December 9, 2017 by Cláudia
I constantly hear people talking about the benefits of weed as if it could never bring any negative consequences – it relaxes you, it helps with depression, it alleviates chronic pain and it is better for you than tobacco or alcohol, which are legal! Further, it makes you laugh uncontrollably and it will make you have a good time because it is so fun. A good time, small health risks and even chronic pain alleviation? The question then would be why the hell not?
Of course, we all know of possible side-effects such as extreme hunger, dry mouth and, if we do it in the long run, lung damage and brain damage. These are two consequences that are pretty severe but since they largely depend on the quantity and frequency that one uses the drug, they are perceived as irrelevant if we are just trying it or doing it very occasionally.
But did you know that smoking weed could trigger panic disorder, anxiety disorder, depersonalization/derealization, alienation or paranoia?
I didn’t. And if I did know about these possible side effects maybe I would have refrained from smoking.
I want to stress that I am not exactly against weed in the sense that I want it to remain illegal or that I think that it is bad for everyone. I actually think it would be better if it was legal since it would be safer and information would be a lot easier to get across. I don’t think it is necessarily bad. It has proven to have amazing results when it comes to chronic pain or even in situations of cancer. Its medical properties are definitely something to be studied further. However, I have experienced and seen other people experience extremely severe side-effects and therefore the “it’s so good for everyone and everything” attitude is dangerous, misleading and should be demystified. Most young people believe that it could actually do you no harm and therefore are not equipped with the right tools to make their own decision of smoking or not smoking.
Besides the effects that I have experienced, which I will go into further detail further ahead, I have seen many people suffer negative consequences from smoking weed. I’ve seen people become completely alienated from real life – they would space out and not be in the present moment as if the only reality worth living was when they were high. I’ve seen young people show lack of memory and difficulty in reasoning. I’ve seen people become addicted to it and start organizing their whole life around it. I’ve seen people try other drugs when weed was no longer having the desired effect. Lastly, I have seen people change their group of friends because they were simply not interested in being around non-smokers anymore.
To me, weed triggered my worst state of mind and made me go through the hardest period of my life. I was so imbalanced that looking back I can only be grateful that I wasn’t permanently damaged.
Please note that I’m saying weed triggered my mental illness, not create. Subjacent problems were already there, but smoking made them come out all at once, transfigured them and left me with an unmanageable situation.
I’ve already discussed this on “Don’t give up: my story with mental illness” but when I decided to smoke weed, I was at the most vulnerable time of my life (which is why I was more tempted to make reckless decisions). My boyfriend had just broken up with me and he was the glue that was holding everything (kind of) together, so all of my repressed traumas violently came to surface. I was overwhelmed with such a pain that I thought it could only lead to death.
Any relief was welcome and that was weed’s promise. What I didn’t equate was that my mental health was so fragile that any small change could disrupt this fragile balance I was in and completely mess with my psyche.
Right after finishing smoking, I realized I did not like how it felt. I was already prone to anxiety and not being in control of my body and my reactions was absolutely terrifying. I felt too ecstatic, in a way that seemed too contrived to be real or healthy. I couldn’t stop laughing even though inside all I felt was pain. I couldn’t stop laughing and I loathed that laughter but could not stop. The people I was with were clearly fine and barely affected by it. Realizing that only made it worse. They were staring at me with a mocking smirk and jokingly commented on how high I was. My anxiety was sky-rocketing and all I wanted was for them to stop looking at me. Trying to control my uncontrollable laughter was highly contributing to the escalating of my anxiety.
Soon I was no longer laughing anymore but plainly, lacking a better term, freaking out. I could hardly breathe and I could hear my heartbeat and feel my chest pounding. When someone pointed out how they saw my veins pulsing I knew that I had crossed a threshold of anxiety that would have a deep and lasting effect on me. Everyone else was telling me to relax, breathe, to calm down, but I knew something was going wrong inside me. Weird connections were being made in my brain and changes were happening.
All of my surroundings were distorted. People’s faces were like masks, their voices were lower and more mechanic. The most terrifying experience was looking at nature and thinking it was the scariest thing I had ever seen in my life. Nature, which had been a place of refuge, comfort and quietness, was now fearsome and tormenting me. One particular sight of a tree rustling in the wind still slightly makes me uneasy to this day. This state of panic lasted several hours. It’s hard to say when it faded because for a whole week I felt a constant state of panic.
Over the next weeks, I kept having panic attacks: firstly when I saw the place where it first happened or the people I was with. Then I started having panic attacks at the places where I had the other panic attacks. Soon, it was constant: in the bed, in the shower, in the car, in class, at home. Everywhere.
Eventually, I had to ask my mom to take me to the hospital. My heart and chest hurt constantly. My vision was blurry and I felt like fainting. I thought I was going to die of a heart attack. At the hospital, I got prescribed Xanax, which greatly helped with the panic attacks. But the anxiety morphed into depersonalization/derealization which tormented me for many months. My experience was so surreal that I got fixated on an idea: the world is not real. Everything is a set. Everyone is a character. Or a mask. I saw people’s faces as masks, including my own. Looking at a mirror was terrifying. I did not recognize my identity.
My path towards recovery was long and hard. For a long time dealing with weed was enormously stressful for me: I would panic if I saw people smoking or people acting high. Even just hearing about it was stressing. Right now, I’m still affected by seeing people high, particularly their eyes red and glossy. It freaks me out a bit. They look like demons.
I know that some people have had great experiences with weed. Fun stories, original ideas, creativity boosts. But for me, it was one of the worst things that have ever happened to me. Luckily I feel (mostly) sane and calm now. For a long time, I didn’t think I would recover. Smoking weed just once completely imbalanced the chemicals in my brain. It turned the world into a weird distorted place, where even the most trivial aspects were scary. It created ideas that were not true and made get fixated on them. For about a year, I was barely a person. I could not think clearly. People talked to me and I barely listened because I was too fixated on how their faces looked like masks. I was completely alone in a world created just to torture me. No one and nothing could help me because I was the only human being in this world. I know this sounds completely mental, but I promise you that I fully believed this.
That was 4 years ago and I have never touched weed ever since. I don’t plan on ever doing it again. My mental health is too important for me to gamble with.
I don’t necessarily want to share a message against weed. I can only speak for myself and just because it didn’t work for me, I can’t assume to know the best for everyone else. This is hard for me because I’ve also seen many negative consequences in the people that surround me. It can lead to a sad life, that revolves around a parallel fiction world created by it. I will never encourage people to smoke and if someone is in doubt I will discourage them. I don’t know if this is correct of me because I don’t feel entitled to decide what is the right thing to do in this case (you are not hurting anyone except perhaps yourself).
The message I do want to share, and that I wish was more mainstream, is that weed is not as harmless as it looks. It can create serious mental disturbances and it can do it after just one use. It can cause memory loss, alienation, panic disorder and depersonalization/derealization. It can push people into trying harder drugs and it can create addiction. It can damage social connections and break friend groups. Be informed of all the secondary effects. Be aware of the precautionary measures you should take if you are going to try it. Be safe.