“Go on, you can finish it,” he said, as I held the mouthpiece of a portable dabbing device to my lips. The business end of the device was hovering over an extremely potent cannabis rosin, freshly pressed from a high-THC sativa bud. I did my best to follow instructions, but had to pause before finishing the blob of concentrate held before me.
From that point things went south – rapidly. My legs gave way and a small crowd gathered around as people tried to revive me with sugary drinks and breathing exercises.
It was mid-March 2018, and I was in Barcelona attending the annual Spannabis – the world’s largest cannabis event.
I’ll be the first to admit I’m not a hardcore dabber, but it was unusual for me to react in such a way. Once back on my feet and talking again, I was not out of the woods by any means. Despite not looking so green, my mind was in a dark place.
I was in a foreign country surrounded by strangers and paranoia took hold in a terrifying way. As far as I was concerned, I was about to get whacked and there was nothing I could do to avoid it. Snippets of conversations I heard cemented this dark fantasy I was internally concocting. I was having a THC-induced psychotic episode, which is kind of embarrassing to say the least – especially when your vocation is bullishly writing about the benefits of cannabis.
Even though I was convinced I was about to come to a sticky end, I somehow had enough awareness to keep these fears to myself and not run off screaming into the night. As far as those with me were concerned, I had simply pulled a “whitey”.
Easter Trip To Accident & Emergency
A month later – the day before Easter weekend – I collapsed.
And this time, no cannabis was involved. I was unable to open my eyes, let alone walk. I spent the weekend in intensive care. My potassium levels had dropped dangerously low, and I was on the verge of cardiac arrest.
For ten years I’d been trying to keep my blood pressure in check. As far as the doctors were concerned it was hereditary and I would need to take pills to control the hypertension for the rest of my life, which would most likely be shorter than average.
It seemed no matter how many pills I took – or changes I made to my lifestyle – my blood pressure was still dangerously high. I had resorted to consuming cannabis to control anxiety, ease pain in my lower back, help me sleep, control headaches and battle depression. Cannabis helped me avoid a whole plethora of pharmaceuticals.
It was the amazing success I had with cannabis that convinced me to make the career leap into the emerging cannabis industry in Europe.
My radically decreased potassium levels were a clue as to what could be causing these problems. My doctor suspected that I could have a tumour on one of my adrenal glands. This is a relatively rare condition known as hyperaldosteronism, or “Conn’s disease”.
Berlin: City Of Spies
By early summer, medical investigations were under way, but there was no confirmation of the diagnosis. I carried on documenting my adventures in the cannabis industry. At another cannabis event in Berlin, I again had a similar experience to the one at Spannabis – though not quite so public. As soon as I sensed things were not right, I returned to the safety of my Airbnb and hid under the duvet with a smoothie, a selection of paleo energy bars and a vape pen packed with CBD crystals.
In my case, the benign tumour – which was growing on my right adrenal gland – was performing the same function as the gland itself. In effect, I had two and a half adrenal glands and over time one of them was growing, which was steadily making things worse.
Your adrenal glands produce aldosterone, a hormone which helps control blood pressure by holding onto sodium and losing potassium from the blood. Hyperaldosteronism is a disease in which the adrenal glands make too much aldosterone, leading to high blood pressure, low blood potassium levels, headaches, lower back pain and other symptoms. It’s enough to make even the most optimistic person miserable.
It’s no wonder that my stress hormones were working overtime, leaving me in a constant fight-or-flight state. In hindsight, it seemed all of the issues plaguing me could be attributed to this slow growth on my adrenal gland – which could have been there for many years.
Cannabis, my medicine of choice, was both helping and hindering me. As many of us know, high quantities of THC can lead to paranoia. When you’re already in an increased paranoid state, it can push you to places I would highly recommend not visiting.
The Tumour Had To Go
As soon as we had confirmation of the presence of the tumour, I was scheduled for surgery to get it removed.
I am one of the lucky few people who can say they were cured from high blood pressure.
Others are not so lucky. The majority of cases of hyperaldosteronism are found in the autopsy. Lying in A&E on the verge of a heart attack over Easter brought that home to me in very real terms.
Once the faulty adrenal gland was out, the other one kicked in to compensate. I’ve been pharmaceutical-free since the morning of my operation – over four months ago. And my blood pressure is a very comfortable 120/80.
After ten years of being dependent on powerful drugs, this is akin to being reborn.
Grow Your Own Meds
Belgium does not provide medical cannabis (unless you suffer from MS), so I was given no choice but to grow my own supply. Due to my increased sensitivity to high THC strains – which are the only types available to the majority of people via criminals (thanks prohibition) – I had made the switch to growing CBD-rich strains.
The strains I grow have around 10% CBD and 10% THC. This golden 1:1 ratio works great for me. I still get the pleasant and medicinal effects of consuming THC, but the CBD counteracts any paranoia.
In the hospital awaiting my operation, I brought in a few buds of CBD-rich cannabis and a discreet vaporiser. I would pop outside – past the smokers blocking the hospital entrance – and vape this.
The evening before the operation the nurse asked if I wanted anything to calm my nerves and help me sleep. I declined her offer and settled for my own organically grown relaxant and sleep aid.
Post-operation, I was immobile and in a lot of pain, but my supply of homegrown cannabis got me through this discomfort (and the boredom). Though, I must admit the morphine drip did help.
Cannabis Didn’t Cure Me
So, that’s my cannabis tale. I’ve been candid about my relationship with cannabis over the years, but I’d never gotten to the root of why I was drawn to the plant in such a way. I just knew it helped me.
It would have been perfect for me to fall victim to a fatal disease that was miraculously cured by cannabis.
In reality, it was more complex than that.
Cannabis helped me limit my exposure to potentially dangerous pharmaceutical drugs and made me comfortable enough to get by.
Pharmaceuticals kept me alive long enough to find this tumour and advances in western medical technology were able to identify and remove the affected adrenal gland. They all complemented each other very nicely.
Cannabis did not cure me, but it helped me. However, it also put me in harm’s way regarding my mental health. Well, it wasn’t actually cannabis, but too high a dose of just one active component – THC.
On closer analysis, that harm is directly a result of prohibition. It’s prohibition that pushed cannabis underground, which created strains so high in THC (and low in CBD) in the first place. I’m not saying THC is bad, but too much of it was bad for me in my situation.
Cannabis is not illegal because it is dangerous, but it can be dangerous because it is illegal.