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”.

Why Do I Call This Blog What I Call It? Because Bullsh*t Nearly Killed Me, That’s Why!

Devout atheist that I am, I consider myself “born again’. I have seen with my own eyes the havoc bullshit can cause in both my daily life and over the whole length of it. I bear witness to bullshit’s remarkable power to convince us that it is truth and truth is bullshit. Actually, bullshit’s much more clever than that. Bullshit convinces us that our feelings are more valid than facts. That empirical truth does not exist outside our own heads, making it as fluid as our thoughts. If we think something’s so, it is so, no receipts required. . Bullshit tells us that Life is how it is and people are how they are and there’s nothing we can do to change it — that the cynicism tugging at us is correct. Paired with an angry, confused, judgmental deity, that cynicism can turn deadly. Happiness, we become convinced (by bullshit) is a matter of how we navigate our way around our bullshit and everyone else’s. In bullshit’s defense, bullshit has that half-right. The trick to living life with even a modicum of success or happiness is to focus on your own bullshit FIRST before worrying about anyone else’s. If your experience is anything like mine, dealing with your own bullshit will be a full-time job; you will literally NEVER have time to even think of anyone else’s.

My own personal bullshit had me convinced I could disappear from Life without causing my family excessive harm — that money would eventually assuage the “bad feelings”. Talk about bullshit. But, bullshit won the argument. Three days before Christmas 2016, I came within literal inches of killing myself. A decade-long depression got triggered by Trump’s seizing the presidency (he did not “win” it legitimately) into full-on self-destruction. The thing about depression is, it robs you of perspective. The deeper the depression, the less perspective you have; I had come to believe that the world was the narrow, future-less tunnel I saw it as. It wasn’t, of course. It never was. And, as my personal darkness drove me toward increasingly irrational action, I did it having denied for 45 years that at age fourteen, I was sexually molested twice by the religious director at the synagogue where my family belonged.

I had gotten it into my head that me getting sexually molested was MY FAULT. It wasn’t, of course. That was bullshit!

Long story short, being molested put me on an island because only my molester and I knew that secret about us. Anyone else? Nope! That meant (in the irrational reasoning of my young mind) that if you didn’t know this about me, you didn’t know “me”. Since I wasn’t sharing my secret (and my molester definitely wasn’t), no one was ever going to really know me. No one. And, as you sit there, on that island, you slowly begin to blame yourself for being there. And every terrible thing that happens to you? Well, hell — that’s YOUR fault, stupid! I can only speak for and from my own experience. Once you’ve opened the door to self-loathing, it’s a hard, HARD door to shut. What makes it so hard? It’s bullshit that’s fighting you every time you try to close it.

When I first realized how close I had come to hurting myself because bullshit told me to, I literally laughed out loud. “Ya dumb sonofabitch,” I said to myself, “You came within inches of bullshitting yourself to death!” Could anything possibly be stupider?

Yeah — bullshit can kill. It kills. I still think a lot about Anthony Bourdain. The guy was at the top of his game but his darkness got him anyway. Anthony Bourdain’s bullshit won out over Anthony Bourdain. That’s no knock on Anthony Bourdain. That, in essence, is a respectful tribute to the strength of Mr. Bourdain’s bullshit — it convinced him he didn’t need to be here anymore while literally everyone else on the planet saw it differently.

We just lived through four years where bullshit ran amok. Hell, bullshit convinced us that a president who bullshitted us every damned day was “how it was”. Talk about bullshit!

I knew my darkness had me in its thrall but I feared medication. My dad was a surgeon; I grew up in the medical culture; I don’t see doctors demagogically. My dad saw what he did as equal parts science and guess work. He saw the insurance companies as greedy gate keepers with hospitals as their equally greedy collaborators. The Hypocritic Oath doesn’t mention profit incentive anywhere. While I had a GP I liked and trusted, I knew however that they had little to no background in mood stabilizers and how to prescribe them correctly. Probably the only mood stabilizer they even knew about was the one a pharmaceutical rep left behind on her last customer service visit to the office. “Hey,” the Pharmaceutical Rep said as she set the samples down on the counter, “If you have any patients complaining of depression, try these!”

The problem with this class of drug is it takes time to reveal whether or not it’s working. Since everyone’s brain chemistry is different, it’s hard to accurately predict what any one mood stabilizer will do to or for any one person contemplating it. Normally, it takes six to eight weeks to get an inkling of whether it’s working or not. It’s entirely possible that the mood stabilizer could take a bad situation and make it worse. As Screenwriting God William Goldman said of the film business, “No one knows anything”. FFS, we do not even know how we’re all doing this — writing blogs, reading blogs, having conversations — having thoughts themselves. We don’t know where our memories come from — yeah, sure — we know what part of the brain they seem to emanate from. But we don’t know how they convert from lived experience to remembered experience.

And we have to consider THAT in the context of teenage boys who seem to walk around with zero remembered experience. But, I digress…

After seeing quite clearly that in a moment of sheer irrationality I now had it in me to commit to that irrationality completely, I drove straight to my GP’s office and told them what had just happened. I immediately got great service. Just like that, I was sitting with not just my GP but the head honcho doctor too! I told them everything. Told them my fear of medication — and why I felt as I did. But, I also told them of the research I’d been doing on my own. I’d looked into every mood stabilizer there was, looking for the one that might hold my depression at bay while leaving my hypomanic side mostly alone. I’m bipolar, ya see. I worried that if the mood stabilizer I chose dealt with the depression but made writing impossible, I’d be right back in the darkness’ thrall. I’d read anecdotal evidence (the only evidence there is) suggesting lamotrigine could be my answer.

Immediately, my GP and his boss whipped out their smart phones and looked up lamotrigine. Yes, they agreed, that could definitely work for me; they agreed to write the prescription. I took it, picked up the meds from my local pharmacy, went home and told my family what I was going to do. Swallowing that first .25 milligram little white pill, I expected a long period of wondering to begin. Instead, I got lucky. Within thirty-six hours, I leveled. I felt it. I experienced my first evidence not only that the lamotrigine would definitely work for me but HOW it would work.

My anger back then was volcanic. Once triggered, it was usually a matter of seconds before the rage in my gut exploded out my mouth in a profanity-laced screed. Anything could set me off: a stupid political argument I heard on the radio, other drivers, me if I dropped something (and bigger still if it broke). I don’t remember specifically what sparked the rage in my gut, only that it sparked — and, once sparked, it flowed back on itself like a blocked toilet. I felt the rage rising in me like it always did, picking up speed as it blew past my stomach, racing upward toward my mouth. And just as I fully expected that metastasizing anger to metamorphose into a lava spew — “Paf!” — the rage dissipated like a soap bubble popping.

I knew I had just felt the rage — felt its hold on me — and just like that — I knew I had felt the rage in the abstract but I did not feel it in any practical way that I could point at. It really was kind of like the anger “never was”.

Realizing that my darkness could no longer dominate me liberated me. In time — a few months — it even gave me the confidence (that’s the biggest, best benefit of perspective — it builds your confidence) to go at it head on. Now, able to confront my demon without that demon destroying me, I confessed my own truth to myself. Yeah, the night I spent weeping quietly on the bathroom floor (because I didn’t want to wake my wife and have to explain) was long, lonely and hard. But it destroyed the bullshit chains forever.

That’s the night I was “born again” — as a person. That was the day I started living my life unencumbered by the giant piece of bullshit that, unbeknownst to me, had dominated my life.

And it felt AWESOME!

Seeing everything in context also was awesome. “Hey,” I said to myself, suddenly feeling good about things, “bullshit nearly killed you. Are there any other ways bullshit’s making your life harder than it should be?”

I bet you can guess the answer to that question. Bullshit, it turned out, was dominating virtually every aspect of my life. For starters, I hadn’t slept well in years. Financial difficulties and sleep aren’t pals. I had been using (abusing really) OTC products like Simply Sleep. They’re anti-histamines. They don’t so much produce “sleep” as “unconsciousness for a while”. You wake up in the morning — if you sleep — feeling groggy and unprepared for the day. I wanted no part of anything stronger. I was terrified of what my brain would do with Ambien in it. Bullshit had convinced me that this problem was forever. It wasn’t. I live in California. I got myself a medical marijuana prescription and from the first day I started using cannabis as a sleep aid, I’ve slept wonderfully.

With bullshit negating my sleep, I’d start each day by putting on my bullshit colored lenses while breathing deeply from bullshit scented air. Lie in for another ten minutes, I’d bullshit myself, it won’t matter (bullshit — it did!). Never mind missing this deadline — they’ll be cool with it (they weren’t!). Ignore the warning signs that your marriage is struggling; those problems can wait till later (no, they can’t). Everything bad happening to me is my fault. No, it isn’t — but, then, it isn’t everyone else’s fault either. The world is more complicated than that: take off the bullshit-colored lenses and SEE IT.

That’s why I started this blog. I’m learning as I go and sharing my notes. Is living bullshit free for everyone? I have no idea — that’s someone else’s bullshit to worry about. That’s not to say that if another person’s bullshit gets them in trouble that I have zero obligation to them. That’s bullshit too. If I have to put my own bullshit aside to help them because of their bullshit — that’s what I must do. In the aftermath, I can only hope that, with this newfound perspective, that person, too, will have discovered bullshit’s hold on them and, like me, will want to break that hold.

We live in a new cycle where the Biggest Story There Is (after the worldwide Covid pandemic) is “The Big Lie”. To call it what it really is, it’s bullshit. One of our two political parties (and its mob boss leader) is trying to shove bullshit down our collective throats.

I guess if I wanted to be a hundred percent accurate I’d call this blog “Learning How To Live Bullshit Free” since that’s what I’m really doing everyday — and writing about it here. I gotta keep reminding myself: the second I get it into my head that I “know” how to live bullshit free? The bullshit will be winning again.

Dispatches From The War On Drugs — Is That Marijuana We Smell? Or “Surrender”?

I took marijuana to an airport yesterday — out in the open. Here’s what happened…

I never imagined I would become a warrior in the War On Drugs. I definitely never imagined that cannabis would touch my life so profoundly that I’d take up its cause with a Kamakazi’s zeal.

For reference’s sake — I wasn’t into pot when I was in high school. The handful of times I tried it, it put me right to sleep. Same all the way through college. I preferred cocaine. Speed worked better with my hypomania. At least, I thought it did at the time. I preferred ecstasy. Even psybocilin the one time I tried it. And, of course, there was always always ALWAYS alcohol.

Then Life happened. Ups, downs and everything in between. By the time I reached my mid 50’s, I was depressed and getting more so. Sleep was getting hard to come by. I had no interest in taking Ambien — knowing how my mind worked, that pretty much guaranteed I’d snap to from a fugue state in some strange, public place, completely naked. Wasn’t gonna happen.

I’d been taking Simply Sleep knock off’s for years. Occasionally I would get some sleep from it. Mostly it just made me groggy the next morning and screwed with my short term memory. Living in California, (back before full legalization), I had access to medical marijuana. Being at the very end of my tether, I found a doctor nearby who prescribed.

It wasn’t illicit — but it felt illicit. That’s how powerful bullshit is. “What’s your issue?” “Insomnia,” I said. I began to explain but he held up his hand. Not necessary. He wrote the prescription on his computer, printed it and handed it to me. Short $69, I walked out the door.

Next stop — my local dispensary — located almost literally under a freeway overpass. The only thing it needed to be a full on crime scene was the yellow police tape. I filled out their extensive paperwork. Showed them my California picture ID and my RX. I was buzzed through to the “showroom”, a few old display cases with pipes, bongs, papers, the few edibles then on the market (Cheeba Chews mostly) and a dozen large jars filled with cannabis flower.

My first budtender (I didn’t know he was called that then) welcomed me like I was a “customer” or something. The whole experience — that first time especially was surreal (something about it remains surreal). “Insomnia,” I said.

“Skywalker,” said my Budtender. As he went for the Skywalker jar, my immediate thought was “cute name”. I had no idea — zilch — that Skywalker wasn’t just a “name”, it was a genuine cannabis strain — a known quantity with known effects if you smoked it. It wasn’t the product of a bunch of stoners stumbling upon a plant that made the dope they liked, it was a hybridized product of serious work by serious people. Skywalker was a kind of “brand”. In theory, Skywalker was as reproducible a product as a Big Mac.

My Budtender offered me the jar — so I could smell it. Yup. Smelled like dope. I bought two grams. Took them home, intensely curious about what the dried flower in the plastic vile would do to me that night. I’d already bought a small glass pipe and a lighter. I didn’t have a grinder. Didn’t know I needed one.

I was as green as the Skywalker in the vial in my hand. But, that night, I ground up some of the leaves between my fingertips, snuck outside and smoked it. It didn’t take long — a few minutes — before a feeling of calm came over me. My hypomanic mind slowed down. Then sleep beckoned. Usually, I had to go hunting for it. But, with Skywalker’s THC now in my brain, sleep came looking for me. As I slipped into bed beside my wife, the feeling of sleepiness became downright delicious.

All I remember after that is waking up the next morning, feeling RESTED for the first time in… forever. In time (subjects for other blog posts), I’d learn that cannabis wasn’t just for bedtime. I was buying from one jar at the dispensary. What was in all the others?

Turned out cannabis could be genuinely useful first thing in the morning, too. Turned out pretty much EVERYTHING I knew or thought about cannabis was absolutely wrong. And the more I corrected that problem — the more I learned about cannabis — why it was “illegalized” (check out my series Blunt Truths at Weedmaps News) — the more I learned about the differences between indicas, sativas and hybrids — the more I found that cannabis & me were, in myriad ways, soul mates.

I’d even say we’re “buds”.

Back to my airport story… A few days ago, I traveled from LA to visit family on the East Coast.

In California, cannabis is legal. Because I’m over 21, I can walk around with 28.5 grams of cannabis flower in my possession (I can also have 8 grams of marijuana concentrate — I can even possess six living cannabis plants at my private residence. In California, these are my constitutional rights.

I can possess the flower and concentrate at my house, on the street, in my car (so long as I’m not actually using it then and there, mind you) and — still Constitutionally legal — at the airport. Until I board the airplane — where the FAA and the Federal government have jurisdiction — the weed in my possession is 100% legal.

So — I’m at LAX the other day. I know my rights here in California. I intended to travel some of cannabis with me to the east for personal consumption. The place I was going — another state where cannabis is legal. I know for a fact, as I go through the TSA security line that the vials of cannabis flower in clear view in my carry on bags (I now grind my flower and put it into 5 or 10 dram vials that I label with the strain’s name & type — there will be no mistaking what’s in those vials). I also was traveling with clearly marked edibles. I did not repackage my THC gummy worms with store-bought ones (as one normally does).

Quick footnote — on the day cannabis went fully legal in Nevada, an interesting phenomenon happened. The dispensaries all ran out of edibles. This happened principally because Nevada made a deal with the devil (in this case the liquor distributors who, shocking, did not have their shit together on Day One like they promised to); all re-stocking of retail supply had to be handled by the liquor distributors. Dumb, dumb, dumb. BUT – the phenomenon part is this: most of the sales, it’s believed, were made to non-Nevadans — tourists — who were about to get onto airplanes with loads of THC — in their food.

The wide availability of THC in food that looks exactly like non-THC food changes the game with no going back. It’s unpolice-able. Now that semi-legalization has unleashed all that THC-inspired creativity, there aren’t too many formats THC won’t take going forward. I’m not saying I’ve broken the law and traveled with THC-laced food in the past, but, I might know one or two people who have.

Being a “Have a plan B in your pocket” kind of person, I prepared myself in case the TSA agent understood the law “differently”. I drew plan B from my pocket when my computer backpack got flagged and pulled aside for a hand inspection.

I stepped up to the counter — not anxious so much as wary (I already had lots of THC in me). The TSA agent saw — and moved right past the 5 vials clearly containing cannabis — to the (I thought it was empty) water bottle that was there, too. There was an ounce of water left inside it. I needed to either lose the water bottle or leave my bags with my young adult kids, exit the secure area, dump the water and go through security again — water bottle in hand.

I’ve had this water bottle for a while. It’s a good water bottle. It’s my tennis water bottle. I’m not ditching it because I overlooked a few swallows of water. I left my bags with my kids and did the whole security dance again. Then I carried on through the airport to my gate — water bottle & cannabis still in my possession.

I saw the future — where cannabis was normal and, to a degree already, normalized. It was awesome.

Better than awesome. It was sane.

My Cannabis Journey: How THC Is Saving My Life Every Day

Okay — that’s probably hyperbole. I could remove THC from my life and continue living exactly as I am. But, because I live in California, I have a choice — and I choose to use cannabis for a boatload of very good reasons.

I turned to cannabis as a last resort. I wasn’t a big cannabis user in high school or college. If it was there, I did it but it always put me to sleep. Cocaine (by the time I got to college) was the drug of choice. When I think of all the time and money spent chasing an ethereal dragon — a moment or two of exhilaration followed by more lines, more bumps, more angsting about why the high wasn’t kicking like it was supposed to — I want to scream at myself. I wouldn’t have turned to cannabis instead. Being young and stupid, I wouldn’t have listened to myself.

In later life, restful sleep became hard to come by. I took OTC sleep meds for years — Simply Sleep mostly or its knock-offs. These are actually antihistamines. Sleep is a side effect. So is memory loss.

Between deep depression & memory loss — compounded by lack of sleep because the pills were only occasionally efficacious — I was on a downward spiral. I finally broke down and went for a cannabis prescription. What’d I have to lose, I asked myself. Dope was legal. Dope had always put me to sleep in the past. The worst that could happen was exactly what was already happening.

As some of you may know, I’ve written a 13-part series of articles for WeedmapsNews called “Blunt Truths“. The series delves into the mythology America’s first drug czar, Harry Anslinger, invented out of whole cloth to gain his little bureau (started in 1930) the money, manpower and mandate Anslinger wanted. I walked in the door of that first dispensary in Silver Lake, my head filled with Harry Anslinger’s bullshit mythology.

Virtually everything I knew about cannabis — aside from the fact that, in the past, it had put me to sleep — was based on lies (except I didn’t know it yet). I told my first budtender that I was there because of insomnia.

His immediate reply: “Skywalker”.

I chuckled at the name — thinking to myself, “Cute”. I had no idea that cute as the name was, Skywalker was not this one shop’s attempt at clever marketing. Skywalker is a recognized cannabis strain that is grown all over. The people who first started growing and working with Skywalker wanted to create a consistent plant with consistent qualities. The goal of the cannabis industry is to make Skywalker (or any established strain) as consistent a product as a Big Mac. Of course there will be variations from plant to plant — it’s a plant, not a robot. Or a Big Mac.

I’ve come to think of cannabis as a cross between a Big Mac and a good cabernet sauvignon clone. Just as the cab grape is bred, cross-bred and hybridized to bring out certain qualities while minimizing others, so, too, are cannabis strains manipulated. There’s more to cannabis than just its THC or CBD. There is a whole host of other active chemicals in cannabis — terpenes that give cannabis its flavor but also deliver a range of other distinct effects.

Mycrene, for instance, has a relaxing, calming, anti-spasmodic and sedative effect. Combined with THC, mycrene increases THC’s psychoactive potential. Limonene’s presence produces a distinct citrus smell to the cannabis it calls home. Limonene also has anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties. This description comes from the web site Alchima — “It prevents the deterioration of the RAS gene, one of the factors that contribute to the development of tumors. It also protects against Aspergillus and carcinogens present in smoke. Limonene quickly and easily penetrates the blood-brain barrier, which increases systolic pressure. During testing on the effects of limonene, participants experienced an increase in attention, mental focus, well-being and even sex drive. Limonene is used sometimes in spray form, to treat depression and anxiety. It also has the effect of reducing the unpleasantness of gastric acid and stimulates the immune system. Plants use limonenes to ward off predators; for example, it repells flies like any insecticide.”

I had no idea whatsoever that these attributes existed or were a very real part of the product I was so tentatively sniffing, my budtender extending a giant mason jar filled with Skywalker buds toward me. I bought a couple of grams. Took them home and (before I had the sense to purchase a grinder), broke off little, sappy bits of leaf that I stuffed into the cheap little glass pipe I also bought.

In one night, I went from being a problematic sleeper to a half decent sleeper. I still sleep too few hours but the quality of my sleep went from broken and restless to deeply satisfying. Whereas I used to wake up every morning feeling exhausted as my feet found the floor, now I get up ready for whatever. In time, I learned how to use edibles; a combination of smoked flower and edibles produces as much as 7 hours of rock solid, restful sleep.

So — right off the bat, cannabis brought a positive impact to my life that Big Pharma couldn’t. A healthful effect.

On subsequent visits to that first dispensary, I grew curious. I loved the Skywalker. What was in all those other mason jars? That’s when I learned the difference between indicas, sativas and hybrids. And, yes — there is a marked difference.

For the uninitiated — indicas (the majority of available strains by a long shot) are the strains most people know about or have experienced. They induce euphoria, bliss and sleep. Sativas, on the other hand, produce euphoria, bliss and mental focus. Hybrids combine sativa and indica qualities or multiple sativa qualities or multiple hybrid qualities.

Let me describe my first experience with the hybrid Dutch Treat. Keep in mind — these are psychoactive drugs that work differently inside each of us depending on our individual brain chemistry. The first feeling is warm syrup coating everything. It doesn’t create distance, it just swathes everything in contentment. A feeling of evenness and calm. Whatever comes at me, I can handle it. This was followed by a sense of my mind coming into focus. Or focusing on everything around it.

Our thoughts are created when electricity flows between synapses in our brains. Our synapses are like digital circuits. They’re either open or closed. The more synapses that are open — the more information our brains are receiving. THC causes more synapses to be open rather than closed. The reason some people feel paranoid is because so much more information is coming at them. That sudden influx of more info and raw data than they’re used to can feel oppressive. Though the info is disembodied, we attach a body to it — we feel like we’re being spied on by “someone” who seems to “know” more about us than we’re comfortable with. It’s not an outside person “spying” on us of course — it’s just us processing more information.

For whatever reason, my brain (like a lot of peoples’) doesn’t react to all that additional information with paranoia. Instead, I feel as if I’m more aware. My thoughts are clearer, cleaner. More cogent. The reason jazz musicians took up cannabis back in the early 20th century is because all those clear, clean thoughts can be translated into music. Or, in my case, words.

Dutch Treat made me incredibly productive — not in a coked-out, shotgun kind of way but in a focused, electron-microscope kind of way. Dutch Treat was the tip of an iceberg I’ve come to adore and rely on.

I’m hypomanic (as I’ve written here). The inside of my head is like a black box theater (think of a shoebox, painted all black inside). Walk through the door and you’ll find a dozen or more movies being projected from every conceivable angle. Some are color. Others black and white or even sepia. They’re old movies, ideas, memories. Laser lights flash on and off, too — and music and sound. It’s quite a show — but distracting as hell. While indicas shut it all down, putting me to sleep, sativas and sativa-dominant hybrids, merely slow it all down. Rather, the THC drops a kind of mental scrim in front of most of the projections, giving me the chance to focus on two or three at a time — so I can work productively.

In time — with lots of experimentation — I made strains like Durban Poison, GG4, Clementine and Pineapple Express part of my daily THC regimen. I start my work day around 5 am — with a little coffee and a good solid hit of GG4 (formerly Gorilla Glue #; they had to stop calling it that cos the Gorilla Glue company threatened to sue). Between the coffee, the GG4 and the Durban Poison, the world comes into very sharp relief.

Let’s be clear. Just like no one thing is uniformly good for everyone, cannabis isn’t for everyone. But I bet it’d be good for far more people than even currently use it. Hell — if they stopped selling beer at sporting events and sold cannabis instead, there would never be another riot following a sports match. There would, however, be lots of hugging and high-fiving.

Maybe some sleeping, too.