Cultivate Yourself with AvantGardening
Becoming a Successful Cannabis Consumer in 3 Easy Steps
To mainstream culture, there is a fair bit of mystery and misinformation about who uses cannabis, how, and why. There are instead stereotypes and cliches of what it means. There is indeed a steep learning curve, but much of the smoke around the issue is contrived, for with access to the right knowledge and experience the attraction of cannabis is as clear as day.
Yet cannabis (and consumers) continues to be demonized by authorities who truly do not have the right nor expertise to make such claims, although some of them may have the best of intentions. As with anything, there is potential for abuse and misuse but the only way to prevent that is through education, certainly not through prohibition and authoritarian control.
AvantGardening is our approach to creating a positive cannabis culture, and is detailed at the end of this article, after the technique and use is discussed.
As cannabis becomes legal and socially acceptable, trustworthy information and guidance is necessary. Even a doctor who might prescribe it to you may have no personal knowledge or experience about cannabis, and therefore might be as naïve as any novice. The future holds the promise of cannabis being widely commercialized and we must be prepared for the transition. Luckily, there are precedents in our cultural history and academic literature that lead the way to becoming a successful and sustainable cannabis consumer.
In 1963, sociologist Howard Becker published a landmark study on social deviance called Outsiders. As a case study, he performed and analyzed in-depth interviews with marijuana inspired jazz musicians in order to ascertain the true effects of the substance and the reasons for continued use. In the book, Becker established a working model for ethnography — the scientific study of subcultures — and illuminated the positive and creative sides of cannabis consumption. Two birds with one stone(d).
In addition to a vital contribution to the sociology of deviance, Becker also inverted the conventional wisdom that cannabis was illegal because it was harmful. The truth is the opposite: cannabis is a bountiful plant and prohibition is a means of social control (largely for worse). Public ignorance is is created in the culture of fear surrounding it’s prohition.
Despite these insights, the clinical study of cannabis is still ignorant of the sociological background, and as a result the research is largely misrepresentative — meaning, doctors are still not interested in how people might use cannabis to have a good time, only in how they can isolate and administer it to treat a specific illness. The status-quo just does not know.
This article summarizes and expands on one chapter of Becker’s findings; namely, “becoming a regular marijuana consumer,” which consists of three steps:
- ‘Learning the Technique’
- ‘Learning to Perceive the Effects’
- ‘Learning to Enjoy the Effects’
These seemingly obvious steps are actually quite profound in that they build on one another to engender an enjoyable experience. It also implies that those who have tried cannabis without using the proper technique, have never really tried it at all, for they have denied the pleasure producing properties of the plant.
In short, its about having a good time; the ‘secret’ to getting high is to have fun. Cannabis is also not addictive and continued use is only dependent one’s positive associations, according to Becker. Ironically, the only people at risk would be ‘squares’ who uphold the socially entrenched fears, or those with other problems which become exacerbated by being labeled a ‘deviant’ drug user.
Before we explore the three steps, it is necessary to outline Becker’s approach to cannabis as a catalyst or stimulus, rather than a drug that produces predictable definite outcomes. It is common knowledge in the study of psychedelics that ‘set and setting’ (mindset and environment) are the greatest factors influencing the experience. This simple idea is considered heresy to prohibitionists who maintain the idiotic standard “drugs are bad.” (Even as recent as 2014, we see anti-drug propaganda masquerading as concern in this Health Canada ad).
It is also necessary to forgo any negative preconceptions one may have, which are often unfounded and can lead to a positive feedback loop of fear (the self-fulfilling prophecy of a “bad trip”). This approach is instrumental in the new consumer learning how to enjoy the experience, but also for researchers to isolate the true key variables: The individual and their conception. The consumer’s mindset (or ‘set’) and the environment (or ‘setting’) are the key factors in an experience facilitated by a psychoactive substance.
How the consumer defines cannabis will guide their experience, and a conception can change over time, giving rise to new effects and experiences. Different names (weed, pot, dope, marijuana, etc) and different contexts (Jazz musicians in the 50s, Cheech & Chong or Seth Rogan stoner comedies, pro-basketball players after a game, etc) are all ways people personalize the experience.
It can be said that cannabis has symbiotic properties in that the consumer develops an evolving relationship with it. Becker writes:
“Marihuana use is a function of the individual’s conception of marihuana and of the uses to which it can be put, and this conception develops as the individual’s experience with the drug increases.” p. 42 (footnote 2; “This theoretical point of view stems from George Herbert Mead’s discussion of objects in Mind, Self, and Society (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1934), pp. 277–280.”)
This approach celebrates the endless diversity of cultural expressions and uses of cannabis, including the various medicinal, recreational, therapeutic, and ceremonial contexts. It also directly undermines the half-baked morality of prohibition that, again, “drugs are bad.”
Furthermore, we know a lot about cannabis now, chiefly about the substantial difference between the two types — sativa and indica — and the depth of types and strains that was not widely known in the 60s. In this way, from the beginning of your exploratory use you can aim to customize the experience to suit your needs. Now we can begin to study the process of learning to cannabis use with respect.
1. Learning the Technique…
…in this instance refers to the simple act of smoking it, but there are now a spectrum of intake options (vaping/ ingesting/ using oil) as well as various types and strains of cannabis, and subsequently many techniques. Essentially, one has to learn how to get high. As only ‘Outsiders’ (technically ‘insiders’) know, there is a trick to it.
Although smoking cigarettes is common, the ‘skill’ of smoking does not carry over so easily to cannabis. One must learn to recognize what the comfortable size of a toke/puff is for themselves, and the different breathing technique when using a joint, pipe, or bong. According to Becker’s interview subjects, the technique involves a deep and slow diaphragmatic inhalation, followed by a short and subtle holding period (according to comfort), and a slow relaxed exhalation.
Part of this technique includes the feeling of passing a threshold, so there is no ambiguity as to whether or not you are ‘high.’ This can often be achieved with one toke when using the proper technique. Interview excerpts describe the act, while also capturing the spirit of the times:
“I was smoking like I did an ordinary cigarette.”
He said, “No, don’t do it like that.”
He said, “Suck it, you know, draw in and hold it in your lungs till you… for a period of time.”
I said, “Is there any limit of time to hold it?”
He said, “No, just till you feel that you want to let it out, let it out.” (p. 47)
When using a pipe or bong there is a valve (usually called a ‘carb’; carburetor), which adds an extra step to the process compared to smoking a joint. In these cases, you must light the cannabis with the valve closed (using your thumb on a pipe, or having the detachable bowl inserted on a bong) and inhale strongly so as to sustain combustion of the herb (to “light a cherry”).
Proper breath control fills the chamber with smoke to a manageable level. Once the desired level is reached, open the valve (or remove the bowl), and take a second inhalation, which clears the smoke with the incoming fresh air. Personally, I like to think of it as “eating a ghost.” At the same time, opening the valve also allows combustion to cease, as the fire is not receiving direct oxygen via your inhalation.
To illustrate the proper respiratory technique, consider breath control in yoga. Yoga is a foundational form of exercise where the premise is to sense the body’s natural rhythms and cycles, and to observe and moderate them with breath and mind control while moving through geometric poses. Anyone who has ever done yoga understands that it takes a great deal of practice, even to achieve very simple states of being.
So one should approach cannabis use with the same respect and aspiration in order understand the correct technique. Breathing is fundamental to maintaining a calm state and receiving the benefits of cannabis; by smoking pot correctly there is no cause for aggravation. Cannabis can in fact act as a bronchodilator, which will facilitate deeper and smoother respiration.
Ways in which the novice practitioner can go ‘wrong’ include: not inhaling, and subsequently not getting high; by smoking too fast, prompting a coughing fit; by smoking too much, inducing anxiety and paranoia from the wave of excitation pouring in; by quitting before achieving the correct technique; and most importantly, by not having the right mindset. If you don’t do it right, you may not have a good time.
Anecdotally, millions of detractors have likely tried cannabis incorrectly, prompting a frightening episode that reinforced their negative stereotype and deterred use forever. This is true for many baby-boomers, whose faith in the inflated risks would negate the benefits to themselves. Boomers are finally starting to come around to seize the health benefits, have fun, and capitalize on legalization.
In the absence of an authority respecting the potential medicinal or therapeutic need for cannabis, an aging population is unnecessarily suffering while also taxing the health care system. Now we
2. Learning to Perceive the Effects…
…requires patience and awareness to evaluate the complex role cannabis is playing. It involves being sensitive to subtle changes and nuances in one’s physical body and mental state. Again, in this regard we should consider appreciating the parallels with yoga practice and the shifts in the mind and body.
We are much more complex beings than the laboratory animals often used in cannabis studies. A long list of effects of cannabis can be cited, but few that we could say are consistent across a ‘use matrix’ that spans type, dosage, method, mindset, and of course, the individual. In other words, the various effects one may experience are contingent on many other factors. You may get hungry, slow, or sleepy, or you may get happy, focused, and/or energized, depending on what you take and how.
Also, keep in mind that listing purely physical symptoms does not do justice to the effects one should be looking for. That cannabis causes dry mouth and red eyes does not sound like a particularly pleasurable experience, but these are not inevitable (hydrate by drinking water, induce lacrimation by laughing, yawning, stretching, or embracing emotional release, for example).
Nor are they as unpleasant and compromising as they sound. The superficiality of such claims taken alone limits the process of learning how to perceive the deeper effects.
Depending on which study you consult, you may find that cannabis improves learning or impedes learning. Some report it enhances coordination and balance while others say it promotes clumsiness and nausea. You may find that cannabis induces paranoia and psychosis but could also be used to treat mild schizophrenia. Thus, it is indeterminate what the effect is one way or the other. The results are dependent on a number of other factors.
It is not uncommon to find contradictions in the scientific literature and for the media to amplify and exaggerate the claims further. And these kinds of epistemic conflict are not going to subside any time soon, not until the status-quo has shifted to accepting the legitimate place of cannabis in society.
What is true is that cannabinoid receptors across the brain play a role in memory, mood, motor control, appetite, and more, and we are able to control certain variables (such as set, setting, type, dosage, method, etc…) that influence how those systems are affected. And in many cases, scientists are able to isolate more variables in order to make concrete claims towards establishing the science and medicine of cannabis.
So to say that cannabis definitively causes this or that symptom is misleading at best, and potentially inauthentic or disingenuous. At worst, these claims constitute pernicious propaganda, and consumers new and old alike must be wary of them. However, we can say with confidence that under certain conditions, certain effects will arise, and the trick of this step is bringing it into your conscious awareness.
The professional musician who uses cannabis know that it enhances their music appreciation and skill, not just that it makes them feel good and think they are better at playing guitar. The professional athlete who uses cannabis knows that it is an anti-inflammatory and relaxant and therefore aids in muscle repair. The advanced athletic consumer may also know the certain types and methods (vaporizing sativa, for example) that work for them during training, by increasing bronchodilation and enhancing coordination and motor control.
This is why cannabis is not banned from the Olympics and many professional sports because it can make you drowsy and clumsy; it is banned as a potential ‘performance-enhancer.’ These positive effects will likely not be apparent to the new consumer, who has to internalize the basic processes before advancing. You have to walk before you can run, and learning cannabis is akin to any educational effort; you get out what you put in.
We are confronted with a new challenge of how to recognize and process the effects in the 21st century, distinct from the simpler 60s era of grassroots liberation. As Becker stipulates, learning the technique is necessary but not sufficient to generate a positive experience. One could easily get stoned and fall asleep, become distracted, or misinterpret the effects, therefore failing to graduate from the second step.
One must be acutely aware of the experience that cannabis is prompting within them, which could range between euphoria and anxiety, creativity and lethargy, lucidity and haziness, More importantly, one must observe the personal effects, like the deeper appreciation for a particular food, a song, or an activity that one loves.
To return to the example of yoga, a good practice is a meditation and the conscious release of tension. The correct technique of yoga is what generates the effects; inducing relaxation, body alignment, posture, etc. Similarly, one must at first release themselves to the power of cannabis to induce pleasure and relaxation in the body.
Mental imagery can be helpful to facilitate one’s practice and enjoyment, as with yoga, tai chi, or any other exercise. Again, ways in which the novice practitioner can go ‘wrong’ include: being high and not knowing it, not knowing what to look for, or smoking too consistently and losing the ability to distinguish between feeling normal and high. As with anything, there is a ‘law of diminishing returns.’
For your reference, I have attached a list of effects posted at Erowid.org, but note that this or any other list does not speak to the countless idiomatic expressions of cannabis, which is the real lesson of learning to perceive and enjoy the effects, and thus should not be taken as definitive.
3. Learning to Enjoy the Effects…
…may sound intuitive and easy, but it is a socially acquired taste, according to Becker and his subjects. One does not ride a rollercoaster because it is nauseating, but that is a side-effect of it being is exhilarating, which takes some getting used to. Not that cannabis use is as disruptive as a rollercoaster, but the metaphor applies and one can build up a comfortable tolerance and immunity to any unpleasant feelings that may occur.
A naïve interpretation of the onset of effects may confuse and frighten a new consumer, and they are unlikely to try it again without the reinforcement of a peer group (or therapist, counsellor, doctor, or friend). The critical threshold to becoming a regular consumer is to develop a positive association with one’s practiced use of cannabis:
“An individual will be able to use marihuana for pleasure only when he goes through a process of learning to conceive of it as an object which can be used in this way.” p. 58
Learning is the operative term. One does not pick up a guitar for the first time and play like a rock star. On the contrary, the noise produced may be so jarring and discordant that they never want to play again. Just as one is not great at sex their first time, possibly to the point of discomfort, one does not master the art of cannabis in a day.
Again, with yoga practice, it may take years of practice before one actually starts to enjoy it for its own self-evident merits. But cannabis is routinely thought in a different category from these activities, due to its underground nature. Forgoing the negative clichés about cannabis, the novice consumer is advised to willfully indulge in simple visceral pleasures that have personal significance to them, be it food, music, plants, animals, yoga, good company, or otherwise, etc.
In all three steps, Becker emphasizes a social component to learning. This is different from the notion of peer pressure. Rather, a consumer will only continue in a supportive framework. In the absence of peer pressure, if a consumer is not benefiting they can easily cease use:
“The act becomes impossible only when the ability to enjoy the experience of being high is lost, through a change in the user’s conception of the drug occasioned by certain kinds of experience with it.” p. 58
This three step model (Technique — Perception — Enjoyment) to becoming a regular cannabis consumer is as relevant today as it was when published in 1963. It provides a mature context in which to understand the responsible and benign use of cannabis. Moreover, it offers the foundation of a safe framework for authorities to endorse self-medication.
Considered exemplary scholarship in its own right, Becker’s Outsiders should be revisited as a call to action in the contemporary cannabis culture. In Becker’s words, it is a declarative “Yes” to the question “Is it fun?” Beyond this, it is open ended, limited only by the concept held by the consumer.
It is not a stretch to conceive of cannabis as a peaceful plant (ie. “flower power,” or “peace pipe”), or of arousing environmentalism and activism, and so we should embrace it. Indeed, these are not new conceptions, and very well might be intrinsic to the plant itself, but the point is to celebrate the positive use. With this model we are poised with an opportunity to give cannabis an inclusive definition and normalize it once and for all.
In light of Becker’s friendly approach, one has to wonder why after all these years the establishment is still dragging its heels instead of heeding these insights, but that is no mystery either.
Becker’s analysis goes deeper to include the social factors that make drugs an object to be controlled, and fast forward 50+ years we are peaking in the information age with overwhelming proof that cannabis and its consumers are victims of the most malformed and backwards public policy commitment of the 20th century… yet we are still ‘debating’ these things.
Outsiders reminds us that we have a choice, and that the path of learning is difficult but rewarding. Given the knowledge, the public will make responsible choices about their cannabis consumption, and with a little hope, about who they elect into power as well.
As cannabis earns its place in mainstream, more new consumers will be able to openly embrace the challenge of becoming a successful and sustainable consumer, whether regular or not. Most importantly, those whose lives it can save shall no longer be deprived medicine and shamed out of existence.
AvantGardening is a concept and subsystem developed within The Abs-Tract Organization that aspires to the avant-garde of cannabis culture, mastery of the mysteries of marijuana, and a key to getting ‘ripped’ abs (see Mindhack: Strengthen Your MetaPhysique for the physical technique). AvantGardening is an enlightened approach to cannabis and other prohibited substances given that they can actually provide great benefits.
It includes the practice of civil disobedience against the oppression of prohibition society. AvantGardening goes back to the proverbial grassroots movement. Ending alcohol prohibition in 1930s America was a definitive social revolution, but the extreme prohibition of cannabis from the 60s onward negated this triumph and has seriously retarded social progress.
AvantGardening therefore also represents an historical movement of cannabis-based advocacy of permaculture (sustainable agriculture) and social reform. It is founded both on the general knowledge about the socio-economic benefits of hemp and cannabis and on advanced knowledge and techniques of cannabis use to enhance health and wellbeing.
AvantGardening is also an integral component of The Abs•Tract system, in that it enhances mind-body unity and fitness, encourages us to examine the foundations of mainstream knowledge, and promotes an eco-spiritual aesthetic and awareness.
Cannabis has manifold powers and benefits to bestow upon the consumer and society, but to fully harness its potential one must have basic knowledge and understanding. Thus, AvantGardening aims to synthesize the trend and educational movement, hence why The Abs•Tract insists that you to Think Hard Core (THC).
The systemic denial of cannabis has proven to be a cancer upon the world, yet drug wars and patterns of institutional of abuse and neglect continue to wreak havoc. (see Ending the Drug Wars, Report of the LSE Expert Group on the Economics of Drug Policy, May 2014). The war-on-drugs is part of a larger war economy and pathological policies that we call “systemic-conspiracy.”
The war-on-drugs is a “holocaust in slow motion”, as labeled by The Wire creator David Simon, and is sustained by ignorance and path dependence. Therefore, AvantGardening is unabashedly forward-thinking and identifies cannabis access with civil and human rights.
Now, I hope you enjoy cultivating yourself with AvantGardening and Becker’s three steps to becoming a cannabis consumer. For an expression of our advanced system, AvantGardening, see the video below.
The Abs-Tract Organization is a meta- think tank for solving the meta-problem, highlighting the utility of abstraction as a critical perspective and knowledge representation framework.
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