Posts Tagged ‘ health ’

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.

Caring for the Body

Before a trip, you should consider how it’s going to affect your body. Aside from complex and unpredictable psychological or spiritual effects, will it physically* hurt you? Fortunately, the physical effects, at least from the “classic” (seretonergic) psychedelics are usually both predictable and mild. In this article I will begin by laying out how to take care of yourself during a “typical” psychedelic trip, and end with a brief overview of some concerns related to some of the other substances which may have psychedelic uses.

Nausea is the most common source of discomfort during a trip. Some psychedelics are more nauseating than others — 2C-E is usually more nauseating than shrooms which are usually more nauseating than LSD, for example. Generally the nausea starts soon after dosing and goes away within half an hour, although at the time it may feel like it’s going to last all night. To minimise this, make sure not to have eaten much just before dosing! Best-practices are to have a light breakfast and dose 45 minutes later, or to take a mild fast. Keep in mind that if you puke, it might make your trip more intense!

Muscle tension and/or strange sensations in the body are also common, especially during the come-up. A lot of people have a specific place they always feel something weird, but it’s not consistent between people — for me it’s my throat, possibly because of my asthma. Tremors (shaking) and involuntary or semi-voluntary contractions are common as well, and because of this you should never take psychedelics if pregnant. Spontaneous uterine contractions = induced labour = miscarriage. Otherwise, this typically isn’t a problem, although if you’re prone to cramping it’s possible that something may be activated (lockjaw, for example). Interestingly, unlike other causes of tremors or contractions, these tend to become milder over repeated trips, and for that reason Stanislov Grof suggests that they represent not a problem but a therapeutic release of tension (funk not only moves, it can re-move. Dig?).

Appetite/sleep loss are also common. Sleep is usually not possible until you’re completely sober, and you probably won’t be hungry. This is only a problem if you plan poorly! Food and sleep are important, yo — take care of them both before and after. Be sure to check the duration of the drug you’re taking, and, pro-tip: if your “acid” has a strong bitter taste, it’s probably DOI, which lasts far longer than LSD (acid has a mildly bitter taste, but the amount in a normal dose is too small for most people to notice). This is why they say “if it’s bitter, it’s a spitter;” DOI can be a good time, assuming you have nowhere to be this week.

Heart rate/blood pressure changes deserve mention because they contraindicate tripping for anyone with heart problems or dangerous circulation issues, but for most people this simply isn’t an issue. If you didn’t have heart problems going in, you’re not going to develop them because of a trip. It’s vasoconstrictive, but so is, say, a walk in the snow.

Fatigue. Tripping is work. You may have more thoughts in five minutes than you normally have in five hours, all captivating and highly salient. After a whole day of this, expect to be worn out! Most psychedelics don’t leave a “hangover” to speak of, but give yourself lots of time to rest up and think about the experience.

Frequent urination. You may find you need to pee constantly during a trip. Try not to let this distract from introspection! In some cases, the tripper doesn’t actually have a full bladder, but feels the need to pee anyway. If you catch yourself constantly expecting to pee but then nothing actually coming out… just let go! Terrifying as it sounds, accept the possibility of peeing yourself, go into that, follow those thoughts and see where they go. You might even have an epiphany related to your need for control, and emerge a better person for it. Much better than wasting your trip by constantly going back and forth between bathroom and couch!

Literally everything else. LSD has been called a “non-specific amplifier” of latent and manifest psychological contents. Ever heard of psychosomatic conditions? That’s where you have a physical experience of something because of your mental contents. Because of the way psychedelics reveal and amplify things below the surface, literally anything can happen. Limb paralysis, strange rashes… anything. This can be very unsettling, and it may be impossible to parse a bizarre trip-related experience from something unrelated and life threatening. It’s far more common, though, for something pre-existing to become very obvious, or a thought pattern to manifest physically, than for something actually dangerous to be going on. It’s not altogether rare for people to think they’re dying during a trip, and have physical sensations that seem to confirm it. If that’s happening… amazing! Horrible as the experience may be in the moment, accepting it and passing through might be the most profoundly beneficial thing you could possibly experience. No matter how it feels, it’s almost certainly not the case that you’ve actually been poisoned; you can’t overdose on most psychedelics. Whatever you’re feeling, don’t run from it! Usually, as soon as you accept it and go where it’s taking you, it will transform from fear and pain into radiant beauty.

Before a trip, pamper yourself. Eat healthy, get plenty of sleep, do anything that makes you feel your best (massage? Yoga?). Got any physical concerns you’re worried about? Get them checked out; there’s no point obsessing over questions you can’t answer during your trip, when you could have answered them before. You want to come into it feeling your best, with as few worries as possible.

The day of your trip, eat a good, healthy breakfast (some people prefer to fast, and that can be good, but do so carefully). If you’re going to be dosing later in the day, a light meal an hour beforehand might be a good idea. While high you might think more about things like dietary purity than usual, so save yourself a guilty conscience by only eating foods you consider “pure” or “good” beforehand, whether that means vegan, halal/kosher or “all natural.” For the trip itself, have lots of water and some simple, single ingredient foods on hand: rice, bread, fruit (grapefruit, mango, grapes, pineapple), etc. Don’t get too fancy, as normally delicious foods might confuse or repulse. You probably won’t be hungry at all for the first half of the trip, but once you “remember” that you need to eat, having something simple, healthy and high in carbohydrates can make you feel worlds better and provide much needed energy. Several of my respondents have talked about discovering how amazing plain white rice and water truly are!

Getting exercise and/or stretching before, during and after can both help with any muscle tension and make the trip much better, allowing you to move more freely and just generally feel good. Spiritual or energetic exercise practices like yoga and qi gong can be especially rewarding, though you should know that they could be way more intense than you’re used to, which means that you might be able to access certain mental states you aren’t ready for. Proceed with caution and drink plenty of water, but know that exercise while tripping can feel amazing! 

Lastly, make sure to get some sleep. It’s important! Drugs like acid last a long time and you need time to rest and recover, so make sure you’ve got plenty of extra time with somewhere comfortable to stay and nothing you need to do immediately after.

Alright, time for a super-brief rundown on some other popular substances sometimes used for tripping and their “side effects” (physiological effects likely to be perceived as negative). This is not meant to be an exhaustive list; Google is your friend, as is the word “contraindications.”

Cannabis: lowers blood pressure; if smoked can cause sore throat and/or coughing in the short term, bronchitis in the long term; “cottonmouth” or other strange feelings in the body (not dangerous); risk of transmitting infections from sharing smoking/vapourising equipment; some are allergic to it. Be sure to have something soothing to drink handy, and be careful what you mix it with — it often makes other drugs much stronger!

MDMA: increased heart rate and blood pressure; muscle tension; teeth grinding; “gutrot” (digestive complaints); sleep loss; appetite loss; hyperthermia (overheating) and the potential for both dehydration and overhydration (can make you want to drink more water than is healthy); difficulty getting an erection; burnout/”sketch” which compound with regular use. Avoid using too much or too often, take 5-HTP and B vitamins to minimise sketch, make sure you drink an appropriate amount of water and have some chewing gum or even a pacifier to prevent teeth grinding.

Ayahuasca: nausea, diarrhea (vomiting very common, referred to as “the purge”); potentially dangerous interaction with other medicines. Following a careful diet is recommended. Have something you can puke into.

Deliriants (datura, belladonna, benedryl, gravol): extreme drowsiness; loss of motor control; overdose may cause paralysis and death. In general, just avoid these; they’re too dangerous and usually neither fun nor beneficial. If you must try them, be very careful of your dosage and be sure to have someone sober watching over you!

Salvia: Sore throat and/or coughing; loss of motor control, possible flailing or erratic movement. Be somewhere comfortable, always have a trip sitter so you don’t climb out a window or something (that kind of thing is rare, but, come on, it lasts 10 minutes; surely a friend can watch you for that long), and make sure there aren’t any knives, glass objects or whatnot nearby on which you could hurt yourself.

Ketamine: nasal or sinus irritation and “drip” if snorted; nausea/vomiting; excessive long term use can cause bladder damage and “k pains” (intense pain in the back/sides; not dangerous). Have something to puke in and some napkins or handkerchiefs handy, make sure to do it in a safe/comfortable place where it won’t freak people out if you k-hole, and don’t take it all the time — occasional use has all of the benefits and none of the bladder failure or addiction.

The safety profile for most psychedelics is far better than that of, say, aspirin. Most psychedelics are not significantly toxic, and deaths are extremely rare, usually related to people accidentally taking far too much of a research chemical. Just… be responsible. Tripping can be very rewarding, but that benefit will be quickly erased if you spend days without sleeping, and you’ll have a much better trip if you take good care of yourself before, during and after.

*I do not mean to imply that the “physiological” and “psychological” are ultimately separable. On the contrary, they are intimately linked, and any change in one will effect a change in the other (as well as each with the “sociological”).