Jazz cabbage, the Devil’s lettuce, giggle leaves — Cannabis goes by nearly as many names as there are strains. Depending on the population you ask, feelings towards Cannabis range from outraged to dazed and confused. With all the information available on Cannabis, you’d be surprised to know just how many people still despise this herbaceous flower. According to BuzzFeed, half of Americans think the smell of cannabis in public is a problem.
In an effort to allocate new space for open minded conversation, I decided I would write about my life and the ways Cannabis has positively and negatively impacted it. While I do hold bias, I will do my best to bring light to both the positive and negatives Cannabis has introduced to me personally.
I grew up in a rather standard nuclear family. Two parents who loved each other the best they could (which did happen to be a lot most of the time), raising their two children through the perils of life. We never had much money, but we were definitely never poor. Looking back, I think this was the perfect way to grow up. I struggled just enough to get it, but not enough to be crippled.
At least, that’s what I would have said if I weren’t born with the brain chemistry of a wild monkey. While my family received a near perfect score, the rest of my life was fueled by anxiety and depression. Starting ripe at the young age of nine years old, I found myself going to my first therapist. Imagine that, a 3rd grader going to counselling, Let’s be honest with ourselves, not many people, trained professionals or not, know what to do with a nine year old displaying symptoms of clinical depression. From then on, my life consisted of coping mechanisms and eventually pharmaceutical drugs.
All the way through high school and the two years of college I attended, I battled intense life variables and my own inner demons. Often people talk about having days where they can’t get out of bed, but for me it was always more than mere days. Weeks and months rolled by as I watched my life play itself in what seemed like a movie. I was only an observer to the excitement around me, never finding myself fully immersed. Imagine a generic allergen commercial and the blurred, gray film over everything. I remember opening my eyes every morning and thinking to myself, “I don’t want to exist, but I don’t want to die.”
Halfway through my Junior year of high school, my father fell ill after finding out he had endured a Carotid Artery Dissection. Essentially, one of the most important arteries in his body had torn. The implications this had on my life made me feel like I went from six feet under to a mile below the surface.
I spent every moment of my life looking for an escape. I tried hiking, video games, music, arts… Through lessons, achievements, and even setting personal records, I still felt a dull film over my life. There wasn’t sadness but emptiness in its place. I knew that I needed to try something different and I was open to anything.
The First Encounter: Cannabis Sativa
As my Junior year of high school was beginning, I was feeling so many things. Adventurous, empty, and willing to risk it all. Growing up my family had always followed programs such as DARE and taught us to find the moral high ground in every situation. Being the good parents they were, obviously drugs were touted as “bad” and “naughty”.
Thinking back, the cravings I felt towards trying marijuana were more akin to what I’d imagine an alcoholic feels when receiving bad news after two days sober. I never drank much as a teenager and still don’t to this day, but the near blood lust I had to find and smoke this illicit item was unparalleled.
After a few awkward conversations with some strangers I had never imagined talking to and $60 later, I finally procured the goods. Proper giggle leaf in hand, I invited my two closest friends over and took a trip through the backyard.
None of us really knew what to do or how much to “take”. I vividly remember needing to prove something to myself so I decided I would be the first one to try it. I crumbled up the over-dried herb with my fingertips and packed it into a small metal pipe I had obtained through my journey towards “rebellion”. I sparked the flint on the lighter and listened to the butane whistle as I slowly breathed in and imbibed on the succulent fruit of my efforts.
When smoking cannabis, one puff of smoke inhaled is generally considered one “hit”. I remember taking one hit and then coughing for what felt like forever. I waited — Nothing. Again I tried, coughing up a storm and waiting to feel different. The moment never came, so I passed around the pipe thinking maybe it was a dud. Then, finally, as it came back around and on my third puff of the pipe, it happened.
Colors lit up into beautiful shades and hues unlike anything I’d ever seen. The oxygen felt so fresh through my nose, to the point that I feared never finding air so crisp again. I could feel the hairs on my arm tingling, electric with life and abundant with energy. Looking out into the night, every cloud was a wonderland and every star twinkled as if to say “you don’t have to wish for anything anymore.”
My mind was no longer seven separate trains running on seven separate tracks. It was focused, and most importantly, it was resting. I didn’t have to imagine what made the grass grow and if it was properly nourished. I didn’t have to race through every possible scenario in which grass could have started its evolutionary process or how on this Earth grass managed to populate nearly everything and everywhere. I was afforded the newfound ability to look at something and have it be exactly what it was. Nothing more, nothing less. I was able to look at the grass as a nice green plant instead of dissecting its very nature and relevance to life itself.
Despite our virgin lungs screaming at us, begging us to stop, we carried on that night. We smoked over three grams of Cannabis the first night we’d even come into contact with it. The world was alive and around every corner we found sweet little kisses from the universe itself.
After smoking weed for the first time, I spent some time away from it. I was terrified that, regardless of facts, I would become addicted and wither away into a character like Flat Stanley. Biding my time was easy at first, compelled by the idea of ethical use. As time passed, though, I remembered more and more how relieving it was only to smoke a small amount. Just a few puffs and life felt wholesome again. So I decided,
“Let’s try it as medicine. Just a little bit, once in a while.”
Moving forward, that’s exactly what I did. I would sneak around my house at night, hanging outside windows just to smoke. I told my parents I was “taking walks” as I would leave with just a banana and a straw. It was astounding the level of clarity and resounding peace it brought to my life considering how secretive it made me feel. A few puffs in and it was the same every time. Like the static of a needle hitting a record, there were always a few quiet moments leading up to the music of life after I had consumed the smoke. However, as life got harder, so did my use of cannabis and my reliance on its ability to help me escape.
I maintained a healthy relationship with Cannabis for the first year and a half, leading me through graduating high school and completing my first major life achievement. Unbeknownst to me, the real world was hiding just around the bend, waiting to unleash itself unto me and begin my own descent into madness. As I transitioned into college and started paying my own bills, I began using Cannabis more and more to not only escape internal failures, but external ones. I wasn’t just depressed or anxious anymore, I was self inflicting. The more I smoked and let people down, the more I needed to smoke. I was stuck and I was lost.
Respecting The Life You Live
After finally hitting my limit and dropping out of college, I knew that the life I was living wasn’t sustainable. I quit cold turkey and decided that the only real reason I had ever been depressed in life was due to my decision to start smoking marijuana. I figured if I could cut out the one variable I had introduced to my life, then perhaps I would go back to “normal” and life would feel alright again.
I spent eight months sober that year and got a job doing Accounts Receivable for medical insurance. In those eight months, I watched the corporate world eat me alive and saw my life regress into the cinematic film it had been before I smoked. I didn’t know what to do since I was back at square one, struggling to get out of bed every day, yet I couldn’t handle the heat of the fire before and everyone knows it’s dangerous to play with fire. My mental health was deteriorating fast and I was more lost than ever before. I had been using the money from work to help my parents pay off their bills, however I had few other expenses and so I had some money saved up. I quit my job in Accounts Receivable and spent the next two months hiking as much as possible.
Living in New York, I had access to some of the most beautiful mountains you could ever dream of. The Adirondacks were a small slice of heaven in the chemical hell I’d been spending my time living in. Over the course of those two months, I must have hiked over 200 miles. I hiked high peaks, local mountains, and even just backyard hills. Traversing those landscapes had become the only event keeping me separate from the purgatory I felt trapped in. During those walks I had time to inquire deep within and truly find out who I was and what I wanted out of life. I talked to myself about boundaries and discipline. I scolded myself for past errors and warned myself of future ones. I learned to love myself, despite the ever present resentment I had for most of the actions I’d chosen in years past.
Stepping off a mountain late one evening in early October, I took a deep breath in and decided it was time. I was ready to start smoking again and test the waters.
“It will be different this time” I promised myself.
I set foot on the base of Buck Mountain nearly three years ago. I decided to test the waters again, and I did. To this day, I continue to use Cannabis as a form of both medicine and recreation. That being said, it is not without great discipline and respect for what the plant truly requires: care and attention. There are days where all I can think about is getting home to smoke, so I don’t. Other days I don’t feel like smoking at all and I take a couple hits just to keep my anxiety at bay.
Cannabis has remained a hot debate for the past thirty years and will probably continue to cause controversy for at least another ten. Despite the social stigmas around it, I will continue to use and support Cannabis because of its lasting ability to harbor good intentions and clear mindsets within me. Life can be stressful and it can cause grief. Paired with depression and/or anxiety, that can make life feel impossible. I believe that if there is something so powerful as to take even the deepest emotional pains away, we should not denote its usefulness and effectiveness at doing so. Like an alcoholic resorting to vodka, so too can a Cannabis user lose track of responsibility and respect for their life. Through checks and balances we can respect the medicine so graciously abundant in our lives and use it to enhance our time on this Earth.
I hope that anyone going through a hard time right now seeks help and creates a support system. Drugs of any kind, Cannabis or not, should not be considered answers but tools to achieve those answers. Through self reflection and hard work we can all progress past even our wildest dreams. May your journeys feel meaningful and your work be prosperous. Don’t lose sight of the future and remember that there is always a solution to every problem, no matter how far fetched.
If you’re interested in reading my take on other issues, personal or otherwise, please comment on this post and leave your recommendations!
If you too are struggling with depression and don’t want to choose Cannabis as a solution, consider checking out one of my other posts: The Secret Garden Inside Your Mind Only Grows If You Do.