Should We Have Been More Aware? A mother and son share their story

How cannabis changed my life


Reprinted from "Cannabis" issue of Visions Journal, 2009, 5 (4), p. 22

stock photoIt started in the summer before high school. I mysteriously developed strange vibrations in my neck and head that caused pain and headaches—and fear. It was a turbulent summer in many ways: parents breaking up, a bad plane ride, general angst about the coming school year. I felt an increasing need to protect my neck and my brain. I stopped doing anything that required me to move my neck and head. Anything that vibrated or had frequencies—electronic stuff like computers, TVs, microwaves, for instance—made me anxious and I avoided them.

When I began school in September 2005, my symptoms and behaviours worsened. I spent more and more of my time on rituals and coping with fears around mind contamination by electromagnetic frequencies (EMFs). Two months later I was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

In December I wound up in the hospital Emergency, and agreed to go on medication for the first time. I didn’t like being on the medication—it affects the very thing I was trying to protect: my mind. It’s ironic, this OCD, because my whole modus operandi has been to preserve my mental health. So, over the next few years, my meds were off and on.

School and my social life were basically off and on too, depending how I was doing. But I did notice that the people who seemed to be enjoying high school most were those using substances.

Occasionally I’d try to hang out with some of my buddies, who were by then into experimenting with marijuana. I tried smoking tobacco, but avoided cannabis and alcohol because of the antidepressant medication I was taking for the OCD. I’d go to parties without being intoxicated. The friends I chose were aware of my mental health issues and that I was on meds, so they didn’t pressure me. But sometimes it was hard being the only one straight in a large group of high and drunk kids.

Fascinated by cannabis culture

For over two years, starting July 2006, I read about marijuana on the Internet. (Yeah. We got low-radiation flat-screen monitors at home, so I could handle being on the computer.) I became skilled at rolling joints, without being tempted to smoke them. I knew all about the paraphernalia (items used for smoking cannabis, such as pipes, papers, etc.) and how to grow cannabis. I learned the names of hundreds of strains and how to tell good weed from bad. I also read people’s testimonies that pot offered relief from anxiety and muscle pain—and I’d been having neck pain for a few years by this time (at least partially due to immobility).

So, in July 2008, after a few months of being off my meds, I decided to try smoking marijuana. My friend and I each had our own blunt (a hollowed-out cigarillo that you fill with marijuana instead of the tobacco it comes with). My first marijuana experience met all my expectations. My anxiety was toned down, my neck pain was relieved for the first time in years, and I had a good time. It was such a positive experience that I started thinking about a day trip to Vancouver to check out the compassion club.

I was excited, thinking that a couple of puffs a day could make my life easier, and decided to experiment further. Not only was I looking for reduced neck pain and relief from my anxiety, but I also wanted to be like everyone else. I wanted to experience the things I had just been observing for a long time.

A month later, I did marijuana with a bong—I had waited to acquire some pot from a trustworthy friend who knew a grower: I was wary of mainstream dealers. But this time was not as enjoyable. I was a little tripped out and it was scary. Friends said it was normal to get dizzy and out of it, but I didn’t like it. Not long after, I smoked a bong again . . .

A terrifying trip

It was August 2008. I was hanging out on a friend’s patio and looking forward to a really chill evening with my buddies. But one large bong rip* was all it took to ruin everything.

Everything around me lost meaning. My entire grasp of reality slipped away. Every few seconds, just as I’d begin to get my thoughts organized, I’d slip away again. I felt a terror deeper than fear for my life. And it felt like it would never end. I didn’t know who and where I was. But somehow I made it home to my bed and eventually fell asleep.

When I woke up the next morning, the effect was still there, though different. I had a basic grip on reality, but felt like I was in a dream. Everything was foreign and uncomfortable. Everyone felt like strangers, even my mom and my sister and brother. Nothing mattered. I didn’t really exist in my own reality.

Cannabis aftermath

I never regained the grip on reality I once had. That single cannabis experience turned the best thing going—the positive cannabis experience—into my biggest nightmare.

In my mind, recreational drugs had become the ‘enemy’—they terrified me. All traces from the days when I was fanatically interested in cannabis—the magazines, papers, bong, little dime bags—all of that had to go. My worry became excessive, and I spent my days depersonalized—I still don’t feel like I’m in my body, on this Earth.

Whenever thoughts of my awful experience crept into my mind, I’d block these out by playing video games. (I wasn’t worried about electromagnetic frequencies any more; that fear had been replaced.) When gaming, my overwhelming world was condensed to a smaller one where I was able to find comfort. Unfortunately, the crash back to the real world felt even worse after hours of being absorbed in my virtual reality. In conscious moments, I was stressed out about possible encounters with drugs.

I tried grade 11 in September. Within two days, I had dropped two of my four classes. One class had “stoners” (heavy dope smokers) who I couldn’t imagine surviving a semester around for fear of contamination. Keyboards, desks—all the surfaces that kids who may have smoked dope between classes would come in contact with were a threat. Just being in the building could send me into panic. I believed that any contact, however small, would cause me to have the same experience. Logically, I knew that a trace exposure couldn’t do that, but I couldn’t defeat this fear. Public school was no longer feasible.

I tried two home-study courses, but was too preoccupied with fears and rituals to keep up with the work. I went back on antidepressant meds in December at my mom’s urging (medications that are prescribed are not the enemy, though I don’t like taking them), but still lost most of the school year.

I can’t begin to go into all the ways my life was impacted on a daily basis. I would wash my hands hundreds of times a day, to the point that my hands got raw; this was about drug traces contamination, not germs. No friends could come to my home; I couldn’t go to their homes or any public places. My brother, who is 15, and my sister (14) couldn’t have their friends come here, especially if I knew the friend had done ecstasy or some other substance. If one of their friends came over, I’d go into panic mode.

A cannabis ‘high’? Or psychosis?

On the Internet I learned that many kids have their first psychotic break when they’re using drugs. I realized that might be what had happened to me.

This spring, I agreed to try antipsychotic medication. Now that I’ve used recreational drugs, I worry that it’s even worse on my brain to take the meds. But I do want to get better, so I agreed with my psychiatrist’s suggestion to add this new drug (risperidone) to my treatment. It has taken the edge off my irrational fear of drugs and has given me the energy to start living a bit more. I’m washing my hands less and I’m swimming, biking and seeing my friends.

I still worry continuously about drugs, and I’m disappointed with my impaired grasp of reality—I don’t expect my mind will ever work quite the way it did before my cannabis experience. But I’m working every day to recover. In addition to taking medication, I’ve had five sessions with a therapist who is “awesome.”

I believe that we shape our own reality. I’ve got some work to do before I’ll be comfortable in mine.

 To read Matt's mom's view, click here.

About the author

Matt* is a 17-year-old youth. He loves people, animals, nature and cars. Currently, Matt is exploring an interest in computer coding and programming, plus he’s trying to get his first car ready for the road