If marijuana was a legal substance, and were I to smoke it, I would want to tell you about it.
If you’re a regular reader of mine you know I don’t like to keep secrets or, rather, I don’t like to present a half truth. For me, if I am to share with you how I am faring when it comes to the ups and downs of bipolar ii syndrome, and to celebrate with you how long I have remained clean and sober, it would be important to me to tell you if I were a self-medicating marijuana user. To do otherwise would seem dishonest – like lying by omission. It would make me feel ugly and cast a shadow over the things I write. I have said, and still say often, we are only as sick as our secrets. If marijuana were a legal substance, and were I to smoke it, then to tiptoe around the topic of marijuana use in my striving toward mental balance would create an air of malevolence around what would be, arguably, nothing more then medicine; keeping this hypothetical marijuana use a secret would give weight to the inevitable outside opinion that it is wrong and hypocritical. If I were a pot smoker and were I not able to acknowledge the help that this medicinal plant was providing to me then, to my way of thinking, I would not be being forthright. I would not be sharing my full process. I would be keeping a secret, not because I thought my actions were wrong, but because popular opinion might think them so; I would be holding something back, not out of the belief that I have something to be ashamed of, but out of fear of outside opinion, the fear that I would be shamed.
There are those who would argue that I could not possibly consider myself to be “clean and sober” if I were to make the choice to smoke pot. There are others who would say that there are no studies indicating that this is a safe or even effective way to treat bipolar ii disorder and who would insist that pharmaceutical companies provide the best, and safest, treatment options. I assume there are those who would call into question my worth as a parent, those who would scoff at any reasoning or personal experience I may be able to present, were I to have any experience to go off of, those who, no matter what I would say, would hear what they wanted to hear and judge accordingly.
But, I hope, there are those who would understand the difference between naturally occurring medicine and pharmaceutical provided medication, the difference between herbalism, or “traditional”, medication and Western, or “modern”, medication. There are people who, I imagine, would understand the side effects of using marijuana as a medication (a period of feeling “high” being the most commonly shared) pale in comparison to those of modern medication for bipolar disorder (the list of common effects alone include marked drowsiness, rapid weight gain, muscle spasms and tremors, and on and on).
There are those who would have trouble believing that I would be genuinely using marijuana for medicinal purposes – in the same way as I use kava for anxiety, valerian for insomnia, echinacea for immune support, and cramp bark for menstrual issues; the simple fact that marijuana can make you feel high would be evidence enough for some that I would be, in fact, smoking to get high and not to stay well. If I were to smoke pot, I would argue to those people that many pharmaceutical drugs can also make you high – percocet and many other pain relieving drugs, xanax and many other anti-anxiety medications, adderall, methaphetamine and synthetic heroin can both be acquired by prescription to treat ADHD and substance withdrawal, the list continues.
Given my diagnosis’, I am looking at being prescribed some pretty intense pharmaceutical drugs to take on a daily basis. Over the course of the next few months, I may be given a drug cocktail that include something like Seroquel (often prescribed for bipolar individuals), Xanax (which I have been prescribed in the past for anxiety), Ambien (for insomnia, also something I have been prescribed), and others to help as needed and as medicine induced side effects rose up. These are all medications that are highly sought after amongst addicts on the street. There is no doubt in my mind that having a medicine cabinet and brain full of these chemicals has the potential to have a serious impact on my quality of life, my future, and on my relationships – including the one with my daughter. These drugs live in a person’s brain and body system consistently, every hour of every day. I have seen up close and personally the life altering effects this level of drug has on a person. It is huge, constant, and unavoidable.
If I were to smoke pot and tell you about it, you would likely wonder what the difference was between the way I might use marijuana and the way the stereotypical couch-surfing stoner might. If I were to guess, here’s a peek at what this hypothetical self-medicating marijuana use might look like for me:
When my mood cycle began to dip dangerously low (I am having a hard time getting off of the couch, trouble interacting in a positive way with my family, dark and depressed thoughts bordering on suicidal or focused wholly on the negative and hopeless), I would retreat to the privacy of my home bathroom and smoke. I may take two or three “hits” or drags. Over the next hour I imagine my mood would lighten and lift. It would be as though I could feel a literal weight being removed from my shoulders, I would think. My smile would come easy, my head be held up high. I would be able to see through the despair and remember with gratitude the beauty of my life. Even after the “immediate high” portion fades, I imagine a feeling of wellness and peace would remain.
When my mood cycles reverse and I begin to dart too high (excessively anxious or irritable with those around me, unable to stop moving despite the inability to get anything done with all the movement, unable to sleep for a couple of nights in a row, frenzied thought or speech patterns), I would, again, retreat to the privacy of my home bathroom and smoke. I may two or three drags. Over the next hour I would find my irritability and anxiety may have lessened to the point of being unnoticeable. I would be able to take a deep breath, calm down, and focus on the tasks at hand. Even after the “immediate high” portion fades, I imagine the feeling of stability and calm would remain.
Drawing on my past experiences with marijuana, you know, when I wasn’t a mother and an upstanding law abiding citizen, I would imagine that there wouldn’t be many side effects associated with using marijuana in this way. There would be the feeling of being high which, quite honestly, I could do without. For about 45 minutes I would probably feel hyper-attentive to the moods (real or imagined) of people I encounter and to the environment around me. I may feel a little on edge (for example, assuming my husband is mad at me when he is not). None of those things would be very remarkable, I imagine, and would have very little effect on my life. The benefits, however, would have the potential the rest of the day and sometimes long after. Drawing from experiences long past, I would be able to feel centered and stable again, often for days and even weeks.
Which brings me to the next question I bet will come up – how often would I smoke, if it were legal and I were a pot smoker? Well, it depends. Sometimes I could go for weeks without thinking about it and for months without. Other times, I might find that I would benefit more from smoking once every two or three days. I would imagine it would depend on how much external pressure was being exerted on me. High stress, more pressure, less sleep, no schedule… these are all things that send the bipolar mind careening out of control. It is in those times that I would probably benefit the most from smoking a small amount of marijuana. However, other times, when external pressures are low, when I’ve found time and motivation to eat right consistently, when time for exercise is at a high, and the drama of life in general is at a low, I would be able to go months without, again, just imagining.
But, of course, and ridiculously, marijuana isn’t legal like the equally helpful and medicinal herbs like kava and echinacea. And so all of this is merely a hypothetical, a dreamed up “what if” in the mind of an individual looking for some answers, and looking to share them if she finds any. While I can readily and easily imagine the great help this particular plant might be on my journey to wellness, the fear of retribution, legal issues, and overly zealous people with telephones keep me on the straight and narrow.
But I can imagine…