To Be Blunt: Cannabis and mental, physical health is a joint effort

Lilian Zheng | Daily Trojan

Over the semester, I’ve had the incredible opportunity to share my love for cannabis and its benefits through this column. While I fully intend on a reprisal next semester, it is still astonishing to me that this initial chapter has come to a close.

From writer’s block to my incessant inability to concentrate, from fear of backlash from conservatives to the thrill of readers praising my work — I went through a rollercoaster of emotions and thoughts as I wrote. 

With my early columns, I sought to set the stage with the inner workings of the world of cannabis: the culture, politics, history and sociology of weed. But I’ve never really touched on the role weed has played in my life and the lives of my loved ones. 

To be blunt, I was scared. And I still am. 

It’s disheartening to me that weed is still treated as a taboo subject and substance, derided as an indicator of someone’s lack of potential or direction in life. It upsets me when people look at me differently when I tell them (or they find out) I use cannabis. Pot, just like most things, is not one-dimensional; each and every individual who uses weed does so for myriad reasons.

My journey with weed really began in college, save a few encounters with the substance due to my cliché high school rebellion phase and intense curiosity. Graduating from smoking mid-grade weed in a dark, stuffy garage with people I barely knew to enjoying luxurious hits from a PAX Era freshman year with my closest friends was a definite upgrade.

What I used to consider secretive and audacious soon became a therapeutic ritual; granted, while I enjoyed the high, like most of my friends, I smoked because I needed to and because doing so genuinely helped me.

I’ve struggled with bouts of mild depression since I was 15 and recently developed generalized and social anxiety disorders. The process of labeling how I felt was frustrating, confusing and demoralizing; for the longest time, and even now, I believed what I felt was the norm — that everyone lost their appetite sporadically, felt hopeless and guilty without cause and struggled constantly under a heavy, gray weight in their chest.

Outside of journaling, making art and listening to music, weed is one of the only outlets through which I find solace. When I feel overwhelmed by sadness and the seeming bleakness of the world around me, or panicked over nothing —  and  fixated on minute details and social encounters — a puff or two helps calm my nerves, ease my stress and slow things down.

Cannabis, which I sometimes pair with self-guided meditation, allows me to live more mindfully, bringing more awareness to my emotions and helping me work through them. Especially after particularly challenging days, weed makes me feel like I can breathe deeply again, giving me a chance to regain a sense of tranquility.

Other times, cannabis just makes me feel happier. THC, which interacts with the reward system in the brain, acts similarly to the naturally occurring neurotransmitter anandamide, aptly named the “bliss molecule,” producing feelings of joy.

Of course, I’m not a stranger to the occasional bad high or panic associated with cannabis-induced anxiety since THC can sometimes produce opposing feelings to bliss. For the most part though, THC lowers my anxiety, helping me control my panic attacks and ease my tension. 

My friends and older brother use cannabis, also to self-medicate for anxiety purposes. Surprisingly, even the rest of my family — a staunchly conservative and traditional bunch of immigrants — has embraced the healing qualities of cannabis, using CBD to help with the pain and inflammation associated with migraines and arthritis.

My grandma, who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, used both THC and CBD to treat her chemotherapy-induced nausea, appetite loss, insomnia, pain and depression daily up until her death two-and-a-half months ago. When her health significantly deteriorated in the last weeks, cannabis was one of the only things that helped her manage her intense pain and sadness. 

Cannabis moderated a large part of the grieving process for me, as did time and therapy. 

Weed helped me throughout my bouts of intense anxiety, immobilizing depression and withdrawal from society. During a particularly bad panic attack where I felt like the world was spinning out of control and I couldn’t catch my breath no matter how hard I tried, weed (and calling my mom) helped me regain a sense of stability. 

All this is to say that cannabis has genuinely enabled me to get closer to reaching peace. While I’m still grieving and every day is a battle for happiness, weed has allowed me to lead a better, healthier life — both physically and mentally.

As with all substances, cannabis has risks and side effects. While the jury is still out on whether cannabis is good for long-term mental health, this is just my experience and the benefits I have reaped from the substance. 

And by no means am I saying that cannabis is a substitution for professional medical advice, therapy and prescriptions, even as more Americans are turning to self-medication as an alternative to pharmaceutical drugs. 

Cannabis and wellness compose a joint effort for me. Weed isn’t just a punchline, stereotype or substance indicative of a homogenous consumer base; for me, it’s a deeply personal method of healing, a way for me to gain a sliver of hope in all of the chaos.

What does weed mean to me? Everything and nothing all at once. While it is a significant part of my life and who I am, it is not wholly suggestive of my personhood nor is it a condition of my flaws as a human.

Natalie Oganesyan is a sophomore writing about weed culture and politics. She is also the Arts & Entertainment Editor at the Daily Trojan. Her column, “To be Blunt,” ran every other Thursday.