three have gone viral and attracted a far greater response than others. One was an article that I wrote taking fellow Boomers to task for being so predictable and stereotypical in their approach to motorcycling. This got into the Harley community and all of the weekend rebels in studded belts, black t-shirts and Nazi helmets gave me holy hell. The second was a series that I wrote on using dawn redwoods (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) as bonsai. This is admittedly a highly specialized audience but I have answered responses and inquiries from, literally, all over the world.
The third is a piece that I wrote about a year ago in my on-going “Live-Blogging Parkinson’s” series entitled “Parkinson’s and Marijuana”. It became visible because of the simplicity of the title. Anyone seeking to google information on Parkinson’s and marijuana landed squarely on my door step. And land there they did! Over the past year I have read comments, emails and PMs from Parkinson’s suffers that have been saddening, uplifting, terrifying, inspiring and sobering. Mostly these are people who are simply seeking relief – any relief - from the torments of Parkinsonism and are willing to try any option. I feel that I can be most useful by elaborating on what I’m learning.
On the Parkinson’s scale of 1 to 10, I’d place myself at about 5.26. It’s not severe, it’s not debilitating or disabling, but it makes me slow, deliberate and bumbling. I shuffle my feet, take fifteen minutes to put on my pants and tie my shoes, and speak so softly that I often must repeat myself. I no longer vault fences, lift heavy objects or race children, but I can still pound the fuzz off of a tennis ball, waddle a couple of miles on the track, keep my bonsais alive and run in cool grass with bare feet. Compared to Mohamed Ali or Michael J. Fox, I am an infant. But just this week I had someone say to me for the first time that they knew someone else with Parkinsonism whose symptoms weren’t as bad as mine. How depressing. It’s all relative.
Disclaimer: If you are a whiner, crusader, abolitionist, rogue cop, one-issue-Annie, or potential client or employer… please just go away. Really. Do this now………(pause)………… If however, you are seeking an honest viewpoint on how marijuana may effect your Parkinsonism, good or bad, then read on. It is for you that I offer this public service.
I have always divided the recreational pharmacy into two groups: mind drugs and body drugs. The mind drugs are those that effect mental perception and imagination; they essentially let the mind go free... with the body becoming a vehicle. This group includes marijuana, hashish, psilocybin, LSD and peyote. Body drugs primarily work to make you feel good physically. They temporarily aide the body but leave the mind to be damned. Body drugs include heroine, methamphetamines, barbiturates and pain killers. Cocaine, nitrous oxide and alcohol, although primarily body drugs, sit somewhere in the middle and can, situationally, be argued for either side. Plainly (and with questionable grammar): one group makes you think good, the other makes you feel good. For purposes of this discussion however, we will limit ourselves to marijuana.
I have been a productive stoner all of my adult life. I am now 62 years old and am confident that if they assay my mortal remains when I die it will show carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorus, amino acids, cholesterol, proteins, lemonade, acetaminophen, popcorn, air pollution, kidney stones and pot… in varying percentages. But I’ve always been professional and discreet about it: I never carry more than a tiny amount, I never offer it to someone who’s not smoked before, I don’t smoke in parked cars, I respect the second-hand air space of others and I NEVER sell it… I either share it, hide it, or give it away. To me it’s a private and personal thing like love-making, meditation, crying and seeing something new for the first time. But there’s always the downside and that usually involves social interplay when you begin to “crash”: fatigue and lethargy, social avoidance, forgetfulness and general dumb-and-stupid. Pay close attention to this last group because that is where the dangerous overlap with Parkinson’s occurs.
As I’ve said before, smoking pot and Parkinsonism can be likened to the canary in the bird cage used by miners to detect bad air ahead. For me personally, pot magnifies the symptoms of Parkinsonism. It allows me to look down the road and experience what my symptoms will be like in the future. It may work that way for you, you may find looking down the road to be helpful… or not. I warn you: the future is not pretty. It’s doable… but not pretty.
For instance, the following are my major symptoms and the approximate order in which I began to notice them:
1. unsure walking
2. falling backwards
3. soft voice
5. muscle cramps (especially feet and legs)
6. forgetfulness / train of thought
7. the "shakes”
I didn’t really notice my Parkinsonism and have it diagnosed until I was between #3 and #4. (I will address the specifics of each of these in future posts; today I want to confine my remarks to the effects of pot.) I began to feel unsteady on my feet and felt my voice losing its crispness, as if my vocal
cords had lost their snap. This seemed to worsen slightly when I caught a buzz, but I chalked it up to the old dumb-and-stupid thing.
It wasn’t until I got to slowness that I really began to notice the difference. Simple things like reaching behind to put my belt into a belt loop, brushing my teeth, turning the page on a book or using a computer mouse began to take on a purposefulness that was never there before and made me feel like I was in slow motion (which in fact, I was).
But here’s my point: marijuana tended to exaggerate those things and make them aware to me months to years before I began to experience them straight. They allowed me to “look into the future” and experience the symptoms down the road. And sure enough, pot pretty much proved the future to be true. But it’s not debilitating, it doesn’t seem to permanently erode you, it just heightens your awareness of the problem and gives you a “heads up.” It’s an experiential thing which is really what the pot is about in the first place.
Another example: I don’t really experience the shakes yet, except when I am especially fatigued. But at times when I’m high I can feel this latent quivering in my body – a primordial shake that hasn’t come to the surface yet. But in it, I can clearly feel where the shakes come from and how it will
likely be when they finally do. It suggests to me that meditation and self-relaxation techniques are probably the approaches I’ll want to emphasize when the shakes become a problem.
Bear in mind though that you must be aware of the aftereffects as well: the fatigue and stupor that creeps in as the buzz begins to wear off can be a struggle – especially with Parkinsonism. You may become asocial (not antisocial), incommunicative, bumbling, forgetful and distracted. A nice nap usually clears this up. Don’t plan any job interviews or first dates during this time.
Above all, your job is to keep the canary in the cage alive. The canary represents your spirit and your vitality and in many ways when the canary dies, your spirit and vitality won’t be far behind. If you become so depressed and defeated by your condition that you give up… then you have lost the war. Pot can make you more self-aware. It can help you empathize with the canary’s frailties. Meditation, stretching and relaxation, exercise, social interaction and/or dopamine supplements may have the same effect. Pot is just an option, a supplement – even a diversion - but it is not a solution or a cure.
Conclusion: if you are suffering from Parkinsonism and seeking relief, I applaud you for going on the Internet and searching for ideas. After all, it is only you and your doctor who will ultimately have to tackle this… no one else. I am just one voice, one opinion, one set of experiences, one unique life path. Hopefully you will simply integrate what I’ve said it into the other things that you’re learning – that’s not Parkinsonism or pot… that’s life.
Pot is a mind drug, it is not a body drug. It affects how you perceive and how you experience… not how you feel. If smoking marijuana helps you deal with the future, helps you relax and helps you put your predicament in its proper perspective then, yes, it may be helpful for you. But if you find that it makes you overly paranoid or insecure than you may want to avoid it. Just remember this: marijuana won’t make the symptoms go away, nor will it “cure” you. It will only allow you to lighten up a bit, wrap your mind around the whole issue and look down the road to see what may be coming at you next. One man’s weed is another man’s marijuana…
As always, it’s your choice.
(Disclosure: I have taken the summer off to dedicate myself to completing two writings projects that I refuse to put off any longer. I am happy to report that one is now in print and that the other will be published this fall. (See jeff-howe.net for details.) I have purposely gotten rid of all of my
pot and am not getting high this summer so that I don’t become a parody of Cheech and Chong. I would be remiss in my duties if I didn’t report that I’m getting a LOT done…)