The Spice of Life by Martin Martinez
Martin Martinez is the author of Cannabis Indications, a reference manual of scientific research on medical marijuana. He has been active in the medicalization movement since his medical necessity trial of 1997. Martin’s history of medical marijuana use is found here. The following account illustrates some non-medical cannabis experiences that have helped shape the author’s intuitive awareness.
The late Frank Herbert is widely regarded as one of the greatest science fiction writers to ever engage the human imagination. Yet, it is the universality, the intimate understanding of human experience and social organizations that makes Herbert’s works relevant to every day and age. Herbert’s Dune series is a futuristic story of intergalactic intrigue and interplanetary conflict concerning the spice, a precious mind-altering substance with myriad practical uses. For those who read between the lines, Dune offers profound lessons on politics, economics, colonial expansion, class struggle, religious fanaticism, and other forces of group behavior. Dune is also rich in microcosmic wisdom, cleverly detailing dozens of classic roles, illustrating traits such as love, self-discipline, and devotion to duty, as well as many less admirable traits which humans have frequently displayed throughout history. Although decidedly fantastic, the most valuable qualities found in Herbert’s books are definitely not conveyed in either of the words “science,” or “fiction.”
The spice enables space pilots to navigate the quantum leap of intergalactic travel. It enables the Bene Gesserit witches to access the combined knowledge of their hereditary ancestors. Mentats, human logicians with computer-like brains, depend on the spice to unravel their complex equations. Seers and mystics of every type value the spice for heightening awareness. For the masses, it is simply an invaluable medicine that extends life and imparts wisdom. Any scholar of the popular Dune series might easily draw parallels between the politics of the spice and the politics of oil and other basic commodities here on Earth. Herbert’s spice is a drug, but I do not think that Herbert intended the spice to represent cannabis. In my view, however, that interpretation is incontrovertible.
Like most young experimenters, I first used marijuana in the company of other young experimenters. The mysterious lore of acquiring and consuming marijuana was central to our small societies. Secret rituals and private amusements united us in a world outside of ordinary experience. Lacking a better description, those sort of gatherings might be called pot “parties,” but our so-called recreational use of marijuana bore absolutely no resemblance to the alcoholic frenzy of our more conventional classmates. In our youthful circles, no one was compelled to share the marijuana experience. Those in possession, however, were always obliged to share their marijuana. Friends indeed, we were quick to pass a precious joint. Stifled coughs and appreciative comments were invariably followed by seemingly brilliant wit and silly giggles. A second joint passed with enthusiastic conversation or perhaps sophomoric improvisational theatre. As the smoke continued to pass among us, a more subdued mood settled on the circle. Serious subjects explored in-depth, inner conflict born to expression, deep soul-searching with the help of a young peer; these and other important developments were serenely aided by mild cannabis intoxication.
Whatever the topic, our thoughts became animated. A haze of pungent smoke served as backdrop for our mental projections. When the brightness had faded to a soft glow, we sometimes sank into the comfort of worn furniture for timeless moments of dreamy peace. Many pot “parties” I attended were simply a small group of friends who sat, smoked, smiled, and shared a common trance, complete with incense and appropriate music. An outside observer would have been hard pressed to distinguish the true content of our private hilarity and drifting contemplation. Only those within the circle were sometimes deeply aware of each other’s thoughts, non-verbally bonded in smoke-colored minds.
While a common myth purports that cannabis use impairs memory function, I have learned quite the opposite. I remember very clearly, sitting still in my room, adrift, alone in the haze of intoxicating cannabis smoke. Huge billows danced like dragons. Breathing deep, in perfect repose, vibrant lights swirled in perfect syncopation behind my closed eyelids. I sailed inner space, cresting brilliant waves of spontaneous creativity. My internal dialogue bubbled brightly. I bathed in vivid streams of abstract conception. I remember then, remembering when, knowing many things that are not easily put into words, however clearly I might recall the scent. I spent several years intentionally deepening this associative acuity, heavily saturated with large doses of cannabis compounds. Endless hours quietly passed in smoke-induced contemplation did absolutely nothing for my material well being. Still, the wordless expressions unfolding within were invaluable to my mental development. I secretly felt kinship with the fictional characters of Dune who attained supernatural awareness through repeated ingestion of the spice.
Déja-vu is defined as the illusion of having previously experienced something that is actually experienced for the first time. That contemporary English language definition of déja-vu does not describe my unusual mnemonic experiences as accurately as the original French phrase which meant simply “already seen.” On numerous occasions, a certain scene, setting, saying, or scent, has inexplicably triggered the clear recollection of a dream I had previously had concerning that particular experience. Remembering a dream that occurred before the event that was dreamed about is a profound experience that defies an easy explanation. At certain strange moments of my life, poignant memories have echoed and re-echoed in my mind like majestic chimes from somewhere beyond time. On a few rare occasions, I have remembered experiences that had yet to transpire at the time of the recollection. Yes, I have actually remembered elements from my own future many years before they occurred. Cynics may immediately dismiss these claims as drug-induced fantasy. Less critical observers might note a smattering of scholarly research indicating that cannabis compounds stimulate certain memory centers in the brain. Still, the pragmatic validity of my prescient memories remains wholly unsupported. I concede that my grasp on reality can only be appreciated by those who have personal knowledge of similar experiences.
I once chided my friend for his extreme caution upon exiting my driveway. He seemed to have a mild phobia. He verbalized his fears as some kind of intuitive awareness; he sensed a distinct danger. One week later his car was struck from behind while entering my driveway. Was he somehow clairvoyant? Did he psychically sense the event prior to its occurrence? Is it really possible to know future events? In the material world of physical bodies hurtling through space, the world of police reports and insurance settlements, these questions are completely unreal. In my furiously curious mind, however, these are among the most important questions of all.
In one of the later volumes of Dune, a great hero is blinded, yet manages to baffle observers by defeating an adversary in hand-to-hand combat. The hero was an extraordinarily gifted seer. He could actually see the present unfold just moments before it actually happened, due to many years spent ingesting tremendous doses of the mind-altering spice. While that colorful tale is certainly a work of fiction, I find the underlying premise hauntingly familiar.
What is reality? A physician sees a human body made of organs and inter-related biological systems. A biochemist sees a human body comprised of proteins, polypeptides, and an intricate array of chemical bonds. A chemist, on the other hand, sees a complex molecular structure of protons, neutrons, electrons, and other mathematically definable properties that are the minuscule building blocks of the visible world. In the 20th century, science has delved even deeper into the question of ultimate reality. Quantum physics studies the nature of reality in the unimaginably tiny world of subatomic particles. While the fascinating topic deserves much more than this short reference, it is indeed scientifically apparent that, at the sub-atomic level of reality, the material world of physical objects hurtling through space is intimately connected to our perceptions. Yes, as wise mystics have known for untold ages, we are not separate from our experiences. Our thoughts define reality. Our minds are literally at the center of physical manifestation.
A modern neurologist might presume that all thoughts and feelings will eventually be defined and understood as mere chemistry, that the human mind is nothing but synaptic responses of the brain. That mechanistic thinking is a sort of self-fulfilling prophesy; the neurologist collects information that supports his theory while disregarding alternate concepts. I prefer a different theory, one that explains the evidence I have discovered. I have asked many people a simple question: “Have you ever been busy doing something, and then suddenly you realized that someone was watching you from behind, and when you turned around, you found that someone really was watching you?” The answer I have found is usually yes. Although most of the people I have polled have had a similar experience at least once in their lives, very few are able to answer a much simpler second question, such as, “How is that possible?” Sensing that someone is watching from a distance is so common it is frequently depicted in dramatic movies and television shows. However, common as it may be, a workable neurological explanation for this phenomenon remains entirely elusive. As in the case of friends who seem to share thoughts, and at those moments where past and future seem to connect, I ask myself a more specific question: what is that essential element connecting our minds through space and time?
If we look at a crystal-clear glass full of water, it is easy to see the form of the glass reflected by light. Accurately observing the water, however, is relatively impossible. Light passes right through the water and we can only see blurry images of objects outside of the glass. While we may detect air bubbles in the water, and the surface may be clearly defined, the water itself is all but invisible. In dim lighting, we might easily mistake a full glass for an empty one. But if another element is added, like a few drops of food coloring, then the existence of the water becomes instantly immutable.
I know of no nobler quest than that of the infinite mind. While far less dramatic than the fictional spice of Dune, cannabis really is a magical herb. Cannabis smoke colors perception with a radiant glow. As in the case of a clear glass of water, the mind becomes more obvious with the addition of a light haze.
In Dune, the orange spice was known to cast a user’s eyes in a deep blue hue. On Earth, the green herb called cannabis causes a slight reddening of the eyes. The spice was prized for its power to expand the mind and enhance memory beyond ordinary limits. Cannabis is often credited with enhancing artistic sensibilities and deepening natural awareness. The aboriginal spice-users were called Freemen. They were nomads of the desert in rebellion against the Empire. American pot smokers were once called hippies. They rejected mainstream society, seeking peace, love, and freedom. The political struggle for control of the spice ultimately led to a holy war that ravaged the known universe. The political suppression of cannabis has led to an unholy drug war, a crusade against free thought in the alleged “land of the free.”
I have used cannabis as a sacrament, not in dogmatic ritual, but in constant practice for most of my life. I have spent many hours in deep trance, with cannabis smoke thick in my mind, illuminating invisible space with brilliance and depth. I have seen without eyes, heard without ears, and understood without words. Difficult to express, yet there is almost no need. I am sure many readers already share these thoughts, and that is beautiful, perfect communication. But awareness alone will not insure its own survival. Our thoughts must take solid, rational form if we are to legalize the use of cannabis, a wondrous aid to psychic development.