Life

How I Learned To See Marijuana As Medicine, Not A ‘Drug’


Is it working? Am I high? I stared at the back of my hands and focused intently. How long has it been? Should I eat more?

I’d only broken off a small bite of brownie, and it had been at least 30 minutes. There was no rush of euphoria, no sense of floating, no fissures running down the periphery of my vision. I was stone cold sober and, even worse, I was bored.

“Don’t eat the whole thing,” my friend Jean warned. “Just relax and give it time.”

I reached across the table and grabbed another piece. The concert was starting soon and I didn’t want to miss out on being on drugs at the show. Maybe I can’t get high, maybe it’s not working, maybe the piece of brownie I ate didn’t have any butter in it. That’s the part that gets you high, right? The butter?

“I’m telling you,” Jean said. “You don’t need any more.”

I shrugged and smiled and checked my watch. “We should leave if we want to get good seats,” I said. And then, like a jackass, I ate the rest of the brownie.

I didn’t feel anything when we left the house. I didn’t feel anything on the way to the show. I didn’t feel anything when we got to the venue. It just doesn’t work, I’m one of those people who just can’t get high. I walked to the bar, ordered a beer, found my seat between Jean and my girlfriend, Sara, and settled in for a good show.

It was a concert that I’d been looking forward to for a long time, and I was excited to be there with my best friend and girlfriend. The opening act was forgettable, inasmuch as I completely forgot who they are and what they sounded like, but it didn’t matter. Is it hot in here? We were standing right behind a metal railing, which was great because it meant that we had something to lean against if we got tired of standing. Everything was perfect. Wait…did I just spill my beer?

And….Blast off!

The brownie seemed to hit me all at once, like sprinting into a wall of jello. I gripped the railing with both hands and did everything I could to stay on two feet. Sara leaned into my side to keep me upright, Jean laughed, and everything around me blended into a mix of color and light and sound. The headliners took the stage and started playing and I worked as hard as I could to enjoy their show. People love to listen to music when they’re high, I thought. That’s definitely a thing!

And then my favorite song came on, and I started singing along. “I’ve seen Jesus play with flames in a lake of fire that I was standing in,” I yelled. “Met the devil in Seattle and spent—”

“—Shh!” Sara whispered. “What are you doing?”

“Singing!” I answered, louder than I meant to. “I love Sturgill Simpson!”

Sara buried her head in her hands. I looked around. Are people laughing at me? And then there was a flash of black, and then a flash of color, and then a flash of black, and then nothing. I am never trying weed again, I thought, as I drifted alone through some foreign cosmos.

The night was an unmitigated disaster. I was embarrassed, I was wasted, and I barely remembered the concert. In fact, it was so awful that I didn’t talk about it for several months, not until I was catching up with an old friend, Jon, one evening after work. “I was so high that I actually thought I was at a Sturgill Simpson concert,” I told him. “But it was Father John Misty.”

“It sounds like you ate too much,” Jon said. “You never eat the whole brownie.”

“If only you’d been there to warn me,” I said. “But it doesn’t matter, I’ve sworn off weed. I hate it.”

“Dude, you should try it again,” Jon said. “You said you have trouble sleeping, right? Weed can help.”

What Jon said didn’t surprise me. Most of the people I know smoke weed, and whenever I talk about how hard it is for me to sleep, they always bring it up. But, to be honest, it’s never been something I seriously considered. After all, isn’t weed a drug?

“Man, I don’t even go to the doctor when I’m sick,” I said. “There’s no way I’ll take the time to go to the doctor just so I can get my weed card.”

“You can get your medical marijuana card online,” Jon said. “It’s easy.”

And that’s when Jon told me about his new job. He’d started working on the marketing team for Eaze, a company that specializes in the delivery of medical marijuana. “We’ve even partnered with a doctor,” he explained, “So you can sign up for and have your consultation online, with a video call.”

“Is that legal?” I asked, bewildered.

“Yeah, and the whole thing takes less than 30 minutes.”

Jon spent the rest of the evening talking about his new job, about the legality surrounding medical marijuana, and about the different kinds of medical products that existed. I hadn’t heard of many of them; my weed experience had simply been joints and bongs and — yes — brownies. But Jon told me about different teas and oil pills that were designed to help you relax, but not designed to get you high. He told me about a topical cream that could help with joint pain, and a spray that could help you sleep. By our third round of beers, marijuana was starting to sound a lot more like medicine and a lot less like a drug.

Maybe I’m wrong about this, I thought, drunkenly, while walking home. Maybe I should give marijuana another chance?

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“What’s the pain like?” The webcam doctor asked.

I had already decided that I wasn’t going to lie. If I’m going to get my medical marijuana card, I thought, then at least I’ll do it honestly. On the pre-consultation form, in the ailments column, I marked down “trouble sleeping” and “chronic pain.” Yes, I have trouble sleeping (who doesn’t? It’s 2016), and yes, I have chronic pain (I’m overweight and I walk everywhere, so of course I have a bad ankle). Both ailments are legitimate, and both could easily be treated with diet and exercise. At least, that’s the kind of prescription that I’ve come to expect.

“It’s in my ankle,” I said. “And it only flares up if I’ve walked for longer than an hour or if I’ve jogged for longer than a mile or two.”

“And you have trouble falling asleep…” he said, with a note of hesitation.

This is it, I thought. He’s just going to tell me to lose weight. I don’t need medical marijuana, this is stupid. Jon is an idiot. John is an ass. I hate Jon.

“I would definitely suggest an indica,” the doctor said. “It will help you relax and fall into a deep sleep, and there are even products designed to help tendon and joint inflammation, which might be the problem you’re having with your ankle — though I’d suggest seeing a specialist for that one.”

Wait, what? “Doc, are you telling me that I am getting my card?”

“Well, technically you already have it,” he said. “As of right now I’m officially suggesting that you are treated with medical marijuana.”

Somewhere in the distance, I heard Tommy Chong chuckling while Jimmy Hendrix slayed a guitar solo. I logged off, processed payment and received a confirmation email. I could, all of a sudden, legally purchase medical marijuana in the great state of California. The whole thing, from start to finish, took less than 20 minutes. I was absolutely amazed and, if I’m honest, a little anxious.

Whenever I think about smoking weed, I think about my granddad drinking coffee. It all has to do with this story that he tells every now and then, about going to a three-day big tent revival when he was a little boy in rural Mississippi. There was a preacher there, this large man, and even though it was the middle of summer he wore a three piece tweed suit whenever he stood in the pulpit. The preacher went on about the regular sins — greed, lust, and envy — but on the last night of the revival he spoke against the evils of caffeine. “The preacher said caffeine was as sinful as alcohol,” my granddad will say, usually with a chuckle, in between sips of coffee. “Have you ever heard anything so ridiculous in your life?”

It’s that story that was running through my head when, the evening after my online consultation, I made my first medical marijuana order. See, I was raised in a tradition that stigmatized almost every fun, enjoyable activity known to man. When my grandmother was a young woman, it was wrong to wear makeup. When my parents were in college it was wrong to go to the movies. When I was a little kid it was wrong to watch The Simpsons and, as an adult, it’s wrong to smoke weed. Maybe that’s why I was feeling anxious, and maybe that’s why I’d lived my entire life with only a cursory knowledge of how weed works. Maybe that’s why I ate the whole brownie. Maybe it’s because I had always thought of marijuana as a drug, just like that old Mississippi preacher had always thought of coffee as “the devil’s drink.”

My phone buzzed. My order was outside.

It was cannabis tea, a product I didn’t even know existed before speaking to Jon. The label said that it had 40mgs of THC (I did not know what to do with that info) and was derived from a soothing indica blend (yeah, no clue on that one either). I made the tea, drank it, enjoyed it for the most part, and then waited.

And nothing happened.

Except that I felt relaxed. Is this it? I thought. Is it working? Should I drink more? That night I fell asleep faster than I have in months, maybe years. I slept deeply, and straight through until morning which, again, is something that almost never happens. I spent the whole night floating, alone, in some foreign cosmos. It was spectacular.


“Do you want a dab?” asked a silky voice from behind a cloud of smoke. “It’s free when you sign up as a patient…”

“What’s a dab?” I asked.

“Dude, you do not want a dab,” Jon said. “It’s like smoking a whole joint in one hit.”

“Ah, well then, no thank you.” The voice from behind the smoke cloud murmured something and Jon and I walked on. We were at Hempcon (which is, if you’re unaware, the Comic-Con of weed). Jon was there working for Eaze and he invited me along to learn more about medical marijuana and weed culture.

Boy-oh-boy did I learn about medical marijuana and weed culture. The fellow who offered the dab, for example, was not alone. In fact, plenty of booths at Hempcon were offering free dabs, or other forms of product, for anyone willing to sign up as a patient with their dispensary. Dispensaries come to Hempcon and hustle to sign up new patients, because they can only grow and process a given amount of product based on the number of patients they have signed up for their service. In medical marijuana states like California, weed is only decriminalized when it’s viewed as medicine, which is why every dispensary and manufacturer is careful to use health-facing language.

From my angle, this represents the biggest area of tension in the legalization of marijuana. Weed wasn’t hard to get before it was decriminalized, but the only way to get it was illegal. So the culture that surrounded marijuana was inescapably bound to a culture of illegality. As such, it’s always been connected to that aesthetic. As I learned at Hempcon, in Northern California that weed aesthetic looks strikingly similar to the “Spencer’s Gifts” aesthetic.

On the other side of that black felt, neon-light, fake-gold coin, there are several organizations that have entered the medical marijuana space to present weed more seriously. Alongside the many weed-grunge booths at Hempcon, there were a few that looked like real doctor’s offices, or real medical care providers, or — better still — craft breweries (unsurprising, when you consider that marijuana and hops are essentially cousins).

Eventually Jon and I found our way to the Eaze booth and I struck up a conversation with one of his coworkers. “For a lot of people who need medical marijuana, actually getting to a dispensary is a lot of work,” he said of weed delivery. “And it can, at times, be prohibitive.”

The idea that marijuana is a medicine which needs to be accessible to more people is pretty well summed up in that sentiment. Getting to the dispensary is prohibitive, in more ways than one. I think about my grandmother, who has terrible arthritis, and I wonder what marijuana could do for her — if only it could transverse the physical and cultural barriers that separate the actual plant from the people who need it.

On my way out of Hempcon, I was stopped by a young man with red eyes. He was wearing a Cat in the Hat hat and an oversized Insane Clown Posse shirt. “Hey man,” he said. “Do you want to try this edible?”

“No thank you,” I replied. “I always mess up and eat the whole thing.”

If I’m honest, I used marijuana as a drug because it was always presented as a drug. Since going to Hempcon, since signing up for my med card, I’ve found that it can be a positive part of my daily life. I’m sleeping better, and I’m actually losing weight because, oddly enough, marijuana use has replaced most of my weekly alcohol consumption. The stigmas are sheering away one after another.

So is marijuana a medicine? Sure, I think it can be. And hopefully, years from now, I’ll tell my grandkids about the days when marijuana was illegal. “It was against the law and people went to jail for it,” I’ll say. “Have you ever heard anything so ridiculous in your lives?”

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