« Marijuana’s Unsuspected "Daddy" Factor | Main | Federal Duplicity and Chronic Pain »

January 05, 2012

Annals of Ingestion: the “Head” versus the “Body” High

Experienced users know there are two different cannabis highs; a head high from smoking and a body high following oral ingestion. However, neither the popular nor the professional branches of the voluminous modern literature devoted to “marijuana” since California's Proposition 215 passed in 1996 demonstrate more than cursory interest in those differences; let alone the basis for them or the possibility they could have important therapeutic implications. In fact, I didn't begin focusing on them myself until I'd been questioning applicants for a few years, and it has only been since I began analyzing their answers that I have been able to come up with a logical explanation. Interestingly, once understood, the reasons for the differences noted by users are not obscure; indeed, they are rooted in basic anatomy and physiology to an extent that suggests they have been literally hiding in plain sight since 1970 or before. Why that should be the case thus becomes a question requiring an answer. Perhaps, like so much other information now coming to light about a subject that's been off limits to honest research for over seven decades, the right questions were slow in coming because not enough was known about the forbidden drug to pose them.

Cannabis was being used medically in Asia long before its benefits were reported to Western Physicians around 1840 by William O'Shaughnessy, an Irish Physician who had been working for the British Raj in India. As far as we can tell, most of the therapeutic applications of Ganja investigated and popularized by O'Shaughnessy were either oral or topical. In that connection, it's interesting that O'Shaughnessy himself considered its use by inhalation "depraved." At about the same time, on the other side of the English Channel, French Romantic authors began gathering for informal experiments using hashhish as an intoxicant. What is immediately evident from the description quoted from Baudelaire, is that they were focused of what would now be called "recreation" and were indiscriminately mixing alcohol, smoked cannabis and edibles. That some might have found such experiences unpleasant is not at all surprising.

Technical Details

The introduction of drugs into the body is technically referred to as ingestion; it may be oral, by injection, or by inhalation, either directly as a gas or by smoking. Agents amenable to inhalation rapidly enter the pulmonary (lung) circulation and are delivered almost immediately to the heart and then pumped to the brain and other parts of the body. In the case of cannabis, the experienced user senses a characteristic, and almost immediate, elevation in mood which is interesting because that mood change is only experienced by those able to get "high." A little known fact is that at least half the applicants I've interviewed did not get high the first time they tried "weed," and many failed several times before it happened. The first (and only) public recognition of that phenomenon I'm aware of is Dr. Lester Grinspoon's frank description of his own initial failures and later success. I now ask all applicants if they got high the first time. At least half didn't, and many required several attempts. To my knowledge, cannabis is the only illegal drug that gives prospective users such a test: anyone unable to get high will almost certainly not become a chronic user. Such people do exist (I have met only one), but they would have little reason to seek a recommendation.

We know cannabis was legally prescribed by American physicians from the Nineteenth Century on and can safely assume that most of its early medical use was oral, but we have relatively little information about its "recreational" use by inhalation during that same interval, nor about its commercial production for those purposes. We do know from other sources that several states passed laws against it when alcohol Prohibition passed. Why? Because they assumed that banning booze would make "muggles" more attractive! Never underestimate the malevolence of moralistic control freaks...

In any event, at least one well known historical figure experienced several of the same benefits from his use of inhaled cannabis that were reported by my patients. Louis Armstrong was a musical genius who played a critical role in shaping jazz into a unique American cultural contribution. There's also little doubt that his lifelong use of inhaled cannabis played a critical role in helping him overcome a childhood spent in an orphanage. Armstrong also had to overcome poverty, racial prejudice, and the perils of a criminal "justice" system that ironically, wasn't as tough on him in 1930 when he was arrested for possession of "gage" as it would have been today.

In another entry, I'll discuss the key differences between edibles and smoke, the reasons for them, and how that clinical evidence impeaches federal dogma as so much imaginative nonsense.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at January 5, 2012 07:38 PM