Pubdate: Thu, 01 Sep 2011
Source: Missoula Independent (MT)
Copyright: 2011 Missoula Independent
Author: Molly Laich


Confessions of a Pothead

Stale smoke hangs forever in the air at Jack's apartment. There's a
giant Bob Marley poster and two bookcases filled with boy-movie DVDs.
The furniture is obscenely comfortable, especially the huge, shapeless
chair they call "the poof." The TV is always on. Jack--not his real
name--and his roommate love old, terrible movies. They own every
episode of "Mystery Science Theatre 3000," from Joel, to Mike, to when
Pearl took over as villain and the show left Comedy Central.

I come here often, and always I tell myself, "This is the last time."
Today I brought a friend from school with me, Brad (also not his real
name). We're here to buy an eighth of pot for $50 to split. Marijuana
has been legal to cultivate and possess in Missoula since 2009 with
either a medical or a caregiver's card, but Jack and I have neither;
everything about this transaction is still illegal.

I've been hanging out in living rooms just like this one since I was
16 years old--over 13 years now. I told Brad that this place had to be
seen to be believed, and now I watch him soak in the room with
child-like wonder.

Brad comes from a good home. He didn't spend his youth in these places
and it's a welcome vacation from the stress of higher education. On
the way home he talks about what a trip this has been in a dull,
slow-motion voice courtesy of the gravity bong we just tore through.
I'm happy to give him the experience but I can't help but be a little
annoyed. "It's a nice place to visit, isn't it?" I want to tell him.
"I live here."

It might surprise you to learn that I'm not a complete screw-up. I
grew up in the suburbs of Detroit, and I moved to Montana in the fall
of 2009 to get my masters of fine arts in fiction at UM. They gave me
a full teaching assistantship, which means they trusted me to teach
your children, and now I edit the calendar here at the Indy. I've
published stories in respectable journals, I've won awards and my
students loved me. Everything looks fine on paper. But there are some
notable gaps in my resume, and only I know the whole story. I
graduated from college with good grades, but it took me eight years to
do it, and not because I took time off to explore Europe or work in my
field. No. I spent most of my twenties delivering pizzas, withdrawing
from classes and getting high.

Tell just about anybody that you've struggled with marijuana
addiction, and they'll say the same thing: "But I thought marijuana
wasn't addicting..." Both occasional users and non-users claim this.
(Daily users tend to say it with much more conviction.) Remember the
scene in Half Baked when Dave Chapelle steps into an NA meeting
claiming to be addicted to weed? "Have you ever sucked some dick for
marijuana?" a haggard Bob Saget chides him. The scene ends with
another dude screaming "Boo this man!"--and then all the real drug
addicts throw trash at Chapelle. I'm not saying this has been my
experience, exactly, but it's not far off.

Where do beliefs like this come from? I have some theories. Cannabis
is a unique plant, unlike just about any other common drug. It's
pretty much impossible to overdose. Also, the withdrawal symptoms are
hard to pinpoint, not because they don't exist but because the drug
stays in your system for around 30 days. (Any casual user subjected to
drug testing at the workplace will tell you this is one of life's
great injustices. The hard stuff is gone in 48 hours, but marijuana

Around 20 years ago, scientists discovered what they came to call the
cannabinoid receptors. THC floats into the brain and binds itself to
these receptors in a kind of marriage, a yin and yang so perfect and
cosmically beautiful I want to cry just thinking about it, and this
sparks the feel-good, chemical reaction we call "getting high." That
feeling got me through the banality of high school. It helped me to
let go of the things that truly don't matter. It made food so, so
delicious. I smoked, parts of my brain opened up, and the meanings of
books ached inside of me for days. Seriously, have you ever listened
to OK Computer on weed? God gave us this plant. I believe that. But
like all things heaven sent, she ought to be feared and respected. I'm
not just being cute: Marijuana is a girl. The male plants are useless
and growers hate them. Maybe they can be made into rope or something.
Women are powerful, and they can be harsh mistresses if you let them
curl up in! side you.

I used to keep pet rats in my apartment in Detroit, Narcissus and
Goldmund. Sometimes, when I got really lonely, I would pick them up
and blow pot smoke in their faces. I'm not proud of that, but there it
is. I told myself that they liked it, but it turns out the science is
not on my side. Here is probably the most compelling evidence for the
"marijuana is not addicting" hypothesis: in lab studies, when rats are
introduced to the big ones--heroin, cocaine, nicotine and alcohol--they
will lever-press to get their next fix instead of food and water until
they die. The only exception is marijuana. They'd rather eat than get
stoned. I believed at the time that the pot made Narcissus and
Goldmund calmer, but in fact, I don't think it changed their mood. I
let them roam free, which understandably terrified my houseguests.
They hated being held. I'd accidentally step on them and they'd bite
my ankles. They hated partying. They were very bad rats.

It's probably true that marijuana is not chemically addicting, but
what does that even mean? Especially at a time when we're more and
more willing to expand our definition of what humans are capable of
being dependent upon. Lately, people are said to be addicted to video
games or chocolate. A person can become so inclined to gamble that
when they're forced to stop, they have the same kind of physical
withdrawals we associate with alcoholics or heroin addicts. They'll
puke, shake and cry--and this without ever taking a drug. What's
happening in all these cases is that the "drug" of choice creates all
by itself a surge of dopamine. The brain wants what it wants. Being
deprived of that self-created chemical leads addicts to states so
intolerable that they will do just about anything to feel good again,
consequences be damned. If we can feel this way about something as
innocuous as Facebook, why is it so hard to accept that marijuana
might be a tough drug for some peo! ple to shake?

It's November of 2009, and I'm having a bad month. Grad school has got
me feeling like a serious weirdo. At 27, I'm older than most of my
classmates, but more than that, I feel like I'm from the wrong side of
the tracks and everybody knows it. Most of my friend's parents are
lawyers, doctors and college professors. My dad is a retired
custodian, my mom a paralegal. I imagine my classmates gathered around
Christmas trees, congratulating themselves on not being raised by
divorced parents who swear and fight and drink like fishes. I get
drunk and start bragging about my ability to make a smoking device out
of just about anything, how I should have been an engineer, the kind
of stories that only burn-outs find interesting. I think they're
judging me, and my insides burn with pride and envy. I comfort myself
with the notion that they know nothing about pain, not really, and
after all, where does good art come from but from agony?

I meant to change once I got to grad school. But then I found a
dealer, and like magic the stuff landed in my hands again and I've
been smoking it alone in my bedroom for days. I'm wearing fingerless
gloves like a hobo, because it's freezing. It's freezing because I
keep the window open so I can blow smoke into the backyard, as if my
roommates don't know what I'm up to. (They do.) Deer frolic outside
and I curse Missoula for looking and acting like a Disney film. I miss
Detroit, where it's normal to be miserable. I skip all my morning
classes and emerge from my bedroom around noon in a cloud of smoke,
where I'm surprised to find a poetry workshop taking place in my
living room. Oh, that's right. My roommates sent me an email weeks ago
telling me they planned to meet here, but I've been getting high all
day and I forgot. "Oh. Hi," I say. They laugh nervously. How could it
be anything other than humiliating? I skulk to the kitchen and think
about how lucky I am th! at I'm not an addict and this is no kind of

Here's how it is for me: I love weed, but I hate what it does to my
life. Plenty if not most heavy smokers don't have nearly the same kind
of self-loathing about using as I do. My dealer Jack, for example, has
no qualms about being high all day every day; I think he considers it
a hobby, and like any hobby, dabbles in the culture surrounding it. He
owns enough glass pipes, bowls, bongs and other smoking devices to
outfit an entire store. He has a vaporizer that, no joke, probably
cost more than my car is worth. Once, when we were lying in bed
together, Jack produced a special kind of glass pipe known as a
steamroller that's ergonomically designed to only work if the user is
lying down. I'd draw you a blueprint if I could remember what that
insane smoking device looked like, but I don't.

People drink as a method of social lubrication; getting drunk makes it
way fun to be around others. I smoke pot so that I won't care about
socializing. At some point I decided it was becoming an expensive and
crippling problem. I couldn't concentrate. I was afraid of or
indifferent to strangers. I would complete 75 percent of a community
college course and then inexplicably stop going just before the final.
I tried to stop smoking many times and I couldn't. I smoked out of pop
cans or homemade bongs. I could never justify the expense of a nice
piece, because every time I bought an eighth I told myself, "This is
the last time." This went on for 10 years.

In 2007, I quit for 379 days, because my then-boyfriend hated it. I
told myself I would quit for a year and then see if I could smoke
occasionally. I tried it again once, and then again a week later, and
before I knew it I was back to pretty much all day every day. Ask just
about any daily user and they'll tell you about that year that they
quit smoking "no problem" and cite it as proof that they were never

Some people are governed by dials measured in degrees that can be
tweaked and modulated, but not this girl. For me, there's just a
single switch that gets stuck in an on or off position. Molly doesn't
eat just one cupcake; Molly eats all the cupcakes. Every time, it's
the same, sad story. I buy a bag of pot with the intention of making
it last a long time. I rush home to smoke, and I more or less don't
leave my room until the entire bag is gone. My bed is a Tempur-Pedic
knock-off, and it's true what they say about them not transferring
motion; the mattress is also a table. I wake up and the bag and the
bowl are still next to me, right where I left them. I don't care about
cleanliness because I don't invite people over. I smear last night's
ash into the sheets. I start smoking before I even get up and go to
the bathroom. Drinking is only second best, and if I manage to get out
to the bar during these times, I usually sneak off at some point to
light up. When I co! me back from smoking I'm "myself" again and
problems are no longer problems.

I wish pot were more like cocaine. The coke addicts can just slip into
the bathroom, sniff some powder out of designer jewelry that is also a
drug receptacle, and then return to the party in wonderful spirits.
Pot is such a production. You have to set it on fire. It envelops you
in a cloud of pungent smoke. The smoke seeps into your clothes.
Everyone can tell and they're judging you.

I've gone to desperate measures to try to temper my smoking. Halfway
through an eighth, my throat burns, my head is made of lead and I hate
myself. It's gotten so bad that I've given half a bag of pot to my
neighbor to hold with explicit instructions. "Do not, I repeat, do not
give this back to me until the semester is over." A day later I'm
knocking on the poor kid's door.

Bad weed is dry and crisp and burns like dead pine needles. The good
stuff unfurls inside of you. I picture a blooming flower covered in
diamonds that crystallize and crackle. I see floating colors in front
of my eyes whether or not I close them. My blood gets thick. Limbs
move through the air slowly, like ripping through Velcro. Whatever it
was I was worried about five minutes ago doesn't matter anymore. The
bad thoughts inside of me are snuffed and replaced with a calm
nothingness. I feel soothed, and sometimes guilty. I smoke non-stop
just to get rid of the stuff, and always there's that dumb legless
thought of "This is the last time." I can go anywhere from hours to
days to sometimes weeks without buying another bag, but then life
happens and I'm back at Jack's apartment.

So here I am. I have my master's degree. I'm almost 30. Enough is
enough. I set out to quit smoking pot for at least 10 days. Then, so
as to not allow myself an escape valve, and to make the experiment
more complete, I give up drinking. And then, just to lay it on really
thick and ruin everyone's summer barbecues, I give up all animal products.

I had hoped I would be miserable so that I'd have more fodder to
exploit, but it's been easier this time than ever before. My habit is
behaving like a monster that taps you on the shoulder and then
disappears the second you shine a flashlight on it. I think I might be
growing up. I'm starting to think I'm cured.

It was never so easy in the past. The first few hours were fine, and
then this thing crept up inside of me, a hunger that had nothing to do
with food. I turned the television on and off. Rummaged through
drawers and cabinets. Opened and closed the refrigerator. I wanted to
run away from something, except I was tired and whatever chased me was
supernatural; it wasn't possible to outrun it. Food was made of
cardboard and music hit my ears like the sharpening of knives. The
littlest things made me cry. A sad news story. A lost shoe. In short,
I was starting to feel things again, and whether we want to admit it
or not, feelings are just the thing that chronic users are trying to
get away from.

I tell myself this time is different. I've already gone two days over
what I intended and I feel like I don't miss it. On day 11, I found
half a joint squirreled away in the bottom of a purse and I didn't
even think about smoking it. I've been a vegetarian for years, but
veganism is a whole other level of do-gooding and it makes me feel
like a superhero. Turns out that quitting drinking is actually way
harder than quitting pot. Without alcohol, the Golden Rose is just a
glowing red room full of morons. On day 12, I decide that I've proven
my point and drink whiskey at the bar, and it's so fun! I think I'm
getting a taste of how the other half lives.

On the morning of day 13, I wake up and the bottom right part of my
gums is throbbing. There's always been this weird thing going on
inside my mouth. Either I was born without wisdom teeth or they just
haven't grown in yet, but I think one of them may have decided to poke
its way through this morning. I think it might be a metaphor for
adulthood but I fail to see any beauty in it. It's incredibly painful.
I know I said earlier that marijuana is a girl, but the voice in my
head that tells me to smoke her sounds like an evil, raspy man. "Do
it," he says. "You found that joint yesterday, remember? If you
weren't planning on smoking, why didn't you just throw it away?
Anyway, your mouth hurts. It's medicinal." I think he makes an
excellent point, and without even really thinking about it, in an
instant, I've gotten out of bed, torn open the joint and stuffed it in
the cheap metal pipe that I also neglected to throw away.

But so it is with breakups, right? Who doesn't sleep with their ex at
least once? It's true, my mouth feels better. And I hate myself a
little, but mostly it's hard to feel much of anything. In the 12 days
of abstaining I've lost some tolerance, and now I've turned myself
into the village idiot. It's like I've been knocked over the head with
a cartoon mallet and bluebirds are whizzing around, chirping, "Forget
about everything, Molly. Nothing matters and nothing ever works out."
I make myself get up and run errands anyway. I eat a vegetable burrito
at El Diablo made by some sort of sorcerer. When I'm done, I want to
go back to the counter and tell the man how talented he is, except I'm
stoned and afraid of people. When I look out at the world the
mountains seem like they're coming straight at me, and then they're
far away.

I learn something terrible about myself. I'm a creature driven by
habit and inner demons, and the happy ending I'm looking for doesn't
exist. The raspy marijuana voice lays it out for me. He says that
there are two ways out of this maze. You can backtrack the way you
came in and live a life of sober repentance. Stop going to bars. Join
a knitting circle. Never talk to Jack again. Or you can give up: Look
around at your new house made of shrubbery. Here we do our damnedest
to practice temperance, which is to say, we stumble often. We're not
happy in the maze but we have a surefire way of dealing with sadness.

Blocked at every turn. Set the shrubs on fire and they'll just grow

I come home a few hours later and I'm just about not high anymore. I
think the wisdom tooth scare was a false alarm. Nothing seems to be
poking through and my mouth no longer hurts. I smoke the rest of the
bowl. A couple hours later I'm not high again. I scrape some resin out
of the bowl and smoke some more. I'm not proud of that, but there it
is. It's a very stupid afternoon. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.