I began thinking about the topic of suicide in the summer of 2008. It was involuntary; the disabled father of a close, lifelong friend shot and killed himself on Father’s Day.
His father’s OCD was great enough that he ensured that there would be no mess in his home resulting from the nefarious co-mingling of a bullet and his body. I recall standing in the living room where he had performed the act only days before, noting the perfectly placed slippers by the easy chair in front of the TV—the slippers that would never again be used by their original owner.
The discovering officers noted how meticulous and clean this person had been in the execution of his own death. The leather-bound volumes of Arthur Conan Doyle and a small collection of Tony Bennett CDs remained on the bookshelf, unaware of his passage.
Embracing the Challenge
Topics such as suicide are emotionally challenging. However, if we can’t talk about reality, what kind of progress are we really going to make toward preventing the type of severe depression that results in this harmful behavior? If we ignore things simply because they are ugly, how are we going to help patients with any affliction, let alone depression or chronic anxiety?
Years later, in 2013, an old friend was struggling with the recent loss of his parents, substance abuse, and the prospect of rapidly deteriorating health and energy levels. A few years older than me, he joked “If I don’t win the lottery by then, it’s a 44 at 55” as he physically interpreted the trademark meme of thumb cocked beside extended index and middle finger pointed at his temple.
Yes, he was half joking. And yes, he suffers anxiety, depression, and the hopelessness that sometimes results from them. His parents are gone, his friends have lives that he perceives to be better and more productive than his, and his career is in jeopardy after a layoff having nothing to do with his performance (and everything to do with shortsighted budgeting on the part of his employer).
In 2014, another friend, who was struggling after an ugly divorce and custody issues with her children, informed me that she had considered the route of ending her life. She believed it might just make everything better, not only for her, but also for those around her (she doesn’t have a big ego and isn’t overly self-serving).
In both 2014 and 2015, another friend, a disabled retiree who was prescribed a litany of pharmaceuticals—such as Vicodin and Oxycontin for pain and Adderall and Zoloft for PTSD, depression, and severe ADD—threatened suicide in multiple angry outbursts, typically delivered via text messages or email.
There are threats, and there are credible threats. This case scared me more than the others simply because my friend owned two guns and was educated in how to handle them; they were always close by. A bit too much whiskey or a drug/alcohol interaction gone bad and he could easily achieve a mood causing him to reach for a firearm for the wrong reason.
Most recently, in 2016, I was visiting with an old friend from Austin who I had actually met at the Toker’s Bowl in Vancouver in 2004. It’s a small world sometimes. He described a toke-friendly pal to whom he had introduced me in 2011: Stevie.
Stevie was a gregarious extrovert in his late 40s with great stories and an obvious love of our favorite herb. His goatee and oversized front teeth were a beacon for his expressive personality and self-deprecating sense of humor. I instantly liked Stevie and appreciated his sharp mind and great wit. He was smart, fun, and good people.
My conversation with my Austin friend progressed as we were catching up on old friends. “Nobody heard from Stevie for a long time…like six months,” said my old chum. “Apparently he was drinking a lot and playing the hermit.”
“Why?” I asked. He always had top-shelf herb, why would he lean on booze like that?”
“Maybe he had a genetic tendency,” my friend replied. “Who knows. But they found his body several days after he blew his brains out.”
After a somber pregnant pause, I queried stereotypically, “Did he leave a note?”
“No. Nobody knows exactly why he did it. I guess he just got really depressed and figured that was the best solution.”
I can understand how those suffering from depression or low self-esteem might find solace in the false belief that their own death could prevent them from continuing to inflict damage on those around them—especially their loved ones. While this might be a logical assumption, it is typically not a rational one.
There’s a good chance that chronic depression has resulted in a sufferer becoming a substance abuser of some type. Smoking cigarettes is often a comfortable background task for those stricken with moderate to severe anxiety while they indulge in excessive drinking and become dependent upon or recreationally use pharmaceutical drugs
But don’t drop that “cigarettes are bad for you” and “whiskey will eat your liver” line, because we’re talking about people on the verge of or buried within suicidal thoughts. Arguments regarding the long-term health risk of one’s drug of choice fall on deaf ears if they are hopeless enough to consider a drastic act in the first place. Many people in this mental and emotional zone often wish that an outside force would fortuitously result in their death, like a car accident during a morning work commute or a cartoon piano falling from a 10th story window in Manhattan.
Others can’t keep a relationship, romantic or otherwise, to save themselves. Society has phrases for the lives of these folks: “Trainwreck” comes to mind.
That may sound cruel, but we’ve all been there. Our trains have all jumped the tracks, regardless of how brief that lapse in judgement or confidence may have been. Well, you have if you’ve lived to middle age like me and my peers. At some point in our lives, we have necessarily just royally screwed the pooch. And we think to ourselves (as we experience insomnia): It could have been prevented. It could have been so much better.
Many decisions or events can lead to the type of depression that manifests itself as suicidal thoughts.
A drunken episode at the company holiday party brought a rewarding career to a standstill; children were confused and became anxious, depressed, or maybe rebellious; a teenage pregnancy split a family; an affair brought a marriage to an end; a high schooler ran away from home; someone came out of the closet in a household dominated by LGBTQ-fearing parents; a gambling addict’s debt destroyed her life and foreclosed her home; health was compromised by abuse and neglect; or maybe a student dropped out of school.
Regardless of how, it got nasty. Between health, finances, co-workers, our vehicles, education, and careers—not to mention children, parents, drinking buddies, and lovers—we typically find some way to really mess things up. Even if everything looks tidy and neat to those on the outside.
The emotional result of our mismanagement? Typically guilt, shame, and regret, peppered by more of the same. All of which may easily result in severe depression, the type that too often leads to self-harm or self-inflicted death.
Nasty, negative situations and nasty, negative emotions result in a downward spiral that all-too-often gets very serious—and may even be life threatening. No wonder between 50 and 100 military veterans are committing suicide each day. This gets into the entire PTSD issue, which will be explored in a future article.
An armchair psych analysis involving conventional wisdom reveals that the proclamations of those who are considering or intent upon self-harm is merely a plea for help. They don’t really want to commit suicide, goes the popular layperson’s bumper sticker philosophy.
Rather, they are asking for assistance, and we are supposed to merely recognize the fact that the plea emanates from a psychologically and emotionally crippled human, regardless of how temporary or permanent this state may be. We are then supposed to refer them to a cadre of professionals, including physicians, psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists, and counselors.
I Don’t Know….
I don’t know. I think it’s often more than a mere plea for help, and I sometimes question the sincerity and qualifications of some of society’s most highly paid citizens, our medical professionals. Especially when the majority tow the prohibitionist line and preach that cannabis medicine is addictive and “dangerous,” going counter to nearly every shred of research evidence that has been produced to date.
In the case of my particular friends, I think they really were considering suicide. At least those who were honest enough to reveal their thoughts to me. I think they told me because I’m that critical thinking, analytical a-hole friend who helps them tear apart the problem and logically surmise the situation without allowing political correctness to intrude (comforting crying friends or delivering a warm and fuzzy over comfort food is probably not my strong suit).
Maybe I should say at this point that I believe everyone should be allowed to end their life if they desire. Who am I to tell someone they should be “happy” and “cheery” and “see the bright side”? Screw that. I believe in freedom and personal choice. It’s why I’m a patient advocate for medical cannabis. One human cannot tell another what to do if the first human isn’t hurting anyone outside him or herself.
Who am I to tell someone not to commit suicide if they have invested a great deal of thought and come to the sober, clear realization that they want to end their life? Am I smarter than them? Yes, life is valuable, regardless of the existence of a god. But how does my authority trump that of a friend or loved one?
Basically, who am I to tell someone else what to do or not do with their life and their body?
However, I have been disingenuous in this stance if one considers my actual advice to loved ones who have expressed an interest, even if just as a passing joke, of harming themselves. I am an intellectual hypocrite because, in each case, I have pleaded with them to not do it. I have always preached to friends considering self-harm the opportunities that lie ahead in terms of romance, career, travel, and food. “There are good times ahead, trust me. You just have to get through this current struggle,” I would say. “You just have to be patient.”
Why? Because I didn’t want to lose them. We’re all understandably cowardly when it comes to losing people—especially friends or relatives—and having our lifescape forever change.
Like all humans, I’m often self-serving. I don’t want to suffer personal loss, and I allow that fear to taint the honesty of my advice to friends. It’s easy for me to say, “Sure, do it if you want” in the clinical, theoretical tone of this one-way communication. But here, in front of my keyboard and alone in my office, I’m not staring into the sad, tired eyes of a friend with whom I share dozens of precious memories, sometimes over several decades.
Go Smoke Some Herb
After the medical cannabis research I’ve conducted over the past decade for my writing projects, I now know what I will tell the next person who is considering suicide and honest enough to express that to me: Go smoke or vaporize some herb.
In fact, I’ll do that one better: I will take some good cannabis to them.
Those sad enough to even contemplate ending their lives should consume good cannabis, feel the resulting anxiety relief and euphoria, and then think about all of their troubles again—this time, minus the crushing anxiety and depression that has prevented them from objectively and intelligently approaching their problems. If patients suffering depression and hopelessness can’t improve their mental and emotional perspective and attitude, there is no way they will ever escape their disease.
Avoidance behavior, including severe procrastination, often afflicts those who are suffering anxiety and depression. Of course, blowing off taxes, child support, car maintenance, class assignments, or exercise will never result in an improved life or greater happiness. Fortunately, cannabis therapy of all shapes and sizes can help patients re-engage in life, manage their affairs, and interact with others to the advantage of all parties.
One thing that people with suicidal thoughts shouldn’t do is get drunk. As fun and escapist as drinking may be, it won’t help patients resolve anything. It won’t allow them to reasonably reflect on their life—and how to improve it. And if they don’t effectively think about these issues, they won’t get out of their pit of despair and hopelessness. It’s obviously a deep, dark, nasty hole, or they wouldn’t be where they are.
Those sad enough to consider suicide need to spend a considerable amount of time in a better mindset, thinking and reaching positive conclusions. They can then use these conclusions to form a strategy, after which they must execute on that path. And what better way to achieve a “better mindset” or improved attitude than smoking, vaporizing, eating, or sublingually consuming cannabis? Especially among like-minded, supportive friends.
Stop & Calmly Think
Cannabis, especially nice sativa strains (for me, at least—everyone is different), help me to think. Objectively, rationally, and calmly think. Maybe it is the anti-anxiety properties of many strains of the kind herb that are responsible for its ability to help people sit back and put things in perspective, void of the panic and dread that may typically fill their days.
Another powerful reason for recommending cannabis to those who are severely depressed or suicidal is the irony of hopelessness. Typically, to see the light at the end of the tunnel and form a credible strategy for reaching it, one must exhibit at least a modicum of hope. Without it (and we’ve all been there), how does one pull oneself out of his or her situation?
Cannabis gives people hope. Those who consume pot on a regular basis, whether they suffer chronic depression or not, understand this. Sometimes it is subtle; other times more pronounced. But after supplementing their endocannabinoid system with cannabinoids (especially tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC), people suffering depression bad enough to make them take a dark path typically are able to gain some hope.
It is this glimmer of hope that is critical for those considering self-harm to improve their situation.
Like a minute flame applied to a large pile of wood doused in fuel, sometimes all one needs is that small sliver of hope and a couple of hours of happiness and laughter (the duration of cannabis’ effect when smoked or vaporized) to get back on their feet and face the next day with a more positive, energized outlook.
The medical cannabis movement is acclimated to dealing with ugly topics. Intractable childhood epilepsy, for example. Cancer in any human, child or adult. Serious Crohn’s disease, the type that derails careers and results in disability payments. True patient advocates who embrace medical cannabis face stories of both ugliness and victory each day.
“Medical marijuana” isn’t always a fun topic. It’s not an aspect of the pot culture that’s adrift in dancing leaf logos and sexy college students ripping hard on two-foot Roor bongs during a pretentious photo shoot.
The next time you or a loved one considers suicide—or are simply so damn miserable and depressed that you’re in that zone—consume some cannabis to ease the anxiety. Then think about your life and how you want to change or improve it. But jump on that train of thought after you have mitigated your anxiety and dread—preferably with a natural herbal solution like pot.
Remember: The intent of this herb isn’t to provide an opportunity for escape. Instead, it is to deliver the peace of mind and confidence to think about ugly topics and face the music, so to speak. The gift of this plant is to allow one to engage in deep introspection in an effort to improve their life and the lives of those around them.
In other words, use cannabis with productive, positive intent in an effort to make real improvements to mind, body, and spirit.
One could easily question the photos included in this article. My logic: The people and things that remind us why we should value life.
In your continuing quest to get smart on medical cannabis, I offer you the following 2015 lecture from Mara Gordon, one of the most enlightened voices in the medical cannabis movement.
All text and photos Copyright © 2003-2017 Gooey Rabinski. All Rights Reserved.
Gooey Rabinski is a technical writer and instructional designer who has contributed feature articles to magazines such as High Times, The Kind, Cannabis Culture, SKUNK, Heads, Whaxy, Weed World, Green Flower Media, Cannabis Health Journal, Green Thumb, and Treating Yourself.
He is the author of Understanding Medical Marijuana, available on Amazon Kindle.