Barring violence, perhaps the only cause of death is tolerated poisoning. The slow, gradual, insidious undermining of the organism—the wasting of its nervous energy and the impairing of its functional and structural integrity—by poisons that are harbored and “tolerated” kills sooner or later. Yet, toleration is one of the most misunderstood phenomena in all nature. Very few men and women grasp its true character.
Tolerance for poisoning is established by breaking down resistance to its influence. The body pays for this toleration (miscalled immunity) by general enervation and lowered resistance to every other influence.
It has been objected that the breaking down of resistance should not produce toleration, that it should weaken the organism and render it more susceptible to the influence of poison. This objection arises out of not understanding the phenomena of resistance.
We have seen tolerance defined as the “ability to endure the continued use of a drug.” We have also seen it defined as the ability to resist a drug. There is something wrong somewhere. It is one thing to resist; it is another to endure.
That the vital system resists drug poisons is not doubted. The means of resistance is not well understood. When emesis (vomiting) follows a dose of ipecac and diarrhea follows a dose of calomel, these processes are recognized as evidences of intolerance; but they are not understood to be means of resistance. Resistance is supposed to be some occult power that comes into play after the physiological evidences of intolerance have ceased. This is the reason we are told that tolerance means being inured to poison by habit so that it may be taken without harm.
So long as the body actively resists and speedily expels the poison, it is supposed to produce harm, after active resistance has ceased and rapid expulsion no longer occur, it is supposed to be harmless.
It should be obvious to even a child that its speedy expulsion prevents harm while its toleration permits it to do much harm. If calomel is expelled by diarrhea, it does not get into the blood and cannot damage the blood, nerves, bones, teeth, etc. If it is not expelled by diarrhea, it does get into the blood and does damage all of these structures.
It is a sad day for the body when it learns to tolerate poisons. If intolerance persists, it will force cessation of the use of poison. If tolerance for tobacco were never established, there would be no tobacco users. The same for alcohol, opium, arsenic, and other poisons.
Note that the symptoms of poisoning—pain, nausea, vomiting, griping, diarrhea, vertigo, weakness, inflammation, etc.—are also the symptoms of disease. So-called disease is a process of resistance—resistance to poisons. It expels the cause of disease as surely as it expels calomel or ipecac. This fact is so very obvious we are unable to understand why it cannot be grasped by all.
Drugs are said to lose a degree of their potency by repetition. This does not express what actually takes place. It is not the drug that loses its potency. It is the body that loses power. The repeated use of a poison gradually overcomes or decreases vital resistance.
So long as it was believed that the symptoms following the taking of a poison represented drug action, it was legitimate to believe that when these symptoms, no longer followed a dose of the poison, the drug had lost some of its potency. But when we realize that these symptoms are signs of vital resistance, that they are actions of the living body, we understand that the failure of these symptoms to follow a dose of the poison is due to a loss by the body of power to act.
This weakening of the powers of life, this subduing of the power of resistance, results in establishing what is called toleration. When toleration is established, that is, when the power of resistance is worn out, to produce the same effect—the same degree of resistance—the size of the dose must be progressively increased.
When medical men tell us that drugs lose their “remedial” effects by long continuance, we are to understand that vital resistance has been subdued. For the phenomena of resistance are what medical men mistakenly call the “remedial” effects of their drugs. They have not yet learned that it is the living body, not the drug, that acts (acts to expel the poison).
Toleration and lost resistance are one and the same thing. It is a matter of every day experience that as the body’s power of resistance to a particular poison is reduced, it is less able to “react” to that poison.
The first effect of a toxin is always stimulation, which is merely another name for excitement or irritation. This is always followed by actions of the body (the so-called “reaction”) to expel the poison. These actions (or “reactions”) represent the process of resistance. The body refuses to tolerate the poison.
When “stimulation” is frequently repeated, increasingly large doses of the same poison or toxin are required to arouse a degree of intolerance that equals the intensity of the original “reaction.” This lowered “reactive” power, this lessening of the defensive actions of the body, is called toleration.
Diminished resisting power (toleration) is a state of enervation. General enervation, however produced—by drugs, excesses, by toxemia—diminishes resisting power to all poisons or excitants.
This does not, in and of itself, represent a diminished susceptibility to the baneful influence of poisonous drugs. It may, however, represent, in addition to the increased enervation, a change in the methods of self-protection, a shifting from one method of defense to another and let; expensive one—a passive resistance and a slow yielding to the influence of the poison.
This represents the cessation of active resistance, or partial submission to the poison. For submission, or lessened resistance, is what toleration really amounts to.
Passive resistance is doubtless accompanied with or accomplished by changes in the tissue, which, if not identical with those seen in the hands when these are subjected to repeated friction, are analogous to them. The hardening and thickening of the hands, that is the building up of callouses, is not the result of friction, but is a means of resisting friction. The tendency of friction is to wear away the skin, hence this must be continuously built up from beneath.
While the callous guards the underlying structures against the friction, it cripples all the powers of the skin. Such skin is not ideal—does not represent the physiological norm.
If you are not accustomed to using fiery condiments and you undertake to use red pepper, it causes the lips, mouth, tongue, and throat to burn intensely. When swallowed, it produces discomfort in the stomach. There is later a feeling of discomfort in the intestine as the irritating pepper passes along. When, finally, it is expelled in the stools, the anus and rectum burn as much as did the mouth when the pepper was swallowed.
Persist in the use of the pepper and its irritating effect grows less and less until, finally, it produces no burning of the mouth and throat, no distress in the stomach and intestine, no burning of the rectum and anus. The membranes of the entire digestive tract become thickened and hardened in defense against the repeated irritation. The protective thickening impairs their other functions.
The sense of taste is dulled, digestion is impaired. Doubtless something similar to this takes place in all the tissues of the body that are subjected to chronic irritation by alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, arsenic, opium, salt, and other poisons and irritants in common use. They, too, must undergo changes to defend themselves.
Adaptation to poisons, that is, the establishment of toleration, is accomplished by changes in the tissues that are away from the idea! and that cripple all the powers of the tissues.
I do not think it can be too strongly emphasized that adaptation to the use of a poison, that is, the establishment of toleration, is accomplished by a depravity of the organism. This fact was, so far as I know, first explained by Sylvester Graham more than a hundred years ago.
The greater the physiological depravity, the more of the poison will be “demanded” by the user and the more his body will tolerate without signs of active resistance. In other words, in precisely the proportion to which one becomes accustomed to the use of any poison is his system depraved and his defensive powers reduced. The ability to use large quantities of tobacco, for instance, without being made sick, instead of being an evidence of strength and physiological fitness, is an evidence of weakness and physiological depravity.
When tobacco is taken into the undepraved organism, it is met with strong vital resistance. There follow in rapid succession distressing dizziness, muscular relaxation, tremor, weakness, perhaps fever, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and even convulsions. Such a “reaction” always follows the introduction of tobacco into the undepraved organism; and the more vigorous and undeprived the organism, the more prompt and powerful will be this “reaction.”
It is only by commencing a career of depravity, with cautiously measured steps, that we may break down the body’s resistance to the poison and, ultimately, bring about a condition in which the body seems actually to call for and embrace, as a friend, its arch foe.
The body may thus be so depraved that the deadliest poison may be habitually taken in considerable quantities and only result in an immediate feeling of apparent well-being. Indeed, there maybe, and usually is, much suffering if the depraved organism is denied the cause of its depravity.
The habitué may be able to take at one dose enough poison to kill six nonusers. Arsenic may be used as freely as table salt, with as little immediate evidence of its poisonous character, once the body has been beaten into submission. Prussic acid, which kills like lightning, when the body is not accustomed to its use, may, beginning with minute doses, and gradually using larger and larger doses, be used with considerable freedom as a means of “exhilaration” and intoxication.
The opium addict can take at one dose sufficient opium to kill several nonusers outright. Instead of producing any immediate symptoms of poisoning in him, the opium results in an immediate feeling of well-being. If he is denied his accustomed dose, he suffers intensely. Give him his accustomed poison and his sufferings vanish as if by magic.
The cause of his suffering seems to cure his suffering, but only seems to, for the longer he uses the opium, the more he suffers and the larger dose and the more frequent doses will he require to silence the outcries of his outraged system. The real effect of the dose is to renarcotize his nerves, which can only cry out and reveal his true condition when they are no longer under the influence of the drug.
In the same way coffee will “cure” the headache it produces; tobacco will “steady” the nerves it has unsteadied; alcohol will “strengthen” the man it has weakened; sleeping potions “cure” the sleeplessness they have produced, only to make the sleeplessness worse and require a larger dose to “cure” next dine. Stimulants weaken us by overstimulation, mistaken for “energy.”
The ability of the carefully depraved organism to tolerate large doses of poisons and the fact of every day experience that the use of poisons by the physiologically depraved instead of producing immediate symptoms of poisoning, results in the appearance and feeling of well-being, has led even intelligent people to stoutly deny the poisonous character of many poisons in habitual use.
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Because tobacco, opium, alcohol, arsenic or coffee and tea may be freely and habitually used without producing immediate death, or any of the distressing symptoms that indicate acute poisoning; but, on the contrary, so far as the feelings and actions of the users are concerned, they act as grateful “cordials,” men and women are deceived by them. “My experience has shown that tobacco is very kind to me,” says the tobacco user, while the opium addict informs us that his “experience has shown that opium is very kind to me.”
Such “experience” is based not only on the deceptive appearances of drug habituation, but is defective in that it forgets or ignores both the beginning and the end of the experience with the drug. If we accept the nonpoisonous character of tea, coffee, tocabbo, alcohol, opium etc., on the basis of such “experience,” we are forced to the fallacious conclusion that there is no such thing as a poison in nature. The body can learn to tolerate most substances, however deadly, by a career of physiological depravity.
The true test of the poisonous or nonpoisonous character of any substance is its introduction into the undepraved—the intolerant—organism. By this test tobacco, alcohol, tea, coffee, opium, arsenic, and all other drugs that are used for “exhilaration” and intoxication are shown to be strongly anti-vital i.e., poisonous.
The beginning of a poison vice is marked by evidences of acute poisoning. Thereafter, there are evidences of acute poisoning. The end—no one disputes the end of opium addiction. Few today will deny the end of arsenic eating. Why close our eyes to the ends of alcoholism, nicotinism, caffeinism, etc.? Not until we include in our “experience” both the beginning and the end of a poison-vice are we justified in drawing conclusions from “our experience.”