A Life-Cycle Perspective on Cannabis by Anonymous
The writer is a Social Worker in New York, where he lives with his wife of twenty-three years, five children and a variety of animals. Exposed to the extremes of cocaine, alcohol, and opiate addictions in his clients, he recognizes the usefulness of cannabis to reduce addictive behavior, and as a potential adjunct in the treatment of mental illness and wasting diseases. Observing that life may be viewed “through a glass, darkly,” he considers cannabis use as a private spiritual activity to develop awareness of the sacredness of existence.
After almost thirty-five years as a pothead, I guess I should be a basket case by now. At least that’s what the government sponsored disinformation on this wonderful plant would suggest. Yet for me as for so many others, marijuana has only added to and never subtracted from life’s richness and meaning.
I smoke a bowl or joint once a week or less often, usually on weekends or during yearly vacations from my high stress job. I find that I get as high as is useful with just a few inhalations, though I also sometimes enjoy working pot into food recipes for a more gradual onset and longer lasting high. I buy from a trusted friend and sometimes go for months without smoking, with no pangs of withdrawal or craving.
When I started smoking pot as a teenager, I did so more often and for some of the same reasons that I do now all these years later. Then it was about joining friends to talk about the war in Vietnam and what we were doing to oppose and/or avoid participating in it. But it was also about experiencing the beauties of nature with fresh vision and a deepening realization of the interconnectedness of things. That sense of the sacred and underlying unity inherent in all existence is still what resonates for me in the marijuana experience after all these years. Cannabis did not prevent me from being an honors student in high school or graduating from an Ivy League college to pursue a career. Nor did it lead me to use cocaine, heroin, speed or downers, although any of these substances were certainly available despite prohibition, then as now.
I do drink coffee but am careful to limit frequency and quantity. I did get hooked on tobacco and had actually started smoking it before I ever tried pot. I was finally able to quit this addiction after an LSD experience left me with a deep and certain sense of being completely free of the need to smoke cigarettes. The nicotine withdrawal was still there over the next week or so, but I simply knew on some level that I would never smoke it again. I haven’t used hallucinogens in many years and feel that I got what I was supposed to get out of those valuable and powerful experiences. Having lost a dear cousin to lung cancer caused by years of a tobacco addiction she was never able to break free from, I figure that LSD may well have saved my life. I haven’t touched a cigarette in over twenty years, since being spontaneously released from that addiction.
Nor did cannabis lead me to the abuse of alcohol, a truly dangerous drug that was and still is ubiquitous. I drink wine occasionally but don’t organize my life around it and I don’t drink to the point of intoxication. Even as a young person, I never liked the feeling of being intoxicated and wondered why anyone would seek out an experience that so often leads to foolish and often dangerous behavior, not to mention headaches, vomiting and even crippling addiction. I go to work every day with few sick days and am in excellent health according to my family doctor, a well regarded physician who knows I smoke pot and seems unconcerned about it.
I’m employed as a credentialed Social Worker and addictions counselor, supervising staff in a program that works with adults who suffer from a variety of severe forms of mental and emotional disturbances as well as various addictions. Much of my work is done in the field, where the clients are, as they often are unwilling or unable to come to an office to be seen, at least initially. It is considered the highest-risk area of Social Work practice as far as personal safety is concerned, with deadly assaults a not uncommon event, though I have yet to have had a violent incident occur to me (thank God). I love my work and think my clients can tell that I respect and enjoy being with them. They teach me so much about survival and meeting life on its own terms every day. I am also a community volunteer, serving on a not-for-profit Board that works to relieve poverty around the world. I am active in my church and am an adoptive parent of a special needs child. I pay my taxes and am a good neighbor.
I am also a criminal of sorts, on those sunny afternoons when I light up before going out to work in my garden, do housework, settle in with a symphony, walk my dog or take a hike with my kids. I find that marijuana assists me in being more present in each moment and activity, however ordinary and mundane. I am more attentive and aware of the nuances of meaning in what is happening around and inside me, and often use marijuana in a conscious effort to problem solve and strategize, finding that solutions hold up well when I return to work. So, I refuse to be defined or constrained by laws seeking to govern what for me amounts to a private spiritual activity that I believe is protected by my country’s founding documents and principals. As these marijuana laws have no moral basis or credibility, I continue my pursuit of freedom, happiness and a life that seeks to harm to no one. Marijuana use has had much to do with my evolving spirituality, which in recent years has included the practice of meditation and yoga. It informs my awareness of the sacredness of all life, which led me to abandon meat-eating years ago.
When I smoke I do so intentionally, with an expectation that I will be renewed in an experience of the beauty and mystery of life. Although this awareness is certainly available without the use of cannabis, I am convinced that this versatile and beneficent plant was created at least in part to strengthen our connections to the sacred and transcendent. The Christian scriptures say that in this life we see “through a glass darkly” and I believe that cannabis can clarify and sharpen our vision in some amazing ways when used intentionally. Maybe this is why all humans are born with cannabis receptor sites hard-wired into their brains.
As I entered middle age, I found that marijuana’s medical usefulness became more apparent. An immobilizing back condition began after rototilling my garden eight years ago and sent me to the hospital by ambulance. It has stayed in remission mainly through the spiritual program I just described. But when I do have a flare-up after some vigorous activity I know that grass is the best analgesic and anti-spasmodic available to me. It certainly works better in quickly targeting pain, restoring full range of motion and relieving debilitating muscle spasms than the addictive drugs my doctor initially suggested with all their side effects. My physician seemed familiar with and supportive of this medical application of cannabis when I told him about how it works for me. How sad that he can prescribe dangerous and less effective drugs but not cannabis.
When my clients abandon their addictions to cocaine or opiates or alcohol, a number of them over the years have told me that marijuana quells craving for these drugs and allows them to function more normally without these other substances, holding onto a level of sobriety they and their helpers often would have thought impossible for them to achieve. With clients who suffer with major mental illnesses such as schizophrenia or bipolar conditions, a number have confided that pot helps to stabilize mood and reduce the severity of psychotic symptoms.
One such person I work with tends to avoid food and appears almost skeletal at times. When he locates pot his appetite and interest in food is restored and his psychotic symptoms are reduced. The key for most seems to be finding good quality cannabis and titrating the dose carefully with less being more, insofar as its effectiveness is concerned. Too much and the symptoms escalate instead of diminish. I wonder what benefits and applications await discovery in the field of treating mental illnesses with THC if ever the roadblocks to research and development are lifted.
When a colleague and friend was dying of cancer, it was my pleasure and privilege to assist him in obtaining the sacred plant, after his own physician recommended cannabis to reduce nausea and boost appetite, which it did wonderfully. He was a minister who to my knowledge had no prior experience with illegal plants of any kind, but did not hesitate to follow his doctor’s advice when he needed fast, effective relief.
When my little boy died tragically ten years ago, I once again found cannabis to be effective but in a different way. I had never used pot as an antidepressant but after trying Prozac to deal with my devastating loss I found it had side effects I did not like and tended to produce, at least in my experience, a certain flattening and reduced range of feeling. I hadn’t used pot after my loss, assuming it might amplify my depressive symptoms but decided to give it a try after becoming discouraged with what the pharmacy had to offer. To my surprise, I found it helped me not only to feel less despondent, but actually helped me to do the grief work I needed to do.
I was able to lean into the pain more deeply and to move beyond that towards integration of my loss into an ongoing life that once again seemed worth living. I had also lost a lot of weight due to depression and found my appetite and enjoyment of food restored. I began once again to find enjoyment in hobbies and everyday things that had lost meaning after my son’s death. I found there was a carry-over effect in terms of the lifted mood, lasting for days after only using a small amount of cannabis. Again I wondered what the potentials of THC could be in the treatment of depression if only full-scale research and clinical trials were allowed in this area.
I have five children, ranging in age from ten to nineteen years of age, three of them adopted. Although I don’t smoke pot around them, I have answered their questions about cannabis truthfully and with a clear conscience about my own use, of which they are aware. I am able to draw upon my training and education when I tell them that marijuana is not the dangerous drug the school tells them about. I let them know that this wonderful plant has many uses ranging from industrial to medical, spiritual to recreational.
I am able to draw on my own and my friends’ experiences when I tell them that cannabis can certainly enrich and sustain life in many ways. I tell them that like driving a car or having sex; it is best used responsibly by adults. I tell them it is not for everyone and can be an unpleasant experience for some, especially novice users and/or those with preexisting emotional disorders. My oldest tried pot earlier this year and decided it was not for her, at least at this point in her life. It was easy for her to share her impressions with me and I have always been grateful that my children seem able to talk about their feelings and experiences quite readily with me. I think knowing that their dear old dad smokes pot takes away much of the allure that it might otherwise have for them, which is just fine with me. In my view, anyone old enough to vote or go to war is old enough to enjoy pot responsibly and I look forward to sharing this experience with one or more of my own children someday, whether big brother approves or not.