“... it had always seemed to me possible that, through hypnosis, for example, or autohypnosis, by means of systematic meditation, or else by taking the appropriate drug, I might so change my ordinary mode of consciousness as to be able to know, from the inside, what the visionary, the medium, the mystic were talking about.”
Aldous Huxley, from “Doors of Perception”
I’m 13 and attending a Families Anonymous meeting. The room we’re in usually serves as a communal space at a summer camp, but right now it is occupied by 10 or so families of different shapes and sizes here to support children who have been arrested in possession of illegal drugs and told they are addicts. The screen door opens and closes with the breeze making a pleasing creak. Cheap coffee and cookies rest on a picnic table nearby. We’re facing each other sitting in folding chairs arranged in a wide oval. A sorry selection of teenagers slumped over and caving into themselves, desperate mothers, frustrated fathers, confused and saddened siblings…
There’s really just one person I’m focused on. My attention rests with a girl across the room. She’s the sister of one of the guys here. My heart rate is higher than normal, palms sweaty, tense. I’m not hearing a syllable from the mouth of the ponytailed, birkenstocked counselor doing his best to shepherd and lead this group of well-intended, sullen souls. I’ve actually never felt this before in my life. It feels like a warm panic, a sweaty coolness filled with dissonant emotions. A wordless knowing that fear and joy are speeding trains on the same track bound for collision. My state is being altered by a spiked dose of burgeoning teenaged love.
I’m in the woods of Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania at the Spruce Hill Rehabilitation Center. It’s June, 1993, and I have not yet had a sip of alcohol, smoked or ingested an illegal substance, attempted to procure an illegal drug, or even thought of how I might in my short life. I’m with my parents supporting my brother. We live in a bucolic suburb of Northern NJ about forty minutes from Manhattan. My mother is an executive working in corporate securities at one of the huge pharmaceutical companies that have campuses locally. My father is a Hypnotherapist specializing in past life regression with a thriving practice. My older brother is a sharp kid, but he got labeled early on as "bad". As a result, his intelligence always seems dangerous. He’s here because he was arrested in possession of Marijuana and LSD. Like most children, if I have a drug of choice it’s sugar, or maybe television. Though I’ve not been doing it with clear intention or understanding, and I am still so young, I certainly know how to leave my body.
There were two notable experiences in my twenties that taught me what cannabis could be, medicinally and otherwise. Both took place long before I would consider the plant clinically or from a position of social advocacy. I had no firsthand experience with marijuana (other than being with friends while they smoked) until I was 25. My brother’s journey went from innocuous habit to brown bag heroin resulting in countless rehab stints and my having no interest whatsoever in using illegal substances. It wasn’t until a few years after I’d graduated from college and could feel a sufficient distance from the devastation of addiction, that I felt it was safe to even experiment.
The first was an idyllic walk with a friend’s father along the beach in Santa Monica. Just before dusk, we’d soon have dinner with his beautiful family. We smoked and walked. I don’t remember what was said, but I remember how peaceful it felt. The second was a few years later. My boss gifted me a beautiful miniature Christmas tree in a tiny Ziploc bag. As I enjoyed it, I felt an anxiety dissolve that I hadn’t known was there. I felt lifted and elevated by the biochemical rush we call the ‘high’ and it was undoubtedly behaving in my system like medicine.
Fast forward to the present - I’m a Hypnotherapist living in the city with a thriving practice. I believe in the responsible and ethical development of pharmaceutical science for the treatment of real disease. And I have a recreational cannabis habit which, if I’m judging simply by the way it feels, is healthy. (I don’t drink very often, and stopped smoking cigarettes long ago. For most of my twenties, I tended bar a few nights a week at music venues like Mercury Lounge and Bowery Ballroom.) In a brief retrospective analysis of my working life in the context of my family, it’s evident our business is altering states.
Advanced training in Hypnotherapy includes a detailed understanding of micro-movements in body language. A teacher of mine calls it “sorting for states”. Most of us do it unconsciously when we read non-verbal communication. As I watch the body language of my fellow New Yorkers and consider my own, particularly in the unending ubiquity of screens throughout the city, I see layers upon layers of trances. Some of them soothing, others numbing, many of them rushing, a few of them still…
Temporarily, let’s exclude the most obvious state-altering substances like illegal drugs, prescription drugs, alcohol, food, coffee, caffeine, sugar, etc. And just consider technology and media as stimulant, depressant, sweet, or psychedelic. Screens are inherently trance-inducing and state-altering (however slight or extreme). In a sense, the intelligent design of the computer and smartphone are what make them trance-inducing devices. They attract and hold our attention for long periods of time. As I leave my apartment and walk to the subway, I will see more screens than my brain can consciously process. The city as organic happening always had an intensity built into it that could be over-stimulating, but in our modern lives the volume of this is deafening.
Of course, I’ve been hesitant to discuss Cannabis and integrate it into my career. Recreational use is still illegal in the state of NY. Some still maintain dated or negative views. There are still entrenched stigmas that remain stubborn, but I’m in no small part inspired by my friends. To quote Dr. Stephen Dahmer, Chief Medical Officer at Vireo Health:
“The 5,000 year history of the 36 million year old cannabis plant’s use as medicine is well documented. Attitudes toward cannabis have shifted following the discovery and growth of research exploring the endocannabinoid system and how cannabis chemical constituents influence multiple human physiological processes including appetite, regulation of mood and perception of pain. Any critic of medical cannabis will be quick to point out the lack of randomized controlled trials due in large part to its designation as a Schedule 1 substance.
Despite this limitation, medical cannabis has been shown to relieve pain, muscle spasms and spasticity, as well as stimulate appetite and weight gain in patients with wasting syndromes. In addition, increasing evidence of the value of medical cannabis continues to build based on medium and large, double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trials. One of cannabis’ greatest potential advantages as a medicine is its level of safety. There is no known case of a lethal overdose…”
From Transitions, by Stephen Dahmer. Published in Family Doctor: A Journal of the New York State Academy of Family Physicians
Vireo Health is one of the only physician-led medical cannabis companies in the United States. Also leading the charge in New York is the Bowery Cannabis Club with their mission to connect and educate people on the values and health benefits of cannabis and CBD products. These teams are doing more than education, they’re thought-leaders on how to move our relationship with the plant forward.
“…there is much logic in our being born with a drive to experiment with other ways of experiencing our perceptions, in particular to get away periodically from ordinary, ego-centered consciousness. It may even be a key factor in the present evolution of the human nervous system.”
Andrew Weil, from "The Natural Mind: A New Way of Looking at Drugs and Higher Consciousness"
It’s a challenge to articulate clearly what the next world looks like because we’ve not yet formed the vocabulary. But I’ll try; in a future where the drive to alter states is considered widely as an innate human drive analogous to hunger or sexuality, the “drug problem” will cease to exist as we’ve known it. (That’s Dr. Andrew Weil, really.) When cannabis has been decriminalized, a teenaged boy like my brother - born to the right family in the wrong town, prone to wildness and in need of a certain kind of attention who uses pot to “escape” – won’t be labeled an addict and told the disease is a lifelong struggle long before his young psyche is done developing. He will not be publicly shamed through a traumatic legal process of arrest, judgment, and forced treatment of an unsubstantiated diagnosis before his family and community. Looking back on my early experiences around addiction, the terrible insidiousness of shame is far and away the greatest and most expensive lesson. The measure of oppression and pacification in both society and the individual is incalculable. It looms casting its shadow in the background as we forget we’re in the shade.
It’s worth noting here that I’m describing and drawing from my memories of suburbs in the 90s. Not the diverse, cultural and socio-economic metropolis in which I presently reside. This is an infinitesimal point on the spectrum of injustice, and injustice is only one chapter in the story of Cannabis. I’ve been searching throughout my adult life for communities and experiences with whom I could have these honest conversations. As few as 10 years ago, I wasn’t certain it was possible in my lifetime. I’m so happy to have been wrong.
Hosted by the Bowery Cannabis Club and Daniel Ryan. Treats by Enjoy Cannabis Desserts
Friday, March 30th
You are invited to join a new kind of conversation about how we interact with Cannabis. We will kick off the evening with mingling and infused snacks, and then explore the borders and influences of our altered states on one another through guided reflection. What are the differences when we enjoy anything with intention versus with a passive attitude? We will be compassionately illuminating the lessons of these experiences and integrating them into our knowledge through a guided experience combining meditation with hypnotherapy. Attendees will be encouraged to share and reflect on their most potent and positive experiences with Cannabis, what made it so, and why. We’ll talk about the simple and essential nature of “set and setting” (our mindset and the setting we are in during an event or happening) and how to carry this new awareness with us and make it a practice while honoring ourselves, the plant, and the moment equally.
$40 BCC members receive 15% off using their March code
You will receive an email providing the address for this event when you RSVP. You can become a member of the Bowery Cannabis Club today! Sign up here.
Not able to attend this event? Send us a question for Daniel and we'll include a few favorites in a video/interview Q&A which we'll share online, after the event. Email your questions to email@example.com
About Bowery Cannabis Club:
The Bowery Cannabis Club exists to connect, educate, and serve the international community that is awakening to the healing power of cannabis. BCC hosts events and workshops that inspire connection and discussion. BCC also provides premium products, at special prices for members. Learn about the health benefits of cannabis, and the wide variety of ways to integrate it into your wellness routine. Stay connected to the leading researchers, doctors, thinkers, and organizations propelling this movement. BCC events are held at The Alchemist’s Kitchen, and open to all people who feel passionate about this remarkable plant. Learn about the latest medical research into CBD and THC, sample new products, or consult with an expert for personalized advice. Bowery Cannabis Club is a project of Evolver, a global hub for the transformational community.