the column of lasting insignificance...
What Is it?
What manner of plant is this, and how is it used?—
It is a plant—this thing that we are about to discuss: a green plant, a veryabundant and ubiquitous plant, an unusually valuable economic plant, possibly a dangerous plant, certainly in many ways a mysterious plant.
Marijuana varies in potency, depending on where and how it is grown, prepared for use, or stored. The active ingredient, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), is present in all parts of both the male and female plants but is most concentrated in the resin (cannabin) in the flowering tops of the female. more powerful form of the drug, hashish, is made by collecting and drying this resin.
WHAT IT IS AND WHY IT MATTERS
After wafting in and out of the edges of the national spotlight for several decades, the plant and the controversy surrounding it have recently returned with a vengeance, thanks mainly to increased press coverage (including TV documentaries, Time, Esquire and Atlantic Monthly cover stories, and many appearances in the popular Doonesbury comic strip), and to the recent passage of propositions in several states making it legal (under certain conditions) for doctors to prescribe it for medicinal purposes. (A tug of war between these states and the federal government is currently being waged, and promises to grow ever wider, as more and more similar state propositions are passed.)
Among other factors leading to the renewed interest in marijuana have been the recent, very successful publication of two landmark books on the subject, Jack Herer’s The Emperor Wears No Clothes and Rowan Robinson’s The Great Book of Hemp. As Herer’s book, especially, shows, the plant—far from being some kind of evil curse, to be shied away from—has played an important part in the history of the United States. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and other of our forefathers cultivated it as a valuable plant for a variety of worthwhile purposes, including medicinal.
And now, more than ever, the question remains: Should marijuana be legalized or should it not?
Inasmuch as millions of Americans regularly break the law by using “pot” (risking, in the process, often severe prison sentences), the question is a fairly urgent one, affecting a sizable portion of the populace.
Many arguments have been put forth recently in support of both positions—with experts as well as laymen sharply, and often eloquently, divided by the issue. So let us cast this debate in proper perspective, and think ourselves way, way back to the very beginning:
Somehow, sometime, out of the vast void, God or whatever-there-is-instead-of-God, Big Bang/natural selection—whatever—brought forth an incredibly wide variety of plants, most to be used or simply enjoyed as we see fit, some dangerous few to be handled with extreme care, others to be used judiciously . . . plants, in other words, to be used but not abused. Obviously, what is now urgently needed is a clear-eyed assessment of each of these plants, to discern its effects, all across the board—environmentally, economically and psychologically.
That tobacco is legal and marijuana is not, for example, makes little sense to anyone who fully understands the properties of each. This is not to say that the abuse of marijuana isn’t harmful—but only to the extent that any substance one ingests, from apples to rutabagas, can be abused. And despite the hackneyed claim by former U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese that marijuana is a “gateway drug” leading to the use of harder drugs such as cocaine and heroin, it is estimated that some 65 million Americans have used marijuana, while only two million have tried heroin.
“Must be a narrow gate,” commented the noted columnist Stephen Chapman, who offered to bet Meese “his next house loan” that the first drug used by 95 percent of cocaine and heroin users was actually aspirin.
Moderate, non-drug-abusive smokers have long known that this much-maligned herb is nonaddicting and that in sensible amounts it does not impair physical and mental faculties. So maybe it’s time to clean up our fudgy thinking and start saying something like: “Say no to some drugs, yes to others.” Or at least: “Say no to drug abuse.”
Making a start toward reducing jail overcrowding is just one benefit that legalization of marijuana would bring—along with all those to be found in the plant itself.
CANNABIS, UP CLOSE
The male and female cannabis plants look very much alike to the casual observer, but their reproductive functions become quite specific as the plants mature. When the male plant blossoms it produces flowers that open wide, exposing pollen-laden stamens, the tiny life-bearing male anthers. The female also produces flowers containing an inconspicuous pistil, or egg-bearing female flower, which patiently awaits the arrival of the pollen. The female plant must depend upon a properly directed wind to bring the pollen to her. Other plants can rely on insects for the transportation of their pollen. Not cannabis. Insects steadfastly refuse to have anything to do with the plant. So cannabis is quite literally propagated by the breeze. Once a capricious wind has wafted the pollen to the female, reproduction begins, mature seeds form and fall to the ground, and the cycle begins again.
The female of the species is the hardier of the two. The male, once it has served its reproductive purpose, dies. Under controlled agricultural circumstances the male does not even die naturally. Growers yank it out by the roots once pollination has occurred. In India where cannabis cultivation has been highly developed, the male never gets the chance to pollinate the female—the plant is destroyed once it begins to show its sex. The Indians provide a “ganja” (marijuana) doctor who travels up and down the commercial fields trimming the lower branches of the female plants to better encourage resin production, while at the same time eliminating the male plants. Indians believe the female plants yield much better ganja if they are not fertilized.
Cannabis lives from spring to fall, then dies. Next spring it reappears from the seeds that are unbelievably hardy. As long as the seeds can be protected by a soft covering of soil or leaves, cannabis will continue to spread as a wild weed. Under these conditions resin production tends to increase and its potency becomes much more marked. Cannabis does particularly well in areas where the soil is disturbed each year. Flooded plains provide an excellent medium for growth. Shady, stable areas will not permit the plant to reproduce itself, for cannabis thrives on soil instability. In general, it may be assumed that if thistle, milkweed, dandelion, and similar weed growths do well, cannabis will do even better.
Those interested in cultivating cannabis as “hemp”—that is, for industrial purposes—are more concerned with plants grown in cold or temperate regions where the subsoil is moist and the rain is abundant. Plants growing in these areas are soft and fibrous and thus of greater commercial value. Hot, dry areas, on the other hand, produce brittle fibers and the resin produced in contrast to that occurring in plants grown in colder areas is copious, heavy, and sticky. The stickier the resin the greater its intoxication potential. Thus marijuana users prefer a plant grown under circumstances unfavorable to the best commercial hemp products.
THE INDIAN HEMP TRICK
Hibernating mammals prove indeed that a condition very similar to [a live burial] may occur in warmblooded individuals with an active metabolism. I was able to convince myself that such a condition can be artificially brought on or put off at will, by artificially changing the temperature. In man, however, such a condition can only be produced by narcotic means that cause his metabolism to slow down considerably. We noticed that, in all cases, small doses of hashish produce an increased appetite; large doses, on the other hand, may easily have the opposite results. It is possible that some of the fakirs possess a hemp preparation that enables them to undergo the described experiments.
In support of von Bibra’s idea, cannabis is reputed to help Hindu sadhus bear long fasts, and it also helps peasants to endure long periods of famine, as noted elsewhere.
THE “PSYCHOLOGICAL DEPENDENCE” QUESTION
Most cannabis users can stop smoking pot without any difficulty (A. W. Watts, 1965), and the question that interests the user is unlikely to be “Can I stop?” but “Why should I stop?” One is tempted to dismiss the whole concept of psychological dependence as just another way of saying that some people will go to a great deal trouble to obtain what they want. But there is a bit more to it than that.
A few people are obsessed with the idea of getting a supply of cannabis when they run short, and everyone who uses it has to break the law. It is unlikely that anyone would break the law to get a bar of chocolate, but very many people would do so if sexual intercourse were illegal. The term psychological (or psychic) dependence is misleading unless it is defined more precisely. All that can be usefully said about cannabis is that a few users will do dangerous and silly things in order to get the cannabis they want, the majority will go to some trouble to get their supply, and a fairly large minority will merely take pot when the opportunity arises and will feel no distress without it. This makes it clear that the extent of psychological dependence depends in the main upon the personality of the user and much less on the intrinsic effects of the drug.
It is probably true that anyone who smokes pot every day over many years has developed a psychological dependence on the drug. The same might be said of those who take tea or coffee every day. But in fact most users do not take cannabis regularly on a daily basis, but are more likely to have it on weekends and on other occasions when they have time to spare without the smoke interfering with work or study. So they are much less likely to form a habit than those who smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol every day.
RAPS ON EFFECTS
“If you are smoking, by some sort of transposition or intellectual quid pro quo, you will feel yourself crouching and packed together like tobacco, the strange power of smoking yourself. . . . Here, then, is happiness. with all its intoxications, follies and puerilities. You can swallow it without fear—one does not die of it. Your physical organs will be in no way affected. . . . The simplest words, the most trivial ideas, assume a new and strange guise; you are actually astonished at having hitherto found them so simple. Incongruous and unforeseeable resemblances and comparisons, interminable bouts of punning on words, rough sketches for farces, continually spout from your brain.”
“The effects of this drug have been frequently and luridly described: disturbance of space-time perception, acute sensitivity to impressions, flight of ideas, laughing jags, silliness. Marijuana is a sensitiser . . . it is not habit-forming. I have never seen evidence of any ill effects from moderate use.”
“At San Francisco General Hospital 5,000 acute drug-intoxications were treated in 1967. Despite the high incidence of marihuana use in San Francisco, no ‘marihuana psychoses’ were seen. In fifteen months of operation the Haight-Ashbury Clinic has seen approximately 30,000 patient-visits for a variety of medical and psychiatric problems. Our research indicated that 95% of the patients had used marihuana one or more times and yet no case of primary marihuana psychosis was seen.”
“I’ve smoked two marijuana cigarettes in my life. The first time I ended up staring at the test pattern on a television set for about five hours. The second time I got so hungry I nearly ate the furniture in a hotel room.”
“Grass sits you down on your fanny. You can’t do anything but see things.”
“Pot isn’t a performance-enhancing drug, unless you happen to be in a Cool-Whip-eating contest.”
“A lot of people don’t understand that not everybody should get high. If you smoke dope and it makes you paranoid and gives you diarrhea, or whatever, don’t do it.”
exerpted from our latest book...
National Weed (1974, issue #3)
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- Complete column archives: 2006 - present
— Dear Readers...
— John Wilcock ... Marijuana, the symbolic center of the underground society
— John Wilcock ... From the Archives: Cuba Diary—Havana, April 2011
— John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Nineteen (continued)--Travels
— John Wilcock ... From the Archives: When you vote, don’t forget the Republican Paradox
— John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Eighteen--The Quest for Magic: Around Europe by VW bus;
Regarding armchair travelers;
Pisa's Leaning Tower;
The magical Alhambra
— John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Seventeen (continued)--London's Magical library;
In the Cannes
— John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Seventeen--The Sorcerer's Apprentice
— John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Sixteen--JW'S Secret Diary (continued)
— John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Sixteen--JW'S Secret Diary
— John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Fourteen (Part Two--Manhattan phone book, JW'S Secret Diary
— John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Fourteen--Party Circuit
— John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Thirteen--Figaro Diary, part two, Soho Saturday
— John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Thirteen--Figaro Diary, part one, Soho Saturday
— John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Twelve (continued)--Traveling with Nomad; SoHo Confidential
— John-Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Chapter Nine (continued)--Rip Torn on stardom… Robert Mitchum's gift; London: Julian Beck’s critique; Emmett Grogan and the Diggers; Greece: The Junta, Charlotte Rampling, and art hero Daniel Spoerri
— John-Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Chapter Nine--Bob Dylan in the Village, Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, Richard Neville and OZ, What Does London Need Most?, The International Times
— John-Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Eight (continued)--Japan: a working honeymoon;
The Shinjuku Sutra
— John-Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Eight--Art Kunkin's LA Free Press; In LA with Hunter Thompson, Lenny Bruce; Visit by Warhol; Hakim Jamal plays god; The San Francisco 'Be-In'; Underground papers meet
— Manhattan Memories: Chapter Six (continued)--Tom Forcade: smuggler supreme; That pathetic drug czar
— Manhattan Memories: Chapter Six—The weed that changed the world--Confessions of a pot smoker
— Manhattan Memories: Chapter Four—Into the '60s--London's underground press; Jean-Jacques Lebel burns US flag; Everybody's friend: Jim Haynes; Lenny Bruce and the kitchen tapes
— Manhattan Memories: Chapter Three--The Village Voice (continued) --Lasting insignificance: the 3-dot column, ECHO and Larry Adler, Woody Allen plays classic nerd, A sample Village Square column
— Manhattan Memories: Chapter Two--Steve Allen derides TV columnist; Marlene Dietrich--glamorous grandmother
— Manhattan Memories: Chapter One--Chatting with Marilyn Monroe
— Manhattan Memories: Introduction.
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February 12, 2015
It was the first handwritten letter I'd received in 5 years. Or maybe 10. Signed by John Wilcock, a man I'd never heard of, and postmarked Ojai, Calif., it was waiting for me when I returned from my São Paulo-to-New York summer trip. Mr. Wilcock wrote that he had been an assistant editor at The Times Travel section back in the 1950s, and had written the first editions of “Mexico on $5 a Day,” “Greece on $5 a Day” and “Japan on $5 a Day” for Arthur Frommer in the 1960s.
By George, I thought. This man was the original Frugal Traveler.
Forty years ago the second of my three books about magic was published, A Guide to Occult Britain (Sidgwick & Jackson) covering a wide range of sites from Stonehenge to Loch Ness and King Arthur country to the witches of Pendle Hill. It is now available as an eBook on amazon.com.
"A GOOD WAY to describe John Wilcock is to say that he is a talented bohemian counter-culture journalist who once played a major role in the emergence of America’s underground press. Born 1927 in Sheffield, England, he left school aged 16 to work on various newspapers in England, and on Toronto periodicals before moving to New York City. There in 1955 he became one of the five founders of the Village Voice in which he and co-founder Norman Mailer wrote weekly columns. Wilcock called his column “The Village Square”, an intended pun. He and young Mailer were not quite friends, although Wilcock was at times annoyed, but always amused, by Mailer’s monstrous ego."
-From the preface of Manhattan Memories, by Martin Gardner