Carl Sagan, one of the best known and best respected astronomers and astrophysicists of all time, had a mind that worked differently from anyone else’s on the planet. That’s how he came to have brilliant eurekas about the deepest mechanics of the universe, create the only phonograph to ever leave the solar system, and communicate complex astronomical theories to millions of people through his best-selling books and uber-popular series Cosmos.
So, it should not be too surprising that getting high affected him a little differently and more profoundly than it did your average stoner. For instance, most potheads don’t write eleven scientific essays in an hour after a realization achieved while taking a shower high. And most don’t hallucinate a little Spanish man in the heart of a candle flame. But Sagan did.
Either he had really great/laced stuff, or his brain just rocked cannabinoids a little harder than other people’s. In 1969 he took the time to write a bitching essay on marijuana that’s less a critical evaluation of cannabis than it is a super-brainy love letter to it. It appeared in the 1971 volume Marihuana Reconsidered under the psuedonym “Mr. X,” but after Sagan’s death in the 1990’s the work was attributed to its true author.
Here are some highlights from his poetic, scientific ode to getting high as fuck:
- Though toking didn’t have any affect on him the first six or so times he imbibed, one day he sipped off a joint, and according to Sagan, “…it happened… When I closed my eyes, I was stunned to find that there was a movie going on the inside of my eyelids. Flash . . . a simple country scene with red farmhouse, a blue sky, white clouds, yellow path meandering over green hills to the horizon. . . Flash . . . same scene, orange house, brown sky, red clouds, yellow path, violet fields . . . Flash . . . Flash . . . Flash. The flashes came about once a heartbeat. Each flash brought the same simple scene into view, but each time with a different set of colors . . . exquisitely deep hues, and astonishingly harmonious in their juxtaposition.” Most of us don’t get end of 2001: A Space Odyssey visions unless our shit is sprinkled with angel dust, but Sagan isn’t most of us.
- He also described, and explained in supremely scientific terms, the experience of hallucinating cartoons while on weed. He wrote: “Another interesting information-theoretical aspect is the prevalence – at least in my flashed images – of cartoons: just the outlines of figures, caricatures, not photographs. I think this is simply a matter of information compression; it would be impossible to grasp the total content of an image with the information content of an ordinary photograph, say 108 bits, in the fraction of a second which a flash occupies.”
- On potatoes: “A potato will have a texture, a body, and taste like that of other potatoes, but much more so.”
- Among the many, many other gifts Sagan describes received from Goddess Ganja, including the ability to perform “chronosthesia” (mental time travel), a deeper appreciation of art and music, and a spiritual connection to the universe, was a new sensitivity to the physical act of love, described of course in scientific-stoner terms like this: “Cannabis also enhances the enjoyment of sex – on the one hand it gives an exquisite sensitivity, but on the other hand it postpones orgasm: in part by distracting me with the profusion of image passing before my eyes. The actual duration of orgasm seems to lengthen greatly, but this may be the usual experience of time expansion which comes with cannabis smoking.”
- On blazed driving: “I have on a few occasions been forced to drive in heavy traffic when high. I’ve negotiated it with no difficult at all, though I did have some thoughts about the marvelous cherry-red color of traffic lights… I don’t advocate driving when high on cannabis, but I can tell you from personal experience that it certainly can be done.”
- Finally, he had some very stoned, but very groovy thoughts about what scientific information should be on the package of reefer cigarettes once they’re legalized (he optimistically thought legalization was coming soon; more than 45 years later we’re still thinking the same thing):
“Each puff is a very small dose; the time lag between inhaling a puff and sensing its effect is small; and there is no desire for more after the high is there. I think the ratio, R, of the time to sense the dose taken to the time required to take an excessive dose is an important quantity. R is very large for LSD (which I’ve never taken) and reasonably short for cannabis. Small values of R should be one measure of the safety of psychedelic drugs. When cannabis is legalized, I hope to see this ratio as one of the parameters printed on the pack. I hope that time isn’t too distant; 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.”
You can read the full “Mr. X” essay here.