Vipers, Muggles, and The Evolution of Jazz

“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’.

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Marijuana Insights: Myth or Reality?

Countless users of marijuana have claimed that marijuana can act as a catalyst to obtain real insights. Are these reports just exaggerations of users justifying their smoking habit? Or is it true that a marijuana high can lead to profound insights?

In his legendary essay “Mr. X” published in Lester Grinspoon’s study “Marijuana Reconsidered (1971),” an anonymous author stated:

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.” 37

With the permission of the author, Harvard psychiatry professor Lester Grinspoon would reveal the identity only posthumously.

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