Woman with dark hair

How Cannabis Helps Me Live With Trauma

weed helped me relax after a long week of lectures, readings, and running around with piles of overpriced, designer T-shirts for barely above minimum wage.

by: Roslyn Talusan

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There are a lot of things I didn’t know about surviving sexual assault. I didn’t know it would turn my body into a crime scene, a meaningless object that men exploit to assert their power over my humanity. Casual sexism and misogyny taught me that my body didn’t belong to me, that it was not a safe place for me to live. Violence is meant to instill fear in the interest of power, and trauma is its infectious disease, rotting our connection with ourselves and the souls around us.

With my sun in Taurus, moon in Capricorn and being born on Earth Day, I need a good relationship with my body to properly function. After the assault, to be in my body was to revisit the place where I was psychologically tortured—I felt disgusting and ashamed. Dissociation, a hallmark of post-traumatic stress, became my most trusted technique in avoiding reminders of trauma. Disappearing out of myself spared me from experiencing the visceral sensations during the assault.

In trauma recovery, the ultimate goal is empowerment; restoring a survivor’s sense of autonomy. The long path to that goal is non-linear, complex, and unique between individuals. With a consistent yoga practice, easy access to therapy and medical care, and surrounding myself with kind and compassionate people, I learned to manage my trauma and survive when my symptoms overwhelm me. Creating and maintaining a holistic self-care practice helped repair my relationship with my body. Cannabis facilitates this work, its effects lightening the dense burden of my trauma physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Reconnecting with myself, remembering my connection to the earth was part of my healing process. I needed to accept and process my trauma to be able to exist in my body again. I needed to feel safe being me, and rebuild my trust in the world around me and in myself.

Having a supportive medical team who empowered me throughout my treatment and understood my need to access medical cannabis has been a blessing. Although it took almost two years, the paperwork for my medical license cleared just as I was re-diagnosed with C-PTSD.

The effectiveness of cannabis on trauma is supported by both anecdotal evidence and recent medical research. The Globe and Mail reported on a 2018 study that found patients who manage their PTSD using cannabis are 60-65% less likely to show symptoms of severe depression and suicidal ideation than those who don’t. Over at Leafly, Elizabeth Enochs writes that cannabis can help reduce symptoms of hyperarousal, a state caused by our fight-or-flight response to traumatic stress. THC and CBD work to alleviate lingering feelings of fear post-trauma, paving the way for survivors to re-establish their sense of safety.

While I’d been a recreational consumer since the beginning of my undergrad, I was also keenly aware of marijuana’s therapeutic applications, using it to manage my sleeping pattern and stimulate my inconsistent appetite, two physical manifestations of my anxiety that were amplified by trauma. Between juggling full-time hours managing inventory at a luxury department store and a full semester in my last year—one year before I was sexually assaulted the first time—my two days off a week were precious. I was in the middle of binging Veronica Mars and Buffy the Vampire Slayer both for the first time, vaping or smoking a bowl between every episode, curled up in my bed with a box of a half-dozen donuts.

Weed helped me relax after a long week of lectures, readings, and running around with piles of overpriced, designer T-shirts for barely above minimum wage. It let me chill out while I worked through a year I thought would secure my future. Cannabis melted away the tense anxiety and stress of my responsibilities, and let me focus on watching Veronica and Buffy solve mysteries and save the day, as I happily stuffed myself with carbs. By living in the present, I could actually enjoy being alive.

Post-trauma, coming back to this total state of relaxation kept me tethered to my life. Surviving sexual violence dialed my anxiety up to 100 with an additional layer of trauma-induced fear for my safety. I would self-soothe with material comforts like delicious food and good TV, and the effects of weed heightened my senses, bringing those feelings of pleasure to the forefront. While my traumatic symptoms were much more difficult to ignore than school or job-related stress, I needed all the relief from them I could get, even for a little bit.

Cannabis helps me tune into my physical senses, teaching me how to talk myself down from heightened anxiety and flashbacks. By focusing on how my body feels, following my breath, noticing tension, and asking myself to relax, I remind myself that I’m not actually back in the moment of being assaulted. As I spent more time learning to be present in my body, I’ve become more mindful of what I need to feel comfortable and secure existing in this world. Having such deep knowledge of my own body is empowering, and helps me to better articulate and enforce my boundaries.

But even after learning how to feel okay in my body again, I still had to get a handle on managing my emotions. I’m a highly sensitive person, often feeling consumed by their depth and intensity. Trauma led me through a battlefield of intense grief, depression, rage, terror, fear, and helplessness. Feeling so much pain at once eventually made me numb, another part of my existence that I learned to dissociate from.

Repressing my emotions was how I got through my last abusive relationship. After my best friend sexually assaulted me in 2016, he threatened to kill himself if I walked away. Cannabis was a huge part of our friendship from the start, celebrating after our closing shifts at a coffee shop with a ritualistic blunt. Years later when we started getting closer, we’d get stoned in his bed and make out for hours – it was my idea of heaven. That is, until he betrayed and violated me in the most intimate and heartbreaking way.

Still in the middle of dealing with the fallout from my first sexual assault, I didn’t feel like I could handle another dose of the trauma-related grief or rage that I’d become so familiar with. If I let myself feel those feelings, walking away was my only option. The very existence of those emotions meant that I’d realize that my best friend wasn’t really my best friend after all. I was scared I’d feel even more helpless and alone, tricking myself into thinking “it wasn’t that bad.” So I stayed, ignoring my utter disgust and contempt of him, letting him use my body because he needed me, drowning my self-hatred in THC.

Emotions are natural, a vital part of our humanity—they’re how our instincts and rational minds communicate with each other. And even though I wouldn’t admit it to myself, it was that bad. Refusing to acknowledge my feelings to save my abuser meant I couldn’t fully process the trauma he inflicted on me, forcing me to internalize the poisonous shame and doubt. Even through the hazy numbness of dissociation-by-cannabis, I knew it was unhealthy to shoulder the burden of his violence alone, that I was hurting myself, and that I deserved better. When I found my strength again, finally ending our relationship, every emotion I dulled came crashing down hard. Sometimes I thought the intensity might drown me. Sometimes I wanted to let it. But even in my darkest moments, I knew how to stay afloat, relaxing into my body and allowing myself to feel those feelings, even if it hurt – I knew I would survive it.

The grounding effects of cannabis centre me in that resilience, reminding me that I’m far stronger than I know. The world seems to fall away when I’m stoned, leaving me with no one but myself to listen to. I can hush my inner critic, let go of my inhibitions and judgments, and simply be myself. When I’m high, it’s like the only experience that matters in the moment is mine and mine alone. Reconnecting with myself like this helped me purge all of the blame I internalized in the wake of violence, teaching me to treat myself with kindness and compassion. Cannabis is a reminder that light does exist in the world after all.

While abuse and trauma did everything in their power to make me fear the world, my self-care practice helped me find the beauty in it once more. At the heart of my recovery process is my relationship with myself, how I treat my body, and take care of my spirit. Cannabis has been an important tool in this practice, enhancing the healing effects of my work, and empowering me to listen to my intuition.

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