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On Being Stoned, by Charles Tart

  On Being Stoned

    Charles T. Tart, Ph. D.

        Chapter 3.    Method of the Study

THE PRESENT STUDY had a variety of origins, all centered around my long term interest in altered states of consciousness. For several years I had read many anecdotal accounts of what it was like to be intoxicated on marijuana,[1] talked with many students and acquaintances (hereafter referred to as pilot subjects and informants) about what being intoxicated was like, and tried to do some theorizing that would make some sense and order out of the many phenomena reported. What little sense I have been able to make out of things in terms of theorizing has been presented in Chapter 2. This theorizing also made it clear that a systematic look at the overall phenomenology of altered states of consciousness was vital. The present study is an initial systematic look for one state of consciousness, marijuana intoxication.
    For several years I took systematic notes on various phenomena reported for marijuana intoxication, and, based on these, a large questionnaire was made up. The questionnaire used the current language of marijuana users ("heads") as much as possible. It was distributed with a covering letter that was intended to be friendly and to induce cooperation among users both in filling out the questionnaire and in passing questionnaires along to other users. The text of the letter is given below.



    I usually start a letter with "Dear So-and-so," but somehow greetings like "Dear Marijuana Smoker," "Dear Head," "To whom it may concern," or anything else like that sound pretty bad, so I'm skipping the greeting and getting right down to the point.
    One of my main research interests as a psychologist is the area of altered states of consciousness. I am particularly interested in investigating the psychological effects of marijuana, both for their intrinsic interest and for comparison with other altered states of consciousness. Reading the (scant) scientific literature on marijuana is disappointing, for most everything is on the order of, "Gee whiz, I smoked (or ate) grass, and I saw all sorts of pretty pictures which can't be described, and gee whiz, etc., etc., etc." That's very nice for a start, but not very specific!
    From preliminary talks with people who smoke marijuana, it is obvious that there are many and varied effects, and that it would be of great psychological interest to know what they are. Scientists, as a whole, know practically nothing about the experience of smoking marijuana. You do. The ideal way to expand our knowledge about these effects would be to have people smoke it under a variety of conditions, with known amounts and qualities of grass, and then report on it. Even a rudimentary knowledge of the legal situation, though, tells you genuine laboratory research on marijuana is virtually impossible.
    So I'd like to enlist your help as an expert; you've been there and, I hope, you would like to see us really know something about marijuana experiences on a scientific level, instead of just an anecdotal level. Enclosed is a questionnaire. It has a few basic questions about how much you've used marijuana, other drug experiences, and so on, to get a little background. Then the main part consists of over two hundred statements about possible experiences during the marijuana high that have been selected from preliminary surveys. I would like you to fill out the questionnaire and rate each of the described experiences in terms of how frequently it happens to you and how stoned you have to be to experience it. This is explained more fully in the questionnaire.
    If you will help by carefully filling in this questionnaire and by passing more of these questionnaires on to other heads, what will you accomplish? The following kinds of questions can be answered from analyzing this data. What sorts of experiences occur when stoned, with what frequency? How are they related to how stoned you are? What kinds of differences are there between individuals? Are there several different patterns of going up, or does everybody go up the same way? How is the marijuana experience related to experience with other drugs? How is it related to how long people have been smoking? Are there certain more basic factors that account for a lot of the specific experiences? And many other things.
    O.K., I'm going to learn a lot, and so will the scientific community when the results are published. What will you learn? The same thing. I don't like the kind of research (of which there is too much today) where the all-knowing scientist manipulates his stupid subjects. You're acting as the expert, the explorer, and you should be able to learn a lot for your trouble in helping me. Now, I can't get your name and mail you anything (that would run the paranoia level too high!), but it is common practice in science to send reprints of research results to anyone who requests them. If you will drop me a card in about a year (it takes that long to analyze everything and get it published), I will send you a copy of the results. No need to be paranoid on that, as I will get lots of reprint requests from people who have nothing to do with this study.
    While we're on the subject of paranoia: you are able to help in this study on the basis of your past experience. I am not advocating that anyone smoke marijuana or do anything illegal in order to be able to fill out this questionnaire, but naturally you don't want to put your name on it! Note also that it is not illegal to fill out a questionnaire. The questionnaire comes with a stamped, return envelope so you can return it to me anonymously. The data from the questionnaires will be punched on IBM cards, and the original questionnaires destroyed as soon as possible.
    The way these questionnaires are being distributed also insures your anonymity. I don't know any marijuana smokers by name, so I am simply putting these questionnaires out in places where marijuana smokers may have a chance to pick them up, and just handing them to people who might or might not know smokers, until this finally reaches you, with me having no idea of the route. In turn, please take as many questionnaires from whatever source you get this as you think you can pass on to other marijuana smokers. The more returns I can get, the more revealing this research will be.
    I'm asking for about an hour or two of your time. In return, you will eventually know a lot more about the psychological effects of marijuana, and the scientific community will learn even more (considering the starting level); hopefully this knowledge will eventually result in more rational attitudes toward marijuana use.
    If you can't fill this out, through lack of time or experience, please pass this material and any other sets of it you have along to someone who can.
    Many thanks!
                                Sincerely yours,
                                CHARLES T. TART, PH.D.

    Because most users experience a variety of intoxication phenomena by the third or fourth time they use marijuana, I selected the cutoff of a dozen uses to define an "experienced" user. As noted in Chapter 4, all the users who returned the questionnaire were far above this minimal cutoff.



    The questionnaire consisted of three parts: (1) instructions; (2) background information questions (reported on in Chapters 4 and 5) covering such things as age, sex, occupation, education, history of drug use, and so forth; and (3) 220 descriptions of effects the users might have experienced. (The questionnaire is reproduced in full in Appendix B.)


Instructions for Filling Out the Questionnaire

    The following instructions were attached to each questionnaire:
    Do not put your name on this questionnaire or otherwise identify yourself.
    The first two pages of the questionnaire are self-explanatory questions about your background, how much you've used pot, and your experiences with other drugs.
    The rest of the questionnaire consists of statements describing a wide variety of experiences people have reported having while stoned. These descriptive statements have been taken from a wide variety of different people's accounts and it is unlikely that any single person has experienced all of the things described.
    The statements are grouped into categories, such as Vision Effects, Hearing Effects, changes in Space-Time Perception, and so on. Some descriptive statements are relevant to more than one such category, but they are only listed under one, in order to keep this questionnaire as short as possible.
    Each statement describes a particular kind of experience, for example, "I can see more subtle shades of color." The sense of each statement is that whatever effect is described, it is considerably stronger or somehow different when stoned than if you were experiencing it straight. That is, some of the things described can be experienced to some degree when straight but are reported to be much more intense or different when stoned. Even if the statement does not include the phrase "than when straight," this comparison is implicit in all the statements.
    For each descriptive statement, you are to make two ratings.
    The first is how frequently you have experienced that particular effect when stoned, judging against all the times you have been stoned in the last six months.[2] Circle the answer category that most closely describes how often you experience that effect. The categories, reproduced under each description, are:
    Never = you have never experienced this effect.
    Rarely = you've experienced it at least once, but it's not at all frequent.
    Sometimes = you experience it between about 10 percent and 40 percent of the time.
    Very Often = you experience it more than about 40 percent of the time.
    Usually = if you experience it practically every time you get stoned.
    These rating categories are approximate, so while you should use your best Judgment you need not try to count over all your experiences!
    The second rating to make for each descriptive statement is one of how stoned you have to be to experience it (if you have experienced it at all; if you haven't, don't rate this for that statement). That is, there is an assumption that some sorts of things can be experienced if you're just a little stoned, while other things can't be experienced unless you're very stoned. There is a minimal degree of "stonedness" that you have to be at to experience a particular effect. The "How Stoned?" scale under each descriptive statement runs from Just, which is the smallest degree to which you could be stoned and know that you were stoned, to Maximum, which is the most stoned you've ever been after smoking a lot of high quality pot.
    It is possible to think about the "How Stoned" rating as relating to the amount of pot you smoke (or eat), but this is only a rough parallel because of the variations in the quality of pot. Thus this rating scale is defined in terms of your own perception of how stoned you have to be to experience the described effect, and you are asked to make five discriminations of your degree of stonedness, with Just and Maximum at the low and high ends of the scale, and Fairly, Strongly, and Very Strongly as intermediate points.
    To take an example, the first descriptive statement is, "I can see new colors or more subtle shades of color than when I'm straight." You might have this happen to you about half the times you get stoned (ignoring for the moment how stoned you are over all these times in the last six months), so you would circle the Very Often category. Then, thinking about how stoned you have to be to experience it, you might feel that it doesn't happen to you unless you're very stoned, so you'd circle the Very Strongly category. Thus you would be saying that you can't experience (or haven't experienced) this when you've been just stoned, or fairly stoned, or even when strongly stoned; but when you're very strongly stoned or maximally stoned you can experience the change in color perception.
    It may be that you've experienced a particular effect at several degrees of "stonedness," but what you're rating here is the minimal level of stonedness you must be to experience it.
    There is one other category on the "How Stoned" scale, marked LSD. You are to circle this category only if you have experienced that effect after having taken one of the very powerful psychedelic drugs like LSD, DMT, DET, mescaline, peyote, psilocybin, or STP. Thus there will probably be a number of things described that you've never experienced with pot but have with one of the more powerful psychedelics (if you've had any of the more powerful psychedelics).
    There are a few questions where the two scales "Frequency" and "How Stoned" don't apply, and space is left for a descriptive answer.
    There are a number of experiences that occur when stoned for which the opposite also occurs frequently; e.g., sometimes colors may be more intense and sometimes they may be duller. A bracket has been put in the left-hand margin whenever two questions are linked this way. Thus, you might find colors get brighter sometimes at a minimal degree of Very Stoned, and also that colors get duller frequently at a minimal degree of Just.
    Finally, space has been left at the end for you to describe any effects you get from being stoned that haven't been mentioned in this questionnaire. In making up this questionnaire it was attempted to mention everything that people may have written about as happening while stoned, but some things have undoubtedly been missed, so this is your chance to complete the list!
    Please rate the statements as accurately as you can. Whenever you feel that the way the statement is phrased doesn't quite fit your experiences, feel free to write in an explanation. If a statement makes no sense at all to you, put a ? beside it and skip it. It is understood that many of the experiences of being stoned are difficult to express in words!
    Answer this questionnaire while straight, and when it is complete, seal it in the attached return envelope (do not put a return address on it!) and mail.
    The envelope is already addressed and stamped.
    It is so commonplace and trite on psychological questionnaires to say "Thank you" that I hesitate to say it, but l really do appreciate your filling this out!


Possible Effect Descriptions

    Figure 3-1 shows part of the first page of the actual questionnaire. Each possible effect statement (referred to simply as "question" or "item" from now on) was presented in this way, with a few exceptions, described later.[3]


1. I can see new colors or more subtle shades of color than when I'm straight.
  Frequency?    Never    Rarely    Sometimes    Very Often    Usually 
  How Stoned?    Just     Fairly    Strongly    Vy Strongly    Maximum    LSD
2. Colors get duller, not as vivid.
  Frequency?    Never    Rarely    Sometimes    Very Often    Usually 
  How Stoned?    Just     Fairly    Strongly    Vy Strongly    Maximum    LSD
3. There is a sensual quality to vision, as if I were somehow "touching" the
    objects or people I am looking at.
  Frequency?    Never    Rarely    Sometimes    Very Often    Usually 
  How Stoned?    Just     Fairly    Strongly    Vy Strongly    Maximum    LSD
4. When I look at pictures they may acquire an element of visual depth, a third
    dimensional aspect that they don't have when straight.
  Frequency?    Never    Rarely    Sometimes    Very Often    Usually 
  How Stoned?    Just     Fairly    Strongly    Vy Strongly    Maximum    LSD
5. The world looks flat; it lacks the third dimension of depth.
  Frequency?    Never    Rarely    Sometimes    Very Often    Usually 
  How Stoned?    Just     Fairly    Strongly    Vy Strongly    Maximum    LSD
6. I see fringes of colored light around people (not objects), what people
    have called the "aura."
  Frequency?    Never    Rarely    Sometimes    Very Often    Usually 
  How Stoned?    Just     Fairly    Strongly    Vy Strongly    Maximum    LSD
7. I see fringes of colored light around objects (not people), what people
    have called the "aura."
  Frequency?    Never    Rarely    Sometimes    Very Often    Usually 
  How Stoned?    Just     Fairly    Strongly    Vy Strongly    Maximum    LSD



    For the present study to produce valid, accurate information about the nature of marijuana intoxication, we must feel reasonably certain that the possible effect descriptions mean what they seem to mean and that the respondents answered without bias or error, i.e., that they were careful in giving their answers and did not deliberately distort their answers in any fashion.
    In wording the possible effect descriptions, I compromised between using standard English and drug-culture argot. I used the latter only when it was clear, as "stoned" or "high" for intoxicated. I avoided other argot terms like "far out," which have come to be used so ambiguously as to be worthless for communication. Thus the possible effect descriptions generally seem clear as to what they mean. For those few which may be unfamiliar to non-drug users, I have included brief explanations and/or references at appropriate places in the text.
    A second language difficulty is that there are a variety of effects that users insist cannot be put into words, even approximately. These have necessarily been left out of the present study.
    What about careless answering, or deliberate bias in answering designed to create an overly favorable picture of intoxication?
    Three steps were taken to reduce this problem. First, the sympathetic tone of the covering letter and instructions hopefully reduced the need for the users' justifying themselves. Second, my promise to get results back to them made accurate reporting favor the users' self-interest. Third, a validity scale, described in the next section, was used to eliminate overly careless or bizarre questionnaires from the analysis.
    While eventual replication of the present results by others is the final test of validity, the above steps, plus my knowledge of marijuana intoxication acquired from pilot subjects and informants, gives me confidence that the present results are reasonably accurate.


Validity Scale

    Fourteen of the 220 items constituted a validity scale. These were descriptions, scattered randomly through the questionnaire, of "possible effects" which I had never heard of or had heard of only extremely rarely, which seemed extremely unlikely to occur, and (one) which had been used in studies of hypnosis as a validity item (Orne, 1959).
    No single improbable answer can necessarily disqualify a questionnaire, because the respondent may actually have experienced an improbable effect. The a priori decision was made to disqualify any questionnaire with six or more positive responses on the validity scale, as this would be an extremely improbable occurrence, warranting suspicion.
    The 14 items of the validity scale, together with the percentages of the 150 final respondents[4] rating each frequency category, are shown in Table 3-1. The a priori rules for counting an answer as a point on the validity scale are indicated by the boxes around certain response categories for each item. For example, if a user answered item 26 by circling Very Often, it would count a point on the validity scale, but not if he circled Never, Rarely, or Sometimes.
    For the 150 questionnaires used for analysis, the mean validity scale score was only 1.5, so the final group of users did not show a bizarre patterning of answers on this scale, and we may presume they were careful in filling out their questionnaires.



    Because of the severe legal penalties attached to the possession, use, or sale of marijuana it was important to assure the users' anonymity in order to get any returned questionnaires. The distribution technique consisted of my handing large stacks of questionnaires to students and acquaintances whom I thought might be marijuana smokers and/or who might have friends who were marijuana smokers, and asking them to keep passing them on to other users. This worked very well. Many times students walked into my office and asked for more to pass out. In this way I had no names of anyone and could not even tell if the people I thought were smokers actually filled out a questionnaire. Users who completed the questionnaire simply put it in the attached, stamped return envelope and mailed it to me.


Data Reduction

    All properly filled out and acceptable questionnaires returned by a cut-off date several months after distribution were coded onto IBM cards and magnetic tape for later processing at the computer centers of the University of California at Davis and at Berkeley.



    A large questionnaire was constructed on the basis of readings and informal interviews with marijuana users. It was distributed, along with a sympathetic covering letter, in a fashion that ensured anonymity of the respondents. Only experienced marijuana users were asked to fill out and return the questionnaire.
    For each of more than two hundred possible intoxication effects, the user was asked to rate how frequently he had experienced that effect in the last six months of use and the minimal degree of intoxication necessary to experience it.



(back to text)

26I have difficulty hearing things clearly, sounds are blurry and indistinct.61%23%13%1%1%
42I salivate quite a lot when stoned.44%30%13%5%5%
54Objects seem to tilt toward the left.80%10%3%1%1%
57The force of gravity seems to alternate between pushing me up and pushing me down.56%14%17%5%5%
72When there is any trembling in my body, the upper half of my body trembles much more than the lower half.69%7%10%5%3%
87My scalp itches a lot if I have smoked too much grass.80%13%6%1%1%
97My non-dominant hand (left if you're right-handed and vice versa) becomes partially paralyzed, unusable.86%9%2%1%0%
102I tremble a lot in my hands for a while after having been stoned.71%20%7%0%1%
104Smoking grass makes me cough hard while inhaling and holding my breath.14%42%32%9%2%
132My mind goes completely blank for long periods (15 minutes or more) even though I'm not asleep...56%27%13%2%0%
166I almost invariably feel bad when I turn on, regardless of how I felt before I turned on.47%36%9%1%1%
180I have lost control and been "taken over" by an outside force or will, which is hostile or evil in intent, for a while.79%14%4%0%0%
181I have lost control and been "taken over" by an outside force or will, which is good or divine, for a while.63%16%9%5%1%
187When stoned I lose most of my sense of ego identity and usually take on the identity of my like-sexed parent (father for males, mother for females).79%10%7%0%1%

(a) A given row may not add to exactly 100% because of users'
skipping that item and/or rounding errors. The scored direction
for counting on the validity scale is given in bold-face responses.



    1. Well-written anecdotal accounts may be found in Andrews and Vinkenoog (1967), Anonymous (1969), Bloomquist (1968), de Ropp (1967), Ebin (1961), Goode (1969), Hollander (1967), Rosevear (1967), Simmons (1967), and Solomon (1966). (back)
    2. The experience of the last six months is used rather than all your experience to cut down inaccuracies due to memories' fading. It may be that there are changes in how frequently you experience various things as you get more experience in being stoned, but this can be analyzed for in comparing the responses of new heads and old heads. If, however, you haven't been stoned very much in the past six months, use all your experiences for estimating frequencies. (back)
    3. In retrospect, I believe I should have used a 7- or 10-point scale for frequency and intoxication levels, as I had forgotten the tendency of people to avoid extreme categories on any scale. (back)
    4. A number of returned questionnaires were rejected because of high validity scale scores or other reasons, as discussed in Chapter 4. Validity score data on rejected users are not included in Table 3-1. (back)

Chapter 4

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