I must have been three or four. It was the day of my birthday, and my mother had refused to give me a hug or comfort me when I broke down crying out of stress. Soon my tantrum turned into something much more scary. I wasn’t just crying, I couldn’t breathe. My heart strained to beat fast enough to keep up. I was hyperventilating. My mind raced.
My mother wrote these off as tantrums, but they continued for years. She gave it names in attempt to understand it. She said that sometimes when I was tired my “switch” would flip. I was just a “worry-wort.” When I was 14, they stopped for about a year, and she figured I had outgrown them.
Then, in my sophomore year of high school, I took the ACT. The stress surrounding the standardized test built slowly over a period of weeks. It got progressively worse, and the night before the test, I didn’t sleep. I just sat in my bed, my head between my knees, crying and shaking.
When morning came, I took the test. None of the questions made sense to me. Simple math was an impossibility. Reconstructing sentences was a Sisyphean nightmare. My mind was clouded with anxiety, and I was consumed by thoughts of being weak, useless, unmanly, unintelligent, and incapable. I sat there during the test, sweating.
Eventually, the time ran out, and I handed the test in. I ran to the bathroom and threw up. I curled up on the floor of the bathroom stall, hyperventilating, crying, and hitting myself.
A year passed. It was a year full of suffering. Anxiety attacks feel, quite literally, like death. When you have an anxiety attack, you feel overwhelmed with self-loathing and terror. It feels like somebody has sucked all the air out of the room, punched you in the stomach, and thrown you in a lion pit all at once. And in my 16th year, anxiety attacks defined my daily existence. I had no control of myself. When I wasn’t having active anxiety attacks, I was suffering under the crushing weight of chronic, low-level anxiety. My life had become a living hell.
Then came the day that changed my life: the first time I ever smoked cannabis.
It was at a party. I was just planning on getting drunk, as I always did at parties to deal with the anxiety. But a dear friend of mine pulled out a pipe and some cannabis, and instructed me on how to smoke it. Ten minutes later, I was greeted by a feeling of warmth, safety, and calm which I hadn’t felt ever before.
And most importantly, I felt no need to drink. I socialized with everyone, met a lovely girl whom I would go on to date for several months, and slept peacefully. And the peaceful sleep was especially important to me – my anxiety is inexorably linked to sleep and sleep deprivation. Often, I enter a vicious cycle of anxiety robbing me of sleep, and the anxiety getting worse the next day because of the sleep deprivation. Cannabis has the remarkable ability to break the cycle.
I have been prescribed a half-dozen medications for my anxiety, none of which have worked as well as cannabis. Thanks to cannabis, I was able to finish high school with decent grades and get into a very good university. I even retook the ACT and got a 32 – a huge improvement from the score of 19 I got before I started using cannabis.
I don’t use it every day, and I almost never smoke it (usually I vaporize or make edibles). Occasionally, I will go without it for weeks, and it will sit in a box in my closet, unused. I have used it for recreation, but I typically use it when I feel the anxiety creeping up.
I don’t think cannabis is a cure-all for anxiety: I now go to therapy and meditate every morning as well. It is, however, an invaluable aid in my day-to-day existence, and I doubt I would be where I am today without it.