Cody Johnson, @PsyFrontier, is a Boston-based intrepid psychonaut and humanist who writes about mind-expanding plants and compounds at PsychedelicFrontier.com.
His first taste of psychedelia came in the form of MDMA, which opened him up to the vast realm of unexplored states of consciousness.
He dove head first into this new world, experimenting with dozens of psychedelics new and old while blogging about all things psychedelic: their history, emerging scientific research, therapeutic and spiritual applications, and legality.
His book, Magic Medicine: A Trip Through the Intoxicating History and Modern-Day Use of Psychedelic Plants and Substances was published in June from Fair Winds Press and is available where books are sold.
We interview Cody about cannabis as a psychedlic. Read on to learn about his background, the Rastafari, real effects of cannabis and other intriguing information about cannabis.
Ganjly: Can you tell us a little bit about your background and what inspired you to write the book Magic Medicine?
Cody Johnson: I’m very passionate about psychedelics because they can tell us so much about ourselves.
I’ve been writing about the spiritual, therapeutic, and scientific aspects of psychedelics for a few years at PsychedelicFrontier.com, so it seemed natural to write a book about these fascinating substances.
There are so many intriguing but little-known visionary plants and substances out there, from “mad” honey (gathered by Nepalese “honey hunters” from beehives on Himalayan cliffs) to hallucinogenic fish and sea sponge species — I wanted to share all the lore and cutting-edge medical research that I was learning about.
Ganjly: Psychedelics can have a bad name. What are psychedelics and why is cannabis categorized as a unique psychedelic?
Cody Johnson: “Psychedelic” comes from the Greek roots for “mind manifesting,” which I think is a great name because they reflect some of our mind’s deepest thoughts, desires, and fears.
The term is usually applied to plants and substances that interact with the serotonin system in our brain to generate powerful visionary experiences.
The most famous is probably LSD, and most people have probably heard of “magic” mushrooms, peyote cacti, and perhaps ayahuasca.
But actually there are hundreds of psychedelics — some from nature, and many of them made by chemists tinkering with molecules.
Their controversial reputation is mostly unearned — although psychedelic experiences can be frightening, I think our aversion to them is a cultural artifact rather than a rational approach.
Because of the excesses of the 1960’s, and Western culture’s demonization of all “altered states of consciousness” besides those produced by alcohol and tobacco, psychedelics are seen as scary or dangerous.
Really they are non-addictive, and physically speaking, quite a bit safer than almost any other class of drugs.
The main risks are psychological, and that’s why researchers today are careful to screen applicants for underlying mental issues and provide them with the necessary support before, during, and after their therapeutic psychedelic experience.
In the book, Magic Medicine, I placed cannabis in the Unique Psychedelics section because it is psychedelic — in low doses, it can encourage creativity and deep introspective states, and in higher amounts can produce powerful visionary experiences or even spiritual journeys — and it is undoubtedly unique.
Cannabis is the fourth most popular intoxicant in the world, after alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco, and yet it is a truly unusual plant.
There is no other plant that interacts with our cannabinoid receptors the way cannabis does, and its effects are not easily characterized.
It raises the heart rate but it’s not a stimulant. It’s relaxing but not really a sedative. It has pain killing properties but is nothing like the opioids. It is in a category all its own.
Ganjly: What are the common experiences in smoking or consuming cannabis?
Cody Johnson: Physically, dry mouth and increased heart rate are typical. The muscles relax and, as just about everyone knows, the eyes redden.
Early evidence suggests that it helps with a host of medical conditions ranging from glaucoma to chronic pain.
But for most people, the real draw of cannabis lies in its intriguing mental effects. The main highlights are euphoria and relaxation.
Every pleasant sensation becomes more pleasurable—food is more delicious, music becomes exhilarating, and sex is sublime. Laughter becomes infectious.
Some people feel more social under the influence, and cannabis is even being investigated as a treatment for social anxiety. Of course for some people the opposite is true — they retreat from human interactions or even become paranoid.
Typically presented in pop culture as a “stoning” drug that dumbs down the user, cannabis’s real effects are more subtle, especially for those seeking more than a recreational high.
Many people cite improved creativity and imagination as a primary motivation for indulging. Mundane thoughts and situations become hilarious; truisms and non sequiturs are transformed into nuggets of wisdom.
Perceptual changes range from vibrant scenes imagined behind closed eyes to distortions of time, space, and one’s own body. It’s not an experience prone to sudden, dramatic epiphanies but rather serene and contemplative states of being.
Ganjly: What is Rastafari and why is cannabis central to the Rastafari way?
Cody Johnson: Today, the Rastafari are one of the best-known examples of religious cannabis use. (Next in line would be the Sadhus, itinerant holy men throughout India who smoke the herb to commune with the gods.).
Founded by Jamaicans in the 1930s after the coronation of the Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie, the Rastafari movement accepted the emperor as God incarnate.
The Rastafari combine this view with traditional Christian principles, such as the divinity of Jesus, and the appreciation of cannabis as a sacrament and way of life.
A Rasta smokes “ganja” when he needs spiritual counsel from Jah—the Rastafari term for God—and also in communal settings.
Rastas come together for “Reasoning” sessions, where adherents smoke the herb from a long-necked water pipe called a “chalice,” meditate together, and debate the best ways to apply their values to everyday life.
The Rastafari not only believe that cannabis improves mental clarity and fosters peace but that its use is divinely sanctioned.
They see references to cannabis in the Bible, for instance, the Tree of Life is believed to refer to cannabis, and likewise the scripture from Revelation 22:2: “The herb is the healing of nations.”
Ganjly: What are some of the medical applications of cannabis?
Cody Johnson: For a plant classified by the federal government as having “no currently accepted medical use,” cannabis boasts a surprising range of potential medical applications.
One may turn out to be chronic pain relief. States with medical marijuana laws show a significant drop in painkiller prescriptions, as well as reductions in hospital admissions relating to opioid abuse and dependence, indicating many people find cannabis preferable to opioids in managing pain.
Compared to opioids such as morphine and codeine, cannabis has more agreeable side effects and a lower risk of dependence.
Cannabis is also more effective at treating neuropathic pain (pain caused by nerve damage) where opioids offer little help.
In a nation ravaged by opioid addiction, which kills more than thirty thousand people per year, an effective painkiller that reduces opioid use should be celebrated as a godsend and prioritized for further study.
The plant can also be used to treat neurological problems, including epilepsy and multiple sclerosis (MS).
A study of MS patients showed that cannabis helped reduce their muscle spasms as well as other symptoms of the disease such as overactive bladder and painful sensations.
Its anti-nausea and appetite-bolstering effects make it an ideal substance for chemotherapy patients and those with AIDS, who often have great difficulty eating.
The list continues. By reducing internal eye pressure, cannabis may prove useful in treating glaucoma.
And early research suggests THC and other cannabinoids can target brain cancer cells, shrinking tumors in mice.
Pure CBD, one of the plant’s main compounds, has been shown to reduce seizures, even in the most treatment-resistant forms of epilepsy.
Cannabis is also a powerful anti-inflammatory.
As inflammation is such a common component in many diseases, cannabis may have beneficial effects on a wide range of conditions including Crohn’s disease, atherosclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammation associated with certain cancers, and—somewhat surprisingly, for a substance most often smoked—asthma.
The herb is good for more than just bodily complaints. Its effects on consciousness have found favor among people with PTSD, and its anxiety-reducing effects are famous.
Some people claim a mood-stabilizing effect, and early research indicates it may help relieve stress-related depression.
Ganjly: What are the real side effects of cannabis and what are the risks for chronic heavy users?
Cody Johnson: I’m glad you asked because cannabis is not a miracle cure. Some people complain of dizziness, fatigue, vomiting, and even hallucinations.
Long-term use, though far safer than common drugs like tobacco and alcohol, has its share of problems.
True to the “stoner” stereotype, chronic heavy users have a higher risk of depression, tiredness, and a general lack of motivation.
Formulations with THC can negatively affect memory and thought processes, producing a mental fog that only abstinence can lift. Though claims that it makes people crazy are vastly exaggerated, cannabis can induce psychosis in people predisposed to schizophrenia, and may hasten the onset of the disease.
You might think cannabis is toxic to the lungs, but that’s not exactly true. Although cannabis smoke includes many of the same toxins and carcinogens as tobacco smoke, no definitive link between moderate smoking and lung cancer has been discovered.
Though there may be a limited correlation, it’s clear any lung damage from cannabis pales in comparison to that of tobacco.
These results puzzled researchers and medical experts, who suggest that cannabis smoke may contain antioxidant and other protective components that counteract the harmful effects of the carcinogens.
That’s not to say smoking cannabis is perfectly safe on the lungs—heavy smokers may experience reduced breathing capacity, and lung inflammation that can cause asthma-like symptoms after many years.
Vaporizing greatly reduces these risks, so it’s really great that “vaping” has taken off in the past few years.
Ganjly: What are your hopes for the cannabis industry in the US five years from now?
Cody Johnson: As research and legalization efforts continue, it’s going to be fascinating to see just how powerful these healing effects are, and how exactly Western medicine will incorporate its newfound tools.
I hope to see it integrated and accepted in medicine and law so that people are not punished for taking the medicine they need.
As for recreational use, I think we can expect a lot of innovation in the way cannabis is shared and consumed.
There is already a proliferation of oils, tinctures, edibles, glassware, and gadgets for consuming cannabis, and people are now crafting cocktails where the emphasis is cannabis, not cocktails.
Chefs are creating new cannabis-infused foods and people are starting to organize cannabis dinner parties and social clubs.
There is a whole culture around crafting and drinking alcohol in different contexts — cocktail mixology, college fraternities, tailgate parties, microbreweries and craft beer, and so on — and I think we’ll start to see the same diversity in cannabis.
What would it be like to have a fraternity whose prime inebriant was cannabis rather than alcohol?
What would it be like to go to a bar, except the “budtender” serves up hand-rolled joints and expertly-packed bongs?
What would a cannabis nightclub look like? How about using cannabis to amplify immersive virtual reality experiences?
Really, my highest hope is to be surprised by what the cannabis entrepreneurs of the future come up with!
Ganjly: What is your advice for someone who has not yet tried cannabis and wants to use it as a psychedelic?
Cody Johnson: First I would say, read a bit about the spiritual and therapeutic uses of cannabis, like the attitudes of sadhus and Rastas.
Two good books are Stoner Meditation, about cannabis specifically, and Jim Fadiman’s The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide which is about serious exploration of consciousness using psychedelics in general.
Try to understand what it is people appreciate about being high, and prepare for your first session with mindfulness and specific intentions.
But mainly, just try it. Try vaporizing, try edibles, try it with a trusted friend, try it alone.
Have a little, and if you like that try a lot. Get high at night, with the lights off, while meditating.
Get high at sunset and take a walk around your neighborhood. You’ll quickly discover whether it’s something you want to incorporate into your life and continue exploring.
Whatever you do, don’t dismiss cannabis as a “stoner’s drug” — it can be a powerful tool that opens the door to serenity and personal growth.
Thank you so much Cody for doing the interview! We appreciate the information you shared to us and the awesome advices! Magic Medicine is an easy read and gives you information on psychedelics. To learn more and buy the book, head on over to Amazon.com or click on the link below.