Life is never a straightforward path from one day to the next; we all have our own ways of moving forward through the struggle. Throughout our lives we will all face our own series of challenges and it is no surprise that we often seek escape in different outlets. For some people this can come through physical activities, hobbies or other pursuits, while others find themselves drawn towards smoking, drinking or other ways of using substances to help ease the troubles in our minds. But what happens when our method of escape becomes the prison that confines us?
For too many people the reality of an addiction can become a deeper and darker void than we feel able to escape from and, regardless of their best intentions, what begins as a search for peace can end up as a fight for survival.
Recently, I was contacted by Rich who wanted to talk about his experiences with cannabis over the years. He had been an old-school smuggler with connections to Morocco (amongst other places) who seemed to have an endless array of anecdotes and tales of adventure which he thought might be of interest to our readers. After a couple of emails and phone calls, I set out to meet with him to find out more.
Pulling into the car park behind his building, I was greeted with a wave from a fedora-wearing-figure on a balcony. He buzzed me in via the intercom and I made my way up to his floor. Smiling as he shook my hand, he turned and began walking at a steady and uneasy pace through his front door. I could tell that he struggled to move without discomfort. He gave off a pretty chilled vibe, but there was a certain edginess to him that made him seem like he was feeling slightly uneasy about my presence. We sat in the whitewashed lounge and began to chat. I had no idea where the conversation would eventually lead.
For the next few hours, Rich and I chatted about our various misadventures and I learned that he had been drawn to hash following the Summer of Love in his early-teens. While this first real experience got him to understand how amazing cannabis can be, it wasn’t until a few years later that he began to, in his own words, ‘get busy’. Like many others, he soon began to act as a middle-man to get his own smoke for free, but this level of involvement rapidly grew due to his natural charm and the trust he earned from people who he circulated around. On one occasion in the early 80s, he recalls being presented with a large press of hash that didn’t seem to be what the supplier claimed it was. Without a moment’s hesitation, he told them outright that he had higher standards and expectations than they were offering and even called a friend and asked them to bring some of the ‘real deal’ over to his house to demonstrate what he was talking about. Surprisingly, this action earned respect from the supplier’s boss and before he knew it he was traveling back-and-forth from producing countries and organizing for people to pick up bulk quantities with him acting as a point of contact for both parties. He touched on so many anecdotes as we spoke, but he would sometimes lose track of what he was saying.
Throughout his frequent apologizing a picture began to form of someone who had overcome immense adversity in the past year. Suddenly, it felt like the most important story of all was nothing to do with his historical escapades: this was a man who was currently involved in a whole different quest.
He explained that for the best part of thirty years he had become increasingly isolated by his physical and mental health. Although he first began using drugs as a source of recreation with like-minded individuals, before he knew it he was using drugs to drown out the chaos that swirled inside his brain. Having become addicted to heroin in the early 80s, he had since spent almost half his life struggling to cope with the realities of his dependence and facing the reality of numerous failed attempts to get clean. Every time he tried to ‘get off the gear’ he replaced it with something else to combat the symptoms of withdrawal: alcohol and methadone became part of a vicious triad with heroin that held him in a vice-like grip. Despite his best intentions, he was wary of entering into rehab programs because he worried that they may take away his freedom to medicate as he saw fit; he didn’t want to add a new addiction to his collection. Sadly, he became increasingly insular and withdrew from the outside world. The four walls of his flat became like a prison cell and his front window was nothing more than ‘just a view’ of a world which he could observe but not interact with. Friends drifted away, family life became increasingly fractured and his inner demons left him paranoid and scared of anything which was beyond his control.
One of the only things which gave him solace during this dark time was his hobby: cultivation of cannabis. In order to ease his use of other substances, and to ensure that he could be self-sufficient, he had installed grow tents in his house for rotational grows. Ever since his first encounters with cannabis he knew that it had tremendous health benefits, so it made perfect sense for him to self-medicate in this way. Throughout his troubles he found that only a small group of true friends stayed close to him and tried their best to help him, even when they found it increasingly hard to see him at his lowest points. Sometimes he would share a smoke with them, and a small number were privy to the fruits of his labors, but he was always incredibly wary of people knowing about his private growing in case word got out. Paranoia was part of his everyday existence. Smoking eased his mind and helped to provide pain relief and, for the most part, it allowed him to regulate his use of other substances and reduced the frequency of his need for heroin or methadone. Little did he know that, when the time came, cannabinoids would play a crucial role in his attempts to get clean.
Looking back, he explained that he never really understood the true depths of his situation at the time he was at his lowest. It took the effects of heroin on other people for him to finally decide to get clean for good.
In September 2016, his daughter, who has struggled with heroin, alcohol and methadone addiction, was rushed to hospital after a seizure caused by alcohol withdrawal. Despite the crippling issues he faced he still found the strength to visit her during her recovery. Seeing her at her lowest and feeling powerless to help ignited a genuine desire to change his ways and upon returning to his flat he wondered how he could do what he had never achieved before. He knew that negativity had become a huge part of him and his self-doubt and fear meant that any change would be difficult – a change of this magnitude was almost unimaginable. Pondering how he was going to manage his own rehabilitation, he remembered an article he had read in Weed World about the impact of endocannabinoid regulation through the endocann diet. Having previously focused his cannabic-exploits on THC content, he wondered if it would be the cannabinoids themselves that were the key to his salvation. By changing his lifestyle in more ways than one, he hoped to find a way to finally make a change for the better and, more importantly, make it stick.
Over the next six months he undertook a gruelling process of detoxifying himself and weaning himself off of the prescription drugs that had replaced his heroin intake. He gradually reduced his daily dosage from 20ml to 15ml and found that the endocann diet eased the discomfort he would normally have suffered. Once he reached 15ml it was too intense to reduce by 1ml at a time, so he began by diluting his medicine with water to reduce by 0.5ml. Each time he found that he couldn’t reduce at the same volume, he didn’t give up but instead diluted his medicine to allow him to reduce by increasingly fractional amounts. By the summer of 2017 he had reduced the volume of medicine to an almost microscopic amount and found that his regulation of the endocannabinoid system meant that he suffered from less withdrawal symptoms. On top of this, his mental health was stabilizing and he began to become less afraid of the world outside. He had always known that plants possessed incredible powers, yet he never thought that his physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing could be brought into such equilibrium thanks to a change in the way he regulated his plant intake. He told me that the fact he had made the effort to reach out to Weed World, and subsequently let me (a total stranger) into his house to tell me his story, was unimaginable a few months ago.
He has come an incredible distance in short time, but his fight is not yet over. Over time his continued drug abuse had been masking an ever-increasing array of health issues which became another contributory factor to his isolation. The basic aspects of normal life had become beyond his reach: walking, lifting and even the process of breathing presented him with anything ranging from twinges to crippling pain. Unbeknownst to him, he had a slipped disc in his back which had been displaced for almost fifteen years and had been gradually ground down over time. Heroin had acted as a painkiller during his addiction and was so effective in clouding his awareness that he had felt no real consequence until he had finally managed to wean himself off it. The reality of his diminished health was such that even minor tasks became immense challenges which are riddled with potential pitfalls – even walking up stairs can be a mammoth task and a simple cough can send him into horrendous spasms that paralyze him. Even though he has overcome so much, he still has a tremendous mountain to climb, but cannabis and other plants are helping him to piece his life back together.
Smiling, he tells me that he is ‘finding his life again’ and is amazed that he can get through the day with nothing stressing him out. Whereas before he would be a nervous wreck at the first sign of trouble, he now walks through his local town to meet friends and chats idly to strangers in the park when he goes out to enjoy a gentle walk. He still enjoys a smoke and the buzz of THC, but for him it is CBD and a balance of endocannabinoids which has let him see that ‘life is getting easier’ and now he doesn’t ‘need to get high all the time just to get by’.
Where once he felt surrounded by a shroud of darkness, he now sees that there is light in the world and he doesn’t have to just watch it drift by on the other side of a window.
Originally published in Weed World Magazine issue 131