If We Were Honest With Ourselves, We’d Admit That Alcohol And Pandemics Simply Do Not Mix

Pandemics don’t sit well with social creatures. Covid19 would be a lot easier to beat if humans were more like snow leopards — exceptional at self-isolating from other snow leopards. But, humans mostly crave each others’ company. We like socializing. We especially like drinking while socializing. Sometimes, in fact, we like the drinking more than we even like the socializing. If we socialized without drinking, we’d feel like we didn’t really quite “socialize” properly. Don’t get me wrong — there’s nothing wrong with either self-medicating or self-medicating together. But the last thing we need is a “medicine” (alcohol) that makes us more susceptible to a pathogen by encouraging stupid behavior.

I stopped drinking alcohol four years ago. I didn’t mean to. The mood stabilizer I started taking to treat a suicidal depression gives all alcohol a terrible, grapefruit skin-like aftertaste. Even a big, inky red loaded with fruit and depth suddenly became grapefruit skin on the finish. Given the choice between not being suicidally depressed and not drinking alcohol because of the aftertaste, I turned my back on a collection of lovely reds, single malt scotches and all sorts of interesting alcohols. I walked away from bracing, ice cold gin martinis and sumptuously malty IPAs. I didn’t just drink alcohol, I savored it. I collected it. I celebrated it.

These days, I self medicate almost exclusively with cannabis. I could not be happier. Literally.

Being a non-drinker opened my eyes to both my own excessive drinking and — sorry, guys — everyone else’s too. Don’t take this personally. It’s just a stone cold fact: you all drink too much. You think about alcohol too much. You don’t appreciate how much it impacts you because you haven’t the (non-drinker’s) perspective. It’s fascinating to go to a bar or party (back when we used to do things like that) and, over the course of a few hours, watch everyone you’re with become less coherent. Or worse. I can’t tell you how many times, over the last four years, I’ve watched friends and loved ones become painfully silly the more they drank and thought “There but for the grace of alcohol go I”.

We know this to be true: the more alcohol you drink, the more your motor skills diminish. The more your thoughts blur together. The more your emotions — anger especially — spark to life. Alcohol obliterates our capacity to edit ourselves. In vinas veritas? Bullshit. In vinas stuff you shouldn’t say. Not because it’s “true” but because however you’re going to say it, you’re going to say it inelegantly. You’re not going to articulate the nuances of your feelings, you’re going to take a huge emotional dump all over the person you’re focused on.

How much trouble has alcohol caused at sporting events around the world? How much rioting? How many championship celebrations have morphed into street violence? Take alcohol out of those equations and — I betcha — those equations all end differently.

Imagine for a second that instead of serving alcohol at sporting events they served cannabis. Think there’d be any violence at the end of a soccer match? Hell, no! Cannabis doesn’t work in our brains the same way alcohol does. Not even remotely. Ever see gangs of people hopped up on cannabis rioting? No? There’s a reason for that. Cannabis does not compel you to do anything like that.

Cannabis (especially sativas) focus the mind while drenching you in feelings of mild euphoria. One can appreciate nuances of the game one would miss on alcohol. And there’s no anger. Oh, yeah, sure — if your team’s playing badly, it’s not nearly as much fun as when your team’s winning. But a stadium filled with fans high on pot would never turn violent. They might hug each other a little too tightly. They might praise each other a little too effusively. They might be asleep.

I had the pleasure of going (only once unfortunately) to LA’s first cannabis cafe. It was awesome. At the time I went they didn’t serve alcohol; I’m not sure if that ever changed; I hope it didn’t. A couple of quick takeaways: the most striking thing to me was how the place sounded. For starters, the profit-driving product for sale wasn’t alcohol — served in glasses — it was cannabis — served in joints or as ground flower or concentrate. One heard lighters flicking a lot. But very little clinking of glass. Cocktails weren’t be mixed. Beer bottles weren’t being opened. Toasts weren’t being made.

And what happens after the drinking begins — that wasn’t happening either as my friend Johnny and I sat there, enjoying first the giant sativa joint we bought to share and then a very good lunch: people getting louder. People getting high on cannabis may laugh a lot more — and there was abundant laughter in the room (joyful, delighted, high-as-a-kite laughter), but no one got boisterous the way alcohol makes people boisterous. Cannabis, by contrast, draws people inward.

They get a little quieter actually, more thoughtful. Johnny and I — the THC from the sativa (I don’t recall what strains were blended into it) drenching our brains — had a very good, very intense conversation about what we were experiencing. We couldn’t help noticing how many of the tables around us were doing the same thing — in the same normal tone of voice. That’s the thing, ya see: unless you’re (deliberately) wasted? Most people on cannabis don’t change much from when they’re NOT on cannabis.

So — the Cannabis Cafe was quieter because less glass clinking, more conversation using indoor voices exclusively, more focus and euphoria. Cannabis, by the way, makes food taste awesome. And the menu was created with a clear understanding of the ways pot makes you hungry and what it makes you hungry for. The Korean tacos would have been good anyway. On pot, they were transcendently good.

One other relevant observation. The cafe has a parking lot right next to it — with valet service. Johnny and I both parked on the street and walked a half block or so to the cafe. When our ninety minutes were done (that’s all the time you get — there’s a line of people waiting for your table after all), Johnny and I paid our bill and headed for the door. Like everyone else, we’d just spent 90 minutes eating and getting high.

Just outside the cafe’s front door, Johnny and I watched the other diners get their keys from the valet, climb into their cars and drive off. Johnny and I then said our good-byes (and how much we enjoyed ourselves) and headed off to our cars — which we both got into and drove off. Having — all of us — just smoked dope. Know how many traffic accidents happened just outside the cafe (as “high” drivers, oblivious because they’d smoked weed turned into oncoming traffic)? Zero.

There’s a reason. Alcohol and THC do not act on our brains the same way. Though we treat them like they do, they simply do not. While alcohol impairs your motor skills almost from the get-go, THC doesn’t. There’s data from the National Highway Transportation that makes the point. It states in fact:

“…Most marijuana-intoxicated drivers show only modest impairments on actual road tests.3738 Experienced smokers who drive on a set course show almost no functional impairment under the influence of marijuana, except when it is combined with alcohol.”

It does not matter how experienced a drinker you are. You will always be impaired by a certain amount of alcohol. It’s just math — and blood-alcohol chemistry. The same simply is not true of marijuana.

Hell, I take a hit or two of Durban Poison (a wonderful classic sativa) before playing tennis because it improves my timing. The THC slows my thought process down (I’m hypomanic) just enough so I can focus on the ball. I see it far better WITH the THC in me than without. I know where I have to be to put the ball where I want it to go. Another benefit I’ve noticed? My timing is better because I become more “coachable”.

I listen to myself. I make the necessary adjustments in order to play better. And then I do.

Alcohol, by contrast, causes terrible decision-making. People say things they shouldn’t. They have sex they shouldn’t have with people they shouldn’t have sex with. They get into their cars and turn on the ignition.

Or they go out drinking with friends during a pandemic.

If there was more of me and less of you, I’d try to stage an intervention on your behalf. Alas, there’s not so I can’t. I totally get our obsession with drinking. It used to be my obsession. But, these days, if I get hurt or die in a drunk driving accident, I know going in I won’t be the cause. Neither will my medication. I can’t control drunk drivers.

Neither can I control assholes who won’t wear a mask. I wouldn’t even try.

They’re probably drunk.

An Ode To Waking And Baking

Two facts: I have never been busier in my entire life AND I have never been more “stoned” in my entire life. Those facts don’t contradict each other. Actually, they complement each other. Pot and productivity go hand in hand. It’s hard to describe to people who are fearful of pot that it’s not just one thing — a get you impossibly high product. It’s a variety of things. Because it does a variety of things to your brain chemistry. Most cannabis strains have been hybridized one way or another; sativas are more focus forward (like a red wine can be fruit forward) while indicas are more euphoria forward. I wouldn’t use a sativa at bedtime just like I wouldn’t smoke an indica and expect to get any work done.

That I’m busier is pure luck. Some to do with me, some not. Being busier, time management becomes essential. The last thing I need is to feel lethargic, unmotivated or “stoned”. That’s why, even before I’ve had my first sip of coffee, I’m tapping some Willy Wonka into my favorite glass piece (that looks like a banana slug). Sometimes, I’ll wake and bake with GMO or Alaskan Thunderf*ck. I’m also a fan of Canndescent’s “Charge”. In the wine world, they’d call “Charge” a “meritage” — a proprietary blend (of grapes). That’s Canndescent’s approach. They’ve created a series of proprietary strains, each approaching cannabis from an effects point of view: what do you want the cannabis to do for you? If you want it to get your mind percolating, choose “Charge”. Indeed — a couple of good hits of “Charge” and my mind’s percolating.

The cannabis users understand what I’m talking about. That’s one of the challenges of talking about and writing about cannabis. It’s effects are principally cerebral. You may feel like your limbs suddenly weigh a ton as the couch lock sets in, but every bit of that is emanating from your head. A drunk person literally loses their motor skills. A person high on cannabis does not.

As I’ve written here, I “came to cannabis” late in life. It didn’t do much for me when I was a kid except put me to sleep which held zero attraction. Much later in life, when sleep was an issue and over-the-counter sleep meds were doing more harm than good, the idea of pot putting me to sleep suddenly became appealing. Good thing I live in California. From that first night when Skywalker eased me into the most restful sleep I’d had in a decade, sleep has not been an issue. I had no idea that cannabis could do just as much for my waking hours.

We live in the shadow of the mythology invented by Harry Anslinger, America’s first Commissioner of The Federal Bureau of Narcotics (1930) in order to satisfy his racism. As I wrote about in my series “Blunt Truths” (written for now defunct Weedmaps News), every single bit of marijuana prohibition was racist, based on racism and bent on punishing people because of racism. At no point in the “illegalizing” process did anyone doing the illegalizing EVER ask “But, is it bad for people?” Any possible health risks were not the problem (the people in the hearings were all smoking tobacco — during the hearings!) The people using marijuana were “the problem”.

As cannabis legalization spreads across the nation, more and more people are using cannabis and incorporating it into their day without civilization coming to an end. Cannabis doesn’t make people violent the way alcohol can. Imagine if they stopped selling beer at sporting events and started selling reefer instead. There’d never be another fight at the end of a soccer match as the two opposing fan bases — liquored to the gills — pour into the streets together, still feeling the game. If all those sports fans had been using cannabis instead of alcohol, it would never occur to the to fight.

They might hug. They might tell each other how well they played. They might even have a vicious case of the munchies. But they won’t have it in them to get violent with each other. It’s just now how cannabis works inside our brains. The fact is, our brains like cannabis. We have receptors that, it turns out, are tailor-made to bind themselves to THC.

As my day goes on, I like to layer one sativa atop another. Each sativa strain — between the THC in it and its terpene structure — presents a little differently. There are nuances. Willy Wonka produces a clean focus with good mental energy. Add twenty percent to that focus and you have Strawberry Diesel. One can really bore in on an idea. There’s a little “edge” to it. Hints of more free-associative thinking.

Same goes for Ghost Train Haze and White Buffalo. Green Crack, too. They present evenly.

Then there’s a strain like The Fork. Whoa! The hybrid Trainwreck can create a feeling of hyper focus in your head. Even cleaning the house becomes a satisfying experience you’re so intensely focused on it. The Fork unleashes waves of free associative thinking. And yet, one doesn’t find oneself “all over the place”. The free associations all seem to be circling the thing you’re really thinking about. From the point of view of “thinking”? It’s extraordinary.

The all-time go-to workday strain is Durban Poison.

Durban Poison has virtually no edge. Its “high” is pure, even focus. That’s why I like it for working AND playing tennis. With a hit of DP in me, the ball slows down (everything slows down — but only in the sense that my mind isn’t racing to keep up with all the information coming at it; I feel like I’m seeing, hearing, processing it all just fine and in real time). So — when the ball comes off my opponent’s racket, I’m better able to focus on the ball and track it all the way to where I want it to be when I attack it. I’ll put it this way: I coach myself better and am coached better when the coaching is coated in Durban Poison.

In a later post, I’ll talk about straight hybrids — afternoon and early evening strains. Finding a good hybrid that chills without sedating — that’s a whole other journey.

In Cannabis Veritas

In vino veritas is how the original goes: in wine there is truth. Actually, the original original goes in libris veritas: in books there is truth. Books has it right. Wine… not so much. Oh, the occasional drunk may spew out how they really feel about you or the world in that instant, but the truth is, they’re not “in touch” with themselves. They can’t be with all that alcohol in them. I’m kind of a “control group” on the topic. I used to drink. To excess (if I’m honest with myself). I used to think I was just getting “truthful” by cracking the next bottle. My personal experience says “in vino veritas” is bullshit.

I stopped drinking four years ago, just after I started taking a mood stabilizer to help moderate the deep, dark depression I was in. The personal depression I’d been working on for ten years got subsumed inside the national depression that began when Donald Trump stole election 2016. After coming within literal inches of offing myself, I took the plunge into mood stabilizers (having feared that plunge as much as my depression). Fortunately for me, I leveled almost immediately at the minimum dose. Bullseye. Lamotrigine — at the minimum dose — kept my darkness at bay; it could no longer “get at” me. The bad news: the lamotrigine gave all alcohol a terrible, grapefruit skin-like aftertaste that just ruined the whole experience.

I became like Alex in A Clockwork Orange —

When “dosed”, the violent criminal suddenly couldn’t abide violence — to his own peril. In my case, this lover-of-all-things-alcohol suddenly couldn’t abide the taste of alcohol. Well, the aftertaste. Even a great, structured red wine, its tannins as supple as its fruit was dense suddenly became… grapefruit skin. Just… unbearable.

Good thing my one remaining vice was cannabis. And good thing I lived in California where cannabis is legal. Because in cannabis veritas.

I’ve told my story here about how I morphed from a guy who didn’t really care much about cannabis (sure, it should be completely legal!) into a guy who loudly and shamelessly advocates for the stuff because it’s become such an important part of my quotidian life. Yeah, yeah, yeah — it’s not everyone’s answer (thank goodness we got THAT out of the way). But, for those who cannabis can help? There are myriad ways it can help you. Myriad ways it can improve the quality of your life. I truly use cannabis from the start of my day to the very end.

In addition to being depressed, it turns out I’m bi-polar. My darkness is matched by hypomania. Thoughts don’t just fly around inside my head, they explode into life constantly. I don’t mind that. My only problem is it’s distracting. They’re all squirrels and I’m just a dog. I can chase one or two; I can’t chase them all. Cannabis — sativas during the day time — slows the mania down. My brain is like a black box theater — think of a shoebox, painted black inside, turned upside down. It’s a simple black space inside which anything can happen. At any one time, a dozen or so things are being projected onto the walls, the floor, the ceiling. Some are in technicolor, some black-and-white. A few are even in sepia. Music plays. All kinds. And there are smells and sounds and did I mention the comedians sprinkled through the crowd? Those guys kill.

A sativa like Durban Poison acts like a scrim. It falls gently — quieting most of the projections and noise — allowing me to focus on just one or two. And suddenly — another benefit of the cannabis — I can see or hear or smell or taste whatever I’m focusing on with remarkable clarity. Food really does taste better on weed. Smells are more distinct. Music deeper and more soulful. Or fun. Things “seem” funnier, in part, because you’re appreciating them from a deeper place. It really is funnier than you realized — and the fact that you just realized how much funnier it is? THAT’S effin’ hilarious!

I wrote “straight” most of my professional life. I know what that is. Having written with cannabis in my system now for a half dozen years, I can honestly say — I’m better on cannabis. Maybe that’s because I enjoy writing more on cannabis. Cannabis makes writing easier — because the thoughts come easier. I feel more in tune with where the thoughts are coming from.

As I wrote about in Blunt Truths, the series about cannabis prohibition I wrote for Weedmaps News (back when that was a “thing”), marijuana played a big part in the invention of jazz. When the mostly Black musicians gathering in New Orleans in the first decade of the 20th century tried to get at the music inside their heads, they didn’t turn to alcohol to help get at it. Alcohol dulls. Opioids? Are you kidding? They dull creativity worse than alcohol. Marijuana, on the other hand, takes your creativity in hand and lets it soar.

Louis Armstrong, like the rest of the amazing musicians around him, were imaging what classical European music would sound like if you larded it with African music. What if you filled in all those spaces European music left with more music? What if the musician was allowed to improvise and build on what the music’s composer wrote? What if you tried using diminished keys and odd beat structures?

As I wrote in Blunt Truths, the worst thing Harry Anslinger ever did was invent the whole “Reefer Madness” myth that cannabis is the “Assassin of Youth”. He didn’t care about “marihuana” (his spelling) when he first became America’s first Commissioner of the now defunct Federal Bureau of Narcotics because, at the time, only Mexicans and Black people used it. It wasn’t until marijuana headed up the Mississippi along with the musicians heading north — and suddenly white people were smoking it. White people using something black and brown people used? That was wholly unacceptable to raging racist Harry Anslinger.

It’s a stone cold fact: the reason marijuana was made illegal is racism. Racism, racism and more racism. Not for two seconds did anyone legislating to illegalize cannabis EVER ask “But, is it bad for you?” Anslinger succeeded in making marijuana illegal (actually, the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 makes not paying the hefty tax on the sale and purchase of marijuana illegal) over the objections of the American Medical Association.

We have lived in Harry Anslinger’s shadow all this time, thinking marijuana was something that it isn’t.

Yes, I write with loads and loads of cannabis in me. I do everything with loads of cannabis in me. Tennis, for instance. The same Durban Poison that delivers a smooth, focused “high” (ask my wife — I’m never ever “high”; I’m either focused or asleep) that makes writing a pleasure also takes my tennis game up a few notches. With a hit or two of DP in me, the ball slows down. I listen better to my own inner coaching. I spot the ball better off my opponent’s racket and — with everything slowed down inside my head — go through the step-by-step needed to successfully put the ball back across the net where and how I want it.

As my working ends and my evening begins, I turn again to cannabis. I’m not interested in being insensate. But — again — a hybrid like GG4 or Dutch Treat mitigates the cacophony. The feeling of mild euphoria that settles over you — it doesn’t disconnect you from the world, instead, it fuses you to everything.

As we speak, various members of my immediate and extended family are all either turned on to the benefits of cannabis already or becoming aware of them. My mom uses CBD oil to deal with an arthritic knee. CBD was her last stop before opioids. The CBD works great — and she feels better overall and sleeps better too.

If we see a product from the point of view of its benefits versus its detriments, cannabis (in all its various forms) is sliced bread. Why the hell wouldn’t you want it (if you want bread)?

This morning, I tried, for the first time, a sativa called The Fork. Where Durban Poison delivers a stead flow of very even-feeling focus, The Fork delivered strong free-associative thought. My mind went plenty of places — and burrowed into each of those places. This blog post popped into my mind.

And then onto the page.

I’ve written stuff on alcohol and cocaine that, as I was madly typing it, I was sure was genius. When I went back to look at it afterwards, it wasn’t even good typing.

Hey, for all I know, what The Fork inspired in me was pure crap. You’ll be the judge. But (and you’ll have to trust me on this) the typing’s sheer genius.