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|On Being Stoned, by Charles Tart|
On Being Stoned
Charles T. Tart, Ph. D.
Chapter 17. Control
MOST CURRENT IDEAS about the nature of marijuana intoxication seem to neglect the fact that since we exercise a fair amount of control over the contents of our minds in ordinary life, it might be expected that control would be similarly exercised by an experienced drug user. This study indicates that much control is exercised by experienced users, primarily by altering the direction and focus of attention. Aspects of this control will be discussed under the general headings of the particular phenomena of intoxication to be controlled and the level of intoxication.
CONTROL OF THE PHENOMENA OF INTOXICATION
Need for ControlIn understanding the nature of control over the effects of marijuana intoxication, it is important to note that there is less need felt for tight control: "I find it easy to accept whatever happens; I don't need to control it or feel in control of it." This is a very characteristic effect (2%, 7%, 25%, 29%, 35%), generally manifested by the Moderate level of intoxication (19%, 34%, 27%, 10%, 4%).
Concern about and Loss of Control"I worry about losing control, such that I might do something I wouldn't want to do (regardless of whether you actually lose control)" is a rare phenomenon (36%, 41%, 18%, 4%, 1%), consonant with the characteristic feeling of accepting things. When it occurs, it generally begins at the Very Strong levels for those who could rate it (5%, 7%, 11%, 19%, 15%). Daily users worry about this the least, Weekly users next least, and Occasional users worry the most (p <.05, overall), albeit still infrequently.
Some change in behavior that reflects a lowering of normal inhibitions, a change in the criteria for what needs to be controlled, is expressed in the common phenomenon, "My inhibitions are lowered so that I do things I'm normally too inhibited to do (Note: this does not apply to antisocial acts but to acts that are generally acceptable, but that you can't normally do through shyness or the like)" (11%, 19%, 41%, 21%, 7%). This effect has been well expressed elsewhere: "The decrease of socially reinforced inhibitions also accounts for the actions of users which claim public attention: jumping over fireplugs and parking meters, uninhibited dancing (erotic and non-erotic), and playful behavior (which is subtly taboo in our society) [Anonymous, 1969, p. 348]." It generally begins to occur at Moderate to Strong levels (8%, 26%, 31%, 17%, 5%), with the younger users needing to be more intoxicated for this experience (p <.05).
Actual loss of control to the point of antisocial actions was the rarest effect found in the present study: "I lose control of my actions and do antisocial things (actions that harm other people) that I wouldn't normally do" (77%, 22%, 1%, 0%, 0%). For the few who could rate this, the minimal intoxication levels peaked at Very Strong (3%, 3%, 3%, 7%, 4%).
The relationships of the lessened need for control, concern over control, and losing control to various degrees are plotted in Figure 17-1, with overall differences highly significant (p < < <.0005, for frequency, p < <.0005 for levels). Feeling less need to be in control of things is most frequent, inhibitions being lowered next most frequent, worrying about loss of control infrequent, and losing control to the point of actions that harm others least frequent. Worrying about losing control and actually losing it to the point of harm are very high level phenomena; inhibitions being lowered is a Moderate to Strong level phenomenon, and feeling less need to control things, a Low to Moderate level phenomenon.
Directions of Fantasies and ThoughtsProlonged fantasies, enriched with spectacular imagery and intensely absorbing, often seeming as real as nocturnal dreams or life itself, are a main pleasure of marijuana intoxication when the user indulges in them. What sort of control over these can the user exercise, if he is not content to let them develop spontaneously?
"I have little or no control over my fantasies; i.e., they flow along spontaneously, and even if I try, I can't change what I'm fantasying about" is an infrequent effect (24%, 29%, 31%, 11%, 3%), albeit more frequent among the College-educated (p <.05) and the younger users (p <.05). It generally begins to occur at the Strong to Very Strong levels of intoxication (3%, 7%, 25%, 19%, 15%).
The converse effect, "I have excellent control over my fantasies: I can make them go in whatever direction I want" is a common effect (6%, 18%, 31%, 27%, 15%), also more frequent among the College-educated (p <.01). It generally begins to occur at Moderate to Strong levels (13%, 21%, 36%, 14%, 3%). A similar effect, "I feel as if I lose control over my thoughts; they just go on regardless of what I want (without reference to whether you like this or not)" occurs with essentially the same frequency and beginning at the same levels of intoxication as not having control over fantasy (21%, 23%, 39%, 11%, 2% for frequency and 1%, 10%, 16%, 23%, 18% for levels).
It is of interest to compare these feelings of control over fantasy with feeling of efficiency of the mind in problem solving (Chapter 15), where ability to direct thought properly is important. Figure 17-2 relates these four phenomena.
Excellent control over fantasies is reported more frequently than the mind's feeling more or less efficient in problem solving (p <.05 in either case) and much more frequently than poor control over fantasy (p <.0005). The latter three phenomena occur with about the same frequency. Both excellent control over fantasy and the mind's feeling more efficient are reported at lower levels of intoxication than poor control or inefficiency (p <.0005 in each case). Poor control over fantasy occurs at somewhat higher levels than the mind's feeling inefficient (p <.05). Thus there is a general feeling of decreasing control at higher levels.
Control of Emotional StatesThe general ability of users to control emotional states in order to produce a generally pleasant, even ecstatic experience, discussed in Chapter 16, should be mentioned again. As discussed above, there is generally little felt need to control emotions as they are usually pleasant. When control is necessary, it is easier at lower levels of intoxication than at the very high levels.
Control of PainIn Chapter 11 it was reported that pain was easy to tolerate if the user directs his attention elsewhere, but it was also a common effect for pain to be more intense if the user concentrated on it. This not only emphasizes the importance of directing attention in the control of intoxication effects, but the changes in criteria for what to control. Ordinarily most of us go to great lengths to avoid pain; in the intoxicated state, many users find the new experience that comes from concentrating on pain worth the discomfort, at least enough to try it once to see what it's like.
External TasksA characteristic effect of intoxication is "I often forget to finish some task I've started, or get sidetracked more frequently than when straight" (4%, 9%, 33%, 44%, 9%). This effect begins to occur at Strong levels (7%, 24%, 43%, 16%, 3%). It is experienced more frequently by the younger users (p < .05), the College-educated (p <.05), and the Users of Psychedelics (p <.05). It begins at higher levels for the College-educated (p <.05) and Users of Psychedelics (p <.05).
The converse effect, "I can work at a necessary task with extra energy, absorption, and efficiency" is a common effect (12%, 22%, 38%, 17%, 7%), which begins to occur at Moderate levels (17%, 33%, 24%, 5%, 1%). It is experienced more frequently by Users of Psychedelics (p <.001) and begins at higher levels for Heavy Total users (p <.05, overall).
Figure 17-3 shows the relationships between these two levels of control over external tasks. Getting sidetracked is more frequent (p <.0005), while having extra energy and being absorbed in a task occurs at lower levels of intoxication (p < .0005).
PossessionThe experience of "possession," the temporary displacement of a person's mind by some outside "spirit" or force, is as old as mankind. Our culture generally rejects the notion of independently existing spirits able to possess someone and control his body; but, phenomenologically, possession is a real experience to those to whom it happens, even though we would consider the "spirit" as simply a manifestation of some split-off part of the person's personality. Two questions dealing with possession were included in the questionnaire as validity scale items, since I had not heard of the phenomenon in pilot interviews. As a number of users reported this phenomenon, the data are given here, as well as a related effect, the user's body seeming to move by itself.
"I have lost control and been 'taken over' by an outside force or will, which is hostile or evil in intent, for a while" is a rare effect (79%, 14%, 4%, 0%, 0%), which occurs at Very Strong and Maximal levels for the few who could rate it (1%, 1%, 1%, 5%, 9%).
"I have lost control and been 'taken over' by an outside force or will, which is good or divine, for a while" is also a rare effect (63%, 16%, 9%, 5%, 1%), which occurs at very high levels of intoxication (1%, 3%, 9%, 9%, 7%). The Therapy and Growth group has experienced this more frequently (p <.05, overall).
The extent to which the users may be reporting experiences more aptly classified as "inspiration" rather than the feeling of possession is unknown.
"Parts of my body have moved on their own volition, have done something which I did not will" is also a rare effect (57%, 22%, 13%, 5%, 1%), which occurs more frequently among females than males (p <.05). When it occurs, it generally begins at the very high levels (1%, 3%, 7%, 14%, 10%).
Although the levels-of intoxication for these three possession phenomena were all very high and did not differ significantly, their frequency of occurrence did, as shown in Figure 17-4.
Parts of the body moving by themselves and being possessed by a good force occur with about equal frequency, and both occur more frequently than being possessed by an evil or hostile force (p <.0005 and p <.05, respectively).
CONTROL OF THE LEVEL OF INTOXICATIONWhile users often are not concerned with what level of intoxication they will reach in any given session, especially if they have no problems on their minds, there are occasions on which a user will not want to get very intoxicated, e.g., if he expects to have to deal with some situation he is not sure he can handle while intoxicated. On the other hand, if the user does not expect to have to deal with straight people or perform complex tasks, he may wish to get as intoxicated as possible. If he wishes to control his level of intoxication, he may do so by controlling the amount of marijuana he smokes and/or by using various psychological techniques to decrease his level (bringing himself "down") or increase his level (bringing himself "up"). The psychological techniques are particularly important when a situation unexpectedly occurs that makes the user feel he should come down.
Desire to Get HigherSometimes users at a given level of intoxication feel an intense need to become even more intoxicated: "I get a rather compulsive desire to get even higher after a certain stage: I will smoke much more if I can." This is an infrequent effect (26%, 27%, 27%, 15%, 4%), which begins to occur at Moderate to Strong levels (11%, 22%, 24%, 12%, 3%). This desire occurs more frequently among younger users (p <.05), the College-educated (p <.05), Heavy Total users (p <.01, overall), and Daily users (p <.05). The young experience this at lower levels (p <.05).
Comments by my informants suggest that the primary motivation behind this effect is the anticipation of greater pleasure from being more intoxicated.
Experience with LSDThe users were asked, "Since taking LSD (or mescaline, peyote, psilocybin, or another major psychedelic drug), I am able to get much higher on grass than I was before." Of the 104 users answering this, 56 said yes and 48 said no, so a substantial portion of users feel their experiences with more powerful psychedelic drugs have enabled them to have more experiences when subsequently using marijuana. Informants commented to the effect that psychedelic drug experiences showed them that certain types of experiences were possible; knowing this, they have then been able to direct attention toward them and attain them with marijuana. This nicely illustrates the nature of potential effects, discussed in Chapter 2, as an underlying model for drug intoxication states.
Other Drugs Used to Raise the Level of IntoxicationThe users were asked to explain any yes answers to "I have special ways of getting higher besides smoking more grass: (1) other drugs + grass; and (2) special mental techniques." For the first part of this question, 23 percent answered yes, 67 percent no, and 10 percent skipped it. Some users mentioned several drugs they had used in conjunction with marijuana.
Ten mentions were made of taking other psychedelic drugs, such as LSD or DMT, in addition to marijuana, and six mentions were made of using hashish, the more potent form of marijuana. That more powerful psychedelics than marijuana should potentiate its effect is not surprising, but one may wonder why the users bother to smoke marijuana if the more powerful drug is available, unless the marijuana effects add some special quality to the more powerful psychedelic.
There were eight mentions of amphetamines for potentiating the marijuana state. Although the method of administration was not mentioned, it is likely that it was by mouth.
Alcohol was mentioned as a potentiator in seven cases, often with indications that the ratio of the two drugs had to be just right, usually a small amount of alcohol with the usual quantity of marijuana smoked.
Among miscellaneous drugs mentioned were amyl nitrate (2) and opium (2).
Mental Techniques for Raising the Level of Intoxication
Thirty-nine percent of the users indicated they had special mental techniques for getting higher. I have classified them into eleven types, with examples of each given below. The number of times various techniques were mentioned in the users' explanations is presented in Table 17-1.
Focusing, concentrating on current activity, refers to putting all of one's attention on what one is doing or a sensory stimulus one is receiving, e.g., "... staring at one object or some other spot of interest... ," or "cutting out extraneous concerns with past or future, remaining in here-and-now and digging it (grooving)...."
Contact with intoxicated companions refers to the speech and actions of the intoxicated persons' serving to remind the user of higher-level phenomena so that he can experience them, e.g., "thinking like whomever I'm with who's higher," or "talking to stoned people and being with them for a while." "Contact highs," when a user is straight at the time but feels many of the phenomena of intoxication simply by being in close contact with an intoxicated person, were also reported as a common effect (Chapter 12).
Meditation refers to actual use of this word by the user to describe his technique such as "Kundalini yogaas energy flows up spine and reaches brain, I get higher... ," or "Mantra chanting, zazen."
Direct willing to get higher refers to reports of simply willing to reach a high level of intoxication without any specific mechanisms of such willing being described; e.g., "I move mentally through the same plane as a grass session, and then an LSD session, and finally, beyond both into a higher series of energy levels..."; or "Once fairly stoned I can get as high almost as I like with only the will and the knowledge ('You can fly, Wendy!' said Peter)."
Breathing techniques are illustrated in such comments as "Center on my breathing, close my eyes, and concentrate on getting higher"; or "I hold my breath for 30 seconds at a time and stare at a fixed point of light...." Several users specifically mentioned hyperventilating but noted it produced only a transient alteration in level of intoxication.
Music, especially if it is about other states of consciousness, can be used to get higher; e.g., "Listen to music and relaxespecially Donovancan get high without anything"; or "Listen to music, especially with stereo earphones; all else blocked out, get especially high."
Letting go, non-striving, relaxation are illustrated by "Just let mind loose," or "... allowing same thought processes to develop as when on acid... ," or " ... just relaxing into it, like floating, not striving."
Fantasy refers to imagining specific events that lead into a higher state, such as"... guided daydream...," or "Sometimes smoke a regular cigarette and pass it around pretending it's a joint."
Inducing positive emotions to get higher is illustrated by "I think happy... ," or "... remind myself how incredible it is just to be alive in the first place...."
Hypnosis was mentioned by two users, without further explanation. Aaronson's work (1969) in inducing psychedelic-like states through hypnosis, and Baumann's (1970) technique of training adolescents to re-experience many of the pleasures of marijuana intoxication through hypnotic regression is relevant here.
Lowering the Level"Coming Down""I can 'come down' at will if I need to be straight for a minute to deal with some complicated reality problem (circle the point of highness above which can't do this)" is an extremely characteristic effect of marijuana intoxication (5%, 3%, 18%, 21%, 49%). It is more frequent among males (p <.05), the Professionals (p <.01), and Users of Psychedelics (p < .01). Light Total users report it less frequently than Moderate or Heavy users (p <.05, overall), and the Daily users report it more frequently than the Weekly or Occasional users (p <.05, overall).
The Very Strong and Maximal levels were the main ones the users could not come down from at will (2%, 8%, 11%, 33%, 24%). Female users and Users of Psychedelics indicated being able to come down temporarily from higher levels of intoxication (p < .05 and p <.01, respectively).
A similar question was asked later in the questionnaire in opposite form, namely, "There is a certain degree of being stoned from above which I cannot come down quickly if I must come down to deal adequately with reality (circle level)." This is a fairly frequent effect (23%, 27%, 21%, 10%, 8%), more so with females (p <.05) and Non-users of Psychedelics (p <.05). The levels above which the user cannot come down quickly are almost exclusively the Very Strong and Maximal levels (0%, 1%, 3%, 21%, 37%), with a higher level being indicated by the Moderate Total users than the Light or Heavy Total users (p <.05, overall).
As shown in Figure 17-5, feeling able to come down at will is far more frequent than feeling unable to (p <<.0005). Being unable to come down quickly when desired is rated as occurring at higher levels of intoxication than the point where the user can come down at will (p <.0005).
Techniques for Coming DownTwenty-nine percent of the users answered yes to the question "I have special technique(s) for coming down rapidly if I need to be straight quickly (please describe)". Of those answering no, a number offered comments to the effect that they had never experienced a situation they couldn't handle adequately when intoxicated, and so had no need of techniques for coming down.
I have classified the 52 techniques described by users in Table 17-2 and illustrated the techniques in each category below.
Direct willing, concentration refers to simply willing oneself to be normal; e.g., "Just tell myself to straighten up and it works!"; or "... just telling myself straighten out!!!.. ." A number of the techniques put in the miscellaneous category may also have been instances of direct willing, but it was not completely clear that they were.
Inducing negative emotions indicates techniques of frightening oneself and consequently coming down almost immediately, as "I 'freak' myself by imagining the consequences if I 'blow it' "; or "Think of cops and being busted and my familyif that doesn't do it, nothing will" or "Bug my partner, who then bums my trip: I snap back in a flash!"
Intense focus on current situation is illustrated by "... concentrate on the straight task which requires attention"; or "Concentration, deep concentration on the matter at hand can make one straight enough to cope with the situation." Focus on the situation was also used to increase the level of intoxication, but it was a different quality of focus, one of the "Suchness" of things rather than the reality demands they make on the user.
Acting normal, straight, putting on everyday role includes techniques of faking normality or putting on an everyday personality, which then brings the user down. Examples are ". .. put on my work-a-day intellectual persona"; or "By standing up... and lighting up a cigarette (more natural-looking, gives me something to hold my attention) and above all making a determined effort to appear 'straight.'"
Fantasy and suggestion involve creating an image or suggestion that alters the state of consciousness to normal, namely, "I pretend I am walking out of a fog or scene into another scene"; and "Wendy, you're on the ground."
Drugs, Thorazine and Niacin, were mentioned by an engineering student and a psychiatrist. respectively.
ADDITIONAL EFFECTS"Presence of compulsive behavior or thoughts" (Rarely, Strongly).
"I syncopate rhythm when playing the guitar, sometimes unintentionally. This happens only stoned. I find syncopating intentionally difficult" (Very Often, Maximum).
"I get totally absorbed in the process of laughing for minutes at a time; I overreact to any sort of humor" (Usually, Fairly).
"I am suddenly aware of the unreality of my and other's behavior and become convulsed with laughter" (Usually, Fairly).
"Confidence and self-faith are plentiful" (Usually, Just).
"Cannot stop from smiling" (Usually, Fairly). "I enjoy acting out fantasies when stoned" (Very Often, Strongly). "Incessant flowing of verbiagetalking to myself, not out loud" (Very Often, Strongly).
LEVELS OF INTOXICATION FOR CONTROLVarious effects of marijuana intoxication on control are plotted by level of intoxication in Figure 17-6. The overall grouping is highly significant (p <<<.0005).
Beginning at the Moderate and Moderate-to-Strong levels, there is characteristically a decreased need to feel in control of things, an increased willingness to trust the situation and let things happen. Some ordinarily inhibited thoughts and behaviors will be allowed, and the user feels his mind is working very efficiently, a feeling that probably reinforces the lessening of need to control things. At the Strong level the user may feel his mind works less efficiently in dealing with problems, and he is easily sidetracked when working on external tasks. His emotions are generally felt more strongly, but he usually feels he has excellent control over his fantasies and so can guide his experiences in very pleasurable directions. Moving up to the Very Strongly intoxicated level, the user may begin to feel lessened control over his thoughts and, less frequently, lessened control over his fantasies, but most users still feel they can come down at will if required. At the highest levels users sometimes feel that they cannot come down at will. They may also, very rarely, feel "possessed" by an external force or will, more often good than evil.
MODULATING FACTORSThe effects of relatively linear background variables are summarized in Table 17-3. Users with more drug experience are less troubled with worries about losing control, and can come down more frequently and from higher levels than other users.
One background variable had a non-linear effect. Moderate Total users indicated a higher level above which they could not come down quickly than either Light or Heavy Total users.
SUMMARYAlthough they feel less need to be in control of things and are more willing to trust the situation, experienced marijuana users are able to control the nature of their intoxication experiences to a high degree. Direction of attention is the main way in which this is done; if one concentrates on a desired effect, it may very well occur, while directing concentration away from an undesired effect will frequently allow that effect to fade away.
Control is good through most of the range of intoxication, but begins to get poorer for some users at the very high levels.
Most users can generally come down at will from even the Very Strong level of intoxication. Various techniques for coming down include direct willing. inducing fear, or intense focusing on the reality situation that they need to deal with. Many users also can increase their level of intoxication by mental techniques: direct willing, meditating, or associating with others who are more intoxicated. These factors illustrate the importance of situational and psychological variables, over and above drug dosage, in determining level of intoxication at any given time. Also, more experienced drug users have more control of intoxication in general.
Footnotes1. It is important to note that loss of control can be very pleasurable, according to many of my informants, depending on the personality of the user. They enjoy the spontaneous entertainment quality, the surprise of the unexpected and exotic places their thoughts and fantasies travel to. One informant expressed the enjoyment of loss of control as being analogous to riding a roller coaster; if you're sure the machine is in safe operating condition, you climb on and enjoy the thrills of the ride. Once you're on, it's no longer a question of your control. Thus if the user feels his personality is in good operating condition, he trusts himself to become intoxicated and let the intoxicated state take him where it will. (back)
2. With respect to controlling level of intoxication, smoking marijuana is preferred to eating it, as the user can control his level of intoxication very rapidly and precisely. If it is eaten, about three times as much is required for a given level, onset is much slower, duration is longer, offset is longer, and altering level by eating more is risky because of these time delays. Many of the cases of overdosing that my informants knew of resulted from eating marijuana. (back)
3. Some of the users' experience with other drugs used to potentiate or alter the nature of marijuana intoxication results from the fact that some of the marijuana sold in the United States is adulterated with these drugs, either because some customers prefer it (although most of my informants do not like the idea of their marijuana being adulterated with unknown ingredients) or to "potentiate" marijuana that is otherwise too weak in active ingredients to be salable. (back)
4. Mantras are special sounds for meditating on (see Govinda, 1960, e.g.), and zazen refers to the practice of Zen meditation (Suzuki, 1959). (back)
5. The guided daydream is a psychotherapeutic technique for evoking deep levels of imagery. It is used primarily In Europe but is increasingly used in the United States. See Assagioli (1965) Desollle (1965), and Gerard (1961). (back)
6. This widespread ability to "come down," i.e., suppress many of the effects of intoxication at will, raises an interesting methodological question for laboratory studies of the effect of marijuana or its derivatives on various performance measures. If the user believes, as a result of the demand characteristics of the experiment (Orne, 1962; Rosenthal, 1966), that he should do as well as possible, he may come down and try to perform as he would straight. On the other hand, if he thinks it important to perform as an intoxicated person should, he may not only not suppress effects, he may exaggerate them. If the demands are not clear to the subjects, great variability in performance will occur that could wipe out real effects. If the demands have consistent effects on the subjects, but are not clear to the experimenter or the readers of the report on the experiment, error will result from confusing one of many potential effects (drug plus particular demands) with "natural" effects. (back)