Much has been made of marijuana’s medical necessity effects ? the appetite stimulation, pain reduction, anti-spasmodic, vasodilation and anti-nausea effects. Less is said about the preventative medicine aspects ? the anti-stress, anti-depression, anti-fatigue and anti-insomnia effects. These and other effects keep people alive, ease suffering, and allow healing.
The category of cannabis medicine that is most often overlooked is the performance-enhancing category ? the inspirational, motivational and focus-enhancing aspects of the high. This article is an attempt to identify the particular aspect of cannabis that helps regular users who are also philosophers, poets, actors, musicians, scientists and athletes to do familiar activities with more skill and panache ? apparently demonstrating quicker reaction times.
This effect ? unique to cannabis alone ? has been called “time slowdown.” People have been noticing it for quite some time.
An early mention of cannabis’ effects on time perception lies within Theophile Gautier’s 1846 short story, The Hashishins’ Club. In it, he describes the effects while descending a staircase: “…new stairs appeared unceasingly before my resigned steps, while those that I had passed resumed their place in front of me. These proceedings took a thousand years, as I calculate it.”
Soon after, Gautier’s friends fool him into thinking that time has slowed down to a complete standstill. It seems that everyone at the Club de Hashishins was familiar with the time-distortion described by Gautier.
Another writer from the Club, Charles Baudelaire, wrote Poeme du Hachich, published in 1860. In it, he notes that “a new stream of ideas carries you away: it will hurl you along in its living vortex for a further minute; and this minute, too, will be an eternity, for the normal relation between time and the individual has been completely upset by the multitude and intensity of sensations and ideas. You seem to live several men’s lives in the space of an hour.”
In 1877, French doctor Charles Richet spoke in detail of these temporal effects and the difficulty in explaining them to the uninitiated. “Time appears of an unmeasurable length. Between two ideas clearly conceived, there are an infinity of others indetermined and incomplete, of which we have a vague consciousness, but which fill you with wonder at their number and their extent.”
“With hashish the notion of time is completely overthrown,” continues Richet. “The moments are years, and the minutes are centuries; but I feel the insufficiency of language to express this illusion, and I believe, that one can only understand it by feeling it for himself.”
These French writers noticed the whirl of ideas that occurred when high on hashish. Thus the reputation of hashish as a writer’s drug would dominate its mystique… until musicians got hold of it.
New World timeslow
French writers weren’t the only ones to notice the effects of cannabis on the perception of time. American writer Fitz Hugh Ludlow indicated hashish already had a reputation for time “change” in his 1857 book, The Hashish Eater.
“Now for the first time I experienced that vast change which hashish makes in all measurements of time,” writes Ludlow. “The first word of the reply occupied a period sufficient for the action of a drama, the last left me in complete ignorance for any point far enough back in the past to date the commencement of the sentence.”
American doctor Victor Robinson collected the records of regular people trying hashish for the first time in his Experiments with Hashish. First written in 1912, these testimonies were later published in the pharmaceutical trade magazine Ciba Symposia in 1946. His subjects wrote about the “indubitable” sensation of the “extension of the sense of time induced by the drug.” Like others before them, his subjects also noticed the inspirational effects.
“I wonder whether it is worthwhile to explore the canals of Mars, or rock myself on the the rings of Saturn,” said one subject describing his hashish experience. “But before I can decide, a thousand other fancies enter my excited brain.”
Canada’s own Judge Emily Murphy, author of The Black Candle ? a 1922 book often touted as the origin of Canada’s anti-cannabis laws ? also makes mention of time slowdown. She notes that “the time-sense becomes impaired in such a way that time appears to pass slowly.”
However, Judge Murphy puts a negative spin on this sensation. “One addict says that on recovering from a debauch it was ‘like returning home from an eternity spent in loneliness among the palaces of strangers. Well may I say an eternity… for during the whole day I could not rid myself of the feeling that I was separated from the proceeding one by an immeasurable lapse of time.'”
In 1937, as the film Reefer Madness was playing on movie screens across North America, Harry Anslinger ? Commissioner of the Bureau of Narcotics ? was slinging his book, Marijuana: Assassin of Youth.
In his book, Anslinger wrote that “the musician who uses ‘reefers’ finds that the musical beat seemingly comes to him quite slowly, thus allowing him to interpolate any number of notes with comparative ease. While under the influence of marijuana, he does not realize that he is tapping the keys with a furious speed impossible for one in a normal state of mind; marijuana has stretched out the time of the music until a dozen notes may be crowded into the space normally occupied by one.”
During the height of World War II, Time magazine did a story on cannabis and music, speaking at length about its effects. “Curious things happen to his perceptions of space and time. A lazy minute may seem like an hour. Curiously, the power of mental concentration appears to increase rather than diminish. Some specialized workers find that marijuana stimulates their faculties. The association of marijuana with hot jazz is no accident. The drug’s power to slow the sense of time gives an improviser the illusion that he has all the time in the world in which to conceive his next phrases. And the drug also seems to heighten the hearing ? so that, for instance, strange chord formations seem easier to analyze under marijuana.”
Time went on to note that most of the jazz musicians were pot smokers, and that these “vipers” often outlived their alcoholic brothers and sisters. Compared to world war, the herb didn’t seem too dangerous. Neither did jazz, for that matter.
As a result, Anslinger’s guilt-by-association strategy was shelved for a few years, only to be unleashed again when rock and roll appeared. When Elvis started movin’ them hips, Anslinger’s long-time medical consultant ? Dr James Munsch ? pulled out another horror-story of how pot helps musicians play better music. In an interview with High Times, Munsch explained his theories on marijuana and music.
“The chief effects as far as the jazz musicians were concerned was that it lengthened the sense of time, therefore they could get more grace beats into their music than they could if they simply followed the written copy… and that’s why the jazz musicians particularly were marijuana users. That’s why this rock and roll, they’re hotbeds of marijuana at the moment because the musicians can get a lot more notes in a given period of time.”
Notice how the prohibitionists of today have completely dropped the “it makes you play new forms of music better” argument from their overall strategy? It only took them a few decades to figure out that many people would consider this a good thing!
Academics researching the effects of cannabis have also mentioned time slowdown, including ones writing the LaGuardia report, the Le Dain Commission and the Shafer Commission. Yet these academics did not make the connection between these effects and performance enhancement, leaving it to others to more fully explore the possibilities.
On November 13, 1965, Beatnik poet Allen Ginsberg would give the world a name for this peculiar performance-enhancing effect of cannabis smoking ? “time slowdown” ? in his monumental missive First Manifesto to End the Bringdown. The first part of this essay outlines the importance of this phenomenon, and bears repeating in its entirety. Calling cannabis “a metaphysical herb… whose smoke is no more disruptive than insight” he wrote as follows:
“How much to be revealed about marijuana especially in this time and nation for the general public! For the actual experience of the smoked herb has been completely clouded by a fog of dirty language by the diminishing crowd of fakers who have not had the experience and yet insist on being centers of propaganda about the experience.
“And the key, the paradoxical key to this bizarre impasse of awareness is precisely that the marijuana consciousness is one that, ever so gently, shifts the center of attention from habitual shallow purely verbal guidelines and repetitive secondhand ideological interpretations of experience to more direct, slower, absorbing, occasionally microscopically minute, engagement with sensing phenomena during the high moments or hours after one has smoked.
“A few people don’t like the experience and report back to the language world that it’s a drag and make propaganda against this particular area of nonverbal awareness. But the vast majority all over the world… adjust to the strangely familiar sensation of time slowdown, and explore this new space through natural curiosity, report that it’s a useful area of mind-consciousness to be familiar with.”
One of those reporting on the effects of cannabis was the astronomer Carl Sagan (CC#32, Carl Sagan: visionary scientist). He wrote anonymously, as “Mr X” in Dr Lester Grinspoon’s 1971 classic Marijuana Reconsidered. Sagan wrote about the “real insights” he received while high on cannabis, noting that the “illegality of cannabis is outrageous, an impediment to full utilization of a drug which helps produce the serenity and insight, sensitivity and fellowship so desperately needed in this increasingly mad and dangerous world.”
Sagan also noted the sexual benefits of time dilation, explaining that “the actual duration of orgasm seems to lengthen greatly, but this may be the usual experience of time expansion.” Sagan pointed out that the benefits of time slowdown were not simply limited to inspiration, focus and performance enhancement, but included “pleasure extension” as well. Truly, the age of time travel has just begun.
A quick personal observation: the slowdown seems more pronounced when one first gets high, and is less pronounced the more one uses. If you’re a chronic pot user, and one minute only feels like two minutes instead of two years, you might consider going on a pot diet every so often and save your smoking for when you really want time to slow down ? the most special moments in life.
I am almost certain that time slowdown has something to do with Canadian gold-medal snowboarder Ross Rebagliati’s enhanced performance on the slopes, and why pot is popular among top players in the NBA. Maybe the insight one gains in this state of mind also helped Lennon and McCartney in writing and performing some of their songs? Or Shakespeare in writing some of his sonnets? Or Moses and Jesus in creating their commandments and sermons? Who knows for sure?
You don’t have to be sick or even stressed-out to enjoy enhanced performance ? it is the one universal application of cannabis use.
Perhaps explaining time slowdown to the world is the best way for recreational cannabis users to gain understanding, legitimacy and respect in the eyes of non-using euphoraphobes.
It seems as though the war on cannabis is reaching a climax, and the last battle is about autonomy, and not just medical necessity. As we help sick and dying users make their pleas of mercy, cannabis activists need to also be promoting our musicians and poets, scientists and athletes, movie stars and other heroes. We must point out how their insights, focus, projects and performances have been directly and chemically affected ? in a positive way ? through sensible use of good, clean ganja.
When fully researched in a legal and legitimate atmosphere, the future applications of time slowdown are endless. I predict that the chemists and breeders who find the cannabinoid or combination of cannabinoids that account for the effects of time slowdown could become very wealthy and influential in explaining this process, selling these special seeds and advancing our understanding of medicine in general.
The marvellous potential of time slowdown is yet another good reason for this new generation of growers and scientists to combine their energy and, once and for all, “end the bringdown.”