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Erowid Families and Psychoactives Interview Series
Dialog with Mark & Christine
Interview by Erowid
Mark and Christine are advocates for the hemp and medical marijuana movements. Erowid spoke with them because the interact with many families who have faced questions around cannabis. In this dialog, Mark also gives a brief perspective on the generational difference between cannabis use now and cannabis use 20 to 30 years ago.

Erowid: With this project, we're focusing on psychedelics. Yet, so many people in the United States are cannabis consumers, it is an important aspect of what many families face as their children are moving towards adulthood.

Mark: Well it expands your base of data significantly, anyway. Also, I think it's a low-level psychedelic, although I think it really deserves its own category, it's not a psychedelic in the conventional sense.

Erowid: We were talking earlier about a family you are acquainted with, where the mother hadn't smoked cannabis since she was 19… what happened?

Christine: We were visiting with a couple who had asked Mark to speak at a prestigious dinner. The way that they found out about Mark is through their son, who was all excited about hemp, and was a cannabis consumer himself, beginning in high school, I don't know at what age. He was a successful kid and they didn't consider that problematic. They were OK with his use, as long as he didn't have any problems with it.

Mark: The topic of my speech was medical marijuana, and this came up in the discussion with them. We had gotten together with the parents, a social visit…

Christine: We went out to dinner with them and then went back to their home. The husband smokes once in a while; the mother had not tried cannabis since she was 19, and she had had a bad experience.

Mark: She basically had a panic attack. Part of my talk on medical marijuana was panic attacks, what causes them, and how to avoid them. I mentioned the standard thing, which is if your heart speeds up and your not expecting it -- which a novice smoker is not -- then you tend to panic about what's going on. Plus it's exciting when your heart is beating fast; it puts you into a psychologically excited state, you hear your heart pounding… Apparently when she had that response someone told her, "oh you're just having a bad trip." That's they all told her! So it pretty much turned her off. Once I explained about the heart beating faster is a temporary thing, and a little comforting is all it really takes to get past it, she thought she could get over it at that point, and her interest in trying it came back. We orchestrated a little bit of a cannabis cup, giving her a few different varieties so she could try different ones.

Erowid: That sounds intense…


Christine: It was, we were having a nice time…

Mark: The idea of course is we weren't finishing off these joints. Then the son came home, sniffed, "What's that smell?" It didn't take him long to figure it out, of course. So he smoked with us. One of the things that we noticed, though, was that this might be some kind of a momentous experience. First time smoking with the son and so forth…

Christine: …First time that the mother was going to have a positive experience, which she did…

Erowid: That was your expectation…

Mark: Actually we didn't have any concept of their kid being involved in this at all. It was just that we wanted to show the mother that her bad experience wasn't necessarily how cannabis would always be for her… Naturally she enjoyed it quite a bit. But then when the son came and started smoking with us, to our surprised, what actually manifested was not this profound connection, but in fact some of the typical family stuff. "Well you do this and this, and why don't you start doing that, and you're not doing enough of this…" The normal family stuff got integrated into it, which changed what our experience had been with them all evening, which was a totally adult-to-adult situation of using cannabis. When the son came in, it suddenly became parent-child, adult-adult. So it got more complicated. They dynamic changed. At a certain point, we moved into the kitchen and were talking there, and the daughter walks through the room. We're all talking, and suddenly we notice there's this big roach in the middle of the kitchen, on the counter in front of us. It's like, "Well who brought that in here?" The daughter had brought it out; she comes back in and lights it up in front of her parents, and says, "Well I saw it in the other room so I figured it was OK."

Erowid: How old was the daughter?

Christine: She was older, college-age, around 20, 21. The son was I think 18, 19.

Mark: But they were surprised, because they didn't know that she smoked. They knew the son smoked.

Christine: The son knew that his sister smoked. But they were not all open with each other about that. The parents knew about the son, and that he had used mushrooms, and possibly some other things, I don't know… probably ecstasy…

Mark: This is all fairly late in the evening, and we were getting ready to leave, and so we didn't experience too much more of the dynamic after that.

Christine: We were hoping that it was going to bridge some communication, or create a closeness, that they could have this in common…

Mark: Which it kind of did… I don't know what their normal interaction is, either. They were certainly talking about a lot of things. It didn't seem to interfere with their talking about things they didn't agree about! Didn't they later on do ecstasy?

Christine: Did the whole family do ecstasy?

Mark: I thought they did a family ecstasy experience later on, because they'd been smoking together and then they decided to see what a family ecstasy experience would be like. I haven't talked with them about it. Must not have been too bad, because we've seen them a couple of times since then, and they haven't said, "Oh, don't do that," to us. Well we don't have a kid, though… so that's not a problem.

Christine: They had a pretty good understanding between the parents and the kid about their son's drug use. They were concerned about something; there was something that the mother wanted to reign in, I don't know if it was about having too many friends over… I know they set some family guidelines…

Erowid: When did you first experiment with drugs?

Mark: The first time I smoked grass was with a family member, the first time I did acid was with a family member. With my own siblings, definitely that was the entryway to the psychedelic experience, was through other family members.

Erowid: Were those positive experiences?

Mark: Oh yes. In fact, I'm one of the only people I know who got high the first time he smoked marijuana. My brother came by with three joints. And by the third joint, I noticed something was different. Mostly what I noticed was, "This is the longest song I've ever heard! Isn't this song over yet?" As it turned out, it was the first time I heard Abbey Road by the Beatles, and that last song is really long. So it was a long ending as it turned out, but it seemed much longer to me than it really was. I was actually planning on trying pot anyway. I had been researching into this whole thing; I was really interested in trying it eventually. And with my brother, before we smoked it, we spent about a half an hour or an hour just talking about what it was, what the expectations would be, the nature of the experience.

Christine: He did a good mentoring…

Mark: I came in with a very philosophical and knowledgeable background myself, with the concept of it having profound spiritual and psychological repercussions.

Erowid: You have mentioned that you felt that when you started out, there was more hanging on trying cannabis or psychedelics, it was more of a momentous occasion, and that your younger family members you talk with now feel like it's no big thing. They have a different attitude about it than you had. Could you talk a little bit about that?

Mark: Yes, definitely. For one thing, part of it was the social turmoil of the day, which there's just as much of now, but it doesn't seem to foment itself into the same kind of stuff as in our day. I think society was divided pretty heavily into the hippie mentality vs. the conventional mentality. So to get involved with cannabis was deliberately crossing a line in society from the culture to the counterculture. Not only that, but it was so unknown, I think I was the second person I knew who smoked pot. My brother smoked pot, and then I smoked pot. Nobody else I knew smoked pot at that point. So that made it into a kind of personal odyssey and from there on, the people I was involved with were older than me -- I was 16 when I first smoked -- so then I started hanging out with the college crowd. My last two years of high school, I didn't even associate with the other high school students. But also because of the spiritual nature of it. I saw it as part of the… jimmy hendrix and the moody blues sort of thing, where you're talking about the profundity of "are you experienced…" what was leary's book about the book of the dead. There was so much value placed upon these things in the culture I was becoming engaged with, that I spent a lot of time preparing myself for pot. I spent a lot more time preparing myself for acid before I ever took it, evaluating the significance of doing it.

Now, it just seems to me like the hippies assimilated or disappeared into society, and pot is a common thing, so it isn't the same kind of profound step it used to be. I think that most of the people whom I know who have been getting into it, it's like they bump into it at a party or something like that, or somebody at school -- which I'm not particularly fond; at college, I'm cool with it, but I don't like the idea of high school kids turning each other on, especially during the school day. After school, that's OK, during the school day, that's a problem, I think. I don't think that there's as much preparation for it. I think that it's more commonly seen as, "Oh yeah, some people smoke pot." And then when people start doing it, spontaneously the moment comes up where somebody says, "hey you want to smoke some pot?" and they say, "OK." But they haven't really invested anything into thinking about what the significance of consciousness is, how it [cannabis] interacts with the body, what the stages of consciousness are, are we going up or down, is there such a thing as up and down in consciousness, those kinds of issues. I have a feeling that a lot of young people, they've heard rap songs about smoking blunts, and then somebody hands them a blunt and so they smoke it. I think that in a certain way they've been robbed of it by our society, because I think that these kinds of substances, especially when you get beyond pot, with the psychedelics, that the spiritual nature of those substances is so profound that using them simply as party drugs, or as some sort of aberrant behavior, creates a situation that reduces the ability of people to have the kind of profound spiritual, religious experiences that I have had on numerous occasions with these substances. None of my nieces and nephews who have smoked cannabis have said that they got involved as a result of their interest in transcendental consciousness, or meditation, or the interrelationship between body and mind. Most of the kids at school had it. It's not usually part of something that they're preparing themselves for, it's just when the opportunity arises, they engage in it.

Erowid: So maybe we've reached the point in western history where it's even more imperative that family values be expressed in the context of the home. Like you said, our dominant culture is rotting, kids have largely been robbed of the opportunity to get a profound experience the first time they try a powerful psychedelic. Parents are almost forced to take the matter in their own hands.

Mark: And then they deal with it as something that they weren't really expecting to happen coming up; in a certain way it's distancing them from their children, their children are not being honest with them about it and they're not being honest with their children, so there's always this gap. But I think that in society in general we've lost the whole thing about rituals and initiations. Parents don't guide their children through the steps of life like they once did. I think that's a huge mistake our society has made. I'm not a church-going religious person myself, but I do think that giving young people guidance about moving through their life is valuable. I think that unfortunately my generation, which is the 60s generation, baby boomers, contributed to that very strongly by taking the position that they shouldn't tell their kids to do anything. A lot of our friends, even when their kids were very little, asked them, "Do you want to do that, or do you want to do this?" When I was a little kid, I was told, "This is what we're doing." I think that through some extent that's where I developed my values. I went through the Catholic Church, I had the first day of the first grade of school, and then the first communion, and then the confirmation. There were serious clear markers in my life about where I was. I think that today kids have too much responsibility put on them at too early of an age, when they're not really ready to make those kinds of decisions. Why should a kid have to make a choice about some kinds of things? They shouldn't really have to. They should just go along with their families. In society then we don't have those kinds of things happening. With cannabis, I think that having it connected into the spiritual. Not a discipline to a point where you have a dogmatic approach to it, but with the idea that once a person reaches a certain age, you should be able to do psychedelics, are at some age you should be able to do cannabis, like with driving a car and drinking alcohol. But our society doesn't allow that, so in fact it does the opposite, not only does it not provide us with the markers on the road of life, but it says, certain markers, you're not even supposed to look at, or certain markers you're not even supposed to be aware of. That's obviously not the way the real world is, and we're obviously paying a price for it in society.

Christine: We had the experience in our house where a father wanted to smoke in front of his kids for the first time.

Erowid: How old were the kids?

Christine: They were teenagers, 15, 16, 18? I think the youngest was 15 at the time.

Mark: He knew they already smoked. Which he wasn't happy about his kid who was 15, because he thought that was a little young. He was functioning OK, so it wasn't a problem.

Christine: As long as they were doing OK, the father wasn't so concerned about it.

Mark: But he did want to have the experience of sharing it with them, or smoking it with them.

Christine: Yet he felt they were still too young to share it with them, so he decided to smoke in front of them, with us, and to try to make it more of a momentous occasion, where they could ask questions, and they could tell their feelings about it. Then he ended up leaving a little bit for them if they wanted to smoke, so they could all be together high but not yet doing it together.

Mark: In a way I think that reinforces what I was saying, he wanted to have this real interchange with his kids, but at the same time, he couldn't lead them, give them any guidance into smoking pot, because they were already smoking pot. And that's the same thing with this other family, they didn't get to sit down and have a profound discussion about the significance of the experience, because the kids have already tried it, so it just became more like, "…and, remember to clean your room!"

Christine: …and, "Why aren't you getting a job."

Mark: In a certain way, the fact that they were talking about that might be a good thing… there was a little hostility going on there…

Christine: To the outsider's ear, it sounded like nagging.

Mark: Another thing for us, we're not the parents, were the aunt or the uncle or the friends of the family. A lot of the kids end up talking more to us, I think, than they would to their parents, about certain things. I know that some of them do, because they don't tell their parents at all.

We got to go on our family reunion trip. One of my sisters and her daughter both smoked that night, and it was the first time they smoked together, too. But again, there was not really much of an interaction. It was at the beach, we had a bonfire and a guitar, we were bumping on drums and stuff, but they didn't really communicate with each other about what the experience was. And then with the other two families we've been talking about, that's also not what they were communicating about. Our friend who did try to talk about the experience, it turns out, well, the kids didn't really have any questions because they had tried it already themselves, so they didn't get to have that conversation about the experience, either. So that's why I feel like I was really lucky, because I got to have that conversation with my older brother before I did it for the first time… after reading a lot about it and making a lot of judgment calls myself. And that's one of the things he said to me, "are you going to want to try this sooner or later," and I said, "yeah, I kind of have an interest in trying it," and he said, "well, it might as well be with me, because, you know, I'm your brother." I didn't turn on any of my other brothers or sisters for the first time, I don't think, I wasn't always comfortable with that. But once someone had already smoked, then I usually was pretty willing.

Christine: My sister thinks I turned her on for the first time. I don't remember that I was the first one for her, but she seems to think that.

Mark: I think the problem that I hit was that most of my younger brothers and sisters were playing a game of catch up. So as I would feel that they shouldn't smoke until a certain age, or readiness for it, they thought that I was smoking pot, so they wanted to smoke pot. Whereas I didn't have that with my brother. I think it had to do with the era more than anything else, though. I don't know, if a bunch of my friends had been smoking pot several years before that, I don't know that I would have waited necessarily, either. Circumstances just created that opportunity. I haven't done any psychedelics with my nieces and nephews…

Christine: Well, one nephew…

Mark: Oh, counting ecstasy as a psychedelic, yes….

Christine: …and that is the best experience that he [the nephew] can remember. He is mentally ill, and has a lot of depression and a lot of fears. For the first time in years, he felt distanced from his fears and his depression. He wanted to take it again. He was just a chatterbox that night. It was really nice, he was feeling good.

Erowid: How old was he?

Christine: Thirty. He'd love to do it again, if it was available, but meanwhile….

Mark: …the other side of the family thing comes in.

Christine: What happened was, he lives up here, and his family lives in Southern California. A lot of his issues revolve around his family. We took it on a Sunday night. He is a big chatterbox, then all of a sudden he became very quiet after that. Then the next week he went down the next weekend and saw the family and told them what a great experience it was. Meanwhile, he was not talking to anybody, staying pretty quiet. So now they all think the ecstasy was bad for him, when he actually considered a remarkable experience and would love to explore therapy on it. Which would be wonderful, if that were accessible to him.

Mark: One of the elements of that whole thing, is that whenever he gets ready to go see his family, issues come up for him. He talked constantly when he was on it. I had to absorb him for everybody else, because we were with a group of about eight people. Everybody else wanted to do other things besides just listen to him. I kind of got him away from everybody else so they could be doing their thing. But he talked a huge amount that night, and over the next few days. And as he was getting ready to head down south, he got quieter and quieter, and when he got down there, they felt that now he had cut off from them in a certain way. I think he came to that same irony, because there is this gap between their attitude towards it and his experience of it were different. So I think it makes it hard for him to talk about it with them.

Christine: He gets a lot of benefit from medical marijuana now.

Mark: And that's been kind of helpful in that the family…

Christine: They can accept it but they're concerned that he's going to get addicted to it.

Mark: And the funny thing is that they get concerned that he uses marijuana every day, but meanwhile they want him on Zoloft or something else every day. They want him to take something every day, and they get annoyed if he doesn't, but when it comes to marijuana, he's not supposed to take it every day, because they get worried about him if he does. We're trying to explain to them it's a maintenance dosage. But for some reason because it's natural, instead of a pill… Pills you have to take every day!

Erowid: So you think he shut down around them when he went down because he thought he might be judged for having had the experience?

Mark: yeah

Christine: Well he's always concerned about being judged by them, anyway. He goes through all kinds of things…

Mark: He's a whole other discussion…

Mark: One of the things that's really nice about places like Holland, is that we know several parents who use cannabis with their children, especially people in the business, in coffee shops and such. We know one, the father owns the company, and all his kids work with him and they all smoke. It's part of the family. They used to be brewers. More so than using it, is the fact that parents can smoke around their kids. In the 70s and early 80s, a lot of our friends smoked around their young kids, until their kids got to be 7 or 8 years old, to where they would be more conscious of what was going on. They didn't want to reinforce smoking. Not that it was pot; they just didn't want their kids to be around a lot of smoking, that became more of the issue. And also the DARE program was kicking in. "Be good citizens, turn in your parents."

Christine: And the kids were freaking out if their parents had a drink…

Mark: Yeah we had that happen to some friends, after DARE happened to the kids. Even drinking alcohol became a big problem in the family.

Mark: In order to do as many psychedelics as I did, around as many different people in as many environments as I did, and especially around my parents and around friends' parents, I had to be coping all the time. In certain ways that diminished certain aspects of it, where you kind of go along and start doing nutty stuff, whereas a lot of the time I would be in a restrained situation. I think the same thing is true with marijuana nowadays. It doesn't affect my memory, I'm still following the conversation, I remember all these names -- bursting the stereotype of what marijuana is going to do… In the old days, I used to enjoy that. "What were we talking about?" I forget! Ha ha ha!" That was kind of fun. Nowadays, it's "What were we talking about," "We were talking about this." I know it's a matter of personal discipline. It's not a matter of, "These drugs have these effects on you, and then you lose it." There may be some people who do, but I think that's really a small percentage. Part of the enjoyment of these substances is that you're in a position where suddenly…

Christine: …you let go of your normal constraints…

Mark: That's why when we were younger, I would always have somebody around who was straight, just to make sure I didn't get carried away with something. Even then it didn't always help. Again this comes to the way that society has forced us to deal with these substances, it's controlled, but not in a way that we used to do it in the 70s, having a bunch of friends together, not all of whom are high. I don't know what it is nowadays, we have such a small group of friends who do psychedelics now, and we only do it on an occasional basis with anybody else. I mostly do it alone, I think.

Christine: And not that often…

Erowid: The people who smoked cannabis when they were younger often remember it as a time when they could sit back and let go and not have to think about quotidian life constraints. They're concerned about their kids because it's a natural parental caution that they don't want that to take over the kid's life. That sense of release. That's why maybe in the midst of being high, your friend was nagging, because she's thinking, "You have to have both things, this relaxed state is fine, but you have to have a balance…"

Mark: "I'm still the mother…"

Erowid: "…you still have to do the right thing, do good in school, get a job." It's finding the balance, we're needing these models for finding the balance, instead of always associating cannabis with this loosening and freeing up as if it were strictly a negative antisocial thing. Maybe it's time to examine that close association. It can be a tool, something that can be partaken of when it's time to kick back. Which is where responsible use comes in. If you're going to be enjoying yourself anyway, in the afternoon, sitting around a table and talking, why not enjoy with cannabis. And the other thing is, if you're going to be working and writing, and you find it increases your creativity, why not use it then? People are wanting models for finding the balance, and not have this giant polar divide, one or the other, black or white…