7 Turning On

One of the basic and still unsettled questions about the cannabis experience concerns exactly what occurs when a person "turns on" for the first time. This question arises mainly because it is almost invariably true that the first time, or the first few times, a person smokes marihuana, he experiences no psychic change.1 As far as he is concerned, he might as well be smoking seaweed. A. Weil et al. refer to the puzzling phenomenon that many if not all people do not become high on their first exposure to marihuana even if they smoke it correctly; this phenomenon, they point out, can be discussed from either a physiological or psychosocial point of view.2 The sociological approach is perhaps best detailed in H. S. Becker's Outsiders: Studies in the Sociology of Deviance. He states that psychological attempts to explain why a person becomes a user of marihuana rely on "the premise that the presence of any particular kind of behavior in an individual can best be explained as the result of some trait which predisposes or motivates him to engage in that behavior. In the case of marihuana use, this trait is usually identified as psychological, as a need for fantasy and escape from psychological problems the individual cannot face."3 He cites a number of articles which assume or state such a premise as examples of this approach.4 But Becker believes that these types of psychological approaches are neither sufficient nor necessary to account for the phenomenon of learning to use marihuana for pleasure. Two points should be emphasized here. First, Becker considers that the entire sequence of events (which he claims was consistent in all his 50 interviewed users) marking the transition for any particular person from initial "vague impulses and desires" or simple curiosity to steady or habitual use of marihuana comprises a definite learning process, in which there are three distinct stages.


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Marihuana Reconsidered


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