Last Friday was April 20, or 4/20, which has become known as a celebration of cannabis. For those of you who don’t know, when someone says it’s 4:20, that means it’s cannabis time. It’s not certain where the term “420” came from—many conflicting stories exist, some plausible, some thin. 4/20 used to be a day when enthusiasts would surreptitiously exchange greetings and perhaps toke together in secret. Since cannabis was legalized in Washington, it’s become an out-in-the-open social media holiday here.
I thought hard about whether or not to do a 4/20 post. Legalization was in the works but not finalized when my book went to press in 2015, and on my editor’s advice, I toned down my chapter about it and changed the title so as not to attract negative attention. For a short time on its way to legalization, Washington had an exceptionally wishy-washy law under which you could not be arrested for possessing a small amount for your own use, but Lord help you if you intended to distribute. That’s where we were when my book came out. There is still a lot of stigma surrounding cannabis use, because it’s still not legalized at the federal level and only a handful of states have legalized it. Some people with health problems can really benefit from it, though, and I think it’s important to talk openly about it from the safety of my haven of legality.
In an atmosphere of repression, the conversation is dominated by charlatans and fear mongers on both sides of the issue. As with almost everything, I think the truth lies somewhere in the middle. CBD oil may not be a universal cure for seizures, but some people with seizure disorders may experience varying degrees of relief from it, and so on down the line of ailments that the cannabis derivatives THC and CBD have been hyped to cure. Pain control is a big one, and for that reason I tried it and stuck with it. For that reason, my doctor was more than willing to write me a prescription, even though that’s no longer necessary–I can walk into any retail store and buy what I want with the help of a respectful and knowledgeable budtender. The prescription does not, as some people believe, enable me to carry cannabis products into states where the’re not legal, or across any international border.
Smoking is problematic for me, as I had serious lung damage when I was hit. My lungs have recovered, and they are exceptionally strong from cycling. I’d like to keep them that way. They’re still hypersensitive to irritants like smoke. I tried using edibles, but there’s a problem regulating the dose. They don’t kick in for an hour or two, and if you ate too much, you can’t cut off the effects. You’re in for the full ride, no matter how intense it gets. This problem has been effectively addressed with some of the candies out there made with standardized extracts. I get Lumens, lemon drops that contain 10 mg CBD and 1.65 mg THC. I know exactly how much I’m taking and that is a good dose to knock me out for the night without giving me weird dreams.
Still, nothing beats my vape pen. It irritates my lungs, but not nearly as much as smoke from a dry-herb joint. It hits within a minute, and I know within 5 minutes if I need more. It’s a very controllable delivery system and it fits easily in my purse for emergencies out in the world (as long as I can find a place to use it in private, as it’s still a no-no to toke openly in public). The refined oil cartridges contain known proportions of THC and CBD. Some of the individual characteristics of the strains they’re refined from come through in the cartridge—effectiveness for anxiety, for example. Some strains make certain people more or less social. You have to learn what works for you by trial and error. It can be expensive, but if you work with friends and share the things that didn’t quite do it for you but might for someone else, it can bring down the total cost of that process.
There have been articles recently about how deaths from opioid overdoses have dropped in states with legalized cannabis. I believe this; I know it has kept me from becoming addicted to an ever higher dosage of my pain meds. When my pills aren’t getting it done, I turn to my CBD-rich vape pen rather than take another pill. It usually works well. I shouldn’t drive on a large amount of either (cannabis or opioids), so it can be restrictive in that way, but generally if my pain is bad enough to need extra attention, I should get myself home anyway. It makes me groggy after a few hours, so it’s not a replacement for my medicine; I could not make a living or maintain much of an adult life if that were my only pain relief tool. It’s a supplement to my primary methods, and one I’m grateful to have access to.
You may notice that I’ve used the word “cannabis” rather than “marijuana.” Cannabis is the Latin name for the plant genus, properly italicized when used in that context. Marijuana originated as a slang term, the Spanish equivalent of “Mary Jane.” Recently it’s become loaded with cultural connotations and the word is falling out of favor. Careless use of the word “marijuana” can lead to unintended (I hope) offense. For that reason, and because I work in science, I choose the soothingly precise word “cannabis.”
Do you use cannabis products for your condition, and does it help much? You can comment under any name you want, wherever you live, so go ahead and share.