Fear and Loathing in the Middle Ages

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Photo via mnn.com
Photo via mnn.com

One of the things you’re going to see as soon as marijuana is legal is hordes of people in their forties, fifties, and sixties lining up outside the dispensary, finally able to get some weed without buying it from the kids. In fact, if you think about it, this is why decriminalization is upon us: the inaugural generation of American stoners is driving the lead bus of the social order and they cannot figure out where to cop.

Yet I will not be among the chuffed boomers dropping vac-packs of skunk into their Prius glove compartments, I’m sorry to say. I so wish I could enjoy marijuana — it’s clearly the most wholesome of the mind-altering substances, a superior vice in almost every way. Indeed, back in high school in the seventies I could not make it through fourth period without dipping out to the parking lot for a toke. But then I took a long break from my friend Mr. THC, first for spiritual endeavors, later, for poor choices involving hard drugs, finally for pregnancy and motherhood. Ever since, it hasn’t been the same. As much as I may love it in theory, bud is not my bud. This may be partly due to the fact that the weed of today is 50,000 times stronger than what was smoked in the bus-ports of yore, but I also suspect that have I some sort of cannabis allergy.

It’s going on two years since I conducted my last allergy test, resulting in a day of frightening disorientation on the water slides of the Atlantis Paradise Island Resort, a tale familiar to readers of this column. I kept this experience in mind when I was recently offered a plate of cranberry-almond-oatmeal-marahoochie cookies while on a business trip to America’s heartland — so I took only one bite, to be polite.

The cookies had been baked by a friend’s husband to take to his monthly Elks Club meeting or some such. As he was getting ready to leave, he found a few ladies gathered in his living room, preparing a take-out order for a Girls Night In; we were going to pick up dinner and take it back to my hotel. Generously he offered us a sample of his treats.

I felt sure one bite could not have any ill effect, especially once he explained that the usual dose was three whole cookies. Even the clean and sober friend who was chauffeuring me around that night shared a nibble from the piece I broke off. Interestingly, in retrospect, his own wife refrained — though she did pack up the remaining cookies he had left us and put them in her purse. Just as I was being polite, she was being a good hostess.

Several hours went by, during which we got our Thai food and a bottle of wine and went to my hotel suite, actually a full two-bedroom apartment. We yakked and cackled and gossiped and grieved as women have done over rice noodles and dumplings since the world began. When my friend pulled the baggie of cookies out of her purse after dinner, I took one more bite — it had not affected me one bit so far, and they were kind of yummy.

Meanwhile, I was awfully tired from my long day of travel, growing more and more heavy-lidded and horizontal. In a bit, my friends woke me up and told me to move to the bedroom; we all knew I had to be up at the podium lecturing early the next day and needed my rest. It had been a nice, quiet evening, especially since my visits to this very hotel in years past may have been responsible for a “no wild parties” agreement that guests were now required to sign upon check-in.

I got in bed and fell immediately into a deep sleep. Then, at some dark and silent hour of the January night, I bolted awake. What? I thought. What’s happening? Moments later, sensing the strange environment inside my brain, I realized what it was. I was tripping balls from that damn cookie!

I tried to feel my way to a rational thought among the seething neurons in my skull, but all I could find was wahwahwahwahwahwah, a synth trombone with reverb turned up to 10, and I started to panic. Nothing quite like this had befallen me since the days of beer and windowpane, and I was reminded particularly of the night some forty years earlier when Dean and Marshall and Nancy and Randy and I smoked angel dust in a parked car, then spent hours whispering our names out loud so we wouldn’t forget them.

This memory led me to the first of the only two thoughts I was able to form and hang onto in my hours of vibrating mental disarray. This has happened to me before and it ended. I devoted my energy to keeping this idea from breaking into individual syllables and washing away into my amygdala. If this state were temporary, I would not have to spend the remainder of my days in an institution. Probably — hopefully — it would end before I had to go to work in the morning.

Morning. It seemed so very far away. Frantic and miserable, I considered waking my clean and sober friend, sleeping in the other bedroom. Last resort, I concluded, and formed the interim plan of getting a drink of water. This involved a series of actions I was ill-fitted to perform, including walking, handling glassware, and turning a faucet both on and off. Slumping against the counter, I maneuvered a sip into my mouth and tried to remember how to swallow. Holy hell. Enough of that. I wove back down the hall.

Lying stiff as a pin-jointed anatomy doll between the hot, scratchy sheets, I had my second life-preserving thought. Stop being so negative!  Maybe if you dial back the anxiety, this experience will turn out to be less terrible than you think. Maybe there was some value to be gained, some sort of spiritual epiphany. Maybe this was “fun” of some kind!

This second consolation proved sort of true, because I did have an epiphany, one which I need to have at regular intervals it seems — which is, I like being straight. Clean, clear consciousness is a gift from God. Look at your dog! Look at your child! See how unnecessary all this getting loaded is? Drugs are just icky, even when you do get the ten minutes of fake euphoria you were hoping for. Not to mention the much worse things that can happen than one night of mania. If I ever did recover from this nightmare (see Thought #1), I vowed never again to choose artificial chemical enhancement over what little clarity and mental hygiene I have left.

And so I motored helplessly through the funhouse of paranoia and confusion for the remainder of the night, unable to find the off switch, until finally it was time to get up. I was relieved to put on the conservative Mary Poppins-type dress I had brought to wear for my presentation, feeling it gave me a look of authority and probity I could do my best to embody behavior-wise. Sipping black coffee, I described my awful night to my clean and sober friend. She couldn’t understand it — her nibble had left her undisturbed.

Thankfully, I did pull off my lecture with no one noticing how flayed and exhausted I was. The Mary Poppins thing totally worked. It took me about three days to feel completely normal again, and I have been very happy to feel that way ever since.

I know my track record is poor, but root for me, kids.

P.S. Whether you like to smoke weed or not, consider signing this petition to the governor of Missouri. I hate that this kind of crap is still going on.

https://www.change.org/petitions/my-dad-is-serving-life-without-parole-for-marijuana

Marion Winik

Marion Winik

University of Baltimore Professor Marion Winik writes Bohemian Rhapsody on the first Wednesday of the month. She is the author of "First Comes Love," and, forthcoming in fall 2018, "The Baltimore Book of the Dead." She is the host of The Weekly Reader on WYPR. Sign up for her monthly email at marionwinik.com.
Marion Winik


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6 COMMENTS

  1. Marion as I toke a fat joint and read thru this drawn out description of your frightful evening… As I’ve had one myself on cannabis edibles which are to my distaiste as well…I realize why people like u and people in general snob at the counter culter…first of all marijuana is an incredibly powerful substance ( not nearly as powerful as alcohol) and the amount u ingest must b a calculated dose if u are to have any type of enjoyment…have u ever tried doing something u love while u are high…writing…jogging…taking a summer drive w the windows Dwn…or do u just take a toke while u are drunk at a party around a bunch of blithering buffoons and wonder why u did not have a
    Positive experience…it sounds to me like u have some soul searching to do…writing things like this only spreads further the misunderstanding of a sacramental organic substance…which doesn’t leave young people with hepitits c and couse car accidents…i understand the need for a clear head …bob marley himself said …to much of anything is good for nothing…cannabis is a blessing in diguise for the people

    • So glad to have your thoughts, Mr. Carr! As I said in the piece, I believe pot is the best and least dangerous mind-altering substance — that’s probably why I keep trying despite my poor results!! xoxo

  2. Marion–I so often resonate with your wonderfully described life lessons. I am a decade older than you, so I had my experiences with grass, as we called it then, when the world of the young was first awash with it, during the late 1960’s. I realized after a few years of occasional use, that while my friends were partying, laughing hysterically and devouring everything edible they could find, I would become one with the nearest couch cushions, and observe the bizarre monkey antics of my fellow primates with little pleasure. As hungry as they became, I experienced nausea, my sandpapered tongue sticking to the roof of my dry mouth. When I realized that I didn’t have to partake, and just passed the joint along when it came around to me, it was a huge relief. A couple of glasses of wine has been my fun-inducing drug of choice ever since. I recently learned that my 23 year-old daughter doesn’t like the high she got on drugs either, other than a bit of bourbon, beer or wine. Could there be a genetic component?

  3. Ah, takes me back. My last lip lock with a bong in my mid-20s brought on the “all-inclusive resort” of panic attacks, where every horrifying symptom was mine, all mine, along with a complementary holistic “CO2 revitalizing” paper bag. I found girly martinis a satisfying substitute. Cheers!

  4. In Texas (you remember Texas?) they’d say you should get right back on the horse that throws you. My first experience with a pot high over 45 years ago was even more freaky. I don’t think the statement of cannabis being 50,000 times stronger today is even close to being true. It’s pretty much a talking point for the anti-legalization crowd.

    • Hey Mark! I certainly don’t mean to fall in with the anti-legalization crowd. Not my angle at all. Sorry for the hyperbole: Wild exaggeration, was supposed to be funny. Even 50 would be high! Five, maybe? Three? Who knows.

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