Here is something I wrote yesterday. It's still unfinished, but I just wanted to put it out there because I think it's important.
I don't expect everyone to agree with all of this, as these are things that up until the past few years, I strongly disagreed with. However, due to quitting toking, I have been looking at recreational Cannabis usage in a very different light and wanted to share my experiences and would love to hear some feedback
<b>Thinking Outside the Stash Box</b>
I live in Belfast, Northern Ireland and I've lived here since the age of ten. This is a place where, much like most places I suppose, when you hit puberty and adolescence, the only thing there really is to do for fun on weekends, or any other time for that matter, is get drunk and/or take other drugs. Of course there are a few other things you could do, but when you're 13 and growing up here, it is very easy to become caught up in the lifestyle that most teens live, and that is usually the onset of drug abuse and alcoholism.
This place has its problems, I'm not sure if you're aware of them. There is an excessive amount of sectarianism, racism, and segregation between communities that has been going on for many decades. There is a lot of hate. All this plus the mostly year-round terrible weather, is a great recipe for depression, discontent amongst the youth and extreme escapism.
From the age of around 13-14 I started using Cannabis almost every day. Almost all of my friends use it, and also most of the older generation that I know. It is pretty normal, and often seen as separate from usage of other drugs and drinking. This is not limited to this country as I'm sure is pretty clear if you're a "stoner" or know a stoner.
It has only been in recent years and much more-so recent weeks, that I have seen recreational and chronic Cannabis usage in a whole new light.
I want to begin with one of the biggest myths about Cannabis that is perpetuated by the legalisation movement and the Cannabis community, and possibly the most important. It is this:
<b>"Cannabis is not addictive"</b>
This could not be further from the truth. It also includes the other myth, that "Cannabis is not a drug". I believe both of these statements to be utterly untrue, and merely pro-Cannabis propaganda. I'll explain.
In many respects, it is true that Cannabis is not AS addictive as other psychoactive substances, some of which are legal and accepted within our society such as nicotine and alcohol. Due to this, it is often put forth that Cannabis is relatively harmless as it does not have the level of addictiveness that these accepted and more harmful drugs have. Also the fact that no one has actually died as a direct consequence of ingesting or consuming Cannabis like many have from years of alcohol and cigarette abuse. It is true to an extent that Cannabis is not "physically" addictive, in that it is pretty easy to just stop using it completely cold turkey without any real physical danger or threat to your body.
However, I have found that it IS extremely addictive on a psychological level. And I have found that psychological dependency is actually one of the most difficult forms of addiction to overcome, albeit worse for some more than others. I know several people, myself included, who stopped using Cannabis completely with relative physical ease, yet they still struggle with psychological cravings. They still, some of them years later, feel as though there is a part of them missing, simply because Cannabis was such a big part of their lives for so long.
Also, there ARE physical withdrawal symptoms, as well as physical ailments that occur even when Cannabis is still being used daily. These include but are not limited to: headaches, physical anxiety/nervousness, nausea, loss of appetite, lethargy. Examples, when I was still using Cannabis daily, I woke up every morning feeling physically anxious, sick to my stomach. This would only go away when I had a smoke. For years I believed myself to have some sort of anxiety disorder and that I was self-medicating with Cannabis. Only when I stopped using it did I realise that Cannabis was actually causing it. And I know several other people who get the exact same thing.
The fact that Cannabis is not "physically" addictive means little. After all, ALL addiction, whether classed as mental, or physical, has an impact on both sides of the spectrum, and both sides are intrinsically linked at all times. Mental health is just as, if not more, important as physical health, due to the fact that we still do not fully understand the mind, and that it can be much, much harder to heal mental illness and ailments.
<b>"Cannabis is not a drug"</b>
I think most of us who have either dabbled or partaken in the Cannabis culture and community have over the years heard this phrase. Often it is used in jest, the late Bill Hicks stating that "They lump all drugs together. It's not gonna work. Pot and crack? Hey, hey, hey, dude! Don't put pot in the drug category. It's a herb, man…". However I have also heard many users say basically this exact same thing in all seriousness. Whether they got it from Bill or elsewhere is uncertain.
While I agree that all psychoactive substances certainly should not be lumped into the same category, that some are more dangerous than others, that they should be classed by their true level of danger and that the differences should be noted and studied truthfully instead of to the scale set out by scare tactics and anti-drug propaganda, I believe that many people, especially our youth, are being grossly misguided by statements such as this. The fact that is is used in jest actually makes it all the more dangerous, because it takes a serious subject and puts a light-hearted cover over it. As a result, many young people, myself included, are being led to believe that Cannabis actually is not something that should be seriously thought of as a drug, that it is completely harmless and that it has almost no negative side effects like many herbal medicines.
While Cannabis can indeed be classed as a medicine and as a herb, it most certainly still has an intense psychoactive effect. It is sometimes even difficult to classify as it has effects seen in that of other depressants, stimulants, and even psychedelic or hallucinogenic drugs.
The idea that "Cannabis is not a drug" leads people to believe that, being apparently a harmless herb, that it is nothing out of the ordinary to use it every day ("smoke weed every day"), in almost every aspect of life. That it's not even really addictive so what would be wrong with using it all the time? That it's not even really a drug, so how could it be possible to abuse it?
I have found through my own experience and reading reports from many others as well as just talking to others, that Cannabis most certainly is a drug, and a powerful one at that. It has a strong power of altering one's perception, consciousness and thought processes. I am not saying that it does this in a necessarily bad way, merely that it DOES do it. In fact I believe that occasional Cannabis usage can be great for the mind, as it can allow one to think about things in much more rational and objective ways. However, it is very possible for use to turn into abuse, and for those ways of thinking to become normal, so normal that not having a smoke or not being stoned seems alien. And when you get used to being stoned all the time, it can be extremely difficult to familiarise yourself with your TRUE normal thought processes when you can't get any weed or don't have a smoke for a few days.
<b>"Paranoia is caused by prohibition</b>"
This is probably a less common one, but still one that I have heard from a few people over the years. The idea that the paranoia associated with Cannabis usage is merely caused by the fact that it is illegal, that the paranoia is a myth propagated by those who wish to keep it illegal, and that if only it were legal and accepted by society, there would be no paranoia.
This is wrong. The very fact that Cannabis alters your perception, your senses, and much of the time, heightens your awareness, is the true cause of the "paranoia". I have found similar effects from other psychedelic substances, such as LSD. Because your senses and awareness have been heightened, you think and analyse more about what is happening around you. You become so aware of it, and the fact that maybe other people are not conscious of the same things as you are, that it can become a very uncomfortable experience. The thoughts of what others are thinking about you often come into play, as well as overanalysing your own actions and behaviors, and how others might perceive them.
However, it is also possible to familiarise yourself to this to the extent that it is still there, yet it does not bother you so much. Over the years, I actually forced myself into public spaces, normal every day tasks and endeavours, so that I could get used to the paranoid feelings and not be so bothered by them. At the time I thought that this was just me proving the so-called "paranoia myth" wrong. But now I realise that I was actually just forcing myself to become accustomed to the ultra-conscious thinking that was undeniably in existence in my mind.
The other thing that I believe is linked with this paranoia is the anxiety that Cannabis can cause. Sometimes the anxiety causes paranoid, irrational thoughts, and in turn the paranoid thoughts cause the anxiety. It actually appears to be a vicious cycle, one feeding off the other and vice versa.
<b>Other problems I experienced</b>
It doesn't take a lot of research to see that there are many, many studies done that show at least some correlation between Cannabis and depression, schizophrenia, temporal lobe damage and psychosis, to name but a few. Damage to the temporal lobe can cause some of the most horrific variety of mental defects and bizarre, violent and immoral behaviors you can possibly think of. For years I read these studies briefly, decided they weren't conclusive enough, and therefore had absolutely zero merit or truth. And just kept on toking.
Now I am trying to be smarter about it. Just because Cannabis is a plant that grows naturally on our planet certainly does not make it harmless. For years I thought natural drugs were all okay. Harmless in comparison to synthetically produced chemicals. Now I see the difference is rather miniscule.
I am honestly terrified and worried about my mental health. For ten years I have been damaging my brain, thinking that it was all okay and not anything to be concerned about. That all the grown ups telling me there are dangers were just fuddy duddies trying to make me have less of a good time.
My memory is now pitiful, albeit it is better than some people I know.
I have read probably up to 15-20 books cover to cover in all that time. FIFTEEN. When it could have been FIVE HUNDRED if I read a book a week. I started more than that, but never finished them let alone remember what they said.
I have finished maybe 30 drawings. Not to the best of my ability. Nowhere near it. And started countless others that never got finished, simply because I couldn't go back to finish them if I wasn't stoned, or if I wasn't in the same mindset as when I started. Now it feels almost impossible to draw anything.
IN TEN YEARS.
I feel like have lost ten years of my life to this "non-drug".
I have been severely depressed, detached, anxious, paranoid about ridiculous things, have behaved in ways that I am not proud of because of these paranoias. Many relationships destroyed. Jobs lost. Normal things like doctors appointments put off for months. Fear of everyday things like making phone calls. And I believe the majority of it was either caused or exacerbated by chronic Cannabis abuse.
I conclude by saying that, while I am still completely in favour of decriminalisation and legalisation of Cannabis for medicinal and recreational purposes (as I know that there are many people who do in fact need it for its health benefits, and also that people should have the right and the choice to use it recreationally if they so wish... as well as many other practical reasons that I DO agree with the Cannabis community on), there needs to be a more balanced and honest view shown of Cannabis usage, and our youth need to be given facts as well as being shown anecdotal experiences from all sides, instead of either just scare tactics or blindly following this "it's all harmless" mentality like so many people do.
Our youth need to be made aware of the ACTUAL dangers that Cannabis CAN have, instead of being fed half-truths and light-hearted jokes about a very powerful plant.
So, to all those Cannabis users out there, and to all those who may be considering trying it, know what you are getting into. Don't believe all the scare tactics, but don't just follow the stoner iconography and harmless mentality either. Research, read. Look at what actual studies have shown, even if they are non-conclusive, and don't just dismiss them because of that. There are correlations between Cannabis and mental illness, it is not just some big ploy by anti-Cannabis folk.
Respect your mind, your memory, your natural thought processes, give them a chance. Try to think outside the stash box. Love yourself, be smart and be safe.