A Cannabis Odyssey: To Smoke or Not To Smoke by Lester Grinspoon

Every age has its peculiar folly and if Charles Mackay, the author of the 19th century classic, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds were alive today he would surely see “cannabinophobia” as a popular delusion along with the “tulipmania” and “witch hunts” of earlier ages. I believe that we are now at the cusp of this particular popular delusion which to date has been responsible for the arrest of over twelve million US citizens. I also believe that future historians will look at this epoch and recognize it as another instance of the “madness of crowds.” Many readers of this Web site have already arrived at this understanding, but for some of us enlightenment came later than we would have wished. Consistent with the goal of my Uses of Marijuana Project of encouraging users to write about their involvement with cannabis, I thought I would share something of my cannabis enlightenment, a story that now spans a third of a century.

In every life there occur seminal events that modify the seemingly established trajectory of one’s personal history. For me, three of the four big ones were, in chronological order, the decision to go to medical school, the extraordinary good fortune of meeting the woman I married, and the gift of children. The fourth was my improbable encounter with cannabis, an event that divided my life into two eras; the before cannabis era, and the cannabis era (my son David refers to these phases of my life as BC and AD for before cannabis and after dope). My cannabis era began to unfold in 1967. As the senior author of a book on schizophrenia, I found myself with what I estimated would be two to three relatively free months before my co-authors would finish their chapters. Because I had become concerned that so many young people were using the terribly dangerous drug marijuana, I decided to use the time to review the medical literature so that I could write a reasonably objective and scientifically sound paper on the harmfulness of this substance. Young people were ignoring the warnings of the government, but perhaps some would seriously consider a well-documented review of the available data. So I began my systematic review of the medical and scientific literature bearing on the toxicity — mental and physical — of marijuana. It never occurred to me then that there were other dimensions of this drug that warranted exploration.

During my initial foray into this literature I discovered, to my astonishment, that I had to seriously question what I believed I knew about cannabis. As I began to appreciate that what I thought I understood was largely based on myths, old and new, I realized how little my training in science and medicine had protected me against this misinformation. I had become not just a victim of a disinformation campaign, but because I was a physician, one of its agents as well. Believing that I should share my skepticism about the established understanding of marijuana, I wrote a long paper that was published in the now-defunct International Journal of Psychiatry; a shorter version was published as the lead article in the December 1969 issue of Scientific American. In these papers I questioned whether the almost ubiquitous belief that marijuana was an exceedingly harmful drug was supported by substantial data to be found in the scientific and medical literature. While there was little reaction to the paper published in the psychiatric journal, there was much interest in the Scientific American article.

Within a week of the appearance of the article, I received a visit from the associate director of the Harvard University Press, who suggested that I consider writing a book on marijuana. I found the idea both attractive and daunting. The subject was worthy of a book-length exposition, and I would have a reason to deepen my exploration of this fascinating and harmful misunderstanding. And there was another reason, perhaps the most compelling of all. The one aspect of my work that interested my twelve-year old son Danny was my study of marijuana. His illness began in July of 1967, just about the time I had decided to learn about the dangers of marijuana. He was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia, and his prognosis was, of course, grave. He was both excited and pleased when I told him that I had decided to write a book on marijuana.

A few weeks later I learned that the Board of Syndics of the Harvard University Press had rejected the book proposal as too controversial. Until that moment I was unaware of the existence of this board, which must approve every book published by the Press. An image of the Rembrandt painting “Syndics of the Cloth Guild” came to mind: a group of serious-looking, longhaired men sitting around a table, exuding caution and conservatism. I was disappointed but not surprised that they rejected this proposal; it was the first instance of academic resistance to my work in this area. I could have signed on immediately with a trade publisher that offered the prospect of selling more books. But I believed that a conservative, prestigious press would lend more credibility to a book that promised to be quite controversial. The director of the press was undaunted; he believed that he could persuade the Syndics to reverse their decision. And so he did.

It turned out to be a much bigger project than I had anticipated. I found that I had more than the medical and scientific literature to review. Because so much of the misinformation and myths about this drug had their origins in the gaudy writings of the French Romantic Literary Movement, I felt compelled to examine the works of Théophile Gautier, Charles Baudelaire, and other members of Le Club des Haschischins, as well as those of Bayard Taylor and Fitz Hugh Ludlow. It was fascinating to learn that much of the mythology about cannabis that was being promulgated by the US government had its origins in these writings. It is difficult to imagine that Harry Anslinger (our first drug tsar) was directly familiar with these 19th-century authors, but clearly some of their hyperbolic descriptions of the cannabis experience, largely products of effusive imagination under the influence of copious amounts of hashish, are echoed almost a century later in the “teachings” of Harry Anslinger.

I had come to understand that marijuana was not addicting in the usual, rather vague understanding of that word, but I certainly got hooked on learning about it. I was fascinated by my growing understanding of how little I actually knew about this drug, and even more so by the many false beliefs I had held with such conviction. It soon dawned on me that I, like most other Americans, had been brainwashed, that I was a part of this madness of the crowd. And the more I learned about cannabis, the more it seemed to be capable of providing experiences which would be worth exploring personally sometime in the future. In the meantime, I felt like an explorer sailing an inaccurately and inadequately mapped ocean. Where earlier cartographers had found many shoals, I found few; where others found barren and dangerous islands, I saw lands that looked increasingly interesting as I drew closer. The clearer the view, the greater the temptation to land and make a direct exploration, but I reminded myself that the point of this trip was to chart the ledges and shoals, not to explore forbidden lands to look for riches. Long before I decided to land, more than a year after the publication of Marihuana Reconsidered in 1971, it had become inescapably clear that while marijuana was not harmless, its harmfulness lay not so much in any inherent psychopharmacological property of the drug but in the social and legal consequences of our firmly held misbeliefs.

After the publication of Marihuana Reconsidered I was often asked about my personal experience with cannabis. Some questioners were skeptical when I replied that I had never used it: ” What, you wrote a book about marijuana and you never experienced it!” The implication was that inexperience would invalidate my claim to expertise. I would defensively respond, “I have written a book on schizophrenia and I have never experienced that.” It was not until some years later that I realized that there was validity to this criticism of my lack of personal experience with cannabis. Especially in the later phases of this research and writing, I had flirted with the idea of trying marijuana, not because I believed at that time that it would inform my work, but because it appeared to be such an interesting experience. I decided against it out of fear that it would compromise my goal of producing as objective a statement as I could. Of course the further I pursued the subject the more I realized how difficult, if not impossible, it would be to produce a truly neutral and objective statement. But I was not about to add to this difficulty by personally exploring marijuana at this time even though the temptation to do so became greater as I learned more about it.

I had another reason for postponing personal experience with cannabis. If the book were successful, I expected to be called as an expert witness before legislative committees and in courtrooms. I correctly anticipated that some of my interrogators would want to know whether I had ever used cannabis, and I wanted to be able to deny it so as to preserve at least the appearance of objectivity. In the beginning I did not believe this question unfair. It seemed to me to be no different from other questions about my credentials. But I soon learned that when it was asked, it was almost always put by a legislator, lawyer, judge, or media person who was hostile to the suggestion that cannabis might not be as harmful as he firmly believed. It became increasingly clear that the question was asked, not in the spirit of learning more about the context of my understanding of this drug, but rather in the hope that I would answer affirmatively and that this would discredit my testimony. More than a year after the publication of the book I was testifying before a legislative committee when a senator who had already revealed his hostility asked, “Doctor, have you ever used marijuana?” Perhaps because I was irritated by the hostility reflected in his previous questions and his sneering tone of voice, I replied, “Senator, I will be glad to answer that question if you will first tell me whether if I answer your question affirmatively, you will consider me a more or less credible witness?” The senator, visibly upset by my response, angrily told me that I was being impertinent and left the hearing room. That was the moment that I decided that the time had come.

Later that week Betsy and I went to a party in Cambridge where we knew that some guests would be smoking marijuana. Ever since a review of Marihuana Reconsidered had appeared on the front page of the New York Times Book Review (under the banner, “The best dope on pot so far”) people had been offering us marijuana, and we had been politely and often a little apologetically declining it. Those guests who knew of our previously resolute abstemiousness were surprised when we decided to join them. We were cautious, as cannabis-naive people should be, as we inhaled our first tokes ever. Shortly afterward my first and only unpleasant cannabis experience began. A lit joint was passed around a small circle and we took turns inhaling big, noisy puffs and holding them in for a few seconds. One by one the others said they had had enough and waved off the passing joint; they were high, or at least claimed to be. I asked Betsy, “Do you feel anything?”

“Not a thing!”

“Neither do I.”

We were disappointed. We had been looking forward to this initiation for several years. I had come to expect so much from the experience, from the magical possibilities of this subtly altered state of consciousness — and now nothing! I began to wonder; was this all there was to it? Was my acceptance of the claims of cannabis aficionados just as naive as my earlier belief in the propaganda disseminated by the Harry Anslinger truth squad and its descendants? Could it be true that all I had accomplished in over three years of intensive research was to swing the pendulum of my gullibility from one extreme to the other? Soon my disappointment gave way to a palpable level of anxiety. Was it possible that I had spent all this time studying what must be for some people an enormously persuasive placebo? Would not the author of a book that took as a basic premise that marijuana is a real drug be considered fraudulent? I tried to reassure myself. I reminded myself that I had, after all, carefully explained to the reader that many if not most people do not get high the first time they use marijuana.

At that time I believed that the anxiety I experienced that night was generated by a precipitous loss of confidence in my newly arrived-at understanding of cannabis, an unshakable belief that after more than three years of hard work, I had gotten it wrong and as a consequence had misled a lot of people — certainly sufficient grounds for a good dose of anxiety. It was not until much later, both chronologically and in my experience with “stoned thinking”, that I began to question that explanation. It occurred to me only years later while I was smoking cannabis that I might have actually achieved a high that first night, an “anxiety high,” not the kind I had expected. This was certainly not impossible; a small percentage of people who use cannabis for the first time experience some degree of anxiety. There are even a few people who always get anxious when they use marijuana. Among the Rastafarians of Jamaica, these folks are considered slightly deviant but are understandably excused with the expression, “He don’t have a head for ganja!”

This was not a problem with my head, for a week or so later we smoked cannabis and again neither Betsy nor I noticed any change in our states of consciousness that would even remotely suggest that we were high. Thankfully, however, I was not the least bit anxious this time — only disappointed again. Finally, on our third attempt, we were able to reach the promised high. Our awareness of having at last crossed the threshold arrived gradually. The first thing I noticed, within a few minutes of smoking, was the music; it was “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” This music was not unfamiliar to me, as it was a favorite of my children, who constantly filled the house with the sound of the Beatles, the Grateful Dead and other popular rock bands of the time. They frequently urged me to get my “head out of classical music and try listening to rock.” It was impossible not to listen to rock when they were growing up, but it was possible for me, as it was for many parents of my generation, not to hear it. On that evening I did “hear” it. It was for me a rhythmic implosion, a fascinating new musical experience! It was the opening of new musical vistas, which I have with the help of my sons continued to explore to this very day. A year later, I related this story to John Lennon and Yoko Ono, with whom I was having dinner. (I was to appear the next day as an expert witness at the Immigration and Naturalization Service hearings that Attorney General John Mitchell had engineered as a way of getting them out of the country on marijuana charges after they became involved in anti-Vietnam War activities.) I told John of this experience and how cannabis appeared to make it possible for me to “hear” his music for the first time in much the same way that Allen Ginsberg reported that he had “seen” Cézanne for the first time when he purposely smoked cannabis before setting out for the Museum of Modern Art. John was quick to reply that I had experienced only one facet of what marijuana could do for music, that he thought it could be very helpful for composing and making music as well as listening to it.

In my next recollection of that evening, Betsy and I and another couple were standing in the kitchen in a circle, each of us in turn taking bites out of a Napoleon. There was much hilarity as each bite forced the viscous material between the layers to move laterally and threaten to drip on the floor. It seemed a riotous way to share a Napoleon. But the most memorable part of the kitchen experience was the taste of the Napoleon. None of us had ever, “in our whole lives”, eaten such an exquisite Napoleon! “Mary, where in the world did you find these Napoleons?” “Oh, I’ve had their Napoleons before and they never tasted like this!” It was gradually dawning on me that something unusual was happening; could it be that we were experiencing our first cannabis high?

We drove home very cautiously. In fact, one of the observations I made on the way home was how comfortable I, an habitual turnpike left-laner, was in the right-hand lane with all those cars zipping past me. It seemed like a very long time before we arrived home. Not that we were in a rush — the ride was very pleasant. Time passed even more slowly between our arrival and our going to bed, but once we did, we knew with certainty that we had finally been able to achieve a marijuana high. And that marked the beginning of the experiential facet of my cannabis era, a development that furthered my education about the many uses of this remarkable drug.

I was 44 years old in1972 when I experienced this first marijuana high. Because I have found it both so useful and benign I have used it ever since. I have used it as a recreational drug, as a medicine, and as an enhancer of some capacities. Almost everyone knows something of its usefulness as a recreational substance, growing numbers of people are becoming familiar with its medical utility, but only practiced cannabis users appreciate some of the other ways in which it can be useful. It has been so useful to me that I cannot help but wonder how much difference it would have made had I begun to use it at a younger age. Because it has been so helpful in arriving at some important decisions and understandings, it is tempting to think that it might have helped me to avoid some “before cannabis era” bad decisions. In fact, now, when I have an important problem to solve or decision to make, I invariably avail myself of the opportunity to think about it both stoned and straight.

I cannot possibly convey the breadth of things it helps me to appreciate, to think about, to gain new insights into. But I would like to share several not too personal instances. For example, let me tell you about the worst career choice I have ever made; it was my decision to apply to the Boston Psychoanalytic Institute as a candidate for training in psychoanalysis. I began this training, which was enormously costly in both time and money, in 1960 and graduated seven years later. Although I developed some skepticism about certain facets of psychoanalytic theory during training, it was not sufficient to dull the enthusiasm with which I began treating patients psychoanalytically in 1967 (coincidentally, the same year I began to study cannabis). It was not until about the mid ’70s that my emerging skepticism about the therapeutic effectiveness of psychoanalysis began to get uncomfortable. This discomfort was catalyzed by cannabis. On those evenings when I smoke marijuana it provides, among other things, an invitation to review significant ideas, events and interactions of the day; my work with patients is invariably on that agenda. This cannabis review-of-the-day is almost always self-critical, often harshly so, and the parameters within which the critique occurs are inexplicably enlarged. My psychotherapy patients, patients who sat opposite me and who could share eye contact and free verbal exchange, always appeared to be making better progress than my psychoanalytic patients. I was generally satisfied with my work with the former, and invariably at first impatient and later unhappy with the lack of progress made by patients on the couch. There is little doubt that it was the cumulative effect of these stoned self-critiques that finally, in 1980, compelled me to make the decision not to accept any new psychoanalytic patients. The subsequent decision to resign from the Boston Psychoanalytic Institute was very difficult, a little like deciding to get a divorce after more than a decade of marriage. But I have no doubt that it was the only way I could deal with this growing discomfort and rectify what was now clearly seen as a mistake. Some of my former psychoanalyst colleagues might believe, among other things, that I have merely traded my involvement in what I considered a macro-delusional system for immersion in an inverse micro version. Such a possibility notwithstanding, I am indebted to cannabis for the help it provided me in achieving the clarity necessary to arrive at this most difficult decision.

Cannabis can also be used as a catalyst to the generation of new ideas. Experienced cannabis users know that under its influence new ideas flow more readily than they do in the straight state. They also understand that some are good and others are bad ideas; sorting them out is best done while straight. In the absence of an agenda, the ideas are generated randomly or as close or distant associations to conversation, reading, or some perceptual experience. It is sometimes worthwhile to have a stoned go at trying to solve a particular problem. An illustration comes to mind. In 1980, during my tenure as Chairperson of the Scientific Program Committee of the American Psychiatric Association (APA) I “invented” and then edited the first three volumes of the Annual Review of Psychiatry, a large book which is still published yearly by the APA. Mindful of how much money this annual publication was earning for the APA, the chief of our sub-department of psychiatry asked me to put my “thinking-cap” on and come up with a way for the Harvard Department of Psychiatry to supplement its shrinking budget. Taking his request seriously, I smoked that night for the express purpose of trying to generate relevant ideas. Within days, at a meeting in the Dean’s office, it was agreed that the idea I arrived at that evening would be pursued — the publication of a monthly mental health letter. The first edition of The Harvard Mental Health Letter appeared in July 1984 and it soon achieved considerable success as an esteemed mental health publication and a steady source of income to the Harvard Medical School Department of Psychiatry. Would the idea have come or come as easily in a straight state? Maybe.

All through the seemingly endless heated discourse on cannabis in this country over the last three decades, little has been said or written about its many uses. The overwhelming preponderance of funding, research, writing, political activity, and legislation have been centered on the question of its harmfulness. The 65 year old debate, which has relatively recently included discussion of its usefulness and safety as a medicine, has never been concerned with its non-medicinal uses; it is always limited to the question of how harmful it is and how a society should deal with the harm it is alleged to cause. It is estimated that 76 million Americans have used cannabis and more than 10 million use it regularly. They use it in the face of risks that range from opprobrium to imprisonment. From the time I began my studies of marijuana, 12 million citizens of this country have been arrested for marijuana offenses. The number of annual marijuana arrests is increasing, and in 2000 over 734,000 people were arrested on marijuana charges, 88 percent of them for possession. Because the government allows confiscation of property in drug cases, many have lost valued possessions ranging from automobiles to homes. Most have to undertake expensive legal defenses and some have served or will serve time in prison. Unless we are prepared to believe that all these people are driven by uncontrollable “Reefer Madness” craving, we must conclude that they find something in the experience attractive and useful. And yet there is very little open exploration of these uses with the growing exception of its value as a medicine. Even here, government officials want to mute the discussion out of a fear expressed by the chief of the Public Health Service when in 1992 he discontinued the only legal avenue to medicinal marijuana: “If it is perceived that the Public Health Service is going around giving marijuana to folks, there would be a perception that this stuff can’t be so bad… it gives a bad signal.” The government has, until very recently, refused to acknowledge that cannabis has any value, even medicinal, but there are millions of citizens who have discovered through their own experience that it has a large variety of uses they consider valuable and that the health costs are minimal.

This large population of marijuana users is a subculture, one that has been present in this country since the 1960s. Three decades ago it was an open, vocal, active, and articulate culture on and off the campus. Today it is silent and largely hidden because most users, understandably, do not want to stand up and be counted. They have more than the law to fear. Urine testing is now a fact of life in corporate America; a positive test result can lead, at the very least, to a stint in a “drug treatment” program, and at most, to the loss of a job, career destruction, even imprisonment. Users are very mindful of this minefield, and most find ways around it. Even more pervasive and in some ways more pernicious is the stigmatization attached to cannabis use. Young people often experience little of this, at least among their friends. But as they grow older and move into increasingly responsible and visible positions they become much more guarded. Many believe, correctly, that colleagues would regard them as deviant if they knew. This stigmatization is abetted by the media, which have created and perpetrated a stereotyped image of “potheads” as young, hirsute, slovenly dressed ne’er-do-wells or disreputable, irresponsible, and socially marginal hedonists who use marijuana only to hang out and party. One reason for the fierce resistance to marijuana is the fear that it will somehow taint middle-class society with the “pothead” culture.

There is no denying that many, especially young people, use marijuana primarily for “partying and hanging out” in the same way that many more use beer. And most non-users, until they become aware of its medical value, believe that smoking to party and hang out pretty much defines the limits of its usefulness. This stereotype is powerful, and reactions ranging from puzzlement to outrage greet claims that this party drug could be useful as medicine or for any other purposes. People who make claims about its usefulness run the risk of being derided as vestigial hippies. Under these circumstances it is not surprising that most people who use cannabis do so behind drawn curtains, alone or with others who share some appreciation of its value.

It is unfortunate that those who, from personal experience, are aware of its usefulness are so reluctant to be public about it. I believe it would be good for the country if more people in business, academic and professional worlds were known to be marijuana users. The government has been able to pursue its policies of persecution and prosecution largely because of the widespread false belief that cannabis smokers are either irresponsible and socially marginal people or adolescents who “experiment”, learn their lesson, and abandon all use of the drug. That lie is unfortunately perpetuated when those who know better remain silent. It’s time to let the truth come out. Just as the gay and lesbian out-of-the-closet movement has done so much to decrease the level of homophobia in this country, when the many people of substance and accomplishment who use cannabis “come out”, it will contribute much to the diminution of cannabinophobia.

Not many well-known people are identified as users of cannabis. A few politicians have been outed by their enemies (one went so far as to claim that he did not inhale), and some would-be political appointments have failed because of a history of marijuana use. Occasionally a screen star, musician or professional athlete is arrested for possession. Aside from Allen Ginsberg, some popular musicians, and a few notables from the Beat and hippie movements, few people in the public eye have voluntarily acknowledged cannabis use. Except for one well-known scientist, the physicist Richard Feynman, academics have been most cautious. Feynman, by courageously acknowledging his ongoing use of marijuana, won the respect and appreciation of many and the enmity of others. Fear of “coming out” is, of course, not without foundation. As long as the present stereotyped understanding of marijuana use and its effects continues to prevail, anyone who acknowledges using it will risk being taken less seriously from then on. It is thought that potheads could not possibly be considered mature, serious, responsible, and credible. Yet only those who actually use cannabis can teach us how useful it is.

There was a time not so long ago when it was generally assumed that any use of marijuana was “merely recreational.” This was certainly true at the time I wrote Marihuana Reconsidered. The chapter on marijuana as medicine (The Place of Cannabis and Medicine) was concerned with past (19th and early 20th century) and potential uses; there was no overt and little covert use of cannabis as a medicine at that time. Now, there are many thousands of patients who use cannabis medicinally. And as the ranks of these patients grow, so does the number of people who observe for themselves how relatively benign this substance is. Seventy-four percent of Americans presently believe that cannabis should be made available as a medicine; very few people would have held this belief in 1971. Currently it is generally thought that there are two generic categories of marijuana use: recreational and medical. But in fact many uses do not fit into these categories without stretching their boundaries to the point of distortion; they fall into a third category, one that is more diverse and for that reason difficult to label. It includes such disparate uses as the magnification of pleasure in a host of activities ranging from dining to sex, the increased ability to hear music and see works of art, and the ways in which it appears to catalyze new ideas, insights and creativity, to name a few. Furthermore, at its edges, which are fuzzy, there is some conflation with both medicine and recreation. Yet, the preponderance of these uses falls into this broad and distinctive third category that I call enhancement. This is the class of uses which is generally the least appreciated or understood by non-cannabis users. It is also the case that some people who use or who have used marijuana may not be aware of some if not most of the enhancement possibilities.

One category of cannabis utility that we have studied is its usefulness as a medicine. Because there is not at this time a systematic clinical literature on the medicinal uses of cannabis, James B. Bakalar and I asked patients to share their experiences with cannabis as a medicine for our book, Marihuana, the Forbidden Medicine (Yale University Press, 1993, 1997). We supplemented these anecdotal patient accounts with our own clinical experience and what we could glean from the medical literature. Anecdotal evidence is not as persuasive as that from double-blind placebo controlled studies, the more scientifically sound modern medical approach to the safety and efficacy of new therapeutics. As the results of such studies become available we may be compelled to modify our estimate of the clinical usefulness of cannabis. At this time, however, it is difficult to imagine that future studies will subtract much from the clinical experience-driven perception that cannabis is a remarkably versatile medicine with relatively little toxicity.

It is my intention to roughly follow the same format in the Uses of Marijuana Project (www.marijuana-uses.com). While I will attempt to illuminate the various uses of cannabis through literary accounts and by sharing some of my own experiences, the prime source of what I hope will be a fairly comprehensive understanding of the uses of this versatile drug will come from contemporary users. Some will identify themselves; others will prefer to remain anonymous for reasons that have already been noted. Either way, I hope to present enough information about the witness to put his or her account into a meaningful context. Unlike medicinal use, which will eventually be fitted with scientific costume, an understanding of those uses which fall into the category of enhancement will probably always be based on anecdotal accounts; it is unlikely that marijuana’s capacity for the enhancement of sexual pleasure, for example, will ever be the subject of a modern scientific (double-blind placebo-controlled) study. However, if this ethnographic method is successful we should be able to provide a reasonably proximate picture of the varieties and value of cannabis use in contemporary society. And in so doing, we cannabis users can make a significant contribution to the demise of cannabinophobia, one of our age’s most damaging popular delusions.

In the meantime, Betsy and I are gradually being given the opportunity to explore another dimension of the ways in which cannabis can be valuable; we are discovering its usefulness in the task of achieving reconciliation with the aging process, including coming to terms with the inevitable physical and emotional aches, deficits and losses. Cannabis also enhances our appreciation of the time we have, now that we are both emeritus, to enjoy our children, grandchildren and friends, literature, music and travel, and our daily walks in the New England woods. Of still more importance, it helps us to realize the wisdom of Robert Browning’s words, “Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be…”

37 Responses to “A Cannabis Odyssey: To Smoke or Not To Smoke by Lester Grinspoon”

  1. Lloyd says:

    I HAVE BEEN AWARE OF THE BENEFITS OF MODERATE USE OF MARIJUANA FOR OVER THREE DECADES. OF COURSE, ALL I HAD WAS MY NON-PROFESSIONAL OPINION. THANK YOU FOR ALL YOUR HARD WORK.

  2. YourGodsGod says:

    It is my sincerest hope that your experience and the facts presented by your story will reach the hearts and minds of those who shape future generation. I deeply appreciate everything that you have done for your fellow man.

  3. YourGodsGod says:

    … generations*.

  4. walter says:

    finally a concerned user that can make a difference with the way cannabis is viewed by the media and legislation. Great article

  5. possom says:

    I find your article very factual!I have had to pay the price of our Country's crazy laws and lies!!!!If every true head would admitt they enjoy an occaisional Nug,then the good old US ofA would be a much safer and better land it would beeeeee.Stop sending young non-violent folks to Prison!What kind of civilized country would do that too it's citizens?I will fight for my right to 'just say know",I've given up too many years of my life to stop now!So roll me another one tastier then the other one!praise JA!!!!!!!!!

  6. whatDOyouLIVE4 says:

    Wow!!! I truely enjoyed reading this essay and with a great feeling that it came from such a credible source. I am currently writing an essay myself for my psych class and will include some of your thoughts and professional opinions expressed here (Of course with the proper citations to acknowledge it's yours and not mine). Thank You for not being afraid to "come out".

  7. Jo Ann says:

    Thank you for, as a parent and professional, speaking out about "cannabinophobia". Our family experienced this directly a year and a half ago when my son, Kieran, spoke up for marijuana at school, and made comparisons between the negative effects of alcohol and tobacco as compared to marijuana. He was threatened with police action, he then held a protest for his freedom to speak about marijuana, and this hit the news all across Canada. Kieran is an A student and was almost given 0s for two of his final exams, as he was not allowed to write them. I pursued every avenue in defense of my child who had never even seen marijuana up close. I ended up losing my teaching certificate for a few months after I publicly spoke out in defense of my son, as "my role as a parent conflicted with my role" as an employee of the school division (I had taken leave by then)… All my son had done was dare to speak the truth about marijuana. The promoters of the Prohibition of marijuana have caused this paranoia within our society.

  8. Petros Evdokas says:

    Thank You for ‘A Cannabis Odyssey’
    by Petros Evdokas
    Member: Cyprus IndyMedia, and Belly of the Beast Collective

    “A little about me. I am on the faculty (emeritus) of the Harvard Medical School in the Department of Psychiatry. I have been studying Cannabis since 1967 and have published two books on the subject. In 1971 “Marihuana Reconsidered” was published by Harvard University Press. “Marihuana, the Forbidden Medicine”, coauthored with James B. Bakalar, was published in 1993 by Yale University Press; the revised and expanded edition appeared in 1997. Other books include “The Speed Culture: The Use and Abuse of Amphetamines in America”, “Cocaine: A Drug and its Social Evolution”, “Psychedelic Drugs Reconsidered”, and “Psychedelic Reflections”.

    “…You and I are among the more than 70 million Americans who have used Cannabis — and possibly among the more than ten million who use it regularly. We know that people smoke marijuana not because they are driven by uncontrollable ‘Reefer Madness’ craving, as some propaganda would lead us to believe, but because they have learned its value from experience. Yet almost all of the research, writing, political activity, and legislation devoted to marijuana has been concerned only with the question of whether it is harmful and how much harm it does…”

    -Lester Grinspoon, M.D.
    http://www.marijuana-uses.com/learn

    The above excerpts are from a personal statement by Dr. Lester Grinspoon, one of the most remarkable people I’ve ever met. It was only a brief contact of a few seconds, but more than enough for me to ascertain his genuine and thoroughly honest presence in the community of Friends of Cannabis.

    His incredibly valuable contributions to our community are becoming more and more obvious as the Western world – headed by the US and the EU – is plunging deeper into a period of reactionary moral and political Dark Ages.

    Our brief contact was backstage after he spoke at a Mayday legalization rally in 1987 or 1988. It was at New York’s Washington Square Park in the Village, just before the annual Fifth Avenue Pot Parade, the organizational and cultural precursor of our Global Marijuana March that now includes more than 260 cities worldwide (thank you, Dana Beal and Aron Kay!). I went to speak with Dr. Grinspoon right as he got offstage and as David Peel was taking the microphone to sing his infamous “Mara, Marijuana” anthem.

    I thanked Dr. Grinspoon from the bottom of my heart for his presence at the rally and for all the things he had said in his speech about the medical uses of Cannabis, which at the time were almost unknown. He responded very humbly and quietly: “everything I said is the simple truth. And Science.” I was dumbstruck and at loss for words. His response carried the humility and brilliance one encounters at a University where new scientific breakthroughs are introduced, evaluated and debated among colleagues within a tradition of friendly calm and inspiration …not the atmosphere one finds at a street protest about to be raided by the Police! I mumbled clumsily more thanks and sped off to join the march – our contingent from Long Island had driven three hours to come participate in this event and we had to stay together to ensure none of us would get arrested. Secret police and provocateur agents were already infiltrating the crowd and marchers were beginning to move forward with large banners, waving giant placards shaped like leaves of the Sacred Plant and singing “I like marijuana, we like marijuana, you like marijuana too.” And laughing hilariously.

    The legalization movement in the US was at a crossroads at the time, and Lester Grinspoon was articulating one of its possible directions – legalization of Cannabis for medical reasons, which was almost unheard of at the time; the other branch, utilization of hemp to stimulate industry and the economy toward Green solutions was also just beginning to be understood more widely in the movement. It took us about five to ten years after that to generate sustainable community organizations with solidity and continuity to carry on work around those concepts.

    But it was necessary. The reactionary years of Ronald Reagan and George Bush Sr. were beginning to drive millions of Friends of Cannabis within the US and around the world toward the underground again.

    Nowadays, after almost fifty years of continuous Drug Wars, our own self-appreciation and knowledge about appropriate use of the herb among Friends of Cannabis is at an all-time low. Due to suppression of knowledge, disinformation, propaganda, lies, State- sponsored Terror, killings, jailings and violence galore our communities are in a state of almost continuous panic, fear and ignorance. Many of the millions of our people do not know the difference between correct use, wrong use and abuse. Appreciation of and knowledge about our experiences with Cannabis is very low. The propaganda of the war against the people disguised as a “War on Drugs”, the lack of valid and dependable information within our community, the lack of authoritative sources from within our own ranks, have all led to a cultural poverty among Friends of the Herb.

    Dr Grinspoon returns now to help us address this problem. Writing in the present time about the many unappreciated gifts of the Herb, he notes that the medical marijuana movement is correctly oriented toward the medical benefits of Cannabis, but “as encouraging as that movement is, it represents only one category of marijuana use. The rest are sometimes grouped under the general heading of ‘recreational’, but that is hardly an adequate description of, say, marijuana’s capacity to catalyze ideas and insights, heighten the appreciation of music and art, or deepen emotional and sexual intimacy.”

    He goes on: “These kinds of marijuana experiences, which I like to call ‘enhancement’, are often misunderstood and under-appreciated — not only by non-users, but even by some users, especially young people who are interested mainly in promoting sociability and fun. Most of marijuana’s powers of enhancement are not as immediately available as its capacity to lift mood or improve appetite and the taste of food. Some learning may be required, and one way to learn is through other people’s experience.”

    He returns the quest back to the origins of knowledge, back to the time-honored but almost forgotten now need for Education. The need for Education among us and the need to cultivate and improve our relationship to Cannabis with knowledge are essential. And indispensable.

    Education about the appropriate use and enjoyment of this mild Psychedelic, just as with our Education about the enjoyment and proper use of other, full-potency Psychedelics, has been the subject of various traditions and works from which the millions of our people are increasingly getting cut off, losing touch with our roots. That educational tradition has its origins within the temples where the Eleusinian Mysteries took place; in rainforest ceremonies, on sanctified mountaintops and deserts where since antiquity people have gathered to commune, to heal and to enjoy themselves with Sacred Plants.

    It’s also found within modern works created by some of our people where the theme of Education features prominently. For example, the subtly heart-breaking and astounding novel by Aldous Huxley titled “Island”, revolves among other things, around the theme of how society provides Education on altered states of consciousness… to schoolchildren. It also revolves around the questions of how do these Sacraments need to get woven into our schooling – yes! ; how exactly to be woven into our love life, woven into our planning for the future, into our collective social decision-making processes? Al
    so the Psychedelic Manual published under the title “The Psychedelic Experience” by Timothy Leary, Ph.D; Ralph Metzner, Ph.D; and Richard Alpert, Ph.D, (all prominent scholar-activists from prestigious universities), is a modern interpretation of the Tibetan Book of the Dead applied to facilitating a Psychonaut’s navigation through the Sea of Consciousness. And the almost incredible book titled “The Santaroga Barrier” by Frank Herbert (he is the author of the “Dune” series), documents the catastrophic and lethal repercussions that take place when we *neglect* that Education.

    Do we know how to appreciate being High?

    How much of that precious gift of personal, social and spiritual insight that Cannabis bestows on us should be shared with our lovers, friends, comrades, or shared with the community-at-large?

    How much does society lose when we *omit* to share those insights?

    Cultivation of an expanded Consciousness and the gift of delighting in the flow of its experiences can best be achieved by identifying some of its elements. Since Cannabis is a major ally on that path, enumerating the various benefits that Cannabis bestows on the expansion of Consciousness; enumerating the enhancements it brings to the quality of the experience of Being, itself; enumerating the various ways in which Cannabis restores balance to the Heart and Mind in addition to healing the Body, restores clarity of Sensation, harmonization with the true flow of Time, harmonization with the nature of Gravity and with the essence of Light, enumerating all these can be of great value to the millions of our people who definitely experience something a lot more than just being “stoned” but who often have no words to express, or concepts within our shared culture within which these delights can be recognized, celebrated, appreciated and cultivated further.

    Dr. Grinspoon explores some of these themes in an essay titled:
    “To Smoke or not to Smoke: A Cannabis Odyssey”

    …in which he shares one of his most crucial dilemmas as one of the world’s leading authorities on Cannabis – “To Smoke or not to Smoke?” – along with some wonderful personal stories negotiating areas of the inner Cannabis experience that are instantly recognizable to all of us. Intimately familiar.

    In the essay he sets the tone for assembling a body of cultural~educational materials that help identify and celebrate those elements of the Cannabis high which he calls “enhancements” in order to enrich and empower our community. In his own words: “Some colleagues and I hope to promote this kind of learning by assembling an anthology of accounts of Cannabis enhancement experiences.”

    The assemblage of educational materials on the use of Cannabis by Lester Grinspoon and colleagues following the publication of his “Cannabis Odyssey” has been growing. It now includes materials from world-known scientist Carl Sagan, the poet Allen Ginsberg, parents, scientists, and several others. There’s even a simple recipe for Cannabis Olive Oil!

    I’d recommend reading it right here:
    “To Smoke or not to Smoke: A Cannabis Odyssey”

    And let’s talk about it!

  9. Ted Morein says:

    Very nice post,i absolutely love this blog

  10. seb says:

    amazing article

  11. Nigerian Smoker says:

    Mr Grinspoon, thank you….

    U have no idea how much I UNDERSTAND AND AGREEE WITH EVERYTHING YOU’VE WRITTEN ABOVE.

    I smoke for ehancement…..of everything!! I always tell myself that I smoke weed cuz it makes me appreciate life more.

    I grew up in Africa, Nigeria to be precise, and I can’t even begin to explain how people view Marijuana users over here….u guyz think u have problems? one day when I have the time, I shall write about my various experiences. I’m sure you’ll find it quite interesting

  12. zen says:

    That was long yet awesome read Mr. Grinspoon. :)

    I’ve been a smoking since I was a teenager (the type that hides it from everyone but a selected few) and now I’m a 4th year student studying to become a nurse and hopefully one day a doctor. I really admire you – your article, your experiences, your achievements, your intelligence, your lifestyle. I always knew and felt that cannabis was misunderstood in my generation yet this is the first time I’ve read a blog about marijuana with credible facts written by someone like you . I feel blessed to have come across your site.

    YOu are a great inspiration to me.

    Thank you.

  13. Aléxandros Demos Merino says:

    Esteemed Lester Grinspoon:

    It is my pleasure and honor to communicate with you. My name is Aléxandros Demos Merino. I studied clinical psychology in the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú (PUCP), and for a long time have wanted to work in alternative therapies, using hallucinogenic substances. Despite my interest in this area, however, it took me a long time to recognize marijuana as a potentially therapeutic substance. Mentally I had a division between the hallucinogenic substances with potentially therapeutic uses, and marijuana, which I related to cocaine and other generally harmful and therapeutically useless substances. How wrong I was.

    I couldn’t finish relating all the positive experiences that I’ve had with this plant, now that I understand why it has been considered miraculous and sacred in different cultures and different epochs. In my personal experience this substance came to me during a period of depression. I was taking prescription medication to improve my mood and my insomnia. I had never consumed any illegal drug, so to think that my real relief would come with the responsible use of marijuana sounded impossible to me. After using marijuana for a short time, however, my emotional health improved notably, and I could regulate the insomnia that had afflicted me for years, since my early adolescence. Despite its help with my medical disorders, it wasn’t until a few months ago that I discovered its potential to intensify or enhance experience, though.

    It happened during New Year Eve 2010. I had smoked a bit of extremely powerful marijuana and had a rest in my bed to listen to some music. It was midday and a beautiful holiday was waiting for some friends and me at a popular Peruvian beach. I was lying in bed with closed eyes, with headphones, completely calm. Suddenly I realized that not only I was hearing the music, but also I was seeing it. In front of my closed eyes, every melody was a color and a plastic form, which were stretching and turning and forming beautiful and creative geometric forms.

    But the visions were not all there was; the emotion and feelings that were invading me were and are indescribable. I lied in bed for two hours, enjoying the musical, visual, and emotional miracle that was experiencing being grateful—probably for the first time in my life—to be alive.

    That day I didn’t smoke any more. I didn’t need it. I enjoyed New Year’s Eve and felt renewed for days. Since then I’ve used this plant to intensify artistic experience, creativity, and the simplest and intrinsic pleasures to being human: eating, sleeping, meditating, and having sex. My personal experience with marijuana has always been positive. It gives me energy to work and study, and offers me the incommensurable joy of being alive, of enjoying life in all its forms.

  14. Ivy says:

    Hi I’m a 23yr female that lives in California I am a professional hairdresser and make up artist.. I like to consider myself a “responsible stoner” I didn’t start smoking cannabis till I was about 21 I had tried it before when I was 17 but it was just to “fit in” and to see what it felt like.. When I first experimented at 17 I didn’t feel anything but it was probably because it was “stress” it wasn’t good weed I know for a fact.

    Well moving to San Diego at 21 was when I started hanging out with people who smoked it.. Even then I didn’t want to try to much because of the people who were smoking it.. No mean to offend but kids from fresh out of highschool who thought it was “cool”.. It’s people like that who gives people who smoke it for a purpose look bad.. But what purpose can you have for smoking? I always felt there was more to marijuana .. I mean you have your beer and cigarettes, both kill you but it’s legal? And thast it! It took that question to made me wonder why people talked bad about.. Now of course I was high while I thought of that lol.. And I started doing research I even watched the movie The Union. It was documentary on cannabis. Great documentary, it was then that I had educated myself on the purpose of it and how it could better Ur health if course needed for medicinal purposes.

    Now I’ve been a hairdresser for 4yrs and let me tell you, boy do my wrists and fingers hurt from the constant movement. So when my hands and wrists would hurt I’d smoke and feel better. No bad side effect like pills do just sleepy and hungry. I felt safer being around guys who were high rather than drunk.. Mainly because I had been taken advantage of by a drunk guy.. When I smoke I feel great I have thoughts that I don’t think of when I’m sober. I love smoking with people because you carry great conversations, wether it’s about conspiracy, the government, love, and the purpose of life!! It’s thoughts beyond sober stage it’s sublime it’s euphoric. I express myself in ways I never knew I could. It also changed me for the better. I was cynical, narcissistic selfish impatient and angry!! But when I started smoking I felt good it was a big change in me that I longed to accept and share with anyone who knew how I was then.

    I’m the opposite of what I was. I’m always happy and in a good mood nothing can bring me down and when it does I jusy hit my bong and enjoy life! If cannabis were legal I believe it would be a better place.. Less on capitalism and more on finding ways to get along..it scares me when I think about how corrupt our government is and how everything is worse and worse.. And smoking helps u forget about all bad and for that moment of high you crave to know! to see what happiness and peace is.. I am hoping one day people can educate themselves with this wonderful gift this wonderful plant that helps more than it does harm, and why is it illegal?

    One day it’ll happen and it won’t be to long when people discover the powers of this magnificent plant. I’m not crazy I’m just a day dreamer in hope of a new and better future. We need change and we need marijuana

  15. Margaret Mango says:

    My name is Margaret Mango. I am female, 62 years old and live in Ca. I work for the school district as an aide for handicapped children. They range in age of 14-22, different disabilities and in a public high school.
    I have used marijuana since I was about 18 and for recreational use only. After marrying and getting a divorce, at age 52, I stopped smoking for fear of legal action from my husband. I stopped for about 10 years, but at that time realized I had smoked for about 30 years straight, not missing too many days, and had grown into a responsible adult without many side effects other than longing for food. When I first quit, I craved it but not to any point of getting more, but I had trouble falling asleep at night for about a week.
    I have had two beautiful daughters within that time. I had my children late in life, at age 39 & 45, with no difficulties and natural childbirth. I did quit during my pregnancies, but smoked during the first 3 months to solve the nausea problem. Later it was not needed, and I feared something would happen to the baby. Both girls are now adults and no signs of any problems in either one of them. Both intelligent, beautiful, off to college, straight A students.
    At one point in my life, I was depressed and doctors put me on antidepressants which were too strong (in my opinion) and I felt I was “missing out” on reprimanding and watching my children. Life seemed to go by in a fog, so I quit and went back to smoking. The therapist said I was “self medicating.” I was happy while smoking, got very creative in my art and it gave me energy and the desire to clean and make things new.
    Now, after the dust has settled from my divorce and I am back smoking again, I see the advantages again. I also forgot about the wonderful feeling and how much of a better mood I am in all the time. Even at my work there was a comment made that I am happier now. (they do not know I smoke and I go in with only the remnants in my system for the day)
    I thought of getting the medical marijuana card, which is easy to obtain in this state. It is not hard to find mj in this state, only the price and the quality differ. Some friends have gotten it and purchased through a doctor, but now there is trouble with the card or the doctor being legal. The state is moving backwards. There is also some trouble with their medical Ins Co and benefits, if they know you are taking the medical marijuana.
    After all these years, and no ill effects that I can see, I feel they should legalize this drug. I even feel it has kept me looking younger in the face, (wrinkles) and my skin does not show as many signs of loosening as in my sister. (who does not smoke) When I see a friend of the same years, who has drank alcohol for all this time, it shows on their face and skin. I feel like I should be in studies because of the years I have smoked with no negative side effects.

  16. Heron says:

    Dear Dr Grinspoon
    Many thanks for the inspired essay and specifically the medical credibility that it comes with. My journey with Weed has been both cautious and self-critical on one hand, and truthful and insightful on the other. At times I am the greatest advocate and at others wary and self-judgmental. I hope to one day outgrow this ambivalent condition – shake off the stigma, bury the guilt – and I believe this will only happen when there is a universal acceptance, from both governments and society, for the wonderful herb.
    I relate best to your reference to “use for Enhancement” – an application for so much…
    All the best
    T

  17. David says:

    Dr. Grinspoon, Im writing this question to you in early August of 2010. You have discussed many times in journals and interviews about the many medicinal effects that cannabis offers. However, have you even slightly considered the journey of Rick Simpson, who is currently unable to return to his native Canada because of harassment there of treating sick people, many with cancer, with “hemp oil”? His website is phoenixtears.ca and there are many videos there describing his treating and healing many terminally ill cancer patients. He tried to tell all the responsible authorities in Canada about the results of this wonderful medicine and was arrested/harassed for doing so. I possibly have a cannabis-enhanced idea if you were to research to your own satisfaction and find credibility to Rick’s claims(or lack thereof), this would present tremendous opportunity to truly get the word out to MAINSTREAM PUBLIC/MEDIA what a tremendous medicine this is and how it could save many lives and prevent a great deal of needless suffering. I know it might involve angering “big pharma” as, according to Rick, this hemp oil would/could replace the many used but more harmful pills/rx’s currently out there now. I hope you receive this, as I pray you will, and consider it both “straight” and “enhanced”. Thanks and God Bless, David

  18. Lester Grinspoon says:

    Dear David,

    Like everyone else who has been working over decades to ensure that marijuana, with all that it has to offer, is allowed to take its proper place in our lives, I have been heartened by the rapidly growing pace at which it is gaining understanding as a safe and versatile medicine. In addition to the relief it offers to so many patients with a large array of symptoms and syndromes (almost invariably at less cost, both in toxicity and money than the conventional drugs it replaces), it is providing those patients, their caregivers, and the people who are close to them an opportunity to see for themselves how useful and unthreatening its use is. It has been a long and difficult sell, but I think it is now generally believed (except by the United States government) that herbal marijuana as a medicine is here to stay. The evidence which underpins this status as a medicine is, unlike that of almost all other modern medicines, anecdotal. Ever since the mid-1960s new medicines have been officially approved through large, carefully controlled double-blind studies, the same path that marijuana might have followed had it not been placed in Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 which has made it impossible to do the kind of studies demanded for approval by the Food and Drug Administration. Anecdotal evidence commands much less attention than it once did, yet it is the source of much of our knowledge of synthetic medicines as well as plant derivatives. Controlled experiments were not needed to recognize the therapeutic potential of chloral hydrate, barbiturates, aspirin, curare, insulin, or penicillin. And there are many more recent examples of the value of anecdotal evidence. It was in this way that the use of propranolol for angina and hypertension, of diazepam for status epilepticus (a state of continuous seizure activity), and of imipramine for childhood enuresis (bed-wetting) was discovered, although these drugs were originally approved by regulators for other purposes.

    Today, advice on the use of marijuana to treat a particular sign or symptom, whether provided or not by a physician, is based almost entirely on anecdotal evidence. For example, let’s consider the case of a patient who has an established diagnosis of Crohn’s disease but gets little or no relief from conventional medicines (or even occasional surgery) and suffers from severe cramps, diarrhea and loss of weight. His cannabis-savvy physician, one who is aware of compelling anecdotal literature suggesting that it is quite useful in this syndrome, would not hesitate to recommend to this patient that he try using marijuana. He might say, “Look, I can’t be certain that this will help you, but there is now considerable experience that marijuana has been very useful in treating the symptoms of this disorder, and if you use it properly, it will not hurt you one bit; so I would suggest you give it a try and if it works, great — – if it does not, it will not have harmed you.” If this advice is followed and it works for this patient, he will report back that, indeed, his use of the drug has eliminated the symptoms and he is now regaining his weight; or that it doesn’t work for him but he is no better or worse off than he was before he had a trial of marijuana. Particularly in states which have accommodated the use of marijuana as a medicine, this kind of exchange is not uncommon. Because the use of cannabis as a medicine is so benign, relative to most of the conventional medicines it competes with, knowledgeable physicians are less hesitant to recommend a trial.

    One of the problems of accepting a medicine, particularly one whose toxicity profile is lower than most over-the-counter medicines, on the basis of anecdotal evidence alone is that it runs the risk of being over- sold. For example, it is presently being recommended for many types of pain, some of which are not responsive to its analgesic properties. Nonetheless, in this instance, a failed trial of marijuana is not a serious problem; and at the very least both patient and physician learn that the least toxic analgesic available doesn’t work for this patient with this type of pain. Unfortunately, this kind of trial is not always benign

    Recently, there has been a spate of interest in the alleged cancer-curing virtues of a concentrated form of marijuana which a Canadian man by the name of Rick Simpson developed as “hemp-oil”. Unfortunately, the anecdotal evidence on which the cancer-curing capacity is based is unconvincing; and because it is unconvincing, it raises a serious moral issue.

    Simpson, who does not have a medical or scientific education (he dropped out of school in ninth grade), apparently does not require that a candidate for his treatment have an established diagnosis of a specific type of cancer, usually achieved through biopsy, gross and histopathological examinations, radiologic and clinical laboratory evidence. He apparently accepts the word of his “patients”. Furthermore, after he has given the course of “hemp-oil” there is apparently no clinical or laboratory follow-up; he apparently accepts the “patient’s” belief that he has been cured. According to Hager, he claims a cure rate of 70%. But 70% of what? Do all the people he “treats” with hemp oil medicine have medically established, well-documented cancer or is he treating the symptoms or a constellation of symptoms that he or the patient have concluded signify the existence of cancer? And what is the nature and duration of the follow-up which would allow him to conclude that he has cured 70%? Furthermore, does this population of “patients with cancer” include those who have already had therapeutic regimes (such as surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy) which are known to be successful in curing some cancers or holding at bay, sometimes for long periods of time, many others?

    There are patients who have a medically sound diagnosis of pre-symptomatic cancer (such as early prostate cancer) but who, for one reason or another, eschew allopathic treatment and desperately seek out other approaches. Such patients are all too eager to believe that a new treatment, such as hemp-oil medicine, has cured their cancer. Unfortunately, this cancer which was asymptomatic at the time of its discovery, will eventually become symptomatic and at that time the possibility of a cure is significantly diminished, if not no longer a conceivable goal.

    This lesson was brought home to me when I was asked by the American Cancer Society during a period early in my medical career when I was doing cancer research to participate in an investigation of a man in Texas who claimed that a particular herb that his grandfather discovered would cure cancer. I was able to locate two women who had well documented diagnoses of early (asymptomatic) cervical cancer who had decided not to have surgery but instead went to Texas and took the “medicine”. When I first met them some months after each had taken the “cure” they were certain that they were now cancer free. With much effort, I was able to persuade them to have our surgical unit perform new biopsies, both of which revealed advancement in the pathological process over their initial biopsies. Both were then persuaded to have the surgery they had previously feared, and there is no doubt that this resulted in saving their lives.

    There is little doubt that cannabis now may play some non-curative roles in the treatment of this disease (or diseases) because it is often useful to cancer patients who suffer from nausea, anorexia depression, anxiety, pain, and insomnia. However, while there is growing evidence from animal studies that it may shrink tumor cells and cause other promising salutary effects in some cancers, there is no present evidence that it cures any of the many different types of cancer. I think the day will come when it or some cannabinoid derivatives will be demonstrated to have cancer curative powers, but in the meantime, we must be very cautious about what we promise these patients.

    Primum non nocere,
    Lester Grinspoon, M.D.

  19. Aaron says:

    I would like to comment on one use of cannabis that people may have not thought of but is very common. That is, the spiritual use. Cannabis can bring us closer to God and/or enlightenment depending on your beliefs or philosophies. The plant is from God or Mother Nature. Cannabis’ effects can give us a clearer awareness and appreciation of the greatness of God, the lessons of our religions, as well as our connection to everything around us. Yes, an overuse of cannabis can actually work against these principals but with moderation and a respect for the holy herb, it can help lead us along our spiritual path. Not only do Rastafarians think of it as a holy herb but the history of cannabis and religion goes back ions. In a world that grows more secular everyday, cannabis can help restore our beliefs and understandings of what we are searching for in our spiritual lives. You dont have to be a Native American or Hindu to experience this aspect of cannabis it is a God given gift for all to share.

    Mahalo and Aloha, Aaron

  20. Steve Haag says:

    Pot kind of takes you off the controller mind.
    You know – that part of us that’s always watching the clock
    and trying to second-guess the important strategies for effective linear whatevers.

    And there you are on pot, by comparisons, and any little thing can be the maximal whatever.
    It’s not so preconceived and strained to investment potential “gotta get the illusive payoff.”
    It’s just life right there wherever it hangs out.
    Not a great planning strategy way of thinking.
    More a “piqued for the present”
    No matter what the clocks are trying to measure
    kind of a coming to mind.

    Pot takes you more into the now and out of future concerns. The worrying, edgy, concerned, fretting mind which tries to grapple with what of everything to do next slips away and is replaced by a more present consciousness that seems able to appreciate the joys of simply being. Pot affords a shift, which lets life show up somewhat differently. What normally gets ignored as backdrop can come into fresh view for more vivid interaction and appreciation.

    Pot seems to take the little normal limits of consciousness/openness
    And s t r e t c h them out, so more awareness can pour in.
    Like little partitions all in a row,
    Doing what’s normally expected of them,
    And then this smoke goes into the lungs
    And tells all those partitions to set themselves
    Somewhat farther open.
    Some inherent defensiveness
    And shut in-edness
    Gets to let go its strongholds
    For whatever they’re kept strongholding -
    And now these stretched open soft spots for consciousness
    Get to get all the more fired up to receive,
    To feel, to embrace, to soak in, to taste deeply what it experiences.

  21. Ana says:

    I admire you guys, I’ve come out (even wen I’m an occasional smoker) with my mother and some people that I never thought I would come out to. Truth is while all my friends where getting drunk I just sit there and smoke but wen I wanted to share some “experience” I would tell people I was “drunk” because that was “acceptable” for them
    I wish I didn’t have this need to still keep it a secret, I wish I still didn’t believe that there is something wrong about smoking (I’ll get there)
    Peace

  22. AAW says:

    Thank you, Dr. Grinspoon. Your work and outspoken advocacy have allowed me to free myself from the cultural groupthink and superimposed guilt. I am not ashamed to do something which has immeasurable LIFE benefits for me: smoking cannabis. As a side note: As a college senior I wrote a graduate-level French Literature thesis in perfect French while stoned. Best work of my college career and a solid “A” ;-)

  23. gtaboi says:

    I just wanted to say thank you for your work and this web site, Im a young man from Costa Rica, I have been smoking for over a year and I always thought there was more to it than use in it at a party or social activity. Recently my mother found out that I smoke, and she is or was a non-user and close minded person, because of the false statement presented daily by so called authorities on the subject. Thanks to your work, I was able to confront the situation from a different angle, I told here the truth and read part of your work to her, to my surprise she understood, staying on the marge of the subject of course, but still…. any way, I just wanted you to know, and you probably do, what you do helps in many different ways.
    Thank you again
    Gustavo.

  24. jax55 says:

    What a great article! I was hooked the whole time because I have just begun exploring the issues marijuana bring about in this country. It is so hard to convince people who have not used. The point made about you writing on schizophrenia but never experiences was an excellent point. It amazes me how we are all so opinionated on things we either have not experienced, or on things we have not researched. I do hope this article and more literature like this reach more people…

  25. S Blunts says:

    Dr. Grinspoon, thank you so much for your work and your wisdom. I, like many others, have been using cannabis daily for years, always knowing of it’s wonderfully therapeutic properties. It is quite unfortunate that so many have a terribly flawed attitude towards this plant and those who consume it. I am pleased but not at all shocked that the science is on our side, and hope that we as a culture are on a forward path toward a future where the cannabis plant is thoroughly researched and properly utilized. Your contribution to this bright future is deeply appreciated.

  26. Jason Rice says:

    Dr. Grinspoon,
    Thank you for your wisdom! Keep up the good work, have fun in Denver!
    -Rice

    To all:
    I have scoliosis, and nerve damage because of it. I experience nerve pain, nausea, digestive problems, and it hurts to lay flat (sleep). Rather than destroying my organs by ingesting huge regiments of pain killers, I choose to use medical marijuana and it works. It also helps my mood when dealing with day to day issues caused by my condition. I have found that simply eating healthy, doing yoga, and using medical marijuana is the most effective regiment against pain. Stay away from processed foods with chemicals you can’t pronounce made in factories based strictly on profit. I noticed an immediate change when I stopped eating fast food and cut down to a couple sodas a week. Substitute wine or handcrafted ales for the regular cheap beer, get the bread that somebody actually baked, make meals from scratch instead of a box (that powder that you add milk, butter, and hot water to is NOT cheese). A family should be fed from pots and pans, not a plastic dish in a microwave. Grow what you can, know where what you buy comes from, and read the labels to anything you put on or in your body.
    Be healthy, be happy, and love all!

    ..by the way, music and sex are useful for feeling healthy as well :)

  27. Ronnie says:

    Dear Dr. Grinspoon,

    I just finished reading The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan and happened on your website in his Sources section.

    Thank you so much for articulating what so many of us feel. I know lawyers, journalists, architects, teachers, and other educated and responsible members of our society who regularly use marijuana. Since I live in Los Angeles, where dispensaries abound, legally obtaining marijuana is never an issue for me, but the stigma remains and I find myself often feeling anxious about being “high.” I hope one day that smoking marijuana will invite no more disapproval than drinking a cappuccino, though in our puritanical country, my wish may be naive.

    Again, thanks so much for your thoughtful essay about your experience with cannabis.

  28. Marin Olson says:

    Dear Doctor Grinspoon,
    I discovered your article while researching information about Marijuana use. I have used Marijuana since 1967 and have never felt it was an addictive substance. Consumption has always been optional for me, I have enjoyed it daily for months at a time, then abstained completely for several years when it was not practical to indulge. Most of my adult life it has been a pleasure to consume when available, I really have not experienced negative side effects, but my tolerance is so low due to my non-habitual use, that I do not need much to achieve a high that is enlightening.
    I am a musician, I play piano by ear, and I have found marijuana helps me hear music in a way that makes it easier to understand how the chords fit together and support the melody and the rhythm of each song. I recently learned that a religion I have been studying considers marijuana use sinful primarily because it is illegal. This inspired me to do research on why it think it is not at all sinful, and in the end I think I will categorize this religion as sinful for its lack of vision and compassion.

  29. Jaime says:

    Thank you. I have stopped smoking marijuana due to life changing events, nor here nor there; realizing that there may be a day that I continue my use of marijuana as responsibly as I have been able to grow past my alcoholism with faith in myself in my limit without abuse. Before I continue to use marijuana, I want to be in the right place mentally, spiritually, and also willingly; involving my family with an informative junction as to not “hide” anything. So reading your article, has brought light to my comfort of bonding with the plant herb, and can only look forward to its positive uses through the awareness of abuse to myself and those very dear to me, always putting them first and praying for the intimate vibration of acceptance, both high and not, which I can only imagine will take a lot of dedication and responsibility on my part. Researching and studying is a start on this path, and I can only thank you for being able to have such a prestigious history with the plant. Thank you.

  30. I am gonna check some other posts of yours! Good info, thumbs up!

  31. Frank Hamel says:

    you give me hope ! – i’ve been a “closet” puff at night guy for three decades high functioning type A fortunate to be “successful” in more than one arena decided it was time to move to a state that allows the cultivation of medical marijuana and learn first hand about the most interesting opportunity of our time made significant investments in plant and equipment and payrolls only to be shut down by the pressure of the DEA raids in a state that had never seen Federal Boots n Guns – hope we get some clarity on the laws soon so we can continue our most exciting work – your leadership is an inspiration – enjoy your walks with Betsy :-)

  32. Kshama says:

    Dr Grinspoon, many thanks! So nice to read through your site. If the masses would find their voices, what a very different world we would live in. I thank you for yours.

  33. Positively Positive says:

    Dear Mr. Grinspoon,
    I truly enjoyed reading your piece. I have been using marijuana off and on for more than 17 years now. I started off using marijuana as a recreational drug and then as I got older I found that it helped me in other aspects of my life as well. While in college, I was able to focus more on homework and studying. I was less irritated by the little things in life. Now I have found a medical need for it. Earlier part of this year I was diagnosed with HIV and Histoplasmosis. I developed a skin irritation and pain in my legs that the doctors could not figure out the cause of it. They tried me on several different medications that did not work and only made me drowsy. My apetite diminished and I lost weight. Day in and day out I would scratch until my skin bleed. I went to the emergency room twice because of this but nothing could be done. One afternoon I was sitting on the couch scratching as usual and a friend was tired of seeing me irritated and handed me a joint and told me to smoke to try to take my mind off things. At this particular time I had not smoked In about 3 years. I took several puffs and in about 35-45 minutes the itching had started to calm down. I couldn’t believe it! After a few days of starting back on the marijuana the itching stopped completely and so did the pain in my legs. I also gained my weight back. Since then I have discontinued a lot of the medicines the doctor has prescribed for me because there are no need for them. My lab results are better than before and the only thing I am doing differently is smoking marijuana therefore I know it plays a factor in my improvement. I do believe that marijuana can help in several aspects of life and it should be legal and an individual’s choice of the use of it.

  34. seekeroftruth says:

    Thanks so much!!! Heres to the end of barbareic rule and a sort of heaven and haven right here on earth….

  35. Tim says:

    Dear Lester,

    I really hope you’ll read this, like really really. I am an 18 year old student from Amsterdam currently living in England.

    I would like to thank you for creating a website that has made me understand the uses and effects of MJ more than I could ever imagine.

    I have started smoking at the age of 17, I can see you thinking “THAT’S ONLY A YEAR!!!” but I have had alot of good and bad experiences with MJ in this year. I first started smoking with my friends and my older brother and they used to do it for fun and relaxation, but I was never quite sure if they really did it just to be stoned and watch south park or if they did it to enter their own minds. When I found “Mr X” by Carl Sagan, I became more interested in the spiritual part of MJ, and it has helped me to open up my mind and to see the world from a different perspective.

    When my brother started to smoke everyday, he became paranoid and just plain weird. He would rather smoke a joint than go out and do a different “fun” thing. He has quit smoking it now and he’s on anti-depressants.

    Now I’m in England for a year, I’m not smoking at all, mainly because it’s illegal here and I have no connections to get weed, and I’d rather stay out of that sort of world.
    This experience has learned me that I prefer MJ over any sort of alcohol. It’s my sort of having fun and my sort of relaxing in the weekend.

    I’m not sure why I’m telling you this, I really don’t, so please don’t think of me as “just another stoner guy”, I’m just letting you know that I am yet another person in this weird world that sees the benefits of smoking weed. Thank you for creating marijuana-uses. You’re an inspiration to me and I’m sure that you’re an inspiration to many more people.

  36. Sasha Blume says:

    Thank you for this great information and for exhuming the myths that envolp the world of marijuana

  37. Jeremy Anderson says:

    I am so thankful for the level-headed observations of Dr. Grinspoon. I am not a current user of cannabis for two major reasons. Number one, the presence of cannabis in the house frightens my wife and she is the first consideration in my life. The second reason I do not use is because I live in a state where I cannot choose a strain that gives a consistent desired effect. When we finally have an operative system in our state I will talk to my doctor about getting a prescription for my existing diagnosis in the hope that I can get away from the drugs I use now which are addictive and raise my blood pressure.

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