The Flowers of Evil

Reflections on cannabis and mental health
October 9, 2019 Updated: October 9, 2019


While many countries ponder legalizing cannabis, and pot smokers the world over rejoice, even the most dedicated marijuana user should sit back for a moment and wonder if the cherished habit is really a road to bliss and spiritual liberation, or a slow and hardly perceptible descent into apathy, destitution, and mental disorder.

Allow me to contribute a few observations from a time when smoking cannabis became fashionable. Those were the glorious 1970s, when accident or destiny had swept me to the shores of Amsterdam.

Much can be said about these innocent years full of hope and happiness. Yet, it also appeared, at least to those who had retained a measure of common sense, that in the backyard of our colorful world lurked demons that were rather frightening to behold.

The demons made a pass at me and were repelled, but managed to entice and overwhelm an old friend.

My friend was a brilliant young scientist employed by a prestigious research center. I never found out exactly what his job had been there, if he exercised his impressive IQ for the general improvement of mankind or was just a cog in the military-industrial complex.

These were times when standards of social comportment and private leisure had undergone sweeping modifications. If you didn’t want to be out of step with the general mood and wanted to appear cool, hip, and far-out like everybody else, it was simply a must to occasionally get high on pot or “throw a trip.” Yet, as time went on, it also became obvious that the habit could result in some rather destructive side effects.

That happened to be the case with my friend.

He was the kind of seeker whose highly inquisitive mind regarded a purely scientific explanation of the universe and its origins as insufficient. There had to be more to it than just an inexplicable Big Bang, and to solve the riddle, he trawled the literary giants with a mystical leaning for clues.

Aldous Huxley’s “Doors of Perception” became a preferred chart to determine his bearings, and whenever he set sail for new and mind-expanding shores, a joint stuffed with first-class Black Nepal was the zephyr that coasted him along.

After his appointment to a new branch of the research center, he lived and worked in another city, and we didn’t see each other very often. One fine summer afternoon, he called and we met on the terrace of a lovely old café next to one of Amsterdam’s beautiful canals. He looked pale and withdrawn, and on a second look, deeply agitated.

I had already noticed during previous meetings that talking to him left me with a strangely vacant feeling, as if I had been milked of a small quantity of my essential life energy. After listening to him for a while, this feeling became strong, and I tried hard to maintain an emotional distance. But when he peered over his shoulder, frowned at the waiter, cast a hard stare at our neighbors, then bent over and whispered in a harsh tone that the British Secret Service was trying to abduct him, all my inner alarm bells began ringing.

It wasn’t the first time I had heard this kind of nonsense. In fact, I myself had only recently succumbed to a spot of paranoia after indulging far too long in some maliciously adulterated hashish. It scared me so much that I dropped the habit once and for all and diverted to red wine ever after.

Accordingly, I told my friend to keep cool and that he’d better get clean on the double, otherwise he might end up in a mental institution. My friend only gave me an angry sneer, took a joint out of his pocket and lit it, then got up and left me with the bill.

A month later, he came to my house and asked if I could help him find his car. He looked shoddy and seemed strangely submissive, both unusual because, in the past, he had always been impeccably dressed and maintained an intellectual aloofness that bordered on contempt. I could see clearly that he was in a bad way and immediately had strong misgivings. But, as so often happens in such situations, prudence lost out to kindness, and off we went.

While driving slowly through town, I began to realize that his mental state had deteriorated appallingly. Whatever he said was disjointed or completely meaningless, and when I asked him about his car, he only stared with a puzzled frown into his lap. After an hour of this, I decided to return home and told him so. This made him at first shake his head vehemently and then hiss at me in cold anger.

Night had fallen, and we were driving along a road with heavy traffic in both directions. When a huge lorry thundered toward us, he suddenly grabbed the steering wheel and turned it.

As it happened, my guardian angel plus a violent shot of adrenaline cooperated to help me counter-steer in time, missing the behemoth by only a few inches. Badly shaken and fully aware that death had passed by me very closely indeed, I yelled at him to get out of the car. The last thing I saw was his face as he stood there under a cold street light, contemptuous and unbelieving and sad at the same time, looking at me as if I had pinched the day’s takings out of his beggar’s hat.

A few weeks later, someone called, introduced himself playfully as a “head-shrink,” and asked for a minute or two of my time. Mystified, I consented, and in due course, was treated to a homily on mental diseases. He had a velvety voice and tempered his discourse with many assuaging adjectives, so much so that I began to feel unsettled and asked him to reveal the purpose of his call.

It transpired that he was a section chief in one of the area’s private and rather upmarket mental hospitals, and that his facility had recently been honored with the addition of my friend. I was invited to drop by whenever the occasion permitted.

So I took heart and dropped by.

The place was old, lavish, and spacious, with impeccable lawns and well-trimmed rose gardens surrounded by high walls. In a sheltered arbor, a demigod in a white coat presided over a troupe of irrational patients. Others had been left to themselves, and they sat or walked about in the oddly mechanical fashion that is the result of massive and unremitting sedation. Sturdy male nurses kept a cool eye on the situation, ready to interfere if someone might nonetheless refuse to toe the line.

A few visitors were trying to amuse their loved ones as well as possible, but couldn’t hide the silent horror that befalls a sane and sensitive person in the presence of human beings who are anything but that anymore.

Strangely out of character was a beautiful lady in her mid-30s who walked by while I waited for my friend to be brought out. She wore long black gloves and a low-cut black evening gown, and cried silent tears that were slowly rolling down her calm face.

When our eyes met, I had an eerie sensation as if her probing glance had penetrated my innermost being. Recoiling and instinctively lowering my head, I felt like a coward and looked up again. My face must have shown apprehension if not dread, because she gazed at me for another long moment with her large green eyes, then shook her head sadly as if answering an unspoken question, and walked on.

While watching her move into the distance, I was overcome by the frightful impression that she was perfectly aware of her predicament, but knew also that the walls that fate had erected around her mind were as insurmountable as those that surrounded the lovely rose gardens.

When my friend finally arrived, it became immediately clear that his condition had passed the point of no return. He behaved as if our conversation had only briefly been interrupted, and now continued to explain with subdued fervor and suspicious sideways stares the giant conspiracy that all the world’s secret powers had unleashed, mainly to silence him but also to rob him of his important inventions.

I listened gravely and ventured an occasional but unheeded comment, and apart from beginning to feel empty and worn-out again, I couldn’t but marvel at the ingenuity of his tales, so much so that there were repeated bizarre moments when I began against all better reason to wonder if his story could indeed contain a grain of truth.

On my way home, I tried hard to regain some composure, and in a dubious bar, downed a bottle of cheap wine that revived me at first, but left me with a bad headache. During the following months, I visited him a few times, only to always hear more variations of the same old theme.

Half a year later, distant lands beckoned with possible fortunes, and I packed up, stepping forever out of his life and its never-ending intrigues.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.