The news about the “Smoke In” in Denver troubles me, for I always imagined that the harm of marijuana would be obvious to the young, as they looked at their aging Baby Boomer parents.  Apparently it isn’t, and therefore I suppose I must state the obvious: Marijuana is harmful.

Furthermore, it is more harmful than alcohol, nicotine, or caffeine.

The harm is not visible in scans of the brain, for the harm is done on the level of memory.  While the latest scans are able to give a rough estimate of the emotion a memory produces, whether it be anger or fear, or pleasurable or unpleasant, there is absolutely no way of showing what the actual memory is, nor how memory is shuffled and resorted.

As memory is crucial to learning, the obvious forgetfulness, which is quite apparent to anyone who smokes marijuana, should be a reason for concern to the smoker, however it isn’t, for they are quite often under the illusion they are learning more, when the truth is they are forgetting more.

The processes of creativity and learning are bipolar processes, involving agony and ecstasy, both manic and depressive states.  While we all prefer the manic, the depressive is also crucial to learning. “You’ve got to pay the dues if you’re going to play the blues.”

The best analogy I can think of involves a desk that gets messier and messier as one is hard at work, until it gets so messy that one simply has to stop working and clean up.

In the brain’s manic state it is making “connections,” and this continues until there are simply too many connections to progress further, at which point the brain must “hit the delete key,” and discard some of the connections it has made.  This important second step is what we are undergoing when we suffer the state commonly known as “depression.”

In actual fact the brain does not utterly “delete” any memory, but rather is rearranging the “connections” (which lead from memory to memory) into a more efficient pattern.  This takes energy, and rather than the manic, “Eureka” of making a connection, it is more of a process of saying, “This doesn’t work, and this doesn’t work, and this doesn’t work.”  Even though the process isn’t pleasant, (sort of like getting a lot of rejection slips,) it lays the groundwork for the next creative effort.

When the mind is done “cleaning the desk” and gets back to work, the next sequence of connections is more efficient.  It is for this reason that Beethoven’s Ninth symphony is more amazing than Beethoven’s First symphony.

A person who smokes a lot of marijuana will notice, in the long run, no such improvement.  Or perhaps they will not notice. What is there to notice, if your ninth symphony is exactly the same as your first?  In fact you can say marijuana obviously hasn’t harmed you, for you are no different.

However we are supposed to become different.  It is a process called “maturing.”

Deep down people do notice when they are no different, and nothing changes.  It creates a sense of frustration. Unfortunately the user of marijuana seldom makes the connection that the frustration is due to marijuana, and instead of quitting, they smoke more. They want to recreate the sense of “eureka,” but what they discover is that the same dosage gets them less and less “high.”  Sometimes they then increase the dosage, until they arrive at a point where rather than high, they just get buzzed.

I arrived at that point as a teenager, over forty years ago, and even then I was too stupid to blame marijuana.  Instead I was blaming society and capitalism and what-have-you.  I had to be told, rather bluntly, that marijuana was making me stupid.

(As I recall what penetrated my thick skull was a tract entitled, “God In A Pill?”  One hippy was handing the tract out to other hippies on Harvard Square, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.)

Quitting marijuana was one of the few smart things I ever did, as a teenager. It was difficult, because I had to get through roughly six months where I was largely depressed and had very few “natural highs.”  (I suppose my brains were drained, and had to replenish energy reservoirs.)  However now I can do things with my creative side, which were completely impossible for me to do, back then.

Whoever it was who handed me that tract, all those years ago, did me a very great favor.  I am especially aware of it when I meet old friends who never quit marijuana, and who were once smarter than me, but now seem strangely stuck forty years in their past.

It is because I want to return the favor that I chose to be a nag, and tell modern youth, “Don’t smoke marijuana.  It will harm you, and no good will come of it.”


  1. I suppose I got lucky. I never could see the point in drugs. I hate being that out of control too and the one time I got mildly high (second hand smoke – a sort of dense fog) I just hated it. Never liked alcohol either. Probably just as well as I was an art student. I just picked up a glass and never drank it so as to seem socially ok 🙂

    On the other hand, I never objected to what others were doing (within reason) as they were old enough to know by then, and we were all taught this stuff in school.

    viv in nz

    • It sounds to me like you listened to some sort of inner voice which prompted you wisely. I also had a sort of conscience warning me, but ignored it. Therefore in some ways I was the lucky one, for I deserved the gutter but got out.

      In any case, that was clever to just hold the glass and blend in. My eldest son does that. He tells some pretty funny tales about how silly and stupid others behave, and doesn’t feel he is “missing out on the fun.”

      The people “missing out” are the ones who can’t remember the night before.

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