Thought for the Month: “Everything is poison, unless used in moderation.” – Paracelsus (1495-1541)

B A Ochia

When a son was born to Tony Blair, Bill Clinton, the Former US President, congratulated the Former Prime Minister and remarked that there was a boy who had every chance to live to be one hundred years old. Clinton was right in his remark.  In nearly every developed country life expectancy is increasing imperceptibly, thanks to improved medical facilities, increased food availability and improved environmental conditions.

But increased longevity brings, in its wake, social and economical problems. Diseases that putatively or definitely accompany the ageing process are increasingly rearing their heads. Most of these diseases are associated with our individual lifestyles, if not inherent in us genetically.

Every one wants to live to a ripe old age, provided it is filled with gain and not pain. Eating the right quantity of food completely balanced in all nutrients, limiting the consumption of alcohol and tobacco, avoiding excessive reliance on medications and taking care to keep our micro- and macro-environments clean will go a long way to ensure that our declining years will be replete with gain.

But things are not all that simple. We are complex beings, diverse in our food choice, feeding habits, lifestyles and socio-economic status.  We have vegans who, for one reason or another, refuse to eat anything that contains meat, meat products, eggs, milk and dairy products and even fish; only  plants and plant products are welcome. There are women, especially the young, who are so obsessed with keeping their frame trim that they literally starve themselves to the state of anorexia nervosa.  Some others, mainly young women, practise bulimia, i.e., binge eating followed by vomiting.  Furthermore, there are people, who in order to make their political, social or religious points loud and clear, go on hunger strike and are prepared to literally starve to death.  These are extremes. Nature requires moderation for it to be fully and adequately expressed.

At this juncture one could extrapolate Paracelsus’ aphorism into its allegorical significance.  Extremes in behaviour of the people, matched equally with extremes in measures resorted to by the state in order to curb them, are detrimental to progress of society as a whole.  Use of drugs, such as opium, has been with human societies since time immemorial.  Karl Max, when he was developing his theory on dialectical materialism, declared religion as the opium of the people, implying that the people endure their earthly travail for a reward awaiting them in life hereafter. Drugs used in moderation have some beneficial physiological and psychological effects.  The trouble is with excessive and habitual consumption.  The situation today with regard to drug use, drug pushing, drug regulations and drug-law enforcements is confusing.  Governments wage internecine wars against drug dealers who are always a step ahead.  Seize a ton of drugs and much more than that goes unnoticed.  The costs to the national economy of these so-called wars are enormous. Perhaps national Governments, including the Federal Government of the USA, could pause and re-read the history of the USA Prohibition legislation.  There is already a growing minority of people in this country and abroad who are advocating for the legalisation of some of the drugs, at least in order to sweep the ground off the feet of those criminal, underground organisations who are making billions and billions of pounds from the illegal drug trade.  If drugs were made freely available, they will become cheaper, reminiscent of what happened to alcohol following the end of Prohibition.  The criminal element involved in feeding the drug habit will disappear.  The social experiment in Holland has, and is, producing interesting results.  Treat people like human beings and they will respond in kind.

At present the suggestion that drugs should be legalised is anathema to most politicians, government functionaries and many individuals.  Perhaps it is an idea far ahead of its time.  But proponents of such novel ideas have been opposed, even vilified, in the past by the authorities.  This is why the title of this ‘Thought for the Month’ is particularly poignant.  Paracelsus spent his short life promoting principles that were revolting to his contemporaries.  Most of his ideas finally came to be recognised as the basis for modern pharmacology, medicine and nutrition.  Will commonsense prevail?