If we have interacted in the last five years, and I was not kayak guiding, there is a pretty good chance I was stoned.
I am not proud of this. I first smoked weed when I was 13 years old, and by 15 I was smoking weed almost every day. I was also no stranger to eating magic mushrooms and snorting Ritalin for fun. Parent intervention, prioritising sport, and my first long-term girlfriend, who I spent almost all of my spare time with, changed this - for a year and a half. I was back at it for my last year of high school, but it stepped it up a bit with the occasional dabble in the world of A-class pills. Like many New Zealanders, binge drinking was consistent throughout.
I was never shooting heroin or smoking meth, but I undoubtedly had a real substance abuse problem. On one hand, I was a sovereign albeit immature individual making conscious choices. I came from a loving, supportive household, and neither of my brothers ended up in the same mess. On the other hand though, I believe we are also products of our environment. My personality has always been one that enjoys pushing boundaries, so I believe my problem with substance abuse at least partially came from exploring the dishonesty and misinformation so common when we discuss “drugs” in society. I got a thrill out of not just being high on drugs, but still accomplishing all the things drug-users weren’t “supposed” to be able to do.
I had restricted my drug use in recent years to occasionally drinking alcohol, the far more occasional acid tab, and smoking way too much weed. But for the last 5 weeks, I have been completely sober - no weed, no alcohol, no coffee, no mind-altering substances at all - and I feel amazing. It is as if I have been freed from a self-imposed prison, and I will continue to turn down the free drinks and joints in rotation I often encounter on my journey. However, with my history of extensive practical research, I feel I am qualified to state a few facts (which are obviously just my opinion).
Alcohol is poison.
This is every stoners favourite argument, because it is so obvious. The confidence boost from a few drinks is a loss of cognitive function in the brain as a response to the introduced poison. But that is why people like it - that boost of confidence might help us to come out of our shell in a social situation. Alcohol is undeniably a staple of our society and New Zealand’s culture. Alcohol brands sponsor major sporting events like the Heineken Tennis Open or the All Black’s long alliance with Steinlager, and “getting a beer” is the automatic suggestion after a hard day’s work. We overlook the damage it does to our bodies and and homes, being at the root of so many domestic abuse cases. It also gets its own special category separate from drugs, where children are taught the dangers of “drugs and alcohol” in schools, despite the irrefutable proof alcohol has all the markings of an extremely harmful drug.
Cannabis has been used in different cultures around the world for millennia.
I am not sure about you, but for the first 13 years of my life weed was marketed to me like “The Devil’s Lettuce”. It is bad, and if I smoked it, I would be bad. I would become a stupid, lazy drop-out who would be incapable of holding down a job or playing sport. Different people and cultures all around the world have used it for years for its benefits though, and many weed smokers these days make it out to be some miracle plant to heal the world’s problems. I inevitably tried it and found that neither was entirely true or false. It relaxed my hyperactive mind and helped me to be more creative. I began to believe in a higher level to life beyond the physical. Then there are the incredible medicinal qualities when used correctly. I realised my initial impressions of weed were based on misinformation, and I began exploring how far I could push it and prove that information wrong. It was not long before I had gone too far though, and the damage I was doing physically and mentally exceeded the benefits. I had a complete mental dependency on cannabis to a chemical, physical level, which brings me to my next point…
“Use” v.s. “Abuse”
I do not believe many things are inherently “good” or “bad”. There are positives and negatives to everything that we should consider, and try to balance when possible. The human body is a fairly resilient machine and can handle a fair bit of abuse, even in the name of fun. Alcohol damages the liver, heart and brain in larger quantities, but a couple of drinks are ok, right? Chronic weed smoking damages the lungs and affects motivation, but what is wrong with the occasional joint to relax or aid in things like meditation? “Mind-altering” substances carry the danger of altering your mind permanently, and I know of more than a few people who never really came back from acid or mushroom trips, but there is also some interesting research going on with micro-dosing hallucinogens and their positive effect on mental health. Then there are ancient medicines like ayahuasca and iboga, which are extremely powerful naturally occurring psychoactive substances, typically taken with a shaman or guide. There are numerous stories of them working wonders for curing things like drug addiction, depression, and overcoming deep mental trauma. “Use” becomes “abuse” when the damage from what we are doing exceeds the benefits of what we are getting, and we need to be honest with ourselves to realise when this is the case.
The term “drugs” is far too broad
Using ayahuasca and iboga to cure drug addiction might sound contradictory to some - using “drugs” to stop using “drugs” - but we are talking about very different substances. Ayahuasca and iboga has been used for centuries, is derived from tree roots, and is a journey undertaken with guidance and semi-specific intentions. The “drug addiction” being overcome is usually addictions to things like heroin or crystal meth, which are synthetic substances cooked in labs and used recreationally, with extremely physically and mentally damaging effects. Comparing the two is not “apples and oranges”, it is “apples and cyanide”. This is why we all need to be more open and honest when discussing “drugs”, particularly with children. The old “drugs are bad” approach gets really confusing and is a driving force behind experimenting with substances. To a young, developing mind that can see Steinlager or Heineken plastered around the stadium while they watch their sporting heroes, “drugs are bad” becomes “drugs are bad, unless it’s alcohol”. Then what about panadol and ibuprofen? Is it then “drugs are bad, unless it’s alcohol or a pharmaceutical”. So… Ritalin? “Drugs are bad, unless it’s alcohol or a pharmaceutical that does not affect your brain” Where does coffee come into it then? Many people drink coffee specifically for the effect it has on their brain early in the morning - a seemingly harmless habit. But what happens when that person does not get their morning coffee? They might be fine, or they might be extremely irritable or completely zombee-like. Sounds to me like a mental and physical dependency. A cover-all “drugs are bad” approach will only confuse children and young adults, and drive them to form their own boundaries on what is and is not acceptable in terms of drugs. They will do this in secrecy, which will only increase the likelihood of them ending up in a harmful or dangerous situation too afraid to ask for help.
This is not supposed to be a “pro-drugs” rant, it is supposed to be “pro-honesty”. I have no doubt my history of substance abuse is a huge factor in my mental health issues I face today. I cannot say which came first, but I do know that they fed each other for a long time. I used drugs to escape feelings of loneliness and self-doubt, and my constant need to find and use drugs isolated me from family and friends, and brought on feelings of self-loathing and self-doubt. It became a vicious cycle I am happy to be free of on my new path of sobriety. That is not to say everyone needs to be completely sober, because there are many people who can restrict themselves to the occasional somewhat harmless night out. But I also believe there are many people who abuse substances and are not being honest with themselves, or the friends that support this behaviour. You might not be the biggest drinker/weed smoker/pill popper in your group of friends, but is it possible you all have a substance abuse issue?
I know our current archaic system makes criminals out of what is really a health issue, but try to be more honest with yourself, and with your friends and family. There is someone you can talk to if you are thinking about quitting or even just cutting down, and there is help you can get to make it easier for you. Try to be honest. Is your current use doing you more harm than good?
Alcohol Drug Helpline - 0800 787 797
Healthline - 0800 611 116
Lifeline - 0800 543 354