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On Being Stoned, by Charles Tart

  On Being Stoned

    Charles T. Tart, Ph. D.

        Chapter 16.    Emotions


Emotional Tone of Intoxication

    As might be expected in a group of experienced users, i.e., users who repeat the marijuana intoxication experience over and over, it is a very characteristic effect that "I almost invariably feel good when I turn on, regardless of whether I felt bad before turning on" (5%, 11%, 19%, 31%, 30%). This effect has begun to occur in most users by Moderate levels of intoxication (21%, 33%, 25%, 7%, 1%). The converse effect, "I almost invariably feel bad when I turn on, regardless of how I felt before I turned on" is a rare effect (47%, 36%, 9%, 1%, 1%). In those who could rate it, it generally began at the Moderate level (8%, 15%, 9%, 5%, 7%). Heavy Total users need to be more intoxicated to feel bad (p <.05, overall).
    Although emotional mood prior to intoxication was overcome in the previous two effects, it is a common effect that "Whatever mood I was in before turning on becomes greatly amplified, so if I felt down I really feel bad and if I felt good I really feel very good" (9%, 18%, 36%, 22%, 14%). This occurs more frequently with the Meditators and the Therapy and Growth groups (p <.05, overall). It begins to occur at Moderate to Strong levels (19%, 22%, 32%, 11%, 2%).
Figure 16-1.
Note.—For guide to interpreting the "How Stoned" graph,
see note on Figure 6-1.

    The relationships of these three phenomena are shown in Figure 16-1. Feeling almost invariably good occurs more frequently than pre-intoxication emotions being amplified (p <.0005), and amplified emotions occur more frequently than feeling bad (p <<<.0005). Feeling almost invariably bad occurs at higher levels of intoxication than either feeling good (p <.001) or emotions being amplified (p <.01), primarily because of a few users who indicate Very Strong and Maximum for feeling bad. The difference in levels between feeling good and emotions amplified is not significant.
    While the graph suggests that feeling good tends to occur at lower levels and feeling bad at very high levels, comments of pilot subjects and informants indicate that this picture is incomplete. There is a general good feeling that comes from marijuana intoxication at all levels, and this will override mild emotional states the user may have just before becoming intoxicated. If the user has a strong negative mood before becoming intoxicated (whether he is consciously completely aware of it or not), the amplification of emotions common to marijuana intoxication will amplify the negative feelings sufficiently to overcome the good feeling that accompanies intoxication, and he will feel very bad indeed. This latter effect is also modulated by a user's ability to control his intoxication effects; he may be able to suppress the effects of a negative pre-intoxication emotion up to a point, usually by concentrating his attention on pleasurable stimuli and/or not giving attention to his negative feelings. If he is so intoxicated that his control is erratic, and/or the negative pre-intoxication emotion is too strong, he will be unsuccessful and experience the negative emotion in amplified form.[1] The material in Chapter 17 on control is very relevant here.



    An aspect of the positive emotional tone characteristically associated with marijuana intoxication is "I giggle a lot when stoned; I am silly, even though the situation is not that funny." This is a very common effect (3%, 23%, 47%, 20%, 7%), which occurs more frequently with Females (p <.05). It generally begins to occur at Strong levels (11%, 25%, 36%, 18%, 5%), although Heavy Total users must be more intoxicated to experience it (p <.05, overall). Older users begin giggling at lower levels than younger ones (p <.05).


Strength of Emotions

    A very common effect of marijuana intoxication is "I feel emotions much more strongly when stoned, so they affect me more" (6%, 13%, 37%, 27%, 17%). The younger users experience this more frequently (p <.05). It begins to occur at the Strong levels (14%, 21%, 39%, 13%, 4%).
    The converse effect, "I feel emotions much more weakly when stoned, so they have little effect on me" is infrequent (35%, 29%, 21%, 7%, 4%), and occurs less frequently than emotions feeling stronger (p <<.0005). It begins to occur at Moderate to Strong levels (7%, 20%, 21%, 6%, 3%), essentially the same levels as feeling emotions more strongly.
TABLE 16-1

3 or more10%

    Note.—These figures cannot be taken as an estimate of
    the actual number of emotional crises among users of
    marijuana but only as a maximal estimate because many
    of the users had been intoxicated together and were
    probably reporting on the same cases, thus overestimating
    the incidence of crises to an unknown extent.
    [a] 1% of the users were lost in the rounding process here


Emotional Crises—"Freaking Out"

    Given the effect of intoxication in amplifying emotions, combined with some loss of control at very high levels of intoxication, the possibility of the user's being temporarily overwhelmed by intense negative emotions requires investigation. Users term such an event "freaking out."
    The users were asked, "How many people have you seen freak out' on grass, i.e., have such a catastrophic emotional upset that they needed help of some sort? (Not counting yourself)." Table 16-1 tabulates their answers. It is important to note, however, that these figures cannot be taken as an estimate of the actual number of emotional crises among users of marijuana but only as a maximal estimate; because the questionnaires were passed from acquaintance to acquaintance in the distribution process, a fair number of users had been intoxicated together and so were probably reporting on the same cases of emotional crises and overestimating the incidence of such crises to an unknown extent. Thus most of the users have never seen an overwhelming emotional reaction in other users, and few (10 percent) have seen three or more.
TABLE 16-2

0 %61%

    Note.—These figures cannot be taken as an estimate of
    the actual number of emotional crises among users of
    marijuana but only as a maximal estimate because many
    of the users had been intoxicated together and were
    probably reporting on the same cases, thus overestimating
    the incidence of crises to an unknown extent.
    [a] The remainder of the users gave verbal answers that
    were not classifiable. These were: "very small," "super
    small," "so small," "almost not worth noting," and
    "very small percent." Note also that 1% of the users
    were lost in rounding errors.
    If one wished to estimate an incidence ratio of emotional crises, the data in Table 16-1 are not useful as we do not know the number of observations on which they are based, i.e., how many intoxicated people the users have observed altogether. To get at this question, the users were asked as part of the above item, "What percentage is this compared to all the times you've seen people get stoned?" The categorized data are presented in Table 16-2.
    It is again important to stress that these figures overestimate the incidence to some unknown degree. Nevertheless, the incidence of emotional crises would seem to be very low. Except for 5 percent of the users (one of them a physician), 89 percent of the users estimate the incidence of such reactions as 1 percent or less, and 73 percent as less than a tenth of 1 percent.


Nature of Emotional Crises

    Although explanations of the emotional catastrophes were not asked for on the questionnaire, some users added comments. Combining this with various remarks by pilot subjects and informants, it seems that emotional crises fall mainly into two classes. The major one is that of emotionally unstable people or normal people with a major emotional problem on their mind who use marijuana and have their problems amplified. The second, less frequent category is negative emotions of fright and/or confusion, which occasionally result from initial experiences with overdoses of marijuana; i.e., the inexperienced user smokes much more than he knows how to handle and is temporarily confused, disoriented, or frightened by the effects of intoxication. Many users have this happen early in their marijuana-using career. Most apparently learn to control negative effects and/or adapt to unusual effects so as not to be concerned about them; indeed, they come to value them. A few, frightened by the experience, do not use marijuana any more.


Outcome of Emotional Crises

    With respect to emotional crises in others, the users were asked, "What sort of help did they get? How effective was it?" Of the 53 users answering this question, the majority (64 percent) indicated that friends and other users present simply talked to the disturbed person, reassured him, and calmed him down—a sufficient treatment. Touching the disturbed person was often mentioned in these accounts as particularly effective and reassuring. In 8 percent of the cases the incident simply subsided by itself. In 13 percent some sort of medical or psychological assistance was obtained, although this included such mild treatments as "sleeping it off in the student health center." Miscellaneous methods were used in the other instances.
    In one of the above cases the user indicated the help was not effective for the disturbed person, but his disturbance was part of a long-term pattern of personality disorder.


Emotional Crises among the Users

    The users were asked, "Have you ever freaked out in this way? How many times? What sort of help did you get, and how effective was it?" Because the size of the sample is known, this gives a better estimate of the incidence of this occurrence. Table 16-3 presents the data.
TABLE 16-3

3 or more3%
No response3%


    Of the 30 users who had had such an experience, 40 percent indicated it had subsided by itself, and 53 percent that they had been "talked down" by friends, with one user indicating that professional help was needed. One of the users indicated he had deliberately provoked a crisis just to see if he could take it!
    Thus in the present sample 20 percent of the users reported one or more experiences of emotional crises, almost all of which subsided by themselves or through the support and reassurance of friends. Only one required professional assistance, giving a serious risk ratio of about 1 percent.[2] The caution should be added, however, that this figure of I percent applies to populations similar to the present one, i.e., users who are experienced and (by implication) well adapted to handling marijuana intoxication. In an unselected population of non-users, the risk ratio for emotional crisis reactions requiring professional help would probably be somewhat higher, depending on the nature of the situations in which marijuana was used.

Physical Components of Emotion

Figure 16-2.
Note.—For guide to interpreting the "How Stoned" graph,
see note on Figure 6-1.
    A common experience is "I am more aware of the body tensions and feelings that are part of emotions when stoned " (13%, 11%, 25%, 31%, 19%). This begins to occur at Strong levels of intoxication (10%, 21%, 41%, 10%, 1%). The converse effect, "I am less aware of the body tensions and feelings that are part of emotions when stoned" is an infrequent effect (35%, 32%, 16%, 5%, 3%), which is more variable with respect to levels of intoxication (6%, 14%, 16%, 15%, 3%) in those who could rate it. As shown in Figure 16-2, being more aware occurs more frequently (p <<.0005) and at lower levels of intoxication (p <.01).



    "Any hostile action or word is upsetting" (Usually, Fairly).
    "Relief of anxiety or restlessness" (Usually, Just).
    "Presence of anxiety attacks" (Rarely, Strongly).
    "Deep concern with injustices all over the world, regardless of my actual participation" (Very Often, Fairly).
    "A feeling of depression when coming down" (Usually).
    "Extremely sensitive to remarks or criticism" (Usually, Very Strongly).
    "My negative feelings upon being disturbed increase, like the feeling toward an alarm clock in the morning" (Usually, Fairly).
    "I cry more easily about appropriate things" (Very Often, Strongly). "Little emotional fear of pain" (Usually, Just).
    "Annoyed awareness of ego posturings of other stoned people" (Very Often, Fairly).



    Figure 16-3 groups the various emotional phenomena by levels of intoxication. The overall grouping is highly significant (p <.001).

Just        Fairly    Strongly    Very

Type size code:
Almost invariably feel bad when stoned

    As the user becomes intoxicated, he characteristically feels good, a positive emotional tone that persists through all levels of intoxication unless he has strong emotions from his pre-intoxication state that are amplified in the intoxicated state. As he becomes more intoxicated, emotions are sometimes felt less strongly, but more usually emotions are felt more strongly. At Strong levels of intoxication and higher, the bodily components (muscle tensions, viscera feeling, etc.) of emotions may come into awareness, and the positive emotional tone may result in giggling. At very high levels negative emotions are more likely to overcome the positive emotional tone of intoxication if they are very strong or the user has poor control.



    All background variables had relatively linear effects on emotional phenomena. They are summarized in Table 16-4.

TABLE 16-4
More Drug ExperienceMore intoxicated for:
    Usually feel bad
    Giggle a lot
MeditationMore frequent:
    Pre-intoxication mood amplified
Therapy & GrowthMore frequent:
    Pre-intoxication mood amplified
Males  Less frequent:
    Giggle a lot
Older  Less frequent:
    Feel emotions more strongly
Less intoxicated for:
    Giggle a lot



    Marijuana intoxication characteristically produces a pleasant emotional state in the experienced users in this study. This pleasant feeling tone is sufficient to override the effects of moderate negative emotional states the user may have had just before becoming intoxicated.
    The emotions, both positive and negative, noble and selfish, which the user does experience while intoxicated, are usually felt more strongly than in his ordinary state, although the personal and situational triggers for eliciting emotion may alter. At high levels of intoxication, where emotions are felt very strongly and decreased control of intoxication phenomena may sometimes occur, a user with a poor personality structure and/or one otherwise normal but involved in high temporary levels of emotional stress may "freak out," be temporarily overwhelmed by negative emotions. This has occurred to 20 percent of the users, but in only one case was it serious enough to require professional assistance; in others, the disturbance subsided by itself, or the reassurance and support of friends was sufficient to alleviate the user's distress.



    1. Many informants mentioned that when they know they have a difficult emotional situation on their mind, which they do not feel ready or able to deal with, they will deliberately avoid using marijuana or, if they use it, stay at Low to Moderate levels of intoxication so they can stay out of the problem area. An exception to this is the use of intoxication for gaining insight into personal problems, where the user feels the risk of strong negative emotions is worth taking. (back)
    2. I use the phrase "serious risk" deliberately here, as I am making a value judgment that being very upset for a few hours is not, per se, a serious risk. Life is full of things that upset us seriously for hours, days, weeks. Requiring professional help to deal with the upset, however, is more serious, and can be considered an indication of "risk." (back)

Chapter 17

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