In 1972, Doreen Brown was invited to take part in an experiment that may sound like a dream come true: get paid to smoke marijuana for three months in the name of science.
Only later made public, the study was funded just as Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau (father to the current Prime Minister) was actively pushing for cannabis reforms. Against this political backdrop, young psychologist C.G. Miles — a dedicated behaviorist — decided it was necessary to learn more about the potential dangers of cannabis.
The result, in essence, was a “Skinner Hot Box” created by sequestering 20 young women in a hospital corridor for 98 days.
During that time, one group of ten was also required to smoke two nightly joints of increasing potency. The other group, meanwhile, acted as a control, although less potent joints were available for all subjects to purchase at an on-site commissary. Largely focused on questions of productivity, the experiment asked all 20 women to weave woolen belts for $2.50 a pop. If they stuck it out until the study ended, they kept the money.
But leave early and you get nothing.
As one of the ten women on the smoking side of the experiment, Brown found the early days pleasurable but quickly began to dread what she calls “the drudgery” of enforced nightly toke sessions with the best cannabis the Canadian government could provide.
After the experiment ended, the subjects dispersed and no findings were ever published. Over the years, Brown has attempted to ascertain what happened to this research and why it has never seen the light of day.
In 2013, a story in the Toronto Star introduced the world to Brown’s story. For many, it was also the first time they’d ever even heard of the experiment, which is now also depicted “The Marijuana Conspiracy“: a new feature film focused on the Miles study and the subjects who took part.
Released for stream and digital purchase on April 20, the movie is a faithfully dramatized retelling of one very true story. To celebrate the film’s release, Bloom & Oil spoke with original test subject Doreen Brown about what her experience was like, how it feels to see it depicted in a film, and her thoughts on Canada’s eventual choice to legalize cannabis.
Can you take us through the process of how things evolved from those Toronto Star articles into this film?
DOREEN BROWN: As you know, we did not get the results of this experiment. Over the years, I tried to get those results but to no avail. Someone else tried as well but we were stonewalled, so about six or seven years ago, I wrote a two-part article and sent it off to some media. Right away, Diana [Zlomislic] from the Star contacted me and decided to do an article about it. That was, I think, six years ago. At some point, I guess Craig Pryce saw this article and filed it away, and thought it would be a good, important film for him to do. That’s how it all started.
From your perspective, how accurate is “The Marijuana Conspiracy” in depicting your experience in that study?
DOREEN BROWN: I think Craig really encapsulated that period of time and the social and political culture back then as well. When I saw the film, it took me right back there. The experiment itself took me right back there as well. As someone who was there, I thought he did a fantastic job of portraying that experiment, that time period, and everything else. It was very realistic to me. Certainly, it’s a movie but the meat of that film is what really happened.
Going from taking part in this experiment to trying to get the results to watching Canada finally legalize cannabis is quite a trajectory! Tell me about that whole journey.
DOREEN BROWN: Well the experiment itself was surreal. No one knew we were in there unless you told people you were going in there. They were not allowed to give out any names of the people who were in that experiment. Over the years, I did tell people. There were friends and some people I came into contact with who I did tell and they couldn’t even believe it. They were flabbergasted. They wanted to hear everything that happened. It’s been 49 years since this experiment but, finally, Diana’s article did bring it out into the open. And now, of course, this movie is really bringing it out into the open even further. At this point in my life, I don’t really care who knows that I was in a marijuana study. I really don’t care. But at the time, I remember telling my father, ‘Dad, I’m going away for 98 days — three months — and I can’t call you. I can’t see you.’ He’s going, ‘Well, where are you going?’ And when I finally told him, he said, ‘Are you crazy?’ It was surreal. The whole thing was surreal.
What about the reunions of those who were in the experiment that have taken place over the years?
DOREEN BROWN: The funny thing is that I was the only one from the smoking side. There were ten of us that had to smoke. When we first got out, at least of the smoking side, we saw each other — maybe just for security, because it was really scary getting out of there. It was hard going on the subway. It was hard being with a lot of people again, so a few of us clung together but eventually we went our own ways. I did become friends with someone from the non-smoking side. I still see her to this day. We’ve known each other for 49 years now and she had a couple of reunions were only a few people came — again, from the non-smoking side. There are also a couple of the women who have died since then. One woman committed suicide, quite long after the experiment. Basically, people went their own way. I believe that some of them didn’t really want other people to know that they did that — maybe even to this day — and they don’t want to be found. I don’t know.
What were your options for recreation in there?
DOREEN BROWN: We were in a hospital corridor and that was it. At the beginning, we ordered albums and turned the hospital corridor into a hippie den with mattresses on the floor. It was fun. It was fun in the beginning, but after that, there really were no outlets. It was the same ten people and the same thing, every day. You couldn’t go out. You couldn’t see anyone or make any phone calls or anything like that. After a while, it was all just too much. I don’t think you’d find this today, hopefully, with experiments, but there was also no follow-up whatsoever: physical, psychological, nothing. It was like we left and goodbye. That was that.
With the release of this film, do you expect any further movement on your efforts to get your hands on the results of the study?
DOREEN BROWN: I doubt it. I don’t think we’ll ever get those results. I really don’t. At the time, I think it was a political choice but all this time later? No, I don’t think we’re going to be able to find anything. Diana from the Star couldn’t, so I think it’s buried. It’s gone.
I can only assume that taking part in this experience forever changed your own relationship to cannabis?
DOREEN BROWN: Actually, it didn’t. I’ve always believed that it should be legalized and my view on that hasn’t changed at all. But as far as smoking goes? Over the last 49 years, I’ve had a couple of puffs here and there but that’s it. I mean, we had to smoke every night at the same time, two joints each, and you couldn’t pass them around. They even looked at the roaches to make sure we were smoking as much of it as we could. After that, I just didn’t want it anymore — especially when they increased the potency. At that point, we were asking them to take it away. It just became drudgery. Sure, it was fun and games at first, but then, at least for me, it just became too much. You had to get a doctor’s note if you wanted to get out of smoking. I don’t know if anyone ever did that. And then there were all of these tests that we were doing all of the time: logic puzzles, physical tasks. Being that stoned, after a while, was just drudgery.