My relationship with weed started, like many, in my teens.
I smoked a joint in a basement when I was 16, sucking the smoke through the neon-colored rubber bands of my braces, coughing hysterically before engaging in my first kiss. Later, I would take turns smoking out of pop bottles with my step-sister in our shared bedroom, separated by a curtain, our respective hideous paint colors clashing in the middle. We would curl up on her twin bed, staring up at the skylight hoping to catch a glimpse of some weird aircraft headed to Selfridge Air Base, which happened to be down the street from where we lived. Other times we hoped we might get abducted by aliens because this was the early 2000s, and aliens were pretty sweet.
At some point in my early 20s, weed and I got a bit more serious. It was no longer pop bottles and apple bongs; it was glass pieces, tabletop vaporizers, and well-crafted joints. Plus, I had my medical marijuana card, something I pursued as an alternative to the opioids prescribed to me in my teens following a spinal surgery (and a major reason why I'm a daily marijuana user to this day). In my early 20s, I also found myself in my first serious relationship, which also just so happened to be an emotionally abusive one. To gain some independence, I took a receptionist gig at the very dispensary I got my herb from, a dysfunctional holistic practice and a far cry from the pristine Apple store-like shops we have now. During this time, I developed anorexia and found myself in a three-month outpatient recovery program. Weed was there for me the entire time. In addition to the systems implemented by the program — I still silently thank the food that goes into my body before eating it — I smoked before each meal to increase my appetite and calm my anxiety about food.
If my life were Pixar's Toy Story, then I'm Andy and weed is my Woody ... or Buzz Lightyear, but probably Woody because he was the hot one. Plus, fuck Tim Allen. No matter how many times I moved or fell in and out of love, weed was there. Years after my first toke/first kiss, my top worst relationship ever, and the height of my battle with an eating disorder, I now find myself in what is shaping up to be a time of collective global uncertainty. Yet my faithful cowboy, weed, is here, helping me through all of it.
What's in a strain?
Nowadays, everyone appears to be a goddamn ganja guru. When you go to the dispensary, sometimes it seems like the budtender just starts talking about terpenes, cannabinoids, beakers, and Bunson burners. Ack! While I might know a bit about weed, when it comes to reducing anxiety, there are only a few key rules: CBD, CBD, indica, and CBD.
OK, so there are some exceptions when it comes to sativas, but cannabis strains that are more sativa-leaning and THC-heavy are likely to have a bit more of a psychoactive punch, which can be fun in its own right, but may not be conducive to feeling isolated at home while suffering from anxiety. Indica-dominant strains, however, are known for generating more calm and serene effects.
It's not entirely about indica vs. sativa vs. hybrid as much as it is about their CBD-to-THC ratios. Think of it this way: CBD tends to combat anxiety, depression, and pain and THC, though it can do all of that too, can send anxiety-suffering folks into a spiral of mental acrobatics, which can increase feelings of paranoia.
One of my favorite strains for a tranquil and tranquilizing effect is Northern Lights. One of the more popular and readily available strains, Northern Lights creates a calming trickle-down effect starting with the brain to the toes. It's good for pain and sleeplessness, too, both bad boys in the game of anxiety. When Purple Urkle and Big Bud are crossed, they make another anxiety-relieving indica fave, Grandaddy Purple, which offers similar sedative sensations, calming any racing mental activity, and has been known to help with muscle spasms (which I also suffer from, yee-haw!) Girl Scout Cookies, Amnesia Haze, Kosher Kush, and Blackberry Kush are all effective strains, too. But it should be noted that everybody is different and every anxiety is its own monster, so it's best to start with indica/CBD-heavy strains and move toward some of those sativa/THC exceptions I was talking about—my favorite being Blue Dream, a slightly sativa-dominant strain that's a bit on the buzzy, cerebral side, but is great for tackling daytime depression and anxiety while remaining active.
This same ratio rule can be applied to edibles, which are made with cannabis-infused oil or butter, which occurs after decarboxylating the marijuana. (That's science talk for heating the weed in such a way as to activate the plant's psychoactive element.)
Unlike smoking, which has instantaneous effects, edibles can take about 30-45 minutes to kick in, and the duration of an edible high can last between 4-6 hours — meaning there ain't no turning back. But luckily for us anxious Andys, there are a whole mess of CBD-only products on the market. My suggestion? For any edible cannabis product, start with 5 mg and work up in 5 mg increments until you reach your desired effect. For me, a regular edibles eater, 20 mg of THC means I'm on a magic carpet ride to panic-induced sleep paralysis. Bed, bath, infinity and beyond, baby.
Another reminder: You will not die from edibles. You just won't. You might panic if you ingest well beyond your limits, and that panic might feel like you're dying, but you're not dying. If it's available to you, should you find yourself with heightened anxiety as a result of edibles or cannabis, get your favorite blanket and wrap yourself up tight and warm like a burrito (but leave a hand free so you can touch a cat/dog or reach for the remote to put on a show or movie that makes you feel comfort. Focus on your breathing and eventually turn your attention to the quippy conversational stylings of Gilmore Girls and allow yourself to turn yourself off. You will not die, but you might lose a few hours to feeling like you are.
Get ritualistic with it
One of my favorite parts of being a proud pothead is the fact that, in general, I like rituals. I enjoy most holidays (exceptions being Valentine's Day, Fourth of July, Presidents Day, Mother's Day, Father's Day, New Year's Eve, Columbus Day, and Groundhog Day). Also, I have an actual altar for rituals where I keep my — wait for it — healing crystals, sage, personal talismans, tarot cards, and a list of exes who have scorned me. Oh, and I like rituals that involve fire. If quarantine has taught me anything, it's that developing new habits — and rituals — is key to not losing my mind.
Now is the perfect time to create your own weed altar. Most smokers already have loose smoking habits, but by making it a special, untouchable standing appointment each day, your usual smoke sesh could break up the monotony of, you know, not being able to leave the house for weeks on end. Each day after work (because I'm able to work from home at the moment), I approach my tray as if it's a place of worship. I carefully select my herb, scraping the crystalized keef from the corners of the containers. The sound of the grinder crushing the dried flower, to me, is akin to crystal bowl meditation. I like joints best, but nerve damage has made me unable to truly master the art of the perfect David Crosby-approved joint, so I like to use those pre-rolled cones, filling the fragile little tube with the ground herb, picking out any chunks of stems that may have snuck past me.
If you're a bowl, bong, or bubbler smoker, when was the last time you really cleaned them out? This has been a very rewarding ritualistic task in its own right, and a clean device allows you to conserve weed a bit better, as you're not sparking up fresh new material on top of a clogged bowl, just burning up that precious, precious green. Recently, I filled a Ziploc baggie with very hot water and coarse sea salt and dumped my glass pipe in and shook it up like some damn Jiffy Pop. Watching the resin melt off my piece was like that scene in American Beauty with that creepy neighbor kid and the plastic bag.
Any stoner knows the most important part of any ritual is the tunes, dude, the tunes! Now that you're ready to smoke, cue it up. Making a smoking playlist might help you ease into this new routine. (But please don't take any notes from me, as lately I've been toggling between the most depressing Philip Glass compositions and Sarah McLachlan songs from ASPCA commercials.)
Miss smoking with your favorite smoke pal? Make them part of the ritual, too. Fire up the FaceTime or Zoom so you can pack bowls together and smoke.
Give peace a chance ... or fuck it and sleep
Just like that Carrie Underwood song "Jesus Take the Wheel," I, too, often relinquish control of my life, though to a little thing called crippling depression. That's right, folks. My depression controls a huge chunk of my life, and I know what you're thinking: Doesn't using marijuana every day fuel your depressive tendencies? Well, Karen, thank you for that thoughtful query, but the answer is no, it fucking does not. In fact, the use of edibles grants me permission to accept the things I do not want to change, like the desire to just be still, to do nothing at all. The messed up thing about depression, or at least my depression, is sometimes I don't want to control it or stop it. I just want to let it run its course, whether by launching myself into full-blown couch paralysis with the help of some THC-leaning edibles and whatever reality TV trash is currently streaming. Most of the time, though, there's an even stronger desire — one that is louder than anything else — and that is the desire to sleep. Morning to night, midday to middle of the night, draw the blinds, sleep.
Listen, you don't have to use your newfound quarantine downtime to bake bread or write a great American novel or do anything to better yourself, your home, your neighborhood. You can just exist. That's enough for now. Letting go of the pressures brought on by late-stage capitalism's bogus ideas of #SelfCare can be really hard without some herbal assistance. So just lean into it. Don't answer your phone — or do. Make a new recipe, or just melt cheese on tortilla chips in the microwave. Wake up early and go for a run, or save waking up for another day and know that this too shall pass. So pass the joint.