On Being Stoned
Charles T. Tart, Ph. D.
I have long been impressed with the need so many people seem to
have of occasionally altering their state of consciousness, of
radically changing the way in which their minds function. Alcohol,
prayer, meditation, sacred dances, fasting, revivals, hypnosis,
drugsthese and many other techniques have all been used by
people in various cultures for pleasure and insight, worship and
diversion, work and healing. Yet practically all of our science
and philosophy is based on what seems sensible to our ordinary
state of mind, and the existence of these other states is largely
ignored by being relegated to the realms of the abnormal and the
illogical. It is only in the last few years that psychologists
and other scientists have begun to pay serious attention to altered
states of consciousness and to ask questions about what they are
like, how they affect behavior, what function they have for the
individual and his culture, and how they might supplement traditional
methods of gaining knowledge.
In spite of the attention now starting to be focused on altered
states of consciousness, we know very, very little about most
When I began focusing my researches on altered states of consciousness
some years ago, I found myself in a similar position to the scholar
of the fable, who wanted to know about the land of
was clear that the mind could indeed function in non-ordinary
ways, but beyond that fact things were not so clear. Some "travelers"
told consistent stories about some of the states of consciousness
they had experienced, and I could feel certain enough about them
to plan "expeditions," research projects to investigate
some aspect of that state in detail. For other states, the tales
were wild and improbable, inconsistent, and clearly reflecting
whatever ax the particular traveler had to grind.
The literature on marijuana was especially confusing. Even when
it purported to be medical or scientific literature, much of it
was full of propaganda, pro or con. Lurid individual tales of
marijuana intoxication contradicted the laboratory studies of
its effects. For reasons detailed in Chapter 2, the individual
anecdotes were often hopelessly confused by the personalities
of the writers, and the conditions of the laboratory studies were
so unusual as to have no applicability to the ordinary use of
marijuana. How could I profitably explore particular features
of this strange country of marijuana intoxication when the overall
map of the landscape was so confused and useless? I might expend
great effort on what was truly a trivial feature.
The study described in this book is an attempt to get an overall
look at marijuana intoxication as it occurs in the ordinary world
(insofar as California and America represent the ordinary world!).
What happens to the minds of experienced users when they smoke
marijuana? What do they experience? What are the frequent and
infrequent, important and unimportant experiences? How do they
relate to how "high" or "stoned" the user
is? Are they affected by his overall drug experience his educational
background, etc.? Knowing these general effectsthe overall
lay of the landthen we can concentrate our research efforts
on the important aspects of marijuana intoxication.
The study that gathered this information is, as far as I know,
unique in its approach. Staying with our analogy, I treated experienced
marijuana users as explorers of the marijuana state and then systematically
collected, compared, and analyzed their reports. Since it is an
initial attempt at this sort of thing, it can be done in an even
better fashion a second time around, and, ordinarily, I would
like to have repeated the study with improvements before publishing
But the times are not ordinary, and so I am publishing this without
waiting for the replication that would make the figures a little
more precise and eliminate an occasional mistake in the effects
of some background factors. A certain amount of justifiable technical
criticism will result and, hopefully, will help myself or others
to carry out an improved version of this study. Because the times
are not ordinary, however, I suspect a great deal of a-rational
criticism of this book will also occur. Marijuana is not a subject
being discussed in intellectual isolation, emotions about its
use are heated, both pro and con, to put it mildly. Pressures
to change existing laws are very high, and legislators ask for
scientific studies of the effects of marijuana to base such changes
on, so every study on this subject receives a great deal of partisan
criticism or acclamation in addition to the usual scientific scrutiny.
To those with a fixed position that marijuana use is harmful and
marijuana users are deviates or mentally ill escapists of some
sort, this book will be unwelcome. I have not argued for or against
the legalization of marijuana, but the effects that experienced
users describe are generally very interesting and pleasant. Thus
some critics will see the tone of the book as "pro-pot,"
even though I have attempted to be neutral and simply describe
I am presenting this study, then, because the subject of marijuana
intoxication is so important today and because the information
contained herein will answer many questions about what it is like
to be high on marijuana (and, therefore, why people use it) in
a way that no other current studies will. Too, my knowledge of
what most of the studies being funded by various agencies are
like indicates that there are no studies going on now which will
provide better answers to these questions. I regret to say that
most of the new studies going on are subject to many of the same
criticisms that make the older ones irrelevant to the real world,
as discussed in Chapter 2.
Because of the importance of the subject and the uniqueness of
this approach, I think this book will be useful or informative
to three different audiences. First, researchers may use these
findings as a guide to profitable research. Second, people who
are curious about what being stoned on marijuana is like but who
do not use it themselvesparents, educators, physicians, legislatorswill
be able to get a good picture of what it is like and why people
use marijuana in spite of the legal penalties. Third, marijuana
users themselves will be able to compare their personal experience
with that of users in general, with the result, according to many
of the users who contributed to this study, that they will be
able to experience more effects and acquire more control over
Again I stress that this is basically a scientific book; I have
attempted to present objectively descriptions of what experienced
users feel about marijuana intoxication, without arguing for or
against marijuana use or letting my own feelings about marijuana
distort the writing. I have feelings, of course. My own survey
of the scientific and other literature puts me in agreement with
Kaplan (1970) that the known dangers of marijuana use are very
small, while the known social cost of the present legal structurebranding
millions of Americans criminals, clogging the courts with victimless
crimes, creating disrespect for the law among the young, and enforcing
the laws at huge expenseis tremendously high. Thus I see some
form of legalization-under-control of marijuana as socially desirable.
I have, however, attempted to keep these personal feelings completely
out of the book.
A tremendous amount of data is contained in this book. Although
I have checked the manuscript against the computer data printouts
in several ways to eliminate error and inconsistency, the sheer
size of the undertaking makes it inevitable that an occasional
error or inconsistency may be apparent to the diligent reader.
I would appreciate his writing me about any such inconsistencies,
so they may be corrected in a subsequent printing.
This study could not have been carried out except for the assistance
of a number of people in the data collection, analysis, and write-up
stages, all of whom I wish to thank; namely, Joan Crawford, Lois
Dick, Dee Kindelt, Carl Klein, Arthur Hastings, Wanda Meyer, Mary
Moore, Donna Sedgwick, Marlene Shinazy, Penny Smail, and my wife
Judy. This research was supported by the United States Public
Health Service grant MH16-810. All opinions expressed in this
book are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of the above
people or the Public Health Service.
*"Muggles" was one of the slang terms for marijuana
when it was first introduced into this country in the 1930s.
**Because readers of these last two types are sometimes put off
by numbers and statistics, I have disposed of all these complexities
in a page of explanation following this section.