Carl Sagan on the Virtues of Marijuana (1969)

Carl Sagan — he was an astronomer, astro­physi­cist, cos­mol­o­gist and great pop­u­lar­iz­er of sci­ence. He was also, it turns out, a life­long smok­er of cannabis. In 1999, and just three years after Sagan’s death, Keay David­son pub­lished Carl Sagan: A Life, a biog­ra­phy that made head­lines for reveal­ing how Sagan wrote an essay in 1969, using the pseu­do­nym “Mr.  X,” where he out­lined the per­son­al ben­e­fits of smok­ing mar­i­jua­na. The essay even­tu­al­ly appeared in the 1971 book Recon­sid­er­ing Mar­i­jua­na. 35 years old at the time, Sagan explained how the drug height­ened his sen­so­ry expe­ri­ence, gave him an appre­ci­a­tion for the spir­i­tu­al realm (“a feel­ing of com­mu­nion with my sur­round­ings, both ani­mate and inan­i­mate”), enhanced his enjoy­ment of sex, and allowed him to achieve some “dev­as­tat­ing” insights into sci­en­tif­ic, cre­ative and par­tic­u­lar­ly social ques­tions. The drug also gave him a new­found respect for art and music. He wrote:

The cannabis expe­ri­ence has great­ly improved my appre­ci­a­tion for art, a sub­ject which I had nev­er much appre­ci­at­ed before. The under­stand­ing of the intent of the artist which I can achieve when high some­times car­ries over to when I’m down. This is one of many human fron­tiers which cannabis has helped me tra­verse.…  A very sim­i­lar improve­ment in my appre­ci­a­tion of music has occurred with cannabis. For the first time I have been able to hear the sep­a­rate parts of a three-part har­mo­ny and the rich­ness of the coun­ter­point. I have since dis­cov­ered that pro­fes­sion­al musi­cians can quite eas­i­ly keep many sep­a­rate parts going simul­ta­ne­ous­ly in their heads, but this was the first time for me.

You can read the com­plete essay here.

A quick foot­note: lat­er in life, Sagan advo­cat­ed legal­iz­ing med­ical mar­i­jua­na, as you can hear below. And his wife, Ann Druyan, who made sub­stan­tial con­tri­bu­tions to the PBS doc­u­men­tary series Cos­mos, has since pushed for the out­right legal­iza­tion of cannabis. She served on the Board of Direc­tors of the Nation­al Orga­ni­za­tion for the Reform of Mar­i­jua­na Laws for a decade.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Carl Sagan’s Under­grad Read­ing List: 40 Essen­tial Texts for a Well-Round­ed Thinker

Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawk­ing & Arthur C. Clarke Dis­cuss God, the Uni­verse, and Every­thing Else

Hunter S. Thomp­son Runs for Aspen, Col­orado Sher­iff on the “Freak Pow­er” Plat­form (1970)

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  • Serkan says:

    Cos­mos book was the most excit­ing read of my pre-teenage. he was my hero and key to the enter the sci­ence realm. i am owe so much awe­some­ness to you mr. Sagan. thanks for the add all pos­i­tive­ness to my intel­lec­tu­al life. and of course; “legal­ize it now”.

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