Gary L. Wenk: Your Brain on Food : How Chemicals Control Your Thoughts and Feelings
Along time ago, our ancestors discovered that ingesting some plants or the body parts of certain animals produced effects that were rather unpleasant or even lethal. Reference to these substances once appeared in a collection of prayers of comfort for the dying and referred to a type of spiritual medicine, at the time called a pharmakon, which was used principally to alleviate suffering near the end of life.
Simply put, a pharmakon was a poison. Originally, the term pharmakos referred to a human scapegoat, who was sacrificed, sometimes literally by poisoning, as a remedy for the illness of another person, usually someone far more important in the local society.
Later, around 600 BCE, the term came to refer to substances used to cure the sick. It is of course related to two terms now in use today: pharmacology, the scientific investigation into the mechanisms by which drugs affect the body, and psycbopbarmacology, the study of the effects of drugs upon the brain—effects that in turn are defined as “psychoaclive.”
This book explores not only several drugs but also a range of foods with these effects. In fact, the single unifying property of these substances is that they are all psychoactive in some way; they can affect your brain and therefore your behavior. By the end of the book, I hope that you will appreciate that the distinction between what is considered a drug (i.e., something that your brain wants or needs to function optimally) and food (i.e., something that your body wants or needs to function optimally) is becoming increasingly difficult to define.
Indeed, the routine use of some substances, such as stimulants and depressants, is so universal that most of us do not even consider them to be drugs but, rather, actual food. Is coffee, tea, tobacco, alcohol, cocoa, or marijuana a nutrient or a drug?
For many people, the distinction has become rather blurred. I suggest that anything you take into your body should be considered a drug, whether it’s obviously nutritious or not.
As you will see, even molecules that are clearly nutritious, such as essential amino acids like lysine and tryptophan (which can be purchased in any grocery store today), exhibit properties that many of us would attribute to a drug.
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