“Mr. Dan? This is incomplete. Did you not see this page?”
I have approximately six pages of forms to fill out to get my medical marijuana license. But I’ve left one page blank. It asks for my history with medical marijuana, and I don’t actually have any.
“The receptionist is probably going to call the cops,” I think, panicking. “I’m about to get arrested. A drug license to buy drugs. This isn’t real. I’m going to prison. This is a sting.”
The receptionist waits for me to respond, but decides it would be easier to fill out the form for me. “You have anxiety, yes?” Yes. “Any back pain?” Yup. And neck pain. And insomnia.
I’m an incredibly nervous person. On the form, I’d written that on the how-bad-is-it-really scale, my anxiety is about an 8 out of 10, if 1 were barely any anxiety at all and 10 were Brian Wilson locked in a bedroom. I’m filling out these forms because the receptionist says cannabis can bring down my symptoms to a 1 or 2. I’d love it if pot helped with my anxiety. Or if anything helped, really.
I’m here because my friend told me that pot had helped them with their own anxiety, and that I should take advantage of California’s Medical Marijuana Laws, which allow anyone with a doctor’s note to buy, carry and consume marijuana. I go to an Oakland pot doctor rather than an Oakland anxiety specialist, because I’d rather go home with natural, harmless pot instead of a prescription for big, scary pharmaceuticals.
“Have a seat while I speak with the doctor,” the receptionist says.
So I go back to the seat next to the ATM and the coffee table with copies of “Culture”, a magazine featuring Ron Jeremy on the cover in a tuxedo. The tuxedo is open at the collar and the bowtie is untied and around his neck. This is after-hours Ron. He’s winding down for the night. He wouldn’t be caught dead in a place like this.
“The doctor will see you now, Mr. Dan,” the receptionist says. She leads me to a small office with with one sad window and tells me to sit down in front of a beat-up laptop.
“He Skypes,” she says.
“The doctor Skypes?” I ask.
“Skype? You mean Skype, Skype?”
This is the entirety of my 30 second Skype examination:
Doctor, not looking into the camera: “So, anxiety?”
Me: “Yes. Oh, and back pain. And neck pain.”
Doctor: “Cannabis makes these things better?”
Doctor: “Ok, go see the receptionist.”
Your Skype call has ended.
And that’s it. He’s a younger doctor, I think. It’s hard to tell. He never once looks into the camera. For what it’s worth, it look like he’s in a doctor’s office, because there are plaques on the wall behind him and he’s wearing a white coat, but I get the feeling he might be sitting at a bank of monitors and running through as many of these sessions as he can to generate as many $40 payments as possible.
I am now allowed to buy drugs. Not that pot is really a drug. But if Dr. Skype has taught me anything, it’s that this whole pot thing is just pretend. Pot is to drugs as Dr. Skype is to doctor. Is he technically a doctor? Sure, why not. Does he actually do anything helpful, harmful or otherwise? No, thank god, no.
I give the receptionist 40 bucks and she hands me a pot license and some pamphlets for weed dispensaries. She looks me over and says, “You should check out Harborside Health Center.” It’s the only dispensary that’s not in one of Oakland’s rougher neighborhoods. It’s the only time anyone actually examines me during my doctor’s appointment.
The Harborside Health Center is a holistic healing institute that offers free meditation classes, free acupuncture and acupressure. Oh, and not that you’d be interested, but if you are, it also sells weed.
After I get through the metal detector and three gigantic bouncers, it’s a very pleasant experience. It’s airy and light, and everyone speaks in low, calming tones. It’s like if an Apple store sold pot. I am told to sit on a bench and not use my cellphone, so I sit and wonder if the bouncers came as a set, if each black shirt separates at the stomach and they nest inside of each other, hollow as houses.
It’s airy and light, and everyone speaks in low, calming tones. It’s like if an Apple store sold pot.
At the counter, I speak with a pot professional. She strikes me as disinterested, but then again, I might just be making her nervous with how nervous I am. I’m ruining the whole vibe of the place.
“Which one of these is for anxiety?” I ask, and she lists several different silly names. “It’s really a personal thing, you know?,” she says. And she waves her hand over the weed display case like a bored magician.
I buy two kinds of pot. One is called Violet Mystical Sunrise or some dumb thing and the other one is Taco Jazz Beans or some other dumb thing. “Because you’re a first time patient, we’d love to offer you a free joint or a free brownie,” she says.
And I say, “I’d love a free brownie,” because that’s probably the most chocolatey way to get stoned and have a completely consequence-free experience. This is, after all, my anxiety medication. I am already relaxed.
“So I just eat the whole brownie?” I ask my bored pot professional.
She perks up at the opportunity to display her endless bounty of pot knowledge.
“Oh God, no. If you have a really high tolerance, eat half. If you don’t, eat a third. The correct dose is a third.”
So I follow her advice. I eat a third of the brownie. And about six hours after I speak to this woman, I’m pretty sure I’m going to die.
My wife and I spend the day hiking, and when we get home, we think, let’s put on a dumb movie and eat some of that goofy, silly brownie. We open it and laugh because it’s so tiny. A tiny baby brownie. It’s maybe a little bigger than a chocolate you’d get in a Valentine’s Day box of chocolates.
“One third is a fake dose,” I say, “but the fake pharmacist said half is a fake dose if you have a higher fake tolerance. I might eat half because I’m a big fatso.”
“Just eat a third,” my wife says. “This is full of drugs.”
I oblige my wife and eat just the third, thinking that I can come back and eat more later. What’s the worst that could happen?, I wonder. I’ll giggle more than I would at this scary movie about murder? Brownie! What a silly word, even!
It’s about 30 minutes into the movie before my wife jumps off the couch, shouting: “This movie is making me anxious! I am going to bed!” And she hurries, hurries, hurries up the stairs.
It takes about ten minutes before I feel like I am inside of my television, like I’m right there with Ben Affleck and whatever the hell he’s saying to whoever else is in this horrible movie I hate. Hi, guys! And then my brain snaps back and I’m on the floor and I can’t breathe, so I take a big giant breath, and then I’m back in the TV. And they’re angry at Ben Affleck or something but I’m not sure what’s going on and then I take a big giant breath and uh-oh. Uh-oh and oh no.
This is not enjoyable, I think. Save me, Ben Affleck.
It’s bad. Not pretend bad, but actual bad. My wife is sleeping upstairs, and I think long and hard about whether I should wake her up to calm me down. Or maybe I should just wake her up to apologize. Or maybe I should tell her I just met Ben Affleck.
I briefly wonder if I’m going to die. My heart races and a tiny sober thought lets me know that I’m not going to die, but that I’m probably having a panic attack. I decide to ground myself in physical reality and distract my brain with motion, so I pace back and forth in my apartment for the next three hours.
I walk from my front door to my bathroom door. I touch the bathroom door and turn around and go back the front door. For three hours. I lose myself in between each door and get wrapped up in my head about assorted panicky miseries. The clock on my stove is a tether to my house. I check it continuously so I know how much time has elapsed and how long I’ve been in my head. I did not know this was an experience a person could have on medicine, where you think your brain is broken forever and you have every awful thought you’ve ever had, all at once.
I did not know this was an experience a person could have on medicine, where you think your brain is broken forever and you have every awful thought you’ve ever had, all at once.
Here are a few of the more fun thoughts I had:
“What if this doesn’t stop? What if this is just how my brain is from now on?”
“I should write a note to my wife that says ‘If I am different after this, I am sorry.”
“I thought this was lowercase d drugs. I am on capital D, Drugs.”
“My cat doesn’t want me to go to sleep. I think my cat thinks I’ll die if I go to sleep.”
“Oh my god. I poisoned my wife.”
“I may have killed both of us.”
“Isn’t this how Daniel Johnston went nuts?”
“Daniel Sanders. This is how Daniel Sanders goes capital N, Nuts.”
“What if this doesn’t stop? What if this is just how my brain is from now on?”
I fall asleep around 4 a.m., after having walked the equivalent of nine miles in my living room. For two days after, I feel disconnected and half-dead. I’ve had monumental hangovers in my life, but I’ve never had a sip of beer send me spiraling into a half-mad existential crisis.
This is all mostly my fault, by the way. Doing a quick Google search of “pot and anxiety” brings up some interesting articles about how pot can exacerbate anxiety rather than help it, but I’ve stopped Googling medical conditions on the advice of three different doctors who’ve had to calmly and repeatedly assure me that I don’t have cancer, that I’m just a little crazy.
My point isn’t that medical marijuana is bad. It’s great. I’m happy it exists. But I’m not sure I’m happy that doctors who only prescribe marijuana via Skype exist. The fact that such services exist detracts from marijuana’s very real, legitimate medical applications for people like me, who suffer from very real, legitimate health conditions that affect our lives on a daily basis.
I’ve since smoked pot, very carefully, and it’s been fine; anxiety-reducing, even. I’ll smoke it and clean the house, or take a long walk with no Afflecks in sight. But if you’re still unsure if pot is right for you, I urge you, please don’t take a Skype call with your doctor.
Photo via Andres Rodriguez/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)