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4 SETTING: THE STRUCTURE OF THE DRUG—USING SITUATION PDF Print E-mail
Written by John Auld   
Thursday, 09 September 2010 00:00

4 SETTING: THE STRUCTURE OF THE DRUG—USING SITUATION

If the neophyte's second-hand impressions of the effects of marijuana channelled his expectations in certain specific directions before he indulged, the actual situation of drug use served to act as a catalyst whereby these could be transformed into a subjective and objective reality.

The principal reason for this is that this situation was to a greater or lesser extent destructured. Usually in everyday life, as Schutz and other more recent phenomenologists have pointed out,' social interaction is both embedded within and guided by a structured framework of unstated rules or tacit "background expectancies", one of whose central defining features is their taken-for-granted quality. Typically, people arrive at unproblematic definitions of the interactive situation through assuming that a "reciprocity of perspectives" exists between them: that, in other words, their positions as interactive partners are — at least for all practical purposes — interchangeable. Seldom are such assumptions called into question and, when they are, the grounds for doing so must be clearly explicated in terms of certain manifestly "trust-violating" features of the behaviour of the participant concerned. The crucial characteristic of feelings of distrust is that they should be justifiable. As Garfinkel puts it, paraphrasing Schutz: "for the person conducting his everyday affairs, objects, for him as he expects for others, are as they appear to be. To treat this relationship (of undoubted correspondence) under a rule of doubt requires that the necessity and motivation for such a rule be justified "2

Now a fundamental characteristic of many situations of marijuana use is that the taken-for-granted quality of interaction — what Schutz refers to as the èpochè of the "natural attitude" — is diminished or suspended, without at the same time there necessarily being justification for its legitimate replacement by a systematic (that is, explicable) rule of doubt. The relevance of this for understanding some of the psychological effects so often attributed to marijuana will be explored presently. But why, it may be asked, should the natural attitude upon which the unproblematic character of the experience relies be suspended in the first place?

Basically, there seem to be two sets of relevant factors, both of them directly associated with marijuana's unique pharmacological action as a "sedative-hypnotic" — a drug which in itself, as has been suggested already, functions mainly to render the individual "half-asleep" or drowsy. The first has to do with the necessity for the individual to arrive at an appropriate definition of the situation in the absence of customary rules and the customary level of competence employed in the observation and handling of these. The second, on the other hand, is concerned with certain characteristics of the process whereby the learning of such definitions is typically accomplished. Both, I shall suggest, are necessary — even if not sufficient — constituents of the subjective experience of recognizing the drug's effects, or "becoming high".

The Contribution of Matza

The first set of factors has been examined in some detail by David Matza in his book Becoming Deviant,' which in my opinion deserves a much more central place in the literature on marijuana use than it has ever been accorded, even by sociologists. According to Matza, the mood of marijuana — being high — is a "mood of dim reflectivity": dim because of the pharmacological action of the drug, and reflective because of the character of the situation in which it is used. The term "being high" is itself seen by Matza as providing shorthand expression of the process which gives rise to this mood, but only makes sense if situated within the context of a general theory of consciousness. Whilst Matza's attempt at "exploring a rudimentary theory of conscious mood" cannot be examined in detail here and demands consultation in the original, its more salient features must at least be briefly summarized.

Normal waking consciousness, says Matza, involves continual shifts in the relations between the objects from which it is composed and in which, in turn, it resides: the Meadian components of self, society and mind.' Although departures from the "operative" (but apparently hypothetical) mood of "even keel" typically take the form of a shift in what seems in the common sense to be the dominant mood of consciousness — described, respectively, as either "self-consciousness", "engrossment", or "reflectivity" — the central feature of such departures is that " . . . the shift is only in the configuration of the objects — in where each stands in relation to the other in the light of consciousness. Viewed in this way, which object ascends and which descends is not the primary matter" (p. 130: my emphasis). Thus, Matza argues, "being self-conscious is the mind taking notice of the self existing in a peculiar society"; being engrossed is a state of total engagement in society in the microcosmic form of the project: "conceived in society's image, mind and self are at ease when consciousness dwells in the matter used to create them"; whereas "in reflection, consciousness alights on itself grown into mind . . . composed (as it is) from the conscious existence of self in society . . .".

A key characteristic of the process of being awakened to normal consciousness is that it occurs unevenly. An important question, therefore, is the sequence in which consciousness alights upon and thus restores its objects — mind, self and society. Half-asleep, says Matza, "the subject is well situated for a shift in mood . . . though consciousness may go in the direction of any of its objects in that condition, it is most likely to go where it is told" (p. 134). In the case of marijuana use such "telling" is of particular importance since — according to Matza — "half-asleep, the subject cannot perceive the effects on himself of the substance he is using" (p. 126) and it is this, apparently, which distinguishes the activity from the countless others in which the learning of a new experience is accomplished unproblematically. The most important function of whatever instructions, directions or information the subject receives, therefore, is that they succeed in "reawakening" him. But how does this occur? Here Matza must be granted his own say:

Two features inherent in the common use of marijuana commonly and literally tell consciousness to go to mind and thus to be reflective. These features are established in the first few learning experiences. Thereafter, they are instituted in the subject, and thus he can do it himself. The fact of the matter is that, even before going half-asleep, consciousness has begun shifting in the direction of mind. The subject has been put on notice. He has been told that something is going to happen. Why else would he be there in the project trying the thing? Consciousness is already at work noticing the self and society through mind ...

Once drowsy, the subject is awakened. That is all there is to the second tale. He may wake or alert himself or he may be awakened by others. In either case, he is told, by the logic of the situation if not by others, to continue noticing . . . essentially he is now ready to be awakened to a shift in mood from which everything else he experiences will be derived. Continuing to be drowsy and continuing to be reflective, his consciousness alights on mind in the face of a continued consciousness of self and society. Since the subject is drowsy, his consciousness of all three objects is somewhat dimmed. Since the subject is reflective, consciousness is unevenly drawn to mind. That peculiar combination is the meaning of being high on marijuana.(pp. 134-135)

The fact that throughout the duration of the drug's pharmacological action the subject is thus never completely awakened is of crucial significance, as Matza further proceeds to point out:

The integrated ascent of mind develops within the context of a general diminishing of consciousness. Consciousness of the other objects, self and society, descends more quickly than that of mind mainly because the subject has been told to be on notice . . . Consciousness of mind is (therefore) "high", even though it is lower absolutely than the moment before . . . There is an integrated ascent of mind, but in the context of an integrated descent of consciousness. (pp. 135-136)

It is this process which imbues the form of reflectivity experienced with marijuana with its special — some would say magical — quality. Matza goes on to explain this too, in terms of what he calls a "sensibility to banality" induced by the mood of dim reflectivity. Essentially, such sensibility is "the appreciation of the ordinary based on a glimpse of its composition — a precocious and unformulated insight of how the ordinary is put together" (p. 136). It is the enjoyment, or literally "appreciation", of such insight which completes the process of becoming a marijuana user as formulated by Becker several years earlier.'

The postulated link between the mood of dim reflectivity and the sensibility to banality is somewhat obscure and I do not propose to explore it further at this point. However, the validity of Matza's approach even thus far is somewhat vitiated by its overemphasis upon the processes whereby this particular mood — as opposed to any other — is arrived at in the first place. The issue is settled, it seems, by fiat, and the content of consciousness — which should be able to embrace and take into account any changes in the situation or "setting" of marijuana use — is correspondingly narrowed. Matza's consideration of the subject — like Becker's before him6 — is limited to the frame of reference entailed by the two seemingly separate questions of whether, firstly, he manages to identify and, secondly, to enjoy or appreciate the effects associated with the drug (although there is an important difference in that Matza, unlike Becker, is also fundamentally concerned with the question of how he does either or both of these things). But a major difficulty with this approach is that the subject's appreciation of such effects is in no way seen as being linked with the behaviour by means of which he expresses this appreciation, even though — as I shall suggest — it is conceivable that the prior recognition of these effects is itself to some extent contingent upon the kinds of meanings which he assigns to such behaviour.

Reawakening and the Problem of Expression

The analytical one-sidedness resulting from Matza's seeming abandonment of the more orthodox symbolic interactionist perspective in favour of what he terms "naturalistic" explanation is fairly evident in his writing. Most significantly, it is reflected in his suggestion — apparently sustained throughout — that the role and behaviour of others in the situation is largely confined to the unseif-conscious providing of "instructions", which the neophyte must (it seems) passively absorb if he is to gain access to the "mood of dim reflectivity" described. They, for their part, are not attributed with any expectations of his behaviour; nor, consequently, is the neophyte's behaviour itself considered to reflect any awareness of the existence of such expectations. Now it is a sociological truism that expectations are of crucial determining significance, inasmuch as they simultaneously provide motives for and constraints upon any given pattern of behaviour. Yet Matza has very little to say about the problem of behaviour altogether, concentrating as he does on the rather more shadowy concept of mood, (and even then primarily on the mood of reflectivity, which necessarily abstracts the subject from his social situation). A central contention of the present analysis, by contrast, is that an adequate understanding of the mood of marijuana cannot be acquired through documenting the processes whereby the subject identifies changes in his subjective experience if such documentation fails to include a proper account of the character of the subject's relationship to the situation in which he finds himself. The definition of the drug-using situation is a key determinant of the quality and indeed even perception of the kinds of mental changes from which the very meaning of the term "drug experience" derives. It is important, therefore, to examine the kinds of criteria and considerations that help determine which of these changes will be be likely to find expression in the subject's behaviour in a way that will enable him to arrive at a satisfactory definition of both the drug's effects and the drug-using situation at that particular point in time. What I am suggesting here is that the extent and duration of the subject's affiliation to the phenomenon of marijuana use will depend upon the way in which he resolves the issue not just of whether he can see himself being a marijuana user, but of whether he can conceive of himself as being a particular kind of marijuana user.

As with all processes of adjustment to and social acceptance within a new role, a central problem is that of self-expression, in the most literal sense. Key determinants of the way in which this problem is resolved are the nature of the performance which the subject is persuaded to believe will be situationally appropriate and the degree of his success at carrying it off successfully. The important relationship between performance and social identity has consistently been a focal concern of Erring Goffman's work:

When an individual makes an appearance in a given position, he will be the person that the position allows and obliges him to be and will continue to be this person during role enactment. The performer will attempt to make the expressions that occur consistent with the identity imputed to him; he will feel compelled to control and police the expressions that occur. Performance will, therefore, be able to express identity?

Goffman here brings us face-to-face with the existentialist axiom that doing is also (or at least may become) being, both for others but more importantly for ourselves. This principle can be extended to the more specific case of neophyte marijuana use: for it seems that the "logic of the situation" referred to by Matza may accomplish the reawakening from drowsiness in part through encouraging the neophyte to express not only the fact that he is as competent as any other initiate at understanding what (either implicitly or explicitly) he has been taught about the drug, but also that he enjoys or "appreciates" the experience associated with its use. Cultural and subcultural imagery of the kinds referred to in the last chapter clearly influence the character of the former mode of response. Concerning the latter, however, one can distinguish at least two further factors, which roughly correspond with what might loosely be termed psychological constraints and social constraints. The first of these has to do with the likely impact upon behaviour of any attempt to reduce what social psychologists have termed cognitive dissonance.' The source of any such dissonance would seem to lie, predictably enough, in the very character of the enterprise: having deliberately broken the law, perhaps for the first time; having temporarily imperilled his customary peace of mind — some would doubtless say sanity — for an uncharted and possibly hazardous area of experience, and all the while probably doing his best to suppress the idea that he may in any sense have been "pushed into it", the subject is likely at the outset to be under some pressure to make himself believe that the experience is "fun". However, whether or not and in what way this attempt to resolve dissonance will be reflected in his behaviour is intimately bound up with the character of social constraints and his appreciation of them.

Although equally if not more important so far as the issue of expression is concerned, social constraints are of rather greater complexity. Unfortunately, like all social rules other than purely linguistic ones, they do not — as Max Weber would have been among the first to agree — appear to lend themselves easily to naturalistic or "presuppositionless" rendition.9 Even if they could, it remains highly doubtful whether they could be exhaustively categorised. Nevertheless, those which one can distinguish as being relevant to the context in question have a curious relationship to one another: on the one hand, as we have already seen, the "logic of the situation" as described by Matza constrains the neophyte to be on the alert for something to happen, to monitor his experience and the ongoing changes within it. In this sense at least, the ëpochë of the natural attitude is temporarily suspended and the routine constraint upon maintaining an appropriate level of interpersonal involvement diminished. Correspondingly, information of a "non-utilitarian" nature which (presumably) would normally be filtered out by what Huxley once referred to as the "reducing valve of the brain" ° (and what Goffman has more recently — and doubtless more sociologically — referred to as "rules of irrelevance")' 1 starts becoming available for inclusion in his definition of the situation. Thus given the changed relationship between the "moods of consciousness" already discussed he may, for example — like Matza's subject — feel like exclaiming " Golly gee! Look at that chair!" He may, in fact, feel like expressing his appreciation of anything which suspension of belief in the world has suddenly revealed in a new or changed light. But just as one mode of constraint is mitigated or even altogether removed, so another one takes its place. For the "logic of the situation" also constrains him to go ahead and do just that: to "do his own thing", and not merely to reflect upon it in the intervals between one routine sequence of action and another. Now clearly these two modes of constraint are closely interrelated, inasmuch as the parameters of our experience are continually shaped and limited by the perceived characteristics of the social situations in which we find ourselves and the opportunities for self-expression which they appear to present. But whereas the first mode is concerned primarily with what Goffman terms the allocation of involvement,' 2 this second one is that which has traditionally been associated with reference-group theory and what Robert Merton has called "anticipatory socialization".' 3 The association seems to be a quite straightforward one: despite his possible misgivings about the drug and its effects, the neophyte is nevertheless likely to be well aware that his use of it constitutes a form of initiation into, or symbolic consummation of friendship with, a group of peers whose respect he presumably wishes to maintain (if not indeed to acquire). Reluctance to participate in the activity or failure to testify convincingly to its pleasurability may well, he is likely to feel, run the risk of forfeiting this respect. The fact that he trusts his initiators ( and trust has often been considered to be a prerequisite of the willingness to indulge) serves only to compound the potency of this particular mode of constraint if a key assumption underlying such trust is that one member will not encourage another to embark upon an experience which he does not himself find thoroughly pleasurable.

In summary, therefore, I would suggest that the likelihood of the subject experiencing the world in unconventional ways is heightened at precisely the moment when the tolerance for unconventional behaviour flowing from that experience is also at its peak. Likewise, although the pressures upon him toward acting in a manner that can be seen to indicate enjoyment may be difficult to resist, they do not need — at least this stage of his career as a marijuana user — to actually be resisted. Nevertheless, at the empirical level it may be extremely difficult — if not impossible — to distinguish the kind of self-conscious role-playing which may thus result from the more spontaneous (but perhaps equally self-conscious) "acting out" of preconceived ideas regarding the supposedly disinhibiting effect of the drug. Moreover, as Scheff suggests, the internalization of such ideas may well impair the ability to exercise self-control." The problem of interpretation which this raises is illustrated by the following passage from an ethnographic account of the Beat phenomenon in Venice West in the late '50s:

Chuck Bennison was on a make-believe flip. Perhaps he felt that as a newcomer to the scene it was incumbent upon him to exhibit the symptoms of contagion. It might hasten his complete acceptance into the inner world of the initiated. Despite his abandonment of alcohol in favour of pot, he still felt that he was being treated in some pads like a novice, if not an outsider.

Like most converts, his zeal led him to overdo it a little. He would sit on the floor swaying back and forth to the beat of a jazz record, eyes closed, face contorted with agony-ecstacy. Then suddenly he would utter a cry, fall back on the floor, roll over on his face and stay there in a pretty good imitation of a catatonic seizure. When he came out of it he had stories of strange visions, "other levels of reality".' 5

The most plausible (even if theoretically least satisfactory) interpretation of such behaviour is to regard it as incorporating all these elements. The subject, in other words, infers that the nature of his response to expectations drawn from outside the situation will also be deemed a socially appropriate one when viewed in the context of the kinds of expectations which develop and exist within it. He also assumes that whatever difficulty he actually experiences in maintaining self-control will be condoned — and the corresponding behaviour rendered safely accountable — in the light of others' recognition of the potency of these sets of expectations. Precise causal explanation here is clearly very difficult. However, the more important point is to emphasize that in no sense can the apparent tendency toward disinhibition or loss of self-restraint be regarded, where it occurs, as a direct, unmediated product of the drug's pharmacological action alone.

If valid, the kind of perspective I am advocating has a number of important ramifications. One of these is the implied necessity of modifying Matza's explanation for the apparent failure of many individuals to experience much — or indeed any — effect the first time they smoke marijuana. For Matza, this curious phenomenon could only come about if the individual were so placed that neither the explicit "talk" of others nor the necessary logic of the situation are available to reawaken him from the drowsy condition to which the drug has made him succumb. But as we have seen, it is not uncommon for naive users to claim to have experienced nothing in cases where the "logic of the situation" — knowing, for example, that one is expected to feel something — might be thought sure to encourage the exact opposite kind of response. In the light of the preceding discussion, I would suggest that an explanation of this anomaly is possible only if one accepts the notion of the process of reawakening from the drug being contingent upon the existence of some form of interaction between the mood of dim reflectivity described by Matza and the momentary sensation of "being out of place": of realizing that the self — and the experience which it embodies — has somehow strayed from the paths which structure its composition normally (that is, when "straight"). From this point of view, a fundamental and necessary element in the transition to the subjective state of being high is a sudden awareness of the diminution of constraint, this in itself encouraging the individual to reflect upon the curious phenomenon of his doing or experiencing things in a way which quite clearly represents a departure from the taken-for-granted world of everyday life (Matza's "even keel").

This connects with the thorny question of the relationship between psychological states and physiological changes: for it is important to note, secondly, that the dawning of such awareness shares in common with the appreciation of novelty in general the fact of being intrinsically exciting or stimulating (in the literal sense of the terms) to the subject. As such, it is likely to be accompanied by certain physiological changes — the most noticeable, perhaps, being an increase in pulse rate' 6 — which in their turn confirm and accentuate the subjective sensation of being high. This broadly concurs with Young's views on the subject:

• . . the drug alters the metabolism of the individual, he interprets these bodily changes into subjective experiences according to his expectations, social situation and prevailing mood, and these subjective experiences react back on to and change the already altered metabolism. In short, the drug experience can only be understood in terms of an ongoing dialectic between the subjective mood of the individual and the objective psychotropic effects of the drug.' 7

By the same token, many of the unpleasant experiences often referred to by the blanket term "panic reaction" can be understood as being the product of a failure to arrest this dialectic. This prompts a slight amendment to Becker's analysis.' s In Becker's view such experiences should be seen, where they occur, as an outcome of the subject's tendency to interpret unaccustomed changes in his subjective experience in terms of the stereotyped imagery about mental disorder prevalent in the wider society — to believe, in other words, that he is "going crazy". However, it is equally plausible to suggest that in some cases they are also due to the panic-inducing consequences of the subject's fear that he has lost his powers of self-control. The possible sequence of events can be roughly outlined as follows. Because the neophyte — unlike the more experienced marijuana user — is not as yet particularly adept at either recognizing the effects of the drug or knowing exactly how much of it he should take in order to obtain them, he is particularly prone to misjudging the correct dose. Moreover, if (as frequently seems the case at first)1 9 the effects of the drug seem unpleasant when they do appear, his lack of experience may encourage him to believe that he has in fact taken too much and that these unpleasant symptoms will continue getting worse to the point where he loses his mind, "freaks out" or — as one of Becker's respondents puts it — "goofs completely". ° This, in turn, is likely to result in the creation of a system of positive feedback or the syndrome commonly referred to as the "self-fulfilling prophecy": in this case, anxiety regarding the outcome of the experience produces physiological changes, awareness of which serves only to promote further anxiety.

The implications of such a perspective for the possibility of an integrated approach to the study of the aetiology of more orthodox (and indeed more enduring) mental disorders such as schizophrenia are too obvious to be ignored, but can only be mentioned in passing.' 1 Nevertheless, an emphasis upon the important part which other people may play in helping to resolve the ensuing "crisis of suggestibility" is a common feature of both areas of study: the drug expert Andrew Weil in fact comes very close to the position adopted by Thomas Scheff in the latter's study of the process of becoming mentally ill when he points out that the gestures and expressions of concern on the part of others present may, by appearing to justify the subject's own concern, have quite the opposite effect from that intended and succeed only in contributing to the cycle of positive feedback.' 2 However, in the case of drug use, at least, the reactions of others are not a necessary ingredient of the more general proposition that the end-product of the process is likely to be a full-blown panic reaction — a genuine, if short-lived, psychosis.'

More commonly, of course, the dialectic between physiological changes and subjective experience becomes stabilized once the initial action of the drug has been successfully coped with and the subject becomes confident that he can handle the state of being high. Even so, it is necessary once again to emphasize the limitations of an explanation of the process of becoming high which fails to take into account the extent to which the logic of the situation ( and thus the content of the mood of dim reflectivity) is influenced by the subject's own expectations and behaviour. The following statement by one of Becker's respondents provides an interesting example of the way in which momentary self-consciousness, or — more specifically—the subject's sudden awareness of the strangeness of his situation and the seemingly deviant character of his behaviour relative to everyday standards, "triggers off" the sensation of being high for the first time:

They were just laughing the hell out of me because like I was eating so much. I just scoffed (ate) so much food, and they were just laughing at me, you know. Sometimes I'd be looking at them, you know, wondering why they were laughing, you know, not knowing what I was doing. (Well, did they tell you why they were laughing eventually?) Yeah, yeah, I come back, "Hey, man, what's happening?" Like you know, like I'd ask,

"What's happening?" and all of a sudden I feel weird, you know. "Man, you're on, you know, you're on pot (high on marijuana)". I said, "No, am I?" Like I don't know what's happening.' 4

This finds a clear parallel in the following extract from Turnbull's account of his experiences with the drug:

On another later occasion I took bhang again, when in Benares City with an American friend. We each had two glasses of fruit juice with which the hemp was infused, but tasting no difference, and feeling no immediate effects, and not having money to waste on more, we returned towards the University by ekka.

An ekka is a small square platform mounted on two high wheels, drawn by a horse. There is no rail to hold on to, at least not on this model, and over rough streets the ride is extremely bumpy.

All went well until I began to visualise, quite literally, what we must look like. At that I began to laugh, as did my friend. From that moment onwards it was impossible to stop laughing for a full half-hour. I tried to take my mind off whatever it was that had seemed funny, but whatever else I thought of seemed equally funny ... 25

The important contribution which such "self consciousness" seems to make to the subjective sensation of being high is further illustrated by the statements of two of Oursler's respondents, both of which are concerned with trying to analyse the mental state which Oursler refers to as "double perception".2 6 One of them lays specific emphasis upon the part played by the perceived conventionality of one's behaviour:

I took it (i.e. smoked some marijuana), and it was pretty much the same thing and then all of a sudden I was walking from one room to another and I fell down on the floor — no, I didn't fall down, I let myself down — and I began turning, back and forth, and back and forth, and I imagined that I was someplace in a jungle . . . . My friends really got worried. And they said "What's the matter?" You know . . . And I liked the sensation, you know . . . it was interesting . . . very interesting. You had the feeling you were watching yourself. I remember that distinctly . . . I was myself watching myself. 27

The second respondent, on the other had, seems to focus more upon the perceived conventionality of his experience. Asked by Oursler whether the sensation of "standing to one side and observing yourself having this experience" is a central feature of enjoying the activity of marijuana use, he replies as follows:

I think what you're asking me is how do you know you're high. My way is asking myself if I am high, and at the point at which I begin to wonder, then I know I'm high. The wonder is the first sign of it — you're feeling a little different, a little dislocated. And you're wondering, "Is this me or is it the drug?" That's the first sign.2 8

The reader familiar with Becker's well-known description of the stages involved in becoming a marijuana user will recall that a key component is the subject's readiness to attribute changes in his subjective experience to the fact of having taken a drug. However, as the preceding statement suggests, the part which the drug itself plays in producing such changes may be relatively small when compared with the likely impact of the various social and situational factors involved.

The final statement that I wish to cite in the present context is possibly even more revealing, suggesting as it does that the process of reawakening (and thus becoming high) is directly connected to a considered sensibility to those moral rules which have to do with the allocation of interpersonal involvement:

Things start striking me as funny — I mean, somebody would say something and I'd keep hearing it. Or I'd look at something, and I'd find myself looking at it for an overly long period of time, and all of a sudden I'd wake up and say, what the hell am I doing, looking at this for so long? When I'm high, I always listen to music.2 9

A Re-examination of Some of Marijuana's "Effects"

The final sentence of this last statement suggests the need for a slight broadening of analytical scope at this stage. Although they are very closely inter-related, it is important for analytical purposes to distinguish between the process of becoming high and the sustained experience of being high. The factors involved in each of them and the motives which they are likely to generate may not be identical. As Becker pointed out, a person may successfully manage to identify the effects of marijuana yet fail to define them as enjoyable. He may, for example, react negatively to the physical symptoms of intoxication and — like some of Becker's own respondents — initiate a "panic reaction"; or he may, like the individual just quoted, enjoy listening to music yet find that the situation of company is insufficiently destructured to allow him to do so without feeling uncomfortably anti-social. This is a possibility which we will explore presently.

What I wish to do in the remainder of this chapter, therefore, is to consider the extent to which it may be possible to explain some of the oft-cited and supposedly characteristic "effects" of marijuana in terms of the kinds of changes in consciousness permitted by a situation in which both the relevance and potency of normal, everyday rules of conduct is diminished. Such an enterprise is admittedly somewhat hazardous: as we have seen already, there are a number of factors whose combined impact is to severely limit the extent to which any effects can be said to be "characteristic". And even if they are ignored or their significance underplayed (which often in fact seems to be the case), one is still left with the problem of determining the appropriate criteria for deciding which of a multitude of supposedly characteristic effects should be singled out for particular attention. Consider for example the following list of favourable or "positive" effects contained in the widely-commended report of the Canadian Le Dain Commission:

Subjective effects which are typically reported by users include: happiness, increased conviviality, a feeling of enhanced inter-personal rapport and communication, heightened sensitivity to humour, free play of the imagination, unusual cognitive and ideational associations, a sense of extraordinary reality, a tendency to notice aspects of the environment of which one is normally unaware, enhanced visual imagery, an altered sense of time in which minutes may seem like hours, changes in visually perceived spatial relations, enrichment of sensory experiences (subjective aspects of sound and taste perception are often particularly enhanced), increased personal understanding and religious insight, mild excitement and energy (or just the opposite), increased or decreased behavioural activity, increased or decreased verbal fluency and talkativeness, lessening of inhibitions, and at higher doses, a tendency to lose or digress from one's train of thought. Feelings of enhanced spontaneity and creativity are often described, although an actual increase in creativity is difficult to establish scientifically. While most experts agree that cannabis has little specific aphrodisiac (sex stimulating) effect, many users report increased enjoyment of sex and other intimate human contact while under the influence of the drug.3°

Thus the inescapable conclusion seems to be that whatever specific effects are singled out for attention must be selected on a largely arbitrary, ad hoc basis. However, this may not be as bad as it appears at first sight: for such a procedure can to some extent be justified if it is valid to assume the existence of certain key underlying processes which (as I have tried to suggest) are common to them all.

Unfortunately the delineation and selection of characteristic effects is not the only problem; there is also the related difficulty of justifying the mode of their analysis. Now an important theme underlying much of the preceding discussion is that where the problematic relationship between experience and behaviour can only be understood in terms of the contributions made by several sets of factors, it is both theoretically unwise and empirically misleading to focus attention upon one of these to the exclusion of the others. The validity of such a notion rests, however, upon the twin assumptions that (a) all the relevant factors have been given equal consideration and that (b) if this is not the case, the understanding of those which have received attention cannot benefit from a closer analysis of those which have been neglected. As I have already endeavoured to show, particularly in connection with Matza's work, the first of these assumptions, at any rate, is unwarranted: if they are not ignored altogether, the situational determinants of marijuana's effects all too often receive scant discussion. The second assumption, on the other hand, is rather more problematic, relating as it does to the thorny epistemological issue of the relationship between different interpretations of a given phenomenon and the possibilities of reconciling the apparent conflict between them. Discussion on this issue could be (and indeed has been) endless. Here, however, I propose to follow the procedure adopted by Scheff in his discussion of the contrast between individual and social system models of mental illness,' 1 defending my decision to embark upon a "one-sided" mode of analysis by appeal to the case for it argued by Max Weber:

The justification of the one-sided analysis of cultural reality from specific "points of view" ... emerges purely as a technical expedient from the fact that training in the observation of the effects of qualitatively similar categories of causes and the repeated utilization of the same scheme of concepts and hypotheses . . . offers all the advantages of the division of labour. It is free of the charge of arbitrariness to the extent that it is successful in producing insights into inter-connections which have been shown to be valuable for the causal explanation of concrete historical events.3 2

The specific effects of marijuana which I propose to try to explain in terms of the perspective outlined are temporal distortion; enhanced sensitivity and interpersonal awareness; feelings of mirth or hilarity; and enhanced appreciation of music. The analytic framework which will tacitly guide my consideration of these effects will be an ideal-type group structure of the kind referred to in much of the work of Erving Goffman." A major limitation of such a framework, however, is that it is fundamentally static and ahistorical. In terms of the kind of language familiar to organization theorists, this type of group seems to be lacking in discernible inputs from its external environment: its members appear to enter one another's company largely devoid of preconceptions about the character of one another's behaviour deriving from their equally important statuses as members of both a particular subculture and the wider society. Rather, they appear to be primarily concerned with the effective staging and validation of the situational self — in this sense an abstract and one might say almost asocial entity. Yet in the case of marijuana use — as indeed with most other activities considered deviant or at least of questionable repute — this wider social membership is of great importance, since it affords crucial social and symbolic support for the activity.' The issue of changes in the nature and extent of this support and their subjective impact is one which will be examined in greater detail presently. But for the present purposes the significance of these "external" factors will be deliberately neglected. As I have suggested, the kind of group which provides the parameters of discussion may therefore appear to be a somewhat artificial one: a group suspended, as it were, in social time and space. This I believe to be analytically unavoidable if the heuristic value of the perspective I am offering in explicit contrast to the prevailing pharmacological one is to be effectively demonstrated. However, in picking up the threads of the marijuana user's career in the two following chapters and returning once again to the subject of the transition from "hot" to "cool hedonism", the missing links will be slotted in and the historical dimension hopefully become apparent. At the same time, some suggestions will be put forward concerning the nature of the relationships between the different types of effects considered at a temporal level. They need not, after all, be equally significant at any given point in time, and some of them may be of more importance at certain stages of the marijuana user's career than others.

Temporal distortion

The findings of recent research on the subject lend support to Berg-son's well-known contention that our subjective sense of time is derived from and located within a framework of expectations about the continuity or flow of events.' That there are fundamental differences between the subjective experience of one chronological hour spent anxiously waiting in a dentist's surgery and the same period of time spent engrossed in stimulating conversation is little more than a truism. What is less often realized is that there are similar differences in the documented accounts of the effects of marijuana upon the perception and judgment of time. Although the most characteristic effect seems to be a lengthening of the subjective sensation of time, this is not invariably the case. Describing the "psychological effects" of the drug, for example, Margolis and Clorfene state that "things seem to take an unearthly long time, although sometimes, much less often, things which should take a long time seem to have zipped by in an instant".36 Whilst an account by a marijuana smoker who prefers to remain anonymous reveals an even greater degree of uncertainty:

Time is very . . . let's see, what does it do? Lengthened. Or shortened. It can be either way. You think you've been some place for a very long time, and in fact, it's just been a few minutes, or vice-versa.3 7

Such uncertainty is exceptional, however. The findings of most studies concur with the following summary of experimental research carried out by Melges and his colleagues:

Under the influence of marijuana, when a subject becomes less able to integrate past, present and future, his awareness becomes more concentrated on present events; these instances, in turn, are experienced as prolonged or timeless when they appear isolated from the continual progression of time — that is, when the present events no longer seem to be transitions from the past to the future.'

Once again, however, this effect is attributed entirely to the "influence" of the drug itself: no attempt is made to consider the extent to which it may be attributable to the character of the social situation in which the drug is used.

An alternative and perhaps more fruitful approach is suggested by the writings of ethnomethodologists such as Garfinkel and McHugh.3 A key contention of these writers is that interaction can only retain its orderly and "taken-for-granted" character so long as there exist no adequate (and thus legitimate) grounds for calling into question the implicit "background" assumptions upon which it is based. Foremost among these assumptions is that the meaning and significance of members' responses at any point in the present can become fully clarified only in relation to events in both the past and the future. McHugh refers to this "retrospective-prospective" feature of interaction as "emergence". It is, he says,

• . an activity that predominates in orderly interaction, and is a documentation of theme that joins discrete events (say yeses and noes) through the anticipation of what will occur in the future (that the problem will be clarified), and the reconstruction of what has occurred in the past (that an ambiguous answer is now sensible in the light of greater information). This documentation, which at the time the comment is being made is occurring in the chronological present, resides in the social, that is definitional, past and future. When we refer to chronological time, subjects are behaving in the chronological present, to be sure, but the social action is circumscribed by the way events are conceived to have fallen in the past and the way they are expected to fall in the future.4°

When something occurs which confounds this latter expectation the result, according to McHugh, is meaninglessness or "anomie". Emergence, correspondingly, gives way to what is termed "relativity", whereby subjects seeking to redefine the situation ". . turn to what we call(ed) social space, a relative mise-en-scène, a social present that changes the meaning of events in the chronological past and future". McHugh summarises his general position as follows:

Emergence and relativity are thus two faces of a dialectic. They operate in tandem, but not concurrently. . . During order . . . events to be defined in the chronological present exist in the social (emergent) past and future. During disorder, the meaning that resides in the chronological past and future is discovered in the social (relative) present.41

Significantly, the precise manner in which the relationship between emergence and relativity is articulated empirically remains uncertain. Nevertheless, a principal assumption of most ethnomethodological analysis seems to be that most interaction in everyday life is of such a kind as to both justify classification as "orderly" and merit analysis in terms of the concept of emergence. It is this, presumably, which underpins its faith in the existence of what Schutz has called a "reciprocity of perspectives" and which informs Garfinkel's statement that "for the purposes of conducting their everyday affairs persons refuse to permit each other to understand 'what they are really talking about' . . . "42 Thus, only when meanings become sufficiently problematic as to render this assumption untenable does relativity occur, and even then it quickly becomes subordinated once again to emergence as soon as a successful redefinition of the situation is accomplished and "order" once more reinstated.

However, it is possible to conceive of there being certain social situations in which a state of relativity — whilst not perhaps being the norm — is at least prolonged over intervals of time considerably in excess of those which typically prevail elsewhere. The situation of marijuana use, I would suggest, is one of these. Consider, for example, some of the problems with which the user is likely to find himself confronted. On the one hand, he has been encouraged — by the "logic of the situation", if nothing else — to monitor his own experience for any change that may occur within it. This in itself has the function of partially abstracting the present from past and future and of thus promoting a shift in the direction of relativity. This is not all, however: for at the same time he still retains a certain commitment to the customary kinds of moral rules which prescribe "appropriate" (and thus anticipated) levels of involvement with and accessibility to others and which screen out unwonted or "irrelevant" areas of information:43 Do others share this commitment? Or are they, or do they wish to become — as Matza puts it — "engrossed in the substance and its effects"?44 He cannot be sure. The potential anomie deriving from such ambiguity further assists the strain toward relativity and the tendency to seek reorienting cues in the immediate situation.45

Additionally, however, and as already noted, the subject's definition of the effects of the drug upon himself is formed in the context of and in response to its perceived effect upon his fellow users. In cases where such an effect is not self-evident, this sets up a further ambiguity: for whilst his commitment to the moral rules mentioned — unchallenged as it is — encourages him to attend to the manifest and presumably intended information which their responses provide, his desire to ascertain the nature of their definition of the drug's effect encourages him to attend to the more implicit and possibly unintended information which these responses "give off". Any suspicion he may have that his peers are doing likewise serves only to compound the difficulties of forming a satisfactory definition of the situation.

The prevailing cognitive style, therefore, is likely to be one more of relativity than emergence. In practical terms this entails a telescoping of everyday conceptions of immediate past and future in favour of a sense of the continuing present. Time, correspondingly, seems to slow down and the dominant mood becomes that which Matza describes as "reflectivity". The possible consequences of such a shift of perspective are indicated by a description of the drug's effects offered by a student of Edinburgh University:

. .    Usually a steady feeling of soothing tiredness seemed to spread
through my body and as I smoked with friends the conversation often subsided into long periods of silence, which were completely unembarrassing. During these times I found that I could think more deeply about myself and other people than normally."

Put differently, it might be suggested that the very presence of these "other people" under the conditions outlined provides the necessary stimulus: whilst the unstructured character of the situation permits a greater interval for, and thus "thoughtfulness" of, response than would be the case "normally".

However, lest this be viewed as the norm, the contingent nature of the transition to relativity should once again be emphasized. Contrary to Matza, it is not only in the situation of marijuana use, after all, that time is experienced as ". . . wholly a matter of ebb and flow, punctuated not by clock but the movement or tempo of experience".47 (Nor, perhaps, do the linear implications of the term "tempo" adequately convey the sense in which there occurs a shift in the focus of experience). The general hypothesis to emerge from this discussion would in fact be fairly expressed if it were said that the commonly-reported sensation of time slowing down really reveals little more than the extent to which the marijuana user becomes preoccupied with the analysis of his moment-to-moment experience. But this, as we have seen, is not always the case: sometimes, although apparently rarely, the opposite sensation of time speeding up is reported. Such a phenomenon is not necessarily inconsistent with the argument presented. On the contrary, it might be viewed as enhancing its plausibility. For occasionally there will be times when disbelief is suspended and the problematic character of the situation forgotten; when — even if only fleetingly — interpersonal meanings appear once again to become fully shared and totally spontaneous (or "unreflective") involvements are set in motion. In such circumstances one would expect background assumptions to reinstate themselves, relativity to become subordinated once again to emergence, and the relative sensation of time to speed up once more. One would further expect the mood of dim reflectivity to be temporarily exchanged — if Matza will forgive the expression — for one of "dim engrossment". The precise nature of the precarious balance between emergence and relativity will almost certainly be different upon each occasion. But the important point remains that the reasons for whatever temporal "distortions" are experienced in any given case may have little to do with the pharmacological action of the drug itself.

Although it to some extent anticipates the content of the next section, the following observation on the nature of the LSD experience by the philosopher Alan Watts expresses something of the point at issue quite well:

The feeling that time has relaxed its pace may, to some extent, be the result of having set aside the better part of a day just to observe one's own consciousness, and to watch for interesting changes in one's perception of such ordinary things as reflected sunlight on the floor, the grain in wood, the texture of linen, or the sound of voices across the street.4 8

Enhanced sensitivity and interpersonal awareness

As Watts' statement might suggest, many of the other commonly-reported "effects" of marijuana appear to be directly related to the experience of relativity and the associated changes in perception of time.

Probably the most interesting and ideologically most significant effect concerns the imputed ability of marijuana to enhance awareness of the self and its relationships with others. As mentioned earlier on, many users have reported that they become much more highly attuned to the implicit or non-verbal components of interaction when they take the drug. Using these as their guide, they claim the ability to "suss other people out", to "know where their heads are at", to "discover the real person behind the facade of his ego". As suggested by Leary's writings on the subject,' the central idea is that of "tuning in to the vibrations" which exist all around oneself but which normally — in the realm of "straight" consciousness — pass unnoticed. So intense, indeed, has sometimes been their emphasis upon the directness and purity of non-verbal communication that attempts to convey the experience with words may be regarded as pointless or even suspect. The rationale behind this is succinctly summarized by Rock: " 'Pure experience', if it does indeed exist, can never be communicated because the very act of description imposes a structure which makes it impure".50

Although these claims to possession of a heightened level of awareness have in the past done much to aggravate whatever differences might otherwise have existed between users and non-users, they remain difficult to evaluate. When used to describe the character of the marijuana user's perception of and relationships with people who are neither under the influence of the drug themselves nor aware that he is, they must be granted an a priori validity — even though one must equally acknowledge the extent to which they may be a product of whatever attempt he makes to conceal his deviant mood and identity from such right-minded others.' 1 However, when used — as they often have been — as the basis for forming judgments about his fellow users, they are considerably more suspect. In many cases, the "real person" who seems to be revealed may merely be responding to what he regards as being a problematic social situation. In other words, if B appears in some way "different from normal", it is theoretically impossible for A to distinguish the underlying reason for this apparent discrepancy. He remains confronted with the problem of deciding whether it is due to:

(a) the effect of the drug upon himself, the apparent change in B being an illusion and not existing in reality;
(b) the effect of the drug in sensitizing him to facets of B's personality and behaviour which had existed all the time, but which in the undrugged state he had failed to notice;
(c) the effect of the drug upon B, bringing about similar changes in perception which are in turn reflected in his behaviour toward A; or
(d) the effect of the drug in encouraging both of them to anticipate changes in one another's behaviour, thereby creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The fact that interpretations of any such changes are thus highly problematic does not of course mean that judgments will not nevertheless be arrived at, nor that interpersonal suspicions will not be aroused which linger on afterwards. As Bloomquist notes, ". . . it is not uncommon for one to think he "sees the real person" when he looks at a buddy . . . Justified or not, a wall may develop between the two former friends. Sometimes it never disappears".5 2

Any such tendency, as we shall see later, has important implications for the attempt to examine marijuana's changing historical status as an effective recreational drug. Nevertheless, to acknowledge the problematic character and even interpersonal consequences of whatever perceptual changes may be attributed to it does not alter the possibility of some of its users continuing to emphasize the superior qualities of "direct", non-verbal communication, even when — as in the following documented case — such a belief may seem totally unwarranted.

Bart has been playing a kind of hide-and-go-seek with me (what Linda refers to, the next night as "not really putting you on" even though it has the appearance of that). He "makes a point" by bringing two events together and once I have acknowledged them, he drops one of the original events and takes up a third, showing me that it is all really very different. I finally ask him "What are you talking about?" He responds, "What do you mean, what am I talking about?" as though I should "surely" be able to see, as though it were all obvious.

I try to explain that it will take me a while to figure out what he is talking about — that I know the world through the analysis of a series of discrete events. Bart responds that I am "not with it". He goes on to say that to "really understand" I would just "immediately understand"; I would just see it instead of having to break it into parts before I could put it together to see "what it is". I ask how I can know that what I see right now (or at any given moment) will be the same as what he sees. But this is an irrelevant remark on my part; Bart treats it as a nonsense-noise, simply ignoring it and rapping on about something else.

On other occasions, when I have asked the same question, I have received the reply: "You just know, you're on the same wave length, getting the same vibrations and you know it".5 3

At first sight, the reading of accounts such as this one makes it difficult to dissent from the following sardonic comment offered by an observer of the commune phenomenon in the United States:

It is a common misconception these days that you can commune with the physical or metaphysical essence of someone whom you would not feel right calling by his first name . . . that you can connect with a man's soul before you know his mind.' 4

However, none of this explains why such a misconception should have become so prevalent in the first place. After all, it is one thing to question the epistemological foundations of the commonly-reported claims to possession of a state of heightened awareness, but quite another to account for their existence. In some cases, to be sure, they are clearly bogus, the product merely of a combination of identification and compliance with what are presumed to be the expectations and experiences of others, and a disinclination (or inability) on the part of the individuals concerned to articulate their own experience through the "conventional" medium of language." In part also (and this helps account for such a presumption) they have their origins in the ideology of social and political disaffiliation with which drug use — as an integral feature and even rite de passage of life in the counter-culture — was for a long time associated. As Clifford Adelman has put it, "the morality that ultimately served as a decompression chamber for counter-politics demanded self-consciousness, an old Socratic connection. And thus, barely audibly, the movement toward 'consciousness raising', a movement oriented toward the self, and not toward the other".5 6 But to the extent that such claims are made by users of marijuana, they also owe something to the characteristics of the drug-using situation already discussed. As has been suggested, the key element here is the substitution of a cognitive style of relativity for one of the emergence, this arising from a combination of pharmacologically-induced suggestibility, a situational logic which encourages the subject to attend the more closely to his experience in and of the world, and an intensified difficulty in determining the ever-problematic relationship between experience and behaviour — a difficulty, that is, in determining the extent to which perceptible behaviour should be taken as a valid reflection of such experience.

Most important in connection with the last of these factors is the way in which others define, and thus give structure to, the interactive situation. As I have tried to indicate, however, the general lack of consensus and certainty about the drug's effects tends to impede the ease with which they may do this. The nature and probable consequences of the interpretative dilemma which is thus likely to ensue are highlighted in the following insightful statement by Goffman:

Underlying all social interaction there seems to be a fundamental dialectic. When one individual enters the presence of others, he will want to discover the facts of the situation. Were he to possess this information, he could know, and make allowances for, what will come to happen and he could give the others present as much of their due as is consistent with his enlightened self-interest. To uncover fully the factual nature of the situation, it would be necessary for the individual to know all the relevant social data about the others. It would also be necessary for the individual to know the actual outcome or end product of the activity of the others during the interaction, as well as their inner-most feelings concerning him. Full information of this order is rarely available; in its absence, the individual tends to employ substitutes — cues, tests, hints, expressive gestures, status symbols, etc. — as' predictive devices. In short since the reality that the individual is concerned with is unperceivable at the moment, appearances must be relied upon in its stead. And paradoxically, the more the individual is concerned with the reality that is not available to perception, the more must he concentrate his attention on appearances.57

The last sentence of this passage succinctly summarizes the basic point at issue. For clearly, a major assumption underlying any acknowledgement of the ambiguity surrounding "the reality" of marijuana's effects is precisely that this reality is not "available to perception". At any rate, such effects are unlikely to become or be made visible in a clearly distinguishable manner in the way that those of alcohol commonly are.' 8 The individual seeking a basis for defining the situation will therefore be more than usually prone to rely for guidance upon "substitutes" such as those Goffman describes: cues, hints, expressive (or apparently expressive) gestures and the like. In doing so, moreover, he is aided by the fact that rules of irrelevance of the kind mentioned earlier are also likely — thanks once again to the implicit directives offered by the "logic of the situation" — to command only a bare minimum of compliance, if indeed they are not wholly disattended.

In view of these conditions, it would perhaps be a little surprising if feelings of enhanced sensitivity and interpersonal awareness had not featured among the most commonly-reported "effects" of marijuana. Even though he employs the label "schizophrenic" somewhat uncritically, Ernest Becker touches upon what is arguably one of the key mechanisms involved in his interesting explanation for the not infrequent tendency to attribute the schizophrenic with some "strange intuition" about the motives of others:

When the schizophrenic ignores the explicit meaning of a statement and focuses on the inferred meaning, it stimulates a like movement in his interlocutor . . . The interlocutor, in other words, scans himself for alternative volcabularies of motivation, which are reasons for acting that are not in his immediate awareness. The point is that he may find several other vocabularies that fit the situation, and so he attributes some strange intuition to the schizophrenic.s 9

The principal difference, of course, is that in the situation that I myself am concerned with analysing the individuals in question are likely to attribute whatever interpersonal insights or "intuition" they experience to the drug that they have been using. Once again, this is not supposed to mean that pharmacological factors are unimportant or irrelevant — although it most certainly does imply that if one wishes to explain some of the specific and commonly-recognized effects of the drug (rather than merely, for example, the feeling of being "drugged" in the more literal sense), one should be somewhat wary about accepting at their face value the accounts offered by individual users themselves in the way that some studies have chosen to do." If one concedes any validity to the above interpretation of the sensations of enhanced interpersonal awareness commonly associated with marijuana use, there appear to be only two sources for regret: firstly, that they should have so often been attributed to the pharmacological properties of the drug alone; and secondly, that if — as the foregoing discussion implies — the behaviour which provides the stimulus for their development is in many cases itself a response merely to a problematic social situation, they should so often have to be judrc.d lacking in substance.

Feelings of mirth and hilarity'61

Here too, such feelings seem in many cases to be directly related to the experience of relativity discussed earlier and the subjective consequences (such as, for example, the sensation of enhanced sensitivity to expressive cues) which flow from it. As Matza notes, the sensibility to banality which occurs when belief in the natural order- the èpochè of the natural attitude — is temporarily suspended may often be extremely funny.6 2 Baudelaire, for one, remarked upon the "attacks of causeless mirth" which distinguished the state of marijuana intoxication, and appeared to associate them with the sense of comic — indeed cosmic — absurdity derived from the experience of suddenly becoming sensitized to the game-like or "dramaturgical" qualities of interaction.' 3 Other writers have documented a similar tendency, though have differed in their interpretations of it. Bromberg, for example, endorses the kinds of sentiments discussed in the last chapter by characterizing such laughter as both uncontrollable and irrational. He continues: "If there is a reason it quickly fades, the point of the joke is lost immediately".6 4 Bloomquist, on the other hand, prefers to attribute it to the supposed rapidity of the flow of thoughts in the intoxicated state. This, apparently, is ". . . so overwhelming that, try as they may, they (users) cannot communicate their ideas. This usually strikes the user as hilariously funny, and he begins to titter the high-pitched, giggly laughter so common to cannabis users".6

However, both of these latter statements are probably more revealing of the preconceptions and "outsider" status of their authors than of the behaviour they purport to explain.6 6 An alternative interpretation of much of the prolonged laughter (or fatuous and incomprehensible giggling as the media have been prone to call it) is to view it as representing a combined reaction of surprise at suddenly glimpsing the composition of the ordinary, together with a certain dimly-sensed embarrassment at the realization that such awareness should by normal standards — i.e. in terms of the rules of irrelevance referred to earlier — be regarded as deviant. Consider for example the following remarks of Margolis and Clorfene on the subject of "funnyness":

There's a little spot in your mind which tells you when you think something is funny and grass expands that little spot until that little spot takes over and everything is funny. Everything. Your friend's teeth are a riot. A simple "Hello" brings on storms of laughter . . . 6 7

And Goode reports one of his respondents as saying "I laughed for hours at 'Please pass the potato chips' "6 this latter remark is probably to some degree a product of a mixture of natural hyperbole and the phenomenon of time distortion mentioned earlier. But like the hilarity which a friend's teeth or a simple "hello" may (apparently) precipitate, it may also to some extent represent a response to the anticipated and/or actual reactions of one's fellow smokers. Once again, Baudelaire's remarks seem helpful in this respect:

It is useless to struggle against this hilarity, which is as painful as a tickle. From time to time you laugh at yourself, at your own silliness and folly; and your companions, if you have such, laugh alike at your condition and at their own. But, since they laugh at you without malice, you laugh back at them without rancour.6 9

One might also consider the relevance to some instances of "drug-induced hilarity" of Gregory Bateson's interesting attempt to provide a psychosocial explanation for the behaviour of the so-called "hebephrenic" individual." According to Bateson such behaviour — usually described as the tendency to laugh inappropriately at the slightest word or gesture — might in many cases be merely a defensive strategy, representing an attempt on the part of the individual to offer an acceptable response in a situation where his inability to discriminate between different levels of communication renders this highly problematic. Bateson himself, as is now widely known, attributes this discriminative inability to "double-bind" patterns of interaction with the individual's parents (but particularly, it seems, his mother) of which he has been a victim since earliest childhood. However, to the extent that something resembling hebephrenic behaviour is also exhibited by marijuana users when intoxicated, this assumption of an underlying pathology may not be altogether warranted. On the contrary, such behaviour may in some cases constitute an entirely rational response to the dynamics of a social situation in which (as we saw earlier) the grounds for sustaining trust or what Schutz refers to as a basic "reciprocity of perspectives" are no longer perceived as being fully available. For if one of the functions of the state of heightened sensitivity referred to above is to make manifest the recurring and often unavoidable discrepancies between verbal and non-verbal components of interaction which normally — i.e. in the routine, taken-for-granted world of action "for all practical purposes" — are either denied, glossed over, or otherwise obscured, then one might suggest that the "hebephrenic" response to them testifies not so much to a failure to discriminate between these components as to a failure to ignore the significance of such discrepancies. It testifies to an unwillingness or a socialized inability to disattend the cracks in social reality that are a natural and possibly ubiquitous product of the imperfect correspondence between verbal and non-verbal modes of discourse. Whether the pathology is to be located in the individual or in the taken-for-granted world of the natural attitude as constructed and commended by other members then becomes a moot point. (Indeed, much of the social critique evident in some of the writings of the so-called radical psychiatrists seems to turn upon this very issue, particularly where it consists of a celebration of the lost innocence of childhood and, correspondingly, a romantic identification with the individual who has had to "pay the price" for refusing, despite all, to surrender it.' 1 From this point of view, the "natural attitude" starts to be seen as most unnatural, the recipe merely for an almost literally blind adherence to convention. David Cooper in fact expresses sentiments that at one time were probably quite widely held within the drug culture when he says that " 'Bringing up' a child in practice is more like bringing down a person".)"

However, such interpretations of the laughter and sense of comedy associated with the state of being high clearly do not exhaust all of its possible sources. Indeed, those sympathetic to the ideas of such eminent thinkers as Freud and Bergson would probably demand a different approach to the problem altogether, and I would not wish to deny the contribution that such an approach might make. Nor would I rule out the possibility that people may strive to be, and actually become, more witty when intoxicated — perhaps because they have been persuaded to believe that this is a customary effect of the drug. (A self-fulfilling prophecy of this kind may also, of course, be a feature of the laughter which such wit provokes). Nevertheless, the main contention arising from the present discussion is that much of the sense of "funnyness" experienced with marijuana probably flows from a relativity-induced sensitization to the ritualistic, game-like qualities of conventional interaction and an enhanced appreciation by the individuals concerned of the part they routinely —and to some degree' 3 even now — play in sustaining them. In many cases, in short, it may be a response to the sudden dereification of those rules in terms of which social interaction proceeds and in response to apparent or anticipated violations of which a good deal of it is indeed embarked upon." One can only speculate, but in relation to this last point it might seem to be more than merely coincidental that the sudden marked popularity of situational comedy of the Monty Python variety amongst the better-educated, middle-class young should have occurred at the time when the growth and prevalence of marijuana use within this section of the community was also probably at its highest.

Enhanced appreciation of music

Were it not for the fact that marijuana use and musical activity (a term which embraces music-making as well as the activity of listening to music) have been so integrally linked with one another both in this country and North America, it might seem a little unnecessary to discuss this "effect" under a separate heading. However, just as the character of the drug-using situation contributes to the development of changes in the individual's subjective experience of such things as time and the behaviour of his fellow smokers, so it also promotes his ability to enjoy or appreciate music. For many marijuana users, music becomes legitimately used and attended to not merely as a subordinate involvement, a background to conversation (although it may be this as well), but as a social end in itself. More than one writer has commented upon the tendency for a record player or Hi-Fi system to be regarded as a well-nigh indispensable feature of the settings in which marijuana smoking takes place.7 5 Indeed, Margolis and Clorfene go so far as to suggest the existence of what may well be a subtle pattern of commercial exploitation in this connection:

We're convinced that the Hi-Fi and stereo boom is to a great extent due to the fact that so many people are now getting stoned, because music, when stoned, becomes another world: intricate, three dimensional, visual, and completely understandable both intellectually and emotionally.7 6

If this is the case, then it would appear that consumer capitalism has received a useful fillip from the recent growth of marijuana use, whatever its public spokesman may have said about the social menace represented by the activity. Nevertheless, the association between marijuana and music clearly did not emerge in a vacuum; at one level it owes a good deal to the fact that rock music, in particular, was — and arguably still is — the most central artefact of the dominant white subculture into which marijuana use first became widely disseminated both in this country and in North America.' Indeed, it might be said that whatever unity different groups within this subculture possess is consolidated by the mutual allegiance of their members to certain rock bands and to certain fairly well-defined types of music. In this sense music thus becomes an important medium of communication, performing (amongst other things) an identity-conferring function of providing a means whereby the individuals in question can locate one another on the "subcultural map". A truncated and somewhat romanticized version of this view is evident in the following remarks of the celebrated optimist Charles Reich:

The new music is . . . incredibly important because it's the chief language and means of communication for the people of the new consciousness, particularly young people. The kids have discovered a new means of communication, like extra-sensory perception:78

At the same time, however, it needs to be stressed that the relationship between drug use and musical appreciation is a dialectical one: music would almost certainly fail to occupy so central a role as a medium of interaction were it not one of the functions of drug use and the social processes accompanying it to bring about basic changes in the structure of the situations in which interaction occurs. Although the following statemenf by an "anonymous smoker" may seem atypical, inasmuch as it represents an extreme manifestation of such changes, it illustrates the general line of my argument in what might be considered an unusually honest manner:

Simultaneously, I thought of the guy I was with in the room. I realized that I was sitting on the floor with my ear next to the speaker, and I said, this must look very foolish. And then I said, well, it looks foolish, and if it looks foolish, I'll have to get up. But I don't want to get up. So I'll just pretend that it doesn't look foolish. You'll do almost anything to rationalize away something that gets in the way qi your enjoyment.' 9

The tendency to account for behaviour which might otherwise be considered deviant in terms of the effects of being high will be discussed in further detail presently. Once again, however, I would ask the reader to consider the basic paradox that rather than the effects causing the behaviour, as is so commonly supposed, it is in many cases the other way round: the behaviour causes, or at least facilitates, the effects. In the present context, it may be judged hardly surprising that music should reveal more of itself and be more fully appreciated if, by virtue of the destructured character of the listening situation and the consequent reallocation of involvement, there should exist wider possibilities for actually concentrating upon it. A similar explanation may be in order where reported changes in the perception of colour, shapes and so on are concerned. The subject is encouraged and enabled to look: he then begins to see. Correspondingly, the utilitarian orientation to the world which he conventionally exhibits in everyday life tends to recede. Objects are the more likely to be seen and understood in terms of what they are, rather than in terms of the possible uses to which they can be puts °

Such an approach is broadly consistent with Andrew Weil's ideas on the subject, which I propose to cite by way of conclusion:

. . . all testing to date has failed to show any objective changes in sensory function during acute marihuana intoxication. If pharmacologists paid closer attention to what users say, they would find their way out of this paradox. There is no indication from persons high on marihuana that their sense organs are working differently from usual. Rather, the change seems to be in what they do with incoming sensory information.8 1

He continues:

For instance, many users claim that listening to music is more interesting and pleasurable when they are high. They do not claim that they hear tones of lower volume or that they can better discriminate between pitches of tones. Yet all of the testing auditory function under marihuana has been aimed at the ear — at auditory thresholds, pitch discrimination, and the like .8 2

As Weil would be the first to agree, it is a major source of regret that so much time, money and professional expertise should have been spent upon research which in areas such as this seems so fundamentally misdirected.

The principal implication of the foregoing, then, should be fairly clear: rather than being solely a product of the drug itself, many of the effects commonly attributed to marijuana may more plausibly be regarded as modes of subjective experience and social behaviour that are made possible by a complex interaction between the drug, the expectations of its users, and the peculiar characteristics of the situations in which they use it. Somewhat belatedly, acknowledgement is being made of this, even if hitherto there has been little attempt to do more than stress the importance of these social determinants. Certainly, the positivist tradition no longer remains unchallenged. Here, as elsewhere, Andrew Weil makes an important contribution to the gathering critique of the positivist approach when he states that

. . . for most marihuana users, the occasion of smoking a joint becomes an opportunity or excuse for experiencing a mode of consciousness that is available to everyone all the time, even though many people do not know how to get high without using a drug. Not surprisingly, regular marihuana users often find themselves becoming high spontaneously.8 3

This latter eventuality may itself help to account for some of the changes in patterns of marijuana use that I shall go on to examine more fully in the next two chapters. It is worth remarking, however, that the critique of positivism in this respect seems fated to remain largely an academic exercise, and very probably a minority one at that. I have already mentioned some of the reasons for thinking this. By way of conclusion, it is perhaps fitting to return once again to Matza. His remarks concerning the "illusory character of marijuana use" suggest the extreme subtlety with which positivism retains its hold upon the thinking of those who actually use the drug:

Since he is dimly conscious, the secret way in which the world composes the ordinary eludes the subject. By taking for granted that the sensibility derives from marihuana — by instituting belief in it — the user loses the possibility of retrieving the more profound alienation: the human meaning that is regularly suppressed in the taking for granted or belief by which the ordinary is composed . • . by connecting the display of meaning with the substance, marihuana, the process by which it is achieved itself becomes taken for granted, reified or "bracketed"; its human meaning is lost. Restored to even keel, the method of composing the ordinary — belief — is as evasive and effective as ever, and thus our sensibility to banality remains obtuse — unless, of course, the subject becomes conscious of the human nature of the whole process.8 4

But Matza apparently considers this to be a fairly uncommon event.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 24 May 2011 14:43
 

Our valuable member John Auld has been with us since Monday, 20 December 2010.

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