Why Carl Sagan Recommended You Smoke Weed
Estimated 6-minute read
Ever wondered what one of the greatest scientists of the 20th century tripped about when he was high? Well, you don’t have to keep on wondering. Perhaps you have heard of Carl Sagan before, but if you haven’t, let me tell you a little bit about him.
Carl Sagan was a great astrophysicist, author and science communicator. If you are a space enthusiast, you might have come across some of his work. He, alongside his wife Ann Druyan and astrophysicist Steven Soter, co-wrote one of the most famous documentaries about the universe called Cosmos: A Personal Voyage. It was aired on PBS in 1980, and recently, his pupil Neil Degrasse Tyson hosted a remake of this beloved series, called Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. Sagan was also the mind behind the movie Contact (1997), a film starring Jodie Foster that was based on his novel of the same name. (This is also, in my opinion, one of the best alien movies to watch while high.)
Sagan is best known in the scientific world for his contributions to planetary science, his work on exobiology, theories about extraterrestrial life, and the foundation of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute, usually abbreviated as SETI. He invited fellow astronomers to join their efforts to look for radio signals coming from outside the galaxy. Even Stephen Hawking participated in creating a SETI program called “Breakthrough Listen”, in 1990 alongside Russian billionaire Yuri Milner.
While he was alive, Carl Sagan was very outspoken about his political views, such as his opposition to the Vietnam War, to Nuclear War… and the legalization of marijuana. He especially advocated the use of medical marijuana in terminally ill patients, such as cancer patients going through chemotherapy or patients living with AIDS. However, his personal recreational use of marijuana wasn’t known until after his death. A close friend of his disclosed this information to Sagan’s biographer. Carl Sagan: A Life was published in 1999, and with its publication came a lot of controversy. But thanks to it, we were able to uncover one of Sagan’s anonymous publications in a 1971 book called Marihuana, Reconsidered.
Sagan published his essay under the pseudonym “Mr. X”, and in it, he relayed his experience with cannabis and all of the benefits he drew from it. This essay was written when Sagan was in his mid-thirties, but he continued to use marijuana for the rest of his life.
“Mr. X” begins the essay by telling us his first experience with weed. Like many, he was drawn to smoking cannabis after seeing friends have fun after consuming it. He was also convinced by the fact that marijuana has no physiological addiction. But to his surprise, the first few times he smoked, he didn’t feel anything. Until one night, it happened. He tells the reader he realized he was high when watching the shadows on the ceiling casted by a potted plant, and it looked like a miniature Volkswagen. Carl Sagan mentioned he had a lot of experiences with visuals when he was high, from that shadow to shapes in candle flames, to flashes of images behind his eyes. He was fascinated.
He began using marijuana more frequently after that, and he favored joints as a method for smoking. He said that on most days, one joint was enough to get him high. He did it with his friends, or with his wife, and he was enthralled by the positives that cannabis brought into his life, even when he was “down”.
In the essay, Sagan outlines four points of particular enjoyment. As a scientist, Carl mentioned that he didn’t have a big appreciation for art before smoking marijuana. But the herb opened his eyes to the beauty of visual art, enjoying the colors and shapes created by talented artists. He was especially taken by the work of surrealists, such as the Belgian painter Yves Tanguey.
Music is one of the other things he talked about. He says that he was able to experience the richness of a three part harmony and the counterpoint, things that were previously inaccessible to him before cannabis. Musicians and artists might recognize these things when they’re down, but to the average layperson, marijuana can greatly enhance the experience of music. I think it’s generally one of stoner’s favorite activities, to be able to fully appreciate the depth and richness of the melodies and beats. (And if you’re looking for some music recs to experience this yourself, it wouldn’t hurt to check this article out.)
His third point was the enjoyment of food being greatly amplified by weed. This is also something known by every stoner out there, as weed also tends to make the user hungry. The endocannabinoid system, which is activated after ingesting cannabis, controls food intake via olfactory processes. THC tends to heighten the sensations of food because it allows us to smell and taste more accurately.
Food is not the only thing that is enhanced by weed, according to Sagan. In his experience he found that his enjoyment of sex was affected positively too. In fact, other cannabis users have also reported that weed tends to make them… ahem… horny, and that the sensations are greatly amplified. Sagan hypothesizes this might have to do with the feeling of time dilation that happens when high, but also probably related to the delay of orgasm, and the greater intensity he experienced when his orgasm finally arrived.
While all of these things are great, what was most impressive to Sagan while high was the great opportunities for self reflection that arose on his trips. He said that “Cannabis brings us an awareness that we spend a lifetime being trained to overlook and forget and put out of our minds.” The high made him more aware of his surroundings and the connection he had to nature, people, and our society. It made him question a lot of aspects of our society, such as racism and mental health.
Sagan said that he didn't necessarily like to think about work when he was high, which is completely understandable. However, he did mention an instance where he allowed himself to ponder about a particularly difficult problem in his field. Due to the ease of association that marijuana provides, he was able to come up with a reasonably sound scientific theory worthy of testing, and even included it in one of his scientific publications.
But it didn’t stop there. Weed also allowed Sagan to look inside himself, and recall childhood memories, friends, relatives, tastes and smells from times long gone. To Sagan, marijuana proved to be an extremely useful tool to access states of consciousness that are not commonly attainable when sober. I personally also find this to be one of the best gifts that cannabis can bring to its user. This is also what prompted Sagan to say that “...the illegality of cannabis is outrageous, an impediment to full utilization of a drug which helps produce the serenity and insight, sensitivity and fellowship so desperately needed in this increasingly mad and dangerous world.”
To Sagan, marijuana wasn’t just a recreational drug. It was a drug that allowed him to connect to humankind as a whole, and experience beauty and peace at the same time. After his death, his widow, Ann Druyan (who is an excellent writer, award-winning TV producer and science communicator in her own right) continues to advocate for the legalization of marijuana. She serves as an advisor in the board of NORML, an organization dedicated to cannabis activism.
So now you know why Carl Sagan recommended people smoke weed, if amenable to it. And if your mom tells you something about how weed can make people dumb, just remind her that even leading scientists such as Sagan smoked, just like you.
Carl Sagan (1971) Marijuana-Uses » Blog Archive » Mr. X by Carl Sagan Retrieved from: http://marijuana-uses.com/mr-x/
Carl Sagan Talks Marijuana (2010) - Youtube. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_JVOHgCFd-Q&t=17s
NORML - Ann Druyan. Retrieved from: https://norml.org/ann-druyan/
Guardian Staff (1999) Carl Sagan drew inspiration from getting high | Space | The Guardian. Retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/science/1999/aug/24/spaceexploration
Mary Jane (2022) Why does weed make you hungry? | Stoners and munchies - HØJ Retrieved from: https://www.hoj.life/blogs/viden/why-does-weed-make-you-hungry