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Just Six Ways Cannabis Has Changed My Life For The Better

When I get high I let go, not to get away from reality, but to drop back into it.

Hi, I'm Samantha! I'm trans, and I smoke weed. A lot of it. I have consumed every day for seven years. I can honestly say cannabis has made me who I am today, and I probably wouldn't be here without it.

So it's pretty much sacred to me. When I pack a bowl, I'm engaging in a ritual of self-determination that's brought me from somewhere really dark to being a person who is alive, thriving, and very much in the world.

Speaking of that... I'll be right back.

Samantha Jacobson

Being trans is beautiful, but let's be honest: A lot of the time it also sucks. Especially when you know something's up, but you haven't figured it out yet. Sometimes to find relief β€” and find yourself! β€” you need a little help.

When I moved back to California in 2014, I had this ache for something I couldn't name and was tired of trying to quell with sex, cigarettes, and alcohol. I also knew that cannabis lifted my depression for days after using it, and it made me present within my body in a way that felt really necessary. Three days after I arrived, I got a prescription at a storefront doctor's office and ordered my first delivery the same afternoon.

Since then, it's been a wild ride, and I've kept my friend Mary Jane at my side through it all.

I have very little at my disposal to cope with living in such a hostile world. There’s no good way to fight denial of medical care, leering strangers, or anyone intent on assault. But I can take up space perfectly legally on the sidewalk in the cloud surrounding myself and turn the volume on the raucous world down a little.

This ambivalence is a sacred right and a sovereign choice, because in addition to existing I have to cope with it: existing. Stares in the subway, the anger, my broad alienation, the withering of the world I thought I lived in into a sestina of empty promises. It is both too much to carry and unnecessary to hold. When I get high I can let go, not to get away from reality, but to drop back into it.

I'm glad you’re interested in this topic, because it's so near and dear to my gay heart.

The author smokes a joint in a room filled with graffiti
Jake Davis

So, please: Roll a J, load a bowl, have a dab, and enjoy the vibe while I take you on a tour of the six ways cannabis has made my trans life better.

1. Cannabis allowed me to find freedom from oppression and dysphoria, and to start learning about and engaging with my authentic self.

The author experiencing dysphoria
Samantha Jacobson

I'm 33 now and didn't know I was trans until I was 28. I mean, I knew something was up, but I didn't know what it was except that the more visible it got, and I got, the more people hurt me. Through all that abuse, I learned really early on that something about me is bad, and even though I had to for my own safety, I couldn't actually stop it. To cope, I broke away from it, isolating the hatred I felt into distinct realities I could splinter off and set adrift like icebergs.

Like, when I was in fourth grade, my teacher called a parent/student/teacher conference to talk about my lower-than-expected academic performance, and then listed a series of feminine behaviors that were also somehow linked to my bad grades. It was like I wasn't paying enough attention to being male and was doing it wrong, just like with my math homework. He picked a few boys out for me and told me he’d keep lowering my marks until I stopped spending lunch with this new girl who was my only friend. I needed to be around boys to be better at being one, and therefore more grounded and more effective as a person.

Of course, I wasn't actually doing anything wrong. I was in the throes of my first gay crush, and nobody else mattered except the girl with the pretty brown hair who laughed at my dad jokes. I wanted to spend every minute with her and found myself obsessing over it instead of my schoolwork. A lot of people have this experience as a kid, but the conflation of my teacher's transphobia with his homophobia made it seem impossible that that was what was going on. Even though, in any of my cis-male classmates, it probably would have been celebrated, I had lost touch with reality and needed to be reeled back in.

When I sat down next to Reza at lunch the next day, as instructed, it was like I broke in half. Part of me started flirting with this cute kid and believing this was what I needed to be doing. And the other half that knew what was true β€” that I had been in the midst of a perfectly normal childhood experience β€” that got shoved into a corner of my brain where I couldn't touch it anymore. I let the reality I was assigned take over for me. Soon I was treated better by my teacher, and my grades started going up.

What I learned was that people would subject me to less scrutiny if I could, A) excel academically, and B) be coupled off with someone in a way where I was read as male.

As I got older, the pressure got more intense, and the violence for associating with women got more severe. I built an entire reality predicated on my being able to be read as an ambitious gay man. In a time where trans identity was less well known and gay people were even more disenfranchised than they are now, apparent effeminacy and constant discomfort could disappear behind this label that seemed to rationalize them.

By the time I got my cannabis prescription, I was 26 and had been in a committed relationship with a man for four years. He found me desirable and complimented my intelligence and I liked that, and at least in the beginning, when people saw us together they didn't ask questions about who I really was or why I acted the way I did. When I started my master's degree at MIT, however, a few years into the relationship, I'd entered a world where the people around me were empowered enough in their discomfort to dismiss me as if I was nothing more than an assemblage of flimsy pretexts. Although my grades were perfect, every one of the PhD programs I applied to afterwards rejected me. From the folks who were forthcoming enough to divulge it, I later learned one of the main reasons was my recommendation letters advised against my admission. So, I moved in with my boyfriend while he finished his PhD, and when he got a job at a university in Southern California, I followed him there. I knew the world I'd made for myself wasn't working, and I wanted to find a way where I'd just be able to exist, somewhere far away from where I had been.

Unlike in the states I'd been living in, in California cannabis was easy and legal to buy online or in a store; you just needed a prescription. I went to a doctor and told her what I knew: Being in my body felt...weird, and the older I got, the scarier it was. Various vices brought some relief, but I couldn't sleep, and it always seemed like I was a million miles from myself. Though I was forced into taking SSRIs as a preteen, it didn't do anything about whatever my problem was, and I didn't want to try that again. She obligingly wrote out my scrip, hoping it would help.

I started consuming cannabis daily. A lot changed. For the first time in my life, I'd found the means to breathe and be present with myself, in my body. When I got high, the old protective mechanisms began to flicker off. Instead of working and finding people to attach myself to β€” the things I had done to scramble to survive β€” I took baths and long walks, which eventually turned into daily trail running. I figured out that I actually liked having a body, and in watching how it slowly changed with daily exercise, I also learned that I had control over it. I dropped the preppy armor I'd cultivated for the Ivy League and started wearing tank tops and floral short shorts. Although I had previously been really uncomfortable with my body, I bought a Speedo and spent a lot of time by the pool. I started being open about my attraction to women. People noticed that I seemed more present and at least sometimes.

There was also something growing in me that I could not name. Weed had propped the door open, but I couldn't see around it yet. I spent hours watching myself and my masculinizing body in the mirror, wondering what was wrong. I worked out more, and harder, thinking that I wasn't masculine enough and that that was the problem. Then, after a long smoke session one night, I started shaving off all my body hair. Another stoned evening found me using the nail polish I'd thought I'd bought for an art project on my actual nails and realizing that I liked it. Finally, one day, for reasons that weren't entirely clear to me, I smoked a bowl and then bought a bunch of women's clothes online.

Soon after, I was smoking a joint in the bath after a long Facebook chat with a trans friend of mine who noticed something was going on but wouldn't outright tell me, and my free hand slipped down between my thighs and tucked my genitals out of sight. I looked down at the empty triangle I'd made, and out of nowhere told myself, "I know, but not yet." I was shocked that this happened β€” who said that, what did they know, and how? β€” but I let the moment pass and tried to move on.

It was 2016 by this point. I was 28. I'd been consuming cannabis daily for two years. My boyfriend made his displeasure with whatever was happening known. He still loved and supported the pretty, ambitious, intellectual boy he'd met years earlier...but that person seemed to be slipping away. When he left California for a fellowship back east that fall, I didn't follow him. I told myself some project I was working on was the reason why, but really I needed to be alone to figure myself out.

I moved to Palm Springs. I bought a truck and grew a beard and doubled down on hiking and yoga, until I became apparently desirable enough to the gay men around me that my actual personality didn't matter and I could feel safe. I started going to therapy and kept trying to name what was going on and coming up empty. To cope with my growing confusion, I'd get really stoned every night, and, eventually, the person who spoke to me in the bath would drift in now and again.

Although I told myself I liked the beard, in my smoke-filled nights when that other part of me took over, they'd shave it off. I'd hit a bong and then go stare at my increasingly muscly body in the mirror and scream at myself that I was a man, only to find some smaller voice I couldn't place retorting that I knew that wasn't true. Then things started happening even when I wasn't stoned. While trying to work, I'd find myself compulsively reading about trans people online and shopping for more women's clothes. At my therapist's suggestion, I bought a box of skinny jeans and cute sweaters.

When they came, I rolled myself a J and tried them on. The pants were fine and looked great with my newly thicc thighs, which for some reason I just loved, but the tops looked weird. My arms had gotten too bulky, and I was so square now. I cried for some reason. And then it all clicked. The sense of dis-ease with my body, the feeling I'd been having as I got older and my hairline receded and my jaw widened and my voice dropped: It had a name, and it was dysphoria. I rolled another joint and reached out to the trans friend from the night with the bath, and she told me how she never really knew what was wrong but always felt weird and sad and like her brain didn't work. Psych meds didn't help, but estrogen did. She pointed me to Reddit, and after an hour of wide-eyed scrolling, it was really obvious: I'm trans too, and I needed to transition as soon as possible because if left to its own devices, my body would keep masculinizing, and I would just feel worse and worse.

Although it took a while, cannabis had finally led me back to myself. I started HRT a few months later, and I haven't looked back.

2. Cannabis has created opportunities to bond and socialize with people because we have something in common (which is usually pretty hard because, honestly, folks tend to find my visibly trans body polarizing).

Samantha Jacobson

Stoners can always talk to each other about it. We have a shared experience that's part social and part embodied. Being a trans person has a lot in common with that, and when I can intersect the two it brings me a lot of joy.

As a trans person, I'm pretty alienated. There's a lot of people out there who are not happy with the way I exist, and they let me know. It's exhausting.

And my experience of being in my body is really different from people who haven't transitioned. Estrogen has in some cases radically changed the ways I feel and sense things, which means I'm very much aware of how my senses, emotions, and being in the world are contingent on my circumstances and chemistry. Basically, the body I have β€” and how I feel and think β€” depends on medicine I have to take all the time, or it goes away.

I need to feel and think this way, not because of what my gender is or my body looks like or my chromosomes, and I don't really know why, but it is still really important, and I know that now for certain from trial and error. Over the past five years, with help from my doctor, I've tried different medications, doses, and frequencies and, based on what I learned in the process, set my hormone levels how I want them. Navigating this is crucial to my understanding of myself and the world, but binary people have a hard time separating body chemistry from gender identity, and cis people have a hard time separating the experience of hormones from a set lifecycle, so a lot of people don't get it or find the way I inhabit my body β€” and the control I assert over it β€” offensive.

I can't do anything about that, and I've learned not to care unless it's posing an immediate threat. Meanwhile, I'm still a human, and I like to relate to other people just about being people. Anyone who has gotten high enough times understands ~exactly~ what it means, though, to inhabit a reality that's dependent on a substance that's sometimes hard to access and often criminalized. And since there's enough shared in how cannabis affects folks that you can talk about it and compare one pothead to another, this gives me an opportunity to relate to people about existing in a body that's not available a lot of the other time. I can share how I feel about being in a state of mind, or having a physical sensation, and that's a privilege.

It's also true that, as a visibly trans person, I look pretty different from most people. From a cis perspective, the assortment of my features often won't compute as a realistic outcome. I see people seeing it and trying to figure it out all the time, and I've definitely internalized it. But when I share a joint with someone, and we both feel the same effects of it over a similar timeline, I get to share an embodied experience. It reminds me that I'm just as valid in how I exist in my body as anyone else is. Once that happens, I'm no longer beholden to the animosity about my body or how I manage it, and I can just be a person with someone. It's divine.

3. Cannabis has enabled me to create a sense of distance between myself and the often hostile people that surround me, so that I can do things like visit my family, go to the DMV, and buy groceries.

Samantha Jacobson

I can't change the fact that people stare at me, and I can't get away from the fact that sometimes the people around me want to do far worse than just leer.

Most of the time when I'm in public, half my attention goes to who's nearby and how they're reacting. I've been violently assaulted seven times in my life and have escaped assault many times more. You can't just drop that fight or flight instinct. But it's so tiring, and reacting to every single person around you leaves almost no energy for what you have to do. The net result is a kind of combative fog that makes it really hard to just function like a human being.

When I get high, I claim reality as my own by taking some aspect of it into my control. I give myself THC and other compounds, intentionally, and in a way that shifts how I'm feeling. And because I do this to affect myself, it disempowers other people trying to affect me, because I have taken control of my reality. By receding from the world a bit, I can get back to myself and what I'm doing β€” I actually become less distracted.

If I smoke on the way to the grocery store and leave my headphones in, I can ignore all the people who are slack-jawed because I have stubble and big tits, and buy bananas at Trader Joe's.

When I'm sitting in a room for a long time with a bunch of strangers, some of them are going to notice me, and at some point one will whisper to the other and point. But since I know it's going to happen, I don't have to care. I already know I'm not interesting enough to merit the attention. And if I can get stoned and zone out on my book, I won't even notice.

And when my partner and I share a J in my mom's backyard, we can drop into how much we enjoy each other's company, and we can linger in the fact that we're together for a moment, without having to deal with the years of accumulated animosity floating all around us. Or when we do the same thing at the beach with our chosen family, I can stop worrying about the fact that I'm a girl with a dick in a bikini and who's noticing; instead, I can enjoy that I'm having a nice time with people who I love and who all agree that I look amazing.

4. This plant allows me to mute the pain that comes from having a body that doesn't feel like mine, so that I can still use the body I have for things that feel good, like sex and exercise.

The author smokes after a run
Samantha Jacobson

The way I look at it, I disappeared into a person I appeared to be for many years, and I waited a long time to stop my body from masculinizing because I couldn't even consider the possibility that it was bad for me. This has had consequences β€” namely, I have a bunch of traits that I feel like don't really belong to me, and even though so much has changed with my body after four years of transition, it's still hard to feel that those new parts of me are real.

Being in my body always felt really weird to begin with. Something about my size and movements didn't make sense, and it felt like everyone could see it. By the time I was five, I didn't want to run anymore or do much else because, even though I'd never admit it to myself, I knew everyone could see I moved like a girl.

Cannabis lets me drop into the parts of moving around and being in a body that feel good, and it lets leave behind the social stigma and dysphoria that feel bad. If I take an edible before my run, it won't matter as much to me that I feel like I'm 3 inches too tall and everyone is staring at me. I can just enjoy the endorphins and power through.

Although I haven't had any genital surgeries and don't currently plan to (a subject for another time), what's going on down there is nonetheless super different from what it was five years ago. In the words of another trans femme friend of mine, "It's like there's this whole landscape now." There are actually 11 different orgasms a trans woman can have, triggered by various parts inside and out, but getting to them takes a lot of practice.

It's taken years to walk back from the ways people have described my genitals to me and projected onto me how I'm supposed to use them, and to start to explore the wonders of what I've really got. What's more, my sensitivities and orgasms are constantly evolving, and it can be hard to keep up. And, just as important, I've got a ton of dysphoria from the genitals I was given, all the things they can't do, and the fact that they're outside of me instead of inside. The end result is a lot of disassociation, as my embodied self retracts just like I've trained it to every time my brain starts to register the reality of my femininity.

After all the trauma, there's still a lot between my conscious knowledge and actually engaging with my own body as if it was real. I still don't really know what's what, or where, or what it does. But cannabis brings me back to myself, so I can learn and explore. When I get high, I can take a couple minutes (or hours) to be present in the body I have now and its variegated orgasmic splendors. I've learned that a lot of my sexual sensations happen somewhere inside me now, and the way to get the job done is more often slow, gentle, and circular than it is about pumping and thrusting. I know I still have a long way to go. Until there's more representation of folks like me and how our genitalia actually work, though, I'm going to have to keep figuring things out for myself. At least I have some help.

5. And it helps me manage my depression, PTSD, and anxiety, because accessing affirming mental healthcare as a trans person is almost impossible.

Samantha Jacobson

I've had so many bad experiences with mental healthcare. People don't seem to want to listen to a trans person talk about existing. I can't tell you how many times I've been gaslit, shouted at, and dropped as a patient and client by people who didn't want to understand me and what I'm going through.

It's hard to trust folks when so few of them understand my body. Sometimes, people see my dysphoria and disassociation and assume they're pathological. Others see my high estrogen levels or low testosterone and blame my anxiety and depression on them. In still other cases, people won't take seriously how severely I'm affected by changes to my hormonal balance, and that certain common side effects like hair loss, lowered libido and numbness, or increased body hair aren't tolerable. What it all adds up to is that when I talk to a mental healthcare professional, the odds that they'll understand enough about me to make well-informed decisions about my care are pretty slim.

People just don't take trans folks' pain seriously. Once, a therapist tried to convince me that encountering strangers sizing up my body all the time was glamorous, like all the attention should make me feel like a movie star. When I said that it doesn't, and it always hurt, he suggested the problem was that I didn't have a proper understanding of my transition's consequences before I started, and implied it was a mistake. Another time, after my house flooded, mold ruined everything I owned, and I spent the summer homeless because I couldn't find anyone to stay with, a psychologist diagnosed me with borderline personality disorder and instructed me to learn better coping skills, like setting a schedule. I didn't have a bed to sleep on and was constantly disassociated, but apparently if I could just train myself to get up at 8:30 every morning, I could quell my crushing depression. It didn't work.

Despite all the nonsense, I've still got mental illnesses and am always open to finding ways to cope with and live with them. Cannabis lifts my depression pretty durably. It's not about getting high for fun: As long as I smoke at least a few times a week, it raises my baseline. It also helps me to live with my anxiety. By getting high and altering my perceptions for a bit, I learned that my feelings are often arbitrary and contingent, and that I can control them. I used to almost never leave my apartment because I couldn't handle being around all these people seeing and judging me. Now I joke with strangers on the subway.

Finally, cannabis helps me to unwind all the ways trauma has remapped my brain. After all, I'm still in there, and behind all the fear and flashbacks there are neural pathways that actually work for me. Getting high helps me to find them and live in them for a bit, and doing so regularly helps me to hold onto what works so I can remap my consciousness for myself. It's honestly all pretty powerful stuff! Yeah, I forget where I put my keys and can't remember appointments to save my life, but I've found a way to control and adjust the parts of my brain that make the day-to-day difficult, and to enter into a reality that works for me.

6. I get stared at. A lot. But at least now I feel like I'm owning the narrative, because instead of just being a visibly trans person, I'm also someone getting high in public in broad daylight...and that's something I choose and enjoy rubbing in folks' faces.

Samantha Jacobson

This one's pretty particular β€” and new.

I live in Brooklyn now, and in April the great state of New York passed the most progressive cannabis legalization bill I've ever seen. The provisions to repair for years of over-policing, systematized racism, and mass incarceration are absolutely breathtaking. And one of them was legalizing smoking weed anywhere you can smoke cigarettes. So far as I know, this is the only place in the country you can do that.

The fact that the pigs can't easily arrest folks for smoking cannabis anymore is phenomenal. And, although this isn't nearly as important, the fact that I can enjoy a J on my way to the subway brings me a lot of joy. It lets me focus on what feels good and within my control, instead of suffering from the attention of people who seem to think I'm doing something offensive just by existing.

As someone who's bullied all the time, just to take up space in a way where nobody can do a thing about it is delicious. The smoke in the air, the arm movements, the sense of purpose: It all builds its own atmosphere that I can reside in instead of the miasma of hate surrounding me. It's a bit like the scene in Swann's Way where the narrator recedes into the lacuna of his own mind to watch reality float by as if projected on a screen, feeling white-hot and untouchable, the way an incandescent bulb evaporates the water in a dish towel when you bring it too close. Which is to say, the particular duration of smoking gives me a way to be in and observe the world I move through in a manner that's far less oppressive than counting all the times I get clocked. (In the trans community, "getting clocked" is when a passing stranger observes you to measure up your gender like a radar gun might determine a car's speed.)

A fact of life in New York is that I get a lot of hard stares. In this city where everyone's (ostensibly) welcome, you still stand out for being a visibly trans person. It always amazes me that there are millions of different kinds of people around, and yet I still get gawked at. Constantly.

People honestly seem taken aback that I have this body they don't understand and that I am not apologizing for it. It's basically transmisogyny: My person doesn't seem to adhere to what's dictated by patriarchal norms, and being obviously trans makes folks double down even harder because I'm not only rejecting how I should present and use my body, but I've also rejected the body I was assigned entirely. And people can tell. So when I walk by, it's an event. Since I'm hard to quantify β€” because what even is a nonbinary person's trans body to someone who doesn't understand what a nonbinary person is β€” it's the kind of event that makes people who expect everything around them to conform to their expectations very angry. The worst are the men who start out staring at my breasts, notice my face, hairline, stubble, or shoulders, and then get livid at being interested in something they think they're not supposed to be. I blow smoke in their faces.

As it happens, most of these same people don't approve of my consuming cannabis, either. But unlike my trans body and all the parts of me that come with it, me getting high on the street is a conscious choice and one I feel 100% OK about. Anyone who doesn't approve can kiss my trans ass because, legally, there's nothing wrong with it.

Cannabis has done a world of good for me in my life. I think it’s time we look past marijuana as a vehicle for THC, for exploitation, for assignation, for intoxication β€” and find ways to more fully understand its relationship to our selves and our bodies.

Samantha Jacobson

This what I've figured out about it so far. If you're reading this, you probably also use cannabis to cope with the pain and oppression you face because of your identity, medical condition, or disabilities. And I think that's great. I am, of course, a total stranger, but I support what you're doing to make your life more livable and filled with joy.

To learn more about how you can get involved in the fight for cannabis justice, check out Last Prisoner Project or Cage-Free Cannabis.

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