Cannabis, Mind Enhancements, and Culture, Part I

After more than 80 years of an almost worldwide prohibition our outlook on marijuana and its mind-altering effects is mostly dominated by fear, ignorance, and disinformation. There are still dozens of myths circulating about the negative effects of marijuana, myths that have been created and spread on purpose for decades now. Many activists have tried to argue against these myths and are fighting to legalize the use of marijuana; but even those liberal minded activist are often ashamed to mention the positive potential of marijuana when it comes to its mind-enhancing effects. It is also a strategical decision. Political arguments are usually based along the lines of proving the incredible usefulness of cannabis as a medicine, or on arguing that the prohibition is detrimental to our whole society. I understand the strategy; both argument lines are true. Nevertheless, I think we should not remain silent when it comes to the many mind-enhancing uses of marijuana. For thousands of years many cultures have used cannabis not only for nutrition, clothing, for medical and many other purposes, but also valued its mind-altering potential. The early cultural history of India for example is deeply involved with the use of Cannabis for mind altering purposes. Many Sadhus in India have used cannabis for centuries to come closer to their deities in their meditations. The Sanskrit many names for cannabis all praise it: vijaya and jaya, (“victorios”), virapattra (“leaf for heroes”), capala (“the light hearted”), ananda (“the joyful”), vakpradatava (“speech giving”), medhakaritva (“inspiring of mental power”).[1] It is time to openly address the issue and to talk about the mind- and life-enhancing potential of marijuana: What is the positive potential of the marijuana high as an altered state of consciousness? How can a high be used to enhance various thought processes and activities? How much can it mean to individuals? And how much of a positive impact did the use (not abuse) of marijuana as a mind-enhancer have on human culture and history?


“(…) for the actual experience of the smoked herb has been completely clouded by a fog of dirty language by the diminishing crowd of fakers who have not had the experience and yet insist on being centers of propaganda about experience”

Allen Ginsberg, American Poet, 1926-1997

A Distorted and Misinformed Perspective on Marijuana

After more than 80 years of an almost worldwide prohibition our outlook on marijuana and its mind-altering effects is mostly dominated by fear, ignorance, and disinformation. There are still dozens of myths circulating about the negative effects of marijuana, myths that have been created and spread on purpose for decades now. Many activists have tried to argue against these myths and are fighting to legalize the use of marijuana; but even those liberal minded activist are often ashamed to mention the positive potential of marijuana when it comes to its mind-enhancing effects. It is also a strategical decision. Political arguments are usually based along the lines of proving the incredible usefulness of cannabis as a medicine, or on arguing that the prohibition is detrimental to our whole society. I understand the strategy; both argument lines are true.

Allen Ginsber
Allen Ginsber

Nevertheless, I think we should not remain silent when it comes to the many mind-enhancing uses of marijuana.

For thousands of years many cultures have used cannabis not only for nutrition, clothing, for medical and many other purposes, but also valued its mind-altering potential. The early cultural history of India for example is deeply involved with the use of Cannabis for mind altering purposes. Many Sadhus in India have used cannabis for centuries to come closer to their deities in their meditations. The Sanskrit many names for cannabis all praise it: vijaya and jaya, (“victorios”), virapattra (“leaf for heroes”), capala (“the light hearted”), ananda (“the joyful”), vakpradatava (“speech giving”), medhakaritva (“inspiring of mental power”).[1]

It is time to openly address the issue and to talk about the mind- and life-enhancing potential of marijuana: What is the positive potential of the marijuana high as an altered state of consciousness? How can a high be used to enhance various thought processes and activities? How much can it mean to individuals? And how much of a positive impact did the use (not abuse) of marijuana as a mind-enhancer have on human culture and history?

Marijuana as a Cognitive Enhancer

I have argued in my two books on the marijuana high[2] that it can lead to various systematic changes in cognition and perception which can be positively used by skilled and knowledgeable users. I tried to come to a better understanding of many cognitive enhancements that have been described by myriads of users in

Sadhu
Sadhu

history over and over again: a hyperfocus of attention and an intensified feeling of being in the here-and-now; an intensification of sensual experiences, often experienced with a sharp analytical ability to distinguish even

tiny nuances,  an enhancement of episodic memory and of our ability for imagination; associative mindracing, enhanced creative thinking and better pattern recognition abilities; an enhancement of the ability to introspect own bodily states, but also to come to other introspective judgements about one’s mood and character; the enhancement of empathic understanding as well as a generally enhanced ability to come to deep insights in all kinds of intellectual areas.

Set and Setting and the ‘Robustness’ of Cognitive Effects

As Timothy Leary and others have pointed out, the high (as well as psychedelic states induced by substances such as LSD or psylopsibin) always heavily depends on the set and setting of the user, whereby the “set” for him included the preparation of the user, his personality structure and mood. The “setting” is the physical environment of use, but also the social environment of other people present during the experience, and the cultural environment.[3]

Some of the more basic cognitive changes during a high are more robust and not as heavily dependent on set and setting, as for instances the attentional hyperfocus or the intensification of various sensory perceptions. Other enhancements during a high are more complex and more dependent on set and setting. You will probably not get valuable introspective insights when you focus on playing an ego-shooter game during a high. I have therefore always emphasized that cognitive enhancements during a high do not come automatically; marijuana has the potential to lead to all those enhancements, but it needs skills and knowledge to especially experience more complex enhancements such as of empathic understanding, introspection, or insights. Importantly, users have to carefully choose their environment and they have to learn what dosage of which strain is good for them in a certain mood and for a certain kind of activity.

The Many Positive Uses of the Marijuana High

Many marijuana users in history have managed to develop their skills to use marijuana under certain circumstances for various mind- and life-enhancing uses. In current discussions about the various uses of marijuana, those uses are often lumped together under the category “recreational”, or as “inspirational”. In my view, these expressions definitely do not really capture the immense spectrum of uses reported by marijuana consumers. Naturally, many users value marijuana for relaxation, for fun, or other “recreational” activities; and let us not understate the case, this is definitely extremely important to many. Also, artists, writers, musicians and others have used marijuana for “inspirational” purposes to produce art, to enjoy the view of a landscape, or to generate all kinds of ideas. Again, this kind of use is incredibly important and has helped many to develop their art, to grow as a person, or to generate valuable ideas in many areas of their lives. But if we take a closer look at how skilled users have managed to actually integrate and positively use a marijuana high in their lives in so many ways, it becomes clear that “recreation” and “inspiration” capture only a fragment of the many positive uses of the vast potential of this plant.

Timothy Leary, Harvard psychologist, (1920-96)
Timothy Leary, Harvard psychologist, (1920-96)

During my research in the last ten years I read hundreds of accounts of users about a huge range of uses of the cognitive effects of marijuana. Many users report how marijuana can get them in the “here-and now”; they explain how they feel more connected to others and to their own feelings, how their high led to a better understanding of their kids, of their partners, to deep conversations and family healing. They perceive more nuances in a painting, or suddenly expand their musical or artistic horizon. Numerous users value the ability to travel back in time during a high and to re-live experiences and to feel like a child again, and they report how it helped them with ideas for problem solving or got them off an alcohol or some other addiction. Others report in detail how it helped them to enjoy sex more and to be more empathic lovers. They become creative in cooking and come up with new deserts, they use a high to find recognize patterns in music, or or introspectively find patterns in the way they lead their marriage, or in the way they walk – and after this perception decide to eventually change their bad habits forever. They use the slowdown of time in their perception to dwell in an infinite moment of bliss swimming in thermal water. An illiterate describes how a high for the first time helped him to read full sentences, others describe how they understand a foreign language better. In part II of this essay I will feature various prominent marijuana users to shed some more light about how important the enhancing use of marijuana has been to them –  and through them and their work, to millions of people.

Footnotes

[1] Compare Jonathan Green (2002), Cannabis, Thunder’s Mouth Press, New York, p.48

[2] Compare Sebastian Marincolo (2010), High. Insights on Marijuana, Dog Ear Publishing, Indianapolis and Sebastian Marincolo (2013) High. Das positive Potential von Marijuana. Tropen, Stuttgart.

[3] Timothy Leary, Ralph Metzner, Richard Alpert (1964/1992), The Psychedelic Experience. A Manual Based on the Tibetian Book of the Dead. Citadel Press, Kensington

Comment Section

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maxwood

Thanks for specifying cannabinoid encouragement of Episodic memory, we can augment that concept with the joyous acronym LEAP, for Long-term Episodic Associative Performance memory-- a crude example being, if you remember one episode or concept from 14 years ago and another one from 4 years ago, and they face each other for the first time unexpectedly after some tokes, the subsequent surprising sudden synthesis could result in a useful invention which will benefit society and help reforest the planet.

23/10/2014

Carol

I live within the USA. Are you shipping within the USA? If not would you please take me off your list. I was diagnosed with lung cancer & I can't get ahold of the Sensa Seeds to make what I need, the cannabis oil. So this is just a tease for me. I have to take chemo treatments.

25/10/2014

Scarlet Palmer

Hello Carol, Thank you for your comment, I'm very sorry to hear about your condition. If you are on a list for our newsletters and wish to stop receiving them, please click here to unsubscribe As a cannabis seed company, we don't make cannabis oil, and owing to legal restrictions, we cannot currently ship any products to the U.S. With best wishes, Scarlet

06/11/2014

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