My son (16m, henceforth referred to as John) has monologued about this site a few times over the past couple of months, so I figured, based on my brief impression of the community, you might be able to help me with an issue. Given the topical nature here, I am not sure if this is an appropriate type of post to make, however it might be a useful place to make an appeal. Worst case, this gets taken down for incompliance.
John has always been a little too obsessed with his computer, but things really came to a head when he found this whole subcommunity. For a couple of weeks, I’d regularly notice as he spent hours just sitting in his room scrolling through blog posts and papers and forums. While damaging to health, this doesn’t seem unusual among teenagers and I try to let him make his own decisions as I’m sure eventually it will taper out, and that’s not my main issue.
First off: I’ve noticed some positive changes since he started discussing effective altruism and rationality and such, though I don’t know whether to attribute that to this site or just maturing. Thank you all for that. But there are some worrying ideas he seems to have gotten as well, centering around romanticization of drug use, specifically “nootropic”-style with a focus on amphetamines and psychedelics.
One day he just came up to me and began engaging in a discussion about the merits of doing drugs. I’ll give you some approximate quotes so you can understand about how this went:
“Why the hell is LSD criminalized everywhere? There are NO negative side effects *proceeds to compare to prescription drugs*”
“Psychedelics and amphetamines are classes of drugs I plan to do, I’ve done extensive (3 hr—sigh) research on their side effects and chemical compositions and all seems fine! People take Adderall all the time and I can easily get a script, I’ve read the entire DSM 5!”
“What’s the difference between you drinking alcohol or coffee and me taking amphetamines and doing LSD? Drugs. are. drugs.” “Alcohol isn’t synthetic? Well then, what about peyote?”
“Why not try heroin if the purpose of life is to optimize happiness assuming heroin provides proportionally more even if for a shorter amount of time?” (!)
“Look, here’s this site where someone (a ‘gwern’ if I recall correctly) did this scientifically! They’re fine, I want to do that too!”
“How will I acquire the drugs? I’ll just … uhhh … synthesize the LSD myself! Can’t be that difficult”
This discussion re-occurs any time someone brings up recreational or cognitive-enhancing drug use. I’m getting frustrated of explaining how dangerous these ideations are and how a lot of these drugs can permanently damage him, through addiction or brain damage or other negative health effects.
But he is apparently “a rational being who can make his own decisions”. While he’s certainly intelligent, he’s misguided in this particular direction. How can I persuade him to stop these thoughts?
Relevant note: our current settlement of the situation is that he’s going to wait until he’s age of majority then do whatever he wants. This is an outcome I want to avoid, as I fear he will fall into psychosis or addiction. It’s possible that these ideas will fade over the next year or so, but I’m looking to accelerate that period.
One thing that seems super important:
The concept that some things exist beyond an event horizon.
For example, you can only find out what it’s like after death by dying, and you can’t come back. For many people, opiates like heroin are a permanent shift, and there’s no undoing the shift; some recovered addicts report that it takes active effort every day for the rest of their lives.
If your son doesn’t yet get that some things can only be learned about or understood as a result of crossing a line that can’t be uncrossed, then it’s going to be hard to even talk about the potential danger.
Having that conceptual bucket is useful if you want to then go find out whether, and which, drugs are of that type, which allows one to make an as-informed-as-possible decision before experimenting.
I think this comment is particularly relevant to psychedelics, but also to drugs like amphetamines and cannabis. There are aspects of my experiences with these drugs that I cannot articulate to a potential user.
Amongst drug users, it’s my experience that there is a great deal of specialized language that is difficult, if not impossible, to truly understand without yourself having had the experiences that the language originates from. However, its easy for prospective users to believe they understand the language being spoken, and to believe they have an understanding of the risks involved with certain drugs.
Your son sounds like an extremely clever young adult; but also extremely overconfident. When I was young I was extremely overconfident. My overconfidence led to me disrespecting the substance. Disrespecting the substance resulted in me having a very bad time. The only confident statement I can make now is that I am a broken person as the direct result of drug use; in ways that I never imagined I could be.
I thought I had done a great deal of research, but in fact, it takes years to grasp the available literature, which itself is woefully inadequate. Not only do I still not grasp the scope of the risks, but it seems to me that no one does. Neuroscience is still in it’s nascent stage, and its a frightful experience when you realize the ‘adults in the room’ don’t know how to fix you.
If I were you, I would seek to find out exactly what he wants out of these potential drug experiences. What is his end game? What drugs does he think will take him to that end game, and why? What alternative, safer paths might lead to the same destination?
Request permission to quote pieces of this comment in an upcoming essay and (if permission given) want to know what sort of attribution you want (none, username, real name, etc).
I think this comment is an important point, and I’m putting my ideas here because I think they’re related.
I claim there’s a survivorship bias in the results of [amphetamine/LSD/heroin] use that are published on the internet. You can imagine that if someone has a very negative experience with heroin, they won’t be in any shape to post their experience on an online forum (typically places for high-income, well-off persons).
Similarly, someone who tries heroin once and regrets it also likely wouldn’t post on the internet. It doesn’t provide a difference from most people’s general perception of drugs, and it aligns with most research studies. These types of slight negative experiences won’t be found because the internet (and LessWrong) selects for unique/uncommon ideas.
Therefore, if strong negative experiences and slight negative experiences are less common on the internet, you should find some way to still show those perspectives. Published research studies probably show a statistical analysis, but anecdotal and individual stories are typically much more impactful, especially on a teenage brain.
You (concerned_dad) mentioned briefly in another comment that you were considering taking your son to a rehab center. I think this is a particularly good idea, and (assuming your son is somewhat open minded) will help show a different set of experiences that he won’t find elsewhere. My opinion is that you should concede some points to your son (e.g. admitting that LSD can have positive effects, but emphasizing the possible negative outcomes) before visiting.
It strikes me that HPMOR’s depiction of how the wizarding world handles dangerous secrets reflects an idea like this, in case that’s useful as an attention seed.
As Svyatoslav suggests, the most effective way to approach this is to jointly explore with your son what is actually true about various drugs and their benefits and costs, and why they’re treated the way they are. These are not necessarily easy questions to answer and could take some effortful research to actually get to the bottom of things. (I particularly like the advice here.) I doubt 3hr is enough.
To speculate, your son might currently be very excited by the discovery that yes, as it often might have seemed, the broader world has advice and rules that don’t make sense and people can’t give you good explanations for – and that by doing your own thinking, you can achieve better outcomes. This is true, but it’s definitely not foolproof advice.
First things first, Reversed Stupidity Is Not Intelligence, just because broader society is overly afraid of drugs, does not mean that all drugs taken in all ways offer only benefits and no risks. That seems crazy. The reason you take psychoactive drugs is because they do things to your mind, so I have a high prior for negative effects too.
I’d also caution against rationalization and disregarding Chesterton’s fences. The whole topic has many degrees of freedom such that it seems easy to rationalize your desired conclusion. If he’s starting out from wanting the conclusion to be that he can take drugs, it’s not a hard conclusion to reach, which makes it dangerous. Also Policy Debates Should Not Appear One-Sided, it would just be very surprising if there were no downsides.
I’m going off your quotes, so if they’re inaccurate or misrepresent him, he might not find these replies convincing. But the argument goes in the other direction – maybe one ought to be a lot more careful around alcohol and caffeine consumption too (I would bet that millions of people are harmed by those drugs too via addiction and sleep-cycle disruption too).
My current understanding is that humanity actually has a fairly poor understanding of the mechanisms of action of most drugs, or how even small differences of composition alter effect. Not confident here, but I suspect looking at chemical composition isn’t enough.
I think it also matters who you are. I have [exceptionally well-managed] bipolar. I often take small amount of nicotine as a substitute for caffeine. I never do (or have done) highly psychoactive drugs like LSD because I think the risk is too high for me, my brain equilibrium are relatively fragile. I’d worry that being 15 is also a fragile state (something something PFC maturity only in mid-20s) and be pretty careful about what I do to my mind. Here someone in the rationalist community reports real changes due to LSD, granted due to large quantities, but effects in large quantities can (not necessarily) mean smaller effects from small quantities.
And you have to ask, what are the benefits? How much risk is worth how much fun?
There’s something real in your son’s viewpoints. Broader society has a messed up relationship with drugs, things that are fine are illegal, things that are legal can fuck you up, people are excessively cautious and not cautious enough, there ends up being a “purity” attitude around drugs, magical weird distinctions between legal and illegal drugs that aren’t real in reality (they are both drugs), etc. The LessWrong worldview says that you can do better by thinking and researching for yourself, and I think that’s true, I also think it’s possible to do worse.
It’s about achieving the right level of appropriate caution so that you don’t forego valuable opportunities but also don’t shoot yourself in foot.
I’m flagging this as concerning to have been considered relevant in this context (for generalized authority halo effect reasons; so it’s about this coming to mind at all, not about having been mentioned in the comment).
Good flag. I was hesitant to include it but narrowly decided it was worth putting some credibility behind “I understand LW ideas quite well and this is my position which may or may not differ from yours.”
I’ve since removed it.
I also second the advice others are giving that having the right kind of attitude to and relationship with your son is important.
I think one of the problems with his argument is that the anecdata he’s collected from blogs and forums is weighted too highly in comparison to actual studies. He says he skimmed some papers that came up in Elicit searches but I don’t know if that’s enough, as they don’t seem to have left him with a sufficient idea of the risks (or he’s just really risk tolerant, as teenagers tend to be).
He also argues that everyone is different and the only way to find out if certain drugs will be beneficial or harmful is by experimenting on yourself, so “why keep reading studies” past a point, but this seems flawed especially without a concrete idea of the possible benefits.
He’s probably seen this post by now, and I’m sure it’ll result in a conversation that leads to a stronger conclusion, so I appreciate the contributions from everyone!
This is essentially a problem of prediction and forecasting, and you might both benefit from looking into the literature on super forecasting. Phillip Tetlock is the go-to, and I’d also look into Nicholas Nassim Taleb.
Basically, your son is right that when you take drugs, you’re placing a bet on the outcome, and the only way to find out for sure what your outcome will be is to take the drug.
However, he seems to be neglecting the critical point that any smart forecaster works very hard to establish the base rate before they make their prediction. That is what you read the research studies for. Of course if he’s just looking for ammunition to justify taking drugs, there really isn’t much of a point in doing more research. But if he’s at least giving lip service to the idea of making smart, well-thought-out choices without getting stuck in analysis paralysis, there are ways to go about the reasoning under uncertainty aspect of the problem. I’d recommend starting with Superforecasting and maybe The Black Swan, and then circle back.
Minor point: Having fun is not the only motivation one can have. One could end up doing a drug, even if they expect to have a bad time, but think it is worth it in the long run. I am talking especially about psychedelics.
A little meta-advice… you’re in a weird community – not nec bad, but quite unusual – and one that is far from guaranteed to have a high level of experience and expertise with childrearing. But yet also, one that is quite likely to confidently express numerous opinions on the topic.
Given that your son reading this forum, let me make arguments to address your son directly.
Science isn’t attire. You don’t get any points for being scientific if you ignore the results. If you refer to gwern for LSD, there’s one post gwern wrote titled LSD microdosing RCT. It came to the conclusion: ‘No beneficial effects reached statistical-significance and there were worrisome negative trends. LSD microdosing did not help me.’
If you argue at the same time “There are NO negative side effects” (for LSD) and refer to gwern’s work here, you are confused and are not thinking clearly about the situation. As a rationalist, that should put you into a state of mind where you know that you are not thinking clearly enough about the issue to tear down Chesterton’s fences.
A year ago Eliezer wrote:
Please, get to the level where you can pass an ideological turing test for that before taking a decision to take drugs like LSD. There can be valid reasons to take drugs, but as long as you don’t pass an ideological turing test for that position advocated by Eliezer, you are not in a position where you think well enough about the issue to take action.
That said synthesizing LSD is no good idea. When doing chemistry it’s easy to do things wrong in a way that contaminates the substance that you are working with that makes it toxic. If you don’t have chemical lab expertise (high school courses aren’t enough for that), don’t synthesize drugs that consume.
When it comes to taking LSD, the context in which you take it matters a great deal. In case you do decide to take it (after passing the ideological turing test) please take it in the presence of other EA or rationalists who serve as trip sitters.
I’m not a parent and have no knowledge or experience with drugs. I don’t think I qualify to directly answer your sensitive request. So I won’t, except by upvoting Ruby’s answer that sound pretty helpful.
However I would really like to salute your tone and overall approach. It sounds very caring and pretty open-minded. The good kind of caring, not ferociously over-protecting. Sure, you worry—who wouldn’t in this situation? People can be quick to lecture, judge, point out flaws and be a little too harsh on the internet (even well-meaning). It doesn’t mean anything wrong has been done, it’s expected and unavoidable. I hope it won’t affect you here.
Personally I’d bet that very few dads would listen so carefully to their sons, take that much caution to not betray their words, dare to look for advices in their sons community, and be so constructive in seeking a solution on such charged matters.
Much respect. Take care!
I know very few sons who would respectfully and openly converse with their parents about topics like this with the aim of getting an outside viewpoint, and I believe lesswrong contributed to this conscientiousness, so thanks to everyone here who models that!
If your son can’t tell the difference between the risk profiles of LSD and heroin, something has gone wrong in your drug education. Maybe it’s the overly simplistic “drugs are bad” messaging? Maybe a “drugs have varying levels of risk in multiple dimensions” messaging would avoid embarrassing events like comparing LSD with coffee—because yes, coffee is a drug that affects the brain. Wouldn’t be much use if it didn’t. It even creates a tolerance, forcing increasingly higher doses. So it is in fact quite hard to draw a hard line between coffee, LSD, marijuana, amphetamines and heroin—except of course that the assorted risks span a difference of several orders of magnitude. Which is the discussion that I would focus on. If you focus on risk of bad outcomes, you can even apply heuristics like “degree this would improve one’s life” vs “expected loss of life in case of addiction”, ie. comparing upside and downside mathematically. The point here is not to get precise answers so much as getting a handle on the relative orders of magnitude.
To simplify: “How can I convince my son that drugs are bad?” ⇒ “Why should I believe that drugs are bad?” ⇒ “Why do I believe that drugs are bad? Are my reasons good? Are there better reasons? Are drugs bad? If so, to what degree?” If you can answer those questions rigorously to yourself, I believe you should also be able to answer them for him.
if you simply drop the word drugs and try to figure out which chemicals are dangerous to consume, it might be even easier. also potentially worth bringing up is that the human brain is typically near optimality in most ways and it is usually quite hard to identify specific ways to alter your brain to improve it. this is similar to taking a trained neural network and attempting to update it significantly with a sampling setting or inference change: maybe you can re-architect it after training and not do any more training updates and still get something useful out of the inference invocation, but more likely the neural net breaks, and when you are the neural network in question and don’t have the opportunity to roll back changes, it is very risky to do experimentation. if your research is wrong about how quickly damage accumulates from a change, it can be very bad!
also, an important factor in learning is to have higher risk tolerance for some period of time in order to gain the experience to calibrate your risk estimates. without that you don’t explore, you spend all your time using whatever few things you know about! and humans of course have this built-in, we wouldn’t be able to grow up otherwise. unfortunately it can have some pretty serious consequences if people don’t realize their risk tolerance is unusually high when they’re young, for example I was very hesitant to drive cars until I was 19 because of the way the risk tolerance curve changes. The accident rate per capita of a newly licensed 16-year-old driver is far higher than that of a 19-year-old, because of this risk tolerance curve. any type of risk of permanent damage meshes badly with this; it’s the first person version of one of the key components to AI safety, avoiding irreversible state transitions from curious reinforcement learners.
A popular attitude to AI risk. I’m worried the possibility of permanent change in properties of cognition from use of psychedelics is not given the level of alarm it deserves. Some confusions should be grappled with for as many centuries as it takes, instead of resorting to personal experience.
A couple of quick thoughts.
First, and most importantly, I think, it would be very valuable for you to try to answer these questions for yourself. Not with a goal of convincing him, but as if they had arisen in your own thoughts. Why, indeed, LSD is criminalized? What is the difference between alcohol and LSD? What is difference between coffee and amphetamines? Why not try heroin? If you are courageous enough to ponder these questions honestly, discerning what you do know from what you don’t know, it will be much easier to discuss them with your son.
Second, my personal opinion is that the substances mentioned have vastly different effects, risks, and side-effects, and only in trying to rigorously outline what they are we can learn how to deal (or not to deal) with each particular one of them.
[Edit: my core response to this: agreed!]
One comment I would make about this is that your phrasing sounds like you (Svyatoslav) have some conclusions you have drawn that disagree with current consensus. I suspect I would agree with them but one that I want to point out is that heroin almost always shortens lives dramatically more than it improves happiness, and it’s not clear that people’s reflective agency actually even values the state of being high on heroin until they have tried it. That’s an old debate in drug impacts—which ones are manipulations of your values and which ones are not? I would propose that most people who deeply understand the brain states different drugs induce can have intelligent opinions about whether they will value them ahead of time, and I would further propose it likely that very few people would actually value a life spent on heroin ahead of time, whereas a life spent on a small amount of LSD would probably in my estimate be harder and in today’s society more prone to failure, but maybe it would be more fun, if very carefully managed to a degree I wouldn’t expect from someone who actually chose to do it.
I think we will come up with dramatically better drugs over the course of the next decades and it might be preferable to wait for those, because our understanding of neurons is going to skyrocket as we become able to very precisely model cells with advanced machine learning biology. It might be worth waiting even if you (15 year old dude who is excited about a new insight) like the idea of some of these drugs; In the meantime you can get similarly fun experiences by getting an artificial neural network high (change the sampling settings, for instance), and because artificial neural networks will not be damaged permanently by this the way some drugs might damage a human (according to their own preferences) in non-obvious ways, you can have more fun with them anyway.
that said, I personally want to try psychedelics at some point, not very many times, safely, in a well configured environment, with people there I trust, in a place where it’s legal, from a reputable supplier, with advice from my future ai doctor on how to avoid risks.
I must say I am quite taken aback by the condescending tone of your comment (suggesting that I am 15 years old etc).
But since you’ve got some upvotes I wonder if disagreement “with the current consensus” indeed was implied by my phrasing. In case it needs clarification, obviously, I suggest that nobody tries heroin. And even though this question seems much easier to answer, it was listed by the OP and so it would be helpful if he could first answer it himself.
UPD In case you’re interested in my stance on the above substances, it’s this:
-- Heroin is quite harmful.
-- Amphetamines are sometimes useful as prescription drugs, but I wouldn’t recommend them otherwise.
-- I strongly encourage any adult to have LSD at least once, but with great care for the setting and risk-factors, such as relatives with schizophrenia etc.
But my stance is not the point. It’s up to the OP to find his.
err, quite the opposite. you (svyatoslav) is not the same person as you (15 year old person). that was the entire point of separating the references!
I think you have misunderstood something the gears to ascenscion wrote. In this sentence:
the word “you”, I think, doesn’t mean “you, the reader, reading this paragraph right now”, it means “anyone”, and in particular is gesturing toward OP’s 15-year-old son who reads LW and is keen to try a bunch of drugs.
(This use of “you” in colloquial English is rather strange. I don’t know whether any other languages do the same thing.)
close but nope I meant each “you” to refer to exactly one person, and a different one each time.
I will start a bit meta: It is important to keep in mind that LessWrong is one of those places where being a contrarian is rewarded in a debate. This creates a certain preference falsification—people with “edgy” opinions and lifestyles talk about them freely, and people with “vanilla” opinions and lifestyles are often quiet, because they fear they would lose status points every time they open their mouth. The impressions about the community you get from reading may be very misleading.
This is a tradeoff. The human nature is such that people often have strong opinions about what other people are doing. Many places have a strong preference for “normality”, and any deviation from what is perceived as a norm are punished. This is obviously not such place. Intentionally so, because the pressure for “normality” is a known strong force against truth. (If people are weird, I desire to know that people are weird. So I don’t want a community where admitting weirdness is punished.)
The natural way to create a place that is not like that is to tolerate weird opinions and have a soft taboo against promoting norms. Which sometimes results in hearing a lot of weirdness. This is probably epistemically better, because… hey, I already know that the norms exist, and the rest of the world keeps reminding me of them anyway… at least I can learn something new and interesting here. But it screws your heuristic “things are as frequent, as frequently I hear about them” if you spend lot of your free time on LessWrong. Most people here are not polyamorous; most people here are not signed up for cryonics; most people here do not study artificial intelligence; most people here don’t do polyphasic sleep; and probably most people here don’t do drugs. (Certainly I am not in any of these groups.) We just don’t talk about that often, because it might seem like an attempt to enforce a norm; like an argument by majority.
Back to your text:
The fact that they are prescription drugs means precisely that experts are quite aware that they have negative side effects. (So please let’s not act like finding out about the negative side effects is a mind-blowing discovery that would totally turn medicine on its head.) Doctors prescribe them when they believe that the benefits may outweigh the costs, in context of a specific health problem. People don’t take them recreationally just because some stranger online told them to.
The word “no” is a lie, and whoever claims that is not a credible source. That said, according to Wikipedia, the harm from LSD is smaller than e.g. harm from alcohol. (Which again, might be interpreted either as an argument in favor of LSD, or as an argument against alcohol.) Smaller is not zero, for example an overdose can put you temporarily in coma. But should not kill you.
I agree that it is hypocritical of the society to make LSD illegal while alcoholism is legal. That said, people who avoid both are not hypocrites.
Naively, I would say, let’s find a sample of 20 people who have been doing alcohol and coffee for 10 years, and 20 people who have been doing amphetamines and LSD for 10 years, hang out a little with both, and compare our impressions of these groups. But in practice it might be difficult to find the latter. (Emphasis is on the “for 10 years” part. Some effects may require some time to develop.)
And a tautology is a tautology. But I was under impression that a moment ago the argument was that different drugs have different effects...
How is this relevant? Both natural and synthetic things can kill you.
I never felt the temptation myself. Anecdotally, it seems that other people broke out of temptation after seeing bad things happening to someone in their peer group. (If it happens to strangers, that is not the same. “The strangers were certainly stupid and did something wrong; this would never happen to me or my friends because we are very smart and read internet.”)
Maybe the underlying problem is boredom, and a desire for new and pleasant experiences. (Taking drugs is the loser’s way to achieve that; a consumer approach to life dialed up to eleven.) The traditional advice is “sport”, and the reason for that is that physical activity influences body chemistry in a way that is actually quite similar to using drugs, only it’s healthy. Problem is, for many people “sport” has an association of not being intellectual. Considering the time of the year, perhaps quickly buy two dance pads for Christmas (the software is free), or organize a family trip to mountains. Maybe tell your son to take dancing lessons, as a reliable way to impress girls. Getting the pleasure chemicals the natural way may reduce the temptation to get them artificially.
I am pretty sure this idea is not from LessWrong, as it would fall under the general category of wireheading (which is considered a bad thing).
Also, I notice a moving goalpost. Previously it was “drugs are actually not that harmful”, now it is “well, the shorter life is still totally worth it”. Here on LessWrong, people are more into extending life, maybe dramatically, maybe even forever.
Tell him to make a list of people who currently use drugs (of the kind he wants to try), the more the better, maybe encrypted (to prevent you from taking it to police, or something), and then review what happened to those people a few years later. Quite likely, at least one of them will be dead at that time, or crazy and homeless.
I’ve suggested visiting a drug rehab center, I think that’s analogous to your last point, and a good idea. I’ll work on making it happen. The rest of the criticism is valid, and I’ll pass it along.
This paragraph won’t go over well due to neglect of widespread anecdotal positive effects of taking relatively small doses of stimulants, I’ll look through the literature to counter that
> The fact that they are prescription drugs means precisely that experts are quite aware that they have negative side effects. (So please let’s not act like finding out about the negative side effects is a mind-blowing discovery that would totally turn medicine on its head.) Doctors prescribe them when they believe that the benefits may outweigh the costs, in context of a specific health problem. People don’t take them recreationally just because some stranger online told them to.
I think that visiting a drug rehab center would be much less convincing (though much faster) than the above suggested method. This is because a drug rehab center will look bad whether or not the effects are very rare, since it’s selected for people who got bad enough effects to be in a rehab center.
(If his argument is that the bad effects don’t exist, a rehab center would be good evidence against that, but it sounds like he believes more that they’re rare and mild enough to be worth it.)
In general, if you want to convince someone who is taking ideas from this community seriously of something, you want to show them evidence that would only exist if the thing you want to convince them of is true, and possibly even explicitly lay out why you expect that.
I suspect that at this point your knowledge of the topic is reversed, he clearly looked into it and acquired quite a bit of information, though his skill at drawing reasonable conclusions appear to be lacking, given your description, which is less than surprising. So, consider switching the roles here: let him educate you on what he learned, patiently and carefully listen to him, go through the links and literature together, and ask questions, don’t argue with conclusions.
If anything, this is a fantastic opportunity to bond with him over figuring out a difficult to navigate issue together, so treat it this way. Put your preconceptions aside, ask him to set his current views aside, and make it a regular thing to figure stuff out together. Now it is psychoactive meds, another time it will be something about politics, or technology, or gender issues, or career… Some day it might become an end-of-life decision he has to make on your behalf, which, I assume, he’d rather make responsibly and not based on preconceptions.
So, avoid the trap of sticking with a pre-written bottom line “Drugs are Bad”, and take this chance to learn more about the world, about your son, and to learn how to communicate with him effectively. Good luck!
(This is addressed both to concerned_dad and to “John” who I hope will read this comment).
Hey John, I’m Xavier—hope you don’t mind me giving this unsolicited advice but I’d love to share my take on your situation, and some personal anecdotes about myself and my friends which I think you might find useful (who I suspect had a lot in common with you when we were your age). I bet you’re often frustrated about adults thinking they know better than you, especially when most of the time they’re clearly not as sharp as you are and don’t seem to be thinking as deeply as you about things—I’m 30, and my IQ/ raw cognitive horsepower is probably a little below the average user of this site—so I’ll do my best to not fall into that same archetype.
First off John I think it’s really fucking cool that you’re so interested in EA/LW especially at such a young age—and this makes me think you’re probably really smart, ambitious, overflowing with potential, and have a huge amount of love and concern for your fellow sentient beings. Concerned dad: on balance, the fact that your son has a passionate interest in rationality and effective altruism is probably a really great thing—he’s really lucky to have a father who loves him and cares about him as much as you clearly do. Your son’s interest in rationality+effective altruism suggests you’ve helped produce a young man who’s extremely intelligent and has excellent values (even though right now they’re being expressed in a concerning way which makes you understandably worried). I’m sure you care deeply about John leading a happy life in which he enjoys wonderful relationships, an illustrious career, and makes great contributions to society. In the long run, engaging with this community can offer huge support in service of that goal.
Before I say anything about stimulants/hallucinogens on the object level John, there’s a point I want to make on the meta level—something which I failed to properly appreciate until a full 9 years after I read the sequences:
Imagine two people, Sam and Eric, a pair of friends who are both pretty smart 15 year olds. Sam and Eric are about equally clever and share similar interests and opinions on most things, with the only major personality difference being that Sam has a bit more of an iconoclastic leaning, and is very willing to act on surprising conclusions when provided strong rational arguments in favor of them, while Eric is a bit more timid to do things which his parents/culture deem strange and has a higher respect for Chesterson fences.
One night Sam and Eric go to a party together filled with a bunch of slightly older university undergraduates who all seem really cool and smart, and they end up in fascinating philosophical conversation, which could be about a great many different things.
Perhaps Sam and Eric ended up chatting with a group of socialists. People in the circle made a lot of really compelling points about the issues with wealth inequality—Sam and Eric both learn some really shocking facts about the level of wealth inequality in our society, and they hear contrasting anecdotes from different people who came from families of wildly different levels of wealth, who tell stories which make it clear that the disparity of advantage and opportunity and dignity they all experienced growing up was deeply unfair. Now I’m sure you, John, are already way too smart to fall for this (as may be the case for every example I’m about to give), but let’s imagine that Eric and Sam have never read something like I, pencil, so don’t yet have a good level of industrial literacy or a deep grasp of how impossible it is to coordinate a modern society without the help of price signals. This, the pair walk away from this conversation knowing many compelling arguments in favor of communism—and the only reason they have so far to doubt becoming a communist is a vague sense of “this seems extreme and responsible adults usually says this a really bad idea…”.
After this conversation, Eric updates a little more in favor of wealth distribution, and Sam becomes a full-on Marxist. Ten years from now, which of the pair do you think will be doing better in life?
But maybe the conversation wasn’t about communism! Maybe it was all about how, even though most people think the purpose of school is to educate children, actually there’s very little evidence that getting kids to study more has much of an effect on lifetime income and the real purpose of school is basically public funded babysitting. Upon realizing this, Eric updates a little bit towards not stressing too much about his English grades, but still gets out of bed and heads to school with the rest of his peers every day—while Sam totally gives up on caring about school at all and starts sleeping in, skipping class almost every, and plays a shitload of DOTA2 in is room alone instead. If this was all you knew about Sam and Eric, ten years from now, which of the two would you expect to be doing better in their career/relationships?
Or perhaps the conversation is all about climate change—Sam and Eric are both exposed to a group of people who are both very knowledgeable about ecology and climate systems, and who are all extremely worried about global warming. Eric updates slightly towards taking this issue seriously and supporting continued investment in clean energy technology, while Sam makes a massive update towards believing that the world in 30 years is likely to be nearly inhospitable, and resolves to never bother tying his money up in a retirement savings account and commits to never have children due to their CO2 footprint. Again, 10 years from now, I think Eric’s reluctance to make powerful updates away from what’s “normal” will leave him in a better position than Sam.
Or maybe the conversation was about traditional norms surrounding marriage/monogamy. Sam and Eric are both in great relationships, but now, for the first time, are exposed to a new and exciting perspective which asks questions like
“Why should one person have the right to tell another person who she/he can and can’t sleep with?”
“If I love my girlfriend, why shouldn’t I feel happy for her when she’s enjoying another partner rather than jealous?”
“Think about the beautiful feelings we experience being with our current partners, imagine how amazing it would be to multiply that feeling by many similar concurrent romantic relationships!”
Eric hears all this, finds it pretty interesting/compelling, but decides that the whole polyamory thing still feels a bit unusual, and marries his wonderful childhood sweetheart anyway, and they buy a beautiful house together. Sam on the other hand, makes a strong update in favor of polyamory—convinces his girlfriend that they ought to try an open relationship, and then ends up experiencing a horrific amount of jealousy/rage when his girlfriend starts a new relationship with his other friend, eventually leading to immense suffering and the loss of many previously great relationships.
Maybe they chatted about decentralized finance, and while Eric still kept 80% of his money in a diversified index fund, Sam got really into liquidity pooling+yield farming inflationary crypto tokens while hedging against price fluctuations using perpetual futures on FTX.
Maybe it was a chat about having an attractive physique—Eric starts exercising a little extra and eating a bit less junk food, whilst Sam completely stops eating his parents cooking, orders a shitload of pre-workout formula from overseas with a possibly dishonest ingredients list, starts hitting the gym 5 times a week, obsessively measures his arms with a tape measure, feels ashamed to not be as big as Chris Hemsworth, and sets alarms for 3am in the middle of the night so that he’s able to force more blended chicken breast down his throat.
Maybe it’s a chat about how group living actually makes a lot of sense and enables lots of economies of scale/gains from trade. Eric resolves to try out a 4-person group house when he moves out of his parent’s, whilst Sam convinces a heap of friends to move out and start a 12-person house next month (which is predictably filthy, overrun with interpersonal drama, and leads to the share house eventually dissolving and everyone leaving on less-than-friendly terms).
Maybe they thought deeply about whether money really makes you happy beyond a certain level or not, and then upon reflection, Eric did a Google summer internship anyway while Sam didn’t bother to apply.
Or maybe the conversation was about one of countless other topics where thinking too much for yourself can be extremely dangerous! Especially for a sixteen year old.
I know it’s unfair for me to only write stories where Eric wins and Sam loses—and there’s definitely some occasions where that’s not true! Sometimes Eric does waste time studying for a test that doesn’t matter, maybe Eric would have got better results in the gym if he’d started on creatine sooner, maybe he should have taken Sam’s advice to bet more money on Biden winning the 2024 US election—but when Eric messes up by following the cultural wisdom too closely, it’s never a total disaster. In the worst case, Eric still ends up moderately happy and moderately successful but when Sam makes a mistake in the opposite direction, the downsides can be catastrophic.
Every single one of those anecdotes maps directly onto a real thing that’s actually happened to me or my partner or one of our LW-adjacent friends between the ages of 15 and 30.
John, just because you are smarter and better able to argue that the vast majority of people living within a culture, that doesn’t mean you’re smarter than the aggregated package of norms, taboos and cultural which has evolved around you (even if most of the time nobody can clearly justify them). If you haven’t read Secrets of Our Success yet, you should definitely check it out! It makes this point in ruthlessly convincing fashion.
The midwit meme format is popular for a reason—the world is filled with intellectual traps for smart people to fall into when they’re not wise enough to pay the appropriate credit to “common sense” above their own reasoning on every single question.
When faced with a situation similar to yours, what do we think Sam/Eric might each do?
Eric would perhaps start taking 100-300mg of caffeine each day (setting strict upper limits on usage), or even start cautiously experimenting with chewing a couple milligrams worth of nicotine gum on days when he has heaps of study to do.
Sam on the other hand, might google the diagnosis criteria for ADHD and lies to a psychiatrist in order to obtain an illegitimate adderall prescription.
I know this is only anecdotal, but I’ve witnessed this exact situation play out multiple times among my close friends, and each time dexamphetamine use has come just a little before disastrous outcomes (which I can’t prove are linked to drug abuse, but it’s very plausible).
Once you’re 18 years old your dad has no right to control your behaviour, but none the less, in the support he’s able to offer you could still be hugely valuable to you for decades to come, so I’m sure there is a massive space of mutually beneficial agreements you could come to involving you promising to not start using illegal/prescription drugs.
John and Concerned Dad, I’d love to chat more about this with either of you (and offer an un-anonomised version of literally all these anecdotes, please feel free to send me a private message)
Doing a firecracker, a dynamite stick or a nuke are very different even thought they are all “incendiary devices”. Being disillusioned of “psychoactive” when you are only familiar with it in the “scare context” and then “pop the bubble” with coffee makes for a bad generalization. Mastering firecrackers does not make you ready to run a nuclear program.
Hearing that somebody did a professional demolition with dynamite and then thinking you are okay to build a hobbyist nuke in your basement is not really comparable.
In the case it seems he is going to DIY it, it might make sense to try to direct the attention to the proper way to get those experiences to be in clean rooms, administered by professionals and in cooperation with other people. There are some initiatives that do psychodelics for spiritual aims, which might be a easier sell to get it practically done (to get attention off street vendors or basement chemistry). Going that route there is more likelyhood to spend time with people that are used to talking down people for doing it for the wrong reasons and to have “responcible weird people” if he has lost trust for the “normies”. I doubt that very many LSD people would actually recommend to be popping it like pain medication.
Workcapacity wrecking psychosis trigger rate should not be literally 0 and getting that kind of stuff correct is hard to bullshit. Being sober instead of flippant about the risks moves it from resisting a bad way of doing things to providing a good and responcible way of doing things.
He’s trying to be cautious and would start with microdoses (kind of concerns me that he has a thought-out plan already), and has already brought up the idea of participating in an observational study as a source for psychedelics.
We’re going to discuss the long-term risks further, but his argument is that therapeutic doses of amphetamines and LSD are less “nukes” and more “firecrackers”, using your analogy. I don’t agree due to addictive potential, but his plan can’t really be countered with “it’s too ambitious and you’re going to die because you don’t know what you’re doing”
If, after all you discuss with him, he still seems hell-bent on it, would it be sensible that he do it legally and above the age of majority under the care of a professional? I would think that in many parts of the country, a psychiatrist can now assist with a psilocybin treatment. That is certainly in a different league from “I bought this shit in a bag from a guy named Lou and I’m going to put some Tool on and take it. Should be fine.”
The variables you’re controlling (set, setting, dose, PURITY OF PRODUCT, safe plan in case of abreaction, etc, etc) would seem all very important for taking mind-altering chemicals. The arguments that it’s probably safer than alcohol really do fail on some of those matters (particularly purity of product, in my opinion—if I buy Bacardi rum, I know it’s a controlled production. Lou’s LSD could have, nBOME, for example.)
Some of this you might bring up even if he’s not so hell bent. The studies done in medical settings on psychedelics have vastly more certainty of purity than the product you bought from some guy, no matter how you slice things. Meanwhile LSD synthesis is both illegal and highly non-trivial. I guess if he were to really synthesize pure LSD, you are talking about him doing it after he finishes his degree in Chem, so you have a few years to go. By then I would think he would have enough knowledge of the legal risks to steer well clear of that.
And I will say the next part as someone who likes occasional psychedelic use in safe settings (usually with an MD present and overseeing the use, though less formally than a clinical setting). I even use it sometimes to help with mild depression. I have not personally met anyone who takes psychedelics, or any drugs, a lot who isn’t really screwed up. I mean, I have taken them a grand total of seven times in my 38 years on Earth, and I think they have been net good.
However, to the last man, everyone I know who takes psychedelics often each year, or recreationally and frequently on weekends, has got problems. Just like everyone I know who smokes pot regularly has got problems. I’m sure there are regular illicit drug users out there who are fine, but I have never seen one in the wild, and I have known dozens of regular drug users. The ones I know who are functional also take it extremely rarely and with the same MD present as me, thus with a known controlled product and in a safe setting.
Meanwhile, the people I know who drink alcohol 50 times a year, or drink coffee 400 times a year, are generally all functional, and I know dozens of these people currently. All this is to say there may be something not well captured in, for example, the NIH chart of drug risks that puts LSD and Mushrooms way down at the bottom and alcohol up near the top. Here on Lesswrong, the contrarian view that the mainstream might be wrong is embraced, well I am suggesting that the mainstream NIH drug impact assessment might have issues as well.
Starting with microdoses sounds responsible if he’s determined to try. I’d recommend doing some research together on the addictiveness of different substances if you’re concerned about addictive potential specifically. I don’t know a lot myself but I have read that some substances like psilocybin are very low on the addiction scale especially relative to ones that are super-addictive like heroin.
Two things one might be considered about with regard to psychedelic usage are acute highly unpleasant experiences (“bad trips”) and HPPD. Anecdotally, both happened to me from my first and only psychedelic experience.
My HPPD is very mild now and doesn’t bother me, though it did at first. Some people have other drugs on hand during their psychedelic experiences as “tripkillers” in case they have a very bad psychological reaction.
Psychedelics are pretty psychologically strong stuff and I would not recommend experimenting with them at your son’s age.
I did not know about HPPD, although I’ve experienced it. After a bad trip (second time I’d ever experimented), I experienced minor hallucinogenic experiences for years. They were very minor (usually visuals when my eyes were closed) and would not have been unpleasant, except that I had the association with the bad trip.
I remember having so much regret on that trip. Almost everything in life, you have some level of control over. You can almost always change your perspective on things, or directly change your situation. On this trip though, I realized I messed with the ONE thing that I am always stuck with: my own point of view. I couldn’t BELIEVE I had messed with that so flippantly.
That said, the first time I tried hallucinogens, it was a very pleasant and eye-opening experience. The point is not to take it lightly, and not to assume there are no risks.
As another anecdote, I had a friend when I was 17 who sounds very much like you, John. He knew more about drugs then than I ever have during my life. His knowledge of what was ‘safe’ and what wasn’t didn’t stop his drug usage from turning into a huge problem for him. I am certain that he was better off than someone thoughtlessly snorting coke, but he was also certainly worse off than he would have been had he never been near any sort of substance. If nothing else, it damaged some of his relationships, and removed support beams that he needed when other things inevitably went wrong. It turns out, damaging your reputation actually can be bad for you.
If you decide to experiment with drugs (and I am not recommending that, just saying if), my advice is two-fold:
1) Don’t be in a hurry. You can absolutely afford to wait a few years (or decades), and it won’t negatively impact you or your drug experience. Make sure you are in the right headspace.
2) Don’t let it become a major aspect of your life. Having a couple trips to see what it’s like is completely different from having a bi-monthly journey and making it your personality to try as many different mind-benders as possible. I’ve seen that go very badly.
“His knowledge of what was ‘safe’ and what wasn’t didn’t stop his drug usage from turning into a huge problem for him. I am certain that he was better off than someone thoughtlessly snorting coke, but he was also certainly worse off than he would have been had he never been near any sort of substance. If nothing else, it damaged some of his relationships, and removed support beams that he needed when other things inevitably went wrong. It turns out, damaging your reputation actually can be bad for you.”
I have a friend similar to your buddy here. He was vastly vastly experienced with drugs and “should have known better” but at age 40, with a great-paying programming career, he started taking meth occasionally. Stupidest thing I have ever heard of someone doing. The story ends with him trying to “buy” a 13 year old girl and showing up and the FBI vans were there for a sting op, and now he’s sitting in prison. Because meth can seriously skew your perspective on reality after a surprisingly short while.
The weirdest part to me is he would have been the first person to say meth is the worst drug and can skew your perspective into something beyond your worst nightmares. But it didn’t help him. Maybe his knowledge made him overconfident. Who knows? I cannot ask him until he’s out of the federal pen.
(I don’t think this answer contains much in the way of new information, but it seems like there’s some value in providing a bit more evidence about the LW consensus on this stuff, to whatever extent there is one.)
“Drugs” covers a lot of things with wildly different effects and side-effects. “Drugs are bad” is the sort of statement that one should expect to be an oversimplification. (Unless the badness in question follows from the thing that “drugs” in this sense all have in common, namely that they are illegal. But I think you mean “harmful” rather than “likely to get you into trouble with the police”.)
Having said that, things don’t generally get made illegal without some justification and I’d be very cautious about taking any illegal drug even if I knew for certain that I would never get in any legal trouble for it, and I think your son should be being much more cautious than it sounds like he’s being.
(There is a well known failure mode of “advanced rationality”, where you learn clever ways of rationalizing things faster than you learn actually arriving at correct opinions. It seems possible that some of this has happened to your son.)
On some of the specific drugs, and claims about drugs, here:
I think your son is right that there’s not much evidence of substantial long-term harm from LSD. But given how dramatic its short-term effects are, and given that it’s difficult to study precisely because it’s an illegal drug, I am (1) not very confident that we would have good evidence of long-term harm if it were there and (2) not very confident that we shouldn’t expect long-term harm.
Also, there is some evidence that sometimes drugs like LSD have some adverse long-term consequences. Your son might want to take a look at Scott Alexander’s HPPD and the specter of permanent side effects.
No no no no no, your son should not be trying to synthesize LSD himself if he wants to try it and has trouble buying it. No no no. Bad idea. Do not do this. I really hope he was joking.
Psychedelics and amphetamines are relatively low-risk. But I wouldn’t want to be taking either without medical advice, and if I were 15 I would want to be extra-careful because (1) it seems possibly that actively-developing brains are easier to mess up and (2) 15 is still a bit younger than fully-grown-adult and available advice on dosing etc. might be inappropriate. Psychedelics are unlikely to do much long-term harm (but, again, see Scott Alexander’s post linked above) but their short-term effects can be really dramatic. Amphetamines can be addictive, and you need to be careful about their cardiovascular effects.
The correct response to “amphetamines and LSD don’t seem any worse than coffee and alcohol” is “actually, alcohol is pretty bad and if it were a new discovery it would probably be illegal and that would plausibly be a good decision”.
Heroin is really addictive and so far as I can tell what usually happens if you take heroin is: initially it feels really amazing, but quite quickly you need larger and larger amounts but the craving to take it doesn’t go away even when the euphoria does, and unless you get quite lucky you probably end up hopelessly addicted, not enjoying your life much, and getting into trouble because e.g. you are stealing to fund your habit. If it really did “provide proportionally more even if for a shorter amount of time” there would be an argument to be had, but I think usually it provides proportionally less for a shorter amount of time.
Also, unless you are quite sure that the only value your life has is the balance of your own pleasure and pain within it, note that if you take heroin, somehow manage to keep having the same highs as at the start, and somehow manage not to need to take so much of it so often that the constant need to procure more heroin takes over your life, and do in fact manage to have it increase the amount of pleasure in your life by a bigger ratio than it shortens your life by—it still isn’t doing anything to help, and is probably harming, the other things in your life that might have value. Were you hoping to achieve things? To learn things? To get rich? To make friends? To find love? To raise children? To help people who are worse off? (Etc.) Not one of those things will happen more successfully on heroin, and even in the overoptimistically favourable scenario we’re imagining here they will probably all happen less successfully on heroin.
If your son experiments with drugs as cautiously and meticulously as gwern does, then perhaps he’ll do himself no harm in the process. But he probably won’t be as cautious and meticulous as gwern; gwern is a very unusual person and most people do not have his personality or his skills. (And, e.g., someone who says “eh, if I can’t get my hands on LSD I’ll just synthesize it myself” without being a skilled professional chemist … is almost certainly not that sort of cautious and meticulous person.)
I think “wait until he’s old enough to make these decisions for himself” is not a bad place to have ended up for the moment. Some of what you report your son as saying sounds pretty immature and waiting a couple of years may indeed fix that and make it less likely that he will do dangerous things.
Just to follow on, there are a few reasons not to synthesize drugs.
One is that there is a state security apparatus monitoring what people buy, both in terms of equipment and chemicals. Your son will get caught and very possibly go to jail. That also will affect his future life prospects—for example, if he wants to work in a research lab with controlled substances, the federal government will background check him and this would not look good.
The other is that if he’s successful, he will suddenly have a very large quantity of powerful narcotics on hand. If anyone finds out, that makes him and your family targets for criminals as well as the federal government.
Finally, the synthesis for LSD is really long and complicated. I don’t know which steps are dangerous, but probably a bunch of them. And if successful, then it would be really easy to, say, contaminate the house with LSD.
I’d like to add that Adderall isn’t just potentially addictive. It has other risks too, even under careful medically-supervised use. Over-use of Adderall (which is more common in non-medically-supervised use) can cause delusions and paranoia.
Well, if you and/or your son are interested in what this community has to say on the matter—I have been a member of Less Wrong for over a decade, and I strongly advise against doing any of the following of the drugs that you have mentioned (except in rare circumstances, as closely monitored by an appropriate medical professional):
opioids of any kind
psychedelics of any kind
(Note that none of the above can reasonably be described as “nootropic” except by stretching the term well past usefulness.)
The following drugs seem less immediately bad, but seeking the advice of a medical professional is still a good idea before using them:
alcohol (in quantities beyond “a drink or two at social gatherings”)
And these drugs are almost certainly fine to partake in on a regular basis, though using common sense and discontinuing use if detrimental effects are experienced is still a good idea:
caffeine (in quantities such as found in ordinary tea or coffee)
(I am not a doctor and this is my personal opinion.)
In summary, not everything that is referred to as “drugs” in some context is the same sort of thing, nor does the same approach suffice when dealing with all “drugs”. Failing to appreciate this is a classic bucket error.
Putting heroin and LSD in the same category seems bad. Mostly, adults without preexisting mental health issues can do LSD (and other commonly used psychedelics) safely without it causing issues. I am worried that a young person would come across advice like yours, end up trying psychedelics anyway and use that to conclude that the risks from trying the more harmful substances you mention are also overblown.
The evidence against this claim has mounted steadily, and is now overwhelming.
That would be unfortunate, as it is exactly what I am advising against. Then again, someone who tries psychedelics runs a substantial risk of breaking their brain and destroying their rationality even after a single use (never mind multiple or regular use), so trying to calibrate advice on the basis of what people who’ve done psychedelic drugs will think seems to me to be a losing proposition.
Do you have any links to papers on the negative effects of psychedelics? I’d love to see the empirical “overwhelming evidence”—I think that has potential to push him back into a more cautious stance
I’d first say at least he is talking with you about that and that is, in my view and personal experience, a very good sign.
I grew up in the late Sixties and Seventies so drugs were, not quite the norm but not far from it. I used many of them, and had many friends that did as well. My first question is really what’s the driving force here? What is he really looking to get from drugs?
I my case I was looking for an escape from a home situation that, to put it bluntly, really sucked. It wasn’t violent but other than basic material support it was not really a very supportive environment. It was also too dominated by emotional response and outburst of frustrations and anger than calm, reasoned interactions about why a disagreement was emerging. Ultimately I learned/figured out that drugs were not doing anything to let me escape from the mental anguish. I don’t think one can really find happiness, satisfaction or fulfillment if you substitute a crutch for your own efforts.
More importantly, I found that my association with the “druggie” crowd was ultimately keeping me from pursuing things I wanted to and from becoming the person I wanted to become (well, still working on that but, life’s a journey, right?).
One of my friends ended up dead. This happened years after I last saw him but from what anyone knew he was very high (as was his wife) and ended up drowning in his parents swimming pool while his wife was sunbathing. A few of the kids in my high school snuck into a local public swimming pool during the summer. They were high on PCP. Two of them were found at the bottom of the pool later when the pool opened up.
Another guy I knew a bit took some LSD, same batch as a number of other people also took, but he never really came back from the trip. When you talked with him he just was not there like any normal person. It was a bit like he became rather autistic. Supposedly he took two or three doses as he had been building a tolerance or something. (Not sure if that occurs but I was always underwhelmed by hallucinogenic effects so perhaps he was a bit the same but kept looking for a bigger experience.) His experience was not common but hardly an unheard of result.
Maybe 15 years after high school I ran into one of the guys that was in my larger peer group from high school. He was also pretty fired mentally. The sad thing was that he was fully aware of his situations. We talked a bit about how he was clearly impacted mentally and he made no excuses or deflection. He was certain the result was from smoking too much PCP.
I’ve also seen more than a few people I knew with amphetamine and cocaine paranoia, as well as have experienced it to some limited extent myself. But for the most part everyone I know that was into drugs back then grow up, moved on and lived normal, healthy and productive lives.
I should also add, I am not a really social person, never have been, so when I’m recounting these events the population/sample size is not really large—probable on the order of less than 100 people.
So based on my personal experience, a lot of your discussion, or better what your son should be thinking about is: why try drugs, what he expects to get from them and what level of risk he is personally willing to expose himself to (and the impact to those he cares about if the risk actually materializes) in order to see if drugs will yield what he hopes to find.
My suggestion for you would be to be sure to keep communications open, keep trust and mutual respect for each other—even if you’re going to disagree.
He wants to take stimulants for their concentration/productivity-boosting effects (at ADHD level doses) and eventually LSD as a meditation-on-steroids experience that might help him “discover something about himself”. He has also discussed LSD microdosing for creative thinking purposes.
Regarding the first goal, is he ADHD? If not, he should discount any positive results reported for that population of people and and not think that if something helps those with a problem it will help those without even more.
Here are a few links he might want to dig a bit further into with his research.
This last one is kind of interesting to me for two reasons. First is the connection between working memory and discounting the future benefits one can get. This clearly relates to the incentives to have your cake sooner rather than waiting until later and getting a bigger cake. Not sure what the memory training used was (and this was a small sample size) but that seems to better serve the people than their prior drug uses did. (And yes, one can note that their drug use was not clearly directed at improving their concentration/productivity but it does suggest a correlation between drug abuse and highly discounting the future.)
When I was in grad school once of the professors there was working on a paper related to non-monotonic utility and addiction. It described a situation where the person, proceeding on sound economic rationality, finds themself in a sub optimal equilibrium. The higher discount rate this paper points to seems to fit, and perhaps provide a mechanism for the results being more long-term than temporary equilibrium.
Particularly with stimulants the body can develop an addiction and the benefits per unit dose decrease over time. That can create a very poor feedback cycle. Your son might want to give some though to his own current discounting of the future and if that discount rate is a good one to apply. I suppose a related question here is just how does one measure productivity and is there a potential problem of short term horizons.
There is a, very small IMO, case to be made for creative discovery and LSD. It does seem to remove a lot of the filters we build up so we start “seeing” visual inputs we’re learned to ignore/filter out. That can lead to new insights. I recall seeing a study that tested perception but showing the subject two pictures of the same mask. One was from the front the other from the back. People generally could not tell which was which (it was a flat black,featureless mask showing a human face’s contours). However it seems that people on LSD were able to distinguish accurately which was which.
However, dropping our filters as a way of learning about our selves or finding creative insights (art might a an exception here) is a bit like using the random walk approach to locating the best place to start drilling for oil or digging a new mine. There is going to be a lot of noise in the signal and not really very efficient. It might be interesting to read some biographies of highly creative people and what they attribute their creativity to.
I never, nor did anyone I ever knew really had some life changing/informing revelation using LSD. Most of the “revelations” anyone had under the influence of turned out to be pretty silly, or down right stupid, ideas once the hallucinations were over.
I have had more eureka type moments when I’ve suddenly connected, generally while doing something unrelated but not overly taxing mentally, two (or some series of) different and previously thought of as different and unrelated, ideas. I recall a story about Bill Gates and his doing the dishes at home. His explanation was that doing that type of menial task relaxed his mind and let a lot of his mental processing powers sort of wonder around a bit randomly. He claimed to have moved forward some stuck problems/come up with new ideas doing the dishes pretty often. In short, it sounds a bit like letting the filters drop via a distraction technique. Maybe external crutches to help remove perceptual filters are not really needed.
In the end your son is probably going to do what he wants so he may well explore the use of drugs as a means of improving things in his life. What he might also want to do is make a list of all the things that might be bad outcomes and some type of metric/behavior that indicates moving away from his targeted benefit. Your can both periodically review the experiment results. You might even have him define what criteria represents a “I stop here.” condition. A good experiment should probably include failure modes as well as success modes.
This is really good advice, I’ll pass on the research papers. He’s been doing n-back for a bit now, so has probably already achieved the working memory gains. Hopefully this will dissuade him from riskily and unnecessarily trying stimulents.
> Regarding the first goal, is he ADHD?
I don’t know. He hasn’t been officially assessed but scores just-barely-past-cuttoff on online tests for markers. I suppose that might mean he’d experience limited benefits, I doubt they’re worthwhile though.
I likely have little to say that’s of use, but I’m curious what online tests these are now.
Has he tried over-the-counter stimulant supplements like tyrosine, PEA, or for that matter caffeine? The book The Mood Cure contains useful dosing and experimental guidelines for a very wide variety of easily available, non-prescription, mostly non-”drug” nutrients or herbal supplements that can have positive effects on concentration, productivity, creativity, and both physical and mental energy levels—mostly with fewer and milder side-effects than prescription medications or controlled substances. The right supplementation can be life-changing on its own.
Going the other direction, he’s right that alcohol is really really bad for you. It’s relatively expensive, bad for your liver, addictive, and has really horrible short term side effects (most drugs don’t give you hangovers). People who are drunk behave in a destructive way to other people and property, and often make decisions they will later regret. Alcohol addiction is responsible for a huge amount of broken marriages, failed careers, and homelessness.
But because alcohol is culturally entrenched pretty much everyone tries alcohol at some point. Some people don’t like it and stop. Most others eventually calibrate to the right level of use for them to maximize the good effects and limit the bad ones. Plenty end up addicts. I know far too many people who have, or have had, an alcohol problem. I also know far to many people who don’t have alcohol problems, but ended up in hospital due to alcohol overdose.
Even those people who are calibrated sometimes get in a bad patch, start drinking too much, and end up addicted, but that’s a lot less likely to happen once you reach a stable relationship with alcohol. And drinking in moderation isn’t necessarily bad for your health, but it’s not exactly great either.
I think this is a good model for a lot of hard drugs, like LSD, Heroin, Cocaine, Ecstasy etc. Sure most people who try them are mostly fine, but they also destroy a lot of lives.
However, because they’re illegal you get a whole extra bunch of downsides that alcohol doesn’t have. They’re often very expensive, and buying them puts you in touch with extremely unsavoury types, meaning that getting addicted can put you in a lot more trouble than alcohol can. The local liqueur store rarely breaks your legs when you fail to pay your bill. Being caught with them can give you a criminal record which can affect your career for life. Taking them into another country can land you in jail for life, or even executed.
The question of whether the law is correct to ban these drugs and not alcohol is very different to the question of whether you yourself should take them.
Meanwhile let’s move onto caffeine. I’ve never heard of anyone with a crippling caffeine addiction, and caffeine is pretty cheap and has pretty limited side effects. At the same time, a huge percentage of the population is unable to function in the morning until they’ve drunk their coffee, gets nervous if they can’t get their fix, and suffers from withdrawal headaches if they go too long without caffeine. A lot of people also suffer from constant jitters due to permanent caffeine overdose. That’s not good, even if none of this is life destroying. If you can avoid that dependence, why wouldn’t you?
This is a good model for a lot of similar “light” drugs, such as nicotine (not smoking, that’s deadly), marijuana, khat, etc. None of them have common life destroying side effects, but all of them are addictive and have some unpleasant side effects. If you can avoid that dependence why wouldn’t you?
So what advice would I give you? I think seriously, and honestly engage in these points with your son. Aim to explore the truth rather than persuade. He knows that his claims that certain drugs have no side effects are BS. All drugs have side effects. Point out that a rationalist aims to find the truth, rather than drawing the circle around where they want the truth to be and finding arguments that will get them there. It’s important to honestly consider the costs benefits for each one, rather than trying to be edgy and claiming that there aren’t any costs.
At the same time, do the same yourself. Research what alcohol is doing to you, and how likely middle aged men with regular non addictive alcohol usage are to develop a problematic relationship with alcohol. Do an honest cost analysis, and if the upside isn’t worth it, change your own lifestyle.
A lot of the advice here is generally fairly supportive of having a frank discussion with your son, which I also support. I should also mention that my take on drugs is that they’re a wonderful servant, terrible ruler. That said, I’ve had at least some very positive life changing and pleasurable experiences (primarily with psycho-actives) that lead me to having a general support for controlled and intentional usage.
Note: This is primarily meant to be read by your son, not sure how helpful for you to read it is. If you’d like to talk more, dm me.
There’s another side of this that I feel differently about / haven’t seen as much emphasis on and it comes from the quote, “Why not try heroin if the purpose of life is to optimize happiness assuming heroin provides proportionally more even if for a shorter amount of time?”
Sorry for speaking this frankly, but this is fucking stupid. I’m assuming that you have the privilege of not having buried any close friends/loved ones who have OD’d, because if “maximizing happiness” is the end here, who’s hurt when someone dies? If the deceased is dying from heroine then it’s possible (no promise) that it’s a pleasurable experience, but what about everyone around them? How many highs would outweigh the loss of a friend or the pain of being reminded that a person you once knew and loved dearly will never be there again? Is that optimum happiness?
Further, if you haven’t experienced this (I’ll say the death of any close relation) then you have no baseline for being able to measure the relative cost this could have. If you can now recognize this uncertainty, then hopefully you realize that your equation to determining whether this is a wise action is lacking very critical data that could inform you that this is an unwise decision.
I believe that the reason this stings for me so much and is the main point that I’m getting at here, is that if this is the line of thinking to justify doing one drug, what’s the proof that the next drug will be better? I want to point out the fact that “substance abuse counselor” is an occupation; as in, there is a systematic response to combat this feature of what people can unfortunately fall into, and unfortunately may never come back from. I’m making another assumption that, fortunately, you’re likely not hearing a whole lot of experiences of current addicts.
Gwern was mentioned, someone I have a lot of respect for (in part because of how well researched he is.) An article that might’ve been encountered is this one, and a quote from that; “But a low rate of adverse events is still a rate.” To re-emphasize, I’m generally supportive of responsible drug use; but this reasoning does not strike me as responsible.
At the very least, if this is a decision that can alter the rest of your life (let’s assume 70 years), is taking a slow on-ramp (10 years?) to experimenting with substances that much of a loss? Taking a chance of losing these 10 years of enjoyment in exchange for not becoming helplessly addicted for the rest of your life.
Again, if you think you can easily kick the habit, please update your beliefs by talking to an addiction counselor, a current addict, past addict, etc.; because though you may be feeling confidence that it won’t be a big problem, imagine the change in your confidence when you have a problem that never leaves you. How inspired will you be when every day you wake up and realize that tomorrow you’ll still have this obstacle in front of you? I’d invite you to look at the Alcoholics Anonymous coin design and that you’d get a badge for 24 hours of sobriety; to emphasize, that is something worth celebrating. Another bet I’d ask you to make, what would you think is the distribution of the ordering of those (and the consequent x year) coins? I’d imagine there’s a many more 24 hour coins than 1 year being sold.
Related to this, you may be reading reports of people who are having relatively good interactions with drugs, but how many of the bad or terrible experiences are being written about? Enough people I’ve met who’s struggled with addiction have had one thing to say about it, “don’t.” That’s enough evidence for me to be hesitant to try any substance I’m not familiar with.
I’m incredibly surprised that your dad has handled this the way he has. It’s very difficult for me to imagine having a conversation this accepting of a view of that would violate my parent’s (or many of my friends) normal worldview so much, I hope you appreciate him for that.
Finally, I want to point out again that I’m acting on one piece of evidence (which is limited in itself) but I think the potential downsides are absolutely worth stressing over. I also hope that you do find your way and are able to develop a working relationship with any substance you experiment with (sugar is something I particularly need to be careful with, for example.) Best of luck to you, sincerely.
There’s a personal aspect to your troubles that will be very hard for a group of internet strangers to address. I think the obvious next step would be to seek some sort of family counseling, where a trained therapist, who may deal with issues like this all the time, and hopefully has the training to manage the parent/child power dynamic, can help facilitate the conversation. That would be my biggest piece of advice. There’s no guarantee it will lead to the exact outcome you prefer, but it would be where I would start, were I in your shoes.
Alternatively, you might steer his energies and enthusiasms in a more constructive direction. For example, a few years ago, I was able to take a class on “the psychology of drugs,” which presented current science on issues related to recreational drug use. That might be a chance for him to get a deeper perspective on the science, under the tutelage of somebody who’s an actual expert and to whom he might be willing to defer.
But my guess is that this will be a hard one to solve just by arguing with him yourself.
I’m not sure if therapy would help, and my son would not willingly agree to it (he thinks most issues can be solved without outside intervention based on some past experiences, and I tend to agree).
He’s already into neuroscience and vying for a research internship at a local university, but thanks for the suggestion!
Not sure if this would help, but I’m also a 16 year oldwho’s been reading LW for a bit over two years, and who doesn’t think that taking most drugs is a great idea (and have chosen not to e.g. drink alcohol when I’ve had the opportunity to). I don’t think all drugs are bad (I have an Adderall prescription for my ADHD) but the things your son mentioned seem likely to harm him. If he wanted to talk to me about it, he can PM me on LW or message me on Discord @ sammy!#0521.
As someone who often has… disagreements with their parents, sometimes it’s easier to rationally think about something if a peer brings it up. Also, I remember a long period of my life when I didn’t really have friends of my own intelligence, and that sucked. Possibly that has something to do with this.
LessWrong admins (like Ruby) can verify this, they’ve met me IRL.
First I’d start from the framing of ‘if you should use those drugs, when should you start’. The research suggests that amphetamines and hallucinogens can be helpful for some people, sometimes. Taking the stuff as a healthy teen is not well supported, there are likely developmental consequences.
Some arguments that may be helpful:
-most illicit drugs on the market are mislabeled, most things marketed as LSD are not LSD, it is often one of the nbome compounds, which have a very different risk profile. ‘It’s similar’ arguments can be dismissed by analogy, H20 and h202 just have a single atom difference, plenty of things can cause hallucinations, including inhaling solvents (which are unambiguously harmful). Dancesafe is a good resource (it also shows that illicit ‘study drugs’ in many markets are basically just meth, because why wouldn’t a drug dealer do that?)
-This SSC (less wrong adjacent intellectual) on the profound personality shifts experienced by psychedelic experimenters should be read: https://slatestarcodex.com/2016/04/28/why-were-early-psychedelicists-so-weird/ (asking ‘how would a large shift in openness to experience change your personality, would you still be interested in your present goals?’ might be a good idea after you both read it together)
-the hallucinogenic experience has been well characterized, researchers know what it does, you will not discover anything new or mysterious
-single session Ibogaine/LSD combined with lifestyle changes for alcohol addiction or negative patterns of thinking like depression has some good evidence in addicts who have failed other methods, but your son is a teen, he has not had time to develop those issues. Is there some pattern of thinking or behaving he feels trapped in, that he thinks drugs can get him out of? Maybe a change in environment, or a change in the people he surrounds himself with will be immediately beneficial.
-for academic performance enhancing drugs, I would liken them to steroids for athletes. Bodybuilder/powerlifter Dave Tate once said something to the effect of ’you can play the ace card once, if you needed roids to play varsity in high school, you won’t play in college. So if you need amphetamines to get through high school academics, you will need them in college and beyond, and if you can’t compete, or the side effects start to land, you’re screwed.
-psych drugs can have unpredictable and poorly understood effects, SSRI sexual dysfunction is no fun for the lucky winners (and adhd drugs can do this too).
-anaesthetics (propofol) are abused by medical students who can presumably access dang near any drug they want. For this class, tolerance builds quickly. If I am being rushed to the ER and the paramedic wants to anaesthetize me, I very much want it to work. Not be ‘hey it isn’t taking, drive fast and the anaesthesiologist will figure out what to do’.
-illicit drug synthesis isn’t easy, and because law enforcement hires chemists and pays them to think of all the ways people, particularly grad students, might try, there is a moderate to high probability of getting caught—there’s a reason synthetic drugs are smuggled into the US. LSD is particularly challenging, and there are a few stages in the process that require very strict disipline about your technique in order to stay safe.
Anectodal personal notes: a relative who was a psychiatric nurse for decades generally would ask her patients when they first tried pot. She found it easier to work with them if she treated them as though that age is the age when their emotional development ceased. I have found this heuristic useful in my own life, and parents have noticed it as well.
I plan to do a bunch of drugs when I hit the average life expectancy for my generation, with the expectation that I’ll die before the consequences catch up.
I’d highly recommend reading “Drugs without the hot air” as a relevant resource for better understanding the risk profile of different drugs.
One of the key papers which it talks about is the 2010 paper “Drug harms in the UK: a multicriteria decision analysis” which found that LSD and Mushrooms are low harm.
However, as many others have already mentioned, the specific experience and consequences of taking any drug will depend on dosage and the context in which the drug is taken. If John does ever end up taking any psychadelics, he will be much safer to start with a low dose, and to take them with someone sober present as a trip sitter.
The best thing I can think of is to incentivise him to read Humans Are Not Automatically Strategic (via positive reinforcement). For a 16-year-old, the important thing to emphasize is not that older people tend to make better decisions, because a 16-year-old will immediately suspect anything you say afterwards is pro-old-people propaganda. Rather, the correct thing to do is emphasize how people in general tend to make the wrong decision, and how drugs are an attractor state; due to the biochemistry of the brain, using pleasurable drugs ruin all of the fun that can be experienced from anything that isn’t drugs. The drugs then gradually dominate the mind, the money, and the life of the victim, suckering them out of everything that they are and eventually taking everything.
Optional extra: There are very large numbers of people in the US alone who are less fortunate than us; they had very poorly funded schools growing up and their parents were below the poverty line before they were even born. As a result, drug use spread there like a virus, not because those people had nothing to live for, but because they were abandoned by the rest of civilization and left with no knowledge, no discoverable path to a better life, and like everyone else on earth they were still not automatically strategic.
I sent the post to him, and got an “I knoowwww, I derived all of that ages ago”. He has that characteristic teenager flippant egotism, and believes he has enough self control to not get addicted, and that his drugs of choice are much more likely to have a positive rather than negative effect. Was worth a shot, though.
Is there an easy way to falsify this?
For example, my personal addiction is sugar. (That is even more tolerated socially than alcohol, and yet causes a lot of harm.) It seems like it should be easy to stop eating sweets, at least for a week, but just doing it for 24 hours feels like a big struggle. (To me. For some people it seems much easier.)
So, my mental image of drugs (such as heroin) is by analogy… like discovering a new taste receptor… that can provide 100x more pleasure than sugar for a few seconds or minutes… and results in a 100x stronger craving for more. This seems similar to how other people have described their experience with addiction.
Such thing would enslave me on the first try. Which is why I don’t try it in the first place.
Is there something your son would have a real problem to give up for a week? Tell him to try it (actually try, not just as a thought experiment), and tell him that some drugs create exactly the same kind of craving, only much stronger, that actually never goes away. Some people can stop taking the drugs, but they cannot stop knowing how another dose would make them feel. (Knowing, not in the intellectual sense, but in the “your mouth starts salivating” way.)
I wish I had a magical button what would erase all my memories of the taste of refined sugar, and I would only leave myself a strongly worded warning to never taste that shit again, at any cost. That’s the point: never trying is much easier than trying and then trying to stop. You only find out too late.
He’s experimented with giving up various things (not on any social media besides LW and stackexchange and mostly posts as opposes to scrolls, has gone no-sugar), but I doubt it has been as much of a challenge as quitting drugs would be. You’re right that you only find out when it’s too late.
I think that your son is incorrectly analogizing heroin/other opiate cravings to be similar to “desire for sugar” or “desire to use X social media app” or whatever. These are not comparable. People do not get checked into sugar rehab clinics (which they subsequently break out of); they do not burn down each one of their social connections to get to use an hour of TikTok or whatever; they do not break their own arms in order to get to go to the ER which then pumps them full of Twitter likes. They do routinely do these things, and worse, to delay opiate withdrawal symptoms.
(For reference, my wife is a paramedic and she has seen this last one firsthand. Tell me: have you ever, in your life, had something you wanted so much that you would break one of your own limbs to get it?)
Another way of putting this is that opiate use frequently gives you a new utility function where the overwhelmingly dominant term is “getting to consume opiates.”
For reference, I’m not automatically suspicious of drugs—I wrote https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/NDmbnaniJ2xJnBASx/perhaps-vastly-more-people-should-be-on-fda-approved-weight .
So first, as poster above points out, there is not a good way to establish this. You have certainty on this topic well above what the evidence merits.
But leaving that aside. A lot of the core issue here is that the risk/reward profile absolutely sucks for recreational opiates given almost any reasonable set of initial assumptions.
Like, suppose you’re right and you don’t get addicted. I guess you have… discovered a new hobby, I guess? Whereas if you’re wrong then your life is pretty much destroyed, as is the life of everyone who loves you most.
EDIT: Another pretty-routine circumstance my wife runs into at work: Narcan injections are used to bring somebody back if they’ve stopped breathing due to opiate overdose. Patients need to be restrained beforehand since they will frequently attack providers out of anger for ruining their high, even after it is pointed out to them that they weren’t breathing and were approx. 1 minute from death.
I’m really sorry that the advice that I gave was counterproductive. If I had known that it could make a real person more likely to use drugs in the future (instead of just less likely), I would have spent at least 15 minutes double checking and editing in order to get the best possible outcome.
I’m going to assume others have done an adequate job describing how to convince a rational being using reason (and I think they have). So I’ll come from a different direction: how to convince a human.
What convinced me, back when, was two things:
* A long poem I found, in elementary/middle school, describing what heroin would do to your life. I think it was factually accurate. The modern equivalent might be Faces of Addiction, showing just how drugs wreck people. https://rehabs.com/explore/faces-of-addiction/ These drug users don’t look healthy, or happy with the way things turned out.
* A cartoon book that was actually on a different topic, but one of the characters was an ex-LSD user. We saw one of her flashback: a young woman looking with horror at the mirror, where she “saw” her flesh melting off and leaving a skull. I didn’t ever want to experience that!
As an adult, I heard from a gf how she did shrooms and hallucinated spiders crawling all over her. I would do anything to not experience that! Fortunately, all I have to do is not do shrooms.
I think another equivalent might be going to an NA meeting. Talk to some people whose lives were ruined by addiction. Yeah, it’s self-selected, but one reason is that the people who do street drugs and tell you how great their lives became, don’t seem to exist.
We don’t get convinced (usually) I think by reason, but by the stories we fill our heads with. Especially if you’re already discounting overwhelming evidence already.
I hope I can reference God here, too. I think drug use is partly a way to transcend the mundane, achieve heaven/nirvana/whatever. (And escape pain.) But history suggests there are other ways that work better. Almost anything would. :)
So, speaking as someone who was a bit of an obnoxious teenager who got obsessed with LessWrong way back when, myself, and who is now currently alive and non-psychotic and who has been a part of a subcommunity of LW’s for over a decade, let me try to say a few of things that I think might be useful.
I would strongly recommend you read some of the sources he’s citing. gwern, in particular, whom you’ve mentioned, has in fact done incredible work about nootropics, and more to the point his stuff is not as black-and-white as your kid sounds to be making it (although you will forgive me if I am at least a little bit sceptical of your complete characterisation, just as a matter of praxis). He does talk about the risks and side effect profiles of many of these things, it’s not in fact the case that there are no negative side effects to LSD.
As a practical matter, when I was his age and going through this, nothing would work best as an argument than actually referring to the very sources I was talking about. It would have felt like I was being heard and taken seriously and engaged with on the level I wanted to be engaged with. And yes, I understand it can be a little bit of a headache to have to twist yourself into a pretzel to phrase things exactly right but in my experience it’s sometimes necessary.
In full generality, I think one of the most useful things for him to hear you properly will be feeling like he is being heard and engaged with. It is in fact the case, for instance, that there are many illegal drugs that are less harmful overall than some legal ones, and a blanket “drugs are bad” stance is more likely to alienate him than to get him to listen to you. Heroin is that bad; LSD is actually not. If you go into this armed with actual data and a good understanding of risks it will feel a lot more like a good-faith discussion than a lecture and make him more likely to trust you.
Talk about harm mitigation strategies. Acknowledge that his body is his to do with as he pleases, but that as someone who loves him and wants what’s best for him, it would make you happier to know that he is being smart about it. Heroin is bad; heroin with a dirty rusty needle being passed around between a group of five people is worse.
He is dead set on heroin? Fine, talk about the importance of clean non-reusable needles and access to emergency care. He really wants psychedelics? Fine, tell him that it is important to have a minder when going on trips so they can take care of him if he has a bad one or just in general prevent him from harming himself.
It is much easier for certain types of people to reject ideas if they’re allowed to see them with this kind of stark clarity. I would not be surprised if, after a conversation about things like needles and side effects and addiction risks and long-term damage and all of that, your kid just decided heroin was not for him, in a way that would be much harder if he were just thinking about it as “a thing to try: y/n?”
It might be an important thing to highlight the more psychological kinds of side effects or long-term consequences and interactions. There are some psychedelics that are very anti-recommended for depressed people in particular, for instance, because they can trigger periods of acute suicidality. Permanent psychosis can happen as a result of some drugs in a way that is not well-understood and that can affect long-term quality of life very strongly.
On that note, looking into how well-researched things are is also a useful angle. Trying newfangled poorly-studied drugs out is a much more dangerous proposition than doing something like LSD which has so many anecdotal reports and analyses lying around.
Talk about percentages and probabilities with him. Yes, it is in fact the case that, qualitatively speaking, lots of legal and illegal drugs have similar side effects or risks; what makes or breaks things often is in fact the probability that something will go wrong is just insane. And even when it’s not insane insane, factors of ten in risk profiles are, actually, important.
A thing that was very important to me personally when I was that age, when it came to drugs, was knowing that my brain was going to be undergoing some very extreme biochemical changes until around age 25, and that messing with brain biochemistry during formational periods was not a great idea for the long-term functioning of my brain. I am perhaps projecting a bit, here, but keeping my brain intact and unharmed and able was a very important thing to me, so arguments from that direction were useful.
Don’t do anything that might look like threatening to remove privileges, like access to LW or anything like that, because that’ll just immediately place you and him on opposite sides of a hostile situation. Kids will find a way to work around any restrictions you place on them, and if you want to preserve your long-term relationship with him you need to approach this as a collaborative effort towards his health, happiness, and well-being, and not as a situation where “parent knows best”.
You are already speaking to an adult.
He needs your safety as a parent(friend) but you do not need to pity him. His opinion is valid and mature and so is yours.
Being a human is hard, very hard. And life choices are complicated. Your son is now in the mindset of choices. One of the elements of this choice is explained in the thought experiment: “What shall I do with my life?” And more profound: “What shall I do with my life if I know I would not fail?”.
And if you have ‘no’ for an answer, the Cheshire cats statement is true: “if you do not know where you want to go all roads will lead you there”.
Drugs, and it’s dangerous, is part of that journey. Imagine your son feels he wants to explore a path, but his friend said he should not. It’s a valid discussion.
In your mind this statement is valid: “what every happens, be safe. Be prepared and take care of yourself because I will not be going with you.”
From you sons point of view that is true for all paths he chooses.
So he is already an adult, treat him as one.
I notice that none of your quotes from him discuss risk of addiction. I think that’s the most powerful argument on your side. If it were just a matter of trying e.g. Adderall or LSD once, that’s one thing, but as you said, that’s not always how it goes. Looking from the outside, it seems to me like nowadays many teenagers specifically become dependent on stimulants in a way that it would be better to avoid.
He isn’t wrong about alcohol and coffee, but assuming that you are a kind of “have a coffee in the morning, once in a while drink a beer” person, then to the extent that’s OK, it’s OK because you have incorporated those habits into your life in a way that is sustainable and doesn’t cause obvious problems. I would be nervous about introducing them to my kid, because you don’t know that’s how it’s going to come out ahead of time. The same goes for other psychoactive drugs.
Ignoring the discussion about drugs specifically, I think your son would benefit from being introduced to rational self-improvement as well. I think it’s important for him to recognise that intense short-term pleasure will result in hedonic adaptation, where your overall happiness returns to a baseline, effectively making everything else worse in comparison. A huge number of destructive habits are rationalised this way, but living a life of delayed gratification will certainly make you more fulfilled in the long term, in a way that isn’t affected by hedonic adaptation. I know this is speculatory and unsolicited advice, but regularly practising something like meditation or gratitude will lead him to be far happier in a sustained way than taking drugs and wasting his life away seeking to fulfil desires for pleasure that he can never satisfy. If he really thinks taking heroin will make him achieve more happiness more quickly, he might benefit from actually talking or reading from ex-addicts about what effect it had on them.
I’d urge him to read this post on happiness.
Hi! I myself am 25-years old and would never tried drugs in my life.
I think my comment is especially valuable, because I’m kind of young and kind of night club generation.
I wouldn’t condemn drugs as evil thing to him, I would rather say these things:
Younger you use drugs, the more damaging they are. Why possibly ruin your brain now, when there is whole life ahead?
You can always use drugs later in life, but you can’t undo it. Why not try to be sober as long as possible? Being sober doesn’t do any harm.
Why not test your skills sober and possibly be amazed how much you can do without deugs?
These ideas came in my mind.
On priors, excitotoxicity should be a major concern. He should check his likelihood ratios: if there were brain damage caused by LSD, how likely would that show up in a study? What do the studies actually measure, and what might be happening that they don’t measure? How would you know if people who take a lot of amphetamines / psychedelics were constantly degrading some their cognitive abilities?
This one seems pretty legit.
Now do another 3 hours, but this time with the opposite Bottom Line. https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/34XxbRFe54FycoCDw/the-bottom-line
If he wants to be an edgelord, tell him to read Nietzsche or Nick Land or something. And make schizo blog posts under a pseudonym. Less long term harmful, maybe.
That’s not the purpose of life.
He deserves respect and your attitude is probably subtly or non-subtly dismissive of his agency, and you shouldn’t do that if you want to be trustworthy; otherwise he’ll rightly suspect you’re just lying to him, even if you’re trying to un-epistemically make him reach true conclusions.
downvote for the edgelord sarcasm being insufficiently marked. if nothing else I would want to add a recommendation for Benjamin Hoffman’s blog Compass Rose, to counterbalance somewhat. there are probably others I could suggest as well.
I liked everything else you said.
Yeah… I think the whole thing was written with me in a weird mood, retracted. Ruby’s comment is much saner anyway.
Well, really I was trying to write in a sort of jokey but also no-nonsense way directly to the son in order to not be boring or something. IDK
Likelyhood ratios is an interesting point I hadn’t considered. I brought it up to him, and he believes if the change is big enough to impact his life, he’d notice (compared it to sleep deprivation), and if it’s smaller, then it doesn’t matter. Cumulative small changes over time was countered because he’s apparently been benchmarking various aspects of “intelligence” for the past year and would detect a change to baseline.
When he finds this post, he’ll find the Nietsche part amusing (he’s been reading classical philosophy recently), thanks for adding it!
Well, it depends what he cares about. For example, if he mainly wants to be happy and live a life that feels good / satisfying, which is a reasonable goal, then he may be largely right. On the other hand, a lot of worthwhile goals that he might care about would demand creative intelligence to achieve. A significant drop in creative intelligence—a decrease in someone’s peak ability to create new things, new ideas—is not something that would be picked up in normal studies, is not something that someone would necessarily introspectively notice, and is not something that would necessarily be picked up in benchmarks like dual n-back. Further, creative intelligence is something that would plausibly, on priors, depend on subtle / delicate learning processes that could be disrupted by some psychoactive interventions. E.g. you try a difficult meaningful deep task, and then let your brain mull on that for a week or month, and come up with a novel solution, as is often done in e.g. higher mathematics. But if you’re taking amphetamines, you blitzkrieg some narrow task all day, disrupting the mulling process and overwriting the subtle internal search and training processes your brain had set up while you were engaging in the difficult meaningful deep task.
Edit: and maybe more to the point, development is definitely going to be affected by psychoactive things. I’d bet there have been experiments demonstrating very different neural development given psilocybin vs. not psilocybin. A priori, without good reason to think otherwise, messing with development is bad; we’re mostly well-tuned. This sort of thing could be falsified at least somewhat by looking at infant mice exposed to psilocybin or whatever substance.
That is a good point. He concedes it. He tried for “microdosing LSD promotes creative intelligence” but couldn’t back it up sufficiently.
It may be interesting to raise that the evidence for LSD microdosing having the claimed effects is looking less promising these days. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-022-02876-5 provides a good discussion and https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9731343/ is the key placebo controlled LSD micro dosing trial result which came out in 2022.