Marijuana and the Myth of the Harmless Drug

Art of Healing Magazine, Autumn 2006, Issue 14, p.26-27

For the entire time that I smoked marijuana, I believed that it was a totally harmless drug. Statistics appeared to support my case. No deaths had ever been recorded from overdosing on marijuana. In fact, someone once estimated that it would take 800 joints to kill you, but your death would be a result of carbon monoxide rather than cannabinoid poisoning (Booth 2003 p.13). I also thought the ‘gateway drug’ theory, in which a soft drug like marijuana could supposedly lead to hard drug addiction, was propaganda intended to stop dope-smokers enjoying themselves. In my reasoning, if marijuana really could lead to hard drugs, as the theory proposed, why had millions of marijuana users not turned into heroin addicts? It wasn’t until I studied Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and started to work in holistic drug recovery that I found an answer to this and all my other questions about the drug. TCM employs an entirely different approach to understanding the human body than Western medicine. It makes no distinction between body, mind and spirit and it has a vocabulary capable of explaining not only the paradoxical aspects of marijuana, but also its potential as a gateway drug to stimulants and heroin.

If you analyse the effects of marijuana using TCM, it is not that marijuana has no side effects, but rather that the side effects are complex, subtle and cumulative. They creep up on you over time. Depending on what is termed your ‘constitution’, in Traditional Chinese Medicine, this process can be so slow that no cause and effect connection between the drug and the symptoms is ever made. According to my research, which is based on a fusion of TCM and Energy medicine, each drug has a different property and works via a particular organ. Marijuana has a magnifying property and it operates primarily via the Liver. The Liver is responsible for a smooth flow of Chi throughout the body (Maciocia 1989 p.227). So, under the influence of marijuana, you can get a heightened awareness of the Chi flowing. You may experience this as a warm and pleasant sensation which spreads throughout the body and can be particularly strong in the abdominal area where the Liver is located. The feeling can sometimes be so intense in this region that you burst into spontaneous laughter, as you would if someone tickled you in that spot. Because the Chi is flowing smoothly, you feel content, happy and relaxed. As the Chi flows throughout the body, it indirectly amplifies the function of the other organs too. When Stomach and Spleen function is enhanced you can get ‘the munchies’, or an insatiable urge to eat, particularly sweet and creamy foods as they resonate with the Spleen. The freeflowing Chi also amplifies the function of the Kidneys so, for some people, sexual activities and orgasms can seem much more intense too. The emergence of what you think are brilliant ideas when you are stoned, or feeling more creative, occurs because the magnifying property of marijuana has also allowed an increased awareness of ‘birth, growth and expansion’, which are considered in TCM to be qualities or values associated with the Liver.

Of course not everyone has these pleasant experiences, some people feel paranoid and self-conscious and TCM, which is based on the concept of duality, can explain this too. The terms Yin and Yang describe this duality and are applied to everything from the macroscopic to microscopic. Marijuana is primarily a Yin drug so if you have a more Yin or passive constitution, the magnifying property of the drug can amplify these qualities and you become one of the dope-smokers who end up sitting around staring blankly into space. This zombie-like state can be described as Liver Yin excess. It is like being trapped in one of those dreams where something is chasing you but when you try to run you can’t, except it is worse because you are awake. I have had many patients who suffered these effects when they smoked dope but rather than giving up, they turned to stimulants such as speed which provided the excitement that marijuana couldn’t. This is one scenario in which marijuana can be a gateway drug.

Even if you are not a Yin person, because marijuana is primarily a Yin drug, if you continuously use it ‘retreat and wait’ is the state that will become dominant in both a short- and long-term context. In the short term, as the marijuana begins to take effect, it can make you feel temporarily motivated but after a period of time, even Yang types end up sitting around doing nothing. They are not in a Liver Yin excess state, as they are not experiencing emotional torment, but they are not in an exciting or active state either. It is waiting but without anticipation. In the long term, this passivity previews the kind of state that marijuana use can create on a more permanent basis. Most people, for example, are familiar with the stereotypical image of the ageing hippie or heavy dope smoker who can’t ever get their act together and do anything. This is not a personality type, it is often a behaviour arising from imbalances caused by excessive marijuana use. Unfortunately, the majority of long-term users will eventually fall into this category. It is such a slow and insidious process though, that they won’t see it happening. They will just change slowly over time until they eventually forget how active, engaging and energetic they once were.

Everyone has a mental picture of who they are, of who they want to be and what they want to do in life. In TCM this is directly connected with the Liver. If you repeatedly take a substance that has a direct impact on the functioning of the Liver, as marijuana does, it can create an imbalance between your visions or ideas, and the impetus to act upon them. The idea becomes bigger and the action becomes smaller so you become more occupied with thinking and talking than doing. This is particularly frustrating for creative people as they still have their creativity but lose their ability to act. In this state, evidence of achievement in other people can make them acutely aware of their own deficiencies and they can become emotionally reactive, cynical, bitter and angry. They then smoke more dope to counter these negative feelings but it intensifies the problem. The magnifying nature of the drug, rather than increasing awareness of growth or expansion, then increases awareness of being stagnant physically or emotionally. Chi needs to flow and anyone who feels stagnant will instinctively seek to correct the situation. We all manage ourselves in this way: if we need perking up we might have a coffee, to reduce stress we might have a few drinks, to comfort ourselves we might eat something sweet. If you want to remain in the drug world though, such solutions are often sought via other, more powerful drugs. This is another situation in which marijuana can lead to hard drugs such as speed or cocaine.


Booth, M. 2003, Cannabis, a History, London, Transworld Publishers.

Maciocia, G. 1989, The Foundations of Chinese Medicine, Churchill Livingstone, Edinburgh, New York.

Copyright © Jost Sauer 2006

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