The first time I tried weed on medication, I was pretty sure I had my life under control. After all, I had been seeing a therapist regularly. My grades were good. My familial relationships seemed calm and organized; there was reasonable chance that the boy I found cute at the time did not find my presence completely intolerable.
Most people probably would’ve enjoyed the feeling. According to online medical magazines, my medication can easily triple the effect of marijuana. Combined with a serving of alcohol, and the fact that the baker was inexperienced and had accidentally doubled the amount of weed the recipe called for, I was done. But the experience wasn’t fun, and for a few hours, I was convinced I was going to die. Only an hour after eating this cookie, I had collapsed on the floor of my friend’s apartment and started crying. I was falling in and out of consciousness, the living room around me spinning. While I responded to my friend’s nervous question articulately, time seemed stuck on loop. I blubbered like an idiot, desperately pleading for someone to call the police or the ambulance. “I can’t get out of my head,” I screamed.
Eventually, a friend managed to pull me through the city back to her room, where I proceeded to throw up. It was the first night of my life with an ending I couldn’t remember.
After that evening, I swore I wouldn’t consume weed again, not until I was off meds. In the following months, it wasn’t hard to say no at parties. I could spend a night sipping a light beer while my friends took shots. No one judged me, or asked what I was on. I wasn’t “going hard,” and that was fine. But I also wasn’t letting loose, in that way that college students often seem like they’re supposed to.
As exams approached, my schedule filled to the brim. Tests and papers and appointments recycled themselves to almost perfectly ensure that I couldn’t have a minute to myself. Every morning, waking exhausted and haunted by assignments and personal obligations, I popped a small, white pill into my mouth. Optimistically, I would wash it down with water. Realistically, I usually followed meds with coffee. Sometimes, it was alcohol.
In some ways, I felt powerful, mixing my perfect concoction of drugs. Coffee kept me jittery and awake; five-dollar lattes made me feel like I was working hard, even if my grades didn’t. My prescription reminded me that I was working on getting sane. Alcohol told my friends that I could relax if I wanted. I could consume things that made me feel strong.
In retrospect, I know I should have inquired with the part-time training nurse practitioner my university’s under-funded counseling services had provided. He had been writing my prescriptions, and I was running low. But in the rush and panic of school, which already exacerbated my mental illness, I simply assumed I would have a refill available at the local pharmacy. The day before I ran out of medication, I attempted buy more, only to discover that my nurse practitioner had not written a new prescription. I tried to get in contact with counseling services, but it was the weekend and this wasn’t an emergency. The idea of navigating the bureaucracy was nauseating. There were papers, tests, personal crises, and familial matters that needed attention. I emailed my nurse practitioner, but he wouldn’t be seeing my email until Monday. I swallowed my remaining pill that Thursday, and not ever anticipating that it would be my last for a while.
That next Friday evening, I felt nothing out-of-the-ordinary. Work had finally stopped, and there was another off-campus party in a local apartment complex.
Entering the room, I finally felt the peace of being in college. Kids of all sorts were in circles talking. My best friends laughed on a couch, jovial and together. I joined them with a smile on my face, excited to see me unoccupied and free to chat. My peers drank wine, beer, vodka, coke, no one too drunk and no one too sober. Brownies and cookies were served on the table like regular deserts, treats of the youth. Everyone was happy; I was happy. College was finally becoming glorious.
As the evening progressed, people diffused in and out of the party. Two boys in a large denim jacket, adorned in political buttons, hugged me hello, and took shots to celebrate the end of test-season. A girl in an oversized tee and wild hair passed around chips, smiling as eager hands dipped into what seemed an endless supply of snacks.
Then, a boy I had taken a liking for came over to talk to me.
“How are you?” He asked. His dark eyes sparkled, while his stance read as awkward and dorky, but nonetheless endearing.
“Fine,” I breathed out. The party was happening, but my mind was buzzing with anxiety and dark thoughts about what seemed like everything.
“That’s a good answer.”
“I’m great,” I said, suddenly nervous. He giggled at me, consistently noting my perpetual state of worry. “Want to get something?”
“Sure,” he said. But there were no brownies ready, so a friend nearby offered us some batter in a cup.
“Let’s head to the patio?”
I nodded, and we descended outside to the sparkling cityscape. Outside, the world was silent in a different way. While the peripheral city was loud and blaring, the space around us hummed below the sound of a whisper. We had found the type of rare, urban privacy that inspires teenagers to write shitty poetry. Behind local apartment buildings, a coffee shop and a bodega, the Northeast was bright in all my collegiate angst. The boy sat down at the table, and took a spoon-full of weed-brownie batter.
In the moment, I wanted to. I was off my meds; I could finally enjoy myself. And in florescent light, framed his wispy dark hair, he could look kind of beautiful. For a second, I thought I could finally figure him out, and the chocolate gooey batter, filled with chocolate chips and only a hint of its strong dose, was so good.
For the next two hours, I was content and relaxed– a state I often find foreign. With my mind blurry and simple, the environment surrounding me seemed crystal clear. We talked about our intellectual curiosities, peddling through personal anecdotes and historical references. As more people entered the patio to catch a breath of fresh air, we reentered the party.
I was at an uncomfortable tranquility; in the back of my mind, I ran circles worrying about whether I had forgotten about an obligation, missed an assignment, or accidentally failed a friend. Still, it was a type of peace.
Through conversations, I suddenly lost the feelings in my legs. The world seemed to start shaking, and I quick found my way to an armchair. I was high, but I was strangely scared. My fingers felt like they were tingling, burning at an irregular pace. I felt nausea in my head, beginning to nervously mutter that I needed to get home, to a bed. I felt so unsettled.
Eventually, my balcony boy told a friend that he was going to take me home. Though he was high out of his mind, I felt comfortable walking back home with him. It was late at night so cars wouldn’t be out, and I knew that I would be safe. I never told him about my mental health; I didn’t mention that this was an anxiety attack. That confession felt inappropriate in what I had hoped would be a night of youthful escape. I was supposed to be leaving medication and stress behind, but carelessly going off of my meds had left me confused and frustrated, and in no way free of mental illness.
The next morning, my hands still felt on fire, even though my anxiety had waned. I certainly wasn’t high. Touching metals burned my fingers, and set my nerves into what felt like an almost electrical effect. More than anything, I was scared that I had gone too far.
I wondered whether this could be an effect of the medication, and hurried to contact counseling services again, the beginning to a week that felt like taking an elevator through hell. On Sunday, I spent an entire afternoon moping around my campus alone. Ignoring my roommate and eating at least three almond blossom croissants from the local bakery (i.e., Starbucks), my mind tumbled through reverie, wondering if a high could actually last this long. This was my fault. On Monday, I started playing ping-pong with assignment due dates, and struggled to maintain focus in a simple conversation. I noticed that when I touched the objects around me, my entire body would tingle with an aggressive sensation. Typing on my keyboard burned, and touching any metal stung– hard. Tuesday wasn’t much different, and I realized that twisting my hair with my fingers felt like walking through beach sand on a hot day. In some ways, the feeling was fascinating. But talking with friends had become alienating and strange, and required digging myself out of my brain, and laboring to put together simple, responsive sentences.
It became clear that this was not weed; this was withdrawal. A bad one.
When counseling services finally responded, I was sent a prescription for five pills. Apparently, I could not get a new long-term prescription until I had finished another appointment. But I could not schedule an another appointment until the second day of my nurse practitioner’s two-week schedule came. The pills came and went, costing me the last twenty in my wallet, and I found myself yet again at the whim of my university’s health system. In the coming days, I would receive curt, unhelpful responses and irrelevant surveys. I would also receive multiple prescriptions that failed to meet basic insurance guidelines (making them unaffordable), which would delay my medication even more. Meanwhile, my body still burned. But when I finally told a school psychiatrist, he said it most likely had nothing to do with the medication, and was not interested in investigating further. It was probably the weed, he offered. I felt out of place arguing otherwise.
I ended up being off medication for a month. This was what carelessness could feel like, on both my own part and the individuals who were supposed to be looking after my mental health. This was carelessness.
And God, could it burn.
The author is a college student at a northeastern university. Photography by Rebecca Heilweil.