A High Perspective on Addiction and Marijuana

They really make me nervous sometimes. And they seem to be everywhere. Frantically, they move around in circles, slaves to implemented passions – addicts, manipulated, betrayed, and in self-denial. At six in the morning, the first type of addicts run to get their daily fixes: the classic workaholics.They swarm out of their houses to go and work like maniacs. Some are craving for more power, suppressing the persistent feeling of having slowly turned into corporate marionettes. Others work excessively to satisfy their shopping addiction and buy whatever they have been told makes them more valuable people. Most of them are multiple drug addicts with a long history of abuse: millions are addicted to several caffeine-shots in the morning and afternoon, or they need their drug sugar and its instant hit almost hourly, and many of them are additionally addicted to nicotine and the dozens of other psychoactive chemicals in cigarettes which gives them a short-lived high and staves off their inherent depression for just a few minutes before the craving starts all over again. A growing number of people are physically addicted to alcohol or other depressants, sleeping pills, stimulants like amphetamines or alkaloids like cocaine, pain relievers, or are psychologically dependent on a selective seratonin, noradrenaline or dopamine re-uptake inhibitors or various other new antidepressants. And that is only be the beginning of a much longer list of substance addictions.

A more recent class of addicts are what I like to call the cybersociaholics – those unhealthily obsessed with abundant communication through a multitude of social networking tools. Compulsively, they check their three or four email accounts, then go to their facebook mailboxes and Pinwalls, chat a little while they constantly look up and respond to their sms, viber, or WhatsApp messages on their smart phones, then maybe an occasional glance at their LinkedIn or XING accounts, then switch and check what happened on their blogs or in their internet dating portals match.com or perfectmatch.com (they don’t just want to be matched, they want to be perfectly matched). Once they finish dealing with the last of their 10-15 communication platforms – not counting landline telephones, one or two mobile phones, their post boxes, or fax machines – they return to the start of the loop. It’s been almost hour .. maybe somebody finally posted something new on facebook? Maybe somebody replied to the blog?

Naturally, the myriads of cybersocioholics are only a subgroup of the larger group of the internetaholics, just like the cyberpornaholics, cyberpokeraholics, and other cybergameaholics. If their internet activities would not be so compulsively restricted to satisfying their respective addictions, they might stumble upon Kimberly Young’s website netaddiction.com, which offers treatment services in the categories “Cyberporn/Cybersex, Online Affairs, Online Gambling, Online Gaming, Compulsive Surfing, ebay Addiction.”

Other media addicts are sticking to a more old school addiction for television or computer games. On TV or in the movie theater they watch action movies or war movies, car races, or professional wrestling to kick up their adrenaline levels like nothing else in their safe and streamlined ‘real’ lives does anymore – and so one way or another they spend half of the time in simulated virtual realities. They belong to the larger class of virtuaholics, which includes everyone addicted to the ever-growing virtual world, a safe and controllable refuge helping them to escape from reality.Wiiholics are the blessed ones in the group of virtuaholics: to outsiders, they may look ridiculous jerking their limbs around in a weird way, but the industry actually made a nice little concession to their human nature by encouraging them to actually move around a bit while perceptually hooked up to their virtual reality, whereas the other virtuaholics are usually sitting frozen like dummies, perceptually hooked to screens showing strangely impoverished glowing colors. Most of them seem to have lost touch with their bodies after suppressing the feeling of a self-inflicted paralysis for years. Yet, their bodies come out of a long evolutionary process which predestinated them to run, hunt, and fight, so now they are all starting to feel uncomfortable and becoming addicted to Ritalin for their attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Their doctors are usually part of a “health care” system generating money off of turning people into prescription drug addicts rather than actually improving their health. And so they are handed out prescriptions for all kinds of tranquilizers and sleep inducing drugs to force their bodies to keep quiet even after a virtual day in subconscious paralysis on a stylish wheelchair. This health care system is only a part of an entire industry designed to nourish and satisfy the addictions of its consumers – reinforced addictions are magnificent money-making machines.

Sometimes I feel like I need a break from all these addictions and obsessions around me. I fly to Portugal to play at the Bar do Peixe Ultimate Frisbee beach tournament, chase a plastic disc all day long, breathe fresh air, and jump in cool Atlantic water. In the evening, I sit down on top of a sand dune at the magnificent Meco Beach, light up a joint, and watch the sunset. The marijuana high keeps me in the here-and-now, and my mind frees itself from the daily hustle, needs, and plans. I breathe. Time is slowing down. I focus on the immediacy of my experience and feel my deliciously tired body, the warm wind in my face, and smell the salty scent of the sea. In this expanded head space, I begin to feel free as if standing on a tower, looking down on my life. My high enables me to perceive patterns in my life and in the lives of others, including our routines, addictions, and obsessions. Vivid memories come up and I can relive episodes long past. Marijuana helps to transport me back into my past.

My first day at school

With my enhanced episodic memory, I mind-race through previous experiences, I can see personal developments, stand outside my routines and addictions and identify them as such. And yes, certainly, I realize that many of the addictions described above, like cybersociaholism or virtuaholism, are my own. But now my mind is flying, and my attention doesn’t seem to be drawn away by the usual forces. I feel free like a bird and momentarily liberated from my addictions. The marijuana high helps to break the routines, interferes with my addictions, helps me to step outside of the box, to make conscious decisions on my future behavior, and to get sudden insights. Associations come quickly. New notions occur to me, like “cybersociaholism”, based on my enhanced ability for pattern recognition during a high.

Don’t get me wrong: surely, the fact that marijuana can be used as an antidote for other addictions does not mean that it cannot itself be addictive for some. Marijuana may be generally much less addictive and less toxic than other legal drugs like alcohol or tobacco, and the addiction may only be psychological, but even a purely psychological addiction can be destructive for some. So, well, there is a risk of addiction, even if it is comparatively low. But there is also a risk of getting unhealthily addicted to sex, car driving, or social networking – that does not mean that all these activities bring us harm and have to be prohibited. All these activities can bring us great advantages, if we know how to make good use of them – and I, like so many others, certainly make good use of marijuana.

Recently I was talking to a middle-aged man at a party and mentioned my marijuana use. He looked at me with this typically controlled, yet still visible “Oh-my-God-a-drug-addict!”- facial expression and then he said, fully convinced of himself, “I am not using drugs.” I couldn’t help but smile, looking at the cigarette in his left hand, which also held a glass of Vodka Red Bull. Altogether, this guy was holding a cigarette containing dozens of psychoactive drugs and a drink combining sugar, alcohol, and nicotine, and yet he was still completely oblivious. Advertising and decades of disinformation campaigns have successfully managed to convince him and so many others that there are “alcohol, tobacco, and drugs”- a classification scheme that presupposes that the former two are something other than psychoactive drugs.

For a few long seconds, I just smiled at him and the many psychoactive drugs in his hand. He still did not get it. And then I had an idea. I would just write an essay. This essay. And the next time a workaholic, alcohol-, sugar-, and caffeine-addicted cybersociaholic, virtuaholic, gameaholic or pornaholic would react to my marijuana use so condescendingly, I could just hand him something to think about.

And, yes, admittedly, when I wrote the essay I was still a little high.

Marijuana, Surfing, and The Purity of the Moment

Marijuana, Surfing, and The Purity of the Moment

Imagine yourself in the early nineteen sixties visiting Hawaii for the first time. Walking over the beach you meet a funky guy who shows you an oddly shaped wooden board and tells you to go out and ride the waves. You have heard stories about that thing called “surfing” before and you think this might actually be fun! Five minutes later, a 9 foot high wave throws you on the shore. You try again, but after you have been thrown back on the beach for the third time you look at your skin rashes and begin to wonder what this is all about.

Would you blame the board now? Obviously, the board was not the problem. You have tried out a wonderful tool that can get you a life changing experience of fun – but you need to work on some practical skills first: how to paddle out in the waves, how to get up on a board, how to find your balance and keep it on a wave. Also, you need to acquire a lot of knowledge: which waves are the best to ride on, what kind of board should I use for which waves, which beaches can be dangerous. Importantly, also, you will have to learn to judge your own skills: am I good enough to ride this kind of board in this weather? Am I really ready yet to ride this tube wave?

Surfboards are like tools in general: they have a potential, but to use this potential, we need to learn how to use it and we need some knowledge what to do best with them. Obviously, tools do have not only a potential for use, but also for abuse: I can use a hammer to built a house, but I can also abuse it and hit it over your head. I can use a car to get an emergency patient to the hospital and save his life, but I can also abuse it for carelessly speeding on the highway and causing a fatal accident.

So, tools need skill and knowledge and skill and can be used and abused. That may sound pretty trivial, but we often tend to forget this when it comes to discussions about marijuana and other psychoactive substances.

Marijuana, like any other psychoactive substance, should be seen as a tool. Certainly, like for all tools, there is an abuse potential. People abuse marijuana when they e.g. get constantly stoned to flee a reality they can not handle for some reason. But certainly there is also a potential for positive use. This point, as obvious as it may seem, has been by and large ignored by marijuana prohibitionists, who have persistently focused on aspects of risks and abuse. The second aspect of seeing marijuana as a tool is ignored even by many marijuana users in current debates about its mind enhancements, like the enhancement of creativity: if we see marijuana as a tool, it also becomes obvious that we can use its full potential only if we acquire certain skills and knowledge. A skilled marijuana user knows how much of a dose he needs to ride a comfortable high – just like a surfer knows which kind of waves he can handle. He will also choose his strain and dose carefully and adjust it to his experience of riding a high and to his immediate environment, just like a skilled surfer will choose the right kind of board matching his own skills and the conditions out there in the waves.

If a novice surfer goes out on a Hawaiian beach to ride high waves with a pro board and gets in trouble, he will probably get in panic – but we wouldn’t judge, therefore, that panic is a typical effect of surfing, would we? When a marijuana users gets in panic during a high, it usually happens because he lacks the skill and the knowledge how and under what conditions to ride a marijuana high. It happens to many people, but that doesn’t mean that marijuana normally causes panic. It just means that novice users with poor judgement should have more respect, more knowledge and better skills before they go out there ‘riding a high’. There is of course a big difference in our society today as it concerns using a surfboard and using marijuana. The globally influential disinformation campaign concerning marijuana started by drug czar Harry Anslinger in the nineteen thirties invented horror stories about marijuana and its risks which are still influential. If we would convince every novice surfer that they are for sure going to be attacked by sharks, and that most of them will break their necks or drown in the waves, how many of them would become back paranoid even on a bright sunny and peaceful day out in moderate waves? And how many more would become paranoid going out there in the waves if surfing was strictly prohibited and punished with jail sentences?

American Poet Allen Ginsberg

The famous American poet and writer Allen Ginsberg once wrote:

… most of the horrific affects and disorders described as characteristic of marijuana “intoxication” by the US Federal Treasury Department’s Bureau of Narcotics are, quite the reverse, precisely traceable back to the effects on consciousness not of the narcotic but of the law and the threatening activities of the US Bureau of Narcotics itself. (…) I myself experience this form of paranoia when I smoke marijuana, and for that reason smoke it in America more rarely than I did in countries where it is legal.

 (The Great Marijuana Hoax. First Manifesto to End the Bringdown” 1966)

It is becoming more and more clear now even to skeptics that marijuana has an incredible medical potential and can be used for many medical conditions. But when it comes to the much sought-after inspirational uses of marijuana, it is even more important that we free ourselves of governmental lies and deceptions and rather carefully listen to respectful, skilled and knowledgeable users of marijuana. They have described how a marijuana high brought them a whole array of astonishing mind enhancements, ranging from the intensification of sensory experience to a better concentration on the “here-and-now”, and to the enhancement of episodic memory, imagination, pattern recognition, introspection, creativity, empathic understanding, as well as to an enhanced ability to produce remarkable insights.

Beth Amberg, a contributor to Lester Grinspoon’s magnificent website collection marijuana-uses.com, is one of those many who reported how marijuana helps her to better remember past events:

 “Perceptions are heightened tonight, my mind unencumbered and slippery. I’m still so close to the wonder and sensations of the past. My thoughts are swimmy-silvery fountains of assorted memories, the novelty-generator of marijuana turning its freshness backwards into history. My past selves have awoken: their experiences aren’t distant; they happen again as I read and remember. The shimmering glaze on memory has opened up and let me back in for the night.”

 (Beth Amberg, Memories of the Moment, in: marijuana-uses.com)

Astronomer and marijuana user Carl Sagan

 I can remember on one occasion, taking a shower with my wife while high, in which I had an idea on the origins and invalidity of racism in terms of Gaussian distribution curves. (…) One idea led to another, and at the end of about an hour of extremely hard work I found I had written eleven short essays on a wide rage of social, political, philosophical, and human biological topics. I can’t go into the details of those essays, but from all external signs, they seem to contain valid insights. I have used them in university commencement addresses, public lectures, and in my books.”

(Carl Sagan, “Mr. X”, in: Marijuana Reconsidered, Harvard University Press 1971.)

These are only a two quotes from hundreds of detailed reports about marijuana enhancements which we have from skilled and experienced users. Whatever reason one may have for using marijuana, if you decide to do so, I would recommend you go and learn from them. Whatever reasons you may have to go and ride ocean waves on a surfboard, if you decide to go out there, wouldn’t you want to learn from a master?

Whether you are riding ‘high’ waves of your own mind or ocean waves on a surfboard, only skill and knowledge will get you to a point where you will ‘step into liquid’ and understand what legendary surfer Bill Hamilton meant when he said: “Surfing equates to living in the very moment of ‘now’. When you ride a wave you leave behind all things important and unimportant, the purity of the moment is upon you.”