“Weed stopped my heart (literally), but building up the courage to try it again allowed me to face my worst anxieties.”
Did my first edible at a Model United Nations conference, senior year of high school. I was a late bloomer when it came to weed — I had “smoked” here and there for the sake of impressing various boyfriends and Grindr hookups — but I tended to err on the side of holding the smoke in my mouth, diverting attention, and then squinting intermittently for the next two hours, or whenever someone spoke to me.
That particular set of behavior was most rooted in an acute body anxiety, the unshakeable feeling that my insides were going to rebel against me with some sort of growth, or tapeworm, or asphyxiating allergy (it hasn’t quite gone away). The way that people talked about being high during their first adolescent exposures read eerily similar to a book I had read on people who had survived near-death experiences: they felt themselves take the shape of an energy cloud, and felt at peace with the world around them; the realities of their situations.
The thought of relinquishing my delusions of impending doom for even a moment was enough to keep me away from the hazy garages and basements that my urchin peers dwelled in for their formative years. This Model UN situation put me in a tight spot — everyone else was doing it, and there was nowhere to run. With an edible, you couldn’t rely on literal smoke and mirrors — it was in your system, and it was coming like a brick wall — but I had no choice. The only thing worse than my fear of my own body was my fear of missing out.
Fascinating to me, that very first time, I wound up loving it. The high let me know that it was coming, snaking its way through my system in a steady buildup of full-body laughter about nothing in particular, sliding across my vision and landing me in a place where I, against all odds, felt relaxed. I didn’t feel those familiar social, high school pressures — everything I said was funny, or profound, or just worth nodding at — to me and everyone else in the room. I have a vivid memory of staring up at the Epic Burger menu that night and feeling like I was looking up at God, or maybe my mom, or maybe a future self that wasn’t legitimately terrified of developing epilepsy. I returned home and couldn’t wait to buy my next THC treat.
Did my second edible in my best friend’s basement. I purchased a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos for the occasion (I have always liked themes), and prepared to binge watch cartoons. This time, the brownies tasted significantly different — wasn’t quite as silky and fudge-like as the last, had a bit of an old-pan crunch to them. I let myself sink down into the couch, awaiting the quiet solace I remembered from weeks before.
Instead, my jaw tightened, and my chest went very cold. I could barely bring myself to touch a single Dorito to my teeth, fearing a sort of nerve-shooting sensory overload. When I finally did, the chip tasted stale — too hard, but also too soft — like it had been on top of someone’s refrigerator for years. I felt a heavy metal helmet form around my head; I couldn’t keep my neck from swaying around, feeling like I needed to be flat on my back, or planking, or something to combat the feeling of swimming in glue. Or, that stuff that comes out of flies’ mouths.
Worse still, I felt my heart racing, uncontrollably out of my chest fast. I tried to play it off, fearing the worst — that I might be seen as a pussy — but my resolve cracked quickly. I’m sweaty by nature, but by the time that first bone-dry Dorito crumbled down my throat, I was soaked completely through my clothes, absolutely drenched. I touched my chest repeatedly to find my anxiety demons slamming their heads against my ribcage like the mom to the attic door in Hereditary — was I dying?
“Are you okay?” my friends asked, also stoned, but not becoming a swamp monster.
“I’m fine,” I replied. But I felt like I was dying. “This is it,” I thought.
Hobbled my way into the bathroom, and paraphrased the above to my mother. She came, she gently touched my chest for half a second, and she drove me to the hospital where I received a high dose of adenosine — effectively stopping my heart for an instant in hopes that it would restart at a normal speed. It felt like a semi truck was set on my torso. It did not work the first time. They gave me another round, a more intense dose the second time. Two-and-a-half semi trucks and it worked. It felt like I should have a crater in my chest when it was over.
As it happened, my heart had been beating at 213 Beats Per Minute. For context, a healthy resting heart rate is 60 to 100 BPM. I was 17 years old at the time — the target heart rate for a 17-year-old’s cardiovascular workout is around 145 BPM. Rest assured, dear reader, that The Edible Felt Around the World was not laced, not cursed by some ancient demon, but was just a regular that managed to uncover a preexisting condition I did not know I had. The name is long and boring; beside the point, and I quickly received a corrective surgery meant to prevent anything similar from happening again.
The true point: being who I am, I swore off weed (and coke, molly, Tylenol, and Mucinex) in all its forms for three years.
The only thing worse than my fear of my body imploding is my fear of missing out. My flatlining was fortuitously timed with my going away to college, which everybody and their mother wants to smoke weed all the time, in a constant stream of new and creative ways. My social life was rapidly strewn with bongs, bowls, vapes and brownies; I found myself tempted at every turn. Who wants to miss out on a mini road trip for the purpose of trying every major fast food chain’s dessert options while completely blazed? I certainly don’t — I love Taco Bell Cinnabites.
A friend, who speaks with deadpan frankness to every person he’s ever met, loves to say “yet” whenever someone says they don’t smoke weed — like it’s an inalienable trait about humanity. He think that those who abstain are just waiting their turn. I’ve heard him shout it from across rooms at total strangers, insistent on reminding them that their time will come. I felt alienated from both the Stoners and the Yeti’s, knowing full well that in a past life I really had enjoyed myself, but feeling like my ship had sailed — I couldn’t go back to something that scared me so bad — but I knew deep down that he was right. In twenty-something circles, smoking was inescapable, one of the primary ways in which people my age made new friends: “do you wanna come over and smoke?” is basically a dorm room proverb.
Toward the back end of my period of abstinence, I was running out of fake shifts I had to cover (I’m rather open on Twitter about working 10 hours a week and being a general layabout) and definitely running out of imaginary family members to grieve the loss of, so I decided to incorporate my flight from the Church of Yeti’s as part of my New Year’s resolution: I was going to like weed again. And buy a house plant (never happened). And get amazing at beer pong (kind of happened).
First approached with caution — offering myself up at bong circles in my apartment, operating under the guise of just wanting to learn how to use one in case I needed to impress some skater guy. Then, I started making regular appearances, asking for those with more experience to set me up with tiny little hits that the seasoned pros could clear for me if I couldn’t handle it. I felt myself warming up slowly, enjoying myself again, feeling those dumb jokes and questionable profundities fall from my mouth, met with a collective nod from the room. I felt for my heart rate constantly — behind my ear, on my chest, my thumbs on my wrists, praying nobody would notice — but as I continued to dip my toes in, I grew more and more comfortable. I liked how it didn’t give me the brain fog that alcohol did, and that it genuinely felt like it was more social. When I drank, I tended to dance around and deliver one-liners in other people’s space. Smoking made me feel like I was actually there in the room. Soon, I was asking to smoke from time to time, actually wanting to live in that mindset again.
Going on a trip to a friend’s lake house recently, a trip primarily centered around getting crossfaded and talking shit, I felt a switch flip: I wasn’t entirely unconscious of my efforts to be the first one to suggest we pack a bowl, but I did feel a real sense of safety and groundness when that first sting of stimulus hit, and I processed it as I am alive and this is okay, rather than that was a signal that the devil has come to claim me.
I talked, I laughed, I didn’t check my heart. I was in control. I looked up at the moon on the back porch and thought I saw God, or maybe my mom, or maybe a future self — a self who might try something crazy. Maybe fried green tomatoes?
Nick Malone is a writer, filmmaker, and sex symbol from Chicago. Follow him on Twitter @VLRTUALBOY, and commission him at nickmalone.xyz.