Sunday, November 18, 2012

2012: The Year of Cannabis?

There have been a lot of strange, horrific events that have defined 2012 thus far --the rash of cannibalism in the spring and the wave of mass public shootings triggered by Aurora in the fall immediately spring to mind. Underlining the most notable of the spring cannibalism stories, namely the 'Miami Zombie, as well as the tragedy at Aurora, is the presence of cannabis. The Miami Zombie, who reportedly was a human known as Rudy Eugene, had apparently smoked cannabis shortly before his attack. There are also some reports that James Eagen Holmes, the Aurora shooter, had toked up before the killings, but evidence of this is sketchy.

Rudy 'the Miami Zombie' Eugene (top) and James Eagen Holmes (bottom)

Then, on November 6, voters in the states of Colorado (where the Aurora shootings occurred) and Washington voted to legalize the recreational use of cannabis in the midst of Barack Obama's re-election to the US presidency. This puts weed at three of the major events of 2012, two of them positively oozing with high weirdness. The fact that cannabis legalization passed in Colorado by such a wide margin with Aurora still relatively fresh and Holmes being linked to pot smoking is a testament to just how far into the mainstream grass has come. There are some interesting implications behind this for the future, as the Miami Zombie and Aurora may be examples of.

Cannabis and humanity have a long and storied history together. I do not plan on going into great depths over this relationship in this particular post but I shall drop a few highlights. For starters, this relationship is very old and likely had a strong influence on human development.
"No plant has been a continuous part of the human family longer than the hemp plant. Hemp seeds and remains of ancient cordage have been found in the earliest strata of many Eurasian habitation sites. Cannabis, a native of the heartlands of Central Asia, was spread throughout the world by human agency. It was introduced into Africa at a very early date, and cold-adapted strains traveled with the early human beings who crossed the land bridge into the New World. Because of its pandemic range and environmental adaptability, cannabis has had a major impact on human social forms and cultural self-images."
(Food of the Gods, Terence McKenna, pg. 150)
Some have even gone so far as to suggest that the consumption of cannabis enabled humanity to access higher spheres of the mind. For instance Robert Anton Wilson, the famed counterculture philosopher, believed that cannabis provided access to the fifth circuit of consciousness.
"The fifth brain began to appear about 4,000 years ago in the first leisure-class civilizations and has been increasing statistically in recent centuries.., a fact demonstrated by the hedonic art of India, China, Rome and other affluent societies. More recently, Ornstein and his school have demonstrated with electroencephalograms that this circuit represents the first jump from the linear left lobe of the brain to the analogical right lobe.

"The opening and imprinting of this circuit has been the preoccupation of 'technicians of the occult' --Tantric shamans and hatha yogis. While the fifth tunnel-reality can be achieved by sensory deprivation, social isolation, physiological stress or severe shock.., it has traditionally been reserved to the educated aristocracy of leisure societies who have solved the four terrestrial survival problems.

"About 20,000 years ago, the specific fifth brain neurotransmitter was discovered by the shamans in the Caspian Sea area of Asia and quickly spread to other wizards throughout Eurasia and Africa. It is, of course, cannabis. Weed. Mother Mary Jane."
(The Cosmic Trigger Volume I, Robert Anton Wilson, pg. 201)
Robert Anton Wilson

Naturally cannabis has some interesting occult and religious associations. Probably the most well known cannabis-using sect in earlier eras was the Medieval Islamic order called the Nizaris, more commonly known as the Hashshashins or Assassins. As the name implies, the Assassins have become legendary for the very public murders of various political figures that came into conflict with the sect over the years. These assassinations almost always occurred in public places where the killer faced almost certain death in the aftermath. This led many to the belief that said killers had somehow been brainwashed to perform such tasks.

For centuries it was alleged that the Assassins indulged in hashish (the word assassin derive from the word hashishiyya, an Arabic word meaning hashish eater that was used to slander the sect) and that the drug was responsible for their fanatical loyalty. In recent times scholars have compellingly argued that the association of the Nizaris with hashish is unfounded and the propaganda of the Christian West and more mainline Muslim sects.

Based on my research it seems highly unlikely that the use of hashish would have been allowed under the reign of Hassan-i-Sabbah, the founder of the Hashshashin branch of the Nizaris. Sabbah was a harsh taskmaster who supposedly had one of his own sons executed on suspicion of drinking wine. Some of his ancestors, however, may have been more tolerant. An event that occurred on August 8, 1164 strongly indicates that hashish use was at least tolerated at some point in the sect's history.
"On that day, the head of the Nizaris --Hasan II --the grandson of the founder of the Assassins, Hasan-i-Sabah, performed a strange ritual at Alamut in the presence of his followers, who had been summoned from the four corners of the Nizari empire. He erected a pulpit, facing west, with four banners at the corners. The banners were white, red, yellow and green. The people he had summoned arranged themselves around the pulpit on the right and left sides, directly in front. They all had their backs to Mecca.

"At noon, Hasan II --dressed completely in white --approached the pulpit and announced the millennium.

"Addressing all the inhabitants of the world of men, of angels, and of the jinn... he proclaimed that the hidden Imam had spoken to him and told him that the old Law --the Shariya --was abrogated, and that the time of the Resurrection was at hand. He then invited everyone to a banquet, there, at noon, in the midst of the fasting month of Ramadan and on the anniversary of the murder of Ali, to emphasize his proclamation that the time of the Shariya was ended. Messengers went out to all the Nizari strongholds, carrying the same message. A shock wave went through the community, and news of it reached the ears of Muslim and Christian alike. Either Hasan was, as he proclaimed in his speech, in direct communication with the Hidden Imam who had released the faithful from their spiritual obligations, or he was insane, or he was deserving only of a blasphemer's death...
"As Lewis and other historians have noted, this new dispensation was embraced by most of Hasan's followers without question, including the Syrian strongholds. Thus, the Assassins abandoned all pretence of following the Islamic law, discontinuing praying five times a day facing mecca, and began drinking and eating whatever suited them, whenever it suited them. Although there is no documentation for this, it can be safely assumed that the consumption of hashish was then also --if not encouraged --easily tolerated. Perhaps this event in 1164 gave the greatest impetus to the derogatory nickname of the Nizaris: the hashishim --the eaters of hashish --the Assassins."
(Sinister Forces Book II, Peter Levenda, pgs. 146-147)
Hasan-i-Sabah, the legendary founder of the Assassins

While there is much debate still as to whether the Nizaris used hashish the same cannot be said of another Medieval mystical Islamic sect known as the Sufis. The Sufis have long indulged in cannabis with some sects elevating its use to the realm of ritual. This compelling article notes:
"Part of the reason for cannabis' eventual prohibition in some Moslem countries had to do with the drug's association with certain heretical sects that existed on the fringes of Islam. The Sufis were one such group ? they originated in the 8th century and are referred to by cannabis historian Ernest Abel as 'the hippies of the Arab world.' The Sufis used hashish, along with wine and coffee, to stimulate mystical consciousness and appreciation of the nature of Allah...

"Cannabis was made into a chewy medicinal confection called ma'joun, and to the Sufis eating hashish was an act of worship. The benefits they claimed from their use of hashish included otherwise unattainable insights into themselves, as well as laughter, happiness, reduced anxiety, reduced worry, and increased music appreciation. But most importantly, as the Sufi al-Is'irdi noted, was the 'secret' of the drug, which permits 'the spirit to ascend to the highest points in a heavenly ascension of disembodied understanding.' It was for this reason that many of the more mystically inclined of the Sufi preferred cannabis over wine."

More recently the Great Beast himself, Aleister Crowley, experimented heavily with cannabis and worked it into his magical system. Crowley associated hashish with the element of water due to its image-making properties and because it opened the gates of Pleasure and Beauty. Crowley disciple Kenneth Grant states:
"Hashish, Crowley found useful for mental analysis because it aids the imagination and increases courage...

"Hashish is of special use to the occultist because it abolishes the subconscious. In the Amalantrah Working (1918), Crowley notes that 'a hashish experiment is rather like going slumming --one is amazed by the variety of the vividness of the impressions. I think this is caused by a Freudian recognition. One sees again the things that used to be familiar in a simpler consciousness --things long since buried --the same thrill as revisiting one's childhood. It is therefore a return or a regression in mental structure; a degeneration. Thus we see that analysis represents going back, and synthesis, advance."
(The Magical Revival, pg. 94) 
 The use of marijuana was apparently one of Crowley's secret teachings.
"Marijuana, of course, also puts you on the fifth circuit-right-brain rapture --but only temporarily. It was one of Crowley's secret teachings, only passed on verbally to promising students, that the combination marijuana + tantra was the key to rapid mutation into a permanent Rapture Circuit."
(The Cosmic Trigger Volume I, Robert Anton Wilson, pgs. 68-70)

Thus, the use of cannabis had a wide variety of possibilities, much of it incredible, some of it dubious. And now it is gaining widespread acceptance in the United States. I personally have mixed feelings about this development.

On the one hand, I strongly believe that prohibition has been a resounding failure and is a gross injustice in our society. Almost a third of all Americans are arrested for a crime by the time they're 23 and cannabis prohibition is a big part of this. These types of laws have been used to create an ever growing criminal underclass that will face an uphill struggle for the rest of their lives to gain a decent standard of living. Alcohol and opiate-based prescription meds are responsible for far more deaths in our society and yet the legal status of cannabis is used daily to ruin the lives of the most vulnerable Americans.

On the flip side of the coin I am already very of weary of mainstream cannabis culture and tremble at the possibilities of further corporate involvement. Frankly, I think much of the cannabis culture from the late 1970s on (when the rise of the whole Cheech and Chong stoner stereotypes became the norm) has totally debased the use of the drug. Rarely if ever are the introspective or spiritual aspects of the drug addressed. Instead, stoners are presented in the most buffoonish caricatures possible. Further, any type of serious, introspective use of the drug is typically seen in a dubious light. I am not a big fan of the ethnobotanist Terence McKenna but he hit the nail on the head in describing modern American cannabis culture:
"The pharmacological profile of a drug defines only some of its parameters; the context --or 'setting,' in Leary and Metzner's fortunate turn of phrase --is at least as important. The 'recreational' context for substance use, as currently understood in the United States, is an atmosphere that trivializes the cognitive impact of the substance used. Low doses of most drugs that affect the central nervous system are felt by the organism as artificial stimulation or energy, which can be directed outward in the form of physical activity in order to express the energy and quench it. This pharmacological fact lies behind most of the recreational drug craze, whether legal or illegal. An environment dense with social signals, noise and visual distraction --a nightclub, for example, is typical of the culturally validated context for use of recreational drugs.

"In our culture, private drug taking is viewed as dubious; solitary drug use as positively morbid; and, indeed, all introspection is seen this way. The Archaic model for use of psychoactive plants, including cannabis, is quite the opposite. Ritual, isolation, and sensory deprivation are the techniques used by the Archaic shaman seeking to journey in the world of the spirits and ancestors. There is no doubt that cannabis is trivialized as a commodity and is degraded by the designation 'recreational drug,' but there is also no doubt that when used occasionally in a context of ritual and culturally reinforced expectations of a transformation of consciousness, cannabis is capable of nearly the full spectrum of psychedelic effects associated with hallucinogens."
(Food of the Gods, pgs. 162-163)
what mainstream cannabis culture has become

McKenna and other psychonauts such Robert Anton Wilson have proclaimed that cannabis can be used to alter consciousness, a concept I tend to agree with. And yet the bulk of cannabis users are not even aware of such concepts though they experience that same effects as the illuminated few. A question that comes to mind then is whether recreational use of cannabis simply trivializes the drug or whether its potentially dangerous. Is the appearance of cannabis at incidents such as the Miami Zombie attack and the Aurora shooting coincidence, or were already disturbed minds further reprogrammed in an even more unhinged direction?

While cannabis prohibition is undoubtedly a great evil the degradation of cannabis culture that has occurred for nearly 40 years poses its own problems. The Miami Zombie and Aurora may be partly the result of this degradation.


  1. well, it is known that cannabis can actually trigger severe psychotic states in those who are predisposed. this may relate to people genetically prone to schizophrenia and to those who have been deprived of mental integrity at sufficiently deep level. the latter can come into being by experiencing severe, esp. early-age trauma, which fact is said to be utilized in full brainwashing techniques (see "greenbauming"). again, some are genetically more likely to acquire traumas than others.

    in light of the above, it's interesting how Holmes and Eugene actually resemble each other as far as physiognomy goes. note the subtly slanted eyes, the nose, the general proportions. this of course suggests some genetic similarities...

  2. Spaced out-

    Excellent points.

    While I'm personally a big believer in the usefulness of entheogens, I also realize certain individuals have no business using them, including cannabis. I had never considered the possibility that genetics may be a factor in this reaction, but it does make sense. It would be interesting to both determine if genetics are factor, and, if so, how exactly this state of affairs came to be.

    Sorry for taking so long to repsond to you, BTW.