I was thirty-four years old the first time I got high. It wasn't the first time I'd tried marijuana, but it was the first time it had an effect on me—any effect. Until then my friends and I wondered if I was nonresponsive to THC. I conclusively determined that I most certainly am not.
One of the fascinating things about experiencing this later in life is the volume of awareness, from pop culture and stereotypes to lay literature, that one brings to bear. As I was going through different stages of what appears to have been a significant high, I was also analyzing myself and comparing my sensations to stereotypical characterizations.
In the first phase, my visual and tactile perception became "hazy," as though I was walking, moving and seeing through a particularly viscous form of air. No colorations, though I understand why some people report seeing hue: as I moved my limbs, it felt like waves rippled through the liquid air, with interference patterns forming as they crisscrossed. These waves crested, with a warm, pleasurable feedback whenever I touched someone—which perhaps explains why people who are high enjoy cuddling and other tactile activity.
I began to see energy transfers in this pattern of wave-like movement and cresting. I felt like I had a deeper perception of reality, of our collective interconnectedness, even though I knew that it was an alteration of my normal state, and I reasoned that this might explain the depiction of "lifted," say, college students and humanities professors tending toward the philosophical, expounding on theorems of universality and shared being.
This was fun! This felt great. This was worth doing again.
This was not the end.
At some point I began to notice sharp, even hostile looks from the people seated around me, which made no sense. I knew I was among friends, people I had worked with, traveled with, cooked with, broken bread with for years. People I felt safe with, the only way I was trying anything which potentially left me incapacitated or in a place of poor judgment.
Yet I felt threatened. I also began to hear what sounded like my name being called out, loudly, but it wasn't being said to me. I saw—or, at least, I think I saw—the people I knew were my friends, sitting at a table, randomly interjecting my name into their conversation. Mocking me.
Was I actually asleep? Were they trying to wake me? Had I been dreaming? When did I fall asleep? And why can't I wake up?
Now I should point out that I am a big fan of genre fiction. No interest in dwarves and elves, but give me a science fiction thriller and I'm IN it. Red and blue pill, artificial memory, mediated sensation, a conspiracy of deliberate concealment? That's totally my wheelhouse—and you can see where this is going.
Unable to trust my senses, I began to question everything around me. The sharp glances now became positively menacing, and the euphoric insight from earlier in the evening now turned into Gordian knots of speculation about the nature of the conspiracy I was trapped in, my role in all this, and the question of who in this constructed reality was my "Contact," the one real person within that world meant to bring me out, and how to signify to them.
Is it him? Is it her? All the media I had consumed, now seeming like subversive messages distributed to clue the "attuned" (of course I'm attuned, right?!) to the true nature of the threat, has told me that voicing your suspicions to the wrong person can be fatal. Once "They" know that you've seen through the mirage, you're a threat to Them and They move to eliminate you.
As I approached potential Contacts, asking what I thought were innocuous but suggestive questions to determine their allegiance, my heart pounded like a jackhammer. Over and over it would build to a crescendo, and then the conversation would fizzle—were my questions too innocent? did I need to be more courageous?—and I would talk myself out of anxiety for a second, only to have it begin again.
At this point I started to wonder if I'd have a cardiac episode, which had me thinking about why some people become paranoid when they toke, and why some hyperventilate or worse. But the meta observations weren't helping me: my heart was still pounding, my chest tight, and even now, days later, I feel the first few constrictions when I start to talk or write about it. Are They still watching me?
I tried going with a process of elimination. I had an initial guess, but felt that was too obvious and likely put there to police or trap me. I saw Total Recall*; you're not gonna Sharon Stone me!* I would go with other options, but the conversation seemed to keep routing me back to the same original choice.
I randomly wondered, if this wasn't so much a conspiracy as a test, a challenge meant to teach me where I fall. Is it my sexism? My racism? My selfishness? Heart absolutely thrashing, I went for it.
Nope. It wasn't any of them. I'm not in a giant simulator built by aliens, or connected to feeding tubes and used by machines as a living battery. I'm just really, really high.
I was quiet after that. In truth, I was lost in my own head, trying to unravel the loops I had wound in my state of comic book- and movie-fed delusional paranoia. I focused on calming my breathing and heart rate. I had been meant to pick someone up earlier, but knowing I was in no state to drive I had postponed it. Still incapacitated, I asked my host if I could stay over and sleep it off. I know there was some concern about my state as well as some (light) joking; I have no real idea what I said, or did, or didn't say or do, and since other people got high, too, we're all a bunch of unreliable narrators.
My mouth was also dry as fuck, and I was getting a dehydration headache.
My memory seems intact, and I've decided the most reasonable thing to do is to assume that I did or said everything I recall (which: em-barrassing!), but discard everything I saw and heard. Days later, I still haven't reattained full clarity, but that'd have to be one hell of a simulation to even get the mundane details of work right!
It's fascinating how easily you can get lost in your own mind, and how much your senses of credence and reality are rooted in trusting your own senses. For a moment I found myself thinking about sensory deprivation, whether as therapeutic "treatment" or as torture, and about the toll it must exact upon the mind.
Then I fell asleep. I think.