It’s a fact: humans have been altering their brain chemistry from the moment they realized they could do it. We don’t know how hunter-gatherers got high, but the odds are — knowing nature as well as they had to — that in addition to knowing what their bellies liked, also they knew what their brains liked.
We began both farming and fermenting alcohol in the Fertile Crescent about 10,000 years ago. That probably wasn’t a coincidence. In Mesoamerica, psychoactives like Ayahuasca were used as part of their religious rituals and culture.
New archaeological evidence suggests that cannabis, too, was used by religious communities. Traces of burnt cannabis and frankincense were identified on a pair of limestone altars — part of a Jewish shrine dating back to the ancient Kingdom of Judah (roughly 930 BCE – 587 BCE).
Cannabis legalization is giving us the chance to see cannabis anew — unencumbered by the racist mythology that was manufactured about cannabis, principally by America’s first Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, Harry J. Anslinger. A former prohibition cop (and a very talented bureaucrat), Anslinger served from 1930 – 1962 (when JFK mercifully put Anslinger out to pasture). When he was first given the post in 1930, Anslinger ran a tiny federal bureau with little manpower, few resources and a tiny budget.
In 1930, America’s drug laws were mostly a hodgepodge of local restrictions. The first anti-marijuana legislation passed in America was initiated by the California Board Of Pharmacy in 1913. They wanted marijuana use restricted — not because it was unhealthy (they had no idea whether it was or wasn’t; no one had ever done any research on it) but because Mexicans smoked it. And “Hindoos”. Racism was behind every last one of America’s drug laws It still is.
Cannabis users know what cannabis is and what cannabis isn’t. It doesn’t make anyone crazy. It doesn’t make anyone homicidal. Hell — if people at sporting events smoked dope instead of drinking alcohol, there would never be another riot at a sporting event ever. At a game’s conclusion, people wouldn’t be fighting — cannabis has the opposite effect. People would be too busy hugging each other or laughing — or sleeping peacefully.
And violence would never spill from a stadium out into a city street.
While cannabis can induce slumber, it also induces thought. Lots of thought. Lots and lots and LOTS of thought.
There’s a reason most of the musicians who helped created jazz in New Orleans in the early 20th century gravitated to cannabis. They knew — you can’t create or play on booze. It fogs the mind. Opium? No way. But cannabis works differently inside our brains. Our synapses are like digital circuits. They’re either open or closed. The more synapses that are open in our grains, the more information we process. THC simply causes more synapses to open — allowing us to process more things concurrently — thoughts, yes, but also tastes, smells, sounds — other sensations.
That’s why some people feel paranoid when they smoke marijuana — it’s all that additional information flowing into them — into their awareness.
Creatively, all that additional information flowing is manna from heaven. Cannabis allowed musicians like Louis Armstrong — a long-time marijuana devotee — to articulate the music in their heads through the instruments in their hands. Writers, artists, actors and dancers — they’ve all experienced heightened creativity through cannabis use.
Cannabis is but one way to transcend reality.
As we stand here today, Santa Cruz, CA has already legalized psybicilin — magic mushrooms — for therapeutic use. People using LSD have consistently described not only mind-altering experiences, but life-affirming experiences. Ayahuasca continues to open peoples’ minds as it has for thousands of years.
Plenty of people travel without ever leaving their armchairs. From a real traveler’s point of view though? Those people have gone nowhere. The same is true of cannabis — and other drugs with spiritual potential. You can pretend to have gone on a spiritual journey — or you can actually go on one.