Leaving school in 1980, I got a job as a ‘storeman and packer’ at a CB radio component distributor. Around this time, I saw Cheech and Chong’s Next Movie at the Skyline Drive-In Theatre and had my first experiences smoking cannabis. Initially always with a drink, I’d share a joint at parties when I was 16 or 17. Later, when I smoked cannabis on its own, I started to feel for the first time the positive effects it had on my brain. It alleviated my depression and I began to connect feeling better with cannabis.
I would buy ‘leaf’ cannabis which was low potency and combine it with or ‘mull it up’ with tobacco and smoke through an improvised bong. When available I would buy ‘foils’ of head (2 or 3 grams of the dried flower of the female cannabis plant wrapped in aluminium foil) for $20 — $25 which was a few days supply. Supporting the black market, I spent every spare cent of my earnings on cannabis. I frequently slipped back into depression whenever funds or supply were scarce.
‘Scoring’ was always problematic, precipitating many uncomfortable situations. Meeting with criminals who profited by selling me low-grade cannabis, I came into contact with hard drugs, prostitutes and guns all while trying to obtain a medicine to make me feel normal. In fact, I once purchased blonde hash with the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Army) stamp on it, which certainly bought the geopolitical nature of the ‘War on Drugs’ into focus.
I have had depressive tendencies since childhood. An early memory is of being on the roof of my boyhood home in Western Australia, where I debated with myself about jumping. I was aware men mostly commit suicide at a young age and expected to grow out of feeling this way. Now over 50, I have never grown out of depression. Cannabis has a narrow therapeutic range, but depending on potency and strain, it very effectively treats my depression. The same Sativa-dominant cannabis that gave Jon Snow his awful experience on TV would likely be effective for my depression at a lower dose.
I have visited numerous psychiatrists over the years and one in particular liked my description of depression. When I’m having a depressive episode it’s like my brain is only producing white noise, not functioning. I can’t work out what I should be doing next — whether to eat, exercise or work. All I can do is withdraw and hibernate until it passes. The illness is only debilitating for a short time, but the thought that ‘this could all stop easily’ is terrifying.
Becoming a commercial fisherman allowed me to withdraw from society and medicate with cannabis safely. I could earn money and go surfing without fear of the criminal justice system. For me, there was no greater freedom than watching the lights of society disappear over the transom to be replaced with open water. At sea, we were effectively in our own country with our own rules. Cannabis’ prohibition, combined with the benefits I received from it, pushed me to living as something of an outlaw.
When I immigrated to the UK in the 1990s I didn’t want to get involved in the UK’s drug scene. Instead, I went down the recommended road of pharmaceutical intervention. I have been on large doses of antidepressants over the years knowing full well all I needed was a small, regular dose of cannabis. The high doses of antidepressants I was prescribed were ineffective, though I used them instead of cannabis for many years. During this period I gained 2 stone in weight and wasn’t well.
Driving to work one day I found myself crying.
I decided I’d had enough of feeling like this. Suicide was not an option because I knew doing so would be devastating to the people I cared about most. But what was the answer when the medicine I knew I needed was prohibited? Without telling my wife, I booked a flight to Amsterdam and took a day off work sick. Upon arrival, I purchased one gram of Kush, rolled a joint and was depression-free for the first time in years.
I owe nothing short of my life to cannabis and feel other people with similar conditions could benefit as well. I researched further and the more I researched, the clearer it became that cannabis prohibition was wreaking havoc on a global scale and denying sick people effective medicine. I met people in the cannabis regulation movement and found their stories compelling. Getting into debates around prohibition, I found those against reform ignorant of the very plant they fought to prohibit.
With the advent of the internet I could access a multitude of information and studies on cannabis. I read about botanist Sir Joseph Banks for instance, who sailed into Botany Bay Australia with James Cook in 1770 and would send cannabis to Samuel Taylor Coleridge of Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner fame with instructions on dosage and how to imbibe. I learnt how cannabis became prohibited first in British India, against advice, to protect British-owned alcohol distillery revenue.
In particular, having researched cannabis for treating depression, it’s clear that cannabis does have a narrow therapeutic range. Therefore potency, strain and dosage are critical but problematic when cannabis supply comes from an effective ‘cannabis fairy’, unregulated and without a label.
What I have found for myself at the ‘school of hard knocks’ has been confirmed with a reduction in suicide rates in the years after medicinal cannabis regulated in parts of the USA.
Criminal justice-based prohibition of cannabis was introduced against advice and perpetuated by vested interests. Cannabis prohibition creates victims that wouldn’t exist otherwise.
It’s time for cannabis to have a label again. Cannabis being an effective treatment for depression can only occur with it’s market-regulated. This way people can access consistent quality-assured product of known strain and potency.
Opportunities to make the world a better place don’t come along every day. If I can help bring about the end of patently disgraceful cannabis prohibition I will leave the world a better place than I found it. And thanks to cannabis its a world I don’t intend to leave any time soon.