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Monday, April 23, 2018

Getting smart about a weed that makes people stupid

During most of my semi-adult and adult life, people around me have used marijuana.  That is the reason I have never found it enticing.  I have been disturbed by its effects on people I have observed.  I cite two such examples.

The first involves an extremely talented tenor saxophone player in a band I once played with when I was of high school age.  Some friends had organized a garage band.  We spent 6 to 10 hours a day in Karl's garage one summer listening to jazz records and trying to play what we heard.   By August we had a small book of songs we could actually play.  We started out with the ambition of playing dixieland,  but along the way we became impressed with the virtuosity of Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, and our aspirations changed.  The kid who played sax with us moved, so we were out a reed player.  Our band members came from different high schools in the area.  We knew kids from the various high school bands and had encouragement from some of the band directors.  The director from United Township H.S. fronted a combo, and he introduced us to the tenor player who he featured as a soloist to replace the departed sax player.    I'll call him Manny.  He was from a Mexican neighborhood where the railroad workers lived along the tracks.  

Manny's talent was far greater than any of the other band members, except for Karl.  Karl had been taught the guitar at a very early age by his Brazilian grandfather.  The two set a musical standard that made the rest of us exert ourselves to complement their playing.  Manny used music as a way to deal with poverty, racial discrimination, and a difficult home life.  Many young people in his neighborhood dealt with the same problems,  and they had developed another way to ameliorate their situation.

Three railroads ran through the community and one of them had a huge switching yard near the neighborhood where Manny lived.  During World War II, hemp was used in making war materiels, and seeds from it fell off the railroad cars and took root in the rights-of-way and nearby fields.  People in the neighborhood harvested it,  dried it, and smoked it.  People say that the stuff from that commercial hemp was not particularly good,  but the people who lived along the tracks seemed to make it work.

Manny did not smoke marijuana around the band members when we worked out arrangements and rehearsed.  But he did some nights when we had a gig.  Sometimes if he felt tense or preoccupied by problems,  he would smoke a little to relax and get in the mood to play music.  This never bothered fellow band members who wanted everyone to play well.  Manny did not smoke cigarette-sized roaches.  His looked more like cigars.

Sometimes Manny seemed terribly distracted.  We thought he had problems at home that were upsetting, but he never wanted to talk about his home life.  Sometimes at a gig, he would smoke heavily to adjust his mood to play music.  One night after a break, Manny appeared severely stoned.  As we started to play,  Manny was clearly not playing the same song or in the same band as the rest of us.  His rhythm was off and he seemed almost tone deaf.  Karl hustled him off the stand and told the audience that something went wrong with Manny's saxophone.

It happened another time when a band member made a tape recording of the set.  A few days later, we played it back for Manny and he  couldn't believe what he heard.  He asked us never to let him on the band stand if he got like that again.  Manny's band director helped him get a music  scholarship, and after he graduated from high school, we never heard from him again.  Years later, I asked the band director if he knew how Manny was doing, and he said he did not know and was afraid to ask.  But for the band members,  Manny left a memory of the destructive effects that cannabis could have on a big talent.

I later found out that excessive use of marijuana could cause a person to become disassociated from his environment and produce auditory hallucinations.  That's apparently what happened to Manny.

My next negative encounter came in 1968, my first year of teaching college.  That was the height of the "hippy era."  I had a 2 o'clock class in early American literature at the English building, which occupied a remote corner of the campus.  Students gathered around the entrance to smoke before class.  Many were dragging on roaches,   When class commenced, some members sat with distant stares and only occasionally seemed to focus on the class discussion for a moment or two.  Those students did not take notes, or very few.  The quality of their attention became an issue on examinations and papers submitted for the class.  They were remarkably incoherent.  Some were confused.  And some made no sense whatever.  A professor from the history department brought the matter to the faculty senate, which set up a special meeting to discuss the matter.  When the students received failing grades for their incomprehensible efforts,  they would often come to the faculty offices to discuss their grades.Their attempts to explain their  efforts were more unintelligible than their written work.  The faculty was concerned that the amount of time reading nonsensical papers detracted from more serious work by students.  A policy was formed that professors would annotate early efforts which produced incoherent papers, but after initial efforts to explain the grades,  they would simply grade the papers with a brief explanation of the errors  and then file the papers.  The "pot files" became a big campus joke.  But rather quickly students stopped coming to class stoned or tried to take tests under the influence.

That episode was evidence that people under the influence of marijuana could not competently perform mental tasks.

On the other hand, I am acquainted with a number of people for whom marijuana has performed medical wonders.  One couple has a child who had severe seizures for which the doctors could find no control.  Then a specialist they consulted suggested they try a medicine made from cannabis.  It worked.  

Another person had arthritis pain so severe, it made her a near invalid.  She tried a regimen with pot and was able to resume an active life.

A mental health counselor I know has found that marijuana is a safer, more effective, and a cheaper way to treat some people with mental health issues.

Marijuana can be an intoxicant, and some people can develop a dependency  on it, if not an outright addiction.  But it also has proven medical benefits that have not been fully explored and exploited.  The scientists need to be turned loose on it,  which means that the laws which affect so many casual users need to be gotten out of the way.

Not taking advantage of marijuana's benefits is dumber than some of those papers I tried to read in the pot files.

1 comment:

Porter Lansing said...

Great anecdotes. It seems that these young people were learning about smoking pot and made a lot of mistakes. Same thing happens with kids and alcohol. You (hopefully) learn not to go to a music gig or practice so drunk you can't function. You (hopefully) learn not to go to class drunk.
Not that your post was about comparing pot to alcohol, so excuse the stretch if I was off topic.
Moderate use of both drugs can be slightly entertaining. Excess of almost everything will be an unnecessary challenge to production.

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