The International Journal of Psychosocial Rehabilitation

Using Marijuana: Positive and Negative Experiences

Russell Eisenman, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Psychology
Department of Psychology
University of Texas-Pan American
Edinburg, TX 78541-2999, USA

Eisenman, R. (2003)  Using Marijuana: Positive and Negative Experiences.
International Journal of Psychosocial Rehabilitation. 8, 21-24.

The author presents positive and negative aspects of marijuana use, based on his personal experiences, as well as from his understanding of psychological concepts. Positive effects seem to fall under the concept of mood enhancement. Two negative experiences reveal personal marijuana effects usually not discussed. The author developed a phobia of driving on freeways, probably related to the second experience. Although the author gave up all drug usage in 1973, this phobia has never been overcome.  Possibly, the phobia involves state dependent learning, which is discussed.

Many people hold extreme views regarding drugs, especially illegal drugs. Anti-drug people often present a view of all illegal drugs as horrible and without any redeeming qualities. Often they use the word “abuse” rather than “use,” which is sometimes a sneaky way to indicate disapproval and condemn those who do not conform to their wishes (see Eisenman, 1991 and Goffman, 1963, on how people who do not conform are labeled as “deviants” are condemned).  On the other hand, pro-drug people often present a totally rosy picture of drug use, perhaps in part to rationalize their own drug usage.  Each side—pro-drugs or anti-drugs—seems to have prejudice toward the other side (see Lippa, 1994 for an excellent summary of the nature of prejudice).

Here, I provide a more balanced view, relating some of my personal experiences using marijuana, which involved both positive and negative experiences. While I spend more space here on the negative experiences, I am not concluding that marijuana is mostly negative.  Rather, the positive experiences I present are well known while the negative ones are less well known.  So, I spend more time discussing the negative experiences. Also, there are other positive and negative experiences associated with marijuana which I do not discuss, so this paper is not intended to be a full explanation of marijuana.

In the 1960’s and early 1970’s I smoked marijuana for recreational purposes.  I had many positive experiences using marijuana (which I no longer use). It seemed to enhance whatever I was doing, so that good things became even better. Making love, going on walks, or listening to music all seemed markedly improved if done after smoking marijuana.  Thus, one reason I kept using it was that the use was reinforced by pleasurable experiences.

On the rare occasions when I used marijuana while feeling depressed, it seemed to make me more depressed. Thus, marijuana appears to be a mood enhancer, making greater the mood one is in, whether that mood is positive or negative.

I had two negative experiences with marijuana use, which are worth sharing. I would appreciate feedback from others about them, what they mean, explanations, etc. Incidentally, I gave up all use of marijuana, any other illegal drugs, and alcohol in 1973 and have no used any since. The reason was that the drugs often made me feel bad, so I decided that the good experiences did not make it worth while, when there were also some really bad experiences. For marijuana, beginning around 1972 it often made me feel dizzy and nauseated. On at least one occasion, I felt so dizzy I could not sit up in bed for more than about two seconds.

The following two experiences involve negative things that occurred in 1973 (a few months before I quit using marijuana and other drugs) while using marijuana. But, they also included positive things, such as the improved sound of music in Experience 1 and the general good mood that occurred in Experience 2 prior to getting on the road to drive to my class.


I had 4 roommates in my large house. I was hoping for a loving, commune-type situation where we would all get along, but that did not work out. Instead, they broke into hostile groups, with two each on a side, and me in the middle. One roommate would get marijuana from a source, who provided powerful marijuana.  Whenever I smoked this marijuana, I would first feel like I was going to throw up (although I never did) and then have strong effects.  The particular powerful effect I recall was listening to music on my stereo, while lying down on my bed.  I closed my eyes.  The music sounded incredibly good. In fact, it was so good and so clear that I thought that it could not be music on a stereo player. The band must be playing in my room!  Yet, I also knew this could not be. However, it was the only explanation that seemed to make sense. It was frightening to me, as well as aesthetically pleasing.  After awhile, I opened my eyes and saw that the band was not in my room.  I concluded that the great music perception was a marijuana effect. However, the experience was very powerful.


Later that year, I had some regular marijuana (not the great music-inducing marijuana of Experience 1) that I smoked before having to teach a night class at a branch campus. I thought the effects would wear off by the time I had to teach, but I was, it turned out, wrong.  As I drove from my house to get to the campus, I stopped for a red light and noticed that the car stopped behind me had a young man in it moving his lips. My first thought was that he was singing, which was probably the correct interpretation.  However, I then decided that he might be angry at me (for some unknown reason) and that he was saying hostile things. This made me anxious.  Then, when the light changed, I drove to the expressway I had to drive on, to get to the branch campus.

The cars on the expressway seemed incredibly close to me, and I feared an accident. This may have been the start of my "freeway" phobia, wherein I am, to this day, afraid to drive on freeways, expressways, interstates, and anything like them.

I have tried to overcome this specific phobia via counseling and via forcing myself to drive on the freeways, but nothing has worked. I remain limited in where I can drive. I also do not like driving long distances.

When I got to my evening class, I felt as if I would fall down while teaching. The only way to feel secure was to grab onto the place where the chalk was held, while I taught. So, I taught the class standing with my back to the blackboard, with my two hands behind me, holding onto the chalk container, lest I fall.

Experience 1 was a delusion, a false idea of the band being in my bedroom, generated by the marijuana. I was trying to make sense out of what was happening, viz., the music sounding so great.

Experience 2 involved a delusion of thinking that it was hostility on the part of the young man in the car behind me, distorted perceptions of the cars on the expressway which induced further delusions of danger, and the perceptual distortion of feeling I would fall while teaching. Of course, it is possible I would have fallen had I not held onto something. Or, perhaps, I would not have.

The experiences and my inability to overcome my freeway phobia may be an example of state-dependent learning (Bozarth, 1987; Calvert, 2003; Overton, 1962, 1991; Schulz, Sosnik, Ego, Haidarliu, & Ahissar, 2000). This was suggested to me in a personal communication from Charles Tart, a famous researcher in the areas of consciousness and transpersonal psychology (see Tart, 1990).  I learned to fear riding on freeways while under the influence of marijuana. Perhaps the reason I have never been able to unlearn this irrational fear is that I have tried to unlearn it while sober, i.e. not under the influence of marijuana. But, state-dependent learning data might lead to the  suggestion that you need to relate to the experience the same way you learned it, so it might have been best if I could have tried to unlearn my fear while being intoxicated on marijuana. I very much do not want to use marijuana today, since I have come to fear it, based on the negative experiences I had. Thus, I never attempted—and probably never will—to unlearn my phobia by being high on marijuana and trying to overcome my fear of freeway driving.

In sum, the experiences were very powerful and seem induced by marijuana. But, what is amazing, is that to this day I have a specific phobia involving driving on certain kinds of roadways, even though I understand what occurred while driving to my class on the expressway. Understanding alone is not sufficient to overcome the phobias. If I drive on freeways, expressways, or interstates, I feel trapped, and feel extreme anxiety.

Feedback would be appreciated. I would like to understand these experiences better. I would like to unlearn my freeway phobia, but my attempts thus far, including counseling, have proven unsuccessful.


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Calvert, J. R. (2003). State dependent learning. Available at:

Eisenman, R. (1991).  From crime to creativity: Psychological and social factors in deviance. Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt.

Goffman, E. (1963). Stigma: Notes on the management of spoiled identity. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Lippa, R. A. (1994). Introduction to social psychology. 2nd edit. Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole.

Overton, D. A. (1962). Control of learned responses by drug states. Ph.D. thesis, McGill University.

Overton, D. A. (1991). Historical context of state dependent learning and discriminative drug effects. Behavioral Pharmacology, 2, 253-264.

Schulz, D. E., Sosnik, R., Ego, V., Haidarliu, S., & Ahissar, E. (2000). A neuronal analogue of state-dependent learning.  Nature, 403, 549-553.

Tart, C. T. (Ed.) (1990). Alterted states of consciousness. 3rd edit., revised. San Francisco: HarperCollins.

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