I have experienced remarkable red wines and savored every moment I had with them. I have shivered cos my martini was so splendidly cold. I have sat over dinner and desert in a Bronxville, NY sun porch while the air inside it got heavy with the smell of apples from an open bottle of private stock calvados. I loved drinking. Loved alcohol. Loved the sheer craftsmanship that went into a bottle of good wine or a craft beer or a small batch gin. I get a lot of that when I light up a bowl of cannabis (I’m an old school flower guy; I like to buy whole flower and grind it myself).
For my money, the cannabis love experience beats the alcohol love experience because at least cannabis loves me back. Now – first off – everything I’m about to say is one hundred percent subjective. I can’t speak for anyone else’s experience of wine or cannabis; I can’t physically get inside anyone else’s head; I can only rely on their ability to accurately describe what they’re feeling – not an easy thing to do as every one of us knows. So, when I say that “cannabis loves me back”, I’m describing my perceptions. Cannabis users understand all this. I’m speaking to the unconverted who aren’t sitting with the choir. Everything about the cannabis experience is subjective – as it is with alcohol. But, cannabis does things to our brains – and our brain function – that alcohol doesn’t. Alcohol DOES impact our brains and how they work – and profoundly. Everything we know says alcohol isn’t particularly good for our brains in any noteworthy way. Though we laugh about “medicating” ourselves with alcohol, it would be a perverse joke if we actually wrote prescriptions for it. A ;prescription for cannabis however isn’t a joke. Nor is the considerable mountain of data that backs up cannabis’ beneficial qualities.
I’ve written extensively about why we think what we think about cannabis (I wrote a whole 13 part, 25,000 word series called “Blunt Truths” for WeedmapsNews back when there was a WeedmapsNews – about the whole remarkable story behind cannabis prohibition. The story sits somewhere between “forgotten” and “entirely unreported”. Now, here’s an irony (and this story abounds with irony, much of it painful): as destructive as alcohol prohibition was to American society (it criminalized a huge segment of ordinary Americans simply because they wanted a drink and gave organized crime a product Americans wanted that only they could provide – that very drink), it was based on the genuine concern for what alcohol itself was doing to American society. The temperance movement was actually very progressive in its goals; it wasn’t really being dowdy and judgmental, it was being proactive about curing a social ill America needed to cure: rampant alcoholism.
When Temperance Societies were active and abundant, they were championing the family – women and children – over the men who’d take the family’s money, spend it all on drink and then go home – drunk – and beat up on their families. If alcohol didn’t suppress the reasoning and inhibitions of those men, there would never have been a Temperance movement. Stick a pin in that – what alcohol does. We’ll arrive at a similar point in America’s relationship with cannabis – and what cannabis “does to people”. Something entirely different happened. Entirely.
Now, the fact that legislators took up the temperance ideal and turned it into a cudgel that biblically-inclined moral police used against the rest of us (losing all sight of the original concern) – that’s what happens when too much monotheism gets into the self improvement calculus. I’m not saying that every monotheist confuses the voice of God they’ve imagined with their own voice – the one they use when speaking to themselves in private. But 1) the possibility is always there and 2) so many DO confuse the two that keeping count is pointless. Show me a televangelist (like the stoned-on-God Kenny Copeland) and I’ll show you a man who honestly believes HE is God. Think Kenny Copeland isn’t stoned on himself and his own God-ness? Then you’re probably sending him money.
The reason we now associate temperance with fun-hating “school marmery” and bible-pounding is because bible pounders saw an opening that alcohol genuinely provided. Alcohol is fun. Alcohol makes us feel good for a while. Alcohol is great for socializing. Alcohol is great business because humans like it so much. While there are some possible “health benefits” to alcohol – there’s data that says moderate alcohol consumption “can lower one’s chances of having a heart attack, stroke or hardened arteries by 25% to 40%” – heavy drinking, boosts the risk of heart disease (emphasis mine). In theory, everyone knows their cut-off where alcohol’s concerned. They “know their dose” is how we’d put it in cannabis world. And yet, any non drinker who’s sat and watched drinkers drink over the course of an evening can tell you: The only thing drinkers know about their dose is they haven’t had it yet. As much as we’ve turned away from it, there’s still plenty of “one for the road” in American culture.
We forgive alcohol the way we forgive abusive men. That’s not a good thing.
Alcohol is hard on our bodies in myriad ways. Especially when and if we binge it. While alcohol may inhibit heart disease, it’s tough on our livers and brains. And then there’s alcohol’s impact on human judgment. In vino veritas? Sort of. When soused, people do tend to say whatever comes into their heads. There’s no editor. That’s not the same thing though as “honesty”. In order to live successfully with each other, we must balance between feelings and facts. I may be angry at a friend, but if I need them for something important, I’m going to balance that angry feeling with practicality. With fact in other words. Just because I feel something in a moment of alcohol-fueled intensity doesn’t mean I feel it in moments not fueled by alcohol. “Veritas” needs to be a little more durable than that. Whatever “truths” alcohol uncovers aren’t worth what we think at the time no matter how loud, long or incoherently the drunk guy yammers it.
Now, I used to love drinking. Correction: Back when I drank, I really loved drinking. My dad started collecting wines in the early 70’s along with a few of his doctor friends (my dad was a general surgeon). He instilled not just a love of drinking (that, I can honestly say he didn’t) but a love for WHAT I was drinking. It wasn’t a matter of what any wine cost; it was all about what the wine tasted like. The whole point of the exercise was to enjoy the craftsmanship siting inside the bottle we just cracked – starting with the first tentative, “It still needs to breathe!” sips, all the way to the last “Damn, I wish we had another bottle of that” swallow. “Tell me about the wine” is how my father would start the conversation.
When, just after college, I took up martini drinking, my dad joined me on that voyage. We had many conversations about what gin made the perfect martini (provided it was served icy cold). I saw my dad fairly liquored up a few times (when he knew he didn’t have to go back to the hospital that night because someone else was covering) but no more than that. He really was a quality over quantity guy.
For various reasons (that I’ve written about here and here), I had to quit drinking. What actually happened was I had to start taking a mood stabilizer and the mood stabilizer gave all alcohol a terrible, grapefruit skin-like aftertaste that simply ruined all alcohol for me. Strangely, though I regularly drank to excess, from the instant I gave up drinking alcohol, I have never missed it.
As I settled deeper into the depression that ultimately resulted in me taking a mood stabilizer, sleep became harder to come by. By that I mean good, restful sleep where you wake up ready to face whatever the day throws at you. I’ve never been a great sleeper. Depression made me an even worse sleeper. For a decade, I relied on over the counter sleep meds (Simply Sleep mostly) to get me off to sleep and keep me there. These are repurposed antihistamines. They create a feeling of drowsiness but they never create a feeling of having slept deeply. Or restfully. I’ve always avoided drugs like Ambien for fear of what my mind would do under their influence. After years of struggling to get even a minimum of good sleep (I can and do manage quite well on just five hours a night) – and considering as I live in California where the stuff’s legal – when I finally decided I’d had enough, I took the cannabis plunge, I found a cannabis doctor nearby who wrote my prescription and a dispensary not too, too far away where I could fill that prescription.
I did not expect much from cannabis other than sleep. Maybe. It wasn’t my drug of choice in my youth. Alcohol was. Cocaine. Ecstasy. Shrooms one time (they were awesome!) But cannabis put me to sleep and I wasn’t looking for that. Until I was.
From that first night using Skywalker (almost seven years ago now) – sleep stopped being an issue. Literally. It just stopped. As I said, after five hours, my brain clicks on. That’s when sativas become appealing.
Alcohol and THC work very differently inside our brains. Ethanol (the alcohol in alcohol) is a depressant. It reduces communication between brain cells — a short-term effect responsible for many of the symptoms of being drunk. THC on the other hand does the literal opposite. It increases communication between brain cells.
We know for a fact how destructive alcohol is because we’ve got a ton of data from all the research we’ve done. The same isn’t true about cannabis. Oh, don’t get me wrong – there’s a ton of negative data concerning cannabis. But, the closer one looks at literally any of it, the narrower its findings become. An awful lot of cannabis research walked in the door looking for THC’s negative impacts. Even if they had to amplify them, they found them. Or amplified them to the point of relevance. We don’t know, really, how thoughts work. We don’t know much at all about consciousness in general. We don’t know where memories go when we’re not remembering them.
Where cannabis research is concerned, every one of us who uses cannabis is a walking-talking anecdote-driven data set on its impact and effects. Civilization did not collapse. Drug-related crime did not increase. Stoned people getting behind the wheel and causing mass mayhem has not happened. What little has, cannot in any way compare to the scourge of drunk driving.
What we do know about thought and thinking tells us that thoughts occur when electrical currents leap from synapse to synapse in our brain. Synapses are like digital circuits: they’re either opened or closed. When closed, information can’t leap across the synaptic void and travel from one part of our brains to another. When synapses are open, of course, the opposite happens: information flows. The more synapses that are open to the flow of information, the more information we process. This is why food tastes amazing when you’re stoned. It’s why songs feel more intense and jokes just seem funnier. In a sense, they are funnier because you’re processing what’s funny about them from more directions. This is the reason some people feel paranoid when stoned: they’re aware that they’re more aware and that’s disconcerting to them.
Whereas alcohol fogs one’s senses as it slurs one’s words, cannabis doesn’t. The Black musicians who invented jazz, gravitated to cannabis because of the way it worked inside their brains. Not only could they still hear clearly the music inside their heads, they could exactly reproduce it outside their heads, articulating it through their instruments. And then they did something drunk people can’t do – they played TOGETHER. The reason so many creative people use cannabis – and use it as part of their creative process is because cannabis enhances creative thought. Even indicas – before they ease you to sleep can get your mind going all sorts of rewarding creative places. I’ve been three indicas into my night time process (my THC tolerance is pretty high) – thinking I was ready for bed when an idea suddenly took up the next fifteen minutes as I hurriedly tried to write down every last bit of it. For the record – whereas many alcohol-fueled ideas are illegible come the morning light, most cannabis-fueled ideas fly perfectly fine. It’s not like I was drunk when I thought of them.
Remember a little earlier when I stuck a pin in what cannabis does to people? America’s first drug czar was a guy named Harry Anslinger. A former prohibition cop and diplomat, when Anslinger got his assignment in 1930, he said repeatedly that marihuana (his spelling) was not a problem. But, by 1937 – when Anslinger helped push for creation of the “Marijuana Tax Stamp Act of 1937” – Anslinger had personally invented “reefer madness”. It’s true. Anslinger invented virtually every bit of our negative marijuana mythology out of whole cloth – how Black men especially would use marihuana and instantly become sex and violence crazed maniacs.
Being the Commissioner of Narcotics, Anslinger was respected. When he told things to the newspapers, the newspapers printed what he said as absolute truth. Why would Anslinger lie? But Anslinger was lying – and knew he was. He’d tell a local paper that Black people were selling marijuana to schoolyard kids (a lie). The newspaper would print the lie which Anslinger would then hold up: “See? what I’m saying must be true – it’s in the newspaper!”
The first big wave of cannabis use came across the southern border as the Mexican revolution raged. Mexicans fleeing the violence (a lot of it caused by American money and corruption) brought their culture with them. That included cannabis. White people – alcohol drinkers – didn’t understand cannabis. As something foreign, it scared them. As something foreign that brown people used, it scared them even more.
In time, marijuana use spread eastward. It found particular purchase in New Orleans – where those Black musicians were inventing jazz. Every now and then, New Orleans would crack down on all the musicians living within its city limits and they’d send them all fleeing northward. When it happened this time, the Black musicians heading up the Mississippi to Memphis and Nashville and Chicago (the last two not on the river but under its sphere of influence) also took cannabis with them. When curious white people began taking up the cannabis habit from these migrating Black people, that’s when Anslinger drew a line in the sand.
At no point in his 30 year tenure at the Bureau of Narcotics did Anslinger EVER even wonder aloud if cannabis was “bad for anyone’s health”. That was never the point for Anslinger. Anslinger hated Black people in general. He hated jazz music in particular. In addition to being a great bureaucrat and a profound racist, Anslinger also was something of a skilled classical pianist, too. He loved European music and hated Black music (in other words, jazz). If you stop to think about it – which you should – America prosecuted untold Americans (most of them Black or brown), put them in prison and ruined their lives because one man hated jazz.
My dad’s been gone for a bunch of years now. He stopped drinking a long time before he died out of necessity. My mom’s still alive. She doesn’t drink anymore either (except for a sip every now and then) but she uses a cannabis-related product – CBD – to deal with some pretty severe arthritis. Because cannabis has actual medical properties…
Just as my dad used to share wine with me, just as he tried to teach me how to appreciate this product he loved, I share my weed and my weed experience with my two kids (one’s 23, the other is about to turn 21). I started sharing cannabis with them while they were in high school. They were using it already; I focused their use. Personally, if I could, I’d get my kids to quit drinking alcohol entirely and just use cannabis. One can’t OD on it. One can’t get “poisoned” by THC like one can get alcohol poisoning.
I have a fond memory already of my kids and I smoking cannabis together here in Los Angeles on our front porch. It’s not an image I ever thought I’d see as I contemplated my life. But, it was a lovely moment, made lovelier by the cannabis-inspired conversation we were having and continued to have as the cannabis snuggled into our brains. Then – true story – the earth shook. A quick temblor – something in the high 3’s, if I remember. For a moment, we all stopped talking to acknowledge that the whole house was shaking around us.
Finally the earth stopped shaking. But the quaking hasn’t let up yet.