The Hardest Thing I Did Today Was Swallow a Pill

A month or so back, I was reading an article that included a quote from a guy who lives in Washington state, who said something to this effect: Until I can walk down the street smoking a joint on my way to Starbucks for coffee, I won’t feel I’ve been granted my full freedom to smoke marijuana.

Give me a fucking break.

What a stupid, ignorant, selfish fuck, I thought. As some of my friends know, I’m not a big supporter of legalizing marijuana, except for medical use. I watched my step mom, Fran, die of cancer, and she felt guilty, at age 73, smoking an illegal joint to rid her of horrendous nausea. The woman was so sick that the last thing she needed was guilt when she finally found a substance that helped her to feel better.  Much research and debate proliferate about how medical marijuana should be administered. I say figure it out and bring it on.

But I find the guy’s statement above – about walking down the street smoking his jay on the way to Starbucks to be his true freedom – reprehensible. Such a statement makes me understand why people of other countries often view us as privileged, self-absorbed, and out of touch. There are people dying from poverty and living in war zones in many parts of the world – oh, even in the streets of Seattle you’ll find the homeless slumped against a park bench – but this guy has a hair across his ass because he can’t smoke a joint as he walks to Starbucks for his $5 Latte –Mocha-I’m-An-Asshole cup of java. Wah, wah, wah.

Many of my friends support legalizing marijuana for both medical and recreational use. People like to smoke it. I understand. Of course, as things go these days, any opposition to the ideas of the assumed 99% is always attributed to the power mongers of the country who control everything — you know, those 10 old boy network white boys who tell us what can and cannot do in our lives.

It can’t be easy being Obama and having to deal with all this shit – from the left as well as the right.

For example, here’s a quote from a man responding to an anti-legalization article: Why don’t we make caffeine illegal too? How many people involved in car accidents had caffeine in there (sic) system? I bets its (sic) more than THC. What a joke. The truth is, they (who?) want to drive it back to the black market because the military industrial complex and the banks actually make MORE money from it that way. (He does not go on to explain how the military-industrial complex and banks make more money from it “that way.” Perhaps if he’d paid more attention in English class and spent less time getting high, he’d write a decent sentence that achieved clarity.)

This guy is a different kind of ignoramus, the one with specious arguments – Why don’t we make caffeine illegal, too, I bet (you bet?) it’s more dangerous than THC. Sure, sounds good. Okay, I’ll just take your word for it.

A good, caring, and intelligent friend posted an update on Facebook one day that said (paraphrasing): Marijuana never hurt anyone, juxtaposed, of course, next to a list of legal things that hurt people all the time, and I commented, “How do you know marijuana never hurt anyone?”

I went on to tell her the story of how smoking marijuana as a teen set off my lifelong condition of panic disorder. I have blogged here occasionally about this life event, and how, 20 years later, in my thirties, I read a book about panic disorder that footnoted a study where the majority of people with the condition cited smoking marijuana or doing cocaine as THE TRIGGER EVENT that set off their panic disorder. The study said that people who suffer from panic disorder must steer clear of narcotics as much as possible because our bodies do not react in the way others do who enjoy such drugs. I even have a hard time when I must use narcotics for a medical procedure such as having my wisdom teeth pulled or a colonoscopy. See “Drugged” from October 2010. The post is more fun than this one, I promise.

I’m not saying the drug shouldn’t be legalized. I am saying: Just because you enjoy it, don’t assume it’s good for everyone. To read people’s opinions in the news or on FB, you’d think someone just discovered the wonder drug or the secret to life. You may like getting high — and more power to you –but marijuana is a drug, like alcohol, like cocaine, like heroine, and like oxycotin. Any drug can be dangerous and hurtful.

I find with the new opportunities to express ourselves quickly and to mass audiences via social networking, people reduce almost all political issues down to a few phrases that suit them, they cling to those phrases, and those phrases become their truth. “Marijuana never hurt anyone.” Yes, it has.

Look, you even get your own handbook.

I had the first and worst panic attack of my life on the day I got high in 1977.  Panic attacks began creeping, then bounding, into my life. Over the course of the following year, panic attacks seized my life, assumed ownership of a 17-year old girl. During that era, a friend’s sister took us to see The Steve Miller Band at the old Boston Garden; the arena was one big cloud of marijuana smoke. I sat and stood (as people do so often at concerts) in utter terror for three hours, inhaling everyone’s secondhand marijuana smoke, terrified that the smoke would have the same debilitating effect on me that smoking it directly had. Other people’s marijuana use ruined my concert experience; my own use ruined my adolescence. The trauma of the experience has followed me into adulthood.

I challenge anyone who says that marijuana never hurt anyone. It hurt me and thousands like me.

That guy from Seattle I mentioned thinks it’s his right as a free citizen to be able to walk down a public street smoking a bone without regard to how his secondhand smoke might affect those around him, psychologically and physically. This is why I call him an ignorant, selfish fuck.

I don’t have a problem with the legalization of marijuana, even recreationally, so long as I don’t have to smell or inhale someone else’s smoke.

I think some of the proponents of legalization have it backwards, such as the commentator above who thinks the power mongers want to keep it illegal for their own profit. Hey dumbass, it’s when the drug is legalized that the “military-industrial complex” will control the manufacture and distribution of your beloved drug. Corporate America will make all the profits. Is that what you want? How many of you out there who enjoy smoking marijuana actually have trouble finding it and purchasing it? Do you think legalizing it and having it grown, processed and distributed through corporate channels will actually be better for your freedom to toke? You say it will just be the small farmers (ex-dealers?) who would get manufacturing licenses? I doubt it.

If you ever get cancer and must fight nausea, or glaucoma or AIDS, and need medical marijuana, I hope you can legally and easily obtain it. I hope it’s covered by your insurance. I hope you have insurance. If I were a cancer patient, however, I doubt marijuana would do anything except make me panic, so please don’t talk of it as a cure-all panacea, which so many do, in the brief, half-assed slogans that cyber politics give rise to. Such cyber-slogan-ing makes both the right and left side of the political spectrum give me a headache. Nothing is that simple! Nothing is all good; nothing is all bad.

This week, I learned that I have a serious condition in my knees, and the orthopedic doctor said to take the painkiller Alleve for two weeks. Because of my reaction to smoking marijuana 35 years ago, every time I need to take a new drug – of any kind – I go through a phase of utter fear that I will relive that one traumatic day when pot changed my life. The phobias unleashed by that pot-smoking incident have been myriad and lasting, and I’ve had to knock them down one at a time during the course of decades, often more than once. But my knees are killing me. The left one is swollen and has torn cartilage. Both of them are losing cartilage and cause me pain. The doctor said my knees will not improve. He emphasized that he wanted me to take Alleve and not ibuprofen, because he felt it was more effective and longer lasting than Advil.

You should have seen me Wednesday morning, my legs shaking and feeling rubbery with fear, my head debating whether or not to follow the doctor’s instructions or whether to avoid the new painkiller because of the panic attack that loomed once I took that first swallow. I reminded myself that I was 50 years old and not 15, and after 20 minutes of traumatic memories shooting through my mind and body, I swallowed an Alleve.

And it helped.

No thanks to marijuana.

Thank you for reading.


  1. Without marijuana, perhaps I would have been a nastier, meaner, more violent drunk. I might have fought more, or maybe ended up in prison. Or maybe I would have taken another road into recovery.

    For me, it was definitely a gateway drug. I think of how easy it was for my friends to steal cigarettes when I was young (tobacco being perhaps the only drug that didn’t interest me), and how much more pot use there would be among children and teens if it was legalized. I can’t imagine that anyone wants that. Decriminalize? Maybe. Legalize? It won’t make me any more free.


    • Hi Bridget. Thanks again for reading and for the thoughtful response. It’s good to learn something more about your life. It seems we all have our own story about marijuana and how it shaped our lives. As I said in the blog, nothing is all good or all bad. Marijuana may have helped you to be less mean while you drank, so maybe it did some good. I know others who used pot as a gateway drug to harder stuff and those who never did anything else. I explained what happened to me. I don’t think possessing or smoking pot should be criminal, but I do hear a lot of people taking it for granted that everyone loves marijuana. That just ain’t so.


  2. I happen to agree with you about marijuana having potentially harmful effects. You never know until your first few joints, how it will hit you. I gave up smoking weed by the time I got to college, because it stopped feeling pleasurable. Teenage giggles with friends in high school gave way to paranoia, obsessing about dumb details, and forgetting the important ones. Maybe the marijuana became more potent as the years passed or I was less able to handle it.

    I do believe marijuana has medicinal value for cancer patients and those with glaucoma. So I am on the side of legalization with control. Regulate pot the way narcotic pain killers and anti-anxiety agents are substances that require a prescription. Pot for sale at the corner Cumberland Farms where any 13 year old can get their hands on it? I’m not so sure about that amount of freedom unless an enforceable age requirement were put into place. We all know how well the age limit works with booze…

    Your blog made me think about both sides of the debate and was well written as always. Sorry to hear about your knees. Hope you were able to take the Alleve and it helped!


    • Hi Elissa, as usual, a very thoughtful commentary on my blog. Usually, I try to go lighter, but in reading so many one-sided FB posts about how this drug never hurt anyone, I learned what it felt like to be a minority whose voice is not heard. Not the first time in my life.


  3. The first time I tried marijuana my pulse raced, my body turned ice cold, and I swore I would never touch it again if I lived. I lived.


  4. This is my favorite line! “There are people dying from poverty and living in war zones in many parts of the world – oh, even in the streets of Seattle you’ll find the homeless slumped against a park bench – but this guy has a hair across his ass because he can’t smoke a joint as he walks to Starbucks for his $5 Latte –Mocha-I’m-An-Asshole cup of java. ” especially the Mocha-I’m-An-Asshole part! I have to remember that. Good post Cindy. I’ve been learning some stuff about Marijuana today, and it is my understanding that it is not the same old hippy backyard weed people used to smoke either. It is supposedly much stronger, and much more harmful to the brain, especially the developing brain. I agree with you. Smoke it if you wish, but don’t force it on me, even from a distance.


    • Hi Geenie. It makes me so happy when you read my blog. I’m also happy that you understand what I’m saying. I believe there are some legitimate uses for medical marijuana, and perhaps grown adults should have a choice to use it, as they do with alcohol. But there is another side to the story, one you’ve pointed out and one I’ve pointed out. I’m sick of the way people simplify so many issues with posts on FB. Anyway, thank you for reading and responding. xoxo


  5. Hi Cindy, I support decriminalizing marijuana because I do believe that it is far less harmful than alcohol and as your point out lots of people (probably more than we know) use it and have it readily available anyway. However, it absolutely does hurt people. I smoked pot nearly every day for over twelve years, and sometimes I marvel at my ability to string together a sentence. For many of those years I wondered why I continued to use a substance that made me lazy, neurotic, obsessive, paranoid at times, and maybe once a month giggly and silly. While I always maintained some level of self preservation that prevented me from using harder, addictive drugs, I have some serious guilt about how it has not helped me live up to my potential in many ways.
    That all being said the only time I have ever had an acute panic attack (I suffer from generalized anxiety disorder not a full blown panic disorder) was when I was stoned (or on LSD but thankfully that phase did last long). I will never forget smoking a joint when I was about 19 with an ‘older couple’ (I am probably their age now), the wife smoked the husband did not. As I passed the joint back and forth with his wife the husband shook his head, turned to me and said ‘you’ll like that now, but it will make crazy the longer you do it and the older you get’.
    I enjoyed your post, your point of view is not one that is heard very often. There aren’t many clever online photos showing a pot leaf saying ‘got panic attacks?’ (maybe there should be??) Reason lies somewhere in the middle, it should not criminalized the way has been but it should not be for sale in vending machines either. I don’t see a legalized marijuana in our immediate future, but it is interesting to think about what a corporate marijuana industry would look like….


    • What an awesome comment, Dave, and I so appreciate it. One thing this post has done is bring out people’s personal stories, like yours. And your story Is fascinating. I don’t disagree with a thing you said. Yours is the voice of reason.

      My only two beefs are with those that claim “it never hurt anyone,” and those who won’t feel they have their freedom to enjoy pot unless they can walk down the street and blow their smoke in anyone’s space.

      By the way, I happen to think you are magnificent and have done a great job with your potential.

      Take care,


  6. Hi Cindy. I just finished reading your blog and before that, your post about an ex-friend who wrote an insulting response to your blog. I am riding in the car, on my way to visit my nephew. This gives me an hour and a half to reflect on what you’ve written. Two very separate thoughts stick in my mind. The first is your comment that in our present day world there are many more pressing causes than the legalization of marijuana. The second is about the power of words and the use of words to convey very powerful and sometimes unintended messages.

    But first the issue of marijuana. Even though the issue may not be as important as world peace, it really is a loaded one for those of us who grew up on the sixties and seventies. My experience was opposite from yours. When I was in my twenties, my lack of self confidence and overwhelming anxiety were paralyzingly. Somehow, inspire of my perceived inabilities, I managed to raise a family and coolers college. As a reward after completing a paper or completing a difficult day, I would have a few tokes before going to sleep. I can’t begin to explain the feelings of relief this gave me. If we ran out of pot, I remember feeling desperate until I could afford more. But as you said, Cindy, nothing is simple. There are many downsides to reliance on this or any drug. Did smoking effect my parenting? Did it delay my ability to cope with everyday troubles? With my emotions?

    Also, you say in your blog that marijuana has hurt some people. You use your own experience as an example. Another example is persons with a predisposition to mental illness. Marijuana and LSD have all been implicated as triggers to psychosis. The unanswered question is if people would have eventually become mentally I’ll anyway. Would something other than marijuana eventually have triggered your panic attacks?

    I continued to self medicate and enjoy smoking pot until my children were about ten. By that time children were being taught about the dangers of drugs. I didn’t want to confuse or scare them so I stopped. I can’t say I was happy about it. It was a sacrifice. I missed smoking then and I miss it now. Eventually I got a prescription for xanax and unlike so many people who became addicted, it seemed to do the trick for me. My anxiety decreased and I was able to stop taking medication and benefit from therapy. If marijuana were legalized, I would smoke. As long as it’s illegal, I won’t. It would jeopardize too much.

    As for legalization, I think the difficulty is that there is no clear standard for making one substance legal and another illegal. No one questions the potential for harm in tobacco or alcohol. Yet they are legal. Xanax and oxycodone both have destroyed countless lives yet they may be prescribed for pain or emotional distress. To what extent is substance control a governmental role and to what extent is it a personal freedom? These are just a few of many questions that make your blog so thought provoking.


    • Thank you for reading and for your very thoughtful response, Laura. As I said to Dave, who commented here, it’s interesting to hear people’s personal stories. My two main points may have been lost in too many words: anyone who wants to use pot is fine with me, legal or illegal, just so long as I don’t have to smell it or inhale it while I’m in public – and as long as people stop simplifying with untrue slogans like pot never hurt anyone. Does it matter if a mental illness might have been set off by something other than pot, if, indeed, the pot set it off? Still makes the pot dangerous to some of us, even if something else would have set these wheels in motion. Laura, thank you again for reading and for taking the time to share your story, for your honesty and for your respectful way of discussing the issue. I appreciate it.


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