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Chemical Me

Illustration by Jordin Isip

Since 1993, I’ve ingested approximately 14 ounces of Zoloft® (sertraline hydrochloride), 3.5 ounces of Ritalin® (methylphenidate), 360 gallons of coffee and 2.5 ounces of marijuana, but so far I’m okay. I don’t know why I’m okay, but I am. In fact, these last eight years on drugs have easily been the most productive, satisfying years of my adult life. Sorry.

Which is not to say that I’m in any way proud of the mood alterants I use or the reasons I use them, only that the combination seems to be working fairly well for me. I keep my psychologist informed as to how often I drink coffee and smoke pot, and she’s agreed to warn me if I begin to vibrate or talk like Keanu Reeves. Neither my psychologist nor my psychiatrist condones my use of marijuana and coffee — both substances make it harder to monitor the Zoloft and Ritalin — but neither do they assume the effects are all negative.

“There is relatively little research on the effects of pot,” points out one prominent West Los Angeles psychologist (Mondays, 11 a.m.), “and, worse, almost no research on the interaction of pot and prescribed medications; or the effect of pot on ADHD, depression or anxiety. Because grants are virtually nonexistent for research related to illegal drugs — whether the funding source is a government agency [NIMH] or a private foundation, almost nobody is willing or able to take the risk, so there are tens of thousands of people using pot with alcohol and prescribed medications, with little knowledge of the interaction or impact on their mental health.”

Historically, I’m prone to agitated depression — deep, nasty depression and high anxiety at the same time. It first happened about 10 years ago. Not good. Barely able to maintain composure. Stay in bed; mope at desk; lie on floor; listen to heart race; eat little; stay in bed more; eat nothing at all. Never got it quite that bad again, possibly because I knew there was a way out. After trying all sorts of anti-anxiety agents and antidepressants and receiving no benefit but plenty of ghastly side effects (the frog-eyed all-day stare, the chemical lobotomy drool, the Nurse Ratched Memorial hands-free headlock, to name a few), I was at last introduced to Zoloft, not long after it hit the market. We’ve been close ever since.

Zoloft, in theory, increases my ability to experience pleasure by convincing reclusive seratonin to stay out late and mingle with the synapses. First thing every day, I down 150 mg Zoloft and 10 mg Ritalin with a cup of coffee, and about 15 minutes later, I feel as if I’ve had two cups of coffee. Other than that, I don’t feel a damn bit different. I still get happy, I still get sad, I even get depressed — just never as depressed as I used to, and never for more than a few days. Of course, eventually I’ll grow an immense Zoloft-shaped brain tumor and die, just another name on another class-action suit. But for now, it is, at the very least, a fine placebo. (Me, Zoloft! Me, friend!)

Ritalin, my second favorite prescription drug, is egregiously overprescribed for quite reasonably freaked-out children (should a normal child go to school in 2001 without getting freaked out, waiting for the next 10-year-old AK-47 aficionado to show-and-tell his Second Amendment rights?). It’s become a cliché, one of the most common denominators in soccer-mom/SUV/father-doesn’t-give-a-fuck equations. I never took Ritalin as a child, but I hear it legitimately helps lots of legitimately disabled kids — perhaps as much as 14 percent of the kids who take it. I’m guessing the rest probably turn a good profit in sales to their peers. (Tip: Parents generally receive 10 percent for doing the publicity.) In theory, Ritalin increases my feeble attention span, enabling me to concentrate on something long enough to write about it and thus experience the pleasure that comes from making a small living.

And when it’s time, now and then, to enjoy the sparse free time that a small living provides, when I have no machinery to operate, no keys to find, no ominous territory to explore, I treat myself to a vacation from high-pressure, for-profit thinking by smoking marijuana. Marijuana flushes me with a delightfully artificial sense of well-being and then goes away, leaving me to my original, upright citizenship. And while I know it can’t be healthy to suck smoldering anything into one’s lungs, with a little luck, the Zoloft-induced brain tumor or Ritalinear heart attack will kill me long before the pot-cancer arrives.

Oh — and coffee. I’m seriously addicted to coffee. (Quick. Lock me up.)


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