From my earliest memories through young adulthood, I always struggled with sleeplessness. As a little whippersnapper, I'd read R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps into the darkest hours of the night. In my teens, it was the Beatniks. But by the time I was old enough to drive, I was old enough to get high.

While admittedly it wasn't the best route to take for a developing brain, I began to use marijuana to relax and rest at night. A combo of weed and melatonin — and occasionally Tylenol PM — the formula worked for years. That was until I started law school. Then Ambien became my drug of choice to catch those ZZZs.

Getting the prescription was the least memorable part. I only had to ask for it. If getting all prescriptions were so easy … oh wait, it is, and we have a horrible drug epidemic for it.  

But the first interesting thing to happen when I started Ambien? It worked incredibly well. The crispy refreshment I felt as I rose in the morning was like a shot of clarity. As someone who has always relied on caffeine in the mornings, I was shocked at how refreshingly deep and unabated REM-sleep could feel. My initial experience with Ambien was stellar.

But things got weird fast. One of my cousins was the first to tell me about these yahoos we knew who were going on Ambien binges like they were on clearance. Then my buddy was hitting me up to buy them. In my twenties you didn’t have to tell me twice to experiment with drugs. In fact, you probably shouldn’t have told me at all. That upped the ante.

While continuing to use my Ambien for sleep (most of the time) I was also taking it to stay up and blaze. It was critical, I thought — I was spending six figures on education.

But it also felt great enhancing a night of drinking. Or to simply just feel better on occasion.

By the third or fourth month I had my prescription, the pills were providing diminishing returns. Something stronger, faster, harder, longer was calling out my name.

I saw the possibility of spiraling into addiction. It wasn't an option. My motivation surged to trade the pills for something more natural. There was something out there for me. It was right under my nose, and I could smell it. Me and my friends call it Hobbit Spinach. You know it as good old-fashioned marijuana. 

Pot dealers then were a dime a dozen. Just as numerous as the doctors who would happily prescribe me pills.

Herijuana was one of the first strains I used for sleep. As soon as I could secure a consistent supply, I quit taking Ambien (after 6 months of using it). There wasn’t any great difficulties or withdrawals. And I’m proud to say, I haven’t taken a prescription medication for sleep in over four years.

Trading pot for pills is something I hope more people can do as access to legal marijuana grows. We’ve all heard the horror stories of Ambien. Sean Penn’s latest snafu is nothing. Remember when Kerry Kennedy lost it behind the wheel of her Lexus in 2012? Or the , that was blamed on a combination of Ambiem and alcohol? The problem is people take too many pills — often because they can’t fall asleep — and blackout.

A common theme of these blackouts-gone-bad are people getting behind the wheel and losing control, just like the Kerry Kennedy. In 2006 The New York Times reported that in some state toxicology laboratories Ambien had been making the top 10 list of substances found in impaired drivers. A 2011 case series called "Zolpidem Ingestion, Automatisms, and Sleep Driving: A Clinical and Legal Case Series" concluded: “Sleep driving and other complex behaviors can occur after zolpidem ingestion.”

In other words, things will definitely get weird if you don’t actually sleep on Ambien.  

I was once on the better end of this experience. I got a call at 2:00 a.m. from my friend, Patti. She needed picked up ASAP because she had driven her car over a curb and popped a tire. Fortunately, she was scooped up before the police arrived. The next day she had no recollection of it — not even the McDonald's I took her to after the incident.

In 2013, after years of receiving reports like these. And two years later, a study published in "The National Institute of Health" concluded that elderly people who used zolpidem (the main ingredient in Ambien) were at a higher risk of dementia.

Based on my experience, the choice was clear. The cost benefit analysis was there. Take Ambien and sleep well, but maybe murder a neighbor’s family. Or simply use marijuana, find the headiest indica that best suits my physiology, and sleep like baby. And the downside? As Joe Rogan cautions, maybe abusing cheeseburgers.

[cover photo Dani Ramos via Unsplash]