By Lester Grinspoon, MD:
A lit joint was passed around a small circle and we took turns inhaling big, noisy puffs and holding them in for a few seconds. One by one the others said they had had enough and waved off the passing joint; they were high, or at least claimed to be. I asked Betsy, "Do you feel anything?"
"Not a thing!"
"Neither do I."
We were disappointed. We had been looking forward to this initiation for several years. I had come to expect so much from the experience, from the magical possibilities of this subtly altered state of consciousness -- and now nothing! I began to wonder; was this all there was to it? Was my acceptance of the claims of cannabis aficionados just as naive as my earlier belief in the propaganda disseminated by the Harry Anslinger truth squad and its descendants? Could it be true that all I had accomplished in over three years of intensive research was to swing the pendulum of my gullibility from one extreme to the other? Soon my disappointment gave way to a palpable level of anxiety. Was it possible that I had spent all this time studying what must be for some people an enormously persuasive placebo? Would not the author of a book that took as a basic premise that marijuana is a real drug be considered fraudulent? I tried to reassure myself. I reminded myself that I had, after all, carefully explained to the reader that many if not most people do not get high the first time they use marijuana.
At that time I believed that the anxiety I experienced that night was generated by a precipitous loss of confidence in my newly arrived-at understanding of cannabis, an unshakable belief that after more than three years of hard work, I had gotten it wrong and as a consequence had misled a lot of people -- certainly sufficient grounds for a good dose of anxiety. It was not until much later, both chronologically and in my experience with "stoned thinking", that I began to question that explanation. It occurred to me only years later while I was smoking cannabis that I might have actually achieved a high that first night, an "anxiety high," not the kind I had expected. This was certainly not impossible; a small percentage of people who use cannabis for the first time experience some degree of anxiety. There are even a few people who always get anxious when they use marijuana. Among the Rastafarians of Jamaica, these folks are considered slightly deviant but are understandably excused with the expression, "He don't have a head for ganja!"
This was not a problem with my head, for a week or so later we smoked cannabis and again neither Betsy nor I noticed any change in our states of consciousness that would even remotely suggest that we were high. Thankfully, however, I was not the least bit anxious this time -- only disappointed again. Finally, on our third attempt, we were able to reach the promised high. Our awareness of having at last crossed the threshold arrived gradually. The first thing I noticed, within a few minutes of smoking, was the music; it was "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band." This music was not unfamiliar to me, as it was a favorite of my children, who constantly filled the house with the sound of the Beatles, the Grateful Dead and other popular rock bands of the time. They frequently urged me to get my "head out of classical music and try listening to rock." It was impossible not to listen to rock when they were growing up, but it was possible for me, as it was for many parents of my generation, not to hear it. On that evening I did "hear" it. It was for me a rhythmic implosion, a fascinating new musical experience! It was the opening of new musical vistas, which I have with the help of my sons continued to explore to this very day.
A year later, I related this story to John Lennon and Yoko Ono, with whom I was having dinner. (I was to appear the next day as an expert witness at the Immigration and Naturalization Service hearings that Attorney General John Mitchell had engineered as a way of getting them out of the country on marijuana charges after they became involved in anti-Vietnam War activities.)
I told John of this experience and how cannabis appeared to make it possible for me to "hear" his music for the first time in much the same way that Allen Ginsberg reported that he had "seen" CÈzanne for the first time when he purposely smoked cannabis before setting out for the Museum of Modern Art.
John was quick to reply that I had experienced only one facet of what marijuana could do for music, that he thought it could be very helpful for composing and making music as well as listening to it.
In my next recollection of that evening, Betsy and I and another couple were standing in the kitchen in a circle, each of us in turn taking bites out of a Napoleon. There was much hilarity as each bite forced the viscous material between the layers to move laterally and threaten to drip on the floor.
It seemed a riotous way to share a Napoleon.
But the most memorable part of the kitchen experience was the taste of the Napoleon. None of us had ever, "in our whole lives", eaten such an exquisite Napoleon! "Mary, where in the world did you find these Napoleons?" "Oh, I've had their Napoleons before and they never tasted like this!" It was gradually dawning on me that something unusual was happening; could it be that we were experiencing our first cannabis high?
We drove home very cautiously. In fact, one of the observations I made on the way home was how comfortable I, an habitual turnpike left-laner, was in the right-hand lane with all those cars zipping past me. It seemed like a very long time before we arrived home. Not that we were in a rush -- the ride was very pleasant.
Time passed even more slowly between our arrival and our going to bed, but once we did, we knew with certainty that we had finally been able to achieve a marijuana high. And that marked the beginning of the experiential facet of my cannabis era, a development that furthered my education about the many uses of this remarkable drug.
I was 44 years old in 1972 when I experienced this first marijuana high.