Thots on Pot            from The Pot Book  Sept. 2010                                     Thots on Pot 2 (2016)


The simplest answer to the complex question of what pot does is dishabituation. It delinks the habits of mind.  This change takes place at a profound level, and its effects are thus multifarious and unlimited. Different pot at different times can, as a drug experience, feel like acid, booze, speed, or smack. And the range of its psychological effects is mirrored by its material usefulness: the practical uses of hemp, as fiber, food, and pharmacy, are in seamless parallel with human needs.

Hemp and reefer: material and spiritual, physical and psychological, male and female--everywhere you look, cannabis's intersection with humans is about dualities in unity. Cannabis is dioecious, from the Greek for "two households," and meaning the species consists of separate male and female versions.  Like our species.  Oppositions basic to the human psyche are apparent, by analogy or actual function, in this single plant. How we view pot and its powers reveals how we choose to see: in wholeness or in separation.

Dishabituation is the blurring of paths, which, like habits, are places you have been before, routes you can follow without thinking, according to unreflected sense cues, existing neural patterns.  These paths exist if we follow unconsciously; search for them and they scatter, unrecognizable and meaningless. Stoned, you see the woods, and the world, differently. The path is not apparent; you discover things you have passed by, but you are lost.

 We are creatures of habit: literally, of clothing, costume, custom. Pot removes the clothing of the mind, the literal habits of thought. The panic when we resist is like holding onto the last garment being pulled off us. We are naked before pot, and what we see first is ourselves. Primary social inhibitions are revealed by mindless munchies and tension-releasing laughter. In the body, pot can relax and release held energy, or heighten tension and contraction due to over-awareness of everything including breathing. In the mind, perception becomes fresh, new seeming, profound. Thoughts too are bound or released in an excess of meaning, from paranoia to enthusiasm.

 Pot facilitates intuition, the dishabituation of thought. But the thing about insights from pot is, you're always stoned when you get them. A stoned thought, no matter how majestic, is subject to self-ridicule. What you see, and learn, you have to hold with faith. This is the uncertainty principle.

Dishabituation changes polarity, the direction of the prevailing winds. This altered brain-state has a synchronous relation to human countercultural styles. Pot could never be an opiate of the masses. Unlike the numbness of rum or the work-uses of coffee, Coke, and cigarettes, it won't keep the machines running. Nomadic cultures revered pot because it was a tool for change-for making it and for dealing with it: an unsettler. China was first the Land of Hemp and Mulberry, but as its civilization crystallized, cannabis use was discouraged in favor of opium, more likely to keep the kids down on the farm. Pot won't change you physically-there is almost no physical response, no lethal dose. But in its revelation of the habitual and the cultural, it can change your social identity and your self-perception, which are the origins of its subversion.

Pot was the Be Here Now and Back to Nature drug of the Sixties: in cannabis's dishabituation of the senses is the reenchantment of our perceptions of nature. For the beats and hippies, pot was a release into acoustic space from the visual conformity of Fifties straight culture: the primal pot experience was closing your eyes to hear and feel the music. Enchantment is literally "singing into"-adding depth and resonance to insights, making them felt, physical, and moving. At the dawn of the TV Age, as most information comes in via eyeballs closely focused on screens, pot reminds us of the surrounding senses of sound and touch and space. In the space age, pot reveals the depth of space and not just its distance, and the spaciousness of the present, stilling the reel of unrolling time.

In these testosterone times (SUVs, Timberlands, mountain bikes, shooter games, pitbulls, pro wrestling, Kalashnikovs), pot's dishabituation appears essentially feminine or yin in style. The rocket-shaped technologies to leave the planet and to destroy the planet have evolved simultaneously, in an instant of geologic time. This is the millennial, macrocosmic dilemma we are currently balanced upon. Our connection with cannabis is one of the few things acting as a balance to the current cancer of yang: marijuana is the Earth, mater, matter heard from.

This isn't to say that pot is inherently feminine-it appears so as a reflection of the zeitgeist, in contrast to a country, culture, and cosmos on an epochal yang jag. It is inherently altering; it will change whatever consciousness you are in, just as likely to bum out a hippie as turn on a square. Cannabis is a reminder of the mutability of consciousness, a challenge to the ego's hubris and materialism. There is spirituality inherent in confronting a reality that is only relative.

These ideas are not new. Hemp and humans co-evolved on Earth.  Perhaps no aboriginal strains of hemp exist; only cannabis strains showing cultivation have survived to the present. As cannabis is defined by its relationship to humans, so the oldest human artifacts (both material and mental) contain traces of cannabis. Hemp gave us the tools to be human-the ideas as well as the materials. Clothing, woven of hemp, is among the technologies that allowed our survival. Canvas, from cannabis, powered human exploration via the sails of ships and the media of artworks.

Cannabis is one of the oldest words to survive unchanged to the present-from the ancient Babylonian: cane + two. One plant with two parts, male and female, and two opposite functions: a stong fiber, and a psychoactive drug.  Physical and mental,  material and spiritual-these ideas are expressed so clearly in one plant. A paradox of unity and duality that demanded a language of signs rise to the level of poetry.

The Chinese character for hemp, ma, depicts two different plants, male and female, under the roof of a drying hut: nature under the shelter of human culture. This idea of "cultivation" is the biological essence of culture-a refinement of the contact between nature and humanity for the benefit of both. The ancient written image of pot is a depiction of agri-culture, of post-hunter/gatherer civilization, as a relation between plants and humans. Pot was the plant from which the idea of the Garden grew-the word made flesh.

The Chinese word for "grind" is formed from hemp + stone. Hemp + hand is "rub." "Numb" is hemp + wooden. And hemp plus the sign of negation is "waste." In these examples, hemp is both a material and mental tool for creating concepts-which arise from and are abstracted from a physical image. Cannabis is the building block of poetic thought and language. The concept is a higher resolution of a material duality: hemp + stone = "grind." Literally and figuratively, materially and mentally, cannabis is a source of meaning.

What is now figurative in language was once literal. Things could be understood, handled, or grasped; people had inclinations or attitudes. Primates reached this figurative place by an evolutionary move, a literal change of posture: we stood up, putting our heads over our hearts, because our survival depended on it. In physical terms, this meant balancing, reaching, and climbing. The insight of climbing-borrowed from the effects and structures of cannabis-is the dynamic of grasp and release: habit is to hold, dishabituation is to release. In the trees, the creative leap was literal-it required dexterity--grasping--and letting go.

Evolved from the acoustic depths of the sea, our fear of the void is the fear of visual exposure, of open spaces where we were the prey of cats and raptors. In the safety of the trees, released from the grip of fear, we had perspective, and leisure to contemplate, away from the constant demands of survival:  philosophers in the trees. With the evolution of awareness came the possibility that existence could be more than survival, or that survival could be more than a response to fear, and could include the encompassing of joy.

For primates, above was not only improved survival but new power. Superior-which describes a physical relation to gravity-came to mean better. In this case, the concept allowed left-brain thought (and the right hand) to perceive itself as above the right brain. What was originally positional-right-became dominant: Right. Left, from roots meaning weak or useless, became conflated with wrong, and the feminine, yin, right-brain world, was judged as not just positionally different, but inferior. Relatively different became absolutely wrong.

The gravity of the Earth-the weight of the world-is all that gives "being above" its superiority. This abstraction only makes sense from the viewpoint of landed mammals, less so for human beings with a sense of infinite space. Copernicus recalled this in 1532, and Galileo seconded the motion. It didn't go over too well then, and today, we still don't really believe it. There is no Right Side Up, but superior as absolute, not relative, is ingrained in our language and thus in our thought.

This schism in the brain and body and community is apparent in Western history, and everywhere today. Natural dualities or paradoxes do not fit comfortably in this scheme and are forced out of balance by physical power or abstract judgment. These are the root myths of monotheism: God is a man and removed from nature, men are superior to women, the brother on the right fights the brother on the left. Mankind is banished from the Garden, and heaven is separate from and superior to Earth.

Issues of gravity justify points of view. Arabs and Jews-pork-shunning, circumcised tribal Semites-are brothers first and enemies second, from the same dysfunctional family. The challenge to the human family is how we see our superiority, and our physical and psychological reflex toward up: a position of power and dominance, or a platform for consciousness and perspective.

The location of our selves in our heads may seem natural, but the move is likely recent. In all Asian languages, the word for mind is the also the word for heart. The Egyptians, my daughter tells me, took the brains out of mummified bodies because they considered it waste; the heart was the seat of consciousness. Heart-consciousness is another victim of the move to the right, from yin to yang, from the acoustic to the visual. The heart, like love, is blind.  It is the difference between resonance, which can be felt, and insight, which is just an idea. We have separated the mental from the physical, like a glob in an electroplasmic lava lamp. Adrift, we are dependent upon the mind's eye, and under this visual stress, we are always looking ahead, and are disembodied.

Literal rightism is a real force and can be mapped in the movement of "the West" from Babylon to Jerusalem, Istanbul, Athens, Rome, Vienna, Paris, London, and New York. Manifest destiny culminated on our left coast via the railroad, the gold rush, and the massacre of native Americans, who were the dead opposite: a people compelled eastward from the edge of Asia. California was the end of the line: nowhere to go but up, or out. Psychedelic culture, the Jet Propulsion Lab, silicon chips, and proto-legal cannabis are among the signs the break-boundary was reached. Now California is pushing back, its culture and rediscovered Eastern spiritual practices spreading eastward.

We were born into the sea. Our ancestors moved to land and arose to the temporary unreality of a flat and straight-line world perpendicular to inexorable gravity. We are slowly stepping back into the ocean of space-the psychic space of screens and psychedelics, and also the reality of rising rockets and orbiting satellites. The biological imperatives to build, to climb, to rise, are still with us, and may, consciously or not, drive us to destroy and abandon Earth. The evolutionary destiny of our species may be elsewhere, and this could just be the route by which we prepare to leave the planet. God left Earth, and we may follow.

For those still here, the pot plant is a reminder of what successful survival requires: a leftness and a rightness of things. Cannabis has a duality in its basic strains-indica and sativa, which are primarily physical and mental in their effects respectively: stoned and high. Being high suggests a possible resolution of the yang superiority complex. "High," as a way of being above, is quite different from superior: above in awareness but not in power. It implies a perspective that is good for the organism, not a position of dominance over another part of the organism. Higher awareness raises the species above a life ruled by fear and gives us a reason for living, for the work of learning and building.

The arts were not extraneous or merely aesthetic-they were acquired technologies of successful survival. Rituals of art, dance, and chant, facilitated by cannabis and other plants, were created, developed, and continued because they worked. As much as practical-seeming technologies like climbing, clothing, and talking, the arts were techniques for using beauty and ecstasy to convey wisdom, to create social unity and the psycho-organic bond and quantum technology sometimes called love. Love is a technology. It creates life biologically, and as a consciousness tool it expands the organism-it is a link of communication and cooperation that functions to reveal and make accessible otherwise imperceptable dimensions. A simple structural analog is the learned co-operation and stereoscopic benefits of two eyes working together-a higher connection that reveals a dimension invisible to separate organs operating alone.

An ancient word for this heart of humanity was yos, Sanskrit for wellbeing and health. Yos, in its movement west, mutated into jus, right, the root of all judgement. Under this cosmic shift, the yang conspiracy, a felt reason became the abstract Reason. Love was removed from sex, and male priests put on the habits of witches and shamans-literally put on the goddess's clothing-to usurp the feminine or nature-based orders. Alcohol culture moved in, and the alternatives were demonized. Pot was replaced with wine and incense. Clothing as a tool of power and identity survives in the literal meanings of habits and vestments. The pope still wears a dress.

What we lose as all forms of the feminine are devalued is, in a word, beauty. This is the loss of ethics in the loss of aesthetics: without the experience of beauty, conscious human life loses its reason. We deny that we were born with the aesthetic perfection of babies (the perception of acute life force, now just "cute"), and conceived at the peak of female sexual power.

The female orgasm is the basic unit, the quantum, of survival, since it connects directly the joy of life with the perfect ground for conception. Male orgasm is easy, and rape will make babies, but to maximize the health of infants and the species, a positive balance of male and female, starting with love and orgasm and ending with domestic cooperation, is ideal. The reproductive system does not require, but works best with, female orgasm. What works is love. Jesus said this, but that doesn't mean that it isn't technically accurate.

Female sexual power, the terror of the patriarchy, resides with smells of funk and skunk-the same primal odors, fecund and deep, as the best-bred female buds. Pot's smells are essential, and pot culture is essentially olfactory: what gives away a stoner first is his smell. The smoker, after the first toke, cannot smell his own pot. These odors become natural or neutral in the place you go to when you are stoned. Smokers are united by this olfactory neutrality, sharing something at a level they can no longer consciously sense.

Smell is the most profound and least mediated sense: not abstracted into form or color, smell is the brain's direct cellular link and response to the outside world. Like sexual attraction, it unites the duality of the aesthetic and the technical: what smells bad is bad.

The experience of beauty in the present is a door that pot can reopen. For men particularly, this joy can be hard to sit with, the intensity hard to take. The male-female duality is about more than external genitalia; yin is in everyone and includes, among other things, the not particularly girlish ability to observe, to "take things in." Being able to stand still and reflect with passive, unfocused attention doesn't make you gay. Hunting and fishing, with their implicit virility, are two activities that still allow men to sit at ease in nature. Learning to live without beauty, men lose their roles as protectors and companions of beauty.

Not observing is also called denial. Just as closing your eyes helps you hear in depth, so you need silence to see more clearly. The racket sound of the gaming arcade  makes it very easy not to see. The audio-visual bombardment of television screens is the equivalent of constant noise--you literally can't hear yourself think, or see what's really there.

Screens are like pot in that they are both dishabituating. Screens (everything from phones to flatscreens) are entrancing not because of their content, but because of their glowing technical novelty. The loss of nature means that more of what we perceive around us is aesthetically ugly. In this context, the electric re-creation of the senses via screens is a blissful escape and reminder of the wonder of perception itself. But this is experience as entertainment, two senses masquerading as five, two dimensions masquerading as three, reality as a business. A generation of kids is disappearing into their Xboxes, and we don't know yet what they do. Addiction and obesity, probably; ADD, for sure.

Pot is not a cure for all this.  You may experience the reenchantment of nature, if there is nature to be found around you. Alternatively, pot can promote a self-perpetuating, nihilistic avoidance, and you may fall further into a screen or other forms of elsewhere: "couch-lock" is a favored term to describe the strongest indica strains.

Pot is an everyday organic, like coffee and beer.  (Hops, used in making beer, is the only other member of the family Cannabinaceae, and is also cultivated for the resin of its female flowers.  Decades before it revolutionized pot-growing, hops were propogated from female cuttings: references to "hop-clones" can be found as far back as 1915.)  Weed is in the world and of the world, the people's psychedelic, the grounded mind-drug. It grew out of the field, not out of the laboratory. It is the elephant in the room of psychedelic studies, much of which does not consider it psychedelic.

As Terry Southern explained in his story "Red Dirt Marijuana" back in 1960, "workin'-hour gage" made work fun, made it swing, and you could still talk to the boss. You can operate in the straight world on pot, and it is more subversive for this.  As the kid in the story learns, alterable consciousness is part of the adult terrain, a challenge you can learn to handle and enjoy, like swimming. It is a rite of passage, if not for adolescents per se, then for the adolescent mind: it shows that how you think can be changed.

 The effects of cannabis are an intensification or compression of the effects of life, of experience, the extremes of which are risky, especially to the naive or unprepared, the mentally ill or otherwise weak. Ancient cultures no doubt had rules about cannabis use, and its power was controlled. This knowledge was part of the cultural environment, as the plant was part of the natural environment. Proscription and demonization add an unnecessary allure and diminish a necessary and worthy respect for its power. This is especially important for adolescents, who are most longing for its proffered feelings of maturity and meaning and are also most likely to be injured by its real psychological effects.

Humans have used pot forever and for everything; it is of practical use to artists and others. It will show you what you're doing wrong, whether you want to see or not. This can inspire new understanding or drive you deeper into denial. It can get you out of a rut, like travel or taking two weeks off, or put you into a new, brain-big rut. Change is the promise of every puff, and this eternal temptation is also its biggest risk. Dishabituation is a tool; habitual use defeats the purpose.


Jeremy Wolff