February 06, 2017

Can Recreational Marijuana Be Part of a Healthy Lifestyle?

image: vintagestock
By Crabby McSlacker

More states may be legalizing cannabis, but recreational use is still considered pretty controversial.

Getting "high" on purpose, not as a side effect of medicinal use? Many people see that as wicked or sinful. And even more folks dismiss it as silly, weak, reckless, or immature. We're all well-acquainted with the stereotype, right? The lazy, bumbling, airheaded stoner, escaping real life in a cloud of smelly smoke, becoming more moronic and demotivated with every hit.

So how could something that can make a person appear so dimwitted and dysfunctional possibly be considered perfectly acceptable, let alone healthy?

And yet I'm taking a mostly enthusiastic pro-marijuana stance! With of course a bunch of caveats and qualifications.

Street light vandalism in Bogot√°, Colombia


Because yeah, I know how seriously people are going to take opinions about reefer from someone who blogs as "Crabby McSlacker."



What Does the Research Say: Is Marijuana Dangerous or Beneficial to Your Health?


If you already have an opinion you'd like to reinforce, you can cherry-pick research to say pretty much whatever you want it to say. Pot is a complex substance, and we humans are complex physiological systems, plus we vary a lot in our physical and psychological responses to the same drugs. Marijuana seems to have both beneficial and not so beneficial aspects, and people who do the studies and compile information often have an agenda.

You could try to follow headlines as articles come out, but that can be a bit chaotic and confusing. For every mainstream news article claiming "marijuana is riskier than you think" there's another one saying "long term pot smoking doesn't harm your health." Plus, counteracting whatever risks there may be are also many possible therapeutic uses, even beyond the ones you've heard of like fighting pain and nausea and insomnia. Like preventing and treating diabetes and even possibly fighting Alzheimer's by curbing brain plaque build-up, and all kinds of other surprising stuff I'm too lazy to compile.

Anyway, my impression from reading a bunch of this stuff is that for many people, benefits greatly outweigh risks. But for others, risks greatly outweigh benefits. And deciding which camp you're in requires more investigation than reading a post in a half-assed health blog like this one.

So you should read what studies say about conditions and demographics that are relevant to you. A couple of helpful resources that combine a whole lot of research and don't seem to have an obvious axe to grind:

Health Effects of Cannabis, Compiled by the National Academies Press.  At first glance it looks like you have to pay but you don't, you can read for free online or download the whole ebook if you register. How did I not know that the National Academies of Sciences, and Engineering, and Medicine had a press with free stuff?  It's got a ton of studies, is well-organized and informative, and I highly recommend it.

For a quicker but still fairly thorough look: There is also a site called "pro or con" that seems to attempt a some balance on controversial issues, and they have a compilation of 60 peer-reviewed medical marijuana studies.

For what it's worth, after "weeding" through these studies I was left feeling more reassured that I'm a benefit-outweighing-risk sort of person.

Marijuana as Safer Alternative to Alcohol and Other Drugs


Whether you object to the notion or embrace it, humans have a long history of exploring altered states of consciousness. Is that right or wrong? That's a question that couldn't be more subjective or personal. But in my mind, marijuana (along with caffeine) are fairly safe ways one can tinker with subjective experience without substantial health risks. Plus pot seems far less disruptive and dangerous to innocent bystanders than alcohol. (I'm trying to picture the stoner equivalent of a "drunken brawl" and I can only picture a living room littered with empty cartons of ice cream and pizza boxes where confused revelers try to remember how to use the cable remote to watch old Monty Python reruns. But perhaps I just lack imagination.)

Who Should Not Be Playing Around With Pot:

1. Anyone who needs to drive a car somewhere. Seriously, do not attempt to drive if you're stoned, you are a hazard to yourself and others. Research on traffic accidents bears this out.

2. Adolescents (and kids obviously). Even if you are generally pro-pot, and may have "partied" yourself when you were younger, you gotta try to dissuade your kids from trying it until they're adults. It turns out the marijuana might impair functioning in developing young brains.

3. Pregnant women.  For the same reason as above: the whole developing brain thing.

4. Anxious People Lacking Proper Support. This one is from personal experience. As a much younger person I managed to get WAY stoned, all by myself, and felt totally freaked out. The drug changes your perception of time, and if overdone, can dice reality up into strange little slivers that don't string together in the usual ways. If you have an anxious temperament, best to experiment with small doses that don't seem to do anything first, then gradually try a little more until you get mildly stoned and see how you feel about it. I'd advise against edibles at first--they can hit you all at once, hard, and it's harder to figure out dosage and timing.

Boring Details of My Personal Experiments With Marijuana


First off, I'm embarassingly unschooled in marijuana norms and rituals. I only started doing it regularly over the last couple of years, and came to it as a clueless middle aged person. So those of you who have been getting high for years may find this all painfully naive.

Secondly, I promise I'm not turning into a pothead.


Not a great look.

We're talking once or twice a month at most, and sometimes months go by before it occurs to me to try it again.

Here's the routine: it's usually after dinner, on a night my wife is gone, because I'm not very good company when I'm high.  I load up a pen-style vaporizer with a blend that's mostly sativa. (Indica makes me too sleepy). Since even vaporizers smell a little, I close the bathroom door, open the window, turn on the fan, and start taking tiny, wimpy hits and blowing the vapor out the window. I was never a smoker, and didn't get interested in pot when you still had to burn it because of all the coughing that would result. But even vaporizers are a little  harsh if I breathe too deeply so I go slowly.  When done, I spray citrus air freshener all around, put things away and... then what?

Oh my goodness, that's when the fun begins. I get pretty wild!

Well, okay not from the outside. My interest is entirely in the subjective, sensory, meditative effects of cannabis. Were you to watch me you would see me don a pair of headphones playing trippy new age music and close my eyes. Sometimes I might stand up and stretch and do gentle movements. It's possible I might even make and drink a cup of decaf coffee.

But for the next couple of hours, the world becomes SO RICH AND VIVID AND FASCINATING AND BEAUTIFUL that I can't help thinking these experiments are good for me, not bad for me.

(Note: I know listening to someone describe a substance induced high is like enduring a detailed account of someone's strange dream about being in a rowboat with a chocolate layer cake and a French poodle and Desi Arnaz Jr. wearing a pair of stilettos--all much more fascinating to the teller than the listener. So feel free to skip! But here goes anyway.)

Musical notes enter my head with stunning specificity. I can feel and even see where they each land, what shapes they have, the patterns they make as they overlay with other notes. The music stirs up emotions and I can feel and visualize these as well, and soon thoughts and bodily sensations and images and sounds and feelings integrate into one big field of awareness, the separate streams beginning to mingle and flow and combine and dissipate in intricate and compelling patterns.


I have epiphanies, simple ideas with sudden deep psychological resonance. However often these realizations deal with a level of cognition that is intuitive and sub-verbal. My thoughts are not easily put into words, nor do they describe experience that feels very relevant once I am back to real life the next day. But I believe they are valuable and real and true in their own unverifiable way. And I hope they stick around in my subconscious once I no longer can conjur them up.

Which brings up another issue. As this other more right-brained style of cognition wakes up, left brain starts shutting down. It says, "fuck this, you obviously don't appreciate me or need me here, see how well you do without me." This is in some ways welcome, as generally I can't get my left brain to shut the hell up, and the respite is nice.

But left brain has a point. Its sudden abdication can leave me feeling really stupid, at least where linear thinking or verbal articulation are concerned. I am aware my analytical thoughts are primitive at best and my short term memory is nonexistent. I find it amusing even if somewhat debilitating. But, a silver lining: when you're high you have SO MUCH TIME to think, because time slows way down, that you can have ten clumsy thoughts for every one cogent one, and still manage to come out almost even over your regular self. 

Actually, if I make an effort and really concentrate, I can bring left-brain back. I can function, and even sort of forget I'm high. Which is a total waste, and I get mad at myself if I get drawn into anything mundane like email when I should be closing my eyes and reveling in the depths of a sensual consciousness I don't usually experience. It's a powerful reminder to me of the value in turning inward sometimes, in experiencing and appreciating rather than doing.

Which brings up yet another issue...

Meditation and Marijuana-- Can They Coexist?



My meditation practice is secular, not part of any organized theological tradition. (Though I have learned a lot from western interpretations of various schools of Buddhism). But bottom line: I don't have any religious "rules" and I'm not following a spiritual path that has opinions about pot or other intoxicants.

I actually suspect that my meditation practice is what makes getting stoned so fun, and adds such a sense of depth and focus to it. And conversely, getting high every now and then actually seems to benefit my meditation. It's as though my brain is learning new ways of experiencing sensory input and thoughts and feelings and making these more salient and easier to focus on. Meditation and Medication seem to be fulfilling similar goals in different ways.

So all this is to say that for me personally, marijuana feels like it can be part of a healthy lifestyle, but I know others may feel very differently.

What about you guys, what do you think about recreational use of marijuana or other intoxicating substances?

30 comments:

  1. I am all for the recreational use of marijuana. I hope to high heaven it gets legalized up here. I'd love to use it as an adjunct to meditation, but mostly I'd use it for peaceful, easy feelings, and a great sleep.

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    1. Hope you get it too Leah, and yes, it definitely helps with mellowness and sleep!

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  2. Being that i am terrified of being out of control of my thoughts and actions, this would not be the right thing for me. If it works for you, and causes you no trouble, then good for you!

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    1. Thanks Messymimi, you are always so open minded and nonjudgmental! And yes, probably best to avoid if it sounds anxiety-producing, too many other fun ways to pass the time.

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  3. I am perfectly fine with marijuana being legalized, and I certainly know plenty of people who currently have a medical card and use it. For me, it's not something I've delved into, primarily because a pre-employment drug screen has been required for every single full time job I've ever had. I'm curious to see how those types of screenings will change. Will they stop screening for pot? Limit it to testing those who drive for work? Make no changes because of insurance liability? Who knows. For now, I remain pretty square.

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    1. Good questions about pot screenings. My thoughts are if they don't do alcohol screenings, they shouldn't do pot screenings, both are obviously problematic if used while working and should be limited to times they won't affect functioning, but people are trusted to monitor their own drinking. But who knows what the laws will say? And hey, "square" is cool!

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    2. Well, alcohol metabolized much, much faster than pot. I have, in the past, been able to stay entirely sober while sipping my ounce of whisky an hour slowly, slowly, slowly. Nowadays, of course, there is no alcohol left which does not (surprise!) give me an allergy headache.

      Mary Anne in Kentucky

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  4. My objection to pot has always been the smoke. Inhaling burning vegetation is not for me, having grown up with a tobacco-smoking mother. Secondhand smoke taught me that I'm allergic to marijuana, so other means of ingesting it are right out.

    But my real disinterest in it and other mind-altering drugs has been, from my teens listening to other people describe what it did for them, "What? You need chemical assistance for this?" I only need to be rather fatigued.

    Crabby, your description of how you think while high explains why you can't just sit down and meditate without obstruction.

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

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    1. Wow MaryAnne, sounds like you have an impressive brain if you can replicate drugs just by being fatigued! (Though I do notice myself some similarities between just-before-sleep brain functioning and being "high."

      And I'd be curious to hear more about that last sentence sometime, what' your theory on that, sounds like an intriguing observation.

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    2. Of course I have only other people's descriptions to compare to my fatigue-brain, but some of the people who described things to me in high school are quite talented writers.
      It's equally impossible to experience other people's meditative states, but all the meditation books I used to read had me going "What? But that's all the time." After some years of meditation practice in yoga, I've gotten better at what seems to come naturally to me, and have more control over what state I'm in, especially breath control, but I can just sit and slip into meditation in seconds. There's a switch in my brain that on most people doesn't come pre-installed.

      Mary Anne in Kentucky

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  5. Yeah, legalize it. Why not? Valid point about the alcohol, never thought of it that way. I recently read this article on huffington post (http://huff.to/1TeU57q) on why Marijuana was initially banned. Fascinating stuff if you decide to dig a little.

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    1. Wow hanro, what a fascinating (and infuriating) article! I have yet to succumb to a "delerious rage" and have not yet gone insane. (Though "disconnected thought..." they got a point there. THanks for the link!

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  6. I have never used it, and likely never will unless I need it for medical reasons. That said, we've legalized tobacco (harmful) and alcohol (can be harmful), and I can see a case for legalizing marijuana. Regulate it, make sure there are laws for age restrictions, etc., and tax it unless it is for medicinal purposes. People are going to do it, it seems like be better to put some controls in place.

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    1. Good point JavaChick, it's actually easier to regulate something when it's legal and you can levy taxes and have oversight. Plus legal pot would deprive drug cartels of another source of income, and I"m all for that.

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  7. I'm fine with it being legalized, I just don't want people driving while under the influence of it - or anything, even cell phones. I would only use it if I needed it for a medical reason...otherwise, I'd have to hand in my sobriety chip.

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    1. I'm with you Shelley, no one should be driving high! Or drunk or while texting or falling-asleep-tired etc. As a society I think we take zipping along at freeways speeds in heavy steel boxes a little too casually, cars are deadly weapons and should be handled with a lot more care. (I still think all cars should be outfitted with alcohol detecting mouthpieces and not start unless the driver is sober. Would save so many lives!

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  8. Home? Vaping? I have so many friends who choose to do that. It's not for me. BUT it's also not for me to judge...

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    1. You are not alone! From all the comments so far it's sure looking like Cranky Fitness readers are (a) wonderfully nonjudgmental but (b) not big fans of marijuana for themselves.

      Good for me to know!

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    2. Well, it is hard to be a big fan of anything that gives me a long-lasting vicious headache. Although, broiled mushrooms! how I miss you still after forty years!

      Mary Anne in Kentucky

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  9. I say... GO FOR IT. If you wanna smoke it. By all means. Just be smart with it. I used to smoke A LOT - ha ha! But those were the high school days, you know, the days when you wanna be seen as cool. I don't smoke anymore, however, I remember the last time I did, it really helped my stomach feel BETTER - hahahahah... So um, yeahhhhhhhhhhhh perhaps I should get back on it. You know, medical purposes!

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    1. Thanks Gigi! As one might guess, I was never "cool" myself, but do remember the intense need to try to fit in. I actually feel a little backwards about finally being chill enough to enjoy pot now that I'm in my fifties, and all the cool people are already over it don't do it anymore.

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  10. I'm definitely on the pot-wagon with you, Crabby. Was a recreational smoker in my teens and gave it up when it was no longer acceptable for me to be breaking the law. Now that it's legal again here in Washington, Hubby and I have been dabbling a bit - with some tips and pointers from The Princess. I tell you, the world is a weird and wonderful place when you can talk mixes, strains and dope gear with your kid...

    Things I like about it are 1) less calories than alcohol! 2) I feel SO much better the morning after smoking than drinking. 3) I'm much mellower while partaking than if I'm drinking - I'm a bit of a bitchy drinker.

    Things I don't like about it 1) smoking - gave up cigarettes 24 years ago and am not really excited about smoking, but have been warned about the potency of edibles 2) the lingering smell - what kind of citrus spray do you use? LOL 3) not able to smoke socially, i.e. no pot bars.

    Like you, it's something we might do once or twice a month, at most, but I like having it as a recreational option. And I am all for taxing it and regulating it, let's make some money off that cash crop, amiright?

    Thanks for opening the conversation about this - it's interesting to hear other people's perspectives!

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    1. Emmaclaire, THANK YOU!!!

      I was beginning to think I was the only one. And I sort of missed out when I was younger, being too neurotic to partake happily, and now I'm a clueless newby at an inappropriate age.

      But the good part about being middle aged and dabbling in it is that I don't really care if I sound stupid!

      (And check outCitrus Magic! Or I think there are other all natural citrus sprays--not perfumey, non-aerosol, just made of limonene, also great for diffusing normal gross bathroom smells. Seems to somehow take stink out of the air rather than covering it up. Not all drugstores carry it, sometimes I order online.)

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    2. It helps to not worry if one looks/sounds stupid, especially when walking into a pot store and trying to not feel like a dinosaur LOL

      Thanks for the Citrus Magic idea - I'll check it out!

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  11. There are parts of the brain that don't fully mature until about age 27. I have seen many marijuana users in their early 20's with severe mental health issues. Hard to know if they were predisposed or not. Also in the natural plant, the pro-psychotic THC seems to be balanced by the anti-psychotic CBD. One MD recommends no use until after 30 just to be safe.
    I worry that the Canna-businesses may be putting profits over prudence. I also worry about synthetic marijuana which seems to be ALL THC and very pro psychotic.
    All of this said, since I am over 30 I might consider it some day. I am a licensed health care provider so balk at anything that could affect my licensing or DEA license.

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    1. Thanks AuntRuthie, I didn't realize risks were higher until 30! I don't think that's well known, appreciate you bringing that up. I wonder how other psychoactive substances, alcohol, prescription drugs etc affect developing brains, probably more of an issue than we realize.

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    2. This. I'm all for legalizing it and taxing the hell out of it. But I've seen too many young folks lives altered because of it to fully support the use of it. That said, grown adults make their own decisions. Just don't come crying to me for help when you've decided you'd rather get stoned all day than finish college/go to your job/pay your rent/take care of your kids/etc etc.

      (For the record, never used it, never will unless it's medically the only option.)

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  12. I love vaping! Smoking is so harsh. I don't puff as much when vaping as it seems to pack more of a wallop than smoking a bowl.
    I am fully in the camp of legalizing it. You can pretty much insert 'alcohol' in where you say marijuana in articles and it could read the same.
    I loath drivers who drink and drive and if someone were to drive under the influence of weed, I would loath them too.
    I use it to fall asleep or to calm rattled nerves on bad days. I never use it if I know I have to go somewhere during the day. I am pretty much a lightweight when it comes to using it. I had smoked off and on in my 20's and then didn't try it again until my late 40's. I used to be so paranoid that I would be found out!
    I have a friend who's smoked since he was 13 and is almost 60 now. He tests in the genius range for IQ. It is hard to buy into those that say it is harder on younger brains. HOWEVER, that said, just like alcohol and cigarettes, I don't think it should be ok for minors to use weed either.

    I handle weed far far better than alcohol. I believe that we all will react in unique ways, just like we all do when using medicines. We are so unique that experiences vary with each of us. Some of us will do better, some worse, some will be trip-ier, some will fall asleep. And perhaps the biggest 'danger' is that some of us will eat the whole pizza instead of just a slice. :D

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  13. Legalization has problems. I wish it were just decriminalization and allowing medicine to use it for the many conditions it has been shown to help.

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  14. Marijuana is so heavy for me as and even I am addicted to wine so I can't control myself in Marijuana. Is there any option you have?

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