People take for granted that drugs and alcohol have a set of miraculous effects: negative and positive, harmful and helpful. Some of these effects are the inevitable outcome of a substance's pharmacological action. However, some of these effects are either non-existent or the product of non-drug factors. Since your view of substances motivates your decisions to use them it's worth sorting through these various effects to try and understand which ones really come from the drugs and which ones don't. A changed view on the powers and effects of substances will lead to a change in the motivation to use them.
In this chapter, we will be challenging some of the most deeply held views on the powers of substances. But before we do this, it's important to note that we are not saying substances have no effects at all - they most certainly do. Whenever we have this discussion some people get annoyed and say, "So you're saying drugs don't affect a person?!" Let us be clear, of course they do; what we're saying is they don't affect people in the ways that are commonly believed and discussed.
Substances can physically stimulate or sedate our bodies, altering heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, temperature, digestion, neurotransmission, etc. This is without question, and we needn't get into the finer details of all these effects. We acknowledge that these general effects occur as a matter of pharmacology, and that they play some part in the total experience of using substances. In a nutshell here is what we mean when we say that substances don't carry certain powers - substances do not change the content of your thoughts. Under this umbrella, we will show you that substances actually change very little about you, but your beliefs about what they do is what makes the experience with substances seem so powerful and life altering.