It’s 4/20 — Here’s Why I Celebrate Having Cannabis In My Life

It tickles the hell out of me that marijuana has its own day in our collective consciousness. It tickles the hell out of me that I have the relationship with cannabis that I do — and I do have a “relationship” with cannabis. I use it from the start of my day to the very end of it. I rely on sativas to get my brain focused and indicas to make my brain stop focusing so I can sleep. That sleep, by the way, is the best sleep I’ve ever had and I am a terrible sleeper. Or, I used to be. I’ll get to how cannabis changed my relationship with sleeping I also use cannabis when I’m in between work and sleep — when I’m just “being”. Mostly hybrids fill those spaces. I’ve done my share of cocaine. I know what that “needling” feeling is — the edgy “c’mon, c’mon!” inside your head that wants you to tap out another line and snort it — screw it — tap out everything ya got! There’s no urgency to my cannabis usage over the course of a day. It’s more like… the “thought” of recharging the high crosses my mind like a hot air balloon rising in the distance. Hmm, I think, that might be nice — and off I go. I don’t spend my day chasing a high. That’s no way to have a relationship. That’s why having a relationship with cannabis works for me. I always feel like cannabis is meeting me halfway.

Stone cold fact. Our brains like cannabinoids. In fact, our brains make their own kind of cannabinoid, endocannabinoid. One little squabble with the source — they use the word “disrupting” to describe the effect THC has on our brains and the resulting mental and physical functions. That’s true in the broadest possible sense — THC changes the normal pattern of events inside your brain. Here’s where subjective experience speaks far, far louder than any data set from a lab. It’s why cannabis is being legalized so swiftly across the nation and why those standing in the way look stupider and stupider. THC effects every person’s brain chemistry in its own way. There are people who can’t tolerate having THC in their brains. Fair enough. This product is not for them. I can’t tolerate cilantro or tarragon, two other herbs. For those of us who can tolerate THC, the majority of us experience very similar things when we smoke the same strains of marijuana. Our collective experience of cannabis wouldn’t use the world “disrupting” to describe what’s happening inside our heads when the THC starts to work. In fact, “disrupting” might be the last word we’d use.

I can only speak for my own experience and what THC does for me. I don’t use edibles often. They’re a little harder to predict both in terms of effect and longevity of effect. Not that the effect would be negative. It’s just that, with smoking as a THC delivery system, I have far more control over every aspect of using the product. I just like that better — for our “relationship”, I mean. I guess I should tell you how me and pot ended up so tight in the end.

The first time I ever did pot was at my cousin’s bachelor party when I was 16. I think the testosterone in the room had more impact on me than did the THC in the ditch weed. THC levels back then were both unknown and far lower than now. I didn’t smoke anything when I was a kid. Never touched tobacco. I hate the smell of tobacco smoke. Hated that my parents smoked (they quit in large part because of my and my sisters’ loathing of it). The one thing I know that first encounter with marijuana did to me was put me to sleep. Yeah, I passed out because of the pot just as the stripper arrived.

That’s what pot did to me the few times I tried it after that all through high school and college: it put me to sleep. Coke appealed because it did the opposite. Ecstasy was awesome the dozen or so times I did it. Shrooms! I did them once with my friend Johnny Solomon just before a U2 concert we attended with our wives here in LA — at the Coliseum in 1987 and I’d do them again right this very second without so much as a thought. The last drug on my radar as I slid into middle age was marijuana — even as I continued to live in a state where it slowly became legalized. I always thought, “Yeah, of course dope should be legal! The Drug War is bullshit to begin with!” But, I didn’t think, “Hey, I live in a state where dope’s legal — I should be smoking it therefore!”

For reasons I won’t go into here, I found myself toward the tail end of a deep, dark depression. This was before I was diagnosed as bi-polar with episodes of hypomania. Years of worries about money had exacerbated an underlying emotional issue. Sleep had become a nightly struggle. I used OTC sleep meds for years and years pretty much on a nightly basis — and I took those pretty much every night on top of the ridiculous amounts of alcohol I was consuming. I’d “awaken” in the morning feeling unrested and unready to face the day, already mentally exhausted. Finally, I came to my senses. I live in California. I was over eighteen (by a thousand miles). My insomnia was an acceptable symptom with which to walk into a doctor’s office — well, those doctors who prescribed.

So, off I went — a little trepidatious, I admit. The doctor and doctor’s office were, frankly, seedy. Though every bit of this was regulated, the experience made legal cannabis feel deeply connected to its time as an outlaw. The doctor took his fee, wrote my prescription and off I went again — to my first marijuana dispensary. That, too, felt shady back then (this was 2015) between the gates and the buzzers and the scowling security guards. But, my first budtender was enthusiastic and very helpful to this total newbie.

“Insomnia”, I said.

“Skywalker,” he replied.

Inside my head, I smirked: “Cute name,” I thought, assuming — not knowing a damned thing about the business I was about to become acquainted with — that “Skywalker” was this dispensary’s cute name for the cannabis that was sitting in this large jar. All the large jars had names on them. I had no idea that those names had lives beyond this pot shop. I took that Skywalker home and, that night, I smoked it outside my house after everyone else had gone to bed so my kids wouldn’t know what I was doing (one was in high school, the other in middle school). The wooziness came on slowly. Skywalker’s an indica; their impact, in general, comes on more slowly than a sativa’s does. I went to sleep and woke up the next morning feeling more rested than I had in a decade at least.

When the exact thing happened the very next night? That changed everything. I stopped caring whether my kids knew I was smoking pot every night to get to sleep. We lived in California, for Christ’s sake! Most of their friends were smoking pot or vaping. As my first buy of Skywalker began to run out — and a return visit to the Silver Lake Care Givers loomed — a question had begun to form in my head: I now knew what the pot in the Skywalker jar could do for ME. There were sooooo many other jars (two dozen total!) Did all the marijuana in those jars do the very same thing? Or did they do something different?

Turned out, they did both. It depended on what strain of cannabis was inside the jar. For the record — hybridization has hit most of the legal cannabis we use. That said, there are pure sativas and pure indicas. Depending on strength (a combination of THC level and terpene content), a pure sativa can reliably focus your thoughts while a pure indica… it’s complicated. One can experience a period of mental activity where suddenly a thought blossoms and you find yourself thinking it in an expanding way — until a wave of relaxation comes over you and suddenly, you couldn’t care less about any of that fancy thinking of a few minutes ago. You’d like to curl up on the couch or in bed and surrender to the most delicious feeling of wooziness imaginable. Hybrids capture elements of its parent strain’s effects. The head buzz they produce will usually lean toward the more dominant parent strain.

On subsequent visits to my first dispensary, I began to explore all those other jars. I also began to explore other dispensaries not out of disloyalty but because I’d discovered that different dispensaries had different strains on hand and the more I began to experiment with different strains — sativas, hybrids and indicas — the more I began to discover the nuantial differences between them all — effects that were absolutely discernible. Repeatable every time I smoked the same strain.

By then, I had learned that names like “Skywalker” weren’t local. Strain names were like brands. Or, like wine varietals. That’s how I started to think of them all — like cabernet sauvignon clones, each with their own distinct characteristics that cold be “utzed” this way or that by the person growing them. Being a natural product, cannabis can be manipulated, its qualities heightened. The evolving cannabis business, it struck me, was evolving of necessity away from its “I don’t know what’s in the baggie” mentality to something more “corporate”. For cannabis to succeed as a business, its customers needed to experience the product more like they’d experience a Big Mac. In theory, the Big Mac “experience” here in LA is the same Big Mac “experience” anywhere. A Big Mac is a Big Mac. And Skywalker, in theory, is Skywalker.

That pans out mostly. It’s why reliable growers and sellers will win and the old way of doing things will lose. Hey, there’s money to be made. A lot of money. Once everyone stops stumbling over their greed and the old way of thinking of cannabis, America and then the world will realize and accept the terrible mistake we all made illegalizing this thing. We’ve spent incalculable amounts of money prosecuting people for using something that does far less harm to its users than alcohol or even saturated fats in our food. We’ve destroyed millions of lives for no reason. I recommend Blunt Truths, the 13 part, 25,0000 word series I wrote for Weedmaps News (and, he’ll know what this means – Nicolas Juarez, you should be ASHAMED of yourself, you effing thief!) about the true story of marijuana prohibition. Racism and nothing but caused it to happen.

The whole reason I got to write that series is because a journalist friend (who’d been let go by the then shrinking LA Times) had been hired to create a legitimate news division for Weedmaps. By then, I’d immersed myself in cannabis and had become an advocate within my large social circle. By coincidence, years and years ago, I had tried to sell the story of Harry Anslinger and how he forced marijuana prohibition upon us as a TV movie to HBO. Given the chance suddenly to a deeper — journalistic — dive into the subject? I jumped. And I learned things that opened my mind even wider to what cannabis was, what it had done for people and what it could do for me.

That is what I celebrate most of all about cannabis and the fact that I can legally use it whenever, however I like. Cannabis DOES THINGS for me. Not “to” me, but FOR me. Several cannabis companies — the Canndescent Company is one — approach their product lineups in that exact way. They make proprietary blends using proprietary strains to create specific effects. That is the exactly right way to think of cannabis: what specifically do I want it to for me right now?

And so — I start my day with sativas: Durban Poison delivers a clear, bright beam of mental focus you can apply to anything. I use it to write (with great specificity). I use it to play tennis, too. I’ve experimented with other sativas on the tennis court and found the focus they produced was too fine for tennis. Being such a subjective experience, it’s hard to describe but through trial and error, I discovered that a hit of DP either before or while playing will, within minutes of my smoking the DP, improve my game perceptibly. It doesn’t go from being shitty to good. I play well. But, with DP in my brain, everything slows down. If I focus, I can see the fuzz on the tennis ball before I hit it. My timing becomes precise. My inner player hears my inner coach and complies precisely. THC does not impair one’s motor skills. It doesn’t. It’s not alcohol.

Plenty of people drive with plenty of THC in them. Try as they might to produce data that says THC impairs driving, the data simply won’t go along with them. People with THC in them, it turns out, stay within the speed limit, stay within their lanes and drive safely. That’s both compared to drunk drivers and to drivers in general.

I recommend reading this study. Oh, they desperately want to say that cannabis impairs driving but the data itself keeps fighting them. The analysis of why people with THC in them drive more carefully wants to believe the THC users are overcompensating for their being high rather than just being able to drive more carefully BECAUSE OF the THC in them. The researchers’ bias is clear — but the data overcomes it regardless. Here’s a small sample of what I mean —

3.3.1 Culpability studies — 3.3.1.1 Studies that do not show culpability

Some reviewers have concluded that there is no evidence that cannabis alone increases the risk of culpability for crashes, and may actually reduce risk.66 Drummer’s review of blood samples of traffic fatalities in Australia found that drivers testing positive for marijuana were actually less likely to have been judged responsible for the accident.67 Several other studies have found no increase in crash risk with cannabis.6870 Williams’ California study of 440 male traffic accident deaths found that while alcohol use was related to crash culpability, cannabis use was not.71 Terhune’s study of 1882 motor vehicle deaths calculated an OR of 0.7 for cannabis use, 7.4 for alcohol use, and 8.4 for cannabis and alcohol use combined.68 Lowenstein and Koziol-McLain’s study of 414 injured drivers admitted to a Colorado E/R found an OR of 1.1, indicating that marijuana use was not associated with increased crash responsibility.

The reason Black musicians like King Oliver, Jelly Roll Morton and Louis Armstrong took up marijuana smoking is because they realized, having tried the drug, that while no one can write music or play music when drunk (and trying to do anything on heroin is impossible), that’s not the case with marijuana. With THC in your brain, suddenly you think more. You hear more and see more. And one can articulate what one’s thinking or hearing or seeing. Food tastes amazing. Your senses really and truly do come alive. Biochemically, the THC is causing more of the synapses in your brain to fire. You’re experiencing more thought — processing more information. That’s why some people feel paranoid. The THC is increasing their “awareness” and sometimes, to some people, that hyper awareness can produce feelings of paranoia.

For the rest of us — fortunately — instead of paranoia, we feel wonderful! That’s the bottom line where cannabis is concerned. It conveys a feeling of euphoria and in this freakin’ world? Euphoria’s a blessing. It doesn’t cover up the pervasive rottenness of our time but it does make the rottenness endurable. Fact: if we stopped selling alcohol at sporting events and sold only cannabis instead (along with all the food and soft drinks), there would NEVER be violence at the end of a sporting event ever again. City blocks wouldn’t suddenly find themselves aflame because the local sports team won a championship. Fistfights between competing fans would not happen. That’s not what cannabis does to anyone.

Instead, sportsmanship would reign. Teams that had been competing would be shaking hands — as they do. But, so would the fans in the stands. Cannabis causes people to bond, to want to hug each other and talk. It makes people more social, not more anti-social. And people high on cannabis don’t puke all over the place. They don’t have to empty their beer-filled bladders repeatedly. They don’t pass out in puddles of their own vomit. Oh, pot users may well “pass out” — but, if they do fall asleep, they’re not unconscious. No one has ever died from smoking too much pot as they have from drinking too much alcohol. People smoking dope don’t regularly engage in drunken sex that they’re not sure whether they actually had they were so “blotto”.

When I finally dealt with my depression, the mood stabilizer I started taking gave all alcohol a grapefruit skin-like aftertaste. Unintended but a fact of life if I was going to beat my depression. I stopped drinking — which wasn’t doing my depression any good anyway. I started smoking more marijuana instead. The THC, it turned out, moderated my hypomania just fine. That’s why I’ve maintained my marijuana prescription. I really do think of cannabis as a legitimate medicine.

And I think of it as the best work aid in the world. And the best sleep aid in the world. And the best chill agent in the world. It’s 4/20 — and I, for one, am celebrating cannabis all day — as I do every day. I can hardly wait for the whole rest of the country to be equally chill. Then the world.

And, no — I ain’t “high”.