Constant cannabis use has changed the life of the writer, who previously suffered from panic-inducing migraines.
Here’s the thing I should feel bad about but I don’t: I smoke weed all day for pain management. And it works. I am the counter-example to the stereotype of the stoner who wakes and bakes and spends the rest of the day either in a near-catatonic state, watching TV or picking leaves off a plant; or pleasantly buzzed and listening to jam bands and playing video games; or eating Doritos and giggling maniacally at nothing. None of these lifestyles describe me at all. On the contrary, since I started smoking (I use that to stand in for all using, as sometimes I take THC oil or capsules) I’ve been tremendously productive: probably the most productive I’ve been in my life.
This revelation follows four years of one acute, treatment-resistant migraine after another—headaches that made me sob and gave me panic attacks. The pain drove me into the arms of an excellent psychopharmacologist and a CBT therapist to try to quell my anxiety and depression and give me tools to work through the pain.
This is a good time to mention that working through the pain is bullshit.
You work despite of the pain, or you work alongside the pain, or you work just so the pain isn’t winning all of the time. You work to try and assert yourself over the pain’s monstrous appetites, to prove that you are better than the pain. But then days pass when the idea of work is as impossible as a unicorn parade, and if enough of those days come in a row, you stop thinking about how you can vanquish the pain. You just wonder if you will live through it.
As Joan Didion wrote in her classic essay on migraines, “In Bed,” “That no one dies of migraine seems, to someone deep into an attack, an ambiguous blessing.”
This essay is a dual confession, or an explanation followed by a confession. It’s not the way it’s usually done, I know: Most people would rather confess and then explain. But my confession is not because I feel guilty, even though I have habitually broken the law. I found a solution to a problem that had taken over and nearly ruined by life, and that solution happened to be illegal where I lived. So we—me, my husband and our dog—picked up stakes and left a city we’d lived in (apart and together) for over 20 years to live in a place where I could have my solution and no fear of legal repercussions.
So much for the confession. Now the explanation: I was in chronic pain for years. That succinct, matter-of-fact sentence is woefully out of proportion with the experience of being in chronic pain, which makes life like an incomprehensible run-on sentence with a million dependent clauses and lists divided by semicolons and other syntactical junk that drives a writer like me insane.
But that mimics what chronic pain does: It makes you feel like you are going insane. You can’t really focus on anything but the pain, so your conversation quickly becomes pain-centric. Pain patients generally do not like to talk about their conditions with normals but when we assemble, we can barely talk about anything else. This lust for community, and for description, carries over for me into reading everything I can about my particular affliction, even though the reading sometimes triggers or worsens the pain. I know this, and yet I still seek out the literature of suffering. I have a Talmudic approach to my torment: I want to know what all of the rabbis of old have written, how they have described pain, whether they have found a mind-blowing metaphor or an incantation that makes it less excruciating. But even generations of rabbis couldn’t stop my pain, and they certainly won’t stop me from using cannabis to quash it.
I haven’t done chronic pain justice yet, haven’t been able to communicate to you on a visceral level what it is like to always have cobwebs in your brain—that’s too genteel a metaphor. It’s more like having heavyweight boxers trying to punch their way out of your head, or sometimes it’s as if your skull is getting smaller and smaller while your brain just sits there helplessly getting squeezed like a tube of toothpaste. These headaches are exploding and imploding, respectively, and as with so much of migraine, the language is new. People like me who make a living with words know that pain is one of the most impoverished areas of vocabulary in the English language. It’s all metaphor. I am trying to tell you about what it’s like to have a headache for weeks, then months, and then over a year, and I have to resort to boxers and toothpaste.
I had been using cannabis to try and control the pain in our previous city, but since it was illegal and I didn’t qualify for medical pot it would often be feast or famine, depending on the whims of my delivery service (yes, just like High Maintenance). Then we went to a place where it was legal for a weekend, and I bought some edibles and capsules. I had my first four-day stretch without pain in four years. But that was a vacation. The big question was: Could I keep a steady flow of THC to soothe my brain and also get my work done?
That question was semi-answered on a trip a couple of months later to a city my husband wanted us to live in—also a place where cannabis was legal. On this trip, I popped some capsules—now nicknamed “magic pills”—and did some reading and writing. I took enough so my pain was dulled but not so much that I was sleepy, or goofy, or hungry. I was miraculously normal. Before that trip was over, we were talking about moving—well, my husband was convincing me to move, and I was taking it very seriously. That was in May. We moved in July.
Since then, I have kept a steady stream of cannabis in my system all day, and it’s been miraculous. I still get chronic migraines, but the duration and intensity are both much improved. I still have lost days, but much fewer of them. I am working more than I have in the past ten years—when the migraines started—and going to school as well. I don’t micro-dose or anything fussy like that. I buy strong, THC-laden products and use them every few hours throughout the day. Some days—especially if there’s rain, as I am very sensitive to pressure changes—I still have to bombard my system with pharmaceutical cocktails. But I have a lot more days where I’m productive for a solid four or five hours, which would have been impossible in the dark time B.C. (before cannabis).
Was it worth upending our lives to move to a place where cannabis is legal? Yes, it was. There are other factors which made the move a good idea, but cannabis is number one. It’s changed my life. In a stroke of irony, I qualify for medical cannabis here, so not only can I get excellent products—which makes it easier to control the dosage—I get them cheap and delivered by the postal service.
It’s a difficult thing to change your life at midstream. Most people would not up and move for the sake of decent edibles and a variety of pre-rolls. But most people have not woken up crying from pain; or suddenly started seeing giant circles that shrink to tiny pointillist dots (my aura); or want to vomit just from the smell of toast. I’ve gladly traded that migraine-induced sensory overload for what I have now: a shelf in the kitchen with a pipe and a jar overflowing with pharmaceutical-grade weed.