But with weed, it’s gone beyond my wildest teenage stoner expectations.
Cannabis is now legal or decriminalised in over 50 countries worldwide. The amount of strains and flavours is never-ending and it’s easier to source a strain with THC levels that complement you than it ever has been before.
Dabs, vapes, edibles, concentrates and oils have opened up many healthier ways to get high without damaging your lungs, using harmful tobacco or causing an anti-social spliffy stink and the emergence of CBD has been a game-changer, allowing even more people to enjoy relaxing benefits without the hazy head high. And that’s before you look at the weed industry being a much welcome boost during a savage global economic climate.
Essentially, for 420 heads, we are living in a new golden era of variety, smoke-free choice, discretion and liberation.
But such abundance and a much more commercial presence is not to be taken lightly. As weed has moved from alternative / niche culture to a much more mainstream discourse there’s a danger it can cause too much an overly-casual approach to what is still an incredibly potent substance. While weed is never likely to lead to aggressive behaviour like alcohol can, or lead to intense physical dependency like heroin does, it still packs dangers and comes with some pretty heavy baggage including mental health complications and strong dependency issues.
I write from experience. For over 25 years I smoked it daily from breakfast to bed. For me weed was the voice of reason. If I was feeling down, it would help me flip the situation and see a wider, more hopeful picture. If I was feeling fizzy with too many over-active thoughts, weed would help me focus and zone in on what I needed to focus on.
It gave me a filter to stop me speaking my mind too much and offending people. It fired my senses and made music, films and food even better than they already are and it frequently triggered my brain with ideas and different, often very humorous or surreal, perspectives and thoughts. Essentially it gave me a safety blanket, a silly, snug cloak of fog to hide behind while I dig deeper and deeper into my craft.
I saw this relationship and use as healthy. Besides the tobacco intake, it generally was. Weed suits me, I never got paranoid (beyond the usual levels of acute cynicism, scepticism and high volumes of misanthropy and dispair at humankind) and I’m happy with all the things I’ve created while using it and the friends I’ve made through it.
But I was never comfortable with the way my brain would behave if I couldn’t get hold of it. Not to mention brushes with the law. I knew eventually I’d have to knock such a strong dependency on the head, especially as a father, but I was so attached to it influence in everything I did in life, I was convinced it would be too much of a brutal break-up for me to tackle… So I’d always put it off for another day.
Then Drum&BassArena invited me to step in front of the camera instead of being behind it for so long. Being stoned on camera wasn’t appealing, no matter how comfortable I was with my heavy usage. It would have quashed my new role as a presenter before it even began, so my relationship started to change from that moment. Any days I was filming I’d operate completely straight. It was an experience and headspace I found thrilling and completely refreshing after years of merrily working in a thick haze of Mary Jane.
Two years later I start working on Vision Radio. Another dream gig, I listened back to every show pinching myself that I’m hosting a radio show with Noisia… But then cringing hard at the amount I was rasping and wheezing between announcements. This, plus a lockdown-induced skintness that was painful and wrought with anxiety, led to me quitting smoking weed entirely within months of joining the show.
The change in my life was exhilerating. The freedom I felt was instant; I no longer had to find sneaky ways to pop out for a spliff every hour. Supply issues didn’t keep me awake at night. I was even more charged with ideas and inspiration that I had been (including the making and branding and actualisation of this site) As the weeks went by my patience improved no end and I realised the thing that I felt was taking the edge off and keeping me calm was actually creating a lot of the edge in the first place.
Don’t get it twisted. I still have a deep appreciation for THC on a major level and most evenings I’m still shrouded in that silly snug foggy cloak digging even deeper into my craft than ever (thanks to edibles and vapes). But rather than using it to deal with literally every decision and creative process, it’s become fun again. An affordable tonic to tolerate the scary late stage capitalist times, I’m back in control. Most importantly I’ve not touched tobacco since September 2021, my head is clear throughout the day, my stress levels are low, my output is high and, investing some of the money I’ve saved by giving up regular zootage on personal training sessions, my health has never been better.
I cannot express how life-changing these changes have been and I’ve since encountered many other people who have experienced similar relationship issues with weed. All of them experiencing that intense dependency that ripples through everything you do in life, creating that feeling that situations and circumstances are much more stressful without a zoot. It turns out they’re really not. In fact in most cases, they’re much more manageable when you’re not high.
To mark this year’s 420, I spoke to 11 artists who’ve all been on different weed journeys in their life and come through the other end. This is not an anti-weed feature by any stretch of the imagination. But the devil’s lettuce deserves a devil’s advocate and it’s important to responsibly discuss a culture that runs rife in our music and scene and is taken too lightly by far too many users.
If weed is your thing and you’re feeling nothing but benefits then toot on (maybe cut the backy out if you can) But if any of this resonates with you, then please read on and hear from others who’ve all had very different experiences with green and come out the other side. Huge thanks to everyone who contributed to this unapologetically longform article. Happy 420.
“I was a lazy stoner, absolutely bone idle,” laughs Akov. “I could eat a tub of ice cream and feel I’d accomplished what I needed that day.”
A polymath of many projects across multiple genres from breaks to metal via his neuroid signature sledgehammery, Vienna-based man/bear Alex Akov loved a zoot or two during his early years. Growing up in a hippified Devon village the green stuff was always available and always high quality. But so were the eventual side effects.
“Looking back, I’d become an observer on weed,” he reflects. “I’m often someone who would lead the conversation, or be part of it or be cracking some type of witty remark. But the more I was smoking, the more that part of me disappeared. I’d sit there and listen rather than take part.”
“Then I started to get panic attacks from it,” he continues. “That was a huge part of stopping. It’s meant to relax you but for me it would get to the point where I couldn’t finish sentences. My head would be too chaotic for me to even try and say anything even if I wanted to.”
This passive behaviour and chaotic mind led to issues in the studio, too. “I knew I should be making music but I just couldn’t be motivated,” explains Akov who was starting to make himself known on labels such as Mindtech, Drum&BassArena and Neurofunkgrid, catching the ears of both A.M.C and Jade who were hitting him up for demos for their labels around this time. “I’d have an idea in my head but, if I was stoned, that’s exactly where it would stay. But as soon as I stopped, my career as Akov started. Quitting over the course of two years, I developed a completely different mindset and I was actually able to finish tunes!”
An instant deal sealer, Alex needed no more convincing that weed was not for him. “There’s direct correlation between these things,” he explains. “Without a doubt it was definitely holding me back. And there’s no way I could return to it. I have so many negative memories and feelings associated with it I just wouldn’t be able to relax enough to do it. Even the smell of it is a big turn off.”
For Alex quitting weed highlighted a much bigger issue regarding any type of dependency. “The first thing I noticed was the self-righteousness of a lot of stoners, like ‘Oh it’s not a drug, it’s a medicine’,” he notes. “No mate, it’s still a drug. Granted it’s not as harmful as alcohol but it can definitely cause dependency issues and I don’t think it’s healthy to have a dependency on anything. That mindset opens you up to developing a toxic dependent relationship with other things and that feeling that you NEED something to cope with life. I think if anyone is beginning to feel that way about any type of vice then it needs to be re-evaluated. Moderation, with anything, is key…”
“I’d be non-stop vomiting, nausea, I wouldn’t be able to hold anything down. My stomach was empty and I was still retching. I was losing weight. It would go on for up to 2 weeks…”
This is not a description you’d associate with weed. Even the person who told us about this experience didn’t expect the symptoms to be associated with weed at the time. Such is the case with the lesser known condition called CHS: cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome.
A rare condition that’s only really started to be documented in recent years, CHS is the result of long-term daily cannabis use on your gastrointestinal system and how gastric acids are inhibited and inflammation is caused. It can cause prolonged periods of vomiting and for the anonymous artist who told us this story, repeated visits to A&E and several days on an IV drip.
“It was a traumatic experience and pain like I’ve never felt in my life. Continuously and acutely. And the worst thing? Never once did I think it was the weed!” says the UK-based artist who would prefer to remain anonymous and let their music and their many other creative actions define them. “I loved weed so much! I was high-functioning and using it to self-medicate for a lot of things – insomnia, hyperactive thoughts, over-anxiety, depression. So even while I was in hospital experiencing the worst pain in my life, I was still sneaking out of hospital for a joint! Little did I know that was the very thing that was causing the pain!”
The eventual discovery that it was weed causing the pain came about through their own research about giving up. “I knew I needed to give it up or take a very long term break from it because it had become something I did morning, noon and night. I knew it wasn’t healthy in that way, but I was really scared about doing this. Like how do you stop doing something you enjoy and rely on so much?”
Further reading led to more and more examples that described the same acute abdominal pains and vomiting. “That’s when the penny started to drop. But a lot of doctors don’t know about this,” they continue. “It’s commonly misdiagnosed because so little documentation is out there. But people are beginning to find out more. That’s why I wanted to share my experience.”
For this artist, misinformation about weed is why they’ve shared their story. “I was misinformed growing up as a teenager that it’s one of the safest drugs,” they state. “All the discourse was that it was safe and, because of that preconception, we abuse it. There is a lot of toxic peer-to-peer influence, there are many long-term health issues related to smoking. I mean, anything in excess is going to be bad for you, right?”
Covid was the spliff that broke the camel’s back. Lockdown had caused supply issues and catching a particularly virulent dose of the rona led to them being unable to source, smoke or even think about weed for several weeks. “Weirdly it cured my insomnia,” they laugh. “I’d not slept like that forever. And after a few weeks of that, I wasn’t even thinking about weed anymore.”
In a theme that’s rife throughout this whole article, following their recovery from covid they began to experience various positive changes in their life. “I’m 100% more productive now,” says the artist who’s launched a label and achieved many things since they’ve changed their lifestyle. “I’ve got so much energy! I used to be in a slump, even if I didn’t admit it to myself.”
Most importantly, the stomach pains have since cleared. Quitting weed (beside the occasional recreational puff) was the biggest lifestyle change they made during their recovery and they’ve not felt any similar symptoms since. “I wasn’t officially diagnosed with it but I’m certain this was what I was suffering from and what I would say is that if you’ve been a long-term weed smoker and you’re experiencing those type of symptoms please get it checked out and find out more about it. I wish I’d have known about it sooner than I did.”
“I used to not be able to get by without it, now I can’t get by with it,” laughs Sheffield junglist Charla Green who smoked daily since her early teens. “I’d never not been stoned since the age of 15. Every job interview I went to I always made sure I was stoned so they wouldn’t they know me any other way!”
The clue is in her alias name; Green played an incredibly potent role in Charla’s life for years and provided many benefits as she used it help her cope with her rapid cycling bipolar disorder. “It helped me keep calm and make better choices and not be so rash or impulsive,” she explains.
For Charla, self-medicating THC felt a lot more holistic in her life than the doctor-prescribed anti-depressants and anti-psychotics. “I prefer the natural remedies, you know?” says Charla. “Meds have always left me feeling numb and not really in control of anything.”
Naturally her relationship with weed continued beyond any medicinal intake and became part of her life socially and creatively. “Whatever studio I’ve had, I’ve always been able to smoke in there,” she tells us. “So it became a big part of the process. But I think to be honest I would use that as an excuse like, ‘Oh I got a studio day today, better get some nice weed in.”
Explaining how being high in the studio would help her focus in on ideas and channel her creativity, for Charla weed and THC was a huge source of positivity for years. Things changed drastically when she became pregnant. “I was thinking about cutting down before that,” Charla explains. “Just because I was spending money I didn’t have, scraping 20ps out of my penny jar when I should have been buying food, you know? Then when I got pregnant that was it, I had to stop and now I’ve had her I’ve barely smoked at all. It’s just not the same for me anymore… For something I loved so much for so long, I just can use it any more. Even if I wanted to, I just don’t feel comfortable getting high any more.”
More prolific than she’s ever been before, becoming a mum has flipped everything for Charla in terms of how she uses her time and how she views her creativity. “I thought that I needed to have a joint, that it’s a big part of me and that it’s giving me my creativity,” says Charla who gave up mid-way during her EQ50 mentorship. “But I’ve always been creative since I was born, I’ve all I’ve ever done is make art, so giving up had made me realise that the creativity is in me anyway. You really don’t need it. I still love weed and everything it’s given and done for me, it’s just not for me now and I’m happy I’ve arrived at this point in the way I have.”
“Imagine you’re the promoter. We’ve never met, besides a few email exchanges, right? I get off the plane and instantly I’m like, ‘Have you got the weed? Where’s the weed? I specifically asked you to bring weed.’ You might try a, ‘Nice to meet you guys. How are you? Maybe we can get the weed later? Shall we go the hotel?’ And I guarantee you’ll be met with, ‘Where’s my f**king weed?’ No pleasantries, just orders…”
The legendary MC Conrad paints a vivid picture that any weed-committed touring artist or professional will recognise. Especially after a long haul. “Me and a few colleagues developed quite the reputation for it for a while,” he laughs. “In the end I started taking my own with me, which adds a whole other layer of drama let me tell you!”
Conrad rolls up a menu of surreal and sketchy tales of near-misses and close calls, highlighting how much of a hold weed can have over its users; he was prepared to risk his career as an international performer in order to get high on arrival. “It was my shield,” he offers. “My happy place. No one could touch me when I was there. I was convinced I needed it before I did anything.”
What began as a coping mechanism during a short time at a care facility in his teens, became a relationship he’d maintained for over 40 years. Many moments he looks back at fondly; its soothing and relaxing properties, the humour and creativity he found in it and the friendship you make over it. But largely he knew deep down it wasn’t doing him as many favours as he wished it would. “It’s been more of a hinderance than a help over the years,” he reflects. “It became my calling card for a while and definitely caused a lot of procrastination. You end up rolling around in a beautiful creative thought. You’re thinking, ‘Bro write that down, write that down! There’s your block of wood, get carving! But then you’d have another spliff…”
Weed free since January this year, Conrad’s relationship with green has been slowly crumbling since he gave up tobacco in 2021. “Once I’d got the nicotine out of the situation a neat spliff could sit in the ashtray all day and I’d just have the odd pull,” he explains. “I noticed I was smoking less and less because I was buying less Rizlas and less weed. Eventually I realised it was taking me three days to smoke one neat spliff and I thought, ‘What is the point?’ All the pitstops I’d normally make I just wasn’t making any more. Like this conversation now. I’d be sitting here skinning up while we’re talking!”
Three month clean, it’s early days for Conrad to reflect on life after giving up but he’s already noticing benefits. “Well I’ve already noticed I’m coughing up a lot less gack and crap off my chest before I record or perform,” he admits. “And my pocket is better off for it, too, which is a huge benefit right now with costs the way they are… Am I happy living in darkness and having a smoke or not having a smoke and putting the radiators on?”
Once again he paints another vivid picture that many weed-committed person will relate to…
Besides, perhaps, The Ganja Kru, few artists in D&B have expressed their love for the sticky-icky as loudly and proudly as Chopstick Dubplate founder Jacky Murda. A dedicated weed connoisseur for the best part of 40 years, amid Jacky’s vast and varied discography are over 30 tracks about green including Sundown, Herbs Toast, Herb Affi Bun, 50 Pound A Weed by way and many more.
Beyond the music, Jacky also ran his own weed farm in California for several years and can spend hours talking about the science behind THC, oil extraction and distillation techniques, the entourage effect and various ingestion methods. Of all the artists you’d expect not to be in this article, it’s Jacky. But times change, life changes and global pandemics can change your life in an abrupt and shocking way.
“Very long story short? Covid fucked my life up and kicked me in the ass!” laughs Jacky who was living a rather comfortable life in Cali until his wife fell out of love with the US and wanted to move back to the UK. “When covid hit the whole live music thing stopped. There were no bookings. The guy I had employed to run my weed farm had fucked everything up over there, so that stopped paying too. I was like, ‘Oh shit! I need to do something different!’ So I started retraining to be a software engineer…”
Here marks the start of an epic shift in focus and headspace for Jacky. In several ways. After almost 30 years in the music game – a game where weed is wholly accepted – it was time for a change. And that change required a very different focus.
“I spent a year and a half learning online teaching myself, and after I did a super intensive bootcamp at General Assembly, like 60 hours a week coding” Jacky explains. “Right after completing the bootcamp the tech job market took a massive downturn, with unprecedented layoffs, and it took me eight fucking months to find my tech starter dream job. I’d never had a ‘real job’ before. In the interim my wife was bugging out with me at home contstantly applying and interviewing instead of on the road, so even though we didn’t need the money I started cheffing to get out the house. Unfortunately it wasn’t enough because she still left me. As you might imagine, I had a lot anxiety after that…”
From music to matrimony, all chips were down for Chops. So he consequently knocked THC on the head. “I can’t get high and code well so it was going to happen anyway, but these circumstances definitely pushed me,” Jacky admits.
“Programming at this stage in my journey uses a completely different part of my brain, more reflective and less intuitive, and most of software engineering is applying what you know to each very unique situation, so I just can’t be high. It’s not enjoyable in any way.” It wasn’t for the lack of trying, but every time Jacky tried to step up to a coding class or exercise while under the influence it became an incredibly stressful experience.
“It just wasn’t working any more,” says Jacky who still enjoys a little THC from time to time but only socially, sparingly and on special occasions. “I’ve definitely entered a new era of how I think, how I do things and I don’t have any issues with it. I guess it just took me a little longer than most to grow up!”
For Jacky the revolutionary prospect of job security and great pay coupled with the excitement and challenge of learning something new, had much more value than an old lifestyle habit that he’d been holding down for years.
“It’s insane how different I’ve become in the three years that have passed,” he reflects. “I actually think my brain is working better now than it’s ever worked.”
With new boosts comes a new creative perspective. Chopstick Dubplate releases have temporarily slowed while Jacky continues to thrive in the software world. Bt he’s already working on the next chapter, and with a very different way of working. “I don’t have the time to just blaze and fuck around,” he laughs. “I have limited time available and want to maximize my output now. When you’re there for hours and hours and hours on the same loop, endlessly tweaking and rolling the next spliff? Dude, there’s a lot of time wasting when you’re high in the studio!”
If anyone can tell us about the influence of weed on one’s creative output, it’s Markee Ledge.
A key protagonist in the earliest stages of the Bristol D&B movement and a consistent supplier of beats ever since, be it under the names Substance, Kosheen or Markee Ledge he’s written everything from game-changing underground bangers to some of the earliest D&B crossover top 10 hits. He’s toured the world and experienced the full spectrum of a life in the music industry. And he’s done so almost entirely high.
“It can be a great tool and I love it when I have it under control,” ponders Markee. A smoker for the best part of 40 years, he’s forever in pursuit of balance. “I mean weed and music go hand in hand, right? But as a writer it find it difficult to discern what I’m feeling. The minute you’ve had too much you lose focus and everything just sounds great. You need to keep that discerning part of your mind sharp or you just chase yourself around and around in circles. It’s like a weed paralysis.”
Markee is full of tips on how to get that perfect balance of clarity and altered state when it comes to creativity. “My best advice is to prepare exactly what you want to achieve from a session before you touch any weed,” he explains. “When you know what you’re going to do and you have everything in place to do that, then a little smoke can help that flow. But if you go in stoned without that vision, you’re fucked from the off mate.”
Another tip is a little more direct and disciplined… “Just remove every bit of weed, rizlas and everything else from your studio!” he laughs. “Even those little emergency stashes you’ve forgotten about!”
This weedless studio situation is where Markee finds himself right now in spring 2023 but he doesn’t talk about it as a matter of permanency. After so many years living with the drug, he knows will change again and he’ll look to find a new balance. His time during Kosheen, for example, was a stand out moment of balance for Markee.
“I had a great balance around that time,” he confirms. “Come in with a clear head, make a plan, get into it and then work on it to a point where you need a little extra to take it to special places. Darren doesn’t smoke weed so he’d usually suggest it. Like, ‘Mark, we need something crazy, go and have a smoke and see what you come up with!’ It worked pretty much every time.”
Now rolling solo as an artist, that level of balance is no longer possible but Markee is still in pursuit finding self discipline and habit control through books such as James Clear’s Atomic Habits and Eckhart Tolle’s The Power Of Now. “It’s about changing the perception of it,” he offers. “If you only see it as a recreational thing and a tool you have to be careful using, rather than a necessity you have to continually use then it’s working for you. Like anything, the more you use it, the less useful it becomes…”
“It’s okay to change as a person and grow. You could argue if you’re not growing you’re dying…” MC Fokus, AKA Phil Stanley has experienced a remarkable change and growth over the last few years. As he discussed in this previous article, he took a leap of faith from a very steady and secure 9-5 to become a life coach. His life has changed immeasurably.
Another big life change for him happened 20 years ago when one of his favourite past times – getting baked with the boys – suddenly stopped being fun. “Don’t get me wrong, from age 14 – 20 it was a golden time, Phil recalls. “We were in a band, we’d have loads of fun practicing, smoking bongs and generally loving weed culture. It became a network. A community. Then you do the pilgrimage to Amsterdam and it blows your mind and you know how it goes…”
Fokus’ teenage relationship with weed will be common to many. It helped him find identity, get lost inside music and feel a strong sense of belonging. But then it flipped, for no real rhyme or reason. “I don’t know what the trigger was, there was no big life incident, but I became more detached from people, the social element for me fell away, It became very intense. Like a crackhead version of a weed smoker. All I could think about getting it, having it, smoking it. It stopped being fun. I was getting paranoid.”
Phil’s detachment got so bad at one point he remembers hiding behind the curtain when a friend knocked on the door. “I was in my weed zone I didn’t want anyone around me,” he remembers. “This was early 2000s, the same time I was first getting my foot in the door with my MCing.”
While the dark clouds of THC grew thicker, his opportunities in the rave game were coming faster, most notably on pirate stations like Origin FM and with the respected London crew Traffic who were known for hosting forward-thinking nights in clubs such as the Rhythm Factory. Phil knew deep down he had to make a life choice. “I remember being on the mic, being on stage, being paranoid to fuck and being uncomfortable and thinking, ‘I need to get this set done so I can have a spliff.’ I knew it was borrowed time. It was fucking my life up…”
What characterized the first part of his adulthood became a kryptonite for Phil. It took him two years of routine toxic habits before he broke the cycle. “It was destructive, it wasn’t fun, it became an obsession,” he admits. “If I didn’t have it, I’d be pranging out, but as soon as I’d have it, I’d smoke it and feel shit.”
As the gigs began to stack up and he settled into a relationship, Phil turned a corner and was able to put the greens to rest. “I tried smoking CBD weed recently to see if I could experience a bit of the original culture I loved in my teens. The whole ceremony of rolling up and everything. But I was chasing something that I didn’t need to,” he reflects. “You’ve got to keep moving forward, it’s not about trying to capture the past. Equally you don’t have to stop doing the things you love either. It’s knowing when to let go of your old self. It’s growth in action. That’s what life is all about!”
“What happened around the core issue of quitting weed was that, just prior, I had been on a night out. A heavy one. Mixed with the antidepressants and drinking and the coke, I suddenly realized I couldn’t look up at my mates and look them in the eye. It affected my whole night, it really hit me that I was a massive fucking weirdo and felt like everyone was talking about me, laughing at me…”
This is pyxis. A rising talent in the soulful side of D&B, she’s a unique individual who’s held down many influential roles in the industry since the 90s when she became bitten by the rave bug and dedicated that entire decade to working in the UK’s thriving club culture. Now her life couldn’t be any more different. She’s an artist, switching her role from behind the scenes to the forefront. But due to her acute social anxiety, she seldom leaves her own house and has no wish to pursue the usual gig opportunities. This is down to a much deeper mental health context that warrants much more space, time and respect than this short profile can offer, but it’s a set of circumstances that weed played a prominent role in.
“I was raving since 1993, when I was 16,” she explains. “I was out most weekends and weed was a way to come down gently and ignorantly. That lead to me literally being a weed head. I wasn’t using all day every day from morning until night until I stopped working in London offices and went into the music business, at which point, I was working in nightclubs and I had the DJs and promoters in my office smoking weed and passing joints around. It just went from bad to worse when I started working from home, I would get up and roll a joint and not stop until bedtime. So at that point, I wasn’t even getting high anymore, I was just habitually convinced that’s what my body wanted, and needed.”
When it came to physically giving up weed, however, Marisa found it easy. It was a conscious decision ahead of getting pregnant and having a young family. “I quit before I fell pregnant to give myself and my baby a very healthy and positive starting point,” she explains. “All I’d wanted for years was to have a family of my own, and so once I was able to do that, I just quit. COLD TURKEY. People underestimate how much it affects you. I’d also quit antidepressants cold turkey, and that combination was deadly to my wellbeing.”
Here’s where things get scary… “I suppose most primarily my mind reacted very badly,” says Marisa about coming off everything all at once. “I was on an antidepressant called Seroxat, which was absolutely lethal to come off without weaning. It turned out later on that there was a lot of court cases suing the manufacturer, because so many people committed suicide coming off it, not able to cope with the horrific side effects. It was quoted that coming off Seroxat cold turkey was actually harder to do that coming off heroin.”
This led to a series of side-effects as Marisa experienced ticks and physical zaps. “I could hear them in my ears, I could hear all sorts of shit actually,” says Marisa. “I became a proper reclusive wreck with nothing to fall back on, just me alone with my thoughts and weird feelings. And that’s where it all began.”
This was in 2002. 20 years later Marisa still battles these symptoms but has a much stronger set of coping mechanisms and a supportive family network. She hasn’t touched weed, or any drugs, in many years but wonders how things might have been had she not got so involved in any of the typical clubland naughties. “I know it, honestly, if I hadn’t done drugs, smoked weed and NEEDED meds, I would’ve been who I used to be,” she states. “I was SO bubbly, I would go to raves on my own, I was that confident. I can’t say for sure that if it was just weed, it would’ve been this way, but for most people it isn’t just weed, and it clearly causes mental health issues, even if people think it doesn’t, because for one thing, it causes addiction already and that in itself is a slippery slope.”
Sola (Robbie Backett)
Spoiler alert: giving up a daily weed habit won’t instantly pay off with big benefits of new productive energy.
“When I quit I thought I was going to get this blast of drive and ambition but I didn’t at all,” laughs Robbie Backett, a third of the Manchester-based Grand Theft Audio bosses Sola. “But I found giving up easier than I thought it would be. I moved over to a weed vape and quickly realised the most addictive thing was the tobacco.”
Robbie’s weed story will be familiar to many. During his teens and early 20s it complemented the time and energy he had in his life. But when a life-changing break-up came into the mix, it suddenly wasn’t for him any more.
“It tore a bit of my soul out if I’m honest,” Robbie explains. “And weed just didn’t help the situation at all. I think you need to have a level of confidence to be a regular stoner. I was never one of those people who got paranoid at all, but after the break up I lost a lot of confidence and I did get paranoid. It was quite mad looking back. I loved the stuff for years and years but then very quickly couldn’t face it any more. It’s only now, years later, that I’m able to enjoy it again at a much lower level.”
A clear head was essential for the next part of Robbie’s developments in life before he could bring weed back in the mix. He admits that he was never high performing stoner. “I wasn’t productive at all. I’d be looking at my computer thinking, ‘I should be making music on you,’ but then rolling another spliff,” he admits. “And in uni I failed so many courses. The whole day I’d be thinking about getting home and getting stoned. So I’d try and get out of there was quick as I could. That’s something I’d never do now. If we have a studio booked I want to squeeze all the time I can out of that session but back then I’d be trying to knock it on the head as early as I could. In fact the way me and James work now there’s no way I could have done any of that stoned.”
Now as Sola continue to carve a solid reputation for being an incredibly hard working and super-consistent acts in drum & bass (see this video interview with Robbie, James and many members of their crew) it’s clear giving up a daily weed habit did pay off with big benefits of new productive energy. Like all the best things, it just took time.
“I think there is a physical addiction. People say there isn’t but I think there really is. I literally couldn’t function without it, I couldn’t concentrate. It wasn’t the fact I wanted to be high, it was the fact I wanted to smoke. And I’d have a cigarette but it wouldn’t be the same. It was the weed…”
After smoking daily from dawn for nine years Cardiff-based promoter and DJ Theo Thomas (AKA Switch Up) has been weed-free for almost a year at time of writing. “Anything was better with a zoot. We’re going cinema? Let’s have a zoot. Going to Alton Towers? Zoot. Going literally anywhere? Zoot. All the time. The first few years from 17-21, it was fun. Go work, get home, get high. Then it stopped being fun…”
As Theo dug deeper and deeper into his 20s, he found his relationship changing with both weed and his own head. “I felt I slowly deteriorated over the years but I didn’t associate it with the weed,” says Theo who began to experience anxiety, depression and found he was becoming less outgoing and confident. “I’d become a shell of myself. I had difficulty with relationships and always doubting myself. It was pretty fucked up at points if I’m honest.”
Tolerance breaks were key for Theo. At first they would be just a sporadic week or two off the green. It was mainly to reduce his tolerance when he got back on it, but deep down he knew he was also proving to himself that he could quit the habit if needs be. “The problem with that, though, was that I knew deep down it wasn’t a permanent thing,” he reasons. “So I always knew I would pick it back up. And I always would.”
One particular tolerance break set a different benchmark, however, when Theo ran a night at Bristol’s famous Black Swan. “We were all backstage chatting and I find those social environments hard to talk in,” Theo explains. “I thought that was just me. But at this event, which was during a tolerance break, I was chatting to everyone. My mate was like, ‘Wow, I’ve never seen you as outgoing as that. Do you think it’s the weed that’s stopping you behave like that normally?’ I couldn’t argue with that. I knew it was.”
One relapse and chronic slip into the darkest corners of his head later and Theo made the final leap. “All the bad feelings of social anxiety, depression, anxiety came flooding back. I was like, ‘Okay, I need to quit this, I’m done,’” he says. “The main thing I found difficult was the social aspect. My mates are heavy weed smokers and that’s what we did; met up, got high, played Xbox.”
It’s arguably one of the hardest challenges to overcome when making such a seismic life change. The social aspect and the friends we make through smoking are some of the most pleasurable aspects of the process of becoming a dedicated weed head in the first place, so they’re bound to be the hardest things to change. Theo has no regrets either way.
“I don’t regret a moment of that time I spent with them,” he confirms. “But now I put that time in to work , my relationships with people who don’t get high. I’m still mates with those boys but we don’t see each other quite as much but I still love them.”
A year later Theo explains how his life is incomparable in every way from relationships to his employment and his role as a promoter hosting Cardiff’s long-running Switch Up events. “I’m holding down the best job and I’m in an amazing relationship. I genuinely didn’t realise how much of an effect it was having on me until I gave up! I didn’t do much promoting in the year I stopped but now I’m off it, promoting is a whole ball game. Going flyering? No way. I’d be two zoots deep and blazed all night, playing Xbox. I’d do as little as possible to get by and get stoned, now I’m out there doing everything I can!”
“I’d just have this voice in my head all day… Have I got weed? Where can I get weed? Have I got enough money to buy any? I don’t even know how I’d afford it but you find a way don’t you?”
Manchester DJ Yazmin C echoes a familiar mantra many longtime smokers will have heard rattling away in their brain. Usually at the most inconvenient time.
“I feel like the minute it stops being recreational is the minute it changes and becomes something more toxic,” she considers. “I couldn’t do anything without it. Tidying my room, going to the bank, playing a gig, going to bed. EVERYTHING had to be done after a spliff.”
Unfortunately this also meant with meals, which had dangerous consequences. “I even developed an eating disorder around it,” Yazmin continues. “I was convinced I couldn’t eat unless I had a spliff and I’m skinny anyway so I genuinely put my life and my health in real jeopardy because of it.”
This was life for Yazmin for 10 years. Getting high was a necessity. “If I was travelling anywhere, or going aboard, the only thing I’d think about is getting weed. I couldn’t relax or concentrate on things at all until I got that sorted. If I got to the club I’d be thinking ‘who’s selling weed? Where can I smoke a spliff? It became a real drag. I couldn’t relax with it or without it.”
Eventually, and sadly, an incident forced Yazmin to quit. “I simply couldn’t smoke it for two weeks. I was dealing with a very traumatic situation. Police were around all the time, it was just wasn’t an option. So I had to stop. And I didn’t even want to smoke it afterwards because it would create too much anxiety. It changed my relationship with weed forever.”
Six months later, Yazmin’s found more benefits than she bargained for. “The first thing I noticed was my sleep,” she explains. “I don’t sleep like a baby because they don’t actually sleep well at all, but I definitely sleep like a 50 year old man now. And I dream so vividly it’s beautiful. I get up, I’m motivated. I don’t need to have a spliff to do anything, I just fucking do it. It sounds so silly but the freedom I have because I don’t smoke it like I did is amazing. And now I can bring it back into my life on my own terms. That feeling is amazing but it’s my choice and that voice isn’t there in my head drilling away. I’d say to anyone thinking about trying to give up just do it. If I can do it then literally anyone can. It’s not as hard you think it’s going to be.”
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