Mr. X by Carl Sagan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

102 Responses to “Mr. X by Carl Sagan”

  1. ElectroPig says:

    I wonder what Sagan would say if he had a better understanding of cannabis?

    What if he had known that it can be purified and used to cure cancer? ( )

    What if he knew that it could be used as a natural remediator for toxic spills?

    What if he understood the true reasons–corporate greed and racism–that were behind making cannabis illegal in the first place? ( )

    What if he had even the slightest idea of how cannabis users and promoters would be persecuted and prosecuted for just trying to live their own lives and informing the people about the truth? ( )

    What if he knew even a fraction of what we know now?

    What if?

  2. brian says:

    Something tells me he probably did, but maybe only when he was high?

  3. Greg says:

    I couldn't have agreed more with every single word this man says. This was probably the first time in my life I wanted to finish reading an essay!

  4. teleny parrish says:

    Holy cats, what a beautiful mind!

  5. Jason says:

    wow, i gotta read this when i'm high. i could probably find myself pondering the same topics he did. omg the detail on this essay is so tantalizing, i felt as if i was high just reading the essay. and yes what a pleasant intellect this man had. ohh and yeah the essay was really addicting, it's an awesome feeling to crave knowledge and insight from others, when it's put so delightfully well.

  6. colleenbegley says:

    Wow is right. Thank you! I read it high..will read not under influence next..then maybe comment more.

  7. infosurf1 says:

    Sagan managed to capture the more mature, deeper aspects of what it means to be positively influenced by cannabis. I wasn't under the influence reading his essay, but afterwards I feel different. Some how I think it triggered production of my endocannabinoids. It happened about 20 seconds after I finished reading it.

    'Potent stuff' – I'm sure we'd all agree!

  8. KMB007 says:

    Man i tried to be as inspiring as carl sagan, but i realized that even successful people like obama & bush used it at one point in time and they're not messed-up. When i'm doing my Masters i will surely review marijauna

  9. Janet says:

    Carl Sagan was a visionary like no other. However, I disagree with several points in his essay. For one thing, each person's reaction to any given mood altering substance is likely to be unique; one's specific brain chemistry, past experiences, personality, etc, will effect the reaction. Sagan's highs sound amazing and intricate, befitting his incredible mind. I suspect that most people just get a little mellow from their cannabis high. Secondly, people who are high, drunk, stoned, or otherwise in a mood altered state universally believe that they are able to drive without impairment. Just ask them! They are almost always wrong. The last thing we need is more impaired drivers on the road. Stay home!! Finally, there are meditative states which will produce intense alterations of perception and consciousness. I am unconvinced that we need chemicals in order to achieve those results. It strikes me as being "fast food" for the brain; instead of taking the path which requires commitment and dedication, we go for the quick fix. (And we know what happens from too much fast food, right?)

  10. Rob says:

    Janet, I couldn't agree more that everyone will experience it differently – the psyche of the individual plays a major role, making legalization problematic. My personal experience is like Carl's, for which I feel blessed – new doors are opened with every experience. As Carl stated, he wasn't advocating driving high, just that it was possible without the same risk level as driving drunk.

    I agree that certain people can certainly be enlightened without the use of drugs, but disagree with the "fast food" analogy. I prefer to think of it as a tool – properly used it's power enhances that of the person using it – used improperly and the consequences can be dire.

    As with any tool, with proper education and moderation in use, immense value can be gained from the experience.

  11. Keliomatic says:

    Carl's words are like a string of colorful pearls gently gliding you along a visual and intellectual path of certain awareness, eagerly sweeping you through one perfectly executed sentence after another – the audience continually, yet patiently awaiting the next. His words are so easy to follow, and the picture he lays so inviting. He may have never quite realized it before but he has a way with words that is very much the essence of art itself. Yes Carl, you WERE an artist indeed.

    To interested parties, take a minute to check out the tribute to Carl Sagan shirt that I designed for

    We are currently rethinking the phrase on it to be a little closer to something that Carl himself would be pleased with, so please check back in a day or two if it's not up when you visit. Thank you 🙂

  12. Alex says:

    Dr. Sagan…you sweet, sweet man.

  13. Think Outside the Box says:

    Don’t forget everyone. He is a genius of society. He was a motivated individual before smoking pot. Giving pot to a lazy person is like giving a powerful sword to the outstretched hands of a weakling. The sword will drop on their head and damage their ability to be proactive.

  14. Jordan says:

    I read this article for the first time just shortly after being busted for cannabis ingestion (thats right ingestion, I didn’t even get caught with the plant they got a warrant for my urine and I failed). I must say it provided many mixed emotions. Being an aspiring physicist myself I was overjoyed to see a man of such stature experiencing the same enjoyment in the herb as myself. I also felt powerfully disgruntled at the fact that one so smart wasn’t more outspoken about the inane laws prohibiting one of God’s (Nature’s in Carl Sagan’s viewpoint) greatest gift to humanity. Upon further consideration though it became clearer to me that Mr. Sagan was rightful in his decision to keep his use and acceptance of the substance on the downlow. I’m sure many of his employers in academia wouldn’t quite approve of his use and any outspokeness regarding the herb. Finally one day when the production and use of Marijuana is legal to the (not-so) free people I hope we celebrate those persons that helped pave the way for the disbandment of prohibition. And in my opinion Mr. Sagan belongs, maybe not at the top but, at least on this list for his Mr. X article. This bowl is for you Carl.

  15. Iterated says:

    As a young scientist, it makes me smile to read this paper. To know that the experience of insight about scientific theory and the interconnection of seemingly separate concepts is one shared by a respected and intelligent freethinker as Sagan is both comforting and exciting.

    At least for myself, there exists a correlation between interest in and understanding of phenomena in the natural world and marijuana use. To read this gives me comfort that I may not be deluded.

  16. […] He wrote this amazing essay, as “Mr. X” (having to hide his name for fear of committing public and career suicide), about his own personal marijuana use and he even mentions that it helped with some of his scientific insights. link […]

  17. SipDiCup says:

    Mr. Sagan’s article provides clear evidence that what you were taught by DARE in school was a bundle of SHITSTEM propaganda. The natural herb does not diminish your mental power or initiate a life of idleness. Mr. Sagan produced one of the finest cosmological documentaries of his time, Cosmos. He has shown when using the herb properly, in moderation, it can enhance your imagination. In Carl’s case this proved an excellent quality; for dreaming new theories of the cosmos yields eventual scientific progress.

    “If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.” -Aldous Huxley

    Hopefully the day will come when the ganja plant is embraced for its wonderful properties and its peaceful euphoric offerings are prosecuted no more.

  18. Jethro says:

    Carl Sagan sees cartoons too!!!!

    As a licensed physician of 27+ years, I have admired Carl’s work and the power of MJ to relax, entertain, inspire, expand and heal. Please join me in working towards a society where MJ is legally used for medical and recreational purposes–support NORML.

  19. Markus says:

    As a physicist and a future-user, I’m interested in cannabis tolerance that Dr. Sagan went through. Although the thought of me having to pay for 5-6 tries before I get high discourages me, I am amazed as to the control that Dr. Sagan displayed. Logically, if one blunt doesn’t do it one day, the day you try 2, and so on until you accomplish toxication. But It seems that he kept it to a minimum, waiting patiently for the high to wash over him. I’m not sure I would’ve done the same, its a helpful insight. I originially wanted to try pot to see if it helped with my research, now I see that whatever it helps with will be worth it. And just offering my own insight (not high, mind you) Edwin Hubble always smoked a pipe, I wonder if he always had tobacco in it… Food for thought.

  20. Jim says:

    “I am convinced that…the devastating insights achieved when high are real insights; the main problem is putting these insights in a form acceptable to the quite different self that we are when we’re down the next day. Some of the hardest work I’ve ever done has been to put such insights down on tape or in writing…I find that reasonably good insights can be remembered the next day, but only if some effort has been made to set them down another way.”

    That passage in Dr. Sagan’s essay is so articulate in describing this common experience with Cannabis. I am also convinced that the insights are glimpses of a truth that underlies our common consciousness.

    I heard one musician say (in think the film is Grass) that using Cannabis allows him to “tap into a frequency” that would otherwise require years of devoted meditation and discipline, a hindrance to his career aspirations and passion.

    This frequency, we may not be able to concretely verify (as far as I know), or measure, observe, and examine. But we’re all pointing to the same thing, I believe.

  21. […] lesser-known fact is that Sagan was a passionate marijuana user, and the author of this essay in Lester Grinspoon’s 1971 collection Marihuana […]

  22. […] operating at a subpar level!  Imagine how much better the Cosmos series would have been if Carl Sagan hadn’t been operating at a subpar level at all […]

  23. […] disclosed after Sagan’s death that under the pseudonym “Mr. X,” Sagan wrote a now-famous essay about the use of marijuana, in which he celebrated the herb’s impact on his […]

  24. DNA says:

    The Union: The Business Behind Getting High is a 2007 documentary film by Canadian filmmaker Brett Harvey.
    with Lester Grinspoon
    Official site

    The whole film on Google Video:

    The film explores the illegal growth, sale and trafficking of marijuana. Its theatrical run was limited to film festivals. The film follows host Adam Scorgie as he examines the underground market, interviewing growers, police officers, criminologists, economists, doctors, politicians and pop culture icons, revealing how the industry can function despite being a criminal enterprise. The history of marijuana and the reasons for its present prohibition are discussed, often comparing it to the prohibition of alcohol in the United States in the 1920s, suggesting that gang drug warfare and other negative aspects associated with marijuana are a result of prohibition, not the drug itself. The gangs that grow and traffic the drugs are likened to those that appeared in major U.S. cities during the Prohibition, with the intention of profiting from the sale of illegal alcohol.

    Best Editing at Rhode Island International Film Festival 2007
    Outstanding Documentary Feature at Winnipeg International Film Festival
    Nominated for Leo Award for Best Overall Sound in a Documentary Program or Series, and Best Sound Editing in a Documentary Program or Series

  25. PurpleKushY says:

    Brilliant read!

    You will be missed dearly Mr. Sagan!

  26. Mike says:

    Sagan writes a beautiful essay. I agree with him on all points and I myself am pro-cannabis, but the drug can be abused. While I know that there is no physical addiction and minimal physical harm, this is still a drug, one that needs to be used, like everything else, in moderation.

    The irony is that the drugs gift is also its curse. Cannabis is capable of making life more pleasurable, you cannot be bored when high because the mind is appreciating every sensation and thought to an extent that can rarely be felt when down. This is wonderful, but in the wrong hands can be tragic. Ambitions and dreams can slip away because they are no longer needed when high because life becomes the dream and you live totally in the present.

    This is all great, one may say, but if done too often it can become selfish. Being high all the time can make society seem meaningless and trivial. The hippie ideals of peace and love begin to seem possible, but one needs to realize that the world does not also partake in the ecstasies of the cannabis high. People still suffer and despots still try to to suppress freedom and human rights.

    The point to all this is there must be a balance, or one must should be accomplished and able to support a family and oneself before indulging in the wonderful earthly delight that is cannabis.

  27. […] read an article about it here, the Wikipedia entry here, or read his full, unedited essay itself here. If you’re at all interested in learning more about marijuana and its effects, I’d highly […]

  28. Shane says:

    Thank you for posting this! The more I learn about Carl Sagan, the more I admire and respect him. Truly one of the great minds…

  29. Social says:

    Beautifully written by Mr Sagan. I will definitely have to seek out more of his writings.

  30. Jane Savoie says:

    In Regards to ElectroPig Comment #1…. “I wonder what Sagan would say if he had a better understanding of cannabis? What if he had known that it can be purified and used to cure cancer?”

    Are you serious? Nowhere has it ever been proven that cannabis can be used to cure cancer.

    Yes, it can be used fopr pain management… but to say it will cure cancer is absurd!

    Jane Savoie
    Jane Savoie Happy Horse

  31. Prof Mike Browne says:

    We use Cannabis quite often in managing MS but I can’t imagine it would extend to curing cancer.

  32. Z says:

    There is a theory that some cannabinoids exist in weed that may help slow or even stop cancer cells from reproducing. Although, you can not get this benefit from smoking cannabis, cannabis may help in the fight against cancer

  33. dark chocolate says:

    Mr Sagan wrote well. I got important information I am seeking more about that.

  34. Alton says:

    I admired Carl Sagan as one of the most inspiring scientist. This man made science for people becomes more fun and easy to understand. Just like Albert Einstein said: “If you can’t explain it simply, it means that you don’t understand it well enough.”

  35. […] – insights we have. The late great Carl Sagan (whose widow Ann Druyan is involved in NORML) pseudonymously noted the valuable insights he achieved while high. I assume he didn’t want to specify which […]

  36. Alpha says:

    Thank you, Dr. Grinspoon, for the archival of this wonderful essay.

    Being an aspiring scientist myself, I’ve recently been diving into the wonderful world of Astronomy. I quickly devoured Sagan’s ‘Pale Blue Dot’ and I started researching about his life.

    Being a cannabis smoker – this time – I was pleasantly surprised when I read about his cannabis activism. In this screwed up world, it’s refreshing when profilic scientists – like Mr. Sagan – stand up for “controversial” issues like cannabis consumption.

    Thank you, Mr. X, for writing this wonderful essay.

  37. Jim Hansen says:

    Mr. Sagan’s words flowed over my mind with lava-like movement, like getting a deep tissue massage from the wind.

  38. BBB says:

    brilliant read… the proper USE of cannabis, versus ABUSE can have profound life altering effects, and this message is becoming more & more clear as well.. only a matter of time

  39. VegasMike says:

    Carl’s “5-6 tries” to get high is likely more indicative of the relatively low potency of weed in the late ’60s. It’s hard to imagine even a weed virgin needing more than abode toke or two with today’s product.

  40. Jared says:

    “Sometimes a kind of existential perception of the absurd comes over me and I see with awful certainty the hypocrisies and posturing of myself and my fellow men.”

    I’ll remember this forever.

  41. […] It’s fairly common knowledge, but there are still some Sagan fans who aren’t aware that Dr. Sagan was an advocate for responsible cannabis use. Read this very personal and interesting article that he wrote under the pseudonym “Mr. X&#8221… […]

  42. Alejandro López says:

    Jim says:
    August 6, 2010 at 11:59 pm

    ““I am convinced that…the devastating insights achieved when high are real insights; the main problem is putting these insights in a form acceptable to the quite different self that we are when we’re down the next day. Some of the hardest work I’ve ever done has been to put such insights down on tape or in writing…I find that reasonably good insights can be remembered the next day, but only if some effort has been made to set them down another way.”

    That passage in Dr. Sagan’s essay is so articulate in describing this common experience with Cannabis. I am also convinced that the insights are glimpses of a truth that underlies our common consciousness. ”


    I totally agree with the insights idea. When im high alone, i usually think about certain aspects of reality that we are not used to. This insights are often clever analogies, or possible explanations of some situation or process, its quite dificult to describe them without a very long example. This emerging ideas are, like Carl himself says, of a wide range of topics, mostly about human behaviour, or philosophie in my case.

    On the other hand, i’m a programmer, and sometimes i get stuck in some parts when working; later, while high, it suddenly came’s to my mind the correct way to do that tricky part, way much clear that if i were of down.

    I must say that in my personal situation, it helps me to work, as well as it helps me to develop ideas that encourages cooperation and respect for people and animals. This, i think, is mainly because of the feeling of awesomeness produced by observing life and its change over time, as simple as watching a plant grow throughout spring, or playing with a pet. This “observer” role while high, reminds us that we have not the right to decide the life, the situation or the death of other beings more than ourselves. This kind of thinking could definitely lead us to a better society, in which respect and freedom would be the top values.

    Thank you Carl, for being such a wonderful person, your life is really inspiring.

  43. Arhondo Giannis says:

    Dr. Sagan has achieved immortality, for he will not likely be forgotten. He’s one of the last great heroes of this world.

  44. […] is from the late great Carl Sagan. It is from a fantastic essay he wrote about cannabis, called Mr. X. Read it if you wish, you will not regret it! Or if you are too high to read that much, watch these […]

  45. Thommo says:

    What the f***, who ever had visual flashes on marijuana? This guy’s on mushrooms…

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