While high: feeling linearity

Just flipping back through my toke journal I notice that I don’t tend to draw images that often, but when I do it tends to be in response to a feeling of what I can only call linearity.  I tend to draw simple designs including parallel lines contracting to a perspective point, or lines originating from a point as rays, and it always seems to be in response to what I describe as a feeling that is wordlessly connected to this geometric arrangement.

Some examples:

(describing a high)  now it’s all coming into the linear groove:

P1010990

A linear, sonic experience:

P1010991

I’m not altogether sure that this is remarkable, but two things:  I want to draw and sketch more while high, and maybe I care about this because I’ve always harbored a certain amount of jealousy towards those with synesthesia —  a condition wherein a cognitive or  sensory stimulus of one kind stimulates a sensory or cognitive response of another kind.  Synesthetes can, for example, experience sounds as colors, or sights as tastes.  It’s always seemed like a gift

Advertisements

Surprise! that study that said pot shrinks your brain was apparently total crap

In the fall of 2014 there was an outburst of media noise regarding the results of study by researchers at the University of Texas, Dallas which seemed to show that certain brain changes — both in shape/volume and other characteristics — were associated with prolonged marijuana use.  The news spread far and wide, was all over the web and TV, and penetrated deep into the major media.  The message that most of these articles and stories conveyed to the average consumer of the news is pretty easy to summarize, especially since it fits so comfortably into the traditional media narrative about pot:  marijuana is bad for you.  marijuana shrinks your head.  marijuana makes you stupid.

Predictably, it seems like evidence has emerged that that study might have been flawed, or maybe just wrong.  This is because a second, larger and better-designed study, the results of which were published recently in the Journal of Neuroscience, found absolutely no correlation between quite heavy, long term marijuana use and the changes in brain characteristics reported in the older study.

I come to this issue as a moderate consumer of cannabis, and someone who cares about whether this drug has any long-term side effects that I should know or care about.  I’m neither an expert nor a scientist, nor do I have time to review the complete literature on Cannabis and its side-effects (though to be fair, nor do plenty of psychiatrists.)  Therefore, what I particularly value when I read news about the latest studies and results in marijuana health research are clarity and impartiality.  It seems to me that most writing about cannabis seems to have little of either.  On the one hand, we have cannabis blogs and cannabis media — voices that seem forever reluctant to expose any news that discusses any possible health risk associated with marijuana use, at least without adopting a very defensive tone.  On the other hand, the major media is so used to reporting negative narratives about marijuana (and receives so much attention when it does) that it over-plays stories of the same kind.  What’s more, the studies that are the subjects of these stories, like the study in this case, are often beset with all sorts of problems, which are either not clearly reported, or relegated to what amount to footnotes.

Once the genie of a bad science story is out of the proverbial bottle, it’s very hard to put it back.  There are plenty of examples of completely bogus scientific results being widely reported as fact.  If and when these stories are retracted, their retractions almost never penetrate the media to any great extent.  This was the case with a correction of a widely circulated story about a study that had purported to show very high levels of lead in some kinds of  imported rice.  As a result there were interesting calls for a way to retract bad science articles.

Even a cursory scan of some of the literature shows that a great number of studies about the deleterious effects of marijuana have been inconclusive or poorly designed.  The Dallas study was typical of this in at least three ways.  For one, it used an extremely small sample size.  Also, it did not (apparently) adequately control for factors like alcohol use.  Thirdly, and this is a problem that bedevils nearly every study about the bad effects of pot that I’ve encountered, the study has nothing to say about cause and effect, only correlation.

This last problem is quite serious, because in many cases there’s a very plausible argument that whatever bad effect that marijuana is supposed to have been shown to cause is actually — completely on the contrary — a condition that caused or made more likely the marijuana use.  A perfect example of this, and one that I’ve observed from a rather intimate vantage point in my own family, is the case of bipolar disorder and depression.  I’ll write another time about public perception, scientific opinion and family myth surrounding pot and mental illness — these are subject very near to my heart and many others.  Suffice it to say, though, that the onset of mania has not been shown to be causally linked to marijuana, though it is often very coincident with it.   In addition, I’d simply say that both the media and the scientific community should be much more upfront about the lack of proof of causation when it comes to cannabis and a number of potential ill effects.

I’m quite open to the idea that marijuana is bad for you in some ways.  It’s already been proven that it is — for example, it’s known that smoking weed increases a man’s risk of testicular cancer.  All I ask is that the media — on both sides of this debate — look at emerging science carefully, and report it for what it says, particularly when it comes to causation.

What’s in my weed box?

The contents of one’s weed box (in my case, a glassware container with a rubber lid) occupy a strange social place in life somewhere between the bottles in one’s liquor case and and those in the bathroom medicine cabinet.  Writing and posting about one’s taste in liquor seems like a totally acceptable thing to do, whereas those who talk to much about their medications are rightfully regarded with a bit of a wary eye.  It’s with trepidation, therefore, that I throw open the rubbermaid lid of my weed box and give you a view of what I’m currently smoking (or consuming).

thbox

My first reaction when I look at that altogether is … holy crap!  That’s a lot of cannabis — probably more than I could smoke or consume in many months.  I smoke once or twice a week depending on how I’m feeling and what’s going on in my life.  Each time that I do consume, it’s definitely a fraction of a gram of flower or a single tablet.  It’s also true that I like sampling different strains, and have accumulated quite a variety of pot in recent months for that reason alone.  I’ll do my best to break down what you’re looking at here, and explain how and why I have all of this stuff.

1) CBD capsules from The CPC, Seattle.  These are small, exquisitely made capsules containing oil infused with 6.25mg of THC, but 12mg of CBD (at least according to the label, there’s no state-mandated testing of medicals yet.)  I use CBD oil to relieve nerve and muscle pain in my neck and body, which is the reason I am a licensed medical marijuana patient in the first place.  CBD-infused oil produces long-sustained body relief, and is itself not psychoactive.  Because of the presence of the THC here, however, there’s definitely some head effect, and like all ingested THC, it can kick in at odd moments many hours after popping one of these capsules.  (This particular cap once surprised me with a rather major and sudden head-high in the middle of the grocery store.)

2)  2.5 grams of Solstice Sour Tsunami #3.  Sour Tsunami is the rather famous CBD-rich strain that is very popular with medical patients for its completely non-psychoactive character.  I use it for pain relief.  Although the weed I have has not been sample-tested, Solstice’s website reports 12.5% CBD and under .1% THC, which is actually lower than most industrial hemp.  Though I do smoke this for relaxation and pain relief, I really don’t know why I have quite so much of this stuff.  I think it may have been on sale at the dispensary.

3)  just under a gram of Cactus, from bluenose gardens, Seattle.  This is the first of several grams of what I like to call sleepyweed, or the kind of marijuana that makes you tired and mellow.  I bought this due to a budtender’s recommendation, and the fact that it smells incredible — almost sticky sweet, and not particularly earthy or stinky like some weed.  The high it produces is really fantastic, but I also like it because it’s a local product and a strain you can (apparently) only get here in Seattle.  I can’t imagine that will be true for very long.

4)  five coco tabs from Mt. Si Medicals.  These are “harletabs” made with a strain called Harlequin, another strain that is CBD dominant, but nowhere near as pure-CBD as Sour Tsunami.  There is growing evidence that some of the medical benefits from using cannabis could be due to the so-called entourage effect resulting from consuming several of the cannabinoids at the same time.  That’s why strains like Harlequin are useful — they provide a balanced mixture of THC (~4mg in one tab) and CBD (around 7.5 per tab.)  To be clear, I have no idea if this is important or what it really does — since there hasn’t been enough research into any of this, no one else does either.  But it’s another way I like to experience the pain relieving properties of cannabis.

5)  The next four strains I pretty much solely use recreationally … they’re all pretty similar, night-time sorts of smokes.  This one’s called cotton candy (or sometimes cotton candy kush.)  It’s a pretty strong sedative sort of weed.  It’s about 16% THC.  (Oddly, I acquired this as a result of asking for something “not too strong” from the budtender.  For me, this is strong!)

6)  Blueberry Grape Ape.  Yes.  That’s what it’s called.  (who makes up these names anyway?)  It’s also a strong indica sort of bud.  It put me to sleep quite rapidly the one time I tried it.  16.5% THC.

7)  This is a little over a gram of a strain known as God’s Gift.  I’m not 100% sure if you can see from the photo exactly how dense this weed is.  It’s almost like a piece of coral, or some kind of prehistoric fungus.  It’s also extremely strong — stronger than either of the previous two buds.  My particular supply was not tested for strength, but the strain is know to produce THC potencies of up to 25%.  This feels too strong to me, so as a result I’ve rarely smoked any of this particular strain — I think this bud is probably over 2 months old now.

8)  A smidgen of a strain called Sweet Tooth.  I’ve also heard it called BC Sweet Tooth.  It’s strong, but not too strong, and is (as it’s name would suggest) possessed of a pretty delicious taste.  I have no idea how much THC it contains … definitely enough.  The high I experienced the one time I smoked this was both pleasant and rather lengthy.

9) Sativa Valley CBD tincture.  Tinctures are a great way to ingest cannabis without smoking,  Placing a few drops under the tongue results in immediate absorption into the bloodstream in almost the same way you’d experience by smoking.  You can also add tinctures to drinks or teas etc … but this seems a less-good way to use them since the active parts of the tincture are simply processed by the liver and it’s just as if you’d consumed some sort of very-weak edible.  This tincture isn’t the most powerful pain relief ever, but it’s enough to take the edge off the kind of nerve pain I get in my neck.

10)  Happy Hashers Hard tincture.  THC-based tincture — mint flavor.  I use this very rarely since I usually smoke for recreational purposes rather than using tincture.  The directions on the bottle call for one full dropper, but I find that level of dosing to be completely excessive.

Obama talked about legalization yesterday

What you’re seeing now is Colorado, Washington, through state referenda, they’re experimenting with legal marijuana.  The position of my administration has been, we still have federal laws that classify marijuana as an illegal substance.  But, we’re not going to spend a lot of federal resources trying to turn back decisions that have been made on the state level on this issue.  My suspicion is that you’re going to see other states start looking at this. — President Obama on YouTube yesterday

Toke journal

Part of the way I show respect for the herb is by writing something — even a little bit — about how I’m feeling, what I’m doing and why I’m smoking whenever I consume.  I do this in a little journal (well now journals, since I’ve filled the first and begun a second) which I keep with my pot and other supplies.  The journal fulfills several purposes:  it tracks my usage frequency to a fairly accurate degree, as I’ve actually been fairly faithful about writing in it whenever I consume.

a page from the first journal and the "achingly beautiful" riboon
The toke journal, the ribbon of which I considered at this moment to be “achingly beautiful”

It also helps me record my motivations for using cannabis, whether those involve needing to unwind at the end of the day (a rather common motivation as it turns out) medicating a particular pain or other condition, reducing anxiety, or some other reason.  These two purposes allow me to paint a fairly accurate picture of my relationship with cannabis.   For instance, I happen to know that my current path with marijuana began on October 14, 2013 at 6:30 pm, and that I’ve consumed at least 80 times since that date, or approximately 6 times in each 5 week period over that time.  Perhaps if I get really curious about the details I’ll do some more metrics on my usage patterns, and also take an overall look at my recorded motivations for each of those uses.

But perhaps more interesting than these quantifiable metrics are the psychonautic and subjective aspects of the writing that occurs when I smoke.  Just reading back a little bit over what I’ve written, it’s clear that I love describing the experiences — physical, and mental — that occur when I smoke.  Psychonautics (defined as any methodology seeking to describe the subjective experience of being high) might feel like old hat to some folks, or rather boring, or maybe something not really as applicable to marijuana as it is to more strictly psychedelic drugs, but it’s one of the core reasons (along with health) that I use pot at all.  My journalling so far is full of descriptions of the nature of each high.  These descriptions vary in posture from that of the critic (though I hate substance snobbery, I have to admit that I slide into it at times in these journals) to that of a sort of wide-eyed traveller into what experiences can be gleaned from unlocking the mind with marijuana.

“I have always loved marijuana. It has been a source of joy and comfort to me for many years. And I still think of it as a basic staple of life, along with beer and ice and grapefruits – and millions of Americans agree with me.” – Hunter S. Thompson

Let me be clear:  much of what I write in these journals is cringeworthy, trivial, or both.  Much is also boring.

in the world of real writers, debates abound regarding the particular merits of writing while high, with the majority, including a particularly well-intentioned experimenter seeming to conclude that any serious writing done while high can’t be all that good.  On the other hand, there are writers who claim to write mostly or exclusively while high.  That Hunter S. Thompson wrote (and did many other things) under the influence of the herb should surprise almost no one, but what about a best-seller like Lee Child, who famously claimed to write almost exclusively while smoking pot?  Quite honestly, it doesn’t matter much to me.  I’m make no claim to being a great writer, or at the very least not while journaling about my marijuana use.  But I do recommend the practice of pot-journalling.  Here are some tips if you decide to try this:

  • keep your journal, and a writing implement, with your weed.  It’s a pain in the ass to have to go find your journal when you really want to be sparking up.  Picking up your pipe or bong?  Pick up your journal too.
  • get a journal that you enjoy writing in.  Mine is small and minimalist with nice paper.  Pick a pen that you enjoy writing with and that works.  Nothing sucks like being wrapped in the warm embrace of a nice body high and having your pen run out of ink.
  • commit to writing every time you consume cannabis.  Sometimes has a way of turning into occasionally which can turn into seldom which is close enough to never.  One of the great values of my journal is that it represents a relatively complete picture of my journey with marijuana, which is one of its values.
  • Don’t think you have to write something profound or long.  Some of my entires are two lines long … literally something like “Feeling tired from a very long day.  I’m going to sit down on the couch and smoke some blackberry kush.”
  • Write before, during and after the high sets in.  What I write about before smoking is usually about my motivations.  Why am I choosing to consume right now?  During smoking or eating or whatever is when I record observations about the particular strain or high.  How does it make me feel?  What is onset like?  What sensations come in what order?  What does the strain taste like?
  • Let go.  You don’t have to be literary or profound.  Write whatever comes to mind.  Maybe it’s rant about something that happened to you during the day, or something you’re feeling or experiencing right then.  Once in a while (admittedly it’s usually white quite high) I freeform write or draw in the journal.  Who knows what might come out? It might be nonsense ( why, for instance, did I write the string anemittingpointorasteroidofsomekind in my journal the other day?)  but it might be important, or deep, or something.  Just let it out, whatever it is.
  • Be honest about how you’re feeling and what you’re feeling.  it’s ok to have a bad experience, to be sad, or to feel vulnerable or not-good.
  • Sometimes write when you’re not smoking.  Feeling burnt-out the day after?  Write about it.  It’s part of the experience.  Feeling particularly grateful for something that happened while high or how you feel later?  Write about that too.

Hopes

My hope is that this will be a blog about cannabis, balance and real life.  My hope is that this will become a place for those who struggle to find a home in most other places (online or otherwise) where one can discuss our personal use and enjoyment of cannabis.  My hope is that writing here will allow me to come to deeper terms with my own relationship to this plant.  My hope is that it will be a place where it’s okay to talk about the good things but also the scary things about consuming weed.  My hope is that this will become a way for me to reach out — to find others like me who wish to cultivate a beneficial relationship with this powerful substance, but also feel slightly alienated by the by turns juvenile and euphoric culture that surrounds it.

I’m a 40 year old American middle class male.  I have a career, a house, a partner, dogs, and a pretty interesting and rich life.  My journey as a cannabis consumer has been both short and interesting.  Though I’d very occasionally smoked pot before the last couple of years (I could probably count the number of times on one hand), I began consuming cannabis regularly about 16 months ago for health reasons related to nerve pain.  Though the condition causing the nerve pain cleared up after a month or two , I’ve continued to use it occasionally for other pain relief, and indeed for other health reasons.  I also enjoy using it recreationally and to relax.  At this point, I consume cannabis one or two times a week, but also experience regular periods of up to five or six weeks in which I consume no cannabis at all (this is often related to when I travel out of the country.)  This has been my regular pattern over the past 16 months.

A few facts about my life have uncomplicated my relationship with pot.  One is that I live in an American state where possession of marijuana, its consumption and indeed its sale are completely legal.  My city is the one in which even the police publish a helpful guide on how to be a legal stoner.  There are at least five sizable dispensaries within a few blocks of my house.  Another un-complicating factor is the fact that I don’t have children, but do have a supportive, understanding partner.  Smoking pot when you have kids to take care of (like most of my friends) seems fraught.  So does having a wife or husband who doesn’t feel comfortable with your choice to consume.  Finally, I have the time and money to be intentional about my consumption of cannabis — I don’t worry about how much the product or the equipment needed to consume it, cost.

But there are complicating factors for me too.  I come from a long line of addicts. My family also has a significant history of mental illness.  Both of my biological brothers have in the past used cannabis in an excessive and harmful way to mitigate symptoms like full-on mania and psychosis.  Therefore, I’m keenly aware of the debates about how cannabis use may worsen or contribute causally to various kinds of mental disorders and changes in brain function.  I know that these issues aren’t settled conclusively, and I want to avoid obsessing about them, but I also want to acknowledge that dependency and the affects of cannabis are valid things to think about carefully.  I hope to write about them here.

I love cannabis.  It makes me feel healthy and on balance has improved my life.  That said, I have no particular love for what I guess you could call “cannabis culture.”  Walking into my local dispensary or head shop often gives me the feeling that I’ve stumbled into the bedroom of the kind of cool teenage kid that I never was (and would have claimed to never want to be.)  Even at so-called upscale shops, engaging the friendly bud-tender at the counter often gives me a sense that I’m probably talking to someone who has no idea what he or she is saying.  This is, to be fair, exactly how I feel about wine snobbery and other kinds of expert connoisseurship.  I’m convinced, in fact, that the famous 2001 experiment of Frederic Brochet in which he invited 54 wine tasters to sample one red and one white wine and offer comments on each (spoiler: the red and white were the same wine — one contained a bit of food coloring) is entirely repeatable with cannabis strains.  Is the divide between sativa and indica strains really so clear or profound as many people who write about cannabis claim?  (also:  who cares.) I think it’s okay to not buy in to all of the puffery involved in talking about weed.  I’d rather spend my time figuring out how it interacts with my body, mind and spirit, and what I can learn from it.

I started this post with a bunch of hopes.  I’ll end it with one more:  I hope that you connect with me here (anonymously if you want) as I write about and explore this topic.  Being open about this part of my life is a way to keep it out of the shadows and integrated with the rest of the normal things I do.  It’s also a way of continuing my ongoing experiment with weed in my normal life.  I intend to continue this journey if and only if it improves my life on balance and makes me a better, more relaxed and integrated person.  Connecting with others on this same open path would be an amazing bonus.