Marijuana helped me when mental health services couldn’t
Weed is a polarising issue. It’s two years on from the cannabis referendum, and I, and many others, still feel the missed opportunity. There’s a lot of discourse out there about the harms of marijuana, and there’s a perception that its benefits are only valid in certain intense medical contexts, like people in extreme pain from chemotherapy. When it comes to recreational use, people can be quick to dismiss potential benefits. But what often gets discounted is the blurriness between medicinal and recreational use.
I’ve always been an anxious person. But it wasn’t until my third year of university that I started dabbling in the devil’s lettuce. One O-Week, I did a lot of MDMA. Ironically, it was molly that was my ‘gate-way drug’ (in heavy air-quotes) to marijuana. After that week, I bought a tinny ($20) of the good green off a friend, and a pipe and a grinder at Cosmic; the rest is history.
I was smoking a tiny bit a day in the evenings at first, and very infrequently. It took me over two months to get through that 20-bag on a purely recreational basis. I binged cartoons in bed after uni, and ate what tasted like five-star Michelin meals in the comfort of my own home. It was fucking unbelievable. Then, lockdown hit. My anxiety went into overdrive. I was alone in the house—my flatmates had gone back to their families. I became so anxious I couldn’t leave my room. I jumped at every creak in the house. I wasn’t functional. I couldn’t do my assignments, I couldn’t focus on lectures, and I was constantly terrified. The weed helped.
Let’s be clear: I’m not advocating that everyone smoke weed every day from dawn ‘til dusk, like I was doing. But the reality was that I couldn’t access medical help for my anxiety. University mental health services were overflowing, and I needed to write my assignments right then. Marijuana helped me pass the year with the highest GPA I’d achieved to date, despite my crippling mental health issues.
Cannabis continues to carry a heavy stigma, despite the fact that the majority of New Zealanders will have smoked by their thirties.1 It also bears repeating that cannabis is the most widely used illegal drug, not just in New Zealand, but in the world.2 Since its legalisation in certain countries, studies have continued to show that the distinction between medical and recreational marijuana is blurry, as it was for me.3,4 And the causal relationship between weed and mental health remains uncertain—does weed lead to worse mental health outcomes, or does worse mental health lead to heavier weed use? For me, it’s been both.
There have been periods of time where weed has positively contributed to my mental health. I wouldn’t have graduated without it, and certainly not with First Class Honours. But I recently took a break because weed was no longer serving me. I was getting more anxious, not less. I’m now in a place where I can smoke casually, on the weekends. It’s not that simple for everyone. But my story and recent studies highlight the need for more unbiased research into the relationship between marijuana and health outcomes. There may be more positives than we thought, albeit under certain conditions. But that research can’t happen without legalisation.
For me, only one thing is certain. I’m grateful to be in a better place now—and smokin’ up has played a huge part in that.
1Poulton et. al. Patterns of Recreational Cannabis use in Aotearoa New Zealand and their consequences: evidence to inform voters in the 2020 referendum. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/03036758.2020.1750435?needAccess=true&
3 Bostwick, J.M. Blurred Boundaries: The Theraputics and Politics of Medical Marijuana. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3538401/
4Turna et al. Overlapping patterns of recreational and medical cannabis use in a large community sample of cannabis users. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0010440X20300304