Edibles, Depression & Insomnia
Updated: Jul 11, 2020
I utilized marijuana as a tool to help me out of a deep depression. It all started at a psych trance festival deep in the wilds of Australia. . .
Well, like most stories, it really started a long time ago. But this was the catalyst, and as good of a place as any to start telling the tale.
The festival was Rainbow Serpent, an annual open-air electronic music & arts event, and it was January 2017. I was on a three month trip, visiting my closest friends flung far and wide across the world - that's what happens when you're a traveling fiend: you end up with loved ones on multiple continents which is both a blessing and a curse.
It was the beginning of my trip, and two of my artist friends had invited me to the week-long festival to help them build an incredible wooden sculpture made entirely of locally sourced materials from the nearby forest, free ticket and meals included. How could I say no?! The remote venue was miles away from anything close to civilization, my friends were already halfway into the the wooden image of a dingo that would be two stories tall when completed, and we were working hard in a sea of friendly hippie camaraderie. The beautiful "Dingo Ma" sculpture was being made entirely of fallen tree limbs from the forest. Right up my alley.
But a couple of days in, I started to feel... strange. Uncomfortable in my own skin, and very uncomfortably anti-social with bouts of random deep sadness and crying, difficulty breathing, and panic. One time, I literally stood up from our lunch group mid-conversation and walked away with no explanation. My friends later found me laying on the grass under a tree with my eyes closed, earphones as loud as they would go, with tears streaming down my face. I didn't realize it at the time, but I was experiencing my very first panic attacks. The fact that everyone else was having a grand time, that I could only leave if I hitched a ride (we got a ride there), that I was mostly amidst strangers, that my phone had no reception and there was no wifi available... these circumstances worsened my feelings of helplessness. I didn't understand what was happening, and that made it even scarier.
My friends were valiant in their efforts to include me in their work and social settings, and to just be there for me, but I don't think they understood what was happening either. I felt trapped in my own mind and it was pretty terrifying. And then the actual festival started, with close to 20,000 eager revelers. I was now in full-on panic mode. After a few days, although I haven't been much of a weed smoker since my early 20s, a friend handed me a little baggie of green and some rolling papers, and that was my salvation.
After the first few puffs of a joint I could finally take a deep breath and calm down, and although the relief was temporary, it felt like the only thing between me and, well, mild to medium insanity (and trust me, in an attempt to jump-start ANY other kind of feelings I had already tried most of the other substances available at the festival, which if you have been to Rainbow Serpent you will know is an extensive list). One of my best friends ended up trekking all the way out to the festival grounds from the city of Sydney (hours away), taking me up in her loving arms and together we hitchhiked out of the festival two days early.
After leaving the bubble of the festival, I felt almost instantly better and foolishly wrote the strangeness off as a one time experience. Fast forward to arriving back home to Maui after the trip (I'd had a couple more panicky/random sadness experiences, but nothing nearly as bad as the festival, so again I just whipped out my very strong denial and blamed it on... winter. Yes, I did. The denial is strong with this one). I tried to pick up my Maui life where I'd left off, but ended up spiraling deeper and deeper into depression.
Telling people only seemed to make it worse, so I pretended like my mind wasn't shattering at work (which took a superhuman effort), and spent almost all of my free time surfing or at home alone. Sometimes I couldn't seem to draw a breath with enough oxygen in it - my depression/anxiety was literally making me breathless with fear. At one point I wondered if I was having a late onset of asthma or something, the loss of breath was so weird and real.
After finally admitting to my close friends and family what was going on, and that I was scared, I booked some appointments with a therapist. Therapy helped a lot, but at this point, my sleep had been pretty shit for over a year and it started to get even worse. My restless sleeping hours were full of vivid nightmares, and my waking hours were full of anxiety and fear. Then I started waking up every single damned night at exactly 4am, and couldn't go back to sleep if my life depended on it. The numb fatigue that had been taking over my days was now starting to bleed into what was left of my social and work life, but I still didn't want to take any pills.
I grew up pretty anti-pharmaceuticals, especially scary shit like anti-depressants, yet it was obvious I needed some kind of aid to help me out of this mess. None of the herbal remedies I knew like Valerian and St John's Wort helped, and even when I broke down and tried the different kinds of sleeping pills my doctor prescribed me, they either didn't help at all or only gave me a few hours of deep sleep and left me feeling thick-tongued and zombied out in the morning (surprisingly, Ambien did nothing for me).
So, at the advice of a few stoner friends, and remembering the sweet relief smoking endless joints had provided me at the festival, I decided to get serious about making my own cannabis oil. I asked around for some cheap weed and was kindly gifted two bags of shake (leftover stems and leaves from trimming the buds off of plants). I fumbled around in the kitchen, read a bunch of cannabutter blogs and six hours later produced a batch of canna-oil (using coconut oil instead of butter). Then I made a bunch of brownies to test out the product! Suffice it to say that while I had no idea how to measure potency it definitely got the job done. I slept better that night than I had in at least a year. A deep, relaxing, dreamless sleep that lasted all the way until 7am. It was like a glorious sleep in for me!
This story ends with me getting better over time at making my own oil to a set potency, self medicating every night before bed, and finally getting the deep sleep my mind and body so desperately needed. Did marijuana cure me of my depression? Not on its own, no. But it played a key role in allowing my mind to take a break from my anxious repetitive thought cycle, it allowed my body to fully relax and rest every night, and this in combination with therapy and exercise helped me to slowly climb out of the hole of my depression without having to resort to potentially addictive pharmaceuticals and their frightening side effects. I'll take a munchies side effect over self-idealizing suicidal thoughts ANY DAY, amiright?
One of the most interesting things of this experience was that in my search for answers, I found a lot of fascinating information on the link between depression and an excess of REM sleep. "Studies have shown that people with depression experience more REM sleep and spend less time in slow-wave sleep, which means their sleep is not as restful. In fact, one of the ways antidepressant medications help is that they reduce REM sleep," says Debbie Hampton (author of www.thebestbrainpossible.com). Curious, I then researched how canna-oil might be helping me with all this, and found that THC actually reduces the time you spend in REM sleep, and studies have shown that it can also increase your slow-wave sleep. Weed for the win!
Why am I sharing this long-winded personal story with you? Because I'm hoping to help de-stigmatize talking about depression, and about the therapeutic benefits of cannabis. On my travels around the world and even closer to home, I've discovered that many people are still vehemently anti-marijuana... often from secondhand stories or from a bad personal experience where it was used improperly (aka eating an entire special brownie instead of a nibble). I understand marijuana as a medicine is not suitable for everyone, but I hope that sharing my personal experience might help shed light on a potential alternative treatment for other people suffering from depression, anxiety or insomnia.
Thanks for reading!