On Being Stoned
Charles T. Tart, Ph. D.
Chapter 1. Marijuana
ONE OF THE MOST persistent and unusual aspects of human behavior,
observable in all cultures and through all of history, is man's
dissatisfaction with his ordinary state of consciousness and the
consequent development of innumerable methods for altering it.
Our normal pattern of thought and feeling, useful in many ways,
never seems to be enough for some people.
The reasons for this search for better states of consciousness
are many, ranging from desires for greater knowledge to religious,
hedonistic, and power motives. The belief that our ordinary state
of consciousness is of only utilitarian value and not suitable
for insights into basic questions about the meaning of life has
been one of the most important motives. Some men have been successful
in achieving higher states of consciousness; others have failed.
Techniques have been innumerable: religious ceremonies, meditation,
hypnosis, self-hypnosis, asceticism, fasting, dancing, yoga exercises,
and drugs, to name a few. Some of the men who have succeeded in
altering their state of consciousness, such as the Buddha, are
revered by hundreds of millions of people. Others have been outcasts
of society or considered insane because their views were too different
from those of their contemporaries. Still others have gone truly
insane in the course of their search.
Our scientific understanding of altered states of consciousness
is minuscule in comparison with what we do not know and the importance
of these states. (For a survey of the scientific literature on
them, see Tart, 1969.)
Drugs have been an important means of inducing altered states
of consciousness throughout history. Cultures have embraced or
rejected this means. Proponents have touted it as the shortcut
to enlightenment, while critics, both ordinary men and those considered
spiritual giants, have called it an escape, a pseudo-enlightenment.
Our culture today is one of the most drug-oriented cultures in
history; we go by the millions to our doctor (or our dealer) for
pills to pep us up, calm us down, wake us up, put us to sleep,
relax our tensions, make us forget, or enlighten us. As a whole
our cultural attitudes toward drugs are irrational to the point
of absurdity. We mightily praise some drugs whose detrimental
effects are enormous and well known, such as alcohol, and condemn
other drugs about which we know very little. Scientific knowledge
about drugs has generally been of little consequence in affecting
social attitudes and usage.
This book is an attempt to broaden our knowledge about one of
the most widely used and poorly understood drugs in our culture
Marijuana is the term given to preparations of the flowering
tops, leaves, seeds, and/or stems of the Indian hemp plant, Cannabis
sativa L. The preparation, for eating or smoking, is commonly
called marijuana, marihuana, Mary Jane, hemp, pot, grass, shit,
and dope, with usage depending on fashions and subcultures.
Cannabis sativa grows wild all over the world and is a
very hardy plant. It is extensively cultivated in many areas,
and research of optimal techniques of cultivation has been extensive
(Drake, 1970). The plant is desired for its fibers, which are
used for rope, as well as for its drug value. Attempts to increase
fiber content and decrease drug content of the plant by mutation
have succeeded only in increasing the drug content (Warmke &
Davidson, 1941-43, 1942-43, 1943-44).
The drug potency of the plant depends on the particular strain
of plant, cultivation techniques, soil, and climate. Different
parts of the plant have different concentrations of the drug.
Much of the marijuana generally available in the United States
today is what is called in India bhang, and is the least
potent mixture, made from poor quality plants or from the lower
leaves of better plants. Stems and seeds are generally separated
out from marijuana by users, as they contain practically none
of the desirable ingredients of marijuana. The seeds are also
widely reputed to contain substances that induce headaches if
A more potent grade of marijuana, termed ganja in India,
consists of the flowering tops and upper leaves of carefully bred
plants. The most potent marijuana preparation, generally termed
hashish or, colloquially, hash (charas in India), consists
only of the sticky resin scraped from the tops of mature and carefully
Hashish is often treated as a separate drug, but there is no good
scientific evidence to indicate that it is chemically different.
By virtue of its containing far more active ingredients by volume,
however, the user either can get intoxicated with much less hashish
than ordinary marijuana or can get more intoxicated by using an
equal amount. Whenever I refer to marijuana effects in this book,
I am including those of hashish.
Techniques of Use
Marijuana is eaten or smoked. Most American users prefer smoking
because (1) less marijuana is required for a given degree of intoxication;
(2) effects begin within a few minutes after smoking and end within
three or four hours, as compared to an hour or more for onset
and a duration of six to twelve hours when eaten; (3) more precise
control of the level of intoxication is possible, as the user
can stop smoking when the desired level is reached; and (4) more
aftereffects and unpleasant effects are associated with eating
marijuana because of the possibility of overdose. Smoking is done
by making a cigarette (commonly called a joint or reefer) or by
using a pipe, often a waterpipe to reduce the harshness of the
smoke. The smoke is held in the lungs as long as possible to maximize
Marijuana is a complex substance and has long resisted analysis
as to its active ingredients. The reader interested in the chemistry
and pharmacology of marijuana should see Mechoulam (1970) and
In the last few years one of the major active ingredients has
been identified and named tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
Human subjects given synthesized THC under laboratory conditions
report many effects similar to those reported for natural marijuana,
and a number of workers feel that THC may be the only active ingredient
in marijuana. Numerous studies of the effects of synthetic THC
on animals and humans are being funded by the federal government.
Experienced users, however, insist that different samples of marijuana
differ somewhat in qualitative as well as quantitative effects;
some marijuana has a much stronger sedative effect, some tends
to make people very silly, and so on. This suggests that there
are other active ingredients than THC in marijuana, and research
should not concentrate too exclusively on THC, in spite of the
pharmacological and medical convenience of working with a pure
drug instead of a natural mixture (Weil, 1969).
Little is understood of the chemical fate of marijuana once it
is absorbed into the human body. Older research with marijuana
extracts on animals, the usual method of establishing basic pharmacological
information, has been fraught with methodological difficulties.
Many physiological effects appear in animals that do not appear
in humans, species differ markedly from one another, and different
individuals of the same species often show opposite effects. It
is not known whether the dosages used were really comparable to
those used by humans. Ongoing research with synthetic THC may
begin to add to our knowledge, but at present we know practically
nothing about the pharmacological action of marijuana.
PHYSIOLOGICAL EFFECTS ON HUMANS
The most striking thing that can be said about the physiological
effects of marijuana on humans is that there are practically no
observable effects of consequence. Weil, Zinberg, and Nelson (1968)
found that marijuana increases heart rate somewhat and causes
a dilation of conjunctival blood vessels (somewhat bloodshot-looking
eyes). They found no evidence of dilated pupils, even though law
enforcement officers typically use this as a test for intoxication.
Marijuana seems to be a rather unique drug in having such profound
psychological effects with virtually no readily observable physiological
Effects on Human Performance
The performance capabilities of intoxicated users have been investigated
in a number of older studies, but because of methodological shortcomings,
discussed fully in Chapter 2, they have yielded little reliable
Two recent studies, both methodologically very good, found essentially
no measurable changes in performance. Crancer and his colleagues
(1969) tested experienced users for performance in a driving
simulator. When intoxicated on marijuana, they were not significantly
different in overall performance than under control (non-intoxicated)
conditions, although there were significantly more speedometer
errors. Speedometer errors have not been found to correlate with
actual driving performance in normal drivers, however. When the
same subjects were intoxicated on alcohol, they made large numbers
of errors on almost all aspects of the driving simulation tests.
Weil and his colleagues (1968) found that experienced marijuana
users showed no significant losses in performance on some simple
motor and intellectual tasks; indeed, they sometimes showed a
slight improvement when intoxicated. Naive subjects who had not
smoked marijuana before the laboratory experiment did not get
"high," i.e., felt none or few of the experiential effects
of marijuana, but showed significant impairments on a variety
I doubt that alterations of simple sensory and motor tasks will
be found associated with marijuana intoxication. Subtle alterations
may be found by sophisticated analyses, such as Weil and Zinberg
(1969) found for speech patterns, but the effects of marijuana
seem to be primarily on the more complex intellectual functions,
as detailed in this book. These are probably detectable only by
asking users about them and/or by administering psychological
tests, which are sensitive to complex alterations of mental functioning.
In one sense this entire book is a description of the psychological
effects of marijuana intoxication, so no attempt will be made
to deal with them in this introduction.
An addicting drug, such as heroin, generally requires the user
to continually increase his dosage because of the tolerance he
builds up to the drug, produces acute distress if the user does
not get his dose at the regular time, and produces extreme distress,
which can result in death or severe withdrawal symptoms, if the
drug is completely taken away from the user.
Much nonsense has been promulgated in the past by narcotics agencies
and medical groups about the addicting properties of marijuana.
There is no evidence of addiction. Emphasis today is laid on the
fact that marijuana produces a "psychological dependence."
This is a nonsensical use of the English language, for psychological
dependence simply means that people tend to repeat enjoyable experiences.
Experienced users can stop using marijuana at any time with no
distress or physiological symptoms. Once they learn how to get
intoxicated, they require less, not more, marijuana.
Occasional users who are mentally ill may use excessive amounts
of marijuana or become temporarily dependent on it, but this says
something about mental illness rather than marijuana.
Similarly, no reliable evidence exists that marijuana use causes
users to try dangerous narcotics like heroin. Persons predisposed
to narcotic addiction become addicted whether or not they have
used marijuana. The vast majority of marijuana users never get
involved with narcotics, even though the need to deal with pushers,
who may also sell narcotics, gives them ample opportunity.
LEGAL STATUS OF MARIJUANA
The possession of marijuana or its extracts is a serious offense
in every state of the United States and its territories. Penalties
vary widely from state to state. Although reform movements are
under way, the prescribed penalties in many states are still extremely
harsh. Years of imprisonment are frequently mandatory for the
possession of the smallest detectable amounts of marijuana.
Penalties for selling or giving away marijuana are even more severe.
Since many users also buy marijuana as a favor for their friends,
they are generally liable to these higher penalties.
The actual structure of the laws is exceptionally complex, and
some will be changed shortly. By far the best review of existing
laws and their social consequences has been made by Kaplan in
his recent book, Marijuana, the New Prohibition (1970).
Smith's (1970) book also contains excellent discussions of the
social issues revolving around marijuana use.
EXTENT OF USE
In spite of the severe penalties attached to possession and sale
of marijuana, use today is very widespread. Given the sorts of
pleasurable effects reported later in this book, it seems likely
that use will continue to increase.
No definite survey of incidence of use can be made because there
is always a (realistic) tendency of wary users to deny their use.
Nevertheless, a large number of surveys of drug use on college
campuses have been made (Kaplan, 1970; Pearlman, 1968). It is
now a rare college campus that does not have a significant number
of marijuana users and on many campuses users themselves estimate
over 50 percent of the students use marijuana occasionally, primarily
at social events. An unpublished study that I carried out in collaboration
with one of my graduate students, Carl Klein, found that from
1967 to 1968 the percentage of students who used marijuana at
a conservative West Coast university doubled, and various formal
and informal estimates of that population since have confirmed
that a majority of the students have tried marijuana. (Further
details of this study are presented in Chapter 28.) This seems
typical. Drug-education programs sponsored by schools and government
agencies are viewed with scorn and amusement by users since their
own and friends' experiences with marijuana convince them that
the instructors are ignorant or lying. This is an unfortunate
effect, as the attitude may be generalized to warnings about drugs
that really are dangerous, such as hard narcotics and amphetamines.
Marijuana use is by no means confined to college campuses. In
a survey of young adults (eighteen and over) in San Francisco,
Manheimer, Mellinger, and Balter (1969) reported that 13 percent
had used marijuana at least once. Conservative estimates in the
press usually figure that several million Americans have tried
marijuana, although it is not clear how many use it with any regularity.
Difficult political, moral, and religious problems arise when
an act generally condemned and illegal spreads at such a rapid
rate. This book is not the place to go into them, but the interested
reader will find some good discussions in Aaronson and Osmond
(1970), Krippner (1968), and Kaplan (1970).
Leaving aside considerations of social and political problems,
what sort of reliable, scientific knowledge do we have about the
effects of marijuana? What do users experience that makes the
risk of prison worthwhile?
The following chapter discusses the nature of marijuana intoxication
and explains why previous scientific work has gained very little
reliable knowledge about it. The remainder of the book describes
the method and results of the present study as an attempt to answer
the question of what marijuana smokers experience.
1. Technically this is named 1-delta1-trans-THC.
Due to an ambiguity in the system for giving chemical names, it
is sometimes referred to as 1-delta9-trans-THC in some