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Posts Tagged ‘Getting High’

There is a myth about such highs: the user has an illusion of great insight, but it does not survive scrutiny in the morning.  I am convinced that this is an error, and that the devastating insights achieved when high are real insights; the main problem is putting these insights in a form acceptable to the quite different self that we are when we’re down the next day.
I had become friendly with a group of people who occasionally smoked cannabis, irregularly, but with evident pleasure.  Initially I was unwilling to partake, but the apparent euphoria that cannabis produced and the fact that there was no physiological addiction to the plant eventually persuaded me to try.  My initial experiences were entirely disappointing; there was no effect at all, and I began to entertain a variety of hypotheses about cannabis being a placebo which worked by expectation and hyperventilation rather than by chemistry.  After about five or six unsuccessful attempts, however, it happened.
There’s a part of me making, creating the perceptions which in everyday life would be bizarre; there’s another part of me which is a kind of observer.  About half of the pleasure comes from the observer-part appreciating the work of the creator-part. I smile, or sometimes even laugh out loud at the pictures on the insides of my eyelids. In this sense, I suppose cannabis is psychotomimetic, but I find none of the panic or terror that accompanies some psychoses.  Possibly this is because I know it’s my own trip, and that I can come down rapidly any time I want to.
The cannabis experience has greatly improved my appreciation for art, a subject which I had never much appreciated before.  The understanding of the intent of the artist which I can achieve when high sometimes carries over to when I’m down.  This is one of many human frontiers which cannabis has helped me traverse.  There also have been some art-related insights — I don’t know whether they are true or false, but they were fun to formulate.
Cannabis also enhances the enjoyment of sex — on the one hand it gives an exquisite sensitivity, but on the other hand it postpones orgasm: in part by distracting me with the profusion of image passing before my eyes.  The actual duration of orgasm seems to lengthen greatly, but this may be the usual experience of time expansion which comes with cannabis smoking.
I do not consider myself a religious person in the usual sense, but there is a religious aspect to some highs.  The heightened sensitivity in all areas gives me a feeling of communion with my surroundings, both animate and inanimate.  Sometimes a kind of existential perception of the absurd comes over me and I see with awful certainty the hypocrisies and posturing of myself and my fellow men.  And at other times, there is a different sense of the absurd, a playful and whimsical awareness.  Both of these senses of the absurd can be communicated, and some of the most rewarding highs I’ve had have been in sharing talk and perceptions and humor.  Cannabis brings us an awareness that we spend a lifetime being trained to overlook and forget and put out of our minds.  A sense of what the world is really like can be maddening; cannabis has brought me some feelings for what it is like to be crazy, and how we use that word “crazy” to avoid thinking about things that are too painful for us. In the Soviet Union political dissidents are routinely placed in insane asylums.  The same kind of thing, a little more subtle perhaps, occurs here: “did you hear what Lenny Bruce said yesterday?  He must be crazy.”
When I’m high I can penetrate into the past, recall childhood memories, friends, relatives, playthings, streets, smells, sounds, and tastes from a vanished era.  I can reconstruct the actual occurrences in childhood events only half understood at the time.  Many but not all my cannabis trips have somewhere in them a symbolism significant to me which I won’t attempt to describe here, a kind of mandala embossed on the high.  Free-associating to this mandala, both visually and as plays on words, has produced a very rich array of insights.
There is a myth about such highs: the user has an illusion of great insight, but it does not survive scrutiny in the morning.  I am convinced that this is an error, and that the devastating insights achieved when high are real insights; the main problem is putting these insights in a form acceptable to the quite different self that we are when we’re down the next day.
Incidentally, I find that reasonably good insights can be remembered the next day, but only if some effort has been made to set them down another way.  If I write the insight down or tell it to someone, then I can remember it with no assistance the following morning; but if I merely say to myself that I must make an effort to remember, I never do.
I find that most of the insights I achieve when high are into social issues, an area of creative scholarship very different from the one I am generally known for.
I can remember the night that I suddenly realized what it was like to be crazy, or nights when my feelings and perceptions were of a religious nature.  I had a very accurate sense that these feelings and perceptions, written down casually, would not stand the usual critical scrutiny that is my stock in trade as a scientist.  If I find in the morning a message from myself the night before informing me that there is a world around us which we barely sense, or that we can become one with the universe, or even that certain politicians are desperately frightened men, I may tend to disbelieve; but when I’m high I know about this disbelief.  And so I have a tape in which I exhort myself to take such remarks seriously.  I say “Listen closely, you sonofabitch of the morning!  This stuff is real!”  I try to show that my mind is working clearly; I recall the name of a high school acquaintance I have not thought of in thirty years; I describe the color, typography, and format of a book in another room and these memories do pass critical scrutiny in the morning.  I am convinced that there are genuine and valid levels of perception available with cannabis (and probably with other drugs) which are, through the defects of our society and our educational system, unavailable to us without such drugs.  Such a remark applies not only to self-awareness and to intellectual pursuits, but also to perceptions of real people, a vastly enhanced sensitivity to facial expression, intonations, and choice of words which sometimes yields a rapport so close it’s as if two people are reading each other’s minds.
My high is always reflective, peaceable, intellectually exciting, and sociable, unlike most alcohol highs, and there is never a hangover.  Through the years I find that slightly smaller amounts of cannabis suffice to produce the same degree of high, and in one movie theater recently I found I could get high just by inhaling the cannabis smoke which permeated the theater.
There is a very nice self-titering aspect to cannabis.  Each puff is a very small dose; the time lag between inhaling a puff and sensing its effect is small; and there is no desire for more after the high is there.
I think the ratio, R, of the time to sense the dose taken to the time required to take an excessive dose is an important quantity.  R is very large for LSD (which I’ve never taken) and reasonably short for cannabis.  Small values of R should be one measure of the safety of psychedelic drugs.  When cannabis is legalized, I hope to see this ratio as one of the parameters printed on the pack.  I hope that time isn’t too distant; the illegality of cannabis is outrageous, an impediment to full utilization of a drug which helps produce the serenity and insight, sensitivity and fellowship so desperately needed in this increasingly mad and dangerous world.
    —    Carl Sagan
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