First and foremost, let me assure you that the inane ramblings on these pages, though undoubtedly shameless, are not intended as an unconditional promotion of marijuana. It is ill-advised for expecting mothers and individuals vulnerable to schizophrenia, cardiovascular complications or strokes, and paranoia to use cannabis, as well as for those prone to respiratory problems to smoke marijuana cigarettes. And even for the physically compatible, daily use is inadvisable: moderation, as with all things in life, is the recommended course of action.
Second, allow me to refute two common misconceptions regarding marijuana. Contrary to the gateway drug theory, the use of marijuana did not lead me or any of my close friends, including the most severe of potheads, to the use of more dangerous drugs. Contrary to the widely held perception that marijuana induces apathy, I nurture many things to be passionate about, and have in fact developed several hobbies during my years of smoking.
Ironically, one of the things I’ve become passionate about is marijuana itself. My passion and appreciation for weed renders me a pot enthusiast or, to drop any pretence or euphemism, a stoner.
I love weed. I love its enhancement of physical sensation as well as its promotion of creativity and abstract thinking: the way it increases the amount of pleasure derived from food, music, and sex, and the way it can endow you with a slightly altered pair of glasses with which to view the world; the sight through which, at times, can blow your mind.
However, I must confess that it was a long and rather painful journey to arrive at this point of appreciation.
My relationship with marijuana, like many love-hate relationships, did not start off on the best of footings. Here, I use the terms ‘love’ and ‘hate’ relatively lightly: my body’s initially unfavourable reactions to the substance never led to any vows of abstinence; and despite thorough enjoyment, I did not feel the need to get high on a daily basis or even to learn how to roll a proper joint for years. After all, that’s what all of my pothead boyfriends, let alone friends, had been there for.
By the time I was twenty years of age, it became apparent that I had a distinct taste in men. A quick inspection of my first three amorous relationships revealed a penchant for males armed with a quick wit, an outrageous sense of humour, an admirable vocabulary for their age, and a profound appreciation for pot.
From my adolescence to early twenties, the lessons I’ve learned about love, life, and marijuana have thus felt intimately entwined.
It was a cool summer night, the gentle breath of wind refreshing against the skin. From a wooden rooftop terrace, I looked into the garden below. With a tall tree laden with blackberries looming aloft, it was nearly pitch black; a darkness that would have been indiscernible but for the decorative white lights coiled around the railing and the light pollution of the city, visible even from the quiet residential neighbourhood.
‘You sure about this?’
John held an unlit joint in his hand, looking uncertain. He was my very first boyfriend, a tall youth with sandy hair and freckled skin; mature for his age, both athletic and academic, but mischievous. If only his parents knew what we’re doing right now. They had obeyed his request that they ‘leave us alone,’ and we were able to enjoy a sense of privacy which was rare, considering we were but thirteen years old,[*] yet which was welcomed greedily.
[*] There is an increasing concern regarding the effects of marijuana use in adolescents. See section Current Literature on the Health Effects of Cannabis
‘Yeah, I’m sure,’ I said, trying to sound convincing. ‘I’ve done it before.’ A blatant lie: told out of a desperation to fit in, at long last, with the cool kids.
Nodding, John lit the tip of the joint, turning it in the flame so it would start burning evenly. He took a drag and handed it over. I held the little white stick to my lips, hoping that my face would not betray the excitement and nervousness filling my chest, and inhaled. The smoke burned my throat and lungs; my eyes grew teary and the instinct to cough and splutter was overwhelming. Using all of the willpower in my possession, I managed to look nonchalant, as if I had done it a thousand times before.
For a while, or at least what felt like it, I was fine. Happy under the open sky and reveling in what was my first taste of rebellious behaviour, I was content despite the fact that I had some difficulty moving my body. The sensation, though peculiar, was not immediately alarming. As I mused over this change and observed that the stars, the decorative lights, and even the light pollution appeared much more enthralling than I could have sworn they had before, John brought out a tray; the contents of which were obscured from view.
‘Have some peach, babe,’ he said, feeding me a piece. ‘Is it good?’
‘Mmm,’ I responded in approval, mouth full of the best peach I had ever tasted: juicy, tender, succulent.
‘But Abby,’ he added, ‘that’s not a peach. It’s an apple.’
The moment he said those words, or perhaps as he was saying them, the substance transformed, now with the certain taste and texture of an apple. But surely, that wasn’t possible; I must have been mistaken.
I tried to mask my confusion. ‘Oh.’
He fed me another piece. Now that he mentioned it, this slice of fruit was definitely an apple, scrumptiously crisp and crunchy.
‘How is it?’ he asked. ‘Like I said, it’s an apple, right?’
‘Yeah,’ I mumbled, covering my mouth with a hand, ‘dunno why I thought it was a peach.’
John looked at me in mock bewilderment. ‘What’re you talking about? That’s not an apple, silly. It’s watermelon!’
But I had been so sure, so positive that it was an apple. Did I lack the wits required to distinguish one food from another? I continued to chew slowly, brows furrowed in concentration. I wanted to be absolutely certain this time. After a moment of scrutiny, mystery fruit still in mouth, I thought, Oh my God, it is watermelon … what’s happening?
I vaguely wondered if I was experiencing what was referred to as ‘tripping balls’.
John’s smile was full of mischief. ‘But Abby,’ he repeated, ‘it’s not watermelon – it’s a strawberry.’
I widened my eyes, confusion now bordering fear. Once more, the moment he finished speaking, the substance changed. The flavour and texture, more tart and fleshy than before, and the tiny seeds lodging themselves between my teeth clearly indicated that it was a strawberry on which I was chewing.
According to inductive reasoning, if it tastes like a strawberry, smells like a strawberry, and feels like a strawberry, then it probably is a strawberry, no?
And so, even in the unstimulating and safe environment of John’s home, I experienced hallucinations that were both fascinating and terrifying; the recollection of which remains vivid today.
In retrospect, I’m aware that this experience was quite sweet (pun unintended), rather than ‘fascinating and terrifying’. However, I do not mean the words ‘fascinating’ and ‘terrifying’ in the conventional sense, connoting a thrilling instance. It was precisely the empirical certainty of mine that the substance in my mouth had been a peach, an apple, a slice of watermelon, a strawberry; it was the proof that my brain could play such intense tricks that I found so incredible yet disconcerting.
The next time John and I smoked up, we did nothing but simply sprawl out on his bed. As we lay there lazily, my head on his shoulders and my eyes closed, I felt an odd sensation in my feet: they felt cold and wet, as if soaked in iced water. I wanted to tell John about this curious feeling and ask him why I felt this way, yet I was unable to. The joint had rendered me thoroughly incapacitated and I could barely form coherent thoughts, let alone speech.
While I struggled to get the words out, John spoke.
‘Abby, aren’t your feet cold?’
I made no response but was overcome with confusion. How did he know exactly what I wanted, but was unable, to convey to him?
‘Well,’ explained John, ‘it’s ‘cause your feet are in a bucket of ice, silly.’
This, of course, was not the case. However, it described precisely the sensation I was experiencing and I was frightened by the fact that he had said it after it began. With hindsight, I suspect that John had uttered those words before my feet started feeling cold and wet and that the words themselves had triggered the sensation. The order of these two events was likely mixed up, due to a distorted perception of time.
The influence John’s words had over my physical senses of taste and touch was unnerving; it was as though he were playing some sort of non-human, powerful puppeteer.
In marijuana’s defense, these episodes were not the norm: cannabis-induced hallucinations, though possible, appear to be less common. All of my pothead acquaintances assured me that they never had such hallucinations with weed, and I have never experienced anything similar again. Regardless, I’ve had enough non-hallucinogenic mishaps with weed to establish the ‘hate’ aspect of our relationship.
I did not enjoy weed in the remotest sense the first dozen times of smoking it. In fact, weed caused me considerable anguish. For me, getting high had what is best described as a dulling effect: my body would become incredibly lethargic and slow, incapable of articulating the simplest things or even of eating properly. The basic tasks of moving, speaking, and chewing became astoundingly difficult, exhausting concentration and time.
The one thing marijuana did not dull for me was the sensation of cold. It heightened the intensity of cold to the point of conviction that I would never be warm again, with no intention of being overly dramatic.
With John, there was an instance when suddenly, after blazing with friends, we were forced to evacuate the house. His parents came home earlier than expected and seeing as we were all unmistakably high with our bloodshot eyes and pungent clothing, we had to leave for a few hours until we became passably sober. Climbing down the stairs, placing arms through the sleeves of a jacket, fitting feet into shoes … each step felt unbearably long and hard, if not impossible to complete. To exacerbate this misery, it was the transitional period from autumn to winter and, as typical for a group of thirteen-year-olds with no money, we had nowhere to go aside from the public park. Freezing to the core yet high out of my mind, I was unable to even express to my companions the depth of my distress; I could only sit or walk beside them in silent agony.
Such were my very first encounters with marijuana. The effect weed used to have on me was that of reducing me to an observer: while I was more or less aware of what was going on and could tag along, I was hardly a participant. I could (just barely) follow my friends but could neither converse with them nor execute any decisions on my behalf, let alone that of the group’s. Had circumstances not forced me to move about, I would indeed have been more comfortable (by which I mean less miserable) curled up in a corner waiting desperately for the effects to wear off. Essentially, weed would instill in me the feeling of being trapped in my own traitorous body, of being completely helpless. In this manner, I became more familiar than I’d have preferred with the experience of greening out, of consuming more marijuana than one can handle.
After these episodes, I did not have another encounter with weed for three years. Though I did not literally hate it, I discerned that for some reason, my body would not allow me to enjoy it as my friends were able to.
During this hiatus, I did not make a conscious decision to stay away from pot; the abstinence was made possible by the circumstances of entering high school. Firstly, I was immersed in a completely different clique of kids, none of whom smoked up, at least not in the ninth grade. Secondly, I had outgrown the short yet violent phase of angst I had undergone at the age of thirteen, which made me inclined to do anything that would merit parental disapproval. Lastly, there always was alcohol.
What reacquainted me with weed was self-enforced repression in grade ten, during which I devoted the entire year to being good. Keen on establishing better interactions with my parents, I abstained from parties, found new and less wild friends, ensured I was on the academic honour roll, and participated in extracurricular activities.
Unfortunately, our teen-parent relations remained fraught with bickering. I decided that as they wouldn’t be pleased either way, I might as well relax and do as I saw fit. More than eager to party once more, I conveniently met Adam, my high school sweetheart and intermittent boyfriend of two years. On the honour roll as well as the student council, Adam was part of a popular group of kids who partied and indulged in alcohol, weed, and the occasional sexual interaction. Such duality was likely what drew me so strongly to him: he was at once a party animal and an outstanding young man. It appeared that he knew how to work hard and play hard, if not a bit harder with respect to the latter; the combination of which I found highly appealing and which struck me as a way of living life to the fullest.
It was not so much Adam himself who re-introduced weed to me, but a group of his female friends with whom I had grown very close after our first breakup. They provided indispensable support, which came twofold: they consoled me emotionally with ample girl talks, and took me out to the best parties of my youth.
It all started out, as per usual, with peer pressure, yet not exactly in the conventional sense. Unlike when I was thirteen, it was not a matter of maintaining a façade of coolness but rather a matter of affection: the girls did not say to me ‘C’mon, don’t be lame,’ but instead cooed on several occasions, ‘Baby, just one toke? For me? ‘Cause you love me?’
With adorable girls making such coaxing pleas, how could one have resisted? I blame myself not.
And so, step by painful step, I was reunited with marijuana.
On Adolescent Use: The use of marijuana in adolescents has been associated with high-risk behaviour, poorer academic performance, reduced quality of sleep, and abnormal changes in brain structure which persist beyond a month of abstinence yet the majority of which desist after three months of abstinence.
On the Effect on Sleep: Due to its sedative effects, marijuana may help induce sleep. However, its use disturbs various sleep cycles, most significantly by diminishing time spent in the Rapid Eye Movement stage and thereby reducing overall sleep efficiency. Furthermore, impairment of normal sleep patterns may persist longer than a week after usage.
 On Schizophrenia: Various studies have sought to investigate the connection between marijuana and schizophrenia to rather confounding results; all of which indicate a complex association between the two factors. Findings include that the likeliness of marijuana usage is doubled in individuals with schizophrenia and, conversely, that the likeliness of the development of the condition is doubled in marijuana smokers; that rates of schizophrenia have remained constant if not decreased despite a vast increase in marijuana usage in more recent decades, suggesting a coincidental as opposed to causal relationship; and that marijuana use can have drastic effects on the onset and severity of schizophrenia depending on individual genetics, with 44 patients experiencing a 3-year earlier onset and either developing the disease within a month after beginning the habit or experiencing an aggravation of their existing condition with each exposure to the drug.
 On Strokes and Heart Attacks: Marijuana can affect blood pressure and heart rate as well as induce heart palpitations, which increases risk of both strokes and heart attacks. Although the studies did not control for the effects of concurrent use of other drugs including nicotine, abstinence is advised for individuals with a history of heart conditions.
 On Paranoia: The results of a study conducted by the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center (in which 121 subjects with paranoid ideation were administered placebo, intravenous tetrahydrocannabinol, or intravenous tetrahydrocannabinol combined with information on the drug’s effects) ‘definitely demonstrated that the drug triggers paranoid thoughts in vulnerable individuals’.
 On Respiratory Effects: One study found a significant correlation between frequent smoking and chronic bronchitis as well as detrimental effects upon the large airways, while another found an increased risk of visiting a medical facility for respiratory problems in individuals who have smoked marijuana for less than a decade, yet not for those who have smoked for over a decade.
 On Long-Term Heavy Use: In a comparison of heavy users (over 5000 lifetime uses) and infrequent users (no more than 50 lifetime uses), the heavy user group self-reported lower levels of life satisfaction; an overall negative effect of “cannabis on their cognition, memory, career, social life, physical health and mental health”; and lower educational achievement and income despite no significant empirical difference between the two groups.
 On Gateway Drug Theory: Despite assertions that the relationship between earlier use of cannabis and later use of more dangerous drugs is causal, the findings of a 12-year study suggest instead that aspects of individual disposition and external surroundings are more influential in determining drug-use behaviour.
 On Amotivational Syndrome: Despite ongoing allegations that cannabis reduces motivation, there is little empirical evidence supporting such claims. Statistical analysis of a sample size of 487 individuals comparing frequent users (7 days/week) and non-users (never) indicated no difference in motivation.