Hear, hear!

When I was first admitted to my PhD program, a good friend of mine – who had completed her dissertation a few years before – gave me one of the best pieces of advice: “find yourself a friend”. Which is not to say I didn’t have any friends at the time (!), but she meant that I should find at least one kindred spirit to share in the process, to read each other’s drafts, to support each other when it hit the fan, and to keep each other company in an exercise that can become quite lonely at times.

I was lucky enough to find such friends each step of the way, and for that I am thankful. I have also discovered that it is possible to share in the doctoral process not only on terra firma, with students from my program, but also in online fora. This is a new experience for me, and the exchanges I have had with others in the same situation as mine have brought me much comfort and have encouraged me to advance my project. Also, simply writing about the challenges I am faced with and putting them out there in the universe, in a way, helps quite a lot.

So, “hear hear” to finding a friend… and to being one in return!


What lies ahead

August feels like one long Sunday… and Sundays are for relaxing… and also thinking about what lies ahead… I have been doing that of late – reflecting on the past and trying to clarify my thoughts about the future – all in the company of my sidekick Zsa Zsa (yes I named her after the actress Zsa Zsa Gabor (!)). There she is under the ficus tree on the balcony:


Happiness just might be a cat curled up at your feet and a good book in hand… 🙂 Therefore, as I am looking toward what will come this fall, I’ve put together a reading list for the next few months (other than academic). I’ve also started a bullet journal, which is also – in a way – about lists… well… in truth, both these initiatives have more to do with goals than lists. They are tools to think with. They are about moving forward with purpose. So, in this spirit, here is my reading list:

  1. Anil’s Ghost, Michael Ondaatje
  2. Naked Lunch, William Burroughs
  3. Prozac Nation, Elizabeth Wurzel
  4. Player Piano, Kurt Vonnegut
  5. For Whom The Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway
  6. Play It As It Lays, Joan Didion
  7. Imaginary Friends, Alison Lurie

It was quite a challenge to come up with these seven titles; there are so many more on the long list! And so many other academic reads to delve into. However, not only do these books represent excellent writing, but they also address themes such as identity, morality, technologies, and drugs. I hope these will inspire my own writing, for that is also what lies ahead…











Of seduction and drug-objects

I love receiving parcels in the mail. I consider it one of the little joys of life. I love finding them in my mailbox, the sound and smell of the paper envelope when I open them. I especially love when they arrive from far away places, with exotic stamps and foreign alphabets on the return address.

This week I received one such parcel. I ordered a copy of For Whom The Bell Tolls, by Ernest Hemingway. I recently read The Sun Also Rises and became more curious about Hemingway. So much of doing research is writing about it, so I thought it would be a good exercise (and also pleasurable) for me to read great works of fiction on my off-time…

On the flip side, my academic reading this week has focused on Sherry Turkle’s Life On The Screen: Identity In The Age Of The Internet (1995). I have read through the first chapter, and I am completely taken by this book. It addresses our complex relationship with computers-as-objects. Turkle writes: “Computers would not be the culturally powerful objects they are turning out to be if people were not falling in love with their machines and the ideas that the machines carry.” (emphasis added, p.49)

Falling in love with their machines. Exactly. Turkle also refers to the “pleasure of opacity” (p.44), or, as I understand it, the excitement of entering in a dance with something (or someone) we cannot completely understand, or analyse. Instead, we can only know “by feel”. I cannot help but find parallels between computer-objects in Turkle’s work and drugs-objects. Drugs too are seductive. We cannot completely explain their effects. They also, as Turkle mentions concerning computers, “give people a way to think concretely about an identity crisis” (p.49). Indeed, drugs – notably psychoactive drugs – allow reconsidering one’s sense of self by opening the mind to “new ways of thinking” (p.49).

This made me recall a post I came across on one online discussion forum (also part of a paper I published here):

” An ode to Adderall (a 6 month love story)

Adderall, I love you.

I love your warm fuzzy buzz.

I love how you give me the strength to start otherwise daunting projects, the focus to keep moving forward on them, and a brightened outlook that helps me feel OK about it when I don’t finish them. I’ll wrap ’em up tomorrow. You’ll be there for me.

I love how you make me feel awesome, giving me a confidence that projects to other people, and amazingly every once in a while makes THEM think I’m awesome too.

I even love how you push me into risky sexual behavior. You only live once.

I love how you cut my lunch intake in half.

I love how you empower me to endure through meetings without being that guy who sits in the back of the room and hope nobody notices when he has to pace around or sneak out.

I love how you help me power through boring, repetitive cardio workouts that would otherwise drive me nuts.

I love the soft, happy glow you leave me as you gently set me back down to reality at the end of the day.

You’re awesome, Adderall.

See you tomorrow.”

And it also reminded me of a recent trip I made to Montreal’s Museum Of Fine Arts, where I found this beautiful bronze statuette by canadian artist Louis-Philippe Hébert, entitled “The Nicotine Sprite” (1902):


She entices. She seduces. A siren call. Nicotine.

And so it goes…


Ebb and flow

Coffee has long been a staple in my daily routine. In fact, I am having one as I write this… I have also tried to reconcile myself with getting some work done in local cafes. I had given up on the idea a few years ago simply because it had become a bit too crowded and access to power outlets too rare… However, today is a perfect day for finding inspiration and writing outside… so here I am on a lovely terrace, taking in a little sun, surrounded by colourful flowers,  a warm breeze, and the hum of conversations nearby… the perfect conditions to reflect on my current projects…


These last few weeks I have been thinking about how our collective perspective on drug use – or medication use – is contingent on the particular sociopolitical context we are immersed in… this ebb and flow of moral sentiment toward drugs – prescribed or not – and the people who used them.

For example, amphetamines were thought to be a panacea of sorts during the 1930-50’s, used to treat various conditions ranging from depression to weight loss. Following a period of quasi ubiquitous use by the 1960’s, they went on to be all but eliminated from circulation by the 1970-80’s; users were tagged as speed freaks. Today, amphetamines are once again prescribed to – and used by – many. However, the moral tension between what is considered appropriate use and how they are called upon by individuals can weigh heavily at times…

Here is a post I came across on an online discussion forum:

Don’t Judge Me Please. Just Want Advice.

“Hey, I’m a student (…) attending university. Family pressures, society, friends so on and so forth is hitting me hard. I’m not depressed, I’m a very happy guy, it’s just people expect a lot from me and its sometimes overwhelming.

It’s finals week and i can’t afford to fail.

I picked up Adderall 20mg 2 pills, and a Vyvanse 30mg mainly for studying.

I don’t have ADHD, i know the risks, dangers, and consequences(…) Should i take it or not? Will i overdose? Will i die? (…) Will the adderall give me the extra concentration? (…)”

I also recognise myself in these words, in finding a balance between feeling fulfilled and easing the pressures of everyday… on this thought, I think I’ll finish my coffee, go for a run later, and enjoy the evening with a glass of wine.



Summer is for research: a report from the field


Montreal in the summer is uniquely beautiful, as in this photograph of the city landscape I took when crossing Jacques Cartier Bridge.

Summer is also the season for writing and getting research done before the start of the new academic school year, and for me it will be an especially busy one, as I am nearing the end of my doctoral studies. I am currently working on a peer-reviewed paper concerning netnography, which is the research method I am using, and its relevance for the public health field. I’ve also collected data by exploring online discussion fora that talk about psychostimulants. Interestingly, here are the top 10 words that come up on one particular forum:


How does this all fit together and inform my research objectives…? Arriving at an answer is another bridge to cover…







So…. so what?

So… I’m undertaking this research… so what? What is the endpoint? Why am I doing this? That is one of the first questions my research directors asked me… I’ll attempt an answer:

  • drugs permeate almost every aspect of our lives, exploring how and why we use them can give us important insights into the contemporary human experience;
  • the biomedical perspective arguably still dominates how we think about drug use, meaning that medical use is seen as appropriate, and whatever falls outside of that is “misuse”, and morally questionable. I propose that “non-medical” drug use is not to be stigmatised, but rather understood. Indeed, it seems that a majority of users are not “abusing”, but rather making well thought out decisions about the pharmaceuticals they use.
  • psychostimulant use is not without risks; a more profound understanding of the reasonings underlying their use may contribute to the development of public health interventions, when there is a need to do so, that recognise and respect human values.

What this website proposes is a discussion and a reflection on the use of prescription psychostimulants (amphetamines, methylphenidate, etc.), and pharmaceuticals in general, outside of the medical realm.

A few questions come to mind:

to which aspirations, wants, needs does this answer? do these practices help create a connection – or rather a disconnect – with how we perceive ourselves in the world, our identity? What is the nature of the sometimes emotional relationship it is possible to build with the pharmaceuticals we use?

So… there’s a start…


The many lives of amphetamine

When I first started my PhD, I had only a vague idea of what I wanted to study. As a clinical pharmacist in an emergency department of a university teaching hospital, part of my job was asking patients what medications they were taking, so that we could get the correct information in the chart, firstly, and also so that we could determine whether medications were related to the emergency visit. Was the patient experiencing a side effect? Was a dosage too low or to high? Did we need to eliminate or add a medication to the patient’s regimen?

I therefore “came into the world” within this clinical perspective on drug use. My objective, as a pharmacist, was to make sure the patient was taking exactly the right medications for their health condition, with tolerable side effects, if any. However, this also gave me the opportunity to engage with people about their medication use, and I became interested in why people use pharmaceuticals, how they use them, and the specific relationship one can develop with medications-as-objects. So I set out to explore the everyday experience of taking pharmaceuticals, which appeared to be far more complex than could be imagined in the clinical setting. During this time, I was also diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, a chronic condition; I was myself experiencing taking medications everyday.

My literature search led me to prescription psychostimulants, such as amphetamine or methylphenidate. Their use – outside of the medical realm – to increase performance in the academic or work setting has been widely reported. One of the first books I read to learn more about this phenomenon was Nicolas Rasmussen’s “On Speed: The Many Lives of Amphetamine” (NYU Press, 2009).

This was an eye opening read; it shed light on the contingency of drug use – how the “same” substance, chemically speaking, can take on a diverse set of meanings in different contexts, transforming subjectivities as well as the collective imagination. Rasmussen shows there can be periods of great collective enthusiasm for a pharmaceutical, which then fizzle out, only to return years later… The book also underscores that presenting amphetamine users as either ” (compliant) patients” or “misusers / abusers”  – or even addicts – as is often the case in the clinic, is morally charged and difficult to defend. More on this here. I also particularly enjoyed reading about amphetamine’s (i.e. Benzedrine) influence within the jazz culture circa 1940, namely the music of Charlie Parker and Dizzie Gillespie (pp. 91-93).

Evidently, Rasmussen’s work led me to other authors and papers – more on that in future posts.