I remember my first panic attack — it was in 2009. I was sitting in my 11th grade AP US History class at Santa Susana High School in Simi Valley, CA.
The first sign something was wrong was my racing heart. Seemingly out of nowhere, it began pounding rapidly. I felt the muscle in a way I never had before, as if I could reach my own hand into my chest and grip it to steady it.
But of course, I couldn’t actually do that.
My breath quickened and shallowed – I didn’t know what was happening to me. Friends crowded me, worried, before my teacher led me outside to sit down and help me breathe.
I’ve had anxiety ever since then, and more recently, bouts of depression, and probably always will.
It’s all a more deep-rooted part of me now, but at least now we coexist. I handle it better – I’ve gone to therapy, I’m on medication.
I’m a big advocate of treating mental health professionally, and any other ways that are safe and healthy. It’s only in the past few years I realized medical marijuana could be one of those other ways.
Don’t worry, there’s science to marijuana
I remember the first time I tried cannabis. I got the munchies. Bad.
Since then, cannabis has become a rare recreational activity and an occasional aid to my mental health. My main go-to is CBD, but I didn’t know much about it beyond that it reduces inflammation and people in the cannabis industry recommended it to me. I tried it and liked it — it helped relax my mind on bad days — but wanted to know more.
‘CBD is short for Cannabidiol, a non-psychoactive molecule derived from a cannabis plant,’ Olivia Alexander, Founder and CEO of Kush Queen, a hemp CBD boutique, tells me.
She says it’s becoming something akin to the new Kale because of its ‘wide range of benefits’. Like the reduction of inflammation. But how does it work?
‘Our body has an endocannabinoid system, which is why CBD works,’ Alexander explains.
‘The endocannabinoid system plays a major role in our central nervous system. The central nervous system regulates our most important body functions which interacts with CBD to help achieve homeostasis in the body.’
Okay, what does that mean?
‘It means it’s balancing our body.’
Relax with CBD and marijuana
Alexander tells me her main problem was insomnia.
‘I will never forget the first night I slept all night and the feeling when I woke up being actually rested,’ she says. ‘For me, so much of my mental health lies in my ability to get real rest. Over time I found my magic dose of CBD, I saw my focus return, my ability to feel real joy, and my anxiety being reduced by 75%.’
Fortunately, I have no problem sleeping. But my anxiety and depression can cause a myriad of other negative things – paralysis, paranoia, apathy, panic, timidity.
Authors of one 2014 study determined additional experiments would help, but exisisting results were promising enough to conclude ‘CBD can become a new drug for the treatment of psychiatric disorders’.
I have found this to be the case — at least for myself. While my use of marijuana and CBD is by no means regular, my experiences with it have calmed and emptied my mind of its anxiety, if only for a time. Although, I have also found that too much for too long actually worsens the consequences of my anxiety. Like any treatment, it’s about experimentation, listening to and learning your body and mind, and proper dosage.
And so we must work at legalizing and destigmatizing it
Cannabis, in whatever form, isn’t for everyone. And that’s okay. People should only try what they’re willing to try.
Providing one more option to help – regardless of whether or not people use it—without stigma or fear, is incredibly important.
‘To even consider that there was something out there that wouldn’t kill my immune system or make me more suicidal brought a lot of light into my life,’ Alexander confides to me. ‘When you really feel like there are no long-term options, life can be rather hopeless.’
And that is why medical marijuana must be destigmatized and legalized.
In the US, the 2018 Farm Bill made the production of hemp, from which CBD oil derives, legal. However, it also granted states the right to make their own laws, so CBD’s legality depends on which state you’re in.
Around the world, as it is across the 50 states, the legal status of CBD varies widely.
The legal battle rages on in courts and with bills. The stigma battle is harder.
Marijuana use is steeped in racism
‘Cannabis really became popular in the early 1900’s, even though there evidence people have been using the plant for thousands of years,’ Alexander explains.’ It was always seen as a medicine and people were using hemp for a number of things like clothing and paper, until the late 1930’s when it first became illegal.’
Why did marijuana become illegal? Because of its use by people of color.
Alexander continues: ‘There were large numbers of Mexican immigrants fleeing political unrest who brought cannabis recreationally to the US. This is when the Spanish origin of the word “marijuana” became part of how the plant would be known.
‘Then in 1936, Reefer Madness was released, which was the story of a group of teenagers who smoke weed for the first time, then hallucinate and commit heinous crimes like rape and murder.’
Another group known for using cannabis, Alexander tells me, were jazz musicians.
A broken prison system
‘Cannabis would then go on to be the cause of millions — mainly people of color — to be imprisoned for centuries in the US. Ultimately, statistics have shown that all people of different socio-economic status and racial backgrounds use cannabis at the same rate, but POC are 80% more likely to face issues with the law than their white counterparts.’
Black Americans make up a disproportionate amount of the US’ prison population and striking disparities are seen in the statistics for drug offenses.
For example, while people’s drug use does not change that much across race, black people in the US are arrested and charged more frequently, and face longer sentences. In 2010, the ACLU found that black people were 3.7 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people.
Armed with knowledge
Suicide is an epidemic, and worse for the LGBTI community. Any way we can battle it, we should, even at the outraged gasps of America’s puritanical foundation.
Alexander’s number one suggestion for anyone wanting to try CBD is to do research and talk to professionals first.
‘It’s important people approach CBD with a certain level of understanding because rubbing oil on your skin is great for skincare, but it’s not going to scientifically be able to affect your brain function,’ she says. ‘The body is put through a lot with anxiety and depression.’
I can attest to that. Anxiety and depression have challenged me in many ways, from days spent in bed to struggling to accomplish mundane tasks. And while CBD will never act as a replacement for my medication, my support network, or even walks in the fresh air, it is another tool in my arsenal to help. And at the end of the day, helping others, especially those who are marginalized, should never be compromised.