|Smoking Is Good For You|
"If you don't think drugs have done good things for us, do me a favour.
Go home tonight, take all your albums, tapes and CDs and burn 'em.
'Cause, you know what?... The musicians who made that great music
that has enhanced your lives throughout the years were real high..."
Prohibitionist killjoys have always pretended that smoking pot causes madness, but these pages are dedicated to the proposition that smoking pot is good for you.
That is not to say that cannabis is always entirely harmless, or a 'soft' drug, or that everybody should partake of it. To the contrary, the psychological effects of THC - the stuff in cannabis that gets you stoned - can be profoundly affective. While the precise mechanisms of cannabinoid interactions with the brain has been a focus of scientific investigation since the discovery of THC receptor sites in 1988, the phenomenology of altered states of consciousness under the influence of cannabis has been extensively studied and its effects are well known to include: exuberance of spirits and emotional excitement; constant theorising (and pronounced forgetfulness); heightened sensory awareness; plus a distorted, or elongated, perception of time passing. Not to mention the munchies.
Of all the perceptual changes that accompany the state that Charles T. Tart, in his Psychological Study of Marijuana Intoxication, On Being Stoned, called 'marijuana intoxication', he found the most characteristic effect to be an auditory one, enabling users to hear more subtle changes in sounds so that the notes of music are purer and more distinct and the rhythm stands out more. This is experienced very often or usually by almost all users and occurs at a low level of intoxication. As Peter Webster notes in his essay, Marijuana and Music, 'one of the more remarkable effects noticed in the state of consciousness brought on by marijuana use is a greatly enhanced appreciation of music. The effect seems to be almost universal and does not fade with experience'.
Mr Webster's essay - in which he constructs a hypothesis that the effects of cannabis upon the short-term memories of virtuoso musicians prompted the evolution of improvisational jazz - is a contribution to Lester Grinspoon's collection of accounts of the creative use of cannabis, Marijuana Uses. Dr Grinspoon, the pioneering advocate of medicinal cannabis, tells how he abstained from partaking of the drug himself until a year or so after his seminal book, Marihuana Reconsidered, was published in 1971. Finally, he decided the time had come to experiment and he and his wife, Betsy, tried it a couple of times at parties, but felt nothing. On the third attempt, at last they crossed the Rubicon:
'The first thing I noticed, within a few minutes of smoking, was the music; it was Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. This music was not unfamiliar to me, as it was a favorite of my children, who constantly filled the house with the sound of the Beatles, the Grateful Dead and other popular rock bands of the time. They frequently urged me to get my "head out of classical music and try listening to rock." It was impossible not to listen to rock when they were growing up, but it was possible for me, as it was for many parents of my generation, not to hear it. On that evening I did "hear" it. It was for me a rhythmic implosion, a fascinating new musical experience!'
A central axiom of rock criticism is that when the drugs change, so does the music. Each musical revolution has been characterised by the use of particular drugs: Rock'n'Roll ignited by the post-War abundance of amphetamines; the languorous Summer of Love hallucinated by LSD; Punk Rockers' nihilism expressed by Sniffin' Glue; the Eighties' Acid House upheaval loved up on MDMA, a.k.a. Ecstasy. In conjunction with their drug of choice, however, each successive generation has also consumed cannabis. As Harry Shapiro tells, in his seminal Story of Drugs and Popular Music, Waiting For The Man, 'The drug (cannabis) features throughout the history of popular music, experienced differently by divergent sub-cultural groups: jazz age swingers, cool beboppers, cosmic hippies and Trench Town roots rockers from Jamaica.'
Potaguaya, as the native American Indians called the herb - hence, 'pot' - has always been used, by hedonists in general and musicians in particular, under myriad slang names coined by those in the know to shut out the straights. In return, the authorities have always sought to demonise the weed and to identify it with subversive free-thinking and licentious behaviour. It is hardly coincidental that the evolution of popular culture has been so closely entwined with the history of Prohibition.
Cannabis may not cause madness, but it definitely changes minds. Cannabis consciousness tends to demolish preconceptions, enhancing all six senses and enabling users to see things from fresh perspectives. Neophyte smokers are frequently surprised by thoughts while 'stoned' that have never occurred to them before, when 'straight'. If popular culture is defined as the spontaneous creation of largely self-taught artists, free from the constraints of formal tradition, it should come as no surprise that cannabis has always been used by those at the cutting edge of Pop. If pop is defined in terms of youthful rebellion against authority, it's no wonder that hipsters have always smoked pot in defiance of straight society and to differentiate themselves from it.
Pot Culture is an on-going project to explore the influence of cannabis on the evolution of popular culture, chronicling its use by many of the greatest artists of the twentieth century and continuing to monitor tell tale signs in the now! You may notice that the information to be found here is not bang up to date and many of the pages consist only of text. If you have ideas about how Pot Culture could be updated & improved, or if you fancy redesigning and adding graphics to one of the existing pages of text, please contact the creator and curator of Pot Culture and your humble servant, Russell Cronin.