Op-Ed Cannabis crazy: It doesn’t just describe the move to legalize weed. It could happen to you.




By Susan Shapiro

An author who had ‘an extreme addiction’ to marijuana asks society to consider: Is the high worth the lows?

In 2014, our country went cannabis crazy, bringing to 18 the number of states decriminalizing pot. Colorado opened boutiques selling “mountain high suckers” in grape and butterscotch flavors and posted signs that proclaimed the state is “where prohibition ends and the fun begins.” In my New York home, I’m glad that someone can carry up to 50 joints and no longer get thrown in the joint. Yet I worry that user-friendly laws and such recent screen glorifications as “High Maintenance” and “Kid Cannabis” send young people a message that getting stoned is cool and hilarious.

I’m ambivalent about legalizing marijuana because I was addicted for 27 years. … I saw how it can make you say and do things that are provocative and perilous. - 

I know the dark side. I’m ambivalent about legalizing marijuana because I was addicted for 27 years. After starting to smoke weed at Bob Dylan concerts when I was 13, I saw how it can make you say and do things that are provocative and perilous. I bought pot in bad neighborhoods at 3 a.m., confronted a dealer for selling me a dime bag of oregano, let shady pushers I barely knew deliver marijuana, like pizza, to my home. I mailed weed to my vacation spots and smoked a cocaine-laced joint a bus driver offered when I was his only passenger.

Back then Willie Nelson songs, Cheech and Chong routines and “Fast Times at Ridgemont High’s” Jeff Spicoli made getting high seem kooky and harmless. My reality was closer to Walter White’s self-destruction from meth on TV’s “Breaking Bad” and the delusional nightmares in the film “Requiem for a Dream.” Everyone believed you couldn’t get addicted to pot.

Turns out I could get hooked on carrot sticks. Marijuana became an extreme addiction for me. I’m not alone. Nearly 17% of those who get high as teenagers will become addicted to marijuana, according to the 2013 edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that up to half of daily marijuana smokers become addicted — an estimated 2.7 million people in the U.S.

The years I toked, I struggled with love and work, sometimes feeling suicidal. The brilliant addiction specialist who helped me give up pot a dozen years ago taught me that addicts self-medicate because underlying every substance problem he’d ever seen “is a deep depression that feels unbearable.” One-on-one therapy helped me untangle what I was getting wasted to escape. Being drug-free saved my health, marriage and career. Within a year, my income tripled. I came to believe my doctor’s adage: “When you quit a toxic habit you leave room for something beautiful to take its place.”

In writing classes I teach in New York and L.A., students from many backgrounds confessed that they “smoked a bowl” or “got ripped” and then got in a car accident, fell on subway tracks, had a wallet or cellphone stolen, were sexually assaulted or had a physical altercation that landed them in the hospital or jail. My undergraduates loved the series “Weeds” and “Harold & Kumar” films and joked about being “cross-faded,” simultaneously imbibing on alcohol and marijuana.

Yet I warn them that getting stoned greatly increases the likelihood of something bad happening, reminding them that pot blurs reality, reduces inhibitions — and regularly leads to tragedy. Consider two deaths in 2014 in Colorado that police linked to pot: a 47-year-old man who ate marijuana-infused candy and fatally shot his wife, and a 19-year-old student who ingested a marijuana cookie and jumped to his death.

The weed of today is far stronger than in the past. President Obama admitted smoking marijuana as a teen and said it’s no worse than alcohol but hopes his daughters will avoid “the bad habit.” The new edible pot products can be 10 times stronger than a traditional joint, says a report in the New England Journal of Medicine. The strength of pot varies, and it’s impossible to predict its effect. How you react to marijuana depends on your size, what you’ve eaten, the medications you take. As I tapered off, one hit from a pipe or bong could leave me reeling, as if I’d had five drinks.

Marijuana use doubles the risk of being in a car accident if you drive soon after smoking it, and it causes more car accidents than any other illicit drugs, according to Columbia University researchers. They found it contributed to 12% of traffic deaths in the U.S. in 2010, triple the rate of a decade earlier.

The medical side effects are also significant. Smoking pot increases the risk of lung cancer 8%, according to British and New Zealand studies. It’s associated with bronchitis, respiratory infections and increases the risk of heart attack and stroke, concluded a New England Journal study. Another 2014 study found frequent use by teenagers and young adults causes cognitive decline and decreases IQ. Marijuana essentially fries your brain.

Being a stoner was easy. Quitting was hard but gave me more to live for. Before jumping on the buzzed bandwagon in the new year, throwing a pot dessert party or voting to lift all restrictions across the nation, ask yourself and your kids: Is the high worth the lows? We shouldn’t send pot smokers to prison, but they don’t belong on pop-culture pedestals either.

Susan Shapiro is coauthor of the bestseller "Unhooked: How to Quit Anything" and author of the memoir "Lighting Up."

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One Reply to “Op-Ed Cannabis crazy: It doesn’t just describe the move to legalize weed. It could happen to you.”

  1. As the author so eloquently pointed out “Turns out I could get hooked on carrot sticks. Marijuana became an extreme addiction for me. I’m not alone”.

    As it “turns out”…Humans have always had an uncanny need to be addicted to “something”…since the beginning of Biblical time – remember Adam and Eve and the apple tree? –

    We as humans are natural born abusers of ourselves and others…In all forms and fashions including everything from sex to drug abuse to food and even murder in some extreme cases – Even our Government’s commit murder on a regular basis…Could that be an addiction as well? Just because they can submit to us a REASON for doing so does not make it right.

    I am an anti-prohibitionist – which means I do not believe it is in the Government’s or the People’s best interest to legislate morality (or addiction). It only makes every one of us a verifiable criminal that can be imprisoned at any time – at taxpayer cost.

    Our bodies are OUR Temple’s – meaning it is up to US to take care of them (or not) and make the decision concerning what we do to ourselves and ultimately how we end up in this life.

    There are many forms of addiction in this world as pointed out above…MOST of which are patented by Corporations and Pharma’s. These include but are not limited to: Chocolate, Coca Cola, Mountain Dew, Big Red and other Soda’s, Fast Food, Cigarettes and all forms of Tobacco, and Pharmaceutical drugs of many, many kinds including Opiates for pain.

    The only problem I see with Cannabis legalization is that it will be promoted thru Corporate entities and that, in and of itself could cause a rise in it’s use. If it had never been made “illegal” to begin with this probably would not happen. When people had to roll their own Cigarettes there weren’t as many people that smoked them…Tobacco was a “free plant” back then – before the Corporate takeover which promoted it’s use thru all forms of media.

    Long story short people will always find something to be addicted to whether it be sex, candy, drugs or something else.

    I would rather be “addicted” to marijuana than to anything else I can think of. Pot user’s are much less dangerous to others…

    Unfortunately for me I AM A CIGARETTE ADDICT! I am truly a “child of Philip Morris” as my Father worked there when I was born and continued to until he retired on disability with COPD from smoking and tobacco dust and we still received FREE cigarettes until he died.

    How’s that for an addiction scenario for ya? smk.


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