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Matters of Substance

Cannabis and its veil of deceit

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

I awoke this morning to a flurry of colourful and fantastic insights for my story on cannabis. By the time I made it to my desk, all those wonderful ideas had dissolved like smoke in the wind.


In so many ways, that sums up my 20 years of cannabis use.

From the start, I loved using cannabis because it opened my mind, heightened my senses and made me feel connected with the universe and the otherwise scary people that populated my world.

Gradually I set up my life around pot. Early on, I learnt to grow it because that kept the cost down. Inevitably, this led to a prosecution for cultivation. Along the way, I began to deal in pot (and other drugs) to ensure supply and help fund my own use.

When I was finally earning enough in my career to fund my habits, I surrounded myself with folk who supported my using; people who often found me more accessible, thoughtful, even useful, I suppose, when I was stoned.

At one point, I even had the landlord build a deck off my office so I only had to walk a couple of paces to have a smoke in privacy.

Most of my friendships were founded on drug use and my ability to supply. At first, I liked the needy nature of the supply relationship, but later on, I found it pathetic and embarrassing.

As I had my first smoke at breakfast, I knew there was a good chance that in an hour or so I would feel edgy, unfocused and indecisive, yet the lure of that wonderful first-up rush of warmth was just too much to resist. The sense of physical wholeness and the psychological shift that came from that first smoke overpowered my knowledge of the consequences.

In the end, my best friend turned on me. My mind had become closed and could barely function. The world had become a grey and foggy place, and my overwhelming paranoia had distanced me from everybody.

People couldn’t understand my using, and they found it difficult to understand my behaviour and even my words a lot of the time. My work became at best unpredictable, and my ability to have intimate relationships was negligible.

This was all from a drug that the press at the time suggested was not harmful. Apparently, it was neither physically nor psychologically addictive, and the only real harm was to the lungs. I so wanted to believe the “evidence”.

At about age 35, I decided that I needed to grow up, get a life and be like the folk around me who weren’t stoned, yet seemed to be leading pretty good lives. I began to want a life that didn’t have so many crutches.

I decided to stop smoking cannabis.

But stopping turned out to be a little trickier than I thought. First, there was the physicality of the whole process, the feeling of total discomfort in my being, an itchiness coupled with an inability to sit still, and an overwhelming sense that something was missing.

The psychological withdrawal could be summed up by the word “craving” – a complete and absolute obsession with cannabis 24 hours a day. No matter how much I drank or what other drugs I used, I couldn’t shake that obsession.

I realised then that I had a problem and that the problem was something I could not easily deal with.

Over the next few years, I would often swear off pot on a Sunday and by Wednesday – or maybe, if I was really lucky, Thursday – I would find that I was stoned, but with no real connection to how it had happened. This was a period of constant internal strife and struggle.

Seven years after my first attempt to put pot away, I surrendered to its power over me and, through treatment and support, found a way of living without my dear friend. I was given tools to help me live with the physical craving and mechanisms to deal with the overpowering mental obsession. In this way, I was able to walk though the withdrawal that dragged on for many months.

Ten years on and the veil that is my relationship with cannabis has been lifted. I am now able to see what I was like to the world and how I had short-changed myself by living that shrouded existence.

I have watched others close to me go along a similar path, and I’ve felt sad and powerless to help. But there has also been gladness that I am finally free of that grey, clouded, smoky world.


There are many symptoms of teenage drug abuse (as opposed to substance abuse, which is largely behavioral) that you can watch out for when you suspect that your loved one is into drug abuse. First and foremost, symptoms of drug abuse should be seen as largely physical. This is why when people ask about symptoms of drug abuse, it is mostly the physical symptoms that are related and not the behavioral and social markers (these are put under symptoms of substance abuse disorder). Symptoms of drug abuse are very obvious, if you knew to look for them and keep an open mind about the possibility that a loved one may be abusing drugs.

I think Michael smoked boatloads of weed for the same reason all of you do, and I used to- to alter your consciousness, to escape your feelings, to medicate yourself. NZ is a paradise of the damned in this way. Look all around you, its the most beautiful place in the world, yet so many feel a need and a hunger to be other than who they are and be other than where they are, they go to any lengths to alter their state of mind in order to fool themselves into thinking that they are elsewhere.
The constant, or years and years of daily smoking up has got nothing to do with the law. This country is so hell bent on intoxicating themselves from legal alcohol, that it begs the question of why on earth we would want to introduce another escape mechanism, meaning another intoxicant into this society.
The pot smokers I know who are prohibition advocates are some of the nastiest, most negative, self-righteous people I've ever seen- so much for the mellow buzz- they've become so dependent on (read: addicted to) this particular form of consciousness altering that (as we can see by the various comments to this brave soul Michael), all they can read into Bird's predicament is that making pot easier to get would have solved all of his problems.
Can you people not see how pathetically consumed by getting high you are? Does that not concern you or are you too addled to get that?
Sure, I used to smoke pot until I realised what a colossal waste of time it was to navel gaze and giggle idiotically until the paranoia set in- meaning immediately upon the pot triggering false dopamine responses in my brain.
good on Michael for trying to get out from under the Gray cloud.

Weed, yep I know that grey cloud, the paranoia, the blurred brain, incoherent speech and thoughts, from smoking several times a day...been there a few of times now.
I've seen folk smoking Marley's, popping pills and washing the whole lot down with alcohol...trying to self destruct. That's a lot of pain they're trying to lose, and sometimes it's like a competition to see who can get the furtherest out before unconsciousness strikes. They were lost before they started, and they will always be sniffing, popping, and drinking chemical cocktails. I think I figured it out though. I agree with the anti-prohibitionists 100% ... why criminalise people who are trying to choose a better feeling than the one they are trapped in? Why should nice folk need to associate with criminals in order to choose some kind of peace? Check out Jerry Paradis from LEAP as he trots around NZ on his current lecture tour. Anyway, back to figuring it out, the answer for me was dosage. Everyone has their tolerance level, mine happens to be the range of two joints a week taken in very small amounts.
It helped me through the pain of cancer. It helped me get off medication for depression (I hadn't smoked dope for years, so that wasn't the cause). Anti-depressant medication was the worst experience of my life, getting off them was the pits. Cannabis killed the nausea that prescribed Losec wouldn't touch. Cannabis eliminated the headaches, the despair, the side effects.
For me it is always a matter of dosage, too much and you've gotta take yourself in hand and 'straighten up', just the right amount and giving up is a small loss. ANY drug taken in excess is hazardous.

As I see it, many of the negative aspects Michael attributes to cannabis as a substance, are in actuality the indirect effects of its illegality.

For example, if cannabis was legal:

You wouldn’t have associated with lowlife petty criminals.

You would not have been convicted for growing, which obviously affected your life negatively, or be burdened financially by being forced to pay top dollar to criminals due to its illegality.

You would not have doubted that your “friendships” were just based on supply etc, which may have contributed to yr paranoia.

And you would also not have been so paranoid about keeping it secret from your peers and employer etc., and doubting yourself as a good employee.

I agree with “mildgreens” in that prohibition obviously did not effect your initial decision to start smoking, or your decision to stop, in fact, in a more education, harm minimisation focused environment, and with the forbidden fruit syndrome removed, you may have never become dependent in the first place.

I’m sad to hear that smoking cannabis made you paranoid, and made your world all grey and smoky (maybe you needed to ventilate better?); it definitely affects different people in different ways, and should possibly be avoided by some.

It is also true that even though the withdrawals from heavy cannabis use are nothing in comparison to that of alcohol or tobacco, significant psychological and some physical symptoms are indeed experienced by heavy users when they stop using, but with the right support most people can get over the worst effects after a week or so and over the cravings after 2-3 weeks. Taking a cocktail of other drugs and alcohol as a substitute was probably a bad idea for Michael, and I'm sure did not help his progress.

As with any addiction however, the desire to give the substance up is a critical factor in the success of any attempt to quit. I imagine you liked smoking cannabis, and were reluctant to give it up, as most people would be reluctant to give up their small pleasures in life like coffee, wine and beer etc. even though they know they are bad for them.

Do you really think Michaels story would have been worse had New Zealand had a more liberal open stance toward cannabis use, and a well funded drug education campaign?

The cravings after 3 days abstinence is common. Something to do with the fat tissues being able to release enough thc for a few days into the blood to ward off withdrawals, then WHAM, not any more. The withdrawal causes violent mood swings, and the other stage users have just gives you a rambling irrelevant caregiver if you're just a tamariki imho.

If media glamorisation and poor info helped this writers addiction to grab ahold, I see little change in that department. Most media still seem to present cannabis as relatively benign. But doesn't that probably reflect that senior members of the third estate were once children of the 60's - all doing that hippy hippy trail thing.

The responses to this thread so far seem like excellent evidence that more education is needed - not about P or party pills, but about what's growing under their feet. They seem blind to the typical nature and also inherent dangers (like suicide) of problems of chronic pot addiction, so well expressed here by Mr Bird, kia ora.

I've known a few 'addicts' in my time. But its always been booze that they are addicted too. ........ and it has a REAL physical withdrawl. And it does REAL damage to their brains, to such an extent that one former friend of mine is like a head injury victim .............. and given the number of his brain cells that he's killed thats probably exactly what he's done to himself. The writer of our "veil" story ... can thank himself lucky it wasn't the booze that he was abusing for 20 years. He'd be dead.

The veil of deceit is to be found in the policy legacy that is prohibition and everything you describe has been an elective choice made under that veil.

So how has prohibition served you? Cannabis is not compulsory. Examination of jurisdictional evidence shows that the cannabis consumption decision is largely unnaffected by the legal status or availability. So that leaves 'self will'. My favorite line of yours is "I decided to stop smoking cannabis"... Well gee wizz.

So prohibition didn't protect you. So why would anyone believe prohibition will protect me or my, yours or their children if it didn't protect you. However, what you now know now appears to have. You are richer for the knowing. Had we started from the premis of unfettered information and your access to the empowering right to make a mistake (thus enhance self responsibility) your experience may have been entirely different.

It always strikes me as ironic that the 'emerging threat' of some new or more powerful drug is occuring under the prohibitors watch and no questions prohibition itself.

During prohibition of alcohol, beer was rare. So to today is coca leaves.

We made this problem, the problem is us. Like your revelation to 'change your behavour' we collectively need to change ours and not depend on state/judicial guidance for our decision making. Empower people so they have the choice to say no.. and we might just be surprised. It worked for you.