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Medical Marijuana Gave Me Pharma Freedom

Fast-walking to my car, adrenaline rushing, I feel like a naïve housewife in a scene from Breaking Bad — which, well, I kind of am.

Sixty seconds ago I was in the dark lobby of a marijuana dispensary, where a darkly dressed big-bouncer-of-a-guy slid back a small internal window, and through a skunky, sweet-smelling haze to a soundtrack of rap, looked at me curiously and said, deadpan, “Can I help you?”

“Actually, no. No, you can’t. I have no business coming here, I feel like I’m breaking a law even though I’m not, and honestly I’m just a little afraid of you.” That was my internal voice. Out loud I blurted, “Umm … ahh … I left my wallet in my car. I’ll be right back,” as I made a dash for the door and daylight.

I drive away wide-eyed, my heart racing from the rush of it, shouting to the world outside my windscreen, frustrated: “This isn’t going to work!”

But I’m determined. I’m determined to do what my husband has no idea I’m trying to do, because the internal hurt is overwhelming. He’d fight me, tell me I’m crazy. But it’s my crazy and my decision, and because I have no fight left in me, I’m going behind his back and going it alone, seeing how it goes before I muster up the courage to tell him, in the raw, what I’m doing — which is so not like me, in every way.

You see, three months ago I opened my vanity mirror cabinet, held onto the door, and sobbed dry, emotionless tears. And that’s the crux of it. I want to feel emotions again. I want to feel my heart wrench when I cry, learn to smile again and mean it. I want to laugh again, belly-aching, beer-through-your-nose, LMAO laughing that’s real and meaningful — not halfhearted and brokenhearted.


In the cabinet, staring back at me, were six bottles of pills I’d been popping a.m. and p.m. for the last I-can’t-remember-how-long, since my late 20s I guess, chugging them down with a morning coffee and an evening nightcap.


In the cabinet, staring back at me, were six bottles of pills I’d been popping a.m. and p.m. for the last I-can’t-remember-how-long, since my late 20s I guess, chugging them down with a morning coffee and an evening nightcap.

“This has to stop,” I’d admonished my distressed and anguished reflection, listlessly hanging on the cabinet door.

First, and for 20 years, it was a sleep med for anxiety, worry, stress, and nighttime chatter brain — the side effects of having toddlers, one autistic, an exec media job in the city, a bus-train-subway two-hour commute, and not enough time to even breathe. Then came the SRI, cavalierly prescribed as a pacifier to so many stressed-out women, hardly any questions asked.

Do yoga,” my doctor had said as he scribbled another refill, barely looking at me let alone listening. In my head I’m screaming, “When the fuck do I have time to do yoga!” And when I did drag my tired self there, I’d twitch my way through downward dog to-do lists, my mind racing through savasana, speed replaying the day and projecting the stress to come tomorrow, next month, next year.

Fast forward 15 years. My young-adult special-needs son is getting unmanageably aggressive. Then the call in the night about my other child: “Nicola, your son’s had an accident. He’s in trauma ER. He’s suffered a life-threating brain injury. You need to get here as fast as you can.”

Eighteen months later — after what his neurosurgeon called a rare, miraculous, and remarkable recovery — back in college, Jack died in his sleep from a seizure. He’d just turned 21. I shut down. I don’t remember the days. I disappeared into the dark abyss of my torn-apart heart. God knows what meds they gave me then to sedate me.

A missing year went by before my “re-entry” to life, an automaton going through the motions. I knew I needed the meds to neutralize my depression and pain and round-the-clock sobbing that was otherwise and even so unbearable. So I took them. They plateaued. The prescriptions got stronger or changed and multiplied.

Jack and I had long conversations about life, the universe, and everything. We were very close. In high school and his college freshman year, he debated with me that I should quit the damn meds and smoke pot instead. “You’re putting manmade chemicals in your body, Mom. Who knows what they’ll do to you in the long run. You’re a stress ball candidate for medical marijuana.”

I couldn’t imagine it. I’d smoked one time in high school, once in college, and once at a dinner party, five years apart: the giggles, paranoia, and falling straight to sleep, in that order. “You’re crazy,” I’d say. “You’re crazy,” he’d shrug. End of conversation.

But for the past year, that conversation has been playing on a loop in my head. I’d quit corporate, moved to the country, bought a ranch, and started a special-needs nonprofit, spending time in nature, riding my horse, committed to tending my soul — and slowly getting back on my feet freelancing. After Jack died, I was on autopilot shuffling into the bathroom each morning opening pill bottle after pill bottle bleary eyed. I’d lost touch with myself, and it needed to stop.

Increasingly, whenever writer’s block set in, I’d find myself researching medical marijuana — MMJ, as it’s affectionately known. But I had no idea how to kick-start it in my world, and I was fearful I’d unravel if I quit my meds, the crutches holding me up through each day. I’m in California, where it’s legal. But how do I know what strain to take? Where should I get it? How do I find a respectable dispensary that can guide me medically?

I started with my own doctor. I’d switched to a concierge medicine practice a year earlier to a doc who has time to listen and actually be preventive in hourlong appointments (best move I ever made for my health). Progressive in addition to prescribing traditional meds, she believes in alternative treatments — ozone therapy, salt therapy, infrared sauna, therapeutic massage, all helping me — and has a supplement store in her office. She had me on the highest available dose of CBD gel caps, and even when I doubled up they did nothing.


I couldn’t imagine it. I’d smoked one time in high school, once in college, and once at a dinner party, five years apart: the giggles, paranoia, and falling straight to sleep, in that order.


We talked. She supported my desire. She has other patients doing it, she said. “I’m no cannabis expert, but I’ll help you step off your meds. We’ll start with the easy ones and save the doozy till last. It may take a few tries.”

I drove away still questioning what I was doing. My husband is the most anti-drug person I know. I couldn’t possibly tell him. But I was committed to seeing if this journey would take me to a better place and back to a semblance of the person I once was and had lost and that he’d lost, too. I went straight to what turned out to be the Breaking Bad dispensary — a completely false start.

Later, I devoured more cannabis educators’ sites and blogs, looked at more research showing the benefits for coping with grief, depression, anxiety, and clinical insomnia. But I couldn’t find what I craved: an MMJ MD, a doctor of medical marijuana who could just write me a prescription for the right strain for my ailments and send me off to an MMJ CVS, where people in white coats fill brown bottles and alphabetize them for pickup.

Though they don’t have medical degrees, I did find knowledgeable people in white lab coats behind a brightly lit counter at a nonthreatening and super-helpful dispensary. They patiently answered my neophyte questions and discussed between them what they thought would be best for me to try. An older woman like me joined the conversation, explaining what she’d first tried on her similar baby-steps journey. With guidance I settled on a discrete, chromatic peach-colored oil inhaler (the word ‘vape’ makes me feel sleazy).

I was off my meds completely now (yep, that last one was a real doozy; electric zaps of withdrawal coursed through me, underscoring my belief that pharma chemicals may be doing more to our brains than science really knows).

That night, after my early-to-bed husband hit the hay, I went out on the ranch to check the horses and hesitantly tried the smallest inhale. That’s when it happened. I found myself looking up at the stars talking to Jack as I did every night, only this time the tears that fell from my eyes came with the smallest hint of a smile, enjoying our memories together.

Photo: Kkgas

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