It’s not exactly shocking that exactly none of the big fears opponents of cannabis legalization predicted came true. The biggest: Western Civilization did not fall. Oh, Western Civ may yet go a-swirling down the plumbing of History, but, if and when we do, it won’t be cannabis that caused it. Greed maybe – and bucketloads of stupidity (flavored by religiosity and hubris). Those things – plus bad luck – have ruined past civilizations. It’s way more likely actually that cannabis adds something to Western Civilization. Hell, it already has. While cannabis didn’t invent jazz, the Black musicians who did smoked a lot of cannabis while inventing jazz.
Important distinction: playing music – like playing sports – demands finely tuned motor skills. Musicians like Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, King Oliver and the rest of New Orleans’ burgeoning jazz world knew from experience that ya can’t play or think musically when you’re juiced. Alcoholics are unreliable bandmates (alas there are so many of them!) Opium is a complete nonstarter as a chemical go-along. But, reefer? Marijuana presented a completely different experience. THC simply doesn’t do to our brains what alcohol does. There’s no comparison.
Hell, they can’t even enter our bodies the same way because alcohol is water soluble while THC isn’t. The whole nature of what THC does to our brains is different! There’s a ton of data that says so. But, almost predictably, those terrified of cannabis can’t help framing it in the most negative light possible. They’ll cherry pick data and findings because, the truth is, no real data exists to back up their argument. Not their fault – it’s just that our fear of unfounded cannabis caused us to refuse researching it. Blame it on Harry Anslinger. He became America’s first “drug czar” (well, it’s first Commissioner of the nascent Federal Bureau of Narcotics) in 1930.
At the time – when he first got the drug czar gig – Anslinger had little money, little manpower and a very limited mandate. Opiates and, to a far lesser degree, marijuana, were regulated but even those regulations were more about anti-Asian racism than governmental concerns over anyone’s health. When Anslinger started, he himself thought “marihuana” a nothingburger. The only people smoking it in America were Mexicans (who brought it across the border after 1910 following the Mexican Revolution and a wave of fleeing immigrants) and Black jazz musicians. The thing about Anslinger is, talented bureaucrat that he was (and he was an amazingly talented bureaucrat), he also was amazingly racist. He loved and played classical European music (he played piano) and considered jazz an abomination.
Anslinger loathed every Black musician who in any way invented jazz. He hated every musician who played it. What he despised even more though was when not only jazz spread northward, up the Mississippi River – finding white audiences along the way – but so did marijuana-smoking. What changed Anslinger’s mind about cannabis wasn’t WHAT cannabis did to anyone, it was WHO was not smoking it: white people.
That was the basis for the “reefer madness” that Harry Anslinger invented almost singlehandedly. Anslinger didn’t stop with reefer madness. The “gateway drug” theory also belongs to Anslinger (he came up with it during the early 1950’s when using racism to justify cannabis prohibition needed freshening and he settled on using pseudo-science instead; he lay the blame for the rising use of opioids at marijuana’s feet. Later, Richard Nixon would take up Anslinger’s banner (JFK retired Anslinger in 1961) when he declared his “War On Drugs”.
As we all know, that “war on drugs” was actually a war on black people.
When you go looking for data on the subject, something becomes painfully obvious. There is data that says that legalizing cannabis has caused marked rises in accidents and fatalities in those states where cannabis already has been legalized. But, as always with data, you have to contextualize it: who’s presenting the data, to what end, and are they showing us ALL the data. If they’re not, we need to know why before assessing anything.
One could easily be swayed by sites like this that insist being high is the same as being drunk. Now, while the law may still treat us all that way, that doesn’t mean the law is getting it right. Jazz says they’re utterly wrong. Listen to any recording of Louis Armstrong playing with his Hot Five or Hot Seven. Armstrong literally could not do what he’s doing were he drunk. His deeply impacted motor skills would have made sure of it.
While alcohol dulls our senses, THC fine tunes them. Alcohol liberates our inhibitions while THC gives us greater power to articulate them. The whole sound of people using cannabis is different from the sound of people drinking. Way before the pandemic, I had the pleasure of trying one of LA’s first cannabis cafe’s.
It was an awesome experience. One had to purchase food and dope separately because of the licensing. Also, the cafe had spent some money on smoke extraction (only cannabis smoking was allowed). Consequently, the environment was relatively smoke free. And it sounded entirely different from a bar that served alcohol.
To begin with, there was virtually no clinking of glasses. The sound of glassware was more or less absent. So, too, was alcohol’s impact on those drinking it. One was allowed a ninety minute time slot at the cafe. After ninety minutes, they were taking back their table, like it or not. Over ninety minutes of drinking, one tends to get louder – and the room one’s in (filled with drinkers drinking) also gets louder as all the drinkers in it speak louder and louder just so to be heard over each other.
Now, people getting stoned may laugh a little more loudly than they do when not stoned. But they don’t “get loud” the way they’d do if they were drinking. If anything stoned people get quieter, more focused. And more determined to articulate what they’re thinking. Because one of the things that most cannabis does is make you think.
That’s because “making you think more” is kinda what THC does to your brain. Our thoughts (the current thinking goes) are caused by electricity leaping from one synapse to another. Our synapses are like digital circuits Either they’re open or they’re closed. Open synapses can process a leaping charge – filled with observation, pre-existing knowledge or abstract thought while closed synapses can’t. THC causes more of our synapses to be open, allowing us to process more observations – in essence to think about them more. The reason cannabis makes some people feel paranoid, I suspect, is because they’re suddenly “aware” of so much more information. That “awareness” of more things can feel disconcerting as if it isn’t us that knows these things, it’s someone else knowing it about us. May be even the police (or, worse, our parents!) Voila the paranoia.
Might there be THC in the systems of people getting into car accidents these day? Absolutely. There’s way, way more THC about these days. But, one of the differences between THC and alcohol is that alcohol clears our systems in few hours – depending on quantity consumed and our own bodies. The THC I smoked two days ago can still be in my fat cells today. It won’t be doing anything to my brain (good, bad or indifferent) but the cop swabbing my cheek and finding THC in the swab won’t make that distinction.
One of the constant flaws in almost all cannabis research data is the cannabis itself. Alcohol is alcohol is alcohol. A martini’s alcohol does the exact same thing as a glass of red wine’s alcohol. The same isn’t true of THC. The THC hit I get from some high quality indicas won’t cause the same effects as the THC I get from an equally high quality sativa. The indicas will – in about twenty minutes or so (if I let it) – allow me to ease into some deep, restful sleep. The sativas on the other hand will focus my mind. Get it thinking.
That’s the thing that cannabis non-users can’t wrap their minds around. They’ve been so deeply sold on Anslinger’s lingering lies about cannabis that they think it impossible that cannabis does anything other than “make you high”.
I use the sativa Durban Poison before and while I play tennis. Tennis – for the record – is all about timing and execution. On a tennis court, Durban Poison (in addition to making me feel good) slows me down (I’m bi-polar and hypomanic). Suddenly, I can really see the ball – see its spin if I really slow down. I am a far, far better player when using cannabis.
I’m a better driver, too. I see more. Hear more. Anticipate things more quickly. I’m less aggressive. I keep to my lane. There’s data that says I ain’t making that up. In fact, if one accounts for “risky driving behaviors” that exist separate from cannabis use, any “significant relationship that existed between self-reported cannabis use and self-reported accidents… disappeared.” This is from “The Effect of Cannabis Compared With Alcohol On Driving, written by R. Andrew Sewell, MD, MJames Poling, PhD and Mehmet Sofuoglu, MD, PhD in 2010:
Many investigators have suggested that the reason why marijuana does not result in an increased crash rate in laboratory tests despite demonstrable neurophysiologic impairments is that, unlike drivers under the influence of alcohol, who tend to underestimate their degree of impairment, marijuana users tend to overestimate their impairment, and consequently employ compensatory strategies. Cannabis users perceive their driving under the influence as impaired and more cautious,40 and given a dose of 7 mg THC (about a third of a joint), drivers rated themselves as impaired even though their driving performance was not; in contrast, at a BAC 0.04% (slightly less than two “standard drinks” of a can of beer or small 5 oz. glass of wine; half the legal limit in most US states), driving performance was impaired even though drivers rated themselves as unimpaired.41 Binge drinkers are particularly likely to rate themselves as unimpaired, possibly because they tend to become less sedated by high doses of alcohol.42
It’s going to take America a long time to get its head straight about cannabis. It doesn’t help that virtually its entire history has been based on a lie about it. I bet if we stopped selling alcohol at sporting events and sold only cannabis instead? There’d never be another fight at another ball game. Violent crowds wouldn’t spill from sporting events on a tear. Instead, it’s more likely that people would be hugging. Telling each other how well their teams did. A few would be asleep – not passed out drunk in a puddle of their own puke – but contentedly snoozing; cannabis produces some amazing, high quality sleep.
Another thing stoned drivers don’t do that drunk drivers – and even normal drivers do? Drive angry. It’s very, very hard to be or stay angry when using THC. And how much bad driving happens because people are angry?
Take this to the bank: way, way more people than drive badly because they’re stoned.
Photo 161646747 / Driving Stoned © Evgeniy Parilov | Dreamstime.com