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When I was in business school, I was diagnosed with major depression, and then re-diagnosed with bipolar disorder several years later. Throughout the years I’d tried dozens of medications to varying effects; some of them never worked, some worked and made me feel terrible, and most of them stopped working after a few years and sent me into a psychiatric hospital for adjustment and observation.
After the most recent stint in the looney bin, I began to wonder if I could handle the ups and downs of medication changes over the course of my life. Then it happened that a friend told me that he’d been managing his depression with marijuana for 20 years. Lightbulb!
Like everyone else, I’d smoked weed in college and had walked around saying, “Oh my God, I’m SOOO high,” at varying intervals before someone gave me a bag of Cheetos. Since then, I’d smoked whenever it was offered but had never gone out and bought it myself. I’m not above buying my own doobage, rather I don’t think I’m cool enough. I’m kind of nerdy and basically afraid that once I buy my own stash, it will be on my permanent record and I’ll no longer be a “good girl.”
Also, every time I’ve thought that I could use a puff of marijuana, a friend or acquaintance was around to offer one. How did one locate a marijuana salesman? Would it be in bad form to proclaim, mid-toke, “I say, this is great stuff. Might you connect me with your marijuana distributor?” Could you Google “weed man” without getting arrested? Was there delivery within Manhattan?
Luckily, it’s easy to get marijuana in New York City, but not so easy to narrow down your choices when you want to do more than just get high. I decided to set out in search of a way to get and use some medical grade marijuana in New York City.
As it happens, my roommate’s friend John* is what you’d call a weed enthusiast. He smokes nearly every day, sometimes for recreation and sometimes for the pain in his reconstructed shoulder. He’d brought some smoke to the apartment on a random Friday night and I became curious, joining them instead of abstaining like an upstanding citizen.
John, happy to share his knowledge, began telling me about the strain of marijuana that he’d brought over. Until then, I didn’t really know there were different strains, other than recalling that I’d smoked something called Blue Hawaiian in Los Angeles once; it had made me feel really weepy and crave a Peach Pleasure Jamba Juice. Jamba was closed at the time. I cried. It was not fun.
On that particular night, John had brought over a variety called OG Kush, known to impact pain, depression and stress. Since I was ultimately looking to improve my depressive symptoms - fatigue, low mood, low energy - I agreed to smoke some of the blunt I saw John roll, interested in seeing how it would affect me. After a few puffs, I felt pretty good. I was talkative (easy to witness), and funny (so I believed) and having a good time. After a few more puffs, which quickly became my share of two blunts, I disappeared into my bedroom and fell asleep in my clothes. Experiment thwarted, but I felt like I was on the right track.
The next time John came to the apartment, he brought two different kinds of weed with him that were supposed to be “social,” the kind of thing you could smoke before a party or going out to a movie and be fairly high yet mostly lucid. I thought that a more social experience would be closer to what I wanted -- something to lift my depression while leaving me coherent and awake. After we smoked, we went down the street to a wine tasting. I was in a good mood, but felt like I was going to tip over. Later that night, I wound up face-down on my bed in my clothes. Again.
I started to realize that I was probably smoking the wrong strains of marijuana, smoking too much of them, and combining marijuana and alcohol before knowing how they would affect me other than putting me to bed. Before the next time John came over, I started my own weed research on an app called Leafly and a website called iBudTender. I looked for strains that were indicated for depression and mood disorders, as well as those that were known to provide creativity and mental clarity. In addition to recommendations of cannabis strains, I also got lots of science and I dig that stuff.
Through weed websites and apps, I learned that I should look for certain compounds in the weed I smoked, notably cannabinoids, chemical compounds that cause medical symptom relief. I’d already known about THC, but learned that I should look for high levels of that cannabinoid for a more medical-grade product.
Other components of marijuana, like the oils called terpenes, regulate its medical effects. I learned that I should look for limonene, a terpene that elevates mood. I wondered if I could work this knowledge into dinner party small talk: “Did you know that synthetic versions of marijuana compounds have been used in psychotropic medications? No? Well they have. Can you please pass the potatoes, I have a wicked case of the munchies.”
After completing my research and settling on a few strains to try, I contacted John to see if his weed connection could help me out. John texted me a menu - who knew that the weed man had a weekly menu? - and told me that he could do the transaction for me. Apparently you can’t share your weed man’s contact information either, which is simultaneously bad for business and good for the legal situation. With all of the readily-available information, I’d almost forgotten that I was trying to do something illegal, if wildly popular.
I gave John my money and returned to his house the next day to retrieve my package, wrapped in toilet paper which, apparently, dampened the smell. (John’s weed purveyor has since switched from Charmin to vacuum-sealed plastic for product transport, which is far less unsightly.) I put the fragrant TP bundle into a clamp-locked food container and made my way back home.
I was kind of proud of myself for buying marijuana, like I was some kind of grownup. To hell with my permanent record! I texted a few friends to tell them about it; “I have my own stash--tee hee!” I’m a dork.
Finally, it was time to test out my wares. Of course I had no pipe, no bong, and I’d never even rolled a manicotti let alone a marijuana cigarette, so I went to the corner store for rolling papers or whatever you bought in this situation. John had told me to get some kind of cigar for a blunt, so I bought cigarillos thinking they were the right thing. When I got to my apartment I found that I had not purchased the right accoutrement. I’d gotten outsized cigarettes wrapped with tobacco instead of paper. Using my smarts, I figured I could slice the wrapper open with a razor blade from my pedicure kit. All of my IQ points being employed for pot smoking. I reminded myself that I was on a medical journey.
Once I’d sliced through the wrapper and discarded the shredded insides, I had a small, raggedy, brown Post-it note that I knew I had to roll and lick. I’d broken up a small bud into the fold of a Norwegian Cruise Line mailer, and I proceeded to transfer it into my erstwhile wrapper. To say that it took me a long time would be understating my ineptitude. I dropped nuggets on the floor and hurried to get them away from my cat. I got weed in my mouth trying to seal the edges. I almost dropped the entire works on the floor, which would’ve made me sad because marijuana is not cheap for a freelance writer.
Finally, I had some semblance of a mini-blunt, a brown joint, something fairly smokeable. I decided to employ some science to my smoke, since I knew the effect I was seeking. I would take 4 puffs, wait for an effect, and perhaps have one or two more for good measure.
The strain I tried was called Voodoo and though I didn’t like the name, I did like the effect. The information on Leafly promised that I’d feel happy, relaxed and euphoric. My effects were something similar. I felt very good, very positive, and productive. And my mind was clear. I wasn’t hungry but decided to make dinner. The vegetables that I chopped for my pasta sauce were surprisingly uniform, and I even washed my dishes as I cooked. This was new.
The second time I tried Voodoo I used the same process and got the same results: happy, positive mood, expert chopping and kitchen cleaning skills. The third time I tried it I was in a low mood; I was pre-menstrual and having a disagreement with the dude I was seeing. I wanted to make sure that the Voodoo could encourage the same heights of disposition when I started from a lower place. I decided to take a few more puffs than I had in other instances to see what would happen. Luckily enough, it did raise my mood to a higher-than-normal level. I wasn’t euphoric necessarily, but I did feel more energetic and content. No chopping, but I did clean my kitchen, take out the trash and empty the litter box.
After finishing my stash a few weeks later, I realized that I could probably smoke Voodoo during the day if I was feeling depressed and had to complete several tasks. I’m not sure it’s the right thing for working, since I was a bit too impaired to write, or at least to feel like I could write coherently. And I never talked to my dad on the phone because I was afraid that he’d think I was high. Not that he knows any more about drugs than I do, since I once had to lecture him about the effects of cocaine. Still, talking to parents when high is probably a bad idea and I’m not going to try it.
I have yet to find the strain of marijuana that I’d use for continual medication. I’d need to be intellectually productive and mentally coherent in order for it to work. I have a list of other strains that combine happiness with more focus and creativity and I’ll be trying those when I can. But for now, the pharmacist will remain my only source of mind-altering drugs.
* Name has been changed.