Marijuana, the Obligatory Pilgrimage, and the Woodstock Generation

Sally and James Colbert –USA

Woodstock ’69

A Theosophical Perspective

As this article was being prepared, so much is going on in the world related to marijuana we felt compelled to take note. The Attorney General of the United States is being held in contempt of Congress related to guns shipped to Mexico in the Marijuana War with the Cartels. Recently there was a $41 million dollar marijuana drug bust in a field 10 miles from the writers’ home. Mexico now has a new President who states his government is now going to deemphasize drug and arms sales as this is something where the United States is the responsible party. The killings involving the marijuana plant are now coming into San Diego.

The man sat down on the couch. He explained he had only six months left before retirement. His anger from his job was so great towards his supervisor he was afraid of not completing the twenty years required for a full pension. “What are you going to do when you retire?” I asked.  He knew exactly what he was going to do.  He would have enough money to smoke marijuana every day and he would be very happy living alone in his retirement cabin.  “Doesn’t sound like you will be doing very much,” I said.  Angrily, his eyes narrowed, “What’s wrong with that?”  “It’s my life and if that is what I want to do, what’s wrong with that?”  

What’s wrong with that? – It’s my life and if that is what I want to do, what’s wrong with that?

What IS wrong with that?

Marijuana has deeply penetrated the culture of the United States. Few are aware of the extent and the degree it is now the fabric of our society.  It may be beyond our control.  This article is to bring this into our awareness and point to the real journey.

In some ways, the focus on this drug can distract us from the “obligatory pilgrimage” as described in the teachings.   Primary is purpose to life and just why we are here.  In answering the near retiree (above), “What's wrong with that?’” we might say, “A lot.” 

There is a deep yearning within us wanting to know just why we are here.  What is the purpose of life, of our life, what are we supposed to be doing?  We want our lives to have meant something.    H.P. Blavatsky, in The Voice of The Silence puts it clearly, "The man who does not go through his appointed work in life— has lived in vain."  Blavatsky is not the only one who states this. Douglas quotes the 12the Century Persian poet (Psychology Today, May 2011) Saadi, “Every being is intended to be on earth for a certain purpose.”  Possibly the biblical sentiment reflects this: “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’” (Jeremiah 29:11)

The United States leads the world in dedicated pot smokers.  Probably for other drugs as well.  Smoking pot to feel good actually makes some kind of sense.  If you are happy and feel good, you may be less likely to hurt somebody else.  Shades of the Woodstock  generation, “Make love, not war,” Flower Power,”  “What I put into my body is my business, It is my body,”   The often heard refrain, If people can just be happy – smoking pot and having sex – we can end the war in Vietnam and maybe war forever.  There is the implication that an important purpose to life may be to feel happy, mellow out, and allow others to do so as well.  Although the Woodstock generation has now reached or about to reach retirement age, there are many still including marijuana towards the end of their life.  Lisa Stark  writes for (August 6, 2012) “It turns out that those who came of age in the marijuana-happy, acid-dropping, cocaine-snorting 1960s and '70s are finding their way back to drugs.” 

Regular use of a drug, in this case, marijuana, may blur our discovery of the journey.  As the active ingredient of marijuana (THC) floods over the reward center of our brain we may be missing our “appointed work” and leaves us a little short of the soul’s destiny.  Somehow war has not gone away and there has been no happiness prize. Marijuana, (see below) is and has been related to Cartels and imprisonment of so many.

A Joint

How Did All This Happen?

It probably began with “The War on Drugs,” which we will find has been the “War on Marijuana.”  Many put the time period in the 1970s with President Richard Nixon making the declaration.  The billions initially spent on this “War” were for multiple governmental agencies enlisted in this fight. It could be viewed as, “The tail has come around to bite us.” 

Impetus for the “War” came from societal fears of returning soldiers of the Vietnam War era. There were reports of a 25% usage rate of Heroin by U.S. troops.  Aware of this, but not aware the troops were smoking it and not shooting up with needles and not aware most all stopped using it once returning home.  Nevertheless, the War started and other drugs got thrown into the mix including marijuana.  Somehow marijuana was ranked as one of the most dangerous drugs (Schedule 1).

Drugs listed in Schedule I have no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and therefore, may not be prescribed, administered, or dispensed for medical use. In contrast, drugs listed in Schedules II-V have some accepted medical use and may be prescribed, administered, dispensed for medical use.

It was probably ranked that high for, at the time, no medical use for it was determined.  So began intensified judicial convictions, lock ups and the forced control of human behavior.  Plus, side effects far more insidious than anything which might come from smoking marijuana.  This remains the situation as of this day.  Let’s start with some “side effects.”

The Cartels

Mexican Cartels primarily make their living from the marijuana hunger in the United States.  These are gangs that have reached a level of power beyond the Mexican government. They are reported to control 90 per cent of the drug trafficking coming into the United States.   When the War started, the price went up which led to the Cartels as money was to be made.  The public consciousness does not seem to be aware of the death rate or level of torture, beheadings and fear associated with their existence.   From a BBC News report: “The Mexican government issued partial figures on 11 January 2012." These showed that 12,903 people had been killed in violence blamed on organized crime from January to September 2011. Added to the previous overall total, this means that “47,515 people have died in the five years of Mr. Calderon's presidency.” [Note: as of this date the count is close to 60,000] Although there is no breakdown, the victims include suspected drug gang members, members of the security forces and those considered innocent bystanders.

Mexico is now not the only field of the cartels’ activity.  The United States is slowly coming into their sphere.  The tentacles of their distribution network are spreading.  Sylvia Longmire writes in her book, Cartel: The Coming Invasion of the Mexican Drug Wars, “Major cities like Houston, Denver, Atlanta, New York, Detroit, and Miami serve as drug distribution hubs, and the drugs keep moving from there. Mexican cartels have a physical presence in over 270 US cities and towns, from Washington state to Florida and from California to Maine.” Note from the Christian Science Monitor, July 12, 2012, “Chicago's surging murder rate is now four times that of New York. With drug cartels battling for turf and gang warfare turning chaotic, how can the Windy City get a handle on its homicides?”

In fairly recent times the Mexican Cartels are finding it more cost effective to grow the marijuana in the United States.  This means there is no problem in getting it across the border.  It is already here.  Longmire writes, “Marijuana grows controlled by Mexican cartels have been in the United States since at least 2003. In 2006, the top ten outdoor marijuana production states—some containing grows run by Americans and some by Mexicans—were, in order, California, Tennessee, Kentucky, Hawaii, North Carolina, Washington.”


The world knows the United States has imprisoned more individuals than any other places in the world.  How did this happen?  Most pundits report it started somewhere in the 1970s, again related to the “War on Drugs.” This dramatically increased the cost of illegal drugs, which in turn led to the cartels, stiffer penalties; involving Mandatory Minimums (prescribed prison terms which removed length of sentencing from the judiciary).  The “War” has been on all fronts.  Heavy penalties for dealers and users of drugs and money poured into attempts to stop the flow of the drugs into the country.  Involved as well, have been “street sweeps” in communities thought to have those more likely to use drugs with the idea that if we put away “these kinds of people” we would be better off. Charges of racism have been strongly made as the “street sweep” methods have been made in minority communities filling the prisons with Latinos and African Americans.

Mandatory minimums undermine justice by preventing judges from fitting the punishment to the individual and the seriousness of their offense.

Ernest Drucker, in his book, A Plague of Prisons: The Epidemiology of Mass Incarceration in America, provides us with some of this information as found for New York State. “Following an initial slow, steady rise, after the implementation of the new laws in the early 1970s, New York saw a major jump in prison populations beginning in 1988, when newly legislated increases in penalties went into effect, lowering the threshold for longer prison sentences for crack cocaine (i.e., the adoption of tougher sentences for smaller amounts of drugs). During the height of the crack epidemic, from 1985 to 1990, prisoners incarcerated under the drug law represented a third of the entire population in prison. By 2001 the population incarcerated for drug offenses in New York State under the Rockefeller drug laws represented an increase of 1,733 percent over drug incarceration prior to 1973.”

The numbers continue to climb from 1990.  Drucker writes, “Today there are over 14 million U.S. arrests annually for all offenses, but the largest single category of arrests is for nonviolent (and victimless) drug offenses—a total of 1.7 million arrests in 2008—of which more than 50 percent were for marijuana.”

The cost of locking people up should not be minimized.  It was recorded that until 1970 the rate of imprisonment was 75 per 100,000 of population. By 2007, the figure rose to 445 per 100,000 nationwide. It has also been determined that prisons cost is $78.95 per day per inmate nationwide.  

How Bad Is Marijuana?

The short answer, in this writer’s impression, it is maybe no worse or better than alcohol.  While some attest to its medical use, (maybe so with terminal cancer patients and with glaucoma) its overwhelming use is for “recreation.” Lest we forget, alcohol was a fundamental treatment regimen by the medical profession for many years prior to better things coming along. Probably, the same may be for “Medical Marijuana.”  Also, not to be forgotten, alcohol is considered the mostly deadly of all.

A summary statement from Mitch Earleywine’s book, Understanding Marijuana: A New Look at the Scientific Evidence, seems to have merit.  Although Earleywine gives the impression of objectivity, the tenor of the book is tipped towards its use.  He writes:  “The plant is at least 10,000 years old. Its medicinal applications began at least 4,500 years ago. Recreational use has also been around for thousands of years. Cannabis is the most popular illicit drug in the world. Hundreds of millions of people have tried it. Only a small fraction of them develop problems with other illicit drugs.”

Earleywine continues with his “facts:” “Some people feel more relaxed, happy, and alive. Others feel paranoid and anxious. After smoking marijuana, people experience time, space, and emotions differently. They eat more and crave sweets. Intoxicated people do not learn new material well. They cannot solve complex problems quickly and their brain wave’s change. They can drive a car as well as the unintoxicated, but these consistent results are so counterintuitive that most people find them unbelievable. Individuals are no more aggressive after smoking marijuana. Intoxication usually last a couple of hours, depending upon dosage. After it ends, there is little hangover or residual effect. “

Earleywine does give a down side. “Several points about chronic use are also evident. After years of daily smoking, people do not show any changes in brain structure, unless they started using the drug before adulthood [Eds: Yes, but most do start using it before adulthood].  They also rarely show deficits on standard measures of intelligence, thinking, or ability. Yet sensitive tests show changes in brain function. “There are others who strongly disagree with this.  Daniel Amen, M.D., for one, shows on his website a marijuana brain you would not want to look at.

And, if it is so Innocuous, as shown above, then why do treatment centers for marijuana addiction get so much action.  The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) announced a trend of individuals being admitted for treatment for marijuana use.   The report comes from the Treatment Episode Data Set (TEDS), which is an annual compilation of data on substance abuse treatment admissions. That data showed that in 1992 there were 45 treatment admissions for marijuana use per 100,000 people aged 12 or older.   This number more than doubled to 93 admissions by 1997 and in 2002 was 118.   This resulted in an increase from six percent to 15 percent of all treatment admissions.  True numbers are hard to come by but one site list 140,000 per year for marijuana addiction.  The cost for parents and loved ones is high as insurance often does not cover these costs.

An article by Budney, Roffman, Stephens and Walker, “Marijuana Dependence and Its Treatment,” states: “Marijuana produces dependence less readily than most other illicit drugs. Some 9 percent of those who try marijuana develop dependence compared to, for example, 15 percent of people who try cocaine and 24 percent of those who try heroin. However, because so many people use marijuana, cannabis dependence is twice as prevalent as dependence on any other illicit psychoactive substance…”

Pluses and Minuses of the Woodstock Generation

There are some that say the only contributions of the Woodstock Generation were miniskirts and the “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini.”  But, it was far more.   The music will always be with us -- and particularly the Grateful Dead.  Long live the Grateful Dead.  It was, however, most probably what got us past the Vietnam War.  Today, although littered with irony, going there as tourist seems so much better than going there to kill.  The dynamic power of freedom, laying aside  conservative masks, and turning towards inclusiveness, love, and the environment, stem from the culture of the Woodstock generation.

But we were also given drugs and the righteousness of the marijuana crusade.  If you really want to see someone get upset, mention possible negative consequences associated with this drug to a modern baby boomer who previously preached the marijuana gospel.   They quickly turn you into one of “them” or police with their special hats and special shields crushing the mob of freedom seekers.

Marijuana and psychedelics from this era tried to find a legitimate niche in the layers of social stratification.  Psychedelics did not make it but marijuana almost has.  It is one of the reasons associated with the extraordinary demand and use of this drug – particularly U.S. demand.   From “Still Using and Abusing After All These Years,” “Three years ago, a report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) showed that the rate of illicit drug abuse in the 50-to 59-year-old age group had ‘nearly doubled from 5.1 percent in 2002 to 9.4 percent in 2007.’ Yet, in all other age groups, illicit drug use was decreasing or staying the same.  At the time of the report, SAMHSA Acting Administrator Eric Broderick, D.D.S., M.P.H. said, “These findings show that many in the Woodstock generation continue to use illicit drugs as they age. This continued use poses medical risks to these individuals and is likely to put further strains on the nation’s health care system—highlighting the value of preventing drug use from ever starting.”

And, from the article, “Marijuana Use by Seniors Goes Up as Seniors Age,” -- “The number of people 50 and older reporting marijuana use in the prior year went up from 1.9 percent to 2.9 percent from 2002 to 2008, according to surveys from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The rise was most dramatic among 55- to 59-year-olds, whose reported marijuana use more than tripled from 1.6 percent in 2002 to 5.1 percent. Observers expect further increases as 78 million boomers born between 1945 and 1964 age. For many boomers, the drug never held the stigma it did for previous generations, and they tried it decades ago.”

But, according to Beth Israel of Deaconess Medical Center, “Researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and their colleagues have found that people who smoke marijuana may increase their risk of a heart attack. In a study of nearly 4,000 people who had suffered a heart attack, the researchers observed that a person's chance of having a heart attack, particularly those who are already at risk for heart disease, increased nearly five times during the first hour after smoking marijuana.”

Of course, we probably cannot blame it all on the Woodstock generation.  There is the thought that the U.S. culture is a “feel-good” culture and if feeling good can be had by smoking a joint or taking a pill – so much the better.  There is extraordinary pressure now on drug makers, for example, to come up with a pill which might stem the tide of deadly obesity so much in the news.  An obvious explanation might be  to that when coming to an intersection one often finds that one corner is occupied by a gasoline station and the other 3 have fast food – drive through “restaurants.”  Perhaps this is too simple of an explanation, but it fits.  In a similar way there are now millions of dollars being put into studies trying to find why pharmaceutical medications have become the number one danger to our teens – who seem to be getting them from the parental medicine cabinets. Why has not the pharmaceutical drug advertisements been pinpointed as a leading cause?  At least 60% of commercials seen on television involve a pill to fix something or make you feel better.  Do not worry about depression, take a pill.  Do not worry about anxiety.  Take a pill.  Erectile Dysfunction ads are so prominent, one would begin to worry about someone who may have erectile function.

Besides the bombardment of the pharmaceuticals there may be another unforeseen side effect from the advertising industry.  Their techniques have been fully implemented to reduce cigarette or nicotine addiction.  IT has been highly successful. Cigarette smoking incidence and prevalence has gone down.  Marijuana smoking incidence and prevalence has gone up. One wonders if there is an association.  Contributing, as well, is our society’s acceptance of marijuana as something OK.  Of course, few are aware of the millions now being spent on treatment for marijuana addiction.

The Purpose of Life

We now return to the original question asked by the man whose planned retirement was daily marijuana use.  He asked, in effect, “Why Not?”  If there truly is no purpose to life then maintaining a satisfactory level of THC (chemical in marijuana which gives the euphoric feeling) in our system seems to be a good way to go as any other.  If there is purpose, maybe everything changes.  

The Theosophical teachings not only point to a necessary journey or pilgrimage, but indicate all are obligated to take pilgrimage.  It is called in the 3rd Fundamental of the Secret Doctrine, the obligatory pilgrimage.  In other words, there is no choice.  In fact, all of life is on this journey.   You either take the train and try to find your way or you stay at the station and somehow disappear at closing time.  We would maintain this is the reason it is time for the theosophical ideas and teachings to take their place on the world’s stage.  The feeling that we are all on a journey of awakening (reflected in the seminal myths of all history) needs validation.  The awakening is towards compassion which comes closest to the meaning and purpose of life.  Until recognition is central to the ethos of all, conflict, confusion and power struggles will continue.  Dropping out or drug side trips will also appear attractive.  You can hear some say, “Actually, I can more sense the purpose of life when I smoke marijuana than when I do not. “  If that is really the case, go for it!

The Secret Doctrine teaches the progressive development of everything, worlds as well as atoms; and this stupendous development has neither conceivable beginning nor imaginable end.  – The Secret Doctrine, I, 43

How do you know of where to go or what to do? That is a big part of the journey.  In the philosophy there is the idea of a “death vision” (everything passes through your consciousness at the time of your death).  There is also the “birth vision” where the outlines of your life to be lived also enter a level of consciousness.  This might suggest that somehow we know there is a reason we are coming into being and we have something to do.  Many have heard the statement of regret from others that it took them so long to understand what they were intended to do with their lives.  Or, even worse, they feel empty because they have not yet found it.  A Christian may express it, “God has something he wanted me to do.” 

Almost every psychotherapist has heard from clients what Douglas LaBier, Ph.D., writes:”I'm often asked, ‘Why can't I find the purpose of my life?’ Over the decades I've heard many men and women -- whether they're psychotherapy patients working to build healthier lives or business executive trying to create healthier leadership -- say at some point that they don't know what they're really here, for, on this planet. They're not necessarily religious or spiritually inclined, but they feel a longing for that ‘certain something’ that defines and integrates their lives.” (“Why It’s Hard To Find Your ‘Life Purpose’ In Today’s World,” Psychology Today, May 2011).

That there is a journey is perhaps best expressed by Joseph Campbell in Hero with a Thousand Faces. He reminds us so well what is buried in the fabric of each one of us: 

“We have not even to risk the adventure alone, for the heroes of all time have gone before us. The Labyrinth is thoroughly known. We have only to follow the thread of the hero path. And where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god. And where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves. And where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the center of our own existence. And where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world.”

With our teenagers perhaps one of the mandates of being a parent should be to remind our children of the “obligatory pilgrimage.” Parents can talk about the importance of adolescence.  It is a time to find out what kind of friends you want to share your life with, what kind of person you would want to have children with, what kind of work you would want to spend time doing, and preparing yourself for the journey.  Adolescence is an exciting period at base camp in preparation to ascend the mountain.  We might let them know it is a very important time.

Casual or occasional use of marijuana probably has had minimal effect on many who have used this drug.  The same may be true with alcohol.  Consistent or heavy use is altogether different as the high numbers now entering treatment attests.  Besides, from a Theosophical perspective there is the suggestion of opening up oneself to the world of elementals we may not want to invite in. This is a separate subject.

Marijuana might be thought of as something clouding the nature of our journey. If we could find a “purpose of life pill” or “Heaven” or “Nirvana” before death pill, and advertise it with a high class ad agency, it might seem attractive.  Marijuana is said to make us feel more relaxed, mellow, and just happy to be here.  So, why not?  Perhaps it would seem a good idea that the government allocate more dope to any place there is conflict. Maybe our scientist should all be working to fine tune the drug to eliminate the paranoid reaction that some have.

Even though the above logic seems sound there is probably an instinctive revulsion to many who consider the above.  To give the focus our society is giving to this drug detracts from the sense of purpose we sense.  Even employers now do drug testing so that the employee may be better able to “take the journey” of completing work assignments.  Maybe this is true of our life assignments as well.

Some form of legalization of marijuana, however, seems indicated.  The side effects of forced control, we hope we have shown, are more damaging, to us, than its use.  However, without pointing to a purpose or the nature of the journey we fall short in reminding us of who we are. Without a sense of purpose, cartels, imprisonment, and the pharmaceutical industry also answers the question, “Why Not?”

We will close with one quotation from H.P.B.’s Secret Doctrine which lets us know that while the journey may be obligatory, it is not without pain.

Starting upon the long journey immaculate; descending more and more into sinful matter, and having connected himself with every atom in manifested Space -- the Pilgrim, having struggled through and suffered in every form of life and being, is only at the bottom of the valley of matter, and half through his cycle, when he has identified himself with collective Humanity. This, he has made in his own image. In order to progress upwards and homewards, the "God" has now to ascend the weary uphill path of the Golgotha of Life. It is the martyrdom of self-conscious existence. Like Visvakarman he has to sacrifice himself to himself in order to redeem all creatures, to resurrect from the many into the One Life.



Budney, A.J.,  Roffman, R, Stephens, R.S. & Walker, D. (2007). "Marijuana Dependence and Its Treatment,” Addiction Science & Clinical Practice.

Blavatsky, H.P. (1947). The Secret Doctrine Vol. I, 268. The Theosophy Company

Hickman, J., (2012). Nixon’s War on Drugs Decision.

Longmire, S. (2011). Cartel: The Coming Invasion of the Mexico’s Drug Wars. Macmillan

Drucker, E. (2011). A Plague of Prisons: The Epidemiology of Mass Incarceration in America. The New Press

Earleywine, M.  (2005). Understanding Marijuana: A New Look at the Scientific Evidence. Oxford University Press

LaBier, D. (2011). Why It’s Hard To Find Your ‘Life Purpose” in Today’s World. Psychology Today

Mueller, A.T. (2012). Still using and abusing after all these years.

Sedensky, M. (2012). Marijuana Use by Seniors Goes Up as Seniors Age.

Israel, B. (2012). Marijuana Use May Prove Threat to Baby Boomers.

Campbell, J. (1948). The Hero With a Thousand Faces. New World Library



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