From the Archives: Richard Belzer (1994)

Richard Belzer is still pissed off, and he’s still funny as hell. The sharp-tongued comedian/actor has been holding a lamp of truth up to the dark foibles of politicians and pop culture icons for a couple of decades now, and though he’s found comfort and refuge in a happy marriage, his world-view shows no signs of mellowing.

Belzer’s comic career began in New York, when he auditioned for the video production of The Groove Tube and won several roles, including one of the leads in a sitcom parody called “The Dealers.” Having grown tired of paying the rent as a school teacher, census taker and journalist, Beizer jumped at the chance to be part of the underground film scene, and his success in the video and the later film version of The Groove Tube gave him the confidence to start doing standup.

Belzer’s combination of wild slapstick, heady rants and political diatribes have made him one of the country’s most vital comic commentators, but it seemed that the Hollywood world of prime-time TV and feature films never quite knew what to make of him. That changed when Beizer scored the role of Det. Munch on NBC’s cop-cranking psycho-drama Homicide. Last season, on an episode titled “And the Rocket’s Dead Glare,” Belzer’s worldweary Munch became the first prime-time character to deliver thoughtful, explicitly pro-hemp arguments as part of a debate over Drug War strategies. At present, Beizer is in Baltimore shooting new episodes of Homicide. He is also preparing a one-man show based on his view of the Kennedy assassination and cover-up.

HIGH TIMES: You seem to have a blast with the character of Munch no matter what he’s up to, but his pro-hemp speeches were quite a breakthrough. How did that come about?

Richard Belzer: The show is incredible. It’s a dream to be able to explore issues and make it entertaining. Last season, the producers told me they were talking about doing an episode where some people argued about the legalization of drugs. They wanted to use Munch as a pro-spokesman vs. a DEA guy who’s against. I asked the producer if he knew why marijuana was illegal, and he really didn’t know the history of it. I gave them some literature on it, and they beautifully wrote that into my dialogue. I thought it was absolutely incredible that a network, prime-time show would discuss these issues. I got to talk about the Declaration of Independence being written on hemp paper. That’s definitely never been said on prime-time.

HT: Was there any resistance from the producers or the network to any of the ideas you brought in?

RB: Not at all. As a matter of fact, they were delighted to have the real and historical information rather than just making shit up. The truth is always better.

I’ve read about this stuff for many years—about how up until World War II, hemp was used for fabric and fuel and protein. The flowering tops happen to get you high, but the rest of the plant is an amazing thing. Maybe hemp wouldn’t literally save the planet, but if we used it instead of trees for paper, we could leave the forests alone. Hemp paper lasts hundreds of years, and the plants grow anywhere and come back every year. The argument goes on and on, and the fact that hemp is illegal is a complete absurdity.

HT: Why do you think hemp became an “evil weed?’’

RB: Originally, the DuPonts and the Hearsts had a lot to do with it. In 1937, the patent for nylon was applied for by the DuPonts, and that’s when they said “Fuck this.” They didn’t want hemp rope on the market. The Hearsts owned paper mills and forests, so of course they didn’t want to use hemp paper. It was too cheap. The DuPonts and Hearsts teamed up to deny even industrial use for hemp. After all this time, there are finally some signs of common sense reappearing. In France, they just legalized marijuana for industrial use. That means using industrial seeds, which aren’t worth much smoke. The stuff they use for ropes and canvas doesn’t come from highly cultivated, smokers’ plants. They’re more “workman” plants. The THC is very low. They’re just used for the fiber, and not the hemp per se.

HT: As a scholar of hemp history, I’m sure you’ve gotten a kick out of oddities like the Hemp for Victory film.

RB: Oh yeah. We legalized hemp for the duration of WWII, but the Japanese took over all our hemp plantations in the Philippines. That’s where that Hemp for Victory newsreel came from. Remember that plane that George Bush had to bail out of during the war? The parachute that allowed him to float to the water was made of hemp. The boat that picked him up had an engine using hemp oil. The raft that rescued him was made of hemp, and the rope that pulled him out of the water was made of hemp. Without hemp, George Bush would be dead. What an ungrateful bastard he turned out to be.

HT: In the Homicide episode, you seemed to have a real mastery of the role hemp played in the early history of the United States. Thomas Jefferson probably would have enjoyed that show quite a bit.

RB: Jefferson had hemp plantations in the late seventeen-hundreds and early eighteen-hundreds. At that time, if you got caught taking hemp seeds out of China, it was the death penalty, but Jefferson used two secret agents to smuggle hemp seeds out of China, through Turkey, and back to his plantation. There are stories about him being a smoker, which can’t really be proved. But I think they drank a lot of hemp tea. It was the number one crop in the country. George Washington was the richest man in the colonies when he was elected President, and he had huge hemp plantations. It was used all over the world for all sorts of purposes. People prized their hemp seeds, and in some places the seeds were actually used as money. And, ironically, money is why there’s an irrational fear and hatred of hemp today.

HT: Greed and business interests obviously had everything to do with outlawing hemp in the first place, but today there seems to be a real moral outrage towards drug use. Where do you think that comes from?

RB: That’s an offshoot of the Drug War. But that fear doesn’t really apply to marijuana anymore. Everybody knows it’s a joke. Everybody knows that people don’t smoke a joint and run out and kill five people. It’ll never happen. Pot’s been around for thousands of years, and there’s nothing wrong with it. If anything, the things that it does that are good for your health should make people stop and think. There’s stuff in marijuana that’s actually good for your lungs, but you won’t read that in The New York Times. Marijuana is good for glaucoma, for appetite, for mood, as a relaxant. It’s not like this stuff just got whipped up and we’re trying to figure it out. It’s been around forever. The idea that it leads to worse drugs is absurd. I mean, maybe milk leads to heroin. Every heroin addict had milk at one time.

HT: One of the newer DEA arguments is that after all the years of cultivation, marijuana has become a potent and dangerous drug.

RB: That’s bullshit too. When you smoke really strong grass, you don’t want to jump out a window or kill anybody. You sit in your house and veg out. It’s not the kind of drug where you inhale it a few times and then run out and bite someone’s face. I don’t know what “dangerous” marijuana means. Maybe it’s dangerous if you trip over the bag. Go ahead and give me the most “dangerous” marijuana.

HT: Your show came out at a time when a pro-hemp stance is becoming more and more fashionable. Are you happy to see that kind of a movement taking shape?

RB: Yeah, there’s t-shirts, hats—a whole new generation of bands shamelessly talking about hemp. I don’t find that distasteful at all. I think that if we get out the message of “non-lethal, non-toxic, non-dangerous”—it may even help to get people off the really bad shit.

HT: Are you hopeful about any changes in the laws?

RB: Hemp won’t be legalized, but I think it’ll be decriminalized. If you’ve got less than an ounce, it’s a parking ticket. If it’s for your own use, just forget about it. I think judges in the future will throw out all marijuana cases simply because the prisons are too crowded and they want to put away more dangerous people.

HT: You’re one of the few standup comics who consistently work troubling political issues into your material. You seem particularly disgusted by the hypocrisy of the Drug War.

RB: When the government cracked down on marijuana a few years ago, that’s when cocaine became popular. People just want to get high, and they’ve been wanting to get high since the beginning of fucking time. And to make something as innocuous as grass less available makes people try other things. So the government is responsible for the increased use of cocaine.

Around the same time marijuana was made scarce, tons of cocaine came into this country to help finance the Contra war. I’d say there was a formula there. It’s not a myth. It’s not left-wing paranoia. Our government uses drugs to raise money for covert activities. That’s an equation you don’t hear too much about when you talk about marijuana use. I guarantee that if marijuana were easier to export and sell, the government would have used that to finance the Contras. It just happens to be too bulky. It’s not a powder.

HT: Are you disturbed or disappointed that the Iran-Contra scandal fizzled out without a full accounting of the government’s practices?

RB: The mainstream press passed on it from the beginning. The Democrats and Republicans got together and said, “Look, we can’t have another President impeached.” Reagan was impeachable. The Constitution says the President needs to see that all laws are obeyed, and Reagan had something like a hundred and eleven people in his administration breaking laws. By definition, he should have been impeached. Congress wanted to protect him, and kept the drug side out of it. The whole thing was a total fraud.

HT: That’s depressing, but I suppose that every major government throughout history has tapped into some kind of drug trade to help cement its power.

RB: It’s always been there. It’s just that you don’t learn about it in school and it’s not in the mainstream newspapers. But drugs are a big part of government. When the Afghanis were fighting the Russians, we let them run heroin into the United States so that maybe they’d prevail over the Communists. When you see the sheik and all these guys trying to blow up the World Trade Center, you’ve got to believe that there’s a CIA connection. These heroin dealers and hashish dealers that we propped up are coming back to haunt us.

HT: Speaking of being haunted, your new one-man show deals with the Kennedy assassination. You’re obviously still very bothered by what took place in Dallas.

RB: It’s incredible. It’s been thirty years, over six hundred books have come out, and there are still no satisfactory answers. We can’t let it go. It was a coup d’etat. Every government after Kennedy’s is illegal. That’s why the mainstream press isn’t too happy to talk about it—they were complicitous. My piece is funny, but also illuminating. I’m obsessed with the subject, and it never goes away. It’s my nightmare. There are some wonderful books from credible people trying to make sense of it all, but they never get press. My piece comes out of a lot of frustration.

HT: In general terms, does the Clinton Administration give you any kind of hope for the future?

RB: Whoever’s in power, I’m the opposition. As a political comedian, it’s my job not to go to the White House. You can’t be seduced.

HT: When Ned Beatty’s character asked Munch if he was a smoker, Munch begged off the question. Can you tell HIGH TIMES if you still enjoy the pleasures of hemp?

RB: Wherever it’s legal, I smoke it. I heard William Buckley say that he smoked a joint on his yacht, off the coast of the US in international waters. Even with all his buddies in the DEA, he didn’t want to say that he just lit up at a party. So let’s just say that Mr. Belzer has experimented under strictly legal conditions.

High Times Magazine, January 1994

Read the full issue here.

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‘The Last of Us’ Monsters Inspired by Psychedelic Trip

If you have watched The Last of Us, you may never look at mushrooms the same way. 

The hit HBO show, set in the grim aftermath of a fungi-induced pandemic that wiped out much of civilization, has had viewers on the edge of their seats since it premiered last month. And that is due in no small measure to the horrifying and grotesque “infected” who terrorize the characters in the series, which was adapted from a popular video game. 

Those mushroom-ravaged zombies were the handiwork of Terry Notary, a veteran Hollywood “movement coach” who has worked on blockbusters such as “Avatar” and “Planet of the Apes.” 

Notary gave an interview with Inverse published this week about the work he did on The Last of Us, and where he drew the inspiration for the “infected” in the show.

Hint: it’s mushrooms.

“I tried mushrooms before I did this, to see what it felt like,” Notary told Inverse. “I felt like ‘Whoa, this isn’t making me feel stupid. This is making me feel really intelligent. Holy sh*t. This is otherworldly.’”

The infected in The Last of Us are ghastly beings. In the show’s universe, a parasitic fungal infection has spread throughout the world, infecting much of humanity. Those who have been infected essentially become one with the Cordyceps fungi that has destroyed the world. 

They are identifiable for the fungi sprouting all over their skin, spend the rest of their existence looking to spread the infection by biting others. 

Courtesy HBO

Notary said in the interview published this week that his experience with psilocybin helped steer him away from familiar zombie tropes as he developed the infected.

“It was a big influence on the approach. These aren’t mindless creatures. These are expanded, like really aware creatures. I tried the science and learned from it and applied it,” Notary told Inverse

Notary continued: “I was pretty quick to understand how the world works, but I wanted to make the infected feel like they were of one mind, and so that they were all connected. Cordyceps have this intelligence that was connecting them all together, they weren’t all just a bunch of random zombies running around as individuals in America. They had a higher intelligence, they had this way of being powerful in their force of being connected together as one unit, like a school of fish or a big flock of birds, they just kind of move and flock together. That was their sort of intelligence of being able to communicate with one another without words.”

Notary said he also drew inspiration by working with his daughter.

“My wife and I have a dance studio here, and our daughters are really amazing dancers. So I usually have my daughter perform some of these creatures for me, and I can direct her and kind of see where it was going. We can play together and move in and find different rhythms and stuff,” he said. 

“I was workshopping with her and I was finding what really works is the sense of discord. It felt like there was a beauty in it being broken, a fractal-like feeling and fragmented rhythms that felt really scary, but beautiful. At the same time, it was organic, it was almost like watching a plant grow but in fast motion. You could almost see the pieces and the moments of growth and then withering.”

“That was an influence too, nature growing in fast motion and in reverse. Playing things in reverse felt interesting to me as well. It gave it this off-tempo intelligence, rather than like going into two-dimensional stuff. It was really important to get the actors to drop out and be intelligent, to go past themselves and forget,” Notary added.

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My Coke-Free Visit to Escobar’s Home Turf

“Do not go there!” Valentina, a 27-year-old designer living in Medellín, yelled when I told her that I planned on visiting the Casa Museo Pablo Escobar, a museum dedicated to the Colombian drug lord. 

A quick Google search made me change my mind. The entrance fee to the museum is $30 – a hefty sum in a country where a full meal will typically cost you less than $5, and most of the museums are donation-based or free-of-charge. On top of that, online reviews were making the place out to be a rip-off, a collection of meaningless personal possessions, shoddy reproductions, and revisionist history. 

But that was not why Valentina told me not to go. A native Colombian, she felt it was disrespectful for tourists like me to go and waste their time, energy, and money on an individual who callously killed and intimidated so many of her countrymen.   

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what tourists are doing. For many – although certainly not all – it’s one of their primary reasons for coming to Medellín in the first place. Colombia has been attracting travelers with a perverse admiration for Pablo Escobar for decades, but the number of narco-tourists increased drastically following the release of Netflix’s Narcos, which has turned the kingpin from a fading memory into an alive-and-well pop culture icon.

While the Netflix series has boosted Colombia’s tourism industry and by extension the Colombian economy as a whole, Colombians are – understandably – upset that one of the most hated characters in their history books has now become the country’s de facto international ambassador. 

“To many of us, Pablo is our Hitler,” one person from Medellín told me. “To a few he was a hero, but mostly he brought a lot of evil to our city, and we will probably never get rid of the stigma, just like the Germans will never get rid of their history. I really despise people who buy or sell Pablo T-shirts, mugs, etc. It’s like me going to Berlin to sell T-shirts of Hitler. I’d get arrested before I sold the first one.”

“I have an uncle who I never met who died in one of his famous bombings,” another added. “I completely despise any reference towards that man.” 

Personally, I am tempted to hold Narcos partially responsible for creating or at the very least reinvigorating this reference for Escobar. In classic Hollywood fashion, Netflix made him thinner, handsomer and more charismatic than he was in real life. (They also cast a Brazilian actor instead of a Colombian one, but that is another story). On top of all this, the focus of the show is on his success, on his power. Viewers walk away from Narcos ruminating on how, at his peak, he was the 7th richest man in the world and controlled 80% of all cocaine. What they don’t realize is that, for the time that he was active, he pretty much held the whole country hostage through a campaign of domestic terrorism, blowing up apartment buildings and commercial airplanes just to kill a single person on his miles-long hitlist.  

Instead of Casa Museo Pablo Escobar, Valentina urged me to visit Barrio 13. A huge slum erected on the hills overlooking Medellín, Barrio 13 used to be one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in all of South America, until the Colombian army swept in during the early 2000s. Things have improved since then – somewhat. It is still a total mess; there is no urban planning and no roads for cars, but instead of public executions, there’s music, graffiti, and – occasionally – those Red Bull BMX challenges you may have seen on YouTube. Most importantly, however, the residents seem to be earning a decent living off tourism. 

Graffiti artist in Barrio 13 / Photo by Tim Brinkhof

While ordering an IPA I later learned contained copious amounts of THC, I asked the guy who had brought me there – a local called Jason – how the people of Barrio 13 felt about a show like Narcos. The answer: not good. If I wanted to “see the real Escobar,” Jason told me, I should check out a Colombian show called El Patron del Mal, or “The Boss of Evil.” It’s a Latin soap-opera, not a blockbuster, but once I ignored the overly dramatic plot and music, I could see what he was getting at. First and foremost, Escobar, who was played by a Colombian actor, looked the part – overweight and less attractive. Patron del Mal also struck me as more authentic in its representation of Colombia. The Medellín the characters lived in was the same Medellín as I saw when I looked out of the window of my little Airbnb – full of energy and color. They drank aguardiente and gorged on paísa, a typical Antioquian dish of rice, beans, avocado, ground beef and fried pork, served with hot arepas. Most importantly, however, the life of crime did not seem nearly as glamorous in this show as it did in Narcos. We see Escobar for what he really was – a crook without a conscience; it wasn’t his intelligence that allowed him to get as far as he did, but the fact that he was willing to do things that others wouldn’t have been able to live with. 

Navigating the maze that’s Barrio 13 is hard enough when you’re sober, let alone when you’ve unintentionally gotten high off craft beer. Standing in line for the only outdoor escalator in the country, I began to notice how Colombian society dealt with the scars of narco-terrorism. Buildings that used to be painted with blood and bullet holes have since been covered up by gorgeous graffiti art that serves to remind people of anything other than drug-related violence. One of the barrio’s newest murals, Jason showed me, depicts Pachamama, an Andean goddess representing the Earth itself, and a much older and powerful symbol of Colombia’s cultural heritage than Escobar. 

While I never went to Casa Museo Pablo Escobar, I did visit Hacienda Napoles, one of the many homes he acquired with his fortune. Located near the town of Puerto Triunfo, about halfway between Medellín and Bogotá, the Hacienda had originally included a modest swimming pool, a landing strip for small airplanes, and a zoo filled with animals purchased on the black market. After Escobar’s death, the estate itself fell into disarray. The villa was ransacked and eventually raised to the ground. The animals, left to their fate, died or – in the case of the hippos – escaped into the surrounding wetlands, where they flourished and became invasive species.

Hippos at the Hacienda Napoles zoo / Photo by Tim Brinkhof

For years, the Colombian state fought to confiscate the land from Escobar’s relatives. When they succeeded, they turned the Hacienda Napoles into a theme park. At first, I thought that this was done in an attempt to cash in on narco-tourism trends. Fortunately, this was not the case. Upon falling into public hands, the Hacienda – like Barrio 13 – was transformed so as to remove all traces of its criminal past. To that end, the Hacienda Napoles of today is related to the Hacienda Napoles of Escobar in name only. The hilly terrain that had once served to hide the kingpin’s dealings from the outside world now features rollercoasters and swimming pools. The theme park’s theme is Africa, owing to the bigger and better zoo that has taken the place of the old one. Visitors – mostly Colombians holidaying in their own country – come to gawk at elephants, lions, tigers, flamingos, and a pair of absolutely monstrous boa constrictors. In contrast to Escobar’s own zoo, where zebras were ridden by his henchmen and ostriches handfed cigarettes, the Hacienda’s current animals live in spacious enclosures, enjoying a climate that – at least in terms of temperature – isn’t far off from their native savannahs. 

Cartel member riding one of Escobar’s zebras / Photo by Tim Brinkhof

The only reference to Pablo Escobar inside Hacienda Napoles is a small museum tucked away in the very back corner of the park. The museum, a partial reconstruction of the original villa, is dedicated to the victims of narco-terrorism. Inside you learn more about the history of the Hacienda, Escobar’s inevitable downfall, and the barbaric lengths that he went to trying to prevent that downfall. The white walls are covered with the portraits of politicians and police officers that he had killed, as well as pictures of blood-covered children being pulled out of the rubble of collapsed buildings. 

What shocked me more than these images was that most of the visitors around me had just come out of the pool and were walking through the museum half-naked, dripping wet, drinking beers and eating slices of pizza. At the time their behavior and appearance couldn’t help but strike me as inappropriate, and even made me think that they were a bit hypocritical to complain about gringos smoking blunts on Escobar’s grave back in Medellín. Days later, I realized how wrong I was. Whereas I, a foreigner, had traveled to Puerto Triunfo specifically to see what had become of Escobar’s former home, the average Colombian – it appears – comes here to swim in the swimming pools, ride the rollercoasters, and look at the animals. To them, Pablo Escobar is not the main event of their trip, but just an afterthought. This, as far as I am concerned, is as good a sign as any that the country – after decades of suffering – is well on its way to break free from the drug lord’s tightening grip.

Tourists checking out the narco-terrorism museum / Photo by Tim Brinkhof

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How ‘How to Change Your Mind’ Will Change Your Mind About Psychedelics

Netflix has no shortage of documentaries about psychedelics. In 2016’s The Last Shaman, a severely depressed actor ventures into the Amazon rainforest in the hope that a cup of ayahuasca can keep his suicidal thoughts at bay. Ram Dass, Going Home (2017) follows the last days of the eponymous psychologist, who was once ousted from Harvard for using drugs in his research. In Have a Good Trip (2020), A$AP Rocky, Anthony Bourdain, and other celebrities—both dead and living—share the stories behind their wildest psychedelic trips.

To these entries the streamer recently added How to Change Your Mind. Based on a 2018 book of the same name by the journalist and New York Times best-selling author Michael Pollan, this docuseries follows Pollan as he researches (and uses) 4 different psychedelic drugs: LSD, psilocybin, MDMA, and mescaline. Unsurprisingly, the series quickly became a huge hit, trending in the streaming service’s top 10 ever since its release on July 12.

How to Change Your Mind is a captivating watch, even if you’re not remotely interested in psychedelics. This is largely thanks to Pollan, who is not only a likable host but a talented writer. Pollan began his career reporting on the relationship between people and plants, focusing mostly on the food industry. His beat eventually led him from ordinary plants to mind-altering plants, starting with insidious examples like coffee and tea and ending with full-blown psychedelics.

In the opening scenes of the first episode, Pollan refers to himself as a “late bloomer.” Born shortly after the infamous Summer of Love, his understanding of psychedelics was limited to the terrifying and exaggerated stories he’d been told by agents of the U.S. government. Later in life, journalism taught him to think for himself. Viewers now find Pollan, approaching his 70s, sitting cross legged in a field while a ceremonial leader shoots concentrated doses of tobacco up his nostrils. The journalist, quivering and groaning as though his body has been set on fire, tries his best to remain composed; he knows his trip is only just beginning, and the worst (or best) has yet to come.

The first episode of How to Change Your Mind is dedicated to the “first” psychedelic: LSD. Lysergic acid diethylamide, Pollan explains, was first synthesized in 1938 by Albert Hofmann. Hofmann, a Swiss chemist under the employment of pharmaceutical giant Sandoz, unknowingly synthesized the psychedelic while breaking down ergot, a fungus that commonly grows on rye. Hofmann suspects the substance must have accidentally entered his bloodstream through his fingertips, causing him to undergo the first acid trip in European history. The initially terrifying but ultimately pleasant experience motivated Hofmann to experiment further, ingesting quantities of LSD that would intimidate even the most seasoned psychonauts.

Unsure what to do with the new substance and curious about its pharmaceutical potential, Sandoz started an open research and development program, shipping LSD to any chemist, neurologist, and psychoanalyst interested in running experiments. These experiments continued into the sixties, until the U.S. government interfered. Detecting a link between the eye-opening drug and conscientious objection to the Vietnam War, Washington declared LSD a schedule 1 narcotic. Other countries including Switzerland followed suit, and all research was shut down.

Mainstream media, which previously covered LSD with unbridled enthusiasm, now presented the drug as a dangerous and addictive substance. News coverage focused exclusively on “bad trips,” presenting them as the only kind of outcome one can expect from LSD. Crying teenagers are unable to distinguish between reality and hallucination. Their panic attacks are so severe they have to be restrained by police or medical personnel. Though LSD is non-lethal and non-toxic, there is indeed a slight danger to it. For people prone to mental illness, warns Pollan, dropping acid might trigger their first psychotic break.

That’s not to say LSD is a shortcut to schizophrenia. For the majority of psychonauts, the drug causes a myriad of exciting, pleasant sensations. They say the only way to understand a trip is to experience one for yourself, but Pollan and the people he interviews actually do a pretty good job describing what they see and feel. Hofmann recalls that the Swiss landscape morphed into “kaleidoscopic” shapes and that acoustic perceptions were translated into visual ones. (How to Change Your Mind uses some cool CGI to show what this might look like). The Canadian psychiatrist Humphrey Osmond initially took LSD to better understand his psychotic patients, only to realize that acid trips were more mystical than maddening. Everything around him, the psychiatrist explains, acquired a profound sense of beauty and intrigue, so much so that he could spend all day contemplating something as unremarkable as a flower. Pollan agrees, adding that LSD makes you look at the world as though you are seeing it for the first time, the way you did when you were a child.

Indeed, many find that taking LSD puts them back in touch with lost or suppressed memories. One young man participating in a modern-day clinical trial in Zurich says he remembered being inside his mother’s womb where, the umbilical cord tightly wrapped around his little neck, he was forced to decide whether to survive or give up. This predicament, though strange, is hardly unique; from war veterans to sexual assault survivors, people say psychedelics allow them to confront—and, crucially—move past their traumatic experiences, healing themselves in ways that conventional psychiatry and medication cannot.

It is interesting that individuals from all walks of life use the same basic language to describe the emotional significance of their trips. They say LSD makes them feel “connected” to the world around them. Starstruck by the beauty and awe described by Osmond, they suddenly realize that they are but one small part of a much larger organism. This realization leads them to the conclusion that if they hurt someone else, or hurt nature, they are also hurting themselves—a train of thought which may explain why love plays such a central role in the psychedelic movement, and why so many young Americans ended up refusing to participate in the Vietnam War.

It is only in retrospect that we recognize the influence psychedelics have had on society. Bill Wilson, the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, did not quit drinking until he was given a dose of LSD. According to Wilson, the drug changed his perspective on addiction and awakened his capacity to himself. To this day AA remains a deeply spiritual organization, and that spirit can be traced back directly to psychedelics.

Psychedelics also gave us the personal computer. Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, famously referred to a college LSD trip as “one of the most important things in my life.” Like other entrepreneurs and artists who came of age during the Summer of Love, Jobs used drugs to unwind and open his mind to new creative possibilities. Pollan says it’s no coincidence that Jobs and other future tech titans took a liking to LSD, as both psychedelics and digital technology are all about dissolving boundaries and connecting people that would have otherwise been separated by space and time. Times haven’t changed that much either. If life on Wall Street continues to be defined by its normalization of cocaine use, Silicon Valley is still a place where employees can release their inner psychonaut without fear of being sacked by straight-laced superiors.

Today, research into LSD and other kinds of psychedelics is gradually resuming. Between the War on Drugs being unmasked as the witch hunt that it was, and the legalization of other previously persecuted substances like cannabis, researchers are once again able to legally handle their test subjects. How to Change Your Mind spotlights a number of contemporary studies, several of which are happening in Switzerland: the very country where Hofmann discovered LSD all those years ago. One team is looking at whether or not psychedelics could improve the mental state of terminally ill cancer patients. Another is finding out, once and for all, which areas of the brain are stimulated when an acid trip kicks in (one of these, spoiler alert, is the area of the brain that regulates our sense of self).

Once you finish the first episode of Pollan’s documentary, chances are you’ll stick around for the other three. Though they are all qualified as psychedelics, each substance influences the brain in different ways. Whereas LSD toys with our sense perception, its cousin MDMA straight up fills our heads with serotonin. The popular party drug does not cause us to see outlandish visuals, but feel an unprecedented amount of love. While LSD allows you to look at the world from a different perspective, MDMA enables you to see and accept yourself for who you are—yet another fascinating prospect for medical researchers. As for psilocybin and mescaline, you’ll simply have to watch How to Change Your Mind for yourself.

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Weed Joke on Jeopardy! Triggers Viewers

A harmless cannabis joke is at the center of controversy after fans reacted to commentary on a recent Jeopardy! episode. The show is often the topic of bizarre controversies affecting its older viewership, seemingly invented out of nothing.

Jeopardy! host Mayim Bialik already faced a steep battle to be accepted by fans. For instance, Bialik was confronted on social media earlier for wearing the same outfit repeatedly on the show.

Following the 2020 death of beloved longtime host Alex Trebek, Bialik was selected to host the game show and co-host another version of the show with series champ Ken Jennings. Jennings won 74 consecutive episodes of the show—the longest streak the show has ever seen. Nearly every show host faced uphill odds trying to fill the shoes of Trebek.

Current contestant Bonnie Kistler, who is a novelist, chose the category “Ripped From The Headlines” for $400 on the May 24 episode of Jeopardy! broadcast as Season 38 Episode 182.

Contestants were confronted with the phrase, “Marijuana issues sent to this ‘committee’ generally composed of members of both houses of a legislature.”

Contestant Ryan Long, who is the current reigning champion of the show, guessed “What is a bipartisan committee?” but he guessed incorrectly. Long is a Rideshare driver by trade and won 12 episodes of the show in a row undefeated.

Jeopardy! co-host Bialik said the correct question was “What is a joint committee?”

Bialik added “Get it?” with a snicker, referring to the double meaning and drawing some guarded laughter from the crowd.

Even the slightest allusion to the “devil’s lettuce” is enough to stir controversy to the show’s fans, who are typically older in age. In 2011, Newsweek reported that the show’s median viewer was 65 years old—after the show spent years modernizing. Before then, the median viewer age was 70!

It’s not the first time the joke about “joint committees” has appeared. In 2015, Massachusetts Senate President Stanley Rosenberg brought up a legislative item on cannabis reform and noted that it would take place in joint committees. Rosenberg said, “That’s really funny. I didn’t try to be funny. They are called joint committees.”

While the joke was well received by most viewers, some Twitter users weren’t having it—slamming the show as well as Bialik, who wasn’t being easily accepted anyways. One Twitter user wrote, “Oh, but won’t the #Jeopardy writers PLEASE think of the children watching, and their delicate ears that were just exposed to a cannabis reference?” referring to an oft-cited The Simpsons episode.

Fans already begged Bialik to be “considerate of the kids” regarding adult themes. One user responded, noting how alcohol is more dangerous than cannabis. “ignorant jokes like yours don’t help.”

The late former show host Alex Trebek could toss around a joke or two about cannabis as well.

When interviewed by Marlon Stowe for The Daily Beast, Trebek recalled one time he got wasted on hash edibles, by taking too many of them by accident. We all know how that can play out.

“It was by accident! I didn’t know what they were,” Trebek said. “I had just arrived in California and went to a friend’s house for dinner, and there were brownies. I love brownies—I’m a chocoholic—and I didn’t realize that they were hash brownies. And… whoa. That threw me for a loop. I took down about a half-dozen.”

Fans of the show are urged to give Bialik a chance as the new show host, along with Jennings and any other new hosts.

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Advertising Cannabis – How the Industry Works Around Media Restrictions

Cannabis is legal in most of North America, but restrictions on advertising cannabis still exist. The industry works around these limits, but is it enough? Recently, NBC blocked a Weedmaps commercial from playing during Super Bowl LVI. The commercial looks pretty innocuous, with jokes about how people use “broccoli” as a euphemism for cannabis. Still, […]

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