How I Rediscovered Cannabis—in a Conscious Way

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I was 13 when I smoked my first bowl with one of my brothers. I’d always considered my first time smoking weed lucky; I had a guide, we were in the safety of our Oakland home, and the weed was kind Northern California bud. Our parents were out to dinner one Friday night when my 15-year-old brother sat down next to me on the sofa while I was watching The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

“You're probably going to do this sooner or later, and I'd rather have your first time be here,” he said. Something in his hand glimmered: a pipe with green swirls in clear glass packed with a fresh bowl of green weed with teeny brown hairs in it.

We stepped outside and sat down at an outdoor table. My brother told me to inhale when he lit the bowl, hold it in for a couple beats, and slowly blow out the smoke. Excited and nervous, I followed his instructions exactly. I'd already experienced lightheadedness from smoking cigarettes and cloves, and I remember coughing, but the rest of that night (in true stoned form) is forgotten.

According to my brother, I had a blast laughing at everything he and the Fresh Prince said. And because I was a total goofball who couldn’t stand still, he couldn't put eye drops in my reddened eyes. He tucked me into bed early before my mom and dad came home. The next morning, I slept until 1 p.m.

“Bad cramps,” I told my mom.

Soon after, my brother took me to a house party where I smoked out of an eight-foot bong that was lit on the ground floor, guided up the stairwell, and hit from the top stair. I was awed by everything and everyone, especially the guys firing potato shooters from the backyard, launching innocent carbohydrates into their neighbors' yards.

By my freshman year of high school, I was a seasoned weed smoker. I knew the difference between kind bud and shwag. I'd got some of my friends high for the first time. And I had a glass pipe of my own. Weed agreed with me. Sativa. Indica. Both. I rarely knew what strains I was smoking, but I knew weed made me silly or relaxed, got me out of my head, and it got my creative juices flowing.

The only problem for me and my plant friend in the 90s was that it was illegal. I knew this of course, but I also got a pep talk about it when my dad approached me one day, saying, “Your mother and I would rather have you smoke pot than cigarettes.” He continued about how he’d smoked “pot” in the 60s, but also smoked cigarettes. He and my mom quit cigarettes together after learning how horrible they were for your health.

Aside from how dorky it was that he called it “pot,” it was apparent he knew my brother and I had smoked it. What I took away from that talk was that I needed to hide all evidence of smoking cigarettes—something I did socially—from my parents. And that they were kinda cool with me smoking weed, but I needed to hide that from the cops. Noted.

Growing Up Green

For the next 10 years, I enjoyed the privilege of smoking weed without getting busted—while in my home state and around the nation, minorities were being unjustly incarcerated for doing the same. As a high school graduation present, my parents sent my brother and me to Amsterdam for a cultural experience. Mmm, space cake. I had a pet bong named Medusa.

I also celebrated 4/20 yearly; marijuana’s special day was, after all, created by teenagers in San Rafael, a stone’s throw from my hometown. To New York City for college and back to San Francisco for my career, I regularly smoked weed. But those high times were laced with some bad times: paranoid highs, shady characters, and couch-drowning laziness.

Around 30, weed turned on me.

I got headaches after smoking it. My lungs hurt. Demotivated and foggy-headed, I had weed hangovers the next morning. It could have been old weed I was smoking, but I didn’t necessarily want to find a fresh supply. I didn’t feel like I needed it anymore and decided to take a break. It was the first time I’d made a conscious decision about using weed. It had always been more of a habit.

I moved to Marina del Rey for a change of scene. My freelance writing career was afloat, and I’d replaced my natural medicine with bike rides along the beach and a regular yoga practice. I had finally found a career and environment that didn’t stress me out.

Rediscovering Cannabis

Five years later, after abstaining from weed, a friend offered me a hit from his pipe at a party. Seeing that shiny glass pipe and baby birds nest of herb reminded me of all the good times. I only needed one hit to get a feel-good buzz. Decades from my first time smoking weed, it was available legally in California as medicine. Legally getting clean weed in non-smoking forms was something young me could have only dreamed about. The future had arrived.

I found a cannabis doctor and told him I was seeking medicinal marijuana for anxiety relief, something I was diagnosed with in my twenties. Easing my anxiety is what I’d used cannabis for the majority of my life without really knowing it. After getting my medicinal marijuana card, I went to The Rose Collective in Venice and felt like a kid in a candy store admiring the organized array of cannabis products.

I left with a vape pen and gummy worm edibles of sativa-indica blends. I’d learned from previous years of macrodosing drugs beyond marijuana, and decided to start anew with small doses. Slowly. Before I knew it, I was microdosing, and whenever I felt overwhelmed, I was able to slow things down with my trusty plant-medicine. I also found I drank less alcohol, and was more efficient in my work the next day as a result. I also dabbled in microdosing psilocybin chocolate, but that’s another journey.

My relationship with cannabis reached a culmination after I had my son. I didn’t use any cannabis products and minimally consumed caffeine and alcohol during my pregnancy. I felt empowered and inspired by my body and it’s natural creation—I didn’t need anything to help me feel better. But by the time my son was four-months-old, sleep deprivation and hormones had contributed to postpartum anxiety so intense one night I ripped open my own shirt, Hulk-style, screaming at the universe, standing on my street at the corner of wits’ end.

The days weren’t much better, but holding my son and milkshakes calmed me down some. Six months and several rage waves later, our couples therapist suggested I try Zoloft.

I’d never taken an antidepressant before and was so out of it, I didn’t even think about using anything from my marijuana stash. I was terrified of anything that could harm my son, and that included things I put in my body, since I was breastfeeding. But my doctor confirmed Zoloft was safe to take so I tried it. After a few days of feeling weird and some stomach aches, alongside acupuncture, I began feeling more calm, more clear, more like myself.

But fear about taking an antidepressant while breastfeeding tugged at me still. A friend mentioned another new mom friend had used CBD to help her postpartum anxiety, but I wasn’t as familiar with THC’s non-psychoactive cannabinoid cousin.

California Sober

It was 2018, and though recreational cannabis was newly legal in California, I wasn’t finding simple answers about CBD, THC, and breastfeeding. But taking plant-based medicine versus a pharmaceutical felt more me.

I went to a dispensary called Harborside in Oakland and spoke to a staff member about my condition. He suggested Prana’s P4 1:1 CBD:CBN Tincture as an aid for PTSD. Feeling like I’d suffered from the most extreme anxiety of my life, I was intrigued. Plus, the guy informed me that the THC in CBD was a tiny trace amount. As I learned more about cannabis, I realized I’d probably affected my brain’s growth consuming THC at a young age, something I’ve wrestled with myself about— joking that I’d be smarter if I hadn’t smoked so much weed when I was younger. Shame on me.

But it wasn’t just about me anymore. It was about my son and me—my family—and finding my new normal so I could be the mother I’d dreamed about being. I weaned myself off Zoloft after taking it for a few months and started taking my Prana tincture a couple times a day. My son was sleeping through the night. My brain was functioning again. And my anxiety was lessening every week. Sweet relief.

Now that I've rediscovered cannabis, I dabble in a few cannabis products, including topical CBD which I’m convinced helped clear up my hormone-induced acne after I stopped breastfeeding. I’m blown away by the variety of ways cannabis has been proven to improve people’s minds, bodies, and spirits.

“Weed” has become “cannabis” in my vernacular, as I’ve recognized the power of the whole plant. Cannabis, you mother nature Goddess, I trust you.

Our future together looks brighter than ever. And girl, I’m so grateful I never have to smoke dank weed again.

Samantha Durbin is an Oakland born & raised freelance writer, editor, and mother. She's writing a memoir circa '96 called Rave Princess.