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Perceptions and thinking: Does the scenery really change?

Obviously it is our brains that change on pot, not the scenery. The way marijuana helps with severe pain, nausea, etc., is by dissociation from the body and from feelings, and altering the reactive thoughts about those feelings.

It’s a huge, and welcome, distraction. In some ways, its actions are similar to the anti-depressants that we take, except that the Prozacs creates the dissociation to a much lesser and controlled extent.

Pot seems to work on serotonin, as does Prozac, albeit in different ways. When we smoke pot, some mental functions are enhanced (those that help us survive, for instance) while others take a back seat, primarily to our complex thinking frontal cortex.

Our body would rather send blood and nutrients to the lower brain and do without any meaningful thinking while it battles the chemical onslaught. The limbic emotional and impulse centers are now running your life. Therein lies the high.

Sensory perceptions do indeed become stronger and more colorful on pot.

But in exchange, our memory, reasoning and information processing functions fade to useless. We stop attributing meaning to things around us and start seeing and hearing primarily the immediate stimuli in our environment. The music we’re playing is suddenly enthralling, yet we can’t track its patterns or differentiate the separate instruments. We can’t catch the words very well (which is difficult to begin with).

It’s not that enjoying the music is a bad thing, but what we don’t realize is that we’re dropping hot ashes on the couch, or that the gas is on in the kitchen or that the baby has been crying for 45 minutes.

Ever go in the shower with your glasses or socks on? For someone in extreme pain, maybe this is helpful. For those of us who must function effectively in the world, though, pot is not a good drug (caffeine is much better).

In one way, our internal dialogue becomes stronger and more compelling under the influence of pot. But this is a fantasy, for it is actually impulse-driven thinking coming out of the lower brain, and it fails to help us discriminate what’s going on around us.

A friend of mine used to call it “not being able to tell what’s coming at you.” Since, while under the influence of pot, our consciousness is narrowed and trapped in the here and now, i.e. our couch and TV or stereo, we don’t think about our duties, like studying for that test, feeding the fish or paying the bills.

The great here and now may be interesting, even entrancing, but nothing useful gets done. Our thinking becomes passive and non-reacting. We don’t accomplish much in the world while stoned on pot. For heavy daily users, this becomes a persistent lifestyle, even between smokes. Why bother to become a doctor when you can work the night shift at the motel desk and stay stoned?

One of the worst effects of pot is its crippling of short term memory. Can’t remember why you went into the kitchen? Think about how much you need your memory and how much depends upon it. Your entire life.

Do people often tell you that you already told them that story? And it’s still not funny. Pot traps you inside your head. You lose the relationship, connection and associations to things outside of yourself (meditating is a healthier way to do this.)

Marijuana-induced memory impairment is similar to dementia, and creates a sort of chemically induced Alzheimer’s, greatly lessening our mental acuity and ability to think positively and purposefully. “Dope” is right: pleasantly euphoric and hungry, but significantly cognitively impaired.

Will you be needing to use your brain today?

Next week, we’ll talk about marijuana and your emotions. Try to remember to read it. Make a note.

John Gilburt is the director of the Boulder Alcohol Education Center Inc.