I Tried Cannabinoids for Depression and I’m Still Sober
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I Tried Cannabinoids for Depression and I’m Still Sober


Recently I got extremely depressed. The kind of depressed where an unschooled observer might have assumed I had advanced MS, Parkinson’s or some other premature degenerative nerve disease. I spent most of my time in bed face down, and when I did get out of bed, I could barely walk. I shuffled along like an old lady minus the walking frame. I didn’t shower for days. I couldn’t eat. The tears had dried up by this point and I was as brittle as an old bone. Drop me, and I would break.

I’d been here before, of course, at various times in my life. I remember a time at 19 when I shuffled out of my therapist’s office with tiny halting steps. I had simply lost the will to go on, and at that time I left carrying a Paxil prescription. A year later when I went through a brutal detox from said Paxil, I swore I would never take anti-depressants again. And for many years I didn’t. But I underestimated the places depression can take you, especially when you have small beings you are responsible for and it becomes more than just a simple matter of sparing yourself the suffering.

Some background: I have six-and-three-quarter years sober, have worked the steps several times, and no longer take any kind of psychotropic medications, as they are not a good long-term solution for me. So when I got to this recent depression, I had tried almost every single other cure, natural and unnatural (other than TMS and ECT). Prozac? Check. Wellbutrin, Celexa, Lexapro, Neurontin? Duh. Lamactil? Allergic. My depression/mood disorder would submit for a while, and then laugh in the faces of these drugs. “Ha, you think you can trick me with a serotonin–norepinephrine re-uptake inhibitor instead of a serotonin re-uptake inhibitor? I scoff at your SNRI’s, your SSRI’s and your off-label anticonvulsants. Gonna have to do better than that—this ain’t no amateur depression, bitch.”

After a relatively okay six months, which I categorize as feeling awful as opposed to depressed, my children were now starting to look at me with trauma on their faces. You can tell kids it’s not their fault only so many times before it just might be damaging for them to observe their mom’s clinical sadness.

“Sure it’s not my fault,” one of them had actually said to me.

“You’re always sick,” said the other one. I could see them internalizing it, and it made everything so much worse. I had to do something radical.

I had been hearing about cannabidiol as a cure for depression for a while and suddenly the idea came into my head one Sunday morning. I can only assume God put it there. Cannabinoids (CBDs) are a derivative of marijuana, extremely low in THC, and therefore free of marijuana’s psychoactive effects. They have been proven to treat everything from cancer to fibromyalgia to anorexia, but I was terrified. My sobriety is something I have worked so hard for; would I really risk it?

I felt I had no choice. I wasn’t eating. I couldn’t function. My kids were out of town with their dad, and I could not let them return to this vision of bad hygiene and laundry piles. I had to do something. I called my sponsor and cried for the entire phone call.

“I don’t want to get high,” I said to her. “I don’t want to lose my sobriety.” And she, God bless her, having sponsored me for a few years, believed me. She told me she would not make me re-start my time. Sadly she had just lost her husband to cancer, but it had given her a deeper understanding of CBD.

“It’s medicine,” she said, and then added with her trademark Australian way of cutting through the bullshit, “We didn’t get sober to feel like dying.” I didn’t even bother to explain that “feeling like dying” would have been an upgrade. I had spent almost every moment for a week actively praying for death—not exactly happy, joyous and free.

The ground rules were no smoking or eating it, little or no THC, and if it got compulsive I had to stop. Also, I had to live. Bummer.

I made an appointment with the pot doctor even though it was a Sunday. First I met a friend for lunch to force myself to get out of the house. I showered in slow motion and somehow shuffled into my car. I thought about how grateful I was to have a car, but gratitude doesn’t do much in the face of depression. Mostly I was hoping I didn’t have my seventh car accident in three years, because that’s a disturbing trend of my mood disorder; once I start to disassociate, I’m not the world’s best driver. It is the reason I drive a 2002 Prius, instead of a 2013. (I know, my life is awful.)

During the lunch with my friend, I kept turning my phone over to count how many minutes had passed. If they had been displayed, I would have counted seconds. More time to be alive. I did not smile the entire time. I had no idea why my friend would agree to meet me, but that’s why you have program friends, because you don’t have to put on a façade. There are going to be times when you see each other at less than your sparkly best.

I cried as I gave the receptionist at the medical marijuana clinic my driver’s license, I cried as I waited on the vinyl couch in the waiting room while a dozen or so other customers looked at me bemused. Once my name was called, I somehow managed to cry through the entire appointment. The pot doctor was a pretty regular, conservative-looking guy in a John Varvatos-and-jeans uniform. He was looking at me like, “Okay, lady you don’t need the performance, I would have given you the prescription.” Every 18-year old in the waiting room seemed to be holding their backs and vaguely referring to “cramps.”

I dragged myself to the nearby Collective to get my medicine. Pot is sold in collectives, either as legal protection or as a nod back to the sixties. This clinic promoted itself as “L.A.’s Oldest Dispensary.” Even in my foggy state I was confused as to how they would arrive at this claim. Could they prove this? It hadn’t been in that location for long—were they counting the medical marijuana legislation in 1996, or just some guy who’d been dealing out of his garage for that long? Clearly, the other customers were too stoned to care.

After being admitted past the sunny receptionist (he was probably high, I reasoned), I was buzzed into the back room to the good stuff. The girl behind the counter was wearing a lab coat, possibly to give her an air of gravitas as she peddled hash cookies.

“This may be the wrong place to say this,” I announced, “but I really don’t want to get high.”

“You’d be surprised,” she replied. “We get a lot of people in here who say that.”

She directed me to a hemp tincture with a coconut oil base and extremely low THC—less than a milliliter for the whole bottle. She didn’t have anything that contained no THC since, she said, that activated the medicine.

“Even if you chugged the whole bottle you wouldn’t get high,” she added.

“You clearly haven’t seen me eat chocolate,” I would have wisecracked, if I hadn’t been at that moment vividly wondering what it would feel like to put my head through the glass display case. Would I need stitches? Could I finally go to rehab? I mean, what does a girl have to do to get a vacation from her life?

I paid for the goods and grabbed them, then hurried to my car like a criminal but only at a Federal level. Behind the wheel of my car, I ripped open the paper package (just like a CVS bag!) and said a short prayer. It was my favorite prayer: “Please.”

I sprayed the tincture under my tongue twice and was shocked that it tasted like weed. I hadn’t smoked pot in around 12 years but it’s not a sense memory that leaves you exactly. I wasn’t high, but for some reason I actually smiled. Forty minutes later, I felt well enough to drive to a meeting in another fellowship I attend. (Do you get the sense I need a few different groups?)

For the next five days I was really productive. I did lots of laundry, and even dried and folded it, which I hadn’t done in months. I cooked dinners for my kids. I wrote. I felt better, but when it started to wear off after around six hours, I could feel it and would feel myself getting either flat or furious.

“Okay, I guess it’s time for my next dose,” I’d say, following the two-sprays-a-day directions given to me by some girl in a white coat with zero qualifications.

I took my two sprays before flying to Washington for a scheduled meditation retreat. I managed to go through the airport process, the TSA screening and the flight with little stress. I went through the workshop, and talked to the teacher afterwards. After more soul work, it became apparent that CBD was not going to be a long-term solution for me. When I got back home, I decided to keep it figuratively in my back pocket, though technically in my car, right next to my pot permit. I would use them if I needed them, I resolved.

The next time I felt really low, a week or two later, I took a spray and it had the opposite of the desired effect. I started to dissociate, and eventually ended up feeling worse and worse. I raged at my unsuspecting offspring. Then, to punish myself for this, I self-harmed.

Fabulous. Another miracle cure discarded on the funeral pyre of shit that doesn’t make me feel better, where it can lie burning next to SAM-E, Fish Oil, and DHEA (though at least it would smell better).

I didn’t lose my sobriety, but I also didn’t lose my depression. Suicidal thinking is still my daily reality, though at least I had a brief respite that reminded me how to force myself to function. I completed a fourth step in that other fellowship, which I’m reading to my sponsor next week. And as always, I go on with the vain hope, “Maybe this is the one that will finally make everything better.”

At least I’m still on track to seven years of sobriety in March. And if some people in AA don’t think so, that’s okay, too. At least that is one thing I am in total acceptance of.

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About Author

Susanna Brisk is a writer and Sexual Intuitive® who has over a decade’s sobriety from alcohol. Her tell-it-like-it-is missives on sex, love, dating, divorce, parenting, mental health, recovery, and BDSM have been read by the better part of a million people on Medium, Dame, sexpert, thoughtcatalog, yourtango, Sexual Health Magazine, and Real Sex Daily. Her latest book “How to Get Laid Using Your Intuition” went to #1 on Amazon in the Sexual Health category.