Since nearly 100 percent of the American adult population uses drugs in some form, ours must be labeled a drug society. If you think your exempt from membership, consider the following. First, the definition: a drug is any substance, other than food, that, when consumed, alters the functioning of the body. Chemicals that reduce pain, make you sleep, kill germs inside your body, lower blood pressure, stimulate your brain or health, or both, are all drugs. Some perform only one function, but almost all affect many parts of the body.
And few drugs have no unwanted side effects. When a doctor prescribes drugs, we tend to think of them as medicine. But millions of people take drugs without a doctor’s prescription. They swallow aspirin, cough syrups, cold pills, sleep tablets, laxatives, stay-awake pills, and antacids, just to mention a few kinds of the estimated 250,000 products you can buy over the counter without a slip of paper from physician. Recently, the word drug has come to have a special, pejorative meaning.
When people speak of the “drug problem,” they usually mean mood-changing chemicals, particularly drugs like heroin, cocaine, and morphine. The drug idea usually also includes a large variety of other, milder mood-changing substances: marijuana, amphetamines, barbiturates, LSD, mescaline, and tranquilizers; all are being taken regularly by millions of people in both legal and illegal ways. It has been proven that there are mood-changing substances in cigarettes, coffee, tea, and cocoa. Cigarettes contain nicotine, a powerful stimulant.
Coffee and tea contain caffeine, also a stimulant, and cocoa has a chemical cousin of caffeine. None of this can be classified as a food, because without cream and sugar they, like cigarettes, have a food value of zero. Finally, there is the most dangerous drug in America: alcohol, the mood-changing drug excellence. Indeed, if alcohol were cot centuries old thoroughly entrenched in our social mores, the Food and Drug Administration would probably make it available by prescription only.