex is not the only place this applies.

In the food system a lack of food empties the endorphin receptors associated with food. You get that hungry feeling. The longer you let that hunger feeling build up the bigger the rush food causes. And the better the food tastes.

This might in fact explain the binge purge system we see in some food addicts.

There are probably lots of other body systems where emptying/filling receptors leads to compulsive behaviors. Because some people are not addicted to the drugs. They are addicted to the "rushes".


Somebody (me) pointed out that this article Big Mac - heroin attack might give a firmer foundation to the above points.


Anonymous said...

I don't really trust people who never get high. I think constant sobriety is unnatural.

Anonymous said...

I believe you have the psychological interpretation of tolerance correct, however a neuroscience student would add tolerance is produced mainly by receptor downregulation. When an opiod triggers receptors, it makes the receptors less sensitive, and also causes more receptors to be grown on the neuron surface. This means one has to ingest more opiods to obtain the same neural rush as the first time.

M. Simon said...


That is very interesting.

What it says is that if you are doing well on the natch and your receptors are filled that after a while you will get more receptors. If your good fortune continues you get even more receptors.

However, a set back after continued good fortune will be devastating. The mother of all depressions.

So physiologically it is unwise to have a life with no setbacks. The rewards required to make you feel good may become excessive.

I was unaware that the body produced more receptors if the current crop remained filled.

Very interesting.