At the tender age of nineteen I fell in with a North London circle that included some West African students”€”Ghanaians and Nigerians. They were an amiable and hospitable crowd, though I never could get to like their music”€”soporific, repetitive soul jazz you could have cut up randomly and sold by the yard.

They all smoked hash, cooked in silver foil over a flame then crumbled into the tobacco of a hand-rolled cigarette. The preparation was accompanied with colorful tales about how the hash had been brought into Britain, mostly via diplomatic immunity. In one tale, a diplomat died in London and his family back in Accra insisted, for cultural reasons, on sending over a massive hardwood coffin for his body to be returned in. The coffin did not arrive empty in London.

I can’t say I cared for hash. I smoked it to be polite, but it worked on my stomach somehow, and I generally ended these West African evenings talking into the big white telephone to the amusement of my hosts.

On one depressingly memorable occasion, determined to show I could be master of my stomach and take my hash as well as the next man, I suppressed the vomiting instinct for much too long. This is not good policy. As Woody Allen did not quite say, the upper esophageal sphincter wants what it wants. The result was a nose barf”€”a phenomenon which, if you have never experienced it, I recommend you avoid at all costs, especially in company.

Hash did, though, prep my metabolism for marijuana, which is milder, and which by later in the decade was everywhere. I was pleased to find that pot had no emetic effects, and I indulged freely for a while, though only as a social smoker. It’s a social drug, even more so than alcohol: heightening the pleasure of fellowship, but in a relaxed and cheerful way, without alcohol’s maudlin consequences. So I experienced it, anyway.

My only other adventures with illegal substances were during a down-and-out spell in the early 1970s when I was working as a dishwasher in New Rochelle, New York. A fellow wastrel introduced me to acid, which he bought as discolored round patches on paper strips from a gas-pump attendant at the local Hess station. The sensory effects were just as weird as advertised, especially (in my case) the auditory ones. Trust me: You haven”€™t heard Electric Light Orchestra“€”not really heard them”€”unless you”€™ve taken a tab of acid beforehand.

All right, a misspent youth. I haven”€™t smoked pot for thirty-odd years, though I suppose I would if it were offered in a social situation and I didn”€™t have to drive home. My passing acquaintance with the stuff gave me some perspective, though. I can”€™t see much harm in it”€”not as much as there is in prohibition. Let “€™em smoke it if they want to.


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