anxiety · mental health · personal · substance use

The Dark Side of Marijuana (and other drugs I’ve tried)

When I was around 16, I started using the Holy Trinity of introductory drugs: alcohol, nicotine, and marijuana. In the beginning, it was pretty few and far between. When I graduated high school, I had my first of many summers that I would later barely recall due to being in a nearly permanent inebriated state. During the off season, I still smoked a lot of weed and drank slightly less often than during the summer, and I didn’t properly quit smoking cigarettes for years.

My relationship with alcohol was never good or healthy. I could make a bulleted list of things that it has ruined for me starting with it being the catalyst for me dropping out of college after my first MIP (19) and ending with it tricking me into thinking I could do a front split and tearing my hamstring (26), (I thought that I had attempted a death drop but upon further research I have realized that they keep their front leg bent when they do a death drop – I had absolutely zero bend in my knee).

I’ll spare you the in between episodes of drunken stupidity for the sake of brevity. Instead, enjoy this short compilation of Liza Koshy doing the front splits without tearing her hamstring.

As for cannabis, it was the training wheels I threw onto my life cycle that helped me stop cutting. It did, for a long time, more or less mask my depression and anxiety. Until it didn’t and it in fact made those things worse. People often like to bring up the chicken or the egg question with drugs and mental illness: which came first? I can tell you with great confidence I had issues with both depression and anxiety long before I started smoking. Conversely, I can also admit that after a certain point it was obvious that alcohol was worsening my depression and weed was worsening my anxiety.

In the midst of all these more common substances, I ended up trying LSD, MDMA, salvia, opium, and 2CB. LSD led to the moment that I decided I could never kill myself – a pleasant side effect that lasted over five years. MDMA was a great deal of fun – so was salvia and opium. 2CB was the only drug I did that really fucked with my head, triggering six months of daily panic attacks (often more than one a day), and forcing me to stop using any drugs altogether for a year as I dealt with my anxiety substance-free for the first time ever in my adult life.

It’s been years now since I’ve done anything above the low level stuff. The summer of 2018, it was like a switch flipped in my brain and suddenly I went from half a pack a day, two bottles of wine a week, three bowls a day to Sudden Sober Sally. I bought a bottle of wine when I moved into our apartment this May – I didn’t finish it until August. Aside from a recent random stint of smoking cigarettes, I’ve been more or less quit for over a year now. And as for good ol’ mary jane, well…

Pot and I have a complicated relationship. In the early days, I used to laugh like an old British woman whom I called Elizabeth, eat everything in sight, feel no fear or social discomfort, and feel the muscles in my body finally relax after hours of standing and putting pressure on my back. A nice bowl at the end of a long day was better than taking your bra off, better than most sex, better than a fresh s’more. But something happened. Out of nowhere, the euphoria I once knew became a stranger and every time I took a hit, I was riddled with muscle tension, anxiety, difficulty breathing, and overall discomfort.

In the past month, I’ve ran several “trials” to see if a tolerance break was sufficient to cure my adverse reaction to weed. Small doses, large doses, with alcohol, sober, at home, out and about, flower, vape, you name it. After experimenting on myself like an oddly aware guinea pig, I have concluded that my relationship with cannabis has come to an end. And I’m genuinely a little sad about it. At the same time, though, I’m relieved, too.

It’s weird because if I’m truly transparent about my feelings towards pot, I have just as much resentment as I have admiration. It’s a great social lubricant, way less toxic than alcohol, with many physical and mental benefits for a variety of people. But it can also be abused, turning people into potatoes with zero motivation to do anything, impossible to hold a coherent conversation with, spending way too much money on something to alter their brain chemistry so often that being sober feels stranger than being high. I used to 100% be that person. I self medicated with weed which prevented me from ever learning any other coping mechanisms (something I’ve touched on briefly in an earlier post). Like all other things in this world, it’s best enjoyed in moderation. But I never had that kind of self control. And it seems so harmless so why not imbibe when it’s available to you?

Other than the social factor, I pretty seldomly find myself craving to spark up like I used to in the past. Maybe part of it is seeing what high people are like when you’re stone cold sober. I used to think that I passed as being totally normal but now I’m certain that almost anyone could probably tell when I was stoned. Watching my own husband be irritable for no explicable reason almost permanently while sober only to finally relax and be pleasant to interact with once he hits his vape has made me a little bitter towards the drug I used to drop hundreds of dollars on a month. Knowing that some people in my life would rather sit around, smoke a bowl, and watch Netflix every day rather than exert the effort to answer my texts makes it difficult for me to feel like it’s worth reaching out. Especially because, sorry to say it, stoners, but… you can be kind of fucking annoying to be around sometimes.

I used to think I was so funny when I was baked. Now I’m pretty sure that an inanimate bag of dice would probably be funny to me after a joint. It’s a common thread between so many people who hang out who otherwise have almost no other shared interests. Shit, after I stopped smoking I had an existential crisis where I wondered if the only reason why Nicholas and I ever got along so well in the beginning of our relationship is because we were both permastoned, (I have since concluded that it’s actually the sex, [this is a joke, {mostly}]).

It’s funny because last year when I quit smoking, I realized all the things I said to people were actually untrue. “I’m not addicted,” I would say, mistaking physical withdrawal symptoms as the only evidence of addiction. “It doesn’t have any negative side effects,” I would say, even though I would grow irritable if I went too long without it. “I don’t need to smoke, I just like to,” I would say, as I continued to keep smoking for over a month despite the fact that it triggered either anxiety or full blown panic attacks every. single. time.

Now, I’m just one person. And like I said above, in moderation, weed can be pretty wonderful. I’m not here to pass judgement on other people or try to persuade anyone to stop toking up. But I’m writing this because for over a year now I’ve thought about how I never see anything from ex-smokers about why they’ve chosen to stop and their experience with the negative side of cannabis. I still think it should be legal recreationally for all adults, covered by insurance for certain medical conditions, and every single person ever locked away for it should be released immediately with the conviction expunged from their record. Without a doubt. I hesitated to ever say anything that could be misconstrued not only because I didn’t want to hurt the cause of federal legalization but I also was afraid of being alienated by my friends.

Because all but two of them smoke. Often, I might add. Like, every single time I see them kind of often. And they’re free to make their own decisions but when people say things like, “I miss smoking with you,” or maybe even worse, there’s a very uncomfortable yet unspoken barrier as I pass on the pipe, it makes me wish that I wasn’t somehow the weird one for not taking a hit. The only times I’ve ever really wanted to smoke was while I was in a group just so I could not be the weird sober person for once. But if I was really true to myself, I’d rather just hang out with other sober people. And after weed being the focal point of my life for over a decade, I haven’t the faintest idea how to begin to go about that.

I still love my friends that smoke. But as the marijuana goggles have come off and I’ve had a clearer head to sit back and observe things, I’m starting to see that maybe we’re just at different places in our lives right now. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I just don’t know how to “break up” with friends who I feel like I barely share any commonalities with anymore, much less how to make new ones.

This wasn’t the post I was really intending to write when I sat down. This all came to the forefront of my mind with such a persistent and obnoxious hum that I literally climbed out of bed to write a post about my ever evolving relationship with drugs because of recently attending Wheatland Music Festival. I was reminded of my therapist’s words when I told her how frustrated I was to be having issues managing my anxiety this late in the game – it is, after all, by no means a new issue in my life. She nonchalantly suggested that maybe some of my recent struggle is because while I used substances daily, I wasn’t actually managing my anxiety but instead covering it up. This simple statement stuck so strongly in my skull – it seemed like such an obvious thought in retrospect yet I never came to this conclusion on my own.

The only photo I took on my phone at Wheatland. “Big Camp” as I called it.

Wheatland was, as usual, a very enjoyable time yet this experience was so markedly different than every other one I’ve ever had. Though, in truth, no two Wheatlands have ever been really the same for me. One of the major reasons for the obvious difference was that this was the first time I’d attended the festival while not smoking any marijuana. I didn’t expect it to make things so different but it really did. I did drink (too much, quite frankly), the first night – mostly out of an old social anxiety habit with a dash of early 2000’s logic: “how do you even have fun without getting fucked up, amirite?” The alcoholism gene was in full force as I drank until I got too drunk to walk around and pooped out in my tent at 10 pm. On the bright side, I guess I did respect my boundaries a tiny bit better than I used to since I didn’t vomit or have a terrible hangover the next day.

Another missing element was the usual Saturday night trip. I can only think of one Wheatland before this one that I didn’t drop acid on Saturday night. With my brain in the squishy, anxiety-prone state it’s in currently, I didn’t dare take that chance. If I can’t even smoke weed, what makes me think I have any business doing psychedelics? Though, much like the pot, I was only really missing this element because of the social aspect. Tripping people are substantially more fun to hang out with than super baked people (and both parties are infinitely better than wasted folx), but it’s certainly most enjoyable to be in on the joke, as it were.

I still had a good time as per usual but I can tell that this was a transitional year for me. At this point, I think my road forks in two directions: one, I begin to volunteer and maybe meet some new people who are little less into the party scene and maybe a little more into the community contribution scene or; two, I stop going. Given how much I learned about music theory in a one hour workshop, my intense love for being a part of and contributing to a community that shares my values, and my desire to perpetuate the Wheatland spirit that, I really hate to be That Person and say, seems to be slowly dying a little more every year – I think I’ll probably volunteer if it’s at all possible for me. Of course, Nick and I will be on the road next year resting our heads only God knows where so this is all very hypothetical. I scarcely know where I’ll be a month from now, let alone 12. I’ll cross this bridge when I get to it.

In the meantime, I think I’ve finally made my peace with the part of my life that includes mind altering substances residing only in my memory. I’m sure I’ll still be around people who partake in whatever drugs they please (and if you’re one of the folx reading this, please don’t hate me for this post), and that’s fine. And there’s no such thing as permanence so maybe someday I’ll change my mind about all this. I somewhat doubt it, though. Now that I’ve more or less figured out how to live without relying on various poorly researched chemicals (just my stack of doctor prescribed pharmaceuticals, tyvm), I genuinely prefer it. My memory’s better, my wallet’s fuller, my day seems longer, my lungs feel better, and my mood is much more controllable. Sure, if I could spark a joint now and then, eat a fat bowl of Kraft macaroni that I swear tastes better than anything else on earth and watch The Producers while laughing so hard I think I’m going to pee myself, that’d be pretty dope. But that’s just not how it goes for me anymore. And that’s okay. I’d rather be where I’m at mentally right now than trade it for the occasional half hour of euphoria any day of the week.

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