Stoned Strategy

I started my college education with the belief that marijuana gave me special access to genius ideas. Every time I got high, I would experience what felt like creative breakthroughs. These intoxicated “aha!” moments fueled my fiery desire to study philosophy. I frantically tried to learn a vocabulary to express the magical nuggets inside my mind on the path to my rightful role as a philosopher-king.

I was wrong about marijuana. By the end of college I had painstakingly figured out one key thing:

Marijuana doesn’t give me better ideas, it just makes me more excited about the ideas I already have.

Suffering from intellectual whiplash, for a time I referred to marijuana as a “poison” that breeds delusion and narcissism.

As I get older, the volatile zig zags of my evolving belief system smooth out, taking the shape of more moderate, balanced views of how things work. I’ve concluded that

  1. marijuana boosts my creative productivity, but
  2. using it in this manner requires navigating a sneaky web of landmines.

By the end of this post, I’m going to explain my method for extracting the creative benefits of marijuana while avoiding the traps. The majority of people who use marijuana, I hypothesize, have net negative creative outcomes. By sharing my strategies, I’m hoping to help change this.

To get started, let’s explore the phenomenon of being stoned, at least how I and some others experience it. Many of you, undoubtedly, have a different relationship with pot. While some people smoke weed to escape reality, I‘m doing the opposite. I feel anxious and paranoid when I’m high. Consequently, I smoke it rarely and never for social fun. By “rarely” I mean once or twice every few weeks, and never on a night before work the next day. If I were to smoke more, the negatives would quickly overwhelm the positives. I don’t eat pot since I’m afraid of being high for too long.

In college, I created this diagram to contrast sober and stoned consciousness.

From my college essay, Emerging from a Smoke-Filled Solipsism

Normally, when you contemplate a concept, you maintain peripheral awareness of how that concept is situated in a larger network. For example, you stay firmly grounded knowing that “red” is a “color”, and just one of many colors. But when you’re stoned, you lose peripheral awareness of context — you get lost inside your object of focus. After glancing at something red, as the diagram illustrates, you enter the inside of “red,” feeling the visceral harshness of blood and warning signs. The feeling of red can shake you to your core. The concept that red is a “color” among many other colors couldn’t be further out of mind.

“Blood” by Eyes On My World is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
“Grunge Warning Sign — No Trespassing” by Free Grunge Textures — www.freestock.ca is licensed under CC BY 2.0

After reading everything I could find about drug experiences in the cavernous depths of the UC Berkeley library, the French poet Charles Baudelaire’s account of his hashish experiences in Artificial Paradises best matched my experience with marijuana.

About experiences like getting lost inside of “red,” Baudelaire writes:

Fortunately, that interminable fantasy lasts only one minute, as you observe when a lucid interval, which you won with great effort, gives you a chance to glance at the clock. But now you are borne off on a new current of ideas, which will toss you in its living whirlpool for yet another minute, and that minute too will seem an eternity.

When I’m high, just as I get lost inside the color red, I get lost inside my own theories. Any thought that floats into my conscious awareness, as Baudelaire describes, is like “a trampoline to spring yet deeper into the land of dreams.” When I pop out the other end, I’ve experienced my own theory with the aesthetic richness of a novel.

My mistake in college was to conflate feeling with value. If I can spend an eternity inside an idea and feel it’s life, the idea must be valuable to pursue, I thought. The problem is that, when I’m stoned, any thought takes on this quality. Baudelaire writes:

The depth of life, troubled by numerous problems, wholly reveals itself in any scene that falls before your eyes, however ordinary or trivial it might be, and in which the first object you encounter becomes a speaking symbol.

When you’re sober, you vet if an idea is worth pursuing based on its position in a network of related ideas. An otherwise enticing theory might fail for lack of originality or logical coherence with other proven truths.

To take this further, an idea’s relationship with other ideas might be more important than the idea itself in judging its merits. In How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read, the French literary professor Pierre Bayard argues that reading a book is not necessary for discussing it on the most sophisticated levels. To advance yourself in academic discourse, he claims, it’s irrational to actually read the books. Instead, you should develop an opinion of a book based on how other books reference it, converge and diverge with it.

A stoned thinker unconsciously takes the exact opposite of Bayard’s approach, fully immersing themselves within a theory, artwork, book, film, or banal object while losing all awareness of context. While sober, I might quickly conclude a movie is “poorly written” if it uses an over-played Hollywood formula. Stoned, I’ll watch the same movie, and get completely engrossed in each plot twist and emotional tension. The intoxicated viewer may be powerfully impacted by a film, but they’re less likely to write a critical review of much value, that is, until they can take a sober step back to consider how the movie relates to its genre.

Under sober scrutiny, most of my stoned ideas are old, “obvious ideas that masqueraded as novel discoveries. Marijuana tricks me into thinking that unoriginal or logically incoherent ideas are worth pursuing. I suck at chess when I’m high.

From my college essay, Emerging from a Smoke-Filled Solipsism

This leads us to my first principle in dodging marijuana’s sneaky landmines:

Write down my stoned ideas and stop there. Never run with them until putting them under the light of sober scrutiny.

It’s still hard for me to resist tweeting, slacking, or posting ideas when I’m high. I get the feeling, “This idea I’m sure has merit. I should share it now for immediate gratification!”

But I never click “Publish.” I just write down the high ideas in a special section of my personal notebook. Sure enough, the next day, most of my “revelations” are just more banal thoughts alongside the others.

So if marijuana doesn’t give me access to new ideas and it tricks me into chasing bad ones, doesn’t it hurt my creative process?

Unchecked, marijuana can cause harm by breeding narcissism and delusion. But if I (1) don’t knee-jerk publish and (2) refrain from getting high too often, I avoid much of the downside. These are big “ifs” and you shouldn’t take them lightly if you’re following a similar path.

But what’s the upside?

The upside of getting stoned is that it increases my motivation to chase my best ideas when I’m sober.

Creative productivity is driven by two dimensions: the value of your ideas and your execution of those ideas.

Marijuana wants you to think that it enhances the value of your ideas, but it doesn’t. But every so often, one of my stoned ideas that I wrote down is good when I examine it the next day. It doesn’t mean that idea was new. It was probably an idea from before that happened to drift in my consciousness when I was stoned. But any idea that I explore when I’m high takes on a new vibrance and life that sticks with me when I’m sober.

When an idea (1) captures my stoned fascination, and (2) passes sober scrutiny, my sober self will relentlessly execute the idea in the real world.

It’s easy to lose inspiration to chase your ideas. Most of us have backlogs of creative visions that just sit there and gather dust. When I’m feeling “in a rut”, after smoking pot, certain creative visions come back to life.

Baudelaire says that hashish “gives with one hand what it takes away with the other — that is to say, it feeds the imagination, without allowing one to profit by the gain.”

This is where I disagree with Baudelaire. You can creatively profit from weed. But it’s fraught with danger. For you, it might not be worth it to take the gamble. And, I can’t rule out that marijuana is still tricking me.

Get Ribbonfarm in your inbox

Get new post updates by email

New post updates are sent out once a week

About Daniel Schmidt

Daniel Schmidt is the co-founder of doubleloop.app, a data platform for product iterations. He also designs mazes at mazestructure.com and writes at productlogic.org

Comments

  1. Interesting. I had no taste for pot until after curing my depression with mushroms in Amsterdam. Then it provided a hypo-reactivation of the heightened apophenia I relied on to counter my autistic, black/white tendencies. Nowadays my main drive to smoke is that normies hate dealing with sober me — they want me to smile all the time and pretend to have a terrible memory even though I’m a dude now.

  2. Nice and rings true to me. Especially in these times of much more access, frank exploration of the nature of this tricky plant ally seems all the more important.

  3. There is little as modern as “creativity” as a heavy duty of the cultural worker. I perceive Venkats praise of mediocrity as an attempt for a 2nd secularization, but one without the self-contradictions and pathos of the “death of the author” and without Warhols 15-minutes-of-fame cynicism.

    While sober, I might quickly conclude a movie is “poorly written” if it uses an over-played Hollywood formula. Stoned, I’ll watch the same movie, and get completely engrossed in each plot twist and emotional tension.

    Sentences like these are remarkable anthropological witnesses of our era. They are of great clarity for me. I’m totally immersed in their cultural background but they will require a classicist to decipher in the eras to come.

    • Part of the framing difference is release of status ticks. There is a culture of dismissing tropiness as bad, and it’s the haute whites propogating that dismissal presently. They prevent their own potential for enjoyment because they fear judgment, fear looking the part of the rube or the overly loud cinema goer. The converse is enthusiastic participation in populist spectacle, observed in stereotypes like black cinemaphiles who treat the movie theater like church in Atlanta.

      I do some occult analysis of Disney princess films, and most people are *shocked* that I would find anything worth analyzing about them. I don’t mind this because it inflates the yrade value of my analyses.

    • I just meant that creativity had been just as overrated after the mid of the 20th century as a technique / execution had been in the academic arts a century before. I do understand why this happened and that it fitted well with the emancipatory, “democratic” zeitgeist of the time and an optimistic outlook on the future of humanity, where everyone is an artist, as Beuys said.

      Ofc the big studios always progressed on technique / execution and continue to do so. They rarely take the risk of spending many millions for creative dilettantism, only for the sake of a positive review of a deconstructivist art critic. They stick to the formulaic and advance by tweaking in the direction of a particular interpretation of the zeitgeist and suddenly we see lots of girls with light sabers. This is interesting on its own, because it is less driven by primary social forces but sociological ones, which exist on a higher level and are a sort of an “elite pressure”, which you can reduce to status games. It is much like astroturfing, which is a special case of a populism designed by elites for the masses. One could argue, that all movements since the French Revolution are a complex admixture of 1st and 2nd order forces, of social and sociological ones. This was reflected in the mid 19th century by Marx who created the figure of the engaged sociologist, the one who alters the course of the society. One is never done with it.

      Much fun with finding the freemasons in Disney.

    • Yes, it seems like the pot in a way removed his pretension blinders. Can you really believe that someone can get no hint of enjoyment sober from something that was so engaging whilst high? I think not. This bougie sentiment created by elite tastemakers of what is considered ‘good’ and ‘bad’ is in-group signalling at best, and thinly-disguised contempt for the masses at worst.

  4. I was never a fan of pot. But I loved LSD and shrooms. I particularly did a lot of LSD because it was available in my 20s. I’d smoke pot on occasion socially, but it also made me anxious and paranoid. It never drew me to smoke it otherwise.

    The serious psychedelics are a whole other matter. The insights I had while tripping were as compelling once I was sober. But I was always an odd duck who could maintain analytical thought while tripping balls. So, maybe it’s just me.

    • It is nice to hear from someone else who gets excessive anxiety from pot but not acid. I always thought I was an odd bird about that, however lately I have watched others. On “small levels of intensity” most people don’t get bothered by either, but could have a touch of anxiety from pot. “Medium levels of intensity” pot, I think, provokes anxiety in a lot of people because it’s easy to get quasi-ego-loss due to forgetting the beginning of a sentence and not being able to maintain context, while also being able to track that your mind is failing to do subroutines you expect it to do easily. Acid just doesn’t do that unless you’re very very high on it. However, that same level of intoxication on marijuana (like, a whole cosmic milkshake in Amsterdam) would also be extremely disorienting and commonly bothers people.

      I also think the smoke burn and coughing plays a big role, but I haven’t tried something like a vaporizer under a dome, or hot knives as my Canadian pals often do.

      • Not to say that high-levels of intoxication can’t provoke strong reactions while on acid, it’s just that I think the same level of super-high would tend to produce similar reactions in almost all cases or more on marijuana.

        Acid, really, is more chill than popular opinion of it in some ways.

        Even alcohol, at extreme levels of impairment, can create some strong anxiety. Ever see someone who was so drunk they were consciously reminding themselves to breathe?

        Note: Immoderate use is often bad in all cases, devil is in the dosages, etc.

  5. Jeff Morrow says

    From “On Being Certain,” by Robert Burton:

    To begin our discussion of the feeling of knowing, read the following excerpt at normal speed. Don’t skim, give up halfway through, or skip to the explanation. Because this experience can’t be duplicated once you know the explanation, take a moment to ask yourself how you feel about the paragraph. After reading the clarifying word, reread the paragraph. As you do so, please pay close attention to the shifts in your mental state and your feeling about the paragraph. A newspaper is better than a magazine. A seashore is a better place than the street. At first it is better to run than to walk. You may have to try several times. It takes some skill, but it is easy to learn. Even young children can enjoy it. Once successful, complications are minimal. Birds seldom get too close. Rain, however, soaks in very fast. Too many people doing the same thing can also cause problems. One needs lots of room. If there are no complications, it can be very peaceful. A rock will serve as an anchor. If things break loose from it, however, you will not get a second chance. Is this paragraph comprehensible or meaningless? Feel your mind sort through potential explanations. Now watch what happens with the presentation of a single word: kite. As you reread the paragraph, feel the prior discomfort of something amiss shifting to a pleasing sense of rightness. Everything fits; every sentence works and has meaning. Reread the paragraph again; it is impossible to regain the sense of not understanding. In an instant, without due conscious deliberation, the paragraph has been irreversibly infused with a feeling of knowing.

    • I like that version of the random walk. My favourite is watching a butterfly flutter by a myriad flowers in scattered meadow. The next level: etymology can be a fascinating walk, itself.

    • I’m a big fan of this kind of thing; so many philosophers who talk about experiences that are obvious would do a lot better by giving recipes or tools for someone to generate those experiences themselves; if they truly are intrinsic characteristics of certain kinds of subjective experience, triggering them should be fairly reliable, even if it takes particular efforts to cause them to appear in their most obvious forms (for example the warnings before the paragraph in this example).

  6. Scott Kennedy says

    Very interesting and thoughtful piece!

  7. potknotb44pm says

    Great post.

    There is a missing contex though.
    Laughing pot – mid nth coast nsw
    Paranoid pot – red bearded hydro pushed pot
    Painless pot – cbd
    Hash – read early experiments as hallucinogenic like acid
    Time – never before 4pm

    Me – alcohol in family baaad and the first time I tried pot aged 18,  it just felt ‘right’. I still don’t get paranoid but know many how do. Acid – again ‘its the dose’ yet paranoia on acid has sent me to emergency. The brain is amazing as just being with a caring nurse,  in a hospital environment, my acid hallucinating went from top of mt everest to a walk in the park.  Wish I had that cognitive control at all times!

    I love the idea flow – it happens sometimes when I smoke pot. I write them all down too. As you say though most just a mish mash if connections. Yet sometimes one does stick out from the pack and is followed.

    I knew a programmer at Apple who, once a month would turn up maddonna, smoke pot and code like a stoned madman. Then over the next day or two review code for breakthrough ideas. Some vr stuff in late ninties came from this.

    And a very conscientious builder who couldn’t get out of bed before a cone and smoked at every break! Yet if I didn’t know and wanted a builder I’d  hire him. As many wealthy persons did. If I did that I’d never build anything!

    And a colonoscopy patient who was prescribed oxycotin with little pain effect on colon, yet pot killed pain almost immediately. Half way through a joint exclaimed “ahhhh”.

    I did a serious cognitive study in ’90’s w a famous pot researcher. Hospital each arvo before smoke. Lots of electrodes. Hi, low, short, long tones chosen by researcher ” push the button this time when you hear the long high tone”. That was it to watch for reaction to use cognition. 6 weeks smoke pot as normal – never before 4om -, stop pot and six weeks after straight. Outcome – your cognitive ability has decreased by … gobledeegook so I pressed for a real-world explaination. “Your verbal processing has slowed a bit maybe from 200 words a second to 180. I replied I was still 80 ahead of most. I have been accused as being a machine gun mouth. Very fuzzy science on pot in early ninties. The upshot is I did one of these tests stoned – and did BETTER than when straight. And, I didnt exhibit a P-wave! Researcher said surgeons & air traffic controllers are groups we see without triggering a p wave.

    So I think ‘we’ , although I am entirely sympathetic to your response and usage, need to accept a huge variation in effects. One day we will map all canabinoid receptors from brain to anus + digestive brain and have many prescribed personal and medical uses and usages. And let kids know to work it out without self experimentation. Why don’t we test at adolescent ala alergies? Doc: ooh, you better not drop lsd but pot ok” or v a v.
    Thanks.

  8. this is a noteworthy perspective … one thing is missing, however, and that is the analysis of whether your entire “reality” is actually different based on your various mental states, and that is part of why every idea seems more engaging

    how does anyone know that the “default sober state” is actually any more meaningful or credible?

    just because that’s where most people spend most of their time?

    • Dreftymac you are conflating “reality” and “awareness”. If I may restate your perspective more definitively, I would certainly agree that varying one’s awareness is a profoundly important activity that connects one with meaningful and sometimes credible states of being.

    • One way to compare sober and stoned realities is that sober people can solve physical problems that stoned people cannot; we can see stoned people failing to interact with an environment that we understand, see the mistakes they are making, and help resolve them.

      Just as a person wearing a VR helmet can bump into a real chair, but the person without the helmet does not bump into objects in the VR world, there is a closer connection between the perceptions of people who are not stoned and the physical world around them, than there is between the perceptions of stoned people and the same physical situations.

      So we can say that the awareness of the stoned person, like the awareness of a person distracted by a book or a cool idea, with more withdrawn from the immediate reality around them.

      That’s not to say that the distracted scientist has less of a grasp on reality than the sportsman, but it’s reasonable to say that they withdraw from direct contact with reality to understand it in an abstracted and more indirect sense, returning to it with understanding, and new ways for them or others to engage with it.

  9. I found both this piece and your previous essay on marijuana as poison very intriguing and refreshing! Especially the points about how marijuana can allow us to access “realer” or “truer” parts of ourselves and examine our behavior with more self-awareness (this interested me in part because I have found that developing self-awareness on my own while sober has decreased the effects of the “high” on my mind/body…). I used to smoke/vape/imbibe somewhat regularly to cope with symptoms of PTSD/C-PTSD, and then I severely reduced my intake (well, more importantly, the frequency of it) somewhat abruptly about 1.5 years ago. When I was first cutting down on weed, the black-and-white nature of most narratives concerning the use of marijuana vexed me to no end: it is either a medical wonder drug/the solution to all problems, physical and emotional… or it is a plague upon one’s mind or life that must be quit entirely in order for one to “bounce back” from its effects. Neither perspective truly reflected my experience with marijuana and the concurrently positive and negative effects it had on my brain – which I suspect is because all of these perspectives I was hearing were from frequent users who didn’t use with the same intentions/principles that I did. This is why I related very strongly to your description of your own experience! I guess the perspectives or narratives of disciplined marijuana users are few and far between…? LOL.

    Should you (or, frankly, anyone in the comments section) read this and feel inclined to respond, I’m curious:
    Has your experience getting high remained static over time? Even though I have only been using for less than 5 years, I’ve noticed dramatic changes (regardless of strain, sativa vs. indica, method of intake, whatever) in how my brain responds to marijuana over the years – changes that I believe were triggered by quitting for months at a time and then trying again. And, honestly, most of these changes were negative.

    Thanks for your time!

  10. I’m a big fan of this kind of thing; so many philosophers who talk about experiences that are obvious would do a lot better by giving recipes or tools for someone to generate those experiences themselves; if they truly are intrinsic characteristics of certain kinds of subjective experience, triggering them should be fairly reliable, even if it takes particular efforts to cause them to appear in their most obvious forms (for example the warnings before the paragraph in this example).

  11. Great article. This is almost exactly my experience with pot. I have been smoking more since the emotional release of the 2019 election and began experiencing this same conflict of excitement for my stoned-ideas. Reading your article is helpful because you have done such a thorough job of examining and articulating not just your strategy for coping with enthusiasm but also the nature of it.

Leave a Reply to JiaoNing Cancel reply

*

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.