In 1990, in Canada’s capital, if you drove along Bank Street toward the parliament buildings at a particular time in the day, there was a good chance you’d find a blond grimacing teenager walking back and forth yelling. At nothing. He had smoked pot and gone psychotic, my mother said. “His poor parents,” she would say.
That towheaded cautionary tale is the reason I have never tried marijuana—and the reason I am a bad Canadian. Here, the grass never seems greener than when you’re smoking it. Last month, UNICEF reported that Canadian teens were the most likely to smoke pot of all teens in the developed world (28 percent of 15-year-olds copped to smoking up) and, according to the 2011 Canadian Alcohol and Drug Use Monitoring Survey, 39 percent of Canadians have tried marijuana at least once in their lives. The U.N. report on global drug use confirmed last year that Canada and the U.S. were the second-highest consumers of the most popular drug in the world (Australia and New Zealand remain more stoned than us).
Living in Toronto, it's virtually impossible to leave your house without, at some point, walking into a skunky cloud of aptly named chronic—forget 4/20, every day is a pot holiday. And if you're not smelling it, you're being offered it. For instance, when Mary, an old college bud of mine from Toronto who now lives in the U.K., visits her friends back home, she is generally offered weed instead of wine. And Jay, a chronic pot smoker throughout his 20s and one of my former colleagues, claimed there are so many dealers in the city that at one time he had five to choose from. These days he buys from a guy on my street.
Everyone I know has tried it least once in their lives—even my mother. It did nothing for my mom, made my boyfriend dizzy, my best friend babble, and made her husband paranoid. But those who like it extol its psychedelic virtues, like it’s a trip on your very own Sofia Coppola joint. “I walked around as if in a dream," said Jay, who first lit up at 14. "Toronto summers are great while high—hazy, surreal. I fell in love with it immediately." A childhood friend of mine, Simon, who smoked every day for five years, told me it was a “warm, cozy blanket” and said it can send “your mind into a whirl and all the knowledge you’ve acquired over the years just starts pouring out in bizarre ways.”
Call it reefer madness, but I don't trust my already-precarious anxiety-addled brain to survive pot intact. Particularly these days—this ain't the pot my parent smoked. In the '60s, you got high off a doobie with a potency of 4 percent. These days a hit peaks at 25 percent; such is the strength of “Dr. Grinspoon,” a strain named after the Harvard psychiatrist who wrote several books on cannabis, including 1970’s Marihuana Reconsidered and Marihuana: The Forbidden Medicine. “If you take hold of Dr. Grinspoon and smoke a lot of it, you could probably have quite a reaction,” its namesake told me. Like insanity?, I didn’t reply. Research shows that people who have predisposition for schizophrenia can experience early onset from smoking marijuana. My genetic loading for mental health isn’t ideal. I wouldn’t want to rock the brain boat.
There is an irony to this thought process, stemming from the fact that I have taken prescription medication for years—for anxiety (peanut gallery: “Of course!”). I don't deny the paradox. But there is a certain security to be found in taking a legal drug that the government has tested. Even if the FDA’s methods are not up to snuff, that's some kind of standard. With pot being illegal, there is no standard. Marijuana may be "healthier than anything you can buy from the pharmaceutical industry," according to Grinspoon, but how could I ever ensure I was getting the real McCoy? "I'll try it if you can assure me it will be clean," I told an acquaintance recently. "Clean? Like, you want it to be washed?" he quipped. Um, no, but I don't want it to be laced with meth or cut with those synthetic cannabinoids that leave seizures and high blood pressure in their wake. I don't have any scruples about smoking an illegal joint, but I'm not willing to risk my health for it.