What is it like to be high? What is the positive potential of this altered state of consciousness for medical and inspirational uses? How exactly does marijuana enhance cognitive functions like our ability to remember episodes, our attention, perception, and our ability to recognize patterns? To introspect bodily states, to empathically understand others and to generate new ideas and insights? How do the various cannabinoids and terpenes contribute to the high? Can we systematically research the high? And how important is research in this field?
„A memory is a beautiful thing, it’s almost a desire that you miss.“
Gustave Flaubert, French writer (1821-1880)
Our memory is simply amazing. We can store information about thousands of situations but also abstract knowledge, theories, learned routines as well as practical skills like ice-skating or driving a car. Our memory keeps relevant information poised to meet our daily needs and plans, enables us to recognize people and places and facilitates remembering past events. With its various functions, memory constitutes the cognitive basis for our personal identity, for our decision-making, our present actions, and our attitude towards the future. Our memory defines who we are. Memory is everything.
When genius mathematician and originator of cybernetics Norbert Wiener moved with his family from Cambridge to Newton, his wife organized the move and let Wiener concentrate on his work as a professor at MIT. She knew her notoriously absent-minded husband would be of no help to her. She also knew he would forget they had moved so she gave him a piece of paper with the new address of their home. Later during his work, Wiener spontaneously came up with an insight, found the piece of paper in his pocket, scribbled down the idea, but then, finding an error in his workings, threw away the piece of paper. In the evening he drove home to his old address and soon realized that he did not live there anymore. The note in his pocket was gone. Wiener had no clue anymore where he lived, so he asked a little girl on the street: “Excuse me, perhaps you know me. I’m Norbert Wiener and we’ve just moved. Would you know where we’ve moved to?” The young girl replied, “Yes, Daddy. Mommy thought you would forget.”
The “absent-minded professor”-phenomenon has long become a stereotype and a popular character in countless comedies.
„Logic will take you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.“
When we think about our capacity for imagination, we often think of it as a kind of visual daydreaming – a handy ability utilized mainly by artists and other creative people. We tend to underestimate how crucial our use of imagination is in our everyday lives. In fact, we rely on your imagination all of the time – not only when we think creatively, but also when we make decisions. You may decide not to go skiing next week because you heard the bad weather forecast and imagine it to be very cold and nasty in the mountains. Anticipating the cold wind up there in the mountains, you can literally feel a shiver going down your spine. As this example shows you do not only visually “picture” situations in your mind when you use your imagination; you also imagine sounds, tastes, smells, feelings or moods. In his seminal book Human. The Science Behind What Makes Us Unique, neuroscientist Michael Gazzaniga reminds us how powerful a role imagination plays in our lives:
“O! For a muse of fire, that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention.”
William Shakespeare (1564-1616)
In a good relationship, a loving partner can inspire you and help your creative output in many ways. She (or he) may simply inspire you day-by-day with a beautiful smile, encourage you to compose your music or help you to relax and refresh your energy. Your beloved partner could also help you to discipline yourself, to keep focussed on a writing a book, drag you to a movie she finds interesting for you to help collecting ideas for a movie project, or provide valuable feedback during the creation process of your new musical composition. There are many ways a lover can help you to be creative.
“Oh! Do not attack me with your watch. A watch is always too fast or too slow. I cannot be dictated to by a watch.”
Jane Austen, Mansfield Park, English novelist (1775 – 1817)
The phenomenon of a slowed down perception of time during a high is one of the most well known effects of marijuana – infamous to some, highly valued by others. Of course, those “distortions of time perception” can be seen solely as a risk for users – and it is certainly true that those perceptual distortions during a high can become dangerous, for example, while driving a car. On the other hand, many users appreciate this change of perception in safe situations as one of the most valuable experiences during a marijuana high. We have detailed reports about the slowdown of time already coming from members of the “Club des Hashischins” (“Club of the Hasheesh Eaters). The members of this cannabis club ingested large doses of hash marmalade, so it comes as no surprise that many of them became familiar with this phenomenon that shows especially under stronger doses. Charles Baudelaire, one the founding members of the club, wrote:
“To understand is to perceive patterns.”
Isaiah Berlin, philosopher, 1909-1997
“As long as habit and routine dictate the pattern of living, new dimensions of the soul will not emerge.”
Henry van Dyke, short story writer and essayist, 1852-1933
When we talk about patterns or pattern recognition, we tend to think of simple visual patterns like a striped blanket. But our pattern recognition abilities are way more sophisticated than just recognizing basic designs like that. We can visually recognize and distinguish types of trees, cars, or the different painting styles of particular artists. And we perceive not only visual patterns in our environment, but also hear patterns in sounds or music; we perceive the tactile pattern of a wooden surface, the gustatory pattern of the taste of a mango and we can intellectually “recognize” patterns such as the pattern of a certain defensive tactic used by an opponent in a chess game.
“I’m the king of everything
Got to get high before I sing
Sky is high, everybody’s high
If you’re a viper…”
‘Viper’s Drag’ (1934), by Fats Waller
Without doubt the history of early jazz and the use of marijuana are intimately intertwined. Thousands of Hindu immigrants from India had brought the use of cannabis to the West Indies in the 1870s; where black and Mexican sailors picked up the habit and introduced marijuana use to the harbor of Storyville, the red light district of New Orleans, the city usually considered the birthplace of jazz. At the beginning of the 20th century, countless black jazz musicians performing in the bordellos of Storyville and in other locations in New Orleans smoke what they call ‘gage’, ‘tea’, ‘muggles’, ‘muta’, ‘Mary Jane’. They will later call themselves ‘vipers’ – allegedly named after the hissing sound taking a quick draw at a ‘reefer’.
Watanuga Lahele is radiating. His glassy eyes peep out under a large, conical straw hat, his movements slightly erratic. He has been chewing on a dark-greenish kalangi root and the drug tetralin it contains now clearly shows its euphoric and mind-altering effects. Lahele sits at a huge wooden table, as he does every in May, at the kalangi root festival in Bomaki, the capital of the Republic of West Africa. Hundreds of thousands of visitors have come here again to get collectively intoxicated at the festival. Lahele does not quite manage to get up from the table, he stumbles and falls sideways onto some other visitors. Soon, several people get in a brawl. The kalangi root is not only highly addictive, but also makes many of its consumers more aggressive. In the Republic of West Africa tetralin is completely legal, despite its mind-altering effects and various dangerous side effects.
They really make me nervous sometimes. And they seem to be everywhere. Frantically, they move around in circles, slaves to implemented passions – addicts, manipulated, betrayed, and in self-denial. At six in the morning, the first type of addicts run to get their daily fixes: the classic workaholics. They swarm out of their houses to go and work like maniacs. Some are craving for more power, suppressing the persistent feeling of having slowly turned into corporate marionettes. Others work excessively to satisfy their shopping addiction and buy whatever they have been told makes them better, more happy, or more valuable people.