Worth Repeating: Marijuana and the Psychology of Optimal Experience


Cage Potato

Worth Repeating
​By Ron Marczyk, R.N.
Health Education Teacher (Retired)
The reductionist, “group think,” cold, dogmatic drug warriors of the National Institute of Drug Abuse, the DEA, and the FDA have been digesting their own misinformation for so long they have lost their humanity. 
As counterintuitive as it sounds, the” high” or “feel good” buzz from marijuana is an actual “therapeutic effect” that heals the brain, produces homeostasis and prevents many neurodegenerative conditions.
Brain homeostasis is restored by the direct action of THC/CBD-activating CB1 receptors in the amygdala which regulate our “happiness / emotional salience module.” This pathway is dedicated to seeking for “meaningfulness” in our existence.
This innate drive is the need for self-actualization. THC increases the probability of these events occurring, through inducing metaphysical “flow states” and “peak experiences.” 

This plant, with its deep historical partnership with the human species, continues to amaze medical researchers who now are trying to decipher the workings of the endocannabinoid system.

The latest research evidence from 2010-2011 is now concluding that the cannabinoid system, when activated, helps the amygdala unlearn the response people may experience from past major fearful events that keep returning… as the latest research from the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry/ Research Group Neuronal Plasticity (Germany’s Harvard)  is reporting (see footnotes 1-4).
Imagine that! Medical marijuana helps the brain unlearn fear! 
One might describe marijuana’s effects as producing flow, as the opposite of “amygdala hijack,” as seen in PTSD.

Amygdala hijack – fear caused by optical stimulus.


Coronal section of brain through intermediate mass of third ventricle. Amygdala is shown in purple.

​Marijuana resets a damaged amygdala which is in a hyper-alert fear state. 
The amygdala performs primary roles in the formation and storage of memories associated with emotional events. Research indicates that, during fear conditioning, sensory stimuli reach the basolateral complexes of the amygdala, particularly the lateral nuclei, where they form associations with memories of the stimuli. The association between stimuli and the aversive events they predict may be mediated by long-term potentiating, a sustained enhancement of signaling between affected neurons.
Additionally, data demonstrate that acute marijuana smoking produced minimal effects on complex cognitive task performance in experienced marijuana users. 
Marijuana’s effects are humanistic; they support human wellness in body and mind.
The psychological states of flow, peak experience, and self-actualization experiences are generated by cannabis use and using medical, whole-plant marijuana and getting “high” is good for you, for your cognitive and emotional health.

Reality Catcher

​Or as lifelong marijuana user, Dr. Carl Sagan, an exemp
lar of self-actualization, said:

“I am convinced that there are genuine and valid levels of perception available with cannabis (and probably with other drugs) which are, through the defects of our society and our educational system, unavailable to us without such drugs.”

“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.” ~ Carl Sagan, in Dr. Lester Grinspoon’s Marijuana Reconsidered
Medical marijuana is positive psychology psychotherapy in plant-based form.
In humanistic terms, it’s wonderful to know that we have this evolutionary partner on our side.

Abraham Maslow, the father of positive psychology and of self-actualization theory

​Meet Abraham Maslow, the father of positive psychology and of self-actualization theory.
Watch this YouTube video for an introduction to Maslow’s famous “Hierarchy of Needs“:
Most traditional medical and psychological perspective is focused on a “disease model” of health, that is, identifying and treating dysfunction. It is centered on what goes wrong with humans; it doesn’t address prevention or wellness in any serious manner. 
Positive psychology perspective is focused on what goes “right” with humans, as when people transcend their biology and environment and discover and become that one thing that makes them whole.
There are many paths to the top of the mountain. Our path is self-validating. Self-actualization doesn’t seek outside permission. 
Positive psychologists seek “to find and nurture genius and talent,” and “to make normal life more fulfilling,” not simply to treat mental illness. The field is intended to complement, not to replace, traditional psychology. It does not seek to deny the importance of studying how things go wrong, but rather to emphasize the importance of using the scientific method to determine how things go right.
Researchers in the field analyze things like states of pleasure or flow, values, strengths, virtues, talents, as well as the ways that they can be promoted by social systems and institutions. It is best researched in case study and naturalistic settings.

According to Dr. Csíkszentmihályi, who developed the concept of flow, it is completely focused motivation. It is a single-minded immersion and represents perhaps the ultimate in harnessing the emotions in the service of performing and learning. 

Marijuana-produced flow is balanced at the center point; flow even has its own soundtrack! What’s your game? What song produces flow in you? Here’s my soundtrack for flow when I’m on my mountain bike.

In flow, the emotions are not just contained and channeled, but positively energized, and aligned with the task at hand: the mind of “no-mind;” no thinking, just doing.
To be caught in the ennui of depression or the agitation of anxiety is to be barred from flow. 
The hallmark of flow is a feeling of spontaneous joy — even rapture — while performing a task, although flow is also described as a deep focus on nothing but the activity, not time or even oneself or one’s emotions. There is no “you” in the activity; just the “doing.”
It is also described as a mental state of operation in which a person in an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity. Colloquial terms for this or similar mental states include: to be in the moment, present, in the zone, wired in, or melting into an activity where duality ceases and you are the activity.
Peak experience is a term used to describe certain transpersonal and ecstatic states, particularly ones tinged with themes of euphoria, harmonization and interconnectedness.
Participants characterize these experiences, and the revelations imparted therein, as possessing an ineffably mystical and spiritual quality or essence. 
Chills going up your spine and your skin tingling are good indicators of peak experience.

An interpretation of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, represented as a pyramid with the more basic needs at the bottom.

Humans are also driven by an innate desire for “self actualization” which can be described a human need to actualize themselves, to become their potentialities… to express and activate all the capacities of this human… the final level of psychological development in life that can be achieved when all basic and mental needs are fulfilled and the “actualization” of the full personal potential takes place. Or in a more humanistic description:

Beats Reality & Herb

​It is said that soon after his enlightenment the Buddha passed a man on the road who was struck by the Buddha’s extraordinary radiance and peaceful presence.
The man stopped and asked, “My friend, what are you? Are you a celestial being or a god?” “No,” said the Buddha. “Well, then, are you some kind of magician or wizard?” Again the Buddha answered, “No.” “Are you a man? Well, my friend, then what are you?” The Buddha replied, “I am awake.
The word “high” has been twisted with misinformation to mean its opposite, namely a mental disease as in “psychotoxic.” This assumption is generally tested for  by using a psychology test to measure for signs and symptoms of schizophrenia called the “PANSS,” or the Positive and Negative Syndrome Scale.
This is an inappropriate instrument for testing the underlying assumption that the marijuana plant is exactly like schizophrenia; that assumption is incorrect.
This is an example of how science is used incorrectly to denigrate marijuana. 
The unquestioned false assumption at work here is that people who use cannabis are psychotic. If you equate marijuana’s high with schizophrenia symptoms, save yourself the trouble of doing the experiment.  You have already concluded your answer and your bias.

Dr. Andrew Weil: “[T]he tests being used by these scientists are designed to look for impairments of functions that have nothing to do with why marijuana users put themselves in an altered state of consciousness”

​As further explained by Dr. Andrew Weil, experiments are conducted in sterile laboratory settings:
“…after large doses of pure oral THC alone or synthetic T
HC-like chemicals are given to people who have never had it before, … Or in very high doses that they are not used to (or giving it orally to people used to smoking it) … Or giving people very hard things to do, especially things that they have never had a chance to practice while under the influence of the drug.”
“Under any of these three conditions, pharmacologists can demonstrate that marijuana impairs performance,” Dr. Weil writes. “And if we look at the work being done by NIMH-funded researchers, all of it fulfills one or more of these conditions.”
If you tested alcohol under the same conditions,you would get the same results — except, of course, there would be much worse impairment.
“In addition, the tests being used by these scientists are designed to look for impairments of functions that have nothing to do with why marijuana users put themselves in an altered state of consciousness.”
People who get high on marijuana do not spontaneously try to do arithmetic problems, perform difficult eye tracking or angry face detection, drive a car or test their fine coordination. They don’t get high to see how well they will do on the test! 
“What pharmacologists cannot make sense of is that people who are high on marijuana cannot be shown, in objective terms, to be different from people who are not high.” 

What should be tested is marijuana’s effect on increasing introspection and intrapersonal intelligence, in addition to music and art appreciation. It’s no accident that so many people who self select into extreme sports are into using marijuana.
The joy of marijuana use is, first and foremost, about people, real people in real lives, and not about computer models, statistical analyses, rat behavior, test scores, and performance in laboratory settings.
Drug abuseologists start with a false bias hypothesis (being high is a negative), then use the wrong methology to gather incorrect data in a reductionist manner.
Remember, humans should not be treated like lab rats. Here is how drug abuseologists study marijuana or come up with new treatment options for PTSD: 

Navy Gives Neck Injections A Shot At Curing PTSD
This new freaky procedure, called stellate-ganglion block (SGB), is an experimental treatment that the navy wants to use for PTSD treatments. They will not allow vets to use medical marijuana and think this neck injection idea is the better way to treat PTSD.

​This procedure has “bad idea” written all over it.
“After subsequent research, however, Lipov in 2009 published a paper in Medical Hypothesis — a journal whose stated mission is to ‘publish radical, speculative and non-mainstream ideas’ — describing how SGB seems to work. The injection of anesthetic, administered into a bundle of sympathetic nervous tissue in the neck, appears to turn off something called nerve growth factor. Nerve growth factor can surge during stressful experiences and promote the sprouting of nerves. That triggers chronic stress — what’s commonly known as the ‘fight or flight’ response.
“If somebody’s circuitry is going haywire, then the anesthetic shuts it off, and reboots the system,” Dr. Hickey says.
“Of course, you’d be right to t
hink that rebooting a soldier’s nervous system sounds a little scary. And indeed, SGB isn’t without risks. The injection can trigger seizures, hit an artery or even puncture the lung, however rarely.”
The drug abuseologists have even helped to build a large treatment and prison industry to stop humans from exercising their basic right to change their consciousness.
“Corrections Corporation of America, the nation’s largest operator of for-profit prisons, has sent letters recently to 48 states offering to buy up their prisons as a remedy for ‘challenging corrections budgets.’ In exchange, the company is asking for a 20-year management contract, plus an assurance that the prison would remain at least 90 percent full. 
“With revenues expanding more than fivefold since the mid-1990s, the company capitalized on the expansion of state prison systems in the ’80s and ’90s at the height of the so-called ‘war on drugs,’ contracting with state governments to build or manage new prisons to house an influx of drug offenders.”
Translation: If you smoke marijuana we will destroy your life, make money on you and treat humans like a commodity, being bought and sold by a corporation.
Note: 50 percent of all people in prison are there for drug offenses, mostly due to marijuana.  
We in the cannabis culture dare to question these false assumptions and mythologies with the truth.
Words have meaning; the word “high” has been twisted, and should not be confused with “intoxicated.” Cannabis is not a poison. Marijuana is not in any way like alcohol; it is entheogenic, part of the answer, and not the problem. 

The “disconnect” is in the language we use. We speak about marijuana in humanistic, not bias reductionist terms. Which misses the point of how great it feels to be awake and alive.
The high we speak of is obtaining a state of “flow and peak experiences.” This is a new “preventative based medical cannabis therapy” that is an evolution within the perspective of positive psychology matched with cannabis plant-based medicines.
The THC/CBD plant “high” is similar to the health effects of daily aspirin, in that cannabinoids keep neurodegenerative diseases at bay, and also similar to the health effects of a nightly glass of red wine when you are relaxing at the end of another hard day.

The Lancet
Cannabis is ranked one of the least harmful drugs by a study published in the U.K. medical journal, The Lancet.

​Cannabis is ranked one of the least harmful drugs by a study published in the UK medical journal, The Lancet.
As counterintuitive as it sounds, being high is good for your health and your head.
For the same reason as a hard gym workout and having frequent sexual orgasms are good for you, getting high releases  physical and emotional stress which helps the brain return to its set point of homeostasis.
 It’s hard not to smile or laugh when you are in the marijuana flow. Being high helps you fall in love with life. The need to feel  this way is hard-wired into our DNA, which codes for self-actualization through art, music, or any life passion that you have turned into play, similar to the best memory you have as playing as the child you were. This pathway is dedicated to seeking for “meaningfulness” or “salience” in our existence. 
This is the basis for all human expressions of religiosity, and has been described by Dr. V. S. Ramachandran as Temporal Lobe Epilepsy. Because the amygdala is the brain’s hotspot for CB1 receptors, their activation from the initial rush cannabinoids stimulates the same salience pathway in a positive manner. 
Something needs to be said for the fact that PTSD is damage to the fear pathway in the amygdala, and the pathway that activates the mystical transience experiences sits side by side in this small almond-shaped part of the brain.
Being high is good for you; it is exercise in self- kindness/compassion and self knowing which is then outwardly redirected to others in the species.
Being high produces brain homeostasis!  Marijuana makes the human heart sing with intrinsic joy.
The outcomes of marijuana-produced self-actualization:
Truth,     rather than dishonesty. 
Goodness,    rather than evil. 
Beauty,    not ugliness or vulgarity. 
Unity, wholeness, and transcendence of opposites,   not arbitrariness or forced choices. 
Aliveness,    not deadness or the mechanization of life. 
Uniqueness,    not bland uniformity. 
Perfection and necessity,     not sloppiness, inconsistency, or accident. 
Completion,     rather than incompleteness. 
Justice and order,     not injustice and lawlessness. 
Simplicity,     not unnecessary complexity. 
Richness,     not environmental impoverishment. 
Effortlessness,     not strain. 
Playfulness,    not grim, humorless, drudgery. 
Self-sufficiency,    not dependency. 
Meaningfulness,    rather than senselessness.
How do you make a plant, and people’s love of a plant, illegal?
Every day is another chance to ignite. I’m addicted to this universal feeling called life!


1.  “Based on previous research involving the endocannabinoid system and fear relief, we are able to pinpoint the processes in which endocannabinoids seem to play a significant role. Following auditory-cued fear conditioning, this applies in particular to habituation and its involvement in acute and long-lasting fear relief”
From “Fear relief-toward a new conceptual frame work and what endocannabinoids gotta do with it”
Neuroscience, December 2011   http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22173015
2.  “In particular, the activation of CB1 receptor-mediated signaling is centrally involved in the facilitation of behavioral adaptation after the acquisition of aversive memories. As several human psychiatric disorders, such as phobia, generalized anxiety disorders, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) appear to involve aberrant memory processing and impaired adaptation to changed environmental conditions, the hope has been fuelled that the endocannabinoid system might be a valuable therapeutic target for the treatment of these disorders”  
From “The endocannabinoid system and extinction learning”
Molecular Neurobiology, August 2007     http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17952654
3.  “Activation of CB1 receptor-mediated signaling is centrally involved in the facilitation of behavioral adaptation after the acquisition of aversive memories. As several human psychiatric disorders, such as phobia, generalized anxiety disorders, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) appear to involve aberrant memory processing and impaired adaptation to changed environmental conditions, the hope has been fuelled that the endocannabinoid system might be a valuable therapeutic target for the treatment of these disorders     
From “The endocannabinoid system in the processing of anxiety and fear and how CB1 receptors may modulate fear extinction”
Journal of Pharmacological Research, November 2007 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17951068
4. “Our data show the existence of CB1 proteins in the central nucleus of the amygdala, and their critical role for ensuring short-term adaptation of responses to fearful events, thereby suggesting a potential therapeutic target to accompa
ny habituation-based therapies of post-traumatic symptoms”                   
From “Short-term adaptation of conditioned fear responses through endocannabinoid signaling in the central amygdale”
From Neuropsychopharmacology, February 2011 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20980994

Photo: Ron Marczyk
Mr. Worth Repeating: former NYPD cop, former high school health teacher, the unstoppable Ron Marczyk, R.N., Toke of the Town columnist

​Editor’s note: Ron Marczyk is a retired high school health education teacher who taught Wellness and Disease Prevention, Drug and Sex Ed, and AIDS education to teens aged 13-17. He also taught a high school International Baccalaureate psychology course. He taught in a New York City public school as a Drug Prevention Specialist. He is a Registered Nurse with six years of ER/Critical Care experience in NYC hospitals, earned an M.S. in cardiac rehabilitation and exercise physiology, and worked as a New York City police officer for two years. Currently he is focused on how evolutionary psychology explains human behavior.