Thots on Pot
from The Pot Book
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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