I was 15 when I had my first panic attack. A friend and I were walking home when without warning I collapsed on the ground, unable to speak, walk, or breathe. My vision blurred and tunneled; my hands shook. I was sure I was going to die. My friend ran ahead to my parents, and they drove the block and a half to pick me up, where I lay curled against a tree in the fetal position. I spent most of that night crying, vomiting, and hyperventilating, waiting out what remains one of the worst attacks I’ve ever experienced.
Twice over the next few months neighbors found me in similar states and brought me to the hospital. When the emergency room doctors told me I was fine, I was in shock. I obviously wasn’t fine. I was dying. But I wasn’t. I just had an anxiety disorder.
Since then, panic has been part of my life. I’ve been to therapy and on and off mood-stabilizing drugs. While there are some things that help prevent these attacks, nothing has ever helped me get through them, except marijuana.
I smoke marijuana whenever the factors in my life that induce stress reach a boiling point. Some months, that can be every day. Sometimes, I’ll go half a year without needing a toke. But as I age and my reactions to pharmaceuticals worsen, I use marijuana for more and more reasons.
Narcotic painkillers induce anxiety for me, so I use marijuana for pain related to back and shoulder injuries. Sleep aids make me groggy and give me nightmares, but marijuana doesn’t. Marijuana has become a kind of miracle drug that solves my medical problems that nothing else seems able to touch. And that means that as a functional adult, parent, wife, and professional living in the world, I smoke significantly more pot now than I did when I was in college.
I use a device called a “one hitter,” which administers about two puffs of smoke. This is all I need to overcome my anxiety, or pain, or insomnia. I’ll use the one hitter as many as three times on a really bad day when I’m coping with anxiety and pain together.
I’m very careful about how I get my marijuana, because medical marijuana was only recently legalized in my state and is still unavailable to most people—including me. I have friends who help me procure it from states where they have medical marijuana licenses. I don’t know any drug dealers. I’m a work-at-home mom with three kids under 7. Drug dealers don’t factor into my lifestyle.
When people learn that I smoke marijuana medicinally, they usually aren’t fazed. I tell them simply, “I have a panic disorder, and marijuana helps with my anxiety attacks.” The people in my life care enough about me that knowing I’m doing something to maintain my health and emotional security doesn’t upset them. My friends and family want me to be happy and healthy, even if they sometimes worry that it’s not safe to find the help I need outside the law.
I plan on getting a medical marijuana license in my state as soon as it’s possible. I know it’s a treatment that works for me, my doctor knows it’s a treatment that works for me, and now the two of us are waiting for legislators in our state to decide that my conditions should be included in the limited list of acceptable diagnoses for marijuana treatment. If I were a combat veteran, my anxiety disorder would already be covered. That’s how arbitrary the rules are as they stand.
I’m fortunate to live in a place where I don’t have to fear for my safety or career in order to use marijuana to improve my life. I can smoke when I need to and rest easy knowing that even if it’s not exactly legal, it’s not exactly illegal where I live either. I’m in a gray area of marijuana accessibility, and as it gets less gray, I get closer and closer to my medical license.
Each time my vision starts to go blurry and my heart starts to pound, I remember that first panic attack. I remember thinking I must be dying, curled in the grass on the street where I lived. I pull out my one hitter and take my two puffs, and the feeling goes away.
That there is anything on this earth that can do this for me, that can take away these panic attacks, gives me tremendous peace of mind. Knowing I don’t have to live in fear of sleepless nights, sobbing and dry-heaving while my brain spins in circles and my hands shake, that makes my life better and safer.
I have marijuana to thank for that.