Why do we feel the way we feel? How do our thoughts and emotions affect our health? Are our bodies and minds distinct from one another or do they function together as parts of an interconnected system?
In this groundbreaking audiobook, Candace Pert -- a neuroscientist whose extraordinary career began with her 1972 discovery of the opiate receptor -- provides startling and decisive answers to these and other challenging questions that scientists and philosophers have pondered for centuries.
From explaining the scientific basis of popular wisdom about phenomena like "gut feelings" to making comprehensible recent discoveries in cancer and AIDS research, Molecules of Emotion is an intellectual adventure of the highest order. Yet the journey Pert takes us on is one of personal as well as scientific discovery. Woven into her lucid explanations of the science underlying her work is the remarkable story of how -- faced with personal and professional obstacles -- she has grown as a woman and a mother, and how her personal and spiritual development has led to breakthroughs in her remarkable career.
Molecules of Emotion is a landmark work. Full of insight and wisdom, it is among those rare audiobooks which possess the power to change the way we see the world and ourselves.
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February 01, 1999
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Excerpt from Molecules of Emotion by Candace B. Pert
From Chapter 2, Romance of the Opiate Receptor
Looking back over twenty-five years, it seems that destiny played an important role in the unfolding of events that led to the discovery of the elusive opiate receptor. Although it was my fierce belief and passionate devotion that drove me in the final stages, I had only my curiosity and a series of seemingly serendipitous occurrences to put me on the track of proving that there did indeed exist within the brain a chemical mechanism that enabled drugs to act.
My first encounter with the opiate receptor was in the summer of 1970, after I'd graduated with a degree in biology from Bryn Mawr College and before I entered medical graduate school at Johns Hopkins University in the fall. That encounter was personal, not professional. In June I had accompanied my husband and small son to San Antonio, Texas, where we were to live for eight weeks while Agu completed his required medical corps basic training for the army. Agu had completed his Ph.D. in psychology at Bryn Mawr, and now it was time to fulfill his deferred military obligation. I was looking forward to a summer off; maybe even a vacation, after four years of grueling, married-with-child college life. I also intended to bone up on some basics before entering the doctoral program in the fall, so I brought with me a copy of Principles of Drug Action by Avram Goldstein. Since the program I was entering at Hopkins would focus on neuropharmacology, the study of the action of drugs in the brain, I wanted to prepare myself and figured Goldstein's book was the best place to start.
But real-life experience preemted the academic learning and instead of reading about the opiate receptor I got to experience its effects firsthand. A horseback-riding accident put me flat on my hack in a hospital bed, where, doped to the gills on Talwin, a morphine derivative was given to ease the pain of a compressed lumbar vertebra, I remained for most of the summer. My body immobilized by the injury and my attention span shanghaied by the drug, I was unable to concentrate enough to read the selected text or any other book, and instead spells my days lying around in a blissful altered state while my back healed.
Later, when I was off the drug and able to sit up, I read part of Goldstein's book, which included a thorough introduction to the concept of the opiate receptor. I remember marveling at how there were tiny molecules on my cells that allowed for that wonderful feeling I'd experienced every time the nurse had injected me with an intramuscular dose of morphine. There was no doubt that the drug's action in my body produced a distinctly euphoric effect, one that filled me with a bliss bordering on ecstasy, in addition to relieving all pain. The marvelous part was that the drug also seemed to completely obliterate any anxiety or emotional discomfort I had as a result of being confined to a hospital bed and separated from my husband and young child. Under its influence, I'd felt deeply nourished and satisfied, as if there weren't a thing in the world I wanted. In fact, I liked the drug so much that, as I was ending my stay at the hospital, I very briefly toyed with the idea of stealing some to take with me. I can see how people become addicts!
This intense overlap of physical and emotional experience, both originating from a single drug, fascinated me and sparked anew my interest in the connection between brain and behavior, mind and body -- a connection that had originally come to my attention during my freshman year in college. On my own for the first time in my life, I had subsisted for an entire semester on a diet of peach pie, and thereby had thrown myself into both a thyroid blowout and a major depression. So it happened that I received my official introduction to the idea that something happening in the body could affect the emotions. Now, as I began graduate school, I was about to explore the connection scientifically, and begin the work to which I would eventually devote my life. And it all had to do with these strange little things called opiate receptors.