The effects of cannabis vary greatly depending on the levels of intoxication. In his research, Tart developed a statistical picture of the relationship between levels of intoxication and effects; we summarize here the results.
At low levels of intoxication, the typical effects are the modification of sound perceptions and the tendency towards non-noise. At medium levels, there is a certain sense of restlessness; at slightly higher levels restlessness disappears and a series of effects appear that can be defined as “relaxing, calming and tending to open you up”.
There is also an improvement in sensory perceptions and a particular sensitivity in dealing with others. There may be an increase in efficiency which, however, disappears at higher levels, and an increase in the perception of body processes. At very high levels there is alteration of memory, loss of contact with the environment; paranormal or mystical experiences are possible.
The fact that the effects of cannabis manifest themselves a few minutes after smoking generally allows to obtain the desired level of intoxication without much difficulty. However, if the substance is ingested, and given that the effects occur at least 45 minutes after ingestion, a controlled dosage becomes problematic.
Tart’s research found that the level of intoxication can also be controlled through certain mental techniques. Here are the most frequent ones.
A) Mental techniques to increase the effects
a) Focus on the experience of the moment, be it an activity or a sensation;
b) Contact with intoxicated companions – it is a widespread experience that the company of other intoxicated (“smoked”) people increases the effects; in some cases the subject feels and behaves as “smoked” for the mere fact of being together with other people who are really “smoked”;
c) Meditation according to oriental techniques;
d) Concentration and focusing of the will;
e) Respiratory techniques, in particular, especially focusing mentally on breathing and holding the breath;
f) Music, in particular if listened to with headphones on;
Hypnosis, which has been used by some researchers (Aaranson and Bauman) to
reproduce intoxication without using the substance.
B) Mental techniques to decrease the effects
It is very common for consumers to cancel the effects of cannabis, momentarily or permanently, with a simple effort of concentration. This occurs more easily, according to Tart, at lower levels of intoxication and in more experienced consumers.
Other circumstances that lessen the effects are:
– Negative emotions (fear of being arrested, of being discovered by family members, friends who are sick);
– Return to the usual role, behaving as “normal” and carrying out usual activities.
The hypothesis of cultural deconditioning
Concept of “conditioning”
In the previous article we have seen how the use of drugs determines a “modification of mental activity”. We have also seen how this modification is conventionally considered as an artificial manipulation of the condition of normality, and how the attribute of normality is implicitly recognized by those who do not use illegal drugs.
In reality, man undergoes (while ignoring in part or in whole) a profound manipulation by society, which has a decisive impact on his psychological reactions, on his behavior, on his choices. We define this phenomenon as “conditioning”, that is, the process by which mental activity is exercised through predetermined schemes, which escape all or part of conscious control “.
In the context of our hypothesis we must highlight two types of conditioning: (a) psychodynamic conditioning and (b) cultural conditioning.
Psychodynamic conditioning materializes at the level of deep psychic mechanisms, which escape the control of consciousness, and can be identified with the censures and inhibitions of the Freudian superego; they are formed in the very first phase of existence.
Psychodynamic conditioning therefore falls within the field of psychoanalysis, to which texts refer for a broader discussion. Cultural conditions will be treated in the following paragraph.
By cultural conditioning we mean “mental activity patterns that are imposed by culture on the individual, and are aimed at the integration of the individual into the culture itself”.
As such, cultural conditionings are formed throughout existence, and are exercised at a “preconscious” level (ie in an area of the psyche that is normally outside of conscious control, but is accessible to consciousness with minimal attention effort).
Unlike the psychodynamic conditions, which are linked to the primordial relationship with the mother and the family, cultural conditions are significantly differentiated according to the type of society in which the individual is inserted.
As an attempt, cultural influences can be described as “methods of interpretation and communication”; in particular:
a) Interpretation of subjectivity based essentially on the social role of the individual;
b) Interpretation of perceptions based on the prevalence of Gestalt compared to primary stimuli;
c) Interpretation of time based mainly on references to the past (experience) and the future (anticipation) rather than the present;
d) Interpretation of objects based mainly on verbal expression on their function;
e) Communication based mainly on verbal expression as opposed to other possible ways of expression.
Cultural conditioning has two qualifying characteristics:
In the context of western culture, in which the social integration of the individual is closely linked to production, cultural conditioning responds to precise functional requirements, with respect to production activity: this is evident from the summary description of the different types of conditioning, and will be explained in more details in the next paragraphs.
As already mentioned, cultural influences develop and act on a preconscious level: therefore they tend to be applied automatically to any type of situation, even when the needs that underlie their existence do not exist.
In practice, automatism manifests itself in the widespread tendency to reproduce in the context of free time, behavioral patterns that are typical of work: rigidity of the social role, tendency to plan, refusal of autonomy, etc.
The concept of “deconditioning”
By “deconditioning” we mean the suppression or attenuation of conditioning; it is therefore a modification of mental activity, so it frees itself from a series of patterns.
Deconditioning is one of the basic needs of the human condition. The need for deconditioning takes place in every sector of society in a typically cyclical way, that is, linked to certain hours of the day, days of the week, seasons of the year. Deconditioning is closely linked to rituals and holidays: a typical example is the ancient carnival ritual.
From a biological point of view, the need for deconditioning manifests itself in the function of the dream: it is known that the functionality of sleep as a moment of biological recovery is closely linked to the REM phase, in which the subject dreams, that is, to a mental activity of a different type than that which takes place in the waking state.
Use of cannabis as cultural deconditioning
The concept of “deconditioning” in relation to the use of cannabis has been mentioned by Hochman, according to which cannabis and hallucinogens “by disintegrating the normal experience of reality and subjectivities, question the relationship between the I and the external reality: a reality that coincides, in many of its aspects, with society. Although in a very broad sense, the individual experiences a deconditioning in respect to the perception of the world and of himself ” S. Abrams expressed himself similarly:
“Cannabis … brings back a natural balance between thinking and feeling. In other words, it seems to correct a structural imbalance in our culture, an artificiality that is rapidly transforming it into a society of neurotic automata. Emotions derive from the possibility of man to feel and manage his own body. Usually these experiences are devalued and suppressed, except when one realizes that they have a concrete value for survival; on the other hand, ‘mental activity is increasingly linked to the logic of verbal and abstract concepts. Cannabis acts as a clarification agent, restores its original freshness to the experience, brings the individual into what is really happening “.
We have seen how cultural influences essentially affect the interpretation of subjectivity, the perception of time and objects, and communication. Based on this classification, some primary effects of cannabis can be identified which qualify the overall action of the substance as a “deconditioning” action; they are:
a) Detachment from the social role
b) Modification of sensory perceptions
c) Slowing down of time
d) Inhibition of functional associations
e) Enhancement of non-verbal expression
- Detachment from the social role
The “Social role” is defined as the way in which the human being constructs and perceives his own identity. In our culture, evaluations on the function of the individual in society have a decisive influence on this process, evaluations that are generally based on conventional schemes, imposed by the dominant culture.
According to Goodie, there is a functional definition and interpretation of subjectivity in western society: the individual learns to consider himself as an entity that manages various functional positions and responds to different social needs, that is, what sociologists call “roles”.
The individual’s esteem for himself is based on his aptitude for conforming to these roles, i.e. the criteria for assessing his success depend at least in part on the acceptance and appreciation of his function by others.
The assessment of one’s identity is all the more linked to social approval, the more technologized the company is and consequently the link between the individual and his training is not direct but extremely complex and articulated.
The social role also affects behaviour in the context that should be dedicated to recreation and rest, in the form of uncritical adhesion to certain cultural “models” in the management of leisure time: for example, the fact of accepting boring board games, useless conversations, “formal” celebrations, and in general all those activities or circumstances of free time towards which a confused awareness of estrangement and boredom is perceived, but are, however, accepted only because “so do others” or “to keep good relationships”.
The social role has a function that is both protective and limiting. Protective because it frees the individual from the need to continuously redefine itself based on subjective criteria, and frees his mind from the need to independently process a huge mass of stimuli, the accumulation of which could cause stress or anguish.
Limiting because the rigidity and repetitiveness of the behaviours imposed by the social role can be a source of alienation and tension, of inhibition of creativity and imagination.The antagonism between fantasy and social role is described as follows by Laing:
” The fantasies … are split by what the individual considers his mature, healthy, rational, adult experience. In this case the fantasy is not captured in its authentic functions, but the experience that is made of it is that of a harassing child intrusion for the purpose of sabotage“.
The perception and definition of one’s behavior as a “detachment from the conventional social role” was indicated by Tart’s research as one of the characteristic effects of cannabis. But many other typical effects of the substance may be thought to be related to detachment from the role.
The fact (mentioned earlier) that the attenuation of the role implies the need to redefine and rebuild one’s identity “from within” could constitute a stimulus to that tendency towards introspection which is described as a typical effect of cannabis.
Another effect, emotional amplification, can be linked to the fact that the conventional social role generally involves controlling (if not inhibiting) emotions.
Regarding other typical effects, such as the tendency to play, the improved perception of somatic functions, the tendency to immerse oneself in abstract fantasies and thoughts, are, in any case, behaviours that are generally repressed based on the values of functionality and respectability that the social role dictates.
B) Modification of sensory perceptions
The essential process of perception is the comparison of the sensory stimulus with a similar experience of the past (mnemonic scheme). Perception would therefore be a combination of two sources of information: a) stimulus – b) mnemonic scheme.
Through experience and maturation, the mnemonic scheme is developed and stabilized, so that in adulthood perceptions are based less and less on the sensory stimulus and increasingly on the mnemonic scheme: perception becomes a process of identification (interpretation of the stimulus in relation to its meaning and function) rather than observation (the stimulus is received for its intrinsic sensory qualities).
With the use of cannabis, perception is based on the sensory stimulus rather than on the mnemonic pattern. Perceptions, deprived of that sense of familiarity that is given by the reference to the mnemonic scheme, have a novelty character (sensation “jamais vu”). All effects on auditory, visual, gustatory and tactile perceptions must be referred to the modification of perceptions.
C) Slowing down of time
We have seen how some scholars have attributed to the perception of slowed time a central role in the dynamics of the overall effects of cannabis.
In the normal state, based on a conditioning that is typical of our culture, the present is experienced as a continuous process of interpretation, of comparison with past experience and anticipation of the future, and is therefore felt as elusive or even non-existent: this gives the sensation of an accelerated passage of time.
The perception of slowed time is connected with a decrease in immediate memory (which is one of the most typical effects of cannabis at medium or high doses) and with a weakening of anticipations, that is, of forecasts on the consequences and developments of the present situation.
The anticipation process, which is controlled by the conscience when the individual’s situation is faced is new or particularly demanding, would tend to be applied to every type of situation, outside the control of conscience, diverting part of the attention from the lived experience. Majore believes that anticipation is an unconscious tool to dominate the fear of the future, that is, of the unknown and death.
The perception of slowed time is also typical of childhood, in which it could be determined not only by the difference between “target time” and “biological time”, but also by the minor influence that past experiences have on mental activity of children. The slowing down of time must be referred to that feeling of “here-and-now”, which is no coincidence that it is, also, a leitmotif of the psychedelic culture.
D) Inhibition of functional associations
Education gets us used to considering objects in relation to their function rather than their intrinsic characteristics, thus giving us a limited experience of the objects themselves. Even the mental associations that are stimulated by objects are conditioned by function: in this case we speak of functional associations; spontaneous associations (ie those released from function) would be inhibited, in the normal state of consciousness, by functional associations.
The use of cannabis, by decreasing functional associations, frees spontaneous associations, and this would be a factor in enhancing the imagination and creativity. Also in this case the analogy with the infantile situation, in which functional associations are necessarily weak, is evident.
E) Enhancement of non-verbal expression
The deconditioning effect of cannabis on communication manifests itself directly in the possibility of using communication channels other than those of verbal expression (or through telepathy at times), with positive or negative effects on interpersonal relationships.
On the other hand, if verbal language is not considered as a simple mode of communication, but also as a particular structuring of mental activity, certain behaviours connected with a destructuring of mental activity can be attributed to the deconditioning action on communication, such as the tendency to laugh and the willingness to accept contradictions.
The specific effect of cannabis on verbal expression is confirmed by a research by Cohen, whereby cannabis is said to produce differentiated effects on the functions that are located in the right or left hemisphere of the brain.
The performance related to verbal – analytical tests located in the right hemisphere has significantly increased (Cohen 1976) other typical effects of cannabis use, which have not been specifically mentioned in this analysis, are generally related to more than one of the primary effects.
Deconditioning and integration
At the end of the discussion on cultural deconditioning, it is inevitable to ask the question of the relationship between deconditioning and social integration: that is, to establish to what extent the cancellation of the conditionings can affect as a permanent datum on the attitude of cannabis users, causing a breakdown of the their integration into the values of the dominant culture.
The hypothesis that the use of cannabis could affect social integration paradoxically shares the “alternative” culture and certain reactionary strata: the first affirming (albeit with many reservations and with less conviction today than in the 1960s) that the cannabis experience in itself has a liberating and revolutionary value; the latter arguing that the “marijuana drug” makes young people, who would otherwise have followed the path of the healthy traditions of their fathers, rebellious and unbalanced.
This hypothesis has recently been contradicted by the observation that the enormous spread of the use of cannabis in western countries (in particular in North America) has affected a vast area of ”integrated” subjects, with no apparent effect on their social interaction. On the other hand, it does not seem correct to maintain that the use of cannabis always facilitates integration into the neo-capitalistic system; this is denied, in addition to a series of cultural considerations, by the incontrovertible fact that the use of cannabis is particularly widespread in the area of youth contestation.
The problem can be clarified if it is borne in mind that the pharmacological effects of cannabis are heavily influenced as and more than by other substances from the setting. In particular, we recall Becker’s theory that the effects of the substance, to be used in full, require a particular process of interpretation and elaboration: a process whose results are obviously linked to the psychological and cultural characteristics of the different subjects.
We can therefore believe that in certain subjects the “cultural deconditioning” is experienced as a simple temporary evasion, which does not imply an ideological elaboration or question social integration. In other cases, where there is a tendency to question certain values, and the possibility of transforming experiences into deeper reflections on our way of life, the deconditioning effect of the use of cannabis can stimulate awareness, which leads to a rejection of certain values of the dominant culture.