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On Being Stoned, by Charles Tart

  On Being Stoned

    Charles T. Tart, Ph. D.


    THE RESEARCH reported in this book is both innovative and relevant. At a time in our culture when there is a growing concern about drug abuse among the young, and the use of marijuana is increasing more than it ever has in our country's history, it is fortunate that someone has seriously attempted to investigate the psychological and subjective effects of marijuana. This book should prove valuable for the interested layman who is curious about such effects and also for the scientist who may be stimulated to carry the results of this research further.
    It is important for anyone to note before reading this book that the content is a careful study of the personal experience encountered when marijuana is used. This important fact sets this book apart from those primarily dealing with the pharmacology, medical implications, social desirability/undesirability, or the legal problems of marijuana, and is the very reason that Dr. Tart's approach breaks new ground in this controversial area. His method has been quite simple and straightforward, yet it is one which has too long been ignored in modern behavioristic psychology in a misguided attempt to be "scientific" by avoiding subjective experience. Dr. Tart has asked persons who themselves have used marijuana what different kinds of experiences they have had. His instrument has been a carefully constructed questionnaire that has proved to be extremely useful in gathering a very large amount of data from the persons who should know best what the experience is like—those who have actually taken the drug. The personal account of the subject cannot be ignored despite some imprecision in measurement. Each individual person may use his own standards for interpreting the experience or measuring the intensity, but there is no substitute for a report by the person who has been there. Indeed, this experiential aspect of the effect, especially with psychedelic drugs, may in the long run prove to be the most valuable. Far more important than laboratory conditions far removed from the actual social usage of marijuana is what happens to the person in his own consciousness, how he interprets this, and how it influences his actual life.
    Another reason this book is a valuable contribution to our knowledge about marijuana is that it helps to answer a very important question often not even asked by many who are the most concerned about marijuana usage. This question is: Why do so many otherwise law-abiding people risk their freedom and reputation to use this illegal drug? The data in this book show consistent agreement that most of the subjective experiences reported by users—for example, sensory intensification of musical appreciation, gustatory enjoyment, and sexual activity—are extremely pleasurable. Dr. Tart has attempted to establish a subjective scale to help quantify such effects. Because pleasure is the reason most people use the drug, it should certainly be studied and not ignored in research on the effects of marijuana.
    From a strictly scientific point of view, this research has great value by opening up new questions that are researchable. Once it has been established that certain types of subjective experience do in fact occur consistently, psychophysiological correlates can be measured, such as various EEG brain waves, pulse, blood pressure, and skin potential. Some of the positive effects reported might have practical clinical application, such as stimulation of appetite, decrease in depression, enhancement of refreshing sleep, and certain types of problem solving. Hopefully, Dr. Tart's work will stimulate future research to test these hypotheses.
    Dr. Tart's pioneering effort points the way toward the future in other ways as well. This book is a creative step forward in better understanding the range of human consciousness. The method of studying actual subjective experience is an indispensable tool for future research into altered states of consciousness. There are important implications not only for the effects of marijuana, but also for research in hypnosis, sensory isolation, EEG feedback, and the major psychedelic drugs such as LSD, mescaline, and psilocybin. In the next twenty years there will certainly be a growing interest in altered states of consciousness triggered by all these approaches. It is important to remember that the experience, and not the technique, is what will motivate this interest. Better understanding of the effects of marijuana may lead to other methods, perhaps safer and less objectionable from a legal standpoint, for achieving similar effects.
    This book should make an important contribution to man's seemingly irresistible urge to explore his own consciousness. Twenty years from now its value can be assessed from the perspective of the research that will follow. I would guess that Dr. Tart's work will be judged to have had considerable influence.
Walter N. Pahnke, M.D., Ph.D.
Director of Clinical Sciences
Maryland Psychiatric Research Center

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