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Yo, Potheads! Being a Stoner is Not the Native Way

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I have a message for all of you “stoners” in our Native community; there is nothing “traditional” about using a natural herb found in our environment if your method of using it is smoking the herb for recreational purposes.

The pot-smoking supporters of legalizing medical marijuana are going to be in for a rude awakening when, and if, the drug is ever legalized in the state that you live in. Some of the pot smokers that I know have visions of running to their medical provider to get a script for a variety of ailments ranging from managing the pain of a paper cut to “treatment” for a traumatic brain injury to alleviating symptoms of anxiety, depression and PTSD.

The medicinal purposes of THC are for appetite stimulation, nausea, anti-seizure effects and severe pain management. Those who have scripts for medical marijuana will be those suffering from diseases like cancer, cachexia, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV and MS. This list isn’t exclusive obviously but I think you get this gist of what I am saying.

My next message is for those that advocate for the legalization of marijuana in general. I call them the hipsters. “Make peace not war” say these cool stoners. I used to be one myself. I smoked pot from 1978 until 1993 and I know that it enhanced by appetite and I looked forward to the munchies after I smoked a joint. I used recreationally two or three times a week for 15 years. But I was also self-medicating for my depression, anxiety and PTSD symptoms. During this time I also self medicated with nicotine and alcohol.

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In 1993 I began working for an employer that frequently drug-tested its employees. I had to make the decision to quit smoking pot or I risked losing my job—and I had a husband and three children who depended on me for financial security. Once I gave up smoking pot I needed a different way to deal with my symptoms of anxiety, depression and PTSD.

There are several natural ways to manage your symptoms of depression and anxiety and these include lifestyle change, exercise, diet and counseling. If none of these things work for you then you can consider anti-depressants. Serotonin is produced by antidepressants which is often lacking in the brain in people with depression. THC affects anandamide which is also present in the brain and the interaction between the two can actually increase the depression and lead to other mental illness, including schizophrenia. There are other products like St John’s Wort which is an herbal supplement which seems to mirror Serotonin’s effects. The bottom line is that marijuana use can have a negative effect on your mental health.

Depression and anxiety are prevalent in the Native community maybe because of the disproportionate amount of trauma that we experience but we need to find ways to cope with it and heal from it instead of indulging in yet another addiction and calling it is a medical necessity or recreational use.

We give away our power when we allow addictions to control our lives. The abuse of alcohol and the resulting trauma almost destroyed our native communities. Nicotine addiction is wreaking havoc in our community as indicated by the high cancer rates. The use of marijuana is just another addiction that users will try and rationalize as “recreational” and/or “medically necessary” when in reality it is another crutch to avoid coping with our trauma in a healthy manner.

Donna Ennis is employed in the Behavioral Health Program and is a Tribal Elder at Fond du Lac Reservation. She is on the Board of Directors for the Minnesota Board of Social Work. She is also on the Approved Continuing Education Committee for the Association of Social Work Boards.