“I experimented with marijuana a time or two, and I didn’t like it. I didn’t inhale …” Bill Clinton
“When I was a kid… I inhaled… frequently. I mean that was the point.” Barack Obama
I did a lot more than inhale.
In fact, looking back on it, I should be dead. My friends should be dead. It really is amazing that any of us are still alive.
Why? This sounds like such a cliché, but it all started with weed, dope, pot, Mary Jane… marijuana.
No, this isn’t a retelling of “Reefer Madness.”
(Hilarious movie by the way. If you haven’t seen it, do. I remember watching it in a small movie theater in Austin, Texas in the 70s. The drug laws were very strict there at the time. At a friend’s apartment afterwards, we giggled about the movie and smoked pot. And yes, I am old.)
The thing is, it wasn’t the smoking that nearly killed us. It was the lies. Some of the same lies people tell now.
We were at the age (19 or 20) where we thought we knew every fr*king thing. WAY more than “Those People Over 30.” That line you may have heard that you should never trust anybody over the age of 30 – we believed it completely.
And one of the things that we ABSOLUTELY KNEW TO BE TRUE: marijuana was NOT dangerous.
We… smoked… SO MUCH. It was the late sixties. We were in Southern California, but, of course, strongly influenced by the folks up in the Northern part of the state – in San Francisco. A city so cool it had its own song. And it had “Hippies” who thought that everybody and everything should be free: especially love and drugs.
Oh. My. God. We were, in so many ways, so innocent.
For me drugs were always mostly a social thing – something to do with my friends. And of course, I thought they – the drugs – were harmless. We had such a good time doing drugs together back then.
It’s kind of incredible to think about it now. Because it was California we got the most amazing quality marijuana, at the most amazing prices. In other words, dirt cheap; or in many cases completely free.
So, we smoked everything. All the time.
I remember so clearly: one of my friends had a beautiful apartment in an incredible old building: huge living room, high ceilings with crown moldings. Not the sort of things I usually remember, especially after so many years. But the place was too incredible to forget.
And I also remember huge circles of… 12 people, 20… a lot of people anyway, sitting on the floor in that beautiful room. And we’d pass joints around and around. There would be so many of them you’d lose count. Going in both directions at once.
There would always be a couple of people sitting there in the middle just rolling… and rolling… and rolling. And we’d keep passing and passing and passing.
So many joints that sometimes, with mild regret, you’d have to let one or two go by, so you could take a breath of plain air. With so many joints going around, you’d forget to breathe. It sometimes seemed that there simply wasn’t any oxygen to breathe.
But it also seemed amazing. The music sounded amazing. Your friends were amazing. The things that were dancing on the edges of your eyelids were amazing.
It was… It was the most incredible thing that I had ever experienced to that point. Maybe even still.
The thing was, it just didn’t seem dangerous to us. It was… fun. It was… recreational. It was… just getting high.
So when “Those People Over 30” said to us “Marijuana is a gateway drug, it’ll lead you straight to worse things. Marijuana is very, very bad for you.” We just thought, “Oh, come on, please. There is nothing bad about this: this is fun; this is joy; this is being with your friends; this is having the best time.”
From there it wasn’t much of a leap to: since that’s a lie, and it seemed obvious to us that it was, that everything else “They” said about any drug was also a lie.
So, what the h*ll, we might as well try some of those other drugs too.
Since I’m being honest here: we didn’t just try some of them, we tried a lot of them. Certainly, in the category of hallucinogens. With them, we tried pretty much whatever we could find, or get, or whatever anybody gave us. We took psilocybin in pills. And we ate it in mushrooms. We dissolved acid/LSD on our tongues. We smoked hash.
(I also ate some hash once, baked into a plain white cake because we couldn’t find any brownie mix in London. I was so very high, and so very sick. To this day I can’t eat anything with black specs in it. Which is not a great loss, compared to some of the things that might have happened.)
But the drug most likely to have done me in wasn’t hallucinogenic, it was methamphetamine, plain old speed. That, I have to admit, was my absolute favorite drug. I loved that stuff. I’d probably love it still IF I still did that sort of thing.
I’m not incredibly energetic physically. But speed didn’t make me energetic. It just made me feel like I had an edge somehow – that it took me up, not a lot, but just a level. It was such a great feeling. It made me feel like I was just a little bit better/ faster/ smarter than my normal self. It felt SO good.
But, of course, that feeling was a fantasy and more importantly, IT DID NOT LAST.
One of the things that I’m convinced ultimately saved my life is that I have a natural, inherently high tolerance to drugs. I don’t get any credit for that.
And that tolerance is bad at the times a doctor is trying to give me something to make some part of my much older body stop hurting. But in the case of the random drug consumption of my youth, it was a “Very Good Thing.” Bizarrely enough, the other thing that saved me was my somewhat silly, self-imposed limit on how much speed I allowed myself to take. That turned out to be a Very Good Thing too.
I mean: we did NOT sleep. There was just no time for it. We had things to do, places to be. We were in college, so we had classes. We weren’t trust fund babies, so we had jobs. And, of course, we were doing theater – producing/ directing/ acting/ dancing/ costuming – around and between everything else. Sleeping was just not in the cards, so we needed a little… something.
A little something? Most of my friends took a dozen or more hits of speed a day… Every. Single. Day. And then slept really well. Every. Single. Night.
But for some reason, as much as I liked the stuff, that just didn’t seem like the best idea to me. Thus, my silly limit. I let myself have one hit in the morning and one hit in the afternoon. That was it. Given the amounts my friends were taking, I thought I was being very restrained. Given the amounts my friends were taking, I was being very restrained. But only by comparison.
Looking back, I’m a bit appalled: Two hits a day – not very much? What was I thinking?
Actually I know exactly what I was thinking: “Those People Over 30” are lying to me about pot. So “They” are lying to me about every drug. I know “They” lied to me about LSD and psilocybin and hash and mushrooms. So why not about speed?
The thing is: while they were, in fact, lying to me about some drugs, they weren’t lying to me about all drugs. Methamphetamine really is bad for you. But how the heck was I supposed to know that they were only lying to me about some things some of the time?
Believe it or not, I wouldn’t take anything that I thought was addictive, which is to say I didn’t think that speed was addictive. And that was largely because of the lies we were told about pot.
If “Those People Over 30” had said something like: “Too much marijuana smoke in the lungs is bad for you, like smoking cigarettes is bad for you,” maybe we would have believed them.
But instead what they said was “It’s the worst drug ever!” And we just thought: NO IT IS NOT. Because we honestly did not think it was. We figured we should know, given the amount we smoked. We seemed to be managing just fine: still working, still going to classes, still creating in theater. NOT going through any gateways we could see.
We might have been more willing to listen to them when they told us that other drugs that actually are bad for you, are bad for you, if they hadn’t lied about pot. It was the lies, the gross exaggerations, about marijuana that made us think: “Those People Over 30” are lying to us about all the drugs.”
And surprise! That made us more open to trying other drugs. The truth turned out to be that some drugs ARE bad for you.
I know at least one of my friends did the thing that they always say you’ll do. He smoked like a chimney for years, way more than the rest of us. Eventually he did go on to worst things: hard drugs. I have no idea if it was the fault of the weed, but it did happen.
Luckily for him, he also got over the worst things. But it took a long time and it was really rough for him.
I was also lucky, me and my high tolerance and silly limit: I got through it. I wasn’t damaged by the pot or the hallucinogens or the speed… at least as far as I can tell.
I even went on to do stupider things. I am old enough that crack cocaine was never something my friends and I had to consider. I’m grateful for that.
But we did snort regular ol’ garden variety cocaine. Sounds pretty harmless now, and maybe it was, by comparison.
But it certainly isn’t good for you. Especially since coke can make you dead.
I won’t lie and say I didn’t know that it was addictive. I squirreled around that reality by thinking: I can’t afford to buy much and the little bit I can afford isn’t going to be enough to make me an addict.
Yeah, I know. Talk about lies. But that was me lying to myself. I can’t blame that on “Those People Over 30.”
Then a young, healthy basketball player, Len Bias, died from inhaling one line.
I couldn’t avoid seeing the lie: If any one line can kill you, this stuff is seriously bad. I need to stop. So I did.
I am doing truth here, so I’ll tell you the other reason I stopped was because I could feel just the teensiest little bit of craving for the coke. The fact that any craving was very, very bad was also something I was SURE of. Coke was probably the only drug that I have ever had even the slightest craving for. I never even craved speed. And that craving terrified me because I was determined NEVER to be addicted to anything. So I really did stop. A full stop. Just like that.
What I didn’t know at the time was how lucky I was that I could… just stop.
Since then I’ve talked to friends who were seriously addicted to some of the bad drugs, and they’ve told me, most people can’t just stop.
That line I wrote above is absolutely true: I could have died. My friends could have died. They didn’t. I didn’t. We were extremely lucky.
And so for what it is worth this is “The Truth” or possibly “A Truth” from a person who smoked a lot of pot, took other random drugs and was still lucky enough to live to be one of “Those People Over 30”.
Pot is NOT good for you, but it probably isn’t any worse than alcohol. You can decide for yourself how bad that makes it. And remember, how “bad” a drug is, is going to be different for each person.
But there are things, other drugs, that are really and truly, flat out, nothing good will come of putting them in your body, bad for you: addictive and life threatening.
If you decide to try them, well… it’s your life and it’s your decision.
I am now one of “Those People Over 30,” but I AM NOT lying to you: It can be dangerous in the world of drugs. So be careful if you decide to go there.
And if you do, I truly hope you end up being as lucky as we were. Still alive, and with stories to tell, when you’re as old as me and my friends are today.
I really don’t want you to die either.
Image from Pablo Guerrero at Unsplash