Carl Sagan, spaced out on pot

A friend once told me that famed astronomer and noted head Carl Sagan wrote notes from his high self to his sober self to trust in his stoned revelations. I haven't confirmed that, but Sagan was definitely into the wacky tobaccy. In 1969, Sagan contributed a piece about his marijuana use for the book "Marihuana Reconsidered." Sagan wrote under the pseudonym of Mr. X, but he was later confirmed as the author.
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From Marihuana Reconsidered:

I do not consider myself a religious person in the usual sense, but there is a religious aspect to some highs. The heightened sensitivity in all areas gives me a feeling of communion with my surroundings, both animate and inanimate. Sometimes a kind of existential perception of the absurd comes over me and I see with awful certainty the hypocrisies and posturing of myself and my fellow men. And at other times, there is a different sense of the absurd, a playful and whimsical awareness. Both of these senses of the absurd can be communicated, and some of the most rewarding highs I've had have been in sharing talk and perceptions and humor. Cannabis brings us an awareness that we spend a lifetime being trained to overlook and forget and put out of our minds. A sense of what the world is really like can be maddening; cannabis has brought me some feelings for what it is like to be crazy, and how we use that word 'crazy' to avoid thinking about things that are too painful for us. In the Soviet Union political dissidents are routinely placed in insane asylums. The same kind of thing, a little more subtle perhaps, occurs here: 'did you hear what Lenny Bruce said yesterday? He must be crazy.' When high on cannabis I discovered that there's somebody inside in those people we call mad.

When I'm high I can penetrate into the past, recall childhood memories, friends, relatives, playthings, streets, smells, sounds, and tastes from a vanished era. I can reconstruct the actual occurrences in childhood events only half understood at the time. Many but not all my cannabis trips have somewhere in them a symbolism significant to me which I won't attempt to describe here, a kind of mandala embossed on the high. Free-associating to this mandala, both visually and as plays on words, has produced a very rich array of insights.
There is a myth about such highs: the user has an illusion of great insight, but it does not survive scrutiny in the morning. I am convinced that this is an error, and that the devastating insights achieved when high are real insights; the main problem is putting these insights in a form acceptable to the quite different self that we are when we're down the next day. Some of the hardest work I've ever done has been to put such insights down on tape or in writing. The problem is that ten even more interesting ideas or images have to be lost in the effort of recording one. It is easy to understand why someone might think it's a waste of effort going to all that trouble to set the thought down, a kind of intrusion of the Protestant Ethic. But since I live almost all my life down I've made the effort - successfully, I think. Incidentally, I find that reasonably good insights can be remembered the next day, but only if some effort has been made to set them down another way. If I write the insight down or tell it to someone, then I can remember it with no assistance the following morning; but if I merely say to myself that I must make an effort to remember, I never do.
"Mr. X by Carl Sagan" (via Dose Nation)


  1. I had no idea that “Marihuana” was ever a commonly used spelling. Probably because I grew up in an area where Spanish is common enough that nobody gets confused by the pronunciation of the “j”.

    1. actually, in spanish, the spelling would be pronounced “mari-wanna” where as, in spanish, “Marijuana” would be pronounced “hwanna” an H isn’t pronounced, a J is pronounced like an H.

      yes, this is actually the common non English spelling.

  2. If I write the insight down or tell it to someone, then I can remember it with no assistance the following morning; but if I merely say to myself that I must make an effort to remember, I never do.

    Hell, I find that true, and I don’t even get high. If I write down a grocery list, and forget to bring it to the store, I still end up getting almost everything on the list, and much fewer things that I don’t really need.

    The same goes for appointments, random observations, and to-do items. I find Twitter is actually an excellent medium for recording things for easy recall. It’s easy to jot down quick thoughts from anywhere, and I can even look them up later if I really need to.

    1. Back in the 90s I was the executive chef at an Ithaca Steakhouse Carl Sagan used to frequent- we had a small private dining room for 6-10 people that he liked to use. His regular order was a massive 40 oz. USDA Prime Dry Aged Porterhouse cooked medium-well. More than once when we were called in to deliver the next course we would walk into a wall of unmistakable smoke. TC Prime, I think we called the blend. :)

      At the time I was pretty irritated at Carl- I would see him every couple weeks, he knew who I was and was friendly… but I also took classes at Cornell and he wouldn’t help me get into the one undergrad class he still taught. My fault for being presumptuous, I suppose,but he was so friendly he invited it. Plus he kept ordering his steaks medium-well, which is a terrible thing to do to a fine steak, even after I begged him not to.

      I still recall the Sunday after the night he died- it was my only day off and his wife Ann called me at home that morning to ask if I’d cater a small wake at their house for 20-30 of his closest friends. All morning she kept calling back and upping the number. By noon it was 2000 people at a museum. I was incredibly annoyed, hungover, and crying into the food as I rushed to prepare it.

      1. @ William Peterson – What great memories of Sagan! The most shocking part to me is that he ordered his Porterhouses medium well.

  3. I recently started watching Carl Sagan’s Universe series, and hearing his monologues, him being a pot smoker was the first thing I though.

    I can’t believe there are people who would have locked up Carl Sagan as if he was some sort of criminal thug…

    1. @dequeued

      You mean Carl Sagan’s brilliant Cosmos series, that continues after twenty years to be relevant, provocative and profound.

      Please don’t confuse it with “The Universe”, a series which fails dismally at a similar endevour, always trying to inject some action into the dry facts by telling you how quickly you’d die in a particular alien environment.

  4. The way he describes his pot use is how I have described (not defended) my occasional pill use to others. It is at once uncanny and, I admit, a little point of pride for a nonentity like me, to know that my thoughts on drug use are similar to Sagan’s.

    Being able to free your mind from time to time is of inestimable value. It calms the stressful rigidity of our rule-bound and perpetually-scrutinized lives. It allows us to let go of those worries and perceived failures that gnaw at us daily. Being able to truly let go allows creativity a chance to run free. Or at least as free as it can be, behind locked doors and pulled window shades.

  5. A still more glorious dawn awaits,
    Not a sunrise, but a galaxy rise.
    A morning filled with 400 billion suns:
    The rising of the Milky Way.

  6. So you link to Sagan’s eloquent and well-known essay on marijuana, and preface it, with the lame title: “Carl Sagan, Spaced out on Pot”.

    I kind of take issue with that…why must journalists make the same tired old jokes about cannabis, every single time the topic comes up?

    Especially considering that this piece, in particular, is one of the more serious and honest evaluations of marijuana, by a well-respected author?

  7. @Guesstimate Jones – I took “spaced out” to be a joke not on being high, but, you know, Sagan’s career as an astronomer. Ok, maybe a pun, but not an irrelevant one. As someone with great sympathy for this essay, I don’t find it offensive.

  8. Isn’t it simply a pun on his interest in outer space? Not every stoner gag is an indictment of cannabis use.

    (PS: Thanks admins for fixing the headline font. )

    1. It’s a subtle form of cultural hegemony, in my opinion…it might not be offensive to you, but to me, it is helping to perpetuate the negative stereotyping of my people.

      Given that the article itself, is sympathetic to my cause, I’ll give Pescovitz the benefit of the doubt, and assume that he just couldn’t resist the temptation to make such a juicy and obvious pun, but this is an example of the kind of rubbish you typically find in “mainstream” journalism, whenever the topic of marijuana comes up, and it dismays me to see it here.

      1. For someone with such a free mind you don’t seem to have much of a sense of humor. Making well-reasoned arguments for the legalization of marijuana and making pot jokes need not be mutually exclusive.

      2. @Guestimate Jones

        Please don’t invite me to party with “your people”. If you get all upitty about pleasant colloquial metaphors for marijuana intoxication you must be a terminally boring bunch.

        Do you expect the media to always frame it as some kind of sacred ritual experience? Because most people I know just use it to relax and have a good time. You know, get spaced out.

  9. “I kind of take issue with that…why must journalists make the same tired old jokes about cannabis, every single time the topic comes up?”

    You’re using “journalists” rather loosely.

  10. Years ago, I spoke with an artist (and pot head, and my roommate at the time) who had worked on Cosmos.

    He assured me that Sagan smoked plenty of pot (along the lines of “I have to give a big speech in an hour, who’s got a joint?? I have GOT to get high first!”), and dropped acid as well.

    1. The trips he’s describing sound more like my mushroom trips. Though I do hallucinate on pot, the perspective shift and view is something I get mostly from mushrooms.

  11. Well, Having-a-stoned-conversation-with-Carl-Sagan would have to be towards the top of my “Wish I could have done it” list now.

  12. It’s just that all those jokes are SO tired! They’re just not funny, anymore. We need some new pot jokes…somebody, please!

  13. I don’t do drugs. And a comment from a friend while he was high sealed the deal that I never will. “Dude, we finally understand you. Don’t smoke pot or we’ll never catch up.”

    Uh, thanks, I guess.

  14. In the service of obviating the obvious:

    I guess we can assume that Sagan smoked billllions and billllions of joints.

  15. Pot did all THAT for Carl? The only effects I’ve ever felt are either getting hungrier, getting hornier, or feeling like groggy, unmotivated ass the next morning. What the hell was he smoking?

    Is the FBI recording all this?

    1. The only effects I’ve ever felt are either getting hungrier, getting hornier, or feeling like groggy, unmotivated ass the next morning.Is the FBI recording all this?

      Nicely done oblique reference to paranoia. :)

      Carl Sagan was a good guy. Too bad he’s gone.

    2. You are obviously doing it wrong. Sagan describes what being high is like perfectly, in my opinion. I always think there are different levels of highness. What you describe are the first few levels, increased appetite, cottonmouth, increased sexual awareness etc etc. which are all very physical. If you get past that point, which I always find tedious, you can arrive at a a very different type of high, one that’s much more psychological. Also, I sleep great after I’m high, deeply and very pleasantly, making me much more energetic the next morning.

      But pot is VERY different for a lot of people, I suppose. It might not be that you’re doing it wrong, rather that you’re body doesn’t process it the same. Sucks to be you, it really is something.

  16. Jealous. So many stories like Sagan, my friends, etc., who enjoy pot. Me, not so much. But, I will fight for their right …

  17. What was it we were just talking about again?

    Oh yeah.

    Well, he was one to embody sagacity at every level…

    “We are all made of star-stuff”

    This certainly explains the traveling experiences in Contact and the disbelief they were met with by “rational” minds here on Earth, in his work of fiction.

  18. I’m going to have to agree with GuestimateJones.

    While I found the article itself thoroughly enjoying, I cannot stand the fact that any time an article is written about cannabis it must contain an unfunny “Pot-Joke” that contains negative connotations about cannabis use.

    While the pun in this title is a tiny bit more clever than most, it is still annoying to see “Spaced out on pot”.

    If you are “Spacing out” on pot, you are likely mis-using cannabis. Proper cannabis use should make you feel more relaxed and introspective among other things (munchies).
    Most people, believe it or not, use cannabis responsibly and do not just “Space out”

    Consider if every single article written about alcohol had to contain references to people seeing pink elephants, or drunkards.

    Its just really annoying considering how wonderful the cannabis plant really is.

    There are few people in this world whose lives would not be improved if they used cannabis regularly and responsibly.

    Cannabis should be used responsibly and regularly.

    1. Consider if every single article written about alcohol had to contain references to people seeing pink elephants, or drunkards. Its just really annoying considering how wonderful the cannabis plant really is.

      Jeez. Isn’t it supposed to make you mellow?

    2. If you are “Spacing out” on pot, you are likely mis-using cannabis.

      Seriously, what the fuck are you talking about?

      If you don’t talk to your spirit totem yur doing it wrong? Jesus H Christ, relax and watch Bladerunner on blu-ray.

  19. I would love to mind-meld with someone that brilliant while they were stoned. I know it opened up my little mind, but to be a “super-genius”….whew!

    And yes, beside the spiritual properties, and there are many, the ganj is also nice just to veg-out, too.

    Now, excuse me…..hmm, “star-stuff” indeed!

  20. He was quite fond of Absinthe. Not sure why any pot use would be news. 75% of college professors were pot users in the late 60s. It just isn’t even interesting.
    There has never been any indication that Sagan was a habitual user of any drug or alcohol however. You people have a hard-on about this for some reason though.

    I am also calling B.S. on the Mr. X piece. It is dressed in Sagan’s vernacular but, in truth, it is extremely lazy scientifically. Not his style. He’d certainly give impressions and emotional reactions, but he would also offer the scientific muscle to validate the impressions and emotion. Too much leaping, not enough standing on solid ground.
    Perhaps it just sounds a bit too Sagan Lite.


  21. KamKhaos, October 7, 2009 8:32 PM: “I am also calling B.S. on the Mr. X piece.”

    Then you’re retarded. It’s quite obvious it was written by Sagan, everyone knows he was the author *NOW* but back when he chose the name ‘mr. x’ he HAD to because of the public stigma around cannabis.

    Don’t call it ‘marijuana/marihuana.’ We’re not speaking Mexican Spanish. ‘Marijuana’ and ‘marihuana’ are Mexican Spanish words, and since we’re not speaking Mexican Spanish, call it by it’s English name: cannabis.

  22. Ann Druyan(Sagan’s widow) is part of NORML. These “potheads” have done so much to promote science education and awareness–in a country whose acceptance of evolution is only slightly higher than Turkey. We need another Carl Sagan!

  23. Ha… if you ever watch this guy talk on Cosmos he tilts his head back and accentuates words with B’s and S’s. Nice to know he’s a Toker.

  24. Stop calling it ‘marijuana/marihuana.’

    We’re not speaking Mexican Spanish.

    We’re speaking English.

    So use the English word for it: cannabis.

    1. Good point Phil- Spanish has no place in polite society. I’ll think that over during lunch while eating a little donkey in my city of Saint Francis.

  25. Pot is great, there´s know doubt about it. In my experience I´ve realized that when you use pot you get a feeling of well being and everything looks like an amazing achievement, as in your social life as in your ability to produce great ideas. You feel like you are being illuminated some how, and that´s a good felling. But my opinion is that you are not having great ideas, you are just in a point where you descent into a basic form. So when you think you´r in a brilliant stage of mind, you are just giving to much importance to things that you wouldn´t give when you´r sober. You do not need you´r great ideas when you´r high. Work to create them in the proper time.
    Marijuana is good to treat diseases, when the people are terminal or when its auto-imune. If you´r healthy it is not that great for you´r brain. And then the great ideas will certainly start to vanish.

  26. yes kids, your future is ruined if you smoke pot… you’ll be nothing more than president of the united states, 8x gold medal olympic champion, or a world renown astrophysicists.

    personally, i’m not a fan of the stuff as it tends to make me paranoid, but i cannot for the LIFE of me, understand how in a modern society, it’s still demonized.

  27. Valid medicinal value, it’s a victimless crime, the War on Drugs WAY too costly, too many arrests for simple possession, tax it and use the money to pay for health insurance and to reduce the deficit…Need I say more?

    Woodstock Universe supports legalization of Marijuana for a number of reasons. Check them out and vote in our poll “Should marijuana be legalized?” at

    Current poll results: 96% for legalization…4% opposed

    Peace, love, music, one world,

  28. does anyone else think that guesstimatejones is a turd who obviously reposted as anonymous to agree with himself. weed snobs are worse than the people who knock the stuff, imho.

  29. “I am also calling B.S. on the Mr. X piece. It is dressed in Sagan’s vernacular but, in truth, it is extremely lazy scientifically. Not his style.”

    Every bio I’ve read on Sagan attributes this work to him.

  30. Yep, “cannabis” is Latin not English.
    Here’s another one: Did you really mean to say, “call it by it is English name”?

  31. Re: stereotypes and puns
    It’s all fun and games until someone gets arrested. As long as we keep talking about marijuana as if it was only used by “potheads” who are “spaced out,” in spite of the fact that prominent people in every field of endeavor use it, it will remain illegal.

  32. My mom refused for a long time to admit Sagan smoked pot, just like she refused to admit that John Inman was gay. This sucks, considering she thinks doing any drugs is bad, and gay people are all going to hell, but she liked both of them, and she doesn’t know (I hope) that I’m bi or that I’ve smoked pot a few times. How can people be like this?

    1. Chris commented A good article marred by “pot-head stereotyping”

      OK now I’m just flat out intrigued. How should marijuana and marijuana use be represented by the media? Have you got a good representation I can see as a guide?

  33. You won’t achieve any profound insights when you’re zoned if you’re not capable of piecing any together when you’re sober. Sagan thought smart thoughts when he was high because he was a smart guy to begin with.

  34. @Anonymous

    Stop making ‘marijuana/marihuana’ vs ‘cannabis’ a Spanish vs. English issue. That position is absurd, considering that few English-speaking Americans use ‘cannabis’ in conversation, let alone understand that ‘pot’ and ‘hemp’ are one plant that was only made illegal after the paper company interests managed to start a campaign against ‘marijuana’–if they had said ‘cannabis’, one of America’s historically most important crop, the American public would have laughed them out of the House and the Senate.

    Instead, we have what we have now. In short, don’t make this a trite, borderline racist issue–‘marijuana’ vs ‘cannabis’, at its heart, typifies the on-going brainwashing of the American public at the hands of corporations and the clown shoes (on our face) that belong to Congress.

  35. I can remember one occasion, taking a shower with my wife while high, in which I had an idea on the origins and invalidities of racism in terms of Gaussian distribution curves. — Ibid.

    Lord, almighty, what a scientist! I think, if I were he, taking a shower with one of his wives while high, Gaussian distribution curves would be the last thing on my mind…

  36. Carl was a great man! I am just discovering some of his work. I have most of his books still to look forward to, and that makes me happy!!

  37. Carl Sagan was an amazing mind, the title of this piece “spaced out on pot” seems disrespectful to me. As an engineering student, I can really relate to Sagan’s works, and to me this title makes it seem like he was just some pot head. Sagan joined the ranks of Feynman, Dawkins, and other great 20th century intellectual characters. I hope we all remember him for what he really was, a genius, whom like most of us, enjoyed his cannabis every once in a while.

  38. Is it true that a marijuana high can lead to profound insights, as many users have reported? In his now classic essay “Mr. X”, anonymously published in 1971, even the famous astronomer Carl Sagan claimed that he owed many invaluable insights for his publications to marijuana. The new investigation “High. Insights on Marijuana” explains in depth the different ways a marijuana high can lead to insights as well as to other mind enhancements, such as the enhancement of episodic memory, pattern recognition, imagination, creativity, introspection, and our ability for empathic understanding. Countless fascinating reports given by marijuana users and cutting-edge research from various areas of knowledge help Marincolo to take our understanding of the marijuana high to a new level. Now available at, barnes&nobles etc.

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