A jarring usurp is underway in America’s dark hierarchy of dangerous substances.
Back when your great-grandparents were still dealing with problem acne and making plans to move off the farm for jobs in the city, Hollywood was sounding the alarm against an exotic, new dope.
Louis Gasnier’s infamous 1936 propaganda film, “Reefer Madness,” summed it up “best.” Check out the opening script:
Marihuana is that drug—a violent narcotic—an unspeakable scourge—The Real Public Enemy Number One!
It’s first effect is sudden, violent, uncontrollable laughter; then come dangerous hallucinations—space expands—time slows down, almost stands still…fixed ideas come next, conjuring up monstrous extravagances—followed by emotional disturbances, the total inability to direct thoughts, the loss of all power to resist physical emotions…leading finally to acts of shocking violence…ending often in incurable insanity.
In picturing its soul-destroying effects no attempt was made to equivocate…If th[e] stark reality will make you think…then the picture will not have failed its purpose…
Keep all that in mind, but this piece isn’t really about marijuana. I’m only using the example to provide context as I pull back the curtain on today’s all-new addictive threat: sugar.
You heard me right.
A growing number of states have already begun the big chill on pot, while back down on the farm sugar is suddenly slinking through the woods at midnight, doing its best to avoid the authorities.
According to WebMD.com, paraphrasing a 2012 Nature article, sugar is so destructive and addictive it would be hard to pick out from cocaine in a police line-up. Sugar is “a toxic substance that should be regulated like tobacco and alcohol. Researchers point to studies that show that too much sugar (both in the form of natural sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup) not only makes us fat, it also wreaks havoc on our liver, mucks up our metabolism, impairs brain function, and may leave us susceptible to heart disease, diabetes, even cancer.”
And that’s not all. It plays our brains the same way addictive drugs play our brains. WebMD says, “To examine the hold sugar can have over us, substance-abuse researchers have performed brain scans on subjects eating something sweet. What they’ve seen resembles the mind of a drug addict: When tasting sugar, the brain lights up (like a Christmas tree!] in the same regions as it would in an alcoholic with a bottle of gin. Dopamine—the so-called reward chemical—spikes and reinforces the desire to have more.”
But. It’s sugar. You know, the sweet, white stuff that in poll after poll receives the highest rating for its ties to wholesome family values. I mean, grandma put it in everything and thereby won our love so securely we will utter her name with our dying breath. Grandma wasn’t a pusher, was she? Oh, sure, mom always told us to knock off the sugar or our teeth would fall out, but she was mom, the enemy of all things good and true to us unruly children. Hey, our teeth never fell out—even after about four bushels of sugar every month of our youth—so, obviously, mom was, as I later learned in a fancy English school, an unreliable narrator.
Or, did she have it right? (Gah!)
Even though I’m mixing my drug metaphors—marijuana, cocaine, sugar (sorry, fancy English school)—I wonder if our hyperbole-happy depression-era friends in Hollywood may have vilified the wrong substance. Sugar Madness? As the movie producers whipped red-blooded American parents into Sunday frenzies of marijuana fear*, they should have taken aim at the white stuff grandma and ma & pa were dishing out to the rug rats (and to themselves).
If you question whether soft-n-fuzzy sugar could possibly be our modern-day soul-sucking, addictive drug, try to go without. I dare you. Try it for, say, three days. Completely eliminate sugar from your diet. It’s not easy—should you accept this mission, you will not be allowed to consume about 99% of the “foods” in your own kitchen. Sugar is added to almost everything we eat. It’s not just the candy and pastries, but all the processed foods, the breakfast cereals, the soda, the baked goods (mostly), the dressings, the canned goods; these—and then some—will be banished from your mouth. You will be reduced to vegetables, fruits (you get a pass on the sugars in fruits), meats, eggs, dairy delights like organic whole milk & cheese, and some bread maybe.
After a few days, you will begin to feel the effect, violent, uncontrollable laughter; then will come dangerous hallucinations—space expands—time slows down, almost stands still…fixed ideas come next, conjuring up monstrous extravagances—followed by emotional disturbances, your total inability to direct thoughts, the loss of all power to resist physical emotions…leading finally to acts of shocking violence…ending likely in incurable insanity.
If that made you laugh because in your mind’s eye you could see yourself react exactly like that (within reason) from sugar withdrawal, join the crowd. But also consider one thing further: You really, really are a sugar addict. You don’t eat, you take drugs.
I hope this doesn’t startle you, but based on my current research, and if WebMD has it right, it’s possible that every person in America is a sugar addict. I am convinced that I am. Does this mean that we are weak, willpower-less, doofuses enslaved by our love for grandma’s way, and easy pray for an industry of pushers? Kind of, except for the willpower-less part. To break such an addiction, the world knows by now we will require something greater than willpower. Makes me believe a nation-wide twelve-step program is in order. Hello, my name is Andy, and I take sugar.
On the outside chance that WebMD has it as wrong as did Mr. Gasnier, I only ask of you and your fresh, steaming kringle, are you gonna eat that?
*Dear reader, I am NOT in any way attempting to downplay the potential risks of marijuana use, nor its widely illegal status—no rational, honest person denies nor flouts these facts. This is only a device to allow generational comparison, lest this essay fail its purpose.