On the intimacy of getting stoned in good company

Part of what is fun about getting high with good friends is its diluting of self-critical social restraint.

On the intimacy of getting stoned in good company

It’s not often these days that I get stoned with people – perhaps because I’ve become relaxed enough at 64 that the experience is less profound than it has been. But it is still a valued part of my social life, and I still think of it as an experience of intimacy – an occasion for personal revelation in an accepting space.

I am picky about whom I get stoned with. A lot of people don’t like smoking, and my favourite way to ingest marijuana is to inhale its fumes. A lot of people don’t much like to reveal themselves.

Personal revelation is relevant when you’re smoking dope in company because the drug tends to disinhibit you, and what you then do and say can reveal more than you expected to reveal about who you are.

Higher learning

I remember an occasion from my late teens when I smoked with two other young men, one of them a friend whom I admired and the other a friend of his whom I’d not met before. I remember my exhorting the newcomer, twice, to fuck off. For no good reason except that I felt as though three was a crowd. We were all smoking the newcomer’s dope.

Sober, I would have settled in with the two of them, and if they had bored me then I would have left early. I would never have admitted, even to myself, that I was very disappointed to be sharing my friend with another. And that I feared that the other person might edge me out. Stoned, I said just what I felt: that this generous stranger was an intruder. I had no idea before the words left my lips that I was going to use them.

Eruptions

As it happened, neither of my fellow smokers gave to these outbursts more than passing attention. Each noted my eruptions, but neither responded. I was not to know then that I would be smoking with these two several years later. I had no intimation that their companionship would end tragically, and in a way that would inspire me to write Bongs For Steve.

The duo’s non-responses to my eruptions exemplify a part of what I find intimate about smoking with friends. You can say things that challenge stoned friends directly, but they will be relaxed enough to let your challenge pass over one shoulder. They can say things that challenge you, and you feel much the same.

It is not that I never say anything challenging in conversation when sober. Some members of my small social circles might tell you that I am renowned for saying what others, wisely, will not. It is that any challenge I offer when sober is much more likely to have been curated. Even where what I say is open to being condemned as tactless, I will have thought carefully about whether to say it, and how to say it.

After even a couple of joints, any challenge I presented to a fellow smoker would be much more spontaneous. I might not even be aware that I was about to say something until I heard myself saying it. And yet, I cannot recall ever having been surprised by what it was that I said. I might have blurted out this or that unexpectedly, but what I blurted was always something I recognised as mine – I could see where it came from.

Truth serum

It’s commonly held about what people say when they’re stoned that they can never remember much of it afterwards. In my experience, that isn’t true. Matters of contention can be settled, and afterwards they stay settled. Compliments can be delivered, and afterwards they’re recalled.

In a memorable scene from the 2002 movie Adaptation, the protagonist and his brother decide to hide in a swamp from a gunman, at night. They know the swamp sustains alligators. They know the gunman is searching for them. And they whisper a conversation that resolves a troubling misunderstanding. If they’d got stoned together instead, they might have reached that point sooner.

But I don’t want to suggest that the intimacy I associate with marijuana arises solely or even mainly from its functioning as a truth serum. It does do that, sometimes. Just as it is said that there is truth in wine, so there is truth in dope and it is truth of a more lasting kind. But dope sessions can feel intimate for other reasons also.

When silliness is sufficient

Perhaps chief among them is the capacity of dope to ease social anxiety. I say capacity because in my experience smoking also increases anxiety – or rather, it brings me more awareness of how much anxiety I live with.

So on one hand, when I get stoned with someone or several someones I might experience myself as fearful of things that sober I take for granted as not frightening, or at least not as frightening. My committing to writing a fortnightly blog, for example. My audacity in publishing a novel and representing it to be literature. When I worked on a newspaper, the idea that when I went to the office, I would be phoning a succession of strangers and interrogating them for a story.

And on the other hand, when I get stoned with someone I am never anxious about their interest in my getting stoned with them. I lose a belief that accompanies me stubbornly into most social occasions: that I need to be entertaining. I am aware that I place that demand on myself, and I have learned to ignore it when sober as unsound and unhelpful, but it’s still there and in company I am working – even if I understand that the most entertaining thing I can do is to listen attentively.

When I am stoned with someone it’s different. It is easier for me to accept that it is fun simply to be in the other’s company, and that from there whatever we do is enough. The efficacy of marijuana for enhancing erotic play comes from this. But I find the drug at least as helpful when the environment is not erotic. When it produces the shared understanding that silliness is sufficient.

The narrator of Bongs For Steve observes that his common-law wife felt embarrassed when, stoned in company, he would act like an imbecile. He says he never quite understood why she was embarrassed, given that his being free to act like an imbecile was all but the point of his getting stoned with these people. Was she simply asking him to live with the pain of his being a man, rather than making a beast of himself and avoiding it? Or did Dr Johnson too miss the point? Answers welcome in comments.

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