November 23, 2023   5 mins

Last week, the world awoke to a new status quo, a shifted paradigm, the end of an era. Where getting high was concerned, the Pope had just given up on Catholicism: Snoop Dogg had retired from the smoke. Leaderless, rudderless and sinking quick, it was hard to see how the kingdom of ganja might possibly recover from a loss like this.

Not one week later, and we can breathe easy again: it was all just propaganda. He’s flogging smokeless stoves, shrewdly positioning himself as the George Foreman of a less lung-cancer-inducing inhalation technology. I genuinely thought for a moment there that he was sick of the fog. I’m kind of sick of the fog myself by now. What never ceases to amaze me is how sexy some artists manage to make smoking the herb seem. It’s not.

A friend of mine — a middle-aged mum — once claimed that skunk was worse than heroin. I thought this comment laughable at the time, having been around a lot of heroin abuse. I’ve dabbled myself, but I was always a bit of a tourist, truth be told. Too much time spent watching Countdown for my liking. Too much vomit. Too much possibility of sudden death. What’s a little green by comparison? When someone you love endures a bout of skunk psychosis, you soon find out.

Heroin has a tendency to make the user manically self-involved. Not everyone, might I add, lest I offend anyone. With drugs it’s always different strokes for different folks. Some people, it’s for the best they’re on the smack. They might have been terrible alcoholics otherwise. Or have untethered themselves from reality entirely blazing the chronic. But you can’t get away with smoking brown casually, hence why, even among fairly committed caners, the line is often drawn at heroin. That’s when the phone calls go around to family members. Talk of possible interventions.

Whereas weed is just there. No one bats an eyelid. Intimations of Sixties optimism, of low-grade, no-risk consciousness expansion. That today’s genetically engineered varieties are up to 100 times stronger than those smoked by our Boomer forebears has only recently begun factoring into the equation. This has given the stuff a Trojan Horse-like incisiveness where fucking up young people’s minds is concerned. Never mind that it might leave you three times more prone to have a psychotic episode, or that 25% of Priory cases of paranoid psychosis — a schizophrenia-like illness and depression — were caused by weed or spice use. According to a 2014 Lancet psychiatric report, adolescent weed smokers were at particular risk: 60% less likely to graduate from high school, and seven times more likely to attempt suicide.

Curiously, although cannabis-related hospitalisations have more than doubled since 2013, use of the stuff has been steadily plummeting. Especially among youngsters, who seem to be wising up to the grim realities. In 1995, 30% of 16-24-year-olds were users, today that figure is something closer to 16%. The connotations of pot use are shifting in tandem with the nature of the drug itself then. The Romanticism and consequent naiveté of the previous era are indeed beginning to fade into something darker, sadder, more claustrophobic.

Had this vibe shift occurred before I’d arrived in London aged 18 to study art at the prestigious Slade School, I wonder if life might have panned out differently? I might not have squandered the opportunity tooting skunk and masturbating in my halls of residence. All the graft I put in winning my place there as a diligent, pre-skunk teenager back in Cookstown where I grew up went swiftly down the drain. Pornography and pot. Somehow these things became my priority. Life since has basically been a contingency plan rooted in the unforced errors of those wasted years. That the stuff is a gateway drug goes without saying. If you smoke enough skunk, eventually cocaine becomes a bare necessity, a kind of social defibrillator. It might turn you into a prick, but at least you’re out and about again.

Smoking weed is like rolling the dice with the rest of your day psychologically. The stronger the smoke, the higher the stakes. These days, if I’m blazing, I tend to pepper a single skin roll-up with a few crumbs of hashish in the evening. These are odds I can handle. All the same, I often find myself marooned, dumbfounded. My partner can tell almost instantly I’ve had a toke too many. The dry-lipped silence. The absence of common sense. It pluralises perception, as opposed to embellishing it like more intense psycho-actives.

Thoughts cross-pollinate incessantly, pile up and provide you with a new and thrilling vantage point… or… they cascade down into the nether world leaving you speechless with profound doubt, little more than a symptom of your selfhood. There’s no telling which way the wind’s about to blow. This randomising factor can be incredibly useful where creativity is concerned. If you’re working in music — the purest of all art forms — especially. For example: you’ve spent several years making an album. Towards the end of this process, you’re inevitably bored shitless with everything you’re working on. You have to make it new for yourself again in order to summon up the will to push it over the finish line. Simple, just listen to it on drugs.

It isn’t just weed that young people are turning away from, but narcotics across the board. Also: religion, working part-time jobs and having a girlfriend/boyfriend. All things that help you not to feel isolated and lonely. Things might have panned out differently had I not spent the end of my formative years pickled in skunk. But then at least I hadn’t been subjected to social media from day dot in combination with the stuff. That people are watching you and attempting to interfere with you from afar is no longer the stuff of weed-induced paranoia, but hard fact. And if young people have substituted weed for the internet, they might well be replicating the former’s effects.

Drugs have ravaged my community. Where they haven’t completely alienated people from themselves and the wider world, they have enfeebled without mercy. As we hobble towards and out beyond the 40 mark, we’re all just picking up the tab. We made a few half-decent tunes though. Admittedly, my social group aren’t exactly a great demographic from which to extract generalisations. Over-sensitive song and dance men, entertainers, fools… we only made it through adolescence on account of a handful of records, records disproportionately made by arch-hedonists who frequently dropped dead at 27.

These artefacts were our rallying call, our entry point into something larger than ourselves. They gave our lives something resembling purpose. Generation Z, the world’s first digital natives, don’t seem to be taking the bait where this overweight mythology is concerned. It’s hard to imagine another Winehouse in this day and age. Maybe not. The inevitably meditative kind of boredom we had to play around in growing up is off the menu, probably forever. It’s not been eradicated, but inverted and intensified horribly, a kind of mind-death by convenience, by over stimulation is taking its place.

The old gods are fading, along with their shitty behaviour, replaced by a Warholian micro-portioning out of fame itself. Today, everyone has a public soul. Fame, de-centralised, has lost its transcendent capacity. The druggy role models of yore, deflated. Even if it means there’s no longer any albums worth smoking an ounce to as Snoop Dogg would have it, nobody wants to come off a whopping anachronism. I dare say the future might be a little kinder, a little safer, a lot softer on the liver. But if it’s tuneless, what’s the point?

Lias Saoudi is the frontman of Fat White Family and the Moonlandingz, and the co-author of Ten Thousand Apologies: Fat White Family and the Miracle of Failure