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ly one color. And each thinks he sees the
whole. The questions of agents of social control are puzzled, anxious questions, revealing
the incredulity that anyone would want to partake of such an activity. The question
"Why?" indicates that the activity requires an explanation; "Why?" can often be
transformed into, "Why would anyone want to do such a thing?"
Sociologists stand in a different spot, and therefore see a different reality. The "why"
question takes many problematic questions for granted. Social scientists usually start with
more basic questions: "What?" "How?" "Under what circumstances?" The "why" question
assumes that many aspects of a phenomenon are already understood and, given these
assumptions, those who ask it cannot conceive of the outcome which they observe. The
sociologist urges us to take a first look at a poorly understood phenomenon—whether it be
the family, the priesthood, or marijuana smoking.
His basic point of departure is the attempt to understand an activity, a belief, an
institution, a way of life, in much the same manner as its participants. Each has its own
peculiar, unique integrity and vibrancy, its own rules and logic. Each makes sense
according to a set of principles often contradicted by, or irrelevant to, other activities,
beliefs, institutions, or ways of life. To fully understand a social phenomenon, it is
necessary to grasp it empathically, accepting it on its own terms and identifying
emotionally with its central principles. Any social analysis missing this dimension is of
limited value; as ethnography, it must be deemed worthless.
To understand is to condone, so the aphorism has it. In some sense or another, perhaps.
But not to understand is to condemn without knowing why. As Peter Berger wrote, a spy
ignorant of the enemy's strong points helps only the enemy. It is unfortunate that warfare
analogies must be employed to illuminate the American drug scene, but we only reflect a
scene where the battle lines have already been drawn. And whether we are propagandists
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The Marijuana Smokers - Chapter 1
for or against drugs, or whether we insist our stance is neutral (as all propagandists claim),
we will be embroiled in controversy, and our statements will, inevitably, be used to defend
or attack an argument. Whether we like it or not, we are participants in an ideological
What does this do for our much vaunted objectivity? The mature sciences concern
themselves not at all with their objectivity, never thinking of it as an issue; they know a
fact when they see one. Social scientists are more defensive, almost self-righteous in their
assertion of lack of bias. Like so many other issues, however, objectivity is a bugaboo. Of
course, attempting an insider's view of a group or an activity is adopting a biased view.
But so is adopting an outsider's view. In fact, there is no such thing as an "objective" view
of reality. All views of reality ar
THE PRESENT STUDY had a variety of origins, all centered around my long term interest in altered
states of consciousness. For several years I had read many anecdotal accounts of what it was like to be
intoxicated on marijuana,1 talked with many students and acquaintances (hereafter referred to as pilot
subjects and informants) about what being intoxicated was like, and tried to do some theorizing that
would make some sense and order out of the many phenomena reported. What little sense I have been
able to make out of things in terms of theorizing has been presented in Chapter 2. This theorizing also
made it clear that a systematic look at the overall phenomenology of altered states of consciousness was
vital. The present study is an initial systematic look for one state of consciousness, marijuana
For several years I took systematic notes on various phenomena reported for marijuana intoxication,
and, based on these, a large questionnaire was made up. The questionnaire used the current language of
marijuana users ("heads") as much as possible. It was distributed with a covering letter that was intended
to be friendly and to induce cooperation among users both in filling out the questionnaire and in passing
questionnaires along to other users. The text of the letter is given below.
To: ANYONE WHO HAS SMOKED MARIJUANA
MORE THAN A DOZEN TIMES
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On Being Stoned - Chapter 3
I usually start a letter with "Dear So-and-so," but somehow greetings like "Dear Marijuana Smoker,"
"Dear Head," "To whom it may concern," or anything else like that sound pretty bad, so I'm skipping the
greeting and getting right down to the point.
One of my main research interests as a psychologist is the area of altered states of consciousness. I am
particularly interested in investigating the psychological effects of marijuana, both for their intrinsic
interest and for comparison with other altered states of consciousness. Reading the (scant) scientific
literature on marijuana is disappointing, for most everything is on the order of, "Gee whiz, I smoked (or
ate) grass, and I saw all sorts of pretty pictures which can't be described, and gee whiz, etc., etc., etc."
That's very nice for a start, but not very specific!
From preliminary talks with people who smoke marijuana, it is obvious that there are many and varied
effects, and that it would be of great psychological interest to know what they are. Scientists, as a whole,
know practically nothing about the experience of smoking marijuana. You do. The ideal way to expand
our knowledge about these effects would be to have people smoke it under a variety of conditions, with
known amounts and qualities of grass, and then report on it. Even a rudimentary knowledge of the legal
situation, though, tells you genuine laboratory research on marijuana is virtually impossible.
So I'd like to enlist your help as an expert; you've been there and, I hope, you
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