Posts Tagged ‘ inebriation ’

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

Inebriation: change for change’s sake

I have elsewhere described three broad categories of drug use: inebriation, enhancement and psychedelia. Of these, inebriation is simultaneously the most basic and the most reviled. Whereas the cultural struggle for acceptance of psychedelia revolves around acknowledgement that it exists at all, inebriation is typically taken to be self-evident, and self-evidently distasteful. I do not share this opinion. In excess, inebriation can certainly be very dangerous (or just plain ugly), but I believe that it has its own time and place, its own legitimacy and its own benefits.

The Basics:

Inebriation is fancy-speak for getting fucked up. The feeling is that normal, sober existence is too frustrating, stressful or just plain boring, and that if we can just do something — anything — to change how we’re feeling, things will be better. Pretty much any drug can accomplish this, as can practices such as fasting, eating, holding your breath, meditating or masturbating.

Of course, you can’t simply have your consciousness be arbitrarily different: depending on what technique of consciousness alteration you use, you’re going to get a particular cluster of effects, with widely varying degrees of predictability. The classic psychedelics, for example, are extremely unpredictable, and can do just about anything. That makes them sound appealing to somebody who’s bored and wants a change, but the change could easily be a lot more dramatic than had been intended: just because you want reality to be altered doesn’t mean you want it to be destroyed completely. Careful practices like meditation on the other hand may come with a host of other benefits and be well worth pursuing, but require a good deal of motivation, effort and discipline, likely to be lacking when we’re in the uncomfortable place of craving an alteration.

A prototypical inebriant therefore will reliably turn down the volume on neurotic self-consciousness, and not do too much else. Despite various well documented adverse effects, alcohol is by far the most popular drug for this purpose, and for good reason: it’s effective, predictable and general in its effects, providing readily scaling levels of inebriation from a slight fuzziness to total annihilation. Cannabis is also highly popular as an inebriant, and is generally safer than alcohol, but is far less predictable.

Why would anybody seek impairment?

Getting “fucked up” sounds like an entirely bad thing. Society highly values lucidity, which it associates with sobriety, so anything which alters consciousness in a way that’s not obviously and directly beneficial is seen by some as categorically unacceptable. This line of thinking is common among high achievers and religious puritans, but may also be informed by experience with problematic drug use such as alcoholism, or for other reasons. It typically comes down to the fear of lost possibilities, the idea that when you drink, you could have done something else instead, like read a book or make a painting. This is generally not actually the case. Those who reject the legitimacy of consciousness alteration generally do so from a privileged position in which consciousness is stable, manageable and positive. Even a common phenomena like stress (experienced very differently by different people) is sufficient to undermine this, let alone variation in life situation or psychological makeup.

Maybe you’ve been working hard all day, or maybe you’re really worried about something, and you just need a break from it all. Obviously, if you get fucked up all the time that’s just going to make things worse if you never take care of whatever problem was stressing you out in the first place, but if you’re past the point of being able to do something about the problem right this minute and can’t get it off our mind, doing something to take the stress off makes total sense, and might actually lead to more productivity or clearer thinking later. A nice bath, a massage or a good orgasm are generally healthier options than getting wasted, but there’s nothing wrong with taking something to help you kick back and relax, as long as you’re reasonably safe about it and get things done at other times. For a lot of people, smoking a joint serves as a great adjunct to a bath, massage or orgasm! Learn how you react to things (both at the time and in the days to follow), and do what seems to produce the most benefit with the least negative effects.

Alterity and Breaking from the Everyday

In speaking of change, we assume a conception of “normality,” a sober “baseline” against which alterations can be compared, and to which we can return. This is, of course, merely a convenient fiction: like history, consciousness does not repeat itself (though it may often rhyme). Further, identifying with the state of consciousness you find most familiar tends to exaggerate the illusion of yourself as static and separate from the Other, an illusion which inebriation may subvert by highlighting variability and hinting at the tenuousness of control. Promoting variety of experience can therefore be inherently useful, a way of “playtesting” reality, allowing for what I have described as “psychic triangulation:” considering a single topic, concept or image in various states of consciousness and comparing the results to get a more robust, multifaceted understanding of it than any one state of consciousness alone could provide. This also relates to our capacity to empathise with a greater diversity of people, and it renders our identity constructs more fluid, revealing their arbitrariness and dynamism, working to disentangle Self from the Everyday.

This break from the everyday is not exclusively about variety: it is also central to the capacity of religion to unite practitioners through the production of sacred space and sacred time. Although they frequently have other meanings as well, religious rituals tend to consist of elements which alter consciousness. Incense, chanting, unusual acoustics or lighting conditions, special clothing and sounds all contribute to the production of an “axis mundi” in which the divine can be experienced. This, I would argue, is essentially the same as entering into a group drug experience, and explains the use of drugs to mark special occasions, such as holidays, graduations or marriages. Through the act of ritually consuming a similar amount of the same drug, collective feeling within the group is established, fostering intimacy and unity. Alcohol and cannabis both to serve in this capacity: cheering commences convivial conversation, connoting comaraderie and cooperation. When a joint is passed around a circle of friends, they share in each other’s spirit and enter into a sacred space together, qualitatively separate from the Everyday that came before. Cannabis may have additional spiritual benefits, but inebriation is all that is required for this type of ritual to function.

To conclude: 

Inebriation describes any drug use where the change in consciousness the drug produces is the objective of its use. Whereas enhancement pertains to some sort of connection between subject and object, and whereas psychedelia seeks the discovery of potentially lasting insights, inebriation is about the experience itself: a desire for something out of the ordinary. This has significant ritual and psychological applications which ought not to be casually dismissed.

To me, the point of consciousness manipulation is to find a dynamic balance. Experimentation is crucial to the process of self discovery, and having tools with which to break out of complacency and ennui can be very valuable.  That said, as we try to break out of our patterns it’s easy to end up creating new, more toxic patterns. That is the meaning of addiction: becoming stuck in one way of experiencing reality, and being unable to flow easily through others. Experiencing inebriation occasionally may be highly beneficial, but do so too often and things might get really bad, really fast.

Embrace variety; don’t get stuck.

——————————————————————————————————————

ADDENDUM:
After publishing this, I received  two criticisms almost simultaneously. One was that I talked too much about death, and the other was that I didn’t talk enough about danger. Seems death isn’t the point for the one person, and danger is the point for the other. Inspired by these diametrically opposed critiques, I sat down and refined my model. I now have Inebriation as consisting of three subcategories: Disinhibition, Sedation and Variation (Disinhibition bleeds into the Enhancement subcategory of Ability, and Variation bleeds into the Psychedelic category of Insight). Disinhibition is the one about “danger” (and freedom, and shenanigans) which I didn’t adequately cover in this article. This addendum is to note the theoretical alteration, and to point out that danger/disinhibition is important even though I didn’t get into it much above. This will be more fully addressed in a subsequent article.

Sex and Drugs

Drugs provide powerful tools for altering consciousness; so does sex. What about combining the two? For many, sex and drugs are separately the most pleasurable experiences they know, and in combination they can be even more powerful. This article explores a few of the reasons why the two are sometimes combined and a discussion of various advantages and disadvantages.

Psychedelic Sex Blast

Inebriation

A lot of us are really conflicted when it comes to sex. Sometimes because of guilt or past traumas and associations we want to do something on one level but on some other level we’ve got a mental block that keeps us from following through with it. People in this situation may turn to an inebriant to help “loosen up” and do what they secretly want, or to overcome social anxieties, making it easier to find a partner. For a lot of people this can be an important part of getting sex to happen at all, but it comes with a tradeoff: if you’re fucked up, chances are your performance is going to be impaired.

Alcohol’s the obvious case study here. Some people find a glass or two of wine makes them tingly and sensitive, but drink too much and it impairs motor control and dulls sensation, so drunk sex usually doesn’t feel nearly as good as sober sex. It can also make consent even more complicated than usual. You may be drinking to loosen up, but what do you do when someone is pushing your limits and you’re too drunk or high to know how to respond? Make sure you think about your limits beforehand: what are you okay with doing, and with whom? It may be good to have a friend who knows your limits watching out for you so that you don’t end up doing something you’ll regret. Also remember that some people may give booze or other drugs to make you more likely to sleep with them. Avoid bad situations, watch how much you take, and don’t tolerate this kind of douchey behaviour; if your friend tries to get someone drunk so they’ll “consent,” call them on it. Not cool.

Note that within this is the implication that inebriation can be used to surge past limits into experiences of wild abandon. Just remember that Dionysus is god of wine and orgies, but he’s also insane.

Enhancement

Enhancement has two sides:  improving your performance and improving your experience. Exactly what it is you feel needs improving and what you would consider to be an improvement will change what is appropriate here, such that two things that can separately be seen as improvements might be antithetical. For example, hashish might help you make intimately connected, passionate love, whereas amphetamines might help you fuck the shit out of each other. Which is it you want, if either? (I don’t mean to imply a dichotomy here, by the way! Just that you should consider your intentions carefully)

Stimulants like coke and crystal can lead to really intense, hard fucking, as you’ll be energetic, impatient and won’t get tired as easily. As hot as that can be, the harder you fuck, the more likely that you’ll hurt yourself or your partner. Cuts and tears make it much more likely to transmit infections like HIV, and coming down hard at the wrong angle can literally break a penis! Use lots of lube, and change condoms if it’s taking a long time. Getting your heart rate up too high can lead to a heart attack or stroke, especially if you also took Viagra — and many drugs can make it hard (hehe) to get an erection or to achieve orgasm, even if it feels great. Remember, there’s nothing wrong with taking a breather and drinking some water, and if you can’t cum, that’s fine: don’t force it

Cannabis, on the other hand, makes sensations more intense, and causes us to get really into whatever it is we happen to be doing. So if we’re running, running becomes more pleasurable and we can keep going longer, or if we’re sitting around on the couch it can be hard to be motivated to do anything. Applied to sex, that means we usually have less desire to initiate sex if stoned — so it’s not true that pot is an aphrodisiac. However, if sex is initiated, it can make it much more intense, so we get really into it and stay into it for longer — just like how it effects us when we go running. Unlike stimulants which make us fuck harder, pot will often make slow fucking feel that much better. Many women have reported that they’re only able to orgasm when stoned!

Psychedelia

Sex by itself can be psychedelic: soul revealing, ego-destroying and triggering of deep insight. Mixing sex and psychedelic drugs can amplify both and be one of the most unbelievably intense things imaginable. If you Google around you’ll find many awesome stories of experiences so profound that you’ll probably be envious and want to try them yourself. Don’t!

Taking a powerful psychedelic with a lover and having sex sounds like an awesome plan on paper, but in practice it can be incredibly awkward, because once you come up, who knows how you’ll be feeling… these drugs are so powerful that they can easily overwhelm us and make it so that sex simply isn’t on our minds at all, whatever our intentions may have been. What’s worse, because of the way they can activate and amplify latent psychological processes, a bad sexual experience while tripping could be incredibly traumatising, and in the moment you might be completely incapable of expressing to your partner what it is you’re going through.

The truth is that sex on psychedelics can be totally amazing: ego boundaries dissolve and you fuse into one another, transformed into archetypal, primal energies, transpersonal divine beings of infinite beauty and love, pleasures upon pleasures unfolding into secrets of Ultimate Reality. If you ever get into that sort of space with somebody, count yourselves profoundly blessed. But do not expect it, or plan for it. What happens, happens, and that’s okay. 

On any drug, you may end up being too high to go searching for condoms and lube, so if you think you might have sex later (whether or not you’re planning to), be sure to already have everything you need with you before you get high, and don’t forget to have to take care of yourself! Make sure to eat and drink.

Addendum on aphrodisiacs:
The idea of an aphrodisiac is a drug which produces sexual desire where it wasn’t already. Many plants and drugs are claimed to be aphrodisiacs, but few truly occasion new feelings (damiana and bremelanotide are notable exceptions). My approach to aphrodisiacs is to recognise that if we’re unable to get horny, there’s often a somatic problem at the root of it, such as a headache, low energy levels, anxiety or indigestion. Better (and effective!) to treat these problems directly, rather than skipping ahead to a substance specific to getting you to have sex. My favourite aphrodisiac, therefore, is ginseng, which is primarily a stimulating “adaptogen.” Lots of people get randy after taking some… personally it makes me want to dance more than anything, so I usually have some when I go to a party. Energy can be used for lots of things! Ginseng is good for you; it’ll make your headache go away, it’ll help you think more clearly, and, yes, it may help you have more and better sex.