On Being Stoned
Charles T. Tart, Ph. D.
THE RESEARCH reported in this book is both innovative and relevant.
At a time in our culture when there is a growing concern about
drug abuse among the young, and the use of marijuana is increasing
more than it ever has in our country's history, it is fortunate
that someone has seriously attempted to investigate the psychological
and subjective effects of marijuana. This book should prove valuable
for the interested layman who is curious about such effects and
also for the scientist who may be stimulated to carry the results
of this research further.
It is important for anyone to note before reading this book that
the content is a careful study of the personal experience
encountered when marijuana is used. This important fact sets this
book apart from those primarily dealing with the pharmacology,
medical implications, social desirability/undesirability, or the
legal problems of marijuana, and is the very reason that Dr. Tart's
approach breaks new ground in this controversial area. His method
has been quite simple and straightforward, yet it is one which
has too long been ignored in modern behavioristic psychology in
a misguided attempt to be "scientific" by avoiding subjective
experience. Dr. Tart has asked persons who themselves have used
marijuana what different kinds of experiences they have had. His
instrument has been a carefully constructed questionnaire that
has proved to be extremely useful in gathering a very large amount
of data from the persons who should know best what the experience
is likethose who have actually taken the drug. The personal
account of the subject cannot be ignored despite some imprecision
in measurement. Each individual person may use his own standards
for interpreting the experience or measuring the intensity, but
there is no substitute for a report by the person who has been
there. Indeed, this experiential aspect of the effect, especially
with psychedelic drugs, may in the long run prove to be the most
valuable. Far more important than laboratory conditions far removed
from the actual social usage of marijuana is what happens to the
person in his own consciousness, how he interprets this, and how
it influences his actual life.
Another reason this book is a valuable contribution to our knowledge
about marijuana is that it helps to answer a very important question
often not even asked by many who are the most concerned about
marijuana usage. This question is: Why do so many otherwise law-abiding
people risk their freedom and reputation to use this illegal drug?
The data in this book show consistent agreement that most of the
subjective experiences reported by usersfor example, sensory
intensification of musical appreciation, gustatory enjoyment,
and sexual activityare extremely pleasurable. Dr. Tart has
attempted to establish a subjective scale to help quantify such
effects. Because pleasure is the reason most people use the drug,
it should certainly be studied and not ignored in research on
the effects of marijuana.
From a strictly scientific point of view, this research has great
value by opening up new questions that are researchable. Once
it has been established that certain types of subjective experience
do in fact occur consistently, psychophysiological correlates
can be measured, such as various EEG brain waves, pulse, blood
pressure, and skin potential. Some of the positive effects reported
might have practical clinical application, such as stimulation
of appetite, decrease in depression, enhancement of refreshing
sleep, and certain types of problem solving. Hopefully, Dr. Tart's
work will stimulate future research to test these hypotheses.
Dr. Tart's pioneering effort points the way toward the future
in other ways as well. This book is a creative step forward in
better understanding the range of human consciousness. The method
of studying actual subjective experience is an indispensable tool
for future research into altered states of consciousness. There
are important implications not only for the effects of marijuana,
but also for research in hypnosis, sensory isolation, EEG feedback,
and the major psychedelic drugs such as LSD, mescaline, and psilocybin.
In the next twenty years there will certainly be a growing interest
in altered states of consciousness triggered by all these approaches.
It is important to remember that the experience, and not the technique,
is what will motivate this interest. Better understanding of the
effects of marijuana may lead to other methods, perhaps safer
and less objectionable from a legal standpoint, for achieving
This book should make an important contribution to man's seemingly
irresistible urge to explore his own consciousness. Twenty years
from now its value can be assessed from the perspective of the
research that will follow. I would guess that Dr. Tart's work
will be judged to have had considerable influence.
Walter N. Pahnke, M.D., Ph.D.
Director of Clinical Sciences
Maryland Psychiatric Research Center
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