Thursday, January 26, 2012

Enhanced Running

This is the first part of a series of posts exploring the moral and practical importance of pleasure and happiness.



In this post, I would like to share the most pleasurable thing I know of that most people don't know about: distance running under the influence of cannabis.

Every time I run the trails and fire roads in Los Angeles (which is almost daily), I wonder: if there are four million people wandering around in the city down there, why am I the only one up here running?

Here's a really sad statistic: 86% of poor pre-schoolers in cities have not developed age-appropriate basic motor skills like running. This might even apply to you: a shocking percentage of moderns are simply not learning to run in childhood. This, despite the fact that we are a species with many adaptations specific to running, indicating that we are, in an important sense, born to run.

Clearly, running is a Civilization and Its Discontents issue: the patterns of modern life do not match the patterns in which we evolved. While our food has gotten sweeter and easier to get than our ancestral diet ("superstimulus food"), moving our bodies has come to be seen as eccentric and optional, or perhaps as a chore to be completed for moral reasons, not for pleasure.

The solution: superstimulus exercise, exercise that's so good you get addicted to it and have to force yourself to do less of it than you want to. My thesis is that running while high on weed is just this kind of superstimulus exercise.

While I understand that marijuana remains technically illegal in many states and other bullshit political entities like the United States of America, almost half of Americans report having used it illegally, and hundreds of thousands of people like me use it legally with a magical note from their doctor that makes it not recreational, but medical, because there is totally a difference between health and recreation. (Health is moral; fun is not.)

Running high on marijuana has been the single most important factor in making life bearable for me for the past three years. I find it shocking that this healthy pleasure is denied to millions of people who could benefit from it.

What It's Like to Run High

It makes you free. You can go anywhere, and it makes the city feel like your territory. Running while high is an excellent mode of exploration; as a runner, you occupy a well-understood role that is both socially approved and socially ignored. It's the perfect disguise to enable an introvert to move around the world in the sunshine. You can go almost anywhere, even blatantly trespassing, and no one says anything because they barely notice you except to think that they should really start running, too.

It's easy and effortless (especially as you become more experienced). It would take more effort to stop running or break the rhythm than it takes to keep running fluidly at the same pace.

You get to see deer and coyotes and foxes and owls and bunnies and dogs and lizards.

It's engaging, especially trail running - an ostension of fantasized Imperial speeder bikes maneuvering perfectly through the forest, avoiding all the trees efficiently and with perfect concentration.

It's insanely pleasurable, with every part of your body screaming (in chemicals) that this coordinated motion is exactly what you're supposed to be doing. (Which ties in with the recent discovery that endocannabinoids are probably what causes runner's high. It feels to me like weed jump-starts the process of experiencing exercise as pleasurable, which, even as a life-long athlete, I experienced as much less pleasurable before becoming a stoner.)

It's transcendent - it often feels like another being is controlling your body, like you can step away from yourself and "create a void," as Haruki Murakami puts it.

Running is not only pleasurable in the moment; it makes everything else in life more pleasurable, too. Running fills me with happy chemicals for hours after the run itself. It gives me an appetite and helps me sleep. It increases my sex drive and the intensity of orgasm. Marijuana does those things too, but those are the acute rather than sustained effects of the drug. Both pieces are necessary for the magic to occur.

When you are running, it is none of the government's business what chemicals are in your body, the way it is when you are driving a car or even riding a bicycle.

Running high is not just more pleasurable than running sober; it's more pleasurable than just sitting around being high, which is itself pretty fucking pleasurable.

Running high is so pleasurable and addictive that the main danger (in addition to commonsense dangers) is wanting to do it too much (see Appendix: Secondary Enhancements for more enhancements that are dangerous in this way). I experience beautiful grouch logic moments where I say to myself, "I'll be good and just sit on my ass and eat ice cream all day today, so tomorrow I can run as much as I want!"

The Meaning of Pleasure

Running high is the best thing ever. What is the importance of this?

Would it be morally important if there were a major, easily accessible, healthy source of pleasure that is denied to the majority of people through ignorance and politics?

If pleasure is not enough to give meaning to life, what is pleasure's moral value? Is there negative value when pleasure is denied? Is that negative value different for existing versus never-existing people? Is it different for those aware of the deprivation versus those unaware of it?

And what is it that gives a sense of meaning to life - a sense of wanting to go forward in your story and see what happens next?



Appendix: Secondary Enhancements

There are two other enhancements I use to push running into the "superstimulus exercise" category. One is paleo-happy, minimal "barefoot" running shoes; the other is an iPod Shuffle. These are not nearly as important as marijuana, but running in giant squishy "running shoes" doesn't feel as good and is associated with more injuries than running in flat shoes or barefoot.

That said, I would not be surprised if nonscientific reports of a "barefoot running injury epidemic" were true, i.e. that lots of people get injured while running barefoot nowadays. The most likely causes of the purported "barefoot running injury epidemic" are (a) a lot of people suddenly running barefoot, with predictable injuries (probably at a lower rate than with shod running); and also (b) the fact that barefoot running is so pleasurable that you want to do more of it than is healthy for your body.

No study has ever shown that cushioned running shoes reduce injuries. 79% of all runners are injured every year; we humans tend to attribute bad consequences to any salient deviant behavior we detect, hence the blame on barefoot shoes. Few ask: would these folks have been injured wearing cushioned shoes? What if they hadn't been running at all - what are the risks of no exercise? (I should add that I also don't stretch or warm up - I just roll out like a Tarahumara.)

The iPod Shuffle (or other tiny little clip-on MP3 player) accomplishes two goals: (a) music piped directly into your (perhaps marijuana-enhanced) brain, and (b) not having to schlep anything bigger than a house key. This is by far the most important piece of blood electronics that I own. While no iPod Shuffles have yet been found in burial sites of our pre-agricultural ancestors, I still put this in the "paleo enhancement" category. I don't know what it is about music and repetitive physical activity that is so great, but it feels important. My evidence for this is from D. E. Brown's list of human universals, which includes ten separate entries relating to music, including "music related in part to dance" and "music related in part to religious activity." Running to music allows one to synchronize one's motions to the music, an activity very similar to moving in sync with other people. From Pyongyang to Burbank, in military and civilian use, there seems to be something going on with people moving in sync. A new study suggests that moving in sync makes a group more willing to engage in (a laboratory equivalent of) coalitional violence. Whether for violent or other purposes, moving in sync may help a group cohere; humans love it and want to watch it and do it. Running with a partner is nice, but running with music may give our bodies the same burst of feeling like we're moving in sync.

22 comments:

  1. I'm glad I and at least a few other people were born, but I hate running. Are we mirror twins?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Wow--I know *exactly* what you mean, and I'm so glad to hear about your experience. I've tried to tell others about this and they all think I'm crazy. I sometimes worry about what will happen if I can't do this anymore.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Replies
    1. Equal Opportunity TrollJanuary 26, 2012 at 3:44 PM

      Running with an iPod while stoned gets you first place in the SWPL Olympics.

      Delete
    2. Interesting, but I'd pay much more attention to mortality rates for each gradient of exercise.

      Delete
  4. This reminds me of the dérive, though Debord's drug of choice was alcohol. Walking around a city drunk is definitely pleasurable. But running drunk? Sounds dangerous. Which leads me to ask: being high doesn't make you clumsier? I've hiked high once or twice, and I'll I could think about was tripping and breaking a leg.

    --knowcebo

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. then why'd you do it the "or twice" time?

      Delete
  5. I don't know anything about exercising while high, but I can say that exercising on a regular basis does make me feel better, and improves my mental acuteness and my mood.

    I agree that marijuana (and other drugs) should be legal. Why should people be deprived of something enjoyable just because it is abused by some people who use it?

    ReplyDelete
  6. Anonymous - <3

    pf_flyer - you have this too? I know what you mean about worrying that you won't be able to do it. I suppose that's one of the risks of pleasurable activities - you get used to it and life isn't the same without it.

    I've known a few people who've run high but they've mostly been my running partners - what is it like for you?

    Knowcebo - Running drunk is somewhere between unpleasant and impossible (as I found in my trial of alcoholism).

    Can weed make you clumsy? Yes - I can't fence, for instance, high (SWPL Olympics indeed). But repetitive physical activities are GREAT - dancing and running, those human classics. (Nobody worries they'll get hurt dancing drunk - dancing sober is unheard of in our culture.) Actually the times I've fallen running have been the rare times I've done it sober - state-dependent learning, perhaps. (Part of the reason I wrote this was because I accidentally went running sober the other day and was reminded how awful it is compared to running high - I felt very clumsy!) This is a big Your Mileage May Vary, of course.

    Stacy - I have no idea why drugs are illegal, other than that drug prohibition creates jobs and those jobs get institutionalized. Not just police, but prisons and drug rehab and all that stuff.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Yes, I have it bad. I worry about physical injury, about ongoing access to enhancement--I don't live in CA (help!)--and, worst of all, that my experience of the thing itself may eventually degrade.

    For me the enhancement seems to allow full exposure to complete physical presence in the sheer animal joy of Movement Over Ground. And once I find this, it pulls me along, effort falls away, and it becomes all about that sense of freedom & capability, grounded in a humming skeleto-muscular-respiratory Grok.

    For me personally, resentment and anger about the fact that this particular kind of enhancement is not more readily available is acute, sometimes debilitating.

    But not when I'm running.

    ReplyDelete
  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  9. An anonymous commenter (now deleted, sorry if that was a bug on my part and not your action) mentioned that life expectancy for different exercise activities might be more important than injury rate (or, certainly, pleasure).

    This has to be part of the calculation, and is completely relevant to my questions at the end - how does life expectancy trade off against pleasure - or ANYTHING? Is it true, as J. David Velleman asserts, that nothing trades off against life years? (so that, e.g., it's always wrong to smoke even if you subjectively feel the pleasure of smoking makes up for the lost life years)

    My great-grandmother smoked all her life and died of lung cancer at 92. Was that morally and/or practically wrong of her? Should she have avoided smoking and hung on until 104, like my great aunt? (Given my genetics you can see why living out my natural lifespan is not a realistic option for me!)

    When evaluating pleasure, is there anything objective we can say about individual choices? About the restrictions the collective (democratic tyranny or otherwise) puts on individual choices for pleasure versus lifespan?

    ReplyDelete
  10. (My piece on the Velleman article "A Right of Self-Termination?" is here.)

    ReplyDelete
  11. So do you smoke, vape, eat, or a combo? Pot helps me a lot, too. However, it turns me into a grinning zombie who's not inclined to engage in vigorous physical activity, but rather gets lost in its own head and composes a ton of music along the way.

    ReplyDelete
  12. 92? 104?! I-N-S-A-N-E!

    ReplyDelete
  13. I don't quite get why drugs are often prohibited either. I was thinking about that when I overheard part of a documentary on DMT where one interviewee said the powers-that-be are worried about our consciousness being raised, leading to their downfall. I scoffed, but of course my experience of intoxication is limited to alcohol (and I suppose some pain pills after hospitalization, but I don't have memories the experience of the pills rather than the experience of pain). Robin Hanson has a different theory.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. People on acid can be a danger to themselves and others, especially if it's a large quantity of acid. There can also be long-term cognitive effects. So it's easy enough to explain psychedelics being illegal on account of their effects. What's then harder to explain is the double standard for something like alcohol, which causes many more deaths and problems than LSD ever did. So the answer has to involve fuzzy contingent factors like cultural familiarity and embeddedness: Getting drunk is a familiar sort of derangement, one that society is set up to recognize and work around. Psychedelics may be legally tolerated as a result of the cultural trial and error by the subcultures who do take them, e.g. you'll be able to take them at legal raves, for scientific purposes, and under your own cognisance so long as you're above 18 and you remain in your home - something like that.

      In medieval Europe, sugar was a dangerous racy new drug. These things come and go.

      Delete
    2. (What I mean by cultural trial and error is the process whereby the people who are determined to take a drug for their own reasons, regardless of the law, figure out an appropriate and sustainable context in which to do so.)

      Delete
  14. So do you smoke, vape, eat, or a combo?

    Mostly smoke, but all three.

    Great related article via Andrew on opponent-process theory: The opponent-process theory of emotion. Widely applicable, fun idea pattern that definitely applies to running.

    TGGP, you are right to scoff at the idea that the masses turning on is a threat to government because of consciousness raising or whatever. To the degree that psychedelics produce a feeling of meaning and connection with the universe, most people interpret it as a sign that there really is meaning out there in the universe and we really are all connected. Happy social feelings that hardly will produce the downfall of government, though it's harder to take a shopping mall seriously after doing LSD. Only very few users of psychedelics take the deeper message: that the feeling of meaning is an illusion produced by chemicals.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Another application of opponent-process theory: sadism.

      Delete
    2. "Only very few users of psychedelics take the deeper message: that the feeling of meaning is an illusion produced by chemicals."

      Sayeth RAW in Prometheus Rising:

      "One of the greatest historical practitioners of this neuroscience was Hassan i Sabbah, who used relatively simple techniques, including, evidently, a time-release capsule invented by the Sufi College of Wisdom in Cairo.

      As I describe Hassan's technique — based on historical records — in my novel, The Trick Top Hat: Two young candidates dine with Hassan; the food is laced with a time-release capsule. When asleep the candidates are taken to Hassan's famous "Garden of Delights." The capsule had released a heavy does of opium and they were quite thoroughly unconscious and unaware of their surroundings.

      [...]

      Both young men were conveyed into the Garden of Delights and placed several acres apart from each other. In a short time, the second stage of the time-release capsule began to work; cocaine was released into their bloodstreams, thereby over-
      whelming the traces of the soporific opium and causing them to awaken full of energy and zest. At the same time, as they woke, hashish also began to be released, so they saw everything with exceptional clarity and all colors were jewel-like, brilliant, divinely beautiful.

      A group of extremely comely and busty young ladies—
      imported from the most expensive brothel in Cairo— sat in a circle around each of the young candidates, playing flutes and other delicately sweet musical instruments. "Welcome to heaven," they sang as the awakening men gazed about them in wonder. "By the magic of the holy Lord Hassan, you have entered Paradise while still alive." And they fed them "paradise apples" (oranges), far sweeter and stranger than the earth-apples they had known before, and they showed them the animals of paradise (imported from as far away as Japan, in some cases), creatures far more remarkable than those ordinarily seen in Afghanistan.

      [...]

      Then, as each young man sat entranced by the beauty and wonder of Heaven, the houris finished the dance, and nude and splendid as they were, rushed forward in a bunch, like flowers cast before the wind. And some fell at the candidate's feet and kissed his ankles; some kissed knees or thighs, one sucked raptly at his penis, others kissed the chest and arms and belly, a few kissed eyes and mouth and ears. And as he was smothered in this hashish-intensified avalanche of love, the lady working on his penis sucked and sucked and he climaxed in her mouth as softly and slowly and blissfully as a single snowflake falling.

      In a little while, there was no more hashish being released and more opium began to flow into the bloodstream, the young candidates slept again; and in their torpor, they were removed from the Garden of Delights and returned to the banquet hall of
      the Lord Hassan.

      There they awoke.

      "Truly," the first exclaimed, "I have seen the glories of Heaven, as foretold in Al Koran. I have no more doubts. I will trust Hassan i Sabbah and love him and serve him."

      "You are accepted for the Order of Assassin," said Hassan solemnly. "Go at once to the Green Room to meet your superior in the order."

      When this candidate had left, Hassan turned to the second, asking, "And you?" "I have discovered the First Matter, the Medicine of Metals, the Elixir of Life, the Stone of the Philosophers, True Wisdom and Perfect Happiness," said he, quoting the alchemical formula. "And it is inside my own head!"

      Hassan i Sabbah grinned broadly. "Welcome to the Order of the Illuminati!" he said, laughing."

      Delete
  15. Do you remember when, or how, you learned to run? I don't. I have so few memories, and those I do have are so impersonal, from my preschool years that I don't know either of those things. I can't come up with an example of me running at that age. Yet throughout all of my childhood I can remember I loved to run, and did it often. Even later, when lifting (and also rowing and swimming) surpassed running as my favorite form of exercise, I still run sometimes because it IS fun, it's like you are flying.

    Anyway, I'd love to know when, and how, people learn to run, because I don't know that, and I'd also like to know why people aren't learning to run at (whatever) age anymore. Is it because they're not going outside?

    ReplyDelete

Tweets by @TheViewFromHell