Marijuana and the myth of the harmless drug

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Back in the 1970s I really believed that marijuana was harmless. Even after I smoked my last joint (nearly 20 years later) I continued to believe it, and statistics appeared to support my case. No deaths had ever been recorded from overdosing on marijuana. In fact, one researcher estimated that it would take 800 joints to kill you, but your death would be a result of carbon monoxide rather than cannabinoid poisoning. I also thought the ‘gateway drug’ theory, in which a soft drug like marijuana could supposedly lead you to hard drug addiction, was propaganda based on ignorance and intended to stop dope-smokers enjoying themselves. If marijuana really could lead to hard drugs, as the theory proposed, why had millions of marijuana users not all turned into heroin addicts? It wasn’t until I studied Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) that I revised my opinions on marijuana being harmless.
TCM employs an entirely different approach to understanding the human body than Western medicine. It makes no distinction between body, mind and spirit so it has a vocabulary capable of explaining not only the paradoxical aspects of marijuana, but also its potential as a gateway drug to stimulants and heroin, and how it could have a detrimental affect on ‘mental health’.

The perception that marijuana is harmless probably arises because many people use it regularly, experience no side effects, and don’t move on to harder drugs. However, if you analyse its effects using TCM, even if you perceive yourself as being unaffected, marijuana still disrupts the delicate balance of the Human Energy Field and this is going to have an effect on you one way or another, sooner or later. So, it is not that marijuana has no side effects, but rather that the side effects are complex, subtle and cumulative. They creep up on you over time. Depending on what is termed your ‘constitution’, in Traditional Chinese medicine, this process can be so slow that no cause and effect connection between the drug and the symptoms is ever made.

My work is based on a fusion of TCM and Energy medicine, and using this model I believe that each drug has a different property and works via particular organs. Marijuana has a magnifying property and it operates primarily via the Liver. The Liver is responsible for a smooth flow of Chi throughout the body (Maciocia 1989 p.227). So, under the influence of marijuana, you can get a heightened awareness of the Chi flowing. You may experience this as a warm and pleasant sensation which spreads throughout the body and can be particularly strong in the abdominal area where the Liver is located. The feeling can sometimes be so intense in this region that you burst into spontaneous laughter, as you would if someone tickled you in that spot. Because the Chi is flowing smoothly, you feel content, happy and relaxed.

As the Chi flows throughout the body, it indirectly amplifies the function of the other organs too. When Stomach and Spleen function is enhanced you can get the munchies, or an insatiable urge to eat, particularly sweet and creamy foods as they resonate with the Spleen. The freeflowing Chi also amplifies the function of the Kidneys so sexual activities and heroin can seem much more intense too. The emergence of what you think are brilliant ideas when you are stoned, or feeling more creative, occurs because the magnifying property of marijuana has also allowed an increased awareness of ‘birth, growth and expansion’, which are considered in TCM to be qualities or values associated with the Liver.

Of course not everyone has these pleasant experiences from using marijuana and TCM can explain this too. People who have feelings of paranoia, paralysing self-consciousness or extreme timidity do so because they have a different constitution. Traditional Chinese Medicine is based on the concept of duality. The terms Yin and Yang describe this duality and are applied to everything from the macroscopic to microscopic. Marijuana is primarily a Yin drug so if you have a more Yin or passive constitution, the magnifying property of the drug can amplify these qualities and make you feel like you have come to a halt both physically and psychologically. In this state, even the smallest, simplest task seems impossibly huge and you are unable to do anything but sit and stare blankly into space. This zombie-like condition can be described as Liver Yin excess. It can be a suffocating experience because in that state, due to Yin dominance, you are unable to access the Liver Yang necessary for physical or even psychological movement. This makes you feel helpless. Liver Yin excess is like the feeling you get in those dreams where something is chasing you but when you try to run you can’t. If marijuana has this effect on you and you keep using it, it can lead to harder drug use such as speed which instantly removes this passivity and lethargy.

Regardless of your constitution, because marijuana is primarily a Yin drug, ‘advance and act’ will eventually be replaced by ‘retreat and wait’ in both a short- and long-term context. In the short term, as the marijuana begins to take effect, it can make the user feel temporarily motivated and vigorous but after a period of time, even Yang types end up sitting around doing nothing. They are not in a Liver Yin excess state, as they are not experiencing emotional torment, but it is no longer an exciting or active state either. It is somewhere in between. It is waiting without anticipation. In the long term, this lethargy and passivity previews the kind of state that marijuana use can create on a more permanent basis. Most people, for example, are familiar with the stereotypical image of the ageing hippie or heavy dope smoker who can’t ever get their act together and do anything. This is not a personality type as many people think, it is often a behaviour arising from imbalances caused by excessive marijuana use. Unfortunately, the majority of long-term marijuana users will eventually fall into this category. It is such a slow and insidious process though, that they won’t see it happening. They will just change slowly over time until they eventually forget how active, engaging and energetic they once were.

People with a predominantly Yang constitution and a disciplined and focused lifestyle — which assists in the cultivation of Liver Yang — can regularly use marijuana and remain active and creative for years, maybe even decades. However, even for them, marijuana will slowly deplete Liver Yang and subsequently affect their ability to act upon their ideas. Everyone has a mental picture of who they are, of who they want to be and what they want to do in life. In TCM this is directly connected with the Liver. If you repeatedly take a substance that has a direct impact on the functioning of the Liver, as marijuana does, it can create an imbalance between your visions or ideas, and the impetus to act upon them. The idea becomes bigger and the action becomes smaller so you become more occupied with thinking and talking than doing. This is particularly frustrating for creative or talented people as they still have their creativity but have lost their ability to act. Once this happens, the magnifying nature of the drug, rather than increasing awareness of growth or expansion, increases awareness of being stagnant physically and emotionally. In this state, evidence of achievement in other people can make the drug-user acutely aware of their own deficiencies and they can become emotionally reactive.

One of the reasons smoking dope is so much fun is the joy, excitement and laughter that it can generate. Constant use of marijuana, as well as creating lethargy and frustration, will inevitably stress this function. So a crucial thing to do when you stop using the drug is to repair the mechanism. If you don’t find a way to get some joy and excitement in your life it is easy to feel not as engaged with life as other people, to feel ‘not right’ in yourself, or to have the nagging sense of ‘missing something’. These feelings are the result of all the imbalances that the marijuana has created in your organs and Energy Field, but if you are not aware of this you will instinctively seek to correct the situation through substances. We all manage ourselves in this way: if we need perking up we might have a coffee, to reduce stress we might have a few drinks, to comfort ourselves we might eat something sweet. In the drug world though, such solutions are often sought via other, more powerful drugs.

Contributed by: Jost Sauer


































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