By next year recreational marijuana is slated to be legalized in the state of Virginia where I now live. Judging by the elections, America is trending toward openness to the virtues of the weed. I recently bought a small book on the health benefits of marijuana I found on a shelf in my local supermarket. It got me thinking about the first time I experienced the full effects of cannabis. In this I was somewhat of a late bloomer.
Vlad swore it was my duty as a graduate student of philosophy to smoke marijuana. It would have an impact on my philosophy, he insisted. I was open to his ideas, and in no time there were five of us passing joints around. I was a psychedelic virgin that fall night, and as the joints passed through my hands I puffed on them, inhaling with gusto. After a while, I grew pleasantly buoyant in spirit. At least nine expertly-packed joints were deployed in our effort to deconstruct established reality.
Somebody said, “Let’s head out!” Suddenly, we’re inside an elevator, descending to the ground floor. I’m feeling nothing impressive about my experience. The effort to blow my mind didn’t amount to much. I was surprised by disappointment. But then . . .
We got out of the elevator and stepped through the front door on to Broadway. As soon as we started walking uptown, I began to feel disoriented. A kind of confusion, to begin with. I noticed that everything around me seemed alive and everything was moving and vibrating—I wasn’t sure where I was or even quite who I was. The movie house across the street appeared like a gothic tower that seemed to rise into a boundless black sky. A uniformed police officer eyed me and I thought he was Genghis Khan! Automobiles looked like wild horses on a romp. People all seemed to tower above me, some of them like ghouls, others like angels. I gazed with astonishment at other people who looked mysterious and bizarre. I was too surprised by the intensity of my perceptions to reflect on the fact that it was the weed that was working some kind of enchantment on me.
So I consulted with one of my comrades. I tried to convey to Vlad the jittery sense of my reality. He acted as if he didn’t hear me, and stepped away, then blurted out to the others: “Has anybody seen Mike? They all looked around, ignoring me, and solemnly responded: “Not me!” “Where’d he go?” Everyone looked around, feigning concern. It dawned on me they were just playing with my head. But for an instant, when I heard their words, it felt as if I had to fight off an implacable power thrusting me into the void. But I battled that sensation down, reminding myself that I still existed!
We continued our trek toward 116th Street, across the street from the entrance to Columbia University where somebody announced we’d stop to eat. By that time I was getting accustomed to the exaggerated presence of everything and everyone, and the storm of menacing sensations began to feel less threatening. After trudging along another block or two, Vlad appeared beside me, smiling, and said, “Let’s get something to eat—and drink. It’ll help you come down.”
Vlad was right. The beer and hamburger brought me back to my own physical reality, and calmed the feverish flight of my imagination. This enabled me to pay attention to the effects on my perception, and what “getting high” was all about. Everything appeared more animated, more real than my everyday perceptions, and certainly more interesting. Marijuana temporarily showed me what animism felt like, the primitive belief that even rocks and bodies of water are alive and conscious.
Marijuana can make almost anything interesting, from eating a juicy pear to reading Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. Cannabis amplifies consciousness. There are degrees and modes of consciousness. S. Grof once defined LSD as a “non-specific” amplifier of consciousness. Cannabis is similar, a psychic magnifying glass. Apart from its well-documented physical health benefits, it can open the gates of experience, and shed light on matters high or humble.
Soon after, still a student in New York, I learned that my uncle Tony was dying in a hospital in Manhattan. He was my godfather. I decided to visit him, but wanted to do it in an altered state, so I smoked some weed. I arrived at the hospital and met my aunt Nancy. We stood around the bed where my uncle lay; he seemed barely conscious, but I approached and tried to get his attention. A faint sign of recognition.
Then something happened. I looked into my uncle’s eyes and for a moment we seemed locked in gazing at each other, and I sensed we were somehow together in a place where it was almost out of time and where it felt all good. The communication was subtle but not one I was prepared to share with anybody. “He’s not doing too well,” said my aunt Nancy. “But maybe he is better off,” I thought to myself. I had the distinct impression of glimpsing something he was experiencing. Since then I’ve been exploring the mysteries of the mind—and in my book, Smile of the Universe, the miracles of the mind. And beautiful Mary Jane has been a faithful companion.
Brent Howell here heard you on Fringe tonight great show ( smile) Far Out, Man thx Doc
Thanks, Michael, for your Furst Time experience of Wisdom Weed.
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