‘This House Would Get High’. Debate, Trinity College, Dublin. 21st September 2016.
I was honoured to be invited to speak at Trinity College this week in a debate chaired by the Irish TD Brid Smith. In July, Ms Smith introduced legislation in the Dáil to allow the use of cannabis and cannabis-related products for medicinal purposes. However, the debate itself was much broader than medicinal cannabis. As I said in my own speech, it was a pleasure to get away from the earnest discussion of science and evidence for a while.
This was my speech.
I get high every day.
This morning, as is my daily routine, I walked to the top of the hill behind my house. Looking south-east, about 15 miles away, I can see the Isle of Portland. Then Chesil Beach sweeps towards me into Lyme Bay. As it curves round in front of me I’m about two miles back from the Jurassic Coast and then it runs off to the west past Bridport, Lyme Regis and, on a clear day you can see right over towards Torquay.
So you can tell I’m pretty high, just because of the amazing view I have. And the view itself makes me high. It inspires me, however many times I see it.
But I’m also pretty high because it’s a steep hill, I’m out of breath by the time I get to the top and my body is pumping out endorphins, endocannabinoids and there’s a surge in dopamine, serotonin and other neurotransmitters, hormones, all of which give me a buzz. They make me high!
Being high is a natural state of mind. It’s something we all aspire to and achieve, every day. So my argument to you is certainly that this house would get high but also that it does get high and must get high, regularly, for good health.
I got even higher this afternoon when I drove to Bristol Airport and then Aer Lingus flew me to Dublin at 16,000 feet. I’m also planning on getting a little high after this debate is finished, as I’m reliably informed there will be a “lavish, themed reception” in the Conversation Room, presumably including a drink or two.
So now we come to the nub of the issue. We all get high, through many routes. Even young children, as soon as they can crawl, start to experiment with altering their consciousness. Soon they are hanging upside down off swings, deliberately making themselves dizzy on roundabouts. As they grow up they graduate to their first sips of alcohol. I hope, as I did, they miss out the dreadful experiment with sniffing glue – and so we arrive at the joint, the dried flowers of the cannabis plant, smoked with the single-minded intention of getting high.
What are these arbitrary distinctions our society makes between acceptable forms of getting high and others that are so condemned that we are threatened with incarceration, in some countries, even worse?
What difference does it make how we get high, if being high is a natural state of mind?
We can smoke a little weed, drop an ‘E’, sniff a few lines of coke, down a few large Jamiesons. Or we can just listen to some amazing music, walk to the top of my hill, go to the gym – or, any combination of these paths to getting high.
Our governments seek to determine how we may get high. Their pretext is that they are protecting us, either from individual health harms or from wider, social harms, such as those caused by street dealing, criminality caused by addiction.
But even a cursory examination of this shows that it is false, it is mythology. Our means of getting high are controlled not by any concern for harm but by the imposition of someone else’s moral standards. This is usually a government minister and his or her personal opinion, often heavily influenced, either by the media, where editors also seek to impose their moral standards or, more sinister, by a vested interest, ‘Big Booze’, that wishes to preserve its one way street, no stopping, no U- turns on its path to getting high.
There’s also the legitimisation of sugary drinks, snacks, sweets, cakes and goodies. I wanted nothing more as a child than to get high off sugar. “And a cake please Grandad?” was my childhood refrain that I am still teased with today. But sugar causes tremendous harm and apart from pious, preachy health warnings, it’s all OK because our government says so.
It’s also OK to get high as a medical therapy. When it’s an SSRI anti-depressant, it’s objective is to make you feel better, to alter your brain chemistry to get you high, in fact by flooding your synapses with serotonin.
More of these happy pills are prescribed than any other form of medication. In fact, we don’t really understand how they work, how in some people they have the opposite effect and make them suicidal. But it’s all OK because this is government-sanctioned happiness – or unhappiness – but it’s OK because some privileged middle aged person, who couldn’t tell a synapse from a hockey stick says so , and she or he knows best.
But any suggestion that cannabis might be medicine has to be forcefully caveated with denials that it’s about getting high. Did you know, Sativex, the one legal form of medicinal cannabis, both here and in the UK, gets you high?
No? Yes I know all the doctors say it doesn’t and the nanny-state do-gooders tell you the bit that gets you high has been taken out. But take a look at the statutory documentation and what does it say? Oh! Something called “euphoric mood” is described as a “common” side effect
It’s actually a real pleasure to talk about getting high. I spend all my time engaged in earnest discussions about science, evidence, therapeutic and side effects. I forget that a lot of it is about getting high, however you choose to do it.
So, this house would get high. Indeed this house is high and I predict most of you will be a little higher in the next half hour or so.
Getting high is nothing to be ashamed of. Go for a run, climb a hill, eat a space cake ( but mind the sugar).
Getting high is a human right, a necessity and a great way to live. Get high and stay high.
After an entertaining and fascinating debate with contributions from other guest speakers and students, Bridie summed up by reading an extract from Tom Paxton’s song ‘Talking Vietnam Pot Luck Blues”. I’d never heard it before but it carries a wonderful message about how getting high brings people together.
The moment came as it comes to all,
When I had to answer nature’s call.
I was stumbling around in a beautiful haze
When I met a little cat in black P.J.’s,
Rifle, ammo-belt, B.F. Goodrich sandals.
He looked up at me and said,
“Whatsa’ matta wit-choo, baby?”
He said, “We’re campin’ down the pass
And smelled you people blowin’ grass,
And since by the smell you’re smokin’ trash
I brought you a taste of a special stash
Straight from Uncle Ho’s victory garden.
We call it Hanoi gold.”
So his squad and my squad settled down
And passed some lovely stuff around.
All too soon it was time to go.
The captain got on the radio. . .
“Hello, headquarters. We have met the enemy
And they have been smashed!”