Yes, I’m Dependent on Weed

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New York Magazine / By Andrew Sullivan / Sept 15, 2017

Do I smoke too much pot? It’s a question I’ve asked myself over the years, and it raised its uncomfortable head this week as I absorbed the results of the latest National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

The first thing to note about the report is the good news. One of the major and legitimate fears of those who have opposed legalization is that teen use would increase. Weed is genuinely harmful to the developing adolescent brain and those of us who passionately advocated legalization argued that making it legal would actually make it harder for teens to get hold of on the black market, and thereby could actually reduce teen use. And so far, happily, we’ve been proven right. Teen use of weed is now at its lowest since 1994, and has dropped by a statistically meaningful amount since 2014, when the first states legalized it for recreational use. Adult use has continued to rise — so that now, 21 percent of the 18–25 age bracket smoke weed monthly or more (up from 13 percent in 1990), and 14.5 percent between 26 and 34 (up from 9.5 percent in 1990). But it’s only marginally up since some states legalized — and at the same time there’s been a small but meaningful drop in alcohol consumption. Slam dunk for our side.

But what stood out for me was how much of the use is concentrated among us daily stoners. In 2002, we were only 12 percent of users; now we’re over 18 percent. Of the total amount of weed consumed, we comprise a much bigger percentage than anyone else. And daily use of weed is around three times as common as daily use of booze. So what? Well, the question is really something called “dependence.” The DSM IV definition of this is a little vague. It’s not a physiological condition like addiction. Rather it’s defined thus by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: problems with emotions and mental health, difficulties with family and friends, taking time off from work or school, and being unable to cut down. As a percentage, more pot users admit to such problems than boozers.

Am I in denial about these worries when it comes to myself? A little perhaps.

I fit a rare profile for a daily stoner. I didn’t touch the stuff until I was 36 years old, largely because I have chronic asthma and the idea of smoke in my lungs repelled me. But I was literally seduced into it. A beautiful, blue-eyed, hairy-chested dude I was completely bowled over by turned out to be a hard-core stoner. The night we met, he invited me to smoke with him. I pretended I was totally cool with that, pulled a Clinton by not really inhaling, and thought I’d get away with it. I was, however, busted. “You don’t know how to smoke pot, do you?” he asked. And then he showed me. I have a vague memory of what happened next — some incredible nonlinear sex was definitely part of it — and woke up in the morning after an amazing night’s sleep with a ravenous appetite. This alone was a revelation. I’d been a chronic insomniac since childhood as well as finding it very hard to sleep well next to someone else. Boom! That was over. More surprising was hunger. At that point, I was taking well over 30 pills a day to handle HIV (in what subsequently turned out to be massive overdosing), and there hadn’t been a single day since I started the meds that I hadn’t felt nauseous. Boom! Instantly healed. As I tucked into some scrambled eggs at breakfast, I actually enjoyed my first meal in years.

That was enough for me. Disrupting my work? Impeding my productivity? A couple years later, as a daily stoner, I was writing a blog round-the-clock along wth a weekly column. In many ways, it helped my productivity by finally ending my insomnia. It’s always been hard for me to turn my brain off, and linear, analytical thoughts crowd my mind often to the point of mania. But now, with a mere joint, I unwind quickly after every day’s work and fall asleep within minutes of lying down. My friendships? Yes, I spend less time socializing than I used to, and my friendships have dwindled to a loyal core. But work itself was more of an impediment than the weed for a long time. And cannabis also gave me a whole new set of stoner friends, some of them now my closest buddies. There’s a brotherhood out there that I would never have encountered before.

My mind, moreover, shifted into a much more nonlinear and creative mood when I was high. I never write when stoned. But I do let my mind wander, revisit my writing in my head, see better its flaws, drill down past my defenses, and allow myself to explore alternative ideas. One more thing: My experience of music changed. For the first time, I was able to turn off the ordeal of consciousness and allow myself to listen properly. It hasn’t really enhanced my appreciation of food (eating still basically bores me) but it has sharpened and deepened my visual capacities. It can make Cape light even more transcendent and transforming.

But my memory? Much worse. My lungs? They’ve taken a hit, even if vaping has helped. Weed may shorten my life by hurting my lungs — but endless insomnia might have shortened it more. Could I go cold turkey? I have from time to time, but it’s not easy, largely because the insomnia always returns. In that sense, I’m busted. By some criteria, I am dependent. Others may find that dependence an impediment to their lives and work, and legalizers don’t need to deny that. We’re all different, and weed most definitely isn’t for everyone. But compared with all the other substances available, and most other avenues to chill and friendship, it remains, it seems to me, a no-brainer to legalize it, and for many sane adults, one of God’s great gifts to humankind.


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