Cannabis should be legal, just as alcohol should be legal. But marijuana addiction exists, and it almost wrecked my life.
AUSTIN, Tex. — My name is Neal, and I’m a marijuana addict.
A year ago I wouldn’t have said that, because it would have meant giving up marijuana. I would rather have given up breathing.
When I had my first cup of coffee in the morning, I pressed the little button on my vape pen, waited for the blue glow, took a huge inhale and then blew it into the mug so that I could suck in the THC and caffeine at the same time. Then I took another hit, and another. In the afternoons, I’d smoke a bowl, or pop a gummy bear, or both. At night, I got high before eating dinner or watching the ballgame. Maybe I’d stop getting stoned a little bit before bed, but what was the point? If I went to bed high, I could wake up high, too.
What a time for people to get stoned! Marijuana has left the counterculture, exploded into the mainstream and transformed into a multibillion-dollar industry. Cannabis is now an essential part of any hip wellness and beauty regimen. Netflix offers a marijuana-themed cooking show.
Cannabis should be legal. It has medical uses. Millions of people, most of them black and Latino men, have unjustly gone to jail for selling what should have been easily available in stores. States with the political courage to legalize it have seen their tax rolls bloom and have created thousands of jobs. Also, it’s delicious.
But I’m not a child with intractable epilepsy, or a veteran with PTSD, or a person who just wants to chill a little, or Willie Nelson. Unless you count writing articles about marijuana, I’m not profiting from the industry. I’m just a middle-aged house dad with a substance-abuse problem.
Like most pot addicts in denial, I spent years telling myself that marijuana isn’t addictive, and so I didn’t have a problem. But clearly I did. And I’m not the only one who suffers this way.
I started smoking regularly in the ’90s, when I was in my mid-20s. Pot made everything better — food, music, sex, cleaning — and it made nothing worse. I got depressed less often. I laughed all the time.
But I also lost my temper for no reason. Did I yell at strangers in public? Probably. I barely remember, because I was stoned. But I do remember that once, high as a promotional blimp, I got into a bar fight with a former friend and broke his tooth with a beer bottle.
Back when my writing career was booming, I got invited a couple of times to do readings in Amsterdam, a bad gig for a pot addict. Once, after ingesting a couple of THC pills, I dumped a pitcher of water over my head and insulted the Iraqi representative to National Poetry Day Amsterdam. Another time, I pulled down my pants and flashed a crowd of several hundred. If I had any boundaries, weed erased them thoroughly. The boom ended fast.
My son was born in 2002. I didn’t have an office job, so I was around a lot to get high and enjoy the cartoons. I opened a packet of Reefer’s peanut butter cups at his preschool fund-raiser and stunk up the place. But pot wasn’t just an occasional funny thing for me to do on weekends. I got stoned the day my son came home from the hospital and stayed that way, with few breaks, for a decade and a half. Of course I put him in danger because I couldn’t stop getting high. I was a drug addict.
In 2016, I became the Texas correspondent for a national marijuana newspaper, which gave me lots of excuses to get up to Colorado, America’s new weed utopia. With legalization upon us, I started saying things like: “Imagine if you loved coffee but it had been illegal your entire life. That’s what I feel like!” I began to refer to Colorado as “Free America.”
In March of 2017, my mother died. The hour before she passed, I was outside the hospital, getting a shipment of medical gummies from a friend. I was high when I watched her die, I was high at her funeral, and I was high every day for the next eight months. To say I was “self-medicating” to deal with grief would be too kind. My addicted self took grief as a no-limits license to get stoned.
In early November, I had the chance to fulfill my lifelong dream of attending a Dodgers World Series game. I spent way too much money on a ticket that turned out to be fake. So high that I couldn’t remember where I’d parked, I started screaming outside the stadium. If I’d been sober, I would have just called the vendor and gotten a refund. That’s what I ended up doing, eventually. But not before security guards surrounded me.
I looked into a car mirror and saw an old man, sobbing over a baseball game. That was the moment I accepted that I had a problem. Three weeks later, I quit.
I’ve been sober for 11 months. I do the same things with my time that I did before, except that 75 percent of my life doesn’t revolve around obtaining or consuming weed. It’s incredible what you can accomplish when you’re not high.
In many ways, I’m lucky my addiction didn’t have more consequences. I never got arrested. My family stayed together, somehow. But I have lost a ton of dignity and integrity, intangibles that I may never reclaim.
It wasn’t so hard to go cold turkey. I had a couple of twitchy nights, and that was it. But it’s easier to stay off the stuff because I don’t live in a state where it’s legal. I can get weed, but it requires a few steps. Addicts in legal states aren’t so fortunate.
A few weeks after I sobered up, I took a business trip to California. My hotel room was less than a mile away from three recreational weed dispensaries. I paced around and got into the tub with some 12-step literature. Finally, I went to a Marijuana Anonymous meeting in West Hollywood. It was Friday night, and the room was packed with addicts, some my age, but most younger, struggling to recover a life lost to weed.
There’s a reason that Alcoholics Anonymous started in 1935, two years after the end of Prohibition. Alcohol abuse became rampant, and the country almost drank itself off the rails. Will the same thing happen with marijuana?
Marijuana isn’t alcohol or an opioid. You can’t die from an overdose. It doesn’t really evince physical cravings. So is it better to call my problem marijuana “dependence”? Does it matter?
Cannabis should be legal, just as alcohol should be legal. But marijuana addiction exists, and it almost wrecked my life. If you have a problem, you are not alone.