Ketamine was once used mainly as an anaesthetic on battlefields and for horses. Later it became a party drug, the notorious ‘Special K’. Now it’s being used for depression and even to prevent suicide. Drugs have taken on new roles before, but ketamine’s career change is one of the most surprising.
There are various competing theories because each of them fails to capture everything funny. Yes, jokes release psychological tension, but so does a bath. Yes, we laugh at the misfortune of others (a fat lady falling into a pool) but often we find their misfortune upsetting instead. Meanwhile the opposite of misfortune can be hilarious, such as team’s worst player doing something unexpectedly miraculous.
Laughter is a human universal, found in all cultures, everywhere, in all times. Yet there is no clear reason why we get a burst of joy when something is funny, and even after centuries of trying, we can’t precisely define what “funny” is. We can understand jokes but usually can’t explain what it is about them that makes us laugh. Whenever we can, they aren’t as funny. All this is very strange. How can we understand and not understand something at the same time?
Depression comes in many forms and affects all walks of life. Genes and experiences interweave to produce an emotional and physical response as crippling as a serious disease. While the cause remains elusive, through many years of research one finding is rock solid: women are affected around twice as much as men. Often the discrepancy is blamed on gender-based discrimination: women are more depressed, the theory goes, because they have fewer advantages and more hardships in a patriarchal society.
Is there a mainstream role for the drugs of the counterculture? Psilocybin (the active element of magic mushrooms) and LSD (also known as acid) were research darlings in the 1950s with hopes that they could cure depression, drug addiction and even the fear of mortality. Sandoz Laboratories had introduced LSD as a psychiatric drug in 1947 and hailed it “as a cure for everything from schizophrenia to criminal behaviour, sexual perversions, and alcoholism.”
What human experience is the most potent trigger for post-traumatic stress disorder? Ask 100 people this question, even doctors and psychiatrists, and you would receive a list of various traumatic experiences: car crashes, house fires, sexual assaults, shootings, stabbings, kidnappings, earthquakes and so on. The experiences would be varied but the essential theme the same: the future PTSD patient is the victim of some horrible, life-threatening event.