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Is there any value for a built-in system that causes us to forget? Howlett and McCallum, two of the scientists who have done this research speculate that the ability to forget, such as forgetting pain, could be very important in motivating us to get up each morning and face the potential of being hurt again and again.

Perhaps what we usually consider a breakdown of the operation of remembering is actually a perfectly functioning operation itself. We receive so much sensory data each moment, we have to filter it. But when Pollan tries to press the neuroscientists for more about just what the marijuana experience is, they say they will have to leave to the poets.

Fortunately, there is ample data from the poets. Even one who was is also a scientist. Carl Sagan wrote an essay on the effects of marijuana and published it under the name Mr. After his death, his authorship was revealed. Sagan spoke of the common phenomenon of having what seem to be profound insights while high, that seem trivial the next day.


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He was convinced that these should not be dismissed. That it is not a question of self-deception, but a failure to communicate from our high selves to the straight. The inability to articulate the insight is not evidence that the insight is false. This valve helps us deal with the mass of data coming in, but it also prevents from perceiving that data.

Opening this valve opens us up to a sense of wonder.


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  • There are many paths to this sensation. They have been written about in religious texts as well as by philosophers and experimenters with drugs. A healthier body means a healthier brain, healthy being defined as the ability to keep that reducing valve strong. But to bring all this philosophizing back down to earth, the idea that spirituality and getting high from a freely growing plant are related is an affront to Western Christianity and capitalism.

    Both require that we set our sights on the future; both ask us to reject pleasures of the moment for a fulfillment yet to come. And, as the early Greeks knew, living in the moment is not something to be done every moment. Remembering what caused us pain in the past and being able to apply those lessons to the future are just as important and each should have its place for humanity to flourish.

    Pollan traces how our current culture developed its aversion to marijuana through the stories of Hassan ibn-al-Sabbah from the 11th century and the condemnation of cannabis as a sacrament for witches by Pope Innocent the 8th in I will leave the retelling of those stories for another time, or you can read his interpretations. He also discusses how the alchemist Paracelsus successfully transferred the Dionysian pagan potions of sorcery to what we now consider the rational Apollonian healing medicines. Pollan relates this to the story of Adam and Eve, rather ingeniously.

    He dismisses any discussion about what type of fruit the tree of knowledge was or exactly what the knowledge was. The important thing is that the tree was there at all.

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    Those story tellers could not dismiss the idea that plants held powers of healing and of insights, because everyone knew that they did. So the new god, Jehovah, who supposedly creates everything and has all of the knowledge, puts the tree in the garden with a warning not to yield to its temptations.

    Of course they do yield to it, and the rest is history. Posted by LaustenN at AM. Louis University, named Allyn Howlett, discovers receptors in the brain and elsewhere, some very interest- ing places that THC activates. One of those places is the uterus, which in view of the history of the drug helping with childbirth, makes a certain amount of sense.

    He hypothesized that humans did not have these receptors in order to respond to THC in particular, so therefore the brain must produce another chemical—an endogenous cannabinoid—that these receptors were designed to interlock with. Four years later, in , Mechoulam discovers what this endogenous cannab- inoid is, and he names it anandamide, which is the Sanskrit word for inner bliss.

    This is a man working in Israel and not in the U. Later, another cannabinoid called, less poetically, 2AG was also discovered. The question arises, what do we have this endogenous cannabinoid receptor system for? This is where it gets really interesting. Anandamide works very much like THC, but as a neurotransmitter it needs to be shorter-acting. So they break down very quickly. You have re-uptake of your serotonin and things like that. But it does everything THC seems to do. It affects your short-term memory, pain, emotion, and appetite.

    One way you can prolong the effect of anandamide once it has been released in your brain, interestingly enough, is with chocolate. People often talk about the effects of chocolate on mood. And that may be why it makes us feel good. I want to focus on memory, but this exploration of anandamide and 2AG has opened up some other interesting things, and one, of course, is appetite.

    The neuroscience of the munchies has basically been discovered. This just happened.

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    These knock-out mice do not nurse. But if you then administer THC to them, their appetite is restored and they thrive. This opens up enormous possibilities for control of appetite, a very significant finding. Now that cannabinoid can be separated from THC, you can actually produce a non- psychoactive kind of drug, but there are a lot of patent issues.

    But back to this neuro-network and anandamide.

    I asked both Howlett and Mechoulam why we have this cannabinoid system in the first place. Remem- ber, it works just like THC. Mechoulam had an even more interesting take on it. He thinks anandamide would be found to be crucially involved in emotion. He believes that there is another see-saw there.

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    There is a chemical that helps us lock in memory, and anandamide works on the other side to make us get rid of memory. This also relates to memory loss with regard to trauma. We need cannab- inoids to forget horrible things that have happened.

    Michael Pollan: "Cannabis, The Importance of Forgetting, and the Botany of Desire"

    Scientists have worked with mice that got an electric shock every time they heard a certain tone. This conditioned them to be fearful when they heard the tone. When you play the tone for normal mice, the first time they react fearfully, but over time if you play the tone enough they forget and they just go about their business. And this is what happened. But these pre-conditioned shock-treatment mice that cannot use the anandamide their brains are producing never forget the fear—it is never extinguished.

    Cannabis, Forgetting and the Botany of Desire | Tetrahydrocannabinol | Cannabis (Drug)

    But I would argue that forgetting is really crucial, too, for our psychological health, for certain spiritual experiences, and even for learning. Memory is important for learning, but so is forgetting.

    One great thinker who has written a little bit on forgetting is William James. If we remembered every- thing, we should on most occasions be as ill off as if we remembered nothing. It would take as long for us to recall a space of time as it took the original time to elapse.

    All recollected times undergo foreshortening, and this foreshortening is due to the emission of an enormous number of facts which shield them. Without to- tally forgetting a prodigious number of states of consciousness and momentarily forgetting a large number, we could not remember at all. We actually do have one great case study of a man who remembered everything.

    Luria, The Mind of the Mnemonist.