Lead image by Mira Gonzalez
In his newest book Trip, Tao Lin recounts a harrowing personal tale of prescription drug abuse during what he describes as one of the "most creative" times in his life. Grappling with his own perceived inability to make art without self-destructing, any kind of recovery seems incomprehensibly distant at best, and impossible at worst.
That is, until he stumbles upon a YouTube video of psychonaut Terence McKenna that changes his entire outlook. For Tao, McKenna became both an obsession and a reviving force, inspiring him to abandon the pharmaceutical drugs he once relied on in favor of self-improvement through the medicinal (and, yes, recreational) usage of psilocybin, LSD, cannabis, and DMT.
Trip is a medley of biography, memoir, and journalistic exposé, with a core narrative formed by Tao's fascination with McKenna. Tao energetically escorts readers through a history of McKenna's life and work with the kind of encyclopedic knowledge only matched by McKenna himself. Woven in throughout are striking depictions of Tao's own experiences on psychedelics, with a particular focus on the life-altering effects of cannabis, DMT, and mushrooms.
In detailing his own 'trips,' Tao is cautious to make a distinction between mood-altering drugs (cocaine, caffeine, alcohol) and mind-altering psychedelics (mushrooms, DMT, salvia), the latter of which he credits with providing him the motivation to reshape his grim, pessimistic worldview into one filled with gratefulness and awe.
Utilizing the sort of meticulous attention to detail that has become his literary trademark, Tao coherently challenges the widely-held view that the dangers of psychedelics outweigh the benefits. With McKenna's teachings as his core thesis, Tao argues that psychedelics are only illegal because of their ability to dissolve "culturally laid down models of behavior and information processing," effectively pushing people to question accepted societal norms and the status quo.
Tao refers to marijuana throughout the book with a tone of adoration and admiration, calling it "the plant I've had the closest relationship with in my life." Where DMT and mushrooms pushed Tao to consider often uncomfortable, yet vitally important existential dilemmas, cannabis was the non-judgemental friend who held his hand along the way, gently guiding him into a new and improved life.
Tao shared an excerpt from Trip with MERRY JANE, in which he talks about his experiences with cannabis, and then answered a few questions we had about his relationship with everyone's favorite plant.
An Excerpt from "Trip," courtesy of Tao Lin and Vintage Books
Cannabis, the plant I've had the closest relationship with so far in my life, has been the main ally in my recovery. Early in our relationship, in August 2013, when I was in Australia for two book festivals, three weeks after throwing away my computer, I tweeted that I was seeking cannabis. A doctoral student named Oscar who was studying if computers could write poetry emailed me, met me in person, and gifted me cannabis that had been grown, he said, by the author of a book titled 'Jesus Weed.' Oscar said cannabis made him both more judgmental and sensitive and I realized it did for me, too.
I began smoking it daily the next month, in September, when my "recovery" ended. By then, I'd learned that my previous knowledge, absorbed from mainstream culture, on both drugs and psychedelics had been wrong. And so instead of believing what seemingly everyone, even many who promoted it, said about cannabis — that it made one lazy, careless, paranoid, forgetful, and unproductive — I listened to Terence McKenna, Kathleen Harrison, and my own experiences and experiments with the plant and began to associate it with meticulousness, social interaction, physical activity, calmness, learning, empathy, wonder, creativity, and productivity.
In January 2014, I began to also eat cannabis, baked with coconut oil at 250 degrees for thirty minutes in my oven, once or twice a day. For months, then years, I occupied a new mental location where I accumulated feelings, ideas, habits, and memories. Stoned, I forgot what it felt like to be on Adderall or Xanax and so stopped being lured to them by my distorted memory of their effects. Instead of being only interminable, dreadful, and boring, my recovery, due largely to cannabis, which I looked forward to daily, was routinely exciting, educational, moving, and awe-instilling.
Stoned on ingested cannabis, I've felt back inside a dream I once had. Not like I was remembering it, but in it again, in its world, while also still in concrete reality, drawing a mandala. Stoned in bed, I've learned with amusement that an effect of a catalyzed imagination can be self-control; with my cannabinoided brain, automatically having more thoughts than normal, I once convinced myself to sleep by thinking of reasons why it was then the most desirable activity. I was surprised, as it happened, that it seemed to be working — I was pleasurably reasoning myself asleep.
Tao Lin photographed by Noah Kalina, courtesy of the author
MERRY JANE: What are some things that you think mainstream culture gets wrong about cannabis?
Tao Lin: Cannabis can be used to be more productive and less lazy, it just takes some awareness and planning. Cannabis doesn't inherently lead to eating a lot of shitty food, masturbating for hours, or watching TV for hours; if you do any of that after smoking cannabis, it's your fault, not the cannabis's fault. You can use the heightened sense of taste/pleasure to enjoy fruit and salad, or anything, more.
What do you think mainstream culture gets right about cannabis, if anything?
Most of mainstream culture seems by now to know that cannabis is harmless, has hundreds of medical uses, and obviously shouldn't be a Schedule 1 drug. That seems right to me. It seems important to remember that, even though much of the media supports cannabis now, they didn't for decades.
Other than emotional/psychological improvements, how has cannabis impacted your overall health?
Cannabis has improved my overall mental and physical health. It has replaced Xanax and Adderall — and other pills that contain ~10 toxic, dysbiosis-causing ingredients — with a whole natural plant that has vitamins, amino acids, minerals, and other nutrients. It has increased my capacity to feel wonder and awe, emotions which increase my interest in life.
[Weed] has also reduced my inflammation directly, making me more physically active and able to enjoy exercise more. It has improved my mental health by giving me a mental state that I can be in and enjoy and not feel fucked within for many hours per day.
What is currently your preferred way of ingesting weed?
I weigh it and bake it with coconut oil in my oven at 250 degrees for 30 minutes with black pepper, turmeric, and ghee, then eat that or put it in capsules and swallow it.
What advice do you have for someone who is interested in using weed, but doesn't have a lot of experience with it?
I recommend starting small, making plans, letting your plans evolve, experimenting a lot, and paying attention to your own experiences.
What is the most stoned you've ever been? Can you describe it?
A recent time I've been very stoned on a non-edible is when I smoked wax in my room and coughed the hardest I've ever coughed, for around 15 minutes, while laughing.
"Trip" by Tao Lin is out now via Vintage Books. Order a copy here.
Follow Mira Gonzalez on Twitter