Mr. X by Carl Sagan

This account was written in 1969 for publication in Marihuana Reconsidered (1971). Sagan was in his mid-thirties at that time. He continued to use cannabis for the rest of his life.

It all began about ten years ago. I had reached a considerably more relaxed period in my life – a time when I had come to feel that there was more to living than science, a time of awakening of my social consciousness and amiability, a time when I was open to new experiences. I had become friendly with a group of people who occasionally smoked cannabis, irregularly, but with evident pleasure. Initially I was unwilling to partake, but the apparent euphoria that cannabis produced and the fact that there was no physiological addiction to the plant eventually persuaded me to try. My initial experiences were entirely disappointing; there was no effect at all, and I began to entertain a variety of hypotheses about cannabis being a placebo which worked by expectation and hyperventilation rather than by chemistry. After about five or six unsuccessful attempts, however, it happened. I was lying on my back in a friend’s living room idly examining the pattern of shadows on the ceiling cast by a potted plant (not cannabis!). I suddenly realized that I was examining an intricately detailed miniature Volkswagen, distinctly outlined by the shadows. I was very skeptical at this perception, and tried to find inconsistencies between Volkswagens and what I viewed on the ceiling. But it was all there, down to hubcaps, license plate, chrome, and even the small handle used for opening the trunk. When I closed my eyes, I was stunned to find that there was a movie going on the inside of my eyelids. Flash . . . a simple country scene with red farmhouse, a blue sky, white clouds, yellow path meandering over green hills to the horizon. . . Flash . . . same scene, orange house, brown sky, red clouds, yellow path, violet fields . . . Flash . . . Flash . . . Flash. The flashes came about once a heartbeat. Each flash brought the same simple scene into view, but each time with a different set of colors . . . exquisitely deep hues, and astonishingly harmonious in their juxtaposition. Since then I have smoked occasionally and enjoyed it thoroughly. It amplifies torpid sensibilities and produces what to me are even more interesting effects, as I will explain shortly.

I can remember another early visual experience with cannabis, in which I viewed a candle flame and discovered in the heart of the flame, standing with magnificent indifference, the black-hatted and -cloaked Spanish gentleman who appears on the label of the Sandeman sherry bottle. Looking at fires when high, by the way, especially through one of those prism kaleidoscopes which image their surroundings, is an extraordinarily moving and beautiful experience.

I want to explain that at no time did I think these things ‘really’ were out there. I knew there was no Volkswagen on the ceiling and there was no Sandeman salamander man in the flame. I don’t feel any contradiction in these experiences. There’s a part of me making, creating the perceptions which in everyday life would be bizarre; there’s another part of me which is a kind of observer. About half of the pleasure comes from the observer-part appreciating the work of the creator-part. I smile, or sometimes even laugh out loud at the pictures on the insides of my eyelids. In this sense, I suppose cannabis is psychotomimetic, but I find none of the panic or terror that accompanies some psychoses. Possibly this is because I know it’s my own trip, and that I can come down rapidly any time I want to.

While my early perceptions were all visual, and curiously lacking in images of human beings, both of these items have changed over the intervening years. I find that today a single joint is enough to get me high. I test whether I’m high by closing my eyes and looking for the flashes. They come long before there are any alterations in my visual or other perceptions. I would guess this is a signal-to-noise problem, the visual noise level being very low with my eyes closed. Another interesting information-theoretical aspects is the prevalence – at least in my flashed images – of cartoons: just the outlines of figures, caricatures, not photographs. I think this is simply a matter of information compression; it would be impossible to grasp the total content of an image with the information content of an ordinary photograph, say 108 bits, in the fraction of a second which a flash occupies. And the flash experience is designed, if I may use that word, for instant appreciation. The artist and viewer are one. This is not to say that the images are not marvelously detailed and complex. I recently had an image in which two people were talking, and the words they were saying would form and disappear in yellow above their heads, at about a sentence per heartbeat. In this way it was possible to follow the conversation. At the same time an occasional word would appear in red letters among the yellows above their heads, perfectly in context with the conversation; but if one remembered these red words, they would enunciate a quite different set of statements, penetratingly critical of the conversation. The entire image set which I’ve outlined here, with I would say at least 100 yellow words and something like 10 red words, occurred in something under a minute.

The cannabis experience has greatly improved my appreciation for art, a subject which I had never much appreciated before. The understanding of the intent of the artist which I can achieve when high sometimes carries over to when I’m down. This is one of many human frontiers which cannabis has helped me traverse. There also have been some art-related insights – I don’t know whether they are true or false, but they were fun to formulate. For example, I have spent some time high looking at the work of the Belgian surrealist Yves Tanguey. Some years later, I emerged from a long swim in the Caribbean and sank exhausted onto a beach formed from the erosion of a nearby coral reef. In idly examining the arcuate pastel-colored coral fragments which made up the beach, I saw before me a vast Tanguey painting. Perhaps Tanguey visited such a beach in his childhood.

A very similar improvement in my appreciation of music has occurred with cannabis. For the first time I have been able to hear the separate parts of a three-part harmony and the richness of the counterpoint. I have since discovered that professional musicians can quite easily keep many separate parts going simultaneously in their heads, but this was the first time for me. Again, the learning experience when high has at least to some extent carried over when I’m down. The enjoyment of food is amplified; tastes and aromas emerge that for some reason we ordinarily seem to be too busy to notice. I am able to give my full attention to the sensation. A potato will have a texture, a body, and taste like that of other potatoes, but much more so. Cannabis also enhances the enjoyment of sex – on the one hand it gives an exquisite sensitivity, but on the other hand it postpones orgasm: in part by distracting me with the profusion of image passing before my eyes. The actual duration of orgasm seems to lengthen greatly, but this may be the usual experience of time expansion which comes with cannabis smoking.

I do not consider myself a religious person in the usual sense, but there is a religious aspect to some highs. The heightened sensitivity in all areas gives me a feeling of communion with my surroundings, both animate and inanimate. Sometimes a kind of existential perception of the absurd comes over me and I see with awful certainty the hypocrisies and posturing of myself and my fellow men. And at other times, there is a different sense of the absurd, a playful and whimsical awareness. Both of these senses of the absurd can be communicated, and some of the most rewarding highs I’ve had have been in sharing talk and perceptions and humor. Cannabis brings us an awareness that we spend a lifetime being trained to overlook and forget and put out of our minds. A sense of what the world is really like can be maddening; cannabis has brought me some feelings for what it is like to be crazy, and how we use that word ‘crazy’ to avoid thinking about things that are too painful for us. In the Soviet Union political dissidents are routinely placed in insane asylums. The same kind of thing, a little more subtle perhaps, occurs here: ‘did you hear what Lenny Bruce said yesterday? He must be crazy.’ When high on cannabis I discovered that there’s somebody inside in those people we call mad.

When I’m high I can penetrate into the past, recall childhood memories, friends, relatives, playthings, streets, smells, sounds, and tastes from a vanished era. I can reconstruct the actual occurrences in childhood events only half understood at the time. Many but not all my cannabis trips have somewhere in them a symbolism significant to me which I won’t attempt to describe here, a kind of mandala embossed on the high. Free-associating to this mandala, both visually and as plays on words, has produced a very rich array of insights.

There is a myth about such highs: the user has an illusion of great insight, but it does not survive scrutiny in the morning. I am convinced that this is an error, and that the devastating insights achieved when high are real insights; the main problem is putting these insights in a form acceptable to the quite different self that we are when we’re down the next day. Some of the hardest work I’ve ever done has been to put such insights down on tape or in writing. The problem is that ten even more interesting ideas or images have to be lost in the effort of recording one. It is easy to understand why someone might think it’s a waste of effort going to all that trouble to set the thought down, a kind of intrusion of the Protestant Ethic. But since I live almost all my life down I’ve made the effort – successfully, I think. Incidentally, I find that reasonably good insights can be remembered the next day, but only if some effort has been made to set them down another way. If I write the insight down or tell it to someone, then I can remember it with no assistance the following morning; but if I merely say to myself that I must make an effort to remember, I never do.

I find that most of the insights I achieve when high are into social issues, an area of creative scholarship very different from the one I am generally known for. I can remember one occasion, taking a shower with my wife while high, in which I had an idea on the origins and invalidities of racism in terms of gaussian distribution curves. It was a point obvious in a way, but rarely talked about. I drew the curves in soap on the shower wall, and went to write the idea down. One idea led to another, and at the end of about an hour of extremely hard work I found I had written eleven short essays on a wide range of social, political, philosophical, and human biological topics. Because of problems of space, I can’t go into the details of these essays, but from all external signs, such as public reactions and expert commentary, they seem to contain valid insights. I have used them in university commencement addresses, public lectures, and in my books.

But let me try to at least give the flavor of such an insight and its accompaniments. One night, high on cannabis, I was delving into my childhood, a little self-analysis, and making what seemed to me to be very good progress. I then paused and thought how extraordinary it was that Sigmund Freud, with no assistance from drugs, had been able to achieve his own remarkable self-analysis. But then it hit me like a thunderclap that this was wrong, that Freud had spent the decade before his self-analysis as an experimenter with and a proselytizer for cocaine; and it seemed to me very apparent that the genuine psychological insights that Freud brought to the world were at least in part derived from his drug experience. I have no idea whether this is in fact true, or whether the historians of Freud would agree with this interpretation, or even if such an idea has been published in the past, but it is an interesting hypothesis and one which passes first scrutiny in the world of the downs.

I can remember the night that I suddenly realized what it was like to be crazy, or nights when my feelings and perceptions were of a religious nature. I had a very accurate sense that these feelings and perceptions, written down casually, would not stand the usual critical scrutiny that is my stock in trade as a scientist. If I find in the morning a message from myself the night before informing me that there is a world around us which we barely sense, or that we can become one with the universe, or even that certain politicians are desperately frightened men, I may tend to disbelieve; but when I’m high I know about this disbelief. And so I have a tape in which I exhort myself to take such remarks seriously. I say ‘Listen closely, you sonofabitch of the morning! This stuff is real!’ I try to show that my mind is working clearly; I recall the name of a high school acquaintance I have not thought of in thirty years; I describe the color, typography, and format of a book in another room and these memories do pass critical scrutiny in the morning. I am convinced that there are genuine and valid levels of perception available with cannabis (and probably with other drugs) which are, through the defects of our society and our educational system, unavailable to us without such drugs. Such a remark applies not only to self-awareness and to intellectual pursuits, but also to perceptions of real people, a vastly enhanced sensitivity to facial expression, intonations, and choice of words which sometimes yields a rapport so close it’s as if two people are reading each other’s minds.

Cannabis enables nonmusicians to know a little about what it is like to be a musician, and nonartists to grasp the joys of art. But I am neither an artist nor a musician. What about my own scientific work? While I find a curious disinclination to think of my professional concerns when high – the attractive intellectual adventures always seem to be in every other area – I have made a conscious effort to think of a few particularly difficult current problems in my field when high. It works, at least to a degree. I find I can bring to bear, for example, a range of relevant experimental facts which appear to be mutually inconsistent. So far, so good. At least the recall works. Then in trying to conceive of a way of reconciling the disparate facts, I was able to come up with a very bizarre possibility, one that I’m sure I would never have thought of down. I’ve written a paper which mentions this idea in passing. I think it’s very unlikely to be true, but it has consequences which are experimentally testable, which is the hallmark of an acceptable theory.

I have mentioned that in the cannabis experience there is a part of your mind that remains a dispassionate observer, who is able to take you down in a hurry if need be. I have on a few occasions been forced to drive in heavy traffic when high. I’ve negotiated it with no difficult at all, though I did have some thoughts about the marvelous cherry-red color of traffic lights. I find that after the drive I’m not high at all. There are no flashes on the insides of my eyelids. If you’re high and your child is calling, you can respond about as capably as you usually do. I don’t advocate driving when high on cannabis, but I can tell you from personal experience that it certainly can be done. My high is always reflective, peaceable, intellectually exciting, and sociable, unlike most alcohol highs, and there is never a hangover. Through the years I find that slightly smaller amounts of cannabis suffice to produce the same degree of high, and in one movie theater recently I found I could get high just by inhaling the cannabis smoke which permeated the theater.

There is a very nice self-titering aspect to cannabis. Each puff is a very small dose; the time lag between inhaling a puff and sensing its effect is small; and there is no desire for more after the high is there. I think the ratio, R, of the time to sense the dose taken to the time required to take an excessive dose is an important quantity. R is very large for LSD (which I’ve never taken) and reasonably short for cannabis. Small values of R should be one measure of the safety of psychedelic drugs. When cannabis is legalized, I hope to see this ratio as one of he parameters printed on the pack. I hope that time isn’t too distant; the illegality of cannabis is outrageous, an impediment to full utilization of a drug which helps produce the serenity and insight, sensitivity and fellowship so desperately needed in this increasingly mad and dangerous world.

102 Responses to “Mr. X by Carl Sagan”

  1. muzzylu says:

    Great essay from a great man.
    Medical marijuana, and all marijuana should be legal! It is helpful to people for pain reduction and other maladies, plus marijuana can be a much less harmful recreational drug than liquor, heroin, crack, and cocaine.
    Great e-book on medical marijuana: MARIJUANA – Guide to Buying, Growing, Harvesting, and Making Medical Marijuana Oil and Delicious Chocolates to Treat Pain and Ailments by Mary Bendis. This book has great recipe for marijuana oil and tasty, yummy chocolates!

  2. patty says:

    One of my personal heroes!

  3. Anthony says:

    Absolutely inspiring writing. I learned something new today. The more I research cannabis and the Prohibition of it the more thoroughly evil and wrong this failed policy of prohibition appears to be. During my own research I have discovered almost every justification for the illegality of cannabis is based on a myth or outright lie.
    Unfortunately the lies are still coming but the truth is burning through them like a blowtorch through paper. There should eventually come a day when politicians will be afraid to support prohibition for the same reasons they are afraid to support the end it today. That day may be a lot closer than we think. The Internet is a powerful tool for the free flow and open dissemination of information. It even has its own form of “peer review” process such as comment opportunities like this.
    I believe it is the duty of all of us in possession of the facts to expose the lies of the tabloid press and their political servants with the aim to bring justice for all adult cannabis users regardless of their reasons for use and put an end to this abhorrent and evil policy of prohibition and overt persecution of non violent people.
    Full legalization can be the only real solution to this problem. No half measures will work because of the huge demand. Cannabis is here and here to stay and we must come to terms with reality and respect the human rights of all citizens. Cannabis users are NOT criminals. It is the law against our right to make a responsible informed personal choice that is the crime.

  4. Paul Radcliff says:

    I believe in the “live and let live” philosophy, regarding Pot use. I’ve been a big beer drinker and an occasional cannabis user. Since quitting drinking, the cannabis has become more important to me, but it is superior to any beer fueled stupor. Carl Sagan was a great teacher and great human being. His experiences with Mary Jane just validate my love for the natural gifts of Mother Earth. I wonder if Einstein ever did any mood enhancers? I can drive under the influence, although some should not.

    A friend of the Bob and Tom radio comedy show has said Pot is like the A-1 on the steak of life. It just makes it better and more enjoyable. In these uncertain times, who would deny me some A-1??? I would never deny anyone else some harmless pleasure. Of all the stuff I’ve tried to alter my perception, pot is the safest and the most fun, and it IS all natural. No one has ever found a natural stream of Michelob or whiskey, anywhere on Earth! Meth is for no one!! That stuff destroys people’s lives.

    I love you Sweet Leaf…. and thank you Carl, for Cosmos, your great book,’The Cosmic Connection’ and your essay on Cannabis. The world needs another great teacher of science. Perhaps to teach some sense to Climate Change deniers.

  5. Robert Nielsen says:

    There are times when I feel like I landed on a planet of ignorant savages (not everyone though.) I have several conditions that are best treated with marijuana. I am 59 years old, and have been treating myself for over 40 years, with no discernible social “side affects”. I hold three degrees, including a doctorate, and seven licenses, registrations, and certifications. I’m most proud of my marriage of 32 years next month. This is to say, I don’t think of myself as a “bad” person. The state of the law drives me nuts. Here in Washington state, the voters sanctioned medical marijuana. Consequently, the federal government came in a raid (and incarcerated) anyone they can catch associated with the “legal” distribution. All I asked of my government in this regard, is that when I’m having an attack, I be allowed, in my own home, to have one toke. There is an additional onus here, in that virtually every employer requires testing before employment. Consequently, even if participating in this “legal” activity, I’m denied the right to hold a job! Its not the marijuana that is making me crazy, its the government.

  6. Anthony Chahine says:

    Carl Sagan, turning nerds into potheads since 1969.

  7. Jerry Kane says:

    Carl Sagan and the gentleman representing him in this video are just absolutely brilliant. The piece on marijuana is another well articulated testimony on the effects of something only seen as evil due to propoganda and a completely asinine paranoia-fueled diversion. The proof is in the pudding. Aside from the weed bit I think Sagan is a man and mind that commands a great deal of respect. His enthusiasm and commitment to seek truth set him apart from the machine that has become modern day society. That separation or withdrawal allowed him the opportunity to collaborate with the universe and create these complex and often out of this world ideas. Those ideas however spawned a whole new wave of thought and resinated throughout the masses to a point that Carl was and still is a creator of creativity. His conversation and his philosophy grabbed the attention of so many. I will always remember him as that cool scientist dude from the 70s and 80s that my grandmother had VCR tapes of but more importantly i will continue to seek the truth just as Carl did because thats the way my mind is wired and i will continue to smoke bowls of kush to expand my mind into the outer limits of the cosmos…….

  8. Sebastien says:

    My opinion is that there is one message that Carl Sagan did not successfully transfer to all you other commenters on this article. Yes, you may have realized that marijuana is a whole lot more than what the public now perceives it as, however there is absolutely no point in talking about your opinion after reading such an article. I have one single question to determine whether I should start what I am about to start. It would do me such greater benefit if you answered it honestly. After reading this article, and analyzing Carl’s reaction towards cannabis, such as the increase in senses, are you absolutely, positively sure that you have experienced the abnormal but simultaneously extraordinary capability that marijuana can do to some people? If you have, then please answer this because our world is missing out on something that could change our entire perception of things in every sense! I have without a doubt, experienced exactly what Carl Sagan has experienced. WHich is why i’m so sure about the affect of Marijuana.

  9. luke says:

    ‘I am convinced that there are genuine and valid levels of perception available with cannabis (and probably with other drugs) which are, through the defects of our society and our educational system, unavailable to us without such drugs’

    this line really sums it up for me. a brilliant essay in the same passive, objective voice that characterized his work. if only this sort of level-headed, clear speaking got through to more people. I have a sister-in-law with Fibromyalgia – she spends a few months of every year in a wheelchair – chronic pain, no appetite, insomnia etc. I’ve read articles where patients used Cannabis with immediate relief – most say it’s superior to every other med they have been prescribed. but she won’t try it because it’s “evil.”

    how sad that this misinformation is still so prevalent…

  10. Tim Acree says:

    a brilliant man, and a brilliant writer.
    this is probably the single best source to show marijuana-ignorant people.
    I read some passages to my parents and I can sense their views changing already?

  11. truthspeaker says:

    This is one of the greatest and sensible things I’ve ever read. Great job, Mr. Sagan.

  12. Someone says:

    We live in a world were most countries and their governments go to extreme and often insane measures to “defend freedom”, yet we are not free to explore our own consciousness with cannabis. Unfortunately, I don’t believe the government will legalize cannabis, and not due to concerns over our health. Let’s face it, uncle Sam doesn’t care about our health, uncle Sam fears a widespread conscious awakening. What Carl said about cannabis allowing us to be the observer and creator is true. Sanity is the recognition of ones own insanity, and as soon as we can all collectively observe this insanity in society, we can eliminate it and create a better earth for all.
    I think cannabis and other psychedelics can help kickstart the movement.
    P.S. psychedelic use must be respected and not abused. I’ve seen inexperienced mushroom users do some crazy stuff. Be safe and explore your mind!

  13. X says:

    i’m probably suffering from bipolar disorder (genetic) and despite knowing this and what he has seen throughout his life, my dad probably still thinks that weed will make me “a zombie” and suggests i take the same type of medicines that my mom took all her life, and which hardly improved her, apart from making her dull, silent, lifeless and depressed, sleeping all the time – bloody sleeping pills disguised as brain-medicine. If i had to send him 1 article in the email one day asking for his understanding, and how important it is for me that he understands why i need weed, i’d send this article. Thank you Sir.

  14. psychemist says:

    After the legalization of recreational Cannabis in two states of the Union, I wish the stardust which was once the man Carl Sagan the comfort and twinge of pleasure we are all feeling with this first real victory against the failed war on drugs. The time will come, before a great while passes, when the political norm is reversed as he wrote in this essay. Regardless, know that you have been a most important influence for many people, stoned or not, and that influence is — anthropologically speaking — eternal.

  15. Mr. Brown says:

    I have been looking for an article such as this for over a year. It just so happens, that the article is written by the man that changed my life. A very honest man, with an intelligence toward the world that all should hold.

  16. Pete says:

    Interesting article. I do find it funny that his first three points for using pot were essentially “Things look so neat when high. Look at my hand! This music is fantastic! Seriously, guys. Shut up and listen to this song! No, _really_ listen! Hey, this is probably the best pizza ever. Anyone grabbing that last slice?”

  17. Zara says:

    Excellent, thoughtful essay although as one who has used the stuff before the effects are already quite well known to me. Criminalization of weed is an outrage since there’s no objective reason for it (two of the most deadly and addictive drugs are completely legal and can be found on every streetcorner), I think the comedian Chris Rock said it best: the goverment doesn’t want you to use your drugs, they want you to use their drugs. Weed can be grown practically everywhere so it’d be stupid to go buy it at a shop, therefore it can’t be made legal since there’s no profit in it. The economics of greed…

    On another note: I’m really looking forward to watching Sagan’s series ‘the cosmos’. Preferably stoned of course ;-).

    Judging from the comments I bet I could become friends with most of you here and I’m not even a very sociable fellow, lol.

  18. Ben Izenson says:

    prohibition didn’t work the first time we tried it. i would like to hope we’re capable of learning from our mistakes, but seems like we’re not so good at it. and weed’s illegal because of racism and lobbying by the pharmaceutical industry. alright, so we know the reason behind prohibition part 2 is wrong, and we’re seriously ineffective at keeping things out of our country. so why are we still pursuing such an immoral and failed policy? i don’t get it.

  19. Shifty says:

    Liberating essay and a largely intriguing video on a brilliant man..
    It is excellent to have seen all this…….Beautiful..

  20. Leaves says:

    “Initially I was unwilling to partake, but the apparent euphoria that cannabis produced and the fact that there was no physiological addiction to the plant eventually persuaded me to try.”

    If you goto there are hundreds of people who have smoked cannabis daily up to years and then try to quit cold turkey. Its reported that most of the people will crave cannabis and produce symptoms of anxiety and suffer night sweats for up to 2 weeks (or more rarely). However, not everyone is prone to the physiological addiction and the symptoms of withdrawal change between different people.

  21. pudding x. pie says:

    Maybe Mr. Sagan was lucky enough to have much better weed than me in the late sixties and seventies, but I remember seeing some colors and patterns the first few times I indulged. After that, while the wonderful mellow feeling was always there, no “visions”. What he describes sounds more like acid or mushrooms. That said, I agree it remains one of the great legal hypocrasies of this country that adults can go down to the corner store and purchase alcohol or cigarettes while this relatively harmless substance can land you in jail.

  22. Zvibenyosef says:

    The late Johny Carson regularly parodied Carl Sagan, repeating the words “billions and billions” with a mocking smile on his face implying Carl Sagan was a “scientific nerd”. I am ashamed to admit that I also chuckled sometimes at his schtick. That is until I read a book by Carl Sagan. It was full of not only scientific insight, but also fascinating philosophical musings. He also mentioned the origins of the quote “billions and billions” and could not remember ever having uttered that phrase. He even went to the extent of searching through the archives over hundreds of his writings, to find any references to this quote, but he could find none. What was most surprising is there was no anger in his refutation. It was merely an earnest search for the truth of the matter. Reading that book completely changed my opinion. I have the utmost respect and admiration for Carl Sagan.
    His description of the effects of marijuana is particularly fascinating. He describes visual hallucinations and profound insights, far greater than anything I have ever experienced. He was obviously blessed with a far greater intellect than most.
    To Anthony Chahine who left a negative comment “Carl Sagan, turning nerds into potheads since 1969” This comment is not a valid criticism of Marijuana or Carl Sagan. You need to explain yourself with valid arguments. Simply calling people pot heads is not enough. This is intellectual laziness. Perhaps one should be glad this is the only contemptuous comment among all these thoughtful responses. I am curious whether you even read the article. Perhaps you should, you may learn something.

  23. Hayden says:

    Finally someone says what so many have thought for so many years with such great ease, articulation, and perfect content. Granted most of us haven’t had quite the ultimate conclusions as Sagan, but most of us don’t have the mind he did.

    The only thing I want to say is a point all of us have said many times, I’m sure: With the majority prohibition of Pot, it is absolutely absurd that alcohol is legal and easily available. I don’t think anyone needs to state any stats on the destruction it causes.

  24. Jible says:

    I believe in the “live and let live” philosophy, regarding Pot use. I’ve been a big beer drinker and an occasional cannabis user. Since quitting drinking, the cannabis has become more important to me, but it is superior to any beer fueled stupor. Carl Sagan was a great teacher and great human being. His experiences with Mary Jane just validate my love for the natural gifts of Mother Earth. I wonder if Einstein ever did any mood enhancers?

  25. Damocles74 says:

    Absolutely amazing article! I don’t smoke (my biochemistry obligately rejects psychedelics..unfortunately), but I’m glad people are out there raising awareness to shape a future free from the oppressive yoke of misanthropic masters.
    Consciousness through correlation!

  26. AManLikeAnyMan says:

    I personally know what Carl is talking about. I honestly believe that Cannabis clears the mind of ones contradictions, that they have to obey in a world of peer pressure, where to do otherwise would be social suicide. I think that from very young we learn this way, as it’s apparent that everyone expects it, such that we become oblivious, caught up in a rat race, that’s actually quite crazy. Cannabis allows us to break down these contradictions, so as to allow the actual truth of things to shine through. It’s apparent to me, that cannabis, with some varieties at 6 meters high, is the actual tree of knowledge as referenced in biblical stories, and that if the whole of the world were familiar with it intimately, like myself, Carl and quite a few others, there would be an everlasting peace and love, that could then be called, the human condition.

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  28. Jeanne Lee says:

    Thank you Carl
    My experience is on the medical side of cannabis. I am caretaker of my husband. After 4 traumatic brain injuries the subsequent seizure disorder progressed to taking many epileptic calming drugs resulting in a ‘boiled okra’ mentality and being bedridden. Now, with tincture of cannabis, four of the five pills are past history, the last ones dosage cut in half. My friend is back and we can share our lives again. Recreational enjoyment and consciousness expansion is marvelous. Giving a person back their life? Incredible.

  29. Clint Jeffrey says:

    I guess I’m just revisiting this business about Sagan smoking Marijuana, I find it hard to believe Sagan ever ‘using’ Marijuana to achieve some level of euphoria so that he felt the need for inspiration of perhaps a better understanding of life. I wouldn’t be surprised that the account above was not written by Sagan at all, in fact I’m sure its a total fabrication.

    What ever you want to call it smoking Marijuana or ingesting any drug into your system with the intention of achieving a ‘high’ will only cause the brain to hallucinate, therefore how can any rational understanding of life let alone the Universe be understood scientifically.

    Sagan was a Scientist, rational and logical why in the hell would he rely on a drug to improve his awareness of the Universe…

  30. lester says:

    As Carl’s best friend and someone who frequently smoked with him, I can assure you that he did smoke and he is the author of the Mr. X essay. Lester Grinspoon M.D.

  31. Dear Lester,
    Thanks so much for your reply. I guess I am one of thousands of ‘fans’ in that group out lined by William Poundstone in the video recording above that placed Carl on a pedestal straight and I guess squeaky clean. I just watched the 1 hour and 31 minutes of that video and all points brought forward particularly by William are very interesting and helped me understand the man even more than before. He died well before his time which saddens me still today, the small accreditation ‘for Carl’ at the end of CONTACT always gives me an apple in my throat….having said all that, I have never taken up smoking of any kind, not that I haven’t had a cigarette in my time and yes when I was younger I tried small amounts of marijuana, but alas it did nothing for me other than give me a headache and left me feeling sick. But what followed was a 10 year ‘health kick’ that saw me running 18 Marathons which required a training regime of 80 to 100 kilometers a week, this was my euphoria when you are fit you feel like you can take on the world, to me smoking is dangerous our lungs they are not designed to process the mix of chemicals people impose on them, the body just learns to tolerate the abuse, up to a point, and I guess that is mostly what disappoints me about Carl’s smoking, his death from Pneumonia was most like connected with his smoking, he inadvertently cut his life short because of a bad habit. I wonder if you could tell me what Professor Frank Drake thought of his smoking, maybe he didn’t know?….but they worked together they were friends, I haven’t seen Frank ever asked that question. Anyway Lester, here it is over thirty years since COSMOS placed Carl Sagan’s name into almost every house hold and we’re still learning about him and about the way he saw the Universe….what a trip…;)

  32. Pervy Grin says:

    Am I the only one who thinks this description of getting high is a bit exaggerated? It sounds like he’s talking about an acid trip rather than a reefer buzz.

  33. Kenna says:

    While many may feel Sagan’s description of his experience sounds more like an acid trip than a mere weed high, there are enough (at least anecdotal) accounts that attest to this being actually possible with marijuana. I, myself have had several events where my perception has changed, widened if you will, and then some. We know so little about how the human brain actually works that we cannot say for certain that the description is exaggerated. Everybody reacts differently to different drugs/ stimuli. And while many of us experience similar things, we all also experience very different things simply by nature of our unique biological makeup. So approach with skepticism, if you must (it helps keep us honest and the research authentic), but in this crazy mysterious universe, I’ve realized that more is actually possible than we could ever think or imagine. Even with open minds.

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  35. manumoka says:

    this essay has some great thoughts by carl. and it’s fascinating to see him deal with the insights and expanded awareness he had while being high, afterwards with his powerful yet limited intellect. i found that to be a fascinating internal dialogue within himself between 2 states of consciousness: his spiritual experiences of the depths of life vs his intellectual understanding of the mechanics of life.

    shirmer’s dismissive jokes about carl’s top-10 stoned insights completely misses the boat, and shows how narrow-minded he is, and how he could use a good couple weeks doing some heroic doses.

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  38. Craige says:

    Always loved Carl Sagan. Just saw his Cosmos redux on TV. Excellent as always
    Does not surprise me that he indulged in a toke now and then.
    Another reaffirmation that the current laws are wrong and need to be changed hopefully Colorado and the billions they will make for the government will entice other states to reform their laws. Money talks….everytime.

  39. Bob Charles says:

    A well written and important contribution to the debate on legalization. I was getting a bit tired of the usual dismissal of cannabis as a childish indulgence for immature stoners and “losers” (see David Brooks’ vapid commentary on the subject; he thinks government should nudge us toward good habits and away from frivolous vices like pot, but he howled, rightly, when Mayor Bloomberg
    tried to “nudge” us away from “Big Gulps”. Maybe the government shouldn’t get involved in sorting good habits from bad ones without objective evidence.)

    In response to those who commented on Dr. Sagan’s extreme descriptions, I wonder if he may have had access, given his position at a major college, to some superior weed. Also, I remember quite a few similar experiences when I was lucky enough to get high grade herb (“Hawaiian”) in those days. It was actually similar to a light acid trip. And I would add a hypothesis that was once proposed among several friends of mine: that those with extremely creative and/or analytical minds experience more effects from psychedelic drugs of all kinds. The people I hung with were all 99%ile types (not a brag, just a fact) and we seemed to get off pretty well on decent drugs (maybe this is why Mr. Brooks saw pot as just a silly high).

    It’s sad to think that Dr. Sagan didn’t get around to LSD or the other powerful psychedelics (or maybe he did after that writing). They are a bit more dangerous to the psyche than pot (not nearly as dangerous as sky-diving or even skiing), but the insights and the feeling of connection to the cosmos is far richer and more profound. Many great scientists of the late 20th century, Dr. Francis Crick and Dr. Kary Mullis for example, made major breakthroughs on LSD, while musicians from the Beatles to Ray Charles and other artists from Jack Nicholson, Jackie Gleason, and Cary Grant to Salvador Dali and Ken Kesey were inspired by it.

  40. Syd Foster says:

    Good on you Carl… too bad he couldn’t feel that he could publicly share his experiences with and thoughts on cannabis openly to the powers that be.

    I’d like to reply to the poster who claims that lots of people have difficulty stopping smoking cannabis. I have quit abruptly on three occasions in my life, and even though I had smoked everyday for years beforehand, the only effect I have ever had from stopping is that I can’t drop off to sleep at night for a few hours, for a couple of days. The way to avoid that is to tail off how much you smoke each day for a week or so. Then, no trouble at all abstaining for as long as I like.

    The first time I quit abruptly, I didn’t smoke for two years, until I rediscovered the reason I love it… it feeds my creativity, just as Carl describes (in principle, not in specific detail: I have occasionally had psychedelic visions of remarkable acuity and rapidity of detailed development, just as he discusses… just not all that frequently.)

    The main thing about getting high on cannabis after a few days or weeks of not smoking, is that it gives you an alternative angle from which to view your own life and the directions you are moving. As such, I have on occasion realised while high that I’ve been moving in the wrong direction during my daily grind, where I’ve been too focused on the next thing, and forgetting the bigger picture. It helps me navigate towards my true self.

  41. Luigi says:

    Hi Im doing a reearch report on marijuana’s medicinal uses and its possible effects on human health. Im planning to use Carl’s essay as one of my references. Does anybody know in which chapter or page of the book I can find this essay? Im using the 2nd edition.

  42. Steve says:

    Sagan’s suggestion for rating “R” is ahead of its time. It might solve a lot of problems with people chowing down 10X doses of pot edibles. I’m not a pot smoker myself, but learning the “R” for alcohol definitely took me a while. Some of the early tries were not pretty.

  43. Jesse says:

    This letter by Carl Sagan weighed very heavily in my analysis of casual cannabis use instead of casual alcohol use. I live now in Oregon, where recreational cannabis is now legalized.

    I can confirm everything Carl Sagan has written about cannabis. After spending my adult life in the armed forces, where cannabis is a career ending mistake, and learning about its effects and use, I can report unequivocally that we have been deceived about its ills.

    Smoking it may be the single exception. Lighting anything on fire and inhaling the combustion products just can’t be healthful. However, myriad alternative ways to use it exist.

    It saddens me that I never knew Carl Sagan. I would have liked that very much. I still consider him one of my closest friends, though we have never met.

  44. Bruce Gelman says:

    Sagans insights are spot on.It would be interesting if pot were a requirement for all astrophysicists.Some greater insights into dark matter /multiverses would be manifested? Keep on vaping folks.

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  46. James Randi says:

    I’ve just come upon the April 27th 2013 note from “zvibenyosef” and I have a comment.

    I knew both Johnny Carson and Carl Sagan rather well. I’m 87 years old, and I’ve really far too much to do in the limited time left to me. That’s one reason that I won’t “take the plunge” and try cannabis. I’m sure it would distract me rather considerably. I’ll admit that I was quite surprised to know that Carl was a user, but I’m certain that the habit could only have contributed to his genius. I never knew Carson to use pot, but he was certainly very, very, heavily addicted to tobacco, which was probably the cause of his passing. In fact, he smoked all the way through his show-tapings, aided by concealed lit cigarettes cleverly concealed beneath his desk. Anyone who attended the tapings witnessed that…

    Mr. “zvibenyosef” is/was quite wrong about Johnny ever being sarcastic or demeaning of Carl; he was in awe of the man. And both were my friends. I had to correct that improper comment.

  47. yankee2 says:

    I’m impressd by the intelligence and sensitivity of commentators here. Stoners are anything but the stereotypes of dull-wittedness and sloth the establishment portrays. Marijuana is in fact the thinker’s drug. It actually inspires users to be good citizens (which is one reason the establishment hates it). Like its devotees, marijuana is a friendly, benevolent herb. It harms neither public health nor safety. The science is on our side! It suppresses violence and encourages everything that is good, e.g. things like tolerance, introspection, kindness, caution and calm. That there is so much institutional prejudice against marijuana – it is positively SICK.

    Carl Sagan, in his intellectual authority, confirms everything that ordinary working class hippies have been saying about it right along…

  48. yankee2 says:

    For Jesse, November 10, 2015 at 3:49 pm:
    About the smoking, see Effects of Marijuana Smoking on the Lung (journal article)
    Donald P. Tashkin – and Donald Tashkin – Smoked Cannabis’ Effect on Lungs Tashkin is a professor emeritus at the David Geffin School of Medicine at UCLA. His study showed that even smoked, marijuana had only the most minor disease effect on the lungs, non-progressive bronchitis. Smoking pot was also found to be slightly, statistically, significantly protective from cancer, i.e. pot smokers consistently have less cancer than non-(pot) smokers. The upshot is that the amount of smoke most cannabis smokers inhale is below the threshold of harm, in virtually every case. Smoking pot causes virtually no health issues.

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