image: vintagestockBy Crabby McSlacker
More states may be legalizing cannabis, but recreational use is still considered pretty controversial.
Getting "high" on purpose, not as a side effect of medicinal use? Many people see that as wicked or sinful. And even more folks dismiss it as silly, weak, reckless, or immature. We're all well-acquainted with the stereotype, right? The lazy, bumbling, airheaded stoner, escaping real life in a cloud of smelly smoke, becoming more moronic and demotivated with every hit.
So how could something that can make a person appear so dimwitted and dysfunctional possibly be considered perfectly acceptable, let alone healthy?
And yet I'm taking a mostly enthusiastic pro-marijuana stance! With of course a bunch of caveats and qualifications.
Because yeah, I know how seriously people are going to take opinions about reefer from someone who blogs as "Crabby McSlacker."
What Does the Research Say: Is Marijuana Dangerous or Beneficial to Your Health?
If you already have an opinion you'd like to reinforce, you can cherry-pick research to say pretty much whatever you want it to say. Pot is a complex substance, and we humans are complex physiological systems, plus we vary a lot in our physical and psychological responses to the same drugs. Marijuana seems to have both beneficial and not so beneficial aspects, and people who do the studies and compile information often have an agenda.
You could try to follow headlines as articles come out, but that can be a bit chaotic and confusing. For every mainstream news article claiming "marijuana is riskier than you think" there's another one saying "long term pot smoking doesn't harm your health." Plus, counteracting whatever risks there may be are also many possible therapeutic uses, even beyond the ones you've heard of like fighting pain and nausea and insomnia. Like preventing and treating diabetes and even possibly fighting Alzheimer's by curbing brain plaque build-up, and all kinds of other surprising stuff I'm too lazy to compile.
Anyway, my impression from reading a bunch of this stuff is that for many people, benefits greatly outweigh risks. But for others, risks greatly outweigh benefits. And deciding which camp you're in requires more investigation than reading a post in a half-assed health blog like this one.
So you should read what studies say about conditions and demographics that are relevant to you. A couple of helpful resources that combine a whole lot of research and don't seem to have an obvious axe to grind:
Health Effects of Cannabis, Compiled by the National Academies Press. At first glance it looks like you have to pay but you don't, you can read for free online or download the whole ebook if you register. How did I not know that the National Academies of Sciences, and Engineering, and Medicine had a press with free stuff? It's got a ton of studies, is well-organized and informative, and I highly recommend it.
For what it's worth, after "weeding" through these studies I was left feeling more reassured that I'm a benefit-outweighing-risk sort of person.
Marijuana as Safer Alternative to Alcohol and Other Drugs
Whether you object to the notion or embrace it, humans have a long history of exploring altered states of consciousness. Is that right or wrong? That's a question that couldn't be more subjective or personal. But in my mind, marijuana (along with caffeine) are fairly safe ways one can tinker with subjective experience without substantial health risks. Plus pot seems far less disruptive and dangerous to innocent bystanders than alcohol. (I'm trying to picture the stoner equivalent of a "drunken brawl" and I can only picture a living room littered with empty cartons of ice cream and pizza boxes where confused revelers try to remember how to use the cable remote to watch old Monty Python reruns. But perhaps I just lack imagination.)
Who Should Not Be Playing Around With Pot:
1. Anyone who needs to drive a car somewhere. Seriously, do not attempt to drive if you're stoned, you are a hazard to yourself and others. Research on traffic accidents bears this out.
2. Adolescents (and kids obviously). Even if you are generally pro-pot, and may have "partied" yourself when you were younger, you gotta try to dissuade your kids from trying it until they're adults. It turns out the marijuana might impair functioning in developing young brains.
3. Pregnant women. For the same reason as above: the whole developing brain thing.
4. Anxious People Lacking Proper Support. This one is from personal experience. As a much younger person I managed to get WAY stoned, all by myself, and felt totally freaked out. The drug changes your perception of time, and if overdone, can dice reality up into strange little slivers that don't string together in the usual ways. If you have an anxious temperament, best to experiment with small doses that don't seem to do anything first, then gradually try a little more until you get mildly stoned and see how you feel about it. I'd advise against edibles at first--they can hit you all at once, hard, and it's harder to figure out dosage and timing.
Boring Details of My Personal Experiments With Marijuana
First off, I'm embarassingly unschooled in marijuana norms and rituals. I only started doing it regularly over the last couple of years, and came to it as a clueless middle aged person. So those of you who have been getting high for years may find this all painfully naive.
Secondly, I promise I'm not turning into a pothead.
Not a great look.
We're talking once or twice a month at most, and sometimes months go by before it occurs to me to try it again.
Here's the routine: it's usually after dinner, on a night my wife is gone, because I'm not very good company when I'm high. I load up a pen-style vaporizer with a blend that's mostly sativa. (Indica makes me too sleepy). Since even vaporizers smell a little, I close the bathroom door, open the window, turn on the fan, and start taking tiny, wimpy hits and blowing the vapor out the window. I was never a smoker, and didn't get interested in pot when you still had to burn it because of all the coughing that would result. But even vaporizers are a little harsh if I breathe too deeply so I go slowly. When done, I spray citrus air freshener all around, put things away and... then what?
Oh my goodness, that's when the fun begins. I get pretty wild!
Well, okay not from the outside. My interest is entirely in the subjective, sensory, meditative effects of cannabis. Were you to watch me you would see me don a pair of headphones playing trippy new age music and close my eyes. Sometimes I might stand up and stretch and do gentle movements. It's possible I might even make and drink a cup of decaf coffee.
But for the next couple of hours, the world becomes SO RICH AND VIVID AND FASCINATING AND BEAUTIFUL that I can't help thinking these experiments are good for me, not bad for me.
(Note: I know listening to someone describe a substance induced high is like enduring a detailed account of someone's strange dream about being in a rowboat with a chocolate layer cake and a French poodle and Desi Arnaz Jr. wearing a pair of stilettos--all much more fascinating to the teller than the listener. So feel free to skip! But here goes anyway.)
Musical notes enter my head with stunning specificity. I can feel and even see where they each land, what shapes they have, the patterns they make as they overlay with other notes. The music stirs up emotions and I can feel and visualize these as well, and soon thoughts and bodily sensations and images and sounds and feelings integrate into one big field of awareness, the separate streams beginning to mingle and flow and combine and dissipate in intricate and compelling patterns.
I have epiphanies, simple ideas with sudden deep psychological resonance. However often these realizations deal with a level of cognition that is intuitive and sub-verbal. My thoughts are not easily put into words, nor do they describe experience that feels very relevant once I am back to real life the next day. But I believe they are valuable and real and true in their own unverifiable way. And I hope they stick around in my subconscious once I no longer can conjur them up.
Which brings up another issue. As this other more right-brained style of cognition wakes up, left brain starts shutting down. It says, "fuck this, you obviously don't appreciate me or need me here, see how well you do without me." This is in some ways welcome, as generally I can't get my left brain to shut the hell up, and the respite is nice.
But left brain has a point. Its sudden abdication can leave me feeling really stupid, at least where linear thinking or verbal articulation are concerned. I am aware my analytical thoughts are primitive at best and my short term memory is nonexistent. I find it amusing even if somewhat debilitating. But, a silver lining: when you're high you have SO MUCH TIME to think, because time slows way down, that you can have ten clumsy thoughts for every one cogent one, and still manage to come out almost even over your regular self.
Actually, if I make an effort and really concentrate, I can bring left-brain back. I can function, and even sort of forget I'm high. Which is a total waste, and I get mad at myself if I get drawn into anything mundane like email when I should be closing my eyes and reveling in the depths of a sensual consciousness I don't usually experience. It's a powerful reminder to me of the value in turning inward sometimes, in experiencing and appreciating rather than doing.
Which brings up yet another issue...
Meditation and Marijuana-- Can They Coexist?
My meditation practice is secular, not part of any organized theological tradition. (Though I have learned a lot from western interpretations of various schools of Buddhism). But bottom line: I don't have any religious "rules" and I'm not following a spiritual path that has opinions about pot or other intoxicants.
I actually suspect that my meditation practice is what makes getting stoned so fun, and adds such a sense of depth and focus to it. And conversely, getting high every now and then actually seems to benefit my meditation. It's as though my brain is learning new ways of experiencing sensory input and thoughts and feelings and making these more salient and easier to focus on. Meditation and Medication seem to be fulfilling similar goals in different ways.
So all this is to say that for me personally, marijuana feels like it can be part of a healthy lifestyle, but I know others may feel very differently.
What about you guys, what do you think about recreational use of marijuana or other intoxicating substances?