The Marijuana Smokers
Chapter 1 Overview
Social change during the decade of the 1960s has been phenomenal,
especially in several dramatic sectors of society. Broadly based
movements today characterized the position of only a few scattered
individuals in 1960. Many ideas and forms of behavior practiced
by those at the margins of society have been absorbed into groups
that represent, if not the mainstream, then at least the growing
edge, of American social life. In the less than half a generation
from 1960 to 1970, fundamental changes have taken place that will
permanently alter the shape of history. The most important of
these changes have been cultural, not technological. That man
has walked the surface of the moon, as this century lumbers into
its last quarter, tells us very little about the texture of a
single man's life; on the other hand, the fact that huge segments
of American society are irretrievably disenchanted with legitimate
political channels tells us a great deal about the quality of
life in this society at this particular point in time.
The increased use of illegal drugs is one of the most dramatic
of social changes in this decade. The use of marijuana in colleges
in 1960 was almost unknown; in 1970, it is commonplace. Any activity
that swelled to the same degree would attract a great deal of
attention, whether it be wearing short skirts or engaging in premarital
intercourse The fact that marijuana use is subject to severe penalties
makes it newsworthy indeed. That increasingly larger subcommunities
cluster about it makes marijuana even better news. And because
it powerfully ties in with dozens of other activities and institutions,
study of its use has become vitally important.
Social change is the most troublesome and difficult of all areas
of social life to analyze. The task of understanding a society
at one point in time is formidable; to understand it in flux is
overwhelming. Yet social scientists are expected to make predictions
on demand. Like everyone else, they are often wrong. Fads and
fashions wax and wane. Today's craze makes tomorrow's trash. Yet
fluctuations are not Brownian bursts of random energy; some of
what happens from year to year has a method and a design. The
river that one steps into at one point in time is not wholly different
at a later time. Many of the more trivial features of the social
life of any society have no pattern; the core features of all
societies make temporal sense.
One of the central theses of this book is that the immense increase
in non-narcotic drug use in the past decade is an organic outgrowth
of a newly evolving way of life whose precise features can now
only be dimly perceived, even by its participants. Marijuana use
today is not a fad, not a craze. It is not going to be wished
away, and legal measures to eradicate it will be only partially
successful. Whether we like it or not, potsmoking is here to stay.
It might be wise to try to understand it.
Questions reveal biases. What we ask reflects what we think. The
phenomenon of marijuana use is a bright, glittering jewel, each
facet of which flashes a different color. Observers stand in one
spot only, and see only one color. And each thinks he sees the
whole. The questions of agents of social control are puzzled,
anxious questions, revealing the incredulity that anyone would
want to partake of such an activity. The question "Why?"
indicates that the activity requires an explanation; "Why?"
can often be transformed into, "Why would anyone want to
do such a thing?"
Sociologists stand in a different spot, and therefore see a different
reality. The "why" question takes many problematic questions
for granted. Social scientists usually start with more basic questions:
"What?" "How?" "Under what circumstances?"
The "why" question assumes that many aspects of a phenomenon
are already understood and, given these assumptions, those who
ask it cannot conceive of the outcome which they observe. The
sociologist urges us to take a first look at a poorly understood
phenomenonwhether it be the family, the priesthood, or marijuana
His basic point of departure is the attempt to understand an activity,
a belief, an institution, a way of life, in much the same manner
as its participants. Each has its own peculiar, unique integrity
and vibrancy, its own rules and logic. Each makes sense according
to a set of principles often contradicted by, or irrelevant to,
other activities, beliefs, institutions, or ways of life. To fully
understand a social phenomenon, it is necessary to grasp it empathically,
accepting it on its own terms and identifying emotionally with
its central principles. Any social analysis missing this dimension
is of limited value; as ethnography, it must be deemed worthless.
To understand is to condone, so the aphorism has it. In some sense
or another, perhaps. But not to understand is to condemn without
knowing why. As Peter Berger wrote, a spy ignorant of the enemy's
strong points helps only the enemy. It is unfortunate that warfare
analogies must be employed to illuminate the American drug scene,
but we only reflect a scene where the battle lines have already
been drawn. And whether we are propagandists for or against drugs,
or whether we insist our stance is neutral (as all propagandists
claim), we will be embroiled in controversy, and our statements
will, inevitably, be used to defend or attack an argument. Whether
we like it or not, we are participants in an ideological battle.
What does this do for our much vaunted objectivity? The mature
sciences concern themselves not at all with their objectivity,
never thinking of it as an issue; they know a fact when they see
one. Social scientists are more defensive, almost self-righteous
in their assertion of lack of bias. Like so many other issues,
however, objectivity is a bugaboo. Of course, attempting an insider's
view of a group or an activity is adopting a biased view. But
so is adopting an outsider's view. In fact, there is no such thing
as an "objective" view of reality. All views of reality
are biased in one way or another. This does not mean that all
are wrong, or even that all are right. It does mean that all rest
on necessarily unprovable assumptions, all are underpinned by
an ontology which transcends scientific technique. Scientific
technique itself rests on faith. It demands that the real world
be viewed in one manner, and that alternate versions of viewing
the world be ignored. For certain purposes, this is very useful.
For others, it is not. While the scientific version of reality
offers the claim that it is the real world, as a sociologist,
we must say that it is one particular version of the real world,
true or false, according to certain assumptions. If we do not
accept the rules of the game in the first place, then the whole
scientific enterprise is meaningless.
Accepting cultural patterns as valid on their own level is a very
useful bias for certain kinds of purposes. We do not, by doing
so, attempt to prove, say, that the American government is riddled
with Communists (if we are studying the John Birch Society), or
that marijuana is harmless and beneficial (if we are studying
potsmokers). We do not mean that they are "true" in
the traditional scientific sense of the word. We mean that they
are true in that they are woven into the viscera of the people
we are studying, and that they are extremely meaningful to them.
They are true in the emotional sense. They represent valid belief-alternatives,
and they spring from powerful social and psychological needs.
They are part of an ideological and cultural whole, a fabric that
is relatively consistent, a system that is eloquent testimony
to personal and social locations. We say that the biggest slice
of the most essential reality of each man is the reality as seen
through his eyes. No matter that two versions of what is right
and what wrong will be almost totally contradictory. Both represent
authentic modes of living, ideological positions that are, on
the affective level, inviolable and irrefutable. If we do not
accept this principle, what we are doing cannot be called social
One of the reasons why the attempt to understand a deviant or
criminal activity from the first-person point of view is seen
as biased is that in the past, the "institutional" or
"correctional" viewpoint has been dominant, that is,
the conception that the legal and moral transgressor has in some
measure erred and must be dealt with by agents of correction.
Official agencies of social control have in the past been successful
in defining the climate of right and wrong; their view ( similar
to and, supposedly, based on, the scientific point of view) was
imperialistic in that they demanded the right to define right
and wrong for all members of society. Any viewpoint which contravened
their own was labeled biased. If deviance is viewed in correctional
terms, we cannot but see the effort to understand the deviant
from his own perspective as biased. But if we look at the agents
of social control as one out of a multiplicity of definers of
social reality, no more or less valid than any other, then the
possibility is open for us to see the deviant through his own
eyes. If, on the other hand, we adopt a condescending social worker
point of view toward him, that is, the view that we must help
him to adjust to society, we will be wholly incapable of understanding
We wish, therefore, to adopt a perspective which decentralizes
sources of reality-definitions. We wish to throw open a dialogue
with all participants in the activity that we are studying. No
one definition of the situation will be allowed to impose itself
on any and all participants. Each version of reality will glint
a particle of the total (even though each version will almost
invariably claim to tell the whole story). Each will be incomplete,
although valid on its own level.
Another way of saying something similar is that we assume intentionality
on the actor's part. Marijuana users are fully aware of what
they are doing; they enter into the activity, from start to finish,
with open eyes. They are not unwitting dupes, they have not been
conned by a clever "slick," eager to make a profit from
their naiveté. They have chosen to smoke marijuana.
There is an active element in their choosing. They imagine themselves,
prior to the act of becoming "turned on," actually smoking.
They carry the actions through, in their minds, conceiving of
what they would do "if." They have weighed alternatives.
They have considered social costs. They operate on the basis of
a value system; marijuana use is in part an outgrowth of that
value system; using it is a realistic and a rational choice in
that marijuana use will often be and obtain for them what they
anticipate. The basic values may themselves be thought
of as irrational by someone with a more positivistic and scientific-technological-economistic
point of view, but this is largely a matter of definition. Let
me illustrate: if I want to become high, smoking marijuana is
a rational choice, but drinking a cup of coffee to attain that
state is irrational. The value of becoming high might be viewed
as irrational within the framework of certain values prevalent
in America today, but many marijuana users question those very
This point of view holds that marijuana use grows out of many
of the processes in society which we all take to be normal. It
is convenient to label as pathological any phenomenon that we
do not like. We attempt to legitimate our biases by claiming for
an activity traits that we reject. Thus, marijuana use becomes
a product of boredombecause boredom is a bad thing, and if
marijuana use is produced by it, marijuana use must also be a
bad thing. Or it is rebellion against the older generation or
a result of a broken home or the wish to escape reality or to
avoid meaningful attachments to other people.
My view is substantially different. It is quite conceivable that
marijuana use grows out of these (socially defined) undesirable
conditions, but we do not wish to force a premature closure.
It could very well grow out of some characteristics which society
holds are entirely desirable. By defining marijuana
use as noxious, we are preordaining both cause and consequence.
I feel that an important dimension is the definitions that users
themselves bring to the drug and its useand very often these
definitions are wholly positive. The tack to take in attempting
an understanding of marijuana use is not, they must be mistaken;
why do they persist in being mistaken? But what slant on reality
do these values have, and how can we attempt to understand them
on their own terms?
In discussing with a psychiatrist some of the findings on sexthat
two-thirds of the people interviewed said that they enjoyed sex
more when high on marijuanahe remarked that it was obvious
this was a wish-fantasy on their part. They needed something by
which they could enjoy sex at all and therefore projected
these qualities onto the drug. This psychiatrist discounted the
users' self-expressed effects because of his preconceptions concerning
the nature of and motives for marijuana use, as well as a theoretical
tradition that makes such assumptions possible.
The sociologist, on the other hand, feels that he can uncover
his respondent's actual feelings in a brief interviewthat is,
feelings on certain levels and about certain aspects of his life.
The psychiatrist may feel that many months of deep psychoanalysis
would begin to tap some unconscious feelings of which even the
individual is not aware. Perhaps the two approaches should not
be thought of as contradictory but merely different. The sociologist,
at any rate, takes seriously the expressed meaning that an activity
has for its actors. This does not necessarily mean that this is
the only "true" approach, or even the approach that
is "most true." But it is one layer of reality, and
a layer very much worth knowing.
Another way of putting this is that we wish to examine the mythological
level. This might appear to contradict our earlier principle.
In fact, it is entirely consistent with it. We do not mean by
"myth" that which is untrue. The question of truth and
falsity is largely irrelevantat least on the ethnographic level.
That a rain dance does not really cause rain to fall is, in a
sense, irrelevant. That is has a certain vibrancy in a tribal
fabric is, on the other hand, of utmost relevancy. By treating
a group or society's collective wisdom as tribal folklore is not
to demean it; it is in fact an effort to elevate it to the status
of the semi-sacred. Myth grows organically out of the visceral
troubles of a people; any attempt to refute its validity is inevitably
misplaced. The position of physicians or potsmokers, their elaborate
descriptions of the effects of marijuana, its dangers or benefits,
tells a great deal more about physicians and potsmokers than it
does about marijuana.
An attorney declared to a California Senate committee that "marijuana
is... less harmful than malted milk." A California lawman
stated "That... marijuana is a harmful and destructive
substance is not open to question or debate by reasonable individuals."
The overwhelming fact concerning marijuana is that there is rabid
debate about it, that disagreement concerning its essential reality
is total, that opinions concerning what it is and what it does
cover the entire spectrum from pernicious to wholly beneficial.
The central problem about marijuana is not who uses it and why,
or what does it do to the human body and mind, but how can such
conflicting versions of its basic effects be maintained, and what
sorts of arguments are invoked to justify its use or suppression?
My position is that myths are realbut not quite. Myths are
one essential level of reality, one facet of the jewel, one layer
of the elusive truths surrounding any phenomenon. Several competing
myths may exist in the same society at the same time which are
mutually exclusive. They cannot both be true in the traditional
sense. The fact that marijuana is less harmful than malted milk
and at the same time a harmful and destructive substance cannot,
without quibbling, be both true. Yet they both tap an essential
reality; they both answer certain kinds of sociocultural needs
and correspond to certain values. ( In addition, one or
the other could be true in the more limited scientific or pharmacological
The most interesting thing about a drug to a sociologist is not
what it does, but what it is thought to do. In fact,
what it is thought to do often has a great impact on what it actually
does. A sociology of drugs accepts as of only secondary importance
a drug's strict pharmacological effects. In fact, the concept,
the category "drug" is a social construct,
not a pharmacological conception. This is the definition in the
most popular pharmacology textbook, The Pharmacological Basis
of Therapeutics: "... a drug is broadly defined as
any chemical agent which affects living protoplasm...." In
an earlier edition the editors added, "Few substances would
escape inclusion by this definition." Therefore, the roster
of drugs elicited from a pharmacologist would look very different
from one which a sociologist would make up. A corporation
lawyer, too, would have his own conception of what a drug isin
fact, anything listed in a nation's pharmacopoeia. A criminal
lawyer, on the other hand, might think of drugs in terms of illicitly
used substances. Society's definition would include various dangers
of different substances as part of the definition, even though,
pharmacologically, some substances which are included might very
well be far less dangerous than some which are excluded; something
"negatively valued," above and beyond an objective assessment
of the "actual" dangers, is implied in the definition.
The notion of "drugs" as a single and "natural"
entity is totally misleading. Some categories of drugs may form
a relatively uniform family with similar pharmacologic properties.
However, socially, they may be in totally different worlds. The
interconnections between them may exist in a laboratory, may be
expressed by a rat's responses, but they may have no connection
in the real world, as to how they are used and why, what sorts
of effects are imputed to them, who uses them, and indeed, what
they actually do to the human mind and body.
This is self-evident to most of us. Yet, if it really were to
most observers of the drug scene, many pages and many hours of
pseudo debate could be avoided. For instance, take the question
of whether marijuana is a dangerous drug. It is inconceivable
that this question can be answered outside of a social context,
in a social vacuum. Dangerous under what set of circumstances?
As used by whom? While doing what? In what dosage? Combined
with what life style? Given what national and cultural traditions?
Used in conjunction with what other drugs? Dangerous compared
to what? And what do we mean by "dangerous"?
The definition of dangerous is a social definition. There will
be some effects that all will agree are dangerous. But many effects
will be thought dangerous by some, harmless by others, and beneficial
by still others. None of the basic questions that are asked about
marijuana can be answered outside a social setting; it is the
social context that determines what sort of answer we give, not
the intrinsic properties of the drug itself. The drug is an element
in the equation, but only one among several.
These are obvious statements, but it would be mistaken to believe
that most observers would accept them. Even experts blunder into
one fatuous debate after another. It is as if general principles
have nothing to do with specific issues.
We are told Oriental studies show, by the crude measures applied,
that cannabis may have some long-term toxic effects on the human
body. Yet we find that the marijuana or hashish smoked is (1)
often smoked with opium and other substances with whose dangers
we are more well acquainted; (2) is smoked very often by unemployed
men who smoke eight, ten, or fifteen hours a day and who, almost
literally, do nothing but smoke hashish; (3) that immense quantities
are smoked of often potent substances, even 100 times as much
as a daily marijuana smoker in America would be able to consume;
(4) and that the level of caloric intake and health conditions
in the countries describedIndia, Egypt, and North Africaamong
all the poor inhabitants would be sufficient to induce many of
the effects described without needing to consider the role of
marijuana. Yet how easily we transfer the "effects"
of this drug, whether American marijuana or the more potent Middle
Eastern hashish, from one cultural and economic setting to the
other. It is doubtful that the comparison is relevant at all,
since none of the basic conditions are remotely similar.
The promarijuana lobby tells us that marijuana is a gentle herb,
nothing more than pressed flowers and leaves, a peaceful and love-inducing
substance. Both sides assume that there is some sort of property
lodged within the drug itself that dictates to its users how to
act under its influence. But whether it does, in fact, have this
pacific property or not depends wholly on who uses it. If it is
used by a social group that thinks marijuana is a pacific
weed, whose members, when initiating a neophyte, preach a gospel
of peace and love, discourage violent displays, and weave this
peace motif into the things they do when high, then we should
not be surprised that marijuana turns out to have a peace-inducing
property. Only the most naive believes that marijuana creates
a peaceful way of life out of whole cloth and induces it in those
who are not peaceful. Both motorcycle gangs and hippies are prone
to use marijuana but with very different results. Obviously, there
is more to the picture than the laboratory properties of the drug.
I will attempt in this volume an overall study of the sociology
of marijuana use. I will explore the myths clinging to it, the
attitudes of the contestants in the marijuana debate, the question
of who uses it, under what circumstances, and with what consequences.
To answer many of the questions concerning marijuana use, it is
necessary at times to leave the sociological level and deal with
related issues. For instance, when discussing the effects of marijuana,
I will reject the radically sociologistic approachthat the
effects of the drug are wholly a function of its social definitionsand
attempt an exposition on the objective properties of the drug's
pharmacology. In other words, I have adopted a multidimensional
approach, my perspective often shifts from one level to another.
At the same time we wish to understand the drug's nonsociological
aspects more or less only insofar as they relate to, interpenetrate
with, influence and are influenced by, the users' social life
and the lives of those who interact with them. We court confusion
with this kind of multifaceted perspective, but it is necessary
if we are to understand the totality of marijuana's impact on
the social life of any society.
Overview of Marijuana and Marijuana Use
Incidences of events connected with cannabis use, whether true
or phantasmagoric, survive historically because they are useful
ideologically. The history of marijuana use is, in itself, a study
in creative mythology. This is as true of the history of the Assassins
as it is of the Indian peace pipe. The Assassins killed out of
fanatical religious devotionhashish or no hashishand the
American Indian did not become peaceful as a result of smoking
marijuana in his pipe, a myth which the procannabis side propagates
to demonstrate the weed's pacific properties; the Indian had no
marijuana to put in his pipe. "The American Indians never
used it in their peace pipes," writes Richard Evans Schultes,
one of the world's experts on ethnobotany; the "American
Indian... did not anywhere have Cannabis sativa at his
disposal in pre-Colombian times," agrees Michael Harner,
an anthropologist who studies the use of psychoactive substances
among Indians. Were Malayan tribesmen who ran amok high on marijuana?
Were Patrice Lumumba's followers under the influence of cannabis
when they displayed "orgiastic frenzy and homicidal ferocity"
in battle? Was Victor
Licata intoxicated by marijuana when, on October 17, 1933, in
Tampa, Florida, he hacked his entire family (father, mother,
and three brothers) to death with an axe?
Have India's holy men been inspired by the
cannabis high? Answers to these questions depend more on what
we think of marijuana than what actually happened historically.
Recorded history is largely myth-making, an effort to align supposed
events with our own ideology.
Marijuana has played a medicinal role in every area in which it
was grown, including the United States where from colonial days
until well into the twentieth century it was used to cure a variety
of ills: acute depression, tetanus, gonorrhea, insomnia, malaria,
insanity, stuttering, migraine headaches, flatulence, epilepsy,
delirium tremens, asthma, cancer, and chronic itchingwith understandably
mixed results. Until 1937, when federal law outlawed its possession
and sale, marijuana was a staple in many patent medicine catalogues.
Today, of course, very few physicians take
marijuana's therapeutic role seriously; in fact, physicians usually
define drug abuse as the use of a drug outside a medical context.
That marijuana use is invariably abuse is deduced from the fact
that marijuana has no legitimate medical treatment function whatsoever;
any use, in the medical view, is by definition misuse or abuse.
Although the therapeutic argument for marijuana will occasionally
be invoked by users and pro-pot propagandists, in general, most
do not take it any more seriously than the physicians do; they
are content with the argument that the drug is simply harmless
and does not cause or compound any medical problems.
The use of marijuana, or Indian hemp, for medical purposes considerably
predates its use for psychoactive purposes. Its origins as a medicinal
herb are, of course, lost in primal obscurity. Norman Taylor,
a botanist, writes that mention of hemp may be found in a pharmacy
manual from 2737 B.C., supposedly written by a Chinese emperor,
Shen Nung. This story
found its way into a vast number of essays on marijuana, mincluding
my own. Actually,
the emperor turns out to be mythological; Shen is a component
of Chinese folk religion, creator of agriculture, and one of the
gods most widely worshipped in pre-Revolutionary China, with his
own altar, hsiennung t'an. The
Treatise on Medicine attributed to Shen was "compiled
by an early Han dynasty writer, whose sources go back only as
far as the fourth century B.C."  Marijuana's
recorded history, then, stretches back at the very least two and
a half millennia; archaeological evidence of its cultivation
and use may be placed something like five thousand years in
the past. Its functions have been almost as diverse as
the cultures which have employed it. It would be impossible to
discuss its patterns of use in every country at all of its periods
of history, even were such documentation available. This overview,
then, will serve as a backdrop for our more detailed discussions
of its use in contemporary America.
In the United States, the most common slang words for marijuana
are pot, grass, tea, weed, and smoke, in decreasing order of frequency.
The derivation of all of these terms is obvious, except for pot.
One etymologist has claimed that the word pot comes from a South
American drink which contained, among other things, marijuana
seeds soaked in guava wine or brandy, known as potacion
de guaya, or potaguaya. Marijuana
is very occasionally called "shit" in America, a term
usually reserved for heroin. The obvious import of this designation
should delight the psychoanalytically inclined. It ties in with
toilet trainingespecially in view of its conjunction with pot
(i.e., the children's pottie or chamber pot)as well as filth,
in view of the disorganized, casual and even squalid way of life
of a few conspicuous marijuana users, and its symbolization as
a rebellion against traditional mores and most users' middle-class
upbringing, and an effort to shock conventional relatives, neighbors,
former friends, and other authority-figure observers.
The term "reefer" is often used
among urban blacks to mean the marijuana itself; reefer can occasionally
mean a marijuana cigarette, although this term is used much less
today than it was a generation ago. The cigarette butt is known
as a "roach," supposedly because it looks something
like a small cockroach. (Such derivations are always problematic,
often more fantasy than fact.) Also, conjecturally, because of
the Mexican song, "La Cucaracha," in which a cockroach
couldn't walk until it had its marijuana.
Today's terms will probably go out of style, as have countless
other terms used a decade or a generation ago. The word "viper,"
for instance, for marijuana smoker, has been replaced by the broader
term "head," meaning the user (more or less regularly)
of any drug, usually non-narcotic. Viper is used by no one today.
Common terms for marijuana up until the late 1950s and early 1960s
were gage, boo, Mary Jane; although used somewhat humorously today,
they are rather obsolescent as simple descriptive names. Terms
used more than twenty years ago ( and less than that by older
heads still using drugs), totally outdated, never used, and
completely obsolete are mooters, mutah, mota, gates, greeters,
griffo, griefo, giggle smoke, jive, mohasky, rope, mezz, goof-butts,
Mary Warner, viper's weed, sweet Lucy, root and muggles. Many
currently published glossaries will contain these terms, as if
they were still used, or as if they might have a resurrection.
An expert on criminal argot, for instance, claims: "...
it is rare that a word can be labeled truly obsolete, for about
the time that label is applied, it is almost certain to pop up
in another area or among a different class of addicts; it has
merely been kept alive in some obscure circles which have not
been currently studied." Although
this process no doubt occurs, I think that it is safe to say that
all of the above-mentioned terms are obsolete. Since no marijuana
smokers to my knowledge know of these terms, it is highly unlikely
that any of them will be revived. "Muggles" (the principal
slang word for marijuana in Maurer and Vogel's classic book) would
evoke uproarious laughter if a young user stumbled on it in a
Marijuana is a plant, Cannabis sativa. All marijuana plants
are of one species, but there exists at least three varieties:
Cannabis sativa indica, americana, and mexicana, whose
names obviously denote the areas in which they characteristically
grow. The Western Hemisphere varieties, however, are not indigenous;
they were introduced by the coming of the European. In a reply
to a request for information on this point, Richard Evans Schultes,
director of Harvard's botanical museum, wrote: "... Cannabis
... is Asiatic in origin, and... it occurs in the New World
only as an introduced species.... In the United States, it
has spread from former hemp plantations and is now widely occurring
as a spontaneous 'escape.' It apparently was brought to North
America first by the Pilgrims.... and was grown for its fiber"
(personal communication, July 8, 1969 ).
The marijuana plant today grows in the overwhelming majority of
the countries of the world, including all those in the Western
Hemisphere, Africa, the entire continent of Asia, Australia, and
the Indonesian archipelago. A few scattered varieties may be found
in Europe. In spite
of the botanical affinities between the various subspecies of
Cannabis sativa, the psychoactive component of the plant
is wildly variable from one plant to another. The strength of
the drug in a given preparation may be determined by several factors:
1) Gender of the plant. Female plants are much more richly endowed
with the active ingredient of the drug. The male plant, taller,
weedier and more fibrousused in the last century and before
for rope and clothcontains some potency, but is considerably
weaker than its mate.
2) Time of harvesting. Marijuana harvested too soon (before the
resin appears ) or too late ( after the male plant fertilizes
the female ) will be considerably weaker and less active than
plants harvested at the most favorable time ( sometime in September,
varying, however, from one region to another ).
3) Method of harvesting. If the male is removed at harvesting
time and only the female is harvested and processed, the impact
of the substance is greater than if the two are harvested together.
Since this is difficult and tedious, however, it is very rarely
4) Region in which the plant grows. Plants grown in hot, dry climates
produce the strongest preparations. Temperate climates produce
comparatively weak substances.
5) Proportion of resin. Hashish contains nothing but pressed resin
or "flowering tops," of the Cannabis plant, and is about
five times as strong as a preparation which contains mostly leaves,
the substance most commonly designated as "marijuana."
The higher the leaf grows on the plant, the more resin it contains
and the stronger it is.
Some marijuana consumed in this country is grown here, usually
on a small-scale basis and is reputed to be considerably weaker
than imported varieties. The expert smoker will recognize at least
a half-dozen or so varieties of marijuana, of which two, "Acapulco
Gold," and "Panama Red," are especially potent.
(Often any quality marijuana, "dynamite" grass in the
jargon, will be labeled "Gold.") Hashish (hash in American
slang, and charas in India and Pakistan) is imported into
the United States from the Middle East (often Lebanon), North
Africa (often Morocco), Afghanistan, and sometimes from the Indian
Harvesting hashish is a more delicate and time-consuming operation
than harvesting simple marijuana. It is done by one of a variety
of methods. In earlier times, the pollen was scraped off the sweaty
bodies of laborers who had run through a cannabis field for this
very purpose. Later, leather aprons were employed. I have heard
of three contemporary techniques. An ex-hashish smuggler who operated
in North Africa about 1965 explained to me that the stalk of the
plant, pointing downward, is grasped in one hand, while the other
hand, which is gloved, thrusts the flowering tops into a receptacle,
simultaneously shaking off the resin. Sometimes the resin is
removed from the plant by covering its top with a fabric
much like cheesecloth in which the resin is collected. The
third method is described in a book about Egypt published in the
1930s. At the appropriate season:
... the plant is harvested by means of scythes or sickles to
ground level and is gathered into bundles and transported to the
After collection, the resin is pressed into blocks, or cakes,
ranging in color from a dull yellow to an almost-black deep chocolate-brown.
In order to smoke hashish, small pieces of the hardened block
will be flaked off, or sliced off with a sharp instrument, such
as a razor blade, crumbled, and smoked. Hashish is much more often
used in the Orient, especially the Middle East and North Africa,
than substances containing leaves. Heavy hashish or charas users
in the East would scorn such weak substances as are typically
consumed by American smokers.
The stalks are now laid out side by side on especially made drying
grounds of hard clay, exposed to the sun.... After two or three
days the exposed surfaces of the plant begin to dry off. It is
then turned over to the other side and this process is repeated
every twenty-four hours for the next ten or twelve days. The plant
is now carefully placed on large linen sheets... and is thus
carried to a special shed or room which... must be clean and
have smooth walls and be capable of being hermetically closed.
The floor must be smooth and hard to avoid the introduction of
any foreign matter....
The plants are stacked in a heap in the middle of the room and
workmen... shut themselves in and proceed to give the first
beating by means of sticks or flails... to remove the useless
twigs which are thrown aside, and to beat out from the plant the
first and best qualities of hashish. Throughout this operation
a cloud of fine powder rises from the heap and settles on the
surrounding floor and walls.
Three sieves of varying degrees of fineness are now used. Little
by little the heap of beaten debris is passed through the three
sieves. The finest mesh is used for the extra quality.... The
debris is now beaten again six or seven times, the sieving operation
being carried out between each beating. Naturally, the quality
of the powder deteriorates with each successive sieving.... The
only real first class grades come from the first beating....
The varying qualities of powder are classified and placed in bags
... to await further preparation prior to being sent off to
Smoking is by far the most popular method of consumption of marijuana
in the United States and must account for well over 95 percent
of the bulk consumed in this country. Ingesting the drug is
still relatively rare and is practiced as a kind of treat,
not as a regular routine. In the Orient, marijuana is brewed
as tea and (also a practice in Jamaica) cooked or imbedded in
food. In North Africa and in the Middle East, majoon,
a candy containing a product of the plant,
is made. Such practices are becoming increasingly popular among
marijuana habitués in the United States; an early cookbook
listing cannabis as a recipe ingredient has been reissued,
and several new ones have appeared recently.
One of the recent cookbooks using cannabis in the ingredients
includes recipes for "High Tea," "Banana Bread,"
"Chili Pot," and "Boston Bean Pot,"
all common American dishes, with marijuana
added. Another recipe book, on the other hand, has exotic Oriental
dishes, such as "Bhang Sherbet," "Moroccan Majoon,"
"Black Sabbath Salve," and "Nebuchadnezzar's Dream."
A major reason why mixing marijuana into food ingredients is rare
in America is that an immense quantity is required for any effect;
smoking is a far more efficient method for getting the drug into
the blood stream. In addition, it takes a much longer period of
time for the drug to take effect orally, often an hour and a half.
It is, therefore, a clumsy and lengthy (and expensive) route of
consumption. However, it is more reliable. A small number of individuals
seem unable to become high, even after smoking joint after joint,
evening after evening. Eating is a more directly physiological
method, and if enough marijuana is ingested in cooked food, an
eventual high is almost inevitable, even in those most staunchly
resistant to marijuana's effects by means of smoking. In fact,
sometimes this is precisely the problem with ingesting. Since
the effects are slow in coming, it is impossible to gauge intake
to the desired level of one's high. The experienced user can "self-titrate"
his high by smoking a quantity of marijuana and then, shortly
thereafter reach the level of intoxication he feels comfortable
with. With eating, because of the time lag, this is impossible.
A huge amount may be ingested with no immediate effect which,
over the period of an hour or so, will produce unusual and extreme
levels of intoxication. Because eating can take place within a
few seconds while smoking takes many minutes cannabis, once ingested,
cannot be retrieved. Thus, it is possible to become higher, for
a longer period, by eating cannabis.
Contrary to a number of published accounts,
marijuana, unlike cocaine and heroin, seems
almost never to be sniffed; at least I have never heard
of it from a user and I have never seen it done. It is highly
doubtful if this could achieve any effect at all. Since marijuana
is water-insoluble, it is almost never injected. In addition,
most users are "needle shy."
Although the cannabis plant grows naturally in most parts of the
world, the bulk of the cannabis substances used illicitly in this
country originates from relatively few countries. The specifically
marijuana substances (i.e., those comprising mostly of the leaves
of the plant) come largely from Mexico, possibly go percent, although
the 1969 border blockade encouraged far more "home growing"
of marijuana. When purchased in bulk, which is anything larger
than a sixth of an ounce or so, the purchaser usually buys a mixture
of leaves, twigs, stems, and seeds. When purchased in quantities
of a kilogram, which is the standard packaging and shipping unit,
the plants will have been chopped into fairly small pieces and
pressed into bricks, or kilo blocks about five inches wide, eight
inches long, and three inches high, which are then wrapped in
rough paper. To smoke this, the user must strain the mixture through
a medium or fine mesh tea strainer to remove the inert twigs,
stems, and the seeds, which exude an unpleasant, oily smoke. (Often
the seeds are saved for planting; we shall return to this topic
when discussing the sale of marijuana.) The strained substance
is then either smoked in joints or packed into a pipe. The joint
is the most popular means of smoking Rolling one takes skill and
only an expert can produce a thin, tightly packed, smooth product;
more often, the joint is sloppy and untidy. An ordinary pipe cannot
be used without special preparation, since strained marijuana,
much finer than tobacco, will be drawn through the stem. Sometimes
aluminum pricked with holes is pressed into the bowl and the marijuana
placed on the foil. Or a "toke pipe" will be used; especially
constructed for marijuana or hashish (nearly always smoked in
a pipe), some have extremely small bowls, slightly larger than
a hollowed-out pea. Another common method of smoking marijuana
in a pipe is to put a tiny screen especially constructed for cannabis
use over the bowl of an ordinary pipe and then place the marijuana
on the screen.
In America, hashish is typically smoked in a pipe, toke pipe,
or some form of Oriental water pipe, such as the hookah (Arabic)
or narghtle (Turkish and Persian). Often a block of hashish
will be broken into small bits and each piece will be placed onto
the burning end of a tobacco cigarette; the fumes of the hashish
will then be sucked through a straw or tube, such as the barrel
of a dismembered ball-point pen. Often (especially in public)
a small chunk of hashish will be placed inside the end of a partly
hollowed out tobacco cigarette, and the paper twisted to keep
it in place; it will then be smoked like a regular cigarette.
Sometimes chunks of hashish will be sprinkled into cigarette paper,
rolled into a marijuana joint, and then smoked just like a regular
joint of marijuana. Occasionally, smokers will fabricate their
own devices, such as a "flying saucer" or tin foil placed
over a cup or small bowl.
In the past few years, far more hashish has been available to
the American marijuana-smoking public than previously. (See Chapter
10 for more details.) In talking to users and dealers, my estimate
is that, compared with the first few months of 1966, something
like fifty to one hundred times the quantity of hashish had entered
the country and was being smoked by the winter of 1970. (This
might be partly attributable to the severe shortageat least
in New Yorkof Mexican marijuana available at the later period.)
Hashish is something like five times the
strength of ordinary marijuana which usually means that less of
the substance must be smoked to become high. One can get high
with far less effort on hashish; it is impossible to become five
times higher, even were it possible to calibrate the high with
such accuracy. ( Most users-claim to become a good deal higher
with hashish.) Some commentators fear that the introduction of
more potent marijuana preparations, such as hashish, will produce
use-patterns much like those of India and Egypt. This reasoning
process assumes that if one elementthe strength of the hashishis
present, then all the outcomes will be the same. But since all
of the other preconditions are lacking, such an eventuality is
Another fear has been the introduction of the chemical which
is probably the active principle in cannabis, tetrahydrocannabinolactually
a family of active and potent chemicals. Some observers
feel that were this purified form of drug widely available, somewhat
the same events as occurred with LSD would occur with cannabis.
Actually, a recently available substance
called THC (the abbreviation for tetrahydrocannabinol), is not
THC at all, but a mixture with varying ingredientssometimes
LSD, methedrine, and/or a barbiturate. Real THC has been used
on an extremely limited basis on the streetor so some users
claim. It seems to be agreed that the effect it might produce
would be akin in many respects to an LSD trip. Strangely, many
of marijuana's critics justify the present penalty structure with
the argument that were marijuana itself to become more available,
users would inevitably migrate to THC. Why this should be so is
never explained, however. Because of the overwhelmingly sociable
form that marijuana use takes, and its recreational character,
it seems unlikely that a drug which requires so much of the user's
attention as LSD would be used as frequently as marijuana is at
present, although experimentation is a distinct possibility, indeed,
a likelihood, for many users. This is, in any case, a matter for
a later discussion.
Observations on the Social Context of Marijuana Use
Marijuana use is overwhelmingly a group activity; the drug, in
other words, is highly "sociogenic"or "cultogenic,"
as one commentator has labeled the psychedelic drugs.
Some deviant activities are conducted in
relative isolation without group support. The heavy use of the
barbiturates, tranquilizers, and the amphetamines by housewives
does not form the basis for drug-related activities or groups;
meperidine (Demerol) addiction among physicians does not lend
itself to friendships, interaction, and sentiments on the basis
of being addicted. There is no bond of identity, no preference
for interaction with other physician-addicts, no increment of
prestige as a result of sharing the characteristic of drug taking.
There is no subculture of physician-addicts. (This obviously has
nothing to do with the physiological impact of the drug itself,
since many street addicts use morphine, and there is a street
What we mean when we say that marijuana, or LSD or heroin is
sociogenic is that:
1) It is characteristically participated in a group setting.
2) The others with whom one smokes marijuana are usually intimates,
intimates of intimates, or potential intimates, rather than strangers.
3) One generally has long-term continuing social relations
with the others.
4) A certain degree of value-consensus will obtain within the
5) A value-convergence will occur as a result of progressive group
6) The activity maintains the circle's cohesion, reaffirms its
social bonds by acting them out.
7) Participants view the activity as a legitimate basis for identity
defining themselves, as well as others, partly on the basis of
whether they have participated in the activity.
We find that marijuana users form a kind of subcommunity. This
does not mean that a powerful bond of identity holds all users
together in a closely knit social group. But it does mean that
users are more likely to identify and interact with other users
than with someone who does not smoke marijuana. In a sense, they
are part of a subculture. Crystallizing all of the possible meanings
of this term the following three are probably the most important:
1) Sociologically: the degree to which a given category
of individuals form associations with one another, whether
or not that category is a subcommunity; the degree of concentration
of one's most intimate and frequently interacted-with friends
and acquaintances within that social category
2) Anthropologically and ethnographically: the degree
to which members of a given social category share a distinct way
of life, whose patterns of social life and basic social outlook
set them off to some degree from members of other social categories
3) Social psychologically: the degree to which identities
revolve about the category; the degree to which both members and
nonmembers define group membership as significant, binding, and
strongly indicative of the "kind of person" who belongs
"Subculture-ness" must be seen as a continuum, not a
dichotomy. Subcultures vary as to degree of institutionalization:
the higher the "score" on one or all of these three
dimensions, the more a given group may be called a subculture.
Group processes operate at the inception of the individual's marijuana-using
experience. The neophyte marijuana smoker, at first exposure to
the drug, is subject to group definitions of the desirability
of the experience, as well as the nature of its reality. Marijuana
use, even at its inception, is simultaneously participation
in a specific social group. This generalization holds equally
strong for the continued use of marijuana. Marijuana is characteristically
smoked in groups, not in isolation. In the sample, only 5 percent
claimed to smoke at least half of the time alone, and about half45
percentsaid they never smoked alone. Marijuana cannot be understood
outside the web of social relations in which it is implicated.
Moreover, the nature of the group-character of marijuana
use also significantly determines its impact. Marijuana
is not merely smoked in groups, it is smoked in intimate groups.
The others with whom one is smoking are overwhelmingly
significant others. One rarely smokes with strangers,
with individuals whom one does not care for, or is indifferent
to, or whom one does not expect to like in the future. Even at
large parties where marijuana is smoked, small cliques will
form, oases of compatibles, wherein all share the same activity.
Smoking marijuana is symbolic in ways that more accepted behavior
is not; it resembles communal eating in civilizations for whom
eating well is a rare or intermittent festivity. Brotherhood is
an element in the marijuana ritual, as is the notion of sharing
something treasured and esteemed. Emphasis is placed on passing
a joint around to all present, completing a circle; this
procedure is generally preferred to that of each participant lighting
up his own joint and smoking it by himself, without any group
of course, the clandestine nature of the activity, illegal
and underground, lends an air of excitement and collective intrigue
to marijuana smoking that would be absent in a context of licitness,
as with drinking.
All of these factors make marijuana use a highly significant and
emotionally charged activity to the participants. These factors,
some ideological and some inherent in the nature of the act itself,
conspire to link marijuana smoking to group influences and to
make those who participate in it highly susceptible to the group's
definition of realityright and wrong, good and bad,
true and false.
The case is such that it is not too farfetched to view marijuana
use in basically Durkheimian terms. That is, because of the cultural
climate surrounding illicit drug use and the logistical problems
involved (secrecy, the inability to be completely casual about
use, the fact that the safest places to smoke are also the most
intimate, etc. ) and the fact that it is participated with those
for whom one has some degree of friendship and emotion, the activity
has strong elements of a tribal ritual: it reaffirms membership
in the subcommunity of users, it recreates symbol and substance
of the group, and it relives for its participants significant
meaning, belonging, loyalty. There is even a vigorous mythology
connected with use: tribal lore, a protohistory, an epistemology,
a kind of marijuana Weltanschauung.
Marijuana is generally proffered with strong overtones of hospitality.
When one person offers another a smoke of a marijuana cigarette,
there is communication taking place between the two, as the
person who offers consciously thinks of sharing and participating
in a common activity. A kind of brotherhood is established in
the act. Although most users are generally permissive about each
individual acting out his own desires"doing his own thing"the
refusal of a presented marijuana joint is felt as a rebuff, as
is refusal of a gift in many societies. A refusal generally means
some embarrassment, usually with both parties. It is not only
the refusal of a gift, but the refusal of sharing a treasured
activity, as well as possible condemnation of one's activities,
which are part of one's life.
Although it might be something of a problem to "psyche out"
the pot-smoking propensities of a potential friend with whom one
has, at present, only a superficial acquaintance, the seriousness
of the issue is dissipated once this barrier is cleared. Marijuana
is usually an issue of any seriousness to regular users only in
relation to the nonusing world. Use itself is a form of recreation,
an enjoyable activity of the first order. It is treated as a "fun
thing." It is a recreation like watching a film, going to
the beach, or eating in a fine restaurant. It is, both in and
of itself, a complete recreational experience, as well as an adjunct
and a catalyst to other recreational experiences. The recreational
character of potsmoking is possibly its most outstanding feature.
A typical intimate, informal (four to ten people) pot party
will involve frequently and typically passing the joint from person
to person and staring into space for long stretches of time, with
nothing, apparently, actually going on. Often there is music and
everyone will be intensely involved with the music, and seemingly
not with one another. It will appear boring and vacuous to someone
who is not high, especially since he has heard so much about wild,
orgiastic pot parties and he expects something of that nature.
It is not realized that the marijuana experience is, typically,
thought of as itself a recreationbeing high is thought
of as fun, a state of pleasure. For one who is not high, and never
has been, understanding its appeal, especially at such a party,
would be like sitting in a concert hall and being deaf.
The typical user smokes pot for reasons relating to having fun
partaking in a form of recreation. The idea of being "hung
up" on using marijuana is atypical. The most common level
of use of more or less regular smokers is once or twice a weekmostly
on weekends. A twenty-two-year-old law school student told me:
"Pot is a form of entertainment for melike going to the
movies. I don't get any of that philosophical or mystical or
religious stuff; it doesn't change my life. After six days
of studying my balls off in law school, I plan on Saturday to
blow my mind. But you're not leaving this world. For me,
it's just fun, that's all."
N O T E S
1. Robert E. L. Masters and Jean Houston, The Varieties of
the Psychedelic Experience (New York: Holt, Rinehart &
Winston, l966),p. 37.(back)
2. A forthcoming book on marijuana by John Kaplan explores the
Licata fable in some detail.(back)
3. See Joseph E. Mayer, The Herbalist
(Hammond, Ind.: Indiana Botanic Gardens, 1934).(back)
4. Norman Taylor, Narcotics: Nature's
Dangerous Gifts (New York: Delta, 1963), p. 12. This edition
is a paperback version of the book published in 1949 as Flight
5. David W. Maurer and Victor H. Vogel,
Narcotics and Narcotic Addiction, 3rd ed. (Springfield,
III.: Charles C Thomas, 1967), p. 116; Donald B. Louria, The
Drug Scene (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1968), p. 113; Will Oursler,
Marijuana: The Facts, the Truth (New York: Paul Eriksson,
1968), p. 70; Jerome Jaffe, "Cannabis (Marijuana),"
in Louis S. Goodman and Alfred Gilman, eds., The Pharmacological
Basis of Therapeutics, 3rd ed. (New York: Macmillan, 1965),
p. 299; Joan S. Gimlin, Legalization of Marijuana," Editorial
Research Reports 2 (August 9, 1967): 587.(back)
6. Erich Goode, "Introduction,"
Marijuana (New York: Atherton Press, 1969), pp.6, 12.(back)
7. C. K. Yang, Religion in Chinese Society
(Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press,
1961), p. 13.(back)
8. Pierre Huard and Ming Wong, Chinese
Medicine (New York: McGraw-Hill, 68)(back)
9. Maurer and Vogel, op. cit., pp. 333-334,
380. See also David Maurer, "Marijuana Addicts and Their
Lingo," The American Mercury 63 (November 1946): 571-575.(back)
10. See Richard H. Blum et al., Utopiates
(New York: Atherton Press, 1964), pp. 240-241; and Blum et
al., Society and Drugs (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1969),
p. 337. It should be noted that Blum is not particularly Freudian
in his analysis, although he does countenance somewhat these "shit"
11. An illustration of how reality is
selectively perceived through our ideological biases is provided
by at least one (mis-)interpretation of the "La Cucaracha"
song. Robert Gaffney, U.S. Deputy Commissioner of Narcotics, is
quoted by a New York Post reporter, in a series of articles
on marijuana, as saying that the song makes the point that "marijuana
has a decidedly adverse effect, even on the lowly cockroach.
He can't get anywhere because he's smoking marijuana." See
John Garabedian, "Marijuana: The Narcotics Cops," The
New York Post, October 19, 1967.(back)
12. Maurer and Vogel, op. cit.,
13. In fact, much of the content of this
book is wholly out of date and even anachronistic today, at least
for the marijuana scene. For instance, the authors claim that
"a high proportion" of marijuana users "are devotees
of various schools of swing music." Needless to say, users
today would not even know what swing music is, let alone ever
listen to it (it died out in the middle 19505, when the
first edition of Maurer and Vogel's book appeared). Their
preference is for "rock" music. See Maurer and Vogel,
op. cit., p. 282.(back)
14. Gurbakhsh S. Chopra, "Man and Marijuana, "The
International Journal of the Addictions 4 (June 1969): 219-233.(back)
15. Hemp workers, like all laborers who
breathe fine dust, such as coal miners, are subject to various
pulmonary diseases; see A. Barbero and R. Flores, "Dust Disease
in Hemp Workers," Archives of Environmental Health 14
(April 1967): 529-532.(back)
16. Baron Harry d'Erlanger, "Hashish,
or the Gift of Nature," in The Last Plague of Egypt (London:
Lovat, Pickson and Thompson, 1936), pp. 68 71.(back)
17. For an account of this delicacy, see
Ira Cohen, "The Goblet of Dreams," Playboy, April
1966, p. 125.(back)
18. Alice B. Toklas, The Alice B. Toklas
Cookbook (New York: Harper and Row, 1954). Hashish brownies
seem to be the most popular item. A motion picture made in 1968,
I Love You, Alice B. Toklas, had as its theme the cooking
of marijuana brownies.(back)
19. Anonymous, Cooking With Pot (Gamble
Gulch, Col.: Sacred Mushroom Press, 1969).(back)
20. Panama Rose, The Hashish Cookbook
(Gnaoua Press, 1966).(back)
21. For instance, Lloyd Shearer, "The
Mystique of Marijuana: Why Students Smoke Pot," Parade,
June 4, 1967, pp. 8, 10, 11; Robert Coles, The Grass Pipe
(Boston: Little, Brown, 1969), p. 98, Richard Blum et al.,
Students and Drugs (San Francisco: JosseyBass, 1969), p.
134; Stanley F. Yolles, "Before Your Kid Tries Drugs,"
The New York Times Magazine, November 17, 1968, p. 129.(back)
22. Steve Lerner, "Great Famine:
'I'd Love to Turn You On, But...' " The Village Voice,
June 26, 1969, pp. 1, 32.(back)
23. Roland H. Berg, "Warning: Steer
Clear of THC," Look, April 15, 1969, p. 46.(back)
24. Daniel X. Freedman, "Perspectives
on the Use and Abuse of Psychedelic Drugs, ' in Daniel H. Efron
et al., eds., Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs
(Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1967), pp. 88-89.(back)
25. There may be logistic and economic
reasons for this. Among some more affluent smokers, a sign of
hospitality and the ownership of an abundance of marijuana, is
to give each guest his own joint of marijuana. The brotherhood
ritual does not prevail. The less deviant and criminal marijuana
becomes, and the more easily obtainable it is, the less use becomes
special and therefore significant. Under these circumstances,
a detribalization occurs, and marijuana use loses its subcultural
impact and its socializing power.(back)