Lester Grinspoon’s First Experience Smoking Pure Cannabis

Lester Grinspoon a Psychiatry professor who in the 1960s began studying Marijuana and did write the two most important books on Marijuana … Marijuana Reconsidered and … Marijuana The Forbidden Medicine.

Here he describes his „First Experience Smoking Pure Cannabis“ – remember that in the United States Marijuana is used PURE and not mixed with Tobacco.

Should I Try or not Try Marijuana?

After the publication of Marihuana Reconsidered I was often asked about my personal experience with cannabis. Some questioners were skeptical when I replied that I had never used it: ” What, you wrote a book about marijuana and you never experienced it!”

The most thoroughevaluation of the benefits and danger of cannabis

The implication was that inexperience would invalidate my claim to expertise. I would defensively respond, “I have written a book on schizophrenia and I have never experienced that.” It was not until some years later that I realized that there was validity to this criticism of my lack of personal experience with cannabis. Especially in the later phases of this research and writing, I had flirted with the idea of trying marijuana, not because I believed at that time that it would inform my work, but because it appeared to be such an interesting experience. I decided against it out of fear that it would compromise my goal of producing as objective a statement as I could. Of course the further I pursued the subject the more I realized how difficult, if not impossible, it would be to produce a truly neutral and objective statement. But I was not about to add to this difficulty by personally exploring marijuana at this time even though the temptation to do so became greater as I learned more about it.

I had another reason for postponing personal experience with cannabis. If the book were successful, I expected to be called as an expert witness before legislative committees and in courtrooms. I correctly anticipated that some of my interrogators would want to know whether I had ever used cannabis, and I wanted to be able to deny it so as to preserve at least the appearance of objectivity. In the beginning, I did not believe this question unfair. It seemed to me to be no different from other questions about my credentials. But I soon learned that when it was asked, it was almost always put by a legislator, lawyer, judge, or media person who was hostile to the suggestion that cannabis might not be as harmful as he firmly believed. It became increasingly clear that the question was asked, not in the spirit of learning more about the context of my understanding of this drug, but rather in the hope that I would answer affirmatively and that this would discredit my testimony. More than a year after the publication of the book I was testifying before a legislative committee when a senator who had already revealed his hostility asked, “Doctor, have you ever used marijuana?” Perhaps because I was irritated by the hostility reflected in his previous questions and his sneering tone of voice, I replied, “Senator, I will be glad to answer that question if you will first tell me whether if I answer your question affirmatively, you will consider me a more or less credible witness?” The senator, visibly upset by my response, angrily told me that I was being impertinent and left the hearing room. That was the moment that I decided that the time had come.

The First Experience

Later that week Betsy and I went to a party in Cambridge where we knew that some guests would be smoking marijuana. Ever since a review of Marihuana Reconsidered had appeared on the front page of the New York Times Book Review (under the banner, “The best dope on pot so far”) people had been offering us marijuana, and we had been politely and often a little apologetically declining it. Those guests who knew of our previously resolute abstemiousness were surprised when we decided to join them. We were cautious, as cannabis-naive people should be, as we inhaled our first tokes ever. Shortly afterwards my first and only unpleasant cannabis experience began. A lit joint was passed around a small circle and we took turns inhaling big, noisy puffs and holding them in for a few seconds. One by one the others said they had had enough and waved off the passing joint; they were high or at least claimed to be. I asked Betsy, “Do you feel anything?”

“Not a thing!”

“Neither do I.”

We were disappointed. We had been looking forward to this initiation for several years. I had come to expect so much from the experience, from the magical possibilities of this subtly altered state of consciousness — and now nothing! I began to wonder; was this all there was to it? Was my acceptance of the claims of cannabis aficionados just as naive as my earlier belief in the propaganda disseminated by the Harry Anslinger truth squad and its descendants? Could it be true that all I had accomplished in over three years of intensive research was to swing the pendulum of my gullibility from one extreme to the other? Soon my disappointment gave way to a palpable level of anxiety. Was it possible that I had spent all this time studying what must be for some people an enormously persuasive placebo? Would not the author of a book that took as a basic premise that marijuana is a real drug be considered fraudulent? I tried to reassure myself. I reminded myself that I had, after all, carefully explained to the reader that many if not most people do not get high the first time they use marijuana.

At that time I believed that the anxiety I experienced that night was generated by a precipitous loss of confidence in my newly arrived-at understanding of cannabis, an unshakable belief that after more than three years of hard work, I had gotten it wrong and as a consequence had misled a lot of people — certainly sufficient grounds for a good dose of anxiety. It was not until much later, both chronologically and in my experience with “stoned thinking”, that I began to question that explanation. It occurred to me only years later while I was smoking cannabis that I might have actually achieved a high that first night, an “anxiety high,” not the kind I had expected. This was certainly not impossible; a small percentage of people who use cannabis for the first time experience some degree of anxiety. There are even a few people who always get anxious when they use marijuana. Among the Rastafarians of Jamaica, these folks are considered slightly deviant but are understandably excused with the expression, “He doesn’t have a head for ganja!”

This was not a problem with my head, for a week or so later we smoked cannabis and again neither Betsy nor I noticed any change in our states of consciousness that would even remotely suggest that we were high. Thankfully, however, I was not the least bit anxious this time — only disappointed again. Finally, on our third attempt, we were able to reach the promised high. Our awareness of having, at last, crossed the threshold arrived gradually. The first thing I noticed, within a few minutes of smoking, was the music; it was “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” This music was not unfamiliar to me, as it was a favourite of my children, who constantly filled the house with the sound of the Beatles, the Grateful Dead and other popular rock bands of the time. They frequently urged me to get my “head out of classical music and try listening to rock.” It was impossible not to listen to rock when they were growing up, but it was possible for me, as it was for many parents of my generation, not to hear it. On that evening I did “hear” it. It was for me a rhythmic implosion, a fascinating new musical experience! It was the opening of new musical vistas, which I have with the help of my sons continued to explore to this very day.


In my next recollection of that evening, Betsy and I and another couple were standing in the kitchen in a circle, each of us, in turn, taking bites out of a Napoleon. There was much hilarity as each bite forced the viscous material between the layers to move laterally and threaten to drip on the floor. It seemed a riotous way to share a Napoleon. But the most memorable part of the kitchen experience was the taste of the Napoleon. None of us had ever, “in our whole lives”, eaten such an exquisite Napoleon! “Mary, where in the world did you find these Napoleons?” “Oh, I’ve had their Napoleons before and they never tasted like this!” It was gradually dawning on me that something unusual was happening; could it be that we were experiencing our first cannabis high?

We drove home very cautiously. In fact, one of the observations I made on the way home was how comfortable I, a habitual turnpike left-laner, was in the right-hand lane with all those cars zipping past me. It seemed like a very long time before we arrived home. Not that we were in a rush — the ride was very pleasant. Time passed even more slowly between our arrival and our going to bed, but once we did, we knew with certainty that we had finally been able to achieve a marijuana high. And that marked the beginning of the experiential facet of my cannabis era, a development that furthered my education about the many uses of this remarkable drug.

I have used it ever since

I was 44 years old in 1972 when I experienced this first marijuana high. Because I have found it both so useful and benign I have used it ever since. I have used it as a recreational drug, as a medicine, and as an enhancer of some capacities. Almost everyone knows something of its usefulness as a recreational substance, growing numbers of people are becoming familiar with its medical utility but only practiced cannabis users appreciate some of the other ways in which it can be useful. It has been so useful to me that I cannot help but wonder how much difference it would have made had I begun to use it at a younger age. Because it has been so helpful in arriving at some important decisions and understandings, it is tempting to think that it might have helped me to avoid some “before cannabis era” bad decisions. In fact, now, when I have an important problem to solve or decision to make, I invariably avail myself of the opportunity to think about it both stoned and straight.