Reefer Sanity by Anonymous
The author is a 60-year-old grandmother and a Ph.D. in one of the helping professions. She teaches graduate students, writes, and has a small psychotherapy practice. In this advisory on use, we learn of the many facets of her relationship with cannabis, from handling strong feelings to social interaction and the selection of tasks while under cannabis’ influence.
The idea of writing about my experiences with marijuana had been lingering in the wings for some time, but it was a statement by a government representative on a radio show about legalizing marijuana for medical uses that put me over the edge. I tuned in reluctantly because the opposition, those who see pot as a dangerous drug, make me so damn mad. Lester Grinspoon was speaking and making sense as usual. Then the government official, who was given the last word on the subject, said “Everyone knows that smoking pot turns people into zombies.” I lurched toward the radio, nearly knocking it off the shelf. This was the last straw. My frustration with the endless flow of misinformation about pot was pushed to the limit. Those who want to keep marijuana in the same class of drugs with morphine and heroin, prevent its use for medical purposes, and fight to keep it illegal are the only voices heard. We who smoke and have valuable information to add to the discussion cannot speak openly because pot is illegal.
What follows is a piece about my relationship with marijuana. I do not speak for all smokers, and it is not my intention to advocate pot smoking. But I hope this will motivate others to write about their own pot smoking experiences.
I have been smoking grass for almost 25 years, starting in my twenties. One Thanksgiving my cousin came to visit, bearing two joints. “I’ve got something for you” he said gleefully. My husband was a bit reluctant, but having tried pot with a college friend a few years back and nothing much happened, I was unimpressed and not worried. That weekend I got high and had all the pleasant and surprising reactions of first time smokers – we laughed a lot, had ground breaking ideas, profound conversations, listened to music with cat ears, and savored the taste of whatever we put in our mouths. Pot became my drug of choice. Never much of a drinker – alcohol muddled my head, made me autistic, and punished me with a headache if I drank too much – marijuana made me feel alert, focused, articulate, and had no next day effects. After that weekend, I usually had some pot on hand. We smoked irregularly, enjoyed turning friends on, and each new stoned experience was a neon lit event.
On the whole, pot has been a friend. It has gotten me through a gut wrenching divorce, bouts of confusion, consuming anxiety, run of the mill worries, and the winter blues. Grass does this for me in two ways. It quiets my emotions when my feelings are so entwined with a problem I cannot think. Marijuana creates distance by turning down my emotional burner, which allows me to get some perspective and think about possible solutions. It also propels and engages me in the present, a reminder that more is happening than my problem and its churning waves of emotions.
One of the emotions that marijuana mutes is anger, a point in its favor. I have never seen or heard a news flash that says, “crazed pot smoker stabs friend in a rage.” Alcohol is frequently associated with violent acts, but pot is not. Here’s an experience I had in Holland a few years back that brought this home to me.
I am on the dark edge of a small town standing in front of a tiny coffee shop with a Jamaican flag taped to the window. My partner wants to go in, but I am reluctant, seeing only men in the small room. My paranoia rises and I can feel my temples constrict. Quickly I move to a stool with my back to the bar, so I can face the room and look around. Reggae music is playing in the background, but the people noise is low. Men are playing chess, pinball, listening to music, talking, or just staring into space. From behind the counter a friendly voice asks “Would you like some juice, a coffee?” “Juice please.” I say, and turn to face him. He smiles, pours an orange juice, and slides the glass down the counter. I am starting to feel calmer. My temples loosen up. Then it comes to me, “This is not a bar.” I realize the chance of snide come-ons, threats and counter threats, angry looks, the potential for violence, was nil. This was a group of pot smokers.
Personally, it’s hard for me to stay angry when I am stoned, which is usually a good thing. I am prone to holding on to anger as if it were a prize. But when high, it’s harder to remain angry and I am more willing to walk down the road to reconciliation.
Pot mutes other feelings besides anger, and this is a down side. There are times when some feelings –sadness, hurt, disappointment, fear, and even anger – must be felt and pot numbs them. I smoked the night I found out my father died, and I regret it still. For those who fear their feelings, pot aids in the attempt to stay numb. Here is James McBride, a teen running from his mother’s suffering in The Color of Water, describing his misuse of pot.
“I had no feelings. I had smothered them. Every time they surged up, I shoved them back down inside of me the way you shove clothing in a drawer and shut it. Weed was my friend, weed kept me running from the truth, and the truth was, my mother was falling apart.”
I think a common misunderstanding about the effects of smoking grass is that is not a social drug, that while high on marijuana, people sit around like opium smokers, each in his or her own little world. This is not true. Marijuana is very social drug. When smoking with others who are high or with people who are at ease with others being stoned, pot stimulates discussion and creates lively interactions. When I smoked before going to social gatherings, I had interesting conversations and experiences with people. Because marijuana can focus my attention on whatever involves me in the moment, I can give someone my full concentration. When straight, I am busy listening to what is being said, what I think about it, and what my response will be. But stoned, I attend to what is not being said. I notice facial expressions, pauses, body movements, use of words, and the unexpressed feelings behind or under the words, so my response to that person flows from the experience of the whole person in that present moment.
Pot allows me to focus. Once I make the decision to tackle a problem, I can hone in on a subject, and nine times out of ten, come up with a plan. Many a workshop, speech, outline for a paper, plan of any kind, was hatched while high. On pot I see the whole, the overall design. In the morning, I fill in the details. However, work which requires thought and attention to detail is out of the question. Anything technical, a task involving numbers, following directions, editing a paper, or typing references is out. I will either get lost in the minutiae or dense out completely. The exceptions here are tasks that do not require thought but do require concentration, for example, painting walls, watering plants, cleaning the slats on my mini blinds, or picking lint off my black coat. For these, pot works just fine. So I’ve learned to choose my task, to know what I can and can’t do well when stoned.
I am a low energy person and struggle to stay above the water line. Pot gives me a lift when I need it most, a boost, a burst of energy to do some tasks that really must be done – organize the papers on my desk, pack and schlep bags of paper to the front of the house, fold the laundry, or make those phone calls that must be made before the day is over.
Seeing and Being
I have yet to mention my favorite use of pot, alone in nature, no agenda, nothing to do, nothing to be, just unstructured time to see, smell, feel the wind, to watch the sun crash over the bay. I love to be outdoors when I am stoned, walking down alleys, the quiet streets in my neighborhood, wild desert trails, and the streets of far-flung cities and towns. The joy and sense of connection with the environment is the main reason I smoke pot.
Marijuana heightens the senses – hearing, seeing, taste, touch, and smell – and I have experienced all my senses sharpened after smoking grass. Not especially an auditory person, pot heightens this sense and I hear sounds and nuances I barely notice when straight: the click clicking of ropes against the mast poles of sail boats, a lone crow breaking the silence of the night. When listening to music, I notice the sounds of the bass, feel the subtle changes in the rhythm, hear themes under the main melody, all ignored when listening to music in a non-stoned state. My dominant sense is visual, so I become keenly aware of color, shape, and texture. What I see is subtly altered, bolded, and riveting: the shades of green on the leaves fluttering on the tree outside my office window, blood red flowers clinging to a wood fence, a line of blue boats against a misty horizon. Taking pictures when high is a favorite activity, and every once in a while, I take a good one.
If I let it, marijuana can slow me to stillness. Thoughts stop, and closing my eyes, I become a receptor for the wind, the sounds of crickets, the smell of lilacs, and to the silence inside.
Pot barrels me into the present and vivifies it. Listening to music, observing your cats, or watching TV can become deeply engrossing, so if you don’t have much structure or focus in your life, smoking grass will lead you into more vagueness and uncertainty. Marijuana does not promote the rigors of self-discipline if they are not already in place. I think this is one reason behind the goofy idea that pot turns people into zombies. Another reason is our societal discomfort with anything that encourages being instead of doing, taking in rather than acting upon, satisfaction and pleasure in the present vs. planning for happiness in the future.
No discussion of pot can be complete without talking about pot’s most common side effect, short-term memory loss. For some people, this may be a small problem, but for me this can be a big problem. When I must do things and go places, I have learned not to smoke. “Did I put the plane tickets in the small pocket of my back pack?” I ask myself, reaching in my pack one more time. Navigating a strange city – sometimes even a familiar city – while stoned is a stupid idea. “Did I pass that house already? Did he say the second street after the park?” It’s the details again. The anxiety of trying to remember where, when, what, and how can ruin the whole experience.
While we are on the topic of side effects, let me list some others that I have experienced. Sometimes I get chilly and short of breath if I am doing something strenuous. Grass makes me sleepy when it wears off, which is good or bad depending when I smoke. Since I mostly smoke in the evening, I am sleepy right about bedtime. Pot gives me dry mouth, so having a drink with me (gum will do) is important. One last familiar side effect is the urge to eat. For me, pot gets my appetite going if I have not eaten, but if I am not hungry, I may reach for a cookie or two, but do not want to eat and eat.
I have had periods when I smoked 3 or 4 times a week, where I didn’t smoke for six to eight weeks, and many periods where I smoke once a day. During the long potless periods, I grumped and thought about smoking for a few days; then I just stopped thinking about it. Of course, there were moments where a joint would have been just the right thing, but even that urge would pass on.
Sometimes I smoke when it’s not a good idea (though over the years I am better at avoiding these times). Some of these are: in the middle of the day which can cause me to be sleepy when I need to be awake and alert, when there is not enough time to enjoy it because I have something to do that requires a non-stoned consciousness, when there is a chore I don’t want to do and I think pot will help, but it doesn’t, and when I am in social situations where I feel I have to be “on” in some way.
But the positives outweigh the negatives, whose effects I have learned to minimize over the years. Mostly I value marijuana for its ability to tether me to the present with concentration and alertness, be it listening to music, cooking dinner, solving a problem, reading, swimming laps, talking to friends, or sitting on the back porch welcoming an evening wind on a warm summer night.