Note: This is a very dark blog post about a bad trip. This is the most honest account of what went through my brain as I could articulate. Everything written below, I truly believed at some point in the trip. Please also keep in mind the bhang is legal in India, no Indian laws were broken on this night. As Rohit rightfully said a few days later, “Bhang is the only legal drug in India. You cannot get less high here.”
On March 7th, 2016 we celebrated Shivaratri, the Hindu festival venerating the God Shiva. On this day, people consume bhang as part of the festivity. Bhang is legal in India. I’ve googled the difference between bhang and marijuana multiple times, and in the shortest version of things, bhang is cannabis. And it is ingested. Most famously in the form of a drink.
That day, six of us, hanging out at Punjab University, consumed it in the form of said drink, as well as fried into pakoras (an Indian snack, typically breaded and fried potato, onion, or vegetables). The pakoras, in my humble opinion, were downright awful. I ate four of the ones we bought, forcing myself to chew them despite finding the greasy cannabis taste repulsive. The smell proved even worse. I found the drink quite sweet and tasty so I tried to drink the majority of my cannabis in that form. Everyone had consumed something like 8 pakoras (or so I thought) and I didn’t want to be left out of the fun, so they encouraged me to eat 2 more. Being the only one not feeling anything, I obliged.
And then Virgil took my hand and provided me a proverbial tour of the 9 circles of my mental drug-induced hell. Here’s what we saw:
First Circle (Limbo/Not hell):
I giggled to myself often. A group of us played with our shadows. I kept forgetting where I was and got nervous about using the washroom in the library. While washing my hands in the lavatory, I questioned whether or not I actually just peed or if I just imagined it. Did I manage to pee in the toilet? I didn’t pee on myself, did I? No. I’m just really high. Okay. Good.
Second Circle (Becoming mute):
I came to terms with the fact that I was much too high to function as a normal person. Four of us spent an unknown amount of time in my apartment sitting in total silence and intermediately bursting into uncontrollable laughing while Pranav tried (and failed) to understand the modern complexities of ordering a pizza. Determining that acquiring dinner would be too difficult, we left the apartment only for Pranav to attempt to get to the car by walking through my neighbor’s balcony. Meanwhile, I tried to remember what a cellphone looked like while I play with mine in my wallet.
Third Circle (Descent into the artistic):
In the car, Pranav played Stairway to Heaven as we rode to Mohali. At some point my brain slipped away from my body and the music became so powerful I couldn’t see the road or the car but only a visualization of the melody. A stick figure man leapt into a bar of music, grasping the first musical note and proceeding to dance gracefully with her throughout the remaining notes and bars, twirling her, dipping her, tossing her lightly into the air, until the song ended and he expelled himself from the bars, plunging confidentially into whiteness in a grand, melodious exodus.
Fourth Circle (Panic):
Standing in the market next to Rohit and Pranav’s house, we waited for the Uber to fetch GK and take her to her house. Everything turned black; remaining in the present became impossible. It was as if my brain simply slipped out of my body and only briefly could I bring myself back to the present moment through a gasp and sense of panic. Any time I became conscious I had to fight to keep myself present, trying to prevent my mind from gliding out of my skull again. I told Rohit I didn’t feel well and we needed to go to his house immediately. I needed to lay down. I don’t remember anything except briefly feeling scared on the way to his house and confused and terrified while standing in his living room. Since Rohit and Pranav are using their apartment as the base of their start up, their living room was in a bit of disarray as it contained boxes of meal trays and other important materials for their business. Rohit cleared off the thin mattress on the floor and I immediately laid down.
Fifth Circle (Descent into confusion):
Thoughts displayed in my mind as images, flickering through my head too disjointedly and haphazardly to comprehend. I tried to remember what I had taken to feel like this. I couldn’t remember what bhang was. It’s related to weed. What is weed? Are there things called drugs? What are drugs? Am I on drugs right now? I decided that drugs were real and that bhang constitutes one of the drugs that aren’t “hard” or “strong” drugs. I wondered why anyone would ever want to feel anything stronger than this. Rohit walked over. He asked me if I was okay. I shook my head no. He walked away and I felt sad he couldn’t stop whatever was happening. I had a mental image of a very poor Indian woman, unstable from overuse of drugs, laying in the street, half naked, close to death. Is that what happens on drugs? Aren’t drugs how people die? Is this how I die? Something about rape. There is something called drugs and something called rape and all I know is that they are bad but I don’t know what they are. Something with women and taking their clothes off. Don’t let anyone touch you or take your clothes off. That is bad. Do some people do that for fun? Not on drugs? Taking clothes off, doing something, not with drugs? I think they do…I don’t always think it is bad. I can’t remember. Rohit walked over again and again asked if I was okay. Again I managed to shake my head in a small plea that I needed help.
Sixth Circle (Black Pit):
I sank into blackness, the walls of the pit hurdling in front of me as I descended lower. Suddenly everything made sense. Drugs weren’t a thing that you did, they weren’t an experience. They were a place that you go. Anytime you do drugs you go to this place where everyone else is, mentally everyone is connected to this place. Everyone was there. Everyone who was also on drugs. We were in all in this place. In this pit. And in this pit, anything you think becomes publicly manifested for everyone to see. Those people who do drugs and have sex? Anyone in the pit (hundreds of thousands of people) can see their bodies as if watching them in real life. In this place, you must be mentally strong. Rape is what happens when women come to this place and others penetrate their mind and can take them as they please. But I feel like you don’t have to be on drugs to be raped…. (I never managed to finish this thought). All the horrible wars and politics and problems with the Middle East were decided in this place. And something about terrorism was being bred in this place. Everyone important who needed to be there in order to prevent international chaos from erupting had been deputed there by their governments. This place was real. And the politicians understood that it needed to be controlled. Democrats believe people had the right to choose when and if they went to the black pit. People had a right to know the awful truth. Republicans believe the government should protect its citizens from ever having to go. No one should have to see this truth. Ignorance is bliss. I sided with the Republicans on this issue. The pit is horrible. Hilary Clinton was there attempting to negotiate with leaders from the Middle East.You’ve been here before, you’ve been here before, you’ve been here before. I felt completely panicked, my world felt shattered. I had known this years ago but forgotten this knowledge. I had always felt mentally strong; as though I understood the world so well. And now here I was, alone in my naivety. How did I forget this truth? How did I come here previously, carefree, confident, disregarding my health and safety and dignity? I worried that with my weak mind, people would be able to slip inside and steal my secrets and exploit me. “You’ve been here before” repeated over and over in my mind as I spun, the lighting becoming more clear, and I saw Rohit’s apartment. He was standing over me, putting a blanket on me. Later he told me he thought I was cold because I was covering my body. In reality I was ashamed of it and at the idea that thousands of people may have just seen me naked in the pit of darkness. I felt like I needed to apologize to Rohit for not being more mentally strong in order to protect myself from the mental penetration of so many other people but I couldn’t remember how to speak. I felt completely ashamed.
Seventh Circle (Time):
Rohit and Pranav turned the light off in the living room and went to sleep. Unconsciousness and semi-consciousness characterized by the bhang-like state bled together. I pictured ropes of colorful pictures unraveling so quickly only flashes of color proved visible. It was time. All of time flashing before my eyes. It was the beginning and the end and everything beautiful in between.
Eighth Circle (No existence):
The room wouldn’t stop spinning. My entire body ached and I felt horribly nauseous. All I wanted was to throw up and have everything end. And then came total enlightenment. I HAVE been here before. In this exact spot. Feeling this exact thing. In this room, in these clothes, laying on this mat, staring at these exact boxes. All of this has already happened before. I have been here before because this is the only thing that exists. Only this spot, only this feeling, only this room, only these clothes, only this mat, only these boxes. All of this is the only thing that has ever happened before. I am not human. Humans are not real. I am not in India. India is not real. Earth is not real. All that ever has been is a speck of consciousness. I am this speck of consciousness. I gave myself an imaginary body and an imaginary mat and some boxes in a room as an illusion of space and time. But outside of these few things, there is nothing. “Gwen” is a girl I created with a backstory in order to cope with the loneliness of being the only thing that exists. I created the beginning and the end and the universe. The universe is a figment of my conscious imagination. Navigating it is too great, and therefore navigating it through a “human life” (one of my finest creative inventions) is how I make sense of the scope of my creation. Because the universe, the planets, time, history, science, anything that brings meaning is simply a figment of the imagination of this single consciousness. But I’m a girl from North Carolina. I’m 25 years old. North Carolina is just a place you have created. It does not exist. You do not have parents. ‘Parents’ is just a concept that you invented. The history books you read in high school simply provided you clues to a constructed history created by you. North Carolina style barbecue sandwiches don’t exist. No food does. Just calm down. Think about Rachel and Kelly coming to visit in a few weeks here in India. Rachel and Kelly aren’t real. No one is real. You invented friends as another way to prevent yourself from loneliness and utter despair. India is not real, it’s not a place. It’s a created idealized location in which you, the speck of consciousness that imagined the universe, will finally die after hundreds of thousands of years.You’re in Rohit and Pranav’s apartment. They are just in the next room. There is no Pranav, there is no Rohit. You created the idea of them to give you hope to keep you going during gross realizations of the truth such as this one. In a few hours I will wake up from this and everything will be back to normal. This is true. In a few hours, you will be able to return to this created “reality” of India, of parks, of street food, of working in the education sector, of Rohit and Pranav and your home in North Carolina. In a few hours you will slip back into that place and will feel healthy, young, energized, and good and you will forget about this truth. But this is a truth you have learned before. And it is a truth you will learn again. You can not avoid waking up in this exact spot feeling achy and horribly nauseous. In this room, in these clothes, laying on this mat, staring at these exact boxes. As time goes on, your ability to live inside “life” as you have created will break down. You will weaken, and your ability to go to imaginary life will weaken. You will not be able to sustainably convince yourself of these false truths: of Rohit, of Rachel, of India, of North Carolina, and barbecue sandwiches anymore. You will wake up in this place for longer and longer periods of time, feeling dizzy and sick. And, eventually, you will be trapped here, unable to escape to the universe you created. When you have finally given up hope, when you have finally give up on the idea that you can return to the beauty of “life,” after 17 years stuck in this apartment, 17 years just wanting to throw up, you will be forced to take your life. This is the end of the universe, as it exists solely in your mind. And that is how time will cease to be. For now, just be happy that you still have that hope. Still feel happy that in a few hours you will wake up and see Rohit and Pranav and walk around in the sunshine that defines India in March and feel healthy, young, energized, and good. Be happy you have this ability now. Eventually, you will not be able to.
I threw up in the bathroom. Then I finally fell asleep on the mat.
Ninth Circle (Slow Return):
At 7am I did not feel feel healthy, young, energized, and good. I still felt sick to my stomach. The spinning had ceased, but the room could still be characterized as exceptionally wonky. My consciousness seemed to have slipped back inside my body and decided to stick around. I felt exhausted and scared about whatever had happened inside my head the night before. I got way too high. I’m still high. Around 9am I returned to the toilet and continued to throw up. I swear I threw up a chunk of bhang leaves the size of a golf ball. I continued to sleep for half an hour at a time, waking up every 30 minutes to attempt to message or call Priya that I couldn’t come to work. The network was so bad, I finally contacted her around noon. Pain shot through my lower abdomen for hours. Rohit made me lunch and I managed to eat it and we talked about about how high we had gotten but both of us still felt a bit high. I assumed the nausea and stomach pains were just from having to digest so much bhang, I didn’t assume anything worse. I slept on and off most of the day. At some point I told him how I happy I was that he exists. Around 4pm Rohit drove me home but I felt so sick I just laid on my couch and watched television. I couldn’t even eat much. Around 10pm I decided to just go to bed. Tomorrow I would feel better. But Wednesday things turned considerably worse….To read about my continued health problems from bhang, click here.