Preferred Name: Matthew
Matthew is divorced with two children and lives with his youngest child. He’s worked in the trade sector but is no long working due to illness. He describes his ethnic background as ‘Australian’: he was born in Australia, as were his parents.
Matthew first tried cannabis when he was a teenager and says he’s smoked it ‘for the better part of thirty years’. He suffers from depression, anxiety and possible bipolar disorder, and is currently being treated with antidepressant medication, Valium® (diazepam) and lithium. He’s also been on a ‘dual recovery’ course for people experiencing ‘co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders’ which he says has helped him reduce his cannabis consumption.
About six years later, he applied for promotion at work and his application was unsuccessful. Unhappy in his job, he resigned and became self-employed. Some time after that, he began experiencing heart problems and had a heart attack. Along with his heart problems, he discovered he’d developed a lung condition. Concerned about his health, Matthew says he started feeling depressed. To help him ‘deal with the depression’, he started smoking more heavily. He finds cannabis helps him ‘stabilise’ and ‘lift’ his mood and ‘keeps [him] going’.
Matthew’s experience of depression after the heart attack was not isolated. At various points in his life, he’s experienced paralysing anxiety and depression, which left him cut off from family and friends, and housebound. To treat his anxiety and depression, he tried cognitive behavioural therapy and courses on anti-anxiety techniques but he doesn’t believe they helped. As he explains, ‘I think it’s something, like a chemical imbalance and you can’t fix that by doing courses’. At the time of the interview, he was being treated with Valium® (diazepam) and antidepressants, and was also attending counselling. He’d also been diagnosed with possible bipolar disorder and was taking lithium in addition to the other medication.
Matthew has also been on a ‘dual recovery’ course for people experiencing ‘co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders’. The course included group counselling, which he found helpful as ‘seeing people […] already nearly recovered […] gave [him…] hope’. He says the course has helped him reduce his cannabis use. This is important to him because he is concerned about how smoking cannabis will affect his heart and lungs. He no longer smokes cannabis every day but says he feels ‘a lot more depressed’ now than when he was smoking daily. He has no plans to stop altogether.
Matthew (M, 49, not working due to illness, cannabis) says he initially smoked cannabis to ‘unwind’ after work, and later began smoking at work to help him cope with depression.
[I] only smoked [cannabis] casually all my life […] just at night. I’d work a normal life, work all day. And then after I got divorced I was still smoking [cannabis] at night, and I think it was after I got knocked back for a promotion at work I started smoking heavier and smoking during the day at work. And then […] I didn’t want to give it up […] So that’s when I started to feel like it was an addiction. Before that I just thought it was […] like a reward, I suppose […] I worked hard, I was in high pressure jobs and it was just a way, when I got home, to sort of unwind and switch off […] That was most, sort of nights and then it sort of got worse […] when I had trouble at work, yeah. I sort of fell into a bit of depression and I was using that to sort of numb the pain I think. [It] takes your mind off it, changes your mood […] I used to, like, smoke on my lunch break and smoke in between jobs and, yeah, it just sort of progressively got a bit worse.
Matthew smokes cannabis to cope with depression and finds it gives him hope and motivation.
When I had trouble at work, I sort of fell into a bit of depression and I was [smoking] to sort of numb the pain […] It was a reward at the start, but then […] I was needing it to be able to switch off bad thoughts and other things. It was like I needed it for my mood. It was like a mood stabiliser, I suppose […] I was using the smoke as a medication to deal with [the depression].
[…Smoking cannabis] just seem[s] to be able to lift your mood and make you think that there’s hope. Like when I got really depressed, like, if I don’t have it for a few days, I’d get pretty depressed but then when I have it, I started to think, ‘Oh well, life’s not that bad, I might be able to go and try another thing, and try and get up out of this’ […] If I’m not having it, I’m just thinking of bad things […] So, it was just like, I don’t know, like medicine I suppose.
Matthew describes his cannabis consumption as an ‘addiction’ because he thinks about smoking cannabis when he wakes up and needs a higher dose to get the desired effect.
[Addiction] means that you need that drug to survive […] Addiction is where, like, you wake up and the first thing you think of is your smoke. How much have I got? Where am I going to get the next lot from? Got to make sure I’ve got it. Then you go and get it. And then if it’s really bad stuff, then you’re really angry with yourself because you’ve wasted all your money on this stuff that you don’t even feel. I don’t know whether I’m getting immune to it because they say it’s twenty times stronger [than] what it was when I was a kid [but] I reckon it’s twenty times weaker. It used to hit me a lot more back then, than [it does] now. I can smoke it and I’m just numb […] so I don’t know whether you can become immune to marijuana. I don’t know but it just doesn’t affect me any more. Probably one of the reasons I wanted to then try and get off it [is] because it wasn’t doing its job anymore. That’s when I sought help.
Matthew says that taking part in a peer support group helped him cut down his cannabis consumption.
I do a peer support group […] but a lot of them don’t smoke [cannabis]. One of them [takes crystal] meth and one of them is an alcoholic and I smoke. So we’ve all got different addictions and they’ve got medication for theirs. Apparently with alcohol […] you [can] get tablets to take [away] the cravings. Where[as] you can’t get anything for marijuana apparently, so they seem to be doing it a lot easier than me. But I think in general it was a good idea. I’ve cut down because I was smoking, at the end, probably half an ounce a week and now I, like, smoke probably two grams a week.
Matthew plans to stop smoking cannabis because he’s concerned it’s affecting his health.
I’m trying to get off smoking [cannabis] altogether. But if I get off it for three or four days I just get to the point where I just can’t cope, and I’ve got to go and get it again. So I just can’t kick it. [My counsellor] said to me, ‘At the moment, just do what you’re doing. Don’t push it too far’. And that’s sort of where I am at the moment. So I don’t smoke every day now, but I am now a lot more depressed [than] what I was too.
Now I’ve got the heart problem with fluid on the lung […] I just figured I’ve got to probably stop smoking so that I can breathe […It’s] just making my health worse, the actual smoke side of it. And I should give up cigarettes too, but I haven’t done that either.
Matthew doesn’t discuss his cannabis consumption with his children because he doesn’t want to be a ‘bad role model’.
No [my children] haven’t brought it up and I don’t want to bring it up really. Just try to make sure that they don’t see [me smoking] or know about it […] When they come over, nothing’s around […because] I don’t want to be a bad role model. I would hate for them to start smoking, thinking, ‘It’s okay because Dad did it’. Because in the long run, it’s not a good thing to do. But you don’t realise that until you’ve done it all your life obviously, because now I’ve got [health issues] which are partly [related to cannabis use] and partly other things.