Me, My Weed and I
Growing up I was probably the most amenable kid I knew. From a very early age I had the idea that the more life experience someone has, the better and more accurate their advice must be, so when my parents or other adults around me spoke, I listened. Well, as long as they spoke in a respectful manner and were not just looking to exert authority that is. This shaped my thoughts and behaviors in many ways, but one of the most prominent, especially in relation to my peers, became my views on alcohol and drugs.
My dad — the most influential adult of them all — was firm yet pragmatic when talking about alcohol. “The brain”, he would say, “is not fully developed until you reach the age of 25, so for every brain cell you kill before that age countless more which would have developed from that cell are lost”. That argument, coupled with a dream of being a professional baller, kept me away from alcohol while people around me from the age of 15 started to discover and explore inebriation. As my dad was the product of an environment where alcohol was the only available stimulant, his lessons about non-alcoholic highs were limited to the classic “drugs are bad” argument which unsurprisingly didn’t impact me nearly as much as the case presented about alcohol. This left room for other adults to shape my views on the alternative highs.
“Heeyeeeeyeeyeey. Smoke weed every day”
Nate Dogg, “The Next Episode”
My school teachers and coaches said even less about drugs than my parents did, so eventually my thoughts were shaped by the only adults who ever spoke to me on the topic; artists. Apart from the occasional ‘crack is whack’, most synthetic drugs were rarely mentioned, but boy did my favorite artists ever seem to like that marijuana. From Manu Chao proclaiming “me gusta marihuana, me gustas tú”, to Smokey getting Craig high in “Friday” when there’s nothing better to do, to Bob Marley connecting ganja to spirituality, to the best album of the late 90’s literally being covered in weed, it seemed that every piece of my cultural upbringing was trying to convince me of the benefits of smoking cannabis. While I maintained the discipline my father had propagated throughout my teens, I always knew that once the time was right I would definitely try smoking marijuana — why wouldn’t I when so much positive and nothing negative was being said about it?
My friends, likely following a trajectory similar to mine in drug education, offered me multiple opportunities to take my first puffs, but I regularly passed. It wasn’t until I was 19 that I for the first time felt ready to give it a go, and in my bedroom, a kitchen removed from my sleeping parents, the first joint to find its way to my lips was rolled. Of course I had no idea how to inhale properly and didn’t feel a thing, but that evening a key threshold was cleared.
That same summer, right before my 20th birthday, a trip to Spain became my true inauguration party in the world of hemp as a friend got a hold of about a month’s worth of greenery for our six day vacation and we decided not to let it go to waste. Besides getting my first proper high, I learned two things during that trip: 1) everyone likes the guy with the hookup, and 2) girls are part of ‘everyone’.
This discovery prompted me to immediately start working on my joint rolling skills and getting familiar with all the steps involved in obtaining weed upon my return home to the Nordics. Sure, getting high was a great bonus, but if I had discovered just that part and not simultaneously the effect of the words “wanna go back to my place and roll one up?” this story would probably have been way shorter.
“Light it up, light it up. Smoke it up, smoke it up. Exhale, exhale”
R. Kelly, “Sex Weed”
While learning the tricks of the trade I was surprised by the ease with which I could obtain something illegal, which up until a few weeks ago barely existed in my world. I quickly became comfortable in dealing with dealers and hence shortened the supply chain required for a high drastically. As these skills were being sharpened the jackpot continued to be those nights when a ‘shotgun’ could be shared with a girl, but smoking up with friends while sharing laughs and discovering the munchies wasn’t bad either. In fact it was pretty damn great, and I began to understand what all those artists were talking about. Comedy was funnier, drama was more dramatic, food tasted better, new revelations were more mind-blowing, and even peace was more peaceful. Besides, being the guy rolling the joints among my boys was a pretty neat reward in itself, and soon I even found myself being the one initiating other friends to the rituals of smoking pot. I had stumbled upon something which provided me with a major ego boost while simultaneously making pretty much everything better.
“Everything’s better when you’re high. If you don’t smoke, I don’t know why”
Wiz Khalifa, “Up”
With the lack of critical thinking regarding the effects of cannabis that my upbringing had left me with, I easily adopted all the positive propaganda I heard or read about weed and spread it to my peers. “It is way better than alcohol and tobacco because of this and that”, “it kills cells at risk of developing cancer”, or “it expands your consciousness”. You name the praise and I have passed it on. Just as easily as I picked up the positives I discarded or justified the negatives. “Sure it is bad for your lungs, but nowhere near tobacco”, or “yeah, some people can get a psychosis but you have to have a preexisting condition for that to happen”. While some of the propaganda surely was true, I wasn’t exactly objective in gathering new information about the all-mighty ganja.
Nevertheless, the fruits that I reaped from expertise in both the theory and practice of weed consumption were too juicy to let potential future downsides get in the way. In a number of social circles I became the guy when it comes to pot, and that status was something I thoroughly enjoyed as there was never a shortage of people in their twenties who, like me, shone up when a baggie was presented. As long as I followed my rule of never smoking up before everything that needs to be done that day is done, there were no worries. This rule stood unbroken throughout my experience with weed and probably saved me from the worst fates associated with my habits.
A rule I had that didn’t stand for too long, however, was to not get high by myself. Somewhere in the back of my head I intuitively felt that smoking alone could spell trouble, but I didn’t yet have the capacity to imagine why. The first time the idea came to me was when two separate sets of plans for a Saturday night had fallen through and I was left with an itching desire to do something but had no available co-pilots at that specific time. I called up a more experienced friend and asked him if it is OK to get high on your own, and he said that as long as you don’t make it into some sad kind of “I’m smoking because nobody wants to be with me” thing, then sure. I wasn’t sad, just antsy to do something, so I went ahead. Once again, it was pretty damn great! The music was massaging my eardrums, the snacks were just as tasty, the comedy just as funny and with no friends around I could even allow myself to explore masturbation which was bound to be great as sex on weed was the best thing I knew in the world. It was. And the sleep that followed… glorious. While a minor event in the grand scheme of things, this evening — probably the best one I had ever experienced without the company of others — marked the passing of another threshold.
In the following years — my last couple of years in college — things appeared to be running along in the same manner as previously, and it is only years later that I understood the subtle changes that were taking place. While smoking weed might not have been the reason for these changes, my relationship with the herb was undoubtedly a focal point throughout.
While I didn’t have a girlfriend during the end of my college tenure, I did have a very steady friend with benefits, a relationship that kept me more than satisfied on that front. This allowed me to get socially lazy. Slowly but surely, an increasing number of weekend evenings were now being spent getting high with a small group of friends instead of socializing. And even if I did go out to mingle, any rejection or other failure of the evening to live up to expectations was offset by a highly satisfactory plan B — getting high. This lifestyle worked well for me. So well that plan B eventually became plan A and I, at 23 years of age, would not only prefer staying in 100% of the time, but also regularly convinced others to do so as well. And if others weren’t convinced, no worries, my weed was still there for me.
“All I need in this world of sin, is a blunt and a bitch to give me (pussy, pussy, pussy, pussy)”
David Sabastian, “Pussy Marijuana”
Throughout college, my confidence was always strong and I had a lot of faith in my abilities, which was reflected in great results both academically and socially. But as everyone does when graduation is looming, I started thinking about the future and the uncertainties it would bring after five years of stability. That confidence started to wither a bit as my highly ambitious peers were starting to sign contracts with companies before the final semester was over, and I wasn’t even close to landing a gig. If I had a time machine, this is the point where I would go back to and tell myself to quit smoking weed, cold turkey — but we’ll get back to the ‘should haves’ later.
As future uncertainty and a slight feeling of inadequacy was starting to creep up on me, I continued my smoking habit. I didn’t have a reason not to, and after all it was my safest bet of them all in terms of feeling good, so why avoid it? Just as with comedy, drama or food, however, any ideas or thoughts of insecurity one might carry are also easily amplified when high, and once that seed is sown all kinds of things can sprout in no time. For me the uncertainty regarding work turned out to just be the tip of the iceberg.
In a flurry all kinds of insecurities started to occupy my thoughts. My family didn’t know about the habits I had picked up, and even if them knowing maybe wouldn’t have been a big deal, the fact that I was hiding something which had become an increasingly big part of my identity the past few years started getting to me. I felt like a bad son, especially in comparison to my older brother who was drug-free, well on his way to becoming a lawyer and was engaged to the love of his life. A joint would help me ease my mind temporarily.
Not surprisingly my friend with benefits eventually found a boyfriend, which in turn cut off my benefits. After years of enjoying a stable supply of physical affection I now found myself having to work to satisfy my needs, and at the worst possible time at that. Not only had the steady supply itself made me lazy, but combined with having smoked weed more days than not in the past six months I was in no shape whatsoever to talk to girls. At least that was how I perceived myself. I have learned later that people around me didn’t see any change in my social skills during this period, but in my mind I was starting to feel like I didn’t deserve anyone. Why would any girl want to date an antisocial junkie like myself? A joint would help me ease my mind temporarily.
Over time my self-image became so bad, and the thoughts of insufficiency so strong that not even a joint would ease my mind. Not even temporarily. Where weed had previously always brought me tranquility, now it could no longer block out those nagging thoughts. Again the amplifying nature of marijuana made itself known and these thoughts started increasing in intensity to unbearable levels. My first panic attack occurred as my friends and I were about to leave my apartment after a smoking session to go and eat. For some reason the unlikely event of my brother being at the same restaurant and seeing me high entered my brain. The idea spun around in my mind as people were leaving and with only one friend remaining in the apartment I caved to the pressure, sat down with a dizzy head and said that I wasn’t sure I could come along, without specifying what was bothering me. My friend cheered me up, brought me along and we had a great dinner that finally did ease my mind. Temporarily.
“Only once the drugs are done, I feel like dying”
Lil Wayne, “I feel like dying”
Over the following months negative thoughts were constantly bombarding my mind, panic attacks frequently followed cannabis consumption and, together with a few other key events, this new state of things plunged me into a depression which lasted more than two years and had me contemplating whether life is worth living. After attempting to take breaks from and ‘ease up’ on smoking, I eventually understood that complete abstinence was required when a joint in Amsterdam propelled me into a panic attack so strong that I could barely breathe. That was almost exactly three years ago today, when I was 25.
If you have ever given up something that was previously a ubiquitous part of your life, you know how challenging it can be. Especially when you for years have found refuge in that very thing you are giving up. Distancing myself from weed meant distancing myself from some of my closest friends, people I knew long before any of us discovered intoxication. This required a great deal of discipline and brought along a risk of damaging essential relationships. I was lucky enough to have those friends welcome me back once I was ready, but it wasn’t until I had built up my self-image again that I could be anywhere near those temptations of the past. A documentary about breathing techniques for sufferers of PTSD vastly improved my handling of panic attacks, which at this point could occur even without intoxication, and over time — about a year after that last joint in Amsterdam — I regained control of my thoughts.
Another way in which I was lucky is that I fell to a fairly ‘kind’ drug. Repeat this story with a stronger substance than THC and there is a good chance I wouldn’t be the one writing it. In retrospect this experience taught me a great deal about myself, addiction and mental health, and I am happy to have gone through it. It has made me a much stronger person and equipped me to better understand and help others who go through similar battles.
What to take away from all of this
While just talking about myself is fun and all, this story would be pointless to share without also jotting down some of the key insights my experience with weed has given me. Hopefully these can be of use for at least one person reading.
Don’t dodge the conversation
When influential people in children’s lives — parents, teachers, coaches, etc — avoid talking about the vices of this world, the blank space will be filled by someone else, and that someone else might have a completely different agenda than teaching good lessons. As of writing this, Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda”, where she — among other nuggets — proclaims “I let him hit it, ’cause he slang cocaine” has 679 767 703 views on YouTube. While I am fully in favor of Ms. Minaj expressing herself however she pleases, just imagine how many young boys and girls get these kinds of lessons about drugs, sex or other adult aspects of life from the music industry or other sources whose main objective is making money, not providing healthy values. Anyone who is in position to influence and cares about future generations’ well-being should embrace even the tougher conversations, because otherwise someone else will.
Don’t lie about drugs and other vices
The great Louis CK phrased it best when he in one of his comedy specials said that he can’t tell his kids with a straight face that drugs are bad, instead proclaiming that “drugs are so fucking good, that they’ll ruin your life”. When anyone tells a kid (or an adult for that matter) that “drugs are bad”, they are trying to take a shortcut. When that shortcut backfires, it can have devastating effects on people’s lives. Drugs are not bad, they are awesome. It’s the fact that drugs are awesome that makes them dangerous. Some drugs are so damn awesome that you will never enjoy anything else in life as much, and nothing besides that high will even matter.
While telling kids that drugs are awesome might sound counterintuitive, it is the truth, and I believe educating based on truth is far more efficient than fear-mongering. By explaining how and why something so awesome is bound to make you addicted, slow down your personal development, or over time turn on you and make you unhappy instead of happy, you might not defer every individual kid from trying drugs, but you will most assuredly make them better equipped to deal with a potential lapse than by saying “drugs are bad”. And this logic applies to gambling, pornography or anything else that high-jacks your reward system and gives you instantaneous satisfaction like drugs do.
With that being said, drugs of course also have plenty of other effects besides being awesome, most of them negative, and these have to be part of the education as well. The guideline has to be ‘the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth’ when these topics are discussed.
If you are going to do drugs, be aware of yourself
While some drugs are impossible to keep doing for a longer while without your life being thoroughly affected, there are drugs — including weed — which can be consumed on a fairly regular basis during a whole life without catastrophic effects or seemingly any negatives. This is absolutely true for many people and makes incorporation of the awesomeness of marijuana into one’s lifestyle pretty appealing. The problem is that this can change together with your own personal development or as a result of surrounding events in your life. That is the key lesson from my experience. The drug itself was arguably not very harmful to me when I was in a good place mentally, but once my well-being started to shift due to external events and internal worries the effects became something completely different.
If you are doing drugs or plan to do so in the future, you have to make sure you are in the right mindset where you can handle the awesomeness without suffering from a depression afterwards. If your mindset changes over time, reevaluate your decisions. Reevaluating your decisions while being under the influence of a drug is not a great idea, so if you do have stuff, events, thoughts which are bothering you, give yourself some sober time to deal with whatever it is you need to figure out before making the decision to keep doing drugs.
Remember that point I mentioned earlier where I would have gone if I had a time machine? If I at that moment would have given myself some sober time to think about my future without taking the easy escapes to happiness that weed offered me, I would likely have dealt with my insecurities and uncertainties in a healthy way, reassured myself of my abilities and skipped the whole depression.
We change all the time, and so does the effect of drugs on our minds. As the changes are most rapid in our youth, this truth about drugs is one of the most important ones to tell kids. Again it may not defer everyone from trying, but it will make them understand better that something that’s awesome today might not be so tomorrow, and hopefully help them rethink when change happens.
This is the first time I share this story beyond my closest friends. Hopefully it can be of help to you or others around you. Share freely, and if you happen to have any questions you can shoot me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org.