Since I Stopped Drinking Alcohol, I've Come To See Clearly — America Has A Problem With Alcohol

Want to know if Americans drink too much alcohol? Quit drinking for a day. Better yet a week — or a month. Better yet, quit drinking entirely. I wasn’t forced to quit drinking by the mood stabilizer that saved my life. Alcohol can increase the intensity of any side effects the lamictil causes but, by itself, it can’t hurt you. What I found lamictil does to alcohol is give it a terrible aftertaste that ruins the whole experience.

It doesn’t matter whether the alcohol’s in a glass of wine, a bottle of beer or in a martini — just when you expect the glorious aftertaste of whatever you’re drinking to carry on, instead you get grapefruit skin and lots of it. I was cooking clams al vongele the other day. It’s basically clams, parsley, garlic and a bottle of wine (I like to add a little celery and some Pernod to kick up the licorice qualities). I poured in the wine and Pernod — got the sauce back to a simmer and sampled it, expecting exquisiteness.

Instead, I got grapefruit skin. A bottle of wine is a bottle of wine whether it’s in your glass or simmering away in a sauce. It takes a lot longer than you think to burn off alcohol as you cook with it. I forgot that basic fact at first — then wondered why the sauce tasted so awful.

When I was growing up, my dad collected wines — French reds. He and his friends would buy Bordeaux futures — as yet unharvested (ungrown even) grapes in the expectation that they’d become great, age-worthy vintages like 1970 or 1971. When I say my dad “taught me” how to drink, I mean he taught me to appreciate the thing I was guzzling like it was bug juice at summer camp.

I’m pretty sure there’s no such thing as a responsible drinker — same as there’s no such thing as a responsible gun owner. 99% of the time — absolutely — most people behave responsibly toward both alcohol and guns. It only takes one slip up however to produce tragedy — one half glass of wine too many that resulted in an accident or traffic fatality or a gun that wasn’t locked up properly in its gun safe — and became a murder weapon.

In both instances, “responsible” becomes “irresponsible” just like that.

I was a lot less responsible than I gave myself credit for being. I’ve no doubt I drove while over the limit on multiple occasions. I know for a fact that I dodged a bullet or two or three where alcohol and driving are concerned. I know for a fact that I am hardly alone having that in my past. Sometimes I marvel that any of us are actually still here and walking (or driving) around.

Before lamictil made alcohol taste like shit, I LOVED drinking. I adored it. I marveled at the craftsmanship that went into a great scotch or a complex bottle of Petit Sirah (I loved em big and inky). I drank every single day — usually two glasses of red wine, sometimes a third glass. On rare occasion a fourth.

I was kinda known for getting even more opinionated than I already am. That’s a lot of “opinionated” to drunkenly throw at people. I don’t recall ever being drunk. I don’t recall ever being wasted or shit-faced or rat-arsed. But then, I wouldn’t know. I wasn’t watching me.

These days, when I go to a party or a bar with my wife and/or friends, I’m the lone teetotaler. When the bartender or wait-person turns to me for my order, most of the time I don’t have one: I’ll have water, I say. Their face always betrays them. My beverage will not benefit their tip. I might as well be dead, as far as they’re concerned.

It’s strange to watch your friends as alcohol takes them over. That’s what alcohol does. It changes how people act. While making them feel good for a bit, it also undermines their motor skills and slowly destroys their capacity to make good decisions. I’ve never seen my friends get out-of-their-heads crazy from drinking. But I have seen them get loud, belligerent, unreasonable, disrespectful and downright unpleasant.

When my kids went off to college, I feared for them as they encountered the drinking cultures on their respective college campuses; I worried especially for my daughter since campus rape culture (like campus fraternity culture) is tied to campus alcohol culture. I was grateful to learn that she and her friends prefer marijuana to alcohol. No one has ever died from marijuana poisoning as they have from alcohol poisoning.

I feel almost blasphemous saying this: alcohol prohibitionists weren’t wrong. They wanted to accomplish something impossible in a free society — prohibition of a product the people want. Prohibition didn’t just make alcohol illegal, it criminalized virtually the entire population while giving organized criminals a nearly perfect product to sell. Prohibitionists used the wrong methodology though their insights were rock solid. Alcohol is far too easily abused. And alcohol abuse causes far too much long-lasting social and personal harm to too many people.

Ads for alcohol are aimed (alarmingly) toward young people. Hell, alcohol products themselves are aimed alarmingly at young people. If you have to fruit flavor alcohol up to make it palatable, maybe you aren’t really ready to drink alcohol. That may look like an umbrella in your drink, it’s not; it’s training wheels. And if you really need training wheels on your alcohol, maybe you shouldn’t ought to be drinking alcohol.

My suggestion? Pick up a gram of top quality sativa or hybrid instead (unless of course you want to go to sleep then pick up a gram or two of indica). As self-medcations go, cannabis blows alcohol clear out of the water. It’s so much more versatile (you cannot work with alcohol in your system just like you can’t drive with it or do athletic things with it because of how profoundly it impacts your motor skills).

Having switched from alcohol to cannabis, I’ve also come to see that America has a cannabis problem too. We don’t smoke anywhere near enough of it.

The Cannabis Lifestyle: “Platforming” Vs “Cocktailing”

First hit of the day…

My day begins with cannabis and it ends with cannabis. That’s not hyperbole.

Medically (and I keep up my prescription because — even though I do recreate with cannabis — it is, to me, first and foremost a legitimate “medicine” that successfully treats a host of very real physical and mental ailments. Consequently, I’m very strain specific. I’ve ID’d a number of very specific strains that produce very specific (and — most importantly — repeatable) effects in my brain. There are differences in intensity of effect (THC levels differ naturally from growth to growth or even plant to plant) but the nature of the “high” remains constant.

I bump on the word “high”. To a degree, I guess, that’s because I don’t often smoke cannabis to “get high”. I want every last bit of cannabis’ psycho-activity. But I want them focused toward my particular need at a particular moment.

That’s the real takeaway here: it turns out cannabis not only fits into lots of “particular moments” in my day, cannabis makes those moments appreciably better. Sativas focus my brain. That doesn’t mean I can’t focus without it. I’d compare it to an eye test where you think the letter floating in front of your eyes is “in focus” and then they drop another lens in — and you realize how much more “focus” there was to be had.

Durban Poison – my go-to go-to.

Being a 100% subjective experience (no two peoples’ “highs” are exactly alike because their brains aren’t exactly alike), it’s hard to say definitively that cannabis will focus everyone else’s mind like it focuses mine. But — I know I ain’t alone in this. A solid hit of Durban Poison creates a feeling inside my brain as if that other lens had just dropped into position. I hear voices more clearly — that is, I hear nuance in voices more clearly. I SEE nuance more clearly — in the abstract. THC (even indicas) never diffuses my thinking; it always focuses it (even if it’s making me deliciously drowsy).

I’ve had repeatedly had this experience: I’ve taken my two big hits of indica just before bedtime (I like to mix n match a variety of strains — Skywalker, Paris, Diamond, LA Confidential, Afghan, Kosher Kush among others) and, just as that exquisite wooziness makes closing one’s eyes and succumbing to sleep imminent — an idea floats to the surface (something I’m working on usually). Next thing I know? Five minutes have gone by, I’ve made extensive notes, having resolved the “problem”. Pencil and pad go back onto desk and I’m between the sheets and fast asleep.

And the quality of sleep cannabis produces? Nothing Big Pharma makes can touch it.

Cannabis’ biggest revelation in my life was the mental focus it delivers — regardless of whether we’re talking sativas, indicas or hybrids. I’m hypomanic. My brain goes a kajillion miles an hour.

I need a few of those kajillion miles an hour to fuel my creative endeavors. The rest however can be a problem. They all want to compete for my attention but there are only so many hours in a day. Cannabis does two things at once inside my brain. It makes me think more (because that’s what THC actually does — it causes more of your synapses to fire so you really do “experience” more thoughts, more sensual input, more outside data; it’s why some people feel paranoid) and it slows me down.

The inside of my head is like a black box theater (think a shoebox turned over, its insides painted black. Anything can happen inside that space. Anything. Most of the time, that space is alive with a dozen different things being projected on the walls, the ceiling, the floor. They’re in color, black & white, sepia. Holograms float here and there. Music and sound come and go. The THC acts like scrims dropping down, muting most of the images and sounds, allowing me to focus on two or three.

And those two or three that I can now focus on? I can really focus on em…

I like to ease into my day (around 5 am) with a hybrid like GG4 or Dutch Treat (which I wish was more reliably available — hint, hint, LA dispensaries). Sometimes though, I like to “cocktail” that first hit with a little sativa — Durban Poison or one of the other sativas I keep in my “rotation”.

I use anywhere between five and eight different cannabis strains every day. As I said — I discern very distinct qualities between different strains. What makes Durban Poison such a go-to strain is the evenness of its focus.

By contrast, strains like Jack The Ripper, Casey Jones or XJ-13 have a little more of an “edge” to them. The mental energy has a touch more “energy”.

Throw a little coffee into the mix, we’re talking literal transcendence.

I also use Durban Poison when I play tennis. Just as it does with my creativity, DP both slows the game down (I can see the spin on the ball — for real) and focuses my thoughts: I can execute the step-by-step of hitting the ball how I want to where I want to with remarkable precision.

DP makes me a better tennis player. I’ve tried other sativas. They all work to varying degrees but it’s DP’s reliable evenness that pairs best with tennis’ mental requirements.

As I said — I love cannabis because I can use it to match a particular strain to a particular need.

So — platforming vs cocktailing.

In essence, anyone buying “shake” is buying a cannabis “cocktail” being an unknown mixture of “leftovers” of stuff that “fell to the bottom”. Lots of big cannabis companies make “effects” products that should produce “creativity” or “calm” or “sleep”. What’s in em?

What’s in a jug wine? Grapes. If that’s all that matters, you’re a cannabis cocktail person. But what if you’re a gin drinker? That’s where strain specificity gets fun…

I find there’s a perceptible experiential difference between mixing two cannabis strains together in one bowl and smoking them versus smoking one of those strains, allowing its effect to initiate, and then smoking the second strain so as to add its effects atop the first strain’s.

GG4 all by itself at the start of my day produces a slowly building sense of focus and well-being.

Mixing Durban Poison and GG4 together and smoking it brings that focus on more quickly and makes the focus more central to the feeling than the euphoria. It doesn’t negate the euphoria, it just moves it to the background — where I want it.

If I smoke GG4 and THEN the DP, I get that “lens effect”. The GG4’s focus was lovely. Layering the Durban Poison’s focus atop the GG4’s produces a slightly more intense focus that lasts a good hour or so before gently fading. If I use a sativa like Casey Jones, that focus is even sharper but doesn’t last quite as long — that’s some of the perceived “evenness”.

So — here I’ve gone and asked a question to which I don’t have a particular answer. To platform or to cocktail.

I think I need to smoke on it a bit…

I Went To America’s First Ever Licensed Cannabis Café Yesterday – And It Was AWESOME!

As good as a deep, inky red wine pairs with a steak or champagne with oysters, it’s nothing compared to how well cannabis pairs with EVERYTHING.

Not only does cannabis give you the munchies (there’s a reason it’s a great medicine for people with eating issues or whose appetites have been impacted by chemo), it also makes the food you eat taste amazing.  That happens because THC causes your brain to process more information.  You’re simply more aware of your surroundings and what you’re experiencing in it because more of your synapses are open and processing information.  That is what THC does to our brains.  It’s the same reason some people feel paranoia – it’s the flow of all that additional information that your brain regularly “screens out” or misses.  Yeah, it can be daunting, intimidating – scary.

But all that additional information can also enhance the flavor of food.  Cannabis and eating establishments are as natural and delicious a pairing as chicken and soup.

Lowell Cafe is in West Hollywood.  It opened a few weeks ago — America’s first ever fully licensed cannabis restaurant.  The restaurant aside, It’s a dispensary where you can smoke your buy on the premises.  That’s a first anywhere in the country (as far as I know).

Part of the lingering ooga-booga in our thinking about cannabis is that smoking cannabis causes people to act like they’ve been drinking for hours.  It’s not the case – at all. 

As cannabis users can attest – smoking cannabis doesn’t fog your mind like alcohol does.  It doesn’t make you irrational.  It doesn’t make you loud.  It doesn’t impact your motor skills.  It doesn’t make you want to fight or vomit up everything you drank.  It doesn’t make you want to take out your junk and piss wherever you are because all that alcohol filled your bladder.

Cannabis civilizes most people.  Fact.

My good bud Johnny invited me to join him – he’d made reservations after hearing Howard Stern do a live broadcast from the café last week.  There’s almost always a line outside the place – even with reservations.

The concept is this – when you sit at your table, there are two menus (same as with alcohol).  The only difference here is (because of the way cannabis is still regulated), you have to purchase your cannabis separately from your food.  Two different bills.

One can bring in one’s own weed – but the “corkage” is $30.  Lowell Cafe is a dispensary.  They grow all their own weed — organically.  The prices aren’t cheap.  They’re retail-retail.  But that’s to be expected.  You’re here also for the experience of smoking marijuana in public – with strangers – like you’d drink in a bar with them.

While you can also get that same experience at a concert, it’s not the same.  Everyone doing that illicitly.  Here – it’s the whole point of the exercise. 

For starters – the room is smoky – but it’s not dense with smoke as it would be if it were filled with tobacco smoke.  Tobacco smoke is sharper, heavier, denser, more genuinely toxic.  There’s no data yet that says what cannabis second hand smoke is filled with.  I can only tell you that whereas a restaurant filled with tobacco smoke makes eating downright unpleasant, that was not the case at Lowell Farms.

The eating experience was not impacted by the smoke whatsoever. 

The cannabis menu (you can read it yourself here) includes flower (they provide rolling papers or they’ll rent you a piece – the state regs prevent customers from bringing their own pipes for now), oils and edibles.  The food the café serves has not been prepared with cannabis – that’s not allowed yet).  If you want to buy and use oils, the restaurant will rent you a rig with which to smoke it.  You can rent a simple rig or a very cool “gravity water pipe” that I wish I had photographed because it was incredibly cool.

I was too busy eating, enjoying the buzz and talking.  Johnny and I ordered a pre-rolled Space Coyote – a combination sativa flower, kief and oil, with a bubbly, spirited impact (according to the menu).  The Space Coyote was indeed heady and social.  And it made the food taste awesome.  Johnny ordered the Lowell Cobb.  Enjoyed it immensely – fresh ingredients not overly slathered in dressing. 

Feeling less in the mood for healthy, more in the mood for “stoner cuisine”, I opted for the sticky tamarind wings and the jalapeno mac-and-cheese bites.  Did I mention how cannabis makes everything taste great?  The tamarind doesn’t bash you over the head.  It doesn’t have to.  The wings were easily inhaled.  The mac-and-cheese bites came with a chipotle-sriracha sauce that cleared the sinuses effectively. 

The staff is all young and excited to be there.  They know they’re pioneers in a business that will take over the country.  Lowell Farms has applied for a liquor license.  They don’t need it.  They should avoid it.

The tone in the room was cannabis chill.  Not alcohol loud.  There was a lot less glass being clinked.  It was… civilized is the word I keep coming back to. Until you’ve experienced sitting in a room with strangers who are all smoking cannabis – like it was normal – you can’t know how remarkable it is. 

We’ve lived in the shadow of Harry Anslinger’s bullshit, racist marijuana mythology for so long, we’ve almost forgotten how incredibly untrue every bit of it is. 

Marijuana legalization has not brought about the fall of Western Civilization.  It hasn’t harmed the communities in which it thrives.  It hasn’t brought about a rise in teen smoking (they’re smoking less, in fact, because every last bit of rebellion has been taken away from smoking marijuana – it’s hard to rebel against something your parents do, too.)  It hasn’t brought a rise in traffic accidents.

And that’s the last point I want to make here.  Lowell Cafe has a valet parking lot.  People hand their keys to the valet then go inside for 90 minutes (that’s your limit for the time being – there’s a line to get in, remember).  They smoke copious amounts of cannabis and they eat.  Then they get their car from the valet guy – climb in it and go home (or wherever). 

I walked down La Brea to where I’d parked my car at a meter.  I got into my car.  I drove home.  And I went back to work.

I wouldn’t have – couldn’t have – had I been drinking all afternoon.

I have seen the future, America – and it was the bomb.

Now, please — quit Bogartin’ that joint and pass it over to me…

Cannabis & Productivity Go Together Like Cannabis & Feeling Good

I’ve written here before about my cannabis story. I wasn’t a fan in high school. Cannabis (if that’s what I was really smoking) put me to sleep.

That didn’t appeal to me as a kid. So, I avoided cannabis in favor of alcohol, cocaine and, occasionally ecstasy. Depression made sleep hard to come by as my late middle ages wore on. OTC sleep meds (like Simply Sleep) did nothing for me except make me groggy and forgetful.

I turned to cannabis because I live in California. It was (at the time) medically legal. I needed to fix my problem so I gave cannabis a shot.

“I have sleep problems,” I told that first budtender, feeling very illicit though I was doing a totally “licit” thing. “Skywalker,” they replied.

And, from that first night onward, cannabis became a part of my everyday life. I slept that night — slept well. Slept restfully. Woke up ready to face the day for the first time in years. Literally.

That was a game changer. When I returned to that dispensary a few days later, I wanted to know — what’s in all those OTHER canisters?

Turned out there were other indicas with slightly different flavors and effects. There also were sativas & hybrids.

“Sativa?” I asked.

I had no idea that cannabis wasn’t just a feel-super-good sleeping med. Depending on the strain, cannabis can be an all day product. Keeping in mind that virtually everything our culture “knows” about cannabis was racist bullshit invented first by America’s first drug czar Harry Anslinger then turned into a totally racist “War On Drugs” by Richard Nixon, it’s not shocking that, as a culture, we think cannabis & work are incompatible.

That’s because we have it in our heads that cannabis and alcohol work the same on our brains and bodies. They don’t. Not even remotely.

When cannabis began to spread from the Southwest US (in the 1910’s following the Mexican Revolution) to the South, it found a home in New Orleans where a group of African American musicians were busy inventing jazz. Artists like Louie Armstrong didn’t like to drink & play because alcohol dulls your creativity. Same goes for heroin.

Marijuana, on the other hand, had the opposite effect. Yes, there was that lovely euphoria. But cannabis, though you can get pretty “high”, it NEVER impacts your ability to reason or do physical things. Cannabis does not impact your motor skills & perceptions the way alcohol does.

As many of us have learned (through lots & lots of repetition), sativas especially focus your mind. They focus your creativity to a very fine point. You can get lots of very good work done.

I’ve written while drunk. Written while coked to the gills. It’s always crap.

Cannabis has the exact opposite effect on the mind — and subsequently the work the mind produces. In the exact same way, I discovered that a few hits of Durban Poison just before or while I play tennis takes my tennis game up a good, solid notch.

With DP in my system, everything slows down. I can see the spin on the tennis ball as it comes at me. I can see the damned fuzz on the ball. My timing becomes far more precise. I play better. Consistently. Reliably.

When I think of the destruction we caused — to people guilty of nothing other than using marijuana — I want to scream. We destroyed people — the overwhelming majority of them black or brown. But then, that was always the point of marijuana prohibition.

It should go without saying — cannabis is not for everyone. Nothing on this planet is. Let’s put that away, okay?

For most people, cannabis would be a great alternative to opioids and a great alternative to alcohol. If people attending a sporting event smoked cannabis instead of pounding down beer? Trust me, there’d never be another riot after a game ended. All the attendees would be too busy hugging each other or happily dozing.

Or they’d be too busy getting things done.

Cannabis & Sports Go Together Better Than You Think

I started using cannabis to play tennis about 2 years ago. I wish I had started way sooner. I bet I would have enjoyed tennis a hell of a lot more.

I don’t mean because I’d be playing high. I’m not sure why anyone would want to do that. I don’t use cannabis to get “high” anyway — at least, not in the sense that most people use the word. My writing day starts around 5 a.m. with a mug of strong, dark coffee (I’m especially fond of Trader Joe’s Cafe Pajaro blend) and my first cannabis bowl of the day — usually a blend of GG4 & Durban Poison.

The GG4 in the mix brings a lovely, wide beam of euphoria and energy. The Durban Poison brings clear, steady focus. The combination is exquisite. My next bowl moves completely into sativas — I have four or five I use as my go-to daytime strains. Presently — Durban Poison, XJ-13, Clementine and Cat Piss. In the past, Jack-the-Ripper, Alaskan Ice and Strawberry Durban Diesel have all been in the mix too.

Just as Durban Poison is a great strain for working — the focus and mental energy it produces is outstanding — it’s a great strain for sports. A good hit taken just before I step onto the court slows the ball down — slows everything down — just enough so that I can actually see the ball’s spin. My timing gets more precise. My decision-making, too. I see the whole court better. I strategize better. I seem to get across the court faster and anticipate my opponent better.

It doesn’t make me perfect (nothing could possibly do that) but it makes me more consistent — and my whole tennis experience just “feels” more fun. Playing better can have that effect.

And, of course, there’s the simple fact that cannabis just makes you feel better. I’ve no doubt that contributes to the positives.

But it isn’t feeling good that produces an improved ground stroke or serve. It’s focus.

More Notes From A Former Drinker — Drinking Culture Wouldn’t Be Half So Stupid If People Learned “How To Drink”

Want to feel like a social leper? Decline an offer of alcohol from your host — whose whole experience of you is as a drinker. I might as well have said I’d turned cannibal and wanted to eat him. “You’re not drinking?”

“No. Had to stop, remember — my mood stabilizer makes alcohol taste like shit.”

“For real? Hunh… well, you want some water? There might be soda in the fridge…”.

If you don’t drink, that means you’re not an adult. That’s how it feels when everyone toasts before drinking — and your water glass (or ginger beer) clinks against their wine goblet or highball glass. The irony (one could get drunk off it ffs!) is that the non-drinker gets to watch all his drinking friends drink themselves toward increasingly un-adult behavior.

Wanna make that irony a double? Won’t cost any extra… What I’ve learned, now that I’m alcohol-sober is that we’ve evolved into a culture that encourages people to drink — and drink lots — from a very early age. But we have no interest in teaching people how to do this thing. Because we see drinking as a vice — like sex — we assume you don’t have to be “taught” how to do it; nature will teach you.

For most of us, Nature sucks as a teacher of sex. Experience — and a lover you care about — teach far more, far more quickly. Drinking works pretty much the same way unfortunately. Experience does the teaching except, with drinking, there’s no lover you care about. There’s just the alcohol. And alcohol does not love you no matter how much it says it does.

While both drinking culture and cannabis culture are social, there’s a difference between drinking together and smoking together. While one might share a bottle of wine, one does not share (normally) the cocktail itself as one does a joint. Sharing cannabis — passing it around to all who want — is part of cannabis culture.

Aside from falling asleep, the only appreciable effect of continual cannabis use over the course of an evening might be more laughter. Cannabis users don’t get sloppy high. They don’t puke their guts out or risk alcohol poisoning. They don’t wake up the next morning, bleary-eyed and confused about how they got where they are, their memory having been blotto’d by the drink.

The effects of alcohol lag a bit — usually 20 minutes or so — before kicking in. While it can take up to an hour sometimes for cannabis edibles to noticeably kick in, the effects from most smoked flower begin to roll across your consciousness within a few minutes. That’s one of the reasons young drinkers especially get into trouble. Most of them don’t KNOW that fact about how alcohol works on their bodies.

Young people ODing on drugs of any kind should never happen. It especially shouldn’t happen with alcohol. Drugs still operate in the shadows because we insist on seeing drugs as a criminal issue instead of a health issue. It’s understood that any kid wanting to experiment with most drugs will have to do it off the grid as it were. Alcohol, on the other hand, is right inside their house just waiting to be sampled.

As counter-intuitive as it might seem, we’d probably do ourselves a hell of a lot of good if we got over our discomfort with alcohol culture and taught young people how to think about alcohol as informed consumers and not as naughty boys and girls with a naughty vice they’d rather keep quiet about.

We’ve tried it that way, haven’t we?

My best advice to my drinking friends — and most of my friends are friends who drink — put down that bottle. Pick up a piece. Pack some lovely cut flower into it and let your mind flow instead of burying your mind under waves of increasingly dense alcohol fog.

Notes From A Former Drinker — Drinking Culture Is Really, Really, REALLY Stupid

Perspective is the damnedest thing. For the overwhelming majority of my adult life, I was a drinker. I never thought of myself as an alcoholic though I drank at least 2 glasses of wine every day. Religiously.

I prided myself on making not merely a good martini but a great one (I still do as my wife can attest). I savored the creative output that some craftsperson spent years probably putting into whatever bottle I had just cracked. I actually pitied anyone who didn’t drink.

Oy.

Meanwhile, alcohol fed my depression. Theirs was a sick, co-dependent relationship with me caught in the middle. Toward the end, it’s not like I was drinking great stuff anyway — I couldn’t afford great stuff anymore (though I still had some pretty great stuff in my dwindling “wine cellar” including some Chateau Lafitte Rothschild and some Opus One). Even after I came within inches of killing myself, it still didn’t occur to me to look at my 2+ glasses of red wine every night as a possible co-conspirator.

I owe a small debt to lamotrigine, the mood stabilizer I now take every day to keep my darkness in check. I owe an even bigger debt to a great therapist and a smaller but not insignificant debt to cannabis — the other part of my mental health regime. There are no specific warnings about taking lamotrigine and drinking alcohol. And, at first, when I started my regimen, I continued right on pounding down my two plus glasses of red.

But then a strange thing happened. I noticed it about a week in to taking the lamotrigine (I got very, VERY lucky by the way; I leveled within 36 hours at the minimal dose, 25 milligrams). All alcohol suddenly had an aftertaste. All of it. Beer, wine, cocktails… A lovely glass of Zinfandel or Petit Sirah (I loved em big & inky) would start perfectly from the nose to the first blast of fruit on the palate then start to settle in for the aftertaste when — kapow! A flavor like grapefruit rind took over everything. And it didn’t go away quickly.

As I was already deep into cannabis, I figured “what the hell” — that would be my “cocktail” of choice from now on. Funny thing? I have not missed alcohol for two seconds. Not even one.

Now, I do take my marijuana with me. I’ve got a little traveling pouch with an unbreakable silicone pipe and three or four pre-ground flower strains (sativas and hybrids) in 10 dram glass containers. I may not go drink for drink when I go out socializing, but I’m not relying solely on my fizzy water, ginger beer or overpriced mocktail for a thrill.

For the record, I do not get high. Ever. I’m not interested in being high. To me, cannabis is for sleeping, working or relaxing. When relaxing (think strains like Cherry Pie, GSC or Bruce Banner), I want to be mellowed a bit but social. I want the warm, friendly euphoria to keep my hypomania at bay. So — even when I go to a party at someone’s house, in no way am I “keeping up” with everyone else around me who’s drinking.

Watching other people drink from a place of alcohol sobriety is almost always eye-opening. I’ve watched friends slowly get silly over the course of an evening. I’ve watched the quality of the conversations descend from heights of great repartee to meandering repetitiveness — all within an hour or two. People getting soused by the way have no idea that they’re not being witty any more.

Also remarkable — the amount of planning that has to go into drinking. I can make a few grams of my favorite strains last for a month. A bottle once cracked will probably disappear within an hour if shared. While most restaurants have liquor licenses, I have been part of dining decisions made where we overlooked a place’s inferior food because the cocktails were special. When the cocktail is the point, nothing else matters.

A group of people drinking and a group of people smoking marijuana have very little in common — even though our perception might be that they’re all self-medicating. Because of the way marijuana was demonized and falsely mythologized, we have it in our heads that marijuana and alcohol do the same things to us. That’s absolutely not the case.

I do some work occasionally for a marijuana tour company here in Los Angeles. The tours start out at a dispensary where (after lots of good, quality information about legal pot), the tour goers buy lots of marijuana. The next stop — a house (owned by the company) where the tour goers can smoke the pot they just bought. That part of the tour lasts about 45 minutes.

Then we take this dozen or so people of varying ages (all over 21 of course) to a glass blowing factory where they can see how bongs are made (it’s very cool actually). Then the tour takes them to a glass warehouse. Now — here’s where the difference between drinkers & pot smokers is most pronounced. This group of people who’ve just spent 45 minutes smoking pot walk into a glass warehouse… and nothing breaks.

Think about it — would you dare take a dozen people who’d been drinking beer for an hour into a glass warehouse? Does that sound like a good idea? Of course not — because people who’ve been drinking lose motor control whereas people who’ve been smoking marijuana GAIN motor control. Fine motor control even.

I’ve watched people I know for a FACT are “high as kites” pick up beautiful, delicate glass bongs — works of art, some of them — like surgeons doing microsurgery. Smoke a lot of strong indica and, yeah, you can get “dopey”. But — because marijuana actually makes your brain “think more” (it causes more of your synapses to open so you process more information — the reason some people feel paranoid), most users can pull out of a cannabis high and think clearly; if you really want them to think clearly, feed them a little CBD; it will mitigate the THC’s effects almost instantaneously.

And, another huge difference, though pot smokers can get loud — they do laugh a lot — they never get violent (contrary to the mythology first drug czar Harry Anslinger invented to scare white people).

Imagine if sports fans smoked pot instead of drinking beer. There would never be violence at the end of a sporting event — though there might be lots of hugging (“You played great, dude!” “But you played better — ya won!”) and a few people happily sleeping or dealing with a severe case of the munchies.

Violence wouldn’t spill from the stadium onto the city streets. That’s for damned sure.

From time to time, I do miss some of the rituals around drinking. I like the process of making a martini. I loved the theater surrounding absinthe and the way a good bottle of red opens up as the tannins oxidize over the course of an hour.

But then I tap a little Durban Poison into my regular glass piece — and, as my mind focuses and the world comes into sharp relief — I could almost forget alcohol ever existed.