Muir Wood therapist, David Laing
Muir Wood Adolescent and Family Services is a Joint Commission-accredited mental health and substance use disorder treatment provider located in Petaluma, California. We provide integrated evidence-based care including psychiatry, psychotherapy, experiential therapy, wellness services, and milieu therapy for adolescents and teens, and their family members.

A Recovering Young Adult’s Perspective on Addiction

By Neil Haigler, Recovery Counselor

Cannabis isn’t physically addictive. That’s what I kept telling myself when I was using. I’m not going to argue about the definition of addiction. I can only tell you that when I started smoking cannabis, I lost control over when I did it and what I was willing to sacrifice for it. I started smoking when I was a sophomore in high school, and after about a year I was smoking every day. My parents would one day ask me why I wanted to smoke so much, and I told them that I would simply rather be high all the time than be sober.

My parents noticed the changes in me when I started smoking as much as I wanted: the change in my friend group, the hours that I left the house, and my habits while in the house. Eventually, they just decided to test me. Obviously I failed, and this began an ugly cycle. I would do really well in school and home life, so that my parents would get off of my case, and once they did I would start smoking again. I would turn into a stoner zombie again, and my parents would test me. This cycle continued for many years, and the consequences got worse and worse. I bought a fake urine pouch to pass drug tests, but that only let me sink to new lows before I slipped up and got caught.

Eventually, I was introduced to spice (synthetic cannabinoids). I was told that spice would not show up on a drug test, so I gave it a try. Spice was interesting. It was a different kind of high, but it took me out of reality, so that was good enough for me. Unfortunately, spice is nasty, unregulated, home-chemistry-set toxic waste, and it had some interesting side effects. I had seizures, hallucinations, and psychosis. I explained to a friend that spice made me insane, and that I liked being insane. Spice was expensive ($20 a gram) so I started buying the components online and making my own spice. The active psychotropic ingredients were legal to buy and could be dissolved in acetone and sprayed on any type of plant matter.

After a while, the DEA closed some loopholes with the spice market, outlawing JWH-018 and 073, the most potent compounds used in spice, and it was no longer strong enough to keep me interested. I resorted to alcohol and prescription pills for a while. These substances would give me a hangover but did not alter my mental state for nearly as long as cannabis or spice. I was able to keep my act together, drinking and snorting pills every night, sleeping off the hangover, and then being productive after noon, until I could use again.

Eventually I relapsed by going into a store and asking for the strongest spice they had, and I was not disappointed. It was not only stronger, but stranger. Our bodies have evolved alongside cannabis, and our body knows how to handle its effect on the body, brain, and cells. What I was now putting in my body was not only completely new but intentionally chemically altered to be slightly different than THC to get around drug legislation. I lost an entire week of my life. My parents were out of town, and I just used as much as I could during that time. I remember random experiences. I remember looking at words and not being able to read them. I remember waking up and panicking because I couldn’t feel the air in my lungs while I was breathing, so I thought I was going to suffocate. I remember not eating during that binge. I remember trying to hold my legs still because it wouldn’t stop shaking. I remember watching a YouTube video and feeling like I was in the video, and since I could see the cameras, actors, and boom mics, the immersion was ruined. I went crazy for a week, I couldn’t stop, and I loved it.

My parents came back from being out of town, and I tried to act like everything was OK, but they could tell I was mentally gone. They came into my room at night and found me unable to speak. The game was up, and the next morning I came downstairs to find them very upset and disappointed in me. They gave me an ultimatum that I had to make changes in my life, not them. They told me that the cycle ended there, and that if I didn’t start improving my life for myself, I was no longer going to be living with them.

For some reason, I still don’t know exactly why, I looked around at my life and realized that I didn’t like where it was going, and that I was no longer the one in control. I asked for help, from my parents, my therapist, and AA. I got the help that I needed, and I still go to meetings. By now I know myself well enough to not use any substance recreationally. Cannabis, alcohol, spice, pills—it doesn’t matter for me. For me, changing substances is like changing seats on the Titanic; the ship is still going down. There were many times that I actually tried to stop using, but I simply couldn’t do it alone. I needed help, and now that I’ve gotten that help, I am happier than I ever was while using.