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On Being Stoned, by Charles Tart

  On Being Stoned

    Charles T. Tart, Ph. D.


    I have long been impressed with the need so many people seem to have of occasionally altering their state of consciousness, of radically changing the way in which their minds function. Alcohol, prayer, meditation, sacred dances, fasting, revivals, hypnosis, drugs—these and many other techniques have all been used by people in various cultures for pleasure and insight, worship and diversion, work and healing. Yet practically all of our science and philosophy is based on what seems sensible to our ordinary state of mind, and the existence of these other states is largely ignored by being relegated to the realms of the abnormal and the illogical. It is only in the last few years that psychologists and other scientists have begun to pay serious attention to altered states of consciousness and to ask questions about what they are like, how they affect behavior, what function they have for the individual and his culture, and how they might supplement traditional methods of gaining knowledge.
    In spite of the attention now starting to be focused on altered states of consciousness, we know very, very little about most of them.
    When I began focusing my researches on altered states of consciousness some years ago, I found myself in a similar position to the scholar of the fable, who wanted to know about the land of Muggles.* It was clear that the mind could indeed function in non-ordinary ways, but beyond that fact things were not so clear. Some "travelers" told consistent stories about some of the states of consciousness they had experienced, and I could feel certain enough about them to plan "expeditions," research projects to investigate some aspect of that state in detail. For other states, the tales were wild and improbable, inconsistent, and clearly reflecting whatever ax the particular traveler had to grind.
    The literature on marijuana was especially confusing. Even when it purported to be medical or scientific literature, much of it was full of propaganda, pro or con. Lurid individual tales of marijuana intoxication contradicted the laboratory studies of its effects. For reasons detailed in Chapter 2, the individual anecdotes were often hopelessly confused by the personalities of the writers, and the conditions of the laboratory studies were so unusual as to have no applicability to the ordinary use of marijuana. How could I profitably explore particular features of this strange country of marijuana intoxication when the overall map of the landscape was so confused and useless? I might expend great effort on what was truly a trivial feature.
    The study described in this book is an attempt to get an overall look at marijuana intoxication as it occurs in the ordinary world (insofar as California and America represent the ordinary world!). What happens to the minds of experienced users when they smoke marijuana? What do they experience? What are the frequent and infrequent, important and unimportant experiences? How do they relate to how "high" or "stoned" the user is? Are they affected by his overall drug experience his educational background, etc.? Knowing these general effects—the overall lay of the land—then we can concentrate our research efforts on the important aspects of marijuana intoxication.
    The study that gathered this information is, as far as I know, unique in its approach. Staying with our analogy, I treated experienced marijuana users as explorers of the marijuana state and then systematically collected, compared, and analyzed their reports. Since it is an initial attempt at this sort of thing, it can be done in an even better fashion a second time around, and, ordinarily, I would like to have repeated the study with improvements before publishing this report.
    But the times are not ordinary, and so I am publishing this without waiting for the replication that would make the figures a little more precise and eliminate an occasional mistake in the effects of some background factors. A certain amount of justifiable technical criticism will result and, hopefully, will help myself or others to carry out an improved version of this study. Because the times are not ordinary, however, I suspect a great deal of a-rational criticism of this book will also occur. Marijuana is not a subject being discussed in intellectual isolation, emotions about its use are heated, both pro and con, to put it mildly. Pressures to change existing laws are very high, and legislators ask for scientific studies of the effects of marijuana to base such changes on, so every study on this subject receives a great deal of partisan criticism or acclamation in addition to the usual scientific scrutiny. To those with a fixed position that marijuana use is harmful and marijuana users are deviates or mentally ill escapists of some sort, this book will be unwelcome. I have not argued for or against the legalization of marijuana, but the effects that experienced users describe are generally very interesting and pleasant. Thus some critics will see the tone of the book as "pro-pot," even though I have attempted to be neutral and simply describe results.
    I am presenting this study, then, because the subject of marijuana intoxication is so important today and because the information contained herein will answer many questions about what it is like to be high on marijuana (and, therefore, why people use it) in a way that no other current studies will. Too, my knowledge of what most of the studies being funded by various agencies are like indicates that there are no studies going on now which will provide better answers to these questions. I regret to say that most of the new studies going on are subject to many of the same criticisms that make the older ones irrelevant to the real world, as discussed in Chapter 2.
    Because of the importance of the subject and the uniqueness of this approach, I think this book will be useful or informative to three different audiences. First, researchers may use these findings as a guide to profitable research. Second, people who are curious about what being stoned on marijuana is like but who do not use it themselves—parents, educators, physicians, legislators—will be able to get a good picture of what it is like and why people use marijuana in spite of the legal penalties. Third, marijuana users themselves will be able to compare their personal experience with that of users in general, with the result, according to many of the users who contributed to this study, that they will be able to experience more effects and acquire more control over their state.**
    Again I stress that this is basically a scientific book; I have attempted to present objectively descriptions of what experienced users feel about marijuana intoxication, without arguing for or against marijuana use or letting my own feelings about marijuana distort the writing. I have feelings, of course. My own survey of the scientific and other literature puts me in agreement with Kaplan (1970) that the known dangers of marijuana use are very small, while the known social cost of the present legal structure—branding millions of Americans criminals, clogging the courts with victimless crimes, creating disrespect for the law among the young, and enforcing the laws at huge expense—is tremendously high. Thus I see some form of legalization-under-control of marijuana as socially desirable. I have, however, attempted to keep these personal feelings completely out of the book.
    A tremendous amount of data is contained in this book. Although I have checked the manuscript against the computer data printouts in several ways to eliminate error and inconsistency, the sheer size of the undertaking makes it inevitable that an occasional error or inconsistency may be apparent to the diligent reader. I would appreciate his writing me about any such inconsistencies, so they may be corrected in a subsequent printing.
    This study could not have been carried out except for the assistance of a number of people in the data collection, analysis, and write-up stages, all of whom I wish to thank; namely, Joan Crawford, Lois Dick, Dee Kindelt, Carl Klein, Arthur Hastings, Wanda Meyer, Mary Moore, Donna Sedgwick, Marlene Shinazy, Penny Smail, and my wife Judy. This research was supported by the United States Public Health Service grant MH16-810. All opinions expressed in this book are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of the above people or the Public Health Service.



    *"Muggles" was one of the slang terms for marijuana when it was first introduced into this country in the 1930s. (back)
    **Because readers of these last two types are sometimes put off by numbers and statistics, I have disposed of all these complexities in a page of explanation following this section. (back)

A Note to the Non-Scientist Reader

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