My Experience with Medical Marijuana as a Psychiatric Medication and Harm Reduction Strategy
Trigger Warnings: suicidal ideation, grief, alcoholism, drug use.
When I first came to medical marijuana, I was desperate. Fighting Schizoaffective Disorder, alcoholism, PTSD, the recent death of my wife, chronic anxiety, and newly recovered childhood abuse memories, all I wanted was to be put out of my misery. I told my therapist, “When an animal is broken, you either shoot it or put it out to pasture comfortably, I’ll take either one.”
After a difficult year involving three inpatient and one outpatient stay at psychiatric facilities, I was willing to try any experimental therapy. I was facing down the battle of detoxing from the most recent of my relapses. Cleansing myself from the wreckage of two failed relationships with men I’d attempted to date. I was broken. Drinking heavily. My therapist suggested I get a medical marijuana card and use that as a detox and harm reduction method to avoid another inpatient stay.
Eager to avoid inpatient detox, which I had endured previously, and outpatient rehab, which I had not, I complied. I didn’t want to give up my comfortable apartment and live in an unstable, dangerous sober living. It didn’t seem safe. I wanted a different solution.
It was the easiest piece of psychiatric care and addiction medicine that I’d ever encountered.
On a sunny day, when I was ready to detox, I walked down the street to the local dispensary. I picked up a business card for a local doctor who could issue me a medical marijuana card. The address on the doctor’s card was a few blocks away, so I walked down the sunny spring street. I quickly found a storefront offering cards even closer to the one I had been searching for. I went in. A woman with dreadlocks walked me through the process. I filled out a form with my very real, legitimate symptoms: depression, anxiety, PTSD, insomnia, herpes. In return I was given an official-looking letter on green paper with a seal and a stamp of a doctor’s signature. It seemed good enough. I gave the woman $35 and went on my way. I was now legal for a year in the state of California to buy, carry, and consume in my own home a wide variety of strains, edibles, and cannabis extracts.
My local dispensary was my next stop. It was all highly secure and guarded, which made me feel safe. I was buzzed into the large, windowless storefront by a hippie security guard who deemed my paperwork legit and had me fill out some forms. Then I was free to purchase. He buzzed me into the back room. Staffed by bubbly, heavily tattooed women that seemed knowledgeable about their product. It had the air of a health food store, with a handwritten menu of Sativa, Indica and Hybrid strains. The marijuana was stored in mason jars under a glass counter. The strains had fanciful names written in marker. A cooler full of delicious-looking edibles: caramels, cheese fish, chocolate bars, Rice Crispy treats and cookies. A mural lined the medicating room, where bongs were available. I selected an eighth of something called “White Widow” as I was a widow, paid $20 and got a free joint and small glass pipe for being a new customer.
That walk home in the early spring sunshine was full of anticipation. Certainly I had smoked weed before, in fact, I loved to smoke. I always had a good time, and if I didn’t drink, nothing bad would happen. Alcohol, cocaine and speed were my substances of abuse. Having shaken the hard drugs a many years ago, I was still battling hard with alcohol. I had been fighting to get sober for a year, tried two detoxes, outpatient rehab, AA, having a sponsor, and I kept relapsing. I had given up marijuana quite reluctantly when I entered rehab. I was saddened by AA’s abstinence-based view that all things pleasurable were sins and should be avoided.
Finally, I could smoke weed for a medicinal purpose, not just for fun with friends. Weed allowed me to get through my detox without hospitalization. I had been drinking quite heavily for a month and would otherwise have seizures and hallucinations. In contrast, my at-home detox was comfortable and uneventful. I was just stoned, on my couch, watching movies. Not in a dangerous inpatient facility under institutional rule, sharing a bathroom with a homeless woman and being strip-searched.
My anxiety was not responding to anything but heavy benzodiazepines, also strictly monitored under this abstinence-based, no pleasure center stimuli model of addiction medicine. To have an additional tool against the anxiety was wonderful. I found a better psychiatrist and went on Klonopin as an additional treatment. Recently I have had some relief from the anxiety. I can go to the grocery store again.
When I tried this experiment I was being seen at day outpatient program at a local dual diagnosis hospital. I was open with them that I was trying harm reduction, and they were encouraging and sympathetic. After a few months of daily medical marijuana consumption, I was able to graduate from the outpatient program and launch back into my life. Marijuana brought me a year and counting of sobriety. A positive and beautiful period in my life: intellectual re-engagement, newfound joy for life, neo-pagan Wicca spirituality, and I got back together with my good, loyal boyfriend.
I now continue using it for anxiety, PTSD, depression, emotional healing, motivation and creative blocks. I can feel my brain healing itself as I vaporize. I have moved on to using a vaporizer almost exclusively to prevent damage to my lungs from smoking. I can actually feel my synapses knitting themselves back together as my brain and body heal. I continue to do yoga and work out. My vision, which had been aberrant, improved. I no longer need to wear contact lenses. I became a nicer, friendlier, less bitter person. I began looking for creative opportunities and ways to shine and thrive that I had previously not been interested in.
The last year has been an amazing gift. I was able to start a small Etsy-based business. I was able to enjoy a deeper level of fun and intimacy with my boyfriend. I successfully handled my disability renewal and my wife’s estate without needing to be hospitalized again. I completed a new draft of my most recent novel and embarked upon a series of new paintings after being artistically blocked for several years. I became a Wicca practitioner, and discovered a whole rich new source of self-empowerment through growing my spiritual nature.
All of this has kept me sober for a year and counting without going to a single AA meeting, doing a single step, freely going to bars and clubs, drinking non-alcoholic beer, doing many of the things which I was told not to do in rehab. I can do these things now because my sobriety is stable and fun has a place in my life again. I want to participate in life, not watch from the stigmatized sidelines. I don’t need to sit in a circle of chairs for the rest of my life rehashing how much alcohol ruined my life.
I have a real, professional therapist now. She is young and preternaturally wise. That does my mental health much more good that the inept faux-therapy of AA. I am interested in being solitary and selective with whom I spend my time. AA is too porous, opening me to dangerous personalities and situations. I have chosen to withdraw from the time and energy-suck that I eventually found AA to be. I find my fulfillment and sobriety in art, writing, and enjoying the new world of spirituality and sensation that marijuana opens to me.
I now have hope for my life again. I know I am capable of a great deal, despite my disability. The motivating effect that Sativa has on me has brought me to do things that I care about, to reengage with a world that I had felt shut out of and disregarded by. I am grateful that medical marijuana is cheap, plentiful and legal where I live. It has changed my life for the better.
thank you so much for sharing this story! my life has definitely changed for the better since i began using marijuana. it helps with my depression, chronic pain, obsessions, ptsd, anxiety, nightmares/sleep, etc. i’m currently working with my nurse practitioner to get a medical licence. in the meantime, she just prescribed me nabilone (synthetic THC pills)