Never Mind Walking A Mile In Someone Else’s Shoes, Try Seeing The World Through Their Eyes

The reason organizations like the ASPCA use pleading, wide-eyed dogs in their fundraising appeals is because they work. Maybe those people who fear photography captures something of their souls are on to something. Even a photo of a pleading animal’s eyes touches us deeply (as compared to the actual animal itself, pleading directly to it with its eyes). Something of us flows from our orbs. Look deeply enough into them and you’ll even see past any attempts to deceive about who or what we really “are” to “us” — the real, honest-to-goodness US.

An honest-to-goodness “us” really exists inside each of us. It’s that entity behind our eyes that we spy in the bathroom mirror whenever we take a moment to acknowledge that it’s there. That is what we all do when we gaze past our reflection and into our reflection’s eyes — we acknowledge the stone cold fact that there really is a presence inside our heads that knows us even better than we know ourselves. Its voice sounds like ours. Its habits and peccadilloes — ours. In every way imaginable, it’s us! And yet, as we gaze at it — as we converse with it even — we can’t get past the weird sensation that as much as we know that “it’s us”, it’s also a weird sort of “separate us”.

It is bloody hard being a sentient creature, isn’t it? Thinking is exhausting. Even more so when your brain sees everything as a problem to be solved. More so still when the problem to be solved is “why me?”

We know what we know about us. We know where our bodies are buried — somewhere between us and the person staring back at us in the mirror. Not only does that person staring back “know what we know” about us, that person knows what we know about the world beyond the mirror.

Add a layer of complication: we honestly have no idea how it works — how the electrical activity flashing through our grey matter — does its “perception thing” and creates the thoughts we’re having about ourselves (or about anything else). We know we have feelings. We know that chemicals in our brains cause our feelings (or the feeling that we’re having a feeing) to ebb and flow. We don’t know where our feelings “live” when we’re not feeling them. I don’t know why I feel the way I do and I don’t know why you feel the way you do. While I can empathize with how things feel to your body, I can never know how they feel. I can only know how things feel to my body.

Same goes for pain. We all experience it differently. It is pure arrogance on my part to assume how pain effects me is prototypical, as if my tolerance were some sort of standard that should apply to everyone else; it absolutely isn’t.

One of the things I find interesting about cannabis is the pure subjectivity of the experience. My experience will differ from yours because our brain chemistries are different. It’s only by comparing notes with each other about that experience that we can adjudge 1) how cannabis works on our minds to begin with and 2) how any particular strain, with its own terpene profile and THC/CBD matrix works on our minds. If my experience with the classic sativa Durban Poison is similar enough to yours (a solid, warm, consistent beam of delicious mental focus), then we can agree that smoking Durban Poison will probably produce that particular effect inside a smoker’s head.

For a decade and a half, I struggled with a deepening depression related to an event in my past that I’d suppressed — I was sexually molested twice when I was 14 by the religious director at the synagogue where my family belonged. For the 45 years that I kept that secret from myself (meaning — I knew this thing had happened to me but I refused to acknowledge that it had happened to me), I looked out at the world with this little detail as part of how I saw the world. Having a terrible secret puts you on an island inhabited by just you and your molester. If no one else knows this terrible secret about you, then obviously, they don’t know YOU. How could they? They only “think” they know who you are.

Having survived a suicidal depression, I know for a fact that I saw the world differently than anyone else around me. I understood (well, on some deep, abstract-thinking level) why silly, seemly insignificant things set me off into a volcanic, self-directed rage. My wife and kids would look at me during those moments as if I was a Martian who did things for no understandable reason. Ah, if only they could have understood me the way I understood me — and saw the world through my eyes.

It wasn’t possible for my wife and kids to see my pain my way in part because even I didn’t see the pain correctly. Once I did, I was able to articulate my pain. That helped. A lot.

Now, I have a certain advantage here because I could articulate my pain once I understood it — and that helped me recover from it. Being able to express my pain, what was behind it — liberated me because I no longer had to bear its burden alone. When anyone gets to express their pain, it’s liberating. Sometimes people have to be coaxed though. That’s when they look out at the world in silent desperation. Maybe they’ve surrendered already and given up hope than anyone else will see their pain. Maybe they feel unworthy. They’re not. Maybe they fear being judged.

I have no idea what it “feels like” to be LGBTQ. No one gets a choice about what kind of brain chemistry they’ll have. We don’t stand there as sperm and egg fuse and our two sets of DNA begin to dance with each other. We don’t get to sort among our dominant or recessive genes or snag a predecessor’s skill set. What comes to us comes to us. It makes us who and what we are before we even “are”. And our genome isn’t “perfect”. It’s malleable and fluid and error prone. And that’s just the parts we’ve figured out. There’s plenty we haven’t yet. I know people who were born with external male characteristics but the overwhelming feeling that they were female. That’s not them being “dramatic” of course; it’s how they actually feel inside their heads — because their biochemistry is at war with itself.

I wonder: do judgy Christians judge a lupus sufferer whose immune system is at war with them the way they judge a person whose sexual identity is at war with their biochemistry? Christians are a particularly judge-y lot. That’s ironic considering as the religion’s founder was all about “judge not lest ye be judged”.

Why does sexual repression slow dance with religious fervor? Why do deities inspire all sorts of sexual peccadilloes? Why can’t people who insist their deity connects them to other people, appreciate the people that deity supposedly connects them to?

Sigh… I guess if I could see the world through their eyes? I’d know…

Let’s Play “Desert Island Cannabis Strain”! I’ll Go First…

In the style of that great BBC radio show “Desert Island Discs” — where each week’s guest “is asked to choose eight recordings (usually, but not always, music), a book and a luxury item that they would take if they were to be cast away on a deserted island” — I propose a show where, each week, a cannabis aficionado — imagining themselves cast away on a similar tropical paradise — have to chose three strains that will have to sustain them. I’m still undecided how firm we should make the “one-from-each-type” mandate — wherein the guest must pick one sativa, one indica and one hybrid; there’s so much blurring of many strains already, their genetics a tossup. One could as easily suggest we divvy them a morning strain, an afternoon strain and an evening strain — which is kind of how I see all cannabis anyway. I use particular strains at particular times of the day because I want the expected effects from that strain.

Part of the un-learning we all have to do about cannabis is the idea that it does only one thing — get you high. Yes, absolutely — if you sit down and smoke yourself silly with pretty much any strain, you’ll end up silly — or asleep. But there are remarkable differences between a sativa like The Fork (well, 70% sativa according to Wikileaf) and an indica like Northern Lights. The Fork is not for casual users; but then, I’m not a casual user. It’s great for when you’ve got five thing to do or think of at the exact same time because it brings not only focus (as any good sativa should) but a real capacity for multi-faceted thinking. Northern Lights, on the other hand, is a classic indica strain with crazy high THC, usually well north of 30%. A few hits of Norther Lights plus about fifteen minutes (indicas tend to come on more slowly than sativas) should produce a gentle, warm buzz that eventually evolves into an exquisite wooziness and full on sleepiness. From the day I first swapped my OTC sleep meds for cannabis — about six years ago now — I have slept wonderfully. So, a strain that delivers quality sleep is a strain I’m interested in sampling or even buying.

So — if I was going to be stuck on a desert island (and, hopefully my reading matter and other entertainments was accounted for) — with only three cannabis strains to see me through, which three would I choose?

As waking & baking would be the one thing on my schedule each day, I need my day-time strain — my sativa — here on the island to be not only the breakfast of champions but its lunch, too. DURBAN POISON is a classic; each of my Desert Island strains is. One of my criteria for inclusion is availability. I’ve had some great strains that, it turned out, were one-and-done at whatever dispensary or delivery service I found it. Lucid Blue, Jack The Ripper, Casey Jones, Clementine — I keep the empty vials I use to store my cannabis — each with its own home made label — in the hope of one day finding it again because my experience with it was so extraordinary. Durban Poison isn’t as everywhere as Blue Dream or Jack Herer but it’s around.

Durban Poison… Not merely a good sativa, a great one!

DP delivers a lovely, wide beam of even mental focus that you can turn on anything and increase your productivity. Not only do I use DP as one of my regular go-to workday strains, I also use it when I play tennis (which I do at least twice a week). The DP helps my focus on the court the same as it does when I stare at my computer monitor. On the one hand, everything simply slows down. It’s easier to find my timing with a hit of DP in me. I see the ball clearly. I can even see its spin if I’m really dialed in. My game improves perceptibly because my timing becomes more precise. On the other hand, I become more “coachable”. The cannabis’ euphoric effects prevent me from ever beating myself up. The coaching reinforcement rather is entirely positive.

When it’s quittin’ time, I turn to my hybrid collection. One wants to be chill but not at all asleep. If a movie’s one, the strain should make it even better than you remembered or better than you expected it to be. Food should taste amazing — and the strain itself should make you want to leap into a pile of snack food. If people are around, the strain needs to be highly social. Great for loving and laughing. My go-to here is GG4. Formerly known as Gorilla Glue, this strain is ubiquitous but deserving of its ubiquity. The high is big and euphoric; I’ve used it often in the past as the basis for a “platform” — a strain that I start a session with. Smoking Durban Poison atop GG4 gives a real boost to the already boostful Durban Poison. By the same “toke-en” (sorry, couldn’t help myself), GG4, in addition to being a great strain to spend an entire evening with, also partners well with other hybrids and also with indicas to start one’s evening off perfectly.

GG4
Northern Lights

NORTHERN LIGHTS would be my indica. It could almost just as easily be Kosher Kush, King Louie XIII, LA Confidential, White Empress, Diamond or Suicide Girl. But, Northern Lights — the last batch I bought said it’s THC level was 33% — always manages to squeeze that last bit of compis mentis from my brain. About twice a week, after I’ve taken my second or third indica (I usually do three different ones when it’s time for bed), right when I expect a blanket of wooziness to slowly settle over me, inspiring me to go the hell to bed, I get a sudden burst of creative energy. Suddenly the idea I was struggling with all day, presents a simple and elegant answer. I have found myself a half hour later, pages deep into something I didn’t know I was ready to write but apparently was.

The good thing about writing on cannabis — as opposed to writing on, say, alcohol — is that the work product is almost always what you expected it to be. There’s a reason Louis Armstrong, King Oliver, Jelly Roll Morton and all the musicians who invented jazz invented jazz while smoking cannabis. They were trying to reproduce something complex that was inside their heads on a musical instrument. One simply can’t do that with alcohol or coke or heroin. One certainly could create without using drugs; but, as anyone who’s smoked dope and then sat down to be creative knows, there’s simply nothing like it.

Some day — sooner than any of us expected, it turns out — we will all finally get to step out of Harry Anslinger’s long shadow. America’s first drug czar, Anslinger almost singlehandedly created the “reefer madness” mythology that became our drug policy. When that day happens, we may finally get to see cannabis as a remarkable adjunct to living a happy, successful life. Which it is — and always has been.

If you’ve gotten this far — thank you! More to the point, please let me know what YOUR Desert Island Strains would be. Someone oughta start a damned podcast!

Alcohol + A Pandemic = Terrible Decision-Making

I stopped drinking alcohol just over four years ago. I didn’t “have to” per se, but the mood stabilizer I started taking gives all alcohol a grapefruit skin-like aftertaste making it completely unpalatable. Given a choice between drinking and not being depressed, I’ll take the latter, thanks. And anyway — it’s not like consuming alcohol does one’s depression any favors. Alcohol might just be the worst thing for a depression. That’s why no matter how much we drink, we can’t get ourselves out of the dark, frustrating vicious circle the pandemic has us running on like hamsters on a demonic exercise wheel.

Alcohol itself isn’t our problem. Our attitude toward alcohol is. Because we treat it as a vice — like sex — we get squeamish talking about it. Oh, we’re happy to brag about our prowess or relate countless funny stories about drinking and cringeworthy results, but we dare not discuss what alcohol does to our judgment. How many drinking stories have you heard in your life where alcohol caused someone to do the right thing instead of the stupid?

Do I miss alcohol? Occasionally. I’ll be with someone who’s enjoying a glass of something so inky and dense that you can practically see its tannin structure. My mood stabilizer hasn’t hurt my ability to smell any. In a way, that makes the impact it has on my taste buds even more cruel. One of the best parts of a great wine is its long, complex aftertaste. It’s a little like knowing the great meal you’re about to eat will absolutely end with food poisoning. Really, it’s just not worth it.

Though alcohol abuse wasn’t my specific problem, it was a problem for me; I know that now. That’s part of alcohol’s hold on us. Even if you think you have a problem with alcohol, alcohol convinces you it isn’t that big of a problem. And anyway, what would you do if you couldn’t drink — or, worse, go out drinking with your friends? If you’re like most of America, apparently, you obsess over it endlessly.

Though I no longer drink alcohol, I do consume a lot of marijuana. I have a prescription. I don’t need one to purchase cannabis here in California though having one does save me some of the sales tax. That’s not why I keep my prescription active; I do that because THC is the other chemical in my mental health regimen. I use THC to moderate my hypomania (while my mood stabilizer handles the depression). As I’ve written here before, I use cannabis from the start of my day to the very end of it. I wake & bake using a variety of sativas, I chill in the early evening with hybrids and I use indicas to give me a fabulous night’s seep.

In my past, I’ve tricked myself into thinking alcohol and cocaine could add to my productivity. Talk about bullshit! Neither can do that.

As I’ve also talked about here, cannabis is completely unlike alcohol (and cocaine of course). Whereas alcohol is a depressant, cannabis isn’t. Depending on strain, THC content, terpene structure and a few other variables, a hit of THC can focus your mind even as you settle into the couch. Our brains like cannabinoids. A lot. There’s a reason musicians like Louis Armstrong self medicated with marijuana while inventing jazz in New Orleans in the early twentieth century. Alcohol dulls the senses. Opium wipes them out completely. Cannabis, on the other hand, floods your brain with information. That’s, in essence, what THC does. If you think of our synapses as digital circuits — either opened or closed — THC causes more of them to be “open”, receptive to information. The reason music feels richer, colors seem more vibrant and food tastes better on dope is because your brain is processing more of that sensory information in real time. It’s not that the food “tastes better”, it’s that THC allows you to taste the food “more”.

Among the enduring images from our pandemic hellscape is maskless people partying — bleary-eyed and shit-faced past caring. It’s like watching a tragedy take shape in slow motion. Think about how much money Big Alcohol spends on advertising to get people to do something they already like doing. Big Alcohol can’t be happy, it seems, until every single American is plastered out of their mind. If we were capable of making good decisions, the first one we’d make is to stop listening to what Big Alcohol says.

Humans are social creatures and alcohol makes us more social. One plus one equals two. But, when people keep drinking, two plus two equals four — and the next thing you know, the tipsy happiness produced by the first cocktail becomes slurred decision-making by the time cocktail number two gets consumed. Drinkers — even if they’ve been drinking all their lives — seem to forget (once they start drinking) that there’s about a twenty minute lag between the alcohol passing their lips and that specific alcohol’s impact on their brain. It’s the lag that causes most people to drink more and drink more quickly.

And get wasted more quickly.

That’s the strangest experience of all. Back before the pandemic closed bars and made parties verboten, I got to watch my wife and friends (on numerous occasions) morph over the course of a few hours from sensible, moderate people enjoying each others’ company to a bunch of happy, but loud, partiers

What scares me most about watching people drink to excess in the middle of a pandemic is my own experiences drinking. I kept drinking though I knew it was doing me way more harm than good. People who feel compelled to go out and drink socially with friends are answering a call deep inside their heads and livers. It’s hard to deny that call; I know.

But that call is the voice of bullshit. I know — I’m pissing into the wind here. We’re not going to start talking about our drinking problem just because a former drinker has seen the light. But, we should. Also, we should “teach” young people “how to drink”. I don’t mean get them drunk and teach them how to get drunk faster, I mean teach them HOW to drink like responsible people and not like teenagers on a bender.

Drinking responsibly means understanding your own bio-chemistry, your own limits. It means knowing how alcohol changes YOU and your behavior. It means telling yourself “no” a lot more than “yes”. It means owning that alcohol owns you and not you it.

I am absolutely not casting judgment. Been there, done that, guilty as charged. But, the problem with alcohol is it lies to us. It insists we can handle “one more for the road”. Even if we manage to get home safely, that was as much luck as anything else.

Look – there’s nothing whatsoever wrong with drinking. There’s plenty wrong with drinking irresponsibly. Unfortunately, ours is a culture where drinking alcohol to excess is considered both a birthright and a right of passage. But then again, we don’t attach any responsibility to being citizens (we want it to be a non-stop grab bag of goodies). Why would we attach any responsibility to something citizens do to excess?

An Ode To Waking And Baking

Two facts: I have never been busier in my entire life AND I have never been more “stoned” in my entire life. Those facts don’t contradict each other. Actually, they complement each other. Pot and productivity go hand in hand. It’s hard to describe to people who are fearful of pot that it’s not just one thing — a get you impossibly high product. It’s a variety of things. Because it does a variety of things to your brain chemistry. Most cannabis strains have been hybridized one way or another; sativas are more focus forward (like a red wine can be fruit forward) while indicas are more euphoria forward. I wouldn’t use a sativa at bedtime just like I wouldn’t smoke an indica and expect to get any work done.

That I’m busier is pure luck. Some to do with me, some not. Being busier, time management becomes essential. The last thing I need is to feel lethargic, unmotivated or “stoned”. That’s why, even before I’ve had my first sip of coffee, I’m tapping some Willy Wonka into my favorite glass piece (that looks like a banana slug). Sometimes, I’ll wake and bake with GMO or Alaskan Thunderf*ck. I’m also a fan of Canndescent’s “Charge”. In the wine world, they’d call “Charge” a “meritage” — a proprietary blend (of grapes). That’s Canndescent’s approach. They’ve created a series of proprietary strains, each approaching cannabis from an effects point of view: what do you want the cannabis to do for you? If you want it to get your mind percolating, choose “Charge”. Indeed — a couple of good hits of “Charge” and my mind’s percolating.

The cannabis users understand what I’m talking about. That’s one of the challenges of talking about and writing about cannabis. It’s effects are principally cerebral. You may feel like your limbs suddenly weigh a ton as the couch lock sets in, but every bit of that is emanating from your head. A drunk person literally loses their motor skills. A person high on cannabis does not.

As I’ve written here, I “came to cannabis” late in life. It didn’t do much for me when I was a kid except put me to sleep which held zero attraction. Much later in life, when sleep was an issue and over-the-counter sleep meds were doing more harm than good, the idea of pot putting me to sleep suddenly became appealing. Good thing I live in California. From that first night when Skywalker eased me into the most restful sleep I’d had in a decade, sleep has not been an issue. I had no idea that cannabis could do just as much for my waking hours.

We live in the shadow of the mythology invented by Harry Anslinger, America’s first Commissioner of The Federal Bureau of Narcotics (1930) in order to satisfy his racism. As I wrote about in my series “Blunt Truths” (written for now defunct Weedmaps News), every single bit of marijuana prohibition was racist, based on racism and bent on punishing people because of racism. At no point in the “illegalizing” process did anyone doing the illegalizing EVER ask “But, is it bad for people?” Any possible health risks were not the problem (the people in the hearings were all smoking tobacco — during the hearings!) The people using marijuana were “the problem”.

As cannabis legalization spreads across the nation, more and more people are using cannabis and incorporating it into their day without civilization coming to an end. Cannabis doesn’t make people violent the way alcohol can. Imagine if they stopped selling beer at sporting events and started selling reefer instead. There’d never be another fight at the end of a soccer match as the two opposing fan bases — liquored to the gills — pour into the streets together, still feeling the game. If all those sports fans had been using cannabis instead of alcohol, it would never occur to the to fight.

They might hug. They might tell each other how well they played. They might even have a vicious case of the munchies. But they won’t have it in them to get violent with each other. It’s just now how cannabis works inside our brains. The fact is, our brains like cannabis. We have receptors that, it turns out, are tailor-made to bind themselves to THC.

As my day goes on, I like to layer one sativa atop another. Each sativa strain — between the THC in it and its terpene structure — presents a little differently. There are nuances. Willy Wonka produces a clean focus with good mental energy. Add twenty percent to that focus and you have Strawberry Diesel. One can really bore in on an idea. There’s a little “edge” to it. Hints of more free-associative thinking.

Same goes for Ghost Train Haze and White Buffalo. Green Crack, too. They present evenly.

Then there’s a strain like The Fork. Whoa! The hybrid Trainwreck can create a feeling of hyper focus in your head. Even cleaning the house becomes a satisfying experience you’re so intensely focused on it. The Fork unleashes waves of free associative thinking. And yet, one doesn’t find oneself “all over the place”. The free associations all seem to be circling the thing you’re really thinking about. From the point of view of “thinking”? It’s extraordinary.

The all-time go-to workday strain is Durban Poison.

Durban Poison has virtually no edge. Its “high” is pure, even focus. That’s why I like it for working AND playing tennis. With a hit of DP in me, the ball slows down (everything slows down — but only in the sense that my mind isn’t racing to keep up with all the information coming at it; I feel like I’m seeing, hearing, processing it all just fine and in real time). So — when the ball comes off my opponent’s racket, I’m better able to focus on the ball and track it all the way to where I want it to be when I attack it. I’ll put it this way: I coach myself better and am coached better when the coaching is coated in Durban Poison.

In a later post, I’ll talk about straight hybrids — afternoon and early evening strains. Finding a good hybrid that chills without sedating — that’s a whole other journey.

In Cannabis Veritas

In vino veritas is how the original goes: in wine there is truth. Actually, the original original goes in libris veritas: in books there is truth. Books has it right. Wine… not so much. Oh, the occasional drunk may spew out how they really feel about you or the world in that instant, but the truth is, they’re not “in touch” with themselves. They can’t be with all that alcohol in them. I’m kind of a “control group” on the topic. I used to drink. To excess (if I’m honest with myself). I used to think I was just getting “truthful” by cracking the next bottle. My personal experience says “in vino veritas” is bullshit.

I stopped drinking four years ago, just after I started taking a mood stabilizer to help moderate the deep, dark depression I was in. The personal depression I’d been working on for ten years got subsumed inside the national depression that began when Donald Trump stole election 2016. After coming within literal inches of offing myself, I took the plunge into mood stabilizers (having feared that plunge as much as my depression). Fortunately for me, I leveled almost immediately at the minimum dose. Bullseye. Lamotrigine — at the minimum dose — kept my darkness at bay; it could no longer “get at” me. The bad news: the lamotrigine gave all alcohol a terrible, grapefruit skin-like aftertaste that just ruined the whole experience.

I became like Alex in A Clockwork Orange —

When “dosed”, the violent criminal suddenly couldn’t abide violence — to his own peril. In my case, this lover-of-all-things-alcohol suddenly couldn’t abide the taste of alcohol. Well, the aftertaste. Even a great, structured red wine, its tannins as supple as its fruit was dense suddenly became… grapefruit skin. Just… unbearable.

Good thing my one remaining vice was cannabis. And good thing I lived in California where cannabis is legal. Because in cannabis veritas.

I’ve told my story here about how I morphed from a guy who didn’t really care much about cannabis (sure, it should be completely legal!) into a guy who loudly and shamelessly advocates for the stuff because it’s become such an important part of my quotidian life. Yeah, yeah, yeah — it’s not everyone’s answer (thank goodness we got THAT out of the way). But, for those who cannabis can help? There are myriad ways it can help you. Myriad ways it can improve the quality of your life. I truly use cannabis from the start of my day to the very end.

In addition to being depressed, it turns out I’m bi-polar. My darkness is matched by hypomania. Thoughts don’t just fly around inside my head, they explode into life constantly. I don’t mind that. My only problem is it’s distracting. They’re all squirrels and I’m just a dog. I can chase one or two; I can’t chase them all. Cannabis — sativas during the day time — slows the mania down. My brain is like a black box theater — think of a shoebox, painted black inside, turned upside down. It’s a simple black space inside which anything can happen. At any one time, a dozen or so things are being projected onto the walls, the floor, the ceiling. Some are in technicolor, some black-and-white. A few are even in sepia. Music plays. All kinds. And there are smells and sounds and did I mention the comedians sprinkled through the crowd? Those guys kill.

A sativa like Durban Poison acts like a scrim. It falls gently — quieting most of the projections and noise — allowing me to focus on just one or two. And suddenly — another benefit of the cannabis — I can see or hear or smell or taste whatever I’m focusing on with remarkable clarity. Food really does taste better on weed. Smells are more distinct. Music deeper and more soulful. Or fun. Things “seem” funnier, in part, because you’re appreciating them from a deeper place. It really is funnier than you realized — and the fact that you just realized how much funnier it is? THAT’S effin’ hilarious!

I wrote “straight” most of my professional life. I know what that is. Having written with cannabis in my system now for a half dozen years, I can honestly say — I’m better on cannabis. Maybe that’s because I enjoy writing more on cannabis. Cannabis makes writing easier — because the thoughts come easier. I feel more in tune with where the thoughts are coming from.

As I wrote about in Blunt Truths, the series about cannabis prohibition I wrote for Weedmaps News (back when that was a “thing”), marijuana played a big part in the invention of jazz. When the mostly Black musicians gathering in New Orleans in the first decade of the 20th century tried to get at the music inside their heads, they didn’t turn to alcohol to help get at it. Alcohol dulls. Opioids? Are you kidding? They dull creativity worse than alcohol. Marijuana, on the other hand, takes your creativity in hand and lets it soar.

Louis Armstrong, like the rest of the amazing musicians around him, were imaging what classical European music would sound like if you larded it with African music. What if you filled in all those spaces European music left with more music? What if the musician was allowed to improvise and build on what the music’s composer wrote? What if you tried using diminished keys and odd beat structures?

As I wrote in Blunt Truths, the worst thing Harry Anslinger ever did was invent the whole “Reefer Madness” myth that cannabis is the “Assassin of Youth”. He didn’t care about “marihuana” (his spelling) when he first became America’s first Commissioner of the now defunct Federal Bureau of Narcotics because, at the time, only Mexicans and Black people used it. It wasn’t until marijuana headed up the Mississippi along with the musicians heading north — and suddenly white people were smoking it. White people using something black and brown people used? That was wholly unacceptable to raging racist Harry Anslinger.

It’s a stone cold fact: the reason marijuana was made illegal is racism. Racism, racism and more racism. Not for two seconds did anyone legislating to illegalize cannabis EVER ask “But, is it bad for you?” Anslinger succeeded in making marijuana illegal (actually, the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 makes not paying the hefty tax on the sale and purchase of marijuana illegal) over the objections of the American Medical Association.

We have lived in Harry Anslinger’s shadow all this time, thinking marijuana was something that it isn’t.

Yes, I write with loads and loads of cannabis in me. I do everything with loads of cannabis in me. Tennis, for instance. The same Durban Poison that delivers a smooth, focused “high” (ask my wife — I’m never ever “high”; I’m either focused or asleep) that makes writing a pleasure also takes my tennis game up a few notches. With a hit or two of DP in me, the ball slows down. I listen better to my own inner coaching. I spot the ball better off my opponent’s racket and — with everything slowed down inside my head — go through the step-by-step needed to successfully put the ball back across the net where and how I want it.

As my working ends and my evening begins, I turn again to cannabis. I’m not interested in being insensate. But — again — a hybrid like GG4 or Dutch Treat mitigates the cacophony. The feeling of mild euphoria that settles over you — it doesn’t disconnect you from the world, instead, it fuses you to everything.

As we speak, various members of my immediate and extended family are all either turned on to the benefits of cannabis already or becoming aware of them. My mom uses CBD oil to deal with an arthritic knee. CBD was her last stop before opioids. The CBD works great — and she feels better overall and sleeps better too.

If we see a product from the point of view of its benefits versus its detriments, cannabis (in all its various forms) is sliced bread. Why the hell wouldn’t you want it (if you want bread)?

This morning, I tried, for the first time, a sativa called The Fork. Where Durban Poison delivers a stead flow of very even-feeling focus, The Fork delivered strong free-associative thought. My mind went plenty of places — and burrowed into each of those places. This blog post popped into my mind.

And then onto the page.

I’ve written stuff on alcohol and cocaine that, as I was madly typing it, I was sure was genius. When I went back to look at it afterwards, it wasn’t even good typing.

Hey, for all I know, what The Fork inspired in me was pure crap. You’ll be the judge. But (and you’ll have to trust me on this) the typing’s sheer genius.

A Cannabis Consumer Review: Canndescent Charge (No 514)

It was absolutely inevitable that the instant cannabis became legal, it also would become corporate. There’s a staggering amount of money to be made. What more do we need to say?

To be fair though, there’s really no “middle way” to come in from the cold. The whole idea of calling it “cannabis” instead of “marijuana” is to try and separate this amazing product from its outlaw past. Important caveat — that outlaw past was the product of racism; we did not “illegalize” marijuana because of what it did or because it was bad for anyone — a the time it was illegalized, even the AMA thought it was actually efficacious. It only EVER had to do with WHO was smoking it. At first Mexicans in the Southwest states (after the Mexican Revolution sent a wave of immigration across the border starting in 1910) but then, a little later, mostly Black musicians based out of New Orleans. These musicians — Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, King Oliver — were inventing jazz and found marijuana great both for chilling but also for articulating the music in their heads. It was only after these musicians headed north — starting with the Great Depression in 1929 — taking their dope with them — that anyone started to care. The trigger: white people started smoking marijuana.

And that — per America’s first-ever Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, Harry Anslinger — was unacceptable. Anslinger changed from thinking “marijuana was harmless” to “marihuana [Anslinger’s preferred spelling] is the most wretched, most dangerous scourge on earth” specifically because this “non-white” thing was now “infecting” white people.

My long-winded point: none of marijuana’s bad reputation was deserved. Everything “criminal” about it is wrong and wrong-headed. Of course cannabis isn’t for everyone. What product is? Mis-use or profound over-use of any product — household or otherwise could put you in a hospital or morgue. And way faster than mis-use or profound over-use of pot ever will. It’s just a stone cold fact: cannabis is way more benign than alcohol. It causes far less death and destruction.

As drugs go, cannabis has one particular distinction that will always set it head and shoulders above every other drug: it is entirely natural. Aside from watering a pot plant and feeding it (organically of course), one can grow, harvest and enjoy cannabis all by oneself. If I got good at growing the strains I most enjoyed, I could (if I was really, really, REALLY obsessive-compulsive about it) become completely self-sufficient with my “drug-o-choice”.

While I may have smoked pot occasionally when I was in high school, my distinct impression of it was: it put me to sleep. That wasn’t appealing to me at the time. That fact remained a constant through my college, after college, early, mid and late professional periods. Cocaine got my business (in addition to copious drinking). Ecstasy (a very good drug under normal circumstances, an excellent drug under just the right ones). Mushrooms (just once but so memorable, so demanding of an encore!) Not being a smoker, marijuana wasn’t something I felt naturally drawn to.

But then a decade-long depression made sleep damned near impossible. That wasn’t helped by years of taking OTC sleep meds almost nightly. They produced little good sleep but plenty of memory loss. “Hey,” I reminded myself, “You live in California. You can buy marijuana legally — you know, that thing that always put you right to sleep when you were a kid?” Overcoming all that nonsense mythology that was planted in my brain, I went and got a prescription then went and got it filled with my first purchase of Skywalker.

I slept wonderfully that first night — as I have pretty much most nights ever since (edibles travel). Indicas, it turned out, produced real quality sleep with zero lassitude the next morning. That’s not just a benefit, it’s a life-saving benefit. You can’t get mentally healthy if you can’t sleep. But a sleeping med that impacts your productivity is no improvement. My First Big Lesson about Cannabis: it works as a sleep med like nothing else.

Then I learned my Second Big Lesson about Cannabis: sativas work differently.

That, I think, was the biggest revelation of all to me: cannabis really can be a useful product from the start of your day to the very end of it. The first time a hit of Durban Poison rolled gently across my mind, focusing my thoughts in a way I didn’t know I could be focused — well, it stood out in my mind. When I learned (about an hour and a half later) that I could keep that focus going (keep the snacks handy though), in fact, building on it slightly with the fresh hit? My whole life style changed.

Then, when I discovered that different sativas (and hybrids — most strains these days are pretty hybridized anyway) had discernibly different effects, I became fixated on trying everything I could — fascinated both that there were subtle but discernible differences between many strains and that those differences were pretty much repeatable each and every time I bought that strain.

Here’s the point. The first thing Legal Cannabis had to do — and it did — was to be as faithful as they could be to creating a uniform product. Within the context of a plant subject to local growing conditions and farming expertise, Legal Cannabis made strain specificity a “thing”. Whether grown from seeds or as clones, strains became distinct in the way that cabernet sauvignon clones become distinct statements of what we want that particular grape to be.

When I order cannabis from my favorite delivery services, I expect the Strawberry Diesel I get this time to be roughly on par with the Strawberry Diesel I bought last time from them. It might even be from a completely different grow — it probably will be (I buy large-ish quantities). But the effect the product produces should be pretty much the same.

I think of this as the “Big Mac-ification” of Cannabis. On the one hand, who wants to see something as wonderful as cannabis be “Big Mac-ed”? But, on the other hand, that is what real legalization will look like. What it probably must look like. That hurt to type. But, the truth is, if cannabis had never been demonized, never illegalized, never treated as a pariah or even as a bad thing, it would have been “corporatized” long, long ago.

Like tobacco. Or alcohol.

My natural instinct with cannabis is the same instinct I had with red wine. I was a collector and a “terroir” guy. My passion was for big, dark, inky reds that screamed their heads off about the grapes they were made from — the specific grape and where it was specifically grown. I told myself I was less interested in what we, in America, call “meritages” — blends.

But then, I had plenty of “meritages” in my collection. They didn’t call themselves that, they called themselves “Bourdeaux”. For instance — the couple of bottles of Chateau Lafite Rothschild I inherited from my dad were blends of cabernet sauvignon (70%), merlot (25%), cabernet franc (3%) and petit verdot (2%). I’ve bought and enjoyed bottles of each of those grape varietals. Know what? They were all great by themselves and great put together in that one bottle as a “meritage”.

Corporate cannabis produces plenty of good, reliable cannabis strains. The Big Mac-ificiation has already happened — like it had to. But there’s another corner of corporate cannabis — the meritage makers — who are busily carving out territory of their own in the growing legal marijuana marketplace.

Full confession: my gut instinct is to avoid meritages. My gut instinct is not trustworthy.

I recently broke down and purchased an eighth of “Charge (No 514)” one of the Canndescent Company’s 5 flower products. Now here’s the thing about Canndescent’s approach. They start out by asking the question “what do you want your cannabis experience to be?” They see five curated possible answers — Calm, Cruise, Create, Connect, Charge that mix and match the effects of body up or down and mind up or down — with the resulting experiences of working, socializing, exercising, meditating, . For instance, their “Calm” is meant to answer your “end of the day” cannabis needs — like sleep.

Being as I’m always looking for another sativa to add to my collection, I chose to try Canndescent’s Charge which, its label says “fires you up with rising energy that clears the head and activates the body so you can dine and dance the night away”. I wasn’t looking to dine or dance. I was looking to be productive.

Though Canndescent has a product “Create”, I tend to shy away from what cannabis reviewers call “creative strains”. Yes, they deliver plenty of psychoactive creativity, but I want focus with my creativity. Great ideas are great especially when they get flowing. But, if I can’t corral them, they’re not doing me the good I need them to do.

The benchmark for me will always be Durban Poison. DP delivers a smooth, even focus for a good 90 minutes to two hours with a gradual drop off and little to not tiredness. I use DP to play tennis because it slows my mind down — gives me a chance to “see” my timing and truly see the ball. I also use strains like the aforementioned Strawberry Diesel, Alaskan Thunderf*ck, Willy Wonka, White Buffalo, Ghost Train Haze, Kali Mist and Trainwreck. I want mental focus and a feeling of “energy”. I want the sense of contentment that sits beneath it all.

One more note: while I certainly don’t want my tongue to feel like I’m smoking ditch weed, I’m way, way more focused on what a strain does than on how it tastes. When I was still drinking, my cocktail of choice was a gin martini, served icy cold. A little paper umbrella in a drink for adults? You jest. Candy and fruit flavors — for alcohol? If you have to put training wheels on your drink, maybe drinking’s not your thing.

The bottom line for me — where Charge is concerned: how does it impact my productivity? The answer? This is a great product.

The “high” comes on quickly, suffusing the mind with an increasing sense of focus. Important details stick out a little more prominently. While some strains bring a little edge with their mental energy (the Alaskan Thunderf*ck for instance — which diminishes its value to me on the tennis court), the Charge absolutely does not. Not to me anyway. I would describe it as Durban Poison Plus.

Being a proprietary product, the Canndescent Company doesn’t say exactly what strains go into Charge. They intimate through their box copy and via their web site that they use a combination of known strains and proprietary strains, crafting the whole thing into a meritage-style blend that deliver a particular set of effects.

Charge platforms beautifully with itself, by itself. Meaning — if you kept re-upping the “stone” exclusively with Charge every 90 minutes or so, you could maintain a strong, even, cannabis focus the entire working day. But Charge also platforms nicely with other strains. This morning, I platformed some Casey Jones from my collection on top of the Charge (my second hit of Charge of the day — having waked and baked already to a full hit of Charge all by itself). The Casey was one of my go-to morning strains for a while. I haven’t found any Casey nearby in a while which sent it to “the bench” for occasional use.

The platformed Casey and Charge got me into some very deep thinking. It was awesome. Every strain I’ve platformed atop the Charge has been goosed by it.

Charge’s flavor profile is pleasant. It doesn’t strike my palette in any particular way. There’s no harshness to the smoke whatsoever and the slower — well ground — burns cleanly and completely in my favorite glass piece.

As undeserved as cannabis’ criminal past was, the truth is, cannabis wore its outlaw status beautifully. It’s hard to let go of. Canndescent’s Charge makes it a little easier to see that, yeah, there’s another way to think of this product and sell this product. I’m sold on Charge’s ability to deliver on its promises. I will absolutely try their other flower products.

It wouldn’t shock me if Canndescent’s approach — selling cannabis by its desired effect — didn’t become a kind of industry standard. It couldn’t replace the strain-by-strain experience. It shouldn’t.

Thinking back to my former red wine collection, there was a good mix of everything — including mixes. Canndescent’s product line are a perfect complement to anyone’s cannabis collection.

An Ode To Waking & Baking

My mind’s a blur when I awake,

That is, until I let it bake.

The coffee’s strong and dark and hot,

A sip or two, a hit of pot.

The caffeine “turns the lights on”, sure,

But cannabis actually “opens the door”.

There’s no magic here, no “hocus pocus”,

Indicas make you sleepy; sativas give you focus.

There’s nothing like its mental clarity,

where thoughts are denser than a singularity.

Some Durban Poison, Mimosa or Kali Mist,

Put Casey Jones and Allen Wrench atop the growing list.

A hit of Trainwreck could never suck,

And neither could a bowl of Alaskan Thunderfuck.

The fact is there are dozens of extraordinary strains,

for getting one’s mind in gear and letting one’s ideas rain.

If your goal is “Be productive!”, if your goal is “Move & Shake!”

If your goal is “Get things done!”, then you should wake n bake.

The Joys Of Waking & Baking

It ain’t the cannabis talking — I’m far more productive and focused after a couple of hits of sativa. These days, my morning go-to’s are Willy Wonka, Alaskan Thunderfuck, Strawberry Diesel and Durban Poison. I like variety, ya see.

I also like the way different strains work inside my brain. Yeah, they’re all variations on a theme but it’s a great theme. Willy Wonka produces a clean focus with good mental energy (as do the others). Wonka and Strawberry Diesel have a bit more “edge” to the focus. The Thunderfuck a touch less edge.

Durban Poison has virtually no edge. Its “high” is pure, even focus. That’s why I like it for working AND playing tennis. With a hit of DP in me, the ball slows down (everything slows down — but only in the sense that my mind isn’t racing to keep up with all the information coming at it; I feel like I’m seeing, hearing, processing it all just fine and in real time). So — when the ball comes off my opponent’s racket, I’m better able to focus on the ball and track it all the way to where I want it to be when I attack it. I’ll put it this way: I coach myself better and am coached better when the coaching is coated in Durban Poison.

It’s hard to describe to people who are fearful of pot that it’s not just one thing — a get you impossibly high product. Most people I know don’t use cannabis that way. I’m not sure I’ve ever been “high”. I’ve been focused. I’ve been relaxed. I’ve been asleep. When I sit down at my desk — usually around 5 am — I’ve got coffee in one hand and my piece in the other, the bowl filled with one of my go-to’s.

The caffeine does what it does. You feel awake but not necessarily focused. In fact, too much caffeine and it gets harder to focus my hypomanic mind. That’s where the cannabis works wonders — especially first thing in the morning. I prefer that first hit to come before that first sip of coffee but it really makes no difference. There’s nothing quite like that feeling — a few moments after you’ve exhaled — as the THC begins to filter down through your brain.

That’s when I really “wake up”.

Each strain feels a little different — where they seem to be filtering from. Some start at the crown and melt downward. Others seem to emerge like a thought from behind the eyes before slowly filling your whole head with a feeling of calm. Of peacefulness. Of focus.

Not a revelation: we live in a shithole at the worst of all possible times. It would be so easy to throw up one’s hands and toss everything but the indicas. The idea of sleeping through what’s happening until it’s over has definite appeal. But, it’s having cannabis in my life (and my family of course) that makes it all bearable.

Imagine For A Moment If They Stopped Selling Alcohol At Sporting Events & Sold Cannabis Instead

Someday — probably not soon but some day — Americans will get to attend live sporting events again. There’s something about watching sports and drinking that — maybe it’s habit more than anything — goes together.

Or maybe we just think it does because we’ve never considered doing it another way. Human beings are like that — we get stuck thinking things will be how they are forever because they’ve always been that way. Not true and not true. Baseball didn’t always exist. Even within baseball, the designated hitter didn’t always exist (and it breaks my heart that it’s coming to the National League this coronavirus-shortened season). Things change and evolve.

People around the world drink alcohol at sporting events because that’s the only legal choice we have. We know from experience that alcohol prohibition doesn’t work (and it makes organized criminals happy). We also know from experience that drug prohibition doesn’t work but, again, human beings are slow on the uptake. We also know from experience that selling alcohol at sporting events can turn ugly.

Violent.

Destructive.

Alcohol does this to people. Cannabis doesn’t. THC doesn’t effect our brains the way alcohol does. THC may alter our perceptions — it refines & focuses mine — but it does not impact our motor skills. It can make us sleepy and hungry and a little dopey but it does not make anyone violent. And, please, let’s not go down the rabbit hole of “but some do”. Pick a subject and “but some do”.

If everyone at a soccer or football or baseball or basketball game was using cannabis instead of drinking, there would NEVER be violence at the end of a game. Fans from competing teams wouldn’t go at each other — they’d be too busy hugging (when that’s allowed again) or telling each other what a great game it was or laughing or sleeping even. But no one would be fighting because the whole reason one does cannabis in the first place is for the euphoria it delivers.

People experiencing euphoria together (as they would at a sporting event) do not fight with each other. It’s not how euphoria works.

When those sports fans head out into the streets — they won’t be violent there either. They won’t fight police, won’t riot or loot, won’t set fire to cars.

Cannabis is proof that selling lies is easy. Selling the truth — much, much harder. We may never completely clear the racist lies first Commissioner of America’s Federal Bureau of Narcotics Harry Anslinger invented while trying to justify marijuana prohibition. While Anslinger, as far as we know, didn’t coin the actual term “Reefer Madness”, the “gore files” Anslinger collected and used — all lies and misinformation about cannabis, some of it overtly racist — captured the spirit of “Reefer Madness”.

Not only does using cannabis (instead of alcohol) make watching sports better, as more and more athletes are realizing, using cannabis makes PLAYING sports better. That is, with some THC in your brain, you become capable of performing better. I play tennis using cannabis — I take a hit of Durban Poison just before I play and about halfway through. The DP slows my brain down just a little while also focusing it. I’m bi-polar and very hypomanic. My mind races along most of the time at a fairly supersonic pace.

But the THC in a bowl of DP helps me with that. As I said, the cannabis slows down my thoughts so I have a chance to consider them. I become better able to coach myself. When I tell myself “eyes on the ball” or “put the ball there” or “attack the ball now”, I do it more consistently than if I hadn’t smoked cannabis. Not only do I play with more technical finesse (I’ll flatter myself that I play with “finesse”), but I’m more consistent — and consistency is my biggest bugaboo of all on a tennis court.

I drive better with THC in me, too. I’m not delusional. And I’m not alone.

The National Highway Transportation Safety Authority and the National Institute of Health — the keepers of transportation & drug safety data — want desperately to prove that using cannabis makes you a bad driver deserving of punishment — just like with people who drink and drive. But alcohol and THC work differently in our brains. The data simply will not cooperate.

The data backs up what we know: drinking alcohol — even a little — impacts your motor skills, decision-making and ability to drive. Cannabis doesn’t impact them the same way.

Here’s what the National Institute of Health study says:

Driving and simulator studies show that detrimental effects vary in a dose-related fashion, and are more pronounced with highly automatic driving functions, but more complex tasks that require conscious control are less affected, which is the opposite pattern from that seen with alcohol. Because of both this and an increased awareness that they are impaired, marijuana smokers tend to compensate effectively for their impairment by utilizing a variety of behavioral strategies such as driving more slowly, passing less, and leaving more space between themselves and cars in front of them. Combining marijuana with alcohol eliminates the ability to use such strategies effectively, however, and results in impairment even at doses that would be insignificant were they of either drug alone. Case-control studies are inconsistent, but suggest that while low concentrations of THC do not increase the rate of accidents, [they] may even decrease them…

The data says having THC in them causes drivers to follow the speed limit, stay in their lanes and maintain safe following distances — the opposite of what alcohol would cause.

My brother-in-law called me the other day with his 17 year old son on the line. I’ve written a lot about pot. I’ve done research in order to write about it. My brother-in-law figured I’d tell my nephew how much marijuana impacted your decision-making and especially your driving skills. I told my brother-in-law before I responded that I probably wasn’t going to answer his question the way he wanted or expected.

After walking him through the data, I shared one final anecdote about cannabis. Just after the first cannabis cafe opened here in LA, a good friend and I went to it. We made reservations — we had to if we wanted to get in. The deal was 90 minutes then the table went to someone else.

There was a line to get in (even with reservations and timed tables). There was even a line of people wanting to work there.

Inside, it looked like a regular fern bar: lots of wood and warm touches. Ceiling fans whirred constantly, drawing the smoke upward. That was the first strange thing — though everyone at virtually every table was smoking cannabis, the room didn’t stink and it wasn’t smoky and acrid like a bar filled with tobacco smoke.

Second strange thing: the sound of the place. First — because alcohol wasn’t being served, the sound of glass was greatly reduced — the sound of glasses being clinked while toasting — of bottle necks clinking against cocktail glasses as the bartenders mixed away.

Third strange thing: also the sound of the place. When people drink alcohol — and lose their inhibitions — they get louder. The more they drink, the louder they get. Put a bunch of drinkers in a crowded bar and you get a distinct sound signature that only comes from people drinking.

Now throw in the glass sounds and the sight of everyone smoking dope at every table and you begin to sense what an unusual experience this was. The food was great — the perfect, snnacky, salty-sweet bites that the munchies crave.

After 90 minutes (including a gigantic cigar-sized, mostly sativa joint that my friend and I shared — back in the day when one shared a joint), we paid our bill and headed out the door. So did everyone else we came in with. Now, here’s strange thing number four: while my friend and I parked on the street, most everyone else pulled into the lot and handed their car keys to the valet.

Now that they were finished smoking dope and eating, these same people were now getting their car keys BACK from the valet guy, climbing into their cars and driving away — either back to work or home or wherever. If cannabis was like alcohol, there would have been a non-stop pileup of cars right in their driveway — of people just trying to get to the street.

And at the street? An even bigger pileup.

Except there wasn’t. Think about it. If we had spent 90 minute drinking steadily — instead of smoking cannabis steadily — there would have been accidents everywhere in and around that parking lot. But there wasn’t a one.

Hmmmmmmmmmmm…

It will take a while before we stop treating cannabis like alcohol — certainly where driving is concerned. Have I mentioned how slow human beings can be to adapt to new information?

In CA, I hope we have the smarts to allow people to consume cannabis at sporting events the same way they allow alcohol consumption. I hope we have the smarts to take notes when we do — so we can compare how cannabis effects people vs how alcohol does.

If the people making those decisions are all smoking dope when they make the decision? It’ll be dope.

Why Did We Ever Criminalize Drug Use To Begin With? Because Judging People Is Easier Than Helping Them…

The “war on drugs” was never a war on “drugs”. Like the drug laws it was meant to epitomize, the drug war was always entirely focused on drug users. And not just the users because they were using, but on their race.

First Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics Harry Anslinger spells it out: our drug laws are all about racism, racism & more racism.

The first drug law in America was written in 1875 in San Francisco — aimed at stopping the spread of opium dens. A noble idea. No one wants to live near an opium den. And, it’s a fact, opium is highly addictive. It needs to be approached with care; even doctor’s get prescribing it horribly wrong. But the law itself — as written — wasn’t concerned with anyone’s neighborhood getting ruined. It wasn’t concerned with anyone getting addicted. In fact, it had no data on hand to justify any concerns it might have about opium’s impact on its users’ health — if it had had any such concerns which it didn’t.

This is from the Schaffer Library of Drug Policy via Wikipedia

The reason cited was “many women and young girls, as well as young men of respectable family, were being induced to visit the Chinese opium-smoking dens, where they were ruined morally and otherwise.”

This law and virtually every opium law that followed drew an important distinction that would ripple through history.

“Though the laws affected the use and distribution of opium by Chinese immigrants, no action was taken against the producers of such products as laudanum, a tincture of opium and alcohol, commonly taken as a panacea by white Americans. The distinction between its use by white Americans and Chinese immigrants was thus based on the form in which it was ingested: Chinese immigrants tended to smoke it, while it was often included in various kinds of generally liquid medicines often (but not exclusively) used by people of European descent. The laws targeted opium smoking, but not other methods of ingestion.

Schaffer Library of Drug Policy

Sound familiar? Depending on whether you snorted cocaine as most white people did or smoked it as crack as lots of black people did, the drug laws treated you differently. The laws punished smoking coke far more harshly than snorting it. Same drug, same basic impact on the user — but different law and (especially) different, harsher penalty. And still not a single concern for the user him or herself and the drug’s impact on their well-being.

The very illegalization of drugs has always been about judging the drugs’ users. Let’s face it — white Europeans are the biggest bullies on the planet. They’re professional hegemonists — spreading their culture and “true faith” like an STD. But, even when the Europeans weren’t judging others because they were “others”, they were judging other Europeans for being “weak” and punishing them for their weakness.

In America, prior to enactment of the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act, there were no federal laws regulating drugs of any kind. The very real health concerns about opioids aside, the drug laws simply didn’t consider them or even refer to them in its legislation. It wasn’t the point. Here’s the key to the Harrison act: “The courts interpreted [it] to mean that physicians could prescribe narcotics to patients in the course of normal treatment, but not for the treatment of addiction.”

What that means for this highly addictive drug — doctors could prescribe it to relieve pain but once the cause of the pain stopped (and who is to say whether another person is feeling pain or not?), so did the opioid — regardless of what cutting it off did to the user. The law willfully condemned people to suffer. It denied their physical pain — and then wanted to punish them for ever experiencing pain to begin with.

Where does that come from?

Look to your bible. America has always had a strange love for religion — especially a twisted form of Christianity that perverts “Do unto others” to “Do what we say”. The Puritans may have been seeking religious freedom in the Massachusetts Colony, but that was only for themselves. There were reasons no one back in England liked them (and so made them feel despised): they were judgmental. And, while the Salem witch trials were an anomaly, they did reflect Puritanism’s witchcraft-fearing id running wild.

The witchcraft trials were to women what drug laws would later be to black and brown people.

Jesus taught simply “Do Unto Others”. He didn’t say “judge them” or “force your way on them”. The meek, Jesus said, shall inherit the earth. He didn’t say they’d have to do it drug-free. Just as well, as drugs go, there are few as terrible as religion.

Marx got it wrong. Religion isn’t the opiate of the people. If all it did was sedate them, that would be bad enough. It incites them — like angel dust or meth — to mean, dangerous, soulless behavior. Religion (vs spirituality — a very different thing) doesn’t care about what’s hurting them, what’s causing them pain. It’s got its own rules and regs to push. It’s followers are there to do what they’re told not be attended to. They’re a flock of sheep after all. And no one wants an “uppity” sheep.

The painful irony is that alcohol prohibition sprang from a very progressive ideal. It was Europeans judging how Europeans behaved when effected by a European-approved intoxicant: alcohol. And alcohol was a very real problem for a lot of Americans in the latter part of the 19th century when support for prohibition began to grow. But, as we know, in the whole history of human beings, prohibition has never worked — not as intended.

In America, alcohol prohibition criminalized virtually the entire adult population and turned organized crime from a local problem to a national one. Criminal syndicates suddenly had a product to sell — alcohol — that everyone wanted but only they had. We’re still dealing with the mess.

Prohibition may stop people from using a substance because getting it is hard — but it won’t stop them from wanting it. It won’t stop them from gerryrigging ways to either get it or craft a replacement of dubious safety. In general, prohibition wants a grey world to be black & white regardless of how grey it’s always been and always will be.

In America, there was a twist: prohibition wanted the world to be white only. The opium laws (first written in San Francisco) were meant to punish Chinese people brought to America to work — who dared relax in the way they liked. Using the same racist playbook, the first marijuana laws were written to first punish “Hindoos” who “…started quite a demand for cannabis indica; they are a very undesirable lot and the habit is growing in California very fast; the fear is now that it is not being confined to the Hindoos alone but that they are initiating our whites into this habit.”

“Initiating our whites into this habit”. There you have it. No one cared about the Hindoos as people — just as later laws wouldn’t care about individual Mexicans or blacks using marijuana. The laws cared about the white people — about white people doing something “black” or “brown” or “yellow” did. And that was entirely unacceptable.

America’s drug laws have never, ever, EVER been about anyone’s health and always about racism with a side of hatred for “the weak”. Our drug laws mirror something demented in our religious fervor. They speak for it.

Racism is fear. Drug laws are that fear’s manifestation in the law. They’re legalized forms of institutional racism. Period.

In America, Christianity was used more as a cudgel than as a sanctuary. Slavers pointed to the bible to justify their cruelty. Bible thumpers continued pointing at their “good book” to justify miscegenation laws that prevented black people from marrying white people. They used their book to justify all sorts of racist claptrap.

Imagine the audacity of judging love. It’s as stupid and heartless as judging another person’s pain.

No wonder everyone fleeing religion needs a drink.