Every day, patients new to cannabis — or returning to cannabis after a long hiatus, (say since college) — come into the dispensary and up to my window and say they need pain relief; and then they follow that up with, “But I don’t want to be high.” I thank them for coming in and we discuss the benefits of cannabis.
It’s astounding to me sometimes, because many people coming to cannabis have been on opiates for pain for years. Some have been cut off by their doctors and are experiencing severe withdrawals. I want to scream, “LAY OFF OF THC, ALREADY! Those opioids have been making you high ALL ALONG!”
Admittedly, I’m protective of cannabis and the bad rap it’s been given by the same system that for more than a decade overprescribes opioids, has evolved to spend as much as 19 times more money marketing pharmaceuticals than researching their safety, gauges patients with prices as much as five times higher than European markets (under the false guise that these premiums offset the research costs… WHAT?!), gets patients addicted to them despite (and by downplaying) their risks, and then abandons them when they become addicted and worse, and shuns them as ‘drug seekers,’ or desperate addicts.
But I don’t yell at these patients. They’ve been through the wringer already. And that’s not why I do what I do. The spirit of cannabis is one of empathy. Cannabis users look out for one another. A certain sense of community comes along with using this medicine. We’re here to help each other. These patients deserve respect and compassion. They’ve been manipulated and they are suffering.
In the last week, I’ve helped four people in the throes of major opiate withdrawal. All were barely hanging on, (you read that right), and were in severe distress with their withdrawal — deep depression, muscle cramping, nausea, cravings and insomnia ON TOP OF their pain. All of them were in tears and felt ashamed for being in this place — when it all started they were just following doctors’ recommendations.
Kicking these damn drugs is not easy at all. A friend who is currently going through opiate recovery with the help of cannabis said she was told at her rehab center that it takes 18 months to get opiates out of your system. Relapse is a very real threat. One study from 2010 reports that 91% of people trying to get off opiates will experience a relapse.
Okay. You don’t want to be high. Fair enough. You don’t have to be high. There is CBD, which is non-psychoactive and has been shown to block the opioid reward center in mice, which makes withdrawals more manageable.
There are the acids — CBDA, THCA. You can microdose THC, which could help your pain, but chances are, if you’ve been dealing with severe, chronic pain and have been using opiates, you’re most likely going to need more than microdoses of THC. A couple of years ago, I threw out my neck. I couldn’t sit up. I couldn’t move without throwing up. It was a fast and furious education for this budtender on just how bad pain can be.
The ONLY thing that made it better was Full Extract Cannabis Oil – also known as FECO, which is a name I’m not really fond of, for obvious reasons. Kidding aside, this is the strongest stuff we sell at the dispensary. The starting dose is a dot – – half the size of a grain of rice. The stuff is highly psychoactive; normally I would not take it. But. At that level of pain I was in (8 or 9 on a scale of 1-10), taking the FECO didn’t make me feel high. It just made me able to move.
I don’t know your sensitivity to THC, or your tolerance. I can give you some guidelines, but you’ll need to play around a bit to find out where your comfort level is. You’ll need to pay attention. And even if you’re being mindful, sometimes exploring what works for you may mean you’ll get high. Remember the three things I mentioned in #3 ThCB —
If you find yourself uncomfortably high:
- Tell yourself that it will pass (because it will, I promise)
- Surround yourself with things you love, and
- Go to sleep.
So what does it feel like to be high?
I decided to record my experience of smoking cannabis in real time to better familiarize the non-familiar. It was a late afternoon on my day off and I was home alone. (Ed Note: vaporizing high-grade, Clean Green Certified flower in a personal vaporizer like a Firefly 2, or VapeXhale EVO is the best, cleanest, and most ideal delivery; I am not a fan of cheap vape pens, Newbie, so don’t come around here looking for my endorsement.)
I make a note of my pain levels, which is something I always recommend to patients. Keep a journal! Rate your symptoms before each dose! This will help you dial in just the right dosage. My chronic neck pain is at about a 3-4. My muscles are sore from a great personal training session, I give my arms and abs about a 2-3. I’m at about a 4 with my leg fatigue and plantar fasciaitis. I write all this down in my cannabis journal, along with the date and time, the medicine I will be using and the method of delivery – Orange 43, a hybrid strain, in my short lead-free glass bong. I prefer the bong because the water cools the smoke.
Here’s the play by play:
I load a small bowl (I’m a microdoser across the board), light and hit it, inhale and blow the smoke out almost immediately. (You don’t have to hold it in, as we once believed. THC is absorbed almost immediately upon inhaling.) I cough a little. Not much. I get a drink of water.
1 minute in, my arms feel tingly and a little bit heavy. I drink more water. It is a little funny to be watching myself in this way. My heart rate has gone up just a bit.
2.5 minutes in, I feel a little tingling in the back of my head.
3 minutes in, I am noticing an expanded sensory experience.
The crow cawing outside the window in front of my desk has such a beautiful, almost robotic sound to it. I’ve noticed it on other days. It’s strange. I’m sure he’s been cawing for awhile today, judging from the annoyance in is voice. I just hadn’t really noticed until now. Do crows have voices?
I can hear the traffic of the 880. The low whine of the BART train, the wind in the trees outside my window. A jet in the distance.
4 minutes in, I’m feeling … what I would describe as grateful — for this day, this moment. The THC has effectively crossed the blood brain barrier and dopamine is being released. I do a quick scan of my body. It feels good. I don’t detect any tension. Neck is moving more freely. No real pain number to record. Arms and abs are noticeable but not uncomfortable. Maybe a 1. My legs don’t feel tired and the plantar fasciaitis is slightly noticeable when I roll it on the roller. That feels really good. I write down these experiences in my journal. It’s a cute journal with kittens on the cover.
4.5 minutes in , continuing with this gratitude, I feel the tingliness in my whole body. There is a butterfly outside my window. I type without looking at the screen so I an watch it flit around.
5.5 minutes in, there is a familiarity about this feeling. Like a return to myself.
6.0 minutes in, I notice I am less focused on the workaday things that have been heavy on my mind of late. I feel … freer. More free. Yet, connected. Again birds singing in the distance call my attention. I take a nice deep breath. I can smell the perfume of the flowers in the garden below.
7.0 minutes in, I am enjoying the way the keyboard feels against my fingers. The pleasant clicking of the keys. For a moment, I imagine this blog completed, posted, without the trials of WordPress bogging me DOWN. I laugh at the way I said bogging me down out loud, and how I denoted it by using caps.
For the first time since lighting up, I realize the phone lock has gone on. I had been pretty connected to the phone until now, because I’m using the stopwatch. But I have to unlock it. Hold on a second…
9:30 minutes in, I enjoyed using my left hand to unlock the phone, despite its limited dexterity. But it’s always getting better at doing things when I let it. Becoming conscious of my body is part of this experience. Feeling it and being forgiving about it. Noticing tension and also ease. This is the connectedness to the body that has people seeking out dance, hiking, or yoga; it’s also the feeling that has companies marketing cannabis sex-aids.
10:55 minutes in, I am enjoying this feeling. I’m hungry for my lunch. — It was already warmed up before I started this post. Now it is calling my name.
Oh. There was a title I just came up with for this post and it was good but I forgot it already. Dang it. It seemed brilliant, but now it’s gone…
Oh — Anatomy of a High!
It is good, except it might limit my ability to share it on certain social media platforms. As a side note, the dispensary where I work had its Instagram account closed AGAIN. What is UP WITH THAT?!
…Sometimes, I’ll know that the high is kicking in first due to the fact that I can’t find: 1. my phone. — I once lost my phone in my own boot, which I was wearing — 2. my keys — this is a bummer for me, but I recently installed cute little hooks by the door AND found a purse with an amazing pocket for keys, so hopefully I’m set or at least moving toward set; in honesty, I sometimes also misplace my purse. sad face emoji. 3. phone. Okay. I said phone but I meant water bottle. I could have edited this out, but this is an experiment. I said one word out loud. But I see the right thing in my head. This is about the time my boyfriend would say, “High, Jaene!”
The phone has locked again, but lefty didn’t get the job because I was in a hurry to eat my lunch.
17:35 minutes in, I take a bite of my leftover enter name of soup here later.* It smells delicious. I take another bite. There are nuances of flavors I didn’t notice when I first ate it at the restaurant. I’m not sure what it is – I’m not terrific at sussing out what spices are in a dish – but the broth is creamy and the noodles are cooked perfectly. I look at it. It’s not so much to look at, kind of monotone beige, including the hardboiled egg which has been in the soup for 24 hours. *Oh Noh Kauswer Soup from Burma Superstar. Mmmm.
The passcode was needed again to check the stopwatch. Lefty did it this time, but forgot how. But it’s okay. This happens with the phone even when I’m not high, using my right hand. I push the home button then swipe to the left instead of pushing the home button again and entering my passcode. It occurs to me that since it’s my day off from work and I’m hanging at home, I could turn the passcode off. It’s a good idea but not right now. I’m on a roll.
I find a hair in my delicious soup. I convince myself that it is mine and say quietly — shit happens. Because it does. I throw the hair out — it really does look like my own — and sit back down to the soup.
The boyfriend’s face pops on the phone. It is cute. He is calling from out of town, interrupting this experiment. I decide to let it go to voicemail — what voicemail? My mailbox is always full. Ugh.
24:19 minutes in, I will do this again later. Right now, I’m hungry and I want to watch Netflix. One day, I’ll write for a show. I scroll through the menu. I decide to watch Portlandia — new episodes! I don’t see the show regularly, but I decide to smoke another bowl and watch. It’s short and it’ll be fun.
25:30 minutes in, I’m aware of warm tingling sensations around my back. Also aware of constricting jeans. I change to shorts. It’s my day off. I do a little day-off dance.
I choose to get another glass of water instead of getting a glass of wine — not because it would be too much work, (as I am suddenly feeling the urge to defend stoners from stereotypes) — but because I feel it’s a healthier choice at this particular, beautiful moment. Often, with cannabis, I make healthier choices, which is, I know, contrary to popular belief. With cannabis, my body and I are in closer communication. But, no lie, I sometimes will choose ice cream over a protein bar.
28:22 minutes in, I load another bowl and load the show.
I think that I am kind of clever.
I admire the smoking setup that my boyfriend left for me. He is a doll. I am lucky.
I smell the weed as I open the jar. I bought the Orange 43 Hybrid because of the terpene profile — the way it smelled to me — it’s also high in THC. Even though I’ve managed to keep my tolerance down, I do enjoy higher THC percentages. At small tiny bowls, I can have a couple of them and enjoy the experience without feeling “too high.”
I check the stop watch on my phone. Oh, yeah – I had already turned it off. I decide to start it again.
I start it and take the hit. I cough a little. These are tiny hits, remember…
I clean the bowl out, the way my boyfriend has taught me. Ooh! The cursor just jumped up and I Ooed. The blinds rattle a bit, as though they’re in on the joke. The soup is kind of cold now. I force myself to eat it so it won’t go to waste, keeping my eye out for more hair. I start the show.
What’s her name is really cute in the promo photo.
I realize this is the pilot. I’m cracking up. There is a song — the Dream of the 90s is Alive in Portland. Portland. Portland
Now the theme song. I love it. I want it to go on forever!
Carrie Bronstein! That’s her name.
I watch the technology loop sketch. I feel just like that guy. I realize this show is made for stoners. The final scene freaks me out a little.
The next scene starts – it takes place in the Women & Women First Bookstore – I snort a little at Fred Armisen’s first line, “Campuchuchuchuchu Tea.” I have a lot of fun typing that out. As I take my empty soup bowl to rinse out in the sink, it occurs to me that I have to add that in. It was decidedly a stoner snort. Not a usual laugh, but kind of like Tina Fey’s laugh at the beginning of 30 Rock, only with sound. Tina Fey, I stop to note, is brilliant. I say brilliant out loud and shake my head, mildly annoyed by it.
I think it’s important here to note that Fred Armisen is hella funny. I stop to think that it is funny that I have actually dropped the term hella on occasion because it fits, when at first, as a gramophone, I was disgusted by it. Not gramophone. Haha! Gramaphile. *Not gramaphile, either. Grammerphile. So much for being one of those.
37:19 in, I suddenly have a flash of somewhere I was on a European trip. I think it was when we first got to Venice. We were so lost and exhausted, after taking an amazing overnight sleeper car from Paris. WHICH I RECOMMEND YOU DO IN YOUR LIFETIME. We were jet lagged, so happened to wake up just as we were passing Lake Geneva and the full moon lit up the sky and the water. It was glorious. I think of my ex, Dan, and how fun that trip was even though he refused to learn any of the languages (Croatian, French, Italian) and just decided, if someone asked him something in Italian, he’d just shrug his shoulders animatedly and say, “Affogato!”
45:12 minutes in, I go to the bathroom to retrieve my snuggy house socks. I know snuggy isn’t a word, but I like it. I choose to ignore the autocorrect and the dotty red line under it in this program. I put on the snuggy house socks and wonder as I type if house socks might be a compound word. I type it out house socks. Nope. Autocorrect made it two words. Still, I think it should be… Anyway, my feet were cold. I get a little cold when I smoke cannabis. My feet and hands especially. Cannabis can lower blood pressure. I footnote these things I will add to later, just so the flow of my highness is uninterrupted. I enjoy how awesome it feels to say/type My Highness.)
55:00 minutes in, I wonder for a moment if this is a silly post and whether I will be judged harshly for it. I am well aware it could be really annoying for people to read. But it’s an experiment and it’s for patients who are canna-curious, but are hesitant because they don’t know what to expect. So I don’t care! 🙂
This is a thing I do when I have cannabis, I get really clear on what I don’t care about. Often it involves other people’s opinions about me, my work, or my intentions. If I’m misunderstood, which we all so regularly are, I don’t care. I am grateful for this life, this existence. I’ll do what makes me happy.
I notice the soft whispy sound my feather earring makes. I wonder if whispy might even become a word someday. The show is now over.
I decide to go walk in our herb garden. I pull some clogs on over my snuggy socks. I am a sight for sore eyes. I laugh at myself and head down the back stairs.
I am sad about the cilantro. But encouraged by how the strawberry and chive thrive. Chive thrive. Again, I chuckle at myself.
It’s been a little over an hour now.
On the way up the stairs in the front of the building, I stop to look out on Oakland and the light at the end of the day. I see a man with a walker and a really painful limp walking a few steps to a car. In a flash, I try on what that limp must feel like and then I yell down: “Do you need help with anything?” He doesn’t look up. He is concentrating, putting the walker in the back of his car, holding onto the car to get to the driver’s door. “No thanks! he says to the roof of his car, “but I appreciate the offer.”