Words by Bianca Blanche
Photography by Amarika Jayne Chavez
Phase 1 – “The Introduction”
I must’ve been no more than 12 years old when I saw cannabis for the first time. I recall my cousin and I moving hastily as we scoured through my aunt’s bedroom. “I found it!!” she exclaimed holding what looked like a tiny old shoe box. “It smells like shit.” I whispered as she uncovered the lid. Inside was a small dirty pipe, some rolling papers and a tiny container holding only the remanence of my aunt’s last “score”. I distinctly remember feeling very confused and conflicted about how I should feel. I loved my aunt and I knew her to be a good person but now I find out she’s a drug addict?! At that age, my entire understanding of marijuana was based on the ridiculous PSA commercials plastered on television screens across America. Remember the one with the talking dog or the one with the girl melting into her couch? (a feeling I would later come to enjoy). Back then “Say No to Drugs” was all any of us knew. We placed the box under her bed and never spoke of it again.
Phase 2 – “My Initiation”
It wasn’t until junior year of high school in the Dominican Republic that I was reintroduced to this magical plant. By then, my perception of the “drug” was very different; I no longer viewed it as something harmful even though personally I had never tried it. Medicated or not, I’ve always been a bit defiant when it comes to authority. I guess it’s just the way I’m built. I believe challenging the “popular” opinion of a society is my assignment as an individual; for “popular” doesn’t always mean “right” or “truthful” and it certainly doesn’t mean “fair”. Though the adults around me spoke negatively of this herb, there were countless examples of successful public figures who admitted to trying cannabis at some point in their lives. They didn’t seem braindead to me. I couldn’t believe the stigma simply based on hearsay and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about for myself… it was 2006 and I was about to smoke weed for the very first time.
I have no idea who or how we got the herb; things weren’t exactly safe nor easy when procuring this kind of “merchandise” in a conservative small town in the middle of nowhere. Or at least that’s what I thought. Nonetheless, there I was with three of my guy friends passing around a hand rolled joint; it was my first “circle”. There weren’t many places for us to smoke so we settled on the big tree behind our high school. There we stood huddled under a starry sky passing the joint around and around. The act of smoking wasn’t totally foreign to me; I’d smoked cigarettes a few times in middle school but luckily this habit never stuck. For some reason cannabis made sense to me; tobacco never did. In my opinion smoking cigarettes only brought cancer, smelly clothes and bad breath. At least with weed you were getting high; an expansion of the mind. The appeal wasn’t obvious at first, I remember barely feeling anything after we finished. There were some giggles for sure but no munchies or dry mouth; no red eyes nor blissful euphoria. I do remember thinking I was the shit though; a real rebel compared to all the squares sneaking beers by the basketball courts. I would go on to smoke a few more times senior year of high school but it wouldn’t be until college that I began smoking more frequently with friends. Mostly, at parties and a few joy rides around the city. For me it was a fun social activity with new people and different surroundings.
Phase 3 – “Utter Infatuation”
I still drank alcohol in college; however I would find myself gravitating towards the “potheads”. I liked how cannabis made me feel. There’s an overall sense of well being I get when I smoke marijuana. I never noticed how anxious I was until I started smoking. I knew there was a discomfort within myself but I never knew the reasoning behind it. Maybe stress to do well academically combined with the overwhelming feelings of doubt and lack of self-worthiness? Marijuana helped me quiet those fears; it allowed me to understand the root and cause of these negative thoughts. Through proper self-medication I’m able to listen to my higher “Self” more clearly; mind, body and soul. Not the psychoactive self but the self that is connected to everyone and everything. The version of myself which is true; that which is love. To this day, my anxiety slowly fades away when I smoke and I’m able to breathe deeply again. I’m able to let my guard down more, to be more open-minded, silly and sometimes even profound. It wouldn’t be until my sophomore year of college in NYC that I began smoking more habitually. Not every day and not by myself but I was experimenting more with family and friends; when I say experimenting I mean smoking out of an apple, smoking out of a bong, eating edibles, going to the movies high, etc. Each time I would get higher than the last; meaning more giggles, more munchies and overall more happiness.
Phase 4 – “My Soul’s Relief”
There was a lot of chaos at home during my early twenties. At the time, I was living with a parent battling a crippling addiction to alcohol and gambling. Every day I watched his light diminish from this substance. I watched him struggle for sobriety; for stillness. Something inside wasn’t at ease and alcohol allowed him to forget this momentarily. If you’ve lived with an addict, you can understand the need for peace. I began smoking more and more; only this time alone and at night. It was an escape for me too; at least until the high wore off. We shared a similar desire to feel something that wasn’t pain. Expect cannabis didn’t come with terrible mood swings, life threatening withdrawals and total isolation from others. On the contrary, it allowed me to see my situation from different perspectives; to reach out and seek help from a professional. Through therapy and spiritual work in addition to smoking, I’ve come to understand that everything in life depends on how you perceive it to be. We’re constantly co-creating our reality with whichever force you believe in. Gaining control of this ability has allowed me to take the lemons in my life and make them into a sweet lemon haze. Despite the turmoil, I graduated college with honors and I can honestly say cannabis never deterred me from reaching my goals. I thank the Universe 1000x for bringing cannabis into my life and not another substance to experiment with.
Phase 5 – “A Paid Lifestyle”
As I got older, I would look at cannabis similarly to a glass of wine. It would help me decompose, destress and enjoy the present moment. My love affair with cannabis has grown vastly since that first puff over a decade ago. This relationship, the longest withstanding one I might add, has brought the most wonderfully interesting, curious and loving people into my life. It has evolved in ways I would’ve never imagined as a child, teen or young adult. It’s uprooted me from my comfortable life among loved ones in NYC and has encouraged me to move across the country in pursuit of my life purpose as a healer. I’m currently employed as a “budtender”, though I prefer Patient Consultant, for a collective in West Hollywood, CA. My knowledge and understanding of the plant has grown tremendously in the two short years of working here. I now comprehend on a physiological level the interaction between the cannabinoids in cannabis and my body’s endocannabinoid system. It’s truly fascinating! We are all born with an endocannabinoid system and this system grows stronger when THC and CBD enter the body; the result being a second immune system for the individual. Each day I go to work, I get to witness the positive impact this medicine has on people’s lives. Of course, I would recommend readers to do their own research. Understanding the difference between strains will aid you through the process of finding the right one for your particular condition. Above all, knowing yourself and your intention is important when self-medicating regardless of the substance. Personally, Indicas help relieve anxiety, pain and/or insomnia I might be experiencing in the moment. Sativas, on the other hand, help me be less lethargic and more motivated. This was extremely vital after the passing of my father. In life there will always be unfortunate circumstances as well as times of celebration and joy. Cannabis has been my longtime companion through them all. I look forward to watching cannabis heal more and more people as states and countries around the world continue to legalize this natural medicine.