How I Learned I Didn't Have A Head For Ganja by Jamie Gaffney
Pot is not for everyone, but freedom of choice is. An former cannabis user, who nevertheless embraces tolerance, describes an insight that terminated his exploration.
… I didn’t find its effects that impressive. Sure, I would feel some intoxicating effects with none of the negative effects claimed by its opponents… but I certainly did not think the whole experience was worth the fear of arrest and imprisonment. The experience was more one of rebellion than enlightenment.
I am grateful to Dr Grinspoon for inviting this essay showing another viewpoint on marijuana. This viewpoint is perhaps not one you would agree with; however it is merely my own personal impression of how cannabis has affected me. I would like to reinforce a point I make towards the end of the essay: Just because I don’t like something does not mean that I would wish to deny or disparage anyone else’s experiences with it. I am one of those unfortunate souls who don’t take to cannabis. Those who are not familiar cannabis should note that like any drug, it isn’t for everyone.
First, a little about me: I’m a 30 year old British male, currently working as a software engineer for a large private-sector company in Scotland. I graduated from university eight years ago with an electronics degree, but decided to look for a career in software instead. Que sera, sera. I can best be described as evangelical atheist, socially libertarian, economically moderate/centrist.
Now that the boring stuff is over and done with, down to the nitty-gritty: my experiences with the ‘evil weed.’
I didn’t smoke it until I was about 20, although I had heard about it and seen other people smoking it. Over the course of the next 10 years, I tried it about five more times. I had never been tempted to smoke it regularly, partly because of the price premium caused by the UK government’s misguided criminal policy but mostly because I did not find its effects that impressive.
Sure, I would feel some intoxicating effect with none of the negative effects claimed by its opponents… but I certainly didn’t think the whole experience was worth the fear of arrest and imprisonment. The experience was more one of rebellion than enlightenment. In the end, I made no effort to obtain it myself, and would almost never accept it when offered.
I resolved to give up cannabis at least for a few years (not exactly difficult) and gave no more thought to it.
Early this year, I decided to obtain some more and give it another go – at this point it had been roughly 3 years since my last smoke. Alcohol and tobacco had become my recreational drugs of choice, and while these have their own risks, at least I could get my supplies without fear of prosecution! This time, however, the experience was different. Changing social and legal attitudes in the UK made the consequences of possession less severe, and I could be reasonably confident of getting some without fear of my life being ruined if I was caught with it.
However, the smoking experience was also different. With maturing years and less need to ‘rebel’, I was able to examine the whole experience more dispassionately. Also, I took the advice of wiser souls and smoked it without having drunk alcohol first – using cannabis on top of alcohol is something of a habit at parties here; where alcohol is used to break the ice before someone takes out their smoking kit.
What I now discovered about my reaction to cannabis was this: while at first the intoxication was pleasurable, and I felt wonderfully relaxed, something less pleasant would happen: after a while, what I would describe as the ‘straight’ part of me would look at the ‘stoned’ me with contempt. I’d hear part of me say “look at yourself, you overgrown hippy – sitting laughing at things that aren’t funny. What do you think you’re doing? Idiot.” At that point, I’d put out my joint and go and do something else. For all its hazards, smoking has the advantage of being able to control dosage efficiently.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say that what I felt was self-loathing, but a kind of self-criticism. Let me try to explain.
From my experience of alcohol, I know that it’s a non-specific depressant: it impairs not only the parts of the brain concerned with coordination, perception and motor skills, but it affects other parts, those responsible for inhibition and self-responsibility. That’s why alcohol can be so dangerous: it not only intoxicates but it can also remove the ability to realise one is intoxicated and take steps to reduce one’s risk. I think anyone who has had to deal with a drunk driver will understand this problem.
Cannabis does not seem to have this problem, leaving the higher brain centres free to exercise self-control and self-analysis.
After some thought, I hope I have been able to work out why I am reacting badly to cannabis. I’ve been used to the disinhibiting effects of alcohol for so long, it came as an unpleasant surprise to retain full conscious understanding of my intoxicated state and to be able to retain self-awareness and self-control in a way that alcohol has never allowed me to. I was able to look inside myself and examine my reasons for seeking intoxication. Sometimes self-analysis can show you things you don’t want to see.
If all this seems hopelessly negative, please don’t think for a moment that I’m trying to disparage or dismiss anyone else’s cannabis experiences: medicinal, recreational, spiritual or otherwise. I know people who’ve had all types of positive experiences with cannabis. I’ve never known anyone who’s had a less-than-positive experience to do anything other than shrug, pass the joint on and do something else.
As I write this, I have used up the last of my supply, and I am seriously wondering whether I should get any more and give it another go. But looking back, that’s what I have been doing these last 10 years: being disappointed, leaving it alone for a while, and then going back in the hope of a “revelation” of some kind. This time… I am not going back. If I have to spend this much mental energy deciding whether or not to get it, it can’t be worth the bother.
Does cannabis have any negative consequences? The only negative ones of any great importance that I can see have all derived from criminalisation. Not only in the United States, but in my country as well, peaceful people have been victimised for seeking happiness, spiritual experience or relief from the symptoms of disease. Cannabis users are forced to pay black-market prices for adulterated resin or grass of unknown strength, but none of this should be news to the US reader.
So what do I think should be done about cannabis? Its record speaks for itself: no recorded fatalities in over 5000 years of use, millions of satisfied users attesting to its benign recreational and medicinal qualities.
The answer is clear: legalization. Let doctors, users and the legal free market come together and decide for themselves how to pursue happiness, wealth and health.
Let me leave you with this thought. To paraphrase Peter McWilliams:
“Ain’t nobody’s business if I don’t, ain’t nobody’s business if you do.”