Citation: Brainaddict. "The Philosopher's Tool: An Experience with Cannabis (exp33811)". Erowid.org. Jun 18, 2006. erowid.org/exp/33811
Sometimes people who have never smoked cannabis ask me why I do it. Some of them are genuinely curious. Others make a point of saying that they have plenty of fun without drugs. Well good for them, and so do I. So why do I smoke cannabis? What is the allure, and why do I do it again and again? I admit that for a day or so after using cannabis I can feel a little hazy, my short-term memory temporarily impaired. The effect soon wears off, and scientists tell us that no lasting damage is done, yet for a while my mind does not quite feel up to speed. Why would I put up with that? Well I am going to try to help non-smokers understand what being stoned can be like. Either this description will help them understand why I love cannabis, or their minds are closed not only to cannabis but to many things, in which case there is nothing I can do or say to change their minds.
I should make it clear at this point that not everyone smokes for the reasons I smoke. Many people smoke just to relax. I do not, and the reasons for that will become clear as I describe my experiences. Everyone is entitled to their own way of enjoying cannabis. It is a very versatile drug, and I find it interesting to learn from other smokers of cannabis effects that I have not yet encountered.
The first time I got stoned didn't really count. The weed was mixed with tobacco, to which - as is usual for me - I had an adverse reaction. The second time I smoked pure weed, and that was the real first time. I was with a friend and I still remember the feeling of exhilaration. That a natural substance was able to do this to me seemed a wonderful thing. I threw myself on the bed and got a rush to my head that made me feel as though I was flying. I stared at the ceiling and saw an entire landscape there in the plaster pattern. Every thought was a pleasure. My friend put on some music and it took hold of me and filled my head. I felt I had entered a different universe for the first time.
My initial smoking experiences lead me to start writing about them. Here is my early attempt to describe smoking:
'Being really stoned on good weed is one of the greatest feelings in the world. Just a little weed does nothing for me that a good pint couldn't, but being stoned is to being drunk what Dickens is to Jackie Collins.
The pleasure is kind of sensual, sometimes shooting to the brain with almost orgasmic force. Time breaks down into 3-second blocks that do not communicate between each other. A sense of lassitude wells up and perspective on life narrows to those short snaps of time or the sluggish flow before and after. The mind develops odd fixations that last for perhaps one block of time, only occasionally breaking across from one to the other. Things begin to take on strange hues, and sometimes the pulsating halos turn into fluidity and leaping. Things take on the air of things that they are not.
The urge to talk is there, but only to someone who won't mind me talking nonsense.'
I have heard from many people that the first time is often the most intense. Certainly mine was the most intense experience I had for a long time. However I can now think of at least five occasions that overshadow the first time. Interestingly, while my experience of weed is often very cerebral, most of those memorable occasions were far more visceral experiences. Before I describe any of those extremes however, I shall describe in a more systematic way than above some of the more normal experiences of being stoned.
The most easily describable experience is that of increased thought activity. Sometimes this will take the form of pure thought. My mind will shoot down a very narrow channel at high speed. I will be intensely focused, but this does not necessarily mean that I am able to ponder upon one topic. Rather my thoughts will have a tendency to shoot off on tangents, also very focused, from which I am unlikely to return to the root thought. In spite of this tangential tendency, once I became accustomed to weed I was able to cogitate upon quite substantial topics - such as social or political ideas - with results that still seemed significant upon reading my brief notes the next day.
Often the accelerated thought effect is far more image-oriented in nature. A moment ago I dismissed my first smoking experience, but in fact that was my first encounter with cannabis-enhanced visualization. I was in Amsterdam and we were walking back to our campsite outside the city. I suddenly found that I was building worlds in my head with lightning speed, then collapsing them and moving on to the next. These visual imaginings were fascinating but I could not carry them in my head for more than a moment, nor could I express what I saw. The elusive worlds were annihilated almost in their moment of creation, leaving only a sense of exhilaration at what I had glimpsed. This happens to me with some frequency, but never frequently enough for my taste; it is one of the most consistently enjoyable effects I experience.
Another very common effect is time-dilation. I feel I have lived an hour, two hours, since I dragged on that good old joint. I look at my watch. Ten minutes. Less frequent, but sometimes possible, is the reverse effect. I feel that half an hour has passed, only to look at my watch and see that it has been three or four times that length of time. Both occurrences, even in the midst of my trip, tend to make me think about the subjective nature of time, perhaps whether a clock is real proof of a Universe independent of myself (it isn't). In my high state I think perhaps I could live four times as long, if only I could convince my brain to function in that time-distorting manner all the time.
Admittedly I will usually be required to stick to simpler accomplishments than I might otherwise aim for, but for instance I can get a lot of pleasure from developing a mentality of having some mission to accomplish. Often the 'missions' will be nothing more than going out to get something to eat, but the cannabis lends a sense of adventure to the journey, and when I succeed in my aim I feel satisfied, even content. While some effects of cannabis are quite complex, many of the pleasures, such as this one, are very simple, and all the more rewarding for it.
Because of the interesting thoughts that weed can provoke I often like to smoke alone but smoking with others is also very worthwhile. Being with people can create a different atmosphere to my trip. The mood of the group as a whole is likely to affect me, which can mean either an upward spiral or a downward spiral of mood; the latter is easy enough to pull out of with a bit of mental effort. Music often goes together well with cannabis. Again my mood is likely to be influenced by the music more strongly than usual.
Just the other week I was in a bar in London that allows people to smoke. A group of DJs were playing perfect music for smoking, so I lit up. It was a friendly atmosphere, the people all seemed open-minded and interesting, and everyone was in a good mood. I was lifted to a plane of blissful contentment that I have achieved only a few times in my life. I felt well-disposed towards everybody, even to humanity as a whole. It felt as though a burden had been lifted from my shoulders, as though the world was a better place than I had previously noticed. The mood continued for several days, long after I had straightened out.
It would be dishonest of me not to mention the occasional down-sides of being stoned. Most of these have happened to me in the company of others. Since being stoned makes me very sensitive to others, it can play on my insecurities. From time to time I have found myself looking around at the people I am with, thinking that perhaps they are only pretending to like me, perhaps they merely tolerate me, perhaps they secretly despise me. Perhaps they even mean me harm. This is usually the result of over-interpretation of small signals that people give off constantly but which I hardly notice in the normal course of things. Occasionally the paranoia is directed towards people around me who are not stoned, while I continue to feel rapport with those who are stoned.
Fortunately, as long as I am aware of the possibility of these problems occurring, there is an easy way to deal with them. I simply need to spot the paranoia for what it is. As soon as I recognize cannabis-induced paranoia I can decide to ignore it. Usually this will put an end to it, or at least take the edge off it. If not, it's probably just time to go to bed. I'll regain my perspective in the morning.
An interesting paranoia I occasionally develop is the feeling that every action of my life is being watched. This is however not completely unlikable. The thought even gives me a kick sometimes, even though I always know it is the cannabis talking. In fact this is one of a family of effects I get - possibly unique to myself since I have never heard others describe it - which entail me envisaging that I am in some bubble Universe, under constant observation by some mortal but powerful creator. But this is leading onto the deeper experiences of being stoned, which we should now deal with separately.
A common and often profound effect is the ‘alienising’ of my surroundings. Essentially the normal is rendered strange, alien, before my eyes. This is a difficult phenomenon to explain. As an illustration, I sometimes look at a street scene that is very familiar to me, perhaps just outside my house, but instead of 'feeling' the familiarity, I find myself under the influence of a particular sensation recalled from when I was eight or nine years old. It is a feeling I remember of looking for the first time at a strange European town out of the window of a car at the end of a long journey. It is the feeling of being in an unknown place, with unknown secrets round every corner. For me, this is a very good feeling.
Sometimes the alienising effect is stronger. I actually lose some of the common associations that mask everyday reality. It is like the components of the world are the parts of a jigsaw puzzle, and the puzzle has suddenly come apart. I might, for example, look at a shoe on the floor in my room, and realize that I have never really looked at a shoe before. I have only noticed it for its function or aesthetic appeal and have never seen it for what it is. That example might seem trivial, but it is from new perspectives that creativity springs.
I am struggling for words here – any verbal explanations of the alienising effect are in some way inadequate. The only real comparison I can make is with the couple of times I have fainted. In the first moments after regaining consciousness I did not recognize the Universe at all, then a second later the knowledge came back to me in a rush. And it was a rush, to feel an entire Universe impinging itself on my consciousness between one second and the next. It is that delicious, momentary feeling of seeing the Universe for the first time that characterizes the alienising effect. I feel the value of lack of knowledge, for it means there is no prejudice, but equally when the knowledge is regained, perhaps in its old form or perhaps remade, I feel the value and the pleasure of knowledge. In these moods weed is so educational that I wonder why it isn't used in philosophy classes.
Very occasionally this alienising effect has led me to extreme of loss of orientation. I remember in particular a time in China when I ate a drop of cannabis syrup given me by a friendly stranger in a bar. Somehow I still had the presence of mind to walk back to the guesthouse, yet when I got there and lay on the bed staring at the ceiling I would not have been able to give my own name if asked. That is not hyperbola: I remember hoping no-one in the dormitory would ask my name, because I wasn't sure that I knew it. I recognised nothing: not in the narrow sense that I couldn't remember where I was, but in a broader sense that I could not have called a wall a wall or told anyone what it was for. I had no past, no future and nothing to orientate me in the present moment. It was extreme, one of the most extreme experiences of my life, but not in a negative way there was always a corner of my mind that said: you're just immensely, astoundingly stoned - tomorrow all will be back to normal.
The alienising effect in more innocuous form can create the feeling of being in some alternate universe, where perhaps the laws are slightly different from this one. One of my favourite effects related to this is a rare one in which I feel I am flicking, as though by channel changer, from universe to universe. I am a traveller between myriad universes, each with their own unique rules, and I can go anywhere I wish. I know that I am still in my room, for I look around me and see my desk and my bed, but it feels as though the rules of existence and reality are changing from one moment to the next. For a while it seems that the only true boundaries between universes are in my mind, and the cannabis has annihilated them. I always know it's an illusion, even at the time, but it's a mind-stretching illusion, and I love the feeling of it.
One form of universe to which weed can transport me, at least apparently, is the universes in the heads of other people. This is the ultimate empathy. I notice a person nearby and suddenly feel I am seeing the world through their eyes, and it is a very different place than the universe I live in. I have a sense of history different to my own, a way of seeing that is entirely new, that suddenly makes sense of that person's behaviour. How much of the empathy is meaningful? I'm not sure it matters. Even when straight there is often no way to distinguish between accurate empathy and the mere feeling that I am empathizing accurately. With no absolute, this is as good as empathy gets, and I am not exaggerating when I say it has made me see the world through different eyes and increased my sympathy towards others.
But back to the effect that sparked this description of the alienised and alternate universes: the feeling that I am being watched. Here are some notes I made while stoned commenting on my recurrent feeling of being watched. There are only a few alterations to make them more readable the following morning:
'I'm imagining I am the only real person - an experiment by a 'deity' or deities. But I am the only subject. They watch me as a great creation, trying to deceive me into believing the illusion by inundating me with an overload of fine detail in the created world (a virtual reality experiment) but also feeding me clues on how to get out of the world.'
'Stoned now. I remember how in past trips I have imagined that I am one of the experimenters that create universes such as this one, and 'we' often experiment on ourselves in this way, deliberately cutting out various perceptions and parts of consciousness and memory to see how we behave when trapped in a particular 'universe' and to see whether we can spot the illusion. I have imagined that some of my friends played a nasty trick on me in revenge for something I did - they have stuck me in a horrible, brutal, insoluble Universe, with not enough consciousness to escape. Nice joke hey?
But in most of my imaginings along this line, as soon as I spot the nature of the illusion I can step through my bedroom wall into the 'real world'. Which means I'll be able to do that any moment now....'
'I am a player in a game, played for hundreds of years by our creators - artificial environment creators. The game is over when I spot that it is just a game.'
'It's like being disassociated from my body, like I'm a cloned puppet of myself, just discovering my true nature - and true limitations.'
'I can't rid myself of the feeling that I'm not alone - that I'm being watched by millions - and I leave this as a message to them that I will remember sending when I straighten out.'
'It's like I am immortal, but that's not quite right, more like I am a mythological immortal
- and like I am looking in from outside myself in a very literal sense. I see myself for the first time.'
When I wrote all the above notes I was most definitely stoned, yet still self-aware enough to write something I can read the next day. Sometimes I feel so stoned I cannot imagine ever being straight again, in which case it would not even occur to me to write notes. 'Normality' seems like a cheap trick, and I have no particular desire to return there, even if it were possible.
And now before I go on with a more systematic description, here is one truly amazing effect that I made very limited notes on at the time but will always remember: on one particular trip alone in my bedroom I felt as though my consciousness had split in two. One of my conscious selves was viewing myself in the present from a single second away in the past. The other conscious self was a second in the future, looking back on the present self. It felt like none of my consciousness remained in the present moment. The self in the present was just an elemental, unconscious facsimile of my real self. The two conscious parts travelled forward in time together, separated by those two seconds, watching the unconscious self sandwiched in the present between the two of them.
Again, it was not an effect I would want if I lacked mental stability, but I loved the exoticness, the uniqueness of the experience. I would pay a lot to be able to duplicate what that powerful skunk did to me, but I doubt I will ever feel it again.
Now I want to talk about another of the deeper effects of smoking. It is far easier to explain than most of the above experiences, but is no less mind-opening. Whilst being under the influence undoubtedly does inhibit my short term memory, what it does to my long term memory is a very different story. I frequently recall memories from the distant past while stoned; often memories I have forgotten for years. The effect can be encouraged by dwelling on a particular time in my past, but more often the memories bubble to the surface spontaneously. Since I am only twenty-five years old, what I mean by 'distant past' is my childhood. Many memories from my early years, back to perhaps six or seven years old, have come back to me while stoned. They appear in a far more complete form than similarly old memories when I am straight. Sometimes the memories appear as images - of an old house perhaps, or a street I have not seen for fifteen years. Other times they are more of a feeling, a sense of what it felt like to be in a particular time and place.
The reason this effect is one of the 'deeper' ones, is that such memories have helped me to understand myself in the present. While stoned I have had revelations about why I behave or react in certain ways. In addition to the memories themselves, the weed helps me to see the connections between the past and present, such that I afterwards feel more able to change my behaviour if I wish.
A particularly positive effect of recalling these old memories was the discovery of many good memories mixed among the bad ones that I had previously focused upon. Weed helped me see my childhood in a whole different light. I have had other kinds of revelations about myself while stoned - some simply stemming from the fact that I can be more honest with myself while under the influence - but many of the important discoveries I have made about myself in recent years have been due to the recollection of lost memories.
A subset of this effect, entertaining if not so deep, is the recalling of sensations, feelings, and atmospheres from books I have read and films I have seen, both lately and so long ago that all conscious memory is gone. The memories are always of books or films that I was able to get completely caught up in, that created a new world inside my head. The weed recalls those worlds so accurately that it feels as though I am still immersed in them. Sometimes when I recall books that were particularly well-constructed worlds, I have a moment of confusion over whether the memory is of a book or of my own life. I then remember that I have never been in that particular situation. I suspect people of a more hippie persuasion than myself might be tempted to interpret those rehashed worlds as past lives, but I am confident that forgotten books and films, particularly the former, account for all the worlds I have remembered.
The most extreme form of the memory-recall effect I have experienced was while travelling. It was one of my few slightly frightening experiences on weed, but I was able to stay in control, and now I look back on it fondly, as on any over-adventurous travel experience. It must be understood that this is incredibly unlikely to happen, if only because most people could never get the necessary plant. I bought it in a village in Laos, and it is the strongest weed I have ever smoked, including every skunk ever bred. I gave some to a smoker more veteran than myself, and he too found it unbearably strong.
The immediate effect of the weed was to turn the entire world into a film. It is hard to describe how it works. Essentially everything I see looks like a movie frame. As though it is a constructed 2-D image being imposed on my eyeball. It is usually a quite enjoyable effect. However this weed did not stop there. It began to dredge from my consciousness a memory of a particular time in my childhood, and not the most enjoyable time. The first night this happened I took it in my stride. But the next night, the dredging through that particular set of memories began at the point it had left off the night before. This continued for four nights. I was not smoking in the day at all yet every night my trip began at the point it had broken off the night before.
The net effect was that the memory of that time began to become more than a memory. I began to feel like I was turning back into my twelve-year-old self. It was as though the last decade and more of experiences and memories had dissolved and I was becoming that small boy once again. Even then I wasn't too scared, until I realised that it was happening not only at night when I was smoking, but during the day too, while I sat, entirely without smoking, on buses and trucks rattling between Lao villages. At this point I knew things had gone too far. I gave the rest of the bag away to the aforementioned veteran smoker. I later learned that he could not finish the bag either. It was quite simply the strongest weed ever grown, in my opinion. Within a couple of days of stopping smoking it I was back to normal, and it is now nothing but a story I pull out when I want to tell people how weird the weed can really get. If that stuff was sold in Western countries it wouldn't even have to make it illegal. No-one would be able to bear smoking it.
Before I move on, a word about hallucinations. Some people claim that weed can be hallucinogenic. In my experience this is misleading. In all my time of smoking I have only once had anything approaching a proper hallucination. I was on an island in Indonesia and a bunch of us had decided to finish our supply before leaving the island the following day. We sat for hours and we smoked and we smoked and we smoked. We smoked ourselves catatonic, and just before I decided to go to bed I thought I saw a cat walk through a wall. That is the one and only time it has happened, and it was as likely to be the tiredness as the weed. It can do many things, but rarely that.
When I have smoked alone – perhaps because I am prone to such speculation anyway – I have often had thoughts about the nature of life or the world that seemed interesting enough to write down. Here are a few of them:
'I'm realising how powerful it is to have the ability of action - like it's a privilege - as though there are Others who don't have it. The fact that we can impact on the outside world is amazing. Why should anyone demand more power than the ability to pick up a piece of paper?'
'I feel every act or move I make is dictated entirely by will - a will that is being proved to be inevitable - in the face of *whatever* distractions get thrown at it, including the feeling of entire past lives, which is being loaded on me as I type. I feel my life right now is a construction that, cannot, just cannot, stop the will being done - the inevitable, infinitely recycled, because it is my lot and there is no other option but to keep on.'
'It sounds weird to say this, but it is comforting to know that there is no significance in my actions. It makes me feel free for a moment. In our society we are not used to thinking that we have no obligations. But if my actions have no significance then there can be no obligations. That is a liberating thought.'
'Minds can see only one time-rate/line at a time and only forward, because the awareness can only fully keep track of one line of thought at a time. The flow of the thought is the flow of time - it is infinitely flexible. Meditating/being stoned can make me aware of more thought-tracks and so time is more variable then.'
'Consciousness equals 'free will'/decision-seeing, i.e. this second level of mind that uses one thought to track another. Most of brain is not related to consciousness - it is pure instinct and we cannot see it.'
'I have lived days in these ten minutes. It is like a miracle. I feel as though I have lived forever, just doing this, and my fear of death is calmed.'
'Well into the trip now, and it was, as I suspected, more bhang than I needed. I've had bleak thoughts of how I am a puppet in a vacuum. This would sound depressed to someone reading it but really I'm not depressed. I'm just interested, and kind of like to dwell on it. I don't know why this is - love of logic or something. I just want to see where it leads.'
So much for philosophy. Now to something far less high-minded: an effect of cannabis that was grossly distorted by the 'reefer madness' hysterics of yesteryear. It is relatively common for the libido to increase while stoned, though it does not seem to happen to everyone. It is not a strong enough effect that it will take over the trip, it is certainly nothing that would make me sexually aggressive - indeed aggression on weed alone is almost unthinkable - but it is noticeable. One of the best things about it is that it appears alongside the enhanced ability to build images in my head, and so provides the perfect conditions for adventurous fantasizing. It is certainly nothing to fear, in myself or in others; it's just another of the pleasures of cannabis.
Other simple pleasures include increased appetite - the munchies. The wonderful thing about the munchies is not that it occurs, but that the satiating of my hunger becomes ten times as satisfying as usual. Having said that I find that nuances of taste are wasted on me when stoned. I remember that in Laos all I needed sometimes was a basket of plain sticky rice to make me happy. Others have told me they particularly love junk food when stoned, which confirms that the sense of taste becomes less subtle. Yet somehow the pleasure of eating, swallowing, and feeling my belly gradually fill, is magnified so much that the onset of the munchies is cause for celebration - assuming of course that I have had the foresight to line up snacks beforehand, or are in easy walking distance of a food source.
I'll finish this description with another simple but notable effect of cannabis. Sometimes I will simply be filled with an enormous sense of well-being. It won't happen every time, but it's bound to happen now and then, dependent, I suppose, on my mood when I start smoking and on my environment at the time. For a while all seems well with the world, all seems well with me, the past seems less heavy, the future less threatening, and if I could freeze that feeling forever I would be the happiest person alive.
I promised to tell all my most extreme cannabis stories, by way of entertainment as well as illustration, so here is the last one. I was in a small town in Nepal, for the most part unfrequented by tourists, and found myself at the ancient resthouse for pilgrims next to the temple complex. A funeral was going on, with the body burning on a pyre just out of sight behind one of the temples. A group of old men and layabouts sitting cross-legged on the porch of the resthouse invited me to sit with them to watch the day pass. Within a few minutes a chillum appeared and we smoked some weak weed, while I stretched the abilities of the only English-speaker by asking about the funeral. It was an old man who had died; no-one they knew well, though they seemed in some peripheral way to be participating in the ceremony.
The English-speaker disappeared and I was about to depart when he re-appeared, kneading some hash in his fingers. It was so fresh it was green, and that is not something I ever expect to see in Britain. Into the pipe it went, and thence into my lungs. Immediately I finished spluttering at the strength of the hash I felt the rush as the cannabis hit my brain.
For a few minutes I felt like I was taking off, like I was shooting into the air like a rocket, like a star, like an acrobatic eagle. It was a beautiful rush. Then my brain settled down and I looked around me. I was surrounded by the friendly faces of people I had not known half an hour ago, who had been kind enough to share the hash of the gods with a stranger. There was a funeral still going on. There was music and chanting. It all seemed so right. This resthouse had been here for centuries, and for centuries the old men and lay-abouts of the town had sat here and smoked fine hash, and for centuries the funerals had happened right there, and it was all so normal, so good, so right, and even death was nothing to fear. It was an island of contentment in a world full of greed and hatred. And I was here, part of it, if only for a moment. I felt a euphoric happiness so strong it felt as though it might render me unconscious. It lingered in my mind for days after, and when I think of it now I remember that the Universe isn't such a bad place after all.
However good smoking is, I find it best not to smoke constantly. It does affect my ability to focus for a day or so after, and while under the influence I am undoubtedly less productive, though there may, debatably perhaps, be a pay-off later from the increased exercise of the imagination.
I'll also add that it can be good to take a total break from time to time. Although my body does not develop tolerance to cannabis, my mind can, and over time some of the more interesting effects may disappear. Taking a complete break of a few months, perhaps once or twice a year, helps restore the stronger and more positive effects of cannabis, and will also help to maintain a certain level of respect for this largely harmless and enjoyable but very powerful weed.
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