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Marion Winik Headshot

Fear and Loathing in the Middle Ages

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One of the things you're going to see as soon as marijuana is legal is hordes of people in their forties, fifties and sixties lining up outside the dispensary, finally able to get some weed without buying it from the kids. In fact, if you think about it, this is why decriminalization is upon us: The inaugural generation of American stoners is driving the lead bus of the social order and they cannot figure out where to cop.

Yet I will not be among the chuffed boomers dropping vac-packs of skunk into their Prius glove compartments, I'm sorry to say. I so wish I could enjoy marijuana -- it's clearly the most wholesome of the mind-altering substances, a superior vice in almost every way. Indeed, back in high school in the seventies I could not make it through fourth period without dipping out to the parking lot for a toke. But then I took a long break from my friend Mr. THC, first for spiritual endeavors, later, for poor choices involving hard drugs and finally, for pregnancy and motherhood. Ever since, it hasn't been the same. As much as I may love it in theory, bud is not my bud. This may be partly due to the fact that the weed of today is 50,000 times stronger than what was smoked in the bus ports of yore, but I also suspect that have I some sort of cannabis allergy.

It's going on two years since I conducted my last allergy test, resulting in a day of frightening disorientation on the water slides of the Atlantis Paradise Island Resort, a tale familiar to readers of this column. I kept this experience in mind when I was recently offered a plate of cranberry-almond-oatmeal-marahoochie cookies while on a business trip to America's heartland -- so I took only one bite, to be polite.

The cookies had been baked by a friend's husband to take to his monthly Elks Club meeting or some such. As he was getting ready to leave, he found a few ladies gathered in his living room, preparing a take-out order for a Girls Night In; we were going to pick up dinner and take it back to my hotel. Generously he offered us a sample of his treats.

I felt sure one bite could not have any ill effect, especially once he explained that the usual dose was three whole cookies. Even the clean and sober friend who was chauffeuring me around that night shared a nibble from the piece I broke off. Interestingly, in retrospect, his own wife refrained -- though she did pack up the remaining cookies he had left us and put them in her purse. Just as I was being polite, she was being a good hostess.

Several hours went by, during which we got our Thai food and a bottle of wine and went to my hotel suite, actually a full two-bedroom apartment. We yakked and cackled and gossiped and grieved as women have done over rice noodles and dumplings since the world began. When my friend pulled the baggie of cookies out of her purse after dinner, I took one more bite -- it had not affected me one bit so far, and they were kind of yummy.

Meanwhile, I was awfully tired from my long day of travel, growing more and more heavy-lidded and horizontal. In a bit, my friends woke me up and told me to move to the bedroom; we all knew I had to be up at the podium lecturing early the next day and needed my rest. It had been a nice, quiet evening, especially since my visits to this very hotel in years past may have been responsible for a "no wild parties" agreement that guests were now required to sign upon check-in.

I got in bed and fell immediately into a deep sleep. Then, at some dark and silent hour of the January night, I bolted awake. What? I thought. What's happening? Moments later, sensing the strange environment inside my brain, I realized what it was. I was tripping balls from that damn cookie!

I tried to feel my way to a rational thought among the seething neurons in my skull, but all I could find was wahwahwahwahwahwah, a synth trombone with reverb turned up to 10, and I started to panic. Nothing quite like this had befallen me since the days of beer and windowpane, and I was reminded particularly of the night some 40 years earlier when Dean and Marshall and Nancy and Randy and I smoked angel dust in a parked car, then spent hours whispering our names out loud so we wouldn't forget them.

This memory led me to the first of the only two thoughts I was able to form and hang onto in my hours of vibrating mental disarray. This has happened to me before and it ended. I devoted my energy to keeping this idea from breaking into individual syllables and washing away into my amygdala. If this state were temporary, I would not have to spend the remainder of my days in an institution. Probably -- hopefully -- it would end before I had to go to work in the morning.

Morning. It seemed so very far away. Frantic and miserable, I considered waking my clean and sober friend sleeping in the other bedroom. Last resort, I concluded, and formed the interim plan of getting a drink of water. This involved a series of actions I was ill-fitted to perform, including walking, handling glassware and turning a faucet both on and off. Slumping against the counter, I maneuvered a sip into my mouth and tried to remember how to swallow. Holy hell. Enough of that. I wove back down the hall.

Lying stiff as a pin-jointed wooden anatomy doll between the hot, scratchy sheets, I had my second life-preserving thought. Stop being so negative! Maybe if you dial back the anxiety, this experience will turn out to be less terrible than you think. Maybe there was some value to be gained, some sort of spiritual epiphany. Maybe this was "fun" of some kind!

This second consolation proved sort of true, because I did have an epiphany, one which I need to have at regular intervals it seems -- which is, I like being straight. Clean, clear consciousness is a gift from God. Look at your dog! Look at your child! See how unnecessary all this getting loaded is? Drugs are just icky, even when you do get the 10 minutes of fake euphoria you were hoping for. Not to mention the much worse things that can happen than one night of mania. If I ever did recover from this nightmare (see Thought #1), I vowed never again to choose artificial chemical enhancement over what little clarity and mental hygiene I have left.

And so I motored helplessly through the funhouse of paranoia and confusion for the remainder of the night, unable to find the off switch, until finally it was time to get up. I was relieved to put on the conservative Mary Poppins-type dress I had brought to wear for my presentation, feeling it gave me a look of authority and probity I could do my best to embody behavior-wise. Sipping black coffee, I described my awful night to my clean and sober friend. She couldn't understand it -- her nibble had left her undisturbed.

Thankfully, I did pull off my lecture with no one noticing how flayed and exhausted I was. The Mary Poppins thing totally worked. It took me about three days to feel completely normal again, and I have been very happy to feel that way ever since.

I know my track record is poor, but root for me, kids.