You make a 4:20 appointment at a place called the Nirvana Cannabis Clinic because you think you are hilarious.
You text a screenshot of your appointment confirmation to your friends along with the “hang loose” emoji, which is actually an emoji for “call me,” but your friends don’t know that.
You change the appointment to a time that works better with your schedule because, on second thought, you’re not funny, and this is not funny. It’s serious, but also not really, because you get to buy drugs and that’s fun! But is it? You’re here to find out.
It’s 2017 and marijuana is not yet recreationally legal in California. You’re not a recreational weed smoker because you find weed to be a one-way trip to the dark side, but a CBD-laden joint recently made your back pain feel like a pleasure pain, and you needed (or perhaps merely wanted) more.
You had been living with this pain for more than two months, and it changed your life in crucial good and bad ways. On the positive side, your empathy for those who live with chronic pain increased manifold. On the negative side, your back hurt ALL THE TIME.
On the positive side again, your suffering led to plummeting expectations about career, relationship, and personal goals, which led to much easier ways of feeling satisfied. Before, you barely even noticed that you had a body, whereas now you felt entitled to a parade every moment that body didn’t hurt.
But the pain also destroyed your tolerance for anything even mildly annoying, which turned out to be most people and things. This was no good, but you now had a great excuse to leave parties! “I gotta go, my back hurts,” you could now say. And since excuses in this town, Los Angeles, are currency, you were rich, and so maybe the pain was worth it.
On seventh thought, no, because of what it had done to your favorite thing: sitting. Now you were gearing up for the big sit like it was an Olympic event. The relief of a great poo was traded for agony as you clutched the toilet in places the toilet should never be clutched because the usual position was no longer an option. But going to the bathroom was now like a game of Twister, and that is fun because that is a game, though not a game you were ever good at or particularly enjoyed.
You visited a chiropractor and a physical therapist, but neither was great. Friends recommended a popular book that says our brain uses pain to distract us from experiencing negative emotions and told you to read this book to determine which negative emotions you were avoiding, but you thought you were above that book. “Yeah, yeah, I’m repressed emotionally, like I didn’t know that,” you said.
You were lucky to have a professional massage therapist for a friend. When she asked where the pain was, you said it was in your lower back.
“Here?” she said, touching your lower back.
“Lower,” you said.
“That’s your butt,” she said. That’s when you realized the pain was in your left butt.
One day, friends came over with a high-CBD pre-rolled joint. CBD is a nonpsychoactive cannabinoid, meaning it does not get you stoned, but does make you feel like your couch is reaching up from under you and giving you a hug, and that’s a nice thing if you want a hug, which you did. Combining CBD with THC, the cannabinoid that makes you feel high, is called the “entourage effect.” “An entourage sounds nice,” you thought. “I’d like one.”
You were afraid because THC historically had not been your friend, despite the epiphanies, which were often about your friends. You liked epiphanies usually—oh how inspiring they could be—but these were bad epiphanies. “I just realized something,” you’d been known to think while high. “All my friends hate me!” Or you’d thought, “What if Cooper is not a good boy?” Cooper is your parents’ dog. He is a good boy, but it was hard to know what was paranoia and what was the ceremonial lifting of the veil of denial that had allowed you to believe that everything was more or less OK for so long.
Your friends said, “Don’t worry. These joints are mostly CBD, and just a little bit THC.” You took a big puff.
What happened next surprised you. Instead of experiencing paranoia and existential dread, you noticed that the negative space between your legs looked like a torch. You noticed how beautiful the clay pot from the 99-cent store looked in the light. You noticed your pain was gone.
And that’s how you find yourself in the waiting room of the Nirvana Clinic at your not-4:20 appointment time. The walls are lime green with a poster of the periodic table that on closer inspection contains not chemical elements, but different strains of marijuana. The visit with the doctor costs forty dollars plus twenty if you want an ID card (of course you do!), and now you have access to all the medical marijuana dispensaries, which carry a vibrant array of joints, vapes, flower, edibles, sprays, salves, massage oils, and even suppositories, which go in your butt. “I might need that,” you think.
What a crazy world, you also think, reminiscing about the first time you smoked weed, when you were twelve, and you folded a rolling paper around a tiny brown nug your friend had gotten because you didn’t know you were supposed to grind it up first, and YouTube didn’t exist so you couldn’t just look it up. Now you wonder if twelve-year-olds today say things like, “No thanks, I only smoke indica” or other specific things about ratios and compounds you still don’t understand.
You do understand that you want high-CBD low-THC, and you buy a spray for under your tongue, which doesn’t seem to do anything, and you also buy mints, which make your body melt in a way that temporarily relieves the pain and also changes the way you make salad. You’re becoming a better person in unexpected ways, you think.
But the pain persists.
You have tried all the marijuana goodies you purchased except for a high-THC joint the dispensary threw in for free that you’ve been too scared to try. Since desperation is a catalyst for adventure, you light up that pre-roll and suck and suck and cough and cough.
You get high, so fucking high. You become dumb and silly and wonder if your friends do hate you actually, and you look at Cooper, that angel, and think, “Are you a good boy? But really?” You hate how high you are and how stupid you are, and how your life is a fraud. You remember all your mistakes, and the regrets you thought you had dealt with come careening into focus. You hate the stupid screenshots you sent to your friends, which probably made them hate you. Or maybe they hate you exactly because you are so worried about them hating you, and so you unconsciously force them to hate you, thus feeding a forever cycle! They see through your ironic emoji usage, which is not so much ironic as it is stupid, and it probably makes you seem old, too. You hate everything and everyone and you remember why your life’s so sad, and you feel so sad about your life and everyone you’ve dragged into it.
This goes on for a very long time until you realize something. Your pain is gone, so completely gone. You’re a wreck emotionally, but you don’t feel physical pain, any, at all, and you think, “Goddammit, I should have read that stupid book.”
Now you’re high as a kite and pain-free, and you get it. Like everything in life, there is a balance, and your pain won’t go away, just transform into a different kind of pain. You wonder if you’ll spend the rest of your life smoking weed, but just a little bit, kind of like Homer Simpson when he tried to keep the lobster and goldfish alive in the same tank, adjusting the salt-to-freshwater ratio until both organisms were half-alive and half-dead—so too will you live half-high and half-in-pain forever.
You live like this for only about a week actually, before you decide to enroll in Pilates to develop some core strength, and then start therapy to deal with those repressed emotions, and now you don’t need the weed or have the pain anymore. The end.
Deenah Vollmer, Sara Lautman, weed, marijuana, back pain, pain, alternative therapy