Getting High Isn't Just Physical: Why You Must Socialize Yourself Into Being A Stoner

by Alexia LaFata

I took a trip to Amsterdam during my semester abroad in college. I was only there for about three days, but my friends and I made sure to jam-pack it with adventures, scoping local hot Dutch men at bars, eating famous Dutch pancakes, parading down the Red Light District -- and getting stoned.

The legality of marijuana in Amsterdam is, quite literally, in your face. Every 30 feet, you're greeted with a pungent whiff of green, and you're guaranteed to find a number of places on any given street to buy bowls, papers, pipes, grinders and edibles.

Weed is also sold for public consumption at coffee shops. Similar to stopping at your favorite local bar for a beer, you can stop at one of these shops; peruse a weed menu that describes the smell, taste, the kind of high you'll get and the flowering time of each marijuana plant, and blaze at a bar.

Naturally, my friends and I participated -- for the cultural experience.

[caption id="attachment_724392" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Just a quick coffee break.[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_724393" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Actual weed menu.[/caption]

I'd only smoked a few times in my life, but I thought it would be a great idea to smoke in a place where I perceived that, since it's legal, the weed would be the most pure.

The first time in my life that I got high, I was hanging out at an off-campus apartment with my then-boyfriend and some of our mutual friends. The few other times I'd smoked, I felt it mildly, if at all.

Well, my inhibitions were loose in Amsterdam.

After probably one too many puffs and several minutes spent choking on my own air, I let the high come over me. Suddenly, all of my limbs felt heavy, like a massive force was pulling them towards the center of the Earth. Tingles shock-waved through my nervous system.

We sat at the coffee shop for a little while longer before starting to walk to a restaurant, but by the time we moved, I was unbelievably stoned. My perception of time was ridiculously off. I think we walked only about ten minutes, but I was convinced four hours had passed.

My memory was horrible, too. Whenever I took one step, I'd forget how I got there, even though it was only one foot ahead of my previous step. It was like the past was erasing itself with every passing minute.

I felt like I was hovering over my own body and watching myself walk, and I had a constant aerial view of what was happening around me. When we finally arrived at the restaurant, I couldn't taste any of my food. This lasted for what felt like forever.

When I recapped the details of my experience with friends at home, they told me it sounded like a lot of fun. To me, this hours-long high was my personal nightmare of bizarre time-traveling, loss of control and scary sensory changes. To others, that sounds like a grand adventure.

I was surprised when people told me my traumatic experience sounded amazing. It's like the scene from "Girls" where Marnie eats a pot brownie at a party in college and becomes frightened by all the high feelings, and Jessa sounds really excited for Marnie's experience.

A petrified Marnie leans up against a pole and refuses to move, and Jessa runs to get herself a brownie:

Jessa: Is the music going like, 'wowwowow'? Marnie: Yes. Jessa: Do you feel like your heart's just gonna fall out of your vagina? Marnie: Maybe I do... Jessa: Oh my God, I want one.

There's something to be said about Jessa and Marnie's differing experiences with weed. Marnie obviously was petrified by the feelings that Jessa perceived as awesome, proving that the effects of drugs are more than just the actual physical sensations.

To explain this, sociologist Nathan Palmer used a study from the 1950s to argue that we must socialize ourselves into enjoying a high. The study, conducted by Howard Becker, says,

An individual will be able to use marihuana for pleasure only when he (1) learns to smoke it in a way that will produce real effects; (2) learns to recognize the effects and connect them with drug use; and (3) learns to enjoy the sensations he perceives.

The first point is easy to understand. The first time you smoke, you probably won't know how to inhale properly. Most people just let the smoke hang out in their mouth instead of breathing it into their lungs.

Experienced drug users often take newbies under their wing and revel in teaching them the art of the blaze.

The second and third points reveal a bit more about our physiological makeup. When you're stoned, you may experience heightened senses, anxiety or paranoia, confusion, intense food cravings, hypersensitivity, a lack of control and a warped sense of time -- which, objectively, don't exactly sound that pleasant.

If I flicked a switch and made you feel those things right now, you probably wouldn't like it. As a stoner, you have to identify the effects of weed, and then reframe them as positive.

Marnie had no idea that her anxiety, heightened sense of hearing and the tingly, physical effects on her body were part of being high. If she were experienced, she would have been able to recognize those potentially negative experiences and redefine them as positive ones.

Marnie could have prepared herself for the slight paranoia, the sensationalization of the music and the strange sinking feeling; she could have inversely treated them as positive experiences.

In Becker's study, even coughing took on a new meaning. Becker surveyed dozens of marijuana users who said the coughing that comes after smoking is good because it makes you get higher. In reality, coughing is the body gasping for fresh air and literally ejecting something it finds hazardous.

In no world, except in the stoner world, is coughing a good sign.

If you haven't learned to reframe potentially negative experiences as positive ones, you will misunderstand the high and go into a panic attack, like Marnie. You could also end up ignoring the effects of the marijuana altogether, which has happened to me a bunch of times.

If you're unable to recognize what will happen to you when you smoke, you may disregard all the effects and treat them as just normal body functions. Maybe, you might say, you're just suddenly hungry because you didn't eat all day. Maybe your anxiety is stemming from a test you have to study for.

Maybe you forgot your mom's name because you're just having an all-too-common brain fart.

Nope. You, my friend, are just high.

Photo Courtesy: We Heart It