Have you seen a person who’s gone crazy from smoking too much weed?
Chances are you’ve probably heard stories. Perhaps about a neighbour’s son or a friend’s former roommate. No matter the anecdotes, the details soon fade and you’re simply left with the basic impression: they lost their mind. If you weren’t inclined to learn more about weed, nobody could blame you for forgetting about those individuals and moving on with your life.
Some of you probably caught glimpses of such individuals. Back in college, when you spotted them passing you by on campus and it took a minute for the thought to register. Because you almost didn’t recognise how skinny and confused they look!
But none of this is the same as witnessing a person who’s gone crazy. That sight isn’t vague or susceptible to erosion from your memory through the passage of time. No. That sight leaves a scar in your mind.
And you’ll never again cheer for marijuana legalisation.
A sizable portion of PinkLungi readers are already in a combative state at this point. After all, this article seems to be geared towards painting weed in the worst light possible. Another smear job designed to scare impressionable youngsters away from a wonderful substance and life-changing experiences, right?
Well, in Part 1 I tried my best to explain why weed had been unfairly demonised. And from comments on Instagram, it seems the majority of readers agreed with my assessment. Which is why they are the ones I’m hoping will read this as well. Because we need to stop making the oldest mistake in the weed debate: supporting the substance unconditionally.
There are perhaps three major reasons why weed is so staunchly defended by many. It’s an understandable reaction to decades of lies and demonisation that have been fuelled by greed, ignorance, and bigotry. When you find out there have been entire political structures employed to dehumanise your beloved habit, your blood will obviously boil at the injustice. Every word you utter will be in defense of marijuana, because you are fighting a formidable enemy.
Secondly, for most people, weed is a harmless substance. Every time they consume it, they feel pleasure. They don’t find it addictive, which means every time someone suggests the activity, they treat it like going for a picnic. The only problem they have with weed is the way their eyes turn red and leave them at risk of being caught by society. The only issue they have with smoking it is that there may not be a safe place nearby.
So when you tell them weed can drive a person crazy, it makes absolutely no sense! Think of how you’d react if a person came up to the neighborhood kappalandi (peanut) stand and told you with a serious face that some people can die if they eat just a single one of those. If you didn’t know about peanut allergies, you’d find the idea ridiculous!
That’s the third issue. All of us know about peanut allergies since science has established it as a valid medical issue. But there’s no such luck with weed. I’m not saying people can have cannabis allergy, mind you. Just that there hasn’t been enough research about cannabis at all!
The biggest reason for this is the way the United States has treated marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug for so long. This and other federal regulations have severely restricted research. And since America shaped much of the world’s drug policy through its clout as a superpower, marijuana remains a relative mystery.
But even then, researchers have found some disturbing evidence that seems to confirm what many Malayalis have witnessed first hand. Heavy marijuana use is linked to increased risk for psychiatric disorders, including psychosis, as well as depression, anxiety, and substance use disorder.
Yes, there are several factors that need to be considered when it comes to cannabis consumption and the risk of mental illness. Such as the quantity, frequency, and first use of cannabis. The research is still ongoing, and due to regressive drug policies around the world, greatly hindered. We have a lot to understand, and sadly it doesn’t seem like many are interested in getting the answers.
Let me save you the trouble of voicing the most common objection to all of this that Malayalis have. “The stuff we get in India is terrible, bro! Abroad they have high quality, pure weed. That won’t cause any problems.” No. That’s both right and completely wrong.
Yes, the corridors of NIMHANS (National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro-Science) are constantly echoing with the teary-eyed pleas of parents and the muddled shuffling of marijuana users who’ve experienced a psychotic episode. Sure, most of them greedily stuffed dried up, nearly black colored substances into emptied cigarettes once their rolling papers were burnt up, concerned solely about filtering out seeds that could pop and render them impotent, without paying the least bit of attention to the cocktail of rat poison and chemicals their dealer liberally sprayed on their stash which would flow into their lungs and find its way into every vulnerable part of their body.
But that’s not the only issue.
Because the mental institutions in the West are just as inundated with pot smokers. “Good quality, pure weed” is a very vague term that can mean many things. But in many parts of America and all of Canada, weed is legal and extremely potent. It might be free of the influence of shady Indian drug dealers, but the potency alone is an issue.
Recently I was heading to meet a friend who lived at campus residence. At the reception, there were several pamphlets prominently displayed. The text surprised me. It basically invited college students to take a private quiz to find out their level of cannabis consumption. There were also stark medical warnings beneath.
The same warnings NIMHANS doctors tiredly tell spaced out potheads in Bangalore.
“If you smoke too much of this stuff, you’ll get fucked.”
No, that’s not the exact wording, but sometimes that’s the only way to get the message across.
It’s not an easy thing to digest. Not if you love weed. Especially not if everyone around you loves weed.
That was the case with my friend, who I’d mentioned at the end of Part One. For the sake of his privacy, I’ll refer to him as Wiz Khalifa. Not just cause he was just as stick thin and wrapped at all times in clouds of smoke. But because he always played a particularly catchy song of the singer during his smoking sessions.
It was clear that weed was affecting his life. The problem was that it all happened so slowly.
When he began smoking weed with his college friends, all of them were at the same stage in life. Wide-eyed college kids just beginning to face the real world. Shedding inhibitions from high school, discovering the joys that came with living away from parents.
It took a while for the differences to materialise. After the first year, some of his friends realised that they always saw him for a smoking session, even though they sometimes missed each other. Everyone generally got busy during some days of the week. Except for Wiz Khalifa, who was like an ATM kiosk. Always open for business.
Which was ironic. Because he was perpetually broke. That should have been the next red flag. Weed isn’t necessarily expensive, especially when compared to other serious drugs like cocaine or LSD, but it’s easy to develop a huge appetite. Wiz Khalifa’s budget started going up in flames.
The dominos were in motion. It was just a matter of time before his college attendance figures dropped to critical levels and his academic reports started creating problems.
When I last met Wiz Khalifa, I couldn’t believe my eyes. He’d been a lean fellow the first time I saw him. But he’d become stick thin. Long, unkempt hair. Eyes that no longer seemed to turn red, only glassy and unfocused.
But it wasn’t the static sight of him that unnerved. It was the sheer kinetic energy on display. He was speaking three times faster than normal, words stampeding out of his mouth while his eyes checked the environment as though for overhead raids. He would jump from one train of thought to another, bursting out laughing if he noticed I’d decided to chuckle, and sobering up instantly if he spotted the slightest frown.
He was manic, a word I wasn’t familiar with until later. It’s hard to describe what it looks like, but think of a person who’s had twenty espresso shots in a row. Imagine that energy sustained over a long period of time, without diminishing. That was what Wiz Khalifa was like.
There was no link between me and him. No use of pretending. Sure, we were both humans, but only one of us belonged to society. The other was simply waiting to be caught, cured, or cast away.
There is a happy ending to this story. Or at least as happy an ending as is possible once you’ve ruined your academic and personal life. Wiz Khalifa dropped out of college, broke down, and told his horrified parents the whole truth. Though he didn’t really have to. From the cigarette and weed packets strewn around his apartment and his incoherent sentences, anyone could see what had happened.
That’s the problem though. Very few of us can see the obvious until it actually happens.
I talked to a few of Wiz Khalifa’s friends after he’d been whisked away for treatment by his family. Some of them admitted that he’d been smoking far too much. But others said he was just smoking the wrong stuff. “He should have scored better weed, not that crap shit!” There was also a notion that perhaps he was depressed about something else, and weed was just the surface level symptom of it.
Looking back, it’s understandable that they’d rationalise it that way. Because they couldn’t comprehend the logic of it all. Sure, Wiz Khalifa had smoked much more weed than them. But they were no slouches either. The difference was perhaps 10 or 20 percent in Khalifa’s favor. Was that what tipped him over?
Researchers will tell you that there are several factors. Such as physical activity, nutrition, exercise, genetic disposition, family history, and propensity for mental illness. Looking at a fellow who’s gone crazy from smoking pot and saying it’s because of the quality of weed is about as accurate as witnessing a man collapsed from a heart attack and say it’s due to how much butter he consumed.
But sadly, we won’t know the real reasons. Partly because of governments that are in denial about the existence of marijuana and people’s enthusiasm and need for it. Partly because of the vast majority that doesn’t get affected by marijuana.
Which leaves us in a terrible situation. In Kerala right now, if there are 100 students in a college who smoke weed for the first time, do you know what happens? (The figures below are meant to illuminate a point and are not statistical representative.)
Perhaps 10 of them don’t like it or feel strongly averse to the idea of continuing the habit, and instead divert all recreational energy towards alcohol.
60 of them continue smoking weed, using it to help them craft memories they’ll cherish long after they’ve graduated.
15 of them will fall deeply in love with weed until it begins to threaten their lives in some manner. Fearing parents, friends, or the security of their future, they make a conscious decision to cut down on smoking weed and regain stability.
10 won’t be so lucky and will get caught when they’re still enjoying the process of smoking weed. Depending on their parents and others’ general outlook towards weed, their life can be awkward, difficult, or outright hell.
5 of them would have been better off getting caught, but instead will sink into the darkness that marijuana offers. They will smoke it until they no longer feel anything, and continue to smoke solely to stave away feelings they don’t want to experience. They will lose almost everything they love, especially any kind of recognition of their own self.
4 of them might salvage a life in some form or the other.
No one has ever died from overdosing on marijuana.
It’s a fact pro-weed advocates love to trumpet. What they don’t tell you, is that every year, many individuals lose their lives because of marijuana. Not while consuming, But sometime in between perhaps. It’s easy to die that way if you are experiencing psychosis. You could hallucinate something that isn’t there and take the wrong action. Or not see what is.
Once you go crazy, it’s not that difficult to get hit by a bus or fall from a rooftop.
What’s the point of this two-part article? Maybe it’s opened your eyes to how weed is being discussed in our country. Hopefully, it’s helped you overcome any prejudices you have towards it. And fingers crossed, it’s made you think twice about blind loyalty towards marijuana legalisation.
There’s a long way to go before we fix the situation. Right now the majority of Malayalis have outlandishly wrong perceptions about weed. Parents and relatives are crying themselves hoarse over children who indulge in the substance, destroying their lives out of fear that they’ll end up damaged. And friends are watching those few who will fall into the abyss, without batting an eye.
We need to stop persecuting the majority of marijuana users who lead healthy lives. And instead, save the precious minority that is knowingly or unknowingly letting this substance ruin their minds.
Making marijuana legal perhaps is a distant dream.
But understanding the benefits and dangers of it shouldn’t be.
That can start today.
P.S. Wiz Khalifa was ultimately saved. He went to rehab, underwent psychiatric care, and is currently studying Art Design in New Zealand. He hopes “nobody else has to go through what he did.”
Check out Marwan Razzaq’s debut novel, a fast-paced crime thriller called “The Man Who Found His Shadow”, available now on Amazon!