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The effects of marijuana smoking somewhat resemble those of alcohol. Within half to one hour the viper's eyes redden, his pupils dilate, his tongue gets parched. If he is a novice, he frequently breaks into uncontrollable laughter, or vomits. But an hour or so later he is "high." He has a sensation of floating on air, or falling softly on waves. His ears ring sweetly, his head swims pleasantly, his limbs are langorously heavy, his hunger grows, especially for sweets. Curious things happen to his perceptions of space and time. Objects a mile outside the window may seem with in easy reach. A lazy minute may seem like an hour. Curiously, the power of mental concentration appears to increase rather than diminish. Some specialized workers find that marijuana stimulates their faculties.
The association of marijuana with hot jazz is no accident. The drug's power to slow the sense of time gives an improviser the illusion that he has all the time in the world in which to conceive his next phrases. And the drug also seems to heighten the hearingso that, for instance, strange chord formations seem easier to analyze under marijuana. Jazz-playing vipers may be outnumbered by "lushes" (alcoholics)who almost never smoke reefers. Today, among all dance musicians (including those of the "sweet" bands), the percentage of marijuana smokers probably does not exceed 20%. But among hot jazz players there are few (except the confirmed lushes) who do not occasionally smoke.
Old Persian Practice. In some form, hemp has been smoked since long before the beginning of the Christian Era. It was familiar to the ancient Hindus and Persians. It is smoked widely by the Arabs. Eminent European vipers have included De Quincey, Baudelaire (who once, under the influence, sketched a self-portrait, with the Colonne Vendôme in hashish perspective), Dumas, Gautier. The U. S. vogue, precisely coincident with the vogue for hot jazz, began in New Orleans a generation ago, moved up the Mississippi to Chicago, thereafter spread east and west.
Despite its lurid reputation, marijuana seems no more harmful than alcohol. Though habitual criminals often use it, psychiatrists and police narcotic experts have never been able to prove that it induces criminal tendencies in otherwise normal people. It is less habit-forming than tobacco, alcohol or opium. The most confirmed vipers have no particular craving for the drug. They just enjoy its effects. Like alcohol, of course, it can raise hell with orderly living, release bad as well as good personality traits. But in spite of the legends, no case of physical, mental or moral degeneration has ever been traced exclusively to marijuana.
Because of its non-habit-forming character, doctors have recently been experimenting with the drug as an aid in curing opium addiction. In the world of hot jazz, marijuana's relatively benign effects are attested by long experience. Lushes often die young from cirrhosis of the liver or apoplexy, often spend their final days in delirium tremens. But vipers frequently live on to enjoy old age. In You Rascal You, a viper addresses an imaginary lush : "I'll be standing on the corner high when they bring your body by."