The difference between an allergy and a sensitivity, or, how I learned to NOT love the pot brownie.

I have had exactly one experience with marijuana, and once was enough, sadly.

A small touch of background. When I was 6, I had a cough so bad that they suspected pertussis. (whooping cough).  The test for it was going to take several days to come back with results, so the doc gave my parents a prescription for a codeine cough syrup.

“If he takes this and is STILL coughing, its whooping cough, bring him to the hospital.”

Well… the syrup took the cough away! I also had what I referred to for years as an allergic reaction. First, I started seeing bees and butterflies.  Inside. Then started seeing monsters come out of the walls. Not scary! Like, wax work dummies of Dracula, the wolfman, Frankenstein’s Monster. With barely hidden speakers in their chests. I could SEE wires attached to their shoulders as they came swooping into my room, the wires vanishing into the ceiling.  They would swing by making dumb noises. BLAH BLAH!  RAAWR! Ect.

Then, later that night, I had what I have since learned was a bog standard Shamanic Journey hallucination. But that’s another story.

Fast forward a dozen years. I’m about to turn 18, and having my final appointment with my pediatrician. He’s going over records, getting me ready for a regular doctor going forward.

“So, I see you have codeine listed as an allergy, it’s been mentioned before, but I wanted to check, what was the exact reaction? Because its a useful drug, and a lot of times childhood allergies go away, if it wasn’t too severe, might be worth testing sometime.”

So I explain the above. His eyes get wide.

“OH!  You’re not allergic.”

“I’m not?”

“No, you’re sensitive.”

He explains to me that codeine IS actually a known hallucinogen, but that for most people, it takes a LOT to get there. According to him, a lot of Vietnam vets who had the really bad flashbacks that we all heard news stories about were also ones that were addicted to codeine after the war and had taken lots over the years. Apparently some of those flashbacks were PTSD flashbacks WHILE having active hallucinations.

At this point, he looks at the closed door, out towards waiting room, where my mom and brother are waiting.

“Soooo…  professional curiosity, and remember, nothing you tell me goes any further than us, but…   have you tried pot?”

WHIPLASH. “Uh… what?”

“Marijuana. Have you experimented with it?”

“No….” To be honest, I’d thought about it, because a lot of my friends enjoyed it, and the stress relief sounded nice, but it all STUNK horribly.

“Well…  I’m not going to tell you NOT too. There’s way too much stigma and false narratives about pot, I think it’s badly treated. BUT. I AM going to ask you to be careful if you do. The sensitivity to codeine you described can often be shared with pot. With that strong of a reaction… for YOU, smoking a joint could be the equivalent of dropping a tab of acid. So if you DO experiment, be careful.”

“Noted. Thanks.”

Fast forward another 7 years. I’m living in a house with my best friend from high school and her husband. I had just come off the last day of 5 ten hour days in a row, lots of overtime. Plus, it was a one hour bus ride and 3 mile walk to get home, because the buses in Mesa SUUUUUCK. What I’m trying to get at is that I was TIRED. VERY. That is my only excuse for being as clueless as I was about to be.

I get home, and there’s a car I recognize in the driveway, some friends of theirs that come over now and then.  I come in, and the four of them are in the living room, watching something, and laughing their asses off. Sounds like a good time! I go into the kitchen to rustle up some grub, and on the stove is a baking pan that I don’t recognize, old and battered, about ¾ full of brownie. Obviously, the friends brought it over. COOL!

“OOH! BROWNIES!  Can I have one?”  I call out towards the living room.

The laughter stops dead. There is some loud stage whispering, and then my friends voice comes out loud and wavering. “UHH…. SURE!”

Again, I was tired.

I grabbed the knife, sliced off a good 4 by 4 square, poured a glass of milk, and walked out into the living room.  The four of them were cuddled up on the couch, an I sat near them on the floor, going cross legged as I sank to the floor with a sigh to see what was so funny.

They were watching Firefly, which, had its moments, but not THAT funny usually. Again. I was TIRED, okay. Hindsight, 20 20, you know the drill.

I took a bite. Betty Crocker, but a bit bitter. Tasted like they’d burnt it a little, except it wasn’t burnt.  Enh, brownie is brownie. I took a swig of milk.

My friend looks at my hand. In a very concerned voice, “That’s a REALLY BIG piece….”

I’m confused. And, as I have already mentioned, TIRED.

“Uh… I’m sorry, are there more people coming? I can put some back?”

She looks at me with these HUGE glassy eyes. Hunh, she must be tired too. After a moment, she leans forward, taps me on the shoulder, and says, “NAAAW.  You’re a big guy, you’ll be fine.”

Weird. I turn back to the TV. Again, I was REALLY tired, okay. My brain was NOT running on all cylinders. I’m about half way through the brownie, grimacing at the bitter back taste, when the penny finally drops.


I turn slowly towards the four of them, laughing their asses off at a not that funny moment. It clicks.

“Are these…  Are these magic brownies?”

My friend looks at me, fists against her face, peering over her knuckles with those giant doe eyes. With a grin in her voice, “YEAAAAAH.”

I blink a few times in stunned amazement.  “Okay, when your ass is sober, we are gonna have a TALK about not warning me. But, enh, I’ve got a three day weekend. Fuck it.”  I finish the brownie. (and yes, we had a LONG talk, and she apologized sincerely and profusely. It helps that she KNEW I had already been planning to experiment sometime, and just hadn’t found the occasion yet.)

A half hour goes by. All four are watching me. The woman that made them was like… “Anything?”

“Naw. Maybe a little light headed, but that could just be that I’m tired.“

An hour after eating. Hour and a half. Nothing. The woman who made them is genuinely upset, like, she’s PERSONALLY affronted that I’m not having a reaction.

“Okay guys, its been fun, but I’m going to sleep. See you in the morning.”

“Okay” “Goodnight Alex” “Seeya”  “Really? NOTHING?”

I go to sleep. I wake up what I later find out was about two hours later. My guts are on FIRE. Like the one and only time I’d had bad food poisoning. My skin tingled all over. And there was this loud, droning BUZZ that just wouldn’t stop. I throw off my sheet. Its a thin cotton sheet, but it feels like a weighted blanket. I look around my room, and..  

Have you ever been to the Haunted Mansion? In Disney Land?  There’s a hallway where several doors “breath”.  They stretch and shrink, a couple of them with a part that stretches out TOWARDS you, like something is trying to break through. Yeah. The whole world was like that. Every object in my room was pulsing, stretching and shrinking. At different frequencies. I felt my gorge rise and rushed out of the room moaning. And everything was red. Like I was wearing just the red part of old 3D glasses.

I run into the bathroom and flick on the light. Looking into the mirror, I could see myself clearly. In fact, more clearly than I should be able to, since I wasn’t wearing glasses. And I wasn’t red.Nothing IN the mirror was red. But everything BEHIND me, in the mirror image, was blurry and foggy. What I COULD see clearly was the hives, each almost as big as my thumb, on my face, neck, the top of my head. Looking down, I was COVERED in hives. Which, oddly enough, stopped at my waist. My legs were fine.

My guts reminded me of the pain and I spent the next ten minutes cleaning my intestinal track out thoroughly, alternating from both ends. Gulping water from the faucet, I staggered back into the hallway, where my friend, her husband, and their friends were standing, panicking.

My friend sees me, and the hives, and FREAKS OUT.  “OMG, Alex, are you okay? What happened?”

I look at them, expecting some oddity.  The fixtures in the hallway are pulsing, and everyone is red toned, like the light was red, but otherwise, they look normal. That damn BUZZ won’t stop though.

“Yeah, I’m… okay?”  I look at her husband. “You got benadryl by any chance? I think I might be allergic to pot.”

He nods, vanishes, comes back with a pink pill and glass of water.  I slam it, thank him and point at my friend.

“LOOONG talk in the morning.”  She nods mutely, doe eyes going puppy dog.

I stagger back to bed, and wake up with blessedly white light streaming in through the window. Headache, and the buzz is still there, but barely in the background, like the hum in a badly wired building. The hives are still there, but much smaller, and they go away completely by the end of the day.

So, turns out that YES, I am also sensitive to pot, and yes, that brownie was somewhat like dropping acid. But, I’m also allergic, and that is NOT a good trip. On the bright side! I learned with an edible. Based on how I reacted (and the itching and coughing that second hand pot smoke has given makes more sense now!), learning this lesson with an actual joint would probably have put me in the hospital.

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