Cannabis: what’s it good for?

A main effect of cannabis is to make whatever you do while on it easier to continue doing. Since “whatever you do while on it” could include anything from martial arts to munching out to melding into your couch, its effects can be hard to adequately characterise. It’s usually thought to be category breaking: it’s unclear whether it’s a “depressant,” “stimulant” or “hallucinogen,” because in practice it paradoxically behaves as all three. This becomes simpler if we instead emphasise intentionality and dynamism, tracking why people use it, what it’s good for and what it’s not good for. Below I will quickly run through some varieties of its uses and conclude with a brief discussion of its health effects.

Inebriation
Contrary to its reputation as a “mild” or “soft” drug, cannabis can be extremely inebriating, in the sense that a large dose can make it nearly impossible to “act sober” or “think clearly.” For those who “have to be in control,” it can be a scary experience, as flights of fancy and sensory immersion dominate the cognitive and perceptual fields. This is compounded by the notorious difficulty of controlling dosage. Variation in potency between batches, variation in the amount actually consumed in a given session (especially in a social setting where it’s passed around repeatedly among people who may have differing tolerances), and variation in the ratios between the many active alkaloids can make it very easy to get way higher than was intended. Users frequently become familiar with the batch they have and the method of ingestion they use, and then end up getting completely fucked up the next time they try a different variety a different way (bongs, vapourisers and baked goods are all notorious for taking people by surprise).

This variability, combined with a manageable duration and an excellent safety profile, makes cannabis ideal for anybody who wants to experience something powerful, different and not altogether predictable. It’s therefore the drug of experimentation par excellence. Because of the completeness of its change compared to sober consciousness, it’s also effective for sedation or relief from stress or pain: if you simply don’t want to feel how you’re currently feeling, that can be accomplished. Thus, it’s highly suited to two of the three Inebriation subcategories: Variation and Negation, but less suited to the third: Disinhibition. While it is sometimes used for this purpose, it’s much better at helping you continue something rather than do something new, and users often become introverted or cautious when stoned, exactly the opposite of what you want to help you loosen up and engage in behaviours you otherwise couldn’t.

Enhancement
As already noted, pot makes it easier to continue activities already being performed. As it turns out, it works by activating the receptors in our body  that are responsible for the “runner’s high.” If you smoke pot but you’ve never tried exercising while high, try it! You’ll be surprised how amazing it is. The feeling of effort in your body will become more intense but also more enjoyable, making it far easier to push yourself harder or keep going longer. There is, of course, a danger here: it’s possible to push yourself too far and risk injury. For this reason my yoga instructor cautions against highly vigorous practice under the influence, although he adds it does synergise well with meditation. It can help with the physical practice, but just be careful not to overdo it: as an anti-inflammatory it can make it easier for your muscles to get into extreme postures, but that doesn’t mean your tendons are ready for that.

Cannabis also often makes sensations of all sorts more enjoyable. Massage, music, sex, film, art, landscapes, food… everything becomes more salient, and it’s easy to become absorbed. This makes it highly suited to  anything primarily about sensation and experience, though poorly suited to things which require a long attention span. Good media for pot is anything that grabs you and takes you somewhere; poor media for pot is static and requiring of a robust short term memory.

It’s therefore good for some kinds of Ability Enhancement, great for Sensory Enhancement, and nigh unparalleled for Immersion. “Flow” states (suspension of neurotic self-consciousness as action and awareness merge) become far easier to access. Whether you’re giving massage, playing video games or making music, it’s easy to become lost in the experience.

Psychedelia

As noted above, marijuana sometimes causes flights of fancy: intense thought patterns often on a specific subject, colloquially termed “tripping out.” While for some people this may be unpleasant (anathema to relaxation, and sometimes anxious or even paranoid in character), for many it’s the primary reason they use the drug: it makes them think about or reflect on things, and they often end up learning a whole lot through the process. This is what’s meant when people talk about cannabis “boosting creativity.” As size or frequency of doses increase, however, mental stimulation tends to get subsumed by haze and lethargy. Best practices are to take a relatively small dose in a safe, creative setting, jot down whatever seems important, and then look over those notes the next day, searching for gems (not everything that seemed  brilliant when high will still seem brilliant when sober, but some of it might!). The other approach is to meditate while high, which can be more powerful than either the pot or the meditation would have been separately: personal insights and mystical truths may flow forth. Because of the way that cannabis often strengthens aesthetic experience, taken in the right situation it can also be conducive to a feeling of Communion: awareness of beauty, intimate feelings of interconnectivity, love and gratitude. This seems to work best when consumed outside in a beautiful location.

Thus, it’s great for the psychedelic category of Insight, and though it’s less consistent for Communion and Mystery, it certainly is used for and can accomplish both some of the time.

Sometimes, when people get stoned… strange things happen. There’s no real consistency here and so it’s impossible to adequately describe, but profound experiences do sometimes happen under the influence, often leading to personal transformation. How this will be interpreted depends to a large extent upon network situatedness and cultural conceptions of the Other. Stigma surrounding unusual states of consciousness can lead any strange experience to be interpreted as a sign of mental illness, and the truth is that pot use appears to have genuinely triggered persisting pathological effects in some rare cases. However, it has also left many other people mentally healthy but with a new-found awareness of the transcendental, or of God. Note that sometimes mystic awakenings, drug occasioned or otherwise, can be dramatic and overwhelming. Spiritual emergencies like unexpected kundalini awakenings and many other phenomena have been reported, and must be taken seriously: appropriate guidance and discretion is necessary. Attempting to interfere with or block whatever was activated can do far more harm than good. If this happens with a friend, don’t panic or jump to conclusions, just keep them safe and try to contact somebody qualified to act as a guide.

Symbolism and Religious Associations

Cannabis has a place of distinction in many religious, mystical and magical traditions. To begin with, it has strong associations with Goddess worship: what is smoked is literally the sex organs of the female plant, and its effects are considered to have a distinctly “feminine” character. For Rastafari, it grew on the grave of Solomon the Wise and which, when used in meditation, gives you access to that wisdom yourself. For the Church of the Universe, it increases connection to God. Reverend Brother Walter Tucker once told me that while LSD let him behold God in full majesty, such an experience is too much to handle regularly, and that the Sacrament brings him just a little closer to and reminds him of that sacred connection, while still being mild enough for him to use regularly: not a mountain-top experience, but a daily reminder. It’s also sacred to the Hindu world-destroyer, Siva, because it relieved his anxiety, allowing him to dance, thereby sublimating the poison of Time, and he therefore bears the title Lord of Bhang.

As a major agricultural plant, it is deeply associated with the Harvest and the cyclical nature of Time; because of its mental stimulation and inebriation it is used to occasion ritual madness and ecstatic experience. In China it has associations with death and immortality.

Health Effects

Certain people want you to think that pot is really dangerous, while others make it sound like a cure-all. Fact is that it has some fairly straight forward health effects, and it can be either good or bad for you depending how and when you use it.

  • It lowers blood pressure. This can be beneficial in some circumstances and dangerous in others. Especially when combined with alcohol it can cause light headedness or nausea, sometimes referred to as “greening out” or “the spins.” 
  • As an anti-inflammatory, it’s useful for dealing with certain kinds of pain and injury. There is some concern that this effect may increase susceptibility to certain kinds of infection (inflammation, though unpleasant, is sometimes important), but there’s no good evidence that this is something users ought to worry about (maybe if you’re immune-compromised or visiting the Amazon).
  • Regular, long term smoking reduces lung capacity and may lead to chronic bronchitis
  • It appears to treat or protect against certain kinds of cancer; unlike tobacco smokers, marijuana smokers do not have massively elevated rates of lung cancer. Its anti-carcinogenic effect appears to balance out with the inherent carcinogenic nature of smoke inhalation, but of course it’s better for your lungs not to smoke anything.
  • It blocks nausea, particularly chemically induced, and it therefore may be useful to combine with certain chemicals for which that is a problem (such as in the case of chemotherapy).
  • It stimulates appetite, very helpful in certain situations. Despite what might then be expected, its use is not associated with obesity: quite the opposite.
  • Some people are allergic to cannabis (remember, they call it “weed” for a reason). If you personally react badly to it, this may be why.
  • It has neuroprotective effects on adult brains and may prevent such degenerative conditions as Alzheimer’s Disease. However, processes that slow degradation may also impede development, and so we ought to caution against regular use by young people.
  • It potentiates or interacts with many other drugs, so combine with caution. In particular, if you’re going to mix cannabis and alcohol, one idea is to smoke first and then drink, as it’s easier to control the dosage of alcohol than the dosage of cannabis: you can nurse your drink, but you can’t un-smoke that joint. Smoking pot when already drunk often ends very badly.
  • It reduces dream activity. For people who have regular nightmares this can be a godsend; for others it’s an unfortunate, if not altogether important, side effect. Sudden cessation of regular use can produce a rebound of extremely intense dreams.
The bottom line is that Cannabis is used by many people for many different reasons. A witch I spoke to recently said that it is placed in the centre of the medicine wheel: it pertains to everything. In my consciousness alteration framework, it sometimes falls into all nine of the categories, although it is clearly better suited for some (Variation, Insight, Immersion and Pleasure) than for others (Disinhibition). Its health effects are generally positive for most people, and people find it useful for such common things as stress relief, sore ankles from running and menstrual complaints. Why anybody thinks these are rare enough, or its risks severe enough, for it to require medical oversight is beyond me.
Advertisements
    • mllemraow
    • November 20th, 2011

    Thank you for writing this article. It is very clear. There are so many negative opinions, that it is good to receive some objectified ideas about cannabis.

    What I miss though are references, as I’d like to read more about some of the topics, or would others. I’ve been a long time user of cannabis, but I’ve stopped because I do not wish to use it any longer as a depressant. Although I love cannabis very much, it is time to achieve the benefits on my own.

    As I am a student of yoga I am triggered about your remark of your yoga teacher saying it is good for meditation. Mine says it is bad for you, if you wish to do pranayamas. Your system must be clean from “false” influences, such as alcohol, caffeine, or any other stimulant, even you have to be clear on your normal food: be a vegetarian, and some products are better to be left aside, such as onions. You must be physically and mentally clean to do pranayamas. I’d like to know what your yogateacher has to say about this, and on what he bases his view. Then, I’m also interested in the part about Shiva. Can you point me to a source where I can read about it myself? I’d appreciate it!

    I’d like to add that it is better for your health if you do not use tobacco with weed. We live in amazing times and it is possible to vaporize the green goddess. This way, you use less weed, you can actually taste her, and compare the taste to other strains (oh goodbye to wine tasting and hello cannabis tasting), and the experience is more pure and positive, but also more intense so be aware of the dose. Vaporizing is a healthy method. Most heard objection to vaporization in my direct environment is the lost of the experience of the joint. Which points out to me that these people are more attached to the act of smoking than to the result of the experience. On the other hand I do not know many people who vaporize. On the dopefiend.co.uk there is also more information available about vaporization.

    ❤ love and peace ❤

    • The views of different Yogis on cannabis are quite different. Keep in mind, for example, that Sadhus (renouncers, ready to stop reincarnating) often take massive doses of cannabis and other drugs, notably including datura, which I’ve personally always strongly cautioned against. Some other Yogis, as you say, consider any exogenous perturbation of consciousness to be fundamentally counterproductive. Still others consider exogenous and endogenous means to be impossible to separate — to them, arguing that it’s wrong to use cannabis is like arguing that it’s wrong to use pranayama. My take is that it depends on your practice and where you’re at. Do your meditation, continue your practice. Try pot a couple times if you’re curious, and see whether you find it to be beneficial, harmful or neutral. Do what’s appropriate for your practice, not what works for other people.

      Regarding Siva, as I’m sure you’re aware, Hindu mythology is incredibly complicated and largely oral in basis. Textual references aren’t necessarily the appropriate way to go. If you Google around you’ll find lots of references to Siva being “Lord of Bhang,” and several different explanations of why this is the case. The particular explanation I cite in this article comes from a version of the Churning of the Ocean of Milk, related to me by one Vinaya Chaitanya. The context in which he told it to me was that I was doing research for Yale University into controversial religious practices, and one of our focuses was the Church of the Universe, the leaders of which have been repeatedly incarcerated for “trafficking marijuana.” As part of my research I investigated a number of other religious uses of cannabis, including Hindu. My main finding was that most of the Hindus I spoke to in Toronto do not use cannabis, but several of them are nostalgic for it and used to use it in religious ceremonies or festivals in India. To explain their non-use here they cited differences in availability, cost and potency (what’s sold here and what you harvest there are very, very different), logistical problems with the festivals (Holi is the big getting high holiday, and in India it’s a huge outdoor festival, but it’s too bloody cold in Toronto in March to do it outside, and the festivities are way too messy to have inside — it involves bonfires and throwing coloured powder and water everywhere), and legal concerns. Since my research was about legal conflicts surrounding religious practices in Toronto, I did not pursue it any further, satisfied that there are Hindus here who use or have used cannabis as part of their Hinduism, and that there are also Hindus here for whom government interference has prevented them from doing so.

      Does that satisfy your desire for references, or was there something else you wanted a citation for? I could go into more detail about that research project if you’d like… I have a transcript of Vinaya’s telling of the myth, for example. In my first draft of this article I gave my own telling of it, but then shortened it to an offhand sentence because I felt it took up too much room.

    • mllemraow
    • November 22nd, 2011

    My desire for references is fulfilled. It’s really nice to read about your background study, thanks, and yes please, I am most interested in the transcript of Vinaya’s telling. That would be absolutely awesome! I understand your concern though. Regarding to this article it would have taken up too much room. Also thank you for giving the right words so I can deepen my own research, especially ‘endogenous’ and ‘exogenous’. At this point I do think it is impossible to separate the two. I’m going to look further on this. Besides cannabis, I have very good results overcoming trauma with LSD, psylociben and MDMA. Which also made me aware of the enormous importance of intentionality. That alone would make a very interesting topic btw! 😉 I can’t grasp the concept fully yet, it keeps on blowing my mind. Well, I’ll keep on meditating… 🙂 ❤ bye

    • “In the legendary churning of the milk ocean, we have the bright and dark forces engaging each other as dialectical counterparts making up the totality. Curd (yoghurt) is traditionally churned by means of a stick turned by a string pulled by both the hands; producing butter, buttermilk, and finally ghee, the clarified butter, considered the essence of the milk. The ocean of milk is the primal life-source, and the churning throws up values that are both bright and dark. In the legend, the mountain Meru is the churning stick and Vasuki, the serpent-king is the string, the mountain stands for space and the snake, as in the snake swallowing its own tail, stands for space. It is in tis space-time continuum that life values are constantly produced, motivating, inspiring and drawing forth life in its ever forward march. But in this story, the snake itself gets giddy and nauseous, is going to throw up the venom of time, which would poison the whole ocean, thus making evrything, all the massive effort, futile. Siva alone can bring forth such total annihilation of life, through death; and he can’t allow time, which is only one of his functions as the destroyer, to poison the source of life. So, he gathers up the poison that the snake is spewing into his own palms, cupped together to receive it, and drinks it as it flows into his hand. The Goddess, who shares half his body, is terrified of possible consequences and also of the effect this can have on her husband, who is already known for his wild attire and wilder behaviour. He is the moon-wearing lunatic, dancing in Dionysian frenzy in graveyards! She grabs his throat, stopping the poison from descending any further. She knows he won’t choke, he’s the master-yogi, can hold his breath, but the poison turns his neck blue, hardening in the throat. In his agony, he tries to throw her arms off, but she is himself, he can’t throw her off. and nor casn he spit it out, the whole game would be finished, lost. But he must be calmed down, before he destroys it all, the bright and the dark, altogether. They all confer together; Bhrungi, Shiva’s attendant, also versed in the lore of herbs, brings him the Cannabis plant, and feeds this to him as Bhang, to calm him down., and it works, he dances and the effect of the dregs of the cosmic poison is sublimated through the dance.”

    • mllemraow
    • November 23rd, 2011

    merci

  1. I wrote a book about the mind enhancements of marijuana, “High. Insights on Marijuana” (dogear publishing 2010) As far as I can see, it’s the only scientific (meta-) study so far that exclusively focuses on the enhancements of marijuana during a high:

    http://www.amazon.com/High-Insights-Marijuana-Sebastian-Marincolo/dp/1608444066/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1322312451&sr=8-1

    or see: http://www.sebastianmarincolo.de

  2. This was a great article. And a great discussion. Thank you for posting.

  1. No trackbacks yet.

Speak and be heard

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: