A brain-rotting addiction

A reluctant pothead’s 10-year habit and her thoughts as Canada moves to legalize marijuana
By Elianna Lev, Daily Brew, Dec. 22, 2015
I am a reluctant pothead.

Despite getting stoned on most days for the last 10 years, it is not a habit I approach with Marc Emery levels of defiance. I’ve come to begrudgingly accept that I have no willpower when it comes to weed — if I know there’s a stash in the vicinity, it will be on my mind until it gets into my lungs. Edibles don’t hold the same appeal and neither does vaping. For me, it’s the rolling and the smoke that’s a huge part of the allure and satisfaction.

It started in July 2005 when I was struggling to emotionally move on from an unresolved breakup with my common-law boyfriend. My hostile thoughts were on a constant loop and crying on a daily basis had become routine. So when a roommate gifted me with a joint, I smoked it without hesitation. For the first time in months, things immediately felt better. The bad thoughts I had about my ex dissipated as quickly as the smoke I exhaled.

From there on in, marijuana became my crutch. I’d leave parties early so I could go home and get stoned alone. At my 30th birthday bash, I couldn’t fully relax and enjoy myself until I’d taken a bong hit. When I took an evening poetry class, I intended to attend sober, but didn’t. As a freelance writer, I’m constantly in my head. When I’m done my work, I rely on pot to shift things so I feel differently than I have all day.

I’ve certainly worked up a tolerance with it, too. While it used to inspire a flood of ideas and good feelings, now, it’s mostly just a customary shift in consciousness. My thoughts will go deeper, but rarely do they lead to anything inspiring. Within an hour or so, I will turn into a burnt out and blurry version of myself..... click "Read More" below to continue.....
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Physically, I’m in fine form, though mentally, my brain is embarrassingly stunted. Remembering people’s names is trying and I often forget whether I’ve told the same story to someone more than once.

I do have my boundaries with the substance. I don’t work when I’m stoned and steer clear of it when I’m travelling. I can go for long stretches of time without it, with nary a craving, usually when I’m abroad. Yet, when I’m back in my routine, in my tiny apartment, there is no doubt that pot will be involved.

As the country quickly moves towards legalizing marijuana, with provinces like Ontario and British Columbia open to the idea of selling it at liquor stores, there are bound to be many more just like me.

A new poll conducted by Forum Research for the Toronto Star found that more young adults in Ontario would use pot if it were legal — 39 per cent of Ontarians ages 18 to 34.

Amy Porath-Waller, director of research and policy at the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse doesn’t question that marijuana is an addictive substance. She says nine per cent of cannabis users will develop an addiction or dependence at some point in their lives. If they start using in adolescence, the risk increases to 17 per cent.

In light of Canada legalizing marijuana, the centre has been working on raising awareness of the harm’s associated with the drug. It’s the only centre in Canada with a legislative mandate to publicize the dangers of pot and inform practice and policy. Initiatives to do so include publicizing the health concerns, and educating health care professionals, educators and policymakers.

“We ask them what would be helpful to do your job, to help young people from starting to use drugs like marijuana,” she says. “Based on that feedback, we tailor our (information).”

The centre’s most recent report examines the unknown harms of marijuana on the adolescent brain, and things like the links between pot and mental health.

It’s also currently holding town hall information sessions across the country where it reveals the findings of its research and explore what it means for the community.

“Now more than ever we need to make sure Canadians are aware about what the effects of marijuana are, what are the risks of health,” she says.

Porath-Waller and her colleagues travelled to Colorado and Washington state, where pot is legal, to speak with stakeholders about their experiences with the process and lessons learned.

“The one thing we heard across the board was investing in public education,” she says, adding that that included things like impact on academic functioning, cognitive functioning and impairment on driving.

It’s hard to say whether this kind of information would have helped shape my relationship with the substance. I feel too far-gone for that now.

While there are programs like Marijuana Anonymous, there doesn’t seem to be an extensive network or resources available as someone who wants to quit smoking cigarettes.

I’ve attempted to quit. Many, many, many times. Sometimes on a weekly basis. If I’m in Toronto, where I’m mostly based, I’ll delete my pot guy’s number. Then, by day’s end, I’ll text a friend to send me his contact info again. In Vancouver, where I live part of the year, it’s pointless to try. There are more dispensaries than Starbucks, most of which have laughably lax guidelines in obtaining a membership. I’ve also tried acupuncture (lasted a day) and substance abuse group meeting, which felt overblown.

My doctor in Vancouver was against me using, saying it’s undoubtedly a drug that affects the brain, while my Toronto doctor takes a more relaxed approach to it, advising I limit my use as much as I can.

I wouldn’t call myself an addict – a term that defines someone who puts their attachment to a substance ahead of their well-being, relationships and work. I am, undoubtedly, dependent on it on some level.

However, I will be watching closely as Canada’s relationship with “the devil’s lettuce” shifts to something drastically different than we’ve ever known.

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