Cyrus McNally McNally is a fourth-year
neuroscience student who knows not which way the wind blows. E-mail
him at nougat@ucla.edu.




Jah man. Gather round, for I am about to unveil to you the true
origins of a much misunderstood, misrepresented and misinterpreted
expression. But this reminds me of a point I wanted to make…

One theory why cannabis is still illegal: If marijuana was
legal, demand for the crop might skyrocket. This would in turn
necessitate the planting and cultivating of many more plants, which
would help reduce green-house gasses in the atmosphere by over 15
percent. Normally this would be beneficial, as it would reduce that
dreaded greenhouse effect they keep scaring us about.

But you see, the people in power don’t want to reduce the
greenhouse effect, and unbeknownst to the breadth of the
world’s population, our earth is slowly undergoing a massive
terraforming project coordinated by our alien masters.

But I digress.

How did the combination of inhaling a nasty smelling plant and
listening to music come about? First off, with the enhancement
of the senses comes the enhancement of music. The nuances of melody
and complexity in rhythmic patterns enrapture the mind of the
demented hophead. Everything expands in infinite grandeur as
if propelled by some gigantic field of anti-gravity. Permanent
volume.

And, yet again, I digress.

This column is really about the origins of the expression
“420,” as many people have come to associate this
number with cannabis, or the marijuana plant, for some reason or
another.

A particular rumor has it that “420″ refers to the
number of different chemicals found in marijuana.

Another rumor claims that the police use “420″ as
the code for reporting a “pot-smoking in progress”
(police departments deny the existence of any such code).

In actuality, the term “420″ was originated by a
group of brothers who would meet up every day after high school in
the parking lot to spark up at 4:20 p.m. Thanks to these guys, the
simple and easy-to-remember phrase became quite popular among
certain populations, musicians included, signifying a specially
designated time significant to all potheads.

However, the term was really not all that popular until it
somehow spilled over into the Grateful Dead community, who passed
out flyers at Oakland, Calif., shows in 1990 announcing a
“4:20 on 4/20 gathering.”

The rest is history.

Well, actually, let’s take history back a little
farther…

2737 B.C.: Cannabis is referred to as a “superior”
herb in the world’s first medical text, or pharmacopoeia, in
Southeast Asia.

1845 A.D.: Psychologist and inventor of modern
psychopharmacology, Jacques-Joseph Moreau de Tours publishes the
first report of the possible physical and mental benefits of
cannabis. Only 25 years later, cannabis is listed in the U.S.
Pharmacopoeia as a medicine.

1964 A.D.: THC, tetrahydracannabinol, is first isolated in the
laboratory.

1989 A.D.: Price-per-ounce of cannabis is worth more than gold.
Worldwide prohibition attracts organized crime to take over the
cannabis market and net large profits.

1997 A.D.: An eight-year study at the UCLA School of Medicine
concludes that long-term smokers of cannabis do not experience a
greater annual decline in lung function than non-smokers. Also in
1997, it is reported that America’s largest cash crop,
outranking corn, wheat and all other grains combined, is
cannabis.

More recent research on cannabinoid receptors in the brain,
known as CB1 (cannabinoid 1) receptors, has concluded that they
might regulate perception (hearing, color vision, taste), cognition
(sleep, long- and short-term memory) and motor skills (movement,
coordination, posture and muscle tone), helping to establish the
link between biology and behavior of the cannabis inhaler.

CB1 receptors have been shown to ultimately inhibit adrenaline,
explaining the large amount of peace and laziness exhibited in your
average cannabis inhaler.

So how was cannabis first connected to music? One of the more
striking effects noticed in the state of consciousness brought on
by cannabis use is an acutely augmented appreciation of music. The
effect does not seem to fade with the habitual use of cannabis.
This perception of enhancement is curiously not limited to certain
types of music, although many persons originally interested only in
pop music, for example, have been known to suddenly find during a
marijuana session that more “serious” music is
entertaining in a way both unexpected and profound.

While the biological actions of THC and other related
cannabinoids are not fully understood, it is the derangement of
reality in a pleasant matter that beckons its users. This
derangement has obviously been used to some advantage, as musicians
(as well as other artists) have testified not only to enhanced
appreciation of music and art in general through use of cannabis,
but some have also contended that these altered states of
consciousness are useful and valuable in augmenting their
creativity ““ although research verifying such claims is hard
to accomplish in any meaningful or relative way.

It wasn’t really until the 1930s that cannabis became
associated with music ““ at the time, it was jazz music. It
can’t be denied that the long, wild-winded solos of saxophone
and trumpet virtuosos John Coltrane and Miles Davis helped foster a
long movement of improvisation which would eventually carry itself
over to such diverse genres as rock, bluegrass and the avant
garde.

Total disinhibition of form in music took precedence for several
decades, where psychedelic and progressive rock music reigned on
the airwaves during the 1960s and “˜70s. Exploratory
arrangements and free-form song structure opened up a new fanfare
of musical possibilities worldwide.

Freed from the restraint of a more conservative and shunning
industry, artists were now allowed to express themselves as a
changing culture; abandoning the old-guard standards of snappy,
happy, three-minute pop songs for anthemic, aural aggrandizement
and virtuosity. Classic rock groups like Pink Floyd, The Grateful
Dead and Yes all offered their listeners multiple layers of
instruments (the most important of which is the synthesizer),
jamming out songs for 20 minutes or more at a time, keeping their
respective (and intoxicated) audiences bombarded with sensory
overload. The Dead once played its magnum opus, “Dark
Star” for 60 minutes at an early ’70s concert.

In this day and age, electronic music seems to have taken over
for the aforementioned exploratory rock bands, trading in drums for
blaring beats, swirls of synthesizer and deep artificial bass.
Although the Grateful Dead was over by the mid-’90s (when
lead guitarist Jerry Garcia died), it was replaced by the more
modern Phish.

And, well, now that Phish has decided to take at least a year
off from touring, electronic music seems to be filling in, offering
meshes of novel sonic textures that are sure to offer a
deregulation of perception if absorbed under the right
circumstances.

It is safe to say that without the presence of a cannabinoid
influence, music would not be what it is today. The social and
cognitive disinhibition caused by cannabis smoking has allowed
countless artists to achieve some of their finer moments, and it
almost serves as a release mechanism for creativity. That is, only
if the artists suspect that they are at all creative in the first
place.

But I digress…