The word cannabis comes from the Greek for hemp. For thousands of years, the fibers of the hemp plant have been made into rope, fabric, and paper, or burned as fuel; its seeds have been eaten as a highly nutritious food or pressed to expel an oil for lighting and cooking. These useful products of the hemp plant must be imported into the U.S. because it is a violation of federal law to grow any kind of hemp here without a permit from the DEA. The flowers of the female hemp plant contain psychoactive substances, resins, and are classified as a dangerous drug—more dangerous than cocaine or methamphetamine.
People who enjoy smoking or eating cannabis report a range of sensations, going from a mellow mood all the way to a sense of exaltation. It is common to hear a happy user report that he or she has heard the inner voices of music for the first time. J. S. Bach is often mentioned.
Eating cannabis in excessive doses, especially when one is anxious or depressed, can result in an agonizing period of fear, paranoia, self-deprecation, and frightening hallucinations—what used to be known as a bad trip, a “bum trip,” or a “bummer,” lasting between one and several hours. That’s why when you cook or eat cannabis, you pay lots of attention to the size of the dose. A star columnist at The New York Times, Maureen Dowd, wrote a piece at the beginning of June about a trip to Denver, where she bought a legal chocolate-caramel cannabis candy bar that reminded her of the Sky Bars she had loved as a child. Alone in her hotel room, she ate the whole thing, even though it contained sixteen moderate doses of cannabis. Not surprisingly, she had a harrowing, terrifying experience. For some reason, she wrote about it, and for some reason, the paper published what she wrote. Even to some of Dowd’s longtime fans, this did not seem fundamentally different from drinking a quart of bourbon, getting behind the wheel of an unfamiliar sports car, and totaling it.
It is true that 23 states, and D.C., have legalized the cultivation, sale, and use of cannabis for medical purposes, and two states—Colorado and Washington—have legalized it for recreational use, but all these activities are still violations of federal law. A federal marshal can arrest medical marijuana patients or recreational users, lock them up, and throw away the key. The U.S. Department of Justice has never given a free pass to cannabis fanciers—medical or recreational—but in 2013, the U.S. deputy attorney general, in an exercise of prosecutorial discretion, issued what came to be known as the Cole Memorandum, which relegated strict enforcement of the federal law against possession, sale, and so forth, to the bottom of the department’s drug-enforcement priorities. You can read and interpret the Cole Memorandum for yourself; the Web address is so long that it will be easier for you to Google it.