Will my hands tingle? Will my nose feel warm? Will I get a dizzy sensation? What!? How will I know if it’s working? My friends around the table are chuckling at my questions, but also don’t really have any answers for me, either. One person says they sometimes feel a warmth at the base of the skull. No one else concurs.
I was at a dinner gathering with about five or six friends. We’d finished eating and one of the friends popped open a Tupperware container full of “treats.” This was more than a year before I turned 50. Remember, I was still a complete novice at this point…an alien exploring a new planet.
Feeling comfortable enough with where I was in life and with the friends I was with, I boldly agreed to eat a treat.
After downing the sweet treat, I wait. I am not so ignorant about cannabis to not know it takes a while to have an effect. That is when I start asking my totally legitimate questions. The fact that I can’t get a straight answer out of my friends is perplexing. Why doesn’t someone just tell me what it’s like. I feel like my friends must be messing with me. With what I know today, however, I understand why they were unable to hit me with a short answer. Altered states of minds don’t have short answers.
If you know me even 1%, you know I like to explain things. I am sometimes good at it, too. I wonder….how would the person I am today have explained cannabis to my earlier self? If the me of today had been a guest at that dinner– which would be back-to-the-future level cool –the question is what would I have said to Yrag? That’s what I’ll call my former self….Yrag. (pronounced EE-rahg). Yes, I’m quite aware that’s just Gary spelled backwards. But it’s perfect! In those days, at least regarding cannabis, I was indeed quite backwards. So, here is how I would have explained cannabis to young Yrag, alien from the Planet of the Saints.
“First off, Yrag, you keep asking what you’re going to feel. Well, you may not feel anything in particular at all. If you’ve taken a low dose, the mind can be affected without the body feeling anything different…. until the dosage becomes stronger. That’s why you’ll hear a lot of people say they did pot but “nothing happened?” Or, that they “didn’t feel anything?” Well, something was happening…they were simply missing it because of their expectations.”
Yrag asks, “Was what I just ate a low dose or a high dose.” I turn to the friend that brought them. With a shrug, she delivers the most predicable answer ever, I don’t know, everybody’s different.
“Just tell me how I’ll know when it starts kicking in,” says Yrag, glancing at his watch but instantly not remembering what it said.
“Well, it can honestly be hard to tell,” I respond. “…unless the dosage is high enough so that it’s obvious. IAnd if that’s the case, your body might feel a kind of internal vibration all over, not just in your hands. It’ll be nice. But if the dosage is below a certain threshold, again…you may not be able to feel it at all.”
Yrag is getting impatient, “So, if I can’t feel it, I’m back to asking the same obvious question, how will I know it’s doing anything?”
“Well, here’s where it gets tricky and why nobody else at this table has been able to answer you. You might notice few things but they’re all very abstract. For example, your sense of time may start to seem a little off. You’ll start finding yourself lost in thought. And, you’ll probably start noticing things more. Like, ordinary things. Something will catch your attention and you’ll just start thinking about it. You might think, Hmmm, I never noticed these placemats have a scene of the Eiffel tower on them. Were these bought during a trip to Paris? Or maybe just a trip to TJ Maxx. They probably sell these at TJ Maxx. Look how the artist drew all the people wearing yellow shirts. I wonder if that means something. And then you’re like, Wait, what just happened?” I then add, “It can be a little disorienting.”
“Oh geez! Why am I even doing this? Feeling disoriented doesn’t sound like much fun at all.”
“Dude, relax. Just chill and go with it.” I lean back a bit. “Knowing you as well as I do, I think part of the problem is that you’re looking for a science exhibit in an art museum. Or maybe you’re thinking it’s like alcohol. It’s not. Nobody else will tell you this either, but it’s actually not about ‘having fun.’ And anyway, you can’t just do it once and expect to get it. Tonight you’ll have one experience, hopefully a positive one. Then you’ll have an idea for the next time. Stay open-minded and explore. You have to gain some experience with it to know what feels right to you and in what situation.”
Yrag’s listening with his arms crossed. “Well, whatever, I guess I’m in it now. How much longer ‘til I don’t feel anything?” he says critically.
“I said you might but you might not. It depends on the dosage!” Now I’m thinking, Man, this is harder than I thought. “For now, just know this…people like pot because, in one way or another, it simply makes them feel a little better… less stressed, and even a little more appreciative of the world around them. And if you’re curious enough to learn about it, it will probably have the same effect on you.”
World Library of Cannabis Knowledge
I may be done with Yrag (for now), but I’m not anywhere near done. And here is why. My perspective on cannabis is genuinely unique. I came from a place of extreme self-imposed prohibition against drugs, as defined by me with the help of Jesus, God, and Ronald Reagan. I am also unique in that my introduction to cannabis began so late in life and was entered into so extremely gradually. Therefore, I am able to explain the effects of cannabis in ways someone who used it early in life and in a very different context, could not. What I have is an outsider’s perspective.
As I talk about cannabis in greater depth, keep in mind that my own personal use of cannabis (so far) has been extremely limited. For starters, I only have things to say about the effects of cannabis at relatively low doses. Also, I don’t smoke it, edibles only. After all my personal trauma around smoking, I’m just not there yet. (When I get there…I’ll blog it.) Finally, I won’t be talking at all about the many reported benefits of cannabis, like the treatment of anxiety, arthritis or epilepsy, or who knows what else. I won’t talk about these things because I don’t know anything about them.
With all that background out of the way, we can finally dive into the nitty-gritty of cannabis. By the time I’m done, you will see how the topic of cannabis becomes both a section of my puzzle and the catalyst that helps me work it.
[Note: Regular cannabis users may find almost nothing I say regarding cannabis particularly interesting. You already get it, but there are still millions of people out there that don’t.]
Does Cannabis Make You Smarter?
Here’s what cannabis does to you in the most non-scientific terms I can think of. It changes how the brain thinks in small and subtle ways, but still manages to have surprisingly powerful consequences. This is because any small shift in how our brain processes incoming information is also a shift in our perspective. Imagine if you wear a pair of glasses that allows you to see everything you look at from above, like having an overhead camera. Your surroundings are exactly the same, but when seen from above, different elements of the scene are noticed. This is what cannabis does, not to your vision, but to your thinking. Routine subjects get a fresh look from the overhead view. It’s kind of like approaching a familiar intersection from an odd direction, it will seem different to you and you will notice new things.
For reasons explained in my previous post about possibly being Jesus [Link], I’ve long had some serious ruts in my way of thinking about drugs and alcohol. A shift in my perspective towards these two things has taken decades to come about. What’s so ironic is that the one drug, marijuana, prohibited by a particularly deep trench in my mind, all along had the enormous potential to free myself from that rut and many more. One of the most popular and readily available drugs out there was all around me, and I could not reach it.
When you are in a cannabis-influenced state of mind, that little shift in perspective is what leads you to notice things with fresh eyes. Simultaneously, cannabis gives your mind permission to explore. Which is how you end up getting lost in thought. This can be a great thing…it can mean focusing your mind on a single train of thought and really exploring it from all the news angles.
Here is the key. These new avenues of thinking made possible by cannabis don’t go away when the effects fade from your system. Once you’ve thought about it, it becomes part of you. This is exactly what is meant when they say marijuana expands your mind. It expands your thinking while it’s with you, and then your mind stays expanded when it’s not.
Taking this a step further… Pattern recognition is one of those things the human mind is particularly well-suited for. With that little fairy-dusting of cannabis on our thinking, more possibilities are considered, and essentially thinking becomes slightly enhanced, like going from regular to HD. You become “smarter.” Yes, I just said that. But don’t get too excited, it’s not like the movie Limitless (with Bradley Cooper), where he takes a pill and it makes him infinitely smart. Even without the Hollywood treatment, however… marijuana definitely moves you in a smarter direction. Who knew?!
One friend described being on cannabis as having a mini “superpower.” Yes, it’s kind of like that.
In Cannabis for an Alien, Part I, I mentioned that time can seem distorted while on cannabis. This happens because one effect cannabis has on your brain is that it marginally “speeds up” your rate of thinking. How literal this is I’m not sure; it could just be the perception. But I tend to believe it’s literal based on the feeling that time slows down. As the brakes come off your thoughts, you will fit more of them into, let’s say…10 seconds of time. Therefore, those 10 seconds will seem elongated. Same goes for a minute, same goes for an hour. More thinking, more pondering, more perspectives, more connections, more of life happens in the same amount of time.
Vanessa, one of my close friends in Boulder, who does not do pot at all, told me about having smoked it with friends a few times when she was much younger. The handful of times she did it, she felt weird and self-conscious the whole time. Unsurprisingly, she soon concluded it wasn’t for her and that was the end of that…. until late in 2019.
In the second half of 2019, my own comfort around pot was firmer, but still not where it is today. I was eating an edible 2 or 3 times a week, but only when I could count on: a) having the house to myself, b) having nothing important to do, and c) not having to interact with anyone. The amount I would eat was typically a 10 mg chunk of either a chocolate bar or a gummy- both readily available to me at the dispensary down the block. It was cool! I would play the kind of music I’m into, slice up some fruit for a fruit bowl, and simply have a good evening.
One afternoon, Vanessa and I both eat an edible with the plan of just hanging out. This is my first time to eat an edible with the intention of hanging out with someone. But we’re friends and it’ll be kinda this fun experiment. It will be Vanessa’s very first dabble since back in the day, and possibly her very first edible ever. She eats one 10 mg gummy, same as me. Not too long after it kicks in, however… Vanessa is not loving it.
But that is not where her part of the story ends. About a week later, Vanessa tells me she ate half a gummy on her own and got a bunch of stuff done around the house. Hmmm, lower dose and a far better, more productive experience.
There are probably millions of people out there that, like Vanessa, tried pot a few times when they were younger and then stopped because they either consciously decided it wasn’t for them or they “outgrew” it, whatever that means. My take on this common phenomenon is that the doses were typically too high to be useful.
A quick word on dosage. Me saying I ate a 10 mg gummy means nothing to the uninitiated. Here, this should help. When you buy a package of gummies from a dispensary, each one typically contains 10 mg. Think of 10 mg like a standard amount in the same way 12 oz is the standard amount of liquid in a can of Coke. You can always drink more or less than one can, of course, the point is that the ubiquitous 12 oz portion has become the baseline soda quantity living (rent free) inside everyone’s head.
For me, 10 mg is a staying in, no obligations, no interactions dose. If I have obligations and interactions ahead of me, I wouldn’t do more than 5 – 7 mg. Even a phone call on 10 mg was not something I was comfortable with for a very long time, not because I’d be talking all crazy and shit, but I might start feeling self-conscious about losing my train of thought. (Hmmm, are there still insecurities within me that need to be protected?)
I would always cut-up my gummies in the kitchen to split the 10 mg dose. I would transfer the little orange, yellow, or green, sugar-coated squares carefully onto the cutting board, reach for a knife from my set, and carefully slice that evening’s gummy into a half or two-thirds. You’d have thought I was Walter White from Breaking Bad. At that point in time, despite being an outspoken advocate for it in thought and conversation, I still owned large fragments of marijuana’s social stigma and I didn’t even know it. That stigma wouldn’t be cleansed completely, by the way, until some time after my tepid exploration of psychedelics had begun in early 2020.
Against Cannabis? Go Punch Coconuts
Up until near 50 I carried a personal prohibition against doing pot. To be super-clear, this personal choice of mine in no way interfered with my enthusiastic support for marijuana as a concept. I truly had no idea what the hell it really was but that didn’t matter. My opinion that it need to be legalized everywhere was based solely on my logical interpretation of the facts surrounding it. For example, pot doesn’t kill anyone, alcohol does. Alcohol is legal, pot is not. Makes no sense!
Also, for one group of adults, lawmakers in this case, to tell everyone else they can’t ingest some plant, again…. Makes no sense! Imagine two people stuck on an island and one of them finds a plant that makes them feel better when they chew on it. But then the other one says, “Hey, buddy, I say you shouldn’t chew on that plant and if I catch you doing it, I’ll lock you up in that cave over there.” If I’m the plant-chewer, I would tell my island-mate to go punch coconuts.
I make this point about being universally in favor of it and personally against it to emphasize just how hardcore my own internal prohibition against pot was. It was definitely not philosophical.
Just Say Yes to Curiosity
What really bugs me today is that the person I was yesterday was so incurious about both alcohol and pot. I feel like I am an intellectually curious person by nature. But my Goody Two Shoes brain had somehow constructed a steel wall in front of these two ultra popular substances. Being curious about them never even occurred to me; these items were on the other side of the wall between good and bad, and I functionally operated only on the good side. My religious upbringing cock-blocked my own freedom of thought.
Another big component of my story (and the story of many others) has to be the media component of Reagan’s War On Drugs. I was in my late teens when Just Say No and This Is Your Brain On Drugs campaigns were all over the airwaves. My mind was already conditioned early by Jesus. The Just Say No media blitz sealed the deal. It was brainwashing with a one-two punch. That’s how I became a man in my 50’s approaching cannabis one eye-dropper drip at a time.
So, while I have always been rational about the need to legalize it, think of all the people out there still clinging to the double-whammy of being opposed to it both personally and legally. Public opinion towards legalizing marijuana is at an all time ‘high’ at around two-thirds. But this still means approximately 100 million people in the US remain brainwashed by the same Jesus, God, and Ronald Reagan that did a number on me. It also means we don’t live in a democracy, but that’s a story I’ll get to later.
What happened to you, 100 million souls? Why are you still against this? Who told you it was wrong or bad? Who closed your mind?
For the love of humanity, legalize it! For the love of yourself, just say no to all the external influences that have suppressed your freedom of thought and stunted even your curiosity.
It took me more than a half-century, but I finally came around.
Learn of Yrag’s eventual fate when Cannabis for an Alien, Part III goes up next week.