When weed takes over your life.

ELLE (Canada) - - News - By Elianna Lev

adecade ago, I was sit­ting on a lumpy fu­ton in the win­dow­less base­ment that served as my refuge, post-un­re­solved breakup. I had just been told that my ex-boyfriend had met some­one new—a wil­lowy strip­per from Ibiza— and was ar­rang­ing for her to live with him in our old apart­ment. My mind was a tor­nado pow­ered en­tirely by hos­tile thoughts. That’s when one of my new room­mates gave me a joint. Within mo­ments, my brood­ing faded and thoughts of my ex dis­si­pated as quickly as the smoke I ex­haled. Fi­nally, I felt free from pain. Since then, I’ve dili­gently fol­lowed a mantra made fa­mous by (who else?) Snoop Dogg: Smoke weed ev­ery day.

I am a re­luc­tant pot­head. Al­though I’m un­ques­tion­ably in love with the sub­stance that U.S. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama de­scribed as a “bad habit and a vice”—but not more dan­ger­ous than al­co­hol—I con­stantly ques­tion my at­tach­ment to it. My two-joint-a-day habit may im­press cer­tain sets of Wiz Khal­ifa-ob­sessed 15-year-old boys, but as a 35-year-old writer who has smoked it for 10 years, I feel like it’s time to grow up. I don’t want to be think­ing about get­ting high all day, and I don’t want my legacy to be stained with a pot­head la­bel.

The fact that it is tech­ni­cally an il­le­gal sub­stance in Canada—with con­fus­ing caveats when it comes to medic­i­nal use—does noth­ing to de­ter me. Nei­ther do the funds it sucks from my bank ac­count or my de­te­ri­o­rat­ing mem­ory. I have com­pletely blanked on peo­ple I met only a few years ago—in­clud­ing po­ten­tial clients—peo­ple with whom I have had con­ver­sa­tions and email ex­changes. I find my­self dig­ging for cer­tain mem­o­ries—they con­stantly feel fleet­ing. I have a hard time un­der­stand­ing this at­tach­ment. All I know is that I’m pot’s bitch. Or, in med­i­cal terms, an ad­dict.

I’m cer­tainly not alone. Pot’s pres­ence can feel in­escapable. Walk through a park on a sum­mer day and you’ll be hard-pressed not to get a whiff of its sweet, musky smell. A friend who works as a pro­fes­sional space or­ga­nizer tells me that the h

two most com­mon things hid­den in the vast ma­jor­ity of her clients’ pri­vate nooks are sex toys and pot. Mu­sic videos (like Clas­si­fied’s “Higher”), Ri­hanna’s now-departed (and greatly missed) In­sta­gram feed and TV shows like Broad City and Worka­holics are all proof that Mary Jane is heav­ily em­bed­ded in our cul­ture.

Sta­tis­tics paint a dif­fer­ent pic­ture. A 2012 Cana­dian Al­co­hol and Drug Use Mon­i­tor­ing Sur­vey found that the num­ber of reg­u­lar pot users—“chron­ics,” as they’re known in pot­head ver­nac­u­lar— hov­ers at around 630,000. That’s enough peo­ple to fill 12 Madi­son Square Gar­dens. Bro­ken down, this means that 27 per­cent of Cana­di­ans aged 15 years and older said they used pot in one form or an­other daily, or al­most daily, over a three-month pe­riod. In terms of ca­sual users, 7 per­cent of women sur­veyed said they had smoked pot in the past year—com­pared to dou­ble that num­ber among men. (The sur­vey didn’t spec­ify whether this was for recre­ational or med­i­cal use.)

Amy Po­rath-Waller, se­nior re­search an­a­lyst at the Cana­dian Cen­tre on Sub­stance Abuse, says there’s solid ev­i­dence, from tests con­ducted on both an­i­mals and hu­mans, that sug­gests that mar­i­juana can be ad­dic­tive. Rats who were ex­posed to mar­i­juana when they were trained to press a but­ton that re­leased it ob­ses­sively pressed the but­ton when the mar­i­juana was taken away. Hu­mans don’t fare much bet­ter. “Stud­ies in­volv­ing hu­mans who use mar­i­juana heav­ily show that when they ab­stain from use, they exhibit with­drawal symp­toms,” she ex­plains. “It’s a phys­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal de­pen­dency.”

Phys­i­cal ten­sion, sleep dis­tur­bances, mood changes and re­duced ap­petite are all symp­toms that peo­ple ex­pe­ri­ence when go­ing through mar­i­juana with­drawal. These symp­toms may seem mild com­pared to those of with­drawal from harder drugs, like co­caine, heroin or pre­scrip­tion pills, but Po­rath-Waller says it all de­pends on your ge­netic makeup, pre­dis­po­si­tion to ad­dic­tion and how young you are when you start us­ing. Re­search has shown that cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties can be hin­dered by reg­u­lar use, par­tic­u­larly among those who take it up in their teens, when the brain is still de­vel­op­ing. There’s also ev­i­dence that fre­quent and early use can trig­ger psy­chosis and schizophre­nia, par­tic­u­larly among those who have a fam­ily his­tory of men­tal ill­ness.

While I used pot in my teens, I never sought it out. The first time I got high, I felt so over­whelmed by my altered state that I reached Mau­reen Dowd lev­els of para­noia and started to panic that I’d stay that way for­ever. I wasn’t com­fort­able with how it made me feel and gen­er­ally de­clined in­vites to join pot-smok­ing cir­cles at par­ties or shows. I did ad­mire those girls who could hold their own while high—it gave them an edgy and cool aura that I des­per­ately lacked. It just wasn’t a drug I could see my­self ad­just­ing to smoothly.

I re­mem­ber one oc­ca­sion when I in­dulged in a joint and felt eu­phoric on the bus ride home. “I wish I could feel like this for­ever,” I thought to my­self. Look­ing back, I think that mo­ment is what led me to where I am today.

“Just be­cause [ mar­i­juana] doesn’t have phys­i­o­log­i­cal with­drawal symp­toms, it still can be ad­dic­tive for many of its users,” says Dr. J. Wes­ley Boyd, a fac­ulty mem­ber in the psy­chi­a­try depart­ment at Har­vard Med­i­cal School and au­thor of Al­most Ad­dicted. When you smoke pot, a large amount of dopamine—the chem­i­cal in your brain that makes you feel good—is re­leased. If you cut back on that good feel­ing, the brain is go­ing to no­tice. “If you sud­denly take away the dopamine, your brain is go­ing to be scream­ing out—not con­sciously but on a pri­mal level—‘Get me some damn dopamine; make me feel good,’” he says.

I don’t hide my re­la­tion­ship with pot from the peo­ple in my life. While my par­ents chalk my habit up to im­ma­tu­rity, they don’t in­ter­fere be­cause I am a func­tional adult. It has never in­ter­fered with my work—al­though, since I’m a free­lancer, it has cer­tainly got­ten in the way of my mo­ti­va­tion. When things are slow, it’s so h

much eas­ier to watch TMZ Live af­ter smok­ing a spliff than fo­cus on pitch­ing story ideas.

My friends—who are mostly fel­low pot­heads—are amused by my near-weekly pat­tern of declar­ing my in­ten­tion to quit. I know where they keep their stash, and they tol­er­ate it when I help my­self to it. They know that if I’m in a room with pot, it’s a pri­or­ity. The shame I feel from this is sti­fled by my ob­ses­sion to smoke it.

About half of my ro­man­tic re­la­tion­ships— ev­ery­one from a vis­ual-ef­fects artist to (big sur­prise) co­me­di­ans—have been the re­sult of spark­ing a joint. Stoned sex is the best kind of fun; I’ve gone to many ethe­real places when I cli­max. The non-smok­ing guys I date never make a fuss about my en­thu­si­asm for Mary Jane. Some­times I wish they would so it would give me more in­cen­tive to cut back.

I’m open about it with my doc­tors too—one in Toronto and one in Van­cou­ver. The lat­ter says that, with my his­tory of de­pres­sion, it’s not good for me and strongly ad­vises that I cut back or quit al­to­gether. My Toronto doc­tor has a more re­laxed per­spec­tive, telling me that it’s harm­less once in a while, though she won’t go so far as to of­fer up a pre­scrip­tion.

The fact that get­ting a pre­scrip­tion for pot is an op­tion com­pli­cates the mat­ter fur­ther. Mar­i­juana is proven to have nu­mer­ous medic­i­nal ben­e­fits—ev­ery­thing from treat­ing glau­coma to help­ing ease the pain and nau­sea from chemo­ther­apy. While the govern­ment’s of­fi­cial stance is against mar­i­juana, a 2000 Supreme Court rul­ing per­mit­ted pa­tients ac­cess to the drug, which means that Health Canada must dis­trib­ute a sub­stance they of­fi­cially deem il­le­gal. To ob­tain mar­i­juana legally, you must get a note from your doc­tor and your stash through li­censed sup­pli­ers.

The right to smoke mar­i­juana is a cause to which Jodie Emery has com­mit­ted her life. Once de­scribed as a “pot­head in pearls,” Emery is mar­ried to Marc Emery, the so-called “Prince of Pot,” Canada’s more prom­i­nent mar­i­juana ac­tivist. He re­cently served a five-year prison sen­tence in

I have a hard time un­der­stand­ing this at­tach­ment. All I know is that I’m pot’s bitch.

the United States af­ter be­ing ex­tra­dited for sell­ing mar­i­juana seeds on­line. She stresses that de­spite mar­i­juana’s seem­ingly trans­par­ent role in Canada, med­i­cally and cul­tur­ally, there’s a long way to go un­til it’s truly ac­cepted in our coun­try. “There’s still, and al­ways will be, a stigma at­tached to any­one who uses quote un­quote ‘drugs,’” she says. “Mar­i­juana use can be prob­lem­atic for some, but I’d say the rates of prob­lem­atic mar­i­juana use are no higher than the rates of peo­ple who are de­pen­dent on cof­fee, a glass of wine, a cig­a­rette or a bike ride in the evening.”

Ide­ally, I’d rather get hooked on bike rides in the evening than a pricey il­le­gal sub­stance that clearly has the po­ten­tial to en­case me. In April, I wrote a list of bound­aries and goals for how I’d like my re­la­tion­ship with pot to change: Only smoke it when it’s of­fered; limit wak­ing and bak­ing to two times a year (Christ­mas and 420?); ab­stain from smok­ing a min­i­mum of two days a week. I deleted my dealer’s num­ber and gave away my stash. It’s clear that hav­ing it in my pres­ence is not con­ducive to change: Just like with cho­co­late, I will con­sume it without re­straint.

There are weeks when I slip back into my old habits: I beg a friend for my dealer’s num­ber and quickly smoke my way through a quar­ter ounce with the in­ten­tion of mak­ing an­other crack at so­bri­ety when it’s gone.

I feel some­thing shift­ing, though. The less I smoke, the more fo­cused I be­come. The clar­ity that floods me is on a par with how good I feel when I get high. I’ve not felt any with­drawal symp­toms, un­less you count bore­dom. Now when I have free time, I go for a run, stretch or walk my dog. Some­times I even work, but it doesn’t feel quite as in­spired or whim­si­cal as it does af­ter a joint. I’ve also no­ticed that mu­sic doesn’t en­velop me. My eureka ideas don’t come to me with the same force, and I can’t sit and stare at ge­o­met­ri­cal shapes or vi­brant colours with such in­tense fo­cus, but I’m cer­tainly more grounded in re­al­ity. And, as a re­sult, I feel stronger. Pot is slowly turn­ing from a life­style to a treat—some­thing that I in­dulge in be­fore a night out with friends. I sus­pect, and hope, that it’s only a mat­ter of time be­fore my long-held pat­tern will fade into thin air. Just like smoke. ■

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