At the age of 31, I made the educated decision to become a stoner.
Deciding to use drugs was not easy for me. Someone very close to me is an active heroin addict. His addiction is, quite simply, the worst thing that has ever happened in my life. So far he has survived multiple car accidents, suicide attempts and literally overdosing on the side of a road. I often lay awake at night, paralyzed with worry, praying to a God that I don't believe exists for his health, his safety, his recovery.
But here is another thing that keeps me up at night and complicates my everyday life. I have a rare disease called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. They call it a “connective tissue disorder” and it is a genetic mutation in my collagen that results in severe pain and increased elasticity in my body structures.
People with EDS have symptoms that vary wildly in severity, but what it generally amounts to for me is fragile skin, arthritis-type complaints, bouts of massive fatigue and daily dislocations of my loose joints. There are multiple other serious long-term problems expected, too, but so far I have been lucky.
For someone with my disease, I am in remarkably good condition. Sure, I'm covered in scars, but I've only had to go through a few surgeries. And getting around in my daily life hasn't become too hard. Yet.
Having EDS is like having a bomb counting down inside your body. I know that any day I might wake to find myself immobile or otherwise fucked, so I embrace my abilities and freedoms now while I still have them. I push myself when I shouldn't, I stand for too long, I stay out too late and I take many unadvised risks.
Chronic pain is a tricky bitch. It's a hard thing for others to comprehend and an even harder thing to deal with mentally. Those who know me well can usually tell when I'm actually in severe pain or when something has gone wrong -- as much as I try to hide it, I frequently appear uncomfortable.
After shifting in my seat all night, I'll excuse myself from dinners, parties and events because sometimes I just can't anymore. And while I don't mind explaining myself and my weirdness, to do so conflicts with the absolute denial that I feel keeps me going. My pain is frequently the elephant in the room and I'm reluctant to acknowledge it, even to myself.
But lately there was something that I had to admit: the pain was getting too bad. I knew that I could see any doctor and be prescribed morphine pills, Oxycontin, Opana, Fentanyl patches (or anything else generally given to those with a terminal illness) but I'm terrified of the addictive qualities, side effects and ever-increasing dosages of narcotics. Once you get on that train, it's hard to get off.
Distrustful of the White Man's Medicine, I've explored every holistic option I could find. Chiropractics, acupuncture, meditation, yoga, colonics, I tried them all. And while they all seemed to have their benefits, nothing really helped to deaden the pain.
Then recently as the weather started to turn colder, my body rebelled. My joints and muscles promptly locked up, causing serious exhaustion and constant dislocations. All of my stubbornness concerning my condition, my constant denial and my goddamn positive attitude weren't doing shit. I was facing major pain. All day. Every day.
That's when I decided that I would start getting high.
For years, I'd read articles about the beneficial qualities of marijuana. Pot is pretty much the only universally recommended course of treatment for people with my disease, even if doctors are forced to whisper it to you when no one else is around. (This has happened to me at least eight times.)
Marijuana is proven to be a pain reliever, a muscle relaxer, an anxiety reducer, a sleep aid and an anti-inflammatory. These are all things that I should warmly welcome into my life, and if a doctor had handed it to me in a pill, I probably wouldn't have questioned it. But there are no provisions for medical marijuana in my state. It is only categorized as an illegal street drug. And I needed to think about it. I'm really square. My idea of a good time is listening to music or reading books or hanging out with dogs. Recreational drug use is just not for me.
Before I started getting high on the regular, I had to get past a whole bunch of mental bullshit. I've witnessed first-hand the destructive nature of drugs. Drugs have absolutely ruined my life, even if I wasn't the one taking them.
I see, very clearly, that pot and heroin are not the same thing. But in my opinion, pot is still bad. It's certainly not heroin bad, but it's still bad in a very sneaky, insidious way. I'd watched it slowly turn plenty of friends and every loser (read: musician) I'd ever dated into unambitious hot messes. That whole lazy leaf lifestyle is just not for me. I have shit to get done. It's not really important shit, but it's my shit and I love it.
I also had many irrational concerns about what it all meant. I loathe everything about weed culture, from the assumed camaraderie with fellow users on down to the fashion. What if pot turned me into damn dirty hippie? I'm already an educated long-haired vegetarian liberal, could I really deal with being a pot smoker, too? What if I was overcome with the desire to buy rope sandals and tie-dye? What if I wanted to attend laser light shows? What if, God help me, I started to like the Doors?
The last time I tried to smoke pot “for fun” was early this spring. It was sort of a test to see if I could handle it. I could not. I got way too high and my limbs felt heavy and my brain felt dumb. I looked at my blazed smoking companion's droopy face and thought, This is not my life. This is not for me.
Then I closed my eyes for what felt like hours and waited for the uneasy feeling to pass. And though my pain did seem to magically lessen and I slept like a Benadryl-dosed baby that night, the zombie effect made me reluctant to pursue pot as a source of full-time pain management.
Then along came the change in weather and, suddenly, something had to be done. Immediately. My body would not allow any more dicking around. Fresh out of other options, I decided that I had to, uh, give peace a chance. Finding a reliable dealer was easy, but I was very unsure about the rest of the process. I'd rather die than own a weed apparatus with a picture of Bob fucking Marley on it, so I was pleasantly surprised when I visited my local head shop and found both a miniscule glass one hitter and a gorgeous ultra-modern clear acrylic dugout.
With guidance and advice from more experienced friends, I've learned a lot in these first few weeks of my new weed-smoking life. There are some tricks to this grass business, and a few things have become readily apparent.
For starters, before I'd been smoking way too much shitty weed, and what I needed to be doing was to smoke just a small amount of really good weed. Just like everything else in life, you must find a balance. And, as they say, all things in moderation.
As it is now, I usually only smoke a teeny bit right before I go to sleep. I did get daytime stoned once just to see if I could handle it, and all that happened was a friend and I sat outside on my balcony and giggled in the sunshine. The pot also helped to facilitate a long-overdue dreamy make out session set to the soundtrack of My Bloody Valentine's Loveless, so that's definitely a plus.
In fact, I don't think I've experienced any negative side effects yet at all, but I've approached this whole thing slowly and with great caution. So far, the difference in my life has been incredible. As far as I can tell, I'm in less pain (the pot doesn't make it disappear completely, but it knocks the edge off), I'm sleeping better, I'm more active, my mood has improved and, most importantly, I'm still getting my work completed. Consider me converted.
If the weed stops working, or it starts interfering with my life or I'm tempted to buy patchwork anything, then I will quit. If that happens, I'll be forced to start taking prescription narcotics.
If I want to continue to live as a functioning human, I won't have a choice. And that scares me more than the Grateful Dead and Phish combined. So until then, pass the pipe.