A thimbleful is all it takes. After a day’s work, I pinch off a small amount of marijuana and put it in a steel-tooth grinder. The flowers, covered in tiny white diamonds of THC, release a piney scent when crushed. I turn on the TV, and instead of taking a glass of wine with my evening news, I take out my vaporizer and set it on the coffee table.
Outside the walls of my bungalow in Oakland, California, I can hear the rush-hour traffic, but I’ve already changed into my Big Lebowski–style robe and slippers. I tap the ground flakes into a canister that I attach to another piece, this one with a bag on the end, and set both on the vaporizer. I flip the switch, and the bag slowly inflates with plumes of white smoke. Once it’s fully clouded, I attach a mouthpiece to the canister, put this to my lips, and press. On the inhale, the cannabinoids taste like sunned grass. My prescription for anxiety disorder didn’t always begin and end with an herb. But I’ve run through enough pharmaceutical drugs to know that pot dulls my panic better than any pill.
One could say I diagnosed myself in high school, when I recognized my symptoms in a psychology textbook. Finally, I had “generalized anxiety disorder” to describe the dread I felt of some future event that was overtaking my present. I usually sensed the panic attacks first in my chest. Then my vision would start to go to static, and my body would crumple to the floor. There I’d ride it out until the adrenaline ran its course.
Soon after I started to suffer several of these episodes a day (and so often that fear of another one kept me indoors), I sought out a psychiatrist. I told her about the times I’d be driving and convince myself that I was about to spin off the road—the looping, invented terrors. A little talk therapy and a prescription later, I discovered that Zoloft only exacerbated my panic and depression. I stopped taking the little white pills and cut out caffeine instead; I exercised and practiced meditation. For years I abstained from medication, and aside from the occasional pot smoking with friends, I swore off drugs entirely.
By the time I graduated from college, I knew all about the female hysteric and how anxiety was still cast as a womanly defect. Women experience generalized anxiety disorder at twice the rate of men. Every year, as many as 4.5 million American women are diagnosed with GAD—not including the several other permutations of anxiety disorders, namely social phobia, obsessive-compulsiveness, post-traumatic stress, and agoraphobia—for which, as with most mental illnesses, they are prescribed medications. Thus, I resisted pills for the backward “rest cure” and institutionalization they stood for: the only thing to be done for the hysterical female.