‘The Grim Reaper looked at me and beckoned me with his bony finger,’ shudders the young man in front of me. It is, or rather was, a sporty and sober type. He played football, had completed his studies and worked hard. He took space cake once and smoked a joint once; it went horribly wrong. He ended up in a nightmare.
In my time it was still called soft drugs. It wasn’t all that bad if you smoked a joint every now and then. Experiment a little. That’s an outdated idea. In our practice you pick them out like this: people who have smoked weed for a long time. It’s like they’ve been watered down to a vague version of themselves. Lifeless and without passion.
Research (by Trimbos) shows that young people who smoke cannabis show less initiative, are less persevering and do not make much effort to achieve goals. Young people who smoke weed learn less well how to deal with problems. As a result, the young person can get less far in life than would have been the case without smoking weed.
During the client meeting, it is often about young people who feel empty and who struggle with their identity. Then we look at each other: drugs. When you’re young, you don’t realize that smoking weed affects your future. That does not immediately happen with incidental use, but beware, it is not innocent.
What many people don’t know is that cannabis use can lead to stress, panic attacks or even psychotic states. “For three days I was thrashing on a sick bed,” the boy recalls. “I was sure I was going to die.” He started hallucinating and couldn’t sleep. After five sleepless nights, he was completely exhausted.
“Death was lurking at me from the corner,” he recalls. They pumped him full of drugs and for months he lived like a zombie. Step by step he struggled out of the swamp. “I’m never touching that stuff again.” He can’t yet tell his story without sweaty hands and reliving experiences.
My client lost his job. He’s been in the rag basket for a year and a half now and is climbing back up. First the fear has to leave his body. He can’t stand noise and a lot of people. Those are all triggers that whip up the fear again. He walks four times a week and temporarily lives with his parents.
Don’t think this is an exception. I remember the bizarre story of a former client. He jumped off an apartment building after smoking weed. Why? He doesn’t remember, but it felt fantastic. The following years felt less fantastic. It took him endless sessions of rehabilitation and therapy to become human again.
Just a confession: I myself had a severe anxiety attack when I was fifteen after smoking weed. Everything started to float. Never done again. My girlfriend got me home with great difficulty. It remains impossible to predict who will flip and who won’t. I didn’t expect it with the tough guys mentioned above.
If someone had told me back then that you can become psychotic or have panic attacks, I never would have tried it. Young people play down danger. So don’t compare. Drugs are dangerous. Don’t be tolerant if someone close to you smokes weed regularly. Problematize that trade!
(ed) Guest blog by psychotherapist Catheleyne van der Laan. She is also the author of the book Unnoticed further.