Common Misperceptions

This picture is from the time I won a Humans of New York PhotoShop contest, in what is quite possibly the post that will go down in HONY history as the most absurd thing Brandon ever published. And probably, guessing by the huge following he’s amassed since then, the last to deal so flippantly with a substance that is still, in varying degrees, illegal in most places, and one that is so very politically and emotionally charged, which is evident once you scratch beneath the surface of the most popular comments.

Even though I’m properly licensed for possession and consumption of medical marijuana in the State of California, US Federal Law disagrees that I am doing so legally. If they wanted to deal with the mountain of paperwork and prosecution costs that come along with arresting me, giving me a trial, and throwing me in jail, I suppose they could.

There’s a nice cross sample of marijuana-drama in the comments on that post. Most people approach the subject playfully, but there’s a darker side to the public opinion. I was surprised at the vehemence of people who thought it  Let’s talk about some of the more common

Marijuana is a gateway drug. I hear that a lot, especially now that I’m older and talking to a lot more people really openly about past drug use. Though I haven’t touched hard drugs in over fifteen years now, when I was using them, it was because I had impossible cravings to feel “normal.” I didn’t understand my desire to be in an altered state was a legitimate attempt to cope with the imbalances I experienced every day. The problem with the other drugs was the reprieve from my normal brain was temporary, skewed so far toward intoxication that the balance I sought was never achieved. In fact, it swung so widely it completely unbalanced the rest of my life. The desperate need to “get my head straight” was very real, and I continued using all types of drugs, both illicit and prescribed. ADD medications prescribed by doctors changed my personality and negatively affected my body as much as the illicit substances I was taking.

However, once I knew how to use marijuana to deal effectively with my ADD/ADHD and social anxiety, the need to use other drugs or become intoxicated for the sake of intoxication all but disappeared. This didn’t happen without effort on my part, but it always wasn’t exactly difficult once I began finding balance. The crippling ripple-effects of my ADD, such as not being able to pay my bills on time, not remembering commitments, an inability to stay organized or focused long enough to form good habits, were far worse than the problem of moving a little slower than I would have preferred.

Marijuana creates drug addicts. Darlings, if you’re going to become an addict, you’re going to do it with or without access to marijuana. You’re going to pick up drinking, start smoking cigarettes, drinking cough syrup, seeking hard drugs, overeating, not eating, drinking twenty cups of coffee a day supplemented with No-Doz, slamming a handful of Ambien before bed, getting obsessed with calorie-counting, or cleaning your kitchen counters until your hands bleed and have heart palpitations every time someone moves a box of tissues so it’s no longer at a 90 degree angle to the edge of the table.

Marijuana is non-addictive, and you cannot overdose on it. Saying marijuana causes addiction is the absolute equivalent of saying wine creates alcoholics.

Pot doesn’t create addicts, nor do most other drugs and activities. Addiction and obsessive behaviors are about control, and drug addiction is about controlling your mental state. Can’t seem to find a way out of the town you hate? Do some really good drugs and the whole world will disappear. Can’t stomach one more passive-aggressive altercation with your shit boss? Eat some Vicodin, don’t worry – you’ll eventually just stop caring (and pooping)! Feel fat and horrible? Chew on some diet pills, then happily freak out when you lose weight super quickly and chew on some more. Depressed all the time? Have a donut! They’re sugary and gratifying immediately upon consumption. One doesn’t do the trick anymore? How about six? How about six every day. Then every night. Then in your car after lunch.

In my experience, most drugs and most activities will enhance or highlight aspects of your psyche that already exist. Obsessive, addictive, and compulsive issues do not stand alone. They are symptomatic of other, broader issues. If you aren’t dealing with your problems and emotions in a healthy, constructive manner when you’re sober, altering your brain chemistry is not going to make things better. It’s not rocket science, folks. Eating a dozen donuts a day is never about how much you love the taste of donuts, and you’re not going to suddenly develop a deep sense of melancholy when you have a beer if you’re not already struggling with that emotion. Just because you have not identified the overarching problem doesn’t make you any less of a sugar addict or sloppy, sad drunk, though.

Pot does not make me depressed. Depression makes me depressed. If I smoke pot when I’m low, I feel low and stoned. If I smoke pot when I’m happy, I feel happy and also like I just smoked some pot. See how that works?

It’s a funny thing, creating correlations out of nothing when you’re casting around for something on which to place blame. I find that there’s most often no one and nothing to blame other than a lack of self-awareness and accountability. A friend of a friend recently committed suicide. She was a runner. No one said, “It was the running! She did it every day, and it made her kill herself. Running; we need to outlaw it.” But there have been multiple times I’ve seen or heard non-doctors and non-scientists make direct correlations between addiction or suicide and marijuana use — usually without a truly intimate understanding of the other pieces to that victims’ puzzle. It’s the same self-serving, ignorant, non-data-driven, emotional analysis that has people believing vaccines cause autism. But saying those things as if they’re fact, with no respect to the ample, well-researched contrary scientific data that exists, is as dangerously ignorant as saying exercise can cause depression because a runner you know took a bunch of pain pills and never woke up.

You cannot accomplish anything of value if you smoke marijuana. Why? Because you know someone who smokes a lot of pot and doesn’t do anything besides sit on the couch and watch TV? I am a small business owner who works hard every day. I take care of my four animals, my husband, my home, my garden, and this side project you’re enjoying right now — these blogs don’t write themselves, people. I’ve just finished a 400 page novel, and I’m halfway through creating a coloring book. I make music with various collaborators, and I create art every day. My job requires a high level of mental acuity, ability to articulate my thoughts and communicate with all types of people, maintain my bookkeeping and be highly organized, maintain great client relations, and have an extremely high level of accuracy in my math and language skills, as well as attention to very fine detail.

Over the many years I’ve (mostly) been a daily smoker, I’ve worked as an elementary school teacher, not only teaching classes, but building curriculum for computer, science, and arts programs for *K-5th grade. I’ve written a pilot that was picked up and aired on a major television network. I’ve edited and helped develop over fifteen motion picture scripts, two of which have made it to the big screen for International release featuring A-list stars. I have worked as an editor for an International publishing house, and as a senior regional accounts manager for a Fortune 500 company. I have worked in community outreach programs, and I’ve been a conscientious member of my community. I’ve supported my friends and family, and I’ve worked my ass off to chase and secure my dream of being a full-time artist.

To say smoking marijuana has been a crucial part of my ability to obtain success is an understatement. I know I would have not been able to manage that level of multi-tasking and focus without it. In fact, when I do (because I do, periodically) try to quit smoking, the ADD takes over, and I am not able to keep my business from falling apart piece-by-piece as weeks stretch into months. I need to be medicated, and I can do it as-needed, and with an immediate and short-term effect via marijuana. That’s the bottom line.

I am not alone. I am not the exception to the population of people who are using marijuana. I am not the person who defies all odds to be able to lead a productive life and smoke every day, multiple times daily. I am not a glazed over, tie-dye-wearing hippie dancing at a Phish show. I am not a drug-addled criminal who steals my mom’s wedding ring to pay for drugs. I am a focused, successful, happy human with a great marriage, fulfilling friendships and business relationships, who uses marijuana as medication to moderate the negative effects of a small, but terribly disruptive problem with my brain chemistry.

We’re talking about a substance that has massive medical benefit to a lot of people; a substance on which it’s virtually impossible to overdose. A drug that doesn’t cause organ stress, \ is easy to produce and effective for a number of ailments. An easily cultivated plant that, in its unprocessed state, can provide those benefits to people right away. We’re talking, for someone like me, about an alternative to a lifetime of dependency on expensive, obtainable only through a physician, prescription medication that changes my brain chemistry radically enough that, not only are my relationships are affected, but I don’t even feel like myself anymore.

Marijuana is a low impact, environmentally beneficial, medically beneficial plant.

If your poor opinion of marijuana is based on incorrect information, and you are using that opinion to vote and influence others’ beliefs, your ignorance is dangerous to those of us whose lives have been changed for the better by this amazing, gentle medicine and super-plant.

* * * * * *

*And no, I wasn’t smoking or high when children were in my care. Kids require a level of presence in the moment that defies all drugs known to man. If you’re not at the apex of your game, a roomful of first graders will take you down and devour you whole.   

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